Dobrila Kukolj

Banja Luka

She testifies:

I was born in one of the most beautiful villages, which is located on the Sava River bank. The name of that village is Međeđa. It belongs to the municipality of Bosanska Dubica. I was born on 30 July 1932. My parent's names are Rade (father) and Savka (mother – her maiden surname is Ružičić). The mother was a housewife, and the father was both a tradesman and a farmer.

I was born in a great house that was consisted of the ground and upper floor. It was long 14 metres, and wide 10 metres. The house had balconies decorated by curving. The upper floor consisted of four bedrooms and a living room, while the ground floor had the same arrangement of rooms, but with one premise that served as a shop. The upper floor had the pantry with the groceries which led to the attic. The attic was as long as the whole house and served for the smoking of the meat, fish and so on. Both the ground and the upper floor had toilets. A big, constructed eaves, which led from the house into the yard and further into the garden, was built next to the house. The tables and branches where we used to sit in summer were placed under the eaves. The house roof was covered with tiles. A great constructed well, from which the water was being brought inside the house, was located in the yard. The ''Rašinovac'' stream has been flowing next to the very house. The warehouse was located on the left side of the yard. In the lower part of the warehouse, which was pretty much digged in the ground, was the celler where the great barrels with brandy and wine were placed. The ham and bacon was being left in this celler during the summer. The upper part of the warehouse consisted of a premise which was devided in so-called shafts that served for storage of beans, wheat, soybean… The corn grounded mash for the pigs and other cattle was stored in the special shaft. A great constructed building located on the other part of the yard consisted of two parts: a part where the mill for flour and corn grinding was placed and the other one contained the large barrels which served for autumn putting the plums and grapes for distilling brandy. My grandfather possessed a great plum orchard and vineyard. The workers were knocking down the plums and reaped grapes for days during the autumn. The peaches, i e ''santelije'', were located in the special fruit patch in the vineyard. The fine pears with white grape vine which was climbing them surrounded the vineyard. That grape used to remain there until late autumn. The smell of that fruit is unforgettable and indelible.

The cow stable was in the third row (I recall that there were ten of them). The knapsack for the calves was in the special part. Further on, there was the horse stable (as far as I can remember there were two pairs of horses). One pair of them was riding a fine decorated wagon used for celebrations, and the other one served for the field work. We had a worker who worked with the horses, and who worked other jobs too. The constructed pigsty, where the pigs were kept, was in back part of the yard next to the very garden. I found out later on that the pigsty consisted of 150 pigs. The pigs were driven to the forests of the mountain Prosara where there were special cottages for their lodging. Next to the very pigsty, the warehouse where the hay for horses and cows was stored was located. The corn straw used to be placing in the haystacks under the cattle hoops. Such straw was used as trash for the gardens that were used for growing vegetables. A great chicken coop was located at the end of the row. It was devided into three parts. The first two parts were consisted of chickens and ducks, while the third part contained the turkeys. I don't know their exact number, but I know that the yard was full of them on the occasion of their releasing in order to be fed. I don't think that there were less than two hundred of them. The small water mill, which was used for the corn grinding, was in the very stream that was flowing beside the house. The agricultural tools we were using were: a few plows, a thresh machine for wheat, a great beans cleaning trier, and a special trier that was used for the removing of unnecessary weeds out of the wheat.

My household cosisted of 12 members: grandfather Simo, born in 1881; father Rade, born in 1904; mother Slavka, born in 1904; brother Boško, born in 1927; sister Jagoada, born in 1936; I; Uncle's family consisted Milorad, born in 1906; aunt Marija, born in 1907; relative Rajko, born in 1931; cousin (she), born in 1939. (The only survivor in my own family is me. The ones who survived in the uncle's family are four of them).

Gaining the power, the Independent State of Croatia began to take away men on the forced labour, and to arrest the prominent Serbs: clerks, teachers and priests.

