Don't send bread today

(Kragujevac, on 20 and 21 October 1941)

Italicised lines are taken from messages scribbled by victims of the Nazi massacre, on any available scraps of paper they could find, as they awaited execution. Forty one messages were discovered. Several were written on postcards and one inside a school report book. Some messages were dated, some not. Most were written in the old artillery barracks at Stanovljansko polje ['Stanovljansko Field'], on the outskirts of Kragujevac, where prisoners were locked up before being marched off to be massacred several hundred metres away at Šumarice. Some messages were found scattered on the ground. Some were found in victims' pockets before burial.

The fragments of messages are translated as literally as possible, though the Serbian is usually more economical and therefore poignant than it is possible to render here. Nor is English as rich in intimacies as Serbian. The full message from the headmaster, Lazar Pantelic, to his wife and children, which is translated as 'My sweetheart and my darlings', actually starts with the tenderer endearments: Srca moja i duše moje, literally 'My heart and my souls'.

The victims whose words appear in the poem are: Pavle Ivanovic, aged 20, grammar school student (lines 7-10); Bogoljub Gligorijevic, aged 39, merchant, (lines 11-12); Novica Milanovic, foundry worker, aged 30 (lines 19-20); Dragoljub Vasovic, aged 42, cobbler (lines 21); Borivoje Pavlovic, aged 33, welder (lines 22-23); Stevan Vuleta, aged 45, worker (line 24); Dobrivoje Miloševic, aged 37, worker (line 31); Lazar Pantelic, aged 48, headmaster (line 32); Svetislav Miljkovic, aged 39, coffee-shop owner (lines 33-34); Sava Stefanovic, aged 44, master gunsmith; (line 35); and Jakov Medina, aged 56, bookkeeper (line 36 and the title). The message from Jakov Medina, incidentally, is addressed in the second person plural (Nemojte – 'Don't'], which indicates either formality or more than one recipient. Line 19 is attributed to Miloje Pavlovic, aged 54, college principal.

The student Pavle Ivanovic was arrested on 18 October, imprisoned in the barracks and shot in a group together with the town's Jews, on 20 October 1941. The same probably applies to Bogoljub Gligorijevic. Most of the others are thought to have been killed on 21 October 1941.

This poem is dedicated to Stanisa Brkic. Some of these messages were published in the booklet, For The Living (21st October Memorial Museum, Kragujevac, 1976) and in Brkic, Staniša & Djordjevic Nenead: Veliki zlocni Vermahta ['The Great Crimes of the Wehrmacht'], Kragujevac 1941 (21st October Memorial Museum, Kragujevac, undated).