Albert Eskenazi

Belgrade, Serbia

Albert Eskenazi
Belgrade
Serbia
Interviewer: Ida Labudovic

 

My family background
Growing up
During the war
Post-war
My life in Israel
My return to Yugoslavia

 

 

My family background

I do not remember my paternal grandparents. My grandmother died three
months before I was born, and my grandfather a few years earlier. My
grandfather was Abraham Eskenazi and I am named Abraham, after him. Later
we changed that to Albert. This is what they called me at home; however, in
my first certificate from the Jewish elementary school in Zagreb, my name
was "Abraham Eskenazi." When I was in the first grade of the gymnasium,
when my Serbian language teacher, who liked me very much, called on other
students to answer a question and they did not know, he would then say:
"Let's go, Abraham, child of God." Otherwise, no one ever called me
"Abraham." When I came back to Yugoslavia from Israel I had a problem with
the authorities, so I officially changed my name from Abraham to Albert. I
entered a request with all the details, because in my birth certificate it
said Abraham Eskenazi. They told me that Albert and Abraham are not the
same. But, I told them that I am now called Albert, and not Abraham. They
allowed me to continue using the name Albert, but Abraham remained written
in the registry.

My paternal grandfather was a lawyer in Bjeljina. He lived there. He was
Sephardi. He observed the traditions. He was not Orthodox, but like the
rest of the Jews from his generation, he observed the holidays, went to
temple and socialized with others. It was not a ghetto, but all the Jews,
especially from smaller places, socialized in the communities or at the
holiday parties for Purim, Hanukah. At that time, there were about 150 Jews
in Bjeljina. The Jewish community organized cultural activities and people
gathered there, not only on holidays but during the rest of the year, when
there was a lecture or a guest. They were very close. All the Jews were
from the middle class; maybe there was a group who were poorer, maybe 20
percent, most likely those who were tradesmen. But Jewish solidarity was
well-known, and our fellow citizens looked upon this with envy. Rich Jews
helped the poorer ones, and it was not just with alms but with substantial
help for their children - clothing and shoes. During the holidays, the
children would get all they needed from the richer members of the
community. I do not remember if there was anti-Semitism there, as I do not
remember it in the whole of Bosnia.

My grandfather was buried in Bjeljina. His daughter went there after the
war went to visit his grave, but she could not find it. The Jewish cemetery
had been dug up.

My grandfather had three daughters: Vikica, Perl and Heda. All of them were
born in Bjeljina. His first two sons, Michael - known as Mikica - and Jakov
- known as Jakica - were born nearby in Brcko. Since there were no
descendants there to maintain and visit the graves, the graves were dug up
and new gravesites were made from them. After my grandfather's death, my
grandmother moved to Slavonski Brod. I do not know how she managed; most
likely, she received her husband's pension. As far as I know she was a
housewife. She was not employed and she lived there until her death in
February 1929. I was born in June of that year but she had died three
months earlier.

I remember my maternal grandparents. My grandfather was a rabbi for the
whole area of northern Bosnia. My grandfather was born in Bosnia but I
cannot remember where. Together with his brother, Nisim Kabiljo, he went on
pilgrimage to Palestine around 1890 and there two things happened. My
grandfather met my grandmother, who was born in Palestine, they married and
had their first four children: three sons and one daughter. My grandfather
went back to Bosnia, and had another seven children. His brother remained
in Israel where he made a big family. He was no longer known as Kabiljo,
but rather Haviljo, which became a famous name in Jerusalem. In the center
of the city there is a Haviljo Family Square. They were producers of candy,
halvah and sweets. Theirs was the first big factory and it operated for a
long, long time. When I came to Israel I went to the factory. The halvah
produced by Shmuel Haviljo was well known and they were famous for it.
After his death, the city of Jerusalem decided to name a small square in
the center of town Haviljo Family Square. I have seen this street sign.
Their grandchildren still live in Israel. They were real Israelis. One,
Shlomo Haviljo, was a colonel in the Israeli army; another was Avram
Haviljo, he worked as a diplomat; a third, Mose Haviljo, worked in the
factory. Shmuel Haviljo hired several Yugoslavs who came to Israel as part
of the first aliya because his father, Nisim Haviljo, was of Yugoslavian
descent.

