Gojko Knežević

Datum objave: petak, 4 februara, 2011
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Veličina slova: A- A+

He was born on 22 December 1934 in the village of Ušivac, Knežica – Kozarska Dubica County. Now, Gojko lives in Banja Luka.

He testifies:

I remember a village Kozara house in which I was born. In 1942, I had eight brothers, mother and father. The idyllic village life interrupted the call for general running away because some Ustashas were burning villages and killing the people. The mother quickly packed what she could and set off for the refuge toward the mountain of Kozara together with the other village dwellers. On the mountain of Kozara, I realized, for the first time, that people were being killed from some bullits and granades. I had never seen or heard that before. In the meantime, my mother gave a birth to my sister Ljeposava while being refugee on the mountain of Kozara. One part of refuge managed to braek toward the mountain of Grmec, having great losses of the defenders, and the other part stood in the encirclement of the Croatian and German units. In that chaos, I lost the contact with the family, and some soldiers, whom I saw for the first time, cought me. Together with others, I went to Star Gradiška concentration camp on foot.

In Stara Gradiška, we were placed in some prison (walled premises) which was overcrowded with the civilians. There wasn’t enough room to sit or lay down. One day they took out the children in the yard which wasn’t especially guarded. They lined us up and asked the names and surnames individually. Then we were asked which religion we belonged to and the of our parents, actually where we were coming from. The selection was being done by the own wisheds of the soldiers. Two groups of children were made. I was lined up in one group, and I didn’t know what’s the purpose of the group. When the ustasha was interrogating me, he said: ”I know your farher!”He placed me in another group while he left another boy, who was aged as same as I was, in that group. Then, that group was taken outside the concentration camp walls toward the river of Sava. I was jelaous because I wasn’t taken out of the camp. I decided to sneak out secretaly out of the camp following what would happen with that group. Then, I saw that they were taken onto the bank of river Sava. The Ustashas placed them in fron of a smaller heap of the gravel. Vis-a-vis, two of the ustashas were lying with the machine guns and started shooting over the children. Then I saw myself instead of that boy and realized that I could’ve been at his shews. I returned to inside the camp because I couldn’t go anywhere else. I remained in the concentration camp for some time. I don’t know the exact time I remained there, because I didn’t have an idea about the time.

