Growing Up In The 1940s – In Captivity – Punishment – WWII

 

Dear Readers,

After four years I’m finally coming back to this memoir. I’d like to finish it while memories are still floating in my mind. At times I’m overwhelmed by panic that there isn’t much time left. I’m 84.

I’m glad that Dad’s whole story in captivity is told in a short biography for Hadouch’s Lamsdorf-Lambinowice museum in Poland. In this new post I’ve added a few details

You can read Part 7 here.

Part 8

Hammersdorf – Punishment

 

Dad continues his story:

‘The Russian camp at Hammersford, south of Sagan, was like a death camp… There were about one thousand Russians in the camp. Fifty were admitted to the hospital every day, and fifty died every day. The Germans knew about this. So every day they came with two big wagons, loaded them with the corpses, throwing them onto the wagon like logs of wood. Then they took the corpses to the cemetery of the camp to be buried. The Russians told me there were gallows at the cemetery, ready for quick executions. The Germans treated the Russians very badly. But a German doctor told me that they do look after them, that they give them vitamins. And I asked him: “What do you give them?” “Well, every day we give them 5 grams of cottage cheese,” he replied. He was quite serious… My food was better, so I shared it with the poor wretches.’

‘The Nazis were very anti-Slavic,’ I remarked. ‘The Slavic race was considered subhuman. And the Russians, particularly, were also hated for their Bolshevism.’

‘Yes. But these prisoners were not all Bolsheviks. They were called up like the rest of the men in this war. I’ll tell you something I found quite disturbing. Among the sick Russians, the most unfortunate ones were those in the diarrhea barracks. They were the first to die. Dysentery finished them off in two to three weeks. One of them, a former speaker on Radio Moscow, was aware of the terrible state he and his mates were in, yet he was more afraid of what would happen to him on his return to Russia. A lot of them feared the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police.’

‘I read somewhere that Stalin did not respect soldiers who let themselves be captured. As if they had a choice,’ I added.

‘Yes, you’re right,’ Dad said.

‘Well, as soon as I arrived, the head cook, a sergeant, paid me a visit. He used to do business in Yugoslavia before the war. He was very kind to me. For lunch I would get a litre of soup with plenty of meat. I would invite a Russian engineer to lunch. For the six months of my stay at this hospital I shared my food with him and two other Russians.

Close to the camp was an abattoir and a bakery where the Russians worked. Every day they brought me fresh bread and meat. They would cut up the meat into thin strips and hid their gift under their shirts. I always gave the lot to the Russian cooks, asking them to give it to the prisoners who were the sickest.

The Gestapo probably hoped I would die here, catch dysentery and die. But I survived. After six months, thanks to my knowledge of foreign languages, I was transferred to Cosel at Lamsdorf and appointed chief surgeon. This hospital had just been established, built with a view to impress the Geneva International Red Cross, whose representative came to inspect it every three months.’

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More about the Russian camp: https://military.wikia.org/wiki/Stalag_VIII-C

To be continued

©Copyright 2019 Irina Dimitric. All rights reserved.

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Eucalyptus Sapling (haiku) – Doing our bit for the Environment

Mother Earth cries out

Plant a sapling in your patch

Clean air for all life

Recently, Mosman Council planted eucalypts all along our street. I’m glad to announce that only one sapling died, all the others are doing very well. ❤

What do you do for the environment?

 

©2019 Irina Dimitric

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Growing Up In The 1940s – In Captivity – Article 104 – WWII

Dear Readers,

After four years I’m finally coming back to this memoir. I’d like to finish it while memories are still floating in my mind. At times I’m overwhelmed by panic that there isn’t much time left. I’m 84.

I’m glad that Dad’s whole story in captivity is told in a short biography for Hadouch’s Lamsdorf-Lambinowice museum in Poland. In this new post I’ve added a few details

You can read Part 6 here.

Part 7

In Captivity – Article 104

 

‘The food rations were pretty meagre the first six weeks when we arrived in Germany. It was a bit better when we arrived in Teschen. We received parcels from the Red Cross and from private people from France. I received two parcels during all my time in Teschen, which was one year. We also received parcels from our Yugoslav government in Cairo, parcels of about 40 kg, with dried figs, dates, coffee, all kinds of tins. One of the prisoners, a Jew from Sarajevo, was working at the post office. He peeled off the label with the address and contents from one of these parcels and then brought the parcel to me. The parcel was almost empty. That wasn’t right, I thought. These provisions were needed by our patients in the first place. I then went to the barracks, through the door on the other side of the fence, and I wanted to call up a meeting to explain the situation about the parcels, that “I know about them, we never received them, I need them first for my patients, and then for you as well. I will go and see the Commandant to complain and ask some questions.” My intention was to let the prisoners know about this situation.

