Students at Carroll County High School were treated to a non-traditional Memorial Day assembly Monday, but it was one those in attendance are not likely to soon forget.
David Markovic, a Holocaust survivor who now lives in Hillsville, recounted the horrific conditions in which he was forced to work slave labor in a copper mine for the Nazis in Yugoslavia. He told how his parents were shot and killed at their homes after refusing to work for the Germans. One of his brothers was brutally beaten to death with a two-by-four by the Third Reich. And yet, despite all of that, the 98-year-old local man told students he harbors no ill will for what the Nazis did to him and his family.
“I have no room for hate in my heart. I only have room for love and that’s all,” Markovic said to a loud round of applause from the students. “God is the Supreme Court, but there are good people and there are evil people.”
Born in 1920, just two years after the conclusion of World War I, Markovic was the youngest of eight children. He was born and raised in Czechoslovakia, a country that was often referred to as “Little America” at the time because of its technological advances. The Czech president was revered there by countrymen the same way George Washington is in the U.S., Markovic said.
“I was 18 when the Germans came and took us,” he said. “They put many of us in the gas chamber and gassed us.”
Markovic was forced to work for the Germans for four-and-a-half years, two of which were served at the Bor copper mine in what was then known as Yugoslavia. His son, Steven, told students about the time his father was forced to serve there.
“They worked through the winters with no coat and no jacket. If you survived, you survived with no coat, and if you didn’t you were dead. To survive Europe in the winter, there was probably a few in a million that could go through what he did,” Steven Markovic told students. “I would be dead. I would want to die in the first three or four months. I would say, ‘That’s it.’”
But Steven’s father endured those conditions for four years, living off of daily rations of a single piece of bread about the size of a hand and a small amount of water. Steven said his father would take the bread and soak it up in water to store in his pocket. He would then suck on the bread from time to time. Occasionally, when he was lucky, he might stumble across a potato in a field.
“Part of the reason he survived I guess was his dad was a farmer like here in Hillsville. He was a horse trader and a cow trader and my dad used to have him help outside so he was kind of equipped and he had the strength at 18 to actually go through this,” Steven said.
After the Bor copper mine was liberated by Russian forces in 1944, Markovic then had to spend an additional four-and-a-half years in hospitals because he contracted tuberculosis and typhoid fever in the slave camps.
“I never in my life believed I would live to be this age,” the holocaust survivor told CCHS students. “We slept on the floor or we slept outside, just wherever we were.”
Toward the end of the presentation, students were allowed to ask Markovic questions. He told students he never wanted to go back to Europe after coming to America in the 1950s. One student asked how he felt about United States today, which was apparent by the hat Markovic wore with an eagle emblazoned with USA across the top.
“Everything is okay. Everything is fine. Nothing but good,” Markovic said.
Another asked what motivated him to survive during all those years of forced labor in terrible conditions. His answer was simple.
“I wanted to live,” Markovic said. “Many in the camp would say they would not work for the Germans. I told them, ‘Don’t work for the Germans. Work to live.’”
At the conclusion of the presentation he had a brief, but powerful statement. It was something he learned during the Holocaust and one he hopes is never forgotten.
“I just want you to know there are evil people, so just be aware,” Markovic said.
After the ceremony, several students stopped by to thank Markovic for speaking to them. Some asked to take pictures, some shook his hand, while one gave him a big hug. With Markovic at the presentation were four generations of his family – his son Steven and his fiancé, his granddaughter Mallory, and two great-grandchildren.
“It is mindboggling how he still gets up and makes his own breakfast every day,” Steven Markovic said. “He gets around great. He is 36 years older than me and I don’t know how he does it.”
CCHS History teacher Mark Harmon facilitated Markovic’s speech at the high school. He said the Carroll students were amazed to have a Holocaust survivor speak to them.
“The students were very appreciative and very honored to have him and his family spend Memorial Day with us,” Harmon said. “It means a lot to a student to hear from someone who lived through history instead of me as a teacher. I thought it was amazing for him to say he had no hate in his heart and that God was the Supreme Court.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN