I was born on 15 November 1929 in the village of Slabinja in Bosanska Dubica County. The names of my parents were Milos (father) and Milica (mother). I was named by the grandfather Stojan who died few months before I was born.
The village of Slabinja was one of the biggest and most developed villages in that region, i e in the region of counties: Prijedor, Bosanski Novi, Kostajnica, Dubica and the mountain of Kozara. The village consisted of four hamlets: Rakovača, Iškovac, Čapaja and Strijić. There was a primary school in the village. It was consisted of a few hundreds of pupils. The pupils from the neighboring villages were attending this school. A lot of pupils enrolled as the apprentices or employed in the towns. There were so-called “schoolboys“ (i e the children who continued the tuition in the grammar or teacher’s schools). This village was the first village in this region where the peasants’ cooperative was founded. The reason for that was the preventing of “usurer“ behaviour of the private tradesmen. The founded cooperative included the library as well. The so-called Slabinjski fair, that was being organized every year, was famous there and was called “St. Ilija’s fair“ (2 August). The fair was being maintained in Cintor (the space between church and school, which was planted with the lime trees and oaks old more than a decade) which was being visited by the people from wider region.
The soil was tilled intesively. Every household was engaged in farming and cattle breeding. The production of agricultural and milk products was for their own needs. The turnover of these products was done in order to provide the acquisitions necessary for a household, paying taxes and other allowances.
The village had few trade shops: tailor’s, shoemaker’s and blacksmith’s.
My grandfather Stojan and grandmother Miljka had four sons and two daughters. My father was the only who stayed running the household. The other brothers was engaged in other professions. The sisters got married very young to the men from the neighbouring hamlets.
The grandfather Stoja (1870-1929) worked as a road maintenance man on Komlenac-Bačvani road. The walnut-lined path that he planted ramained famous. After his death, the grandmother inherited the pension. That was the first family pension in that area.
The grandmother Miljka (1871-1949) was very hard-working and tough woman who was very skillful housewife. She was engaged in cooking, the upbringing of poultry, pigs and cows. She was taking good care of grandchildren. She put special effort to have the best garden and prepare the best ffod for the winter. She was famous for collecting the medicinal herbs. She was successiful in using them. Since 1941, she was the only children’s guardian. She was gathering and directing them.
The uncle Vasilija (1904-1941) was a professional policeman. Both he and his family lived in the regions of Bijeljina and Brčko. When the war broke, he hid in the village of Slabinja. He joined the rebels and got killed in the first attack on Dubica in 1941.
The uncle Sava (1905-1945) completed the tailor’s trade school. He had his own tailor’s shop in Sarajevo. He stayed unmarried before the war started. He stayed in our memories as the person who was bringing new suit to all members of the family for every New year. The successiful pupils were getting special presents. We knew nothing about him during the war. After the liberation, we foun out that the Ustashas arrested him in 1944. He was driven away to Jasenovac concentration camp in January 1945 where he was killed.
The aunt Milica (1906-1975) was married in the hamlet of Rakovača. Her married surname was Dragaš. She had the characteristics of mother Miljka. She was very hard-working and carring. During the Kozara catastrophy, she, her family and children were in the temporary concentration camp in Prijedor. The Croatian authorities sent her older children on the forced labour in Germany. The younger children were sent to Slavonia.
My father Miloš (1902-1941) was engaged in the agricultural production. He got married with Milica (1908-1937) who was born in the hamlet of Iškovac. Her maiden surname was Budimir. They had three children: Stojan, Cvija and Ljubica. The mother suddenly died. The grandmother insisted on father’s remarring with Ljuba from the village of Babinjac. They had two children: Boško (1938-?) and Pava (1940-?). Since the had gone to the concentration camp Caprag (near to the town of Sisak), we didn’t hear anything of them. The step-mum was transported to Germany on forced labor.
