Jasenovac concentration camp

For other uses, see Jasenovac (disambiguation).
Jasenovac concentration camp
Concentration and extermination camp

Stone Flower, a monument to the victims of Jasenovac, Croatia
Location of Jasenovac concentration camp within Croatia
Coordinates 45°16′54″N 16°56′6″E / 45.28167°N 16.93500°E / 45.28167; 16.93500Coordinates: 45°16′54″N 16°56′6″E / 45.28167°N 16.93500°E / 45.28167; 16.93500
Location Jasenovac, Independent State of Croatia
Operated by Ustaše Supervisory Service (UNS)
First built August 1941
Operational August 1941 – 21 April 1945
Inmates Serbs, Jews, Roma, and dissident Croats and Bosnian Muslims (i.e. communists and anti-fascists)
Killed Around 100,000[1][2] consisting of:
Serbs 45–52,000
Roma 15–20,000
Jews 12–20,000
Croats and Bosnian Muslims 5–12,000
Liberated by Yugoslav Partisans
Notable inmates See List of notable prisoners section
Website Official website

The Jasenovac concentration camp (Serbo-Croatian: Logor Jasenovac/Логор Јасеновац, pronounced [lôːgor jasěnoʋat͡s]; Yiddish: יאסענאוואץ) was an extermination camp established in Slavonia by the authorities of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) during World War II. The camp was established by the governing Ustaše regime and not operated by Nazi Germany.[3] It was one of the largest concentration camps in Europe[4] and the camp has been referred to as "the Auschwitz of the Balkans".[5][6]

It was established in August 1941 in marshland at the confluence of the Sava and Una rivers near the village of Jasenovac, and was dismantled in April 1945. It was "notorious for its barbaric practices and the large number of victims".[7]

In Jasenovac, the majority of victims were ethnic Serbs, along with the Jews, Roma, and some anti-fascist or dissident Croats and Bosnian Muslims. Jasenovac was a complex of five subcamps[8] spread over 210 km2 (81 sq mi) on both banks of the Sava and Una rivers. The largest camp was the "Brickworks" camp at Jasenovac, about 100 km (62 mi) southeast of Zagreb. The overall complex included the Stara Gradiška sub-camp, the killing grounds across the Sava river at Donja Gradina, five work farms, and the Uštica Roma camp.[1]

During and since World War II, there has been much debate and controversy regarding the number of victims killed at the Jasenovac concentration camp complex in its more than three-and-a-half years of operation. After the war, a figure of 700,000 reflected the "conventional wisdom", although estimates have gone as high as 1.4 million. The authorities of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia conducted a population survey in 1964 that reportedly showed a figure of 59,188 killed, but the findings were not published. Croatian academic Vladimir Žerjavić published books in 1989 and 1992 in which he "meticulously analysed the available data" and concluded that some 83,000 people had been killed at Jasenovac. His findings were criticized by the director of the Museum of Victims of Genocide in Belgrade, Milan Bulajić, who defended his figure of 1.1 million, although his rebuttal was later dismissed as having "no scholarly value". Since Bulajić's retirement from his post, a researcher from the Museum and a Croatian co-author have published a book on wartime losses which gave a figure of approximately 100,000 victims of Jasenovac.[9]

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C. presently estimates that the Ustaša regime murdered between 77,000 and 99,000 people in Jasenovac between 1941 and 1945, comprising; "between 45,000 and 52,000 Serbs; between 12,000 and 20,000 Jews; between 15,000 and 20,000 Roma (Gypsies); and between 5,000 and 12,000 ethnic Croats and Muslims, who were political and religious opponents of the regime."[2] The Jasenovac Memorial Site quotes a similar figure of between 80,000 and 100,000 victims.[1]


The Independent State of Croatia (NDH) was founded on 10 April 1941, after the invasion of Yugoslavia by the Axis powers. The NDH consisted of most of modern-day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, together with some parts of modern-day Serbia. It was essentially an Italo–German quasi-protectorate, as it owed its existence to the Axis powers, who maintained occupation forces within the puppet state throughout its existence.[10]

NDH legislation

Some of the first decrees issued by the leader of the NDH Ante Pavelić reflected the Ustaše adoption of the racist ideology of Nazi Germany. The regime rapidly issued a decree restricting the activities of Jews and seizing their property.[11] These laws were followed by a decree for "the Protection of the Nation and the State" of 17 April 1941, which mandated the death penalty for the offence of high treason if a person did or had done "harm to the honour and vital interests of the Croatian nation or endangered the existence of the Independent State of Croatia".[12] This was a retroactive law, and arrests and trials started immediately. It was soon followed by a decree prohibiting the use of the Cyrillic alphabet, which was an integral part of the rites of the Serbian Orthodox Church.[13]

Another decree concerning nationality determined that only citizens of Aryan origin could be nationals of the NDH, and only nationals of the NDH were under the protection of the NDH.[14] These decrees were enforced not only through the regular court system, but also through new special courts and mobile courts-martial with extended jurisdiction.[15] In July 1941, when existing jails could no longer contain the growing number of new inmates, the Ustaše government began clearing ground for what would become the Jasenovac concentration camp.

