Anka Mećava-Mišljenović was born on September 20, 1936, in the village of Cerovljani, near Hrvatska Dubica, region of Sisak, Croatia. Anka’s father Nikola was a carpenter and a survivor of a German prisoner-of-war camp. He was imprisoned as a soldier of the Yugoslav Royal Army. Her mother Pelka, born in 1910, died in a German town of Haldesleben, exhausted by forced labor. Her oldest brother Vladimir, born in 1932, disappeared in the Jasenovac concentration camp without a trace. She last saw her older brother Gligor, born in 1934, at the Stara Gradiška concentration camp. Anka survived thanks to a Volksdeutsche family by the name of Nanut that lived in Zagreb.
My name is Anka (Mećava) Mišljenović. I was born in the village of Cerovljani near Hrvatska Dubica, district of Hrvatska Kostajnica. My father Nikola Mećava was a Bosnian Serb from the village of Vlaškovci near Bosanska Dubica. My mother Pelka Tepić was from the Tepić family from the village of Cerovljani. I had both parents, and two brothers.
I remember our last Easter with decorated eggs and how we took a photograph, which I still have. It is the only picture I have with my brothers before we were taken to the concentration camp. On May 30, 1942, early in the morning at about 4am, they woke us and made us get out of beds. Two Ustashas with rifles and bayonets entered our house. They shook our beds urging my mother to get the children and go to the main crossroad, as they had something to announce.
That morning, they rounded up the entire village and took everyone to the crossroad, allowing only a few people to return to release the cattle from the stables. Those who did return freed as much cattle as they could so the pigs, cows, and so on, went down the road roaring. Our belongings were thrown into the wells. My mother brought only the necessary things because they said we would be back home soon. No one had eaten anything before we left. My mother asked one of the guards for permission to go home and bring some milk. Our house was very close, between the crossroad and the railway station.
She also promised to bring cigarettes for him. She had actually bought them for my father who was captured and declared a prisoner of war in April 1941. Every night we waited for the trains with them hoping to see our father, but he never came. He was captured in Banja Luka and transferred to Germany probably in some other way. Anyway, my mom returned home, took the cigarettes, and a bottle of milk.
I remember it even today – it was a big green glass bottle containing 1.5 or 2 liters of milk. She grabbed the milk, one whole ham, a silk quilt, and some clothes. She used a large scarf to bundle it all up. My mom brought it all to us. She had the opportunity to save herself and leave her children, but she didn’t want to. She also had her two sisters and other close family members there. In any case, we were at the crossroad until the evening. Then they drove us to the railway station where we passed by our house. It was already nighttime.
At the break of dawn, we were still in the cattle wagons with bars. The wailing and crying began. Someone saw the Red Cross building in Stara Gradiška, and we knew where we were. I didn’t know such things at the time. Our first accommodation in Stara Gradiška was a wasteland – a yard. Then the heavy rains started. My mom put our quilt on a dry spot and gathered us all on it. She fed us with meat, while it lasted, and then gave us the salty bones to nibble on and lick. There was no food. Later, they started to give us potato skins boiled with corn flour. Everyone who ate it vomited immediately. Women carried water from a well that was around. My mother used to wash the potato skins before giving them to us so we wouldn’t vomit. But we did not even have enough of such food.
My aunt later told me that after a month they separated us. Two aunts and a grandmother were with my mother and three of us children. My mom and grandmother were separated. One of my brothers stayed with me, while the other one was immediately taken away. We had numbers that were hanging off our rope necklaces. They shaved our heads. I wore earrings but they tore them off. They stripped our clothes and we were left naked.
They placed us in a room with bars on the windows. From it we saw our mother, grandmother, and aunts being taken far away from us. Then we were given very small slices of corn bread. I remember my brother pulling me closer to those bars to get some fresh air. The room was so packed with children that he was afraid I would suffocate. It was summer already.
Before they had separated us, while we were still together out in open space, small children were dying every day. Camp officers used to take them, put 3 or 4 of them in sheets, carry them to a pit, and simply throw them in it. Some were still alive, others were barely hanging for their lives, while others were already dead. They covered them with quicklime. It stank for days.
Did you see this?
