January 27th is celebrated throughout the world as the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Few Sarajevo Jews remember how they survived the persecution in the Second World War.
Every confession of the Jews’ persecution is touching in its own way. There are few of people in Sarajevo who can tell those stories.
N1: Mrs. Erna, good afternoon.
Debevec: Good afternoon.
N1: How are you?
Debevec: Good, good, how are you?
Erna Debevec began by remembering the first symptoms of antisemitism, in the same city where she was born and raised, and told reporters yesterday how she had survived the Holocaust.
“Before the very beginning of the war, my sister and I felt it, that we were expelled from the school because we were Jews. I was in a first grade of elementary school, and in January the decision that Jewish children could not go to school was made. Jews were already begun to mark themselves, so my dad had to wear the yellow band, “ says Debevec.
N1: Do you remember some of your parents’ stories from that period?
“ ‘Where they picked them, in which street, where they arrived?’ Then the conversations began, and my mother said: ‘I am going with the kids!’ “, this woman from Sarajevo revealed.
The comfort of urban life was soon replaced by refugee life. Mostar, Split, Croatian islands- from place to place, the family wandered with a false passport with Muslim names.
“However, there would not be Jews today if there was no Italy’s capitulation in September of ’43, because then it was found out in the offices of these Italian officers that they were preparing to hand over the whole camp to the Germans. If that had happened, we would not have been here, so I would not have anything to talk about, “ says Debevec.
N1: But you survived the last war in BiH and the Second World War?
“We have to consider one thing, and that is the fact that in the Second World War we were clay pigeons. We were not intended to survive by chance. Here we shared our destiny with our fellow citizens. We experiencd the same things as they did, “ Debevec said.
She is one of the few who remember the two wars, but also one of the few whose mouth save Ladino, the language of the Sephardic Jews, from the oblivion.
“ ‘A su hora, su angustia…’ It means ‘In their time, their sorrow’. This is what optimistic people say, and that is what it needed to say to pessimists, because they immediately worry and anticipate something bad. Why would anyone do that? When it happens, then worry, but not in advance, because it might not even happen,“ Debevec advices.
In the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jews are not in the category of constituent peoples, but are described as “others”. Erna Debevec, born Cabezon, whose ancestors came to this territory five hundred years ago, considers this word odd even today.