Dijamanti Beraha Kovačević
September 13, 2011 Belgrade
English rendition of the interview, paraphrased and abridged:
My name is Dijamanti Beraha-Kovačević. Beraha is my maiden name. I was born in Priština. My mother's name was Sara, born Ruben; my father's name was Majir. I had two brothers and two sisters. Before the war my father had a store in Priština and my mother was a housewife.
When they started to round up Jews, when the chaos started and we needed to flee, my father, with the help of friends or money, I don't know how, managed to get us fake papers. For himself, my mother, my brother Moše, my sisters Buna and Alegra and me. The youngest brother Jakov was born after the war. Fortunately, he wasn't in logor. My father then changed his name to Avramovič... With those false papers we fled to Albania. The surname Avramović remained even after the war. When we came to Israel we changed it back to our real surname Beraha...
-Do you remember how you traveled to Albania?
We left Kosovo in horse carriages, closed carriages. My parents, myself, my two sisters and a brother, all of us dressed as Šiptars. We women were dressed in dimije, šalvare (pantaloons worn by Muslim women) and my father and brothers wore those white caps, called keče, on their heads. In those carriages we went to the border and, of course, we had to pay for it. We had little bags with gold coins. Without those you couldn't move anywhere. When we came to the border, the Albanians stopped us. They also wanted their share of money and they got it. We swapped our carriages there. We moved to some Albanian carriages and continued to Shkoder. We hid there. The Italians picked us up from Shkoder and took us to Berat.
-Where did you hide in Shkoder?
In private houses, for a short while. I don't know for how long, but it doesn't matter.There were lots of Jews in Albania. I know that in Albania remained around 311 Jews, till 1991 or 1992. when Albania opened it's borders and let them go to Israel. Among them was my cousin with her daughter, father in law and grandchild. During the war they were hiding somewhere in Albania and survived. They remained there after the war. Why after the war? Well, people started to come back after the war. Jews, Serbs... but they somehow didn't manage to cross the border. Why, what happened, they don't know, but the borders were suddenly closed and they couldn't leave. That is how 311 souls were left in Albania and later came to Israel.
-Was there a logor in Berat?
It wasn't a logor. It was like a ghetto. There were a few streets on which we were able to move.. We were also limited by curfew hours. But I heard there were even weddings there. I can't say it was a normal life, but at least no one was hurt. No one was harassed, beaten nor killed. Italians were very friendly, even Albanians were alright. I remember that someone from my family once said, I don't know if it was my mother or father :''If Albanians from Albania were in charge, no Jew would be in danger''. Jews suffered from Šiptars from Kosovo. There was one named Džafer Deva. Although I was a child I knew that name. He was like when you said Hitler, powerful and horrible. He organized robberies and denunciation - who is Jew and who isn't. He was making those lists. While we were in Albania we heard that there were raids in Kosovo and that the Jews were taken away. They took away everyone whom they found but we didn't know where.The mother and grandmother of my father were taken earlier to Bergen-Belsen and died there. I believe that they died of typhus or other contagious disease. They were stubborn, and didn't want to flee. From what I heard from my parents, great-grandmother said :'' I would rather die in my house, than to be taken somewhere. They certainly will not take us somewhere where it is good for us''.
The Italians were friendly to all of us... Some of us even had small businesses, sold little things, worked a little to support families, and the Italians pretended not to see it. They were good, I even heard that they gave food and clothing to the Jews who had no money...
We were in Albania until 1943, when Italy surrendered. Then Albania became dangerous for Jews so we returned to Kosovo. We moved to Orahovac to the house of a man known for helping everyone who needed help. He had a great property... but, you know, someone always finds out.
How was he caught? By buying lots of food...they realized that in the house must be more people...We were hiding on the attic until one day Šiptars came. I say Šiptars, but people usually use the term Albanians...that sounds strange to me, because it is the same if I'd tell I was Israeli [when I meant to say that I am a Jew]. Šiptars are those who are born in Kosovo. Albanians are people born in Albania... we, from the attic, through some cracked floorboards, watched as they beat and harassed him. He was literally half dead. My father couldn't bear to watch it anymore, so he came down and that's how we surrendered. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of that man who was hiding us. He was nicknamed Jack, because he had worked in US for some time. He earned a lot of money there and when he returned he bought vineyards, houses... And he helped many. I accidentally met his son at the Belgian embassy 35 years ago. I went there for the Israeli visa because no Israeli embassy or consulate was available here then. When he heard my last name, he was startled. He was older that me but he had good memory. We wanted to see each other again and to exchange phone numbers, but he was called to enter the office and we lost contact for which I am very sorry. But I know that my father, when we were living in Israel, was sending to Jack clothing materials.
-When were you taken to Austria?
For a short while we were in Prizren [in prison], then the Germans took us to Priština. We were for a short while in Priština prison, but they let us go due to lack of evidence that we were Jews. My father had forged documents. He spoke fluent German. A guard from the prison let us go. He was a soldier, not Gestapo. After about a week or ten days our neighbors betrayed us. I think they wanted to get our things, because, while we weren't there, they started taking them. The German soldiers came at night and took us away. One of the soldiers gave my mother two empty backpacks and told her to pack as many warm clothes for children as she can, because we were going on a long journey. She didn't understand German, so he repeated the same to my father. It probably saved us. I have to point this out because I believe that not all Germans were bad or guilty...We were taken to logor in cattle wagons. I cannot remember how long we were in prison in Prizren and Priština... there were also young people who were partisans and communists...When we arrived in Belgrade, we spent few days in Belgrade...and we were transported to Austria... We were very lucky... because it wasn't a death camp like Auschwitz or Treblinka. People were also dying there, but mostly of hunger and disease, although there were also executions.
