Serbian Holocaust

Johana Borić, March 30, 2012, Belgrade

Interviewer: Jelisaveta Časar | Camera: Milan Džekulić | Editing: Jelisaveta Časar, Nemanja Krdžić | Transcript: Jelisaveta Časar | Webmastering: Dusan Gavrilović

Voices of Survivors

English rendition of the interview, paraphrased and abridged:

I was born in Guta, district Komarno, in former Czechoslovakia. Now this territory belongs to Slovakia. There were seven of us in the family: my father, mother and seven children - four girls and three boys. I was the oldest child and I am the only one in the family that survived. There were also about thirty relatives from which almost nobody survived the war.

In October 1938, we were occupied by Hungarians. Soon we faced the beginning of  fascism.  At that time I already attended public school.  I had a teacher who taught physical culture and handicrafts. It was 1938, but she had already favored Hitler. Fortunately, our school principal was good and reasonable person. All Jewish children, except me and one boy, ceased to attend school. I managed to complete the whole school.
After a short time my father was sent to munkatabor, a labor camp. He was occasionally allowed to come home. My mother was left alone with the children. My brother, the youngest  among us, was born in 1938. Fortunately, the mayor was my mother's school friend and he was helping us a lot.
On March 14, 1944  I turned eighteen. The Germans came on March 19. It was Sunday. At that time my father stopped coming home at all. While my mother stayed at home with younger children, the Germans took me and my brother to a farm where we had to work. At the end of April we were taken to Veliki Meder- in Hungarian it is called Nagy Meder. There, among the Jews, I found my mother with the rest of children. It was the place where the Germans gathered all Jews and from there sent them to the fortress in Komarom in Hungary. Komarom was a city divided between Hungary and Czechoslovakia. In both parts was a fort with labyrinths. We didn't stay there long, but many horrible things happened there like gynecological examinations and other things about which I can really not talk. Our poor grandmother, father's mother, was also in Komarom. She was an orthodox and  the whole of her life she just prayed to God. She died there, but how? One German grabbed her for the head, the other for the legs and so they were throwing her left and right. It happened during our displacement from the fort.

After we spent some time in the fort, we went to those labyrinths.The ground was from soil and it was very cold. I remember that my brother found two bricks and a peace of tin. Mother was heating water in it. I don't know where did she get flour but she would mix it with water and we ate it for next few  days. One morning my brother and I went to look for some branches so mother could set a fire between those two bricks. There was a wire fence and on the other side of the fence we sow our father. All three of us were stunned that we met there. My brother and I walked along the fence pretending to talk to each other but actually we were talking with dad who was walking along the other side of the fence. He wanted to meet with our mother the next day, but tomorrow morning we were loaded into wagons and started to Auschwitz.  I don't know where it was, but along the way the Germans opened wagons so we were able to go to toilet next to the wagons.. There my brother was separated from us.

Before the war my mother had a car accident. She spent a year in a hospital and one of her legs was left little shorter. She suffered a lot in the wagons and when we arrived in Auschwitz she could hardly walk. There were guards with dogs. I looked back and I sow my brother. Our looks met. That was the last time I sow him. I remember that on our left  were wagons and on our right side we sow many women without hair and in stripe dresses showing with their hands toward their mouths. They were hungry.

Among those dogs, while the Germans were beating us, we approached Mengele. We were separated there. It took a long time, because there were many of us. My mother was separated to the left, as I can remember, and I to the right. My mother's brother who participated in the First World War was lame and walked with a stick. He  had a daughter who was four or five. He knew he wouldn't survive so he handed the child to my mother believing that  children will be spared. But my mother with all the children ... I don't know if my brother was also taken then to crematorium or was sent for work.

When I was separated I met in that group my mother's sister from my grandfather's second marriage. She was only two years older than me. There were some more girls I knew and somehow happened that six of us stayed all time together till the end of the war. At one moment, while we  were standing for a very long time waiting to be tattooed, I found myself laying on the ground while some women were shaking me. It had to be that I fainted from hunger because we got nothing to eat in those wagons. Beside me on the ground someone left a carrot and one potato. After a while I was tattooed. I got number 17 669.

We were sent to one big, completely empty barrack, but at least we didn't sleep in an open space. There were so many of us that we had to sit on each others lap.The next day we were selected in the different barracks and  sent to work. In the morning we would get just some black water and at noon some stinking herbs. Lot of women were not able to eat that, but I knew I had to eat it. Somehow I have always had the strength to fight. 
After two or three weeks I was transported from Auschwitz to Katowice, in a coal mine. At the station in Katowice people gathered watching us and wondering where we came from.  Our hair were shaved and  even six of us friends could hardly recognize each other. We were taken to logor. We were crammed in the barracks with three bunk beds. I had extremely difficult time there. I didn't work in coal mine pits but I had to climb the huge mountain of coal and sort smaller and larger pieces. You can imagine how dirty I was. Little further from there were three faucets and few toilets. SS women  were much worse than SS men. They would go into the toilet control to find out if any of us sits there and sabotage work. Whenever they found some of us there, they would release dog to attack us. 

