She was born in 1937 in the village of Kruhari, Sanski Most County
I was born on 27 January 1937 in the village of Kruhari in the vicinity of Sanski Most. I was named Zorka. My surname is Delić. When I was adopted in Zagreb, I was named Zorica – Marija Dasović. One time I didn’t know the date of my birth. I was told I was born on 10 April. It was the date and day when the Independent State of Croatia was established. It is interesting how I was ”changing” the religion. I was born as a Serb of the Orthodox religion. In the process of adoption I became a Croat of the Catholic religion. When I was married, they wrote that I was a Yugoslav who had no religion. The last birth certificate which I got in Sanski Most, which belongs to the B&H Federation, was saying that I have no religion and nation.
After the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia, my grandfather was arrested and closed in the basement of the primary school in Sanski Most, where the Ustasha tortured and killed him. Both his son Dušan and the daughter Dragica were killed too. The other son of his, Milan Praća, was working as a printing worker in Belgrade. The Germans killed him in 1941. His daughter got married in the village of Kruhari. There, on the Šušnjar, the eleven members of Delić family got killed.
When my mother was sixteen, she got married for my father, Drago Delić. hey had five children. In 1941, Nevenka was thirteen, Dara was nine, Mile was seven, Zorka was four and Jovica was six months old. The father’s brother Dušan, his wife Vukosava and their four children were living in the common household. In 1941, Draško was fourteen, Slavka was nine, Petar was eleven and Rada was three. Vukosava had died before the end of the war. My mother was taking care for nine children.
At the beginning of July 1941, my father Drago and uncle Dušan were taken somewhere. They were deceived, because the day laborer, Omer Alagić called Omerica, came after my father.
Taking into consideration that they didn’t return home, my mother suspected that they were imprisoned in the corn magazine. The Ustashas were passing through the villages of the Sanski Most district, robbing and burning the Serbian houses. This happened in the second half of July. They came to the village of Kruhare too. Our house was located at the rise from where my mother could see the Ustashas burning the houses. She recognized Omer Alagić among them. She couldn’t believe that he could do any evil, but, in any case, she hid nine of us into the corns that were behind the house. Before she managed to get out of the corns, Alagic had already burnt the house and the cattle stable. The black bull, which father had bought for the Grmeč bullfight especially, was roaring painfully. The mother could be listening to this. She went out of the corns and let six cows, a bull and twohorses, so that they couldn’t choke in the smoke and burn in the stable, which had already been in flame. As soon as she had done it, Omer appeared before her. When she saw him, she told him: ”Omerica, you criminal, give me back my husband and the brother-in-law! Who will feed my nine children?”
Instead of answer, he took a rifle and killed my mother. Omerica was coming in the corns, swearing the Chetniks mother because he couldn’t find and kill all of us. While Omerica was spreading the corns, searching for us, the youngest brother Jovica started to cry and call our mother, probably, because he was hungry. Fearing that Omerica could discover where we were, my sister Dara, who was aged only nine, was carrying Jovica, who was only six months old. She put spme cloth in his mouth, preventing him to cry. When she took out the cloth, he was no longer alive.
When the International Red Cross appeared in Sanski Most, they started collecting the war orphans, putting them in the freighted cars for cattle. Five of us were inside: Draško, who was aged 14 then; Mile, aged 7; Slavka, aged 8; Rada, aged 3; and I, aged 4. The train that was loaded with the Serbian children set off for Zagreb. We Could’ve been in Zagreb in three days. Instead, we came in three days. We had neither food nor water. We were almost left without air too. When we came to Zagreb, there were children who died. They smelled on urine and feces. We, the ones who stayed alive, were awfully thirsty and hungry. We were settled in the Home for deaf and mute children, where some nuns were spraying us with some disinfectant. They dressed us in clean clothes. We unpatiently were waiting for the lunch. Being very hungry, we rushed to come to the food as soon as possible. However, there was a small amount of food and too many of us. The strongest and oldest boys were the only to take the food. The children were falling. The other children were stepping on them in order to get some food. Drasko managed to take a plate that contained some porrige. He devided it with four of us. The nuns where observing all of that from the side.
Five of us was set off to Jastrebarsko, a place distanced 20 kilometres from Zagreb. The space where they settled us in was enclosed in barbed wire. The male children were placed in the wooden barracks. There were no toilets in the barracks. So, the boys had to reveal themselves in some pit that was boarded up. The boys were standing on the planks while they were revealing themselves.
The female children, aged up tp five, were settled in the old, deserted wet and damp basement of the count Erdedi shatto where me and my sister Rada were placed. A very little amount of light was penetrating through a small latticed window. We lying on the ground itself, because there were very little of the straw. Since we didn’t have the toilet, we were revealing ourselves where we were lying. The new children were coming every day in the basement. Majority of them were coming from the mountain of Kozara. There were hundreds of us. There were iron beds on the first floor of the court where two small girls were sleeping in each. My sister Slavka was placed there. As soon as we had been settled in, we had to have a haircut. The nuns were shaving us in order not to have the lice. After the hair cutting, we got the numbers. My number was 97, Rada 98 and Slavka 47. The number was written on the hard cardboard, which we had to carry aroun our neck.
Jastrebarsko concentration camp was intended to the Serbian war orphans. The cam was run by the Catholic nuns from Saint Vinko Paulski congregation from Zagreb. The manager of the concentration camp was the nun Ana Berta Pulherija, who was telling that we were bandit’s children, and that they should kill us all. The nuns Bernadeta and Gracioza were the same. Jastrebarsko concentration camp was under supervision of Andrija Artuković, who was the Interior Minister. He was coming often to the camp. Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac was coming with him too.
Every morning, Franji Ilovar, the undertaker, was coming with the horse – driven vehicle. They were throwing out the dead children from the basement. The tool they were using for that was a great showel. The undertaker was loaded them in the vehicle, driving them outside the graveyard where he used to burry them. The manager of the concentration camp, the nun Pulherija, was in hurry to empty the shatto basement as soon as possible. Her intention was to hide the real truth of dying and suffering from the world.
Once, the nun Gracioza gathered twenty of us from the basement. Petar Lovrin from Ljubija (Prijedor) was going from one to another child, catching the child for his head. He would plung a strange knife in the throat of a child. He did it quickly. The knife was long with the very sharp top. Then, he would take out the eyes of the dead, putting them into some knitted basket. He was bragging that he killed a lot of Serbian children. When he approached me in order to slaughter me, he pinned the knife in the part of the throat. I was looking him sweetly right between the eyes. I was about to say: ”Well, what have I done wrong?” My look disarmed him. He took out the knife, and didn’t plung it deep enough into the throat. My look broke something in him. The nun Pulherija was watching all of this and told me to repeat after her: ”This is my sin, my sin, a very great sin, St. Petar!” I was only four, and I couldn’t say clearly the words. I had to pray for ” a very great sin” to those which hands were bloody.
I am lucky that I am alive. I am unlucky because I will have to have a scare on my heart for the rest of my life because of the innocent Serbian children who were slaughtered that day. The fear from the Ustashas and nuns was present in me for many years. The fear of being slaughtered and the wound on the throat that was hurting me were giving me a lot of pains as far as my peaceful sleeping was concerned. The first night was the hardest. The next morning, Franjo Ilovar came at dawn again and started throwing out the dead children from the basement. The nun Pulherija was present that morning. She told him to load the alive children first, and then the dead across them. She was pointing the children she meant. Quckly, I found myself lying on the floor together with the dead children.
The grave was digged and prepared for us, of course, outside Jasstrebarsko graveyard. Since we were thrown into the grave, the gravedigger Franjo Ilovar was throwing the ground on us. I was lucky because I was on the top now. It may be that I was digging away the ground in order to get out alive from the grave, or I was helped by Franjo Ilovar. Since I was on the top, it may be that my sweet look had influnced on him too.
I was dreaming few times that I was digged alive in the grave with the dead children, and that I could not get out of the grave. At the same time, I was dreaming that the gravedigger was giving me a hand.
When I went out of the grave, I decided not to return to the concentration camp, but to hide in the forests where I would feel better than in the camp with the nuns. The concentration camp guardian noticed me and showed to the dog where I was, using the forefinger, saying:
”Reks, the bandit!
