He was born in 1928 in the village of Podgradci, Bosanska Gradiška County.
The Ustashas expelled women on 21 April 1945 in order to kill them in the village of Gradina. They were singing. There were few hundreds of them. The male concentration camp was silenced. All the people were bewildered. Uncertainty was getting on everybody’s nerves. The suicides, performed by the hanging, became often. The Ustashas, being disturbed, were running hither and thither. Some horrible hurry was ruling the camp. We wondered: “What’ll happen?“ We were all reserved, fantasying about the liberation. The hope “lost hope.“ And, dark and bright thoughts were exchanging.
Dušan Prpoš from the village of Sovijak (nearby Bosanska Gradiška) and I were planning where to hide. We were suggested varios proposals. One of the possible ones was to get into the ex oven that had served for the burning of the brick. We gave up the intent, being afraid that we could be burnt in those ovens. Dušan was carrying all the time around his waist some old rope, telling that he was about to hang himself. He did not want to let them slaughtering him. He had the intentions to be his own judge. He was about to shorten his torments himself. For a moment, he used to lose the hope for the liberation. I was encouraging and dissuading him fro that intention. I was cherishing some secret hope, believing in miracle, though I saw no reasonable ways out. Yet, I was hoping….
I was looking how the Sun was rising behind the clouds. Was I really going not to see it the following day? Did they really kill me? Why? I did not mistake anything. I wasn’t evil toward anybody. I was only a child. They might not kill me… And, then, I saw the scene before my eyes, that was appearing like through the fog, when the Ustashas were persuing a group of women, cildren and old men. Someone said they came from Kordun. I was watching that miserable column. The Ustashas were around, hitting them with the rifle butts. They were taking them in the direction of Gradina scaffolding. I knew they were going to face the death. A women was carrying the child in her arms. She was begging the Ustasha to let her sit and wean the child. He returned her brutally in the line. She separated on her own, without the permission, and sat beside the road, starting to wean the child. The Ustashas noticed that. He returned, hitting her in the back wit the rifle butt. The child fell from her hands. The Ustasha took and threw it in the air, taking out the dagger while waiting the child to pin on it. Mother fainted.
I was losing the optimism. The dark foreboding were swarming. When the killed the baby, old a few months, they were about to kill me too. There was no salvation…
– Is there the salvation? – I asked myself. When I went to the primary school,the priest was telling about God as the almighty being, who does the good deeds, preventing the evil to act. Well, why God did not prevent those things? Why did’t He save the innocent? No, there is no God. Uh, I might’ve mistaken. Maybe, yet, there is God. He might save us. But, there is no God. If there was God, He wouldn’t let the slaughtering of thousand of innocent children from the Kozara mountain. My conclusions about God were changing in that way.
Dušan was unwinding the rope that was aroun his waist, asking me if it was strong enough. It might split. Could he endure his weight?
– Leave that, Dušan! Throw the rope! – I was telling him.
– Ah, no! – he replied. – They won’t slaughter me.
The song of the females, the prisoners of the camp, was weaker and weaker. They had alreadu been driven off by the scaffolding across the Sava river to Gradina. Two of us were still figuring out to find the solution where to hide. Each idea has its own weak points. Our thinking was interrupted by the leader of the group who was ordering us to pick the most necessary things and get ready to move. I was thinking it was finished and that end was coming. There was no place to go. The sky is high and the soil is hard. My master Moric Altarac and I were in “Ciglana“ barbershop, packing the tool.
– We might neeed it – master said. Each of us took a blanket and went out.
– Coming forth, quicker, quicker! – the Ustasha’s scream was heard on every side. We were lining up. They were taking us toward the gate. If they were about to expell us toward the village, there was a hope. If we were about to set off for the scaffolding, we would become history. They were forcing us to go left, along the river of Sava. We took the road that led toward the east exit and ex female concentration camp. The relief could be seen on everybody’s faces. Aray of hope was arouising in all of us. We might be going to work somewhere? The Ustashas were harsh. They were swearing, threatening, but they were not beating us with the rifle butts. That was giving us a hope that we were about to be going somewhere to work. They might still need us?