But when I arrived at the barracks, someone had already alerted the Command, a spy, our representative, a Slovenian: “Dr Stojić is at the barracks with the soldiers. He wants to talk about something.” A German sergeant rushed to the scene, but I saw him coming first and I quickly hid in the French barracks from where I was watching how they were looking for me.

After ten to fifteen minutes I stepped out and another sergeant came up to me and asked me what kind of meeting I wanted to call. “I only wanted to talk about some parcels,” I said. That was the reason they used to then accuse me of trying to mount an insurrection in the camp.’

‘They already resented you because of the 250 Frenchmen you helped repatriate, and also because you reprimanded a Serb who went home under a new name, a Croatian name,’ I reminded him.

‘Yes, yes…But not only that. One day, while I was still examining and teaching those Frenchmen, the Germans took me for a walk to a village in Poland, five to six kilometres from the camp. Crossing a little river, we entered Poland. ‘

Photo credit:  Dr Tom Atkins. Tom’s father was also a doctor and a POW in Germany and worked in the same hospital at Cosel as my father. We got in touch through Facebook as Tom was searching to contact the descendants of his father’s POW mates. When he was visiting the Lamsdorf  POW camp site, he made a special trip to Teschen because of my father and brought me photos and brochures, for which I’m eternally grateful.

It was spring when Dad was taken for a walk across that little river.

‘My mate, Kačanski, was with me, a lawyer by profession, a sergeant in wartime. He went to Amerika after the war…During that walk, the Germans tried to persuade me to come to Germany, to work in a German military hospital. They would also let me conduct private practice and would allow my family, my wife and daughter to join me. Needless to stress, I didn’t need to think it over. I said: “I can’t accept your offer. There are so many sick prisoners in our camp, I need to look after them.” And I couldn’t help adding: “Besides, you’re going to lose this war as you did the first.” Obviously, my rejection of their generous offer and my last remark didn’t sit well with them, and they started to plot their revenge.

A month later I was arrested. It was 4 June 1942. 4th of June, when my mother passed away. I was locked up in my room, the camp prison was full. Locked up for ten days, not allowed outside at all.

When I was being taken for the first hearing, the sergeant escorting me was very rude to me, and another officer joined him yelling at me insults, a Hungarian I had looked after when he was sick. Both great admirers of Hitler. The Gestapo then charged me with mounting an insurrection in the camp.

A few days later, a Division judge from Katowice arrived to hear my case. The German guards came to escort me to the courtroom, and on my way there, the prisoners looked on and chanted “Long live Dr Stojić!” That wasn’t going to be very helpful, I thought. But Judge Jelinek, of Czech origin, a lawyer from Vienna in peacetime, was very polite. Whenever I said something that would go against me, he did not note it down.

Before Judge Jelinek appeared, I was taken into the room by a captain, a highs-school teacher who was not a Hitler sympathiser, now a judge in the army. A very fine gentleman. As soon as I entered the room, I saw a young woman sitting at a table with a typewriter. She was crying and shaking. The kind captain took her out of the room, and when he had returned, he gave me the document in which the Gestapo charged me with a grave offence against the Third Reich. Article 104. Execution by shooting. That was what the young woman saw. She was so scared that she couldn’t type.’

And how did my dad feel when he saw the death sentence? What was going through his mind? Why didn’t I ask him those questions when he was telling me this story?

‘After that incident, Judge Jelinek did not require a secretary to keep the minutes. He said he would note down everything himself. He then asked me about my education and my medical degree. I told him I graduated from Vienna University.

“And where did you go to high school?” he asked.

“Novi Sad,’ I replied.

“Was Dr Savić who was against you also from Novi Sad?”

“No, he was from Bosnia, but in Novi Sad lived another Savić, the director of Matica Srpska, whose daughter studied in Vienna.”

“I know her, that’s why I’m asking you,” said the judge. “I studied law with her.”

When I told him that her father went to high school with my father, and that I remember her, he became even kinder towards me. He then went to the Commandant of the camp to hand in his report, and I was immediately released. Judge Jelinek exonerated me from all the accusations brought against me by the Gestapo. However, the Gestapo wasn’t very pleased and being higher in the hierarchy, a few days later, they sent me to a Russian camp as punishment. I was there, near Breslau, for six months.’

To be continued

© Copyright 2019 Irina Dimitric. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

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Growing Up In The 1940s – Top Priority: Patients’ Welfare – WWII

Dear Readers,

After four years I’m finally coming back to this memoir. I’d like to finish it while memories are still floating in my mind. At times I’m overwhelmed by panic that there isn’t much time left. I’m 84.

I’m glad that Dad’s whole story in captivity is told in a short biography for Hadouch’s Lamsdorf-Lambinowice museum in Poland. In this new post I’ve added a few details.

You can read Part 5 here.

