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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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We reached Zagreb on 9th May 1945 around 5pm. We crossed the Sava bridge and arrived at the main square. The welcome was amazing. People were standing on the streets all over the city of Zagreb, waiting for us to come, clapping their hands, waving the flags. The atmosphere was magnificent, full of emotions, people were delighted and excited. Everyone knew that the war was over, that the Ustashas and the Germans had left the city, that Zagreb was liberated.

After the celebration on the main square, a group of us partisans, who had been together throughout the war, went to Zvonimirova Street, where the headquarters of Pavelic [9] used to be. We decided to sleep in the headquarters of Pavelic, as a statement of victory over the Ustashas. We were warned not to touch anything because there was danger that the Ustashas had left bombs and munition.

There was still a smell of smoke in the backyard of the headquarters; the Ustashas must have been burning the documents and papers just the day before when they were driven out. My first night in Zagreb, I slept on a table in Pavelic's headquarters, with an army coat and a gun underneath me.
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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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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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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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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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baby pisetskaya

In 1942 my father got into encirclement. He was wounded and was lying on a cart when a German soldier shot him into his belly. The bullet got stuck in his pelvis. At that moment a cannon shell exploded nearby. The horses got scared and bolted off. This saved my father's life. When his military unit got out of this encirclement my father got into hospital. He was treated in Makhachkala and then transferred to Kirovograd. When he recovered he was demobilized from the army.
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During the Great Patriotic War David, his wife and children evacuated to Tashkent where they survived the war. David Kalika's family perished in Uman. When the Germans came to Uman they lined up all Jews in a column headed by Lusik Brozer, the retarded son of the pharmacist, who carried a red flag. The Germans forced David's brother Samuel, a Jewish actor, to sing a song and the Jews marched to the spot where they were shot. They were killed near the railway station. We got to know this from our neighbors in the 1960s.
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Mico Alvo

Later, in February 1943 the persecutions started. They came one day at the shop and took my father and my two uncles to the 'Kommandantur' that was down Agias Sophias Road. I was at the factory that day. Around that time I went to the factory every day. They picked them and kept them there. They didn't allow them to come back. And I was at home with my mother and sister that night. Danny was in Athens. We were scared because Father hadn't come back and neither had any of the uncles.

They sent a gendarme to the house, who said, 'The son should come with us and bring the keys of the factory with him.' So I went, too. They waited for us there, they took the keys to the factory and they sent us to the transportation department, escorted by gendarmes. That maybe was the worst experience. What was going on at the transportation department was beyond one's imagination. The dirt, one on top of the other, some pot heads smoking, crazy, and all together. I don't know how my father could take it. But the poor guy didn't even know what was ahead of him.

We slept on the ground. They gave us some blankets, or perhaps I had brought blankets from the house, I don't remember. Next to us there were criminals. The next day they sent us to the Pavlou Mela Barracks where the prisons were [72]. We stayed there for three weeks:. my father, my two uncles and I. And they had taken in many more merchants. Benrubi who had a glassware manufacture and other merchants that were dealing in iron goods like us.

A parenthesis: There was a cell chamber with 400 Greek communists. And each time that there was a case of sabotage they would take a few from this chamber and shoot them. Many times they would come at two in the morning. Two or three times I remember something like that happening during the night. A German guy would get in the chamber while everyone was asleep and he would say a few names. They were the ones to be executed the next morning. As a punishment because of the sabotage that had taken place. They took us out of there by paying an amount of gold sovereigns to Papanaoum [73]. He was a German collaborator. He was working with the Germans, the infamous Papanaoum and a couple of others of his band; they were sharing the loot with the Germans.

They took us to the 'Kommandantur' in order to empty the shops. As soon as they had sent us to Pavlou Mela, the very next day, the emptying of the shops started and it lasted for three weeks. They were emptying shops morning and night. There were these very large Schenkel trucks then, Kroup I remember, they would take away the things. And they threw them out of the windows. They were taking things and throwing them straight out of the windows. They didn't leave anything behind. Not even shelves or counters.

This all happened in February 1943. After they had emptied the whole shop they gave it to someone called Karatzas. He was the one that was collecting all the fruit and agricultural products from northern Greece. He would store them in our shops, and then give them to the Germans at prices that were already prearranged. But he also bought them at very low prices from the farmers and the merchants. In other words, he was collecting all the food for the German army. Maybe they were sending them to Germany, too, where there was a great shortage. When the Germans left, Karatzas left for Germany, because he was afraid of being accused as their collaborator. He never came back to Greece.
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They had taken my uncle to forced labor, close to Katerini [71]. They had taken all the Jews there for the new railway and the road they were building. Our customers from Katerini were bringing him food. We had customers that we knew from before the war, and they were bringing him food. My uncle worked until they paid the ransom. For a couple of months. Then many of the doctors became involved by giving you a certificate that you were unsuitable to work. They issued such certificates. I think this is why Solomon could leave. He managed to get a certificate stating that he was unable to work.

From my family no one else went to the local forced labor camps. I worked in a factory. There was an occupied factory that was making wooden boxes. It was close to the railway station. It belonged to a Jew; I think his name was Cohen. At Santarosa Street, they were making embrasures. There were many factories making embrasures at the time. They didn't make any plastic ones then; they were all made out of wood. I worked for about a month and a half. Until the Community had to pay the ransom.