All the POW’s were driven out. There were a lot of us. The column was long. What was that? The migration of the concentration camp prisoners. Whereto?
I couldn’t see Dušan. What did it happen to him? Živko Gigović and Radovan Popović from the village of Trebovljani were next to me in the column.
I watched across the river of Sava toward the mountain of Prosara. The peaks of the Kozara mountain were dying blue. There, behind the Prosara mountain, the village of Podgradci was located. The freedom was there. My mother, brother and sisters were there. It was so near. I could’ve got there in five or six hours, walking on foot. But, the obstacles were insurmountable. Would I ever see the members of family? Where they were pursuing us? The dark thoughts were appering again. They might be pursuing us to the forest next to the village of Košutarica. They were about to liquidate us there.
-We are going to the tailor’s shop building, to the female concentration camp – master Altarac said, returning me into reality. We were really turning off the road next to the river of Sava. They were persuing us to enter the ex tailor’s shop building, where the female concentration camp had been before. The building was roomy. It had the groundfloor and attic. They put us all inside. There were around a thousand of us. It might be more. The doors shut behind us. They put the guard on each entrance, though we were in the concentratuin camp circle.
There was a plain around the camp. The windows faced the east, the walls and the bunkers on them. The wall with a bunker was placed at each fifty metres where the Ustasha’s garrison with the machine guns, which were obligatory set, were turned toward us. The wall was built by the concentration camp prisoners. It was four metres high. They themselves built the fence, which enclosed them. And, now, that wall, together with the rifle barrels, represented the unsurmountable obstacle toward the freedom. The horizon was limited. We saw our working concentration camp through the windows that faced the west along the river of Sava. There were the farms, brickkiln, sawmill, chain premises, carpentry, where we used to have been working, getting sick, starving and dying before. The river of Sava was on the southern side. It was separated with the barbed wire that was entangled in a few rows. It was being said that it was under voltage during the night.
The wall and the bunkers were on the south, while the railway station Novska – Jasenovac – Sunja was behind them. The camp was surrounded completely. The Ustashas predicted everything well, especially the geographic location. They used the natural and artificial obstacles ideally in order to reduce to minimum the possibility of escaping. Actually, the escapings from the concentration camps were very rare, and ever more infrequently successiful.
The master and I spread the blanket on the floor at the groundfloor and sat on it. The most of the concentration camp prisoners did it. Some of them were wandering acroos the building aimlessly, climbing up the upper floor and attic, climbing down to the groundfloor again. After short rest, I myself was wandering across the floors not knowing what I was actually looking for.
The night was approaching. Would we survive? The dinner, which was contained out of small amout of corn porridge, we did not get. It seemed that we were written off. The cutthroats got tired of killing the women that day, and we were on their bloody turn following day.
The unrest was ruling the building for a whole night. We stopped breathing when the doors opened from time to time and some Ustasha appeared with the list of the people they were taking away. They were choosing the stronger ones. Did they feel the premonition or they doubted something, or they had a spy among us, but I know that that night swallowed a lot of good and brave concentration camp prisoners. Their goal was to deprive us of our leaders and crush every thought of running away at the very beginning.
I was awake for a long time, speking quietly with the master. He was aged fifty and a professional barber. Being a Jew, he got into the concentration camp because of his nationality. He had lived and worked in Zagreb before he got to Jasenovac concentration camp. I remember even now the address he mentioned often: Paromlinska St. No.: 70, Zagreb. He was writing the letters on thi address a few times, but there was no answer. He had a brother in the concentration camp. He was younger than him. He was a barber too and worked in the central barbershop. In the winter of 1944/45, the concentration camp prisoners ftound him on the road between “Malo jezero“ and Baer. He was lying in the puddle of blood with the cut throat. They recognized and told to the master. He went there and came back quickly. He was silenced for a long time, and then he said:
– Well, I remained all alone!