Our household had: around 100 ares of cultivated agricultural soil and three ares of the forest (of peach, oak and chestnut); big house, outbuilding, warehouse, pigsty, chicken coop and other utility rooms; complete equipement and tools for soil cultivation; livestock fund: horse-driven vehicle, cows, pigs, hens, geese and ducks.
The stream of Čapaja was flowing next to the very garden. The river of Slabinja was flowing next to the the part of the garden where the onion was planted.
The tragedies that were happening in Bosanska Krajina during the World War II were numerous and almost identical for the whole area (a great number of people got killed or wounded; the villages were burnt, the livestock was destroyed, and so on ).
During the Kozara catastrophy, all the members of our family took refuge in the mountain of Kozara. They possessed the most necessary things for living. While the siege was lasting, we were living in such living conditions where we were exposed to permanent and everyday granading and bombing. The whole time of the enemy’s offensive on the Mountain of Kozara, our family, relatives, friends and neighbours were located in “Pašin konak“. During the artillery attack and aircraft bombing, we were hiding behind the trees. I remember how a granate fell on the tree where we were and did not explode. I remember that it was raining those days, what was making refugee life more difficult. The feeding could not be organized. The families and relatives were engaged in self-organizing as far as the food was concerned.They used what they brought with themselves, including the livestock fund too.
We were expecting every day to get out of the surround. However, day after day, the hopes were lesser and lesser. They were hiding in the most inaccessible hollows. It happened that our family was captured in a hollow. The Croatian soldiers expelled and lined us on the open place. We expected that they would shoot us. However, they were ordered to expel us to Prijedor. We were settled in the improvised concentration camp called Ciglana, which was enclosed in barbed wire. I want to mention that women and children were imprisoned in this concentration camp (mainly older women). We were fed poorly, mainly eating the soup. We, older children, were squeezing under the barbed wire in order to get some food from the neighbouring trenches that were empty. We used to find the moldy bread, which soldiers left.
The concentration camp authorities were asking for the children to be separated in the special concentration camps. As far as our family was concerned, it was dealt that me, my younger brother Boško (aged 4) and the youngest sister had to be separated, while the other children stayed with grandmother Miljka.
We, the separated ones, were pushed in the trucks and deported across Banja Luka to Sisak concentration camp, called Caprag (so-called Sokolana). I still remember that it was raining during our travelling from Prijedor to Banja Luka. The women,who were organized across the Red Cross, were waiting for us on the railway station (now, it is the building of the Museum of the contemporary Art ). The were incharged to feed us.
They deported us to the children’s concentration camp in Sisak (Caprag – Sokolana), which was enclosed in barbed wire. We were so exhausted that we couldn’t move. The adults were forbidden to come closer to the fence, and to have a contact with the citizens who were dropping by bringing the food. The younger children couldn’t move and approach to the wire in order to take the food. I could not assess the motive of the citizens who were circling around the concentration camp, i e if the motives were humane – to feed the children or someone else. It happened that I was taken to the house of Some Mile Knežević in the village of Cepeliš (near Petrinja). He took me in order to do some agricultural works (taking care of the cattle, soil cultivation). That man worked at the railway station that led from Petrinja to Sisak. He had three sons who were Ustashas. The youngest son, Jure, was engaged in Jasenovac concentration camp during the whole period of the war. The family Knežević came from Lika (Malovan) and was settled in Cepeliš in some Serbian house. I never foud out what happened to that Serb. Cepeliš was mainly populated by the Croatian Catholic population.
I stayed with this family for all the tome, doing the agricultural works. Nobody was abusing me. Even the sons of theirs , who were part-timely coming home, weren’t abusing me. The gave me the nickname “Staljin“. They were joking giving me that nickname. I was working and bearing, because it was a survival fight.
I stayed with this family for two years. I heard nothing of my own family and the circumstances in my home place.
The concentration camp of Caprag was mainly consisted of small children. Only a few of us was aged seven and more. We were all exausted because of the difficult live conditions: running to the Kozara mountain and staying in the collective centers. The consequences of separating from our parents and relatives were felt. They were sent to some other other Croatian concentration camps or on the forced labour in Germany.
