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elvira kohn

Because she married a non-Jew, she converted to his religion and became Eastern Orthodox. No one in the family opposed. Jovan's father was an Eastern Orthodox priest and he was the one who baptized Olga.

I remember that someone once told me the following anecdote: Jovan's father, while baptizing Olga told her, 'Even though you are now accepting another man's faith, never forget who and what you really are.' Olga survived because she converted. She died in Belgrade around 1990. She had no children.
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My father's oldest sister, Malvina Kohn, died before World War II. The second sister Olga Cvjeticanin, nee Kohn, married a non-Jewish man, an Eastern Orthodox Serb named Jovan Cvjeticanin and lived in Belgrade. Nobody in the family was against the fact that Olga married a non-Jew. There was never any argument. Everyone in the family loved Jovan very much.
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I am Jewish and feel Jewish, and I always say that. I'm a member of the community and pay the membership fee. Nowadays I don't go to the community because I'm a bit old, and I walk slowly. I'm not religious because I wasn't brought up that way, and now I'm too old to change my life. Most of my friends have died, but I still have dear people who care about me. And I still have memories that I cherish and that help me in my old days.
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When the war broke out in Croatia in 1991 [see Croatian War of Independence] [13], I wasn't afraid for some reason. I wasn't afraid of any catastrophes and disasters. Once someone called me on the phone and said threateningly, 'What are you still doing here, why don't you go where you belong?' I replied, 'I live in my apartment! Where should I go?' And he said, 'You have lived long enough!', and hung up. That scared me and disturbed me. But he never called again. He must have found my last name in the phone book and wanted to scare me.
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I lived with my mother until her death in 1977. The two of us were very close, and it was difficult for me when she died. I was left alone; I had no relatives, no family of my own. I was also in a dilemma as to how to bury my mother. It was a very difficult decision for me to make.

Many JNA officials and my co-workers came to my mother's funeral. Some gave a speech. I couldn't have a rabbi bury her in front of the party members. And I couldn't have the party members speak in front of a rabbi. The two don't go together. So at last I decided not to have a rabbi at the funeral. It wasn't easy, but there was no other choice. I wasn't allowed to have a Jewish funeral for my mother.

But I did something else. I arranged with the community that for the whole first month after my mother's death, the Kaddish was recited for her every Friday and Saturday. That was something I could do. Even though all the officials knew that I was Jewish, and that my mother was Jewish, I couldn't have both, the Party and the rabbi, at the funeral. And even though I had been retired since 1964, and my mother died in 1977, I was still in the same circle of people, shared the same spirit, and thus wasn't allowed to. That was the spirit of the time.
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During the communist times, I was in the JNA, I was a member of the Party. I worked and socialized with others who were in the Party; that was my life, that was my world. Today people say terrible things about communism, but it wasn't so bad after all. Maybe in certain aspects it was better than it is today; only, we aren't allowed to say that, it just doesn't sound right.

Immediately after the war, I went to the Jewish community on Palmoticeva Street to become a member. Through the community I re-established relations with my aunt Adela in Brazil and my cousin Zlata in Israel. I've never been to Brazil, but to Israel I went several times.

The first time I went in 1950 to visit Zlata. It wasn't easy to get permission to leave the country because I was among the high-ranking officers in the Party. At last, after many attempts and rejections, I spoke with one officer-general who helped me get a permission to go to Israel. I left from Rijeka on a boat, and arrived in Haifa. It was an amazing trip because there I met with Zlata and her family and I also saw many people who had been interned on Rab with me. But, I never developed any deep feelings for Israel. I was also invited to Zlata's son's bar mitzvah and I went.

Then there was her son's wedding, and I went again, and I think I visited Israel another couple of times. Had I not been in the JNA and the Party, I would have considered to move to Israel. But I was in the army, and I was very much connected to it, and I couldn't help myself. In addition, my mother wasn't so young any more, and it was a risk to go because I didn't know what kind of job I could get there. The Party never criticized me for going to Israel. Everyone always respected me because I always openly admitted that I was Jewish and never hid my origins.

