Basil Davidson: PARTISAN PICTURE
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SREM OUR OYSTER



THE Frushka Gora now was nothing like December. Then it had been barren, wet, mud-besieged, russet with falling leaves. The burnt villages had lain open to the rain, charred timbers wet and glistening, the people gone to live with cousins in the plain. The nights had been long, intolerably long; mist would climb up from the Sava and hang low upon the ground, obscuring the moon and stars; and the days had been grey and wet with rain, or leaden heavy with falling snow. Everything had seemed lifeless and inert, and hope as far off as the distant spring.

All this was changed by April, and when we came there Frushka Gora was a floral picture. The gently sloping hillsides were a mass of sprouting blossoms, the white and pink of apple and cherry and almond; and in folds of the hills the scent of violets lay sweetly on the still air. The inch-long corn upon the hillsides was emerald now like varnish, polished emerald varnish carpeting the slopes that fell away southwards, and in the woods above them the evergreens were fresh with the touch of spring, the softwoods were in bud, and all the trees were mistily green and gently fresh with promise of the full leaf of summer. This was a fertile land, white and green and fresh with new growth; the people were at work in the fields again and every crest of the sloping hillsides showed up against the blue sky a team that ploughed and harrowed and worked the land, the horses leaning hard against their harness as they moved across the dark brown earth.

Some days after our arrival in the Frushka Gora we had the first supply drops which had ever come to that part of Srem or to anyュwhere deep into the plain, arranged through the wireless set I had lent the Odred: they wirelessed the staff on the Mayevitsa, and the rest of my mission there wirelessed to Base. The arrangement was clumsy and unsatisfactory, but should be only temporary, as I expected Ted Howe and Stanley to follow across the Sava within a few days.

The drops were a huge success. Kolya and I were having supper in Shulyam the night of the first drop; we had ordered a permanent stand-to on Glavitsa, the dropping point, because with this wireless arrangement we could not know the exact date of dropping. The aircraft came over before ten o'clock and with their high-pitched whine were unmistakably Dakotas; at once we were furiously worried that the watch on Glavitsa would have gone to sleep or simply gone away, and would not be able to light fires. Shulyam panicked; everyone thought they were going to be bombed, so we had to let the secret out and tell them what was happening. This could do no harm, of course, for the enemy was near enough himュself to see the parachutes dropping if the night were fine; but konspiratsia enjoined that you should never tell anyone anything but what he absolutely needed to know, and the habit was strong upon us. Even then they did not believe us, but simply said yes and looked away; in the end it needed the ocular evidence of hundreds of witnesses, not to speak of the new clothes and boots and weapons of the partisans they saw, to convince them that the Allies had in fact done that unthinkable thing: dropped supplies by parachute on Glavitsa. The effect was profound, especially on the old people whom generations of scepticism had inured to disbelief of what they could not prove for themselves: they began to look upon the moveュment in a new light.

This and many other hopeful signs combined to make the Frushka Gora, after the desolation of Bosnia and Bosut, almost a demi-paradise. Perhaps the difficulty we had in coming here enhanced this impression. We had left Grk, Kolya and Lala and I, with ten armed men and thirty-five invalids bound for their homes in Srem and Banat; the invalids were unarmed and unused to partisan ways. Kolya had been angry about this and swore it was the last time he would go as escort to invalids across the railway, and with only ten men to help. As they were invalids we marched along the main pathway to the line, a course we would normally not have taken; fifty yards from the line the half-dozen of us who rode horses dismounted and went forward with the desetina to make sure that the line was clear. As luck would have it the line was not clear; and the foremost couriers were within thirty yards of it when the ambush that was waiting opened up on us with a machine gun and a few Schmeisser automatics.

If they had been partisans who had known their business they might have killed us all, for there was absolutely no cover; but they may have been frightened by the noise of our invalids swishing in the grass into thinking that we were a big party擁n any case they did not press their advantage by pushing out wings to enfilade us. They simply sat in the darkness and spurted bullets in a wide arc across the ground in front of them; we held our fire and walked back out of close range. Nobody was hurt. We went back to Bosut and tried again the following night, this time without incident. Our column went over the line without even dismounting, a night so dark that I really could not see my hand in front of my face (I know this because I tried), and we kept in column by catching the man in front against the skyline; only on the railway embankment itself was there suddenly brief light as an enemy patrol half a mile downュline fired a parachute flare and lit up the rails on either side of us like quicksilver.

We had stopped that night in Lezhimir, and rested and eaten well for the first time in weeks; in the morning we made a late start and went riding over the Frushka Gora with its wealth of white and pink blossom and its budding trees, and each of us had been singing to himself, all except Lala, who had a boil on his backside and rode unhappily. But even Lala was pleased with himself and the world, and would not be teased about his boil.

