2. SECTION: refers to years 1997 - 1999
MEMORIES.E32 - Neel Sheth's Questions answered during March 1997.
1-Q1: WHERE DID YOU LIVE DURING THE WAR OR WHERE WERE YOU STATIONED?
1-A1: I was born in Osijek 1925 a major town in Eastern Slavonia, Republic of Croatia. Osijek is some 15-km from the confluence of river Drava in Danube or some 30-km of Vukovar - the martyr City in recent war in Croatia of 1991.
I have graduated with the Matura at Boys Real-Gymnasium (Secondary School) in summer 1943. [The certificate 'MATURA' is equal to INTERNATIONAL BACCALAUREATE or UK's certificate for A1 level.] In October 1943 we have been called to the Army Service of Croatia which was an Independent State aligned with Nazi's regime. [Note: Poglavnik Ante Pavelic was State's ruler commanding his political forces named 'Ustasha'.] Early November 1943 I was seconded to officers' training camp in Stockerau, near Vienna. I finished the training for an artillery officer in October 1944 and got my junior officer's patent soon after. For Christmas 1944, I got my order in a howitzer battery stationed in Osijek at the fighting front line.
1-Q2: WHAT WERE YOUR DUTIES?
1-A2: As the junior officer I was on duty either as front observer or in command of cannons in their stand. The battery had 4 Czech-made howitzer of 100 mm bore. The horse-drawn battery had some 120 horses for pulling the cannons and other for the transport needed carts.
1-Q3: HOW WAS THE MORALE IN YOUR UNIT?
1-A3: How to answer this question? How was my morale considering a teenager's expectations and experiences? Well, I have learned a lot of dictatorship's oppression and involved dangers before entering the Army. My family was in a great danger too (mother's Jewish origin in a mixed marriage) and many relatives and acquaintances have been abducted. We could anticipate not see them alive when this horrible confrontation ends - God knew only when! I have expected that the Nazi's regimes would loose the war they have started. I knew I had to fight that war at and for the 'wrong' side too. At other hand, Tito's partisans propagating communist's regime advantages were certainly not the better choice either. Thus, the only choice we have had was staying alive hopping for a better future which the victors - the Allies - might provide or at least guarantee.
1-Q4: HOW WERE THE FOOD AND THE LIVING QUARTERS?
1-A4: I suppose you ask about how was it during my military duties. Well, it certainly was better than the majority of the civilian population had. Not to speak about how millions of displaced or dispersed persons had it or those in prisons or forced working camps. In times of our military training we got one main meal at lunchtime and some kind of soup meal after duties' end at 18 hours. We ate at soldiers' canteen meals, which contained potatoes, cabbage, lentils, beans, sour turnip and porridge (barleycorn) in different combination of mixtures. Some times there were 'traces' of meat as the better parts went to officers' canteen and for kitchen's staff. We received once-a-day bread made of mixed (corn, rye, maize etc.) flours which we had enough of. We drank 'coffee' made of roasted rye & barley (chicory?) and supplied in large jugs (10-liter mornings and evenings. Yes, there was some kind of margarine made of bone fat or lard tasted awfully!). Some mixed marmalade in brick-form also was our daily ration too. Later, at the front line, the food was largely what our cooks `organized' or could buy at a reasonable price in 'bargaining' by force of arms. Any officer had it better depending on his personal position in the unit.
During the retreat westwards from Osijek, which started on 14 April 1945, food was not an important issue at all - just the survival. After my surrender to Tito's Army at West far in Slovenia on 15th May 1945 there was not food for any POW. This is another rather tragic and dramatic story: Death Marches or the Croatian Ways of Cross which started at Bleiburg in May of 1945.
We, the twenty recruits, had large room as living quarters during military in an old massive barrack (18th century). The brick walls were good 1 m thick but the room has been bitter cold. The only stove would be heated up after 18h and cleaned out - no ashes at all - by 22 h. Later, at the front line in Osijek, soldiers had quarters in some odd buildings whereas officers we allocated rooms in private houses. During the retreat we had slept anywhere available and when possible. For POWs nobody really cared for, believe me. We didn't have any 'living quarter' at all. During the forced 'death' marches and when we were allowed to rest - we just dropped down for a while: on a gravel road, in a drainage trench, on railway slippers, on any dusty floor or grassy plain some
times soaked by rain. That is the hard way of survival, Neel.
1-Q5: WERE THERE ANY EXPERIENCES THAT SEEMED BORING AT ALL?
1-A5: I just asked myself how old are you, Neel? Do you expect that the military training, particularly during wartime, would or could boring? Ask anybody who passed such training whether the sergeant major allowed any time for boring experiences. Yes, there were many hurting and difficult experiences gathered in 10 months of training. The 'only' boring was standing guard during wee-hours in cold windy nights in front of barracks - far from the front. Later, at the front or during the retreat there has not been anything boring that we all went through had been very hard way of difficult and dangerous collecting of life survival experiences.
1-Q6: WHAT DID THE SOLDIERS DO FOR ENTERTAINMENT?
1-A6: Oh, did we have any time for entertainment at all? On Sundays we went to a church service in Stockerau unless the American bombers didn't disturb it. In the later case, we rushed to stables to ride out fast horses into near-by woods for safety. After two months of training, we were allowed taking max. 36 hours of leave starting at noon on Saturdays. One would 'change' rationed cigarettes or some food staff (saved from a parcels received from home) for money to buy ticket or entry to several entertainment places in Vienna. It had taken about 30 minutes by train only. I had relatives in Vienna and could stay with them overnight too. They lost their home during a bombarding late 1944 saving their bare life only. Thus, I was lucky visiting many performances in Vienna's Opera House and Burg theater, visits to Ronacher or Hagenbeck's Circus or Prater - at all places with rather restrictive stage's decoration (fire hazard) and subdued public lights.
