Serbian Holocaust

Jovan Pejić, June 7, 2011, Belgrade

Interviewer: Nada Ljubić | Camera: Milan Džekulić | Editing: Jelisaveta Časar, Dušan Gavrilović | Trancript: Matija Džekulić / English: Matija Džekulić | Webmastering: Dusan Gavrilović

Voices of Survivors

English rendition of the interview, paraphrased and abridged:

-What is your name?

Pejic, [son of] Vasa, Jovan.

- When were you born?

I was born on the "Deaf Monday" [the second week before Easter],1937, but after the World War II, by a negligence, I was registered that I was born on 12.1.1936. I was never born in winter, but still it remained so, uncorrected. It could be corrected with the witnesses in the municipality, in court, anyhow.

- Where were you born?

Gornji Podgradci, hamlet Pejić.

- Where are Gornji Podgradci located?

They are located under Mt. Kozara. There was a logging industry, it worked during Tito's Yugoslavia, many were employed, not only from the territory of  Gradiska, there were also workers from the territory of Bosanska Dubica. There was a sawmill that processed wood. There were wagons that went to Bosanska Gradiska, then the material was loaded on the ships on the river Sava. The people lived of that industry.

- How did your family live? 

They lived on agriculture. It wasn't very fertile land, but there were worse territories in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We were planting some fruit and kept some livestock, that's how we were surviving.

- Was that a big family?

My mother gave birth to eight children, but, since at that time medicine was poorly developed, only five of us have experienced older age. My three little sisters had died before the beginning of the World War II. My late mother told me that Dara, one of my sisters, had died on January the 2nd on the day my family celebrated the slava of St.Ignatius, so they [family] first went to bury her and after the funeral, on the same day, they came back home to continue the celebrations.

One of my brothers died in the camp, so there were four of us who remained alive. One of my sisters went to Belgrade at my mother's sister's house in Vozdovac. She [my sister] went to school there, so she [her name was Kosana] spent the wardays at my aunt's in Belgrade.

- You were a child when the war came to Podgradci. Do you have any memory of it?

First partisans stayed at my father's house. Wood industry was about 2 miles from my house, and so that the ustaschi wouldn't exploit it, the partisans set it on fire. We had to flee in the forest so they [ustaschi] wouldn't slaughter us. We were sleeping where we could on Kozara. There were partisan evenings at my home. My father would prepare dinner and drinks for partisans, they trusted him. You talked to Rajko Panić. He was a fighter in our region. He and the late Slobodan Ivanović were one of the partisans who stayed at our house at nights. But  It's a side story. It was a long time ago.

- When did the war became terrible, dangerous?

The time spent in camp was horrifying, but the whole time during the war was dangerous.  When we returned from the camp, until the liberation, it was either to be or not be.

- You have arrived at the camp in a huge mass of population of Potkozarje...

Well, especially from Bosanska Dubica and Gradiška.

- Do you remember that moment when the whole village was forced to camp?

Yes, I remember the carriage after carriage. Rarely who had a horse carriage. These were mostly ox-driven carts. There were lots of small children in those carts, I remember the cries...

- Was your whole family there?

Yes, me, my brother and two sisters.

- Were your parents in that transport to camp?

We were together  until we came to Stara Gradiška, to, as they called it, the penitentiary. It's Stara Gradiška in Croatia, right across Bosanska Gradiška. We had to cross the bridge on the Sava river. They [ustaschi] made us pass that bridge where they were carrying out the selection by separating men from women. Some were shot in front of the regiment, and some were taken who knows where. When the turn came for my father, he kissed us all, and said to my mother: ''Take care of these boys. We'll meet again, I hope.'' Never, never again... [haven't heard anything from him].

- Have you heard anything about him after the war?

.........Sajmište was a concentration camp run by ustaschi and the Germans. It was a camp  where my father was brought along with few of my relatives and where he died martyr. There was a great famine. The Germans took over the camp at the end of the war and one cousin, who managed from this camp to go to Germany to work, said that my father was there and that they [prisoners] died in agony. There [at Sajmište]  was a lot of the male population from the territory of Bosanska Dubica. And you said yourself that you've heard that about 10,000 men from Bosnian territory were hoarded to camp of Sajmište. 

- You father ended tragically in Sajmište, and what happened to you?

No one knew of anyone at the time. We did not know anything about my sisters. When we returned to our village, we addressed at the competent service where data about survivors were collected.  My sisters were saved by some land owners.

- Where were you separated from your sisters?

At Stara Gradiška in Croatia, across Bosanska Gradiška, the separation was carried out.

- Elderly from younger?

