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.
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.
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