"Go on, you old men," he said. "It's the youth in me coming out." Lala was forty-five, with Slobodan almost the oldest leader that they had; unlike Slobodan, he was still young in spirit. Kolya had the soundest reason to be pleased, for his presence in the Frushka Gora meant that the work could go on no matter how long the rest of the staff were marooned in the Mayevitsa. Furthermore, it was springtime; and he had saluted the coming of spring by getting the tailors of Grk to convert his winter greatcoat, taken from an Ustashe, into a short thigh-long jacket which the Serbs called dolamitsa. Also, he had a new horse, a sprightly two-year-old bay which he cursed because it had not learnt to trot. He walked it and cantered by turns, and every now and then he stopped and cursed it. He was good with horses but had little patience with fools, human or otherwise.

Yet the morning had not been one for anger. Above our heads there were small white clouds moving in a blue sky; and the Frushka Gora seemed more than ever like a ship at sea as we rode along the crest with the plains on either side of us and the Danube and the Sava silver in the distance. By a few weeks the Frushka Gora would be in leaf and the whole tactical situation changed greatly to our advantage. No longer should we have to rely on village cover but could sleep out freely in the woods.

Prvi Mai, Quartier frei, as Lala said.

In those days in Beshenovo I had plenty of visitors. Pavle turned up again, Semitic and wrathful as ever. We had not seen each other since October; now we met again in Lazar Popovitch's house and talked of what had happened in the interval.

"Heard you had trouble on the line?"

"Yes, a little."

"Hm, I know. That happens. But not as often as it used to. They say you're ill, too?"

"Well, I've got a stomach-ache."

"Then you ought to see Doda. He's somewhere about. I'll tell him if I see him." Doda was the medical chief, a swarthy cynic with few illusions, but a good doctor. He was one of the few doctors in the Voivodina who had volunteered to serve the movement as early as 1942; most of the others that we had in 1944 were captured whilst serving the enemy or else had volunteered in recent months. On the whole there tended to be a shortage of doctors.

Pavle talked about his work. It appeared that he had lately had to do with the judgment of several Ustashe taken from the garrison of nearby Mandjelos; and he was particularly disgusted with them and possibly also with himself for being mixed up with them, no matter in what relationship. We sat round a table and drank Lazar Popovitch's excellent wine, and Mihailoff came in and one or two others southbound on convoy duty to Lower Srem. Lazar Popovitch, large and embarrassed and shy of asserting himself in such warlike company, stood behind Pavle with a bottle in one hand and a glass in the other; Pavle's fellow-magistrate Vanye rolled cigarettes; Pavle held the floor.

It seemed that there had been three Ustashe, and that they had shown positively no sense of shame or guilt, but had carefully explained the details of all they had done, rather as if they were expecting commendation and not a bullet in the back of the head. "The worse they are," Pavle said, "the less they seem to feel a sense of guilt."

He got out of his satchel a report of the evidence, and read their confessions to us. Lazar Popovitch's daughters came out of the kitchen and were sent back again擁t was not only that such conュfessions were liable to be indecent: there were limits to the loosening of conspiracy.

Pavle was reading, tapping the paper contemptuously with the fingers of one hand, pausing every now and then to smile a little mockingly: "... We were about a month and a half in military training at Banya Luka before we first went by lorry to Yaytse. In Yaytse we arrested about 150 people and took them to a concentration camp. In the village of Trna we shot about 15 people, includュing three women and six children. I personally cut the throats of four youths, two women and three children. The children were four, seven and nine years old. I cut their throats while they were asleep...."

Pavle stopped for a moment and Lazar filled up our glasses. Pavle went on reading: "With the Ustasha Pera Oslovats in Banya Luka I beat up three people that the others had brought back to camp; one of these died later in hospital. During the time I was at Banya Luka I raped three girls, one of whom was sixteen years old...."

Pavle stopped again and looked at us: "You think we had to beat him to get all this? Not a bit of it. He was proud of it. He wanted to tell us. And it gets worse ..." 'Apart from that I was sleeping with seven other women from time to time, whether they liked it or not. About that time we brought away from Mrkonyitch Grad about 220 people. Some of these tried to run away and I shot three like that, and the other Ustashe shot some, too, but I don't know exactly how many. In September I went home on leave and I burnt six houses. In Bosanska Krupa I raped a woman. In Ljubija we had about twenty men and five women in prison. I beat up three or four people and in prison I raped a girl that another Ustasha had to hold down for me. Then he raped her and I held her down. From Ljubija we went over towards Prijedor in search of partisans, but we didn't find any partisans so we burnt five houses and brought away some people. In January, 1942, I went on leave to Sheed and there I arrested my brother-in-law Anton Korun by orders of my Ustashe command and I searched his house and I raped ...'"

Pavle skipped rapidly through the condemnation: "The defenュdant, Josip Ruzhitska, is found guilty of murder, rape, theft, drunkenness, and other crimes in the service of the Ustashe bandits ... and furthermore and finally he is found guilty in that he, as a faithful servant of the criminal movement of Ante Pavelitch, received from the aforesaid Pavelitch two medals in recognition of his outュstanding services (one silver and one gold) ... The avengers of the people of Srem captured him ... The people's court pronounced a brief sentence: death by shooting. The sentence was carried out forthwith by the appointed escort ..." Pavle slapped the paper on the table and sighed with disgust.