The dog jumped and knocked me down. So, I was returned to the concentration camp.
Almost all children in the basement were dying of typhus. Franjo Ilovar was burrying them. Many children were dying being cooked in the cauldrons. They were being cooked in the hot water. Later on, the soap was made of them. Therefore, there were few survived children.
One of the most difficult punishment was to force a little POW to look to the Sun until he blinded. The witness of that punishment is still alive. Her name is Milja Kukolj, the old women who lives alone in Knežica which is located under the mountain of Kozara. She had to look at the Sun in the concentration camp of Jastrebarsko and blinded.
My uncle’s daughter confirms that the Ustashas were throwing the blind children into the hot water because they wanted to feed the pigs with them. Before that, the nuns had been forcing children to look at the Sun until they blinded.
God knows how many of us would die of hunger, if the International Red Cross didn’t find out about us. Thanking them, all the children were transfered from the dump and wet basement to the second floor of the deserted count Erdedi shatto. There, two of us was sleeping in the same bed. The nuns who wore white coats were giving us the medicines and taking good care of our health. We were regularly supplied with food, and we had toilets where we could reveal ourselves. So, we didn’t smell on urin and excrement anymore.
The nun Gracioza was taking care of the children on the second floor. She was young and beautiful, but very evil. There were rumours that she was born in Herzegovina, in the same place where Andrija Artuković was born. He used to come often to the concentration camp because of the nun Gracioza.
When it got dark, she used to make them sleep. We knew what we needed to do. We were closing our eyes, pretending that we were sleeping. I was in the same bed with my sister Slavka. Gracioza turned off the light in the premise where we were sleeping while turning on in the part where she was sleeping. Her part of the room was separated with the room devider which was made of the white material which could be seen through. We were opening the eyes concluding by the shadows we saw that some man was coming inside. I asked Slavka to tell what they were doing. Slavka told me to be silenced otherwise the nun would beat me. She told me whispering that they were doing what the mother and father were doing in the bed. I asked Slavka – “What are the father and mother doing in bed?”
”They are making children. What else they can do. Now, go to sleep! Stop questioning me!”’
One morning, in the summer of 1942, all the nuns were upset. They were saying that some barbarians came from the forest and took away few boys. Those ”savages” took way Duško too. Being frightened for the other boys, they transfered them to Zemun. All the barracks remained empty. My brother Mile was taken to Zemun too.
In the autumn of 1942, Slavka started to the first grade of the primary school. She found easier to go to school than to do difficult jobs she was doing in the kitchen. The most important subject was the religious instruction, which she didn’t like.
Both me and Rada had to attend the classes of the religious instruction. We had to be in the Catholic church every morning at five. We were thought how to christen, pray the rosary and sing the Catholic church songs. Almost every time Slavka was going with us, though she didn’t have to. She was afraid for two of us to get sleep, because it was very punishable to do that. If the nun Bernardeta would catch us sleeping, we would have bad time. Once, it happened that not just me and Rada fell asleep, but Slavka too. Bernadeta woke up us and other children, taking us to dark room of some old court and locked the door behind us. The head of some masked ”devil”, lighted with the torch, appeared from some wide chimney. The devil had a great red tongue, black face and big horns. They said that chaplain Nikica Gašpar used to dress as devil in order to frighten the children. Suddenly, we felt the blows of some chain that Nikica used to beat us. When Bernadeta unlock the door, we were all crying. The reason for that wasn’t the fear. We were weeping because our bodies ached from the chain blows. After such punishment, it never occurred to us to fall asleep in the church. We realized the going to the church was very important for our nuns. We found out soon why it was so important to them.
In the spring of 1943 the archbishop from Zagreb Alojzije Stepinac came to the concentration camp. He had a long cap on his head. Both the children and nuns were dressed solemnly. Standing in the que, we were approaching, one after the other, to Stepinac kissing his glove. Then, he would make a greasy cross on our foreheads, using his forefinger which he put in some oil. After that, he would hit our cheeks with two fingers. Some women were called to Jastrebarsko to be our godmothers. Tha’s how we became both Catholics and Croats. We were rewarded with a good lunch. Afterwards, we were singing and reciting to Stepinac the songs devoted to Ante Pavelić.