One day the trucks came in the yard. They pushed us all in the lorries, driving us along the Sava river until we came to Jasenovac (what I didn’ know at that moment). When we passed through the gate of that concentration camp, I saw a lot of men, women and children, the old and young, mainly dressed in a village clothes and put in the country’s shoes as well. I realized that those people were the ones from my home place. I started to ask about my mother, brothers and a sister. After few day I my mother in the group with the rest of the prisoners. She was holding in her arms our little sister who was an infant. The meeting was touchy. I found few brothers, but not all of them. There were shootings almost everu day in that concentration camp. That ment that smebidy’s life was distinguished. The cries and sizzling that were heard while somebody was slaughtered were to be avoid or unseen. I was living under these impressions. The letting go of these concentration camp’s tormentors was different; they were doing whatever came to their minds. Among the other things, they were seizing the small children with a pleasure – babies from their mothers what the mothers, of course weren’t allowing; the physical abductings (violent) were included as well. That provoked the guards to various kinds of giving vent to their own feelings. That happened to my mother, Jovanka, who otherwise was very brave and strong woman. When the Ustashas wanted to grab her child, she was struggled with them with one hand, knocking them down on the ground. I remember their falling down in the watery puddles and mud. That raged few Ustashas. They jumped on the mother, surmounted her and grabbed the child. One Ustasha threw my little sister into the air, and the other one waited her to fall on his bayonet. The short life of my little sister ended in this way. They hold the mother while the one of them approached her with the knife and cut off her breast.I had to watch that together with rest of the prisoners. A few Ustashas observed our group in order to see if someone would react, actually, if there was any relative present so that he could be excuted too. One the prisoners, who knew that that woman was my mother, was standing behind me and put his hand over my mouth so that I could not shout and revealed that they were my mother and sister. Otherwise, I would’ve been killed too. I was hiding wherever I could in order not t be before the sight of some Ustasha. During my walk around the camp, I watched people, the young and old, working on the construction of the embarkment carrying in their hands the soil and stones which they were being built in the lewee. They were working in immense lines which were directed in two directions. I saw the exhausted people falling onto their knees and, at the same time, trying to lift up under a heavy burden, but they were stopped by the Ustasha’s dagger or bullet. They were being killed outright, because the were no longer needed, and then they were built in the embarkment. Today, when you walk over the embarkment, you know that it is reinforced with a great number of concentration camp prisoners bones. I watched how a great many of people from our side were being transported in a scaffolding onto the other side of the bank of the river of Sava. On the way back, the scaffold was always empty, what I found strange. Later on, I found out that these people were driven acrosss the Sava River to be massively killed. They were being burried in the mass-graves. That place is Donja Gradina. The high guardhouses were located on the edges of Jasenovac concentration camp which was enclosed with the barbed wire. The machine guns were put on them in the case of the defense need. They were put there, probably, because of the partisans. In the case of need the hand sirens were sounding the alarm from this machine-gun nest. Then, all of them, armed as they were, would go to defend the concentration camp. One of the amusements and giving vent to the feelings of the guardsmen was the exercise of ”targetting”. They were practicing precise shooting on the concentration camp prisoners. They were doing that in the following way: they forced the prisoners to tie the barbed wire on a pounded wooden pole and then to wrap under the armpit of some camp inmates, lined up next to each other, with some child in between. They were lined up and tied alternately to one of the next poles where the barbed wire strenghten. Laughing, cheering and having various bets the Ustashas were making deals who would shoot at the prisoners, and where they would shoot them. But they didn’t shoot at the children until they killed the grown-ups who then were standing hanging on the barbed wire stretching. In that way, the children were lifted from the ground what caused their turning and terrifying screams because of the pains that barbed wire pined in their bodies provoked. When the children’s screams stopped, it ment that ”the job” was done. The Ustashas cut the ends of the barbed wire pulling the dead bodies toward the river Sava, throwing them into the river. I was in the next group where I shoul’ve been tied to the barbed wire too. When it was my turn, I lost any sense of fear or any wish to react. I had a feeling of the complete apathy while watching those horrifying things and knowing that they were waiting nfor me too. A few of the prisoners were wrapped in the barbed wire and I should’ve been tied up too, but the sirens and shootings from the machine-gun nests were heard at that moment, and the Ustashas went to defend the concentration camp. That’s how we stayed alive I ran between the camp buildings, founding the outside toalet in which I crawled in. I was silenced there fearing that I was going to be found by them. The shooting lasted for a while, and then the frightful massive cries and the individual shooting. The general chaos was felt in the concentration camp. I mustn’t get out of my ”shelter”. That lasted very late at night and I should’t relax because I would’ve fallen into feces, if I went out I was afraid that I would be killed. The silence came at dawn, and with the first daybreak I sneaked out from my ”shelter” stiffen all over. I walked toward the building where I was dwelling. I saw some Ustasha beside the door. He asked where I had been. I didn’t lie when telling that I was in the toalet. He opened the door where the prisoners were kicking me with his leg while I was falling between the prisoners. They asked how and with which transport I had got in the camp. Then, I saw no familiar face in the building being conscious that all people I used to know were shot. I found out later on why the guard sounded the alarm. The reason was the village cow which was grazing in the bushes. An Ustasha thought that the partisans were approaching. In such a way, the cow saved my life.

