Homage to Osnabrück
By Srdja Trifkovic
The North German Plain is not an exciting place. It lacks the charm of the Palatinate, the fairytale quality of the Middle Rhineland with its castles, or the drama of the Bavarian Alps.
It is peopled by staid burghers who are hard-working, practical, and (in contrast to the Oberpfälzers, say) rather quiet. It rains a lot in Lower Saxony, and right now – in early January – the drizzle is driven by gusts of wind that make it feel much colder than the actual 43 degrees.
In short, Lower Saxony and Westphalia are not a natural tourist destination. Having spent the New Year’s Silvesterabend with German friends in Siegburg – a pleasant town between Cologne and Bonn – I nevertheless decided to venture into these uninviting parts, for a reason which was strictly personal. It was to visit the city of Osnabrück, where my late father spent almost four years as a prisoner of war in the Oflag VI-C. As a reserve junior officer in the Royal Yugoslav Army, he was captured by the Germans in April 1941 and transported to the camp in Osnabrück. It eventually grew to accommodate over six thousand Serbs, both active and reserve officers.
The life in the camp was tedious but on the whole tolerable. The food was scarce, but it was supplemented – for some – by parcels from home. No less important were ration supplements from the Red Cross, especially towards the end of the war when the food situation in Germany as a whole was becoming critical. On the whole the Germans respected the Geneva Convention, even in relation to the Jews among the PoWs: they survived the war, unlike most of their civilian coreligionists. There was a theater company which produced plays by Branislav Nušić and Bora Stanković, among others, and several soccer teams played regularly among themselves whenever the weather allowed outdoor sports.
Unfortunately, already by the end of 1942 political divisions and animosities started emerging among the Serb PoWs, faithfully reflecting the ongoing civil war in the home country. Most active officers and a majority of reserve ones supported the Ravna Gora movement of general Mihailović, but there was a vocal pro-communist minority and a small but determined group of Dimitrije Ljotić’s supporters. By the end of the war, members of different factions were no longer on speaking terms with each other. Upon liberation, most decided to return to Yugoslavia. A substantial number, however – close to a thousand men, mostly active officers – decided not to do so. They were apprehensive, with good reason, of the treatment they may encounter upon return at the hands of the victorious communist rulers.
In the final months of the war a tragedy struck. On the night of December 6, 1944, the RAF missed the nearby train junction and hit the Yugoslav officers’ camp. As soon as the flares from the pathfinders fell inside the camp grounds, it was obvious that the bombs would soon follow. The Germans nevertheless refused to open the gates and temporarily release the prisoners, even though General Damjanović – as the Serbs’ senior officer – told the duty officer that he would vouch of his men’s return after the raid. The Germans even kept their guards on the watchtowers; when the bombers duly dropped their load, they were all killed. Two of the barracks received direct hits, and two more were badly damaged. As luck would have it, 2nd Lt. Konstantin Trifkovic survived (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading these lines), but 112 of his fellow officers were killed and over 60 badly wounded. A large cross was erected in their memory at the Serbian section of the local cemetery.
Full article in printed Liberty