“THE IMMENSE SUFFERING MY MOTHER EXPERIENCED WHILE SHE WAS STILL YOUNG AFFECTED HER WHOLE LIFE. AND MY WHOLE LIFE TOO.”
When the German army invaded Yugoslavia in the spring of 1941, my mother joined its national liberation movement. During the summer she became a member of the Rašica squad, the first organised armed military unit that in September 1941 wounded a local policeman, a collaborator with the occupying forces. The German army then attacked the Rašica squad. My mother was imprisoned, together with the rest of the detained squad. She managed to escape from her cell, but within days she was again captured and imprisoned in Begunje prison, where she was indicted and sentenced to death for rebellion. The death sentence was cancelled due to her young age. At the beginning of 1942 she was transported to the concentration camp in Ravensbrück.
Like most prisoners, my mother returned home after her liberation by foot and by train. The journey home took months. When she returned, she was physically and mentally exhausted.
When I was a child, my mother appeared to me to be an extremely sad woman, who rarely smiled. I cannot remember that we played, spent mornings together or chatted to each other. She performed her daily duties carefully, cooked delicious meals, and tried to prepare everything perfectly for me. She was emotionally exhausted after all the misery she had had to overcome. There was no time for fun or joy. I would watch her avidly as she sat on her bed and dressed. I did not understand her anger and sadness about the reports from wars all over the world. As I grew older, her pain began to ease. She slowly began to enjoy life, but never wanted to remember the years spent in Ravensbrück.
She never talked to us about the long years she had spent in the camp. Only from time to time she would share small fragments with us – the smell that came from the crematorium when there was no wind in winter; the problems of eating with a wooden spoon despite being incredibly hungry; the blisters that came from wearing clogs; the wardress who hit her ear until she became deaf; about freezing cold winds raging over the plains. Occasionally she met some of her former fellow prisoners. Once she attended a meeting of people interned in concentration camps. It led to the return of many sleepless nights and too much sadness, so she did not go to any further meetings.
Vanda Straka Vrhovnik
Pavla Cedilnik’s daughter