In the spring of 1944, some unknown men and women started coming in the concentration camp. As they were leaving, they would take a child with them. Mostly, the Ustashas and their wives were coming. Nobody else could get the pass in order to enter the concentration camp. Slavka told us that she was more than certain that they would take me and Rada out of the camp. They would take Rada because she was beautiful, and me, because I was sweet.
Once, Pulherija brought few small girls into her office where some man dressed in civil clothes was sitting. She addressed me, saying:
”Mister Dasović, we don’t have a boy as you want. We brought these girls instead. You may choose one of them”.
When he looked at us, he said her that he didn’t like any of us, and made his way toward the doors. Then, before he had gone out I walked out of the row and cought him by his hand and told him:
”Daddy, take me, I will be good!”
His eyes were becoming warmer. Strangely, it was as if I had seen that man before. I was frightened, but I was glad he wasn’t Ustasha. He asked me my name. I told him that my name is ”97”. Being two years in the camp, I totally forgot what was my name. The nun Pulherija found some cardboard and told him:
”Mister Dasović, when this little girl came to this orphanage, we wrote what her older sister Slavka told us. She said that her name is Zorka Delić, and that she was born in the village of Kruhari near Sanski Most. The names of her parents are Drago (father) and Dragica (mother). They are not alive. The only thing she didn’t know was the date of her birth”.
Pulherija made a fatal mistake because she told that before me. If they wanted to convert me to the Catholicism a hundred times after that, they couldn’t do anything because I now knew my name and surname, and the names of my parents and the place of birth. I was thinking about this then: ”As soon as I have the first chance to go to my home place and meet my closest, I will do it”. That’s why I cared so much to get out alive from the concentration camp. I was thinking this way: ” I can do it, if only this man decides to take me”. Luckely, he decided to take me. He told to Pulherija to dress me nice, and that he would come after me. When he came by his car, I was ready. He was dressed in uniform. The German shepard dog was sitting beside him. I was afraid of that dog. He noticed that and told me: ”Don’t be afraid! Since today, Reks will be your great friend. Sit with us in the jeep in order to set off for Zagreb as soon as possible”. While we were driving in the jeep, Slavko was telling me that he was very religious man, and that he had never missed a chance to be present at the mass in the cathedral, especially when ”highly esteemed and most honored” Zagreb archbishop, Alojzije Stepinac, was performing the religious mass. He wouldn’t take me, if he didn’t hear one of his speeches, which he was giving to his believers (telling them to go to Jastrebarsko). The speech concerned with the adoption of the children who didn’t have parents. Further on, he was telling that those children should be raised in the Catholic spirit in order to be the real Croats when they grow up. Then, 500 of children was taken from Jastrebarsko to Zagreb.
”If there wasn’t his speech, I would never decide to someone else’s child, when God didn’t give me my own”, claimed Slavko.
”Have we agreed that you should bring a male child? Return her from where you have brought her!” a women ordered.
She made a bed linen and told me to lie down without offering me to eat. The bed, chair and closet were put in a small room. When I entered the room, I noticed that a lot of apples were on the top of the closet. I loved so much apples. Two years passed since I ate an apple. I took a chair, descended and took an apple. While I was taking the apple, Reks showed up. Fearing, I dropped down the apple. Micika appeared on the doorstep. She was laughing outloud because I frightened Reks. She told me that I could not take an apple without asking her.
”Now, take the apple you dropped down! You may eat her!”
I didn’t like the woman. I didn’t love her because she treated me badly. She was evil, like the nuns in Jastrebarsko concentration camp.
The first night I spent in Zagreb was the night of terrible dreams I dreamt. I dreamt that some Ustasha was slaughtering me with the knife he had in his hand, then, I saw myself surrounded with the dead children, I was choking and couldn’t go out of the grave. I woke feelling happy because I wasn’t in the grave. When the woman came into my room the following morning, she was out of her mind seeing that I wet myself in the bed. She woke up Slavko in order to tell him that. She commented:
”Take this smelly Bosnian girl!”
(The passage from the book ”I was saved by the sweet eyes”)