Eva Akerman

Eva Akerman was born into a Jewish family from Varaždin. On the day when the Germans entered Yugoslavia, April 6th, 1941, Eva Akerman’s father committed suicide. In the summer of 1941, together with the members of her close family, she was taken by the Ustaše to the French pavilion of the then Zagreb Fair (today’s Student centre), which the Ustaše regime used as a detention camp. After a few days they were transferred, by means of cattle trucks, to the Ustaše prison in Gospić. After the arrival of the Italians in Gospić, she managed to escape to Dalmatia, where she got married. Both she and her husband were arrested by the Italians and sent to the Italian fascist camp of Kampor on the island of Rab. Male members of the family who were left in Gospić were taken to Jasenovac by the Ustaše and killed there. Her mother and grandmother were taken to Auschwitz. That is the last that Eva Akerman heard of them. Apart from her, none of the members of her family who lived in Croatia survived the Second World War. Following the capitulation of Italy in 1943, the Kampor camp was shut down and Eva Akerman joined the Partisans. She earned a degree in pharmacy in Zagreb. She lived in Zadar with her husband and was there when the war in the 1990s broke out. Today she lives in a retirement home in Zagreb and spends her time painting and involved with music.



At the beginning, could you please state your name and last name, and date of birth. My name is Eva Akerman, I was born in 1922, in Varaždin. And what is your date of birth? September 13, 1922, in Varaždin. Where does your family and your parents come from? My Mom is from Vienna, and my Dad is from Varaždin. Where did they meet? Mom and Dad met during WWI, in 1918. My Mom was a piano player, and my Dad played cello. My Mom was playing at a benefit concert for the wounded during WWI and my Dad came to listen to the concert and that's where they met. And they got married and my Mom came to live in Varaždin. She worked as a teacher at a music school. Can you tell us something about the situation in the country before WWII? Well, before WWII people had lived far more modest than today. Some things would, at the time, be completely unimaginable, the whole life style, family life style would be completely different. For example, young Moms today, if they work, simply don't have time to spend with their children as much as they should. In our time, parents spent more time with their children than today. When I gave birth in 1948 and 1953, my day at work ended at 3pm and I could spend the whole afternoon with my children. Before the war, maybe specifically in Varaždin. Varaždin had a tradition of a cultural town, especially when music is concerned. And that culture was, for that time, pronouncedly developed in Varaždin. Varaždin had 17.000 inhabitants at the time, and each year a theatre company from Osijek would visit for three months. And the theatre would be always full and there were many concerts. They also minded to hold cultural manifestations and plays in high-school. I even still have a program from the time when I was in the sixth grade. We used to have eight grades in high-school and four in elementary school. Our class held a play, a sketch, and I played Beethoven, some students sang and so on. This was highly appreciated. Do you remember, in that period... Please speak a little louder. Do you remember in that period if you had already noticed some differences among people? We started to notice already in 1937, 1938 when anschluss happened in Austria. I personally didn't really, we were following and reading about what was happening in the country, my father had foreseen it all. Due to all of that, he became really depressed, because he knew what awaited the family. My brother and me were young and the young don't really think about that. I can't even imagine such a situation, but my father exactly knew what situation we were in. He was sick and couldn't take us all somewhere, because he neither had money nor strength, as a sick man. So he became really badly depressed and on April 6, 1941 when the Germans entered Yugoslavia, he killed himself. He fired a shot from a gun, while sitting in a room. He took out his gun and killed himself, knowing exactly what was going to happen. You could also feel this in school, with some professor. For example, in my class three of us were Jews and the history professor completely ignored us. He didn't ask me anything the whole year, not once, so I stopped studying in the end and he gave me a C without ever talking to me at all. Those were already some strange indications. And among your peers? No, no. Not in my class. Maybe in some other classes, but we were all very close, and no differences were made. We were all young and crazy. When the war started in 1939... The one... World War. The World War, yes. Where did information come from? What did you think about it back then? Did you believe the war would reach Yugoslavia? We, the young ones, didn't think that. In 1938 I was 16, and one doesn't think much at that age. My parents did, of course, but I only remember a moment in 1938 when we were listening to the radio and they were talking about anschluss. They were saying Hitler and the German army had entered Vienna. I remember my Mom bursting into tears. And then my grandmother came, who had lived in Vienna, to live with us in Varaždin and escape from Vienna. Different times began at that moment. She was listening to the radio with great interest, because she had two more children in Vienna and was, of course, worried. And we were all worried as well. Were you at that moment in contact with your family in Vienna? Excuse me? Were you at that period in contact with that part of your family in Vienna? Yes, yes. It's very interesting, my aunt, my mother's sister, wanted to leave for Australia and take me with her. My parents agreed, but then, after she got all papers needed, the war had already started and one couldn't travel any