Yes, we were close to it. When they were taking small children away we were out in the open space, not in the room. I also remember this one rainy day when we managed to enter a building that was close by. There was a child taken away while he was being breastfed. My aunt later said the woman who was breastfeeding him was a Jew, and I’ll never forget that blue Nivea cream. The woman quickly grabbed something from the blue package, gave it to the child, and we witnessed his last convulsions before he died. She probably poisoned the baby rather than handing him over to them alive.
When they separated us again, and I know this from my older relatives, my older brother and I were transferred to Jasenovac, and placed in the yard near a villa. I remember the villa being overgrown with ivy. The place was empty; there were no carpets on the floor or anything. A lot of other children were in the yard with us, and that’s also where they cooked beans for us. It was a hot summer. My brother somehow managed to make his way through the crowd to the cauldron, and he brought me a bowl of beans. He was older. He was in the third grade before we were sent to the camp. We ate the beans together. They were so salty that we were dying of thirst. Nobody gave us any water.
Then the rain started and there was water leaking down the ivy leaves. My brother gathered the rainwater in his hands and gave it to me to drink. Later they placed us in the rooms and gave us some sort of milkshake. Those who drank it would vomit first and then die. The window was open so the dead bodies were thrown out.
Who gave you the milkshake?
One of the nuns who was taking care of us. One day they lined up all the boys of around the same height. Other children were naked, but those boys were given the same plaid shirts. A truck arrived and drove them away. Nobody ever saw them again. They had taken Gligor back to Gradiška, and nobody heard from him or saw him afterwards.
After my older brother’s departure, they loaded the younger children onto a wagon and transferred us all to Jaska near Zagreb. The place was called Jastrebarsko back then. Some people call it Jaska, others call it Jastrebarsko. It’s the same thing. I was there, and I was covered in blisters.
There was not a spot on my body without a blister, but I survived. The nuns started to bathe us in tin tubs, all of us in the same water. Maybe they tried to cleanse us, I don’t know. They also gave us light shirts with straps. They were quite long, and all the clothes that we had. The weather was nice so the nuns would take us for a walk. There was a clearing in Jaska with the barracks where the boys were staying. One day they even took us to church. I later learned it was a Sunday. They converted us into Catholics, all of us. The church was packed. They dressed us for it, and I had a whole outfit. We were barefoot and our heads were shaved. It seemed that they dressed us only for the occasion. Later, it turned out that Stepinac himself was present there.
How did you find out about this?
I found out much later, when I was with a woman who took me out of the camp. She knew about it and told me. She knew everything because she was special, but I’ll come back to that later. After the conversion, they wanted to take us all to a picnic near the vineyards. People were grilling corn so I knew it was August. I remember houses in the area with heart-shaped cutouts under the roofs.
There was also a Catholic seminary and it had a greenhouse. Bombing began on that day when they wanted to take us to the picnic. I was hit by shrapnel, and I still have a scar on my forehead, and I also had a really big one on my leg. As I fell down, I broke my leg, too. I had to have surgery as an adult to remove some deformed tissue that resulted from the fall. In any case, someone took us away from there. I woke up on a pile of straw in the greenhouse. Without any anesthesia, they operated on some of my torn tissue parts, put some yellow powder on it and bandaged it all. I was terrified. There was a man in a white coat standing over me with a bunch of nuns. Afterward, they took me to this kloster where the Catholic seminary was located. One of the nuns wanted to adopt me and take me to her mother’s house in Sisak.
She went to buy clothes for me and came back with a little sailor’s outfit consisting of a marine blue blouse and a pleated skirt. The shoes she bought were too big for my tiny feet. She went to exchange the shoes and was planning on coming back to get me. She wasn’t staying with us full-time. She was there every once in a while, and wanted to take me with her, to adopt me. In the meantime, they transferred us to Zagreb to the Institute for Deaf Children in Ilica. It was fall already. Cabbage was being prepared, cut on large logs, and boiled in cauldrons. A few of the children got some of it to eat, others did not.
They put us into one of the rooms. We were almost naked wearing only those tiny tops. We had a big jug full of bitter tea in our room, and a can to drink from. It was prohibited to drink at night. Through big open doors, I was able to see a nun sitting in a lighted room, watching us. I was very thirsty and tried to get some tea. My can touched the jug and the nun heard the sound. She came over and hit me with her whip. You mustn’t touch it.
