Gastarbeider in Sarajevo

Na ruim twee jaar en veel verhalen in het Bosnisch uit Nederland, zoals beloofd op mijn afscheidsborrel, ook verhalen in het Nederlands uit Bosnië. Veel plezier. S.





Silvestar, Silvo Saric, director of Prijedor post office, exhaled on a July afternoon in 1992 after several days of beating which caused his organs to fail and his skin to take on all of the rainbow colours and then the dark blue and the black, just before he let his soul go. Everything went quiet at that moment in the so-called “Maka’s room”. It seemed to me as if that afternoon, when the poor Silvo Saric finally came to a rest, I saw a human soul hovering above our heads for the first time. As if I even heard it. I’ve never said this to anyone until now. Not a soul. That I saw both the sound and the colour of human soul back then. Now I’m writing it down. I know, I remember remarkably well that, after with quiet obtuse sounds he finally exhaled, the entire room went numb. Without any agreement, the men stopped talking and everyone just knew: “another one’s gone...” Since then I know what tomb’s silence is. And all of them in the tomb alive, just one still warm, but the blood stopped running.

“That which is written with pen is made of a more lasting matter than all that is flesh in a man”, Krleza once said.

When they were carrying him out in a blanket (Mirso Softic and three more guys who, in spite of hunger, were strong enough to carry the body of a man weighing 100 kilos), I saw his hairy, manly arm hanging out of the blanket and a wristwatch on it. These four were breathing heavily, carrying between the rest of us this huge body. Now I don’t remember if anyone took off that wristwatch to give it to his sister in Zagreb or the wristwatch remained to be taken off by the petty souls of the guards and brought to Lamovita, Maricka or Radivojce before Silvo’s body gets ethnically cleansed – first carried into a truck, with the head left hanging over the side, and then into the pit (position of the head at that moment unknown). Also one Nedzad told me some things about Silvo about a year ago, as he was eating pie with lots of sour cream on the 4th floor of BBI centre in Sarajevo, and again I forgot a part of it... and Nedzad’s number got lost. (That’s why I’m writing, because everything gets forgotten...)

I remember how these four called for the ‘sergeant’ from the door to ask for permission to go out and carry the dead man outside, onto the lawn around the White House. The guards, normally, we had to call by some rank, although they had none. Sergeant seemed like the most acceptable option. There around the White House, our dead normally gathered round, either those killed outside, or these like Silvo or Teufik Denic later on, who’d gasp out their life right where they lay. So they’d come for their last meeting of the Omarska concentration camp prisoners, lie down each onto his spot one next to the other and quiet. Silvo, too, was carried out to that muster station for the dead. They were not being called for any longer, nor asked about anything, nor even beat up anymore, as it were. I can’t remember any of the guards from Omarska kicking a dead man. Needs be told.

There was, nevertheless, something humane in them as well.  

Speak no ill of the dead, as the old Latin phrase goes.

In fact, they’d sometimes call out also for the dead. Now I remember... This would happen when in one shift they’d kill a man, but wouldn’t make a good hand-over. They’d get drunk till the break of dawn listening to Ceca, tired, with bloody eyes, knives and uniforms, and they’d just wobble away home. Then those from the next shift would be looking for the very same camp prisoner who had already got beat up that morning, succumbed, laid for some time on the grass, got towed away and covered up by earth, so he could neither hear that they’re calling for him again, nor  could he holler back to them, since soft earth doesn’t conduct sound. Perhaps he’d hammer his hand onto the coffin, if he were in a coffin and if they didn’t break his clavicles, like they did to the maths professor Husein Crnkic. He used to walk around for days with his both arms hanging down his body until someone took pity on him and parked him onto the muster station. 

And in case of a bad hand-over, the guards in the next shift, angry ‘cause they can’t find their first reward for that day – the one they’re looking for, would take a few other camp prisoners out, beat them up, kill some of them, and then get drunk. And frequently, during a shift hand-over, they would again forget to tell about all those who met on the lawn around the White House.

And so the cycle of muster rolls without answer would go on for days, and all due to bad guard coordination. I read books about Auschwitz, so I claim on my own responsibility, that Germans did it a whole lot better. Germany is still Germany. I think it would be good to make an evaluation of the efficiency of concentration camps management, so that this ‘Omarska Cycle’ doesn’t happen again. Should someone opt for that, I’d be glad to share my experiences and fill out a questionnaire. 

I’ve been thinking, there’s also something perverse in all that when a man gets beat up outside for days, kicked with shoes on his body and head, with maces they took out of some hovels, like Krle the guard did (he told one female camp prisoner that the mace belonged to his grandfather and so he brought it with him as a working tool for physical education in Omarska), jumped all over while he screams, moans, sizzles, falling down losing consciousness out of pain, getting splashed with stale water to come round, and when he’s so covered in blood, blackened, broken, going back to his hangar, to the place where he laid. Returning, same as elephants commonly do (go to the place where they were born in order to die there as well), to lie down once again onto that narrow, dusty place of his on the floor of Omarska concentration camp, and only then to gasp out his last breath. Isn’t that perverse? It is to me. Like some ritual, they call for you, you go out, they keep beating you jointly for hours until they break your bones, massacre your face, rip off your organs, and you don’t fall down and don’t stay right there, although it’s easier for you to crawl to the lawn of the White House, but instead you return to ‘your spot’. And then, when you die, your brothers-in-misery carry you out like a package during the final act of the conveyor belt in some factory, factory of the dead. They deliver you, since now you can’t walk on your own. Just like when in a car factory the last worker just drives the car out on a huge parking next to the factory, leaving the keys in the car. My brother told me, he worked in a Mitsubishi factory in the Netherlands, that this is such a great feeling. And in the same way the camp prisoner, wrapped up in a blanket, goes back to those who treaded on you and beat the hell out of you, broke your bones, smashed your head, kicked you in the groin, before you wobbled away, and they stopped by the White House to knock the souls out of three more men. 

And, screw it all, there’s something truly awful in that silence of those carrying and in the obedience with which they are delivering the body to a meeting with the bodies on the lawn around the White House. And, just like with the cars and keys left in a lock, Silvo Saric also remained in a blanket. Nedzad felt sorry for the blanket, as he only lent it for Silvo to be carried out on, and they forgot to return it to him. Maybe they had too much respect for the corpse, and so instead of dumping it out of the blanket, they left it like that. And maybe they were in a hurry, so that they all don’t get crammed in the same blanket... I’ll ask Mirso Softic one day.

And there is, truth to be told, something else, very much ours, indigenous, insane, Bosnian, in that very act, when in the midst of genocide against Bosniaks in 1992, the ones – Bosnian Serbs (“Bosniaks of the eastern religion”, as Garasanin said in 1844) beat to death the other – Bosnian Croat, such as the deceased Silvo, and then the third ones, who are actually the most screwed party of all – the Bosniaks, carry him out onto the lawn, risking their own lives. Isn’t there? Now I’m interested to know, while I’m writing this, on 11,000 metres above Atlantic, with earphones on, listening to Touare from the Budha Bar compilation (same as one of the songs from the little Armin Muzaferija’s album, I listened to it days and nights in Sarajevo in 2010), what kind of a man was this Silvo Saric. I’ll ask Pavic (Mayor of Prijedor) one day, when I see him again. He must know, they were colleagues, I read somewhere.



Gastarbeider in Sarajevo
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