longer. She saved herself by going to China. She drove to Moscow and then by the Transsiberean railway to Vladivostok. The trip lasted for 17 days and she kept a journal every day writing down what was happening. That was very interesting, the things she experienced on the way from Moscow to Vladivostok. She sent it to us from China. She described how, during the trip, cholera broke out in a town, so the entrance to train wagons was nailed with a hammer, because many people wanted to escape the town, and the people on the train didn't want to catch the disease. And many other details like this one. Have you kept it? She went to Shanghai and spent the entire war in Shanghai. There was an international settlement in Shanghai, and they had a pretty good life in Shanghai during the war. They returned after the war. Have you kept that diary? Do you still have it today? No, everything is gone. I don't have anything. When did the war start for you? For me it started on April 6. The first day of the war was April 6, 1941, when my father killed himself. Everything went downhill from that moment. How did the situation in your family change? The situation changed since my father was a pharmacist, we owned a pharmacy in Varaždin, and the next day after my father's death an employee declared herself to be in charge of the pharmacy and locked the doors to the apartment. There was a cash register in the pharmacy in which was everything we had. So we had to manage the best we could. In order to manage somehow, I went to Zagreb thinking I would do something. And I did, I baby-sitted and worked as a nurse in some houses. But then, in July, I heard they started arresting people in Zagreb and especially young people. So I thought I had better leave, because I registered with the police. One of my friends who was with me, only at a different address, was caught. And so I found out they had addresses of everyone who registered and that it would soon be my turn. I went back to Varaždin and arrived there at 5pm. On the way from the railway station to my house I met the chief of police, who knew me well, because his daughter went to school with me, we were in the same class. He yelled at me asking what I was doing in the street and telling me to go straight home and not to go out again. I was surprised, it was 5.30 pm, and at around 8pm some people drove in trucks to our house and raided the house. They picked us up, my brother, mother, my grandmother from Vienna, grandfather and me. They put us all on the truck which was already full, my uncle was already there as well. And they drove us to Zagreb. We were placed at the building which is now the student centre. That used to be Zagreb's fair, in Savska street. They locked us in a pavilion there and started to harass and insult us. That was horrible. I remember some details. They found a pocket lamp with someone and started yelling. They lined 20 of us against a wall using guns, I thought they would shoot us all, but they just indulged in harassing us. Then they would stop and start again after 10 minutes. There were not toilettes there, and we were allowed to go only once a day. There was a railway track in front of the pavilion, by which they connected the Zagreb fair. They would make us stand on the railway tracks and they would stand next to us watching. We were allowed to do number two only once day. That was great humiliation. We stayed there for four or five days, and then we experienced what most of the European Jews experienced. They put us in cattle wagons, like cattle, like sardines, and took us to Gospić. In Gospić they put us in a prison, which was of course already full. I remember a horrific scene, I saw it through the cell bars. There was a courtyard, and in it was a poor Orthodox priest, with a beard. They put a wooden bucket in front of him, which had two handles. The bucket was full and had some 50 litres. They made him run around the courtyard carrying the bucket and he was, of course, stumbling and falling all the time, so they started hitting him and I couldn't watch any more. I can only imagine what happened to him. Then they moved us from this prison to a cinema hall, where we were lying down like sardines. They removed the chairs. But the most interesting part is that they continued to show films and then they would round us up in a backyard. We would stand there and when the show was over we would go back. We were lying in threes or fours and there was an ustasha standing before us with a gun. So we couldn't run, we couldn't go anywhere. I remember, during the showing of one film, I got sick and had very high temperature. So I hid behind the curtain, because I couldn't stand there in the backyard. When the show was over, I lay back in my place. I had very high temperature and was shivering, and next to me was lying a dentist from Varaždin. He saw, among the guards who were watching us, one who was almost a child, he was 17 or 18 years old, and told him that a little girl was ill and that he could catch the illness if he didn't take the little girl away from there. He told him to take the girl to the hospital, so he wouldn't get ill himself. The guard grabbed me and there were was a carriage in front, so he threw me onto the carriage and told them to drive me to the hospital. That was my faith and that's why I am still alive today. That's how I arrived to a hospital, and when I recovered a little I saw a man standing above me with a gun who started yelling. He said the Jews were not to be treated, but killed! That was my welcome and it kept repeating. I told the doctors everything about who I was and they told me not to be afraid and not to worry, because as long as they were there they would take care of me. One of them, doctor Vuković, was later given the righteous among the people medal, which I helped to happen. And also doctor Fulgozi who was an intern there. They had someone at the Gospić headquarters who was informing them, because someone accused the doctors