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elvira kohn

My mother came to Zagreb, along with the hospital and the pharmaceuticals, three weeks after me. In the meantime, I stayed with a friend from Dubrovnik, a non-Jewess, in a house on Buliceva Street. When my mother came, I found a bigger apartment for the two of us, and we moved to Stanciceva Street. After the war, the defense and army headquarters of the JNA [10] was formed, and I was appointed by the supreme headquarters of Croatia to work in the newly established defense and army headquarters.

At first, I had to organize the photo laboratory, collect the necessary equipment, cameras, and so on in order for the photo department to function. I also gathered the people who worked with me, as I soon became head of the photo department. I supervised the work of others in my department but I also took photos myself. My love for photography and for capturing important and interesting moments was still very strong.

I usually attended party meetings and took photographs; there were various events that took place, like meetings or celebrations of 8th March, 1st May, 25th May [11] and other party celebrations or commemorations. I had to travel a lot and I was really quite busy, but I enjoyed doing my work. I was very lucky to having found a profession that I loved.

In my work, I often met JNA officials and important people; once I met Josip Broz Tito [12]. The photos that I took were mostly published in local newspapers, such as Vjesnik and Naprijed. Often, I took photos for my own pleasure: shots of nature, the people that I loved, my friends.

I continued taking photos of small children, usually my friends' or just children that I saw on the streets. Even after I retired in 1964, I continued taking photographs privately and enjoying photography as an art form. I donated my photographs and negatives to the Croatian History Museum, and they are still kept there today.

I never married. It is my love for photography that should be blamed for this. I was always away; I spent three days in Zagreb, then five days on a trip working, then I was in Zagreb again, then working away again. It was hard to find someone who would have tolerated this! One suitor once told me, 'You love your camera more than you love me!' True, I loved my work, and I dedicated myself and my whole heart to it.
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Each one of us had his duties and knew what he/she was supposed to do. I knew exactly what took place when and where, in terms of meetings, conferences, events, campaigns, and I followed the schedule. I was the only female photo-reporter within ZAVNOH. There were two other male photo-reporters, but sometimes there were called in for other duties, so there were times when I was the only photo-reporter for ZAVNOH.

After the supreme headquarters formed their own public-relations department, I started to work for them, and I stayed there until the war was over.

For a while we stayed in Topusko and were about to start the preparations for celebrating 8th March [International Women's Day]. However, we received the order to move to Zadar. Zadar was terribly bombed, but liberated, and so we were given orders to reach Zadar.

After we packed our belongings, we set out on our journey from Topusko to Zadar. In front of us was a Russian military mission, the English and the Americans, and each had flags on their trucks. And, again, the day was sunny and clear, the Germans saw the truck convoy and started bombing. When we were forming our convoy, each truck had a number; each department received a number and had to load the truck with the corresponding number.
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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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When the partisans arrived from Crikvenica on the Island of Rab, whoever wanted to join the partisans could join them. A group of young Jewish boys registered and was sent to Korski Kotar. Most of them didn't know how to use weapons so many of them lost their lives soon after they were liberated from Rab.

I immediately decided to join the partisans. They asked every one of us individually what we wanted, where we wanted to go, which brigade we want to join, what our profession was. I told them I was a professional photographer, and that I had a camera, that I had a Leica.

They were very surprised to hear this, and very glad, so they invited me to join the advertising and public-relations department of ZAVNOH [8], which was situated in Otocac at the time. They asked about my mother and what her profession was. So I said she was a housewife, and they replied that she should also come because we would need her around the kitchen. And so we left the Island of Rab; most of the inmates from the camp decided to join the partisans.

We got aboard a large boat that had both motors and sails, and arrived in Senj. Senj was completely bombed and destroyed, the whole town except for a church. We stayed in the church for several nights and slept on the wooden church benches. From Senj, we left on ox-drawn carts across Velebit and reached Otocac. For a while we stayed there. My mother worked in the kitchen, and I was part of the public-relations department of ZAVNOH. Apart from this department, there were other departments, like the educational, cultural, technological one and others.

My job was to take photos of various events that took place within ZAVNOH. They had board meetings, conferences, workshops, exhibitions, concerts; all kinds of events were taking place. It was like a government so many activities were going on, and I had to take photos of all the events. All the high-ranking officials of the government were there.
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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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In Vinkovci, I completed the public elementary school, four grades of public high school and after that I learned photography in a private photographer's shop called Seiler. In this photo studio, I learned the trade and became a qualified photographer. I was very much interested in photography and I learned to love this art form very much.

At the beginning, of course, I only worked in the photo studio but with time I became less interested in taking static pictures and telling people to turn left, right, smile, and so on. After I learned the profession and gained experience. I wanted to become a photo-reporter. I wanted to work outside the studio, take photographs of events and people.

Many traders and photographers came to the Seiler photo studio where I worked, and once one of them asked me if I would be interested in working in a photo studio in Dubrovnik. He said that they needed someone with my qualifications and that I could work as a photo-reporter.

