Bosnia on my mind
. . . it never could be the same again, this shattered marble mosaic, now missing so many of its colorful Jewish chips. Out of 75,000 Yugoslav Jews, fewer than 5,000 found their way home, less than 1,000 to Sarajevo—a skeletal remnant of a once whole native people. I realize now, fifty years later, it was too late to return to the old coexistence, to dream of brotherhood, with an integral part of the community already wiped out. But for a time we continued to dream of co-existence, purposefully oblivious to the face of reality.
The gruesome slaughter of Sarajevo Jews had mostly been carried out by locals. In concentration camps in Croatia, for example in Jasenovac, the native koljači (throat-cutters) went about the killing in such a barbaric way that it shocked even the Germans. So many bodies were thrown into the Sava river that the downstream current ran red with blood all the way to Belgrade.
Also there in search of the old hometown was my cousin Izzi, the nemesis of my youth, whom I’d last seen at the liberation of Rome on June 14th, 1944, as we welcomed the triumphant army of General Mark Clark. He was now a man of responsibility, father to Daniela, whom Flora had delivered just days before a most difficult exodus from Asolo to Rome. Our world was now at peace as Izzi and I walked these streets again, slowly taking in the familiar sights.
I noticed a couple of field wagons, each pulled by two big Bavarian draft horses, the kind used to transport heavy loads of beer barrels. But they weren’t loaded with beer barrels. They were piled high with some very familiar furniture.
“Hey,” I told Izzi, “that’s our stuff there!”
Our family’s furniture was easy to recognize, as it was all hand made to order. The kilim-covered divans from our Turkish Room; my parents’ pale beige-green bird’s-eye maple bedroom furniture; Art Nouveau, matte finish, black wood upholstered round armchairs. The shining grand piano had to be ours as well. I stopped the caravan, left Izzi to stand guard, and headed for the nearby police station. We confiscated the contraband, but I refused to press charges. I didn’t know these people, and I didn’t want to know who was behind all this wartime robbery. I set it aside, blocked it out, did my best to forget about it.
I was twenty-four, ready to start life in the society of my dreams.
(From The Last Exile)