Serbian Holocaust
The photo shows Ognjen Čekić as a twelve year old boy.Born in Turjak in 1933, he lost most of his family. Mother Janja  nee Matavulj, was killed by Ustashas in Stara Gradiška concentration camp. His sister  Ivana died in Mlaka in 1942 as well as his siter-in-law - Stoja, a wife of his oldest brother Milo.Their son Živko - Ostoja's nephew - born in 1940, despaired in concentration camp without any trace.His father Jovo and the oldest brother Milo were deported to forced labor in Germany.The six younger  brothers Čekić - Petar, Bogdan, Ognjen, Gojko, Đurađ and Živko were sent to the children concentration camp Jastrebarsko. Four-yearold Đurađ soon died from hunger at the hands of the brothers, a two-year old brother Živko was taken away by Ustashas, and brothers never heard anything about him. The Fourth Kordun Partisans' brigade liberated more than 700 children from the Jastrebarsko camp on August 26, 1942. With the brigade, holding each other for the hands, went the remaining four brothers Čekić. The oldest among them, Peter, immediately joined the Partisans. He died in 1944 as a fighter of the Sixth Krajina Brigade. Bogdan and Ognjen returned to his Kozara. Immediately after the war brother Gojko and father Jovan returned home, too.And they began to rebuild their lives.Ognjen lives in Belgrade as retired man, and widower. 

Ognjen Čekić, June 12, 2011, Belgrade

Interviewer: Jelisaveta Casar | Camera: Milan Džekulić | Editing: Jelisaveta Časar, Nemanja Krdžić | Trancript: Jelisaveta Časar / English: Matija Džekulić |
Webmastering: Dusan Gavrilović

Voices of Survivors

English rendition of the interview, paraphrased and abridged:

I was born on the 6th of May, 1933, on Djurdjevdan. My parents had lots of children, me and my five brothers and five sisters, but I remember only the two of my sisters. All my father's female children died at a very young age of four or five years. One of my sisters died right before the war started, and one was born in 1941, but left for logor in 1942. Me and all of my brothers had been in logor. One of them died in logor Reka [part of the Jastrebarsko logor complex] on the hands of his older, but my younger brother who lives in Bosnia. One of my brothers who was with me in logor, the special one where we'd become croatian janjicari - we wore Ustasha uniforms and were raised like soldiers - he was born in 1927 and at the moment partisans liberated us in 1942, he went to fight with them. He was fifteen at the time and children in that age were already soldiers. 

In my childhood memories and from the stories of my elder brothers my mother was a very nice and good woman. She loved us, looked over us and raised us in rural living conditions of those times. Whenever someone was coming from the municipality - because Turjak was a municipality before the war - they always came to my mother for lunch. She was famous housewife in the village.
I've had aunts from mother's and from father's side. My father became an orphan when he was two and his uncle had raised him. He [my father] didn't even know of his father nor mother because she immediately remarried when her husband died. Her brother had taken my father to live with him. He was angry with her because she left the child with relatives and married a widower. For my father, my uncle and aunt were his parents.We were the only of the whole Čekić family that lived in Turjak. Bigger bloodline of Čekićs is in the neighboring village of Grbavci. We lived relatively good. When I say ''relatively good'' that means that we, as peasants, had enough food and grains until the next fall and next harvest. These kind of people were considered rich, because they didn't have to work for anyone for grans and other food. We always had good horses and at least two cows. My mother always had to have plenty of milk and cheese for all those children and the workers that worked on the fields... At that time everything was done manually, so there were at least twenty workers when the harvest was in process. My father had 120 dulums, and that is ten acres and twenty ares of land. Horses and cows had to be fed, we also had pigs, and very little sheep due to space. I am trying to say that we lived in much better conditions than the other at the time. We weren't very rich, but... We lived in a part of the village Turjak called Samardžije. Our was the only house of Čekic while all the rest were of Samardžija family.  All those parts of the villages are named after the surnames of families. There were only five houses that had horses in Samardžije and they were considered wealthy people. The others which held oxes were middle classed, but most didn't have cattle for a field work. Prior to the war I went to school and completed two years.

