A great man is one who collects knowledge the way a bee collects honey and uses it to help people overcome the difficulties they endure - hunger, ignorance and disease!
- Nikola Tesla

Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.
- Franklin Roosevelt

While their territory has been devastated and their homes despoiled, the spirit of the Serbian people has not been broken.
- Woodrow Wilson

Survivor of WW2 genocide: Why do people become so evil when every child's cry is the same?


Survivor of WW2 genocide: Why do people become so evil when every child's cry is the same?

“I witnessed how Ustasha skinned a man alive. Can you imagine?” says 90 year old Dobrila Kukolj and wipes her eyes with an already damp handkerchief. This is not the first time in our interview. As a child, she has seen a lot of evil during the genocide unleashed by the Independent State of Croatia in World War 2. Hundreds of thousands of mainly Serbs, Jews and Roma perished in the most bestial ways. Yet, only two years ago, I had no idea that this chapter of the war even existed. How was it possible that such crimes went unnoticed by the (what I consider educated) world?

Dobrila shows me a book of her memoirs: “I will leave them to my children to read and keep so that these events will not be forgotten. What is not written, did not happen,” she says and I immediately recall another of my interviews where Vasilje Karan - also a survivor of the same genocide and self-taught writer - listed through his two dozens of books he wrote in his later age. In fact, almost everybody I spoke to during my project had at least a testimony printed somewhere. So there is a lot written about it, I am thinking, maybe it just never left the region to be read by 'the rest'.

It wasn't always that way. For a long time, there was silence. You see, the memories of childhood never went away. In fact, they seemed to be more and more painful as life went on. So cruel were they that often even the closest relatives didn't hear the full truth. “I never told my wife. She probably suspected because of my nightmares,” whispered Pero Rodić with his head down as if he were ashamed: “I sometimes try to remember some things. In my earliest childhood, I thought that these experiences were normal. I did not know any better”. Jovo Šarović, who spent the whole war in concentration camps from the age of four, only started talking about the horrors in 1994 because “nobody asked, nobody was interested”.

Critically, many of the texts and memoirs seem to be a product of the new identity that the Serbs found after the devastating collapse of Yugoslavia in 1990s. I'll try to explain: From the very first interview I took, one thing kept coming back that would later give title to my book. After the war, as Serbs, Croats and others were restoring Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito's partisan dictatorship, the sense of building a new world seemed to be more important than healing old scars. The official policy of Unity and Brotherhood, which was designed to make equal all nationalities within the new borders, felt to many survivors as an ultimate gag on their claims from the war. Speaking publicly about a Croat killing a Serb just wasn't encouraged. And, unlike in the countries liberated from Germany’s Nazi regime, post war support to the survivors of the Independent State of Croatia was, to say it mildly, scarce.

The fact that crimes of NDH (Nezavisla Drzava Hrvatska – Independent State of Croatia) ended up largely unsettled earned little to no notice from the rest of the world. Tito’s growth to power seemed to receive more interest than thousands of orphans in the poor region. What a gift this was later for the ultranationalist movement leading the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990's. What would have happened were there a thorough Nuremberg style judgement and apology after the war? Some survivors believe that the war could have been avoided, but most do not. After all, Croats managed to completely wipe out many of the concentration camp sites so that there was little left to investigate. The monstrous mass graves in Donja Gradina, just across the river from the notorious complex of concentration camps Jasenovac, are not properly forensically excavated till these days. The last attempt in 1964 by Professor Srboljub Živanović and two others sparked huge controversy over the estimates of victims of Jasenovac that the Serbian side estimates as 700,000 or more whilst Croats only admit some 80,000. This ‘war of numbers’ is still hot today.

But my book was never going to be about numbers. I am no historian nor a politician to turn people to digits. And I think my interviewees knew it. Dobrila passes me an apple and starts recounting another of her horrible memories: “I remember one woman who was walking in front of me, carrying around 10-month old baby. The baby was crying. An Ustasha was trying to take the baby away from her, but she would not let go without a struggle. Eventually, he took the baby, impaled its body on his sabre and threw it over his shoulder to the dogs. The mother then threw herself at the Ustasha and was quickly killed.” She pauses to catch a breath and after a minute or two of silence she continues: “I ask myself why people became so evil. In the end, every mother carries her child for 9 months and gives birth. Every child's cry is the same. We are all the same when we are born. Why the hatred, why the evil? Life is so short, anyway. It passes so quickly.”