We stayed there until mid-September 1944 and then we returned to Auschwitz. There we had more difficult job. We were working near the edge of the hill and down there was chasm. At the very edge there were piled stones that we had to add each other. From there we could see what was happening down there. Once I saw a dog that tore a young woman's breasts apart. During our work we were surrounded by guards with dogs. There was also a Pole who supervised us. All of us were in fear of  SS officer who was riding a white horse. Whenever he came, and it was very often, he would kill someone. Riding on horseback, he would approach to someone and horse would push with its head the wretch into the abyss. 
One day there were around fifty of us, less than usual, working there. I was the first in a row who should lift the stone and add it to the person next to me. Suddenly that Pole slapped me with such a strength that I fainted.  I only remember that I woke up in front of one barrack and there I found out what happened. The Pole saw the SS officer approaching to me to push me into the abyss, so he slapped me such that I fell on the ground and not into the abyss. Then he told the SS officer that he didn't see him coming, that I was working slowly and thus he slapped me. The SS officer beat me a little more and when he left they carried me to the barrack. The Pole spoke a little bit Hungarian, I spoke a little German so we could understand each other. He told me that I was so young and beautiful and that I didn't deserve such death so he had to try to save me.

There was a big open space inside logor and often officers would gather there sitting  in a circle. Big space with bleh orchestra. They would chose among us some young woman and she had to dance naked inside that circle till exhaustion. When she couldn't dance anymore they would kill her and replace her with another girl. And many of us were chosen for their brothel.

We had to wake up early in the morning and stand outside whether in rain or in sun. There were many of us standing in five rows. We were standing there for hours. Between rows we had to make big space so SS officers could  see if some of us crouched to pee or sat on the ground or hold hands. If they caught some of us they used to decimate us - they would kill every tenth in line and we never knew from where they would start to count. Once while we were standing for a very long time, one of my friends, hoping that she would not be noticed, sneaked a barrack to pee. They saw her and she was brutally beaten.

On October 9, we were selected again. There were lot of soldiers and officers.They stripped us naked. Five hundred of us were set aside. Mengele was turning us left and right watching if we were healthy. Then we got something to dress and we went to Birkenau. It was very cold. We had to take the shower and after that we had to go outside naked in the cold and so several times - warm-cold, warm-cold. We tried to warm up hugging each other. Finally we got some long sleeve dresses and wooden clogs. Each of us got a piece of bread and margarine and so we started walking to the train. Only we were in that train. In front of every compartment was a guard. I don't remember how long this journey took, but we arrived in Augsburg.
In Augsburg we were placed within a structure of a huge "Kuka" factory which occupied vast land . It was near Dachau.We were in walled rooms with floor and straw mattresses and each of us got blanket. There were toilet and bathroom which we couldn't use every day for we had to wait that our turn comes, but comparing to Auschwitz it was better. From there we had to go few kilometers to our workplace.

In the section where I was working we were producing aircraft and artillery parts. That department was so huge that we could hardly see the end of it. On one wall was big picture of Hitler and there was free space in front of it where no one was working. We were sitting at the long tables and each of us had his own drawer with tools. We were working twelve hours a day and we were not allowed to talk among ourselves. By the windows was a table where Frenchmen were working and between them and my table was a space where guards were walking. At the same table with my group, just to the opposite side, were Russian women. Then again a space and a table where Italian men were working. Among them were two Yugoslav men. All these men were prisoners of war who had already been there for some years and they were free to move around. They had cards with witch they affirmed their comings and goings. They always went to lunch before us, and we got to eat what had left after them. I would often find in my drawer piece of bread or some other food. One Frenchman used to leave it there for me. Other Frenchmen did the same for other women. Among us were also some German political prisoners. I remember one tall, blond prisoner. Jozef was his name. He used to pass the place I was sitting and whisper: "Langsam. Hitler kaputt". 

At the bottom of the department was an office for the bosses. One, called Šmit, was dark-haired, big man who was always in civilian clothes and who was not a bad men. The other blond one, with glasses, didn't give us to take a brake from work. But he didn't beat us. Once I was working with bore-machine. There was a barrel full of machine oil from where I had to take out some tablets, put them under that machine, make a hole in each and then put them in another barrel. I hurt one hand doing it and the hand got infected. I had to hide it from the Germans because otherwise they would say that I am incapable for work and it would be my end.