of hiding the Jews, so they came to make arrests. He would hide me every time. He once hid me in the attic, and the worst was when he hid me to wait in a morgue. There were marble tables and dead people were lying under the tables. That lasted for two months and after two months I saw, through the window, right across from the hospital was a home guard army barracks, I saw the home guard soldiers packing. I thought that was suspicious. In the meantime, during those two months I spent there, during countless nights, I heard steps and chains. I looked outside the window and saw Serbs wearing only underwear, naked, their arms and legs tied. They were taking them to Velebit. Of course, they never returned. That lasted for days. In the same room in which I was lying in the hospital there was a sweet little girl, she was some four or five years old, blond, with golden hair. Her father would come to the room every night and say: "I slaughtered five Serbs today." I witnessed all that. When I saw the home guard leaving after two months, I suddenly saw the Italians arriving, since the Italians occupied everything up to Karlovac. Pavelić sold the entire Dalmatia to the Italians. When I saw the home guard leaving and the Italians arriving, I thought that would be the right moment to try and get out. I had a friend in Split and whom I contacted from the hospital and he sent me a woman with some money, something to wear and told me that if I ever managed to get out of there to try and reach Split. When I saw the Italians, I got out. I had by accident my student ID with me, it was left in my pocket, since I graduated in 1940 and was at my first year in college. I showed them my student ID and came up with a story. I didn't speak Italian but we communicated somehow. I told them I was returning home to Split from Gospić where I got sick and there was a hospital there. Doctor Fulgozi wrote me a discharge letter in which he wrote Eva Kreanski, that was my name, born in Split, student, discharged to further home care. They looked at it and gave me this lasciar passare, as they said, a pass. And that's how I arrived to Split. We managed somehow. In Split I got married, but then he was arrested again in Split and they would always send him back to Croatia. But the island of Brač was under no control, there were neither Italians nor Croats there. There were the Italian carabiniers in some places. A friend of ours told us we should go to Sutivan, because he knew some good people there, acquaintances, and said they would take us in, because we were chased out of Split. We arrived to Sutivan to stay with those people, and they were really wonderful people. They took us in, they shared all their food with us, but we defacto didn't have any food. Some herbs mixtures and corn flour every now and then. But they were really nice. However, someone told on us, so one morning carabinieri came and dragged us immediately out and took to Sumartin in Brač, where a camp already existed. I found a lot of Jews there, because some were hiding there. There were some in Kraljevica, and in Dubrovnik, that was some kind of internment, so everybody was meeting there. We spent some short time there and then they put us all on a ship and took to the island of Rab. We were then in the camp on Rab. That was a really big camp. There were Slovenes on one side, with whom we had no contact. I only know they were on the other side, and we were over here in a Jewish camp. Life on Rab somehow vanished from my memory, only silly things remained. I remember there were so many bugs in those barracks, that this was unthinkable. And rats and mice. In the end, this didn't bother us any more, nothing bothered us any more. Then 1943 came. How long did you stay in Rab? How long could it be... A year and a half, I guess. What did life in the camp look like? In Rab? Yes. I remember I organized children there and created some kind of day care, to make the stay there easier for those children, to at least occupy them during the day. There was a kitchen, because I remember always standing in a line, but I can tell you there was more to eat than for example in Sutivan. Each day we would get a piece of bread, that is a bun, and some corn flour from a huge pot. I only remember silly things. There was a kid from Osijek, he was 11 or 12, a real teenager. He was always hungry, so when everything from the pot was given away, he would then climb into the pot and lick everything that was left in there. Poor kid, always hungry. But I can tell you that the Italians didn't harass us. They let us work and spend the days like that, there was no humiliation and no harassment. What happened to your family which stayed in the camp in Gospić? Excuse me? What happened to your family which stayed in the camp in Gospić? Of my family which stayed in Gospić two men were soon taken to Jasenovac, and my Mom and grandmother were first transfered to Kruščica. That was a place in Bosnia. I learned all this later. From Kruščica they were to a place called Gorinja Reka somewhere near Zagreb, I don't know. They spent some time there and after that were taken to Lobor-Grad. There was a huge central camp there, and from Lobor they took them to Auschwitz. I never found out if they arrived to Auschwitz alive. And your brother? In Jasenovac. My uncle was also taken to Jasenovac. I found out about my uncle, he arrived to Jasenovac some time in September. He was a lawyer, and in October they shot all lawyers. And my brother allegedly fell ill from tuberculosis, but that is not confirmed. And he supposedly died very soon from tuberculosis. And my mother probably died in Auschwitz in a gas chamber. Did anyone from your close family survive? Not in Croatia. Some who lived abroad survived, I had some family members in the Czech Republic. They were also in a camp, in Theresienstadt, I don't know if you've heard about it. One of my cousins was there, and the English army came. Her brother, my cousin, was in that army and he knew