She was barely 21 years old when she left her three-year-old son in the care of others at the bomb shelter in Vukovar, took a rifle into her hands and went shoulder to shoulder to the front-line with her male veterans, the heroes of Croatia’s Homeland War, to defend the city from Serb aggression, beastly destruction of anyone non-Serb, of their homes, infrastructure, community and religious buildings…Violeta Antolic – Vicky defended Vukovar’s Sajmiste to the last minute, until ethnically cleansed and devastated Vukovar fell into Serb occupation (November 1991), only to end up in a Serb concentration camp – as a courageous defender she was the only woman in HOS (1991 Croatian Defence Forces arm of Croatian Party of Rights made up of volunteers from Croatia and abroad) fighting the enemy on equally strong and determined love for freedom as her male veterans. She endured all the imaginable and unimaginable horrors of war; she was a heroine the kind of which one rarely sees in battlefields only to die in a fatal car crash in Zagreb, in her free Croatia, on Tuesday 29 July 2014.
“The first line of defence was at Sajmiste, the place where I grew up and where I lived. When I arrived (to HOS local headquarters) I said that I did not want to be someone who is entrusted for First Aid, that I did not want to be nurse or a cook,” said Violeta in an interview two months ago for Oluja (Storm) magazine.
Here is some more of Violeta’s story of courage, suffering and determination for freedom:
“When they started shooting at our home from the barracks, we had to run into our neighbour’s cellar. The army started to come out of the barracks and we were not aware of this. They also started to shoot at my son, whom I was carrying in my arms. As we broke through to Olajnica my three-year-old son screamed and cried: mama, mama. The shelter was full of men and women.
I felt safer but everything in me burned with rage.
I thought: they shot at my son – I’ll strike back.
In a coincidence, the boys from HOS formation were passing by. I asked if they had a gun for me, because I had no money to buy one. They gave me a Kalashnikov. Street battles ensued that night. They captured one of ours. Sajmiste echoed from his screams. I froze then, but I decided to remain at Sajmiste. We found clean clothes in houses and brought water from the well. That’s how we kept ourselves clean. A sniper fatally hit our first commander Vladimir Derek-Sokol at that spot. We did not go out for water any more. Things were getting worse and worse. When Vukovar “fell” we withdrew from the front lines.
The stench of death was in the air; the city had collapsed under the final defence.
The Serb paramilitary and local Serbs took the few people that remained to Velepromet. After that I dressed in civilian clothes and went to get my son, and with my child was taken to Velepromet. They separated us into male and female columns. They pulled out my stepfather and beat him.
They separated me from my son; I thought I would go mad. I pleaded with them to return him to me.
They laughed and giggled at me saying that they would take him to Belgrade and place him in an orphanage. Luckily a friend of mine took my son. Soon after four men came and took me away and beat me with batons, rifles, sticks and feet. My first neighbour who drove his fist into my face first hit me. He was younger than me. Predrag Marusin-Pedja hit me after the main gendarme Nenad Zigic gave him approval for that. Pedja was a dear young man before the war. I think he was an artist. If the situation were reversed I would never let a hair fall from his scalp. Miki Ikac and another enemy man were there too.
The four of them took turns in beating me. They beat me with batons, rifles, sticks and feet. I collapsed, lost consciousness and then they dragged me into the ‘room of death’ in which they had murdered four people on the same evening. They weren’t sure if I was at the front line as I lived in Sajmiste. A Serb woman had previously seen me in uniform near the hospital and it was probably she who revealed my identity.
A man returned with his face slashed, another was forced to eat bullets, and the hands of many were tied with barbed wire.
I remember how they ridiculed and giggled when they took a young man. He said: let me just get my tennis shoes. They replied: you won’t need them where you’re going.
Ljubce Atanasov saved me from certain death. He said I should be as silent as possible. When they started to beat me again, he yelled at them. He set up guard and did not allow anyone near again. One day a real Chetnik arrived, as from a movie, ripped from a mountain, bearded … I stood before him with my face all beaten up and swollen. He took out a knife and said to me – oh, you’re so swollen, I bet your tooth aches. Come on, open your mouth so I can pull it out and it won’t hurt any more. I put my hand to my mouth and kept saying my tooth did not hurt.
After that they transferred us to a military base in Mitrovica (Serbia, concentration camp) where we waited for a prisoner of war exchange. Luckily I was in the first exchange group and came out at the same time as dr. Vesna Bosanac. My recovery time did not last long. In May, together with the 204th Vukovar Veterans Bridage I went to Suica in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When the air attack occurred I shot at the plane with anti-aircraft weapons, saying to myself that I could finally confront the plane that had shot at me when I was in Vukovar…”
Violeta Antolic – Vicky earned the rank of Sergeant Major during the war.
An amazing photo-video tribute: “Violeta Antolic –Vicky: goodbye my friend”
Violeta’s tragic death in a car accident barely attracted a few lines on back pages of mainstream print media in Croatia. No doubt, the culprits for such a shameful display are those who still sit in high positions of power, pining for communist Yugoslavia, making sure Croatia’s heroes and heroines are kept away from widespread national show of pride. Never mind – God is great! For Violeta’s funeral will come in the days of celebrating 19 years since Operation Storm (5 August 1995), which freed much of Croatian territory from Serb aggression and set the path to freedom and democracy.
I will end this post with the words of 1LT Anne (Sosh) Brehm, US Army Nurse Corps/WWII:
“Let the generations know that women in uniform also guaranteed their freedom. That our resolve was just as great as the brave men who stood among us. And with victory our hearts were just as full and beat just as fast – that the tears fell just as hard for those we left behind”.
Rest in God’s peace, Violeta – Vicky!
Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)