Part 6

Teschen – Top Priority: Patients’ Welfare

 

Dad continues his story:

‘When the Germans dismissed the kind Oberarzt, a captain and a major replaced him. The major was a Nazi, a swine. The captain was kinder. He called us four Serb doctors to report, and he said, pointing at me: “We know what you are doing. We would love to have a German doctor who would look after our prisoners in Siberia as you look after your men and your allies. But enough is enough, as of today, this must stop. Go each to your ward and discharge all those who are healthy.”

We returned to our respective wards, and my colleagues discharged almost all patients, even those who were sick, they got such a fright. I didn’t discharge any of my patients. On the contrary, I even admitted one. I was just coming out of my room when I saw a man walking slowly past, holding his stomach. I asked him: “What’s wrong?” He said: “It hurts here, but Dr Savić has just discharged me.” “Come and see me tomorrow at ten o’clock. I’ll examine you,” I said. He was truly ill. I admitted him to my ward. When the major heard that I didn’t discharge anyone but even admitted one, he called me and said: “Yesterday, Dr Savić discharged a man, and you admitted him. “Yes, I did, “I replied. “Because he has a duodenal ulcer.” He immediately gave orders that the man be examined at the German military hospital. I then asked for permission to go with him and to take along another four men, which was granted. When the German doctor finished with the examination, the Nazi major from our camp rang the military hospital enquiring about the result of the examination, and he heard that the man indeed had a duodenal ulcer.

On our way back, a German high-ranking officer, a lieutenant, walking toward us stopped and asked the German guard: “Who are these people?”
“Their doctor took the prisoners to the hospital to be examined,” the guard replied.
“Das sind Soldaten wie du, behandele sie so wie Soldaten!” (They are soldiers like you, treat them like soldiers!). He was a very fine gentleman.

On returning to our hospital, the Nazi major ordered me to immediately discharge that patient suffering from a duodenal ulcer. What could I do now? Nothing. This time I had to obey orders. From then onwards he was against me, and about a month later, I was accused of mounting an insurrection in the camp. As if a doctor could stage an insurrection!’

To be continued

© Copyright 2019 Irina Dimitric. All rights reserved.

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Growing Up In The 1940s – In Captivity – The Kind Oberarzt (continued) – WWII

Dear Readers,

After four years I’m finally coming back to this memoir. I’d like to finish it while memories are still floating in my mind. At times I’m overwhelmed by panic that there isn’t much time left. I’m 84.

I’m glad that Dad’s whole story in captivity is told in a short biography for Hadouch’s Lamsdorf-Lambinowice museum in Poland. In this new post I’ve added a few details.

 

Part 5

Teschen – The Kind Oberarzt (continued)

You can read the beginning of this story here.

 

In the camp hospital Dad did his best to sabotage the enemy by keeping healthy men in hospital under false diagnoses. This is how he describes it:

“In my surgical ward 90% of patients were healthy men. The German chief surgeon, a major from Breslau, was very kind to the prisoners. He not only turned a blind eye to my machinations but told me one day that according to an agreement all French prisoners who were sick could be repatriated. He asked me to examine them and compile a list of all the sick men.”

In Sydney, Australia, I noted down this story in a notebook as Dad was telling me about his days in captivity. He was in his nineties, and I wanted to record his experiences for posterity.

As a lieutenant-colonel in reserve, Dr Bogdan Stojic was mobilised into the Yugoslav Army and appointed commander of the 44th Division Field Hospital on 2 April 1941. He was captured by the Germans at Doboj in Bosnia on 15 April and transported in cattle trucks with other prisoners to a POW camp at Lamsdorf, now known by its Polish name Lambinowice, for 4 months. There he was allotted a dog tag Stalag VIIIB/19522 and lost 10kg on a very meagre prisoneres’ diet. In September, he was transferred to Stalag VIIID Teschen, now Český Těšín in the Czech Reublic. My mother must have given a sigh of relief when she received his first letter in November.

I’ll let him now speak in his own words:

‘Today I’ll tell you how during the war, in captivity in Germany, I had helped repatriate 250 French prisoners.

I was arrested on 15 April 1941 at Doboj. The Germans loaded us on a truck to the Drina, then to Šabac, from Šabac to Mitrovica where we spent Easter in Mitrovica prison, and then in cattle trucks to Germany. First to Lamsdorf, near Opola, where the Opel car factory is. We were there four months. I got my doggie tag there. Stalag VIII B/19522. No name. Just a number.

 

Then we were sent to Teschen, a town on the border of Czechoslovakia and Poland on the Czech side, and Poland is on the other side of a little river.

There were a few hundred Poles and Serbs there. All the Croats were released and sent home in November. Four Serbs declared they would go home with the Croats. I knew one of them personally, we went to school together in Novi Sad. I gave him a piece of my mind. Coward!

There were 600 Frenchmen, most of them warrant officers, and among them 50 Catholic priests, all intelligent men, high school teachers. And one day, the Oberarzt, a major by rank, a very fine gentleman, came to me and told me to draw up a list of all the French prisoners who were sick so that they could be sent home.

