Barbara Turza – Life without Herta, Death without a Grave

Piše: Marin Bakić

Due to the nonpayment of the annual grave lease, the burial plot of the mother of partisan fighter Herta Turza – who, at the age of 22, was the first communist to be executed in Croatia – is on offer at the Jewish Cemetery in Karlovac

This post is also available in: Hrvatski (Croatian)

“Notice! In accordance with Article 14 of the Cemeteries Act, Zelenilo d.o.o. Karlovac intends to give to third persons the use of a burial plot which is considered abandoned due to the nonpayment of the annual grave lease and the fulfilment of other legal requirements,” the city company in charge of the city’s green areas and cemeteries announced in an ad Karlovački tjednik on February 18th.

Zelenilo then specifies which burial plots are in question. Alongside with plots at other Karlovac cemeteries, three plots at the Jewish Cemetery are offered – the burial plots of Milan Mišljenović, Petar Tomašković and Barbara Turza, the mother of people’s hero Herta Turza. It is another example of the disappearance of Serbian, Jewish and antifascist marks in Croatia.

Photo: Jovica Drobnjak

“All persons claiming the right to the use of the aforementioned burial plots are invited to contact Zelenilo within ten days from the date of the publishing of this notice so that their right to the use of the burial plot can be ascertained, otherwise the graves will be assigned to third persons. Claimants must bring all available documents relating to the right in question,” the ad ends.

We asked Zelenilo why they published such an ad for the Jewish Cemetery since the Jewish community was destroyed in the Second World War. Ten years ago, a similar notice by the company received much attention from the Croatian public.

“These are not graves of Jewish persons but abandoned graves used for burial after 1980, located at the southern end of the Jewish Cemetery,” Zelenilo says, clarifying that, just as at other cemeteries, members of different religions are buried at the Jewish Cemetery.


We tried to find the grave of Barbara Turza accompanied by Tena Bunčić, the president of the organization Jews in Karlovac, but without success. She consulted with Zelenilo the next day and found the plot – a lawn without any marks or indication that it is somebody’s grave.

Zelenilo reveals that no one has showed interest in these graves and they are still considered abandoned. The fee for Barbara Turza’s grave has not been paid since 2003. Before that, the fee was paid once, in 1988, in advance for the next 15 years, by the District Committee for Social Affairs.

Alley of the Greats in miniature

While at the cemetery, Tena Bunčić showed us the grave of Alois Löwy, a cousin of the famous Franz Kafka. Löwy and the Czech writer are related to the Reiner family from Karlovac, she explained.

One of the notable graves at this last resting place is the grave of the wholesaler and public servant Filip Reiner, who lived from 1826 to 1898. He was a city councilor and the founder of the firefighting and shooting societies, and he headed the Jewish Municipality of Karlovac from 1863 to his death. As a city councilor, he was the commissioner for the poor, as stated in the Karlovac Lexicon, and he played an important role in the construction of the Karlovac synagogue. He is remembered for his reformist and assimilative politics leading the Jewish community in Karlovac. His wife, Tereza, was a notable benefactor who financially supported the poorhouse and blind children and founded the Society for the Beautification of the City in 1866. The society maintained public surfaces, parks and promenades and was the first of its kind in Croatia.

Their son, Vilim Reiner, a merchant and public servant like his father, also rests at this cemetery. He founded and managed a yarn and thread factory in Zagreb and was the president of the First Croatian Singing Society “Zora” for more than twenty years. This is the same society after which the City Theatre “Zorin dom” is named. It was Vilim who gave the idea for and organized the construction of “Zorin dom”, which was built in 1892.

Vilim’s brother, Vatroslav Reiner, was a lawyer and politician. From 1908 to his death, he led the Jewish Municipality of Karlovac according to his father’s principle that “Jews in Croatia have to be Croats of Moses’s religion.” He was a city councilor and member of the Electrification Committee, and in 1912 he became deputy mayor.

Židovi u Karlovcu
Jewish Cemetery in Karlovac, photo: Marin Bakić

The Jewish Cemetery in Karlovac is also the resting place of Lisander Reich (1859-1931), a bookseller and son of rabbi Aron Reich, who greeted the opening of the University of Zagreb on behalf of all Croatian Jews in 1874. When Lisander retired, the bookstore was managed by his nephew Ivo Goldstein, killed by the Ustasha in 1941. Ivo is the father of intellectuals Slavko Goldstein and Daniel Ivin and grandfather of historian Ivo Goldstein. Many leftist intellectuals from Karlovac frequented the bookstore “Reich”, among them Većeslav Holjevac, future mayor of Zagreb, and Ivo Vejvoda, future diplomat and politician.

David Meisel, Tena’s great-grandfather, a cantor and choir leader, also a victim of the Ustasha, was killed with his son Zlatko. He was born in 1885 in Moravia and arrived in Karlovac in 1906 as the cantor and secretary of the Jewish Municipality. He became a renowned conductor of “Zora”.

