Jasenovac concentration camp (Croatian, Serbian: Logor Jasenovac; Cyrillic script: Логор Јасеновац) was the largest concentration and extermination camp in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) during World War II. The camp was established by the Ustaše (Ustasha) regime in August 1941 and dismantled in April 1945. Unlike other concentration and extermination camps, in Jasenovac, the largest number of victims were ethnic Serbs, whom Ante Pavelić considered the main racial enemy of the NDH. The camp also held Jews, Roma, and large numbers of Croatian resistance members, most notably Partisans.
Jasenovac was a complex of five subcamps and three smaller camps spread over 240 square kilometers (93 square miles) on the banks of the Sava river. The largest camp was at Jasenovac, about 100 km (62 miles) southeast of Zagreb. The complex also included large grounds at Donja Gradina directly across the Sava river, a camp for children in Sisak to the northwest, and a women's camp in Stara Gradiška to the southeast.
When existing jails could no longer sustain the rate of new inmates, the Ustaša government started preparing the grounds what would become the Jasenovac concentration camp in July 1941. The Jasenovac complex was built between August 1941 and February 1942. The first two camps, Krapje and Bročica, were closed in November 1941.
The three newer camps continued to function until the end of the war:
The Ustaše interned, tortured and executed men, women and children in Jasenovac. The largest number of victims were Serbs, but other victims included Jews, Bosniaks,Gypsies, and Croatian resistance members opposed to the regime (i.e. Partisans or their sympathizers, categorized by the Ustaše as "communists"). Upon arrival at the camp, the prisoners were marked with colors, similar to the use of Nazi concentration camp badges: blue for Serbs, and red for communists (non-Serbian resistance members), while Gypsies had no marks (this practice was later abandoned.). Most victims were killed at execution sites near the camp: Granik, Gradina, and other places. Those kept alive were mostly skilled at needed professions and trades (doctors, pharmacists, electricians, shoemakers, goldsmiths, and so on) and were employed in services and workshops at Jasenovac.
Most of the Jews at Jasenovac were executed prior to August 1942, when the NDH started to deport them to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Jews had been sent to Jasenovac from all parts of Croatia after being gathered in Zagreb, and from Bosnia and Herzegovina after being gathered in Sarajevo. Some came directly from other cities and smaller towns.
In the late summer of 1942, tens of thousands of Serbian villagers were deported to Jasenovac from the Kozara mountain area (in Bosnia) where NDH forces were fighting against Partisans. Most of the men were killed at Jasenovac, the women were sent to forced labor in Germany, and the children were taken from their mothers; some were murdered and others were dispersed to Catholic orphanages.
On the night of August 29 1942, bets were made among the prison guards as to whom could liquidate the largest number of inmates. One of the guards, Petar Brzica reportedly cut the throats of some 1,360 newcommers or so with a butcher knife that became known as srbosjek ("serb-cutter"). The other participants, who admitted the deed to witnesses, were Ante Zrinusic, who killed some 600 inmates and Mile Friganovic, who gave a detail and consistant report of the incident . Friganovic admmitted to have killed some 1,100 people, of which he specificly tortured an old man, Vukasin, in forcing him, to bless Ante Pavelic, which he refused, although Friganovic would cut off his ears, nose and toungue after each refusal, eventually cutting his eyes, tearing his heart and slash his throat. The whole competition was also viewed by witness Dr. Nikola Nikolic
Prisoners remaining in Jasenovac were forced to drink water from the Sava river contaminated with ren (horseradish).