I went to the Frenchmen with the good news. They were all healthy, young men in their twenties and thirties, not more than 40 years old. They received parcels from home every Friday, and from the Red Cross as well. Every Friday I went to their barracks, and they gave me lots of biscuits which I then took to the Russian barracks because the Russians didn’t receive any food parcels from anyone. The Frenchmen were all healthy, none of them was ill. And I told them that I could help them be repatriated, but because they were healthy, I would have to teach them a few things: “Come to my room, about ten of you each day, with a pen and a piece of paper, and I’ll teach you the symptoms of your illness: duodenal ulcer, angina, malaria, sciatica… You’ll learn the symptoms by heart so that you can answer with confidence when interrogated by the Germans.”

At first, they didn’t trust me. There were spies among the prisoners. One had to be careful. But then they came and noted down their symptoms. The odd thing was that they were not examined by a German doctor, my report seemed to suffice. One day, they were just put on the train and sent home to France, about 250 of them. Among them was the gentleman you visited in Nice, René Williaume. He was a librarian in the camp library.

Then,  about two months later, the Oberartzt was discharged, the doctor who told me to draw up that list. He received that list and didn’t interview anyone, just let them go… a very good man…both his sons were killed, both doctors… one on the Russian front, the other in Egypt…he cried when he was telling me this. He was in his sixties… I decided there and then to give him a parcel with chocolate, cocoa, and cigarettes for his wife,  he didn’t smoke. And I told the Frenchmen: “Look, tomorrow that German doctor will come, and I will walk with him in front of my room. You can go into my room so that nobody will see you and you can watch how I will give him the parcel.” And the Frenchmen watched how he accepted the parcel because it wasn’t bribery. It was a token of gratitude and sympathy.’

Gratitude was expressed by the grateful French prisoners as well. They invited Dad to a banquet on 26 April 1942. I’m not quite sure whether the delicacies on the menu were served in reality. But the sense of humour was as vital as food.

So was art!

Look at that superb artwork!

The card is 16/12 cm and protected with tissue paper tied with a golden string. I wonder which signature is the artist’s?

While the lucky Frenchmen went home to France, one of the Frenchmen from Teschen wrote to his mates in another Arbeitskommand to feign illness, to come to Teschen where a Serb doctor would help them get repatriated. The Gestapo intercepted that letter, the kind Oberartzt was immediately dismissed and Dad put in prison on 4 July 1942, accused of trying to stage an insurrection in the camp and being an open enemy of Grossdeutschland. This would have grave consequences for Dad.

The kind German Oberarzt most probably ended up on the Russian front.

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More about Teschen in case you’re interested:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalag_VIII-D#mw-head

To be continued

© Copyright 2019 Irina Dimitric. All rights reserved.

 

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Growing Up In The 1940s – In Captivity – The Kind Oberarzt – WWII

Dear Readers,

After four years I’m finally coming back to this memoir. I’d like to finish it while memories are still floating in my mind. At times I’m overwhelmed by panic that there isn’t much time left. I’m 84.

I’m glad that Dad’s whole story in captivity is told in a short biography for Hadouch’s Lamsdorf-Lambinowice museum in Poland. In this new post I’ve added a few details.

You can read Part 3 here.

Part 4
In Captivity – The Kind Oberatzt

Officer Wanemacher wasn’t the only military man who wasn’t a sympathiser of Hitler’s view of the world and his objectives.

There was a German doctor at Teschen, a major, who was the head surgeon in the camp hospital. He was a very kind man. He would play a major role in a drama that nearly cost my dad his life. Both of his conscripted sons had already perished, one on the Russian front, the other in Egypt. He had tears in his eyes when he was telling this to my father.

Dad was at Teschen from September 1941 to September 1942.

Here food was better than at Lamsdorf, and prisoners also received International Red Cross parcels. Sometimes the prisoners did not receive all the provisions they were due, and my father complained to the officer in charge. That was not appreciated by the German authorities of the camp. What they disliked even more was my father’s constant approval of the English, the Russians, the Americans and the French. He finally received a written warning to change his behaviour or else the consequences might not be very pleasant for him, nor for his wife and daughter in Zagreb, Croatia (a nominally independent state, but in reality under German rule), as they could be sent to England or Russia.

I understand the gist of this letter, but I intend to ask a German friend to translate it.  The details should make for a very interesting read.

At the end of the letter, the German censor threatens to withdraw the privilege of receiving and sending mail if he doesn’t mend his ways.

But he ends the letter with kind words: ” I wish you only well.”

What the Germans didn’t know and never found out, luckily, was the forging of documents that took place in his room, using a German typewriter he borrowed on the pretext of wanting to type up medical reports. The main forger was a talented prisoner who also drew my portrait from a photograph my mother sent Dad.

A perfect likeness, don’t you think?… And a perfect forger!

By the way, this white teddy bear is the one I hugged and covered in tears when my  dad left to go to war. I was six then, more like I was in the next photo my mother sent him to Teschen.

