Azra

I'm Azra.

Village of Orahova, Kotor Varo county. My mother and father live an hour's walk away, they're in Vecici, and I'm in Curkici, Orahova. When I got married here, I came into an old house, my mother-in-law's, we all lived together, my first two boys were born in the old house, later I built a new house and that's where I had this one, my youngest. The old house was at the top of the village, the new one is at the bottom, in the same village, at the bottom by the asphalt.

it was a big house, one of the best, it had three floors and was fully fitted inside. The son of my husband's uncle built it for me, I had everything, a bathroom, telephone, everything. I got the building material, paid the men, got the bathtub, tiles, boiler, shower fixtures, sink, everything, bought it all in one go, found a taxi and a builder, got what he told me to, he chose what went where, I paid, my husband gave me power of attorney to withdraw money, he was working in Iraq. I built the house, installed the water, the electricity, a telephone, then I built a big barn, again he was in Iraq, I dug the foundation for the barn myself, ten long and five wide, I dug it myself, I didn't feel like paying for it, I thought I'd get something else for that money, something for the kids, I'd get them something, so I dug it myself. I mixed the cement when I had to lay the concrete with the builder, to cement or seal the tiles, or the foundations here, I did it without him, I did it all without him. He'd come sometimes, stay for six months, work a bit on the house and the barn, but I did everything without him, on my own. I lugged the wood from the forest by myself, chopped and cartied it, brought in the horse, hitched it up and unhitched it, all on my own. I did the plowing by myself too, we had a big horse for the forest, he was easy-going, I'd grab the plow, pick up the reins, and off we'd go.

I spent all of that day picking corn, it was October, and when night fell I took a shower, fed the cows, gave the kids their supper and went to bed. I was woken up by the sound of a tractor above the house. So I was awake, my back was aching, I thought I must have overdone it that day, when I realized the pain was getting worse, so I got up and threw some things together to go to the hospital, to the see the doctor. The pain was coming more and more often , I was getting ready to go to the doctor as soon as it was daylight, it was one-thirty in the morning, it started hurting at onethirty in the morning and by five-thirty in the morning I'd given birth. Around four, five in the morning, when I saw that I had sharp pains, that I wouldn't make it to the doctor's, I got some thread ready, a knife to cut the umbilicalcord, diapers to wrap the baby in, water to wash it in, I did it all by myself, he was in Iraq, it was at night, it was all at night. So I open the door, tell my boy the baby could come any minute and when I give the word he should go and tell the women I'd given birth, I open the door, go up the stairs and see I'm about the give birth, I go into the room, but I don't know what to do, I gave birth in the hospital before, so I take a pillow from the cupboard and put it under my head and lie down and give birth. Everything was okay, I got up and saw everything was alright, it was a boy, he had something over his face, a kind of film, so I removed it, then turned him upside down so the water could come out, and he let out a cry. Then I washed and dried him, tied his belly button, cut off the umbilical cord and then sent my older boy to tell the women to have a coffee now.

Whenever I needed something, they were the first people I turned to, those women, they were my closest neighbors on either side, I was in the middle, they had one house right at the intersection, and the other by the creak. It was all mixed, we weren't divided, everybody came, Serbs and Catholics. When there were send-offs to the army, they'd come to us and we'd go to them, when a child was born we'd visit each other, that's how it was.

When my brother-in-law got married we had a huge wedding for him, I worked on it, his mother, his sister, lots of people came, we cooked, it was great, people danced, whoever felt like it sang, there was music, songs of all kinds, whatever people liked.

I had two, sometimes three cows, I had two sheep, they mated, one brought forth two lambs so I had something to roast on the spit, I didn't have to buy anything for holidays, I had meat in the deep freeze for the kids, I didn't have to go out and buy it, I didn't have to spend money on it. I had a deep freeze, I had a washing machine, I had everything, everything I needed. I had gates, one big, one small, everything.

The morning of Bairam, they put up a barricade on the bridge and didn't let anybody near, they said they were running some kind of exercize and we couldn't go there, and when we got up in the morning to cook lunch for Bairam, this man came, he said I set off to cross the bridge, there're field guns next to it, trenches are being dug next it, they won't let you cross the river, so I turned back. The people took fright and started running away, whoever had food to cook, scooped up what was there and made for the woods. That's what I did with the kids, I gathered up the bread I'd baked that morning, the chicken I'd started was only halfdone but I took it with me to the woods and so we ate what we had. We spent three days and three nights in the woods, hiding, sleeping in the forest, the cows were in the barn, moaning to be milked. The army hadn't even come into our village, they surrounded us on all sides, we were in the woods and they were behind our backs up above, and when they encircled us up there, we picked up the children, threw everything away, even the food, and scattered through the woods, but we saw there was no place to run to, we were surrounded, so we headed back home. We got home and when they found us in front of our houses they lined us up and questioned us right there in front of the house, they told us to turn over whatever weapons we had and nothing would happen to us, nothing else happened that day.

We lived like that for two years, we had no place to go, everybody kept saying where can we go, we'll suffer through it and stay right here until they force us all out. And for those two years they kept coming, killing, in the morning you'd find a husband and wife murdered in their house, they'd pull stockings over their heads, come at night, break down the door, break through the window, enter, you never knew who it was, you'd be terrified, you'd fall asleep not knowing if you'd wake up. You don't dare sleep at home at night, they break in, enter, once they took my last fifty kilos of flour, I was at my brother-in-law's when they broke into my house, you couldn't be at home at night, they took the umbrella, the electric coffee grinder, they took my washing machine, the mower, I don't know who it was, it was dark, you can't see who it is, you can't see a thing.