- Your village Turjak is near Bosanska Gradiška. Was it purely Serbian village?

 Yes, Turjak is... it isn't really... Turjak has multiple villages. Turjak was a municipality. There were Croatian neighboring villages - Šimići and Mičije, but they belonged to Turjak. The upper part of Mičije belonged to Ivanjska. There only Croats lived. It's close to Banja Luka.

-How do you remember the beginning of the war?

 I wasn't so young. I was about nine years old and I remember hearing people talking about it [the war]. All children like eavesdropping when somebody is talking. I remember that my late father, having lived under the Austro-Hungarian and being a soldier, said: ''If this Hitler is like Frantz Joseph, it won't be so bad for us, Frantz didn't touch anyone who did his job.'' I remember when the žandari, later known as Ustashas, started to take first hostages. Today we say ''the police'', but before the war they were known as ''žandari''. The Serbian žandari were replaced by Croats who took their place. I remember when some of the most prominent people in my village had to go to report to Ustashas but they never returned home. My father was among those men, but he, as a hard working man, went there early while everyone was still sleeping. Luckily, there was only a guard, the young man who had just been admitted to the Ustasha service.

Part II

He was the son of a good friend of my father. He was a Croat from the neighboring village, but my father was a good friend with him. My father had a custom to carry candies in his pocket and in that time to give a child a candy or a lump of sugar was a great deal. He would always give a candy from his pocket to a child he found cute or was a friend's child. And so when that young man recruited in Ustashs army saw my father, and he loved my father, told him: ''Uncle Jova, you must run away!''. ''Where?''. "In the woods where all Serbs flee. Who comes here, doesn't see his home again''. And then my old man, as we in Bosnia call our fathers, came back home and he'd told his oldest son who was already married: ''Prepare the horses, you and I are going to Kozara" . The  villagers already knew that there was some organized group of people in Kozara. At that time they were still called Četniks, not Partisans. It is well known that Mladen Stojanović had raised partisan uprising on Kozara. A man from my village named Piljo Stanišljević had helped him to raise that rebellion. 

I remember well, it was the beginning of 1941, the partisans were looking for our knez, and he was the representative of the village government in
 the municipality. Like a committee member today. When he would be in good spirits he would say he will go to Kozara to talk to the partisans, and when he would drink a little: ''The power is in Turjak, not in Kozara. There are wolves in Kozara, not people". For he ignored partisan' calls and wouldn't go to Kozara,  the partisans one night came and took him away. They were passing our house and brought him inside. They did not allow my mother to light a lamp. My father was at home, but he didn't know who they were. He had an agreement with the partisans how to recognize them. There was an apple tree at our window. If somebody shook it, the branch would hit on the window. That was the sign for my father that partisan but not Croat soldiers were coming. So they came with knez whom they captured and brought to our house to test our father's loyalty to them. There were not any marks on their caps. At that time there was no five-pointed star. They wore the serbian flag on the side of the cap.

They put the knez behind the stove, and the three of those men had sit in front of him. They interrogated my father and had asked him what was new in the village, but they were still unknown to my father. My father had talked how it was: ''There are people in the village who respect the new authority... We must respect it. There are us who were under the Austro-Hungarian authority which we also respected, we were also under the king, which we also respected. Nowadays, there is a new authority, so we are obliged to respect it too. ''And how is your knez like?''. ''Well, he must enforce the orders, what else should he do? He has to take care of the people, but also to inform them with things he's ordered to say.'' Then the knez started to speak. There were many of us in our house. Those were the houses with two rooms. Because it was winter, all of us had slept in one room. Five of us used to sleep in one bed.  He [the knez] said: ''Well, you see that I wasn't bad for the people.'' Then one of the Partisans yelled: ''We didn't ask you anything!'.' I remember, my little sister was in the cradle, the one who was born in 1941. One of the Partisans grabbed her and said: ''Jovo, who's child is this?''. ''Mine''. He put her down gently and said:'' If the child is not good don't say it is good, even though it's yours.'' He meant to say that if your neighbor is not good, do not say he is. Unknown people used to come and ask for whom are you. If you say - For Dom, you will be shot. ''For Dom'' was a Croatian greet. If you say - Death to fascism, because of the tricolour he wears to deceive you that he is partisan but he is Ustasha, he can also shoot you.