my sister was somewhere here. He started digging and searching through the dead and half-dead and he found his half-dead sister. He got her out and transfered her to a sanatorium in Switzerland, where she was getting better. Many died because they ate for the first time and overstuff themselves. A body which was starving for four years could not take that. The body needed to recover following a special method. She stayed alive and lived in Israel later. There. You've mentioned... Then we joined the partisans, in Rab, until the moment when the partisans liberated Rab, Senj and the surrounding area. The Germans were already in Krk. We were practically trapped, since it's a small distance from Krk to Rab. It was very well organized. The partisans arrived from Senj to Rab by boats and evacuated us. The majority of us who were mobile were taken to Senj and then to Otočac, where the main headquarters was stationed. Those who were immobile were left on Rab, and the Germans took them after a month to Auschwitz. Tell me, did the Italians leave the camp in Rab? No. There was a group of young people in Rab who organized themselves secretly, they were the only ones who knew about it and about what they would do at the moment of Italy's fall. They already had a brigade formed and they captured the camp commander. He was an Italian general, and liquidated him. They knocked the door down and other guards ran away. That's how we escaped through the main gate. We arrived to Otočac then and were sorted. They put me in a medical group, although I was still a student, and they sent us to Slavonija. We walked on foot from Otočac to Papuk. That journey lasted for over a month, because we walked mostly in the night and were hiding during the day, but it was fantastically organized. And the most complicated part was to cross Sava and the railway Zagreb-Belgrade, on which armoured trains traveled. We crossed Sava during the night, around 3am, by several boats. It was very dark and this was some 2 kilometres below Jasenovac. We could see Jasenovac and when we reached the railway, we jumped into the space below and waited there for a trains to pass. At that moment we jumped over the railway, where they had already been waiting for us. After that we arrived to Slavonija. We used to hang around Papuk and Psunj. I worked, first I was managing a pharmacy, in these wood hospitals. It's incredible what this looked like, in this wood. I always used to say, if it hadn't been for the war and the wounded, it would be beautiful. I remember one Christmas, every pine needle was shining, it was a full moon. But every now and then a German offensive would happen and that was horrible. We were in a hospital managed by a gynaecologist. There were pregnant women there, giving birth. During one of the offensives... Every hospital had two to three kilometres away a bunker dug in the ground in case of an offensive, where the wounded would be sheltered. And only very few people knew the position of these bunkers, the ones who were digging them. They were camouflaged. They were the size of this room, for example and there was a huge barrel with water. Those were petrol barrels, and the other was used as a toilet. Sick people were lying around, and I was the only healthy one among them and was supposed to take care of them. They were dying here, because they were very ill. We lived there for more than 30 days, and the air would come through a log which was camouflaged with leaves on the surface and the air would be coming in through that. We all had lice, of course, that was impossible. And the worst was when someone would die. The very moment lice would scatter around, because they didn't want to stay on a dead person's body. You can imagine how it was. When the offensive would be over, guards always stayed to take us back. When we left the bunker, there was nothing left of our hospital, all was burned down, so everything was happening under the sky. They they built cottages again from trees and little by little we survived the war and stayed alive. What were the living conditions and hygiene like? You can imagine what they were like. I mean, we had in the hospital a large pot and, since it was summer, we would warm up the water in it and use it as a shower. Or we would make fire to warm up the water. But it was useless since we had only one sheet, which was usually full of lice. But we were young and could endure anything. I was even given a horse, although I had never ridden in my life. I managed the pharmacy by riding the horse. When I arrived from the camp to Slavonija, there was a lot of flour and other food. In the first three months, I didn't eat but devour food. Then I gained weight, so they would always mock me. But the horse was hungry, it didn't have anything to eat. They would say to me that when I sat on the horse, his legs would tremble form the weight. But the horse had its own will, it didn't want to cross any river, but would come to a river and lie down in the water. So I had to go into the water to drag it out and dry. It was very eventful. During this entire period, when you were in camps and later joined the partisans, what did you think about the war? Did you see it ending? What gave you hope? Youth. Only youth. Every war has to come to an end eventually. Whether we would survive it or not was a matter of luck. I remember one bombing of the hospital. It was in the woods, and there was one large tree, so when a plane was flying over bombing us, I would always spin around the tree. So it wouldn't hit me. Was your husband with you in the partisans? No. That's interesting. They would immediately separate husbands from wives, you could never be together, what was logical. If you are by yourself, then you take care only of yourself, and if you are with a husband or someone who's particularly close, then you take care of him and yourself. So it was every man for himself. Once I had to go from Papuk to Psunj, that's approximately a four-hour walk, and