We knew what he was thinking of. He told us everything with that. He knew that there were no of them in Zagreb either.
We were awake almost all the night. I was the first to fall asleep, being overcome from the previous day. But, ah! It wasn’t a dream, but the continuity of the nightmare.
I was dreaming that I was in the column for the liquidation in Gradina. My legs were chained and hands tied. I was twisting, groaning. I was trying to untie myself. I couldn’t make it. I did not see the bloody cutthroats ahead, over a huge pit. The column was getting shorter and shorter. Suddenly, a miracle happened. I managed to release my hands and run away. I hid in dense hedge. I was moving heavy. The chains on my legs were hindering me. Finally, the chains fell. I started running. I was moving away from the Hell, arriving to my homeplace Ogorelica. I see clearly (in my dream) my house, and being very joyful I was moving toward it.
– Son, son, wake up! – the master calling, shaking me with his hand.
I felt sorry. My happiness from the drream was stopped. I did not reach my house.
– Son, you are sweating all over! What have you dreamt?
I told him what I had dreamt. Then, he said:
– Oh, futile dreams!
It was dawning. The explosions from the villages in the direction of Jasenovac were heard. When it dawned, we had something to look at. Our working camp, the one they expelled us from the previous day, was in ruins. The Ustashas leveled everything with to ground in order to hide the crimes. In the fall of 1944 and spring of 1945, they used to dig up the mass graves and burnt the bones of the victims. And then, they were making the last effort to destroy the proofs on the atrocities they committed. It was clearly understood that they were withdrawing. That was the reason why they were ruining everything. Everything. We were the only who was still imprisoned in that damn building. We thought that we were the last concentration camp prisoners who were about to be liquidated before the final withdrawing.
It dawned. The agitation could be noticed in the building. Here and there, a group of people were agreeing on something. I was hungry. Wandering, I approached to a larger group of people and squeezed to the center, thinking that there was something to eat.
– Somebody hang himself in the toilet! – the concentration camp prisoners were shouting. I felt some anxiety. I did not see Dušan since the previous night. When I went to the toilet, I really saw Dušan, hanging on the prepared rope that was tied to the toilet water reservoir.
I was afraid that the rope were not about to bear his weight. Unfortunately, it bore. Nobody tried to bring him down on the floor. There was no point. The tears wet his cheek and eyes. I felt as I was guilty. I should have not left him alone. I might’ve influence on him, preventing him to do that. But, it was over. The lifeless body of the boy couldn’t feel anything. The psycho traumas were stronger than him. He couldn’t bear. He had killed nimself an hour or two before the crucial happenings.
I returned to the master, being depressed. I told him what happened.
– Don’t speak, do not grieve, it might be well what he did.
I looked throught the window. It was raining cats and dogs. It was flashing and thundering. It looked like the sky opened, wishing to swallow us. The master was lying on the blanket.
Suddenly, it started thundering on the exit hall of our building. The shouting of the people assimilated with the thundering from the sky.
I ran to see what was happening. Around a hundred of people were breaking the exit hall door by pressing it with their bodies. A brick could be found in some of the hands or an ax in one hand, probably found somewhere in the attic. I heard some shoutings:
– Hurrah, forward comrades, freedom or death!
The door fell, being broken. The people were moving toward outside like an avalanche. They stepped on the guardian – Ustasha. It was Hell. The Ustashas were shooting from all the surrounding bunkers. The window glasses were breaking. The bullets were whizzing over our heads. It was pouring sill. I returned to the master for a moment (he was a good man, I loved him), shouting:
– Let us run away, master!
– No, son! – he replied. I shouted again
– Let us run away!
– No, son! Woe, what they did. We will all be killed.
– We will all be killed anyway. Le us run!
– No, son!
