Operation Velveta 1 — Part 14

Part 14  –  We dismantle our base in Nikic’ and move to Budva.

The month of October was over and we were still sitting idly around. It was my custom never to ask and investigate those who were my superiors as to what was going-on and since I did not hear from Geda new tidings I resumed (and so it was indeed) that so far no new solution was found for Operation “Velveta”. One morning, early in November,Geda told me that he had to go to Belgrade for several days and until he returns he wants me to replace him in Niksic’ He told the rest of the men about it and Geda who was using a British passport named after Mr Charles Fox went to the village and boarded the first train which went north on his way to Belgrade. We remained in camp in suspense and guessing: For if Geda was called to Belgrade then something must be cooking. Three days later the Yugoslav Captain entered our kitchen-tent and addressed me in cheap German as best as he could and said: “Man muss gehen nach andern platz!” (We must go to another place!) Having said it several times and added words in Serbo-Croat and gestured with his head and hands we understood that he wanted us to dismantle the entire camp and move somewhere else. But the instructions which I received from Geda were not to move from our base in Niksic’ until he returns and therefore I told the Captain that we are not going anywhere without Mister Charlie Fox (this was the name by which the Captain knew Geda). A desperate argument started between the Captain and myself with all the men gathering around me and exclaiming loudly: “Nein, nein, nisht gehen nach andern platz Mister Charlie Fox hier!” ( No, no, not to go to another place, Mister Charlie Fox here!) And in order to stress what we said we all sat down on the empty boxes of preserved food and crossed our arms. The Captain saw that it is no use and went away. Two more days passed and the Captain returned to us almost every hour and repeated his demand that we take down the tents and move and we continued to resist: We will not move without Charlie Fox. Finally after five days since he left, in the afternoon, Geda returned and informed us that we really had to move our base from Niksic’ to a small seaside town called Budva which is situated 35 kilometers north of the Albanian border and 25 kilometers from the big city Titograd (formerly Podgoritsa). Before it became dark we started dismantling and packing camp and we went on doing it early next morning. The Yugoslavs gave us a GMC truck on which we loaded most of our camp. The rest was loaded on our command-car and our personal belongings were loaded on our jeep. By mid-morning everything was loaded and the Yugoslav Captain could not be happier. We left in a convoy of three vehicles with the Captain driving the truck ahead, Geda and Shorty occupying the cabin with him. The jeep followed driven by Al with Fred near him and the command-car , driven by Cheki was last, with Ted sitting near him and Joe and I occupying the rear among the packages. The jeep and the command-car were topless and driving in them was very uncomfortable.

The road was not one of the best either. We drove south along the Zeta river reaching Danilovgrad, and from there to Titograd (Podgoritsa) and on  through Tsetinye to Budva. This last bit was not a paved road at that time. The voyage lasted all day long and it was only close to evening that we reached Budva. Budva was a small Crusaders seaport completely surrounded by Crusaders walls and its houses, which were within the walls were ancient and built of stone.Thus it remained, entirely as it was when the Crusaders founded it. The wars of the new eras did not reach it and did not harm it or destroy its beauty. There were less than ten modern buildings in it which were all in the west side of the town, along the Adriatic sea and around the ancient seaport. One of these buildings, the largest, served as barracks for the Yugoslav garrison as well as offices of the town administration. Not far from it stood another building which served as a hotel. Budva was a summer-holiday and vacation resort even before WW2. Swimming in the small and many bays along the coast was delightful. Around the town rose mountains which were not too high and fully covered with dense forests. During the summer months the hotel was full of vacationers but when we arrived it was completely vacant. It had only two levels. There was running water in the taps though only cold water and the toilets were in the corridor, apart from the rooms. There was electricity in this town. The electricity was provided by a small power-station which operated a medium-sized diesel-generator.We found out with time that the generator and all of the electrical  installation came from Germany, together with a lot of other equipment, as soon as WW2 ended as war booty and as “an advance” on the future compensation which Yugoslavia obtained from Germany. The Yugoslavs did not have, at the end of the war, the manpower and knowledge which was necessary to supply the town with electricity and operate the power-station so they used German prisoners-of-war for this purpose. When the agreement on the repatriation of the prisoners-of-war was signed those prisoners who wanted to stay in Yugoslavia were given a chance to stay and continue as hired professional workers and so some German prisoners-of-war preferred to remain at their jobs. Some of them operated the power-station at Budva and its electrical network.