The influence of Nazi Germany

On 10 April 1941, the Independent State of Croatia was established, supported by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, and adopting similar racial and political doctrines. Jasenovac contributed to the Nazi "final solution" to the "Jewish problem", the killing of Roma people and the elimination of political opponents, but its most significant purpose for the Ustaše was as a means to achieve the destruction of Serbs inside the Independent State of Croatia (NDH).[16]

Jasenovac was located in the German occupation zone of the Independent State of Croatia. The Nazis encouraged Ustaše anti-Jewish and anti-Roma actions and showed support for the intended extermination of the Serb people. Soon, the Nazis began to make clear their genocidal goals, as shown by the speech Hitler gave to Slavko Kvaternik, at their meeting on 21 July 1941:

The Jews are the bane of mankind. If the Jews will be allowed to do as they will, like they are permitted in their Soviet heaven, then 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 endure the existence of a single Jewish family, that family would eventually become the center of a new plot. If there are no more Jews in Europe, nothing will hold the unification of the European nations ... this sort of people cannot be integrated in the social order or into an organized nation. They are parasites on the body of a healthy society, that live off of expulsion of decent people. One cannot expect them to fit into 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 on the battlefront, it would be nothing less than 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 be released."[17]

At the Wannsee Conference, Germany offered the Croatian government transportation of its Jews southwards, but questioned the importance of the offer, saying 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".[18]

In addition to specifying the means of extermination, the Nazis often arranged the imprisonment or transfer of inmates to Jasenovac.[19][20] Kasche's emissary, Major Knehe, visited the camp on 6 February 1942. Kasche thereafter 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.[21]

Kasche wrote the following: "The Poglavnik asks General Bader to realize that the Jasenovac camp cannot receive the refugees from 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".[22]

Stara-Gradiška was the primary site from which Jews were transported to Auschwitz, but Kashe's letter refers specifically to the subcamp Ciglana in this regard. In all documentation, the term "Jasenovac" relates to either the complex at large or, when referring to a specific camp, to camp nr. III, which was the main camp since November 1941. The extermination of Serbs at Jasenovac was precipitated by General Paul Bader, who ordered that refugees be taken to Jasenovac. Although Jasenovac was expanded, officials were told that "Jasenovac concentration and labor camp cannot hold an infinite number of prisoners". Soon thereafter, German suspicions were renewed that the Ustaše were more concerned with the extermination of Serbs than Jews, and that Italian and Catholic pressure was dissuading the Ustaše from killing Jews.[23]

The Nazis revisited the possibility of transporting Jews to Auschwitz, not only because extermination was easier there, but also because the profits produced from the victims could be kept in German hands, rather than being left for the Croats or Italians.[24] Instead Jasenovac remained a place where Jews who could not be deported would be interned and killed: In this way, while Jews were deported from Tenje, two deportations were also made to Jasenovac.[25]

It is also illustrated by the report sent by Hans Helm to Adolf Eichmann, in which it is stated that the Jews will first be collected in Stara-Gradiška, and that "Jews would be employed in 'forced labor' in Ustaše camps", mentioning only Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška, "will not be deported".[26] The Nazis found interest in the Jews that remained inside the camp, even in June 1944, after the visit of a Red Cross delegation. Kasche wrote: "Schmidllin 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".[27]

Hans Helm was in charge of deporting Jews to concentration camps. He was tried in Belgrade in December 1946 along with other SS and Gestapo officials, and was sentenced to death by hanging, along with August Meyszner, Wilhelm Fuchs, Josef Hahn, Ludwig Teichmann, Josef Eckert, Ernst Weimann, Richard Kaserer and Friedrich Polte.

Creation and operation

Jadovno concentration camp was the first camp used for extermination by the Ustaše. Jadovno was operational from May 1941 but was closed in August of the same year coinciding with the formation of the camp at Jasenovac in the same month. The Jasenovac complex was built between August 1941 and February 1942. The first two camps, Krapje and Bročica, were closed in November 1941.[28]

Three newer camps continued to function until the end of the war:

Ustaše militia executing people over a mass grave near Jasenovac concentration camp

The camp was constructed, managed and supervised by Department III of the "Ustaše Supervisory Service" (Ustaška nadzorna služba, UNS), a special police force of the NDH. Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić was head of the UNS. Individuals managing the camp at different times included Miroslav Filipović-Majstorović and Dinko Šakić. The camp administration in times used other Ustaše battalions, police units, Domobrani units, auxiliary units made up of Bosnian Muslims, as well as Germans and Hungarians. The Ustaše interned, tortured and executed men, women and children in Jasenovac. The largest number of victims were Serbs, but victims also included Jews, Roma (or "gypsies"), as well as some dissident Croats and Bosnian Muslims (i.e. Partisans or their sympathizers, all categorized by the Ustaše as "Communists").[29]

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 Roma had no marks. (This practice was later abandoned.)[30] 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.[31]

Population of inmates

The bodies of prisoners executed by the Ustaše in Jasenovac[32]

Serbs constituted the majority of inmates in Jasenovac.[33][34] The Jasenovac Memorial Area list of victims is more than 56% Serbs, 45,923 out of 80,914, see victim lists. In some cases, inmates were immediately killed upon acknowledging Serbian ethnicity, and most considered it to be the sole reason for their imprisonment.[35] The Serbs were predominantly brought from the Kozara region, where the Ustaše captured areas that were held by Partisan guerrillas.[36] These were brought to the camp without sentence, almost destined for immediate execution, accelerated via the use of machine-guns. The exact number of Serbian casualties in Jasenovac is uncertain, but the lowest common estimates range around 60,000 people, and it is estimated to be the most significant part of the overall Serbian casualties of World War II.[37]