As far as the authority itself was concerned, the Serbs were replaced. The Croats and Muslims were appointed as state officials. The Croatian families from my village joined the members of the new authority (who remained in their own houses during the wholw period of the war). Those families were: Sanković, Šopovi and Varge. The Croats took over the power. The Ustrasha's company was formed. It consisted of a great many of men from Herzegovina who were called ''Blackshirts''.

The Proclamations about the r the weapons from the people who possessed them started in June 1941. Afterwards, the birth, Christening and married registries were taken away and destroyed. The first arrests started at the end of June in the same year. The clerk, Lončar Nikola, and his brother Milan, who were born in 1902 and 1904, were the first to be arrested. Later on, I found out that they were shot in Bosanska Dubica.

The fist attack of the Croats on our village happened in the summer of 1941. That was the first time when we escaped from the house. During this attack, they cought, raped and slaughtered Batajić Petra, born in 1906 (who was the aunt of my father). After two days she was found dead. Marko Markovic, born in 1901, was cought the same day. Everybody called him ''American''. He was our fist neighbour and a distant relative (godfather's family). They slaughtered him too, and fleeced his skin. After our turning homes, he was found on the road next to his house. On this occasion, Sreto Šolaja (neighbour) was caught. They were slaughtering him slowly, but didn't finish the slaughtering. His mother, Ana, found him in such state. She begged people to finish him off in order to prevent the further suffering. Surely, nobody could do that. He passed away that night. Sreto was only 20.

It was the first time that Ustashas and members of Quisling forces came into our house. It was a small group that consisted of five soldiers. The ''Slava'' (a traditional home celebrating of the Saint day of a family) of grandfather and father was on that particular day. It was the Saint Archangel's Day on 21 November 1941. I remember that father extinguished the candle, and grandfather told the newcomers that sons were celebrating his name day. On this occasion, they didn't attack anybody, but they threatened that we musn't gather without their approval. (In Jasenovac concentration camp, my grandfather was being pinned with rifle butts and bayonets until he passed away).

As far as my family and close relatives were concerned these members were killed in 1942: grandfather Simo, born in 1881; father Rade, born in 1904; brother Boško, born in 1927; sister Jagoda, born in 1936; uncle Milorad, born in 1906; and aunt Marija, born in 1907. There were seven members in the family of my uncle Ilija (father's brother): uncle Ilija, born in 1905; uncle's wife Nevenka, born in 1906, the oldest son, Milan, born in 1925; son Mile, born in 1926; Dušan, born in 1928; Bosiljka, born in 1930; Milovan, born in 1932. The whole family was shot in the Croatian concentration camp of death – Jasenovac. Both the uncle Mirko Batajić (the oldest brother of my father , born in 1900) and his son Gojko were cut their hands because of a piece of bread. The grandfather's (the bother of my grandfather) wife Petra was slaughtered at her home. Radojka, Zagorka and Slobodanka were killed in Jasenovac concentration camp.

The four members of this family were killed. The uncle's son, Batajić Ostoja, stayed alive in Austria. His daughter Ljeposava, born in 1926, and wife Stoja were killed in Jasenovac concentration camp. Four of my closest relative, ten members of the uncle's (3 of them, father's brothers) family, six members of my father's uncle were killed. The complete number of the killed was 20.

I want to emphasize my relative, Batajić Gojko, born in 1930, who was cut off his right hand before our eyes. It was Jasenovac concentration camp where some Ustasha's guardian did it.

There were two Batajic families in my village. One of them was distant. These families were simply exterminated. Their homes were destroyed. I cannot tell their names because I don't know them, and I don't know anybody older who could tell me. The surname Batajić existed in the villages of Međeđa and Donja Gradina only. They came from Lika.