Besides sporadic killings and death under poor living conditions, inmates that arrived in Jasenovac were, in a large number of cases, set for systematic extermination, rather than being concentrated and killed thereafter due to health impairment or sporadic killings. An important criteria for this selection was, to begin with, the duration of detention the inmate was doomed for. Inmates who were sentenced to less than 3 years of incarceration passed a selection, and the strong and labor-capable men were kept alive. All inmates sentenced to 3 years or not sentenced at all were taken to liquidation regardless of their fitness. The systematic extermination took place in various forms and in varied locations. Some of the methods were machinic, following the example of their Nazi patrons, while some were "manual". The machinical means of extermination included:
Manual methods, the Ustase's favorites, were liquidation that took part in utilizing sharp or blunt craftsmen tools: knives, saws, hammers and et cetra. These liquidations took place in various locations:
During the following months of 1945, the grounds of Jasenovac were thoroughly destroyed by prisoners of war, 200 to 600 Home Guard members captured by the Allied forces. The laborers completed destruction of the camp, leveling the site and dismantling the two-kilometer long, four-meter high wall that surrounded it.
The estimates vary due to lack of accurate records, the methods used for making estimates and sometimes, due to differing biases of the estimators. Examples of difficulties in compiling accurate counts include: cases where entire families were exterminated with no one left to submit their names to the lists; inclusion of names of people who were killed elsewhere, or who survived but were not heard of, or that were duplicates.
The Yad Vashem center claims that over 500,000 Serbs were killed in the NDH , including those who were killed at Jasenovac, where approximately 600,000 victims of all ethnicities were killed. Some Croatian commentators and holocaust revisionists have criticized these victim counts as exaggerated. . The same figures are concluded by the Simon-Wiesentall center. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, also citated in quote by the Jewish virtual library, the victim figures are as follows:
Between its establishment in 1941 and its evacuation in April 1945, Croat authorities murdered thousands of people at Jasenovac. Among the victims were: between 45,000 and 52,000 Serb residents of the so-called Independent State of Croatia; between 8,000 and 20,000 Jews; between 8,000 and 15,000 Roma (Gypsies); and between 5,000 and 12,000 ethnic Croats and Muslims, who were political and religious opponents of the regime.
The Croat authorities murdered between 330,000 and 390,000 ethnic Serb residents of Croatia and Bosnia during the period of Ustaša rule; more than 30,000 Croatian Jews were killed either in Croatia or at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
German generals issued reports of the number of victims as the war progressed.German military commanders gave different figures for the number of Serbs, Jews and others killed on the territory of the Independent State of Croatia. They circulated figures of 400,000 Serbs (Alexander Löhr); 350,000 Serbs (Lothar Rendulic); around 300,000 (Edmund Glaise von Horstenau); in 1943; "600-700,000 until March 1944" (Ernst Fick); 700,000 (Massenbach).Hermann Neubacher calculates:
"A third must become Catholic, a third must leave the country, and a third must die!" This last point of their program was accomplished. When prominent Ustasha leaders claimed that they slaughtered a million Serbs (including babies, children, women and the elderly), that is, in my opinion, a boastful exaggeration. On the basis of the reports submitted to me, I believe that the number of defenseless victims slaughtered to be three quarters of a million. (Neubacher, Dr. Hermann. Special Assignment in the Southeast, p. 18-30.)
Italian generals, who were more overwhelmed by the atrocious Ustase slaughter, also reported of similar figures to their commanders . The Vatican's sources also speak of similar figures, E.g. of 350,000 Serbs slaughtered by the end of 1942 (Eugen Tisserant ) The Ustase themselves gave more` exaggerated assuptions of the number of people they killed. Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić, commander-in-chief of all the Croatian camps, announced the great "efficiency" of the Jasenovac camp at a ceremony on October 9 1942 (keep in mind that Jasenovac operated untill 1945). During the banquet which followed, he reported with pride: "We have slaughtered here at Jasenovac more people than the Ottoman Empire was able to do during its occupation of Europe." . Although the account may appear somewhat exgratted, its veracity can be found in several other Ustase accounts: a circular of the Ustase general headquarters that reads: "the concentration and labor camp in Jasenovac can receive an unlimited number of internees). In the same spirit, Miroslav Filipovic-Majstorovic, once captured by Yugoslav forces, addmitted, in attempt to somewaht minimize the rate of crimes committed in Jasenovac (e.g. Miroslav claimed to have personally killed 100 people, extremlly understated), that during his three months of administration, 20,000 to 30,000 people died , whereas in other sources it is displayed as 40,000 .