You're afraid to work the field, they see you, they shoot, you take cover, when the shooting stops you go back to work, you take cover again, that's how it was all the time. We'd be digging vegetables, they'd sometimes throw those trombols 1, I don't even know what a trombol is, I'd look up and it would explode in the potato patch, tossing the potatoes sky high and scorching the earth, the shell would Just explode. How can you not be afraid, but then you relax again, afraid or not you've got to eat, you've got to work, if you don't work there's no food, if you're afraid you just get sicker, and there's no doctor to go to.

Two of my brothers were captured in Grabovci three years ago now. A hundred and sixty-three were captured, some were killed in the woods and the rest were taken to the school building in Grabovci, that's where they were killed, we heard they were killed there, that the school walls were covered with their blood, there's been no word of them. A hundred and sixty-three.

My father was in prison in Kotor Varo while I was still there, yes I visited him, I'd walk the eighteen kilometers from my house to take him a change of clothes and something to eat. When he left he went through the woods and was by a riverbank when he fell into the water and was all wet, and for two days and two nights he wandered through the woods, he was coming, he said, to see me and then he could die, he hadn't seen me for a year. So he was staying with me when they took him away, I came from my brother- in-law's and cried, he'd gone in his slippers and undershirt. Then I got myself to Kotor Varo and found one of the main guys there at the post office, the town hall or whatever, I don't know what it was, and I said good morning and asked him if he knew where my father was, and he said over there by the sports ground, that low building there, that was the prison. Can I see him? Sure. I had some cigarettes at home, so I put them in my pocket and gave them to him, and when I learned he'd be there I came again the next day and brought him socks for his feet and underwear. I brought him a Jacket and a vest, he was there for eight months, then the Red Cross collected them, there were sixteen of them, there was some sort of exchange.

What help, even those who wanted to were afraid, but there were these Serbs who ground the grain for us, one of them said, we can't grind it for you, they'll kill me if they ever find out, those others wouldn't let us go and grind it to help us survive. So they ground the grain in secret for us while the others shouted they'd toss all our grain out of the mill if they ever heard it was being ground for us, so the good people had to hide from the others and they ground the grain for us, but without anybody knowing. Then mills were built up by the stream and when the waters swelled you could grind the grain and have it to use.

For a year he had no news of us, my husband in Slovenia, he didn't know if we were alive or dead. Later he sent us papers and the four of us, my mother-in-law was the fifth, got out. I dished out two thousand marks before I got to Novska. You see you have to give one hundred marks each at the town hall in Kotor Varo to cancel your residence registration, that's for adults, the kids didn't pay, but for me and my mother-in-law, then I gave five hundred marks to the Red Cross I n Banja Luka, why?, well, because you're leaving, that's how it was, they look to see if your papers are in order, then they say five, five hundred marks, even for a baby in a cot, in a cradle, you still have to pay, five hundred marks for the five of us. Then one hundred and twenty marks each to cross the bridge in Gradi~ka, even for a child, for some bridge in Gradika, and they collected the money for that bridge right there in Banja Luka, Just for crossing some bridge. From my house to Banja Luka, again for the five of us, it was twenty marks each, and that's a hundred, and if you need an extra copy of your birth certificate, that's twenty marks each time, so it all piled up and when I counted it all up it worked out to two thousand marks, all in German marks. You paid to stay alive, and to leave everything behind. They ask you what you've got in the house, you tell them, the next thing they say is, who are you leaving it to, I don't have anybody to leave it to anymore, don't you have a name you can give, any name, I gave my brother-in- law's even though he'd left too, they just want it to go to the municipality, a signature that you're leaving it to so and so, it doesn't matter that he's not there, they say, you just put his name down, it doesn't matter, but what you're really doing is leaving your land, everything, to the municipality. That's how it was, the first group went to Slovenia for thirty-five marks per person without any papers, then the second and the third, but when things got worse it got more and more expensive, the worse it got the more expensive it got. You paid for your life, to stay alive.

Now they've cut out meals here, you Just get a bed, they say your government in Sarajevo knows about it, what government, the government's far away, and it doesn't know what' you've got, how you live, what you're doing, and where're you supposed to go back to? You'd be hard put to save on food here so that if you left you could at least buy a crust of bread for the child while you were on the road. When we left home, we packed away bread, cheese, whatever meat we had, so wherever you sat down, and there were times when we were in the bus for three days, you couldn't get out of Bosnia anywhere, you'd have something to eat and drink if you'd brought it along.

This here is no life. Over there you knew you were alive. You worked and you had something to show for it. But now, whatever he earns goes for food, there's nothing left for clothes, let alone a house. What house? There isn't any. What kind of life is that? It's no life. No life at all.

"Do you dream about your house? You've left too", she asked me.

"Yes, I do."

"I dreamed that I was back home taking in the wash, taking it off the clothes-line, that I needed curtains but didn't have any, that I needed an undershirt for the child but didn't have it, so I gathered everything up and stuffed it into a bag, thinking I'd need it here. I dreamed about a man and a woman, he was repairing his windows, putting the windows in on my house, I said that was my house and he said it'd been assigned to him, his wife brought over lunch and sat down next to him and I stood up and cried so loudly I woke myself up, I was so sick at not being in my own house and him living in it. It's been assigned to me, he said, don't blame me. I was shaken. A terrible dream."

Simon Wiesenthal Center-Museum of Tolerance Library & Archives 
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