Both my mother and I became members of the Jewish community. I attended celebrations for holidays, if I was in Zagreb. Because I traveled a lot, I couldn't become more active in the community. The fact that I was in the army and went to the community at the same time had no consequences. I never directly told anyone in the army that I went to the Jewish community; that was my personal and private business. If I was in Zagreb for Chanukkah or Purim, I went to the celebrations.

I took my mother to the synagogue for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and waited outside. I didn't enter because I didn't want the wrath of the Gods, so to speak. There were services for holidays that my mother always attended, and I know that there were people who went, and the people who conducted the services, but I'm not in the position to say much more about it. When I went, I mostly went to the afternoon meetings and tea parties, or to the meetings organized by the women's department.
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While I was with the partisans, I always emphasized that I was Jewish. I've never hidden the fact that I am Jewish. There was also no need; as soon as I said that I had been on the Island of Rab, it was known that I was Jewish. I said I was Jewish so that I wouldn't put anyone or myself in an uncomfortable position.

I wanted to let everyone know so that nobody would say anything against the Jews. There were other Jews with me in ZAVNOH in other departments. Some were typists, some clerks, and so on. Nobody treated us any different than the rest. There were Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Jews. Everyone was treated equally, and the relations among us were fine. We all had a common goal: to liberate our country and bring about peace.
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In May 1943, when the internment camp on Rab [6] was built, we were transferred from Kupari to the Island of Rab. There were no religious or observant inmates and no one observed any Jewish traditions or laws. At least I don't remember anyone doing so.

The Island of Rab was also under Italian rule. There were two camps: one for Slovenes and the other for Jews. Slovenes were imprisoned by the Italians just like we were. The two camps were strictly separated and no communication or contact between the two camps could take place.

There was one man, a Slovene, who was an electrician and who was ordered to fix some electric failures or something similar in our camp. He was the only one from the Slovene camp that we had some contact with but even that was very rare and limited since the Italians kept their eyes on him while he carried out his duty.

The Jewish camp, called Kampor, was divided into two camps: the Dubrovnik camp, where I was with my mother and other Jews from Dubrovnik, and the Kraljevica camp. Jews who managed to run away from Zagreb, Karlovac, and the surroundings arrived in Crikvenica and were interned by Italians in Kraljevica, just a few kilometers away from Crikvenica.

After a while, they were transferred from Kraljevica to Rab and were interned in the camp next to ours. The two camps, Dubrovnik and Kraljevica camp, were separated and each was enclosed with a wired fence. We were allowed to meet with Jews from Kraljevica camp during the day but only from 12 noon to 2pm, during the hottest time of the day.

At other times, it was strictly forbidden to meet. There were cases of parents being in one camp and their children in the other, depending on who was where when the war started, and at least they could meet for a short time during the day. I was lucky that I was with my mother.

There were around 1200 Jews in Dubrovnik camp and perhaps the same number or maybe a bit more in Kraljevica camp. We were accommodated in the barracks; in Kraljevica camp, there were wooden barracks, and in Dubrovnik camp they were made out of bricks.

The barracks were long and somewhat narrow. There were some 30 people in one barrack. The beds were bunk-beds: one person sleeping on the top and one on the bottom. The beds were one next to the other, on both sides of the barrack.

The toilets were outside, far away; to go to the toilet was like going on an excursion. The toilets were in one place and everyone from our camp used the same facilities, but there were a few toilet bowls, not just one. There was water in the camp, but for some weeks the central unit that supplied water was broken so cisterns with water were delivered to the camp. We received one liter of water per person per day, and that had to be enough for drinking and for personal hygiene.

We got a small amount of food which wasn't enough to keep us for the whole day. It was also disgusting. For breakfast, we got coffee that wasn't real coffee but some mishmash that tasted awful, and a piece of bread for the whole day. That piece we divided into three parts so that we also had a little piece for lunch and a little piece for dinner.

