Milica Knežević was two and half years old on August 11, 1941, when all the residents of her village of Veliko Nabrdje were taken to Jasenovac concentration camp. Her grandfather was killed as soon as he stepped out of a railroad car which brought him to the camp. Milica’s father was working at the camp workshops until he was killed along with many participants of famous inmates’ breakthrough from the camp on April 22, 1945. Her mother was taken to Germany for slave labor. Milica’s sister was abducted and likely adopted by a politically fit family. Separated from everyone, Milica was a child prisoner in several camps including Jasenovac, Stara Gradiška, Jastrebarsko, and Zagreb. There was a man whose name Milica doesn’t remember anymore, but who rescued her and 240 other children. They were taken to the nearby villages and given to the families willing to accept them. She survived the war thanks to the care of a Volksdeutscher family that lived in the Croatian village of Malo Nabrdje. After the war, Milica’s mother and aunt had returned from Germany and the surviving members of the family were reunited.
Milica Knezevic… Where were you born?
I am from Veliko Nabrdje.
– And in what logor (concentration camp) were you?
Right here. By this railroad car, by one looking just like this one, [she points at exposition area] we were taken here from the village of Veliko Nabrdje. It was on August 11, at seven o clock in the morning, when the whole village was taken.
– The whole village?
The whole village. And my baby sister, 18 months old was stolen here.
Another woman voice: „It is all destroyed here“
And then, when we came here, Grandpa, husband of my grandmother, was killed as he stepped out of the railroad car. The rest of us were escorted to Jasenovac camp. My father was immediately taken away. He was a blacksmith by trade and he worked here up until the prisoners’ breakthrough from the camp. They separated me from my mother, too. My mother went to Germany, and we [children] were sent to Stara Gradiska camp. I was with my 18 months old sister, and with my 12 years old aunt. Then they took my aunt to be a maid somewhere, to work for some peasants. They transferred me to Gradiska, then to Jastrebarsko and finally to Zagreb… Then one man, in fact the Red Cross, saved us children from Jasenovac.
Was it connected to Diana Budisavljevic action ?
I don’t know. But this man saved 240 children originating from Djakovo area. He pulled us out from the camps and settled us in nearby villages, until my mother returned from Germany. But in that time, I did not know where was my mother, where was my aunt, where was my baby-sister. I did not know where was my father. I did not know any relative. I was completely separate. In the end, my mother, my aunt and me come together again, but not the rest of my family -nobody else survived.
– And your village, did it survive?
Yes. And it was inhabited with new settlers.
– But the village…
It was burned.
– Do you know if someone survived from the people taken out of village in August 1941?
The men, and the boys, older then 15 years did not survive. Perhaps, someone did, but it was very rare case.
– The males?
Yes, the males. The women were sent to Germany, to work. But we, children, we were dispersed. I was 2 year and 5 months old when I came in Jasenovac. So, I cannot tell you much about it. I heard more from older ones. I only knew that I ended up in a village Malo Nabrdje, in one Swabian (Volksdeutscher) family.