She beat you with the whip?
Everyone got beaten.
Yes. She used to walk among us and beat us with it. Some got hit, others were lucky to be missed. In the morning, when her workday started, she would open her desk drawer where she had old bread crumbs. She usually threw a handful of it to us. If you catch it, you get your breakfast. If not – no breakfast.
One day, the nun that wanted to adopt me came to look for me in our sunny backyard. She had brought shoes for me. They were made of jute cloth, you know, it looked like sackcloth. The bottom was made of jute cloth as well, but they were again too big for me. I also remember a brownish paper bag, probably because I was so hungry. She used to take out a croissant and an apple and give them to me. She would do that when she took me out of the room and put me on a bench in the backyard.
I was just sitting there and she would give me food. She once told me she would come back again and take me out of this place. In the meantime, there was a public announcement urging people to take us from the overcrowded house. The winter came soon. On December 24, or Christmas Eve, another woman came and took me out of the camp. Her name was Marica Nanut. She came to the camp to choose a child for herself, but the choice was poor. I was still there because I had been waiting for the nun who had promised to come and take me to her home. The nun also told me that I mustn’t go with any other people but instead wait for her and hide from those who were looking for children.
When this other woman came, she looked at all of us, saw me, and chose me. When she approached me I said I would not go with her. She asked me why. I told her I was waiting for somebody. A woman who was working there dismissed it as child’s imagination, and the matter was settled. The camp only had the name Anka Mećava for me. But I knew who I was. My father was a carpenter. My mother was a literate woman. She also used to prepare meals for the teacher in our village. As my brothers were his students he knew me as well and used to teach me basic things, such as my name.
Our village shopkeeper used to joke with me and not give me the things my mother had sent me for before I told him my name and the name of my parents and brothers. It’s as if he knew the war would break out and it would be important for me to know who I was. So I knew all the names of my family members, but I didn’t know the name of the village from which I was. As a result, my personal record from the camp reads that I was Anka Mećava from Drventa, not Derventa, which is the correct spelling, but I wasn’t even from that place.
Anyway, at the same time, another woman came looking for a child. It was winter, and we were almost naked in there. The woman wanted to take this girl, but the girl had a brother and she decided not to separate them. So she took them both and asked the lady who was taking me how they would transport us from there as it was very cold outside. The woman who adopted me was driving a Lancia and drove them to the address this woman gave. My lady wore a fur coat and a hand warmer, or a muff. While driving, she gave the hand warmer to me and wrapped me in her coat as I was sitting on her lap. She thought I was cold.
The other woman was sitting in the back, and she took off her coat and wrapped both children in it, too. Afterward, my lady stayed in touch with them for a long time. There have been many things that happened to me and over time I forgot their names. Anyway, the lady brought me to her farmhouse in 1 Kupska Street, in Zagreb. She actually lived in the city center. The place where she brought me was also their property, on the outskirts of Zagreb, and on it there was a farm where a couple of Slovenians were employed. Their names were Vinko and Marija Vipotnik, and they had a son named Janez Vipotnik, who later became a well-known author and director of the Ljubljana Television Station. He was a member of a group called the First Freedom Fighters and was awarded for his efforts. His parents were refugees from Slovenia, living and working on the farm where their daughter Slavica had been a nanny before the war. She was taking care of my lady and her husband’s children.
So your lady and her husband were wealthy people?
My lord was a Volksdeutsche born in Banja Luka. He owned a mill and a sawmill, and was a civil engineer. He owned a home on 99 Vlaška Street, in Zagreb. His warehouses were also on the property where the Slovenians lived and worked. Vipotnik Sr. was a carpenter, and in charge of the farm. They were breeding cows, pigs, poultry, and so on. The two Slovenians were hard-working people. I lived with them. I used to call Mrs. Vipotnik ‘mamma’. After she first bathed me, she wrapped me in a bedding sheet, as I didn’t have any clothes to change. Mrs. Vipotnik placed me on the bed. It was the first time I slept on a bed in a while. At first – I still remember this very clearly- I was only given slices of bread with honey to eat.
