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TESTIMONY OF VITORKA STAROVLAH, WIFE OF FATHER JEREMIJA


Zvornik, April 6, 2004

During the night between Wednesday, March 31 and Thursday, April 1, 2004 at approximately 01,00 o'clock after midnight we were awoken by the ringing of the telephone, which frightened us, since no one calls us at that time of the night. Because our younger son was away on a trip, I immediately grew concerned that something might have happened to him and so I awoke my husband, who was sound asleep. He headed toward the telephone, which is located in the living room. I heard some kind of stirring about during those moments but I could not identify since I had just been awoken. Perhaps it was some noise from outside, perhaps the sound of helicopters or vehicles, I cannot say for sure. As Aco (Atzo, diminutive of Aleksandar) and I stood in the hallway, we heard a powerful blast and there were lights all around us and some gunshots could also be heard. I told Aleksandar to take shelter. I heard Jeremija (Jeremiah) saying to someone from the kitchen: "We will open the door for you! Why are you doing this!" When I saw a soldier crossing Aleksandar's room toward us, I momentarily ducked into the bedroom. A soldier wearing a dark green uniform forced his way in after me, slammed the door and with a gun pointed at me said: "Sit down!" (in English). Immediately afterward terrible yelling and shouting by the soldiers could be heard and at almost the same time Jeremiah's loud cries. I did not hear my son. Jeremija's cries were painful and terrible and he said: "Let me go! What are you doing to me!" But they continued shouting at him. At times Jeremija sobbed softly and then his cries and screams would grow louder. And he begged them. I could not bear to listen to Jeremija's cries, they were tearing me apart and so I turned toward the soldier who once again shouted: "Sit down!" (in English) Another soldier wearing the same uniform half-opened the bedroom door and glanced toward me. As I was kneeling in front of the soldier begging him to allow me to see my husband, when I looked I saw next to his feet the motionless head of my son on the hall floor. I then begged and entreated through tears that they let me go or kill me. During this entire time Jeremija was weeping and screaming at them to let him go. At one point the soldier, having apparently grown tired, put his boot on the bed and, keeping the gun pointed at me, stared at the ceiling, paying no attention at all to my entreaties. At one point I heard the sound of a device that reminded me of an electroshock device. First I heard a flat sound and then interrupted sounds on the basis of which I concluded that they were trying to reanimate Aco. Then I heard the sound of a helicopter and I begged God that they would transfer them to the hospital as quickly as possible. Jeremija's cries did not stop. I could still hear him when they took him out. The alarm clock in the bedroom gave the time as 2,15.

