Ph D Momčilo Mitrović

Institute for Recent History of Serbia






          The village of Veliko Nabrdje was located on the slopes of Dilj and Krndija in Slavonija, some fifteen kilometers by air from Djakovo, at the height above see level from 165 to 202 m. We say that it was located, not accidentally, because it was moved out in 1963, and the fertile land, the forests, vineyards, pastures and fields were transformed into a military firing range. A fate similar to the other villages in Croatia whose inhabitants were Serbs.[1] The readers of the geographic maps can easily notice the position of the village (and of the other villages with the Serbian population, Borovik, Breznica, Paučje, Čenkovo, Miljinac), because today this area on the map of Croatia looks more like the silent maps than the maps with built roads, power networks and other infrastructure. Naturally, we do not think this is accidental. Something else is, however, more important. Formed as a rural area at the end of the 17th Century throughout all of its existence it cherished Serbianship and Orthodoxy. The two main characteristics of its population’s identity and also the two main fates of suffer and pain. In order to prove the above mentioned we shall state only one example. The parish church made of stone and brick in the village was built in 1776, immediately after the first Serbian church built in this area in the village of Majar in 1749.[2] The church was dedicated to the Assumption of the Holy Theotokos.

          The statistics say that the village in 193 had 193 households with 923 inhabitants, and in 1942, 219 households with 1.140 inhabitants (95.53% were Serbs). According to statistics in 1948, Veliko Nabrdje had 379, and in 1961 – 438 inhabitants.[3]

          Until World War II the village lived a classical rural life, sharing the destiny of its environment, where the majority of the villages was composed of orthodox inhabitants.

          August 11, 1942 was of crucial importance for the further destiny of the village. On that day the Ustashi authorities ordered a commandment that the residents of the village leave their homes, and take with them food for seven days, drive the cattle and animal-drawn vehicles. They were told that, after the battles finish with the partisans, they were to be returned to their homes. It turned out entirely different: four elders who did not want to leave the village were killed immediately, and the village set on fire. The others set off towards Djakovo, through the Croatian villages of Malo Nabrdje, Levanjska varoš, Majar, Kondrić, Selce. On the way to their destination the inhabitants of the other Serbian villages of Paučje, Borovik and Čenkovo joined them. The contemporaries remember that the file of 2.200 men, women and children moved at the length of four to five kilometers. It remains unexplained why the more of the village dwellers passing across the well known roads and forests protected by sparse Ustashi forces did not flee except from several of the bravest ones.

          It has been written several times, that the file stopped at the Djakovo fairground, where they were awaited by railroad cars which operated only in one direction – the direction of Jasenovac. It turned out that the ones, who fled from the file, and the children left on the way with their relatives and friends were the only lucky ones.

          Here is where the tragedy of a village started, a tragedy similar to many other Serbian villages, but in some way, however special. On Gradina, in Jasenovac, in the Camp 3C, in Nasip, in Stara Gradiška, in Working Camps of the 3rd Reich, Sisak and other places 340 people died or were killed. In addition, 26 fighters were killed in the partisans, eight partisans were executed, eight partisan collaborators were liquidated and seven were lost during the war. The total losses of the village Veliko Nabrdje during the war 1941–1945, amounted to 389 people.[4] Most of the killed were from the family Mitrović 34, from the Živković’s 20, from the Petrović’s 16, from the Stanosavljević’s 14, from the Lazić’s 13, from the Cvijanović’s, from the Gvozdenović’s, the Radonjić’s and the Sokolović’s per 12, from the Vlaisavljević’s, Perasović’s and  the Uzelac family per 11, from the Eror’s 10, etc.

          This was the first attempt to break the compactness, the uniqueness and the belonging to one identity, truly with great success but not with the final goal.

          After World War II in the village of the «worn in black» a new life began. The life of the decimated, of the impoverished. Therefrom that statistical datum we mentioned in the previous pages that in 1948 in the village barely 1/3 of the prewar population lived. As with the other Serbian circles, young men fit for police and military services leave the village. Only some of them continue their education at advanced schools and universities. The calloused hands plow the unplowed, pair the unpaired, build the burnt, help each other and receive the Certificate of service of «Victims of the Fascist occupier and their servants». Funeral services are sung to the victims far from their place of suffer. The second generation of the young dwellers of Nabrdje are given answers to thousands of questions: where is grandpa, mother, aunt, the other relatives? Why don’t I have this one or the other? The second generation consistently (and the third one) gains names from the Jasenovac victims. The author of these lines has a sister called Zora (born in 1946) wkoja ime nosi po tetki, and nephew Mita (born in 1981 – third generation) bearing the name of father’s brother killed during the last days of the Jasenovac torments… All the books about Jasenovac are being read, the characteristics of the killed are retold.

          The sociologists would say, the Jasenovac myth was being created. Jasenovac hence becomes the second life of the village, which revives the compactness, creates the feeling of common belonging, and strengthens the individuality and the identity. And as it usually happens as a rule what is deliberately put into the second plan by the official politics, covered up, strived to be forgotten, gains an adverse effect.

          How strong emotions were there during the erection of the monument to the Jasenovac victims in the place of Jasenovac in 1966. Whoever could come from the village and the other places of former Yugoslavia, and had their victims there, found themselves on that day in Jasenovac and Gradina to see the stone flower. A place to light a candle was found, the so many times cried tear wiped by the hem of the kerchief.  The survived camp inmates with a long stiff glance recognized one another. The second generation of the dwellers of Nabrdje in silent spasm, the third in someone’s arms…

          And then soon 1963. As in around Slunj, where the seperated Serbs from Kordun and Lika and in the cases of Manjač and Kalinovik in Bosnia, the political leadership of Croatia decided to buld a military firing range in Slavonija, i.e. in Nabrdje. The military analysts say without any strategic reason. At the plateau of 30 km2 without a road, with centennial woods, without heights for observing during maneuvers and shooting, with an area around the firing range unprotected from missiles of large range, without «technical water» and other, it was decided that all the inhabitants move out, the houses be destroyed, and only the church as the monument protected by the state be left. The firing range gained the name «Sutjeska».

The inhabitants of the Veliko Nabrdje leave the village on one condition only The condition which the military authorities accept: each year on August 11, all the village dwellers could visit their former property, the church and the cemetery. That is how August 11, 1942 continued to shape the consciousness of the dwellers of Nabrdje at 31 locations of former Yugoslavia. From the geographical maps the name of Veliko Nabrdje is deleted. The third generation of its inhabitants records false data in their identity cards. The computers in their programs do not recognize the place of birth Veliko Nabrdje.

          From 1963 to 1990 every August the dwellers of Nabrdje kept persistently coming to the centennial cerris in front of the church, from there dispersed to former lots, vineyards, meadows. There usually gathered in families the elders showed the younger, and these to even younger than themselves, signs they only knew, place of recognizing the personal stamp and life. In spite of all that never forgetting Jasenovac and the victims in it.

          And if all of that wasn’t enough. In the middle of 1983, mostly thanks to the contributions of the dwellers at the entrance to the area of Veliko Nabrdje, a monument was erected – a memorial building made of reinforced concrete 6 x 6 meters, and with the same height. On the commemorative plaques from marble venčačkog from Šumadija the names of 39 killed fighters and 340 «victims of the Faschist terror» were inscripted. This was the first time that the dwellers of Nabrde from the file in 1942 found themselves at the same place. One would say peace for the deceased, tradition for the remaining ones…

          Unfortunately this did not last for a long time. In the war in Croatia 1991–1992 a similar story from World War II was repeated. For the Serbian population, the former neighbors of the Nabrdje inhabitants, prosecute them again; arrest them, this time ethnic cleansing. Čenkovo, Miljinac, stay without inhabitants. Borovik was never renewed after World War II. In Djakovština a minor number of Serbian populations remained.[5] From the beginning of the war the tradition of lighting candles at the monument «Veliko Nabrdje» stopped. Neither the lots of former buildings, nor the cemetery nor the church are visited. It is said that it is stil there, devastated, desecrated, left to the ubu vremena.

          The last survived camp inmates far from their homeland are going to eternal rest. With a few grey haired head they are being attended by the third generation of the dwellers from Nabrdje. There are the Petrović’s, the Živković’s, the Mitrović’s, the Jovanović’s, the Eror’s and others. They know a lot more about the village, the ancestors that one could believe. They are recognized by the elders. They always introduce themselves by adding their mother’s and father’s name. Jasminka daughter of Pera and Danica, Petar son of Sava, Nada daughter of Boško and Lela etc. It is clearly seen, and they do not hide this, they miss August 11, they are searching for their identity.

          The prepared manuscript of the monograph about the village is bringing them together again. Although with moderate incomes they collected money easily for its printing in 2003. The book «having no price», is distributed to each Nabrdje family as a gift. The names of all the Jasenovac camp inmates are written in it. It is titled Pulled out Roots of Veliko Nabrdje. At the promotion of the book at the end of 2003, among the dwellers of Nabrdje, the oldest was 83, and the youngest four years old. They came from all of Serbia, Osjek, Vukovar, Switzerland… There are still those who survived the Jasenovac drama…

What has been talked about the most is the impossibility of going to the location of the former village. In that story the idea as well: to erect a monument to the Jasenovac victims in Serbia, to revive the tradition of gathering on August 11 at any location, where there are exiled and survived village dwellers. The Splet of the circumstances and the good will of the priest from the Indjija church and His Grade bishop of Srem Kyr Vasilije, contribute to erect the monument in the cintoru of the church. Voluntary donations were not a problem again. The following year the monument was erected at place many of the inhabitants of Veliko Nabrdje did not know it existed. The words written on it are as follows: “To the victims of the genocide. Serbs from Veliko Nabrdje, Slavonija, deported on August 11, 1942 to the Croatian camp of Jasenovac. 389 people lost their lives in brutal way. A small number of the ones who survived and their descendants were displaces in 1963 by order of the authorities of that time. Eternal pomen to the victims – inhabitants of Veliko Nabrdje”.

In its base in the marble plaque in a specially made copper box on a parchment the names of all the killed in Jasenovac are written.

It is the third year in turn, that on August 11, as it was until 1990 that the dwellers of the former village of Veliko Nabrdje, keep coming from all parts of former Yugoslavia and many countries of Europe, and gather around the monument with requiems, candles and for reasons only known to them.

[1] In the written documents it was mentioned for the first time in 1422 as NABURGIJA.

[2] The Cathedral in Belgrade was built from 1836–1840.

[3] A. Jovanović, Pulled out Roots of Veliko Nabrdje, Belgrade 2003, p. 34.

[4] All data taken from the mentioned book of Aleksandar Jovanović, Pulled out Roots of Veliko Nabrdje.

[5] Over 500 refugees were registered from Djakovština in Serbia. Those who fled into third countries are not listed and those who did not respond to the population records in 2002.

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