Zagreb

Back in Zagreb after four years! At the beginning I felt only fatigue and an emptiness in body and mind. Did I still hope to find somebody of my beloved? I must confess - I did. Reason told me it could not be - yet miracles had happened sometimes, somewhere; perhaps it could happen to me? There were no shocks, no tears, no depressions. I knew that I had to adapt myself to the new conditions. New they were indeed, completely different from the past; another world emerged here after the war. Faithful to their doctrines, the Communists planned to change agricultural Yugoslavia into an industrial country. The younger generation of farmers was encouraged not to return to their villages after war but to take an active part in the industrialization of Yugoslavia 31 which meant working in factories. They inundated the towns, not they alone but their families too, parents, brothers, sisters and often even their domestic animals, not dogs and cats, but sheep and the like. They were the kind of people I had met not long ago in Vorkapi . Since the Partisans were the rulers, they used their 'rights' generously. They claimed the best dwellings for themselves, for their institutions as well as for their private use; the most beautiful apartments, villas and cottages were occupied and unmercifully damaged. The majority of these folk were not used to bathrooms; they did not know how to use toilets, they ignored the most basic facilities of the civilized world, they had now the best opportunity to destroy what the Ustase had not managed to destroy. The 'cultural revolution' was planned throughout, but times were actually more suitable to enjoying luxury never dreamt of than to learn how to use it. As a result of this inundation, there was a great shortage in housing. Offices were established which disposed of flats and rooms. Rooms were assigned to whole families, regardless of the number of family members; the kitchen was often shared by several families, the number of which depended upon the size of the flat. When I arrived in Zagreb we stopped in the centre and I went straight to my great aunt's - my grandmother's sister - home which was very near. Before the war she had owned a needlework store and had an employee, an old maid from Germany who was very devoted to our family. I did not expect to find my great aunt; the last time I saw her, before leaving Zagreb, she was very ill. However, I did find the employee, who, with her marvellous hospitality invited me to stay with her, which I accepted. She had no difficulty in keeping the apartment (of the three rooms, one was the store). As a Partisan, I had the right to keep an apartment. They even offered me my parents' flat which I refused. I went to see it; it was hardly recognizable, it was so damaged. This difference in 'status' between the Communists and the rest was not new to me, I knew it from the very beginning, when I joined the Partisans. Now it became obvious to me that Communism was a 'class society' like all the others, even more so. Not all the Partisans were equal; the party members were the highest in rank and the most privileged, but their status too was measured by different standards, depending on the importance of the institution or the nature of the job. The most distinguished districts were occupied by the crme de la crme; a whole villa could be owned by one man if he was a 'personality'. The way to such property was a way without thorns: many of the former owners were Jews killed in concentration camps or those who had not returned to Yugoslavia.32 Those who did return were not welcomed back. In the eyes of the Communists they remained the rich capitalists, suspected of dealing with the 'traitor', the Anglo-American 'enemy'. This was partly true. Many had wished to have a true democracy instead of a state of terror! They could not pardon themselves for having returned to Yugoslavia, and envied those who were clever enough to take refuge elsewhere. Terror increased every day. Trial followed trial. Innocent people, among them many Jews were sent to prison, and some were executed without trial. For a faulty bill in a store, the absence of one kilo of potatoes or the like, the entire management was found guilty at court and sent to prison. The air was contami- nated by fear and insecurity, distrust and insincerety. Spies were everywhere; in stores, in offices, in the streets. People whispered; nobody dared to speak one's opinion, to give a justified criticism. Zagreb, once a beautiful city, a cultural centre that could compete with other European capitals, was actually a pigsty. Streets were dirty, parks soiled, buildings neglected and nobody cared. Personally, I had no reason to complain, at least not against the system. I even returned to work for some time in the same Information Centre where I started my partisanship. This happened quite incidentally, when I visited my friends in Susak and was picking up my luggage that remained in the Kubizas' flat. Some of the habits, developed with the Partisans still remained, as, for example, promptness of decision. I was offered a job and accepted it on the spot. Zagreb was forgotten; the baggage was left in Susak and I went to Opatija 33 assigned as a secretary. We were a small staff, some six or seven people. The office and lodgings were in one building. I am still dizzy when I remember the place. It was an extremely beautiful villa, more like a palace, situated in the middle of a garden - one may say a park - with many rooms, completely and most elegantly furnished, with a private path leading to the seashore. We had a cook, a