A report on the deportation of Travnik area Jews to Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška camps, March 1942

Jews, being the primary target of Nazi-oriented Genocide, were the second-largest category of victims of Jasenovac. The number of Jewish casualties is uncertain, but ranges from about 8,000[38] to almost two thirds of the Croatian Jewish population of 37,000 (meaning around 25,000).[39] Most of the executions of Jews at Jasenovac occurred prior to August 1942. Thereafter, the NDH deported them to Auschwitz. In general, Jews were initially sent to Jasenovac from all parts of Croatia after being gathered in Zagreb, and from Bosnia and Herzegovina after being gathered in Sarajevo. Some, however, were transported directly to Jasenovac from other cities and smaller towns.

Circular made by general Ivan Prpić, following orders of marshall Kvaternik, which informed General Staff of Army (Glavni Stožer Domobranstva), Ustasha militia headquarters (Glavni stožer Ustaške Vojnice), Ministry of Interior (Ministarstvo unutarnjih dela) and Chief Command of Gandarmery (Vrhovno zapovjedništvo oružništva) as follows: "The command of ustasha surveillance service - the chief adjutant, with top secret No 139/42, has informed us that the assembly and labor camp in Jasenovac can accept an unlimited number of inmates. Therefore, please issue orders to your all subortinate command posts to send to Jasenovac all Communists who are caught during the clearing of areas in which military operations are conducted."

Roma in Jasenovac consisted of both Roma and Sinti, who were captured in various areas in Bosnia, especially in the Kozara region. They were brought to Jasenovac and taken to area III-C, under the open sky, in terms of nutrition, hydration, shelter and sanitary that were below the camp's standards.[40] The figures of murdered Roma are the most controversial, with the number being between 20,000 and 50,000.[40]

Anti-fascists consisted of various sorts of political and ideological antagonists of the Ustaše regime. In general, their treatment was similar to other inmates, although known communists were executed right away, and convicted Ustaše or law-enforcement officials,[41] or others close to the Ustaše in opinion, such as Croatian peasants, were held on beneficial terms and granted amnesty after serving a duration of time. The leader of the banned Croatian Peasant Party, Vladko Maček was held in Jasenovac from October 1941 to March 1942, after which he was kept under strict house arrest.[42] Jasenovac consisted of a unique camp for children in Sisak. Around 20,000 Serb, Jewish and Roma children perished at Jasenovac.

Living conditions

The living conditions in the camp evidenced the severity typical of Nazi death camps: a meager diet, deplorable accommodation, and the cruel treatment by the Ustaše guards. As in many camps, conditions would be improved temporarily during visits by delegations  such as the press delegation that visited in February 1942 and a Red Cross delegation in June 1944  and reverted after the delegation left.[43]

He divided the "Jasenovac labor force" into 16 groups, including groups of construction, brickworks, metal-works, agriculture, etc. The inmates would perish from the hard work. Work in the brickworks was hard.[52][53] Blacksmith work was also done, as the inmates forged knives and other weapons for the Ustaše. Dike construction work was the most feared.[54]

After the inmates grew familiar with the life in camp, they would enter the second and most critical phase: living through the anguish of death, and the sorrow, hardships and abuse. The peril of death was most prominent in "public performances for public punishment" or selections, when inmates would be lined in groups and individuals would be randomly pointed out to receive punishment of death before the rest. The Ustaše would intensify this by prolonging the process, patrolling about and asking questions, gazing at inmates, choosing them and then refrain and point out another.[62][63] As inmates, people could react to the Ustaše crimes in an active or passive manner. The activists would form resistance movements and groups, steal food, plot escapes and revolts, contacts with the outside world.[64]

The passive inmates would react by attempting to survive, to get through the day unharmed. This is not "going in line to slaughter", but rather another approach to survival, which deprived the Ustaše of the possibility of completely dehumanizing the inmates. However, some of these inmates became in this way utterly primitive, as their whole life revolved around following orders and eating a bowl of soup. Thus they acquired the physical appearance of living skeletons, mentally stripped of their humanity and beyond hope of salvation. All inmates suffered psychological trauma to some extent: obsessive thoughts of food, paranoia, delusions, day-dreams, lack of self-control. Some inmates reacted with attempts at documenting the atrocities, such as Ilija Ivanović, Dr Nikola Nikolić and Đuro Schwartz, all of whom tried to memorize and even write of events, dates and details. Such deeds were perilous, since writing was punishable by death and tracking dates was extremely difficult.[65]

Mass murder and cruelty

Bodies of Jasenovac prisoners in the Sava River[66]

According to Jaša Almuli, the former president of the Serbian Jewish community, Jasenovac was a much more terrifying concentration camp in terms of brutality than many of its German counterparts, even Auschwitz. In the late summer of 1942, tens of thousands of ethnic Serb villagers were deported to Jasenovac from the Kozara region in Bosnia, where NDH forces were fighting the Partisans.[67] Most of the men were executed in Jasenovac, and the women were sent to forced labor camps in Germany. Children were either killed or dispersed to Catholic orphanages.[68]