I also remember this one Catholic Christmas Eve. They could not give me much food. The lady left me in Marija’s care, and came back the same afternoon with a suitcase full of clothes that belonged to her daughter who was my age. She was a year younger, in fact. All the clothes suited me well, but that wasn’t the case with the shoes. My feet were tiny and all the shoes were too big. When I got dressed, having only socks on my feet, the lady carried me to the car and brought me to see their family doctor.
At the office, as the nurse in a white uniform started to get closer to me I took a few steps back. I was afraid. It was said that they wouldn’t hurt me. I still had the scar on my forehead. The wound hadn’t completely healed yet because nobody was taking care of it. After my lady talked to the doctor in the other room, he appeared in front of me. I recognized him immediately. It was the doctor who performed surgery on my leg while I was still at the camp. I started to cry and wanted to run away.
My lady said to me, “Don’t be afraid, he will not hurt you. He only wants to check if you’re healthy and to give you medicine to heal your body.” The doctor replied, “She knows me. She just recognized me. Allow me, Marica, I’ll deal with it.” He checked my reflexes because I was a child from a concentration camp, and thus a traumatized one. Whenever he wanted to tap my knee, I shivered. He couldn’t examine me. The doctor advised my lady not to give me foods that were heavy on the stomach. So, for the next year, they were only feeding me milk, wheat, and biscuits. The Slovenians were taking really good care of me. There was a bakery nearby, and they were good friends with the baker. The baker’s son was my age and we used to play together. I always had the privilege of eating fresh bread, and they gave me the yummiest buns. I sometimes think I can still smell that bread. This was so important to me back then.
So, anyway, I was staying with the Slovenians and the lady was taking care of me and my health. My hair had started to grow back. I had my first picture taken there. My lady tried to find my father. I only knew that he was taken away. I told her how we used to wait for him at the train station and wrote letters to him. So she came to the conclusion that he was a prisoner of war. I knew the names of all my family members. My father tried to get in touch through Red Cross, and finally in 1944 my lady managed to make contact with him.
She took a picture of me to send to him. I already had hair, but it was still short. She put a bow in my hair, and tightened it with a bobby pin. She gave me the same bow as her daughter had, who had long braided hair. My lady sent the photo to my father. I still have it. When my father looked at it he thought I was not his child. Then he wrote a letter, which included the photos of my uncle, my mother, and a photo that I was in with my brothers. He said he would only be sure that I was his if I could name the people in the pictures.
They made me smile in the photo – I had dimples – but my father still couldn’t recognize me. Only when he saw a picture of me where I was alone he thought I might be his. He couldn’t believe that I survived all alone after both of my older brothers had disappeared. He sent the photos of me with my brothers, and a photo of my mother. I only have one photo of the lady who adopted me. My dad also sent a photo of my Uncle Đoko, who was an officer, and captured together with my father.
I thought I had misplaced this one picture of the lady’s children and me but I later found it. There is one of me where I have hair again. It was taken on the farm in Kupska Street. I have one of the Slovenians who raised me, too. They practically saved me from illnesses and everything.
They would carry milk and other things that the masters wanted every morning to their city house, especially on Sundays. The Slovenian woman used to go to church as well, and she would take me with her. I was helping her carry butter, eggs, poultry, cheese, milk, and so on. We would have breakfast at the masters’ house because we went to the nearby Church of St. Peter. I used to stay there sometimes.
It was a very luxurious home with high ceilings, a salon, children’s room, and a bathroom. When I was staying there, Slavica, the nanny, bathed me and dressed me in their daughter’s clothes. First came the bath, then breakfast, then church, and then I would often stay for lunch. In the evenings, they would either come pick me up or Slavica would take me home. Sundays were the days I remember. They also took me skating together with their daughter in Šalata. I was also enrolled in school, but never finished grade 1.
I started school in September 1944, and in May 1945 the two Slovenians returned to Slovenia and my lord fled to Italy and later brought his family over. When Slovenia was liberated, the Slovenians took me to live with them. I was there almost the entire summer, May, June, and July. In August, their daughter Slavica came over from Trieste, Italy, to see her parents and also to pick up some documents from Zagreb so the daughter of my lady could go to school.