We had other 'kind' of entertainment too. In the room for night watchers we had put a helmet upside down next to candlelight. Attracted by the heat a bed bug came out of watcher's bed and crawled up-wall and ceiling to plunge in the helmet or on and in flame. What a smell when bed bug burned! Thus, one got rid off some of bugs, which are real plague in old buildings. By the way, this
Barracks' building still exists and has been converted for habitations now. [I have visited this place few years ago but could not get in any of those rooms we have been in some 50-year ago.] Another entertainment has been for us when the German superiors discovered that we had louses. Germans were particular about this bug and ordered us to pack all our belongings in blanket and emptied mattresses. We had to fill with new straw after the return from 'Entlausung' (= debugging) at NW-railway station in Vienna. By entering a nearly full wagon at the Stockerau station with our large bundles people asked where are we going. "We are going for debugging" were our answers. After that we had the wagon for ourselves only.
1-Q7: WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR INFORMATION ABOUT THE WAR?
1-A7: About 2 years ago, Cottage Grove students have asked: When and how did you first hear about the possibility of a war starting in Europe? How did you find out that the war was going on? How did you get most of your information on the war? What was the view of war you were given by the media? I have answered in MEMORIES.E18 following:
We moved to a house my parents bought in summer 1936. My father's first radio was a huge box produced by "Telefunken" about the same time. Father, a good known advocate (attorney) in Osijek, had been cautioning about a looming European War since 1936, so far I can remember. [Hitler came to power in 1933 and revoked the Treaty of Versailles of May 7, 1919 soon after. Mussolini attacked Ethiopia in 1935. In 1937 Hitler and Mussolini joined into the 'AXIS PACT'. The 'civil war' in Spain started in July 1936 and ended in February 1939].
My father was good informed on political and economical developments in Europe. Also, we read local newspapers and heard to radio news. [Note: One cannot compare present news media's proficiency and potency with the ones of some 55 years ago!] Please consider that the NEWS MEDIA were NOT FREE at all. The relevant information Ministries were strictly acting according the regime's policy and needs only. In a tyrannical and oppressive regime there is NO PLACE for FREE NEWS or FREE SPEECH.
1-Q8: WHAT PART OF THE WAR DO YOU REMEMBER AS BEING THE WORST TIME FOR
1-A8: Sorry, cannot reply this question - I was at other side of the Big Waters then.
1-Q9: WHEN WERE YOU MOST AFRAID DURING THE WAR?
1-A9: I do remember well the WWII but answering your question would not be easy at all. The war had played the most IMPORTANT part in my life. I cannot give you any determinate answer to that question, as my life history has been a rather complex one. There were so many occasions when I have been afraid of - then something happened anew and new kind of fear took over. One would need too many explanations to understand the background to it. Also, it would a VERY long answer as well a very personal one too.
I can remember being afraid of normal cases like any teenager considering local and past times when these ones occurred. Later, getting into army's service and to battle lines the quality of fears changed drastically. On one occasion, I got so scared that I soiled myself during a night battle raging for hours. There were about 20 assaults that night and my trust out artillery observation post has been under constant fire prior to any of attack. After several repelled attacks I got back my full senses and my survival instinct took over by 'hunting' down guns and launchers which scared me for few hours. After I had led down several perfect hits of our cannons from far away my post it had brought down those 'humiliations' of mine body. Later, the wheel of life turned onwards with new apprehensions worse than the ones before.
I have learned mortal fears, experienced instincts of survival, had felt the scythe's hush over me and have survived the MASSACRES of CROATIANS in 1945. [Was it not an 'ethnical cleansing' then already?] What should I answer regarding my FEARS or which one of them I have been most afraid of during the war? Was it one of the primordial or instinctive fears? Have I been afraid of feelings like of an imminent danger or disaster or indescribable pain or injury or even death at any of the critical moments? [Fear of imminent death is something incomprehensible to a young person without one's own experience.] In general, I would say, that there was not much time to ponder about feelings or fears which have happened at a particular moment - in reality and not as virtual. One had to cope with all of these fears as they came - there has not been anything to rely upon or anybody to counsel you. At your last hours approach you're alone - you feel being deserted and very lonesome.
Also, many have asked how was it like living through WWII times. There was a lot of somberness mixed with moments of repose, subdued joys and hopping for that all those unpleasant and restrictive behaviors for teenagers would pass soon. Some hopes and of more unidentified expectations kept us humoring and having some fun at times. Yes, there were shortages of different kind getting worse as the war had protracted. Every-body had to find its own way to survive or to abandon all hopes by perishing sooner or later anyway. No, there isn't any romantic story to be told about a war a like crisis.
1-Q10: WHEN DID YOU START TO FEEL THE WAR EFFORT WAS TURNING TO THE ALLIES'
1-A10: I consider as the climax of WWII had been reached when the Rommel's Africa Corps had been defeated and when the Battle of Stalingrad ended Germans' push eastwards that is the aggression of Russia in 1943. The turning point became evident when the so long expected 'D-DAY' became the reality in 1944! I was certain that the WWII would end within a reasonable time when the news came that the Allied Forces landed in Italy (Sicily) and in Normandy few months later. Unfortunately, WWTwo lasted for many more months of anxiety ending about a year later only - on May 8th 1945.
1-Q11: WHAT DID YOU THINK AT THE TIME ABOUT FDR OR CHURCHILL OR STALIN OR
HITLER OR MUSSOLINI AS WELL AS ABOUT THE JAPANESE OR GERMANS OR
ITALIANS? WHAT IS ABOUT THE A-BOMB DROPPINGS?
1-A11: How could I write about what I have thought about say 55 years ago. Would I not be expressing my present opinions or observations which have been 'burdened' by my life's history too much. Instead, I would try explaining some topics and dilemmas of a growing up teenager. In my family and in many of our friends one knew well enough about Hitler or Mussolini or Stalin. All of these named were FASCISTS NATIONALISTS and DICTATORS. Europeans learned quite a lot from their history - but not enough to prevent these fanatics to get to such POWERS. However, there was MANY that sympathized and lobbied for Hitler and Mussolini and Stalin at those times too. Consider some states' policies like of England (the Treaty of Munich - Sep 30, 1938) or Russia (Hitler - Molotov "Bargain of Poland") or USA (large business and industry interests) and the late entry into WWII only after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor.
What ever kind of believes or feelings one has had (even as a teenager in those critical times prior and during WWII) there wasn't much you could do or achieve approval or disapproval in any course of events. One MUST adjust and learn fast how to survive under duress and repression - if one couldn't make it then there wasn't much time left for any thinking or feelings. One would not be surviving in such currents of events. These are bitter facts and truth about any crisis. Any war is one of such human crisis too.
You also asked what a teenager thought about FDR, Churchill, A-bombs dropping etc. What could one know about any leading politician in a far country at times when information facilities were by far less available than now a day? Our only hopes stayed with England under Churchill's leadership to defeat Nazis' Germany. Why did USA waited for so long and entered into war after those disasters in Pacific and at SE of Asia down to Australia?
What could a teenager think about any particular nation say Japanese about which has learned rather little about in school? Yes, I remember having seen or met few Hungarians, Austrians, Germans, Czechs etc. as tourist during my family's holidays in late 1930s (there were by far less tourists at that time). One cannot expect from a teenager to have a formed opinion about any nationality without a reasonable personal experience, isn't? So, let leave this part of your question unanswered.
Nevertheless, let me list some of some subjects one has talked about in secret or with trustful person(s) only. Topics could be summarized like despotism and dictate; political oppression and persecution; lack or shortage of merchandize and many of commodities; hunger and different anxieties; terror and anxiety; fears of mutilation and of death. Also, we learned about racism too that some people are not liked by the regime. Suddenly you have realized that some of your friends vanished, several friendly families and persons had been abducted or arrested etc. You are told that Jews, Gypsies or some other nationalities are bad and have to be exterminated for the benefit of the regime. Like a thunderbolt it hits at your own family one day out of blue-sky. There is hardly any time for thoughts or feelings and just get out of this mess - but how you wonder!
1-Q12: HAVE ANY OF THESE OPINIONS CHANGED OVER THE YEARS? SHOULD I
UNDERSTAND YOUR QUESTION WHETHER WWII HAD MADE AN IMPACT IN MY LIFE - NOT ONLY EMOTIONALLY - BUT IN SOME OTHER WAYS?
1-A12: As for myself, the WWII ended only 8 days later - which was May 15, 1945. On that day early morning, I lead Battery's soldiers into the surrender to Tito's Armies - the Yugoslav Army - eastwards of Slovenjgradec (Western Slovenia). Two days later, some 40.000 POWs (Prisoners of War) had started marching eastwards from a temporary camp at Slovenjgradec. This march had turned into one of CROATIANS' DEATH MARCH on so-called route no.2 The topic of 'Croatians' Death Marches' has been the TABOO during Tito's regime and communists' dictatorship in ex-Yugoslavia.
Now, some 46 years later, one can talk about 'Bleiburg Massacre of Croatians and their Death Marches' in public. There are very, very few survivors living who could or would talk about their experiences. As one of Tito's generals said: "A Croat is good enough as a dead one only" paraphrasing a say: "A good witness is only a dead one". Most of the survivors don't care talking anymore about those tragic days - they have aged being over 70 years now. Their unspoken memories are buried deep by tenderness of subconscious spreading a blanket of oblivion over all horrors they had passed through.
I have met only one other officer who walked on all the same route with me. He died some years ago but we never spoke about these gruesome days when we met by chance. As for myself, the march's route no.2 stretched over some 500 km of bare-footed walking in 16 days only. We didn't get any food or any other humanitarian help - despite Geneva's Convention valid for Prisoners of War. Here's what I got-learned in my life: Do not trust those humanitarian slogans as they result always too late for those to be affected by or to be of need them. Let me also say that one meets a real good friend in peck of troubles or gets help from an unknown-somebody lasting even for a brief instant only. However, one couldn't be conscious of this at the time - probably only much later - when the friend or the unknown helper is gone for good already.
At last, which of my opinions and attitudes changed after WWII had ended? Well, quite a lot as you can gather from the all afore said. In former Kingdom of Yugoslavia existed a relatively private enterprise system and a free market prior to WWII. As the whole it had been abolished by Tito's new regime which introduced so-called 'socialistic' state ownership and controlled marketing. It also prohibited any private enterprise. State ruled and owned everything: agriculture, industry, all lands and resources, houses and flats. The main social objective in a normal society is to instigate and propagate sound families, favor private initiatives and guarantee private ownership, free enterprise and marketing. These principles had to make way to a better system of a "General Public Society" which is favored by all socialistic systems. Peoples had moved from their native lands (more than 70% lived outside of cities before WWII), flocked into towns trying to find some proletarian) work there. It also resulted in a great housing crisis and even more and many dissatisfactions after WWII ended. Yes, very many of my opinions and attitudes changed and I have had to adjust or accommodate or compromise to finish my study, get work, create a family etc.
Added to 1-A12: I obviously have misunderstood what you meant as 'which opinions changed'. In case you have referred to persons, nationalities or events mentioned in Q11 then my answer went amiss. Thus, my text under A11 is in order where as the one of A12 is about different topic. IMHO the later text needs some more precise explanation. My personal opinions regarding social and economic changes required serious and far-reaching modifications. I grew up in a civil (= buergerliche) family and in a society providing for private ownership and enterprising.
After WWII and in the new socialistic' regime these merits had been gone being replaced by all encompassing state's (= public) ownership and centralized banking and enterprising. The dialectic materialism was the all round way of explaining benefits of the new socialistic system which didn't tolerate any opposition to it merits at all. I am afraid that explaining all this differences would require quite a long discourse - completely out-dated after the changes in Eastern European countries since 1989.
1-Q13: DID YOU HAVE PERSONAL CONTACT WITH OUR ALLIES? WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
1-A13: I didn't get even a chance reaching Allied Armies' units although it has been our aim to surrender say to British Army units in Carinthia. The retreat of Croatian Army has been stopped by British units at Bleiburg on May 13, 1945 who had turned over their POWs to Tito's Army. You'll find a rather short description of that tragedy in my answer A12.
1-Q14: DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THE INTERNMENT OF JAPANESE-AMERICANS? HOW DID
1-A14: Sorry, didn't know anything about - heard about many years later.
1-Q15: WHEN DID YOU LEARN ABOUT CONCENTRATION CAMPS? HOW DID YOU FEEL?
1-A15: I suppose you ask about concentration camps for Japanese-Americans. If you have asked about working and concentration camps which had in existence in Europe since 1930s then you should have asked more specifically. When the war started in Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941 I was 16 years old. I didn't know anything about such camp but got I first hand experience soon after. During summer holidays in 1941 all students of +15 years age had to undergo para-military service or go to work in a camp for 2 months. My father had decided for me and I went in a camp working 8 hard hours sieving gravel (hand work only) and other builders' jobs. Thus, my working for two long months under rather simple conditions had been as a contribution for the new State - Independent State of Croatia (= 'NDH' had been liaised to Nazi's regime in Germany). The other colleagues, who went for para-military training, actually had been helping police and USTASHA units in arresting, abducting and transporting suspects incl. Gypsies, Jews, Serbs and others regime's opponents to camps somewhere - most of these poor people perished for good.
Few months later, when the extermination of Jews and Gypsies became obvious, our relatives and friends had disappeared over night - then my father told me the full truth about probable existence of camps for imprison persons. Yes, we knew about an existence of concentration camps since late 1941 but nobody dared saying anything against or to oppose atrocities. Many endangered persons went over to Partisans' movement to fight the hated Nazi's regimes. Others remained at home trying hard how to survive. For me came the moment of truth when I was called into military service late 1943 which have had me fighting at the wrong side and for a lost cause later.
1-Q16: WHAT WERE YOU OR WHAT WERE YOU DOING WHEN YOU HEARD ABOUT
JAPANESE ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR? D-DAY? VE DAY? VJ DAY? THE DEATH OF FDR?
1-A16: Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was on Dec 7, 1941 at the time when German Armies
had penetrated deep in Russia. The NDH's terror against all opponents has been at its peak. We had hoped that America entering into war would bring necessary changes by ending the war in not a too far future. However, only on June 6, 1944 the Allied Armies landed on Normandy's coast when we were on our way for a home-leave after 6 months of military training. You may find more about what happened to me then after in MEMORIES' archives.
On May 8, 1945 (VE Day) I was still with the Battery retreating westwards when learned about the armistice. We were near Krapina (a town on border between Croatia and Slovenia) then and being ready to fight our way reaching any of Allied Army units to surrender. The first a-bomb fell on Hiroshima Aug 6, 1945 when we have heard about the General Amnesty of Croatian Officers. That day I was still in the P.o.W's camp at Kovin (East Vojvodina, Serbia) which I would leave for good 8 days later. On Sep 2, 1945 which was VJ Day was back home nursing my physical and psychic wounds and getting back to my senses starting a study at the University of Zagreb.
1-Q17: DESCRIBE YOUR EXPERIENCE UPON RETURNING TO THE U.S. (PARADE? PARTIES?)
1-A17: Cannot describe any of such experience neither parade nor parties. There haven't been any for the losers! Even the victorious Tito's Yugoslav Army did bother much for parading or holding parties.The 4 year long war devastated and ruined the country living the society's structure and economy in rubles. I do not intend starting any arguments but, please Neel, you did not parade or partied the returning GI's who had returned from Vietnam or Somalia isn't? I would never forget how US's media shamelessly reported the GI's landing on Somalia's coast - one must not do it that way at all. I'm afraid that this is entirely different discourse about.
1-Q18: DO YOU STILL KEEP IN CONTACT WITH MEN IN YOUR FORMER UNITS?
1-A18: No - never had even the slightest opportunity of seeing or speaking to any soldier from the Battery. However, I still have personal contact with few friends who were at the military training course in Stockerau 1943/4. Since the recent developments in my home country Croatia (as from 1992) it has become possible talking freely about that TABOO topic of the Croatian Tragedy and Massacres of Bleiburg and Death Marches of 1945.
1-Q19: DID YOU GET THE G.I BILL? WHAT DID YOU USE IT FOR?
1-A19: Of course not! In Tito's Yugoslavia I was a suspected person due to my past as a son of a 'burgeois' layer (intellectual!) and being a survivor of a top secret 'ethnic cleansing'. I have started studying in fall 1945 at the Faculty of Technical Sciences in Zagreb and have graduated as Civil and Structural Engineer in February 1952. That's a rather long and intriguing story too.
1-Q20: HOW HAD THE WORLD WAR II EXPERIENCE AFFECTED YOUR LIFE?
1-A20: Well I believe that you have learned a little about of my life's history by now. Try to understand the circumstances and events which have stamped the last years of a teenager. This teenager lost more than half of his weight and was a human wreck when he got rescued from a marching column on his 20th birthday. Yes, I have been reborn but my traumatic experiences made me a more sensible, thoughtful and wise grayed young man.
Another young inquirer, Gabrielle, asked me sometime ago if I could answer same question as your with ONE WORD only. I couldn't do it and suggested for TWO WORD answer which I formulated as follows:
of lives - youths - loves - ideas - thoughts - energies - values - natural beauties etc.
To: Wilson Stuart School <firstname.lastname@example.org> on 18 Oct 1997
I'll try answering your 14 questions to my best knowledge or remembrance. However, they won't fit exactly your pattern because I wasn't in Great Britain at the time your refer to. I was born in 1925 and lived in Kingdom of Yugoslavia since. Here are my answers so please don't hesitate asking any clarification if needed.
2-Q1: WHAT WERE YOUR FEELINGS LIKE WHEN YOU HEARD THE FIRST AIR RAID
2-A1: I was 16+ when the war started in former Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941. We've learned or heard about air raid siren noise before during training times. The seriousness of sirens' veiling tune gets to you after first bombardment or air attack.
2-Q2: WAS IT LIKE AN ADVENTURE TO BE IN THE HITLER YOUTH?
2-A2: I haven't been member of the Hitler Youth organization. However, there was a similar youth organization called USTASKA MLADEZ (meaning "USTASHA" youth) in a quisling state Independent State of Croatia (abbreviated NDH). The "Fuehrer" of NDH was Dr. Ante Pavelic. More about it read please in my MEMOSTORY to come soon.
2-Q3: WHAT WAS IT LIKE DURING THE BLITZS?
2-A3: The "blitz" ended for Kingdom of Yugoslavia within 7 days. In my hometown we haven't seen much of it except German Army units passing through it during one only day. After that we've got the new NDH proclamation.
2-Q4: WAS YOU EVACUATED AND IF SO WAS IT AN ADVENTURE?
2-A4: I haven't been evacuated and it wouldn't be an adventure at all, believe me. Instead I had to go to war as from October 1943.
2-Q5: DID YOU FIND RATIONING HARD TO COPE WITH NOT HAVING THE THINGS YOU LIKE
MOST AS MUCH AS YOU DID BEFORE?
2-A5: You've to get used to it - being hungry makes you want to eat anything available. One doesn't get the opportunity to cope or find any rationing as hard. Things you've liked do disappear soon and nobody cares really for it. Anyone has to find his best way to survive.
2-Q6: WAS IT HARD TO RATION YOUR SWEETS?
2-A6: First of all we didn't have so much of a choice of sweets as you are supposedly do have now a days. Of course, anything made of chocolate and sugar disappeared from our desires. Same with all tropical fruits (like bananas, oranges etc.) which vanished from markets too provided that few better off could afford it before.
2-Q7: WHAT DID YOU DO IN YOUR ANDERSON SHELTERS?
2-A7: In former Yugoslavia nobody had Anderson shelters at all. The best what one could do was to convert some basement's or cellar's parts to a reasonable shelter form. Digging of trenches became soldier's business at front lines only.
2-Q8: WHAT WAS IN LIKE IN YOUR HOUSE WHEN CHAMBERLAIN'S SPOKEN ON THE
RADIO ABOUT BRITIAN GOING TO WAR WITH GERMANY?
2-A8: I was 14 years old then and could remember father saying: "The War has started as somebody had it enough of Hitler's doings at last. Must have some guts for it too. We can expect very bad times coming for us too."
2-Q9: WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOU HEARD ABOUT BRITIAN GOING TO WAR AGAINST
THE GERMANY OF ADOLF HITLER?
A9: At home in Osijek (Croatia) - a town of about 45.000 inhabitants then. Went to the 5th class (say K9) of Real Gymnasium (secondary school) there.
2-Q10: WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO WEAR A GAS MASK?
2-A10: I've wearing a gas mask during the military training only. I did not have to use any gas mask at the front fortunately. By the way, I didn't have any of there either. Wearing a gas mask isn't pleasant at all - it's a rather serious business in case of a need that one wouldn't like at all.
2-Q11: WHAT WAS THE BLACK OUT LIKE?
2-A11: Imagine all external doors and windows pane covered with glued on dark blue or gray paper. Streetlights as well as all other bulbs at house or shelter entrances are of dark blue color mostly painted. If this is what you've meant as "black out" than walk around in pitch darkness using a flashlight with blue bulb only. Consider also that such "black out" lasts for months and years at any night. One get used it - at last too.
2-Q12: DID YOU SING ANY SONGS IN THE ANDERSON SHELTER?
2-A12: No comments! However, I don't remember singing in a shelter during a bombardment though. Shaking of fear, shouting or screaming to get over that din getting through shelter's walls. Yes, I could imagine people singing during those long night hours they were spending underground say in London's Tubes regularly.
2-Q13: WAS THE WAR LIKE A GAME TO YOU?
2-A13: I just wonder how you get to such question? Can you imagine the WAR to be a GAME even to any child involved directly in it? Please, have a look on your TV screen when one transmits scenes on children "playing games" under warlike conditions. Yes, they do play games but these are about fighting (with mockups or even real weapons) and killing "the enemy" WAR IS NOT A GAME - IT IS A DEADLY BUSINESS FOR ANYBODY INVOLVED IN!
2-Q14: WHAT DID YOU FEEL LIKE WHEN YOUR MOM CAME TO WAKE UP TO TELL YOU
THAT THERE IS AN AIR RAID AND YOU MUST GO DOWN TO THE ANDERSON
2-A14: I've been too old that mother had to wake me up. The sirens were loud enough to wake up even the dead ones. However, often it has been too late to reach a shelter. Many one has trusted more to his good destiny staying in a doorframe or crawling under own bed or a table.
To 7th grade class in Northfield, Ohio a suburb of Cleveland on 22 Nov 1997:
3-Q1: DID YOU HAVE ENOUGH FOOD TO EAT?
3-A1: Yes, in principle our family had enough food during WWII. Father had lost some weight that didn't matter much. He still stayed well despite loosing some of his normal 125 kg (approx. 275 lbs.). Mother kept a farm of rabbits and fowl in a small garden behind our house. This was in central part of Osijek, a town on river Drava in County of Croatia of former Kingdom of Yugoslavia. We got fresh fish from a fishery too until my uncle had been abducted to a concentration camp in 1943. Mother also kept a pig or two to be slaughtered sometime in December. As the war protracted the food situation significantly worsened and certain food articles had been rationed too. However, we haven't been starving throughout the war - to be honest.
3-Q2: WERE ANY OF YOUR FAMILY MEMBERS IN THE WAR?
3-A2: I've graduated in 1943 and had been called into Army service soon after. By end of 1944 I've got my order as a lieutenant-junior to the active service at front line in my hometown Osijek. All other male relatives had either succeeded escaping Nazi's persecution or vanished in concentration camps.
3-Q3: WAS MONEY WORTH ANYTHING DURING AND AFTER THE WAR?
3-A3: The Independent State of Croatia (known as Pavelic's NDH was liaison to Germany) had it's new currency KUNA. There had been some value lost changing former Yugoslavia's DINAR into Kunas. Later during the war money was gradually loosing its value though. More and more one turned to bargain and trade by natural value of goods. The big value lost came after the war ended when KUNA had been converted to new Tito Yugoslavia's Dinars.
3-Q4: WHAT WERE YOUR SCHOOLS LIKE?
3-A4: Buildings weren't much different than today. These were massive structures with large rooms which survived the WWII and are still in use now. Floors made of strong boards were painted with black oily paint on which any dirt showed. We didn't have proper wardrobes in primary school (1931/32 - 1934/35 = 4K) and we had hung cloths in our class. At the begin we learned writing with scribble on slate and only later started using pencil and ink with pen-in-holder. In secondary school in Osijek (1935/36 - 1942/43 = 8K) hasn't been so much different but one CANNOT COMPARE a laboratory's outfit and/or equipment with that of modern times. There were too many significant changes in various sciences during the past 60+ years, isn't?
3-Q5: WHAT WERE YOUR HOBBIES DURING THE WAR?
3-A5: There weren't any. I was 16 when war came to Yugoslavia in 1941. We were all well aware that sooner or later we'd be involved in it so one wouldn't have time for hobbies. Late 1944 we had moved from our old school to a much smaller building at Lower Town of Osijek. This had brought many inconveniences and times for preparation to final exams became short too. I've graduated in summer next year.
3-Q6: HOW WERE WOMEN TREATED?
3-A6: I could tell much about it. All the 12 years of schooling I was in male only classes. Of course, we liked looking female colleagues and flirting with them too. Traditionally, the students of older classes (> 8K) were allowed to evening's strolling (a CORSO of Italian style) but in-groups of separated sexes. The 5 & 6 graders had to leave it at 19h and the other older ones at 20h. This ruling stayed unchanged until lecturer's control slackened due to war times.
3-Q7: WHAT THINGS DID YOU DO FOR FUN WITH YOUR FAMILY?
3-A7: We didn't have the facilities you'd have today. TV didn't exist and music was played from gramophone's shellac disks (15 min/side) with changing needles often. Radio had 3 wavelengths with too noisy listening. We had cinemas showing movies twice on working days. On Sundays were 3 performances and movies were strictly controlled by their rating. Osijek had a permanent theater which burger's families and general public had been visiting regularly. Father was an active member of local roving club and mountaineering society. Thus, kids went for outings with parents in springs and summers often. Youngsters played football or other sport's games and there was an athletic club for those more ambitious. True, one had generally more time spending with the family than it's the case today. Consider also that good 2/3 of population lived in rural areas and cities much less inhabitants than now. WWII brought great and significant changes to all societies and to my home country too.
To: Sue Hall - English Department, Chepstow Comprehensive School, Monmouthshire
4-Q1: WHAT WAS THE THING THAT SCARED YOU THE MOST DURING THE WAR? WHY?
asks Laura Cansfield.
4-A1: The pressing moment of life's end. One cannot do anything about - just wait for the
UNKNOWN to happen.
4-Q2: HOW DID YOUR LIFE CHANGE? asks Lisa Cheetham.
4-A2: As one of few survivors of Croatian Bleiburg tragedy and Death marches (I had been the one on Route No.2) my body and spirit underwent severe and complex changes. I have been like to be re-born to a new life. [More about see my previous answers.]
4-Q3: HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN THE WAR STARTED? ask Philippa Lee and Rhys Bower.
4-A3: I was 16 years old and going to 6th class at the Real-Gymnasium in Osijek (corresponds about K10 class). One doesn't feel anything at such moment - the war doesn't start at one particular moment. There are always some changes and developments one doesn't even notice as a war-outbreak. Then it starts somewhere, events spread and dangers grow until it hits you like a "lightning out of blue-sky". Later you remember some of personal events but most of them are buried deep in your subconscious forever. Depending upon historical developments as well upon your physical and mental state later some of these remembrances might cropped up to your current reality. However, there aren't any feelings anymore.
4-Q4: WHAT WAS IT LIKE IN THE AIR RAID SHELTERS? asks Mark Lovell.
4-A4: For some other reasons I haven't been in air raid shelters like many peoples say like in London or any other cities in France, Germany etc.
4-Q5: HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN THE WAR ENDED? questions Dorian Jones.
4-A5: Again a question about feelings! The armistice in Europe was on May 8, 1945 and I still was fighting the Croatian' exodus westwards with the aim of surrendering to the Allied Forces. In this we didn't succeed at all and I had surrendered to Tito's Army early morning May 15, 1945. What were my feelings then: disillusion, desperation and fright, fear of unknown and pressing events, hunger and thirst, depression, humiliation, etc. How could one choose any of these feelings as most important or dominant at all?
4-Q6: WHAT WERE THINGS LIKE JUST AFTER THE WAR? queries Claire Hodges.
4-A6: Claire please read my answers above using a little bit of your own imagination. My life has changed significantly and all the problems and difficulties encountered in Tito's Yugoslavia didn't matter much to me. I got my second chance to live and have tried hard to achieve what I am and have today. Yes, I have started with my study at the Civil Engineering Department at the Technical Faculty, University of Zagreb in fall of 1945. I was released from a camp for POW August 15, 1945.
4-Q7: HOW DID YOU ENTERTAIN YOURSELVES? asks Gemma Miller.
4-A7: I'm afraid but would not like answering this question at all. It's too vague to be answered, as it doesn't refer to any specific time in my life. Sorry!
To: Weald of Kent Grammar School, England - e-mail: <email@example.com>. Questions by Sheila Goode on 9 July 1998
You would like to ask you some question about my experiences during the war. Your questions aren't easy to be answered. I wouldn't like to burden you with a too long treatise because it's so difficult to answer a vague or not specific question without knowing questioner's knowledge about the particular topic.
Therefore I'd suggest you read my web pages first and then try rephrasing your questions, make them more consistent narrowing the field of interest or ask some specific information.
5-Q1: WHAT SORT OF SOLDIER WERE YOU?
5-A1: Hrvatski Domobran (= Croatian Homeguard) from November 1943 until May 15, 1945 when I'd surrendered to Tito's Army.
5-Q2: WHAT WAS YOUR FEELINGS WHEN GERMANY ATTACKED OTHER COUNTRIES?
5-A2: I do not like talking about FEELINGS. When the WWTwo started in Europe in 1939 I was 14 years old. At that age you hardly know anything about a war. Don't forget that the only source of information at that time were newspapers and rather squeaky radio transmission.
5-Q3: WHAT WERE THE CONDITIONS LIKE IN THE ARMY?
5-A3: When I entered into the Army service in 1943 I've been scared of probabilities being mutilated or injured or killed (could you have any experience about these at an age of 18?)
5-Q4: HOW DID YOUR BELIEFS, LIFE AND FINANCIAL POSITION CHANGE DURING AND
AFTER THE WAR?
5-A4: This question I wouldn't like to answer now. Read my home pages first and then use your imagination before you reconsider this question, please. [Financial position - a stereotype?]
5-Q5: HOW DID THE RUNNING OF CROATIA CHANGE?
5-A5: I don't understand what you mean under "the running". What do you know about Croatia and its over 12 centuries long history? Do you know that Croatia is the third oldest state in Europe? Croatia's statehood is a continuous one for nearly 11 centuries and it had a Parliament (= Sabor) whose independence was abolished by the victorious forces of WWOne in 1918 only.
5-Q6: COULD YOU SEE ANY BENEFITS FROM THE WAR?
A5-6: Which war do you mean? If your question refers to recent Home War in 1991/2 then YES! Croatia won its Independence and became a sovereign state after 8 centuries again.
5-Q7: IF YOU FEEL YOU CAN, COULD YOU PLEASE EXPLAIN ABOUT THE CROATIAN
5-A7: About a year ago I've answered Neel Sheeth's question as follows: "As for myself, the WWII ended only 8 days later - which was May 15, 1945. On that day early morning, I lead Battery's soldiers into the surrender to Tito's Armies - Yugoslav Army - westwards of Slovenjgradec (Western Slovenia). Two days later, some 40.000 POWs (Prisoners of War) had started a march eastwards from the temporary camp at Slovenjgradec. This march had turned into one of CROATIANS' DEATH MARCH on so-called route no.2 The topic of 'Croatians' Death Marches' has been the TABOO during Tito's regime and the communists' dictatorship in ex-Yugoslavia.
Now, some 50+ years later, one can talk about the Massacre of Croatians at Bleiburg and their Death Marches' in public. There are very, very few survivors living who could or would talk about their experiences. As one of Tito's generals said: "A Croat is good enough as a dead one only" paraphrasing a say: "A good witness is only a dead one".
Most of the survivors don't care talking anymore about those tragic days - they have aged being over 70 years now. Their unspoken memories are buried deep by tenderness of subconscious spreading a blanket of oblivion over all horrors they had passed through. I have met only one other officer who walked on all the same route with me. He died some years ago but we never spoke about these gruesome days when we met by chance.
As for myself, the march's route No.2 stretched over some 500 km of bare-footed walking in 16 days only. We didn't get any food or any other humanitarian help despite the Geneva's Convention was valid for POWs. Here's what I got learned in my own life: Do not trust those humanitarian slogans as they result always too late for those to be affected by or to be of need them.
Let me also say that one meets a real good friend in peck of troubles or gets a help from an unknown-somebody lasting even for a brief instant only. However, one couldn't be conscious of this at the time - probably only much later - when the friend or the unknown helper is gone for good already."
I'd like to add that Croatians had been withdrawing westwards in May 1945 with the aim of surrendering to the Allies' armed units. Some early arrivals did succeed in this but the predominant rest of POWs were send back or handed over to Tito's henchmen by the British Army stationed in South Carinthia - at Bleiburg.
5-Q8: WHAT DO YOU REMEMBER MOST ABOUT THE WAR?
5-A8: Is that answer above doesn't say enough to you?
5-Q9: WHAT WAS YOUR FEELING WHEN GERMANY ATTACKED YOUR OWN COUNTRY?
5-A9: I dislike talking about feelings in case of a war! Which country do you mean to be "my country"? [Another stereotype question?] By the way, any war is NOT A ROMANCE at all about which one could have any kind of feelings. Yes, one could consider new situations or think about consequences etc.
5-Q10: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT GERMANY TODAY?
5-A10: I do not want answer this stereotypical question. You should be either more specific or re-phrase this question considering what kind of an answer you'd expect, isn't?
To: "Fiona Wong" <firstname.lastname@example.org> answered on 26 March 1999
6-Q1: WHERE DID YOU LIVE DURING WWII?
6-A1: I was born and went to Primary school in Osijek. Osijek was a larger town of some 50.000 inhabitants of different nationalities: mostly Croats, Serbs, Hungarians and a strong minority group of "Donau Schwaben" (Danube Swabians) alias of German origin. It's situated on the Right Bank of river Drava about 30 km upriver from its confluence into Danube.
6-Q2: HOW DID YOU ATTEND SCHOOL DURING WWII?
6-A2: As any other pupil at those times just everything became more tense and problematic when the WW2 started in the regions of ex-Kingdom of Yugoslavia on Apr 6, 1941. I completed the secondary education (12K) with baccalaureate June 1943.
6-Q3: WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO LIVE DURING WWII?
6-A3: When the WWTwo started in Europe in 1939 I was 14 years old. At that age you hardly know anything about a war. Don't forget that the only source of information at that time were newspapers and rather squeaky radio transmission. To get some kind of impressions have a look at say CNN's TV pictures. Add to it that my family was under particular strain due to the suppression and persecution by a fascistic i.e. dictatorial regime (ominous Ustasa's tyranny).
6-Q4: DID YOU SPEND A LOT OF TIME IN THE SHELTERS? WHAT WAS IT LIKE?
6-A4: Actually not. I couldn't tell much about what is it like staying for many hours and even sleeping in a crowded shelter. You should ask this question to somebody on the Panel of Elders of MEMORIES listserv.
6-Q5: WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST FEELINGS AND INSTINCTS WHEN YOU FIRST HEARD
THERE WAS GOING TO BE A WAR?