The camp food was consisted of the remains from the washed caldrons where the food for military had been cooked before. After a while the Ustashas appeared and collected all children in one area and started to threat, telling us that we must not speak from that moment and answer on any question, because the one who was about to speak would be shot. The children needn’t to be spoken twice, though they were frightened. They gathered us at the same place the following day. Then, the concentration camp entered a group men and women in white coats. They approached us and asked us anything, but we were silenced. Nobody must say anything. They examined and us dresses with bandage if it was necessary. It was the International Red Cross. They found out that there were children in the camp, and they ordered that children must be separated from the concentration camp. In order to ”hygiene us”, the Ustashas commanded us to undress ourselves, and then, they started to wash us with the fire pumps. While being sich wet, we were given shirts. Mine shirt was long and reached the knees. They pushed us wet in the open trucks and drove off to Sisak where were selected according to age. The children of the approximate age, around 14 to 16, were transported to work to Germany, and the ones from 14 to 16 were sent throughout Slavonia to the Croatian villages to work as slaves. The ones under 10 years were put in ”G” train railroad cars that actually served for the cattle transport, in which I got into.

We set off towards Zagreb. We were travelling three days and nights for sixty kilometres, without food and water. We spent a day on the intermediary railroad station in Zagreb, being guarded by the Ustashas. Thanking to the Red Cross which found out for that transportation, the railroad cars were opened and the alive children and those who were barely alive were accepted. The sick and exhausted children were transported to the infective clinic to be healed. In the railroad cars, a great many of the children died of hunger, thirst and illness. The doctors examined the children. The ones who were healthy, the Ustashas put and sent to the children’s cildren of Jastrebarsko. I went for treatment in that hospital where I spent twenty two days. When I recovered I was handed over to the Ustasha’s duty policemen. They transported me to Jastrebarsko concentration camp by some truck.

That concentration camp consisted of the children who were aged 1 to around 10. The camp was ruled by the nuns and Catholic priests. Their intent was to convert the Orthodox children to Catholicism. Every morning, we were taken to some hanger which served as the Catholic church. The masses and christening of the children was being carried out. These acts were constantly controlled by the nuns who took out the ”restless children” from the church beating their naked bodies mercilessly with the whips dipped in the vinegar or salted water. They were shouting and yelling, getting the open wounds whicg weren’t healed but were infected. Tormented, the great number of children died in that way. Every breaking of the rules was the punishing of the children by beating or lacking of the food. For example, the children would piss and shit during the night because of the difficult life conditions, and therefore they were being punished as it had been described before. That’s why the children slept in shifts, not letting anything to happen to them . If it happened that they go to listen to the mass unslept, and if they fell asleep, the nuns would punish them by beating.

The art of surviving in Jastrebarsko concentration camp was the escaping and hiding from the nuns. I lived in such circumstances for a year. I remember that because I survived the winter and the next summer.

One day, some cistern-truck came in the camp. We were called by the drivers to enter the cistern from the back side where there were doors: ”Come on, children, we are taking you to your mumies and daddies!” The children were coming in naively. They were fighting and pushing each other in order to get into the cistern just to escape from the evil. When cister was full with children, they would shut the dooe, ran the engine of the truck and left the camp. Before leaving they were shouting: ” We will come back for the other children!” And, indeed, after some time, the truck appeared again and did the same jobe as before. I didn’t want to get into that cistern. The reason for that was the fact that my mother was killed in Jasenovac, and the father was with partisans. So, I was thinking that I had no place to go, what, actually, saved my life. The children who got into the truck were suffocated with the poisonous gas that was leaked in the very cistern. Then, the children were thrown into the nearest river. We found out that later on.

One day, they put me and thirty children into the truck and drove off to Zagreb. I didn’t know the reason for that. We were driven to the Ilica Street that was near the Kljajiceva Street intersection. There, the Ustasha’s autorities, established the concentration camp for the children who were allowed to be adopted by the citizens of Zagreb. They had ti sign the statement that the names and surnames of the children were about to be changed. The statement included the process of the Catholic education as well.

The authority called this concentartion camp the Shelter for the children of the bandit terror. The authority was atoning for the guilt before the public in order to show how they cared for the suffering children. I met Boško, the boy of the same age as I was. We were friends and liked and cared for each other. Since I was heavily sick, and at a time had a few serious illnesses, I couldn’t go to the kitchen to eat, so Bosko was sharing his food with me. Having found out that the citizens were coming to take them to their houses, the children desperately wanted to escape from the concentration camp. I wished that too.