A winter photo. I was almost seven. Dad hadn’t seen me for a year.

The back of the above photo. This is my mother’s writing. I didn’t know how to write yet. “To Dad, Ika”, which is my nickname. It took about a month to get to Teschen. Dad recorded it in red pencil, in the Cyrillic script. Whenever possible he was loyal to his national script.

All correspondence was censored, naturally, and stamped Geprűft- Examined. I remember well the letters from Dad with blacked out lines all over the place. At least he was still allowed to write to us.

 

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To be continued

© Copyright 2019 Irina Dimitric. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Decluttering bit by bit… digging up memories

Could I pass off as Lawrence of Arabia? Perhaps, if I had blue eyes and was a tiny bit younger …? No, a lot younger!

I found this headgear as I was decluttering the belly dancing drawer. Well, yes, I used to belly dance. No, not in night clubs, but with nice suburban ladies, young and not so young, at Mosman Evening College in the 90s. I was in my fifties, and the oldest dancer was 80! I was going to be like her. I too would dance in my eighties, I thought.

Belly dancing was a new craze then in Sydney, which seems to have gone out of fashion, sadly. Zumba is all the rage now.

 

But to come back to the Lawrence of Arabia headgear. I have no idea how it got into my possession. Someone who knew I had a penchant for dressing up and clowning must have given it to me. But who? It bugs me I can’t remember. I assume there will be more of “can’t remember” moments as I get on with the decluttering.

And to go back to decluttering, my intention was to drastically clean out that drawer. Well, I threw out a few items but kept 95% of belly dancing paraphernalia plus the Lawrence of Arabia headgear.

Will I ever belly dance again? Frankly, I don’t think so. And yet I can’t part with the beautiful coin belts that shimmer and make a thousand soft clinking sounds as you shimmy along, the bright coloured shawls that flutter like butterflies, the harem pants, the flowing skirts, and fake jewellery turning us into exotic princesses. They are memories of good times. Very good times.

One day, I just might try and see if I can still shimmy a bit… to hear those soft clinking sounds again. 🙂

 

©September 2019 Irina Dimitric

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My Book “Full Circle” – St. Vitus Day 28 June – Vidovdan – WWI

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I’ve been having such a blast on Instagram that I’ve neglected my blog! The time is now right, however, to promote my book Full Circle a bit, and both St. Vitus Day and the Centenary of the Treaty of Versailles provide a perfect framework.

On 28 June, St. Vitus Day – Vidovdan, 1914, Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Hapsburg throne and his wife in Sarajevo; exactly a month later Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and attacked Belgrade the following day. My father’s young life was thrown into turmoil by World War One, and I was privileged to hear those stories from his own mouth. By writing this book I wanted to pay tribute not only to my father, but also to all the brave men and women of the Great War, some of whom feature in the book.

Vidovdan is a Serbian religious holiday and the most important national holiday. On that day in 1389, both Prince Lazar and Sultan Murat perished in the battle at Kosovo Polje – the “Field of Blackbirds”, and from that date Serbia was occupied by the Ottomans for five hundred years. Prince Lazar and his knights live on in Serbian epic poetry, inspiring the Serbs over the centuries to fight for freedom. My father took part in the Balkan Wars as a volunteer to drive out the last of the Turks. And Archduke Franz Ferdinand was foolhardy to visit Sarajevo on that holy day.

In 1919, The Treaty of Versailles was signed on the same day, ending the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. But a bad treaty can be a source of the next conflict. Thus, the harshness with which Germany was treated by the Treaty had been blamed for Hitler’s desire to turn Germany into a superpower. My father was “Hitler’s guest” during World War Two. That’s how he liked to describe his time as a POW in Germany.

Full Circle deals with my father’s early life and WWI.

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Always grateful for a review ❤ This review was submitted at Lulu.com in April 2019.

From THE ALBUM OF THE WAR of 1914-1918 by Lt.Colonel Andra Popovic

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The story starts on St. Vitus Day in 1914.

 

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Back Cover

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The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

There’s also a link on my Author Page at:

https://www.amazon.com/author/irinadimitric

 If you happen to purchase and read my book, and enjoy writing reviews, I would very much appreciate a short review. ❤

©Copyright 2019 Irina Dimitric

 

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Happy Orthodox Easter!


Hristos Voskrese! Vaistinu Voskrese!
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

It’s a glorious, sunny Easter Sunday in Sydney.

Church of the Saint Apostles: Christ from the Deisis (13th century)

Church of the Saint Apostles, one of the four churches of the Patriarchate of Pec Monastery, near the city of Pec, in Kosovo and Metohija. Built in the 13th century, it became the residence of Serbian Patriarchs in the 14th century. It is now a World Heritage Site.

