Vera Winter (1923. – 2015.)
Image source: the Winter family’s private album
Vera Winter was born Vera Barišić in Glamoč in 1923. Hers was a family of teachers, which frequently changed residence during the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The family saw the beginning of World War II in Zagreb, where Vera Barišić began to study economics. Her criticism of the Ustasha government led to a one month prison sentence, which she served in the Petrinjska street prison. She was in Zagreb when the war ended.
Having graduated with a degree in economics, and after a short period in work, she received a directive to go to Belgrade to take up a posting at one of the federal ministries. After the publication of the Cominform Resolution, one of her superiors was arrested as a Stalin sympathiser, and she was questioned by UDBA agents. She was very quickly arrested, having naively said during her questioning that she listened to Radio Moscow. Following the customary torture at the Belgrade remand prison, on 29 April 1950 she was deported to the women’s camp on Sveti Grgur. She spent a full 36 months in the Goli and Sveti Grgur camps, before, according to UDBA records, being released on 22 June 1953. This “gap” in her biography landed her a job as a stock keeper in the Katran company, and it was a long while before she was given a position that matched her professional skills and competencies.
The first time she spoke out about her experience as an inmate on Goli Otok was in 1989. Her husband, Gabriel Winter, was also imprisoned on Goli Otok, but, as she testified, they never spoke to their sons about their experiences as camp inmates.
‘Whoever beat more fiercely, got out more quickly. Those who resisted stayed longer; but we were all beaten, and we all beat others. There, we were all reduced to the level of executioners. We all made compromises with our conscience there. That is why it is so terribly difficult to talk about it, and that is why we were ashamed for years after leaving. And we were afraid even after leaving. Whatever you did, it could come back to haunt you.’
*This text is taken from the web page of the artistic project ‘You betrayed the Party just when you should have helped it’. We thank the author and project leader, Andreja Kulunčić, and her colleagues, for use of the materials.
See interview with Vera Winter: