A Son's Story
“The date of my departure from Yugoslavia was Oct. 1, 1944. At six in the morning, after much packing, crying, giving and taking advice, and good-byes in between, I was finally at the railroad station. At noon, we were permitted to return home for dinner as news had leaked out that our train had been put out of commission by two American planes.
At 3 pm, the Germans assigned army trucks to transport us to Pancevo. While we loaded our suitcases on the trucks, crying all around us increased again for we were about to depart, some of us, or maybe, all of us, for good.
I now suppose that everyone was crying, but I saw no one but my dear little mother. She had been by my side all morning, half crying and fighting her tears, asking me again and again how I feel about the future and if we will ever meet again. During the last minutes that we had together, she told me that I was a very good boy all my life and to try and stay that way and the like. When I took my last look at her, I noticed that the morning, as well as the past few years, had left their traces on my poor Mama’s face. For the first time in my life, I found lines in her beautiful features. Lines that had never been there. Her eyes were red and she was cold.
It had been raining on and off all the month of October. At last, we were ordered into the trucks. Around me, there were women embracing their children hanging onto their mothers, and then I found myself in Mother’s arms. Until then, she had kept her composure rather well but when we heard the voice of the sergeant, she broke loose with heartbreaking sobs and seemed unable to control herself. At first, I tried to comfort and console her, but gradually tears came into my eyes, too. Ashamed to be seen like that by Mama who trusted so much in me and thought me such a man, I tore myself away, leaped into the back of the truck, and stumbled and rolled over sacks and bundles into the deep dark of the canvass cover, and then gave complete relief to my emotions. After sobbing hard for a few minutes, I made my way back to the canvass opening.
The scene that presented itself to my eyes was a few soldiers who began to break up the embraces and put youngsters into the trucks. Mama seemed to have calmed down a bit when I beckoned her over to me. Instantly, our hands were locked and after taking a long deep look into my eyes, she stood on tiptoe and kissed them. Several trucks had already departed and now our was about to start its uncertain journey. Mama tried to say something but her words were choked by her sobs and desperate yells when our truck slowly pulled away from Mama and all the rest of the people. As if far away, I realized how the driver was shifting. First. Second. And high. And Mama became smaller and smaller. She was now waving a handkerchief and still shaking under violent eyes.
All-day, I must have been in a daze not realizing the nature or seriousness of the things going on around us but now as distance increased, I understood to the full extent the possible consequences of that day so significant for Mama and me.
Now I couldn’t see Mama anymore. Other trucks blocked the view and sudden anger rose in me – at war, Fatherland, destiny, and so many other big words that I had heard before. Suddenly I was shaken out of my dreams. Unexpectedly the driver turned onto the main highway and I was thrown painfully against the sideboards of the truck. In vain, I tried to get one last look of Mama or at least the railroad station but there were trucks all over the street making it impossible for me to see even 100 meters.
As we approached the center of the town, I began to look out for grandpapa’s house and suddenly there it was with its two rows of acacia trees, large as ever. Windows and doors were shut tight for it was a sad day for the whole community. The trees were leafless and bleak. The streets were muddy and puddles all over and there was a stray dog, hungry-looking, with blood dried to his back. All of these circumstances created a sad impression upon me.
After the last houses had disappeared in the distance, the only scenery was gray empty fields and black gray skies.”
A Mother's Story
“In 1944-45 Russian troops occupied Yugoslavia. Around the 10 or 11 of October, the school children and the teachers were instructed to escape the Russian troops and the battlefield. On the next day, the townspeople were supposed to leave the land. My father and I brought Joey to the gathering place. Trucks were loaded with the children.
When Joey was on the truck he said: “ Mama, please come out of here, don’t stay home!” He turned so pale and I was near to collapse.
The trucks took the children to Pansevo to the bridge over the Danube to get to the other side where the trains took them farther. Nobody knows where.
The bridge was half hanging in the water by the bombing from an earlier time. Mr. Reicel told us when he came back – he accompanied the trucks – that the boys are on the train.
The next morning all roads were closed, no military escorts, no trains, so we were trapped. No escape from the marching Russian troops. We were prisoners.”
“When letters come from Joe [in the U.S.], this was the only glimmering star in those horrible dark days of the war, prison, and concentration camps which helped us keep on living.
In one, he put these words down: “Mama, keep on hoping for a better future; every day will bring our reunion closer.”
“In 1951, I came on the Ocean Liner Queen Elizabeth on the 23rd of October to Detroit. Joe was waiting for me. Dressed in his best suit and with his car. The young boy who left us in 1944 was a grown man, but I knew him right away.
It was hard to believe that it was true, after so many years filled with suffering, finally, a better future was in front of us.”