“Endowments in Kosovo” – The cover of the book published to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. Kosovo and Metohija is the historical and spiritual heartland of the Serbian people. The word “metohija” means “land of monasteries”. The photo depicts the Gracanica Monastery, the endowment of the Serbian King Stefan Milutin, built in 1321. It is now on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

From the book “Endowments in Kosovo” – This map shows the more important churches and monasteries in the “land of monasteries”, built from the 13th to the 20th century. Those marked red and blue are in ruins,  destroyed mainly by the Ottomans. Many more, not shown on this map, have been destroyed  or damaged in recent history during the Kosovo war.

Onion-dyed Easter eggs – Flowers would have been more appropriate according to custom, but I couldn’t find any nice stickers. I rather like these pretty butterflies, appropriate symbols of a new and happy life.  Anyway, I’m ready for the egg-cracking contest! 🙂

Happy Orthodox Easter! ❤

Copyright© 2019 Irina Dimitric

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Dr Bogdan Stojić (1893-1995) – POW in Germany in WWII (1941- 1945) – ANZAC DAY 25 April

Cosel Doctors

Back row from left: Dr B. Smith, Scotland; Dr J. Rigal, France; Dr T. Atkins, Australia; Dr A. Bazin, Russia

Front row from left: Padre L.G. Tudor, South Africa; Dr R.K. Webster, Great Britain; Dr B. Stojic, Yugoslavia; Dr N. Rose, Australia

 

This is a short biography for Hadouch’s Lamsdorf-Lambinowice museum in Poland which I had prepared at the request of Dr Tom Atkins, who visited the place where our fathers spent some time together as POWs in Stalag VIIIB/344 at the hospital at Cosel, today known as Kozle. My deepest gratitude to Dr Atkins, whose mission was to pay tribute to his father and all the Cosel Doctors.

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My father Dr Bogdan Stojić was born to Serb parents in 1893, in Delnice, a small town in Croatia, a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He went to primary school in Ogulin, where his father was a judge, and finished high school in Novi Sad, where he was imbued with Serb patriotism, thus interrupting his medical studies at Graz University twice to volunteer in two Balkan wars (1912-13). When World War I broke out, he was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian Army and sent to the front. But unwilling to fight against his own people, he took a risk and crossed the frontline to join the Serbian Army in October 1914 during the Battle of Drina and was sent to serve with the 5th Red Cross Hospital in Niš. Although the Serbian Army pushed back the Austro-Hungarians in 3 battles in 1914, the Serbs were not able to withstand the fierce attacks by the combined Austrian and German Armies in 1915 – the Serbian Army was forced into retreat across the Albanian rugged mountains in the harsh winter of November and December, when thousands of Serbs died from exhaustion, disease and malnutrition and thousands more at Corfu. Bogdan came through safe and sound and instead of accepting the French Government’s offer of repatriation to continue his medical studies, he chose to serve in the Russian Imperial Army. For his bravery to care for the wounded under fire, in Riga in July 1916, he was awarded the St George Cross twice. He continued his medical studies at Moscow University whenever on leave. During the Bolshevik revolution he was arrested for wearing the Imperial uniform, but released on producing his Serbian passport. He left Russia in March 1918 on an epic journey via Siberia, Vladivostok, Shanghai and Port Said back to the Salonika front, after an anxious six-day crossing from Port Said across the submarine-infested Mediterranean. He worked there at the Prince Alexander Hospital until the end of the war, when the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes came into being. His medical studies were continued at the Universities of Rome, Bern and Vienna, from where he graduated on 11 May 1922. His aim was to become a surgeon and to this end he first worked as assistant for 4 years to Professor Saltykov, a Russsian, at the Institute of Pathological Anatomy in Zagreb. In 1927 he trained as a surgeon in the Zagreb State Hospital. In 1928 he met my mother, his wife Maruša, of Ljubljana, and they were married in 1932. I was born in 1935, their only child.

Eager to increase his surgical skills, Bogdan worked with surgeons in Vienna, Paris, Berlin and most notably with the world-renowned Professor René Leriche of Strassburg, who had a profound influence on his medical career, introducing him to Neural Therapy, a treatment using local anaesthetic as an alternative to surgery for many complaints.

 

Wold War II saw him in POW camps where his mates were Australian, British, New Zealand, Russian and French doctors. On 2 April 1941, Lt-Colonel Dr B. Stojić was mobilised into the Yugoslav Army and appointed commander of the 44th Division Field Hospital, captured by the Germans at Doboj in Bosnia on 15 April and sent in cattle trucks to a POW camp at Lamsdorf for 4 months, where he got his doggie tag Stalag VIIIB/19522 and lost 10 kg on a very meagre prisoners’ diet.

From September 1941 to September 1942 he was in Stalag VIIID Teschen. Here food was better and prisoners also received International Red Cross parcels. Very soon after his arrival the Germans offered him a post of chief surgeon in one of their military hospitals with a prospect to conduct private practice and a promise to get his family, my mother and me, to join him. He declined their offer telling them that the prisoners needed him and that, anyway, this war would end the same way as did the first!

