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A Faraway Corner of the World
Dilan GORAKAPITIYA

For animals, life is all there is; for man, life is a question mark. An irreversible question mark, for man has never found, nor will find, any answers. Life not
only has no meaning; it can never have one.

Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

My name is Joseph. I was born in 1928 in the city of Jasenovac in
Yugoslavia. I belong to the Serbian ethnic group. My childhood was
peaceful and I think was the happiest moments of my life. Most of the
time, I played football with other children and my brothers. I always was a
defender because I was too shy to keep the ball and take it to the
opposite side. I wasn’t good, but nobody really cared: we were all having
fun. These moments seem so far to me now.
In 1941, the fascist organization called Ustache came to power in
part of Yugoslavia and created the Independent State of Croatia. They
started a policy of purification against the Serbian people. I saw things
that I try to forget as time goes by, but these horrible memories are still
haunting me. They entered my city and killed a lot of people, including all
my brothers. Those who unfortunately survived certainly wished they had
never been born. On November 1941, the Ustachas implemented a
concentration camp in Jasenovac. My parents and I were sent there with
other unwanted people by the regime. In this camp, my nightmare
started. I don’t know what hell looks in the hereafter but surely this camp
was hell on earth. There were very strict rules. We were not allowed to
look the guards in the eye or to talk to them. They made us work very
hard, to exhaustion. They humiliated us in order to destroy us, they
resorted to torture. They dismembered my right hand. They burnt me a
lot of times. During these torture sessions, I could sometimes smell the
smell of my flesh burning. Whether old or young, men or women, they
deprived us all of food. To avoid starvation, I often refrained from
defecating in order to feel that my stomach wasn’t empty and decrease
the feeling of hunger. I suffered a lot, but I think my mother was the
person that suffered the most.

1

My mother was three months pregnant but it wasn’t so visible
yet. However, she often vomited. After one month in the camp, she
started having strong contractions and screamed a lot. The guards figured
out her pregnancy but my mother denied it because she knew they would
force her to abort. I will never forget what they did to make her confess.
We were in a little warehouse of the camp with some other prisoners in
the morning. Three guards came towards us. One of them was very tall
and strong: he was probably the chief. I first thought they were going to
take me for a torture session. We were sitting on the ground and they
were looking at my mother. While staring at her, the chief screamed “Get
out of the warehouse you unwanted dogs, except you, you pregnant
woman!” Everybody went outside, except me and my father. I don’t know
if the guards wanted us to stay because they didn’t say anything to us.
They hadn’t looked away from my mother since they had entered the
warehouse; it was as if my father and I weren’t there. I felt tears coming
to my eyes, I understood that I wouldn’t see my mother alive again. So I
stared at her steadily to see each detail of her face so that I would never
forget it: her brown hair, her brown and round eyes, her small noise a
little bit pointy, her pink dry lips, and her bottom lip a bit bigger than the
upper one, her beauty spot on the left-front of her neck. Despite the life
of the camp, she was a very beautiful forty-year old woman.

first time I wanted to hit a guard of the camp. Suddenly, he gave a very
strong blow to my mother’s stomach with the baton. She collapsed on the
ground, holding her stomach with her hands and calling God to help her.
My father and I got up, we were going to hit the chief but both guards
held us back. The guard holding my father gave a strong punch to his
head: he passed out. I thought I would have the same punishment, but
the guard holding me just forced me to my knees. My mom was still on
the ground, reciting some prayers. The chief went to her and took her
face firmly with his left hand. He spit on her and slapped her with his right
hand. Then he spread her legs with his tow hand, took off his pants and
started raping her… I closed my eyes as hard as I could, hoping that all of
this was a nightmare. But I could hear the chief raping her, spitting on her
and slapping her at the same time. After the noises were over, I opened
my eyes. My mother had a blank stare. Her face was red and covered by
the chief’s saliva. He dressed again and took a long knife from his jacket.
He caressed my mother’s stomach with the sharp side of the knife. At that
time, I was thirteen. I was a very young teenager, I had already seen
horrible things, and I had few moments of joy. But I wouldn’t ever
imagine that a human being could be so evil. I started gesticulating,
desperately screaming “I will do the same thing to your wife!”. For the
first time since he had entered the warehouse, the chief looked at me. He
ordered me to come and to kneel just in front of my mom’s stomach. He
put his knife in my left hand and whispered to my right hear “I let you do
it”. I stayed immobile for a while without thinking. I looked at my mom,
she had the same blank stare. It was as if her soul was already gone.