"Criminals. Maiku! Who'd have thought of such things before the war? Still, in a way they're more understandable than those blessed Domobrani覧"

"Domobrani! They're the most miserable of all. They aren't criminals, that's true. I don't have to try them. We let them go. And quite right too, I daresay."

"There you are葉hey're miserable because they've no line. No line, d'you see. They don't know what they want. All they want's to live comfortably at home with their fat wife and appalling children. Maiku!"

"Whores. Nothing better than that. How can you make a state out of people like that. They're the last remnants of bourgeois wretchedness, they're覧"

"Now then, for God's sake. The Major here's bourgeois, and he won't like it. He'll think覧"

"Maiku! No he won't覧"

"He wouldn't覧"

"Whyever should覧"

Everyone was talking at once, and laughing. "Well," said Pavle mockingly, "would you, Nikola?" Leg-pulling was one of our few amusements: it had to stand in for books and movies and theatres and coffee houses and the whole paraphernalia of peacetime life.

Later on Mihailoff began singing. This was our other form of amusement. He sang the verses with a thin self-conscious tenor and those of us who could do no more than croak came in with the refrain. First we sang Bilechanku, a melody that described a pre-war concentration camp in Hertsegovina, a place in the mountains where the dictatorship of Stoyadinovitch locked up those suspected of sympathy with communism, that is, of sympathy with anyone and anything but Stoyadinovitch and the dictatorship.

S pushkom i sa baionetom,

Strazhar oko nas:

Hrabra stupa nasha cheta,

U Biletskoy kras....

Mihailoff had been in Bileche prison and might be presumed to know what he was singing about.

After that it was natural to sing its companion dirge, Mitrovcanku, famous as the prison song of left-wing intellectuals locked up for years in the prison of Mitrovitsa, ten miles from where we were. This was where Pera Zhivkovitch had imprisoned the communist leaders he was able to catch in 1929, when King Alexander set up his "centralizing" dictatorship; and so famous had Mitrovitsa beュcome that it was known as the university of the left-wing movement. Lala, for instance, had done a ten-year stretch in Mitrovitsa for preaching communism, and during that time he had studied medicine for four years and, to some extent, practised it too. Every branch of the liberal professions had been represented in Mitrovitsa. The celebrated and almost venerable Mosha Pijade, later to be Vice-Premier in the Tito-Subasitch Government established in Belgrade at the end of 1944, had been inside for nearly twenty years, a fabulous record of moral resistance謡hen the mere signing of a confession that he no longer believed in communism would have been enough to buy his release.

Hejd' u kolo robijasi:

Igrajimo radosni

Mitrovcanku zapevajmo,

Ko da je sloboda.

Mnoge nam je od drugova

Tiran unistio Slava njima borbom cemo,

Da ih osvjetimo.

A kad dodje dan slobode

Cujite robijasi, Pevat cemo Mitrovcanku,

Bez okova nasih....

And then we sang that most famous and favourite of all, a Russian melody with words in any language that you liked:

Partizan sam tim se dicem:

To ne moze biti svak Umrijeti za slobodu,

Moze samo divjunak.

Puska mi je drugarica,

Mitraljez mi moji brat:

Svakog casa odjim na strazi,

Da tiranu skrsim vrat.

Narodu sam zavjet dao,

Ja, narodni partizan:

Da cu cuvat' stijeg slobode,

Boriti se noc i dan....

And if you had a taste for foreign melodies there was always Lili Mariene:

Na istocnom frontu

Cim je pao sneg:

Hitlerove trupe,

Dali se u beg

O padaj sneze

Proklet kle:

Nek Hitler glavom,

Plati sve

I to, sto pre, sto pre,

I to, sto pre, sto pre.

Pa i Mussolini,

Nece bolje proc'

I njegovog vojci,

Crni dan ce doc'

O padaj sneze ...

Pavelicu Ante,

Hitleru se zali

Partizani su ga

Nevina napali

O padaj sneze ...

Mihajlovic Draza

Vodi podli boj,

Da snim "oslobode"

Srpski narod svoj

O0 padaj sneze ...

Na jubnom sektorum,

Vec se topi sneg,

Tri koraka nazad

Nijedan napred.

O padaj sneze ...

After a few days I went to live with the Odred. It seemed that my stomach was incurable.

Dule had lately moved Odred headquarters from above Gregurievats to another cottage, the property of a Belgrade business man, that stood among their vineyards on the last slopes of Glavitsa. Behind the house the hill ran steeply upwards to the trees of Glavitsa, a knoll that stood out a little from the southward side of the Frushka Gora and on top of which, in a wide clearing, we had established our dropping ground. The parachutes dropped usually all over Glavitsa and down the hillside, and the Ustashe at Mandjelos, four or five miles away, could benefit by the sight of us collectュing them the following morning. For all they were concerned it might have been a hundred miles instead of four or five: they could not have reached us without a fight on our terms, and they did not want to fight on any terms except their own, and not much even then.

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