Accident of Fate
A Personal Account, 1938–1945
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Series: Life Writing
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote
List of Illustrations
By the time I turned twenty in January 1945, my father was long dead of tuberculosis, my mother had been murdered in Auschwitz, and my aunt Camilla and uncles Ferdinand and Oskar had been shot by the SS. I had been on the run for almost seven years, dug mass graves as a...
One day in early November 1927, my mother took my brother Max and me to visit our father. He was in a ward for the terminally ill in the Hofmann sanatorium in Kierling, a suburb of Vienna. He had fallen sick a year earlier with tuberculosis and was now also suffering from.pneumonia...
Walking to school on Hitler’s birthday, five weeks after the Anschluss, I got a grim visual reminder that times had changed. Until only recently, the Nazis had been a clandestine, illegal movement, but now practically every shop window along my route displayed Hitler’s portrait, decorated...
Uncle Robert lived in a five-room apartment at Radišina ulica 1, in the centre of Zagreb. As he was the most pragmatic and hard working of my three bachelor uncles, when he moved from Vienna to Zagreb in the mid-1930s, it had been considered logical for his mother...
Less than two weeks earlier, Prince Regent Paul had finally succumbed to Hitler’s threats and Yugoslavia had adhered to the Axis Pact. But only two days later, Paul had been overthrown in a military coup led by high ranking Serbian officers, who were opposed to the alliance with Germany...
While we walked down the two flights of steps, accompanied by the detectives, I wondered who might have denounced us. Perhaps one of the other tenants, who, despite our precautions, had noticed our preparations? Or perhaps it was the concierge, the usual—and most...
A tall barbed-wire fence, punctuated by watchtowers, encircled the entire camp. We were marched through the front gate to the headquarters building and then led to the prisoners’ quarters, which consisted of six or seven long, wooden barracks. The inmate in charge of my barracks gave...
6. Release and Escape
I weighed 44 kilos when I was released from Jasenovac on 20 February 1942. At 1.8 metres tall, I was practically a walking skeleton— except that I could barely walk. My toes were so badly frostbitten that I was reduced to a slow limp. Uncle Oskar was only in marginally better...
Uncle Robert had rented two rooms for us in an old mansion on the Marijan Hill, overlooking the town of Split. During peacetime the beautiful Dalmatian coast had been a favourite destination for holiday makers from central and southern Europe; now, under Italian military...
At the end of August 1942, the Italian Questura (police) in Split announced an amnesty. Illegal refugees who turned themselves in and registered with the Italian authorities would not be arrested or deported, but relocated to other areas under Italian control. We eagerly seized this...
My first look at the Italian Camp for Civil Internees in Kraljevica brought back sinister recent memories. There were four large wooden barracks and eight smaller ones clustered together in a sloping field, already turned into a muddy bog by the autumn rains. Powerful...
In early July 1943, the Italians evacuated all 1,200 of us from the camp in Kraljevica. We were trucked some 80 kilometres south along the Adriatic coast and ferried to the island of Rab (Arbe in Italian). The Italians interned us in a camp a few kilometres from the island’s principal...
As soon as they deposited us on the mainland, the Partisans advised us to distance ourselves from the coast as soon as possible. They suggested we make our way some 100 kilometres inland, to a hilly area called the Kordun. In the ongoing fighting, some areas often changed...
12. Joining the Partisans
Robert, Julius, and I trudged through the snow for several days until we finally reached the village of Kordunsko Zagorje in the Partisan controlled area of Kordun. My most ardent desire was to get out of Yugoslavia, to reach southern Italy and join the American army—or if...
If I failed in my attempt to flee to the West, being reunited with Vlado Horvatićwas undoubtedly the next best alternative. My admiration and friendship for him were profound, and I looked forward to spending time with this extraordinary man and assisting him in his work. Vlado...
14. A Communist Regime
I was very pleased to be a member of a fighting force dedicated to the defeat of my mortal enemies, the Nazis and the Ustashe. But as the animal hospital was situated in the rugged hills of the Kordun region, at a distance from the main combat zones, for the first few months I was...
15. Friendships and Hardships
I had few close friends in the Partisans; the general atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust, compounded by anti-Semitic prejudice, forced me to be very cautious about fraternizing too closely with anyone. Several of the young Jewish men and women who had been interned with me in...
For the first few months of 1944, my only direct view of Allied operations came when the weather was good: I would look up and sometimes discern formations of little silver birds glistening in the sun, making their way majestically across the sky. For the most part, these were...
17. Seventh Ofensive
From time to time the Germans tried to wipe out Partisan resistance by launching major offensives. Although the Partisans were becoming progressively stronger and controlling ever larger areas of Yugoslavia, they had no heavy weapons or aircraft and could not hold on to major...
18. The Captain and the Commissar
They had bailed out from their crippled aircraft while returning from bombing the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. While they were descending with their parachutes, the enemy had fired on them, but fortunately all ten landed in Partisan-controlled territory. Only one, O’Dell, was slightly...
When I first met Vlado Horvatić, in the summer of 1942 in Novi Vinodolski, he was married. His wife was a lovely young woman from Zagreb. Vlado, as he once reluctantly admitted to me, was half Jewish, while his wife was Catholic. By the time I encountered Vladoagain, in the...
I was in particularly high spirits, having recently heard that the Allies were finally going to evacuate about one hundred non-Yugoslav Jewish refugees from my area to liberated southern Italy, and that my uncles and I were going to be included in the group...
The first thing I did when I reached Italy was to try and locate my brother Max, who was in England. I knew that if my mother was still alive, she would also contact him. I filled in the forms at the Red Cross bureau in Bari and waited. To my relief, I soon received word from...
We would like particularly to thank Irene Rochlitz, who has been present at every stage of the long journey to publication, always providing invaluable insight, critical comment, and affectionate support; this volume is also her achievement. We are deeply grateful to...
Glossary of Names and Places