‘You who burned my house and killed my child, who shelters beneath a foreign wing, a traitor who accepts a salary from the enemy! Did you know that I carry a firearm now? I’ll get you!’ (1)
With the barrel of her gun up his nose, he pleads that he only did what he was ordered to do, but the feeble excuse doesn’t save him.
‘I have a gun always ready,’ she replies with the same mercy he showed her. ‘Aim that bullet into the disgusting fascist! We will obliterate the black blood of fascism forever.' (2) (3)
This female Partisan is well aware that her old mother is sitting at home worrying about her, yet the urge to fight is too strong to resist.
She writes, 'The struggle was difficult, bloody and angry. Everything is broken, falling apart, crumbling. Beside the narrow muddy path you still experience the smell of spilled blood. Yes, many young lives fell, young patriots, heroes. The struggle was an appalling Golgotha and those heroes, mother, were your children. I know that you worry, mother, but I can’t help you now. I still feel that the only place for me is in the brigade. Believe me, mother! The hour is near when I will return to your place for ever, and then surely your wounded heart will stop suffering.' (5)
Still concerned for her mother, she tries to explain how she feels, 'I am a woman fighter, a young partisan. I fight for my people as long as freedom does not prevail. I carry a rifle in my hand, I move boldly forward until the last village is free. Hurry everyone into the struggle, all those homes which are still reluctant to get involved, so that after this war you will experience no shame. When they ask you: "Where were you, comrade?" what will you say?' (6)
But here is a surprise! Her mother responds that she wishes she could be a Partisan nurse. The instant one young soldier recovers from his wound, she knows exactly what to tell him, 'And when his wound eased, I would say to him: “Go, comrade, and keep fighting! Avenge your other friends and don't let the enemy prevail. Don't complain about your young life while one of the bastards remains."' (4)
These women entered World War 2 without illusions. Their country was divided between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and their allies, the Ustasha in Croatia, and Hungary. Owing to the widespread destruction of their villages, they often had no homes to return to. At first, they supported the men as nurses and typists, and continued the same domestic tasks as they had in the villages. Then, early in 1942, at their request, Tito allowed them to bear rifles.
Many girls joined the Partisans to avenge brothers who had fallen in battle. One such was the Croatian poet Anđelka Martić who, after the war, became a well-known translator and children's author. She wrote to her brother, 'You are no more, but the place in the line of soldiers at which you waited is not empty. Your young sister gladly took your heavy rifle in her tender hands. Now I am walking where you would have been, by the mountain, stifling my pain for you in a blaze of colour. Dream quietly, brother, I know what you wanted. Until the end your faithful rifle will be heard.' (7)
This poem was written in 1943 when Anđelka was 19. Many girls were younger. The British liaison officer to the Partisans, Fitzroy Maclean records a twelve-year-old girl throwing a grenade into a bunker full of Germans, all of whom were killed. She may well have been the girl who wrote this,
'I am a little female partisan ready every hour, so that in the fight I can avenge my dead brothers. One brother still remains to me, and I would give him all of my little heart, although I fall too. I will give my life for our dear people, I am fighting for freedom against the Kraut forces. I will give my life to defend mother, and in this way I will say to my own dear Dad: "Don't, Dad, regret the lives of your darling children. We must all fight to destroy the devil.” Therefore, I go forward into the holy battle to avenge my brothers, because freedom is here, shining at the door.' (8)
Freedom is a constant theme in the women's poetry. Even when they waited by graves, they looked towards freedom, and everywhere they recorded their love of the countryside. To me this reads as if nature was in their hearts and souls, therefore it understood their struggle.
'On the graves of our comrades the cyclamens are without number. Their red is everywhere in the forests through which the fighters move. We twitch the gentle stems, we roll up the small flowerets and our thoughts lead us back into a warm childhood. Once we ran in the woods, gathering red cyclamen, our song filled the paths and tracks. But today the forests have become the graves of our fallen comrades, the sons of our land. The scent of cyclamen spreads everywhere. It announces our freedom, and these graves stand as a symbol of victory.' (9)
'A lonely grave in a pine forest. Silence everywhere, only the wind whistles, while with tearful eyes a mother weeps for her son. But the forest trembles! It is ardent, it is quiet. The branches are sobbing, too! Why does your wood disturb the silence on a peaceful day, forest? It is because the trees are telling the story of that dead partisan. The forest is whispering to his mother about our struggle, about our joy when the people win, and about how much her son’s grave is worth.' (10)
I have found no reference to communism in the women's poetry, although there is some hero worship of Tito. From the poems I learned much about the beauty of the land and the connection of its people to it. Basil Davison, another British officer who worked with the Yugoslav Partisans, wrote that they weren't interested in politics, they just wanted their land back.
'Bend your ear to the ground and listen to the murmur. That it is not the murmur of the wind. It is neither waterfalls nor mountain rapids, nor the moaning in the dense forest of firs. Because it rumbles loudly, vigorously and terribly from the strong walk of the victorious.' (12)
Meanwhile, our Partisan blows the smoke from the barrel of her gun. At her feet, the Nazi lies dead.
'Oh, my rifle, I will never part with you! You will be with me at the end of my wrist until the last day.' (1) She turns to her comrades. 'Through fire and blood, through the persecution of these violent monsters, through concentration camps, harshness and humiliation, you are welcome, women, mothers, our daughters, to your new baptism of fire. You have found yourselves alone at a terrible price, but you have created a new and combative woman.' (11)
Illustration, Zlatko Prica
Note: The poems are written almost entirely in rhythmic, rhyming stanzas. To replicate this in an English translation, I would have had to rewrite the poems, which I decided not to do.
For a complete account of these courageous women, I recommend Women and Yugoslav Partisans by Jelena Batinić, Cambridge University Press, 2015.
from PO ŠUMAMA I GORAMA (Through Forests and Mountains)
Poems of the Fighters of the National War of Liberation, Zagreb 1952
1. A Woman Under Arms by Franjo Mraz 2. Female Partisan on Guard Duty by Slavica Havelka III ćeta I bataljan II brigade 33 rd division 3.The Female Partisan by Gabro Vidović-Buco 1941 4. The Conscientious Mother by Života Čitaković borac, IV batajon “S.O” II. Prolet. brigada 5. To Mother by Verica Gabor, Hospital company, II brigade, XXXIII div. 6. Young Partisan by Ana Langeneker, delegate 1st Brigade 32nd division 7. To My Fallen Brother by Anđelka Martić 1943 8. A Female Partizan by Micika Biškup II. Brig., XXXIII, div. 9. Cyclamen by Anđelka Martić XXI. NO brigada 10. The Lonely Grave by Anđelka Martić
11. You Have Arisen by Mileva Jorgić I batajon, XVII. Ud. Brig. XXVIII, div.
12. Spring by Nada Valenčić 1944