 

Growing up

I was born in Slavonski Brod. My parents lived in Bosanski Brod, but there
was no maternity hospital, so they moved to my grandmother's and lived
there. Then my sister was born 16 months later, on October 20, 1930. Today,
when I want to joke with Bosnians, I tell them that I am not a Bosnian. A
large bridge spanning the Sava River separates me from Bosnia. You are on
one side, and I am on the other in Slavonia, a Slavonian. Life and
circumstances made it so that I do not even remember my birth place, as I
was not even 2 years old when we moved to Zagreb. I saw Slavonski Brod when
I was 35. I went to Slavonski Brod with my mother and she showed me where
she used to walk with me in my carriage, and where we lived. I do not
remember what our house looked like, but I know that the street was called
Trenk. Trenk Street exists today, named after the Croatian baron, Trenk.

Because of the war, when we fled Zagreb in 1942, for Mostar, I had to go
through Slavonski Brod and Sarajevo. We spent a whole night at the station
waiting for the train in Slavonski Brod. I spent the whole night at the
station and did not manage to see my birth place.

My parents met in Derventa. My maternal grandfather had a manufacturing
workshop there where he sold all sorts of things. The two saleswomen in the
store were his two daughters: my mother and her sister. I do not remember
what brought my father to Derventa or how long he remained there. He fell
in love with my mother and she with him and, according to custom, they
received their parents' blessings and married in Doboj on August 10, 1925.
I do not why they married in Doboj. I was born four years later. Their
first child died during birth. My father worked for a Jew as a traveling
salesman supplying materials and scraps of material. They sold everything
in bundles, which his boss obtained in Zagreb, where he had a big
warehouse. My mother was a housewife and never worked.

I started school in Zagreb when I was 6. I went to the Jewish school, which
at the time was well known and experimental. All the Jewish children went
to this school. It was called the Jewish Elementary School. The school had
four grades, then there were four grades of lower gymnasium and four upper
grades. It was lovely, as school children we went to temple on Fridays two
at a time in the morning. The temple was close to the school. The school
was in the Jewish community building. Today the Jewish community is still
in the same place. In the Jewish elementary school we had religious studies
and Hebrew lessons, in the third and fourth year. The teachers were named
Martin Mozes and Greta Vajs. I started to learn my first letters and words
in Hebrew in the school. I did not know that I would live so many years in
Israel and that I would teach and translate Hebrew one day, but that is
when I started.

My mother's father was a rabbi and his two sons also learned to be rabbis,
although they never worked as such. One was named Samuel and the other
Moric Kabiljo. They knew everything that a rabbi needed to know. In
addition to being a rabbi, my grandfather was a shochet, and he circumcised
newborn male babies. He circumcised all his male grandchildren born before
1941, including me.

I do not know why, but my maternal grandmother and grandfather moved from
Sarajevo to Zagreb in 1939. They probably made this move because they had a
daughter, my mother, there who could take care of them because they were
quite old and sick. Their other children who had made something of
themselves also helped them. The second-eldest son, Jozef Kabiljo, had a
big information bureau in the center of Belgrade. David Kabiljo, the eldest
son, was a successful merchant in Prijedor. Moric was a merchant in
Derventa. The others worked in someone else's firms. Two of them worked for
Jozef.

I remember when they moved to Zagreb. I went with my mother and father to
their place. They changed apartments twice. Whenever I went to visit them,
my grandfather sat on the couch and prayed. He had big and small
prayerbooks, and whenever I went there he was praying. He spent several
hours a day praying or reading, but his reading was like his praying. He
knew a lot of things by heart. He had an enormous amount of books. My
grandmother took ill and died at the end of January. It was a nice funeral
with all her eight sons and two daughters there. Their eldest daughter died
from diabetes problems in Belgrade, before her mother.

All of my grandmother's eight sons married Jewish women, even Sephardi
women. I do not think there was an Ashkenazi woman among them. All three
daughters also married Jews: My mother married Eskenazi, another Kraus, and
the third Altarac. At the time it was possible for everyone to find their
own mate and our elders and parents wanted their children to marry Jews,
which after World War II was impossible. All were dead, disappeared.