One day, in 1944, I was sitting and taking a sunbath in the yard. Suddenly, I noticed that there was no sun shining, I looked up and realized what was the reason. I lifted my head and, agonized, I saw the face of a beautiful woman who had the silk scarf on her head. She looked at me. Feeling heavely tortured, I thought it was my mother. I was begging her to take me out or I was about to die. That woman took me in her arms because I couldn’t walk. She took me to the gate where she had to apply that she took a child. Then, I realized that that women was taking me for herself, and that she wasn’t my mothar. The Ustasha who was on the gate asked me: ” Do you want to go with this aunty?” I told him that I don’t want to go without Boško. The Ustasha addressed to the woman saying:

”The kid is right. He will die in a moment, and you’ll have trouble with the funeral. Go there and take a healthy child!”

She took me there and asked who was Boško. I showed her who was Boško. She took him by the hand holding me in her arms, and took out off the camp both of us. Her neighbor and girlfriend adopted Boško, and she kept me for herself. She called the doctors in order to save me. Her husband was a civil building engineer. His name was Stjepan Novaković, and who was born in Novska. Step-mother’s name was Blanka Novaković. Later on, I found out that she took seven children more and gave them to their friends in order to secure the adoption of these children. They didn’t have their own children. So, they adopted me officially and gave me a new name which was Vojko Novaković.They explained that Vojko was more of a Croatian name, and Gojko a Serbian one. They promised that they would returned the name Gojko as soon as the Ustasha were about to be gone, and that these two names were similar. Thanking to my natural resistance of the organizm, doctor’s care and having a great carring of my new ”parents”, I managed to recover quickly. On 8 May 1945 I welcomed our liberation army running around, the army which liberated Zagreb. That fall, I started to attend the primary school which lasted for four years then. After, I attended the lower grammar school and, then, I enrolled in a technical school.

The relation of the Novaković family was correct, and, probably reserved until the day when I was found by my father. After the establishing of the paternity, the drama that my new parents would lose me occured. My father said: ”I created him, and you bore him again. He is mine as much as yours!” That happened in the fall of 1948. Since that day I endured heavy psychological abusement, and sometimes pshysical that was coming from my step-mother’s relative side. I want to emphsize that my step-mum was very rich an had a huge villa where I lived too. She had more estates. She had two younger sisters who were very rich too.Their deceased father devided his richness equally to each of them. Since my real father from Bosnia appeared, my ”new parents” wanted to disinherit me. They no longer wanted me to be their son in order not to inherit that property.

Of course, I did not understand those things. I neither loved nor respected my ”new parents” because of their richness but out of love and consideration for them. When I realized that the inheritance was in question, I felt sick because of that, and I couldn’t understand such behaviour of the people toward the inheritance.

During 1954, my step-father Stjepan died of lung cancer. I had no longer his protection. The step-mum didn’t have a strength to fight against her relatives. I remark that my ”new parents” took me to the Orthodox church which is located at Cvjetni Square in Zagreb. They didn’t estrange me from my people, religion and blood relatives. My real father was visiting me regularly.

Realizing that I will not endure the inheritance battle with my step-mum’s family, I went to the municipality of Crnomerec, returned my real name and disinherited myself. While doing this I had two witnesses. I solved the inheritance problem in that way and left Zagreb.

In the fall of 1957 I received the telegram from my friend Boško. He wrote that my step-mother died whom he loved a lot and informed me about the day of the funeral. Straight away, I went to Zagreb by train. I had the house key. The house entrance was guarded by the huge and dangerous dog that knew me. He started to fondle and jump on me. Then, I tried to unlock the door, intentioning to take the black suit for the funeral. The key did not fit the lock, because the relatives – step-mother’s sisters and brothers-in-law – broke into the house, changed the locks and moved in. When they heard that someone was trying to unlock the door, one of the brothers-in-law appeared on the window, asking: ”Mister, whom are you looking for?”. They pretended that they didn’t recognize me though we used to know each other around ten years as if I were some stranger who wanted to break into the house. They threatened that they would call the police. I didn’t feel like dealing with such stupidities, and I was depressed because of the step-mother’s death, who loved me as her own child. I loved her too. Then, I ascertained that dog recognized me, and the family didn’t, which was mierable and ”glembayevski”. I went to the friend’s house, who had a strong influence in the society. I complained on the behavior of the step-mother’s family, because they threaten that they would forbid me to come at the funeral. They were afraid that I would have the right to inherit the property. I borrowed the suit from Bosko and went at the funeral the following day. The funeral was secured by the agents and uniformed policemen of that time. So, I was the first behind the step-mother’s coffin.

