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That’s what mothers said


Jelena AVDALOVIĆ: One lives and dies only once, so let it be for something great – for the homeland.

Our Heroic Mothers

Jelena Avdalović, a mother of six children and a widow from Herzegovina, lost three of her children in the people’s liberation struggle, while the remaining three are still fighting.

With her children and her husband, who was a teacher, Jelena Avdalović lived in Mostar until August 1941 when the Ustaše authorities posted a proclamation: “All Serbs with names starting with ‘A’ and ‘B’ must come to the railway station tonight at 10 o’clock, otherwise they will be shot. They can bring a maximum of 50 kilograms of luggage and 500 dinars in cash.”

Three of her sons and eleven of their friends hid in the attic of their house. She remembers their life at that time, their enthusiasm and strong faith, endless discussions, reading, and work. Jelena loved them all as her own children, took care of them, brought them food, and did their laundry. “That night, they had to part ways,” the mother says. Mladen, the youngest, was assigned by their comrades to accompany their parents to the station, but he firmly refused and replied, “Kill me, but I’m not going.” Then Momčilo went to escort their parents. They left the house, and Jelena turned to her son and told him, “Go back, my child. Don’t lose contact with your comrades. They might leave for the hills this very night.” And Momčilo returned.

Indeed, that night, the fourteen of them, along with several other youth from Mostar, escaped the city, crossed the impassable Velež mountain, and joined the partisan detachment.

Mladen, who had only completed the sixth grade of high school, couldn’t endure the hardships of the journey and returned to Mostar. After a few days, having learned where his parents were, after they were stripped of everything and driven out to Serbia, he set out as well. In Serbia, he made contact with his comrades and became a partisan.

When the partisans withdrew from Svilajnac, they were ambushed by Nedić’s forces between Kušiljevo and Bobovo. While Mladen was pulling a severely wounded comrade to safety, a burst of machine-gun fire went through both of his legs. Nedić’s bandits threw him into a car, attacked him with heavy weapons, and brought him to Svilajnac. Mladen was dead. They buried Mladen, and the girls of Svilajnac planted flowers on his grave and wrote to Mladen’s mother: “Our little garden is thriving.” However, the enemy came, uprooted the flowers from Mladen’s grave, and desecrated the soil. “But the girls who adorned my son’s grave are still alive, and one day they will show me where Mladen lies,” says the mother.

In 1942, Jelena Avdalović lost her daughter Radmila, who worked as a teacher in the village of Lipnik. The Ustaše killed her because her brothers were fighters for freedom. In the same year, in November, her eldest son Bora, a fighter of the Tenth Herzegovinian Brigade, was killed. It was a snowy, foggy night in the village of Zagoričani when the partisans fought against superior Ustaše units. Bora was in the vanguard. A bullet hit him in the stomach. He remained dead on the spot.

When one day the mother met a comrade from Bora’s unit and, full of bad suspicions and maternal fear, asked about her son, she didn’t receive an answer. “Don’t lie to me. I know he’s dead. And Radmila, she’s dead too, right? And those for whom I worried the most, trying to keep them aside a little, they died…” Tears welled up in her eyes, but as if ashamed of her maternal weakness, she suddenly pulled herself together and said, “There’s no use in crying. They were honest people. They died as human beings.”

When her husband, the administrator of refugee shelters in Šabac, died, Jelena came to Belgrade to live with her daughter Tatjana. Engaging in illegal activities, Tatjana ended up in prison, and when she managed to escape, both she and her mother went into the hills. It was April 1944. Tatjana left her mother with a peasant in the village of Kamenica near Niš, and she continued to Rudnik and then crossed the Drina River into Bosnia. She is now with the 23rd Assault Division, working as a medical officer in a battalion. She has grown to love the rifle, the fight, and her comrades. “Some people tell me to call Tatjana to come to me, that I have the right as a mother who sacrificed three children for freedom, but I would never do that. If I wrote to Tatjana that I want her to return to me, her mother, I would offend her. Tatjana would think that her mother is not as resilient as she believed.”

She remembered her Zaga, whom she hadn’t seen since 1940. Zaga is now stationed in Krbavica near Korenica. “She’s there in Korenica, unless she got caught when the Germans broke through,” says Jelena. “She wrote to me: ‘I found out that my brothers died. I cried, but I’m proud because I know my brothers weren’t traitors.’ I sent her letter to Tatjana. It was hard for me to part with that dear letter. I often took it, read it. It felt like I was having a conversation with her…”

Jelena Avdalović’s only surviving son, Momčilo, a fighter since 1941, is now stationed somewhere near Trebinje.