For lunch, we were given some soup, dried vegetables brewed up with old and foul-smelling oil, or pasta with oil. Pasta was usually served for dinner; thick black macaroni with oil. Even today, when I see someone pour oil over his food, I feel disgusted. Sometimes we were served goulash with meat and potatoes, but only small amounts of meat.

Every one of us had his turn to work in the kitchen; it was like a duty call, an obligatory call, perhaps once or twice in a week. We only helped around the kitchen to prepare the food, but the cooks cooked; we didn't. I remember once it was my turn to work in the kitchen and that day goulash with potatoes was served. The soldiers brought large baskets filled with already cooked potatoes and we were supposed to peal off the skin.

When the soldiers came to collect the potatoes, they looked inside the basket, then looked at us and asked: dove sono gli potati? [Italian: where are the potatoes] They gave us cooked potatoes to peal, and of course we ate more than half of the amount, who wouldn't have? We were hungry! The soldiers were very upset and from then on they always gave us raw potatoes to peal, and it was impossible to eat raw potatoes.

We usually woke up around 6 or 6.30 in the morning. The breakfast was brought to our barracks by the soldiers at 7am and by then we already had to be up and ready for breakfast, that is that horrible coffee and a piece of bread.

After breakfast, we each had our obligations that had to be fulfilled during the day. In the camp, everyone had to work or do something else during the day. The Italians weren't forcing us to work in a particular place; we could choose where we wanted to work. It looked as if it was voluntary work whereas we were actually forced to do something, it was just the place that we could choose. But sometimes even the place of work was determined.

There was something like a tailor's place where women who wanted to work there went. Buttons fell off from soldiers' uniforms or other things like that, so women went to do these jobs. Whoever worked there would be given an extra portion of food; this was like voluntary work, we weren't forced to do that.

Out of pure spite, I refused to sew buttons on soldiers' uniforms and never went to work there. Then, the Italians always built some roads and men usually went to dig and build these roads. That was hard physical labor. Men who worked there were also given an extra portion of food.

There was also a medical clinic in the camp, and usually the imprisoned Jews who were doctors worked there. In addition, there was a school for small children to teach them how to read and write so that they wouldn't remain illiterate. The inmates who were teachers worked there and taught children the basics in language and mathematics, the elementary things. The Italians allowed this.

I worked in the hospital. On the coastal side, in the town of Rab, which was four to five kilometers from the Kampor camp, there was the Hotel Imperial, which served as a hospital. Whoever wanted to work in the hospital could do so, and I volunteered. Every morning, Italian soldiers took a few of us on the truck to the hospital and brought us back in the afternoon.

We usually helped nurses in sterilizing bandages and preparing medical utensils. The patients who were treated in this hospital were the inmates from the Kampor camp. My mother sometimes worked in the tailors' place but most of the times she helped in the kitchen.

Lunch was served between 12 noon and 2pm. We had to go to the kitchen to collect our portion of food and then return to the barrack to eat there. During that time, we were also allowed to meet with the Jews from Kraljevica camp. We usually had the afternoons off. Depending on the nature of the work, sometimes someone had to work in the afternoon as well, but usually we had time off. Sometimes the Italians took us to the beach; they allowed us to go swimming.

They allowed 20 or 25 people to go to the beach, so we rotated. If more people went, it would have been more difficult for them to keep their eyes on us, so only 20 or 25 went at a time. It was around one or two kilometers to the beach and we walked. The Italians watched over us and guarded us very strictly and rigorously.

It was one of the Italian specialties to count us; they counted us again and again. We always had to line up and they counted and counted, before we left, while we were walking, while we were on the beach, when we walked back; they permanently counted us!

After we came back from the beach, we had off until 9pm. We usually walked around, many of us knew each other from before or we became friendly during our imprisonment so we walked and talked. At 9pm, the lights went off and we had to be in our beds in the barracks. The barracks weren't locked during the night.