The family of my mother: brother Sava Ružičić, sister Petra, her married surname was Trivić were killed too in Jasenovac concentration camp. Sava's brother and six members of his household: wife Stoja, daughter Mila, Boško, Marija, Koviljka, Bosa and Branko were killed there too. The members of sister Petra Trivić family: husband Đorđe, son Mijat, son Jovo, daughter Zora and daughter-in-law Jagoda were killed in Jasenovac as well. The only survivor of their family was their daughter Stojka. I want to mention that their daughter-in-law Jagoda went through terrible tortures. The Croats cut pieces of her body, raped her and, finally, burnt more of other women.

As far as the property and riches of my family is concerned, everything was burnt and destoyed: the house, outbuildings, alive cattle and crops.

The Croatian authorities expelled me and my closest relatives to the concentration camp. It was the beginning of July 1942, when we were simply driven out of the houses. We weren't allowed to take anything from the houses. Having nothing on us, we were driven away to the line that led to Jasenovac. The following members of my family were deported to Jasenovac concentration camp: grandfather Simo, born in 1881; father Rade, born in 1904; mother Savka, born in 1904; brother Boško, born in 1927; sister Jagoda, born in 1936 and I (all of us lived in the same house). The following ones, who were expelled to Jasenovac concentration camp too, were the close relatives of mine from my uncle's Milorad family: uncle Milorad, born in 1906; uncle's wife Marija, born in 1907; cousin Rajko, born in 1930; relative Slobodan, born in 1934; Milja, born in 1936; and Simo, born in 1939. Then, the members of my other uncle family: uncle Ilija, born in 1905; uncle's wife Nevenka, born in 1906; son Mile, born in 1925; Milan, born in 1926; Dušan, born in 1928; Bosiljka, born in 1930; Milovan, born in 1932. The whole family was killed in Jasenovac, and their home was destroyed. Uncle Mirko, the oldest brother of my father, born in 1933, and the members of his family; uncle's wife Marija, born in 1902; Gojko, born in 1930; Slavko, born in 1933; and Bosiljka, born in 1936, had the same fate as the others.

The family of Nikola Batajić (my grandfather's brother), his wife Petra (1906), daughters Radojka, Zagorka and Slobodanka were killed too. The only survivor from their home is son Ranko.

Batajić Ostoja, my father's cousin (his uncle's son) and the members of his family: his wife Stoja, daughter Ljeposava, sons Miloš and Milivoj were killed too.

The relatives from my mother's side (family Ružičić): brother Sava, his wife Stoja and eight children of theirs were killed too.

The family of Trivić Petra (my mother's sister): husband Djordje, daughters Zora and Stajka, sons Mijat and Jovo and daughter-in-law Jagoda.

On that occasion all distant relatives of mine and the local residents of the village where I was born were forcefully driven away to Jasenovac concentration camp.

At first, Croatian soldiers expelled us from the house in the yard of the church and school. There, they separated mature men from women and children and took us all together guarded to the village of Cerovljani. We stayed here for 10 days. Men were separated and seated on a clear meadow. Children were the only who could approached them. That was the last time when I saw my father, brother and uncles. One dau they were collected and picked up in the trucks and driven off. After time spent in this village, we were taken to the village of Uštica. We were going on foot guarded by the Croatian soldiers. We waited there for few days. We weren't deported to Jasenovac straight away. Later on, we found out that there wasn't enough room in Jasenovac concentration cam, because the barracks were being built then. I remember well when were they were escorting us through the village of Koštarica (settled by the Croatians) how they were shouting and banging on the cans, saying: ''Serbs, Serbs, go to the concentration camps!

Those are the places where you belong to. End your lives there!'' We were ferried across the river of Sava to Jasenovac concentration camp in a scaffoldings. I recall very well when they set us in the scaffoldings, using the force. There were my mother, who had three children, and the wife of my uncle Marija, who had four children. She was telling to my mother: ''Savka, let us throw our children and ourselves into the river of Sava! Come on! You see that they are taking us straight to death!'' My mothr replied: ''We won't, Marija! It may happen that some of us stay alive!'' And, here I am, still living and existing.