The mother fell into contemplation, then began to list fourteen equally beloved names, fourteen young people of whom only two are alive today. “My Ranko, then Mujo, and little Krajina… They were all splendid young people… I shed tears for my lost children—twelve of them. I love them all equally. Why should I mourn them? One lives and dies for something great—for the homeland.”

That’s what mothers of partisans say.

S.L., Borba newspaper, 1945-02-22, p. 4|issue:UB_00064_19450222|article:article464|page:4|block:ComposedBlock8|query:1941%20%D0%BC%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B5%D0%BD

Adila FEJIĆ: Mother from the street named after her sons

Great-grandson Dragan, a wonderful three-year-old boy, met us in the yard. He showed his age with his fingers and wasn’t in the mood for long conversations. He led us under the awning. There, in a wicker chair, with a headscarf covering her gray hair, with big warm eyes and some newspapers in front of her, an old lady welcomed us. She was a tiny old lady who extended a small hand to us, offered us a seat, and couldn’t understand why we had come, but she didn’t ask either. She was probably raised to receive guests politely, and when the time comes, it’s up to the guest to say why they are there. But how to say and how to start a conversation with Adila Fejić in this house with the number 35 and in this street named after her sons? It’s not easy to say, “Old woman,” or say “mother,” or say “grandma,” will you tell us about your four sons who are no longer here, and about your daughter Samija who is no longer here, about your two brothers who are no longer here because that is an invitation to sorrow that is always present, it’s an invitation to tears that never dry up, it’s an invitation to pain that no one has the right to awaken in her. So, I asked her to talk to me about childhood, to simply tell me something about life. And she said:

– Childhood was a long time ago, and I barely remember it. And war, that’s what war brought. The house was full, and one by one, they all left, and I was left alone, and then they came to arrest me and took me to the police station. There was this Herenčić who was in charge at the police. Once I spent the night in jail, and the next day they took me to Liska Street, where the Ustasha Main Headquarters was located. The one who escorted me said, “I’ll go ahead, and you, Adila, behind me” – pretending so that people wouldn’t see how they were taking me. And I wasn’t ashamed, what did I have to be ashamed of – I neither killed nor stole, and my children were honest. There, at Herenčić’s place, a son of a teacher named Jahić was sitting dressed in a uniform. He interrogated me and just smiled. He asked me if I had children and where they were, and I told him that I had, let them be alive and well with their mother, and as for where they were, I didn’t know, they weren’t little for me to follow them around. They asked me about my Džemal, he was the oldest, they asked about Šefka, they asked about Esad and the youngest Ešref, who was 17 or 18 years old at the time, and I told them that he went to procure grain and got delayed somewhere and didn’t return. They then told me to report if my sons come to me, and if they are not guilty, they will release them, if they are slightly guilty, they will send them to prison, and if they are very guilty, they will shoot them. And I returned home where my Džemal was staying locked up, and no one besides me and him knew he was there. That’s how they always came and went, there was a window upstairs that we bricked up, it was always open, so if the police came looking for them, he would escape. That was war, and it wasn’t easy. I was alone, my husband Muhamed died back in 1925, and my brother-in-law helped me raise the children. I had four sons and two daughters, and only this Mersa is left, who is now making coffee.

They took Šefko away from my dream, they didn’t knock, they jumped over the wall and took him. That was when there was an assassination attempt on Jevđević, and he never returned. I went to see him in Zelenik, in the Italian prison, cooked something and brought it to him.

Ešref died in 1943 in the battle of Jablanica.

The eldest, Džemal, near Ostrožac.

Esad died in the middle of Čapljina.

Samija was taken to Jasenovac, and she never returned. Her two granddaughters are alive, Ita and Vesna Krajina. Vesna is my granddaughter, and she married that actor Ljubo Tadić. He used to visit me even when they were shooting something around Mostar. I usually get visits from the Veterans’ Association, and I used to go to spas in Teslić and Ilidža, but now I can’t anymore. We’ve gotten old. And everything would be fine if one of my sons had stayed, but what can you do, life goes on, and you can’t force yourself into the ground.

                The old lady’s story, and the velvet of her eyes, fills with nostalgia, a tearless nostalgia, but it seems sad to me that somewhere within her, there lingers a bitter and long maternal wail. She doesn’t show it, she sits her grandchild on her lap and caresses them with the same hands and the same gestures that have remained from the time when their mother, Adila, caressed all six of them.

                Today, only her daughter Mersa remains. And while she handles the business in the house, the old Adila Fejić sadly shakes her head and says:

I have endured so much since the gun went off – until now. But life goes on, you can’t force yourself into the ground.

“Sloboda,” by Mišo MARIĆ, 1972 (as provided by CIDOM).