Vasilije Karan

Banja Luka

He narrates:

I was striding in the column which was taking us to Jasenovac concentration camp. The column was long, too long. I can't see the end of it. Seven Ustashas were following us. Their uniforms were dark, their looks even darker and the hatred immeasurable. They were shouting and threatening. I hear their voices even now: '' All of you will go to the river of Una and in the ovens now!'' I was silenced. My mother, two brothers and a little sister were with me. The father stayed in one of the shelters on the Kozara mountain. During our stay in the shelter of the Kozara mountain, he went to bring us some food and never came back. While they were driving us to the concentration camp, I was thinking of my father. My mother was wet of heat and fear. The Ustashas were taking liberties with rifle butts, swearings, insults. I was eight and understood everything. On the way, while walking, I found out that I was about to be burnt in some oven that was intended for the killing of the people. I did not want to die because I had my life in front of me. I loved to play, run,climb up some tree and have company with the children of the same age. I was watching the column. All of them were in it. We were all sad, wet of tiredness, July sun, but from the fear too. The column of the Kozara people, who were cought, was moving across my village of Pogleđevo to Košuca. I saw my Knešpolje from the hill. It was in flame. The number of the houses, stables and outbuildings located in the village yard was equal to the number of the black clouds of smoke, which were rising up to the sky. Knešpolje was in flame and they were expelling me to Jasenovac, where people were dying. I understood everything as I was some adult man. But, I was only eight. I understood the things because I was listening to the stories about the war, Germans, Ustashas and members of the Quisling forces while I was in the Kozara refuge. Everybody was against me, and I could hardly understand the world I was living in. I even did not enroll in school. I was prevented by the war.

I was afraid of the Ustasha's oven. I was asking myself how to get in the fire alive and burn in it. I was looking back and suddenly decided to run. Back to the Kozara mountain, to the Kozara! The second thing I asked myself was whom I was going to meet on the Kozara mountain, probably the Germans and Croats, since it was full of them.

Each moment and step were turning back my thoughts to the place where I was expelled from. The cottages, our concealed defenders, the rest of the wounded and some civilian remained after me. My father Blagoje remained there too. I was telling myself: ''I have to go back, I have to!'' I was looking back and lept out of the column with the incredible leap into the underbrushes. The looks of my mother, brothers Mirko and Ranko, and sister Anka, who was only two then, walked me out. I remember the last look, smile and the teeth of my little sister. While I was running along the winding path, I heard two or three shots. I was convinced that they were shooting at my back, and I still am. I cought a sight of a young woman who was running before the Ustashas too. I couldn't catch up with her. I saw the blood on the narrow path. She was wounded. She turned off the path to bandage the wound or to die. I continued to run in the direction of the Kozara mountain. After twenty minutes I ran on the German soldiers. I was scared by their ''Halt''. I had to stop. They walked up to me and pointed with the finger to follow them. All of us were going toward the middle part of the mountain. In the moment when the German soldiers cought a sight of the members of the Quisling forces, they got rid off me straight away. They did not want to kill me, but they couldn't to speak to me either. Today, I know why they delivered me to the members of the Quisling forces. The Ustashas were killing the children. Thanking to such act of the Germans I managed to survive the war.

I was sleeping with the member of the Quisling forces on the mountain of Kozara. As soon as the shootings had started, both me and the member of the Quisling forces lay down in his trench or were were hiding behind some tree stump. I remembered that the member of the Quisling forces had the machine gun. We were lying down in the same trench. While he was shooting the were falling over my head. I was silenced because I was the prisoner. I had to bear all of that. I asked the member of the Quisling forces why he was shooting so much, and he looked me with the sad eyes, telling: ''Child, I am fighting against the partisans!'' Surprised, I ws begging him to not to shoot, because my brothers Dragutin and Đuro, neighbour Marjan and uncle Jovan were among them. He told me in a quiet tone: ''Boy, do not talk about the Partisans! If I was the Ustasha, I would take a knife and kill you immediately!'' Both of us were silenced. Then, he advised me, actually, tought me to lie. I remembered each advise and started to lie. It was the first time in my life that I was tought to lie. I lied the Germans, their oficers and the members of the Quisling forces. I did not meet the Ustashas. The member of the Quisling forces took care of it. All the collocutors of mine wanted me to speak of the partisans. I didn't do that. I remembered the advise of the member of the Quisling forces and stick to his order. The Germans waved their hands and told to the interpreter that I was free.