On the night of 29 August 1942, prison guards made bets among themselves as to who could slaughter the largest number of inmates. One of the guards, Petar Brzica, boasted[69] that he had cut the throats of about 1,360 new arrivals.[70] Other participants who confessed to participating in the bet included Ante Zrinušić, who killed some 600 inmates, and Mile Friganović, who gave a detailed and consistent report of the incident.[71]

Friganović admitted to having killed some 1,100 inmates. He specifically recounted his torture of an old man named Vukasin; he attempted to compel the man to bless Ante Pavelić, which the old man refused to do, even after Friganović had cut off his ears, nose and tongue after each refusal. Ultimately, he cut out the old man's eyes, tore out his heart, and slashed his throat. This incident was witnessed by Dr Nikolić.[72]


An agricultural knife nicknamed "Srbosjek" or "Serbcutter", strapped to the hand. It was used by the Ustaše militia for the speedy killing of inmates at Jasenovac

The Ustaše slaughtered inmates with a knife that became known as the "Srbosjek" ("Serb-cutter").[73][74][75][76][77]

The construction was originally a type of wheat sheaf knife, manufactured prior to and during World War II by the German factory Gebrüder Gräfrath from Solingen-Widdert, under the trademark "Gräwiso".[78][79][80] The upper part of the knife was made of leather, as a sort of a glove, designed to be worn with the thumb going through the hole, so that only the blade protruded from the hand. It was a curved, 12-centimetre-long (4.7 in) knife with the edge on its concave side. The knife was fastened to a bowed oval copper plate, while the plate was fastened to a thick leather bangle.[81] Its agricultural purpose was to enable field workers to cut wheat sheaves open before threshing them. The knife was fixed on the glove plate to prevent injuries and to increase work speed.[80]

Systematic extermination of prisoners

Besides sporadic killings and deaths due to the poor living conditions, many inmates arriving at Jasenovac were scheduled for systematic extermination. An important criterion for selection was the duration of a prisoner's anticipated detention. Strong men capable of labor and sentenced to less than three years of incarceration were allowed to live. All inmates with indeterminate sentences or sentences of three years or more were immediately scheduled for execution, regardless of their physical fitness.[82]

Systematic extermination varied both as to place and form. Some of the executions were mechanical, following Nazi methodology, while others were manual. The mechanical means of extermination included:

Manual methods were executions that took part in utilizing sharp or blunt craftsmen tools: knives, saws, hammers, et cetera. These executions took place in various locations:

Inmate help

In July 1942, Diana Budisavljević, with help from a German officer, Albert von Kotzian, obtained written permission to take the children from the Stara Gradiška concentration camp.[95] With the help of the Ministry of Social Affairs, including Kamilo Bresler, she was able to relocate child inmates from the camp to Zagreb, and other places.[95]

The Red Cross has been accused of insufficiently aiding the persecuted people of Nazi Europe. The local representative, Julius Schmidllin, was contacted by the Jewish community, which sought financial aid. The organisation helped to release Jews from camps, and even debated with the Croatian government in relation to visiting the Jasenovac camp. The wish was eventually granted in July 1944. The camp was prepared for the arrival of the delegation, so that it found nothing incriminating.[96] Inmate resistance groups were aided by contacts among the Ustaše. One of these groups, operating in the tannery, was assisted by an Ustaše, Dr Marin Jurcev (and his wife), who were later hanged for this on orders of Dinko Šakić, as was any Ustasha found guilty of consorting or collaborating with inmates were executed.[97]

End of the camp

In April 1945, as Partisan units approached the camp, the camp's supervisors attempted to erase traces of the atrocities by working the death camp at full capacity. On 22 April, 600 prisoners revolted; 516 were killed and 84 escaped. Before abandoning the camp shortly after the prisoner revolt, the Ustaše killed the remaining prisoners and torched the buildings, guardhouses, torture rooms, the "Picilli Furnace", and all the other structures in the camp. Upon entering the camp in May, the Partisans came across only ruins, soot, smoke, and the skeletal remains of hundreds of victims.

During the following months of 1945, the grounds of Jasenovac were thoroughly destroyed by prisoners of war. The Allied forces captured 200 to 600 members of the army of the Independent State of Croatia. Laborers completed the destruction of the camp, leveling the site and dismantling the two-kilometre-long (1.2 mi), four-metre-high (13 ft) wall that surrounded it.

Victim numbers

Memorial signs with claims of victim counts, situated on the Bosnian side of the Sava river at Gradina.

Since World War II, scholars and Holocaust institutions have advanced diverse estimates of the number of victims killed at Jasenovac, ranging from 1.1 million to 30,000.[98] Most modern sources place it at around 100,000.[33][99][100][101][102]

The Jewish Virtual Library states that "the most reliable figures" estimate the number of Serbs killed by the Ustaše to be "between 330,000 and 390,000, with 45,000 to 52,000 Serbs murdered in Jasenovac" sourced to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.[34] Historian Tomislav Dulić disputes the often quoted 700,000 figure in Jasenovac, but states that an estimated 100,000 victims still makes it one of the largest camps in Europe during World War II.[33][101]

Contemporary sources

Train which carried prisoners to Jasenovac.