A report of the National Committee of Croatia for the investigation of the crimes of the occupation forces and their collaborators, dated November 15 1945, which was commissioned by the new government of Yugoslavia under Tito, stated that 500,000-600,000 people were killed at the Jasenovac complex. These estimates were supported by the government of Yugoslavia while it existed. These figures were cited by researcher Israel Gutman in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, by the Simon Wiesenthal Center and others. Proponents of these numbers were subsequently accused of artificially inflating them for purpose of obtaining war reparations. All in all, The state-commission's report appears to be authentic, since it matches all other sources regarding to the atrocities committed in Jasenovac. Nevertheless, if the numbers were inflated, the gap was probably not substantialy large. The state's total war casualties of 1,700,000 as presented by Yugoslavia at the Paris Peace Treaties, were produced by a math student, Vladeta Vučković, at the Federal Bureau of Statistics. He later admitted that his estimates included demographic losses (i.e. also factoring in the estimated population increase), while actual losses would have been significantly less. Statistics Phd's Vladimir Zerjavic and Bogljub Kovcevic present them as 1,000,000, while other sources present them as 1,400,000 .
Commentators in Serbia criticized these estimates as too low, since the demographic calculations assumed that the growth rate for Serbs in Bosnia (which was part of the Independent State of Croatia during the war time) was equal to the total growth rate throughout the former Yugoslavia (1.1% at the time). According to Serbian sources, however, the actual growth rate in this region was 2.4% (in 1921-1931) and 3.5% (in 1949-1953). This method is considered very unreliable by critics because there is no reliable data on total births during this period, yet the results depend strongly on the birth rate - just a change of 0.1% in birth rate changes the victim count by 50,000.
Logically, the number of casualties in Jasenovac is affected by several factors:
Additionaly, Crematories were constructed in Jasenovac as back as January 1942, due to difficulties of burial, thus implying the massive death rate at hand there. The same goes for gassing that also took place in Stara-Gradiska later that year, in both chambers and vans.
The independent state of Croatia was created and supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, thus it relied on their racial and political doctorines. Jasenovac had a role in the Nazi "final solution", as well as to the extermination of the Romany and the ethnic cleansing of Serbs. The Nazi institutions that directed the Ustase Genocide were:
The Nazis encouraged all anti-Jewish and anti-Roma actions the Ustase took. They also showed support of the Ustase anti-Serb policy. After a short period of time, the Nazis began to imply the Ustase of their Genocide intentions, as best illustrated by the speech Hitler gave to Slavko Kvaternik, in the time of their meeting, in July, 21, 1941:
The Jews are the bane of the human kind. If the Jews will be allowed to do as they will, like they are permitted in their Soviet heaven, than they will fulfill their most insane plans. And thus Russia became the center to the world's illness... if for any reason, one nation would enduty the existance of a single Jewish family, that familiy would eventually become the center of a new plot. If there will be no more Jews in Europe, nothing will hold the unification of the europian nations... this sort of people cannot be intergrated in the firm of the social order or into an organised nation. They are parasites on the body of a healthy society, that live off of explusion of descent people. One cannot expect of them to fit to a state that requires order and discipline. There is only one thing to be done with them: To exterminate them. The state holds this right since while precious men die in the battlefront, it would be none-the-less but criminal to spare these bastards. They must be expelled, or- if they pose no threat to the public- to be imprisoned inside concentration camps and never to be released."(Hilgruber, Staatsmanner und Diplomaten bei Hitler, p. 611)Thus the Nazis directed the Ustase to committ thier henious Genocide behind the walls of closed extermination camps. In the Wansee conference it was told that it should be brought to the attention of the Croatian government that Germany is willing to transport its Jews southwards, but it is also mentioned that: "the enactment of the final solution of the Jewish question is not crucial, since the key aspects of this problem were already solved by radical actions these governments took".