When the sound of the helicopter grew more distant, an armed soldier in a camouflage uniform stepped in. I do not remember what he said to me but I concluded that he was speaking in a language like Serbian. I begged him to tell me why they had tortured my husband and killed my son. I also asked him whether he had a mother and what did he think her reaction would be if she saw her motionless son lying on the floor while a foreign soldier refused to allow her to see him. He did not respond; he just shrugged his shoulders and said something like: "We no shoot" (in Serbian). I answered: "What did you use to kill them, then?" He then asked me who was living in my house and he told me to write down all the names and ages. Although my hands were shaking I quickly did as he asked, thinking that it was something they urgently needed to take care of them. He asked something like: "Who this to you?" (in Serbian) and, pointing to the names, "Who this, and who this?" I answered that these were my husband and son and I pointed to my name, too. I asked him where they had taken them and if they were alive. He answered that they had been taken to Sarajevo Hospital and that they were alive, and that in two hours he would come to get me so I could go and see them for myself. Then the soldier left with the others and a woman came in in a camouflage uniform with a man who introduced himself as the translator. I was still kneeling in the bedroom at the foot of the bed and, clutching a cross and a prayer book, I was praying to God. The translator asked me how I was. I cried and said: "My son is dead! Why did they kill him when he wouldn't hurt a fly!" I don't know why but I did not ask about my husband at that point. Probably because I had heard his cries and thus I hoped that he would still be alive. This girl kept repeating: "I'm sorry, I'm sorry" (in English) and it seemed to me that she really was sorry. Kneeling beside me, she took her own prayer book from her back pack and some sort of talisman, a small icon or a cross - I'm not sure what it was - and she prayed with me. Shortly afterward I hurried to the iconostasis in the living room. She followed me. I tried to light the icon lamp but my hands were shaking so much it was impossible to do so. Then she took a match and lit the icon lamp. Then I censed the icons in the house and prayed in front of the icon of Our Lord, the icon of the Most Holy Mother of God, in front of the icon of St. Nicholas, our patron saint and in front of St. Sava. The girl stood in front of the icons with me for a time, then she asked if she should stay with me some more or if I wished to call any friends. I answered that I did not need anyone right now and that I wanted to be alone with God in prayer for my son and husband. She left but first the translator told me that "my" police would be coming soon to prepare a report. After that I was alone and, with a cross in my hand, I headed down the hall. In the corner on the left side between a small lavatory and the kitchen, I found a pool of blood. I bent over and saw there were also tufts of hair. I knew that Jeremija had been slammed into that corner. The walls were splattered with blood all around. Between the wall and the wardrobe in the hall next to Aco's room one could see he had been crushed there. I also saw some sort of masks and some tubes. All covered in blood. The surrounding walls were the same. The house was destroyed. With a feeling of despair and helplessness I heard the hysterical laughter of some soldiers who were still standing in the hallway of the building. When I heard them I began to despise them. But I quickly recovered and begged God to expel all the hate from my heart lest He withhold His mercy toward Jeremija and Aco. I said, may God forgive them for they know not what they are doing. Then I telephoned my younger son who was abroad on a business trip. I told him that something terrible had happened and that he had to return right away. I explained what had happened and he asked several times: "But why, mother?" I answered that I did not know. Shortly afterwards I no longer could hear the soldiers but two men entered the house, that is, the bedroom, one of them in a police uniform and the other in plain clothes. It was between 4,30 and 5,00. The one in plain clothes introduced himself but I cannot remember how. He asked me if we had offered any resistance. Shocked by his question, I replied: "What resistance? We were awoken from our sleep, in our pajamas." They told me the police would now come to secure the location and prepare a report. At about 5,00 o'clock I called the monastery of Dobrun. Father Mihajlo answered the phone; I explained what had happened to him and I asked the brotherhood to pray. I was looking at the clock and waiting for the soldier to come back and take me to see Jeremija and Aleksandar. He did not appear; at about 6,30 the telephone rang. It was a man by the name of Mithat or something like that - I am not sure - who also told me the name of the news agency he worked for. The call was from Sarajevo. I concluded that from the fact that even on the fixed phone the caller's number was displayed. He asked me if I had been contacted by SFOR and whether I knew where my son and husband were. I answered that I did not know but that a soldier had told me that they had been transferred to Sarajevo and that I was waiting for him to take me there. Then the man told me that he had called SFOR and that he had asked them whether they had informed the family; the response that he got from the other side was: "Sure, sure, we'll inform them." And he also told me that he had found out that they were in Tuzla Hospital, that they were alive and he gave me the telephone number of the hospital. I was grateful to him for that. He asked me whether I also had a daughter. I answered: "No, I have another son." "It's good that he wasn't there," the man said. "He could have gone through the same thing." I called the hospital and introduced myself. Then one of the physicians told me they had received some seriously injured persons in critical condition but that they had no idea who they were. He told me that SFOR forces had brought them at about 3,00 o'clock and dumped them in the hospital like sacks. When asked by the physician who the two men were, the soldiers replied: "John Doe 1" and "John Doe 2". He also told me that they had thought that there had been a serious traffic accident and that the information I gave them was the first they had heard about them. I was informed that their admission had been video taped and that the tapes are stored in the office for public relations of the University Clinical Center in Tuzla.

Our Metropolitan Nikolai had arrived in the courtyard of our church by about 5,00 but he was not allowed to enter our home because of the police investigation.

Vitorka Starovlah




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