Marija Guina - a Croatian Righteous

I take the opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to Mr Marko M Butirich, USA, who kindly sent me his translation from Croatian article by Vladimir Caktas, Medalja za Majku Hrabrost, Slobodna Dalmacija, 19. rujna 1996.

Darko Zubrinic, August 2000

A Medal for Mother Courage

Marija Guina saved Jews during the Second World War

For more than two years during the Second World War, in the village of Metkovic, a woman hid a young Jewish girl from Sarajevo, and saved several more Jewish people from certain death in the prison camp. The woman is Marija Guina and the young girl's name is Lotika Altarac. Marija will receive a medal for her humanitarian deeds.

By: Vladimir Caktas

Marija Guina was born Marija Butiric, in 1902, in Trpanj, on the island of Peljesac. She presently lives with her daughter Mirjana in Makarska. In her own special way, she contributed to the great humanitarian effort that was initiated during the Second World War, when rescuing fellow men, especially Jews, was possible only if one risked one's own life.

During that time, in her firm belief that nothing is worth more than a human life, Marija Guina hid Lotika Altarac, a twenty-year old Jewish girl from Sarajevo, in her house in Metkovic. Lotika never forgot that she owes every day of her life to her saviour, whom she also considers to be her second mother.

This old lady has lived through events spanning the entire century. She tells her story slowly and calmly. However, at the mention of her late husband, her voice trembles with emotion. His name was Dusan, he was born in Skradin, and he was an entrepreneur who came to Metkovic from Split. She also remains profoundly stirred by the memories of the terrible hardships endured by her family. Her house was one of the most reputable in Metkovic and a refuge for many Jews. She remembers Hagar Kajon (to whom Lotika gave a new address), Braco Alkalaj, Silvija Barabas, Izidor Levi...

"My husband was a partner in the Saric-Mrcic-Guina Company, which dealt in international freight, did work on commission, traded coal, wood and cement and also had a maritime agency component. We did very well. We had a beautiful garden full of roses imported from Italy. Our estate was large, but we lost it during the war. Fear and hunger were all that was left." she recalls slowly.

Marija and Dusan Guina had three children: Ksenija, Boris and Mirjana. It all started when Ksenija finished her studies in Sarajevo.

"When Ksenija graduated from high school, she wanted to come back to Metkovic and continue her medical studies in Italy. In the early days of the war, when the persecution of the Jews started, she wrote me a letter asking me to hide Lotika Altarac in our house. She thought her friend would be safe in Metkovic. I agreed at once, and Lotika came with forged documents, under the name Jagoda Ivcevic. For two years, we were living in the worst of fears for Lotika and ourselves. She was always in the house, caring for Boris and Mirjana, or working secretly on our estate. Her hands were golden: she did everything but the digging."

Nazi Justice

But times changed. Her husband died in 1938 and the Saric-Mrcic-Guina Company slowly went out of business. Marija gathered all her courage and founded another company called the "Successors of Dusan Guina". She worked long hard hours as an antidote for her fears. Lotika, alias Jagoda Ivcevic, replaced Marija as the person who was officially responsible for the household, thanks to the arrangements taken by Marijas's first cousin, Cvijeto Pavlovic, who happened to be the mayor of Metkovic.

The nazis eventually found Lotika's family in Sarajevo. Along with other Jews, her father, then her mother and youngest sister were sent to the prison camp. Only her older sister Flora managed to escape.

New problems emerged for Marija as her son Boris was imprisoned. With money, the "key to all locks", she got him out and sent him to Trieste to her dear friend, a boatbuilder.

The fall of Italy brought new hardships. What to do with Lotika? She then decided to call upon her friend in Trieste to take in Lotika and Mirjana also. While sewing some money in their coats, she was consumed by the fear that they would never make it to Trieste.

Mirjana was fourteen at the time: "Among other things" she says, "our father was in the transportation business, so he knew many ship captains. So with the help of people such as Captain Vidovic, we smuggled Jewish refugees from Sarajevo. Lotika and myself left for Trieste on a ship. But as we sailed along the coast, the Germans started shooting at us and instead of Trieste, we ended up at Brindisi, where the Italian police waited for us. Mother was without any news from us for nine months. In the meantime, our maid died, my mother was wounded, our house was destroyed and our company went out of business. My mother went to Trpanj, where I joined her after the liberation of Split. Loti stayed in Italy." says Mirjana.

My Second Mother

During the war, Marija Guina experienced a new kind of stress as her son, a strong antifascist, ended up in prison in Trieste. He was sentenced to a 16-year term in the prison Regina Caeli in Rome.

She had taken care of Lotika as if she were her own daughter. Lotika returned from Italy at the end of 1945. In Sarajevo, she found nothing but ruins: her home was empty, all their possessions had been stolen. Even the floors were missing. Her family was gone, except for her sister Flora. She was granted a scholarship for Bosnian-Herzegovinian students and went to study at the Faculty of Agronomy in Zagreb, where she married Boris Manuseva, a colleague of Macedonian origin. She then left for Skopje, where both her daughters, Lidija and Sonja, were born.

In 1963, after the great earthquake in Skopje, Lotika returned to Sarajevo. She had to leave the city again during the recent war. Her husband died, and her daughters, both of them architects, have their own families now. She has returned yet again to Sarajevo, where she now lives alone.

"Marija Guina is everything to me. She is my second mother. She will remain a part of me for the rest of my life" says Lotika Altarac-Manuseva.

Now, Marija Guina, Mother Courage, is in a wheelchair after having fallen and injured her hip. "Mirjana, my daughter, my angel, is taking care of me. A medical nurse also comes regularly, because Mirjana's strength is beginning to fail her as well" she says with tears in her eyes.

She was excited at the news that on September 19, Edo Tauber, the President of the Jewish Community of Split, is going to award her a medal for humanitarian deeds.

"That's very exciting" she simply said.

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