So has anything actually changed now that Serbs and Croats have their separate countries? The genocide and especially the Jasenovac complex of concentration camps are still a hot topic. That is, in different ways on both sides of the border. Whilst Serbs are finding ways to remember through events, new books, films and their Orthodox faith, and some politicians are skilfully juggling the WW2 horrors with feelings of unjust that the nation still retains after NATO bombing in 1999, Croatian politicians bask in the protection of EU and ignore the rise of new wave of Ustashe sympathisers in the region. Strong influence of faith (Roman Catholic on Croatian, Orthodox on Serbian and Muslim on Bosnian side) means that there is a plethora of continuous friction in the region. After all, Croatian Catholic Church was instrumental in the WW2 genocide as it openly supported the Croatian fascist leader Ante Pavelic and, some researchers say, that as many as 1400 of its priests and nuns were directly involved in murdering and running of the concentration camps. Equally divisive, even within the otherwise intact Serbian community, is the involvement of Chetnik forces (army units loyal to Yugoslav Royal family) and Partisan forces (army units lead by Tito) in the WW2.

Amidst all this friction, the survivors, like in the past, feel more and more abandoned by politicians and society. We are meeting in a small office in Banja Luka, Republika Srpska, Bosnia. Dobrila greets Dr. Milutin Vučkovac and Stanko Vučen. They too are survivors of the genocide. Banja Luka is home to many of them, because it is close to the Kozara region, where the most notorious and murderous offensive of the NDH period took place. In fact, almost everyone I spoke to has somehow witnessed the siege of the Kozara Mountain, where tens of thousands civilians looked for the last hope of survival when Croatian, Bosnian and German armies besieged it. Most of the runaways ended up in nearby Jasenovac concentration camp if they didn’t die on the slopes. Fifty years later, Banja Luka was one of the few safe places of the 1990’s civil wars and thousands of Serbs were forced to move there during and after the operation Storm in Croatia.

On the office wall hangs a board with pictures from visits to various locations of the genocide. “This is Jasenovac, this is Sisak, this I cannot remember,” says Dobrila and offers me a coffee. She puts the kettle on and hands me a little book. It contains proceedings of an international conference on Jasenovac. “This is for you,” she says and apologizes that she couldn’t meet me earlier because she was attending a funeral of her friend - a breezy reminder that those that I have been meeting and listening to in the last two years are fast approaching their final time in this world. And with every ones passing, a part of the story falls silent.

Dobrila has a lot of friends and for many of them she is not just a friend but also a source of strength and support. Somehow she was able to convert the barbaric pain of losing 10 out of 12 relatives in the genocide into an endless drive to help others. She ‘looks after’ everyone imprisoned in WW2 in her region and after their descendants too. And, importantly, she doesn’t pick a side. I only understand this properly when Stanija Šolaja joins us for her interview. Her story is a little different from what I was ‘used’ (you are right, one should never get used to such stories) to hear for her family was murdered not by Croats, nor by Germans, not even by Italian troops, but by the royalist Chetniks who, amidst the raging genocide, were fighting Partisans for their future claim to Yugoslavia. Later in my project I will be confronted by some of my Serbian friends who reject any validity of Chetnik crimes. Whilst it wasn’t a genocide per definition, this macro civil war is clearly dividing Serbian community to these days.

How frail many of the survivors are was clear since my first visit. Seeing Mile Vukmirović cry with every mention of his mother was as touching through my camera viewfinder as in reality. And when I came to meet Milka Hrnjez Janković it was even harder to watch. In fact, her first sentence as we shook hands at her doorstep was ‘you are not going to ask me about war, are you?’ I was, but without Dobrila I would probably shy away. The fear in Milka’s eyes was blinding and the interview was over before I could ask all my questions.

Some survivors were only able to speak when another of their friends was present. The feeling of shared pain seemed to reduce fear from opening up again. After all, this is what they do whenever they meet. One group of former Jasenovac child prisoners meets regularly every Friday in one of Belgrade’s administrative buildings. It’s a slightly surreal setting as everything about the building reminds me of the old communist era that I remember well from my youth in the Czech Republic. The decorations, the furniture, statues… as if time froze in the 1980’s. But I totally understand that for a person with such a burden who spent most of their productive life building a new country and trying to forget about the horrors of genocide, this is perhaps the safest environment.