After the step-mother’s relatives found out in 1954 that I returned the inheritence into their family, they were talking how nice, good and honest I was. They admitted that they had mistaken toward me. If I acted differently, as a Croat, I would be shooting over the Serbs in the latest war. It resembles the janissaries. That’s why I am glad that I didn’t inherit anything. I remained a Serb, as I was born.

When Yugoslavia started falling apart and the reviving of the Ustasha’s movement occurred in Croatia, I joined as a volunteer in JNA (Yugoslav National Army), having a goal which was to stop the evil that was becoming like a vampire. It was my destiny to be assigned to the Tenth Division which was led by the colonel Josovič, whose assignment was to liberate Jasenovac. In such way, in 1991, I participated in Jasenovac liberation with the elite war group. I would like to mention one detail, and which is that Ustashas wrote on the Serbian church’s facade: ”We didn’t touch your church, and don’t touch ours!” During the exile of the Ustashas from Jasenovac, we approached the crossroad from which the Catholic church with the church bell and the building itself could be clearly seen. It was distanced fifty kilometres from the crossroad. Around hundred metres along the Novska Street, a tenk was withdrawing. Its barrel was turned backwards. The tan had a drawn Croatian chess flag. Suddenly, it stopped and turn the barrel not toward us but toward the Catholic church steeple and plunged the steeple with the two granades. Then, it rushed toward Novska with full force.

In that way, they wanted to show how they saved the Orthodox church while deceptively informing the international public that their church was crashed by the JNA units. If I wasn’t present at the very happening, the people could interpret as they wanted. But, the facts and personal testifying are telling the real truth, and, that is: they crashed their own church.

When Republic of Srpska Krajina was formed, I no longer stayed in JNA, because there was no need for that anymore. I returned home. However, shortly after, the fightings in Bosnia and Herzegovina started. They had the same, actually, the similar intentions as those in Croatia, being different in one thing that here the three religions were involved, and the civil-religion war started, which was the most difficult for the ordinary man, especially a man who belived in justice, honesty and multi-ethnical principles. Having seen, what was happening in Kupres, keeping in mind the fact that it was spreading toward Jajce and Banja Luka and that the Muslim Green Berets wedre killing and burning the Serbian people in other parts of Bosnia, I decided, again, to join as the volunteer to Republic of Srpska Army, where I was assigned the position of the commander of the howitzer’s batallion of 122 mm. We were carrying out the training of the mobilized soldiers. The most of them were Serbs. There were Croats, Gypsies, Muslims and Jews, who accepted the fight against the injustice with great enthusiasm. They realized that they were fighting at the rightuous side, because the Serbian military didn’t attack to conquer but to defend the Serbian villages ans towns, and, of course, the citizens who lived in them. That means that the Army of Republic of Srpska was a smaller variant of the JNA. After Manjača training, my battalion was devided in batteries which were added to the village of Vozuća near the town of Doboj in the region of the hills above the town of Jajce, and in Donji Vakuf. Before the war operation in Jajce, the most of the fighting assignments I had on the ground of Donji Vakuf in the zone of the 19 Brigade, which commander was colonel Branislav Grujić. The assignment of this brigade was the accepting of the Serbian population, that managed to from the towns of Travnik, Turbe and Bugojno. The Serbs were leaving their houses and properties in order to save their lives from the Muslims and Croats. At that time, during 1992, the Military of Republic of Srpska consisted of those who were fanatically embittered with the misdeeds that were done to their families, and who were always ready for an adroit action and, actually, were quick as far as the clash was concerned. They should be politically and disciplinary convinced not to carry out the revenges that were performed by the Bosnian Ustashas and Muslims but to free the territories and citizens, who were in the concentration camps or ghettos in the individual villages or towns, using the military.