I was supposed to be in grade 2. Slavica gathered all the documents from Zagreb and brought me to Trieste. So, in August 1945 I saw the sea and Trieste for the first time. In the meantime, I also forgot my Serbian because I was speaking Slovenian at home and Croatian in school. After spending four months in Slovenia without saying a word in Serbian, when I was on the train to Trieste with Slavica I talked to her in Slovenian. When I got to Trieste and met Nedica and Ratko, whatever they asked me I responded in Slovenian, and they laughed because I forgot Serbian.
They were staying at a boarding house in city center, in Ponte Rosso Square. I could still find it. It’s just across the street from the Church there. I can’t remember its name now. They stayed there temporarily, and later rented a villa in the suburbs. I was sent to Serbian school, and my teacher’s name was Velimir Đerasimović. He was originally from Užice, Serbia. In 1923, he was sent to Trieste to teach in Serbian. The school was called Dositej Obradović. This is where I received my first communion and started to learn about religion. Our priest would come and hold religious classes. The school holiday was St. Sava, and I used to get gifts because I was an orphan. I remember the food, and how we used to sing hymns. We went to church regularly, I received another communion, and got my report card. In Trieste, I completed grade 2.
My lady had lost contact with my father. When her family escaped to Trieste, they did not share their new address with anyone. When my father returned from a prisoner-of-war camp he asked for a permit to go to Zagreb and look for me. As a former prisoner, he was not permitted to travel. When he finally obtained a permit, he arrived in Zagreb and went straight to the 99 Vlaška Street home, where he was told earlier he would find me.
My father learned that the family that was taking care of me was no longer there. Someone said to him that I was with the Slovenians at 1 Kupska Street. He did not find anyone there either. He did find the baker and his son who used to play with me. They did not even realize we had left Zagreb, as we never said goodbye to our friends. My father was crushed because he didn’t know what happened to me or where I was.
The baker promised he would get my address if the Slovenians or someone else from the family showed up in Zagreb. When Slavica went to Zagreb in August she told the neighbors I was with her parents. My aunt then asked for a permit to go to Slovenia and look for me. The place in Slovenia was called Zagorje at Sava, near Zidani Most. My aunt also spent time at a concentration camp in Germany. When the English army liberated the camp, she was disabled so the English took her to the hospital. She returned to Yugoslavia later when she got better. Eventually, she got the permit, went to Slovenia, found the place, but I wasn’t there anymore. The Slovenians didn’t know my new address, but promised her if they heard anything they would let her know.
It was after the New Year that my lady got back in touch with my family. Because the school year was underway, my father and I only exchanged letters. I was told to write to him in Cyrillic. My lady was a Croatian from Banja Luka, her husband a Volksdeutscher, but I went to Serbian school. My lady was taking Serbian children to save her own family because she anticipated the Ustasha regime would fall, and she would look like a savior of those who were oppressed. All of their family members survived the war, their stuff was first transferred out with the Slovenians, and was later moved to Trieste. I recognized their piano and all the furniture there.
In August, they got me ready to go with Slavica. She would go to see her parents and I to see my father. So, on August 20, 1946, I arrived in Kačarevo near Pančevo, Serbia, where my father lived at the time. He had no property left. His whole family was killed. There were two aunts in Aranđelovo near Kikinda, Serbia, and that was it. He went to see them hoping to find a job. When he got there he found nothing but disappointment. One of the aunts asked whether he had brought them an accordion for one of their sons. He asked, „From where? “ The aunts responded, „From Germany! “ What?! He was stunned.
He still wore one yellow and one black shoe he had found in some ditch. He still had on his prison suit. But one of his aunts said that all the people returning from Germany brought a lot of things, and he did not even bring an accordion for Vladimir. How could it be? My father, deeply disappointed, took the train to Dubica where he once had a home even though he knew there was nothing left there.
Everything had been burned down and none of his family members were alive. On his way to Dubica, he met a man in a prison suit and they recognized each other as ex-Yugoslav officers. They started talking and my father said he did not know what to do or where to go. My father also said he had nothing and no one left. He told the man he only had one child, but wasn’t sure whether she was still alive. His wife died in the camp in Germany, and he couldn’t find two of his other children.