Our entire childhood in Zagreb was fully involved in Jewish activities. My
sister and I went to the Jewish school, and were active in all events. We
had religious studies and Hebrew language lessons. When we entered the
gymnasium, religious studies was part of the curriculum. There were two of
us Jews and one Evangelist; we went out during these classes and played
football. But we went to Bible once a week with our rabbi, Samuel Romano.
Every half-year, we needed to get a stamped certificate stating that we had
been to religious classes, and our grade was entered into the certificate.

We were a poor family. We lived in an apartment that did not have its own
bathroom; we used the bathroom in the hall. We were the only ones who used
it, but it was not in our apartment. We lived very modestly, and my sister
and I received help from rich Jews who had shoe, coat and clothing stores
around Zagreb. When there was a holiday, we would go to their stores and
receive a coat, shoes. They took care of the poor children. There was a
time when we could not even pay the rent. The rent was 200 dinars monthly,
and my uncle, who lived in Belgrade and who was rich compared to us, sent
200 dinars every month to pay our rent. What my father made was enough to
feed us.

 

During the war

 

World War II arrived. The Germans came to Croatia. They created and
installed their own authorities, and with them came the Ustashe. Laws
against the Jews were enacted. First they had to register, then that they
had to hand over, their stores and property. Everyone who lived in a better
apartment was evicted and slowly they were taken to camps. Once my
grandfather was widowed he spent one month with one daughter and another
month with one son, etc. He had two remaining daughters: one in Zagreb and
one in Nova Gradiska. In November 1941 he went to stay with his daughter in
Nova Gradiska because she still had not been deported. They said that those
that lived in smaller towns might be saved. However, one day the Ustashe
came and took my aunt Mirjam; Merjama, my mother's sister; her husband,
Bernard Kraus; their children, Zlata and Jelena; and her elderly father.
Zlata was older than me and Jelena was my age. They were all taken to the
Stara Gradiska camp. From there, the women and children were taken to
Djakovo. None of them returned.

My grandfather did not conduct services in Zagreb because he was already
too old. He went to temple. There were two temples in Zagreb, one Sephardi
and one Ashkenazi, which was enormous and was destroyed by the Ustashe in
1941. My grandfather demanded that all of his children - and this was not
hard because they all listened to him and respected him - observe the
Jewish tradition, practices, go to temple on the holidays, if not every
Saturday and Friday evening. All of his children had to teach their
children about Judaism from a young age, which we continued later in the
Jewish school. I remember when my mother taught my sister and I the basic
Jewish prayers. We still had not started school at that time. She would
take us in her lap and recite Shema Israel, and we would repeat it a few
times. After a few days we knew the Shema Israel. My mother - and even more
so her brothers, two of whom had studied to be rabbis - observed the
holidays at home. The two of them surely observed kashrut. From the
earliest childhood, we received lessons in Judaism and knowledge about our
roots. When we began the Jewish elementary school we received even more.

In Zagreb, Belgrade and other places, there was a Jewish youth society
called Hashomer Hatzair - "Ken," which in Hebrew means "nest." There were
social events; we had clubs for youth, students and children. Some of them
were in the community's building, but most were in a special space. Ken and
Hashomer Hatzair had a space in the center of Zagreb on Ilici Street on the
second floor. There was a third Jewish group, B'nai Akiva. My sister and I
went to B'nai Akiva for some time because we got the nicest cakes there,
but I went to Ken before that. I hear that even today the children come to
the club only to get Coca-Cola, cakes and snacks. That is almost equally as
attractive as that which they learn in the clubs. I remember that we went
because of the cakes, which were made by Jewish women who brought them to
the club. This club was at the Kresimirov Square, which still exists today.
We also had a very developed sports club called Maccabi. It was originally
called the Zidovsko Gombacko Drustvo Makabi (Maccabi Jewish Gymnastics
Society). Maccabi had a very strong table tennis section. Maccabi played in
the Zagreb football league. We went twice a week for exercise, gymnastics.
It was on the same street as the Jewish school. The hall was beautiful and
it still exists. It made our day when we went to Maccabi. We had some
famous, first-rate athletes in boxing, fencing, gymnastics and football.
The table tennis player Herskovic was the best in the country. Leo Polak,
the boxer, was first in the Balkans. A few years later, someone said he had
been the best Croatian boxer of all time, even though he was a Jew. I met
him when we were getting ready to escape in 1941; he came to the community
to get his documents. My father introduced me to him: "Leo Polak, the
famous boxing champion."