I left for Dubrovnik in 1932. At first I lived alone but later I found a bigger apartment and settled in, and my mother came from Vinkovci to live with me. In Dubrovnik my mother didn't work. She wasn't employed anywhere. She took care of our house and of me. Apart from my work, I didn't have to take care of anything because my mother was there.

I worked in a photo shop called Jadran, which was on the corner of Zudioska Street where the synagogue in Dubrovnik was and still is today. The owners weren't Jewish. The name of the owner was Miho Ercegovic, and his son was called Velimir Ercegovic. Within the shop, there were three sections: a book store, a stationary and a photo studio.

I worked in the photo studio. My main duties were to take photos of various daily events that were taking place in Dubrovnik and its surroundings: cultural happenings, political events, events related to the church, such as mass, baptism, or other church-related events.

Sometimes people asked me to take photos of their children at birthday parties, or when a child was born. I always liked taking photos of children. Sometimes I took photos for newspapers and journalists wrote a story related to the photo. I never wrote for newspapers, I only took photos.
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baby pisetskaya

Our friends, relatives, my son, my daughter-in-law Rita and my grandson Felix often came to see us. I got along well with Rita and I loved my grandson. I spent my vacations in recreation centers in the Caucasus. I bought vacations at the plant that were mostly paid by the trade union. I went to resorts such as Pitsunda, Gagry, Sochi, Adler and Kobuleti.
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Shelia and I had many Jewish and Russian friends. We didn't care about nationality: there was no anti-Semitism in Kursk before the war. My sister and I and our friends went to swim in the river, celebrated Soviet holidays and went to parades. There were many gatherings in our apartment. My friends from the orchestra visited me. We sang, danced and had a lot of fun.
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In 1940 I was awarded a trip to Sochi on the Black Sea for my successful studies. I went with Abdulla Yusupov, a Tatar boy from another school. This was an unforgettable tour: we went mountaineering and bathed in the sea. We had bus tours to the towns of Adler and Chosta. We went to places of interest and took a drive on the funicular.
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I remember going to the Sophievka park in Uman with my parents and Shelia. My father also took us to Puscha-Voditsa in Kiev where I saw a train for the first time in my life.
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There was a hotel near my grandfather's house. It collapsed during an earthquake in 1932. Actors of the Jewish Musical Comedy Theater of Fischson stayed in this hotel when the theater was on tour in Uman. I still have the paper with the advertisement about it. Clara Yung and Beba Yunesca, actresses of this theater, used to rehearse in a big room in my grandfather's house. We had no piano at home and a violinist came with them. I was five years old then and attended all their rehearsals. Then we organized family concerts at home for ourselves where I sang arias from musicals. Our family was fond of music and we always had a lot of fun at home.
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Jankiel Kulawiec

A Jewish theater was organized. [Editor's note: the Gerson Duo Amateur Jewish Theater occupied the former German army cinema auditorium on Nowy Swiat Street for a few years after the war.] I remember that we set it up out of our own pockets and with our own work. It had been a military cinema, German, and then Russian. There was this large auditorium, and we built this super-smashing stage, and it was a fancy theater. Actors would come from Warsaw and Wroclaw. I remembered once they played 'The Fiddler on the Roof.'

There were various different Jewish events, there was an active Jewish choir in the same place. I belonged to the choir myself at the beginning of the 1950s, before I started working in the foundry. The chairperson was Roza Gottlieb. There was an amateur drama club. And there was a club house, where you could chat, read a book, a newspaper - both in Yiddish, e.g. Folksztyme [22] and in Polish. It was open every day, and there was a buffet there too.
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And all that time I thought a few times about going to Israel. The first time was when the Haganah [19] was being formed - with friends we wanted to go as volunteers. We even went to Left Poalei Zion to sort it out, but something didn't work out, I can't remember what.
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I remember that I liked going to the cinema. The cinema was owned by the town authorities, and it was in the fire station hall. That was the largest hall in town, and I remember that they divided it in half. The firemen stayed in one half, and in the other they put benches, and they'd built a kind of outhouse on tall posts for all the apparatus. And that was where we went to the movies. A lot of Jews used to go, and I think there were about three Jewish films too, in Yiddish. I remember two that I saw. One was 'The Dibbuk' [Dybuk, directed by Michal Waszynski, Poland 1937], and the other was 'Yidl mit dem Fidl' [Yidl with the Fiddle, directed by Joseph Green, Poland 1936]. At first they were silent movies, you see. The first film with sound was that Soviet one, 'Vesola Rebyata' [Vesyoliye Rebyata, directed by Grigoriy Alexandrov, USSR 1934] in the original, or in the Polish translation - 'Swiat sie smieje' ['The World is Laughing']. That was in around 1933-34.
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I went to that Hashomer Hatzair [4] too. I went there just like that, because I had friends who were members. That was a left-wing organization, but a Zionist one. Good, active, they were mostly into sport, less of the politics and mostly physical culture. They had this hut rented on the same street as the synagogue, and that was where the meetings were held. There were trips too. I remember we would go to the woods in these gray uniforms and short trousers. And at the end - from 1936 to 1937 - I belonged to the Zukunft [5]. But that was for a short time and I remember very little.
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