– Master, I obeyed yu so far. I won’t do it anymore. I am leaving. Godbye! – I was rushing toward the exit. The last master’s words I heard through the thunderstorm and whizzing of the bullets that reached my ears were:
– Farewell, son! Good luck. Do not forget….
I did not hear what I should not forget.
He was outside the building. The firing was opened from all the weapons and the bunkers. The were a lot of wounded and killed around the building. The was covered with dead bodies. The Ustashas were killing violently. For a moment, I cast a glance on the building I went out from. The prisoners were jumping out of all the sides of the building, including the windows of the groundfloor. Many of them were falling, being killed by the mortal fire from thr bunkers.
I was running toward the exit where yhe concentration camp prisoners were fighting to open the gate. The prisoner Mile Ristić was shooting from the machine gun on the right side of the road that was inside the camp. A dead Ustasha was lying beside him. Now, the Ustashas needed to watch out. While I was running I was repeating all the time:
– They won’t catch me, they won’t me, they won’t, I consoled myself. I was hoping. I was passing by the gate. There were many dead and wounded people. I was jumping over them, stepping on the corpses. I was on the road. The cold and deep Sava river ws in the right side. It was full of the concentration camp prisoners. Their heads were one beside another.
I was running and thinking:
– If I jump into the river of Sava, I will drown. The wounded can drag me with them. The swimming space was limited. I can see that. No, I don’t want to go into the water!
I decided to run away to the wood. I needed some time to reach it. It was distnced a kilometer. The meadow was ahead, a clear space. I was thinking If I managed to reach the forest, I was saved. I was repeating in a quite voice:
– They won’t cathch me!
The sandal belt broke. I was barefooted. While running, I got rid off the other sandal. I did not want it to bother me. The bullets weresinging the fatal song. It was raining heavy.
– It is good that it’s raining – I thought. It may happen that Ustashas give up the persuit in such weather. I was on the meadow. The Ustashas from the surrounding bunkers were trying to cut the road, but their firing squad wae rare. There were a few of them. Though a lot of ours got killed, we were still more numerous.
The Ustashas ran away before the group of concentration camp prisoners. The brave one stood in the direction of prisoners’ attack intended to stop us. The group was running straight on him. He killed one, then another. Finally, he was punished the way he deserved. The prisoners were simply ran over him. I got the impression that they did not stop at all. He paid his courage expensively. Such exhausted and hungry, as they were that morning, they transformed into the lions, who were tearing and breaking off withe their bare hands.
We eached the wood. Our group consisted of fifteen of us. We were running further. When we were deep in the forest, somebody shouted:
– Stop people! Let us agree where to go!
We stopped and gathered. We started to kiss each other. We were free. The rain was becoming rarer and rarer. It was stopping. It was dark and very difficult to orient. The shootings were still reverberating in Jasenovac. The people, now ex concentration camp prisoners – the way we were called there, were suggesting where to move. I was waiting and silenced. A short polemic appeared. There was no united attitude. They were showing with their hands where to go. All the directions were supported but the way back toward Jasenovac.
It lasted shortly. One man, upset by this discord, ran forward. All of us started running after him. We reached the clearing after fifteen minutes. There we were waited by the rifle and machine gun fire. Some of the people fell without saying anything. We probably came across the outside and last obstacle the Ustashas used to guard Jasenovac. We spread and rushed to the wood. A young man was before me. He was running fast. I was yelling, trying to call him. I felt I could not follow his step. I was afraid to stay alone. He did not turn. He was rushing forward. I was watching and following him, but the distance between two of us was becoming greater and greater. We were running so until a meadow. The distance was constantly becoming greater and greater. I was trying again to call him, but the effort was in vain. I increased the speed. There were no results. The river of Strug was before us. My fugitive was some 100 to 150 metres before me. He was wading through the water. He crossed it. I was doing the same.