The guards guarded them and walked around the camp during the night so that no one would even try to escape. It was very hot in the barracks especially during the night but the worst were the bedbugs. Our barracks were full of them and they drove us crazy. Those bugs bite and are very annoying so it was difficult to sleep at night.
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I didn't feel much anti-Semitism in Dubrovnik before the war. Perhaps right before the war started, anti-Semitism was felt more individually than collectively. My boss, Miho Ercegovic, had one partner named Gesel. This Mr. Gesel told my boss that he must fire whoever was Jewish. He knew I was Jewish.

So my boss, who was very inclined to me, had to fire me but he did so only officially so that he wouldn't get into trouble. He still let me work 'unofficially' for him and I continued to do my job and take photos and that way I could earn my living. This was just when the NDH was proclaimed a state and the Ustashas came to power.

We were forced to wear a badge since the NDH was proclaimed in 1942. There were other discriminating laws implemented against Jews: in addition to wearing the badge, we were forbidden to work in state and public services, and we were deprived of the freedom of passage. We were allowed to go to the beach or to the market only until a certain time of the day; a curfew was imposed on us.

In Dubrovnik, the state power was in the hands of the Croats, i.e. of the Ustashas, and the military power was in the hands of the Italians. It was our luck that the Italians were in power there. The Germans, in collaboration with the Ustashas, tried to take us to their concentration camps, but the Italians made clear to them that they were in power in Dubrovnik and that it was Italian right to do what they wanted to do with us. And because the military power was greater than the state power, we were, in a way, put under the protection of the Italians.

The Jewish community informed all the Jews living in Dubrovnik, the Jews who by accident happened to be there, and the Jews who came to Dubrovnik to run away or hide, that on a certain day in November 1942 we would be taken away and that we could take with us what we thought was necessary. I was with my mother. We were taken aboard a large Italian passenger ship and many people of Dubrovnik came to see us off.

Among them was my boss Miho Ercegovic. When I saw him, I approached him and returned his camera. And he said, 'No, you keep it, and whatever happens will be captured on film.
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I had many friends both Jewish and non-Jewish. It was a small town and we all knew each other. I don't know how I drew people towards me, but I had many friends and they all liked me.

When I arrived in Dubrovnik it was January or February 1932, a season when less foreign people come, and whoever comes is noticed. And so was I noticed. I met one nice young man who worked in the photo studio. He introduced me to a few people, who then introduced me to a few more, and so it goes.

My good friend was Mara; she was from Dubrovnik and she worked in the book store that was part of the shop where I worked. She wasn't Jewish but she was a very good young woman. Many people were very good and very kind to me.
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There was a Jewish community and a synagogue on Zudioska Street. I think there were about one hundred Jews in Dubrovnik. I didn't take part in the life of the community that much. I always attended the services and celebrations on main holidays but that was about it. It was a Sephardi community.

Dubrovnik was a small town and everyone intermingled; I didn't feel that I needed to be part of the community life. I felt Jewish, declared myself Jewish, had Jewish friends but didn't feel that I had to do more. On Saturdays I worked so I didn't go to the synagogue but sometimes I went to the services Friday night. My mother was more involved in the community life because she had more free time. She was very friendly with other Jewish women and they often visited one another.
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In general, I have great respect for the citizens of Dubrovnik in how they treated the Jews during the war. They were very fair to us. I never hid the fact that I was Jewish. There's a well-known Croatian actress from Dubrovnik whose name is Marija Kohn.

Her father married a Catholic woman and converted to Catholicism but didn't change his name. For this reason, the name Kohn was well known in Dubrovnik and when someone heard that my name was Kohn, they automatically considered me a Catholic as well. I always emphasized that I was Jewish though.
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I recall well one event in Dubrovnik: in April 1942, the NDH was proclaimed an Independent State of Croatia [5]. On this occasion, a great ceremony and celebration took place in Dubrovnik. All the high-ranking officials of the NDH came to Dubrovnik and requested that this ceremony be photographed.