When the man heard my father was a carpenter he invited him to come to Kačarevo. It was a German village, and the man assumed my father probably spoke German as he spent four and a half years there. While imprisoned in Germany, my father was escorted every morning to work, and in the evening they escorted him back to the stalag, or the main camp. My father first worked on a farm, and was later transferred to a carpenter’s shop. So, the man told him there was a job for him in Kačarevo. My father went there, got a job, and the man invited him to live at his house for a while. He also told him he had several sisters-in-law, and that there would be a wife for my father among them. At first my father refused, but later married one of the sisters-in law of that man named Duško Bošnjaković.
When I was brought to that place, my father wasn’t there. That’s when we found out about her. We had no idea he was remarried. My stepbrother had already been born and was one month old. My stepmother was visiting her parents in Alibunar at the time, and my father was erecting the mill in Bela Crkva. In Germany, he worked the same type of jobs and became a millwright.
The train to Kačarevo was packed with workers. My lady asked one of the men if he knew my father, and he said, “Yes, I’m his best man.” He asked me how come I could not recognize him, and I said I’ve never seen him before. It was also possible that I just forgot the man. In the end, it turned out that I really didn’t know him, as I had no idea my father remarried and had a new best man at his second wedding.
He took us to my father’s new house, and told us he was married now and had a newborn son. We waited inside, and this man sent a telegram to my dad telling him we were there. Back then, everything was much slower than it is today. You needed a permit to leave work. When he did leave, my father picked up my stepmother and at 5 am the next day arrived at the house. He could not believe we had found each other. When he entered the room, my reaction was such as my lady taught me – men should not be in the room with children. He called my name, hugged me, and said, “Let’s go introduce you to your new mommy.” My dad took me to another room. There was my baby brother in a stroller. I was so clever, I said, “I was the youngest, and I had two brothers. Now, I’m the oldest, and will I have two brothers again?” My father in fact had a son and a daughter from his second marriage. I did not get two brothers but a brother and a sister. That’s life.
I did not stay at my father’s for a long time. I started third grade. The following year my stepmother gave birth to my sister. My aunt had survived all this and wanted to take me to Teslić, where one of my mom’s brothers lived. My uncle was a forest supervisor, and practically never left his home, never travelled. He said he would take me in. So I moved in with him during the winter break.
I finished third grade in Teslić. During the summer holiday in 1948 I returned to Kačarevo. Things were not looking good for my dad. He was not a member of the Communist Party, his first family and his house were gone, and he did not get a new house in the so-called colonization process. He was disappointed and went to live with his new wife’s parents. It was the year of the Informbiro, too. He was a supervisor at work, but refused to join the Party. He ended up moving to the village of Seleuš.
That’s where I started fourth grade. It was a village without water or electricity. My father built a house from compaction mud with the help of the villagers. He got a job at a farmers’ co-op in the village. I graduated fourth grade at the local school but nobody knew what to do with me next year as the school only went up to four grades. A complete elementary school with eight full grades was located about 7 km away, in Alibunar.
So, in the end, they put me in boarding school. My father did not receive money for his work. He was working the so-called effort days and was not receiving monetary compensation but instead got food, which he sent to me in boarding school. My poor aunt came over again for the summer holiday and tried to talk my father into letting her bring me to Sarajevo, where she worked for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina. She did convince him and I moved in with her. We lived in a rented room. I started my next school year in Sarajevo. Sadly, my aunt got ill and spent four months in hospital. I lived alone in our room.
When the school year ended, I moved back in with my father. He suffered a work accident over the summer and lost a finger. My stepmother worked the effort days, so someone had to stay home and take care of the children. My brother was 10 years younger, and my sister was 11 years younger than me. As I was much older I was able to take care of them. This is how I spent the summer of 1949. When the fall came I was sent off to boarding school in Alibunar once again. I stayed there for 2 years and learned Romanian because many people were speaking it.
After the war, my uncle went back to Dubica, but could not live there, so he moved to Smederevo, Serbia. He got divorced from his first wife, remarried, and wanted to take me with him as I was his sister’s only child. So I started the eighth grade in Smederevo. Towards the end of the school year, my father returned to Kačarevo as his younger children were supposed to start school. My stepmother did not have a job and they were struggling to survive. My dad was able to get his old job back at the mill where he was known as a good worker.