We received four rooms on the second floor, each room accommodating two of us. Here we had iron beds with good mattresses, sheets, pillows and blankets and although there was no heating in the hotel it was kept very clean and orderly and the rooms were much more pleasant when the doors and windows were closed than the windy tents in Niksic’. We erected our antenna in the hotel yard as well as our generator. We could not trust the electrical power supplied by the town network in order to operate our radio station. We set up our station in a room on the first floor which had a window facing the yard. We received on this ground floor a room which served us as a store for all the equipment which we brought with us and our preserved food. Here we received three meals a day. This was hot food which was cooked from fresh food and included steaks and liver. We also had here green lettuce salads in large quantities so that we almost had no need to use our canned foods.

In Budva our activities were further reduced and actually only the Radio-Operators and the Radio-Engineer were occupied though less than previously. Geda used to go to one of the bays to swim every morning. I used to join him for the walk but did not go into the water which was very cold. The cold did not disturb Geda from swimming energetically in the bay and coming out later as if it was a summer day. Fred and Shorty made two fishing-rods with lines and hooks and went to the seaport to fish but without much success. Cheki organized walks in the forests which enveloped the town and almost all of us used to go out daily to the forest , mornings and afternoons. The forests were full of chestnut-trees and we used to return every day with a large amount of chestnuts. Shorty used to roast them on the hotel kitchen fire and so that we do not eat only roasted chestnuts he used also to boil them in water so that we had one day roasted chestnuts and the next day boiled chestnuts.

The authorities asked us not to go too far on our walks and not to contact and talk to the locals. This was a very severe request for us for we had nothing else to do except the few things which I mentioned above and you could cross the length and width of the whole town in one hour. Mornings a Battalion of soldiers used to leave the barracks on their morning-march, singing march-songs in Serbo-Croat and in Soviet style.This was a very short parade which used to end after half an hour. We were lucky to discover that there was a movie-house in town and that it performed twice a week only, evenings.The film changed every week. Geda gave us money and we went enthusiastically to the cinema which was found in one of the ancient buildings which was built in the town wall. We stood in the short line to the Balagayna (box-office) and bought tickets with our Dinars. Inside the movie-house there were lines of wooden benches. They could seat no more than one hundred people but including us there were only twenty people there. The first movie we saw there was a Soviet movie speaking Russian. The movie was three hours long (with two intermissions so as to change the film-roll) and told the story of a deep and long channel which was dug from a certain river to a distant lake. The heroes of the film were the “Pioneers”, similar to the “Scouts” or the “Laboring-Youth” of the Soviet-Union. For three hours we exerted ourselves together with the Pioneers in all their problems and troubles which came one after the other while this miserable canal was dug and when we went out of this movie-house and returned to our hotel we started appreciating our loneliness by taking a long sleep in a bed with a mattress. A week later, while walking along the streets of town I saw a drawn poster which was pasted on the wall of the movie-house and I was glad to find out that they were showing a French film called: “Les Nuits Blanches” (The White Nights). We were tempted to go and we shared again the hall with about twenty local residents who looked at us inquisitively. I do not remember who were the stars or the producer of this picture which was a sad and boring love-story. Although I understood every word which was said in this picture  I was terribly bored and was very glad to find out that this picture lasted only two hours and had only one intermission. I came out of this picture despaired of the Budva movie-house and we never returned to it again.

Towards the end of November, after several long dispatches had been received for Geda at our radio-station, Geda told us that it seems that our tribulations have come to an end. It seems that a solution and a way-out of our problems with the Yugoslavs had been found and we will be allowed to return to Israel but this time we would take with us only our personal effects and leave behind all the equipment, to the last bolt, at Budva, and it will be taken care-of when the time comes and will get to its target.


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