that was nothing to me. Four hours in one way and four hours back. But it was winter and there was a storm. It was blowing really hard on the way. Usually I found my way around and always knew exactly where I was. I had good orientation and knew where I had to go, but it snowed and I couldn't see anything. I kept walking, but I ran out of strength. I started sweating as I was straining, and the sweat immediately froze. Then I said I couldn't go on and that I would take a little rest. So I lay into the snow to take a rest, but I immediately figured I would freeze if I stayed resting there. I kept crawling on all fours and must have been near the hospital, I don't know. Anyway, I woke up in the hospital. The guards told me they had known I hadn't come back so they went looking for me. They found me and brought me to the hospital and told me they pour half a litre of schnapps in me. And I slept for some 30 hours. I didn't even catch a cold, nothing. That's what happened. What happened to your husband? Where was he? My husband was at Psunj, also. He was also a pharmacist. He went through the same things as I did. He would come a couple of times at Papuk to see me, I would go to see him. That was a walk for us, four hours in one direction, and four back. It wasn't a problem. When we walked on flat surfaces, I remember I could walk six kilometres per hour. Once I ran away, Požega and Pakrac were liberated, and there's a road Pakrac - Požega. When I reached Pakrac, some truck was driving to Požega and I had a good friend in Požega who I hadn't seen all that time. I thought I would jump onto that truck and go visit her, and I'd somehow manage to come back. We stayed up talking until 4am. That was my first time in Požega. At 5am, a woman who lived in that house came and told us to run away. The Germans were entering Požega. I didn't know where to go. She gave me a box of chocolates as a present. I looked around and saw the hills and I immediately knew I had to go in the hills. There were more like me who were running. We ran 13 kilometres to Voćin. I was still carrying my bag, and when you are tired, every gram weights like 10 kilos. I threw away my bag and was just holding the chocolate box in my hand. But then it also became heavy and I had to cross over a stream, so I had to throw it away. I thought: "if I'm not going to eat it, no one is." Then they punished me a little for running away. But I was forgiven. When the war finished, we all left together to Osijek. I stayed for two months in Osijek and received a call to come to Zagreb and to report to the health department, as it was called. A girl in uniform waited for me there and said: "You have to stay in Zagreb and continue with your studies. We will need pharmacists. " But I didn't feel like studying. I said: "I can't now, after everything that happened, study and be at home." But she said I had to. Then I realized I had to and I said OK, but that I wanted to finally live with my husband in Osijek. But they said they would bring him to Zagreb as well. And that's how I became a student and I graduated within the deadline. Do you remember when you heard for the first time that the war was over? When the war finished, it was awful. I was in Osijek and I couldn't resist trying to go to Varaždin after two days to see what happened to my family. I remember a train was traveling for a few kilometres and then we walked from that train, since the Germans had a machine with which they would cut the railway tracks, so that trains couldn't travel on the tracks. The train was traveling one part of the way and then I got off and tried to figure out how to proceed. I remember the night had fallen and there was a wall. There were some two or three more people. Somebody lit a fire and we stood on that wall the entire night and warmed ourselves. Sometime around noon I saw a tank towing a tug full of ammunition. I asked them where they were heading and they said to Čakovec, which was on my way. I jumped. lie down on all that ammunition and got off in Varaždin. At one moment I stood silent, I didn't know what to do and where to go. I just stood there. Then a man came, he was also a pharmacist, who knew me from before the war. He was telling me something, but I didn't understand anything. He took my hand and took me to his house. And then I started talking. Of course, I didn't find anyone in Varaždin. I think that was actually the hardest moment in my life, realization that there was no one. I entered the house, there were some people there who I didn't know, they wouldn't let me come in. There was nothing left of the pharmacy, some coffee bar was in its place. What happened to your house later? Later, there was a pastry shop in the house. Later I got it together, of course and would go often to Varaždin, because I had some dear friends from school there. And then they opened a pastry shop there. And I said that dear Lord had punished me, because as a child, I always wondered why my Dad wasn't a pastry owner, so that I could eat ice-cream as much as I wanted. What would I do with a pharmacy? And there was really a pastry shop there after the war. Some people lived above it. Later, it was all turned into state property, and the pharmacy and the house were gone. I don't know in what year, I started a process for the return of property. At that time one could exchange properties. I lived in Zadar, in a nice apartment, because my husband had been transfered there. Then I exchanged my apartment in Varaždin, the ownership of my apartment, in which I didn't live, for an ownership in Zadar. That's how I got this apartment and we managed to sell the shop. This claiming the return of property was going on for some 13-15 years. Then I sold it and came here and now if live off of that money. What did the first years after the war look like? What was your life like? First years after the war were very pleasant and nice, we were young, ambitious, and looked at future. We really studied, worked, and