June 28, 2014

One Hundred Years Ago Today

Patrick Marren

[100 years ago today, according to a late friend of ours.]

"In 1913 [my mother Milica] was again a war nurse in the Second Balkan War between Serbia and Bulgaria over Macedonia, called 'New Serbia.' 

"At that time my father had two jobs: ...[professor] at the University of Belgrade and he was working with [Colonel] Apis Dimitrijevich in the Army Headquarters in Belgrade, recruiting young Bosnians for the "Black Hand" as terrorists.

"My mother's autobiography notes describe the following:

"'From April 1914, almost every day Colonel Apis was in our house, working on something with [her husband, Stevan's father] Jevto. I was never allowed to learn what they talked about. At the same time, my cousin Ljubica, wife of Captain Golubovich, surprised me when she told me how she learned to make shoes. Only three years later, she told me that she learned to hide in the heels of shoes secret messages for the Black Hand agents being sent to Bosnia.

"'On June 28 1914, the famous St. Vito's Day celebrating the battle of Kosovo in 1389 which the Serbs under King Lazer had lost to the Turks,' Mother writes in her autobiography, 'Colonel Apis was again working with Jevto. Around noon they decided to go to the Cafe Moskva in central Belgrade. As we walked, suddenly we saw Captain Optrkich, a friend of Jevto's, running and shouting to us: "Princip killed Ferdinand!" Gavrilo Princip was an 18 year-old student from Bosnia, a friend of Jevto who had visited us in our home. ...Hearing Optrkich, Jevto and Apis ran away leaving me all alone in the middle of the street.

"'Two weeks later,' Mother writes, 'Jevto telephoned in the morning shouting: "The Austrians are attacking us! Pack everything you need into two pillow cases and you and [her sister] Dara run to the station and take the train for Kragujevac [60 km from Belgrade]. As Dara and I, she with [Stevan's younger brother] Vlado and I with Stevan *, with pillowcases in our arms ran panic-stricken to the station, artillery shells started exploding around us. ...Vlado was screaming, but Stevo just looked silently at what was happening.'

"...Of all this happening to me and my family during my first seven years, I have no memory whatsoever.... A number of photographs and my mother's unpublished diary notes are what tells me about myself. ...My earliest memory is from April 1914, when I was taken to the cinema Coliseum, which still in 2002 lies in the center of Belgrade. I saw on the screen Serbian Army cannons firing, followed by a sudden, very loud stroke of a gun by the orchestra. This, as I watched the cannon and heard the sudden noise of the drum, frightened me so much that I peed in my pants...."

In other words, the real thing didn't faze him, but a drum did; a foreshadowing of his future, in which he came under artillery fire more than once, and, in the words of his commanding officer, Maxwell Taylor, "showed yourself to be wholly fearless."

Stevan's father Jevto Dedijer, as a wanted man implicated in the assassination, was forced to flee to France and then Switzerland. He died there of the Spanish flu in December 1918. Colonel Dragutin "Apis" Dimitrijevic had been executed 24 June 1917 by the Serbian government for his part in the assassination of the Archduke. The widowed Milica Dedijer moved her family to Dubrovnik after the war. Stevan soon went off to school in Rome; then spent a year at the Taft School in Connecticut; then went to Princeton to study physics (at a time when Einstein and Niels Bohr were at the Institute of Advanced Studies there - a fact that would help him decades later in 1961 when he needed, as a dissident, to get out of Tito's Yugoslavia as Bohr got him a position in Copenhagen). In between, he captained the Princeton soccer team; graduated in 1934; flopped on the couch of an actor on the Lower East Side and was converted by him to communism (the actor was Will Geer, who later played "Grandpa Walton"; worked for the Communist Party of the USA for a decade or so organizing Serbian coal miners and "drinking heavily"; lost touch with his mother and his brother Vlado, who was working with Tito back home against the royalist Yugoslav government; signed up for the OSS during World War II; was tossed from the OSS after breezing through the training, for being a communist; turned around and enlisted in the 101st Airborne; was made bodyguard to the commanding Maj. Gen. Maxwell Taylor; jumped behind the lines with Taylor and carried him out of an artillery barrage; endured the siege of Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge and witnessed the famous "Nuts" response to a German surrender demand scrawled by General McAuliffe; transferred to Tito's army to be reunited with his brother near the end of the war; was made a UN delegate for Yugoslavia in 1948; got to know Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Dashiell Hammet and other prominent mid-century American artists and intellectuals; went home and was made head of the ultra-secret (and futile) attempt to construct a nuclear weapon for Yugoslavia; became a dissident 1954 -1961 when he and others became disillusioned with communism and pushed for democratic reforms; ultimately got out to Denmark and then Sweden where he became a professor at Lund University; and finally headed back to Dubrovnik for what he called his "Last Bastogne," standing up publicly as an anti-Milosevic Serb during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s; half his balcony was shelled away by Serb shells in 1992. He died in Dubrovnik just before his 93rd birthday.

A ho-hum existence, in other words, the earliest memories of which were recorded during that fateful Balkan summer of a century ago.

* Note: not entirely accurate Wikipedia entry - Stevan did not jump with Taylor over Normandy, but later during Market Garden in Holland.