The meadow was disappearing. The wood appeared again. He got into the wood, which hid him from my sight. While I reached the edge of the wood, he disappeared. I could not see him anymore. I prolonged to go rectilinearly, hoping that I was about to reach him somewhere. I was wet all over. What the rain did not wet, the river Strug did.
I reached some meadow, but all alone. I was shivering terribly. I didn’t know if that was out of the fear or cold. Probably, the both. I stopped running. I was viewing the surrounding, looking for the hay and wishing to pull into something dry. I found a place where the haystack was. A straight and high pole was there. There were only remains of the wet and half-rotten hay flowers and leaves around the pole. I was digging out and couldn’t find anything dry.
I asked myself if I were about to become petrified out of cold. I avoided the Ustasha’s dagger, but how to save myself from the cold which was penetrating into the marrow. I was trembling. I concluded that I must move. I must not stop. If I was about to stop and sit, I would freeze.
I was trying to solve where I was. The rain stopped. The sky has cleared up. The sun was approaching for a moment. It was the first “free sun“ I saw after 1000 days of Jasenovac captivity. I couldn’t wait for the sky to clear up in order to dry and warm me. I could endure the hunger somehow. I ate nothing for 24 hours. The lasT meal I had was the one I had in the concentration camp on 21 April 1945, the previous day.
I noticed the hillside of some mountain. It was Prosara, I thought so. I was about to reach the river of Sava. I was thinking to swim across the river. I knew how to swim. I was thinking when I come to Bosnia…..that was anout to be a real freedom.
My thinking was interrupted by the whistle of locomotive. I was surprised. I wondered where it was coming from. There was no railway track on the Bosnian side, under the mountain of Prosara. So, it meant that that mountain wasn’t Prosara. Which mountain was that? I was helped by my modest geography knowledge. I realized that I was moving toward the north and that that mountain was Psunj. What I was to do then. The Ustashas could’ve surround that space and caught me. That could be the end. I came to know that I must to transfer to Psunj across the railway track in order to avoid the surrounding. I was walking carefully beside the hedg which was sheltering me from one side. The train boomed. I could see him clearly. It was a freighted car. I noticed the bunkers on right and left sides of the railway track. The distance between them was a kilometre. I saw the village, many houses and a whole series of red roofs behind the road in the foothill of the mountain. Walking down the path beside the hedge, I was hiding from one bunker, while I had no shelter from the other, which was more distanced. I was hoping that they were about to think that I was the boy from the nearby village, if they were about to notice me. I was coming closer to the track, thinking:
– If they notice and try to catch me, I will run. I prefer they kill me while I was running than to catch me alive. No, I will not let them catch me alive never again. I rather choose the death.
I was crossing over the track, seeing the turned over railroad car which I had to pass by. Not anything I went further. When I was before the railroad car, a member of the Quisling forces jumped out. Before he managed to do anything, he caught me.
Being completely surprised, I did not resist. If I did, it would be in vain. I was weak, while the Quisling member caught me by the arm.
It is over, – I thought. The Quisling started asking me:
– Where are you going from, kid?
– I am running away from the partisans! I answered without thinking, wondering what I said.
– What’s your name?
– Stipe Franjic – I lied, being decisuve to use rhe last thing that left shrewdness.
– What’s your father name?- the quisling asked me further.
– And mother?
– Where are you from?
– From Dubrave, nearby Bosanska Gradiška.
– Well, what did bring you to Slavonia?
– I was guarding the cattle with one little girl on the meado further from the village yesterday, when a group of parisans appeared and took awy our cattle. They released the little girl and took me todrive the cattle they took away. A few partisans crossed the river Sava by the boat and took me – I was making up. We came to some village where the partisans stayed overnight. I have used a chance to escape this morning.
The Quisling searched my pockets wher I had nothing except for my mother’s picture I got in the first package. He ased me which that photography was. I replied that it was my mother’s photography.
– Come with me to the Ustasha’s bunker – the Quisling said and took me.
When he mentioned Ustashas, the blood in my veins froze.