One day, while I was sitting with the commander in the headquarters, we were informed that there were fifty two exhausted women, children and old men – Muslims in the village of Oborci under the mountain of Komar who were wandering through the forests, escaping from the war evil. I went with the commander on the very spot and found those misfits who felt a great fear for their lives. Our soldiers surrounded them, and they didn’t know what to do with them. In front of everybody, the commander commanded me to take care for them, since he was thoroughly familiar with my past, and he trusted me. I was thinking what was the smartest thing to do. I was walking in front of them, and then I looked at the children who looked fearfully at me as same as I felt when I was in the Croatian concentration camps of death. For a moment, I remembered all the golgotha and the evils I saw and felt there. Then, I decided to call the team of doctors and sanitary staff, to ask them to examine and heal the wounds of the innocent children, the misfits who were dressed in pantaloons (worn by Moslem women). I ordered to the military bakery on the mountain of Komar to send a hundred loaves of bread for the hungry ones and to the military to leave the rifles and catch the wandering cows on the meadows and bring and milk them, so that children could drink the milk. I set off across Komar to Turbe, which was in the Muslim hands. There, on the limitation line, holding the white flag, I called their responsible person from Turbe. Some Muslim reservist, captain, I assessed he was a teacher, was the one whom I told that I had fifty two Muslims: women, children and old men, and that I wanted to exchange them the following day with fifty two Serbian persons: the women, children and old men, of course. He replied that the offer was fair, but he could not decide. The following day, I brought the Muslims in order to exchange them. The captain came with the armed escort and handed over a piece of paper, which was, actually, a piece of cut paper cement bag, where it was written: ”Do what you please with ours, and we know what we’ll do with yours!” The signature and the stamp of the commander of the Travnik headquarters was put on the paper. At that moment I decided to hand over the Muslims, counting that they’ll be more tolerant toward the Serbs in Turbe (the Voćnjak settlement). I noticed that the captain felt very uncomfortable, but he musn’t receive the Muslims. He ordered his patrol to shoot over the Muslim heads in order to stop them crossing Turbe. Realizing what was happening, I commanded my soldiers to shoot from the back over their heads, in that way, forcing them to leave for Turbe, what the Moslims wanted too. The gunfire from the Muslim side was weaker and weaker, because they couldn’t fire at their own people. It stopped at the end.We stopped shooting shooting too. So, all the Muslims crossed alive to Turbe. On the way back to the positions of mine, I realized that I acted honestly. If I cause any troble to the innocent Muslim civilians, I would be as same as the Ustashas and newly formed backward Moslem peasant units.

I completed the Reserve Officer’s school – Country’s Artillery in Zadar in 1957.

I wanted to prolong the tuition, i e to study, but the scholarship donor, The Republic Union of the Fighters, gave to understand that there are many war orphans who needed to be educated. I was told that I was educated enough, and I could work and make my own living.

At first, I worked as an electrician in Kakanj Mine, then in Banja Luka Mine. After the work in mines I started to work in Electro-distribution firm in Banja Luka and Tuzla, then in the Construction firm ”Tehnika” – Tuzla, then in ”Naftagas” Novi Sad and in Banja Luka Bureau for the studies and projecting, where I got retired. While I was working in the Construction firm ”Tehnika” – Tuzla, I enrolled in the school of electrical engineering in Ljubljana and continued studying in Zagreb as a part-time student. Working as a planner in Banja Luka Bureau for studies and projecting, I drew a few thousands of serious plans for factories, public buildings, institutions, hospitals, schools and apartment houses.

I married when I settled in Banja Luka. I have a daughter, Nataša, who graduated from the school of architecture in Belgrade. She gave a birth to Irina, a daughter Irina, a grandchild of mine.

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