Each of us had nothing but dress, clogs and food bowl through which was threaded a rope and which hung around the neck of each of us. Not all the Germans were bad. I am not defending them, God forbid, but there was a blond German guard woman who would often, during her night shift, when nobody watched, threw pieces of bread in our bowls. There was also one German in leather coat, sometimes in officer uniform, who beat us a lot. But often he would discreetly place a package with bread close to the place where I was working with bore-machine. I would hide it in my dress and later shared it with my friends. 

Winter, which was very cold, finally passed. The Frenchman who used to leave bread in my drawer once left me a sweater green as a grass. As we had been searched before and after work I didn't dear to take it so for a long time it stayed in my drawer.

One day at the beginning of April we came to work and saw that on Hitler's picture his eyes were missing. Someone did it during the night. Jozef told us that we have to prepare for a march.We got some shoes. My were too big, but at least they were shoes. We saw that something was going on. When I went to throw something in the garbage, I found there lot of green and orange fabric pieces. As the guards were not searching us so strict as before, I wrapped them and I managed to bring them together with the green sweater to our room and hid in my straw mattress.

Somewhere in the middle of April the Germans lined us in one big factory hall. The factory was bombed once before  and there was a big hole near the place where we were standing. After a long time some German officers appeared. We thought that they were going to kill us and throw us in that hole. But one of the officers asked us if we get food and if they beat us. We didn't dare to say that they beat us.

After two days they gathered five hundred of us and we started marching to
 Mildorf. We went on some dusty country road under guards and dogs. We came to Mildorf around noon. In this logor the barracks were under the ground with three bunk beds in each. We had to go down the stairs to enter in. There was toilet in the field, than a small forest, behind the forest some kind of a bathroom where we could wash ourselves and little further there was an ambulance. 

When we passed the logor gate we heard the alarm . Airplanes! They bombed us. Little further from us we saw male prisoners. In that chaos the guards told us to run toward the trees and hide under them. All of us, together with guards, hid under those trees. Under the tree next to the one I was hiding there was a young man. We started to talk.We spoke in German. He was Greek. He saw my hand which was in really bad shape. It was in the pus almost to the bone. I wrapped it in those fabric pieces I found in the factory, but he saw it. He told me that he works in ambulance and that I come tomorrow so he will bandage it. He also told me from whom I must ask the permission to go to the ambulance.

In the early evening, just as darkness fell, I came back from the toilet and my friends told me that I must go quickly to the fence. There was a wire fence and under part of there was a hole dug. The Greek was waiting for me there. In a big bawl he brought me hot potato, cooked in salted water and a blanket. "This is for you. The nights are cold. Eat that and come to the ambulance tomorrow". He passed it to me under the part of the fence with the hole dug.I shared it with my friends. We were so happy that we can eat warm boiled potato.

We were in Mildorf for seven days and every day I went to the ambulance to bandaging. He would always give me something: sandwich, cookie, piece of chocolate or something else he had. I would hide it and bring it to my barrack to share with my friends.

Women didn't go to work, but men did. At the gate Germans always beat them badly. Once we were taken somewhere out from logor, I don't remember where and way, but we had to approach the part where the men were. Near the fence I saw a young man who will later become my husband. He asked me where do I come from, I told him and that was all. We were always looking at each other in hope that we will recognize someone we know - brother, cousin, acquaintance...

The next day when I went to the ambulance, the Greek asked me if I have some warm clothing and shoes. He told me that tomorrow is going to be a big march and it will be very cold. The Germans will empty logor because it will be bombed. How did he know that, I don't know. I had nothing else but the clothes I wore that moment. He opened one door and I saw some people lying on beds. I didn't realize that they were dead. He approached one man, took off his shoes, from the other one he took off sweater, from the third striped coat.. "I can not take it from them", I said. " Don't worry", he said, "they are all dead".

We started off the next morning. After a long march we were loaded into wagons. It was around April 20, 1945. There were six thousand of us in those wagons. Men and women. On April 29, we were bombed but we were not hit. I suppose that the German anti-air defense drove them away.The Germans opened wagons. Many young inmates ran away through the potato fields. As I couldn't use one hand, my friends dug out potato, shook out mud and such we ate it. The Germans ordered us to go back to the wagons.

My husband was among those who managed to escape. He came to a suburb of Munich. All this happened near Munich. He hid in some courtyard. Fortunately there was no dog because he was very afraid of dogs. He wondered what to do next. He wore the logor clothes. Anyone could kill him or report him. The house owner was well-minded man and gave him some civil clothing. My husband spent there several days.