– They will return ne to Jasenovac now… – I thought. We were coming closer to the bunker. My brain was working irreproachablly. I was constantly repaeting the nade up name and the rest part of the story, so that they could not catch me lying. I had to speak the same all the time. I must not make any mistake. Otherwise…
Boy, you crossed the minefields – the Quisling said. I was shrugging my shoulders, not knowing tht those were the minefields. I thought it was the name of the plain in front of us. I remembered that the teacher taught us that there were Lijevče Polje, Gacko Polje, Popovo Polje , but the minefield not. I did not hear of that.
– I don’t know. I did not know I must not cross those minefields – I replied, making excuses, because I felt that I did something which was permitted. His appearnce was telling me that.
We reached the bunker. The Quisling handed over me to the Ustashas, saying:
– I caught this kid on the railroad track. He crossed the minefields. He says that he escaped from the partisans.
There were seven to eight Ustashas in the bunker. They were sitting around the table, playing cards. A large amount of money was on the table. There was a pinned dagger in front of one of them. Being amused by the playing of the cards and not stopping doing that, they asked me various questions. I repeated the story I had told to the Quisling. One Ustasha said:
– Are you from Jasenovac? There has been a kind of mess this morning.
– No, I am from Dubrave – I replied.
– And, why are you wet?
– I was wading through some river. The raine made me wet too.
– It must be the river of Strug – said my investigator, addressing to another Ustasha.
I looked pathetically: barefooted, with alot of thorns in my legs. They were scrached and dirty. All the clothes I had was wet. I was shivering.
– Are you hungry? – one of them asked.
– I am. I did not eat anything since yesterday
– Didn’t partisans give you anything to eat?
– They did not.
– Ah, you see – he addressed his colleagues. – People say that the partisans are good, justice, and what did this kid to them? – Then, he turned to me and said:
– Now, you will see how the Ustashas will feed you. I swear their bandit mothers.
– Cook, what do you have to eat?
– There is only bread, white coffee and marmalade. These are the breakfast remains. The lunch is not ready yet.
– And, what do I need more – I was thinking. I did not eat, white coffee and marmalade for almost three years. We used to get ten dgr of bread dayly, only for lunch. The meals were poor. We used to get the quantity of food in order not to die. All the time I spent in Jasenovac I was hungry. It wsn’t an ordinary hunger. The heart and eyes were hungry. The hunger drew deeply in the soul.
– Reheat the coffee and give him something to eat! – the Ustashas ordered to the cook. Then, he turned toward me, telling me to take off my clothes and to dry myself beside the oven. That saved me. I got a full army portion of hot white coffee, a great peace of bread and a peace of marmalade. I ate everything quickly, thinking about the odd destiny. I was running from the Ustashas, and I was fed by the Ustashas. Ah, If they knew whom they were giving the food.They would give me the knife in the heart instead of the bread and marmalade.
While I was sitting in the nickers and heating by the oven, I was thinking how to escape.
The lunch was ready soon. They were eating. They gave me the food too. In the meantime, my clothes dried. I was dry, fed and rested. I could be running away exceptionally. But, how?
The older Ustasha, who was silenced all the time, was observing me distrustfully. It was a heavy and a probing glance, the one that penetrated deeply. It hurt.
– Does he suspect something ? – I wondered. While the others were having fun, playing the cards, he took the rifle and said:
– Boy, come with me outside!
I was numb with the fear. We went out the bunker. He was taking me along the railway track.
– What was he up to? – I was thinking.
When we distanced little bit from the bunker, my unpleasant escort stopped and spoke out:
– What did you say your name was?
I repeated the false names of me and my mother and father.
– You said that you are from the village of Dubrave nearby Bosanska Gradiška.
– Yes, I am. The Ustasha was a little bit silenced. Then he took me by the chin, lifted his eyes in order to look me straigh in the eyes, saying:
– Well, how come that I don’t know your mather and father, because I am from Dubrave too.