The documentation from the time of Jasenovac revolves around the different sides in the battle for Yugoslavia: The Germans and Italians on the one hand, and the Partisans and the Allies on the other. There are also sources originating from the documentation of the Ustaše themselves and of the Vatican. 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 by the Ustaše 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:

The recipe, received by the Ustaše leader and Poglavnik, the president of the Independent State of Croatia, Ante Pavelić, resembled genocidal intentions from some of the bloodiest religious wars: "A third must become Catholic, a third must leave the country, and a third must die!" This last point of the Ustaše program was accomplished. When prominent Ustaše leaders claimed that they slaughtered a million Serbs (including babies, children, women and old men), 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.[103]

Italian generals reported similar figures to their commanders.[104] The Vatican's sources also speak of similar figures, that is, for an example, of 350,000 ethnic-Serbs slaughtered by the end of 1942. (Eugene Tisserant)[105]

The Ustaše themselves gave more exaggerated assumptions of the number of people they killed. Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić, the commander-in-chief of all the Croatian camps, announced the great "efficiency" of the Jasenovac camp at a ceremony as early as 9 October 1942. During a banquet which followed, he reported:

"We have slaughtered here at Jasenovac more people than the Ottoman Empire was able to do during its occupation of Europe."[106]

A circular from the Ustaše general headquarters reads: "the concentration and labor camp in Jasenovac can receive an unlimited number of internees". In the same spirit, Filipović-Majstorović, once captured by Yugoslav forces, admitted that during his three months of administration, 20,000 to 30,000 people died.[107] Since it became clear that his confession was an attempt to somewhat minimize the rate of crimes committed in Jasenovac, having, for an example, claimed to have personally killed 100 people, extremely understated, Filipović-Majstorović's figures are evaluated so that in some sources they appear as 30,000–40,000.

Yugoslav and Croatian official estimates

A report of the National Committee of Croatia for the investigation of the crimes of the occupation forces and their collaborators, dated 15 November 1945, which was commissioned by the new government of Yugoslavia under Josip Broz Tito, indicated between 500,000–600,000 people were murdered at Jasenovac. These figures were cited by researchers Israel Gutman and Menachem Shelach in the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust from 1990.[108] Shelach wrote that some 300,000 bodies were found and exhumed.[109] The Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance adopted the same number at some point.[110]

Various Yugoslav officials used the total number of around 1,700,000 victims in all of Yugoslavia in the war reparations meetings between 1945 and 1947.[111] Thus the proponents of these numbers were subsequently accused of artificially inflating them for purpose of obtaining war reparations. The State Commission's report has been the only public and official document about number of victims during 45 years of second Yugoslavia. Tomasevich states these numbers are indeed exaggerated, but that the original copy of the State Commission report circulated 400,000 victims.[112]

Vladeta Vučković wrote in Bogoljub Kočović's 1985 book that, back in 1947, while he was a maths student at the Federal Bureau of Statistics, he was tasked with producing the state's total war casualties estimate by the foreign minister Edvard Kardelj. She [Vučković] says he calculated a statistical estimate of 1,700,000 demographic population loss (i.e., also factoring in the estimated population increase), while actual losses would have been significantly lower.[111][113] Nevertheless, Kardelj subsequently presented this as Yugoslavia's real loss at the Paris Peace Treaties.[111][113] These estimates were rejected by Germany during war reparations talks. The Encyclopedia of the Holocaust's casualty figure for the whole of Yugoslavia was a more conservative 1,500,000. The conventional estimate of the number of victims of Jasenovac in SFR Yugoslavia was 700,000.[9]

In 1964, the Yugoslav Federal Bureau of Statistics created a list of World War II victims with 597,323 names and deficiency estimated at 20–30%, giving between 750,000 and 780,000 victims. Together with the estimation of 200,000 "collaborators and quislings" killed, the total number would reach about one million. The bureau's list was declared a state secret in 1964 and published only in 1989.[114] The survey results showed a far lower figure of 59,188 killed at Jasenovac, of whom 33,944 were recorded as Serbs.[9]

Beginning in the 1990s, the Croatian side began publicly suggesting substantially smaller numbers of victims. The exact numbers were a subject of great controversy and hot political dispute during the breakup of Yugoslavia. President Franjo Tuđman's 1989 book, Horrors of War: Historical Reality and Philosophy, had questioned the official numbers of victims killed during World War II in Yugoslavia, which later brought him in conflict with Simon Wiesenthal and others.[115]

The Jasenovac Memorial Site, the museum institution sponsored by the Croatian government since the end of the Croatian War of Independence,[116][117][118] has posted claims that current research estimates the number of victims at between 80,000 and 100,000.[102]

The State Commission of Croatia for the Investigation of the Crimes of the Occupation Forces and their Collaborators from 1946 concludes, "Such a manner of preconceived and inhumane torture and slaughter of a peoplehas never been recorded in history. The Ustase criminals followed precisely the model of their German masters, most consciously executed all their orders, and did so in pursuit of a single goal: to exterminate as many of our people as possible, and to create a living space as large as possible for them. The total dependence by the Ustase on their German masters, the foundation of the camp itself, the dispatch of the "disloyal", the brutal implementation of Hitler's racist Nazi theories and the deportation to the camps and extermination of the racially and nationally "impure", the same methods of torture and atrocities with minor varieties of Ustase cruelty, the building of furnaces and incineration of victims in furnaces (the Picilli furnace) — all of the evidence points to the conclusion that both Jasenovac and the crimes committed in it were fashioned from a German recipe, owing to a German Hitlerite order as implemented by their servants, the Ustase. Subsequently, responsibility for the crimes of Jasenovac falls equally on their German masters and the Ustase executioners."[119]