tried for all of us to be better, although we actually lived miserly and poorly, but we didn't mind that. We ate at a student restaurant. I am a vegetarian, so everybody were pushing to sit next to me to get my piece of meat. How long have you been a vegetarian? It's been 69 years now. Since I was 18 or 19 years old. That was when I became a vegetarian. How come? Because my husband was a vegetarian. He was much older, so at first I didn't feel like cooking two separate meals for myself and for himself. So I gave up meat and later I read about it and understood the gist of it. It was from ethical, not medical reasons. Thank God, I didn't have health issues. And so I remained a vegetarian. How? My grandchildren are becoming vegetarians. Two of them are really serious about it. And how...? I remember Labour Day parties, we would go out when I was a student. I played an accordion and I always had to play at the head of that parade patriotic songs and march through Zagreb. It was very nice. What did you think about Yugoslavia in the beginning? It was very nice. I didn't think about anything. We didn't think about it, we didn't lack anything, although we were all poor. There were no differences among us, none. Nobody had anything, we were satisfied with the least we had and we just tried make a better life than the one before when we went through all this. Has that changed over time? Excuse me? Has it changed over time? It started to change, yes, but I didn't feel it. I know that we lived modestly, that I put my children through school without problem. One of them was studying in Zagreb and the other one in Split. I had a nice employment, I was a pharmacist in the Zadar hospital. We had nice friends, we had fun, there was no TV so we socialized and did what young people do. Did you think about the war later? No, no. When it all started, I got worried. My son worked with IBM, it's a big company, in Split and was later sent to Vienna. There was the centre for eastern Europe and he was elected representative for eastern Europe with headquarters in Vienna. He travelled all the time, to the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and so on. When the war started, I had already been a widow. My husband died 24 years ago. So my son invited me to come up there and stay with them, since Zadar was in a very bad situation. The line of fighting was at the entrance to town. Everything traveled via Maslenički most to Pag, then from Pag by ferryboat to Karlobag. Then to Rijeka and then you could go to Zagreb. So I actually spent the biggest part of the war in Vienna, and would come to Zadar two or three times a year. But I was mostly in Vienna, I had two grandsons there who were still very little. I'd like to go back to this period before the war, to 1980s. You said you lived in Zadar. Had you noticed any differences on the basis of nationalities? No, nothing. When was the first time...? My boss was from Bosnia, a Serb, but at that time nobody made this an issue. We all lived nicely and well. Until it started in 1988, 1989, when this log revolution happened. Then we saw thing were getting serious. When was the first time you thought there might be a war? At that moment. Do you perhaps remember any specific event? Yes. Very specific. In Zadar, as everywhere else, there were stands in the market at which worked... The Zadar surrounding area had a large Serbian population, and they kept these little shops. During one night, there is a village Bibinje near Zadar, they were always very aggressive. God forgive me, if they could hear me now, they'd kill me. They were loud and during one night they marched into Zadar. This was that Crystal Night. They demolished all Serbian shop windows and set their stands on fire. That was the beginning. From that moment we knew what was going on. How did you fell at that moment? Very bad. You know it would come, and we already lived through one. So we had to go through all that again. How did you explain these events? Did you have an explanation why it had happened? Well, actually I did. I felt like... How should I explain this? I don't know how to explain my feelings, but I saw that things were going the wrong way and that a war was inevitable. A propaganda began, and propaganda can do a lot. It's very easy to set on a mass of people against each other. You said you stayed in Vienna. What did people there think about the conflict here? They didn't deal much with it. They were very tolerant, I remember when a large group of refugees from Bosnia came and they adapted two houses for them as small apartments. They had a room, a kitchen. Since I spoke German very well and they didn't... This was a transit period for them and they organized their journeys from there to either Australia or America or California. They all issued quotas how many of them they'd take in. I'd go everyday there to help them, since a lot of forms needed to be filled. To help them. And I remember there was a Croatian church in Vienna, we all took things for Caritas there, to help those people. They were actually very fair. Was anyone from your immediate family directly endangered during the war? Well, the whole family. You mean this, recent war? Yes, the one from 1990s. No. My other son was in Zagreb, my daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. They kept normally going to work. Did you perhaps personally witness a violation of human rights? In this recent war? No, because I wasn't here mostly. Yes. And my son also didn't experience it. What were, in your opinion, causes of this war, of the 1990s? Listen, I'm not a politician, but I've read about it the same as you have. So I don't know, I couldn't say anything else than what you've read and know. Has your opinion about the war perhaps changes, considering what you thought about it before the war and what you think about it today? To be honest, that conflict was stimulated with the events from 1941 when Serbs in Croatia were, of course, really endangered. I'm