Yugoslavian-born Owen (Art Education Emerita/Wright State Univ.) vividly recalls her youth amid post-WWII ethnic cleansing.
Yugoslavia’s ruling communists, intent on avenging the Nazi occupation, in 1945 began systematically persecuting ethnic Germans who had lived there for centuries. Owen’s family were among those victimized, yet when she returned in the 1990s to the village of Knicancin, there were no signs of the graveyard where hundreds were buried, including her grandmother, nor any markers indicating what had happened. None of the villagers wanted to talk about it either. Owens, now 66, nostalgically evokes her prewar childhood, depicting such seasonal rituals as gathering plums to make schnapps, slaughtering the pig that provided sausages and hams through the winter, celebrating Christmas, with its feast and gifts. She recalls that the Jews, Hungarians, Germans, and Serbs of her native village all comfortably coexisted until the war began. First, the Jewish families were taken away, next the men (including her father) were drafted into the German army, and finally the victorious Serbs turned on the other groups. Ethnic Germans were advised to flee, and her family began preparing to, but they left it too late. Together with her mother and other relatives, Owens was removed from her home, put on a train, and sent to a special village where she lived in rudimentary quarters, sharing a house with 40 other people. Those who could not work were put in concentration camps; the elderly and the children, many of them orphans, soon died from malnutrition and disease. The author movingly recalls the hardships they endured—little or no food, forced labor, children separated from their families—and the rare kindnesses, as when a Serbian housewife gave food to Luisa and her mother. The outside world eventually took notice, and the family was able to emigrate to the US in 1951.
An affecting and valuable addition to the literature of war and genocide.