16 May 2008

The Forgotten

Woman's dead body lies in flat for 35 years

ZAGREB, Croatia (AP) -- Governments have changed. War erupted and ended. Neighbors had children, and then grandchildren. But Hedviga Golik never left her tiny apartment in Croatia's capital -- until her mummified body was carried out this week, 35 years after she died.

Police said Friday that no one ever reported Golik missing and no one has come to claim her body.

Residents of her loft building in downtown Zagreb had broken into Golik's flat after deciding that the apartment should belong to them, and not to her. Startled by the remains in bed, they called police.

Forensics experts said Golik likely died in 1973, about the time a neighbor last saw her. Expert Davor Strinovic said she seemed to have died of natural causes, but "it's almost impossible to say for certain" after so much time.

Some of Golik's neighbors claimed she had talked about going abroad.

Experts said her windows had been open, likely diminishing the smell. It remained unclear who -- if anyone -- was paying her bills and who exactly owned the apartment. In the 1970s, when Golik died, apartments were state-owned.

Neighbors now argue the apartment should be divided among the remaining tenants.

The discovery of Golik's body on Tuesday prompted media debates on how it is possible for a woman to die so long ago without anyone noticing. One local journalist said it showed people were becoming more alienated.

"My dear neighbors! Please keep on being curious and a bit tiresome, as you have been so far," Merita Arslani wrote in the Jutarnji list daily.

I found this very sad. No one notices your disappearance...ever. How could one person become so forgotten? I wonder how this woman cut all her ties to the government, community and family to completely that no one noticed anything? It seems to be human nature to leave something -- anything -- of your existence on this planet to those behind you. As you get older, I think the opportunities for this for many people become more and more rare, why these stories of bodies being found months or years are almost always those of older people.

Of course, 35 years is a bit of an anomaly, and could probably only happen in a region of the world with lots of turmoil, post-Communist Eastern Europe in this case, where a lot of people and records of their existence undoubtedly fall through the cracks.

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