So, in April I moved back in with them. As a result, I did not finish the school year. I had to take special exams to graduate. My father decided to stop my further education and send me off to become a retail apprentice. I ended up working at the farmer’s co-op shop for about 7 months. I was supposed to go back to school, but my dad said he had no money so I gave up my apprenticeship. I also had to take my final exam to graduate from primary school so I studied all summer.
I failed geography. At my school in Kačarevo there was this teacher who hated me after I came back from Trieste with all the nice clothes. He would embarrass me in front of everyone by saying snide things like, “Look at her in those fancy Italian clothes.” I was wearing what I had because my father had no money to buy me anything else. This teacher hated me so much that I dropped out of school after the first semester and my aunt took me to Teslić again. He couldn’t bear the fact that I was so lucky to be saved from the camp in that way. He failed me in geography and I had to take the test again.
The night before the exam I didn’t sleep at all. My father had come back from Prilep, and my stepmother’s sister came over after a big fight she had with her husband. I hid her in the attic. Her husband came over to our house. He was drunk and threatened to kill us all. They had three children together. He asked me whether Dara, his wife, was there, and I said no. I also said she never came by. Whatever he asked I said no even though I was the one who put her in the attic and told her to be quiet.
I shared a room with my siblings. My sister and I slept in the same bed, and my brother had his own. My father and stepmother were in their room. The stepmother’s brother-in-law demanded that I let him into my parents’ room. I tried to stop it but he was too drunk so I couldn’t do it. He turned the light on and found them sleeping.
I did not get any sleep that night. He made the pigs go all crazy with his behavior. I had to feed them in the morning. It was August and the corn was still raw. I had to cut it into small pieces but because I was tired and scared for my test I cut my finger with a knife. There was so much blood, I couldn’t go back inside the house. There was a towel and a handkerchief that I used to stop the bleeding.
Afterward, my stepmother’s sister went back home and everything was fine. Her husband had no idea she hid at our house. She was a dressmaker, so I went to her to ask for a piece of cloth to wrap my finger. Can you imagine? I went to school to take my exam. A teacher wanted to take me to the ambulance to get proper bandages and disinfect the wound. The teacher who hated me saw me with the bandaged hand and announced that instead of an oral exam we will have a written one.
He failed me once before because I did not have the map of Yugoslavia. He also asked me to talk about hunting and fishing. I was able to say something about it in Slovenia, but not the whole country, and he failed me again. And now I was supposed to take the makeup exam in such a condition.
In any case, another teacher sent me to a pharmacist because the ambulance was not open. The pharmacist turned out to be a friend of my father’s. They were in Germany together as prisoners of war. His wife disinfected and bandaged my wound properly and I finally passed the exam.
But my dad still had no money to pay for my retail apprenticeship. Instead, I enrolled in a typing course in Belgrade. I remember the address, 20 Brankova Street. The first educated secretaries in Yugoslavia were from my generation. There is still a sign there to this day that says ‘Stenographers Association’. When I completed the course I got a job at the Institute for Military Technology due to the help from an aunt on my father’s side. I worked for 14 months and then I got married.
Did anyone talk to you after the war about what you experienced at the camp?
Yes. I talked to my teachers, friends, and relatives. My dad and aunt told me most of the things I know. I once asked my aunt what had happened and why. The day before the roundup, we had been sowing corn and beans. We actually had to wait for the Una River to retreat as there were floods and the fields were covered with water. That day, my grandmother baked cornbread for us. There were people at our house, my father’s cousins who escaped from Bosanska Dubica. His two stepsisters, Zorka and Draginja, and his brother Dušan were there. My grandfather and uncle had already been captured, and our cousins left for Dubica. That same night the invasion started and no one actually knew at the time what happened to them. I was the only one who found out and later told my father.
Did he try to find out what happened?
Yes. He was constantly searching everywhere. He tried the international tracing services, the Red Cross, and the newspapers. He was posting ads everywhere. I lived in Bjelovar at the time when he came to see me after another one of my surgeries. He sent one of the two photos we had to a newspaper editor. I kept the other one and still have it to this day. Every time I came to visit my father I took some of the family pictures with me because I was afraid my stepmother would toss them all in the garbage. I also took some photos of my grandfather from my aunt.
