Sarajevo Jew survived 20th Century horrors

SARAJEVO, Jan 30, 2000 -- (Reuters) Greta Ferusic has survived two 20th century tragedies which today stand as symbols of human evil and suffering.

Ferusic, now 75, was held in the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz from 1944-45 and lived through the Serb siege of her home town, Sarajevo, throughout the Bosnian war.

"It is incredible how man can change and what people can do to each other," said Ferusic, a Jew, sitting in the apartment where she and her husband lived during the 1992-1995 siege.

"If there is such a thing as karma or fate, then I'm angry with mine, for why should it be I who have to live through these things twice over?"

Ferusic, born in the northern Serbian city of Novi Sad, said her optimistic nature helped her stay alive in both Auschwitz and Sarajevo.

Deported in May 1944, she spent almost a year as a 19-year-old in the death camp. Her father and mother and other relatives were all killed, leaving her alone.

Weighing only 33 kg (73 lb) when she was freed, all Ferusic remembers about the camp is darkness. "You couldn't imagine that there was sun. It was always night."


Still, Ferusic said she never gave up hope, believing she would live. "The most important was that we arrived in May 1944. It was not long before the end of the war. We knew already that the Allies had begun to win so we had some hope."

Six months after she was sent to Auschwitz, the crematoria were destroyed and she asked for a transfer to the camp hospital.

"There was no gas chamber so I declared that I was ill and couldn't work.

"The main thing was that we remained inside, this was possible only because there was no gas chamber."

Advancing Soviet troops liberated the camp soon afterwards, providing food and medical care for the survivors.

In May 1945, Ferusic returned to Novi Sad, alone, but with inherited money which allowed her to go to Belgrade and study.

She married a Bosnian Moslem and moved in 1952 to Sarajevo, where a successful career was crowned with a professorship and a senior government position in environmental protection.

Known for its cosmopolitan atmosphere, Sarajevo was a multi-ethnic melting pot with Moslem Slavs, Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs living side by side.

"I had friends from every nationality and nobody asked me what I was. We never thought about it," Ferusic said.


All that came to a violent end in the early 1990s when Serbs rebelling against Bosnia's independence laid siege to the town, killing more than 10,000 people, including children and the elderly.

Ferusic refused to leave, choosing to stay with her husband, a professor in civil engineering.

"I left once and I left everything that I had because I could not choose," Ferusic said, referring to her deportation to Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland.

"My husband and I said we were too old, nobody would give us work and I didn't live on anybody's charity."

Up to 300,000 people were trapped in the Bosnian capital, constantly facing the risk of death from snipers or grenades fired from Serb positions in the hills above.

Water and electricity were cut off. Food and heating were scarce. One day in January 1993, Ferusic and her husband narrowly escaped death when a grenade hit the living room where they had been sitting just seconds earlier.

Unlike World War Two, when much of Europe was in flames, people died in Sarajevo while the rest of the continent was flourishing.

"Parts of former Yugoslavia were not at war and here it was possible to leave the house and not return. You could die in the house too," Ferusic said.

"In 1944 we could see, or feel, the end of the war. Here we didn't know. We didn't see an end to it. I was in the camp for only 10 months and I was young. Here we had war for three and a half years and I was old. It is a big difference."

At least people remained human in Sarajevo. "In the camp I was not a human being, only a shadow with a number," she said.

But Sarajevo is no longer the city it was. Not long ago, she overheard children from the neighborhood talking.

"They counted how many Moslems, how many Serbs they had in class - small children, eight years old. Incredible!"