chambermaid, a driver and cars. To the luxury I was indifferent as I had been used to it before. The style of living chosen by my colleagues confused me; it was so different from what they preached. The words equality, freedom and brotherhood were meaningless. I started to believe that everything considered earlier as poisonous propaganda against Soviet Russia was true. Communism was certainly not the ideal I had in mind. Distribution of property, yes, but not in favour of a minority at the expense of a whole nation. I thought of the tumult going on in Zagreb and, as people said, everywhere in the country. One disappointment succeeded another. At the end of the summer I left my job because I was nominated 'state manager'34 of my father's business and my presence in Zagreb was needed.35 I understood little or nothing of the business, but fortunately my father's associate and also my uncle, my mothers' brother who was in the same trade, were at my side. Although the business was reduced to a quarter of its pre-war value it needed management. Both helped to keep up the business as much as was possible for private entrepreneurs; because everything was under state control, individual initiative was not permitted. My presence was mainly a formality although I participated in meetings and consultations. I had also written to my fathers' friends abroad and had received heart breaking answers; all the property was there, untouched at my disposal. The question was actually how to acquire the legacy from a court presided over by the Communists. A good lawyer was needed to prove ownership of the legacy abroad yet to hide it from the local authorities. The lawyer was discovered, and was soon to share with me the rest of my life. His name was Zvonko Mattersdorfer. Zvonko was a lawyer in Zagreb before the war and returned home after having spent four years in Germany as a prisoner of war. Of a big family, only a few returned. He had also married a short time before the war and lost his wife in a concentration camp. In his absence, his office was confiscated and when he returned and a colleague offered to share his office with him and he accepted. Zvonko performed his task very well; he found clever solutions for the court. He spared rne a great deal of grievous distress. The legal procedure to obtain the legacy was of course the formal declaration of the death of my beloved. By that time it was obvious to me that they would never return. It was, however, extremely painful to me every time their names were mentioned in connection with the procedure. Whenever possible, Zvonko did the job without me. The nature of his task was such that we often met, either in our office or his, one house away from ours. His apartment was also very near to the one I now shared with Teta Marie, my great aunt's employee. Zvonko had a ping-pong table in his courtyard and invited me to play with him. Perhaps I refused because I sensed a deeper affinity could develop between us. I was not yet ready for a change. Fritzel's parents had also returned and we were together every day. I thought to move over and live with them. I was firm in my decision not to marry again to which my mother-in-law did not agree. Rarely had I met a more intelligent, kinder, more loving and wiser woman than Mara. I still hear her clever advice: 'Mein Kind, Du bist noch jung, Du sollst nicht allein bleiben' ('My child, you are young, you should not stay alone'). First these words did not make any impression on me but gradually that started to make sense. I was twenty-six years old; but another Summer, 1946, had to pass before I changed my mind. It was not the same with Fritz for whose origin I had never asked. Those last years had left their imprint on me; now I alone was responsible for my future. Previously I had always somebody behind me to protect me. My choice seemed to be right; Zvonko and his family were honourable people as I was told by everybody who knew them. From the day I decided to accept Zvonko's invitation, at the beginning of September 1946, our relationship developed rapidly and grew into a love that seemed no less intensive than the one experienced with Fritz. As once with Fritz, we were together every day. We discovered many common interests and we soon came to the conclusion that we were suited to live together. On 17 December 1946, we married. It was a modest wedding, first under civil law with only two witnesses - the law in Yugoslavia authorized only civil marriages- then in the Jewish synagogue with lunch for a few guests afterwards. Zvonko moved to Teta Marie's apartment where we had a room for ourselves. Then we also changed our name into Novak; 'novo' means new - a symbolic meaning because we were starting a new life. We planned to spend a short holiday in the mountains but the snow was so high that the cars could not pass, thus we postponed our honeymoon vacation to a more suitable season. In fact we had no complaints, Zvonko worked in his profession, I registered again at the University, although I soon left it. I overestimated my powers, in particular the power of concentration which is essential for studying. It was much more important to regain strength, to bear a child which we so much wanted. Earlier, I described briefly the situation in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the uneasiness we had living under this kind of overlordship, but I could not have dreamed that we might have almost become victims of that terror. Several months after we married, late one night, a shrill ringing of the bell woke us. Two civilians entered, informing us in a rude manner that