Apart from me, there were two more men in Dubrovnik who worked as photo- reporters; however, that day they were already busy working elsewhere. By then Jews already had to wear a badge. Everywhere else in Croatia, Jews had to wear a yellow star but in Dubrovnik we wore on the left side of the chest a brass-like yellow badge within which was the black letter 'Z' [Zidov=Jew].

My boss told the officials that other photo-reporters were busy but that signorina [Italian for Miss] Elvira - that's how they used to call me in Dubrovnik - was available to take photos. 'If you don't mind that is. You know, she is Jewish', my boss said to them, and they replied that they didn't mind as long as the whole event was photographed.

The main ceremony took place in front of St. Vlaho church, and all the officials stood on the stairs of the church. Professor Kastelan and his sister were among the officials and many other functionaries and deeply religious Catholics. The ceremony began and I started to take photos. I had a Leica then. I stood there and took photos with my Leica on one side and the badge on the other.

After a short while, I noticed that the sister of this Professor Kastelan whispered something into his ear and they both looked at me. They stared at me for some time, and, as I noticed this, I slowly started to move back towards the crowd.

I wanted this to be unnoticed, and I moved slowly and disappeared into the crowd. Soon the sister came down the stairs, walked through the crowd, came straight up to me and asked me to stop taking photos immediately. At her request, I stopped and left the event.
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In our house in Vinkovci where I lived with my grandparents, my brother and my mother, the family respected Jewish customs and traditions. We weren't very religious, but there were certain elements of the Jewish religion and traditions that we respected. There was no pork in the house; that was strictly forbidden. We never had pork.

Otherwise, the meat we ate wasn't kosher; at least I don't think it was slaughtered according to the strict kashrut rules. My grandmother and mother cooked on Friday for Saturday so we didn't cook on Saturday. They prepared challah for Friday night and for Saturday. We lit candles Friday night and had a festive meal, usually fish, chicken soup and chicken. We had red wine.

On Saturday, we always ate cholent, which was prepared the day before. Most of the food was kept in the well in the backyard because otherwise it would have gone bad. We had a young servant girl named Ivka from Brcko who didn't live with us, but occasionally came to help my mother and my grandmother. She wasn't Jewish so she mostly helped us on Fridays and Saturdays. For example, on Saturday she went to the well where the cholent was kept, brought it in and heated it up for us for lunch.

We also lit candles on Chanukkah. For Pesach, we ate matzot, and I remember that my grandmother made delicious matzot cake. We had a seder dinner. Of course, we celebrated all the holidays, like Rosh Hashanah, and we always had a nice lunch or dinner. We fasted on Yom Kippur. It was more of a tradition than strict religion in my family. Like it is said: the customs have kept Judaism, and not the prayers.
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There was a Jewish community in Vinkovci and in general there was a rich and lively Jewish life. We celebrated Chanukkah and Purim together and had parties on holidays. Those took place in the cultural center in Vinkovci, not in the community building.

I assume that there wasn't enough space in the community building for such celebrations because a lot of people came to celebrate. The Jews were the ones who organized and participated in the celebrations, of course. We gave performances on Chanukkah and Purim. It was customary to dress up and put on masks for Purim. We danced, sang Jewish songs and socialized with other Jews, our friends, and always had a good time.

Within the Jewish community there was also a Jewish Youth Club and I was a member. We used to meet in the community building and talked, learned some Hebrew and some Jewish history, exchanged knowledge and ideas, or just spent time together. Sometimes we had visits from the youth of the Jewish Community Vukovar or from other Jewish communities, or we went to visit them.

Then we interacted with our fellow Jews and spoke about Jewish life in other places. That was always interesting and I enjoyed meeting with Jews from other places. We had many lectures and discussions on ideas about creating a Jewish state. I suppose that we were Zionist-oriented and nurtured the Zionist ideology. There were no summer camps, not that I remember, but we organized inter-town visits and exchange.
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