Many of you have been moved by my Mom’s five-part guest-blogging on Holocaust Children (part I, part II, part III, part IV and part V), so I asked her to let me reproduce here her wartime story, as it appeared in the first volume in the series We Survived published by the Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade.
It appeared here in five installments starting Monday and going throughout the week at the same time of day. This is the last part. Please ask her questions in the comments. Proceed under the fold:
I don’t remember any of us ever being seriously ill. Uncle Vili would treat any minor aches and pains in the simplest of ways. If we caught a cold he would make us stay in bed and would put us on a diet if we had stomach problems, because there were no drugs. Not long before the end of the war, Aunt Julija fell seriously ill with what Uncle Vili diagnosed as a kidney problem. Again he prescribed a strict diet and plenty of bed rest. She was in bed for a long time so the household chores were divided up among us children.
We moved several times from house to house and from village to village. The last winter, 1944-45, we lived in the village of Zelinje. We stayed in the house of the local priest who gave us two of his rooms. By this time Uncle Vili had joined the Partisans. We remained in the village because of Aunt Julija being sick, which made our position rather difficult because someone could always point a finger at us, saying the doctor had joined the Partisans and we were a Partisan family. It was even worse when Chetnik units began arriving in the village. The war was nearing its end and the Chetniks were fleeing Montenegro as the Partisan attacks grew ever fiercer. For months on end we were in the crossfire day and night. The Partisans would be firing from one hill and the Chetniks from the other. Various people would arrive at our house, threatening us, wanting us to put them up and demanding food. There were drunken and crude men, bragging and boasting about their battle conquests, their slaughter and the torching of houses. We felt very unsafe and realised we had to get out of there. Luckily Dr Schmuckler was in Majevica and Nedjo was also nearby and they organised for the Partisans to move us to the liberated territory. Next morning I woke up lying on the floor of a room with Dr Schmuckler there beside us. We were all together again and it seemed we had been saved at the very last moment.
This could have been in about March, 1945. We eventually arrived in Belgrade on April 1 of that year, through Tuzla, Sabac and Loznica, travelling part of the way by car and the rest by various forms of transport. On the day of our arrival all six of us assembled on Cvetni Square, in front of the Slozna Braca tavern, where we heartily enjoyed the stew for breakfast. We had arrived in the early dawn in the city where we were to start a new life.
Dr Schmuckler and Belica went to look for Uncle Nedjo and found him about to leave on a business trip. He came to meet us and took us to the Hotel Astoria where he was living. There we freshened up and slept soundly after our days of travel. Anika was busy that day, but came to the hotel later in the evening.
The Schmucklers moved to a room in Jevremova Street the next day. Betika was put into an orphanage and suddenly I was alone in the hotel room. Anika and Nedjo were both at work and I spent the whole day alone and miserable. I didn’t know Belgrade and couldn’t find my own way around. The problem was solved when Anika found me accommodation in the Red Cross kindergarten and enrolled me in school.
I was very distressed at being separated from the Schmucklers. I was crying and miserable, in the same kind of pain I felt after I was separated from my mother. I wept night after night. Once I began to learn my way around the city I visited them nearly every day until they returned to Osijek. Later I would spend my summer vacations, or at least part of them, there.
As time went by it became more and more obvious that my mother and father had been killed in the camp and that there was no longer any hope of them suddenly reappearing. Nevertheless, for a long time, I imagined this happening.
Anika and Nedjo had learned of my parents’ death long before I did and had already decided to adopt me before I arrived in Belgrade. Nedjo had prepared me for this in a letter I received while we were on our way there. During our meeting in Bosnia, he had asked me if I would agree to be their daughter once the war was over. I told him straight away that this was also what I wanted. When the war ended I was twelve and a half years old.
The entire series can be found here:
Memories of War, Part I (guest post by Mom)
Memories of War, Part II (guest post by Mom)
Memories of War, Part III (guest post by Mom)
Memories of War, Part IV (guest post by Mom)
Memories of War, Part V (guest post by Mom)