My job was to cut and nail crates. They were crates for fruit. A kind of a carpenter's job. We would start early in the morning. Sometimes the tram was operating and sometimes it wasn't. When we knew that there was no tram coming the next day we had to get up an hour earlier to walk from the 4th stop of Martiou to get there, and an hour to get back. We would go there, we would get some food to eat, and we would finish. We would start at 7:30 to 8 in the morning and we would finish around 5 in the evening. The working day would last eight hours.

The factory didn't have many Jews. German cars were coming to load things up. We were supervised by both Jews and Greeks. Their behavior was good, normal. Both younger and older people worked there. To work in a factory like this at a time when there was forced labor, you had to have a way in, that is, you had to pay. In comparison with the railway tracks, this was a piece of cake. I don't know how my father arranged it. He knew someone in there, maybe he was a customer of his, and he chose the workers. He said, 'I want this one.' I don't know how it happened, but it was regarded as great luck.
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In Gaza we stayed for as long as we had to, in order to finish our training: four months. I remember when I took a leave for Tel Aviv. I went as often as I could, I would always go to my uncle's house. They gave me a leave when he first came and visited me with a marshal from Tel Aviv. Later on, before I left for Egypt, they gave me permission for a week, I think, or ten days, because I was leaving.

We were crossing the borders from Egypt to Palestine on the train. We would go through customs in Kaltara. The name of the place where the customs were was Al Kaltara. It took about twelve hours on the train. And all the trains were army trains. I stayed at Uncle's Joseph house. He lived in a very nice area: at Rothschild, Boulevard Rothschild. I ate with them, we would go out together, and my uncle took me to buy me some clothes because I had nothing.

In the beginning, when I found my uncle in Tel Aviv, I felt great love and trust towards him. He treated me really well. Uncle Joseph was a landowner in Tel Aviv. He would buy land and construct buildings. He also worked in the Discount Bank, which was one of the largest banks. But because he and his son didn't get along with the rest of the associates, they had withdrawn. It was one of their biggest mistakes in life, because later on the bank became an international bank.

I don't remember if Grandfather and Grandmother Saltiel were already there when I went to the Middle East. I met them in Palestine every time that I would get a permit to go out. They lived in Tel Aviv. I used to visit Grandfather and Grandmother when I went to my uncle's Joseph. They rented a room. They had brought some money with them. Not a lot, but Grandfather had some.

I didn't know Hebrew, but this is what was happening. At the time, the first immigrants that had come were from Germany, and they all spoke German. For example, just like they speak English in Palestine now, back then it was the German language. In any shop that you would get in, if you spoke German, they would understand you.

I was more interested in the fact that I was in a family environment again. I appreciated that very much. I couldn't see any difference in that I was with many other Jews. I wasn't aware that it had to be Jewish land. And I didn't imagine that it could happen either. I knew that many Jews lived there. I didn't feel more at home, I never felt that there. I could only feel the difference between being under occupation back home and being free there. I was quite proud that I was wearing an air force uniform. I didn't have any conversations on this subject with Uncle Joseph. He never suggested that I should stay there. He had his interests there and he hoped that he would keep having his interests there.
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My father's brothers were not on the list. I mean the list of those people that were not allowed to leave, or otherwise, they would execute the rest. Since they managed to leave it was for the best. My father didn't tell them anything. Nothing at all. Everyone was free to do as they thought was best. At the time they used to say like they say in French, 'sauve qui peut.' That means: Whoever can, let him be saved.

You have to understand that no one was thinking that they were going to die. They thought that they would take them there and put them in forced labor to work. We would go and buy good hobnailed boots and warm clothes and things like that. People hid the money in the shoes and the belts in order to have money to spend. The Germans had also done the other thing: you would give them drachmas and they would change it to zloti, which was a worthless piece of paper.

My father really appreciated German science, but not the culture. Because we already knew from World War I in France, that they had done a lot. He appreciated the industry and with many suppliers he had excellent relations. He couldn't have imagined that the Germans would get to this point. My father thought it was compulsory to follow the orders of the Germans. He thought that by having a good behavior towards the Germans, their luck might be different from the others. I think that if they had known that they going for certain death, at least half of them would have left.

What I found out is that when they got to Auschwitz, my sister and my father didn't go straight to the ovens [crematoria]. They worked for a while in forced labor. My father lasted three or four months. He, who was used to getting up in the morning and having his shower and go to the office. I can only imagine what he went through. My mother went [to the crematorium] straight away,, and my sister lasted only a very short time.

Olga was the wife of Bernard Landau, who was put in prison by the Germans because they regarded him as a spy. He knew how to speak German better than the Germans. He was an Ashkenazi. In the family they considered him a little bit as an outsider. He left with the last transport to the concentration camps because he worked at the Community. But neither he, nor Olga or his children survived. Only his older daughter, Yvonne, who got married to a Spaniard and got the Spanish citizenship made it. She survived and later went to Palestine.

Rebecca left with her husband and two daughters and went to Auschwitz. My uncle Daniel lived in the ghetto at the time. Nevertheless he managed to get out of the ghetto with his wife and his two children, Nico and Mary. It seems that when the deportations started a number of people left. Only a few though. Roula's mother, who was from Volos, sent someone to take them and bring them to Volos on a boat. Then, when the Italians surrendered, they went up to the mountains of Karditsa.

Daisy's husband thought that it was better to leave and go to Athens. He had friends there. Daisy had no problem to go to Athens because she had married a Christian. They had excluded the ones of mixed marriages, but those were very few.
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