We head off today to see the view from the highest spot on Brac and it is amazing. You will see Bol about centre picture as a jutting out peninsula providing a very popular sandy beach which is mostly frequented by tourists.
But Rina has a story to tell and we gather round. It is no ‘fairy tale’. She has bought us here as this is the spot they came to during WWII as they escaped the Germans rampage. It was believed the Island may have been harbouring enemy and so a systematic attack, first by the Italians and then the Germans saw villages burned, bombed, and everyday people caught up in it dying. Their Father was taken as a prisoner of War as were many men, and as they got a warning, the villagers fled to these hills that we are standing on now. Rina was about eleven years old, her brother was a little younger and their Mother who was unwell. Another two sister who were just thirteen and a little older were working as a nurse and nurse aid for the war effort. They tried to look for the safest place and the trees gave them places to hide. They heard that a boat would come to rescue them and as they could only travel by night, each night they scrambled down to the water and would wait. Young children would have their mouth covered for fear of any noise. It was a frightening time.
They would wait til about 3am and if no boat came they would have to scramble back up the steep hillside to hide again. They did this for eight nights until finally a boat came in. A boy was sent out to try and get some fresh water for them but he was captured and the soldiers promised him they wouldn’t harm him if he told them where the group was hiding as they hadn’t been able to find them. He eventually told the soldiers but word got back and the villagers separated, hiding as best they could. The boy was found later hanged.
On the eighth night they quickly boarded the boat that came in captained by a local who knew the Islands and channels. They were told to lie down across the bottom of the boat and to keep as still as they could. Rina ended up close to the machine gun and being so young had no idea what was happening, when suddenly they were fired upon and the retaliatory gunfire had the warm shells landing on her body. She thought she must have been shot and the warmth was her blood.
They escaped thanks to the Captains skill and were taken to a neighbouring Island which was heavily fortified for a few weeks, until they were transported to Italy as refugees and this was where they were to stay until the end of the war. They were returned without their Mother, who became too ill to travel and so was left in a hospital there. She was just 35 years old and died on the day it was announced war had ended. Her body was returned to the family and Rina well remembers helping to carry her coffin down to be buried. The Father was home by then having escaped earlier and had no idea if his family was dead or alive, nor they him.
Their house was completely burnt out as was everyone’s and tho repaired and added on to, it still carries the scars. Many houses are still the burnt out ruins of this day.
Rina’s Husband had an equally harrowing and lucky escape at the same time. We were rooted to the spot as she told her story as translated by Tanja, and we are grateful that she has shared this. Unbelievable and sad as it is these stories must be told so we can remember how senseless it all was and those who lost their lives. As with most conflict each having a different side to tell but the families caught in the middle and what they must endure is sobering. Holly and Marinka walked back down with me and both were amazed at how recent this story was. It wasn’t something that happened a hundred years ago to someone they didn’t know, but a real and tangible account, by someone who lived it. I hope I got this story right and will correct if I find I haven’t. Thank you Rina. We admire your strength and resilience and are so glad that we have you here today.