In the camp hospital he did his best to sabotage the enemy by keeping healthy men in hospital under false diagnoses. This is how he describes it: “In my surgical ward 90% of patients were healthy men. The German chief surgeon, a major from Breslau, was very kind to the prisoners. He not only turned a blind eye to my machinations but told me one day that according to an agreement all French prisoners who were sick could be repatriated. He asked me to examine them and compile a list. The next few weeks I was teaching the Frenchmen the symptoms of the various diseases they were to pretend to be suffering from. Every day they came in groups of ten to jot down the symptoms and then learn them by heart. The kind Oberarzt then examined them in my presence quite superficially and recommended 250 Frenchmen for repatriation.”

While these lucky men went home to France, one of the Frenchmen from Teschen wrote to his mates in another Arbeitskommand to feign illness, to come to Teschen where a Serb doctor would help them get repatriated. The Gestapo intercepted that letter, the kind Oberartzt was immediately dismissed and Dr Stojic was put in prison on 4 July 1942, accused of trying to stage an insurrection in the camp and being an open enemy of Grossdeutschland, consequently, sentenced to death. After a month in prison he was brought before a judge of the Division Court from Katowice, by the name of Jelinek, a peace time lawyer from Vienna, who during questioning found out that he had studied in Vienna with the daughter of the accused’s father’s friend, became quite friendly and immediately ordered that the accused be released. The Gestapo was not at all pleased and requested that Stojic be punished by sending him to the Russian camp in Hammersdorf, near Sagan, where daily 50 prisoners died and 50 new patients were admitted.

After 6 months, due to his knowledge of foreign languages, he was transferred to the Abyssinian Lager, a hospital at Cosel, Stalag VIIIB/344 Lamsdorf , to take charge of 300 sick Russians, 100 Frenchmen, 100 Brittish prisoners and about 15 Serbs. The hospital was under the command of Stabsarzt Preyss and run by Captain Dr R. Kaye-Webster. Bogdan recalls: “The hospital was very well equipped so that we were able to perform stomach resection, craniotomies, and so on. When the German surgeon in their army hospital was not up to the task, he would call me to operate on seriously injured Germans. Each time I went there, I’d get from the nuns, in secrecy, all kind of medical supplies and medicines that I’d bring back for our patients. The operations I performed were very complicated aneurysms, but they were all successful.”

Dr R. Kaye-Webster writes: “His surgical skills brought him much kudos, for in 1944 even the Nazi SS sought his services… In a German officer shot in the buttocks, the German surgeon made an incision thinking it was an abscess. It was an aneurysm of the gluteal vessel…Stojic was brought in a hurry to find the source of bleeding. He plugged the wound, turned the patient on his back, opened the abdomen, tied the internal iliac artery, and gave him 700 ml blood transfusion. The patient, who was pulseless and had stopped breathing, recovered. His most poignant moment was when the patient’s German wife visited with her daughter and pointed to Stojic saying, “There is the enemy Doctor who saved your father’s life.”

And Dr Stojic says in his notes: “Lazarett-Cosel was a hospital for show to impress the International Red Cross in Geneva, whose representatives visited us every three months. A Russian prisoner who was a living skeleton put on 30 kg in two months. We were even allowed to play soccer twice a week”. Dr Kaye-Webster was very proud of the hospital gardens, which he designed, with a variety of flowers from spring to autumn.

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On the other side of the Oder River there was a paper factory where 400 British prisoners worked. They had a secret radio and every day at 9am they would come to the camp hospital bringing the 6am news from the B.B.C. The prisoners knew that the end of the war was near. With the Red Army advancing, the Germans decided to move the camp to the west in January 1945.

Lt-Colonel Dr Bogdan Stojić was in the group with Captain Dr Norman Rose (Australian), Captain Dr Roland Kaye-Webster (British), Captain Dr Tom Atkins (Australian), Lieutenant Dr Jacques Rigal (French) and Private Frank Hebbard (Australian), medical orderly. In a particularly cold winter, they followed the route through Czechoslovakia, towards Stalag XIII-D at Nuremberg.