1960s forensic investigations

On 16 November 1961, the municipal committee of former partisans from Bosanska Dubica organized an unofficial investigation at the grounds of Donja Gradina, led by the locals who were not forensic experts, which uncovered three mass graves and identified 17 human skulls in one of them. Based on this, and the fact they enumerated 120 other untouched graves, they extrapolated the number of victims to 350,800.[120] In response, scientists were called in to verify the site. Dr Alojz Šercelj started preliminary drilling to identify the most likely grave locations, and then between 22 and 27 June 1964, exhumations of bodies and the use of sampling methods was conducted at Jasenovac by Vida Brodar and Anton Pogačnik from Ljubljana University and Srboljub Živanović from Novi Sad University. They examined a total of seven mass graves which held a total of 284 victim remains, and concluded that the entire Jasenovac complex could have around 200 similar sites.[120]

In October 1985, a group of investigators from the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts, led by Vladimir Dedijer, visited Jasenovac and made a record of it, in which the record taker, Antun Miletić, mentioned the 1961 excavation, but misquoted that number of victims to 550,800. They also noted the 1964 excavation, and estimated that Gradina held the remains of 366,000 victims, without further explanation.[120]

In 1989, prior to the breakup of Yugoslavia, Serbian anthropologist Srboljub Živanović published what he claimed were the full results of the 1964 studies, which in his words has been "suppressed by Tito's government in the name of brotherhood and unity, in order to put less emphasis on the crimes of the Croatian Ustaše".[121][122]

In November 1989, Živanović claimed on television that their research resulted in victim counts of more than 500,000, with estimates of 700,000–800,000 being realistic, stating that in every mass grave there were 800 skeletons.[120] Vida Brodar then commented on that statement and said the research never resulted in any victim counts, and that these numbers were Živanović's manipulations, providing a copy of the research log as corroboration. A Croatian historian, Željko Krušelj, publicly criticized Živanović and labeled him a fraud over this.[120]

Victim lists

Estimates by Holocaust institutions

The Yad Vashem Center has in one place stated that "more than 500,000 Serbs were murdered in Croatia in horribly sadistic ways, 250,000 were expelled, and another 200,000 were forced to convert to Catholicism".[39]

In the 1990 Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Menachem Shelach and Israel Gutman wrote:

"Some six hundred thousand people were murdered at Jasenovac, mostly Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and opponents of the Ustaše regime. The number of Jewish victims was between twenty thousand and twenty-five thousand, most of whom were murdered there up to August 1942, when deportation of the Croatian Jews to Auschwitz for extermination began."
Israel Gutman (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Holocaust[28]

As of 2009, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that the Ustaše murdered between 66,000 and 99,000 people (mostly Serbs) at Jasenovac between 1941 and 1945, and that during the period of Ustaše rule, a total of between 330,000 and 390,000 ethnic Serbs and more than 30,000 Croatian Jews were killed, either in Croatia or at Auschwitz-Birkenau.[38]

Statistical estimates

In the 1980s, calculations were done by Serb statistician Bogoljub Kočović, and by Croat economist Vladimir Žerjavić, who claimed that total number of victims in Yugoslavia was less than 1.7 million, an official estimate at the time, both concluding that the number of victims was around one million. Kočović estimated that, of that number, between 370,000 and 410,000 ethnic Serbs died in the Independent State of Croatia.[33][128] Žerjavić, claiming the number of victims in the Independent State of Croatia was between 300,000 and 350,000, including 80,000 victims in Jasenovac, as well as thousands of deaths in other camps and prisons, first calculated 53,000, later brought up to 70,000 and eventually to 80,000.

In the 1980s, Žerjavić published two books in which he concluded that approximately 83,000 people had perished at Jasenovac, 50,000 of them Serbs.[9] Žerjavić's research was criticised by Antun Miletić, director of Belgrade's military archives, who in 1997 claimed the figure for Jasenovac was 1.1 million. Another critic of Žerjavić, Dr Milan Bulajić, former director of the Museum of the Victims of Genocide in Belgrade, maintained that the numbers were in the range of 700,000–1,000,000.[9] Since Bulajić's retirement from his post, a researcher from the Museum and a Croatian co-author have published a book on wartime losses which gave a figure of approximately 100,000 victims of Jasenovac.[9]

Testimony of Jasenovac survivors and other eyewitnesses

A number of former camp prisoners and others testified about the horrors they witnessed in Jasenovac, including:

Cijordana Friedlender, Stara Gradiska

A former prisoner, Cijordana Friedlender, testified at the trial of Ante Vrban, Ustasha commandant of the concentration camp at Stara Gradiska. During the trial, Ante Vrban confessed to this crime, admitting he killed children with zyklon gas.

