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elvira kohn

I don't know how my grandparents met, but after they married, they eventually came to live in Vinkovci, and they stayed there until they were taken to Stara Gradiska [2] in 1942.

My maternal grandparents had five children: my mother, her two sisters and two brothers. The two brothers, Samuel and Dragutin Klein, were taken to Jasenovac [3] in 1942 and murdered. The older one, Samuel, had two sons: Mirko and Vlado.

Vlado died of some illness in Vinkovci before the war, and Mirko was murdered in Jasenovac when he was 15 years old.

The other brother, Dragutin, married a Catholic woman and they had one son, Mirko. Even though Mirko was from a mixed marriage and it was said that children from mixed marriages would be spared, he was nevertheless taken to Jasenovac in 1942 and murdered.
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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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There were a lot of Jews in Zagreb who were on Rab with me, and with them I had contacts. Most of the people I socialized with were my work colleagues, or neighbors, who weren't Jewish. What deeply affected me was that Tudjman [14] and his government didn't financially valorize participants of the National Liberation Army.

The government reduced material incomes that we received during the communist regime. The partisans were all of a sudden not recognized any more. And I claim that, if it hadn't been for the partisans, there wouldn't be a Croatia today. And I'm not afraid to say that.
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My friends in Zagreb were Jewish and non-Jewish, even more non-Jewish than Jewish. I didn't grow up in Zagreb; my childhood and my youth days I spent in Vinkovci and Dubrovnik, so I didn't know many Jews from Zagreb.
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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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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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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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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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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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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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Mico Alvo

Mainly Christians lived in the neighborhood. We didn't have Jewish neighbors. It was a wealthy area. It was full of detached houses of one or two stories, with very nice gardens, and they would be very competitive about who had the prettiest flowers. Three or four houses would have the same gardener, Charito.

We had really good relationships with the neighbors, with all the Greeks of the neighborhood. Their financial situation was about the same as ours, maybe slightly lower. We had really good relations with the family of Germanos, who also spoke French. It was an Athenian family, very aristocratic. Nikolaos Germanos was the one who founded the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair [36]. I remember the first time that the Fair opened, the manager, Nikolaos Germanos, took along Mother and Father in the taxi. He went to the inauguration of the Fair in a taxi! His younger daughter, Alexandra, loved my mother very much and she would come around the house very often.
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My mother was born in 1901 in Thessaloniki. She went to the Gattegno school, I think, or to the Alliance, or both. Maybe she went first to the Alliance and later to the Gattegno. She went to elementary and secondary school for twelve years. Maybe high school was fewer years back then - I don't know if it was six years then or three. She knew Ladino, French and Greek very well. She spoke French very well. She learned Greek by practicing it. Maybe they did learn some Greek at school.

I remember that we always had Greek maids. I think that their fathers trusted the Jewish housewives very much, more so than the Christian ones, for their girls to become maids. They trusted them in the sense that they wouldn't let them take the wrong direction, as we had very strict principles and they were treated fairly.
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What the Greeks really didn't like at the time was that the Jews would speak Spanish and French to each other. And they used to say, 'But you are Greeks, why do you speak in another language?' And they couldn't understand that this is how they were brought up. They weren't Greeks; they suddenly became Greeks. They lived in Greece but Thessaloniki was then Turkish, it wasn't Greek, which the others couldn't understand. And the truth is that the Jews didn't know Greek. Since they hadn't been taught the language, how could they have known it? This brought some friction between them at the beginning.

Until 1940 relations between Christians and Jews were a bit tense. Not between the children, because the children that were going to school then started learning Greek anyway. The teachers were proud that the Jews were learning Greek. Then they started getting jealous because they would learn Greek better than the Christians. However, most of the tension was created by the generation of my parents. I could feel it. Many times on the tram I could hear two men speaking to each other in French and someone saying to them, 'Why are you speaking in French? Aren't you Greek?

You couldn't make them understand that when they grew up this wasn't Greece. My father spoke about incidents like that with my mother. There was a time when anti-Semitism grew, especially here in Thessaloniki. Not so much in other places in Greece, but mostly here in Thessaloniki. When the events took place. When Metaxas [32] came, everything stopped.
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