The part of partisans [during the offensive] managed to break out of the enemy encirclement to Prijedor. Those who didn't managed, mostly died. The parents of Nada who couldn't come today had died. Her father was killed, and mother was slaughtered. Their first neighbors Croats had slaughtered her. They had tortured her all night, then they killed her.

We had returned from Kozara to our village. What separates us from the neighboring village Grbavci is only a small stream. The Germans came there and took able-bodied men, but left other villagers alone.

-When was that?

In 1942, when there was an offensive. Ustashas came to Turjak and sent us all to logor. They said: ''You are going only for ten or fifteen days, bring all the food you can, bring all the cattle''. Later our father told us that, as soon as we crossed the Sava river, he said to his eldest son:'' It's over. We won't see our house again, because we are going to Croatia''. On the bridge on Sava the Croats had taken all the carriages and turn to Stara Gradiška, because it is located near Sava. Only Sava separates Stara Gradiška from Bosanska Gradiška. It is called Stara Gradiška because there is also Nova Gradiška in Croatia.

Then we left for logor. Once we got there, my father and my eldest brother who was married were separated from us.

They went to slavery in Germany.They both should go to the mines. The whole group of those Serbs  went to the mine in Germany, but my father didn't want to go there. He was a cunning man. He asked for commandant of the logor to talk to him. The commandant was a higher ranked German officer, I don't know what his rank was. It is interesting that the German who assigned men for work, mostly in mines, didn't really oppose that my father wouldn't go to the mine. He had told him:'' Alright, the commandant will see you''.  My father was an Austro-hungarian soldier, he had served their army and knew a lot of German words, so he greeted the commander like a soldier. He said:'' I am a loyal soldier of Frantz Joseph. You are making me and my son to go to the mine with these young men and I fought for the empire of Frantz Joseph''. He knew how to get under someones skin. Then the German asked him:'' Are you Serb or Croat?''.  ''I am a great Horvat'', [answered my father], because at the time of Austro-Hungary they wouldn't say Croat, but Horvat. My father didn't say he was a Serb. ''Alright, you will be our translator. Do you have any practical skills?''. ''Yes, I am a carpenter''. We all are naturally gifted artisans. So my father got the task to repair the benches, chairs... His first job was to craft some wooden staircases. He used to say that he had never made a finer stairs than these to prove that he was a carpenter.

Part III

So my father did well in Germany. He immediately received a permanent license to be able to go the city. They also would get some money to buy cigarettes, and [were given] some kind of rations. Later he met some lady from Germany who sold cigarettes. She complained to him how a Russian gang killed her husband on Russian front, and he complained to her how partisan bandits killed his wife. He did not say that his wife was in logor. So they became great friends, both being punished by the enemy, the communists. My brother didn't do well because of his escaping. He was young, full of ambitions. In 1941. he left for partisans. First time he tried to escape from Germany, he was caught in Slovenia. Later they returned him to the mines. His punishment was to go back to the mines barefoot. The second time he tried to escape, he got caught in Austria. He was sentenced for one month in jail . The one month of jail was like a death sentence because no one ever managed to survive there that long. I don't know the name of the prison, but my father came to know that fact from his German lady friend. She also told him there was a lawyer from Sarajevo. He was a Muslim, but he was living and working in Germany. She knew him. Did she pay him or not, or if he helped because of their friendship, I do not know but my father couldn't pay him.  He [the lawyer]  brought my father to prison to see his son. Now, I forgot if there were five or seven iron doors but  they led down the cellar. First door, second, then third and so on. When he got to the room where his son was held, it was a room filled with water to the waist. On the opposite side of the door there was a plank above the water. As long as a man has the strength to move up the plank, he's not in the water. But, to come to that plank, you have to go through the water. When my father came, my brother stood up, came to the door and kissed him. My old man couldn't speak, something has tightened around his throat, and then began to cry. My brother told him: ''Father, go and take care of yourself. This is my destiny.'' He knew there was no escape from there. Later that lawyer managed to get him out as it was his first and not the second escape.