The older children were forbidden to approach to the fence and speak to the visitors who were circling around the camp out of various reasons. Some people were coming and bringing the food to the children. My brother Boško (aged 4) and sister Pava (aged 2) were squeezed around me all the time.
I remember very well the situation when I was shouting at my brother Boško, making him go and take some food. He couldn’t move. Later on, that scene was repeating in my memory. I used to be waking during the night, sweating and being excited because of that happening.
As soon as the units of NOR-a (National Liberation War) had arrived, liberated the region and expelled the Ustashas across Kupa, I returned on foot to my village (Petrinja-Kostajnica-Slabinja). On the site of fire of our house, I found the grandmother Miljka (aged 80), brother Cvijo and sister Ljubica. The father was shot in Jasenovac concentration camp. There wasn’t a trace of my brother Boško (aged 4) and sister Pava (aged 2), who stayed in Sisak concentration camp.
After the end of the war, we were trying in the various ways to find out about the destinies of the missed members of our close family and other relatives (across the Red Cross, columns in the magazine of “Arena“, oral consultation and so on.), but having no results.
I have already mentioned that I invested the most possible labor in order to find out the truth about the destinies of my brother Boško (aged 4) and sister Pava (aged 2). They stayed in Sisak concentration camp (Caprag, Sokolana). But, I was hoping constantly that I would find out something about them. All the survived relatives were very occupied with the thinkings about this. While I was studying in Sarajevo, the daily paper from Banja Luka published that the Federal Center for the War Orphans was abolished. According to datae about their origin, the children were being assigned across the republics. It was given the list of the children which personal datae were known (the name, age, how they got lost from their families, what kind of school they completed while they were spending time in this center). I found the name of my brother Boško in the list of the children who were coming to Sarajevo. It was written that he was found in the snow in 1943, and that he completed the turner’s trade. It was announced that the children were about to come to Sarajevo by train.
At that time, I was the advanced university student of the school of economics in Sarajevo. I was receiving a fellowship from the firm of RDI (Republic Forest Industry) “Grmeč“ from Drvar. I was about to graduate in a few months. Afterwards, I was expected to be employed in that firm.
Disregarding the poor datae about Bosko, who stayed in Caprag concentration camp in the fall of 1942 and “found“ near the town of Bosanski Novi, I tried to take advantage of this opportunity in order to find my brother, whom I didn’t see for 14 years. I knew that my brother had a small scar on the right cheek. In the meantime, I tried to consult the people who would help me to make no mistake. A doctor advised me to pay attention on the impression which I was about to get during the first contact with him (the excitement and similar). I was thinking that I would do no harm to him, if I was about to accept him as the brother. The thoughts that were wandering in my mind were: “I can help him to find his way in life and feel more secure. I can employ him in my firm, which scholarship I was receiving. I’ll be working there too. Workers that completed the trade he did are needed. I can only help him to organize his life and adapt easier to the new conditions. I’ll tell our relatives that he is the member of our family, and that they need to accept him as the relative.“
When the announced train arrived, I met with Boško. He seemed to me as a foreigner straight away (he didn’t have a scar on the right cheek), but I tried to hide it from him. I didn’t want him to feel that I assessed straight awat that he was not my brother. I took him to the place where I lived as a subtenant. He was having meals in the student dining hall (we shared my meals). Assessing that this kind of situation couldn’t last long and that I had a few months to graduate, I suggested him to take him to the home place of Slabinja in order to introduce him to the survived close and distant relatives. I told him to stay there until I graduate, and that we were about to go to Drvar later on.
I took him to Slabinja. The relatives accepted the suggestions that he was our relative and that he should stay with them until my graduation. When I returned in Sarajevo, Boško came after me in a few days. I tried to employ him in the firm of “Famos“, but he didn’t want to work. Later on, I sent him to Slabinja, but he returned again. That kind of situation was repeating few times. I started to lose the patience, tryng to find the way out from this kind of situation. When It was the last time that I took him to Slabinja, I asked him not to be coming to Sarajevo, but to stay there until I came after him. He met a girl in the neighboring village and decided to get marry.
