Part II in the Remarkable Life of Tomislav
Click here for part one
The ear-splitting clanging sound abruptly woke Tomislav up on a cold November morning. Curious, he ran to the window in time to see a large metal beast approaching the village. “What is that, father?” he asked his dad who joined him at the window.
His father looked deeply disturbed and even frightened, something Tomislav had not seen before. “My son, this is something very bad…it is called a tank.” That morning on November 30, 1943, Tomislav’s 9 year-old-life was about to change forever.
As the Germans began encircling the village with tanks and soldiers, the sixty families in the village seemed paralyzed with fear. After all, word had passed from village to village about massacres and burning of nearby villages—all the men from ages fourteen to 60 would be taken to one end of the village and summarily shot before the village was burned. Often, women and children would be killed as well. Since 1941, Hitler had been aggressively trying to regain control of Yugoslavia, which was fracturing into groups either resisting Hitler or supporting Hitler—but all trying maintain their own power.
“Let out the cow,” Tomislav’s father whispered harshly to his mother as the soldiers attention was momentarily diverted to collecting men in the houses around them. Quickly, she darted to the shed next to the house and released the cow. His father clung to one side of the cow, directing it to walk into the fields and towards the river—its large frame hiding his body. Eventually, the soldiers noticed something strange with the cow and started shooting. Releasing the cow, he began to crawl on his belly until he was out of range.
Meanwhile, Tomislav remained behind with his three siblings and mother. Amidst the screams from the families and the sounds of gunfire at the far end of the village, they huddled in fear, not knowing what to do. A blast of gunfire exploded from his aunt’s house, next to theirs—killing a woman and her children seeking safety there.
Suddenly, a soldier appeared at their doorstep. He motioned with his hands that he was going to burn their house, but indicated for them to run away from the village, pointing which direction to go. Tomislav and two of his siblings immediately ran out, leaving another brother in a state of shock upon the bed. The soldier motioned for another aunt to pick up the boy and run away. As the family was running through the fields, desperately trying to reach the forest, Tomislav stole a quick look back. He saw a bright orange flame against the crisp blue sky—but even as he saw his home burning, his fear drove his small legs faster to escape from an unknown terror.
That fateful day was another tragedy amidst a host of others in those dark years. Many people died and all of Ivanci burned. But God was present in the darkness. “God gave that soldier a kind heart,” Tomislav reflected, decades later. “We were saved in this miraculous way because of that soldier.”
And yet, their escape was far from over. They were now vulnerable refugees, fleeing for their lives in a place fraught with violence and bloodshed.