The chief took out from his jacket a barbed baton. My mother
looked down at the ground and I saw tears rolling down her cheeks and
reaching the ground. I couldn’t look at her anymore, it was too hard. The
chief asked her if she was pregnant. She didn’t answer. He ordered her to
get up and to undress, totally. Then he started touching her stomach and
giving some slaps. He said “Is it painful? Do you think it’s painful for the
baby?” Again, she didn’t answer. I started staring at the chief: it was the
2

I got a slap in the back of my head. I whispered that I couldn’t do
it. So they slowly took off my pants. I suddenly felt a pain in my genitals.
After a few seconds, the pain was unbearable. I screamed and I closed my
eyes. It was as if I was in another world. A world in which the only thing I
could feel was the pain. I couldn’t hear anything, I don’t even know if the
chief said something at this moment. It lasted very long. Then the pain
gradually decreased. However, I felt something very cold and a bit sharp
going back and forth. The pain started again, but wasn’t as painful as
before so I could hear what the chief whispering “if you want the pain to
stop, you have to stab the stomach as hard as you can. The harder you
stab, the less painful it will be for you”. He asked me to close my eyes and
he repeated what he had said about dozen of times.

The harder you stab, the less painful it will be for you…
The harder you stab, the less painful it will be for you…
The harder you stab, the less painful it will be for you…

Few seconds later, the most painful pain I’d ever felt occurred. I
heard a noise of ripping and then I felt like the lower part of my body was
burning. I couldn’t stand it longer. I stabbed as hard as I could. Few
minutes later, the pain decreased but was still present. I knew what I had
done. I released the knife. The chief whispered to me “Well done!”. I kept
my head down and slowly opened my eyes that were full of tears. I saw a
lot of blood, and two spherical things covered with blood on the ground. I
passed out.

3

I suddenly was in another place. This place was very calm and
perfect. I had the feeling that all my senses were fulfilled. It was beautiful.
The sky was sunny, there were some grass, some trees and many flours of
different types with different colors. There was a sweet smell, not really
intense, just dosed perfectly. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, I
instinctively smiled. There was just the noise of a slow wind hitting the
leaves regularly, like the waves in the ocean. The temperature was
pleasant and mild, like in spring. I was so absorbed by the place that I
hadn’t figured out that I was barefoot. I started walking a little. I admired
and enjoyed the place as much as I could because I had the feeling that it
wasn’t a place on Earth. For a second, I thought that it was heaven. A few
meters away, there was a girl that was a little bit younger than me. Her
colored skin was tanned. She had a pointy nose with a beauty spot on the
left side. What caught my attention the most were her eyes. She had two
beautiful shiny brown eyes that were like two pearls. Her lips were pink
and seemed so soft. I came to her and she smiled. I had the strange
sensation that we knew each other, as if we hadn’t seen each other for a
long time. After we admired each other, we hugged. Her head was on my
chest, I held it with my hands and caressed her hair. I had the feeling that
I had the duty to protect her. I kissed her on the cheek, she looked at me
and smiled. She said with a very smooth voice that her name was
Gabrielle. Then I woke up in the warehouse. My father was next to me. He
had a blank stare, quite the same as my mothers’ before she passed away.
He looked at me and said nothing. I understood he knew what had
happened.

in 1945, and we tried to live a normal life in the Socialist Republic of
Croatia. But it obviously seemed impossible. We were affected by the life
in the camp, physically and mentally. I had scars of the torture all over my
body. As the guards castrated me to kill my mother, I hadn’t achieved my
growth. Therefore, I’m very thin, my voice didn’t break, and I look like a
fourteen-year old boy, whereas I was twenty one. I was always
remembering the camp, and had nightmares. To flee from that, I isolated
myself, closed my eyes and dreamt about Gabrielle. When I did that, I
often fell asleep and returned to the “heaven” with Gabrielle. During
these stays, we played together, we talked, and we made jokes. I knew it
was an imaginary world, but I would have liked to stay in it forever. Every
time, just before I woke up, Gabrielle hugged me. She looked sad and
embarrassed, as if she wanted to confess something terrible.