"At that time fresh women and children arrived daily at the Camp in Stara Gradiška. About fourteen days later, Vrban [the Commandant of the Camp] ordered all children to be separated from their mothers and put into one room. Ten of us were told to carry them there in blankets. The children crawled about the room, and one child put an arm and leg through the doorway, so that the door could not be closed. Vrban shouted: 'Push it!' When I did not do that, he banged the door and crushed the child's leg. Then he took the child by its whole-leg, and banged it on the wall until it was dead. After that we continued carrying the children in. When the room was full, Vrban brought poison gas and killed them all."[129]

Egon Berger, Jasenovac

In his book 44 Months in Jasenovac, former inmate Egon Berger described the following atrocity, by the camp commander, a Franciscan friar, Miroslav Filipović-Majstorović:

"The priestly face of Fra Majstorovic, all made-up and powdered, dressed in an elegant suit and a green hunter's hat, watched with delight the victims. He approached the children, even stroked their heads. The company was joined by Ljubo Milos and Ivica Matkovic. Fra Majstorovic told the mothers there will now be a baptism for their children. They took the children from the mothers, the child whom Father Majstorovic was carrying, in his child's innocence caressed the painted face of his killer. The mothers, distraught, perceived the situation. They offered their lives for mercy for the children. Two children were placed on the ground, while the third was thrown like a ball into the air, and Fra Majstorovic, holding a dagger upwards, missed three times, while the fourth time with a joke and a laugh, a child was impaled on the dagger. Mothers began throwing themselves on the ground, pulling their hair, and began to shout terribly. Ustasha guards of the 14th Osijek Company took them away and killed them. When all three children were so brutally killed, these three two-legged beasts exchanged money, because they seem to have a bet on who would be the first to stick a dagger in a child."[130]

Milko Riffer, Jasenovac

In his memoir, Jasenovac inmate Milko Riffer described many horrendous crimes, including the wholesale extermination of tens-of-thousands:

"At one time in the camp there was a large number of Gypsies, who, though innocent, were captured throughout the Independent State of Croatia and driven to Jasenovac. There where perhaps ten-, perhaps twenty-thousand, and of those only two remained. As seedstock."[131]
From one rather large group of Gypsies they formed the so-called grave-diggers’ group, which was transferred to Gradina [an area adjacent to Jasenovac]. They had the duty to undress slain victims and sort the resulting clothes ... It was an enormous, hard job, accompanied by desperate screams and cries of the victims, who in continuous columns arrived at the slaughterhouse. They plied [the Gypsies] with large quantities of brandy, because only in an almost completely drunk state could they be made to carry out that infernal work in the pits, in which there lay thousands of battered and slaughtered human bodies. Many of them lost their mind, and were taken to perform "lighter work" elsewhere. They, of course, never returned. The campaign of slaughter lasted long, almost continuously for two years"[131]

General von Horstenau, Jasenovac

The Nazi general, Edmund Glaise von Horstenau, Hitler's plenipotentiary in the Independent Croatian State, described in his book, Ein General im Zwielicht, his visit to Jasenovac, as follows:

We now entered the concentration camp in a converted factory. Appalling conditions. A handful of men, many women and children, without enough clothing, sleeping on a stone tablet at night, screams all around, cries and sobbing. The camp commander – a scoundrel – I ignored him, but instead told my Ustasha guide: "This is enough to make a person vomit."
And then worst of all: a room along whose walls, lay on straw which had just been brought for my inspection, something like fifty naked children, half of them dead, the other half dying. We should not forget that the inventors of concentrations camps were the British during the Boer War. However, these camps have reached the height of hideousness here in Croatia, under the Poglavnik [Ustasha leader] installed by us. The greatest of all evils must be Jasenovac, which no ordinary mortal can glimpse.[132]

Von Horstenau also described how Serb villagers were transported to Jasenovac, following a massacre perpetrated by Ustasha troops, in the nearby village of Crkveni Bok[133] (the quote below was translated by R. West):

At Crkveni Bok, an unhappy place where, under the leadership of an Ustasha lieutenant-colonel, some 500 yokels (Lumpen) of from fifteen to twenty years old met their end, all murdered, the women raped and then tortured to death, the children killed. I saw in the Sava river a woman's corpse with the eyes gouged out and a stick shoved into the sexual parts. This woman was at most twenty years old when she fell into the hands of these monsters. Anywhere in a corner, the pigs are gorging themselves on an unburied human being. All the houses were looted. The 'lucky' inhabitants were consigned to one of the fearsome goods trains; many of these involuntary 'passengers' cut their veins on the journey.[134]

Camp officials and their respective fates

Some of the camp officials and their post-war fate are listed below:

List of notable prisoners

NOTE: Bolded names in caps indicate those who survived the camp and the war.