On the entrance to the concentration camp, we were ''welcomed'' with bayonets. There were two lines of policemen who classified us as cattles. They separated children from their mothers, especially male children aged up to 10. The old men and men were specially separated. Here, I saw my grandfather Simo for the last time. They killed him because ha was trying to protect my brother Rajko.

When we arrived to the concentration camp, we weren't taken anything. Actually, we had nothing on ourselves because we were driven away from our houses in a brutal way. So, they had nothing to take from us.

Since there wasn't enough room in the camp, we were placed on a clear meadow where we spend few days and nights in the open. Some barracks were bult and some of the people were settled in. The other barracks were being built still. During my stay (from the beginning of Julay to the end October) in here, I survived the terrifying things. Today, when I am thinking on those horrible things I went through. I cannot imagine that a man can do such things to another man. There were thousands of us. The food was awful. The corn flour was mixed in a half-tepid water, which meant that we ate uncooked food. The children got sick and had diarrhea and other awful sicknesses. In the morning, the guardians were picking up the dead children throwing them into the river of Sava.

Once, when we were standing in a que, waiting for bread (a piece of black bread was being given), my relative Gojko Batajić, born in 1930, tried to take one more piece of a bread. The guardians cought him and cut off his right hand to the elbow before our own eyes. He was killed later on. The living conditions were unsanitary and desperate. We weren't takong off our clothes, because we didn't have the changing clothes. When it was raining during the night, I used to be sleeping in a water puddle. I was completely wet in the morning. One morning, I asked my sister Jagoda if she was sleeping in dry, and if there was a water puddle under her. She said that there was no water under her. However, when I lift her up and looked under, I saw a water puddle. She didn't feel it because she became numb.

I stayed in the concentration camp until late autumn of 1942, when they put me and the rest of women and children to livestock freight cars. They were drving us to Sisak, and uncoupled some railroad cars, returning them to Jasenovac. We stayed two to three days in the railroad cars. During that time nobody was leaving them. They were openining the doors in the morning. There were many of us in the railroad cars. I don't know the exact number. A small latticed window was inside the railroad cars. In that way, a small amount of air was coming inside. We were chocking because we were very tightened, and the littlenuts were fainting. Some of them were dying. Simply, we were living like young birds, without food and water.

One morning, we were given the water which was the soapsuds that Croatian soldiers used for washing. I had to drink that because there was no other. I remember they were laughing, asking: ''Is the water good?'' On the third day, they drove us to Lipik and Pakrac. Some railroad cars were uncoupled, and others were returned to a place called Poljana. As we went down the railroad cars, the animal-drawn vehicle welcomed us which took us to Gaj Municipality. From there, we were disposed across the villages. I went with my group to the village of Toranj. We were assigned to a Croatian family. The members of the family were called Petrlić Stevo and Elza (father and mother). Elza was a Hungarian. They had four children. The other nationalities inhabited this village (Italians, Hungarians, Ukraines, Serba, …) My younger sister and mother were placed in some other family (Grandić Branko). Then, I started to cry, pleading them not to separate me from my mother and sister. On that occasion, the Hungarian Elza told me: ''Don't be afraid, I will not separate you from my children! You'll not be hungry! I eat the kind of bread that Pavelić doesn't eat. Look, you can sleep with your sister. Come to me in the morning!'' So, it was as she said. I wasn't hungry. They bathed me and changed my clothes. I mustn't stuff myself immediately, because I was too exhausted of hunger.

 I remember well that a man (aged 25 or 27) was settled in this house. His name was Dragan. He was detained on the mountain of Kozara. He changed his clothes into the woman's and mixed with the women and children. In that way, he stayed alive. He was partisan. (I discovered this later on, after the liberation). One day, during his stay, he asked me to inform him when I saw the Ustashas, coming in the host's yard. He told me he was hiding in here. It was such around two months. He simply disappeared one day. I found out later on that he returned to Bosnia.

