Serbian Holocaust

Ostoja Slijepčević, May 5, 2010, Belgrade

Ostoja Slijepčević witnessed the murder of his grandmother.  His 11-year-old sister Danica received exemplary punishment for trying to flee: she was thrown alive into the furnace, at the Jasenovac brick factory.


Interviewer: Nada Ljubić | Camera: Milan Džekulić | Editing: Nada Ljubić, Jelisaveta Časar, Nemanja Krdžić | Transcript: Jelisaveta Časar / English: Nada Ljubić / Italian: Matteo Bojanovich

Voices of Survivors

English rendition of the interview, paraphrased and abridged:

My name is Ostoja Slijepčević... I was born on August 12, 1933, in Turjak, a village in the Kozara mountain foothills... near Bosanska Gradiska. I finished a first year of elementary school in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia... War came to my village in 1942, so we had to run away. Until then the people worked, it was a village, but big one, with a school and a church, and a railroad station, too.

Then I heard, I remember this very well, I was with other kids in a yard, when some man shouted from the road we called "flat road": "Run! Run, everyone who hears me! They are coming and slaughtering, killing and burning everything from Gradiska and Topola. They are killing and slaughtering all and burning everything, run away, people!" So all the people got alerted. At that time, we were... I had three uncles and our home was the fourth one, we were 21 people in my extended family. In my family we were seven, and my mother was near to give the birth to new one. I remember very well how we fled, what a panic there was, until they surrounded us one day, Ustashas and Germans.

And then, they drove us to a town, Podgred, where there was a sawmill with a large chimney, like a factory chimney and from there on foot along the road. And then, then it started... then I saw the first murder. It was on a road. We walked towards Gradiska. The Ustashe walked on our sides with rifles, and we were all together: children, women and men. My father, my mother, my granmother, me. My entire family was there, walking down the road. If anyone strayed a bit from the road edge, or stumbled and fell, they would hit him.

It happened that Smilja, my two year old sister fell down... there were also Mikica, my younger brother and Danica, my older sister and other children. My grandmother bent down to pick up Smilja, when suddenly I saw an Ustasha hitting her in the head with his rifle butt. She wore a scarf called bošča, there is no such a thing any more, it was white linen scarf with red edges and tinsels, and women wore it. Red appeared on the white linen... I started to cry. The crowd went on. The Ustasha hit her one time more... she remained on the spot. She was the first member of my family that was killed, my grandmother, she was killed there. They made us walk all the way, across the River Sava, and then to the place where once was a state prison, in Stara Gradiska.

Then in Stara Gradiska, I could not say when they separated the men, younger and stronger, capable men. They separated them, and also the older ones. They were separated. They put mothers with children in Stara Gradishka, into some yard, with some large concrete rooms. I don't know what those buildings were. I only knew that the yard was paved with concrete... and some high walls. And, they placed us there. But I did not know where my father was. After some time, we ate. There was one big cauldron, in the far corner... and we ate sitting down on the concrete floor, every mother surrounded by her own children.

Once, some men came in, one by one; two wardens stood by the gate, two Ustasha, and they let the men, one by one, enter and see their families. But, as they were getting out through the gate, wardens would hit them hard on their back. My father showed up, too. He was born in 1907, he was 35 years old. He appeared and said to my mother Stoja: "Take care of the children. I go to Germany, they force me to go. They killed Milosh. They killed Rade." Both of them were my uncles; Mitar, the oldest one, chose not to run and stayed home... he said that nobody would touch him. He was my third uncle. They slaughtered him... where he was sitting...
My father passed trough the gate... and I was so happy that both Ustashas missed him. Somehow, he avoided being hit, and was gone...

Soon after that, they transferred us to Jasenovac. There was no room for us... they were building up the camp. So, they put us into houses in Mlaka village... the houses were empty--nobody was there. There was nothing to eat... someone found some corn in the attic, so I went looking, with my sister Danica and other kids. We climbed into the attics and found some grains, so my mother cooked it. We lived in that way for a while, but after about 10 days, my sister was not there any more. The older one, Danica. She was not there. I did not ask my mother why she was not with us. Nobody beat us there... Then they took us to Jasenovac. All of us, again.

...there we found my uncle's daughter Desanka, born in 1928... She told something to my mother, and I saw my mother crying... Desanka had been taken directly [to Jasenovac] from her home. During the holidays, about 1978 or 1980, I asked her: "Desanka, what happened to my sister Danica? I know about all family members, but i do not about her. I knew where they died, but not where she died." And she asked me not to tell it to my father, who was still alive and died next year, she called him Grandpa, so she said, "Don't tell it to Grandpa, I will tell you if you promise me that you are not going to tell Grandpa."

And she told me. I promised that I will not tell. She said: "You arrived a day after they brought Danica in. When someone... offered to take some children across the Sava River back to Bosnia, our aunt, [the mother of Ostoja] hoping to save at least one of us, let Danica go, as she was a bit older. But the Ustashas caught them that night, and in the morning lined up all inmates. Desanka told me that they announced by loudspeaker that the Ustashas would punish anyone trying run away. There were 4 captured girls from Grbavac village, and the youngest among them was our Danica. She was 11...

The Ustashas said that everyone who would try to run away will face the fate of those girls. And then four Ustashas approached each girl, took their arms and legs and brought them to the furnace in the brick factory. With their faces to the ground, with their heads forward, the Ustashas threw them one by one into fire. Our Danica was the last one. This is why I lay the wreath in Jasenovac every year. For her... Danica is only member of my family that was killed there.