After we returned to the wagons, they dragged us through some hills for around ten days more. All the time the plain flew over the train. In the middle of the train, at both sides, there was one anti-aircraft gun. When the plains flew over, the Germans shot at them. Then the plains started to fly very low  and shoot from machine guns. They thought that the Germans carried ammunition. Six of us crammed in one corner. Frida was shot in the arm. My hair started to grow because they didn't shave us anymore. Somehow it tangled to the wagon and I couldn't disentangle it. I was not able to move my head. One of the man took of his striped blouse and started to wave with it through the window. Then other man started to do the same. The pilots stopped shooting. As I know, out of six thousand only two thousand of us left. Of course, many were not killed but, as I told, they managed to escape. 

Our train stopped at the nearby railroad station and close to it was ambulance.The Germans were already in fear of the Russians and the Americans who were fast approaching. I suppose that the Germans reported that there are many wounded in the train, because when we arrived the medical staff and cauldrons full of hot soup were waiting for us. I couldn't get out from the train because my hair was still hooked to the wagon and no one could unhooked it. Finally one of the medical staff came and cut it with the scissors.

And again our train started off. All this was happening on April 29. Next day, early in the morning, the train stopped. We heard some murmur. Suddenly, the door of the wagon opened and we saw the American soldiers. When we came outside  we saw, not far from us, a bridge and many American soldiers sitting on the trucks and a lot of Germans.We were in Zeshaupt, a tourist destination. From loudspeakers we could hear information given in German, in English and in other languages: every German family had to help us, whether in clothes, food or to allow us to take a bath. Who refuses to help, will be shot.

We were all starved and exhausted. Some ate a lot and thus many died.
 When the Russians liberated Auschwitz they gave to those exhausted people strong food. Among those who died because of it was my husband's mother. The six of us started off the road toward the town. On our way we saw the Greek who was so good to me. He was chasing some chicken. He approached me and said:"Come with me to Greece. You will be fine there. I've got a big family". I refused his offer. I didn't want to go to Greece. That night we spent in the huge wooden barrack. There had to be few thousand people lying in bunk beds.There were not only people from our train, but also other camp inmates saved by allies. The place was near the border. The whole night we could hear gunfire.The next day an American saw my wrapped hand and took me to American ambulance, a huge space like a hospital crowded with people.  Infection from my hand spread to another one. They cleaned my hands from pus and wrapped them in bandages. Every day during fourteen days I had to come to the ambulance, but after that period my hands were better. 

There was a big lake and on the shore was a hotel. Six of us were placed there in two rooms. The hotel was full of Americans. We were angry because for two days we only got broth soup made from browned flour and salted water.  The third they there were traces of minced meat. We had to get used to the food. Later we got normal food. 

After fifteen days we spent in Zeshaupt, we were transported by buses to Munich. Now there were three of us together: Frida, Erži and me. When we got out from the bus we didn't see a house. There were those long buildings with many entrances similar to those we can see today, but at the time we didn't know that in such buildings there are apartments. We were wondering where to go. Suddenly, behind us, someone said in Hungarian: "Are you Hungarians?". It was my future husband. He took us to those buildings. He lived there in one of the apartments with two Yugoslav officers who were prisoners of war. He was from Čakovec in Croatia. As a sixteen year old boy he was arrested for sticking antifascist leaflets. He was taken to a prison and from there to Auschwitz. 

Across their apartment was the one where three of us moved in. There was chaos in Munich. It looked like all it's residents had gone. We couldn't see a German on the streets.The three of them found us some beds and mattresses. They would just enter some house and take what they wanted. Those houses were deserted.

We got food coupons so we didn't have to worry about food. From those green and orange fabric pieces we sewed a dress for me. It was my gala dress. 

We spent there fifteen days. The allies organized our return home.The day came for the Yugoslav group to start off. In front of our building the truck was waiting for them. I went down to see them off. Suddenly, my husband realized that he forgot his food coupons in the apartment. He told the driver to wait for him and two of us went upstairs. There he told me: "If I go now to Yugoslavia, I will never see you again. You are now alone in the world. Me to. Should I stay with you?". Then he shouted threw the window that he is going to stay. The truck left, he stayed. We were still just friend, happy to have each other.

Two days later we left Munich. We traveled for a long time. My husband was arrested in Brno, in Czechoslovakia. He wore American uniform that he got in Munich and in Brno he was suspected of being an American spy. But, they let him go.Finally we came to my home town. We approached my house. When I opened a gate, some woman appeared out of the house. "What do you want?", she asked me. "Nothing, I just to want to see the house", I said and started to cry.  I told her that once I lived there. "Why Hitler didn't kill you!", she shouted, "you don't have to be here!". She thought that I would ask my house back. The trees in the yard were cut and I heard spatter of pigs coming from inside the house. On our way out I couldn't stop crying. 

I was so desperate that I was thinking to kill myself. If my husband was not with me then, I would certainly do it. He asked me to come with him to Yugoslavia. My hands  were still not healed so I was not able to work. I had nobody but him so I came with him to Yugoslavia at the beginning of July and in October we got married.