Rahela Perisic

Rahela Perisic
Interviewer: Klara Azulaj

My name is Rahela Perisic (nee Albahari) and I was born in 1922 in Sanski
Most. My father, David Albahari, was born in 1889 in Tesanj (Bosnia) and my
mother, Luna Albahari (nee Levi), was born in 1899 in Kladanj (Bosnia).

We lived in Sanski Most in a one-story garden house. Upstairs in this house
we had a three room apartment and on the ground floor my father and his
brother had a dry goods store. Next door to us lived my father's brother
Jakob. They also had a garden house but their garden was much nicer than
ours. Jakob's wife, Rena, grew beautiful flowers and had an orchard. My
sisters, brother and I liked to stay at their house and play with their
children. My father and his brother Jakob, two brothers, married two
sisters, my mother and her sister Rena. Thus we lived liked one family.

A great number of Jews lived in Sanski Most. They had many professions
among them: merchants, craftspeople, pharmacists, lawyers, etc. All in all
it was a beautiful Jewish community, one that knew how to get along and was
always ready to jump in and help someone when it was needed. There was a
temple. It was an old modest building where all the Jews of Sanski Most
gathered and marked their holidays.

My father and uncle's business did not go well and they decided to leave
Sanski Most. My family went 12 kilometers away from Sanski Most to a place
called Lusci Palanka. My uncle and his family went to Sarajevo.

We were the only Jewish family in Lusci Palanka. My father, who was a very
sociable man, made a lot of friends quickly. Soon after our arrival he also
established the first library and reading room and a group of mandolin
players. My mother was well received by the other women and she was always
willing to help the other women especially when it came to advise about
running a household and taking care of children.

In Lusci Palanka my sisters and I went to elementary school. Since Lusci
Palanka did not have a temple we went to Sanski Most for Rosh Hashanah,
Sukkot and sometimes for Pesach. While there we stayed with our relative
Avram Atijas and his wife Mazalta. For us children Chanukah was the best.
I loved to light the candles. I remember before Pesach my mother would take
all the dishes to the garden where she cleaned each plate. She also had a
special trunk with dishes only for Pesach. Regardless of the fact that
there was no temple in Luka Palanka my family always washed before the
Shabbat and wore nice clothes. My father wore a dress suit as if he had
come back from temple. Then he would read a prayer and after dinner we
would go for a walk.

We did not stay in Luka Palanka for long. My father had to move because his
business was not going well. This was not an industrialized environment in
fact it was exclusively an agricultural region. In 1930 we moved to Drvar.
Drvar was an industrialized town rich in wood. There was a cellulose
factory and a big sawmill. The Grmec mountain was exploited by the sawmill
and many people were employed in this industry. Unfortunately, we found
that we were once again the only Jewish family. My father found a very good
space for our future shop and very quickly the seeds of his and my mother's
work began to appear. As very social people, they quickly had a steady
clientele and my father was able to buy many shares and we had a solid

When we finished elementary school my sisters, Flora, Judita and I
continued our schooling in Banja Luka because there was no secondary school
in Drvar. We lived with our aunt Rena and her husband Jakob who had
relocated from Sarajevo to Banja Luka. My uncle's business did not go well
and his family lived very modestly. My father helped him a lot.

My sisters and I joined the Jewish youth group in Banja Luka. There was a
big temple and next to it a space for Jewish youth activities called Ken.
In Ken we learned Hebrew, songs and Jewish games and we organized trips out
of Banja Luka. Older girls and boys always went with we younger ones and
they paid strict attention to our behavior. When we passed through the town
everyone knew that we were Jews because we were dressed in clean clothes,
not luxuriously, but very neat, and we were always well behaved.

My mother's brother, Haim Levi, also lived in Banja Luka. He had a big
hairdresser salon. Frequently, he told me stories about his parents, Haim
and Flora Levi. Since they died before I was born I listened to his
stories with great interest. The story of my great-grandfather, Salomon, my
grandmother Flora Levi's father, was especially moving and interesting. My
great-grandfather was a banker of sorts. He had a currency exchange. He
would take foreign currency and go from Banja Luka to Prijedor to change
the money from Turkish currency to Austro-Hungarian. (Editor's note: we
assume she is speaking of pre-1878, when Banja Luka was still in Turkish
hands). He traveled a lot for this work. Once, while he was in Prijedor,
someone noticed that he had a big bag from which he took out foreign money
and changed it. Thieves waited for and killed my great-grandfather and took
the money. His horse and dog returned home by themselves. My great-
grandmother Bikina organized a search party and with help from the horse
and dog she found the place where the crime occurred. The killer was
quickly found and taken to prison.