Among this group sits Jelena Radojčić, one of the kindest people I have ever met. And one of the most resilient too. For decades she has been searching for her brother Ilija. Both of them were saved by a lady named Diana Budisavljević. If you haven’t heard this name before you will be just as shocked as I was when I learned about her. Originally an Austrian from Innsbruck, she married a Serbian doctor and relocated to Zagreb. As the Croatian regime embarked on ‘the final Serb solution’ which included children’s extermination camps, Diana started organizing rescue for the captured children. In total, she managed to save over 12 thousand (!) children who she and her team distributed to families. Another more than 3200 children didn’t survive the rescue exhausted by hunger, torture and diseases. Surely, this woman deserves a ‘Schindler’s List’ style documentary. Budisavljević created a card database of her saved children and this is where all records about Ilija end. “I am still looking for my Ilija; I think he is alive… He had a birthmark on his right side, a red birthmark.” says Jelena staring out of her kitchen window and somehow I feel being injected by her optimism. Jelena’s story is one of endless hope and goes directly under my skin. So why am I so sad about her when the interview is over?

Time is merciful and merciless at once. I can clearly sense that every survivor I spoke to wants to open up but also fears to recreate the image of their childhood in memory. But when I ask about war compensations, the answer is loud: forgotten and abandoned. Almost nobody has ever seen any reimbursement for the horrors and losses they suffered in the war. “Both the Yugoslavia authorities and today's officials do not care about us. It was not our fault that we were victims,” says Dobrila. And money clearly isn’t the biggest deal. What matters the most is that they haven’t heard an honest apology. Croatian government has, ever since the independence war, been trying to marginalize the Ustashe brutality and continuously revised numbers of victims. This is something unseen in the official post Nazi Germany, not least in the official political line. What’s worse, the Western anti-Serb narrative following the split of Yugoslavia has completely overshadowed the existence of genocide in the Independent State of Croatia. The Serbian survivors simply feel no empathy because the world doesn’t know about them. Would a common knowledge that they were subject to something as bestial as the infamous Holocaust change anything about the image of Serbia? I don’t know, but how can you judge a nation if you ignore such historical fact?

Dobrila finishes her coffee and wipes her glasses clean again. “My son asked me a million times: "Why you of all people?" Even today, after I survived all the horrors, I still cannot believe that people can do things like that to each other, to other human beings. I cannot talk about it much anymore. I am not that strong anymore,” she signals to close our interview and I so wish it wasn’t true. This genocide cannot be unspoken. No genocide can.


Twenty survivors of WW2 genocide portrayed in new book

Nightmares, family secrets and decades of pain – such is the legacy of war to those who survived it. A lesser known chapter of World War 2 left an in-erasable mark on post war lives of Serbs, Jews and Roma who managed to see the end of a fascist rage in the Independent State of Croatia. Unimaginable horrors are still vivid in their memories despite all the tries to suppress them. Photographs of twenty survivors in David Sladek’s book Unspoken Genocide will be an honest reminder that speaking about and learning from war experience is the only way to sustain peace in today’s world.

“If you asked me two years ago, I wouldn’t know about the horrors of this genocide. Yet, everybody is aware of Holocaust and many other dark chapters in human history. I often asked myself why I never knew, but now I think I know the answer,” says Sladek who worked as journalist for Czech News Agency in the past.

Hundreds of thousands were murdered by Ustashe movement as then fascist Croatia decided to cleanse its land of Serbs, Jews and Roma. When the war was over, the two main nations (Croats and Serbs) ended up together in one country – Yugoslavia, under Josip Broz Tito’s communist rule. And the horrors of the genocide were being pushed aside. “Not only that the people wanted to forget and tried to protect their closest from the pain they had suffered, but those who wanted to speak were suppressed by the official policy of Unity and Brotherhood while building their new world. The survivors simply felt intimidated to mention it publicly. This then seemed to play a critical role in the 1990’s break-up of Yugoslavia,” explains author.

Yet, he stresses, none of the survivors wants any sort of revenge: “Let me emphasize that their horrible memories should not serve as an argument for extreme minds to raise hatred. All they ask is that people learn from horrors of the past, acknowledge them and never repeat them again”.

Unspoken Genocide book will contain suggestive black and white pictures taken during interviews that Sladek conducted in Bosnia and Serbia over the past two years. Each picture will be accompanied by a quote from the interview in English and Serbian. Full interviews will then be available on a dedicated website which will provide space for more translations. Sladek is now looking for backers via Indiegogo crowdfunding platform at

https://igg.me/at/unspoken-genocide

Launch is planned for March.

Book will be supported by a set of exhibitions that author plans across Europe. Twenty prints of survivors’ hands premièred in London on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day on 26th January.


Photographer trying to raise money to release book about survivors of WW2 genocide

Czech born photographer living in London David Sladek is running a campaign on crowdfunding website Indiegogo to raise money for printing of his book Unspoken Genocide about survivors of a barbaric WW2 genocide in the Independent State of Croatia. The book will release in March and will contain pictures and interviews with twenty people who survived the reign of Croatian fascist Ustashe movement. Its author wants to bring the lesser known chapter of WW2 to general public awareness via his suggestive black and white photographs.