they were detectives and had come to search our home. The inquisition lasted several hours; they scrutinized every piece of paper, turned over drawers, desks and cupboards. This behavior reminded me of the experience I had with the Fascists in Susak in 1943. In a moment I pushed the address and letters from abroad into Teta Marie's shivering hands and she destroyed the compromising material. Not only what I thought was compromising. As a lawyer usually keeps some deposits of his clients in his office, Zvonko kept his at home, in our safe considering it more secure; it contained a few watches. We also had several millions of dinars 36 lately received by the liquidation of my father's business. With the safe in their hands and with Zvonko whom they asked to get ready, they left in the early morning hours, not telling us why they had come and where they were going. It was easy to guess, because many others had gone through this trial before us. Hurrying back and forth between prison and home to provide Zvonko with food and cigarettes and badgering my former colleagues to help get him out of prison was my task for the next two weeks. The worst I had to endure was the next day after the search at night. The two detectives returned asking me to follow them into Zvonko's office and again they started the painstaking search which lasted several hours. Tactless and cold-blooded as they were, they asked me how, being a SKOJ member I could have married a 'bourgeois', and more so, 'what if he never returns?' Fortunately, after the intervention of a friend (later relative), Dr. Gino Lapenna, Zvonko came home sooner than expected. He had been suspected of trading with gold and of trying to escape illegally from the country. These lies were based on the following facts: (a) gold was really offered to us by Zvonko's friend, a dentist to whom we both went for treatment, but we rejected his offer (b) for a stay in Opatija (Abbazia) where we wanted to spend our vacation together with my aunt and uncle, a permit was needed which we requested from the authorities 37 (c) the safe with the money and watches found in our apartment was probably the pretext for their accusations. The dentist was Dr Zarko Haas who also was arrested together with a jeweller, a Jewish woman who had sold him the gold. The dentist's assistant, a young woman was hired to spy on him. She watched his behaviour and listened to his conversations. At the same time my uncle was also arrested, accused for intending to leave the country illegally, and also released soon after Zvonko. When Zvonko was released only one thought occupied my mind-escape. Things which had happened here were a repetition of what we had experienced four years earlier. Sometime before Zvonko's arrest, I had the feeling that we were followed, that spies were moving around our house, but I wanted to believe that I imagined things. Now it was obvious that I had not. Was my desire to escape not justified? Zvonko agreed with the idea of leaving the country but suggested waiting until an opportunity came. He was resolutely against escape in which he was proved right: at the end of the following year, in November 1948, we came to Israel on the first legal Aliah from Yugoslavia. The atmosphere in the country grew worse when, in 1947, Yugoslavia broke off its relationship with Soviet Russia resulting in a quarrel of the Communists among themselves. Some distinguished party members were arrested, and some even executed. The focus of attention had passed elsewhere; now we could breath more freely, at least for some time. The safe with its contents was returned to us; Zvonko continued to work in his profession; we moved with Teta Marie to a new flat, a villa that we bougnt. with the inheritance money. It was an old house in Tuskanac, one of the most beautiful quarters of Zagreb, earlier Josipovac, now renamed Gorana Kova i a Street, No. 6. We had enough money left to restore it which we intended to do in the near future. All that happened shortly before we heard the news about emigration to Israel. I was about four months pregnant when we heard these news and the voyage was already scheduled for a couple of weeks ahead. Nobody believed that we were seriously considering emigration, not family, friends or colleagues. To be frank, Zvonko was worried. In his forties he had to begin a new life in a country, although called homeland, but foreign to us, language, climate, customs, people. I encouraged him. We had more financial backing than the majority of Jews who also had only one aim - to get out of Yugoslavia. After all these disappointments, nobody could have convinced me to stay. Once the decision was made, everything moved in one direction, to get ready for the long trip. Aeroplanes were still a luxury, ships were much cheaper, cargo ships even more so; the latter were the usual means of transport for emigrants and, of course, ours too. Three large vans were ordered, packers engaged to pack all our possessions. Gradually Yugoslavia returned to the pre-war system; to hire manpower was inconceivable to the Communist doctrine. We were permitted to take with us all movable things except money. Property such as houses or land was nationalized and we had to give up our Yugoslav citizenship and the villa was nationalized. This was the least I regretted! A last unexpected surprise awaited us on board the ship 38 which was almost set to sail, when the loudspeaker echoed our names. 'They won't let us leave' was the first thought I had in mind. Fortunately I was wrong. Our friends from Susak had come to say farewell. Table of Contents Israel