In the meantime, he had to sign up for the recruiting. He was sent to Daruvar to serve military obligation. There, he met his real mother accidently, who was deported from the collective center to the area of Daruvar. Of course, this happened during the World War II. Since then we heard nothing of him.
In 1956, I had a chance to check the concentration camp books in SSRN (Socialist union of the working people) office during the guidance of the excursion of graduating pupils of the secondary school of economics from Daruvar. We were visiting Sisak bloomery, which was built on the terrain of Caprag. I was amazed to see my name in the obituary. It shows that the Croatian authorities destroyed the traces of the small children deliberately, who didn’t know their real names and surnames and were given to the Croatian families where they were assimilated and since, there wasn’t a trace on them. (Let us remember the case of Božidarka Frajt, who found out her origin after thirty years, i e that she is the Serbian orphan from Kozara.)
It is difficult to estimate the consequences of the war happenings. That is not the loss of four-year normal development but forceful experiencing of the terrible war scenes, loss of the closest relatives, living in bad condiyions, adaptation to new living conditions, and so on. That is why Radivoje Lola Đukić was right when he said this: “The one who didn’t experience the, does not know how the peace is beautiful.“
But, the postwar peace is specific: the life in the war orphanages, intensive learning without adequate teaching aid and literature, and so on. The constant feeling that you didn’t have any close relative and that you had tofind the way on your own, setting the life goals in the circumstances you had to take into consideration were the things which could be added to the speciality of the postwar peace.
On the way back from the captivity (when I found the site fire of the house), I was settled in the boarding school in Dubica, where I completed lower grammar school. In 1947, I was directed to Banja Luka to study in the secondary economics school. I was settled in the pupil’s boarding school. I completed this school successfullyin 1950. After that I was disposed to work in ŠIP (Forest Industry and Production) “Grmeč“ in Drvar. I worked a an accountant. I was accepted very well in their personnel. I learned a lot during the work in this firm. After two years of work in this famous economic system, the management organs approved me the scholarship in order to continue the studying at the school of economics in Sarajevo, where I graduated in 1957. When I returned to Drvar, I worked as a teacher in the secondary school of economics. I thought the subjects: Political economy, Organization and economic management. This wasn’t my permanent employment.
As soon as I had paid off the scholarship, I returned to work in economy, where I worked from 1959 to 1980. I worked as a sector administrator. I was the member of KPO (Board of the Communist Party) in the great business systems. At the meantime, I had M. A. Examination at the school of economics in Zagreb. Then, I received a doctorate in economics at the school of economics in Sarajevo. In order to pass the Ph. D., I had to defend it. The dissertation theme concerned with “The organization and directing of the the scientific, researching and innovatory activity in Socijalist Republic of B&H.
I started to work at the school of economics in Banja Luka in 1980. I taught the subjects: the firm Organization and Cadre Management. I worked there until 30 November 2000, when I retired because I was old enough for retirement and had 41 years of the length of service. I worked as a regular professor at the school of economics.I was the manager for the post-degree studies and mentor for the compilation and defending of the M. A. Themes and doctorates.
I did not heed to the offered concept as far as the sketching of the previous text was concerned because I had in mind that no publications were written in my home place (Kostajnica, Novi and Knežica). That area has been immensively changed since the period of the World War II (the number of population, households, children…), regardless the fact that the main road was paved with asphalt, and that the electricity was brought to the place and so on. Out of these reasons, and according to the memories on the things happened 65 years ago, I tried to give some datae. I, who has no relative in the village where I was born. Thirty years ago, I took my own family to see my birth place, but I couldn’t show them the house or meet them with the ralatives.
This action urged me and a few friends of mine, who now lives in Banja Luka, to try to do more detailed research of the changes that appeared.