We never talked about it. I felt so ashamed. I don’t know if my
father was angry at me, if he felt pity and embarrassment, or if he felt
ashamed too for not having been able to do something. The camp closed
4

After the camp, my father and I lived in a small collective dwelling
that we shared with Croatian people. My father wanted to forget
everything and to start a new life. He met a Croatian woman ten years
younger than him and decided to be in couple. We lived with her mother
and another Croatian family with two children. We were not very close to
each other. In fact they often put us down. We lived with this family
because we had to: this mixture between the Serbs and the Croats was a
will of the government to unify one nation. The last time I saw Gabrielle
was on 27th June, 1949. That day, nobody was at home; everybody was at
the factory and the children were at school. I had come back from the
factory and I was supposed to do the housework and to cook the dinner.
However, I first wanted to get a rest. I wanted to see Gabrielle, but I
always used to be exhausted after the dreams. It was as if my soul lost
strength every time I met her…

my mother. I felt embarrassed and ashamed, like a young man who
hadn’t managed to take care of an old parent. Gabrielle slowly caressed
my hair with her hands and gently rubbed her cheek against mine. She
whispered “Listen to what our mom has to say”. It may seem strange, but
I wasn’t deeply surprised. Since the beginning, I had known that a link
stronger than friendship bounded us. She released me and my mom came
to me. I hung my head in shame. She gently took my face with her hands.
I dared to look at her, she was smiling. I smiled too. Then she revealed
everything.
She revealed that in the world of the Hereafter, the deceased’s
souls travel in the living world, but they can’t interact with concrete
things. These souls still have emotions like humans. They need to be fed,
otherwise they feel weak and can disappear forever. They feed
themselves thanks to the thoughts and the tribute that living people pay
them. The only moment when living people and the deceased can meet is
during dreams. When someone sleeps, a part of their soul leaves the
body, travels and can meet a deceased’s soul. The younger someone dies,
the more energetic their soul is. When a deceased’s soul has enough
energy, it is able to choose the appearance wanted and the place of the
dream. However, when it feels too lonely, or for some other reasons, a
deceased’s soul can decide to disappear forever. Gabrielle’s soul had
never entered her body. When I stabbed the fetus, her soul came out of
the stomach. When I passed out, my soul met Gabrielles’: it was the first
soul she had ever met. As her soul was full of energy, she decided to take
the appearance of what she would have looked like at ten years old.
Almost every time when I slept, my soul met Gabrielles’ in the “heaven”
she chose.

I was alone in the house, and I hated that because when my spirit
wasn’t distracted enough, I could easily remember bad memories of the
camp. During these moments of solitude, I often used to go the
monastery. When I was there, I could feel that there were some forces
close to me. On 27th June, it was the feast day of Saint Joanna. I walked
towards the iconostasis to Saint Joanna’s icon. The closer I came, the
more I thought about my mother. I first thought that it was because my
mom’s name was Joanna too. When I came to the icon, I bent and I closed
my eyes. Few minutes later, I was in the “heaven” with Gabrielle, and my
mother. My mother looked old and weak, as if she was eighty. They were
both looking at me, but none of them smiled. They were very similar.
Gabrielle was my mother’s spitting image with sixty years of differences.
Gabrielle came towards me. As she came closer, I noticed that her eyes
were brighter than usual: there were tears. She hugged me. I looked at
5

After the explanations, Gabrielle took my hands. She kept her
head down and said with a shivering voice “I wanted to help you as much
as I could. However, during these last years, I figured out that you are as
sad as you were in the camp, and even more. You are only happy in the
dreams, as if you only lived through them, and it’s destroying you. You
belong to the concrete world, not to the world in your dreams.” Her voice
started shivering as if she couldn’t control it. She also started shivering
her hands, holding mine. “I am deeply sorry, but I think it’s better for you
if I move away”. I felt that the weather was getting cold and everything
started getting dark. It started raining. I looked up to the sky: it was full of
grey and threatening clouds. The rain intensified and there were heavy
storms. I couldn’t feel the hands of Gabrielle anymore: she released mine.
I looked at her, she was crying and looked at me too. I firmly
contemplated her eyes, I knew it was the last time I would see them. I
could feel my body vibrating because of the noise of the storms. It was as
if they were attacking me. A lightning came between me and Gabrielle.
Then I woke up in the monastery. I was prostrated, my knees and my
forehand on the ground, my hands near my ears, my eyes closed. I was
shivering and I couldn’t control my body. After a few seconds, I could
move again. I got back on my feet very slowly. I opened my eyes and my
sight was towards Saint Joanna’s icon.