6-A5: I dislike talking about feelings in case of a war! It's a rather stereotype question! By the way, any war is NOT A ROMANCE at all about which one could have any kind of feelings. Yes, one has to consider new situations, think about consequences, make adjustments or compromises to save own life etc. With time you learn about dangers with every new day or event. You act automatically on your (rather limited) experience and follow your instincts trying to stay alive and not to be hart. You grew fast otherwise you won't survive.
6-Q6: HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU HEARD YOU HAD TO GO AND FIGHT IN THE WAR?
DID IT HAVE ANY DOWNFALLS OR COMPENSATIONS?
6-A6: I don't understand your questions. When the news broke that I'm called to the army service late in 1943 I was rather scared not knowing anything about what I'd going through. Sure, I was very much afraid of being hurt or wounded or even tortured to death. Tell me please, how could an inexperienced (in life) teenager imagine what it's about being mortally wounded or even to die unexpectedly. Try your imagination!
When I was send to the front combat line by end of 1944 I've been certainly scared of too many probabilities of being mutilated or injured or even killed. See and consider say CNN transmissions and try yourself imagining how would you react about any soldier's considerations.
6-Q7: WHAT WERE THE HARDEST THINGS TO COPE WITH DURING THE WAR?
6-A7: The Croatian Army had been withdrawing westwards in May 1945 with the aim of surrendering to the Allies' armed units. Some early arrivals did succeed in this but the predominant rest of POWs were send back or handed over to Tito's henchmen by the British Army stationed in South Carinthia - at Bleiburg.
As for myself, the WWII ended only 8 days later - which was May 15, 1945. On that day early morning, I lead Battery's soldiers into the surrender to Tito's Yugoslav Army - westwards of Slovenjgradec (Western Slovenia). Two days later, some 40.000 POWs (Prisoners of War) had started marching eastwards from the temporary camp at Slovenjgradec. These marches had turned into the tragedy of Croatians. The topic of Death Marches has been a strict TABOO theme during Tito's regime and the communists' dictatorship in ex-Yugoslavia.
Now, some 50+ years later, one can talk about 'Bleiburg Massacre of Croatians and their Death Marches' in public. There are very, very few survivors living now a day that could or would talk about their experiences. As one of Tito's generals said: "A Croat is good enough as a dead one only" paraphrasing a say: "A good witness is only a dead one". Most of the survivors don't care talking about those tragic days anymore - they have aged being over 70 years now. Their unspoken memories are buried deep by tenderness of subconscious spreading a blanket of oblivion over all horrors they had passed through. The hardest ever thing in my life has been on the Death march's route No.2 which stretched over 500 km of bare-footed walking in 16 days only. We didn't get any food or any other humanitarian help - despite the Geneva's Convention that was valid for POWs.
Here's what I got learned in my life forever. DO NOT TRUST THOSE HUMANITARIAN SLOGANS AS THEY GOOD INTENTIONS DO COME ALWAYS TOO LATE FOR THOSE BEING AFFECTED BY OR TO BE OF NEED THEM. Let me also say that one meets a real good friend in peck of troubles or may get help from an unknown -somebody lasting even for a brief instant only. However, one couldn't be conscious of it at the times - probably only much later - when the friend or the unknown helper is gone for good already.
6-Q8: DID THE WAR HAVE A BIG IMPACT ON YOUR LIFE? WHY?
6-A8: Doesn't the answer A07 above say enough to you? Let your imagination work a little bit, please! Look at the say CNN pictures (Re: Kosova) showing mutilated and killed people, treks of fleeing children, mothers and elderly persons before the onslaught of cruel bunch of non-humans and worst of henchmen. How do you feel about? What would be the impact on you said being one of the girls on those fleeing for life columns?
6-Q9: WHAT KIND OF EFFECTS DID THE WAR HAVE ON YOUR LIFE?
6-A9: I wasn't wounded either during the retreat westwards or later on the Death march. However I've have been destroyed physically and mentally particularly during the Death March although I was a young man of 20 years only.
As permanent scars I mean the mental ones I cannot answer to this, as I haven't any comparison to it. However, I'm probably the only one of the survivors who communicates about these traumatic experiences and memories in the web too. I do communicate in my native Croatian language as well as in German and English (sic!) too.
6-Q10: WHAT KIND OF MEMORIES DO YOU HAVE OF THE WAR?
6-A10: This is neither simple nor easy to answer that question. However, I've buried deep in my subconscious all those tragic and traumatic experiences and memories of 1945 forever. Only in 1984 I've started to write a manuscript referring to those 4 months of 1945 which changed my life so significantly. I find Ernst R. Hauschka's (German essayist *1926) to me most appropriate in this respect: ONLY AFTER SURVIVING THE DARKEST HOURS CAN WE HAVE AN INKLING OF WHAT THE RESURRECTION MEANS.
Since the time of political changes in my home country Croatia in 1992 (after the Home War against oppressive regime of ex-Yugoslavia - Milosevic & Co.) it became safe to speak about the Croatian tragedy of Bleiburg and Death Marches in public. The tragedy and the following "ethnical cleansing" (modern expression for a "genocide") of Croats happened after the end of WWTwo has ended on May 9, 1945 though!
As permanent scars I mean in particular the mental one. I cannot answer to this, as there's no comparison to it. However, I'm probably the only one of survivors who does communicate about these traumatic experiences and memories on the web. I do communicate in my native Croatian language as well as in German and English.
6-Q11: HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU HEARD THAT THE WAR WAS OVER?
6-A11: No comments to your question! Read the said above and draw your conclusion. Note however that I was POW when the WW2 was over going through a most inhuman ordeal and trial being confronted with imminent death.
6-Q12: HOW DO YOU NOW FEEL ABOUT WAR, NOW THAT YOU SURVIVED THROUGH IT?
6-A12: Make up your own conclusion first! Consider Hauschka's saying in 6-A10 and think about it in your young heart. OK?
My experiences still haunt me but since I've written down my intimate young life experiences and memories the nightmares and pressures lessened considerably. The first manuscript was in English written in 1984/5 and only recently I've completed the Croatian version too. The book in Croatian is due to go public by end of May! The most important changes came to me when Croatia won its independence becoming an internationally recognized state on January 15, 1992.
The end of compilation as per end of April 1999.