I stayed here for a year. Then, I moved back to Bosnia with the others who were settled in that village. It was at the end of 1943. I found out later on from the older people that some Čekić Jovanka from the village of Ševarlija or Slabinja, who had the permit, escorted and took us out of that village. The Croatian authorities of that time, were allowing to women and children with the permits to return their homes. I remember that Jovanka was leading us to Croatian Kostajnica. Crossing the bridge, we were in Bosanska Kostajnica. The Ustashas welcomed us. When Jovanka showed the permits, the Ustashas let us go. However, when we crossed the bridge and moved toward Dubica, following the road along the river of Una, soldiers from the mountain of Balj started shooting at the line of women and children. The screaming and runnung appeared then. I cannot remember exactly, but I think that, at least, half of them stayed dead on that road. Then we started off for the hill and came to some village called Petrinja, and then to Jasenje. We stayed here for a while. We mustn't go to our homes. Then, my mother (she was still alive) got the ID across some Pezić family and we finally began to move toward our home. The authority of the Independent State of Croatia still existed. The military checked everything. We stayed there until Christmas, and, then, again, the Ustashas stareted to collect the Serbs in the houses. They killed and slaughtered them. The killings and slaughterings repeated. Then, I escaped with the others on the mountain of Kozara, i e to the village of Vojskova where I stayed until the liberation of the country in 1945.

After the end of the war, being the war orphan, I was placed in the boarding school – a home for the children where I completed the lower grammar school. Afterwards, I continued the tuition in Banja Luka. I can't be indefferent and silenced about what happened on the entrance to the concentration camp.

I cannot erase it from my memory. I was passing through the line of the Ustashas, so-called ''Blackshirts'', when they were separating the children from their mothers. Even today, the cry and horror reverberate in my ears. My mother consoled me: ''Don't be afraid, my dear child, some of us will stay alive!'' I saw a woman in front of me – a woman who war holding a child of hers in the arms. I don't know, if that child was aged 1. The mother shouted very loudly and pleaded the guardian to leave her child alone. But, they were taking children and impalling on the bayonets befor the very eyes of their mothers. Later on, they were giving those children to the dogs in order to eat them. That picture can't be erased from my memory, and will never be erased.

One day, when we were placed on the meadow next to the river of Sava, everybody started running and escaping suddenly. Since I was without my mother, I frightened and ran, not looking in front of myself. I did not know where to run. Fearing, I stepped on a new-born baby that was lying on the ground. The child probably died. I was running further, not looking back. Later on, I found out that Ustashas were collecting the little girls. When they cought them, they were taking them to the horrible and fearful death.

The years: 1942, 1943 and 1944 cannot ever be forgotten, and they won't be forgotten. These are four closest members of my family who were killed: grandfather Simo, father Rade, brother Boško and sister Jagoda. Three members of my uncle's family (the one who lived in our house) were killed too. Ten members of the families of my fathers brothers had the same destiny. Six members of my father uncle, Nikola Batajić, were killed off too. Seven members of uncle Ilija Batajić ended their lives tragically as well, and their home was destroyed. It means that 20 members of my closest relatived were murdered in Jasenovac concentration camp. I only saw how the Ustashas tortured and killed grandfather Simo. The rest of the relatives I had never seen because they were killed off.

The consequences of that horror and evil left deep trace of sorrow, misery and grief on my soul, because I lost the dearest people in my life. I had a joyful and happy chilhood before the evil occurred.

Today, I suffer from many illnesses, such as: bone diseases; osteoporosis of the hips, kness and ancles; spine spondylosis and vertebra diseases, angina pectoris (arrhythmia), the diseases of pancreas. I take medicines, which doctor prescribed, for these diseases. Sometimes I do not take them, because my pension is low. I live alone. My husband died.