What I remember from logor is hunger. We were always hungry. It is something I can't forget. I also remember the bombings. They were bombing all the time because nearby there was some underground factory, so the allies were trying to destroy it. Many people died because of those bombings. I remember one doctor named Gaon who was blown up by a bomb and it is the first time I had seen such horror. He was all in pieces, his gut was outside. After that I started having problems with urination and it followed me for the next few years, long after the war.
I remember one more scene. My mother and some other women found a hole in the fence where they went through at night to go to some village where they worked. They went to forced labor there. From some basements there they would steal all vegetables they could find, mostly potatoes. One time they caught them and beat them. I remember the scene when they were beating my mother. She was laying in the snow and they beat her so much that her clothes tore and her breast and ribs were shown. The blood was just flowing. My late brother Moše, who was sixteen, seventeen, ran from the barracks and threw himself of her trying to protect her. Then they beat him. She barely stayed alive from that beating. The rest of her life she suffered from those fractures. I also remember how we were running away. There were a lot of families with children. There were some young partisans with us. When the bombing starts we ran to hide. They would carry me and my sister. I was little. I was almost five years old and my sister six and a half. I was the youngest child in logor. There was also one boy (about my age). His nickname was Kokan. His mother's name was Mila. I cannot remember his father's name. They also survived.
That village was completely destroyed because of that factory, so they transferred us to Vienna in some school. From there I carry a memory of poor Silva, daughter of doctor Zaharije, who recently died. She was a little older than me... my sister found some photo of a boy. Some German kid from an album from that school. As a child, my sister played with that photo all the time and kissed it. And Silva would chase her and would say: ''Don't kiss that German boy!''. She (Silva) was there with her family. Doctor Zaharija with his wife Flora and two children David--they called him Didiko--and Silva.
The Russians liberated us. I remember how somebody lifted me up so I could watch Russians from the window. They were on horses. I think that they were the most beautiful people I had ever seen in my life. They were so handsome in those uniforms and as such they have remained in my memory...They gave us just some kind of toast, biscuits and tea, nothing else for a couple of days. We were in bad shape condition from malaria so they started treating us with quinine. After a few days, we got better and we went to Priština by train.
After about two years we left for Israel. We left by boat from Rijeka. We were allowed to go under condition that we renounce of all our assets, so we left with a few bags. We had nothing. When we came back to Priština (after the war), half of our house was turned into a pigsty and the other half into a barn. There were cows and pigs, goats and sheep. We had big house and backyard. Moving to Israel in December of 1948 really changed our outlook on life. Nobody mentioned logor, especially my father did not want to speak of it. Here and there, my oldest sister and brother would ask why that had happened to us and why there had not been any resistance. We did not know that our father was helping partisans by bringing them food in woods. He was a tradesman, he had money and he knew where he can buy flour in bags, bottles of oil, salt, sugar. This I found out in 1958, when my father was not alive anymore. He had done many things about which I learned from the late Nisin Navonovic. He was helping partisans, but did not speak of it. He did not talk to us about it in order not to endanger our lives.
In the beginning, life in Israel was very, very difficult. We were in some barracks which were because of the sun hot as hell. They were windowless, the door had to be always open. Later they moved us to tents with windows, so it was more bearable. There was no water nor bathroom inside. There were showers outside. We spent more than half a year there. We got food aid. They organized courses of Hebrew. Children learned language faster than the adults who had to work. Later they sent us to normal houses which Arabs had abandoned. Some fled, some were forced to leave. I heard that some were persuaded to return because later it would be too late. When more Jews came, there wouldn't be any room for them. Israel is small. Some didn't return. They are those who now seek to return. In the meantime, they multiplied and there is much less land for much more people. Later we lived in Jerusalem. We had a nice apartment there. Like everyone, my father did menial work. They were building roads, houses, everything that had to be made. My mother volunteered in state kitchens and hospitals like all other women. There weren't enough hospitals. Luckily, there were lots of doctors.
We lived there for two years and then we moved north because my father wanted to be closer to his sister and brother who also survived. His sister wasn't in logor, she was until the end of war in Albania with her family.
His older brother was in Bergen-Belsen and barely survived. He was there with his wife, son and daughter.
My aunt Mirjam had two sons and a daughter. One of her sons was caught on the street in Kosovska Mitrovica and was taken to Bergen-Belsen. He was beaten, but he jumped off the train; and broke his bones... and he survived. He was destined to live. His parents didn't even know he was caught in a raid.
My aunt Mirjam adopted two little boys from France who were orphans. She was rich with children, as she would always say. She lived into old age.
My uncle lived nearby in Nesciona with my aunt, his son and a daughter. His son now has around ninety years. His daughter is about my age. She worked at Weizmann Institute. They are my closest family on father's side.
From my mother's family I have only one brother by uncle who is still alive. Most of them died in logors. Two of the brothers who survived are no longer alive. Not even their children. According to the list my father made, over 78% of our family died in logors. More from my mother's than from my father's family. My mother's father was haham, something like rabbi. He wasn't a rabbi because he didn't have rabbi school, but he had shortened school and he voluntarily conducted a religious service. Because of him, my mother's side of the family was more prosecuted.
Dijamanti's Photo Album
Dijamanti's Photo Album