6

The weeks after that day, my life became empty. Gabrielle wasn’t
in my dreams anymore. Now that she wasn’t there, I felt that I had
nothing left anymore. I started thinking about my life. I worked at the car
factory. I worked with other young men, but I felt that I was apart. I was
very slow at work. It was because I had motricity problems: it was very
difficult for me to do several things in the same time. In addition, I could
not really work with my right hand as it was dismembered. Because of
that, many comrades blamed me, mocked me. I was scared by the eyes of
others. I felt that I was a burden, and I hated myself for that. I wanted to
know how being in the Hereafter really looked like. Becoming invisible.
The only way to escape from the eye of the others, and maybe one
possibility to be with Gabrielle, my Mom. However, there were also so
many things to do in the earthly world. Living, feeling, going old,
discovering new things.

I took a sharp knife. I sat on my knees on the ground, I closed my
eyes and I started breathing deeply. I said to myself “There is nothing in
this world for me. I can’t fit to the society. My presence is a burden and a
source of disgust for people. I am doing this for myself, and for the others.
Each life must end one day”. I took the knife horizontally with my two
hands, the knife tip towards me. I put the knife tip on the middle of my
abdomen very slowly, I sank the knife into the skin of my stomach a little.
Then I took it off and I stabbed as hard as I could. I laid on the ground, a
lot of blood started spreading. I stabbed myself many times, but each
time it was less powerful because it was more and more painful. After
about an hour, I felt that I was leaving my body.

One day, I went to the bathroom to take my shower. I was nude,
but I had never looked at myself in the mirror because I was ashamed of
my body. However, that day I looked at myself in the mirror. I had so
many scars that I couldn’t see a part of my skin sane. I was so thin that I
could see my bones. I wanted to break the mirror. The life in the camp
made my hate myself. I was ashamed of what I became physically and
mentally. People found me weird because I didn’t talk a lot: I was
ashamed of my high-pitched voice. I always walked with my head down
because I didn’t want to see people looking at me: I always felt attacked
when someone looked at me. However, everybody was attracted by my
face because of all the weird scars on it. I took my shower, I wore my
pants. I looked for a last time my body and my face in the mirror. Then I
went to the kitchen.

7

The world where I am now is silent and obscure. There is very
small brightness, and a continuous sound like in the depths of the ocean. I
can go wherever I want, but I stay near my father. I couldn’t meet him yet
because he doesn’t think about me. I think that he wants to forget me
because I represent a part of his life that is painful. He married with the
Croatian woman and they are going to have a daughter in a few days. I
can see the souls of other death people, but I can’t interact with them. I
don’t know if Gabrielle and my mom decided to disappear forever or if
they flee from me. Sometimes, I feel extremely alone, and I’m thinking
about disappearing forever. However, I feel that I still have something to
do in the earthly world
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………....
Sometimes, I can spend hours sleeping and dreaming. I often have
the same images that come over and over again. In these dreams, or
rather these nightmares, I see horrible things. I see families being abused,
my dad being tortured, and a young man, almost a child, being beaten
and burnt. Among the most horrible nightmares, I see a pregnant woman
being rapped and stabbed by the same young man. I don’t feel anything,
I’m only a spectator, but everything seems so real. Mom told me that Dad
was in a camp during part of his life, but he never wants to talk about it. In
these dreams, it’s as if something tried to communicate with me.
Sometimes, I feel that it tries to reassure me, but sometimes I feel that it
aims at destroying me, as if this thing wanted to take revenge.

8

Sources of the images

Shin Dong-hyuk / Blaine Harden / DVA
http://charliebooks.blogspot.com/2013/01/es
cape-from-camp-14.html

Shin Dong-hyuk / Blaine Harden / DVA

Where Love Does Not Exist 59 “Is it Chinese or
Korean?”, by Hyo-jin Kwon

Beyond Two Souls, by Eleonara Milana

https://www.welt.de/kultur/literarischewelt/a
rticle109335573/In-der-Hoelle-geboren-ausder-Hoelle-geflohen.html

Saint Joanna the
Myrrhbearer, Iconographer : Dmitry Shkolnik

Rape, oil (1961), by Valente G. Malangatana

Sources of the images

What have you done?, by NarcissKyu
Truth lies just beneath
the surface, by Kamil Jadczak

Seppuku (Hara Kiri) La libération de l’esprit du
samouraï, by ganechJoe

Sad Anime Girl In The Rain Alone Sketch :
railroadphotosbypanos.net


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