Yes. Women, especially younger and prettier girls had to disguise themselves to look like grandmothers, so they wouldn't be separated. They didn't know whether they will go somewhere or will be immediately shot. People experienced all sorts of trouble and traumas. 

- What are the names of the sisters which were separated from you in Gradiška?

Petra and Slavka. Slavka is the older one. I had a younger brother named Krste who remained on the fields of Jasenovac.

- How was it that he was left on these fields?

The ustaschi were riding on motorcycles and would just say: ''Move'' or just cursed people. Who was able to go would got, but, who wasn't, they were trampled. When we were on those fields which were close to Jasenovac,   they yelled: ''Move, what are you waiting for!''. My brother Krste was very ill. My mother said: ''My child is sick, he could even die any moment, I must take care of him.'' The ustascha cursed her and hit her with riffle butt and she had just enough time to take me in her arms. 
I can not say how far we were walking to the carriages.

- How old was Krste when he was left there?

I was five, so he was three, three and a half. We don't even know where Krsta's bones are, whether  Sava river swept them away or ustaschi threw them somewhere. There were hundreds of such cases. '' We will light a candle for him, you f...... Serb!'', cursed that ustascha. Anyway, my mother received a blow  and she just took me in her arms. 

There were cries on these carriages, elder were dying, children were dying, no food, no water. As soon as someone felt weak, they would slow the carriages and throw them out. Those are the passing moment of my childhood that I was able to spot and that stayed in my memory forever.

- You arrived in Slavonija?

Yes.  As soon as you cross to Stara Gradiška, Slavonija extends. on the  The land is flat and fertile, more fertile than Bosnian. 

- Your life was saved by one of the villagers?

Yes, a man named Ivan who had wooden leg came with horse carriages and took us with him. We arrived in cattle wagons to Slavonska Požega. My mother noticed that this man was looking for someone to go to work for him. He had an old and sick mother and a large estate. Since he had a wooden leg, he couldn't work. He took my mother. ''I have a child'', she said. ''We''ll put him in the carriage'', he said and so we left...

- Were you safe there?

About that I cannot say anything, there was war too, there were partisans in Slavonija. In no time they would manage to liberate a certain territory from Ustaschi or they had to flee and concede the territory to the larger enemy forces. That was life, no one was guaranteed anything. They [ustaschi] had a support by the Germans.

- And there in Slavonia you have lived at Ivan's...

I do not know how long we stayed there, but we have returned to our homeland, our lump of soil in Gornji Podgradci, and the war still lasted and will last for a long time. We were still running, because the villages were burned by the enemy forces from Gradiška or elsewhere.

- Have you found your house when you returned?

It wasn't burnt. Our house is on the verge of a forest. There are branches of Kozara, and on the other side of one of those branches is oak and beech forest. There was our house, on the verge of village Gornji Podgradci. Through that forest, in the part of Kozara that locals call Ogoralica, is a village Jablanica. Jablanica belongs to Bosanska Gradiška and it suffered greatly in war. Jablanica was bordered by Sjeverovci and Sjeverovci belonged to Bosanska Dubica. We were situated at that border of two municipalities - Gradiška and Bosanska Dubica. It all belongs to Kozara and Potkozarje. Bosanska Gradiška, Bosanska Dubica, Prijedor and the part of Bosanski Novi belong to Kozara and Potkozarje.

- The clashes between partisan and the Germans and between partisan and the ustaschi were common there until the end of the war?

Yes. The ustaschi were supported by the Germans. Ustaschi took revenge on unarmed people, and the Germans fought on the fronts against the partisan. Those were heavy clashes, a lot of fighters fell dead or were wounded... There were not enough weapons, there wasn't any food. When we returned from the camp, somewhere near Kozarica were wounded partisans, so my sisters, Savka and Petra, as youth support carried bags of food from Lijevča fild over Kozara. They would carry the wounded if the fight occurred somewhere near us. Their youth wasn't happy even after we came together after camp. It was an uncertain life and we lived in fear from the Germans and ustaschi, especially from ustaschi.

- How did you and your family welcome the liberation?

We were fortunate to welcome liberation. There was great poverty and everybody mourned someone. It was very sad.  The Red Crosse began to work. The poor could get some shoes to wear and some clothes to dress. It was modest, nothing special.

- When people began to return after the war, only then they saw who was missing?

Yes. Those who went into forced labor in Germany, they weren't all back at once. They were all in different parts of Germany, they weren't back in the same day, at the same time. For some there wasn't any hope of return, but some had luck to return home.

- And the emotional pain, whether it can ever pass?

No, no it can't pass, it remains in your life forever. I can console myself, and meet with people from Kozara every night.... to laugh and to listen to the songs and to talk about memories... but the pain always follows you in life, why wasn't it different, why it has to came upon me...