-What happened to you, your mother and the rest of your family?

From the fourteen of our family members who went to logor, the five of us had survived. My father and the oldest brother remained in Germany as prisoners of war. Me and my brother Bogdan who was held with me in logor, we have always been together, we remained alive. We were with the partisans later  and at Bogdan Dakić' in 1943. In 1944. we came to live in our old house.

- Let's back to Stara Gradiška...

We were in logor there. My m
other, brother's wife and sister were held there.  From Stara Gradiška they went to Sisak or Jasenovac.... When I was in Jasenovac, I saw the list of the victims and there were names of my mother and the two of my brothers. One brother died in partisans.

Son of my brother [Milo] was only two. He was a year older than my sister. He was beautiful and very quiet child. He was in logor Reka with my younger brothers Djurdadj and Gojko. The second day he came to logor, he was taken by a nun to her home. He caught her eye. My brother Gojko, who is still alive, said that she dressed him and cleaned him, that he had a nice white shirt and pants and was a normally nourished child. 

When the partisan liberated us [when we were in logor Jastrebarsko, after Stara Gradiška], Ustashas decentralized the logors in Jastrebarsko to other places because they didn't feel safe there anymore. There was a forest next to it, the mountain Žumberak, which was swarmed with partisans. It's just next to Jastrebarsko. When they [the partisans] liberated us, we were already in the forest for an hour. There were always some partisans there, even though it's relatively close to Zagreb. The logor Reka, where my brother Gojko had been held, was displaced . There was a child's logor on the border with Hungary, in which Gojko was moved. One young Ustasha, who didn't carry a weapon but worked in an office, walking by that logor, saw my brother who looked like him when he was a child. He took him from logor and brought him to his home and  said to his mother: ''Take care of this child''. But his mother was big Ustasha and said to him: ''That Serbian dog?''. ''Mother, if you mention this to anyone, you have no son anymore. Look at that picture on the wall and then look at him. I looked just like him at that age.'' The father of that young Ustasha was very good man and loved Gojko. That young Ustasha saved about fourteen more Serbian children and gave them to his cousins and good friends in the village. They were mostly children from Kozara, some were from Kordun and Banija. He had taken data from every child: their name, surname, father's name, whether at home they had cows, oxen, horses, dog, what names they gave to those animals... Everything the child remembered he wrote. He also saved one of my neighbors. The catholic monk from that village knew German language well,so he asked that monk to translate that in German and sent it to some German newspapers. One of the prisoners who was kept with my father saw those newspapers, ''Jovo, this is your son. It is written that Čekic Gojko lives in such and such a village, his father is Jovo, mother is Janja''. He [Gojko] was born in 1934, and that was around 1942, '43 and he remembered how they called horses, dogs, names of his brothers, father, mother...  Since the newspaper had the address of my brother, my father sent a letter to that address: ''If this is my son, and all the data match, I would like to correspond with you''. The Ustasha took a picture of my brother, then sent it to my father in Germany [the postal service worked from Croatia to Germany] and my father started to correspon with him.

-How much time have you spent in Stara Gradiška and where did you go after that?

We didn't spend much time in Stara Gradiška. I cannot say exact time, but not long. If it was fifteen or twenty days... Two scenes from Stara Gradiška are fixed in my mind. I remember man named Steva Stojaković, his son was director of the military hospital ''Rifat Burdževic''. Steva was partisan member and he didn't surrender in 1942 when we left for Gradiška. He was later captured and at that time we, women and children, were all outside. I was near the gate and our mother was with us. The whole complex was full of people, but somehow, the women from my village were on the other side. I know that none of the children from my village were there where I was. While  Ustashas were passing by with Steva Stojaković, all the time they hit him with riffle butts in the spine.