Jasenovac Memorial Site after 1990

The Socialist Republic of Croatia adopted a new law on the Jasenovac Memorial Site in 1990, shortly before the first democratic elections in the country.[173]

When Franjo Tuđman was elected for Croatia's president that year, revisionist views on the concentration camp's history came into prominence. The memorial's status was demoted to that of a nature park, and its funding was cut. After Croatia declared its independence and exited the Yugoslav Federation in June 1991, the memorial site found itself in two separate countries. Its grounds at Donja Gradina belonged to Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was then still part of Yugoslavia. Simo Brdar, who was the assistant director of the Jasenovac Memorial Site, doubted that the Croatian authorities, dominated by Croatian nationalists, were committed to preserve the artifacts and documentation of the concentration camp. In August 1991, Brdar transported some of the materials to Bosnia and Herzegovina. As the Yugoslav Wars began, Croatian forces vandalized, devastated and looted the Jasenovac Memorial Site and its museum during September 1991. They were driven out from Jasenovac after a month by the Yugoslav People's Army. Brdar returned to the site and collected what was left of the museum's exhibits and documentation. He kept the collections until 1999, when they were housed in the Archives of Republika Srpska. At the end of 2000, the collections were transferred to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, after an agreement with the government of Republika Srpska. A year later, the USHMM transported the collections to Croatia and gave them to the Jasenovac Memorial Site.[174] Israeli President Moshe Katsav visited Jasenovac in 2003, and was the first Israeli head of state to officially visit the country.

In 2004, at the yearly Jasenovac commemoration, the Croatian authorities presented new plans for the Jasenovac memorial site, changing the concept of the museum as well as some of the content. The director of the Memorial Site, Nataša Jovičić, explained how the permanent museum exhibition would be changed to avoid provoking fear, and cease displaying the "technology of death" (mallets, daggers, etc.), rather it would concentrate on individualizing it with personal stories of former prisoners. The German ambassador to Croatia at the time, Gebhard Weiss, expressed skepticism towards "the avoidance of explicit photographs of the reign of terror".[175]

The New York City Parks Department, the Holocaust Park Committee and the Jasenovac Research Institute, with the help of former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY), 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.[176]

The Jasenovac Memorial Museum reopened 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.[124] However, the new exhibition was described as "postmodernist trash" by Efraim Zuroff, and criticized for the removal of all Ustaše killing instruments from the display and a lack of explanation of the ideology that led to the crimes committed there in the name of the Croatian people.[124]

Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Jasenovac on 25 July 2010 dubbing it a "demonstration of sheer sadism".[177]

On 17 April 2011, in a commemoration ceremony, former-Croatian President Ivo Josipović warned that there were, "attempts to drastically reduce or decrease the number of Jasenovac victims ... faced with the devastating truth here that certain members of the Croatian people were capable of committing the cruelest of crimes, I want to say that all of us are responsible for the things that we do." At the same ceremony, then Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor said, "there is no excuse for the crimes and therefore the Croatian government decisively rejects and condemns every attempt at historical revisionism and rehabilitation of the fascist ideology, every form of totalitarianism, extremism and radicalism ... Pavelić's regime was a regime of evil, hatred and intolerance, in which people were abused and killed because of their race, religion, nationality, their political beliefs and because they were the others and were different."[178]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Official website of the Jasenovac Memorial Site
  2. 1 2 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  3. Ljiljana Radonić (2009), Heinz Fassmann; Wolfgang Müller-Funk; Heidemarie Uhl, eds., "Krieg um die Erinnerung an das KZ Jasenovac: Kroatische Vergangenheitspolitik zwischen Revisionismus und europäischen Standards" (in German), Kulturen der Differenz- Transformationsprozesse in Zentraleuropa nach 1989 (Göttingen: V&R unipress): pp. 179
  4. Pavlowitch (2008), p. 34
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  7. Tomasevich (2001), p. 399
  8. Brietman (2005), p. 204
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Kolstø, Pål. The Serbian-Croatian Controversy over Jasenovac in Ramet (2011), pp. 226–41.
  10. Tomasevich (2001), pp. 233–41.
  11. Lemkin (2008), pp 259, 625–26.
  12. Lemkin (2008), pp. 259, 613.
  13. Lemkin (2008), pp. 260, 626.
  14. Lemkin (2008), pp. 259, 626–27.
  15. Tomasevich (2001), pp. 383–84.
  16. Aristotle Kallis. Genocide and Fascism: The Eliminationist Drive in Fascist Europe, Routledge, New York, NY 2009, pp. 236–44.
  17. Hilgruber, Staatsmanner und Diplomaten bei Hitler, p. 611.
  18. Wansee, Nuremberg trail documents, NG-2568-G
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  20. Schwartz, p. 301
  21. Shelach et al., 1990, p. 195.
  22. A.A. Nachlass Kasche, p. 105
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  24. Shelach et al., 1990, p. 153, n. 20
  25. Shelach et al., 1990
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  28. 1 2 Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, 1990, pp. 739–40.
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  68. Shelach et al., 1990, pp. 192, 196.
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  85. State Commission, 1946, p. 43
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  87. Dragan Roller, statement to the press during the Dinko Sakić trial, New York Times, 2 May 1998.
  88. "Zlocini Okupatora Nijhovih Pomagaca Harvatskoj Protiv Jevrija", pp. 144–45
  89. Shorthand notes of the Ljubo Miloš trial, pp. 292-93. Antun Vrban admitted of his crimes: "Q. And what did you do with the children A. The weaker ones we poisoned Q. How? A. We led them into a yard... and into it we threw gas Q. What gas? A. Zyklon." (Qtd. Shelach et al., 1990)
  90. M. Persen, "Ustasi Logore", p. 105
  91. Sindik (ed.), p. 40-41, 58, 76, 151
  92. State Commission, 1946, pp. 13, 25, 27, 56–57, 58–60.
  93. State Commission, 1946,
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  98. Kolstø 2011, pp. 230, 232
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