As soon as the war began and the independent state of Croatia was
established, the persecution of the Jews began. They expelled us from all
schools and faculties of the university. I remember that the director of my
gymnasium called my mother and, in a very cultured way, he said that he
unfortunately had to inform her that her son could no longer attend school,
that he was very sorry, but that the order came from the government, and he
asked her to please understand. I remember that he said: "There will come a
time when they will be able to go to school again." Clearly, that referred
to only those who survived, because 80 percent did not survive. My sister
almost finished elementary school, but she could not enroll in the
gymnasium.

Our community established a Jewish school so that we did not miss out on
our education. This was in Zagreb. The school functioned very well. The
professors were all Jews. There was one for Croatian-Serbian language,
another for mathematics, handiwork, etc. However, since there were waves of
deportations to the camps, every day there was one professor fewer or two
students fewer. They would come to people's houses during the night and
take them away to the camps.

In school, we celebrated Shabbat. We lit candles and sang songs. We did
this until the school lost its sense, once 80 percent of the teachers had
been deported, and maybe there was one left. One day Mikija was not there,
they had taken him; Lee was not there, they had taken her.

My father was taken to Jasenovac on September 19, 1941. First he was taken
to Stara Gradiska and then to Jasenovac. It is hard to know what was worse,
to be in Stara Gradiska or Jasenovac - the camps were even connected. We
stayed in Zagreb, and no one touched us. They took the Jews in two ways,
sometimes the whole family and sometimes just the head of the family. When
they took my father, they took only the men. However, two months later,
they came after the women and children as well. We were not at home. I
remember the details. We heard that the next day they were going to deport
all the Jews whose last name began with K. We had relatives named Kon. That
morning my mother went with us to the Kons, who did not live far from us,
to tell them what we had heard and to hide. My mother drank coffee with
them, then we went back to our apartment where our neighbor told us: "Mrs.
Eskenazi, run away; they are looking for you. Hide until this passes." We
hid for a few days with relatives, he was a Jew and she was a Catholic and
was in some way protected. Afterward, we hid with a Croatian family we knew
from when we had lived on Sava Road. Then we hid with a Moslem waiter who
knew my father. My father had gone to a café where he worked; his name was
Fajko. He hid us with his wife. At some point my mother lost her nerves and
patience and said: "No one is going to hide us any longer. We are going
home and whatever is the fate of the others will be our fate as well."

In the meantime, my uncle came from Derventa. He had done so much for the
economic development of Derventa and the region that he received Aryan
rights. It was the rare Jew who was rewarded for his involvement in
Croatian causes, culture, architecture. The Aryan rights would protect
them, or at least they believed these would protect them. However, my uncle
along with his entire family was captured, put on a train and taken to
Zagreb. At the Zagreb station, they waited to be sent someplace else. We
raced to the station to see them. Then something unexplainable happened -
they were sent back to Derventa, and it was clear to my uncle that they
must flee before they came for him again. They came to Zagreb. They hid in
our apartment while they prepared papers to flee. The destinations were
between Mostar and Split, because the Italians were there. Their papers
arrived and luckily they arrived in Split. My uncle's Croatian assistant
from the store followed them to Split to make sure that they arrived
safely. His name was Marko Covic. Indeed, they did arrive safely. They fled
further, for Argentina, and my other uncle from Belgrade had successfully
made it to Split, so they had money and gold to bring with them.

Before they went to Argentina they sent my mother, sister and I false
documents. These said we lived on Brac, and that the children were being
treated for an illness in Zagreb, and they were now returning to Brac
through Sarajevo and Mostar. The goal was to get us to Mostar. Marko Covic
followed us as well, to be sure that we arrived in Mostar. Mostar was the
destination for the majority of Bosnian Jews from Sarajevo and western
Bosnia. All those who were able to reach Mostar were saved. There were two
or three families there from Zagreb.