Part IV

He was a strong and sturdy man and he endured it all. When the Germa
ns separated men who should go to Germany, the Ustashaa separated him so he couldn't go there. He should be shot because he did not surrender and he was , a real partisan activist. When the column of people for Germany were passing by, he just separated from those intended to be shot and mingled among those who were going to Germany. He was silent, other were silent too, than they entered into trucks and left. That is how he stayed alive. While I was watching them beating him I imagined that somewhere out there is my father who is also beaten like that. 

There is one more scene from Stara Gradiška I remember. It is known that we were starving. We didn't have anything to eat. They were giving us some boiled water with a bit of corn flower. But the most difficult moment was when we were separated from our mothers. My brother Petar who was born in 1927, said good-bye to mother, but we, the younger ones, were holding for her skirt, her legs. She hugged us and gathered us around her while Ustashas were slapping her. They grabbed us and threw us aside.That is a memory I don't like to remember.

When we arrived from there in Zagreb, I had one more shocking experience. We were determined to go to logor for future Ustasha soldiers. In Zagreb they sent us to bath and we immediately got their uniforms. The rags we whore before were full of lice and they were thrown. They gave us little children suits with buttons and  ''U'' sign as Ustasha uniforms had. We were shaved bald. As a child from the country, it was my first time to see bathroom and showers. When the door opened we couldn't see anything because of the steam. One of the Ustasha who was in charge of letting us in the bathroom teased us: ''Now you're going to suffocate. This is the end of your lives. Say goodbye to your lives, you will not go out of here alive, but dead''. With those words he let us inside. I remember how I hugged my brother Petar who later died in Partisans. We were looking at him like at father because he was the eldest of three of us. I hugged him and we said goodbye to each other. We thought we were going to die. They turned on the water and it was warm and nice. We took a shower and went to the other side where they gave us the suits. I thought: ''Damn, he lied to us''. I felt a great joy - I stayed alive! 

When we arrived in Jastrebarsko, they did not show any mercy even though we were trained to become their future army. Every morning, it's noted in Lukić's books, also in Red Cross in Zagreb and  here at the museum too, one peasant left with a ve
hicle full of dead children. He would take them in the morning, buried them and then dig a new hole for the next day. A tomb for them. His notebook is preserved where he wrote how many children he buried and on which date. He probably got his pay on that base. He doesn't say how many children [he buried], but how many pieces!

-What was the cause of death for those children?

Hunger. Mostly from hunger and various diseases. Ustashas, as we had to become their soldiers, tortured us with  running, marching... There was a monastery near logor and we prayed there before breakfast, lunch and dinner, and food was poor. Croatian children would throw an apple above the fence and we would all run to get it. There were plenty of apples beside the road. If they only threw us some more apples, but they threw us only one at a time and laughed at us as they passed with their mothers. What kind of mother can watch her child torturing other misfortunate children!  As we were not children, but monkeys in zoo. You throw them a banana and laugh while you watch them eating it. I will never forget that. 

We would go to the garden to take care of the onions, beans and pick the grass. Were those gardens from the logor grounds or private, I can not say.

One of the experiences was when Artuković came to visit us. He founded that Ustasha youth camp. It is well known who he was - minister of internal affairs [NDH]. We were all in line and, as I understood, he greeted us with ''Good day, my Jannisaries'' [janjičari], and it sounded as something nice to me. We had good lunch then. When he left, I told my brother Petar how this man was good. Petar was very upset with me, he was usually spitfire. ''Don't make me beat you. How do you know who is good and who isn't!''. ''How isn't he good, I said, ''he calls us lambs'' [jaganjci]. I loved lambs. The word ''janjičar'' sounded like "jaganjci" to me.