Does that mean they are officially missing persons, even today?
A few years ago in Laktaši near Banja LukaI saw these two books called “They were just children.” I don’t know who the author was. I could not find them for sale anywhere and I should have made copies of the pages where I found their names. My grandmother, Aunt Danica, my brothers, Aunt Draga, and her brother were all listed in the book. It also said what happened to each person as far as taking them to the concentration camps went. It also said who survived the war and who did not.
So what was the final balance of death in your family?
In my family, my mom and my two brothers lost their lives. My father also lost his father and two stepbrothers. My aunt Draga lost two family members. My grandmother and one of my aunts were also killed. My Uncle Đoko, who was an officer and a prisoner of war with my dad, fled from the WP camp and joined the French resistance movement, and later our Partisans. He was killed in battle near Trieste towards the end of the war. I was there when Trieste was liberated and so was he, but I only found out about it later from my aunt when some documents appeared after his death.
Did anyone else die as a civilian?
Everyone in my family died as a civilian. We lost close family members. Among the people who were captured just a few returned after the war as far as I know. My aunt knew much more. She had a lot of information. She continued her education after the war, married a teacher, went back to school again, and became a manager at a factory in Futog. She did a lot of work regarding the collection of data about our relatives, and members of our extended family that I never met or forgot about given that I last saw them a long time ago.
What did the books say about your brothers?
They both disappeared in Jasenovac.
Died. In the book, there was a list of people taken to Jasenovac that included remarks survived or did not survive. My name was there, too, with the remark that I survived. And check this out. After I got married my name was Anka Mišljenović, and my maiden name was Mećava. In the book, there was the name Anka Mišljenović. I told my son and older grandchild that I found this book and that I’d like them to read about the people from my hometown. They read about who died and when. My grandchild said, „It says here that you died, granny.“ I explained to him that my name was Anka Mećava back then and that it indeed says that I survived.
Please tell us about the hardest part of your experience.
The hardest thing for me is that I don’t know where my mother’s grave is and I could never go and visit it. I lost my mother at a very young age, and grew up without her love. I got married young and gave birth to my own children, and got very attached to my family. I was often ill, too. I had two surgeries in three months when I was 35, and from then on, I’ve constantly been undergoing some sort of therapy. I’ve also experienced a sudden loss of consciousness, darkness out of nowhere in front of my eyes. As a result, I‘ve broken both of my legs and my nose after falling. I have osteoporosis. I don’t know what else I could tell you.
Has our state after the war…
No, I never got the place in boarding school, nothing.
…attempted to heal these wounds ?
No, no. My father was not a member of the Party. I stopped working after I got married. My husband was in the military so we moved 12 times. I was not engaged in any social activities as my husband wanted his wife at home, taking care of everything. His explanation was that he lost his father at the age of 3, his mother got remarried, he joined the Partisans and stayed with them until he was 15, and he simply wanted a home. In fact, I was the one who usually fought our family battles alone. Before our son had reached University, my husband was constantly absent from home.
Have you felt the need to share your pain with anyone?
Yes, I have. But there was never anybody to talk to. Sometimes even the people closest to you have a hard time understanding you. I have a stepsister from my father’s second marriage. I feel very attached to her, but she is not that attached to me. I can just feel it. I might be too sensitive, and I cry over everything. I guess time does that to a person. I’ve been a widow for 11 years. I’m alone and it’s hard. I have this neighbor, she’s also a widow and a little younger, too. I keep her company sometimes when she doesn’t know what to do. When I don’t know what else to do, I read. There is this one book that I got for Christmas from my grandchildren. They know what I like to read, and what I’m interested in.
They know that small things can make you happy
(Showing photos) Take a look, I have a photo of my younger grandson around the time of his 18th birthday and high school graduation. He is studying management now. He played semi-pro basketball but never managed to get a senior contract after his deal with FMP expired. Look at this one. This is a picture of him at his prom. He’s beautiful, 6 feet tall. His shoe size is 14.5 though. The other one is studying biology and ecology. My daughter-in-law is a lawyer, and my son has a degree in economy but does not work in the field. This is my husband. You can look at that picture. It’s his last picture ever taken, and I keep it here.