Doctors, nurses, the wounded,
blindfolded when brought here.
Our hospitals known only
by code names. Someone always
following to cover trails
with tree stumps, branches.
This we have learned. Hide
everything. This hospital lies
buried between rocks and snow.
We sterilize only at night
to hide the smoke. Stakes
are high; the fighting, vicious; [End Page 51]
our partisan rules, severe.
The Ustase hunt the wounded
in hospitals, butcher monks
in monasteries, kill anyone
anywhere. This we have learned.
Our peasant women, seventy years
old, firing guns, crossing mountains
with wheat and eggs. Captured
and tortured by the Ustase, yet
they escape, return to battle.
This we have learned. One hundred
thousand Yugoslav women partisankas—
determined to fight, will not stop.
Who is worse? The Nazis or the Ustase
who burn women with cigarettes,
delight in torture and pain. This we
have learned from partisans who escape
with entire bodies blistered. Not a spot
untouched. Heads forced into bags
of crushed horseradish, fumes
burning skin, destroying lungs.
Bodies contorted until bones break.
Only tragedy can be learned from this.
Typhus everywhere. We warn, 'Only snow, rain, never water from streams.'
But they drink and return delirious.
So sick we think they cannot live
through the night. They roll in snow
until the fever breaks, their blisters [End Page 52]
crust. This we have learned: there are
miracles. They rise, return to their cetas.
Our soldiers must be thieves, raiding
German hospitals, stealing serum,
ether, chloroform. They arrive stinking,
supplies buried in manure carts.
We never have enough. I reset legs,
remove shrapnel, cut out bullets.
Sometimes a sip of rakija, mostly
nothing. I have learned to do without.
No one was prepared. No soldiers
had marched thirty kilometers in snow.
Peasants had never heard a radio
before. Or me, a doctor, what did I
know, just beginning. The Ustase murdered
sixty thousand. Somehow, three thousand
partisans found us. We have been strong,
tied up twenty German divisions.
We have learned to endure. If we can
just hold on, the end must come.
Davi Walders is a writer and educator whose poetry and prose have appeared in more than 150 publications including Ms, Lilith, The American Scholar, Washington Woman and such anthologies as Worlds in Their Words: Contemporary American Women Writers; Literature of Spirituality, and Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Bearing Witness to the Holocaust. She developed and directs the Vital Signs Poetry Project, which serves families and patients at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD.
Dr. Roza Papo: (b. 1913) Born in Sarajevo, she joined the Yugoslavian National Liberation Army in 1941, heading partisan hospitals under Tito. After the war, she became an infectious disease professor at University of Belgrade. The first female Yugoslavian general, she received six medals of valor.