A young nun, because nuns lead the logor, had a brother in partisans and she informed him that a group of elder children would be shot at a certain day.
One of the partisan units from Banija got orders directly from Tito. When Tito found our for that logor, he gave the orders to that unit that logor must be destroyed and those children must be liberated. That telegram which High command sent to that unit is here at the Museum "25th of May" [in Belgrade]  along with the response from the commander that fulfilled the order. The order was carried on the night before the boys would get shot and without a single victim, only with two wounded soldiers. It was a twist of fate that on that day all the Ustashas were sent to Zagreb on some celebration. Only domobrans [members of Quisling forces] stayed and they didn't offer resistance. So the partisans walked in freely into the logor. They shot one Ustasha that had to stay at the gate,because at the gate was always an Ustasha, never domobran. On that night the nun who was in charge of logor killed three children with a pick axe. She killed them when the partisans were entering inside and after that she locked herself with the other nuns in the monastery. Partisans broke the door and caught them all. All the children yelled aloud: ''Kill that old hag! Kill her!'', and "This young one we don't give to anyone!''. That ''young one'' was the one who kept contact with the partisans and she joined them. One doctor came with us, voluntarily or they made him to come, I don't know. That doctor was coming to logor almost every day and examined the children. There he would separate the children for whom he knew they were going to die. There were five barracks, one of them was a little hospital. They would die there. When we, joyful [for being liberated] came to the forest, the whole next day the airplanes were flying above the mountain Žumborak and bombarded it. But, the partisans masked some barracks and set fire about a mile away to look like we were there.
Part V

So the airplanes threw the bombs in blank space, and we were safe in the forest waiting for the night.

There were around 700 of us in logor, but only 300 were able to come with partisans. My both older brothers could go, but I was chosen to stay. The older one who was born in  1927  became a fighter immediately. I was so scared to stay alone without my brothers. Then the oldest brother Petar said:'' No. This is my brother. I will carry him, I won't leave him.'' He also said the same thing for my friend Mirko.  We were from the same village. We traveled three days and three nights. It was a journey from Jastrebarsko, down from Zagreb to Kordun where was liberated territory. We traveled by night. In front of us children was partisan army and behind us was partisan army in case if some child falls so they could pick him up. It is incredible how disciplined we were as children. They would hide us in some bushes by day. I remember I was covered with the pumpkin vines. The whole day the sun was burning hot. I lie there and I even dare not to breathe in order not to show my position. Imagine, ten years old child!  When we came to free territory in Medeno polje ,we got to drink some water from the well. There stood a partisan who would give only one glass of water, not more. When we all pass, I could come again for one more glass. After that they gave us a piece of bread with some jam. We stayed there for two days. We were transported somewhere else with oxen carts. One of the carts broke during the journey and couldn't come. The ten of us children had to wait for another one that came the day after. We left for Martin Brod from there, while the other whole group already left for Podgrmečje. I do not know how that place in Podgrmecje was called, but Tito visited it. My brothers were there and my brother Bogdan imagined that Tito was huge man, a leader, big man, somebody like Kraljevic Marko . My brother finished elementary school before the war and he learned of those heroes. He imagined Tito like one of them and when he saw him he was disappointed. Small, short man.

We felt good in Martin Brod. We had one partisan women who was in charge of us. She was a muslim. She took care of ten of us children. Later there was another offensive and we left for Bihać. We remained there for winter until spring of 1943. Another offensive on Bihac, so from there we left for Grmeč. There we came to one village of Seperovci or Sekerovci, I'm not sure about the name.There was free territory.  Biha' was occupated by Germans and Ustashas.  Our muslim lady told us that there was another bigger children group from Jastrebarsko. One of us told her that he had a brother, so she took him there and reunited him with his brother, and took one child from there, so she always had ten children. I told her I had two brothers, so she left with me and I found Petar and Bogdan.