telling you what I thought about it. And of course, now that the war broke out, I have a feeling that I know the situation here in the Zadar surrounding area, where from people really did get killed in 1941. They were afraid and tried to defend themselves or escape. It was all stimulated with that Milošević's speech. Considering your experience from WWII, did your perhaps draw any parallels? >From one war to the other? Well, a war is a war, there's no mercy, people change in war, you wouldn't believe it. People who used to be very tame, good neighbours, when the war broke out they changed in a second. It was unbelievable. Can you give us an example? Example. Yes. I had some friends, Serbs, in Zadar. Their first neighbours suddenly renounced them. I know two cases. One friend was going to the beach and when she came back from the beach, she was a Serb, on her apartment the locks were changed and she could never return to the apartment. One of my friends died in Zagreb and when her family went to her funeral, she wasn't a Serb, she was Jewish, but married to an Orthodox, so when her family got back from the funeral, from Mirogoj, the locks were also changed and they could never enter their apartment again. That's how it was. Have you personally experience, during WWII, such an example that some of your neighbours or close friends from before the war became your enemies? Yes. After the war, when I first returned to Zagreb, as soon as the war finished, it finished in May 1943. I was naive and young, I had some lovely friends from my class and couldn't wait to see them. I arrived there and they turned their backs on me and left. There were three or four such cases. I didn't realize this at the first moment, because when one is young, he doesn't think. Today, of course all that is perfectly clear to me. They had someone close who died, so... Many people considered us not as antifascist fighters, but as some communist beasts, although I had never been a member of the party. I was de facto saving my own head, because that was the only way in 1943 to save my head, since Germans were all around us. I experienced many things later. Have you perhaps experienced any examples of solidarity, that someone, from whom you didn't expect help, helped you? I experienced once incredible solidarity and that was that first time I went to Varaždin. I was there for three-four days and it got around, since Varaždin is a small town. On the third day, a gentleman came to see me, his and my family weren't friends. He was our clockmaker. He came looking for, I was living with a friend, and said he had been waiting for me to come see him. I didn't understand why I should go say hello to him when we weren't... I mean, I would take my clock to him to repair it, that was the only thing. He said he though I didn't know. I asked what. He said my Mom had left a box with him before the war, and he had never opened it, in case somebody would come back. I didn't know about this. He could have kept this a secret from me. In that box was my Mom's jewellery. It was a box with nice things in it, and with a list. He looked at that list for the first time and that was real honesty. That's how it happened. There are always good and bad people. That's the law of nature. I worked and then my husband died, the I got used to that and started doing in retirement what I've always wanted to do, but never had time for. I started doing music and painting, and I've found myself in that. Here, in retirement home, I'm trying to keep a spirit of good will. I entertain them as much as I can, I'm good with everyone. I've organized a music room, for the fifth year. We have program every Monday and every time I hold a lecture on the composer. Now is the 200th anniversary of Franz Liszt's birth, so we had this last Monday. I hold them a lecture on Liszt and tell them what we are going to listen to. In my opinion, every piece of music has its own contents, like a book, and if you know these contents you listen to it differently. Then I also play them songs from our youth, in which people enjoy, then popular songs, so that everyone's taste is satisfied. People squeeze in up to 25, so we have to bring in chairs and everyone awaits for it. I entertain people every year, it's been a year or two now, with exhibitions and make three exhibitions per year. I exhibit different things, for example how to save on space in hospitals, to make these bunker beds. You see how they struggle to climb up. We have on gentleman who's 94, he's the oldest, he now got married, but his wife isn't here. She persuaded him, so that she'd get his pension when he dies. He did a good deed, actually. He's so old that he falls asleep at a bench outside, so I drew him dreaming of his young wife, who's of course a lot younger but she's not this pretty. We also have a cat which always keeps him company. Down in the basement, we have physiotherapy, gymnastics, fantastic things, we have all the machines, and a lady named Renata who runs this fantastically. I suggested we go every day to Renata's to work out and that next year we'd have a majorette's show. Here we have T-shirts, so we lift our heads up, chest out, stomach in, and so on. That is like retirement home rescue service, instead of mountain rescue service. The whole team is here. If you want some photographs, I have one from the partisans, here it is. That was in Pakrac, where I was with my husband. Here if you'd like to see it. Can you zoom in from there? Finished? These are some photographs that I got from my family, to which my parents sent them. Very nice picture. Here I am as a two-year-old girl, you see. That's me. Me and my brother. How old... How old are you in this photo? It says in the back, four or five... Was your brother younger or older than you? He was two years older, he was also a student of pharmacy. He finished the second year. Finished? Finished. These are the only photos I have from the past life, but I'll tell you that I tried and managed, over