Bogdan writes in his notes: “On 21 January 1945, about 10 am, we received this order: ‘All patients who can walk and all doctors should get ready to start marching in 2 hours.’ Our medical orderlies went to the German hospital, already abandoned, and brought back a large cart onto which we loaded all the Red Cross parcels we had in storage. On a small sledge, manufactured in a hurry, we put our personal belongings and pulled the sledge all the way. The Germans were forcing us to march 197 km through Sudetenland to Braunau. On the way, we saw bodies of Jewish prisoners and French de Gaullists executed by the Gestapo lying in the middle of the road. We stayed in Braunau two weeks, lodged in a Methodist church. Every day I visited a factory where the Russian POWs worked. They were all sick. Poor people, I saw them cooking soup in discarded tins, soup made from rabbit hide they found in rubbish bins. Dr N. Rose and I asked the German doctor to let us stay with the Russians to look after them – in fact what we counted on was that the Russian Army would liberate us in a few days – luckily, he didn’t let us stay. From Braunau the Germans sent us by train, in cattle trucks, to Nuremberg via Prague. As I spoke Russian, I was appointed chief surgeon at the Russian POW camp, where they had 14 doctors but no surgeon. I stayed at the International Hospital but went every day to the Russians to work. On 17 April, American tanks entered the camp, liberating us. Two days after liberation, an American doctor came to see me, asking me to help them eradicate the epidemic typhus that plagued the Russians; there were about 500 cases. In the American Army there were no epidemic typhus cases because all American soldiers had been vaccinated. The Germans suffered the most – they were infected by the Russians. The Americans offered me to join their army. I would get a salary and they would recognise my rank of lieutenant-colonel and would immediately promote me to colonel, and after 2 or 3 years I would become a general in the American Army. I worked with them until the day I decided to go back home to Yugoslavia; I worried about my wife and my daughter as I’d had no news from them for a long time. On 22 June 1945, I set off in the Mercedes-Benz I received as a gift from the Americans. On 4 July, I crossed the border at Jesenice and arrived in Zagreb the following day, sent the Mercedes to the Ministry of Defence as a gift, but to my great surprise was arrested by the Secret Police to be executed – the Communists didn’t trust me because of my connections with the Americans and the British – I was wearing a British uniform. My release came on Friday 13 July at the intervention of a colleague who was a Communist.”

In 1948, when Tito broke relations with Stalin, Bogdan was again harassed, this time suspected of being a Soviet spy! Yet, all he was interested in was medicine. In the Zagreb hospital he was known as the surgeon with ‘golden hands’ and soon became known as the doctor with ‘golden needles’, offering Neural Therapy injections for various complaints and sclerosant injections for varicose veins, both in the hospital and his private practice. Always very generous, his idea of a holiday was to take his instruments along and treat the locals for free.

He came to Sydney with my mother in 1965 to join my family, was naturalised in 1971 and lived to a ripe age of almost 102, still seeing patients aged 100. Unfortunately, Dr Norman Rose, Superintendent of Sydney Hospital, 20 years his junior, with whom he shared a room for 2 years at Cosel, and who helped him get medical registration in NSW, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1967. Dr Kaye-Webster, who moved to Sydney and became Superintendent of Prince of Wales Hospital, died in 1970. This was a great loss to Bogdan. He made many friends in Australia, but friendships made in the POW camp were very special. He was lucky though to have been able to continue one of these friendships, that of Frank Hebbard, a 20-year-old volunteer in 1940, who worked in the medical laboratory at Cosel and marched with him in the Long March to freedom. They were both members of the Returned Servicemen League and the Anzac Memorial Club and regularly marched in the Anzac March on 25 April, cheered on by a grateful crowd.

 

Here are four out of several extracts from Dr Kaye-Webster’s Letters to his Wife regarding my father and kindly shared with me by Marion Farmer (UK), his niece:

19.4.44 -… Old Bog is as usual in grand form. He really is a magnificent man and all love him. He has a sense of humour, just like ours, and you need it to live in our ‘mess’, I can tell you. He can pull our leg just as much as we do his, even more.

6.9.94 – I am giving old Bog a hat as you suggested, as his own was getting rather passé, so he now has a Khaki one, and looks very funny till we get used to him. He really is a very fine fellow, always in a good mood, and happy although at times he could easily have been so miserable, it has been chaps like him that have been an example to us.

17.9.44 – We are still very busy, and have little time to think of anything but work, which is a good thing and passes the time. Norman Rose is still in fine form, as well as Tommy, Bog, and Smithy. Old Bog had a rib cracked at football, but has now quite recovered and will be playing again this week….

5.11.44 -Old Bog was very pleased to receive another packet of 200 cigarettes this week; he is so pleased with Mrs Mary and says that you are very kind to him. He’s a great old lad, and is our mascot. I don’t know what we would do without him and his benevolent nature. He is the happiest man that I have met for a long time.

Anzac March – Dad always marched with Frank Hebbard under the banner of the 2/5 Australian General Hospital.

Dad  and Frank are smiling at me as I’m cheering them on (1988). Sasha, my husband, was the photographer.

To honour the heroes who fought for our freedoms Mum and I with Dad on Anzac Day, 25 April 1988, in Sydney, after Dad completed the March. He was 95 years old.

 

 

My book Full Circle about Dad’s adventures in WWI is now available on Amazon. Check out my Author Page at: https://www.amazon.com/author/irinadimitric

LEST WE FORGET

Today is my father’s birthday. I imagine him looking down from the heavens, with a smile on his benevolent face, happy that he and his mates have not been forgotten. 🙂

HAPPY ANZAC DAY!

 

©Irina Dimitric 2019

 

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