My grandfather Haim and his wife Flora had a small shop. They sold mostly
leather good including: saddles, horse harnesses, leather bags and other
household goods. They lived modestly and observed all the holidays and
customs because they were very religious. When their daughter Rena married
she had to go to the ritual bath. For this ritual bath all the girls
discreetly accompanied her to a place on the Vrbas River and helped her
with the bath. Her hair was very long and they put some fragrant grass in
her hair and on the way they sang. My mother told me about how wonderful
these songs were. After the bath the bride was decorated and adorned until
the morning. My grandmother Flora knew how to make the nicest tukada. A
tukada is a hat which is placed on the bride and made from pearls and
brocade. These were real pieces of art work. The young couple married under
a traditional Jewish canopy and it was an event which all the young people
of Banja Luka took part in. Six children were born from this marriage:
Rena, Haim, Sarina, Luna, Leon and Matilda. Unfortunately, Matilda died
very young. My mother's brother, Leon, was seriously injured during WWI. He
never recovered from the injuries and died in 1923. His wife, Sida, died
very quickly after him and the care of their three children: Zlata, Flora
and Haim, was taken over by the remaining family members.

My paternal grandmother, Rahela Albahari (nee Atijas), was born in 1855 in

She lived in a big family and had a lot of brothers and sisters. She was
born while Bosnia and Hercegovina was under Turkish control. In Travnik
there were a lot of Jewish families, more Sephards than Ashkenazis. There
were rich and poor families. My great-grandfather was a small merchant and
lived very modestly with his family. The male children learned a trade and
female children did not go to school. My grandmother Rahela was very
adroit, hardworking and curious about everything. She and her brothers
learned Hebrew script and read religious books. Since the prayer books had
Ladino (a medieval Spanish dialect written with Hebrew characters; Ladino,
or Judeo-Espanol, was to Spanish what Yiddish was to German), she was able
to use the Ladino to learn Hebrew. She spoke Ladino, Turkish, Hebrew and
Serbian. She went to temple regularly, which was rare for female children
at the time. She married Moshe Albahari when she was 17 years old. My
grandfather Moshe's family lived in Travnik, and later moved to Tesanj, a
small place in Bosnia. Moshe and Rahela lived in Tesanj and had a small
shop. Rahela gave birth to 7 children: Salamon-Buhor, Jakob, Sabetaj, Leon,
Gedalja, Ester and David. The children all left the house early; they
learned a trade with friends or relatives in Travnik, Zenica and Sarajevo.
When they finished their schooling, they got married, started their own
families and lived in different places in Bosnia and Hercegovnia.
Grandfather Moshe was sickly and he died of pneumonia around 1910. Since
the children had moved away and she was left alone, Rahela decided to
fulfill her longstanding wish to move to Israel and to die in the Holy
Land. Her son Gedalja accompanied her to the ship, which sailed from Split.

When she arrived in Israel she educated Jewish children since she new
Jewish history and how to read and write Hebrew quite well. She was in
Israel when WWI broke out. Nostalgia and sadness overcame her. She was
worried about her children. Unfortunately, she only managed to return to
Bosnia in 1918. She died in Sarajevo in 1930. Before her death my father,
my mother and my two sisters and I went to visit her. That is the first and
last time I saw her. My father, David, was her youngest son and she was
very close to him. I remember when we kissed her hand, first my father,
then my mother and then the children and she kept repeating: "David, my
sweet child."

