It is important for the Serbs to know where and what Prebilovci is. This is a short story about a village of Serbian suffering and resurrection.
Hercegovina. Neretva Valley. Village Prebilovci, 35 km from Mostar, 20 km from the Adriatic sea and 5 km from the town of Caplina. It’s a meeting place of peoples and religions. The place of their conflict, also. If there is an earthly version of hell,War Prebilovci and environs have passed through it during the Second World War. The pogroms during the first months of the self proclaimed, Nazi Independent State of Croatia (NDH) , resulted in disappearance of the entire Serbian villages. Croats have brutally destroyed traces of any Serb presence in these areas.
Mass slaughter of the population in the lower Herzegovina began on St. Vitus Day 1941. About 170 men managed to break through and survive the massacre – those who remained, without distinction of age or gender, were thrown under the knife. After the beating, torture and rape some were killed on the doorstep, one per district of the village, some on the green Bregava rows. Most of them were thrown into the pit. Many were still alive.
For a few days, during the hot August nights, over 80 percent of the prewar population in Prebilovci has been massacred. By 1994 full names were known for the 606 victims, though the number was much higher. Survivors were marrying again. Long time after the war there has been no funerals, nor school bell sound. The Orthodox inhabitants of neighboring villages Klepac, Loznice, Tasovčići, Opličić had the same faith – majority have been brutally killed, and their villages deserted. They passed through the same hell.
An overage person with basic common sense, regardless religion or nationality would certainly fail to understand what happened in Prebilovci. The Orthodox were tortured, tied and in chains taken by foot through the debris to the cave, as lambs to the slaughter. The civilians, peasants, women and babies were executed in the cruelest manner by Roman Catholics Croats, just because they were Orthodox. The Calvary and numerous mass graves are close to Medjugorje, the Croatian Catholic religious center where crowds of tourists flocking annually. Those tourists, however, do not come running endowed to pay tribute to the victims of the religious war, but for the pilgrimage to the holly Virgin, that happen to appear to descendants of the executioners on the 40th anniversary of the massacre. Pits are numerous and deep, and they can be found throughout Adriatic coast (what’s today Croatia) and Herzegovina, where the Serbs used to live.
In the spirit of ‘brotherhood and unity’, during Croat Tito dictatorship it was strictly prohibited to even mention what happened in the area. It is scary that the Prebilovci, the place where the man today can meet almost monastic peace, shed so much blood and was boiling of such strong hatred, that there was such fear, almost like on the Judgement day.
Uninformed could say that it’s all past, that we ought to look toward a common future. However, the pogroms of the 1941. forever marked the consciousness, and the past and future of Serbs from Herzegovina. And the pits and the rivers of blood became the unreachable boundary.
Each house in Prebilovci has its own agonizing story. One terrible novel could be woven, and Serbian martyred verticals could be drawn. The most compelling story bears an uncanny resemblance to the novel “The Knife”. Village Grlic, a mile away from the center Prebilovci, on the hill is now deserted.
There are still remains of Lazar Banđur household. . Him and his wife were executed by Croats, Ustashe. Vukasin was their son who was believed to survive the first Great massacre. But nobody ever saw him alive. Some said that he had been eaten by wild bears, another that was taken somewhere and forcibly converted to Catholicism. There are still old fences standing near what once was Tripko Ciric household.
Thorns and branches bent and grown together, or force the visitor to bend down, as if some divine force says – to your knees! The meadow smells like a bouquet of wild flowers that formed a carpet path. Suddenly, as in a fairy tale, behind the thorns appeared a house of stone. No roof, doors and windows. There are the cows that are still grazing. And their bell echoes. The Ciric home is one of a hundreds that have been eliminated, extinguished in 1941.
Tripko Ciric, his wife, nine daughters and youngest son Slobodan were murdered in August 1941. Nine sisters Ciric were martyred for their Orthodox faith, the same way as nine brothers JUGOVIĆ in Kosovo myth. Is it not a historical basis for a new Serbian epic poetry cycle, myth and pledge as a part of our national identity?
