EASTER DAY , BELGRADE , APRIL 1941.
My Grandparents' family home was situated almost opposite the Belgrade Cemetery necessary for an Archdeacon-like priest in the Orthodox Church.I was their first Grandchild, born to their eldest son, first of eight siblings, in that very house, my Grandfather christened me there also.
Naturally, on the most important day in an Orthodox family, Easter was to be celebrated by all the family gathering for the Blessing of the meal etc., thus the family included the two Daughters-in-Law and the Grandchildren, the under three me and my younger cousin Mika, barely two.
Belgrade and most of Yugoslavia were already occupied by the German Army, the Communist orientated public resistance often brutally repulsed by public executions. What happened in Belgrade on Easter Day 1941 was the German response to massive public demonstration against the use of Yugoslavia as a base to attack Russia and Ukraine. Instead of the 'normal' punishment executions carried out on the Terazije Square ( equivalent to Trafalgar Square), the citizens of Belgrade were terrorized by Stuka bombers raining death and destruction, on a day of rejoicing.
That Easter Sunday, Belgrade was under strict curfew, the streets patrolled by armed Germans, any movement only possible by Identity passes. As life decrees, my mother being a Professor of German and Serbo-Croat at Belgrade University, her Pass and ability to speak German, with a small child in tow, must have been enough to get us through the patrols., I assume that most of the other family members had already got home before this ,the strictest of blockades, was put in place. I remember that it was a hot and sunny April day, so once gathered together, the extra clothes etc., needed for a larger gathering in the evening put away, the family meal would be taken in the coolest place in the house, the large cellar.
I remember the white tablecloth on the large family table, everyone sitting down., I assume my Grandfather had offered the blessing and the chicken and lemon soup had been ladled to everyone, when the first wave of the Stuka bombers flew in, terrorising anyone alive with the scream of their engines in full bombing dive, on this day of Death instead of Resurrection. My Grandparents' home took a direct hit but the well built cellar walls bore the brunt of the explosion - the soup plates were covered in ceiling white wash but we were all alive, huddling together till the savage onslaught was over. Whether it was half an hour or longer, on a day like that one, time stands still, or so it seemed to a small girl, the bombing went on and on. And then there was silence.
Eventually, we all came out and discovered the ruins of the family home. The 'L-shaped ' outhouses and Grandfather's office had escaped major damage, in years to come, my mum and I and Grandma would be besieged in there while the Germans fought the Russians and the Partisans in house to house, grave to grave, fights to death. But that was in the future. Apart from our survival in the cellar, what has remained indelible in my memory is the sight of my mother's beautiful purple lace party dress, billowing on the telephone line, somehow still attached in some way to the wrecked house.