time, to cement all that was hard in my life. That was life number one, and this is life number two. There are no bridges, no connections. Because I came to the conclusion that this is the only possible way to continue a normal life. And I've succeeded in it. And at very rare occasions I pull out this past from this sarcophagus. One could never live a normal life if all this continued torturing him. Someone succeeds, someone doesn't, I thank God succeeded, so I always say that this life has nothing to do with that life. This is now my life number two, that was life number one. The first life lasted for 19 years, this one, I don't know anymore, it's hard for me to do the math. I am now 89, minus 19 is 70. Life number two has been going on for 70 years. I live in this retirement home and am very satisfied, because if you want to be satisfied, you really can be. We are given the maximum of what we, at this age, couldn't do ourselves. I came willingly to the retirement home, because I was left alone without my first neighbours, with whom I lived like with my family. Without my best friend, alone. And then I said, it was time. I broke both hips, I had surgery, now I am already walking, but for a long time I couldn't walk and get things for myself. That was impossible. I came to the retirement home and told myself, you'll find people, they can't all be, God forgive me, demented, whom you'll socialize with. And I have great friends, we really like it here. In the evening, we play cards, and we have a piggy-bank for those who lose, and with that money we go to cinema, to theatre, to concerts. We are not letting ourselves go. Is there still something that you wish and hope for? Excuse me? Is there still something that you wish and hope for? Health! That's the only thing important, nothing else. Just that. And if I need to die, I should die in the most beautiful way. My sister-in-law was here, God loves these people. She lay down in the evening and in the morning she was dead. That is very nice. What, in your opinion, should be done or changed in order for there to be no more wars in this area? In this area? I don't know. Generally, for there to be no more wars in the world is impossible. There hasn't been a world war now, for how many years...? Since 1941. That's a lot of years, that's the largest period actually in Europe, where there hasn't been a war. In my opinion, that is the invention of the atomic bomb. I believe that, if there weren't atomic bombs, the planet earth would go into flames long ago. That's something you can't just limit on your enemies, because people would hardly make that decision to throw it, since it also means death for the one who threw it. And what will happen next, listen, life changes, planet earth changes, people change and get adapted in the end. To tell you the truth, I have four grandchildren, they are big already, but I have no great-grandchildren. And I don't regret it, because I don't see at all any perspective on earth for the future. It's my opinion that planet earth has come to its peak and who knows how many planets will exist in a million years. Who knows what will happen. Is there anything else you would like to tell us, but I haven't asked you? Wait. Tanja mentioned something about how your husband was saved? Yes, that's very interesting. We weren't married back then yet, our love had just begun. Those few months before the Germans came, that is between when they came in 1941, and when they picked us up, I went to Zagreb, since we were left with no money and we met then. That was already in June 1941, young men were picked up and taken to the fair. And then one man came and there was a desk, that's what he told me later. And he called all doctors to step out. They were sending them to Bosnia, it was a big action of treating syphilis. There were young doctors there and he approached the table and that man told him where he would go. So those people were saved. My husband also had a PhD, but not in medicine, in philosophy. And later he remembered and thought he was an idiot, because he was also a doctor. And then they came again and called out everybody who were in a mixed marriage, since they were killing all such people. And then he thought he would step out and he sad he was doctor Đuro Akerman. They asked where he had been when they had been calling out all doctors. They had him on the list and he approached that table and they asked him what his wife's name was, since those were supposed to be mixed marriages. He said he wasn't married, and they started yelling at him saying why he had come there and telling him to get out. But he was already on the list. He said that, when they were calling out doctors, he hadn't heard and hadn't responded, but was on that list. After two hours, a man came and read the list and he was the last one on the list, That's how he got out. It's all destiny. His destiny was to stay alive, my destiny was to be grabbed by that young man and taken to the hospital. You can't control your destiny. Nobody knows what's meant to be. I guess the two of us needed to stay alive to give seed. A lot of things happened. But you see me at the age of 89, content, I had a nice life, I can't complain. Would you like to add or ask us something in the end? No. These were the main things. What I've told you at the beginning is something that, unfortunately, 90 percent of European Jews went through. I am no exception. The exception is that, I accidentally managed to stay alive. Of that group, two more people survived. Thank you for your time and your story. Thank you. There was a lot to say. Thank you very much.




Birth place: Varaždin, Croatia
Birth date: 09.09.1922


Confinement place: Sumartin, Island of Brač, Croatia
Confinement place: Gospić, Croatia
Confinement date from: 01.05.1941
Confinement place: Kampor, Island of Rab, Croatia
Confinement date from: 1941


Deportation place: Zagreb, Croatia
Deportation date from: 01.04.1941


Resistance place: Psunj, Croatia