It is very strange, among other things, when for example Nada Feureissen says: “From Metajna we went to Slana on trabaccolo cargo ships. After that we boarded a sail ship and after half an hour reached a bay…” (Slana, Suha bay). For people who know this distance, it is clear that this is probably poor memory, because if you board a ship heading to Slana, it is unnecessary to change vessels since it is not a long distance. It is more interesting that she said they went into trabaccolo ships, so more than one. But if they changed vessels (from trabaccolos to a sail ship, although the trabaccolo is also a sail ship) it would mean that half way through, somewhere on the sea, they transferred some people to another sail ship and left the others on one trabaccolo or more. In half an hour (so the transfer was behind Cape Barbat) the ship arrived to Slana (Suha Bay). But did the one or more trabaccolos arrive? Did they go to Slana or somewhere else? Nada did not have time to say, even if she knew something about it?
I wanted to clarify hundreds of questions.
In late autumn 1986 I found out where she was living. Although I was reluctant to disturb her in her old age, when I decided to visit her my hopes were great: I was going to solve a lot of questions about destinies of women, Jewish and Serbian, where and when did they disappear, from where had they come, maybe even to find out their names, etc. I thought this would be the crown testimony. I went to Italy with a Dictaphone and plenty of tapes.
Everything finished with a courteous conversation between an employee of our consulate and my crown witness.
When I heard that our conversationalist was crying at the other end of the line, I immediately said I was giving up and that I wish her goodbye. Nothing else.
I returned home empty-handed. I was now adamant that the tragedy that happened was greater that I could have imagined. I only decided to write a letter to my conversationalist never to be:
Dear and Noble Madam,
I have travelled too far to be content with returning empty-handed. I have expected to solve many things with your help, but you refused me.
If I did not know anything about this case which is entwined with my life, as you will se from this letter, I would have the right to reproach you. But this I do not intend to do to the smallest extent, although I made a lot of effort to find you.
I had to have a lot of luck to discover who the person that provided information long time ago was, now living under a different name. And again, when I found out where you are, I had to be lucky to find you in another country and a large city.
Again, not sparing time, effort or expense I found you. And then it all ended. I was so happy to have found you. But not only because with your help I would be able to find out important details about this crime, but mostly because it was possible for me to see someone who went through all that horror and survived. Would she, with her small physical presence in the great world and great execution site, with her living eyes looking at the world, confirm the fact that there is no perfect crime!
This makes me happy and I am happy to hear about you just as I was happy to find several other survivors (men) and had an opportunity to meet Dr. Radan, whom you know, and then Zlatko Vajler. This was mainly that feeling of victory when you see or hear about someone whom you believed to have been gone for a long time. I am personally connected for each such case of Slana camp, not only because I investigate and find data on this unfortunate camp and events in it, but also because I was supposed to end up in it, because I was at the very verge of being sent there and because some good playing card helped me to escape that fate. Then, as a prisoner and a Partisan I did not believe I would survive, but rest assured that in such difficult times I hoped for survival, and I did survive. From that moment, each life that has escaped the hands of death in war is my personal happiness and I am willing to look for meaning of life with that person, as someone who is my equal, and find reasonable answers to the questions I have. I would trust such person more than anyone.
This is the main reason I wanted to have coffee with you in your home.
Maybe there are a lot of things we could look back at from our winner pedestal – because life is victory – and with our relative hopes with which we continued our lives, and maybe also with anger and judgement to which we are fully entitled. This is not a lot, but it is not a small thing. We can raise our voices with pure heart. Maybe our lives became a part of this meaning of life, to suppress evil in a long effort for survival. Survival would not be possible if evil would prevail absolutely. So we are not full owners of our fates, nor are our fates insignificant. In that context, we can conflict with every our suffering and turn them into a noble factor of human life. In my opinion this is the highest meaning we could give to our lives as those that have managed to outlive evil. When answering my question (in Zagreb, 1986, at a forum in the Jewish Municipality Hall) famous writer E. Kischon told me that his greatest response to criminals is to have their children reading about their deeds. This is a true victory.
With such thoughts and intentions I went to see you, my dear madam, not wanting to disturb you in any way, but to make my visit pleasant for both of us, and maybe to all those people who would be happy to find out about anything I would find out from you. In company, a man always finds out something new and is able to transfer that knowledge to our common treasury if someone should need it. And many people need this truth that we could have talked about. Especially your fellow people, who somehow survived this new age holocaust, and their children too.
With your help I wanted to confirm and clarify not only formal data and by that conclusions and assumptions on insufficiently investigated details, but also to simply portray as accurate image of everyday life in Slana as it is possible from this distance in time. With you, the last surviving female witness that I know of, I would be surer in every word I wrote, and would not risk the truth on these events nor question my conclusions with any uncertainty, before others or my own conscious.
It is your right not to meet my request, or simply not to hear it. You probably have the reason for it, or at least you had a reason at that point of time. If you did find the reason, I respect it and see it just as you do. That is why before coming to see you asked our consulate to contact you on my behalf and ask permission to visit you, feeling that you might reject me. With respect to your age and peace I agreed with your decision at the time, although with pain and sense of loss.
Whoever finds out about your rejection can only conclude that the crime over humanity in Slana was so enormous that the last living witness did not want to speak about it almost half a century later. I do not think we need more proof than that. In this way you deprived me of clarifications for which I will have to dig deeply and probably never find, and confirmed to everybody the severity of the monstrous crime that happened on my island.
Dear Madam, after this I am left with little hope that you might change your decision. But if you ever feel in a mood to talk to me in the sense I explained, I am ready to visit you at any time. For that reason I am enclosing my address to this letter. Along with that I will add several most necessary questions for which I hope you would be willing to provide short answers. I hope this will not be difficult for you. Even the shortest answer from you would solve many of my dilemmas.
After all of this, do not despair that we did not understand each other. We understood each other so well and I hold nothing against you, so please do not hold anything against me. Both of us were affected by the same evil. You have lost your husband and child, which I did not (since I was very young), but all my life I have been carrying the evil you endured and the fate of your fellow sufferers as a moral blow from which we cannot recover unless we reveal it as much as we can. Sometimes I simply do not believe that we were born and lived in such times! Especially, when I try to detach, I find it unbelievable that such a crime could have happened and imposed on my, until then, peaceful island.
I would also like to inform you that Italian painter Mario D’Anna from Coma made around 120 water-colour paintings last summer inspired by Slana. This exhibition went around the world as an accusing memento. We also revived other forms of memory, such as conserving the camp area, building a monument, making a film, etc. If we are smart enough, Slana could become a permanent inspiration to fight evil and a school of humanism and nobility for future generations. It will be the topic of many writings, noble thoughts and poems. Amongst the call of the victims raising from here your name will heard forever.
I thank you for the information on Slana you provided long time ago, because they helped me a lot, and I am happy that you are still alive and well and I wish you a peaceful life.
Please do not hold it against me that I felt the urge to talk to you at least in this way. With respect and regards I remain you loyal
Zagreb, January 15, 1987