Sometime around 1934, one could feel that bad times were coming. Fascism
could already be felt in the air. After the unification of the Third Reich
in 1938 (editor's note: this is how the respondent refers to the German
takeover of Austria), many Jews arrived in Banja Luka from Austria. My
uncle Salomon Levi took in one of these families. They left all of their
property behind in Vienna. I was still too young to fully understand their
situation. But, unfortunately, the hard times soon befell me too. For the
1940-41 school year I was enrolled in Prijedor. During this school year I
started to have problems because my history professor was a fascist
sympathizer and he always humiliated and insulted me in front of the whole
grade. I cried after almost every class with him. My three school friends:
Sveta Popovic, Joca Stefanovic and Milan Markovic were a great consolation
to me. They would tell me: "Don't give in to him, hold your head up high,
proudly, high, you are not going to let one fascist make you suffer." I
listened to them. Numerus Klausus, a law which restricted the number of
Jewish children who were able to go to school, had already been enacted.
They carried this out especially rigorously with those boys and girls who
were supposed to enroll in the higher grades of the gymnasium. At the
teacher's meeting the director of my school insisted that I be thrown out,
but I was lucky and my physics, geography and literature professors lobbied
for me to stay. Their argument was that it would be better to dismiss a
younger student who had time to transfer to some trade school rather than
me. In the end they did not throw me out. I learned about this incident
during the war when I met one my professors.

War broke out in 1941 and a German unit entered Drvar. Not much time passed
before my father, mother and younger sister Judita, and my younger brother
Moric, who was eleven, were taken to what was called a reception camp in
Bosanski Petrovac by the Ustashe [Before and during WWII Ustashe were an
extreme right wing political and military organization of Croatian
nationalists on the German's side. They ruled Croatia from 1941-1945]. When
this happened I was at my aunt's house. The Ustashe told her that she must
send me to the camp but I did not go and I ran away instead. I hid in
surrounding villages, however in the end I fell into the hands of the
Ustashe and I suffered terribly when they took me to prison. But something
happened to save me. Serbs, who were also mistreated by the Ustashe,
attacked Drvar. I was liberated at that time. I immediately registered to
help at the Drvar hospital. Salomon Levi, who I knew from before, worked
there as a doctor. I contacted him and told him that I wanted to help in
the hospital since before the war I had learned first aid in school. From
that day I became a fighter against fascism. From then until 1945 I held a
variety of different responsibilities and positions. Once the enemy
attacked liberated territory and the people began to flee. Many mothers
fled with weak children. Many children ran around like mad, fell in flames
and disappeared. At the time I was in the 10th Krajiski brigade. I gathered
these children, saved them from a sure death and took them back to a safe
place. They were put up in a children's dormitory in Lika, which was
established during the war. In honor of my effort to save as many children
as possible, I was decorated with a medal of courage.

In the meantime, my parents along with Judita and Moric were supposed to be
transferred from the reception camp to Jasenovac. However, my father was
clever and while they were in the cattle cars waiting for the train tracks
at the Prijedor station to be fixed he told my brother and sister to ask to
the officers if they could use the toilet. Since there was not a normal
toilet, they went a little behind the wagon and they managed to cross over
the narrow-gauge railroad tracks. Shortly afterwards my parents managed to
escape unnoticed and caught up with them. All four of them got on a train
for Sanski Most. In Sanski Most they hid for some time; they wanted to
reach Drvar because the Italians were there and they did not practice the
same abuse the Germans did. With a lot of hardship they finally reached
Drvar. I was ordered to stay in Drvar from the time the Italians took over
to do illegal work. My father and mother spent the entire war running from
place to place as liberated territories changed. My sister and brother were
in the partisans.

In 1944 I caught pneumonia. The war efforts, hunger, walking, exhausted me
terribly. My unit decided to transfer me to liberated territory from the
medical facility. As soon as I got a little better I began to work in the
youth organization in the liberated territory. This was in Bosanski
Petrovac in Grahovo, in Jajce and in Travnik. At that time I was selected
to be part of the top leadership for Bosnia and Hercegovina in the Central
Committee of Anti-Fascist Youth. My work was a great help to our army. I
organized youth to help carry the wounded, to plow, dig, sow since all the
food was sent to the front lines. We started a literacy course, we taught
the youth many useful things and skills. For this work I was also awarded.
I received a lot of recognition. I received awards for serving Bosnia and
Hercegovina, for contributing to the fight, and after the war for my work
with children. I was in Bugojno until 1945 when I heard that Belgrade was
liberated. Naturally we were overjoyed, however all of Yugoslavia was still
not liberated. Fortunately that too happened.