The villages on the Šurlamci hill, in whose pit Golubink hundreds of Serbs were thrown is visible from Prebilovac hills. Under every living village there’s an entire underground village of the dead. So close to each other and yet so far. By the order of Croatian Mason Tito all the pits full of bones were concreted in 1961, with a desire to petrify all the ghosts of the past and erase forbidden memories. When the Golubink pit was opened 1991, one of the few Suhić family members who survived Croatian fanatic massacre half a century later, when asked whether he had some victims among his family members in the pit, replied in the present tense:
– I have a mother, a sister, daughter-in-law, sister – in – law, children, uncles …
Another inhabitant, Ekmečić, whose two daughters and four sons were slaughtered and thrown into pit, was secretly coming there. When Zdravko Sotra shoot a documentary about the suffering of Serbs in Herzegovina, he said that he heard the voice of his martyred children whispering:
Dad, get us out, we cannot stand it any longer. Get us out of the pit!
As sacks full of human bones extracted from the bottom of the pit went from hand to hand, the present through tears moaned :
Here’s our cousin… here, our children. Our poor children! Fifty years in the pit…
This sentence shaked up film director Sotra, so he the titled the film, “Here’s our children.” Trifko Ekmečić’s heart literally broke in his chest as he waited for the bones of his wife who was slaughtered when she was expecting. He passed the same road where they lived for the last time and died.
And other numerous pits in Herzegovina were opened, because descendants wanted to settle the bones of martyrs in peace. Kukausa gornja i Donja, Bivolje brdo, Hutovo pits, Vidonje, Poplat … All the bones of thousands victims that left after the Croatian Ustashas were collected for the memorial whose construction began in Prebilovci, in order to rise a mausoleum.
The Prebilovci memorial has been consecrated by the then Serbian Patriarch Pavle. The same year neo Ustasha rose in Croatia, the same symbols came to power again. Serbs were put out of the constitution, and for the second time in 20th century were outlawed. The war in Yugoslavia started.
“Lock carefully our bones in the white marble fortress, because dead Ustasha could drink from us for his health, no! don’t trust the silence that around expands.”
The verses engraved on the monument of Prince Ornjen Ždrakanović, the very first victims in Prebilovci in 1941, proved to be prophetic. Under the merciless Croatian units in massacre (‘operation’) Čagalj 1992, Serbian nation is expelled from the Neretva valley. The homes in Prebilovac were exposed to looting and arson, so the Serbs could never return. The memorial temple is blown with explosives, and the bones of the martyrs mostly destroyed. Their orgies took place in the graveyard, where Croatian soldiers fired into the monument erected to victims of the massacre. They even burnt bones in some thombs. .
There were also the descendants of the executioner in 1941. among the attackers …
Prebilovci is dead. Deserted. Smoldering ruins are overgrown with weeds, and the place of the temple is desecrated and turned into a landfill.
Seemed that the twice killed Prebilovci will remain forgotten. However, some Serbian families decided to come and organize life at the place where the remains of beloved lie. Despite all the difficulties and hostile environment continue to live on their heavily cultivated turf. Until now about 70 Orthodox Serbs have returned in Prebilovci, mostly elderly people. They came to die there. There are few Serbian homes with children. The works on restoration of the Prebilovci Memorial, with tens of thousands names of those killed by Croats in Neretva valley engraved, are slowly advancing.
Thus Prebilovci cannot fade away from the collective memory of the Serbs. Prebilovci and Neretva are becoming one of the anchor points of Serbian identity. A place where, despite all the hardships, life of Serbs stubbornly continues, where Serbian people persists. In Herzegovina, in Neretva valley, life triumphs over death and love over hatred. And that’s where Serbhood symbolically resurrects.
Author: Nemanja Devic, via mojahercegovina.com
Text published and approved by the editorial board portal SERBIAN Academic Circle,