There was a Jewish community in Mostar, which had its own kitchen, where we
received two meals a day. However, because of some agreement with the state
of Croatia, the Italian authorities had to hand over Mostar to Croatia. The
Italians knew that as soon as the Ustashe enter Mostar, they would come
after the Jews first. So, the Italians organized to have us transferred to
an island that remained under Italian authority.

We were transferred from Mostar to Jelsa Island, then to the city of Hvar.
We had our own kitchen in some deserted hotel on Jelsa. The women organized
themselves, and we had a stove and wood from the surrounding forests. We
children collected oak-apples. Every seven days the Italian authorities
gave us sugar, flour, pasta, parmesan cheese and jelly, according to the
number of members in a family. Each adult had to register at the police
station every day. After Jelsa, where we were for three or four months, we
were transferred to Hvar where we were put up in five hotels, which were
empty because there was no tourism. We were in Hotel Slavija, which had a
wonderful owner named Tonci Maricic, who gave us everything. He left us
alone to organize ourselves and he solved all the problems. The Italians
paid for this, but what was important was how he treated us. After
liberation, many people visited him and he came to Sarajevo and Zagreb.
This friendship lasted as long as he lived.

Then the Italian occupational authorities decided that all Jews who were on
Hvar, Korcula, Lopud and Kuparij should be transferred to Rab. On Rab there
was a camp where Slovenes lived before, under terrible conditions. Half of
the camp was comprised of brick buildings and the other half of barracks.
The camp was surrounded with multi-layered thorns, wires. When we saw this,
we realized this was a real camp, with wires. Later we realized this was
neither Jasenovac nor Auschwitz. We were organized. We had a big kitchen;
we organized cultural life. There were pianists, actors, doctors, lawyers
and other experts among us. We children were divided by age. The elder ones
worked. As children, we did not feel camp life. We were so small and we
were able to go swimming every day. There was one Italian guard for all 100
of us.

My mother was employed in the tailor shop that made uniforms - not new
uniforms; they repaired used ones. She worked seven hours in this tailor
workshop and the prize was one loaf of bread. My mother worked for that, so
that we would have a little more bread, for the growing children. We could
withstand all of that - until the Italians capitulated. The Italians were
anxious to do this because they were never soldiers like the Germans. This
is a nation that has a nice language, nice poetry, a nation that loves to
love - but they are not warriors. Yes, their army did damage throughout
Dalmatia, and certainly people were killed, but they were humane in their
treatment of us, if one can say that. The Italians threw down their
weapons, and the partisans came. In the camp itself, there was a partisan
organization, which we children did not even know about. The partisans knew
that we would be unable to hold the island much longer and, since they had
already liberated us, they wanted to transfer us to more secure territory.

 

Post-war

We were transferred in groups to liberated territory by large and small
boats. First we were sent to Lika and then to Kordun and the last
destinations were the Banija in Petrinj, Glin and Topusko. We came to
Topusko, where there were many deserted hotels and buildings, and we found
accommodation there. Everyone had work. My mother worked as a cook and my
sister and I took care of some baths. This was the spa at Topusko; there
was a building with pools of warm water from nearby springs. We bathed
every day and they called us the cleanest partisans, because partisans
tended to have lice and only bathed once in a while. I became a courier,
first in the command center in Topusko and then in the Zavnoh, the anti-
fascist organization. This was the partisan authority for Croatia.

Zavnoh had its own management, technical and health sections, the
partisans' future ministry. I was assigned to the management department,
which was responsible for legislation. My boss was Leon Gerskovic, a Jew.
He later became the third most-important person dealing with legislation in
Yugoslavia: first was Mosa Pijade, then Kardelj and then Leon Gerskovic.
When they transferred me to the propaganda section, where the mimeograph
machines spun out materials, this started my love of printed things, of
printing things. I was in this section of Zavnoh almost until the end of
the war. When the Germans capitulated, Zavnoh was moved to Sibenik,
liberated territory, as was the rest of Dalmatia. We were in Topusko for
some time and then we transferred with some other command to liberated
Zadar, for a month. One day the Zadarian whose house we lived in, a
partisan himself, told us that our command was being transferred to Zagreb,
which was already liberated on May 8, 1945. We all jumped on the truck. We
parted ways at Hrvatski Karlovac, because military men could not transport
civilians. We were transferred to a huge empty factory hall where we spent
two days and where we awaited a freight train to Zagreb. We missed the
train but another truck came with a covered tarpaulin. We jumped on. On the
bridge over the Sava there were the guards who we had feared would not let
us through. From the other side of the bridge, through which was the
entrance to Zagreb, the sentries raised the flag, when they saw partisan
hats they said, "Pass through." We got off with our luggage before the
Zagreb Cathedral. We went to the first guest house, we asked the owner if
we could leave our luggage until we found our relatives, and one told him
that there were weapons inside so not to touch anything. The man responded:
"Mister comrade, do not worry." It took them a long time to learn to say
"comrade" instead of "mister." We found our relatives; it was a happy
homecoming from the partisans. We hoped my father survived, but he did not
return.

