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elvira kohn

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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Throughout the whole time of our imprisonment in the camp, I had my camera with me. I managed to hide it when we arrived in the camp even though we had to submit all of our belongings to a detailed search. But, apart from the initial search, I had to continue to hide the camera because the Italians searched our barracks almost every day.

We, the inmates, figured out the system although it was very risky. We informed each other when and where the search began so if the search began in barrack number 1 that meant that barrack number 1 was clear.

One of the informers ran to let the others know, who then let me know, and then I sent the camera through others to barrack number 1 that had already been checked. So my camera was always in a different place and the Italians never found it, thanks to good communications and good relations among the inmates.

I didn't take any photos during our imprisonment because that would have been too dangerous. I wasn't, of course, allowed to do it and, had they caught me, I could have been in great trouble so I never even tried.
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Today people say that the Italians didn't really kill anyone directly in the camp. My answer to that is: the Italians did and didn't kill in the camp. They killed indirectly. They killed by forcing us to work, by giving us small amounts of food, by giving us orders, by treating us like a lower race. They were cruel.

Often the inmates who had small children were given half a liter of milk for a child. The commandant of the camp who was among the worst, saw a mother with her child in one hand and a bottle of milk in the other, approached the mother, took the bottle from her and spilled the milk. They were cruel in these ways: starving us, mistreating us, scaring us, forcing us to work.
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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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We were first taken to the hotel Vrek in Gruz, a few kilometers from Dubrovnik. There we stayed for two months and at the beginning of January 1943 we were taken to Kupari. There were around 1200 Jews.

Kupari is about twelve kilometers from Dubrovnik and there we were interned in a Czech hotel that was situated on the seaside. It was a large hotel that was delimited with wire. We were only allowed to walk within the wired fence. The Italian soldiers were all over; there were also Italian guards who kept their eyes on us all the time.

They didn't allow us to go beyond the fence or to the coast because they thought that someone might swim away. So we had to stay inside the hotel or walk just a little bit around it. We received food but I rather not recall that: it was dried vegetables in oil and a piece of bread.

Then we had to cut this piece of bread in three parts, one for breakfast, the second for lunch, and the third for dinner. A friend of mine from Zagreb sent me a package with some food; we were allowed to receive one package per month. But even the food she sent me had to be dry so that it could be preserved.
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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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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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The two brothers, Sandor and Emil, Emil's family and Elza and her husband were taken to Auschwitz and murdered. Olga survived in Belgrade.
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baby pisetskaya

In 1953, during the time of the Doctors' Plot [5], he was arrested as an 'enemy of the people' [6] and sentenced to ten years in Norilsk, Krasnoyarsk region. He was released after five years of imprisonment when Khrushchev [7] came to power. He had all his war decorations returned to him [see Rehabilitation in the Soviet Union] [8]. The authorities sent him to a recreation center for two months to improve his health. After returning from exile he went to work as administrator with the Odessa Philharmonic.
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In 1905 my grandfather, grandmother and their three children moved to Uman, a small provincial town in the west of Ukraine, escaping from the terrible Odessa pogrom [2] that year.
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Victor Baruh

At the junior high school I had a teacher in Bulgarian, Dimitrova, she was one of my most favorite teachers. In 1934 we went to Kjustendil where I attended the Junior High School No. 2; and later the Kjustendil Boy's High School where my class supervisor was Pena Slaveykova - Pencho Slaveykov's niece [Pencho Slaveykov (1866-1912) is one of the classics of Bulgarian literature, the founder of the modernist movement]. She had graduated in Switzerland and she taught us French. Once she gave us a composition assignment in drama and my father helped me write it. She got my writing published in a newspaper for children, called Gradinka [little garden in Bulgarian] under the name of Victor Baruhov. Later I found it at the National Library - this was my first 'publication'.

Our teacher in Bulgarian was Batalov - later I found out that he had been Dimitar Talev's colleague [Dimitar Talev (1898-1966) is one of the classic Bulgarian novelists]. Once he gave us a writing topic on Les Miserables so we went to see the movie starring Harry Baur as Jean Valjean. When he returned the notebooks, he asked me to read my essay: 'Can you believe it? Unfortunately a Jewish boy wrote the most wonderful essay.' There was no offense in his words. I have never felt any anti-Semitic moods. When the Law for the Protection of the Nation was adopted there were no outrages but on the contrary - there was sympathy and compassion for us. There were some occasional attacks.
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I have many more memories from the time when Hitler came to power in Germany and the persecutions began. In December 1940 the Law for the Protection of the Nation was adopted by the National Assembly and on 23rd January 1941 it was promulgated. Pursuant to the provisions of this Law, Jews were deprived of all civil rights. One of the articles of the Law for the Protection of the Nation stated that you couldn't write - you had no right to be an author. My first short story during our internment to Parazdjik was published in the newspaper Gorsky Kooperator [literally - 'a forest guard']. I can't remember how I got in touch with the editors but they got it published under the name V. Beshkov. I couldn't be published because I was a Jew. Another article stated that you couldn't be in matrimonial or non-matrimonial relationships with non-Jews. Thus, I couldn't love Bulgarian women.

In 1941, apart from the yellow star, we had to put a note on our front door - a Jewish Dwelling - which consisted of a white sheet of paper with black writing and the star of David. At the time when the Law for the Protection of the Nation was enforced I worked at a Jewish commercial company called Bratya Mizrahi [Mizrahi Brothers] but they had to decrease the number of Jewish employees because the law required that Jews employed by such companies should not exceed 50% of the total work force. I was employed in a company that was engaged in fabric trading when I went to work for the first time with the star. When my boss, Boris Zhelev, who was one of the republican officers fired from the army as a republican, saw it, he said, 'Take it off, I'll vouch for you!' There was sympathy for us everywhere.
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The Jewish quarter Iuchbunar was where the poorer Jews lived, those who were wealthy lived on Exarch Yosif Street, on Iskar Street; their shops were on Leghe Street. When the Law for the Protection of the Nation was voted for in 1940, the rich Jews who lived east of Maria Luiza Boulevard were ordered to move to the west and then Iuchbunar became something like a Jewish ghetto.
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On 24th May 1943 [10] the Jews from Sofia were given notice to leave Sofia in three days on the decree of the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs [11]. This Committee was founded under the special jurisdiction of the Minister of Interior [Petar Gabrovski] [12]. Its headquarter was on Dondukov Boulevard in the confiscated building of Samuel Patak [a Jewish merchant], the owner of Sampatak - a well-known stationery company. The Jewish property had to be confiscated. A number of young lawyers from the pro- fascist organization, the Ratniks [13] co-operated in the Committee. They benefited from the confiscation and liquidation of the Jewish shops and other property. We had to leave with no more than 20 kilograms of luggage; it was said where, when and with which train we had to leave. They deliberately chose the holidays because they wanted to keep the whole affair a secret. Emil and his family received instructions to go to Pleven and my mother and I were to be sent to Pazardjik.
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