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Exile stories VIII: Deportation and Exile, randomly chosen?

Tamara, Slovenia

Tamara from Slovenia interviewed her grandmother about her experience of deportation during WWII.

I was firstly acquainted with the topic of exile when I was a little child, since my grandmother experienced forced exile during the Second World War. Consequently I heard many stories of her from that period in her life, but to get more detailed and accurate information I conducted an interview with my grandmother Marija Čakić.
Marija  was  born  on  23  th  of  November  1934  in little  village  called  Lahonci (70  km  from Maribor).  She  lived  her  childhood  years  in  that  village  with  her  parents,  three  younger brothers  and  a  younger  sister.  Her mother  stayed  at  home  and  took care  of  five  children and  home, while her father earned money as a mason in a nearby city of Ptuj. It was even before Marija turned 7 years, when she had to face cruelty of  the  Second  World  War.  It  was harvesting  time  in  1941,  19th of July  to  be  more  exact,  when  two German  soldiers  knocked  on  the door  of  her  home.  They  said  that the family has to be exiled. At that time only mother and five children were  at  home,  while  father  was working  in  Ptuj.  Two  armed soldiers  made  them  pack  few belongings and leave their home as quickly  as  possible.  This  was extremely  stressful  situation  for Marija’s  mother,  since  she  was forced  to  move  with five  children and  the  oldest  one  (Marija)  was only  six  years  old  (brother  was lso  6,  the  second  brother  was  3, sister 2 years old and the youngest brother only 7 months old). At the same time  Marija’s grandmother and  aunt, who lived  in  a  nearby  house and another  family from that village were moved too.

One of the peasants from their village took his cart and took the family to nearby village Sveti Tomaž. There they were picked up with a truck and transported to military barracks in Melje (in Maribor) where they stayed for few days while waiting to be exiled from their homeland.
Few  days  later  a  goods  train  took them  to  Slavonska  Požega  (Croatia),  where  was  Ustashi (Ustaši)  concentration camp. They did  not  stay  there  for  a  long  time,  shortly  afterwards  the family was again transported. Their next stop was Bosanska Krupa, a city in today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina. At that time Bosanska Krupa served as an assembly point for exiled people.
Marija  and  her  family were moved from the  city  of Bosanska Krupa to the countryside that surrounded the city. The countryside and the house they live in were abandoned and there was no food available to feed the children. There were only few sheep grazing and there were few fields of cereals, since people were  forced to leave the countryside and did not have time to harvest it. Marija’s mother succeeded to survive her children with cooking them cereals from nearby  fields.

Marija Cakic

However,  poor  mother  had  to  survive another cruel  experience  since  her youngest child, who was not even one year old, got sick and almost lost his life.
After  a  while,  family was  moved to the  city  again  and  from  there  to the  city  of Okučani in Croatia.  There  they  stayed  at  one  peasant’s  house  where  Marija  and  her  brother  served  as shepherds. The peasant  and  his  wife  were  not  very  generous  or  charitable  and  provided  the young family with amount of food that was just enough to survive.
From Okučani they were moved to a village Gunja on the border between Croatia and Bosnia. Owing to Marija’s mother’s persistence and firmness the family was moved to Nova Gradiška (Croatia), where the  family  also  stayed  before,  but  just  for  a  couple  of days,  and where the situation was slightly better. The family was finally stayed there until the end of the war (June 1945).
We could conclude that my grandmother’s family was quite lucky, since they all survived the war.  However,  they  were  faced  with  a  stressful  experience  of  exile,  living  in  a  foreign country,  lacking  food  and  other  necessities  of  life and  living  day  by  day  with  the  tumult  of bombs, strike aircrafts and machine guns. In almost four years of exile family survived all the cruelties of war and returned to their homeland where they were reunited with their father.
However, the situation of exile was perhaps a bit easier for them, because of the fact that the culture of the country they were deported to was not completely unfamiliar to them. Croatia is a  neighbor  country  and  the  Croatian  language  is  quite  similar  to  Slovenian.  The  period  of living  in  Croatia caused that children  learned  Croatian  language.  As grandmother described, the  day when the  family  and  other  Slovenian  people  returned  from exile  they  were  singing Partisan victory songs in Croatian language.
When I asked my grandmother about consequences of being in exile, she said that there aren’t any  special consequences she could  emphasize.  Of course there are unpleasant memories of being deported to a foreign country, of living in indigence, of moving from town to town, of living  in  a war-time  and  of  almost  loosing  a  younger  brother,  but  none  of  this  is  special  or uncommon for a person who survived a war.
Yet,  during  our  conversation  my grandmother reached  a new conclusion. When I  asked  her how she feels about her homeland, if she has any special feelings towards it, because of her experience,  she  said  she  would  never  leave  Slovenia.  She  also  admitted  that  all  her  late childhood and adult-life she was (and still is) extremely homesick. At that point she also told me a story from her teenage life after the end of the Second World War.
At the time of her teenage years it was normal for children, who lived in the countryside, to leave home and go working/serving to some other family as shepherds or just as  helpers on farms.  Consequently  all  the  grandmother’s  brothers  and  sister  left  their  home  and  went  to serve for few years too. But my grandmother was an exception in her family. She was sent to serve one lady at her farm, but grandmother stayed there only two days and then run away to her  grandmother’s  house,  because  she  was  afraid  to  return  home.  After  couple  of  days  her mother found out and went to pick her up and return home. When she was back at home her father  told  her  she  should  return  to that  lady,  but my grandmother replied  that  she  does  not care  if  she  “ever again eats  bread at home, but she will  not return to that lady or ever  leave home”.
I believe that this story tells everything about consequences that exile left on my grandmother.
However,  with  regard  to  the  cause  of  her  exile  it  is  hard  to  determine  one.  It  is  a  fact  that German occupier planned deportation of people in that part of Slovenia. Yet it is interesting (as  my  grandmother  says)  that  only  two  families  were  exiled  from  their  villages  (my grandmothers  close  family  and  her  aunt  and  grandmother  who  lived  nearby  and  another wealthy  family).  What  makes  it  harder  to  understand  reason  that  exactly  her  family  was deported  is  a  fact that they  were  not  rich  or  wealthy  and  were  not  politically  active.  As  my grandmother said, after the war ended and after they returned to their home there were rumors about one peasant who allegedly collaborated with the occupier, but those rumors were never confirmed and that peasant also moved away from that village.
However, I am not even sure whether  there  is  any  point  in  searching  for  a  logical  and  reasonable  cause  why  my grandmother’s  family  was  selected  to  be  deported – this  is  now just  a  fact  and  tragic experience in life of my grandmother, her family members and many other displaced people.