At the age of 16 I became employed in state service in the president's
office of the Republic of Croatia, in the printing department, a
continuation of the propaganda department from Topusko. The boss was the
same, the staff new and then my mother went to the center of Zagreb where
Tanjug was in the same building. We found my boss from the partisans who
wrote a letter of recommendation for me: "Comrade Albert Eskenazi worked as
a courier in the management board of Zavnoh. He is a lucid, reliable and
hard-working young man, we believe he would be able to be of use for more
important work - signed by the chairman, Nikola Rupcic." His wife, Ruza
Rupcic, was my professor of Serbo-Croatian.

My friends from school returned to Zagreb within two or three months, some
from Italy, some from Switzerland and some from the partisans. A cafeteria
was opened in the Jewish community. The first and second floors, where
earlier there had been a school and community offices, were for homeless
people.

Because I went to work when I was 16, in the printing department, I was
unable to go to the gymnasium on a regular basis. I started going to night
school where I was able to pass two grades in one year. Every night I went
to classes. I skipped the seventh year because I left for Israel.

I fell in love with the world of newspapers; I started to write for the
main syndicated paper in Croatia. I wrote articles on sports and a column
called "the voice of work." I started to feel great love toward this
calling, and I had lots of material at my disposal as I could access the
whole archive. I started to write articles in other Zagreb newspapers. I
wrote for "Napred" and "Vjesnik." After two years in the printing
department, the editorial office of the Belgrade "Borba" decided to print
an edition in Latin characters in Zagreb. By phone and teleprinter, the
text was copied in our department. I asked my boss to allow me to be a real
reporter and to work in a real newspaper editorial room. From the first day
that "Borba" began publishing a Latin edition in March 1948, I was
transferred to the editorial room. I was the youngest reporter; I worked on
cultural and sports columns.

 

My life in Israel

On May 15, 1948, Israel was declared a state, and preparations began for
aliya. Whoever wanted to could sign up to go, except doctors and engineers,
until 1951, when the five-year plan was finished. My sister went on the
first aliya in December 1948. Two months earlier, she had married, and she
went to Israel with her husband and his parents. I did not want to go, but
my uncles in Argentina pressured us - after everything that happened, Jews
could once again be declared guilty - and they persuaded my mother. In the
meantime, my sister contacted us and told us that our relatives and the old-
timers received her nicely. When she left she was already pregnant, and in
June she had her first son.

I had work I liked very much and I lived very well; we had a nice small
apartment. However, my relatives managed to convince us to leave, and my
mother began to yearn for her daughter. We went to Israel in July 1949 -
even though my sister wrote that we should not come because, "there you are
a gentleman and here you will be just a worker." This did not bother me. I
thought I would stay a little, learn about the situation and when I
returned I would be a little expert on the Middle East. We traveled six
days. In Haifa they sent us to the reception camp "Sent Lux." All of the
people my age were immediately mobilized into the army, but since I came by
myself I was not taken. From this camp we were transferred to another,
closer to Jerusalem, so that we could be closer to my sister and our
relatives. We were in these buildings another two or three months, but I
still did not have work even though before that I had worked in the larger
reception center in Bet Lit, in Netanya. One of our people who came on the
same boat as me gave me a job. He was a professional cook and he got me
work in a bar in Tel Aviv. I worked as an assistant in the kitchen and as a
dishwasher for two months. Then we went to Jerusalem and found an apartment
in the old part, a Jewish apartment in an Arab-style house. We had
permission to bring all our things with us. Only those who had paintings
had to seek special permission. The apartment had three rooms. Then I read
in "Hitadut ole Jugoslavia" that a locksmith was looking for an assistant.
His name was Laci Balok. I thought I needed to learn some trade. He had a
workshop, we made keys, fixed stoves, made frames for doors. I worked
almost a year with him and then I was advised to go into the army. I went
in October 1950 and I came out in December 1952. After demobilization, I
registered in Jerusalem. Again I did not have a trade, so I worked as a
collector for a political party, until a friend of mine suggested that I
learn a good trade that is valuable everywhere. It was zincography in the
best printing house in Jerusalem, with Mihael Pinkovski, a Russian
emigrant. We agreed that even though most trades are learned in four years
that I would learn everything in two years because I was no longer young
enough to be an apprentice. I did this until I left Israel.