I went to see Petar. He was in a small room and when he saw me he yelled at me loudly and made me leave the room. So much time passed, and he kicks me out like an alien. I didn't know that he was disassembling  a hand grenade. He took out the lighter and gunpowder, so if he dies, I will not. After that he kissed me and explained why he kicked me out.

Later he got typhus and lay on some attic. No one could go close to one who was infected with typhus because it was contagious, but I would sneak to him and get him some wet cloth. I asked him what does he need and he said: ''Just bring me some wet cloth''. To put on his chest. I would bring it to him. I was careful that nobody sees me. I knew I shouldn't go to him. No one was allowed except the nurse, and there wasn't any there. I was going to him for two days. He had a high fever. Later he was transferred to partisan ambulance and only me and Bogdan stayed.

From Sekerovac, we came to a place in Lika called Srb. [in Croatia] I can't describe now how we traveled. We would move as the situation would allow us. All by foot, of course. I know it's Srb, not Srbac which is in Bosnia on the Vrbas river. The peasants didn't welcome us  The partisans set us in villagers houses. My brother and I were at one household. There was a yard with two houses. Later we found out that Chetniks were there so the partisans were not welcomed warmly. We stayed there for twenty days, maybe even a month. I know it snowed and I went to watch out for their sheep. We eaten well there. They had sheep, cows and cheese... They had what to eat. They weren't under Ustashas, but under Chetniks. From the head man in that house, grandpa as we called him, two sons were in Chetniks.

After about twenty days we heard that our partisan unit went towards Petrovac. Our bosses [people from the house] didn't tell us that, because they counted if their sons got killed, they would keep us to be their herders. They had advantage from us. When we found it out, my brother, I and one boy from the other house went that afternoon after partisans. In the middle of the night we heard that we couldn't keep forward because of the enemy. The partisan patrol put us in little house with a woman and her three children. She cooked something. Our pouches were full. Our bosses in Srb gave us bread, cheese, a little bacon and salt that was very important at that time. We didn't dare to eat that because we didn't know when we would be able to eat again or come somewhere where food is available. There wasn't any light in this house except the fire from the hearth. The woman cooked nettle in water, without anything else. That was my first time eating nettle. Then my brother and his friend, they were the same age, born in 1929, gave that woman some bread, some salt, some cheese, and she gave us to eat that nettle. We just salted it and it tasted good. She needed that salt, cheese and bread for her children. 

In the morning we moved forward, and when we were on a hill, I said to my brother:''I know where we are now, this is Martin Brod''. That was the place where I was separated from my brothers. I recognized it by a tower. It collapsed partially during the offensive. Was it bombed from the planes or from canons, doesn't matter, but it still stood there partially.

Part VI

We descended in Martin Brod and heard from some people that partisan unit moved onward. From there toward Bosanski Petrovac is all more or less flat terrain. We traveled all day and found some villages along where we were told that we couldn't take anything because of the typhus. We entered one house where two women laid on the bed. One was so red as you spilled boiling water on her. She had typhus. There was a whole bread on the table. They said: ''Children, take that bread, eat it, we can not.'' How can you take a bread when they convinced us if we take something from there, we would die from typhus. So we didn't take that bread and continued to go further and further...

At the end of the day, we came to Petrovac. And there, boys like boys. We found a hand grenade. Brother's friend threw some rocks on it and it exploded. A dozen partisans ran back to us from  to see if there was some Ustasha gang.

In Petrovac we were put in muslim houses and we were kindly welcomed there. But,I was scared of Muslims and Croats and I didn't want to eat. I was starving, but I wouldn't eat. An old Muslim told to his wife and his sisters-in-low:''Don't push him. He is scared. He will eat, but he needs some time. Tell your grandpa why you don't want to eat. Are you not hungry?'' ''I am hungry, but I am afraid.'' ''Of what?'' ''I am afraid you will poison me'', I said openly. Then he took a bite of piece of bread and then gave it to me. Now I wanted that bread, but not the other food until I was sure it was safe. The old man and the others took bites from other food even though they already ate so I could eat. In the morning I had breakfast and we moved onward.

