"And it was not safe to stay at home. I had to go somewhere. I had to do something. Sometime me and another friend of mine would hide in the fields at night in fear of staying home because somebody would come along… Ustaše, for example, the police force of that new state."
I was a student attending a public school in a place called […], later on I went to Knin, which is the high school, the closest high school we had, till the war broke out in 1941. And the area that I come from was occupied by Italian troops, and I do recall Italian convoys… trucks… lorries, if you will in English, passing through almost… well, by our village, and we were just sort of watching them and wondering what is going to happen next. Especially, I remember the face of my mother, how distraught she was, wondering herself what is going to become of us, or any of us. That was in the beginning… very beginning, and as far as my high school is concerned, the war broke out in… in early April 1941, and we were notified, from our school, to come and pick up our certificates. They would recognize the year because the year would usually end, as you know, in June, but they were going to recognize the year because of the war. So we went down to… by train to Knin which is about 30 km from my village, and that was quite a discovery and I think I described that in some of the memorabilia that I sent to you. The Knin changed completely. It was occupied by Italian troops, of course, but the biggest problem was that Mussolini and Hitler created a so-called Independent State of Croatia,* which is a Nazi creation.
And I encountered all kinds of beatings going in Knin, as I, a youngster, was trying to secure this darned certificate. I could hardly wait for the train to depart back to my village. In time it did, and I was really, really glad to get away from it because I didn’t think that people would behave like that. I was brought up in a village where everybody was sort of the same. I mean, there was no division between religion or any kind of a status. So what happened then, this… in this so-called Independent State of Croatia was a complete surprise to me. [The] Nazi State of Croatia wanted to get rid of the Serbs, that was their main aim, and they were beginning to do the slaughter of Serbs at… very early, soon as the Yugoslavia… as the country collapsed. And it was not safe to stay at home. I had to go somewhere. I had to do something. Sometime me and another friend of mine would hide in the fields at night in fear of staying home because somebody would come along… Ustaše,** for example, were the police force of that new state.
And in 1941… near the end of 1941, in fall or beginning of the winter of 1941, the communists came along. So now there was two resistance groups, the communists and Chetniks.*** They were both fighting Germans and Italians, and, unfortunately, each other as well. There was a civil war going on. But our biggest problem was with the Croatian Ustaše because they really slaughtered a lot of… They created quite a few concentration camps, main one was Jasenovac's.**** Some 750,000 Serbs perished there, and about 40,000 Jews and 20,000 gypsies. So it was that kind of environment, and it was not safe to stay at home because somebody was bound to come and get you, and so… Since my father [was] Chetnik and I was still kind of young, I had to join them… and do what the rest of them did, and try to survive.
* The Independent State of Croatia was established in 1941 as a puppet regime by German and Italian forces, which overran the Balkans in preparation for an invasion of the Soviet Union.
** The Ustaše was a pro-facist insurgent group in the Independent State of Croatia.
*** The Chetniks were anti-fascist Serbian resistance fighters.
****The Jasenovac concentration camp complex included five facilities established by the Ustaše leaders of the Independent Croatian State to isolate and murder ethnic minorities and enemies of the regime.