In the meantime, I went to visit my relatives in Italy, Zagreb and Belgrade
after nine years. In Belgrade, I visited my uncle's brother. We got along
very well. Even though he was 15 years older than me, I respected him like
a father. We were in the partisans together. I went to visit him for two
days. One afternoon, an elderly couple came; they were his good friends
Sandor and Ruzica Katan. An hour later, there was someone else at the door
- a girl of 20 or 21 came in and moved toward my uncle's brother to kiss
him. Being a miscreant, I asked her if she gave everyone kisses. She
answered: "No, everyone who gets one from me must earn it." And that is how
I met Sarina. I asked right away how the Jewish community was organized. At
that time, Albi Vajs, the president of the federation, was giving a
lecture. I went to the lecture, then we all went together to the theatre to
watch "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." The third day we sat in a nice pastry shop
and ate cakes. At that point, I asked her if she wanted to marry me. I was
sure she did not. She said she would and we decided to get married. I had
to go back to Israel; she came once she had her papers in order. We were
married in Israel.

 

My return to Yugoslavia

The whole time I was in Israel, I wanted to return to Yugoslavia. I made a
request through the Yugoslav Embassy in Jaffa. A month later, a negative
response arrived, stating that I left of my own free will. A condition for
going to Israel was that we renounce our Yugoslav citizenship. Later I
learned that the government sent all the ambassadors a circular letter not
to accept returnees, because many wanted to return because of the hard life
in Israel. I wrote a second request, but no one told me to go to Belgrade
and find a connection there. My father-in-law was a driver for a general
who was third in the hierarchy of the Yugoslav army, Vlado Janic. The
general called the assistant minister for interior affairs and that is how
we got permission to return.

I received work immediately in BIGZU in the department for zincography;
there were not enough people who knew this trade. I remained there for 27
years; for the last 10 years I was a boss. In the meantime, I got an
apartment. I had two children. I have five grandchildren. We live in a big
house where each has his own apartment. After retiring I wanted to start
writing, but my brother-in-law made an appointment with the then-president
of the Jewish community, Jasa Almuli, to discuss the position of secretary.
As soon as he saw me, he offered me the job. The $300 salary attracted me
and, instead of staying two or three years, I remained for 10 years. After
10 years, I was tired and spent, and wanted someone younger to take my
place. In addition, since I have been involved in Hebrew language for more
than 50 years, I became a teacher of language and an official translator
for Hebrew language, translating in both directions.

Since my return from Israel, 39 years have passed. I feel secure as a Jew.
I never felt any anti-Semitism, even though everyone knows I am a Jew. My
children also never felt anything in school. Here and there, there were a
few situations, but the government very quickly punished those who carried
them out. This is not strange since Serbs and Jews suffered together in the
past, especially under the Nazis. Many Serbs even hid and saved Jews. This
is very dear to me. It makes me proud and soothes me.

Country: 
City: 
Belgrade

Interview details

Interviewee: Albert Eskenazi
Interviewer:
Ida Labudovic
Month of interview:
October
Year of interview:
2001
Belgrade, Serbia

KEY PERSON

Albert Eskenazi
Year of birth:
1929
City of birth:
Slavonski Brod
Occupation
before WW II:
Student
after WW II:
Journalist, communal official

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