From Petrovac we left for Kozara. We should cross Petrovac road. From the hill you come to the road and from there is only flat terrain. Down that road were passing the German tanks. While the last one was passing, one of the partisans jumped from some rock, threw a grenade in the shaft, and disabled the tank.

On our journey  to home, the fights were fought mostly during the nights and early mornings. We would pass by Partisan, German or  Ustasha corpses. Although I was a child, I got used at that. For me there was no difference whether I passed a log or a corpse of a man. In the end we passed through  Knež Polje, Miloševo Brdo, Podgradce and Grbavce and came to my Turjak.

But, during that part of the journey from Petrovac to Turjak we didn't have anywhere to stay. I was very sick and had a fever. We could go back to ourpartisan unit in Podgradci, but I and my brother stayed in the house of our distant relative Bogdan Dakić . In 1942, he collected my father's fruits, corn and wheat, so in some way he had commitment to accept us. He was a partisan committee member. Many times he asked to join partisans, but they never accepted it because he was more useful to work undercover than to be a fighter.

I remember the Easter fast. Bogdan's mother would rather die that eat during the fast, and there was everything in the house. We mostly ate baked potatoes, but I longed for whey and sour milk. When I got well, I herded cows and sheep. Bogdan's mother was very strict. When I would get cows from the fields, she would take me to the pantry from which only she had a key. She would give me kajmak [milk product], bread, cheese, but mostly kajmak. But if she noticed that cows did not eat well, she would never give me kajmak. Me and my brother stayed at a barn, but the most important thing is that we were not hungry.

-What was the name of that village?

Donja Jurkovica.
The liberation was greeted with great joy. When Banja Luka and Gradiška were liberated, the people hurled to Gradiška, and among them was my brother. There was theft and robbery of muslim stores and houses from which tenants escaped. My brother [we were then in Turjak ] brought two pots, some spoons and two or three plates. Pots in those days were considered as fortune. 

In the may of 1945, some people returned form Germany. But, none of those people saw my father Jova or brother Milo. They knew they were in logor, but since then they didn't see them. My father and brother came not until June, a month after liberation.  My brother and I were sad. To everyone somebody came back,except  to us. One day I herded a cow and two sheep that we had when my neighbour came. We were the same age. His brother came from Germany as soon as Germany capitulated. Now he told me: ''Ognjen, go home, Jovo and Milo are there''. ''If you're lying, I will kill you!'', I didn't believe him. ''Go to the hill and look, there they are sitting at the porch''.


When I came home, there they were. Then I found out why they hadn't come earlier. My brother wanted to go right after Germany fell, but my father wouldn't let him. He was more experienced and older and told him: '' Son, now is not the time to go. Now you can die by everyone - Germans, Russians and Americans. It's a confusion now. The Germans surrendered, but there are still those who will kill.

Part VII

How would we prove to Russians and English who we are. It is better to stay here for now''. When they left from there, they went by train for a while, but from Maribor to Turjak they walked by foot. They crossed Slovenia and Croatia by foot to get home.
-Can you say again who was killed in your nearest family?

Brother Petar in partisans, mother Janja, sister in law Stoja, brother Djuradj and sister Ivana. She wasn't baptised because she was born in 1941,  and in that time there was no pries anymore. Because she was born on Ivandan she got  name Ivana. Nothing is known for brother's son who was taken by a nun. He didn't die in logor and probably stayed alive, but, in that case, he was probably renamed and lived as Croat. The six of them disappeared.

-Do you know the death toll in your village?

No, but I can say that every second, guaranteed every third family died 100%. From the families where some stayed alive, probably more than half died. My father's house had most survivors because my father and the four of us brothers stayed alive. There were five of us that survived. There were many families where only one member stayed alive. Foe example, from my close relatives, only one girl stayed alive, others were killed. In our village there was not a house with less that ten family members. There were many children, because at that time, the women gave birth as long as they could. It was rare to have only one, two or none children. Those who could have children had as many children as God ordered.