Doctors, nurses, the wounded, blindfolded when brought here. Our hospitals known only by code names. Someone always following to cover trails with tree stumps, branches. This we have learned. Hide everything. This hospital lies buried between rocks and snow.
We sterilize only at night to hide the smoke. Stakes are high; the fighting, vicious; our partisan rules, severe. The Ustase hunt the wounded in hospitals, butcher monks in monasteries, kill anyone anywhere. This we have learned. Hide everything.
Our peasant women, seventy years old, firing guns, crossing mountains with wheat and eggs. Captured and tortured by the Ustase, yet they escape, return to battle. This we have learned. One hundred thousand Yugoslav women partisankas— determined to fight, will not stop.
Who is worse? The Nazis or the Ustase who burn women with cigarettes, delight in torture and pain. This we have learned from partisans who escape with entire bodies blistered. Not a spot untouched. Heads forced into bags of crushed horseradish, fumes burning skin, destroying lungs. Bodies contorted until bones break. Only tragedy can be learned from this.
Typhus everywhere. We warn, 'Only snow, rain, never water from streams.' But they drink and return delirious. So sick we think they cannot live through the night. They roll in snow until the fever breaks, their blisters crust. This we have learned: there are miracles. They rise, return to their cetas.
Our soldiers must be thieves, raiding German hospitals, stealing serum, ether, chloroform. They arrive stinking, supplies buried in manure carts. We never have enough. I reset legs, remove shrapnel, cut out bullets. Sometimes a sip of rakija, mostly nothing. I have learned to do without.
No one was prepared. No soldiers had marched thirty kilometers in snow. Peasants had never heard a radio before. Or me, a doctor, what did I know, just beginning. The Ustase murdered sixty thousand. Somehow, three thousand partisans found us. We have been strong, tied up twenty German divisions. We have learned to endure. If we can just hold on, the end must come.
Davi Walders is a writer and educator whose poetry and prose have appeared in more than 150 publications including Ms, Lilith, The American Scholar, Washington Woman and such anthologies as Worlds in Their Words: Contemporary American Women Writers; Literature of Spirituality, and Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Bearing Witness to the Holocaust. She developed and directs the Vital Signs Poetry Project, which serves families and patients at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD.
Dr. Roza Papo: (b. 1913) Born in Sarajevo, she joined the Yugoslavian National Liberation Army in 1941, heading partisan hospitals under Tito. After the war, she became an infectious disease professor at University of Belgrade. The first female Yugoslavian general, she received six medals of valor.