The days were passing. Even today, I don't know for how long I was adventurer, and how many days I was dreaming of the bread. I was reaping the forest strawberries, but there were few of them. The soldiers had reaped them before. I was licking the dew and the thrown off cans of the German soldiers. The member of the Quisling forces offered me a stale corn bread, and Germans their ''cvibek'', which was stale even for my teeth. And, I was hungry. The hunger was a big problem. Whenever I fell asleep I was dreaming of my parents, who were far from me then. My mother and her three children were in Jasenovac concentration camp. Later on, I found out that my father was taken to that place of torture too. I did not cry. I had no shoulder to cry on.

The days on the Kozara mountain were hot. I was unbathed, filthy, ripped off – a real scarecrow. I got accustomed to the war. I was still tracing for my father. I reached the hill where I departed from him. I was crying outloud. Then, some Ustasha warned my member of the Quisling forces: ''Make quiet that bandit bastard or I am to send him to the silence with the knife!'' The member of the Quisling forces whispered me: ''Shut up or you'll be slaughtered!'' I was silenced, but the sobs did not stop. I spent few more days with these soldiers, and then they took me to Košuća. They locked me in an empty house and went away. I couldn't sleep whole night. I was trying to get out the room, but I didn't manage. The windows were nailed with planks. No sooner had the German soldier entered the room, he pointed me with his finger to follow him. I set off with him. I arrived before the truck. He was the first to climb up. He was helping me to climb up the truck too. And, I got to the truck body. We set off. While the truck was along the narrow village road, the tree branches were hitting me on the head. Then, the German told me to bow. I came to Dubica with my escort. It was the first time that I caught the sight of a town. The German took me to the river of Una and ordered to wash my face. I was so dirty that he could not watch that. When I washed my face, I returned to Dubica collective center. There, I was recognized by the godmother frm my village. Her name was Stana Mijatović. She took me by the hand. The soldiers were taking us across the bridge to Croatia to some concentration camp. We were stopped in Cerovljani. The summer sun burnt me there. I was thirsty and hungry too. The Ustasha's guardians were going around us with the knives on their rifles. I saw the train then, to. The pictures were pasted on the railroad cars. Now I know that those were the pictures of the Hitler, Musolini and Pavelić. After this collective center, they took us away further. We stoped on the wide field in Daruvar. They kept us there for a day or two. I was hungry. So, I sneaked out and set off to Daruvar colony. I entered a house and cried out: ''Give me the bread, I am hungry!'' They gave me some food and water. I did not thank them. I am a child from Kozara mountain and I was not tought of fine manners, I returned to the collective circle and joined to uncle Stanko and his wife. We were stopped in Grubišno polje. Then, they were persuing us further. We came to the village of Velika Barna. I was imprisoned with the other people mfrom Kozara in the village school. The peasants started bringing the food. I was assigned to settle in a village Serbian family. The Serbs in this part of Croatia were in their houses but not for too long. They were not about to be free soon. When I arrived to the yard of Marević family, I was bathed in some wooden trough. The white loundry was drying on the clothesline which was next to the trough. My step-mother, I mean my master Mileva Marević, helped out while they were bathing me, and then gave me to eat. She was crying because she had never seen so many scubs and dirt on some little boy. The problem was how to remove the scubs from the head. She purchased some powder which she was pouring over my head. On the way, she was doing the haircut too. The haircut lasted for a long time.

When I recovered, I was guarding two cows in the swamps. I was playing with the boys, but one of them was bothering me. He called me a bandit. When I was fed up with that, I took a stone and hit him in the head. After ten minutes the mother of that boy came to my step-mother's yard. She asked for me and talked the ugliest words ever. According to what she said, I concluded that she wasn't Serbian. Then, my step-mother knelt before her and begged her to calm down. The raged woman left, saying that I was going to be slaughtered.

The days were passing. The fights were fought more and more in Slavonia. People talked about that. These were the conflicts between the partisans. Then, one day while returning from the swamps, I found the house empty. The house was chaos. The things were scattered around. I foud out that this Serbian family was taken somewhere. I had no one again. I was eating what I could found in the house, and then started to be hungry again. As the days were passing, I found out that the people from Kozara were setting off to their homes. I sticked to my uncles wife Jovanka. We were in the freighted cars again. We were travelling in them to the town of Kostajnica. We set off to Kozara barefooted, walking on the frost without no snow. On the way, I found out that my Pogleđevo was empty place. Empty and burnt. I had nowhere to go. I decided to go to the village of Jugoviste (nearby Prijedor) to my aunt Mara and uncle Miloš. I found my mother and two brothers there. My sister wasn't there. She was killed in Jasenovac. My father was hungry in Jasenovac. He did not know that his family was in the same circle. He spent three months in the concentration camp. Then, he was transported to Zemun concentration camp. He passed away there.

Today, after so many years, I see my sister's smile and her little teeth. I don't know where her grave is, but I remember her face well. That is the only memory of my little sister.

I completed the Teacher's College in Banja Luka in the postwar period. Now, I am occupied with literary work.