I became numb and mute. A thought passed though my head:
– I am finished. He caught me lying.
I did not have strength to say anything. I was paralised. Many questions, thoughts and decisions were interwined in my mind: Why did he take me outside? Will he kill me? I should run. I will run as quicker as I can. Let him kill me while I am running away. It is better that way that to slaughter me. I will move now – I decided but I was not moving. My muscles were stiffened.
There was a sudden turn of events – the Ustasha spoke out the words which sounded unreal.
– Don’t be afraid of anything! You will stay alive! I know very well your parents. I drank a lot of brandy with him.
Obviously, this Ustasha was not like those in Jasenovac. He had the Ustasha’s uniform, but he was not evildoer. At least, he was such then. He caught me lying. It was clear to him that I wasn’t the one I was saying I was. My life depended on his one word. We returned to the bunker. I was scared of any movement he made and every word he said, but he did not betray me. He was silenced. Why, I do not get it even now. He might’ve had pang of conscience for earlier misdeeds and wanted to atone for them before himself in this way.
I was fantasying how to run away and liberate myself from the unpleasant and unwanted company. I asked for the toilet. I noticed that they did not have them, hoping that they would let me go alone outside. I would run away then. However, a NCO ordered to some Ustasha to follow me. He started without the rifle. The other warned him:
– Where are you going without the rifle?
It was clear to me that they suspected and that they did not believe completely in my story. We went out and distanced from the bunker, when my escort showed me lonely bush and said:
I was squating behind the bushes, pretending that I was performing the physiological need. I was actually thinking and deciding to run away or not.
– If I run away, he will start shooting – I was thinking – the rest of them will run out and shoot at me on the clearing. No, I don’t have a chance, and God knows what is waiting for me up there in the village, on the road. I concluded that the try would be stupid, suicidal. That’s why I returned back. I was about to act the innocence further on and wait for a better chance.
According to their assessment I was not able for their army. Therefore, the Ustashas decided to give me to some peasant to be his servant and shepard. It suited me, because I could easely escape from the peasant in the case of need.
I came across two locomotives, which were full of the Germans. A great steal hook, which pulled out the railroad track ties was attached to the last railroad car. The Germans were throwing some leaflets. The Ustashas were collecting and reading them. The contents that leaflets contained was saying that Germans were admitting that they lost the war but temporary. They promised to the Ustashas final freedom and their return. Many things were written in those leaflets, especially the advice to the Ustashas which concerned the things they should do. I cannot remember the details. The railway track was disabled. There was no need t guard it anymore. The order, saying that they needed to withdraw, came. They got ready quickly, taking me with them.
When we went out to the road, I saw how hopeless my try to escape was. The alive river of the people was moving along Okučani – Novska road. There were all the kinds of hostile army: the Germans, Ustashas, members of the Quisling forces and others. There were some civilians. All of them were running toward the west The general disturbace was on the road.
We were leaving the village of Paklenica nearby Novska, heading toward the east, the contrary direction to the one the others used. I did not know why the Ustashas were going toward the east, though it suited me, because the distance from my homeplace would ne less then. A NCO incharged some Ustasha to escort me, letting him to leave me to some peasants house, of course, if he was about to accept me. We were attacked on the way by the partisan planes.
– Am I going to die from my people? – I was thinking and running into the .
We were going further. A peasant was sitting in his yard, observing the passers-by. I was begging the Ustasha o ask him if he needed a shepard.
– Hey, host, do you need a servant? – Ustasha asked.
– No, I don’t. I don’t know what to do with myself.
– The boy is good. He is obedient. It would be useful to have him.
– Take him with yourself! I don’t need him – the peasant was persistent. On the way from Paklenica to Gornji Rajići, we asked ten peasants to accept me, but we got the same answer:
– We don’t need him!
