Operation Velveta 1 — Part 9

Part 9 – A long and hurtful ride. We are in the trustful hands of the Secret-Service.

My watch showed 2 PM when two old people came leading a couple of horses who were so thin that you could count their ribs. The old people must have been at least 80 years old and were even thinner than the horses. I understood from what our man as well as the old couple tried to explain to us that early this morning our man sent a courier to the nearby village where this old couple lived and ordered them to bring the two horses to us. I gathered from them that these were the only two horses in the whole area. Our man spoke to the old couple and sent them back home but they refused to leave the horses and go. Having no other choice our man told us to mount the horses which were without saddles and with a thick rag covering their backs. Once we mounted the horses I asked him where we were bound for. He answered: “Mostar”. When I asked how far it was he scraped with a stick into the earth the number 35.We are already familiar with this number, I thought to myself, and looked at Joe who remained indifferent all this time.Our man walked first, the old couple followed, each one of them holding the bridle of a horse on which we rode, and behind us walked the assistant to our man.

We climbed the mountain to its peak and then started going down the other side. We were walking and riding along in a very narrow pathway which was full of stones and rocks. Certain parts of this path passed next to a deep abyss. The horses hoofs slid some times on the stones and rocks which were smooth and I was scared that we might plunge with our horses down this deep abyss but the old couple held fast the horses bridles and calmed them by uttering strange calls. Once we got to the foot of the mountain on its western side we dismounted and suggested to the old couple that they ride instead but they refused bluntly to mount the horses. Our man tried to explain to us that they never ride these horses who are thin and weak and then he insisted that we mount again and added that we have to hurry because the sun will soon set. Our way continued through fields and paths which were leading west-north-west. After we have been riding along for 30 kilometers my bottom ached so much that I could not go on riding and dismounted from my horse. Joe did the same for his bottom was no better than mine. The old couple went on walking with us and leading the horses by their bridles. 5 kilometers later we reached a large village which had houses built of stone. We entered the village and went to a large single-level house. Our man took us inside leaving the old couple and his assistant outside. The place looked like a village police-station and was indeed a Militia Post. The people in the outer room asked us to enter an inner room where our man took leave from us. I went out with him so as to say to the old couple: “Hfala Leppo!” and then I returned inside. The place was lit by electricity. In the inside room I found the Militiamen sitting around a large table and having dinner. At mid-table there was a pile of large slices of black bread and next to it in a large and deep bowl there were pieces of cooked meat. The men used their hands to draw meat from the bowl and eat it with the black-bread. They asked us to sit at the table and begged us to join them and take and eat as much as we like. We were not shy and started eating using our hands the same way as our hosts. When one is hungry everything tastes good. At  the end of the meal they brought grapes. It was the end of summer and I was surprised that they still had grapes which were not very tasty.

After dinner we were asked to move to another room which was situated deeper within the building. This was a small room which had in it two beds with clean sheets and woolen blankets. We were asked to go to bed.It was a real pleasure to lie on a clean sheet although we did not take-off our clothes. We fell asleep as soon as we lay down.

I woke up when somebody shook my shoulder. It was three AM. The Chief of this Militia station was in our room and next to him stood a very tall man dressed in a military uniform: Riding breaches and rank of Major. We were asked to rise. They came to fetch us. Outside we found an Opel “Capitain” car which was the standard personal car of Nazi officers during WW2. We were asked to sit in the rear seat and the Major sat up front next to the driver. We left the village and drove about 5 kilometers before arriving to a large city. I asked the Major, in German, for the name of the city and he answered: “Mostar”. As we drove through the city we passed next to a few Mosques which reminded me that many muslims  lived in Bosnia-Herzegovina since this province was ruled by the Ottoman Empire (Turkey).

We reached a two-level house and went up to the top level. We entered a large room which was brightly lighted and had in it a large number of chairs and armchairs partly occupied by fellows who were reading newspapers and different magazines or were smoking and talking quietly with each other. The atmosphere and the way these fellows looked said clearly: This is the Utbah. We stopped for a couple of minutes while the Major entered an inner room and soon came out again and asked us to enter while he remained outside. We entered a room which was also wide and large. At the other end of the room was a large and heavy writing-desk and behind it, in a large armchair, sat a man dressed in a suit and wearing a tie. There were a telephone and other electronic instruments on the desk. On the wall behind the man’s armchair  we saw a large portrait of Tito. The floor was covered by a large carpet in good condition. Left of the door through which we entered, next to the wall opposing the writing desk stood two comfortable armchairs. The man, without saying a word, gestured that we should sit down. The distance between him and us was close to 5 meters.

We sat down. The man opened a file which he had in front of him, looked inside then put it aside and went on looking at us. About ten minutes passed since we sat down and he is still looking at us without saying a word. I started feeling uncomfortable and decided to speak and explain to him who we were and what was our business. Having no other choice I decided to speak in German. I said my first two words only when the man quickly raised his hand as if to stop me and said several words in Serbo-Croat which as far as I could understand and surmise were: No need. We know everything. I shut up. We sat like that for another four minutes when the man pressed a button on his desk, the door opened and the Major appeared and took us out of the room 15 minutes after getting us in. We went downstairs and out to the Opel car.This time I did not ask where we were going. It was no use. Better keep quiet. Not much longer we arrived at the gate of a military base. The Major showed the orderlies at the gate his credentials and they saluted and opened the gate and we entered the base and drove to one of the huts. An Officer came out of there looking like the daily Orderly-Officer. He had a wide band on his arm with something written on it. The Officer joined us and directed us through this airbase to a large two-level house. We went up to the upper level. There were rooms with open doors along a corridor.They were the soldiers’ bedrooms.The Orderly-Officer took us in quietly into a room which had 5 beds. Three of them were occupied and he invited us with a whisper to occupy the other two. We laid ourselves down on the beds. The Orderly-Officer and the Major disappeared. The time was 4:30. We fell asleep immediately.

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