This is the background to the extermination that took place in Jasenovac, that was a concentration camp in the form of the Nazi camps. Aside from the identity in some of the means of extermination, the Nazis often arrenged the imprisonment or transfer of inmates to Jasenovac. Kasche's emissary, Major Knehe, was part of a delegation of the Axis forces that came to the camp in February 6, 1942. Kasche thus reported to his superiors:
Capitan Luburic, the commander-in-action of the camp, explained the construction plans of the camp. It turns out that he made these plans while in exile. These plans he modified after visiting concentration-camps installments in Germany. (Shelach, p. 195)It thus appears that the Nazis examined Jasenovac, possibly due to doubts they had in reference to the Ustase devotion to the extermination of Jews. Kasche wrote the following:"The Poglavnik asks General Bader to realize that the Jasenovac camp cannot receive the refugees of Kozara. I agreed since the camp is also required to solve the problem in deporting the Jews to the east. Minister Turina can deport the Jews to Jasenovac".. It remains unclear whether Jasenovac was to be a transit camp to Auschwitz or rather a place where the Jews will be exterminated, thus needless to deport them, as in Sajmiste. Stara-Gradiska was the place used for transit of victims to Auschwitz, but here the reference is of camp Ciglana in specific. Anyhow, it is clear that the decision of general Bader caused the great extermination of Serbs in Jasenovac, as he ordered that the refugees be taken to Jasenovac. And thus Jasenovac was expended and it was told that "Jasenovac concentration and labor camp can no hold an infinate number of prisoners". But soon thereafter the German's suspicions became more acute, as they feared that the Genocide of Serbs may take presidence over the extermination of Jews and that Italian and catholic influences will sway the Ustase from killing the Jews.
Thus they began searching for the possibily of killing the Jews in Auschwitz, where the extermination will be easier and the profits will fall into German hands. Yet, Jasenovac remained as place where Jews who cannot be deported will be interned and killed. In this way, while Jews were deportated from Tenje, two deportations were also made to Jasenovac. It is also illustrated by the report sent by Hans Helm to Eichmann, saying that the Jews will first be collected in Stara-Gradiska,and that "Jews employed in 'forced labor' in Ustase camps", mentioning only Jasenovac and Stara Gradiska," will not be deportated".. The Nazis also found interest in the Jews that remained inside the camp, even in June 1944, after the visit of a red-cross delegation. Kasche wrote: "Schmidlin showed a special interest in the Jews... Luburic told me that Schmidllin told him that the Jews must be treated in the finest manner, and that they must survive, no matter what happens... Luburic suspected Schmidllin is an English agent and therefore prevented all contact between him and the Jews
The Jasenovac Memorial Museum was temporarily abandoned during the Yugoslav wars. In November 1991, Simo Brdar, a former associate director of the Memorial, collected the documentation from the museum and brought it to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Brdr kept the documents until 2001, when he transferred them to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, with the help of SFOR and the government of Republika Srpska.
Croatian president Franjo Tudjman made an official visit to the site in 1994.
The New York City Parks Department, the Holocaust Park Committee and the Jasenovac Research Institute, with the help of US Congressman Anthony Weiner, established a public monument to the victims of Jasenovac in April 2005 (the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the camps.) The dedication ceremony was attended by ten Yugoslavian Holocaust survivors, as well as diplomats from Serbia, Bosnia and Israel. It remains the only public monument to Jasenovac victims outside of the Balkans. Annual commemorations are held there every April.
The Jasenovac Memorial Museum re-opened in November 2006 with a new exhibition designed by the Croatian architect, Helena Paver Njirić, and an Educational Center designed by the firm Produkcija. The Memorial Museum features an interior of rubber-clad steel modules, video and projection screens, and glass cases displaying artifacts from the camp. Above the exhibition space, which is quite dark, is a field of glass panels inscribed with the names of the victims. Helena Njirić won the first prize of the 2006 Zagreb Architectural Salon for her work on the museum.