The members of my family and I were reunited in Sarajevo in 1945. We all
came to the family house. My father was very happy that all of his children
had survived and said: "Children, do not worry as long as your head is on
your shoulders, we will start over and there will be everything."

After the war we children continued our schooling, we went to so-called
courses for one year and finished two grades. We all finished gymnasium.
School was hard, there was no paper to be used and we were all greatly
impoverished, but we were all ecstatic to be liberated. The Jewish
community in Sarajevo received aid from different organizations like the
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, so that we Jews had clothing
and we received eggs, powdered milk, rice, etc. My father was very active
in the Jewish community. Later he got work as the head of a shop and while
at this job he found himself. He worked with such enthusiasm in this store.
Frequently he told me how he wanted to teach young people that commerce
could be an honest trade. Not to steal and lie. My mother Luna devoted
herself to the house. She met each of us and picked each of us up. In this
time of poverty and lack of food she managed to make all sort of things out
of nothing. Everyone loved her. In our family house in Sarajevo she waited
for each of our surviving relatives. They slept on the floors until they
found something. She had to clean, do laundry and cook and she never
complained, she was so happy to have her children around her.

My parents were proud of each of their children because they all finished
some form of higher education. My sister Judita finished agronomy and lived
in Sarajevo. She married and had a daughter Tanja. My brother Moric
finished forestry faculty and at the same time went to pilot school. He
married a Jewish woman named Rahela Maestro. My father was very happy that
there would be at least one heir. Rahela and Moric had a son who they named
after our father. My sister Flora finished a commercial academy.

In 1946, I participated in the building of the Brcko-Banovici railroad
line. After finishing the work I met a wonderful young man, my current
husband, Ilija Perisic. He was active in aviation. Very soon after we met
we married, in 1950.My two sisters and myself all married Serbs. My father
wanted Jewish son-in-laws, but nonetheless he respected our choices. My
father died in 1973.

My husband went to an advanced military school and finished a degree in
political science. He is very responsible; he worked hard in the air force
war division. He retired as a general lieutenant colonel.

My mother was in Sarajevo during the summers because we, her children, came
there on our holidays. Those were wonderful days when the family gathered
together. During the winters my mother would visit the three of us in
Belgrade. She died in 1993.

My husband was a pilot, an officer in the Yugoslav national army and was
transferred from Sarajevo to Belgrade. In the meantime, I managed to enroll
in a two year teachers' college and right when I graduated my husband was
transferred to Nis. My first teaching position was in Nis. We lived in Nis
seven years and at one time I worked in the Museum of National Liberation

In the meantime we had three children. While the children were small they
went to stay with my parents in Sarajevo for the school holidays. My
parents celebrated all the Jewish holidays, so that from a young age my
children knew everything about the holidays. Since Jewish holidays in
essence mark historical events of the Jewish nation, their grandfather and
grandmother explained to them the importance of all the holidays. My
husband and I are atheists and in our house we celebrated neither Jewish
nor Serbian holidays. My children are from a mixed marriage and feel like
both Jews and Serbs. My eldest son Simo, finished the construction faculty
and currently works for Energoprojekt as a deputy director. He is married
and his wife works as an editor at the daily newspaper Politika. They have
three children: Ana, a university student studying political science, Maya
a fourth grader in middle school and Djordje a high school student in the
II grade.
My middle son, Predrag, finished the technological faculty and has a
master's degree. He is married and has two sons Nenad and Mladen both of
whom are students.
My youngest son, Miljenko, finished the construction faculty and works. He
has a daughter, Darja, who is in the V grade of elementary school. All of
my sons and their families are members of the Jewish community. Sometimes
my grandchildren go with the rest of the Jewish children to the (Joint
Distribution Committee/Lauder Foundation) summer camp in Hungary.

We were once again transferred to Belgrade in 1959. I became employed at
the Institute for History of the Workers' Movement. I worked there
processing documents from the National liberation battles until my
retirement in 1969.

I get much satisfaction and joy from grandchildren. They are my greatest