“If you asked me two years ago, I wouldn’t know about the horrors of this genocide. Yet, everybody is aware of Holocaust and many other dark chapters in human history. I often asked myself why I never knew, but now I think I know the answer,” says Sladek who worked as journalist for Czech News Agency.

Hundreds of thousands were murdered by Ustashe movement as then fascist Croatia decided to cleanse its land of Serbs, Jews and Roma. When the war was over, the two main nations (Croats and Serbs) ended up together in one country – Yugoslavia, under Josip Broz Tito’s communist rule. And the horrors of the genocide were being pushed aside. “Not only that the people wanted to forget and tried to protect their closest from the pain they had suffered, but those who wanted to speak were suppressed by the official policy of Unity and Brotherhood while building their new world. The survivors simply felt intimidated to mention it publicly. This then seemed to play a critical role in the 1990’s break-up of Yugoslavia,” explains author.

Yet, he stresses, none of the survivors wants any sort of revenge: “Let me emphasize that their horrible memories should not serve as an argument for extreme minds to raise hatred. All they ask is that people learn from horrors of the past, acknowledge them and never repeat them again”.

Unspoken Genocide book will contain approximately 150 pictures taken during interviews that Sladek conducted in Bosnia and Serbia over the past two years. Each picture will be accompanied by a quote from the interview in English and Serbian. Full interviews will then be available on a dedicated website which will provide space for more translations. People can support the campaign and pre-order their books on

https://igg.me/at/unspoken-genocide

They can also donate a book to one of the survivors from the book or to a library of their choice.

Book will be supported by a set of exhibitions that author plans across Europe. Twenty prints of survivors’ hands premièred in London on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day on 26th January.

To subscribe to Unspoken Genocide newsletter, go to

http://www.unpokengenocide.com

Photos:

http://www.unspokengenocide.com/press/images

Unspoken Genocide on Social media:

http://www.facebook.com/unspokengenocide/

Twitter hashtag: #UnspokenGenocide


People Directory

Gordana Vunjak-Novaković

Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic is a Serbian American engineer and currently a professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University. She is the director of Columbia's Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering. Vunjak-Novakovic is a highly cited researcher, having published 235 engineering papers, two books, 45 book chapters, and 34 patents. She had also given over 150 lectures across the world. Vunjak-Novakovic is an advisor to the federal government on tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, serving as chair of NIH's tissue engineering section. Vunjak-Novakovic's areas of research include tissue engineering, bioreactors, biophysical regulation, tissue development, and stem cell research.

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Publishing

Христос – Нова Пасха – Божанствена Литургија

Serbian Edition, author Bishop Athanasius Yevtich (издање на српском језику, аутор епископ Атанасије Јевтић)

Период двадесетог века представљао је врло комплексно раздобље везано за развој литургијско-богословске мисли у нашој помесној Цркви. Осећајући насушну еклисијалну и пастирску потребу да поменуту мисао надгради и истовремено је учини приступачнијом народу Божијем, епископ Атанасије Јевтић се одлучио да понуди тротомно дело под насловом: Христос – Нова Пасха – Божанствена Литургија. Иако се објављивање трећег тома тек очекује, сматрамо да богословској и читалачкој пажњи треба представити два тома који су већ изашли.

Сложени назив овог епохалног издања, које може бити препознато као „српска литургијска стромата двадесет и првог века“, аутор је начинио на основу одељка из Прве Посланице Коринћанима светог апостола Павла: Јер се Пасха наша Христос жртвова за нас (1Кор 5, 7). Дело се састоји из два тома и намењено је, према речима епископа Атанасија, „богобојажљивим и христочежњивим љубитељима Божанских Тајни, усрдним учесницима Свете Литургије и причесницима Богочовечанских Светиња“. Наиме, у њему су сабрани текстови о Светој и Божанственој Евхаристији од најранијих времена Цркве Христове (првог века) све до савременог доба, а сâм циљ јесте „раскривање литургијских, еклисиолошких, космичких и есхатолошких димензија Светајне Христа и Његове Цркве“. Највећи део сабраних литургијско-светоотачких текстова се по први пут појављује на српском језику, благодарећи преводилачком и прегалачком труду епископа Атанасија. Уз то, веома су драгоцени његови оригинални коментари. Треба истаћи да су оба тома штампана са тврдим корицама у штампарији Интерклима Графика у Врњачкој Бањи.

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