Recycling more merciless than devastation

The Jewish Cemetery in Karlovac, covering 2800 square meters and encompassing 150 old graves, was opened in 1816 but neglected after the Second World War. “Since after 1980 both the Catholic and the Orthodox Cemeteries were full, the city authorities allowed the problem of the lack of cemetery space to be solved as needed, by usurping the Jewish and Military Cemeteries. This caused irreparable damage. Some twenty old graves were dug up and new graves were placed there. It was only in 1985 that the issue of preserving the cemetery became important in the public. Three years later, on December 9, 1988, the Jewish Cemetery became protected. This stopped any further damage,” Radovan Radovinović records in his book Cemeteries of Karlovac.

Bizarrely, communists recycled broken tombstones from the Jewish Cemetery and used them to make pedestals for busts of people’s heroes. This was found out in the 1990s, after the pedestals and busts in the park by the Cinema “Edison” were destroyed – Jewish names were carved on the backs of broken slabs.

The forgotten mother of the heroine Herta

Older Karlovac citizens – especially those who went to the Elementary School “Banija”, as one neighborhood is called – remember Barbara Turza. That school was named after Herta until the Homeland War. Barbara Turza, who died in 1980, would visit school celebrations, and children would help her, for example by stacking firewood. “Barbara had only Herta. After her death, the City and the school took care of her, and they took care of her funeral,” Andrija Borovček, a longtime employee and then principal of the elementary school in Banija testifies.

Today, one of the streets in the Dubovac neighborhood – the one starting at the mortuary of the Jewish Cemetery – is named after Herta. The outer layer of the mortuary was reconstructed and protected against moisture in January, which was an investment by the City of Karlovac and the Ministry of Culture and Media.

For a time, it seemed that a landslide might bring down an entire neighborhood on the cemetery, but this was prevented with the construction of a retaining wall. During the works, a part of the public objected to the damage done to the ossuary housing the remains of victims of fascism, among them Herta Turza. However, the ossuary was later reconstructed, and the inscription still reads: “In this tomb lie the bones of known and unknown illegal revolutionaries, victims of fascism and fallen fighters for the liberation of our country who laid their lives for the ideals of freedom, brotherhood and unity and a happier future for our peoples.”

The first communist executed in Croatia

Twenty-two-year-old Herta Turza was sentenced to death and executed along with a group of partisan illegals in August 1941, after guerrilla attacks by the partisans in July. She was born in Ruma and learned tailoring in Ruma and Belgrade. She came to Karlovac in 1934, found work as a seamstress and organized strikes. As a member of the society “Napredna žena” (“Progressive Woman”), she organized aid collection for international brigades in the Spanish Civil War. She was a member of the District Committee of the Communist Party of Croatia and a guerrilla fighter after the outbreak of the war, and the first communist to be executed in Croatia. The Ustasha’s notice about her execution states that she was a Protestant.

Židovi u Karlovcu
Herta Turza

“Barbara Turza used to say that she and her daughter were Jewish, as we know from a citizen who knew her. It is possible to be of different religion and nation. I myself am a Protestant and Jewish,” Tena Bunčić says.

In his book 1941 – The Year That Keeps Returning, in which he described the fate of his family, Slavko Goldstein writes that Herta was arrested on July 21 with around twenty other communists and members of the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia, that a court-martial arrived from Zagreb the next day and that the first trial was held on July 23. “At the eight sessions this court held

in 1941 in Karlovac, 45 summary death sentences and one sentence to time in prison were pronounced,” Goldstein writes. “In the jail of the City Police, in a cell with my mom and some ten other Karlovac women, Herta waited her turn to stand before the summary court. (…) Herta did not cry or complain. She accepted her fate as a hard and inexorable fact, like a natural disaster one sees coming and cannot escape from,” Goldstein records.

When on July 3 Karlovac suffered a blackout and was plunged into darkness as a result of attacks on the power grid, Herta was writing slogans on Karlovac walls: “Long live the Soviet Union!” and “Long live the Communist Party!” She was sentenced on August 8. “The court proceedings were summary; three afternoon hours for all seven accused. (…) Exactly at 1 p.m. the president of the court, Dr. Vidnjević, read out the seven death sentences and probably went right away to lunch at the nearby Central Hotel. Meanwhile, Mirko Gantar, the stenographer of the Karlovac County Court who had to keep the record of the summary trial, was seen wiping his glasses and hiding tears when he exited the trial. A close acquaintance of our family, he told us after the war that writing that record was the hardest day of his 45-year-long service,” Goldstein says and adds that the sentence was executed within three hours. When the convicted were led to execution on a truck that drove around the city, probably for the purpose of intimidation, Herta sang “The Internationale” and “Padaj, silo i nepravdo” – “Fall, You Force and Injustice”.


Translation from Croatian: Jelena Šimpraga

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