I was walking with the Ustashas, feeling depressed and disappointed. Nobody wanted me. Nobody needed me. If there was a man to accept me for ten minutes unti those vermins step away. In that crowd, nobody knew who I was.
We arrived at dusk to Gornji Rajići. My escort took me to the Ustasha’s sargeant major, who lighted me with his torch in a half dark room, questioning me few things. Then, he ordered to the Ustasha to find me the place to sleep. He took me to some Pavle Babić house, who accepted me. The old grandmother Jula wished me to stay with them.
– Finally, somebody accepts me – I thought and looked to the Ustasha with fear. He gave me a permission to stay. It meant for me a chance to stay alive. The old Pavle and granny were very friendly toward me. I had a good dinner and went to sleep. When I woke up, there were none of the Ustashas who took me to the house. They’d gone during the night, but the Germans arrived. Nobody knew who I was. All the members of the household called me Stipe. When I was absorbed or turned back toward them, they had to call me few times until I would answer. It took me a while to get used to my new name.
No danger threatened me anymore. So, I decided to stay in that house and wait forthe partisans, though I could go where I wished, because nobody was guarding me anymore. I was not familiar with that area. In that way, the running away would be dangerous and connected to many unpredictable dangers.
My legs were scratched and full of thorns as I was running barefooted from Jasenovac. When I got up in the morning of 23 April, I had difficulties with walking, because the wounds on the legs were festered, and it hurt me. The German officer noticed that too. He asked what was happening with me. He spoke well Serbian. I replied I had injured when I was running from the partisans. The granny confirmed that, and he ordered:
– Grandma, give us the bay of water and a soap!
The grandma brought everything. – Wash your legs! – he ordered. I obeyed him. But, since everything was aching me, I did it slowly – sluggishly. He got angry, took the soap and started to wash my legs, not taking into consideration my tears and contracting.
– What have I lived to see? The German officer is washing my feet! – I was thinking, gitting my teeth out of the pains.
After washing, the German, who was probably a doctor, and the granny took out the thorns out of my legs. Then, the German brought some tube that contained the cream which he used to anoit the wounds.He asked the granny to look for some shoes. She brought some tennis shoes and knee sock. Since he bandaged my legs and ordered not to take the dressing for three days, I put on the socks and tennis shoes. It was good for me. In three days time, when I took off the bandages, almost all the injuries were healed.
I went to guard the cattle on the fields beside the forest with the children from the village the same day. It was the wood I had run through the previous day, but to the eastern side. Nothing significant did happen during that sunny day. It got cold little bit in the afternoon, so we started the fire, gathered around it and warmed next to it. A girl was heating a piece of bacon on the stick and soaked a great slice of bread with it.
On the weod edge, a hundred metres from us, a man showed up. He was going straight toward us. The children were frightened, saying that he was a bandit probably. I was calming them down. As the newcomer was coming closer, I was more certain that it was a concentration camp prisoner from Jasenovac. We he was 10 to 15 metres distanced I was completely sure. I knew him from somewhere. And, he was observing me with a probing glance. He obviously recognized me. I gave him a signal to be silenced, putting the finger on the mouth. Nobody noticed that. He grasped that. He walked up to us, squated next to the fire and started to warm himself. His eyes were riveted to the bread in the little girl’s hands. His glance was numb. A long and unquenched hunger was manifested out of him. He swallowed the saliva. Adam’s apple, which was very pronounced on his thin neck, was moving up and down.
The girl herself held out the hands and gave him the bread and bacon, feeling relieved. No sooner had he eaten that, he started the conversation with us, being interested for the surrounding places and the armies in the village. We told him everything honestly. Then, he went to the wood again, while we drove the cattle to the village.
We drove the cattle one more day because the front came closer and the guarding of the cattle was not possible anymore. The fight between the Germans and parizans was being led in the village of Donji Rajići. The Germans withdrew at dusk the second day.
I stayed in Rajići for five days. The partisans released us on 26 April 1945.
(From the book “The witness of Jasenovac hell“)