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Jasenovak Holocause Memorial

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Jasenovak Holocaust Memorial


Basic Information

Location 45°16′54″N 16°56′6″E
Country Croatia
City Jasenovak

General Information

Open to visitors yes
Need appointment no
Handicap accessibility no
Website http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005449
Geographical Coordinates 45.2832,16.92823


Jasenovac concentration camp was an extermination camp established in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) during World War II. It was the only extermination camp that was not operated by the Germans, and was among the largest camps in Europe. The camp was established by the governing Ustaše regime 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". In Jasenovac, the majority of victims were ethnic Serbs, whom the Ustaše wanted to remove from the NDH, along with the Jews and Roma peoples. Jasenovac was a complex of five subcampsspread 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. 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 3½ years of operation. Gradually, in the 15 years after the war ended, a figure of 700,000 began to reflect conventional wisdom, although estimates ranged between 350,000 and 800,000. The authorities of SFR Yugoslavia conducted a population survey in 1964 that showed a far lower figure, but kept it a secret; when Vladimir Žerjavić published such lower figures in the 1980's, he was criticized by Antun Miletić among others, but his research has since been considered trustworthy by authorities on World War II Yugoslav history such as Jozo Tomasevich. 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. The Jasenovac Memorial Site quotes a similar figure of between 80,000 and 100,000 victims. The 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.

History and time period

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. 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 honor and vital interests of the Croatian nation or endangered the existence of the Independent State of Croatia". This was a retrospective criminal 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. 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. These decrees were enforced not only through the regular court system, but also through new special courts and mobile courts-martial with extended jurisdiction. 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 adopted 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 the Serbian population of the NDH. 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." In 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". In addition to specifying the means of extermination, the Nazis often arranged the imprisonment or transfer of inmates to Jasenovac. Kasche's emissary, Major Knehe, visited the camp in 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. It thus appears that the Nazis inspected Jasenovac, possibly due to doubts they had about the Ustaše devotion to the extermination of the Jews. 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". It is unclear whether Jasenovac was to be used primarily as a death camp in its own right, like Sajmište, or more as a collection depot from which Jews would be transported to Auschwitz. Stara-Gradiška was the primary site from which Jews were transported to Auschwitz, but Kashe's letter refers specifically to the sub-camp 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 the Serb people than Jews, and that Italian and Catholic pressure was dissuading the Ustaše from killing Jews. 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. 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. 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". 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: "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" Hans Helm was in charge of deportation of 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 together with August Meissner, Wilhelm Fuchs, Josef Hahn, Ludwig Teichmann, Josef Eckert, Ernst Weimann, Richard Kaserer and Friedrich Polte.

Creation and operation

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: Ciglana (Jasenovac III) Kozara (Jasenovac IV) Stara Gradiška (Jasenovac V)

The camp was constructed, managed and supervised by Department III of the Ustashka Nadzorna Služba or UNS (lit. "Ustaše Supervisory Service"), a special police force of the NDH. Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić was head of the UNS. Individuals managing the camp at different times included Miroslav Majstorović and Dinko Šakić. The camp administration in times used other Ustaše battalions, police units, Domobrani units, auxiliary units made up of Bosnian-Muslims, and even the aid of German and Hungarian Nazis. The Ustaše interned, tortured and executed men, women and children in Jasenovac. The largest number of victims were Serbs, but victims also included Jews, and Romani people, as well as Croatian and Bosnian-Muslim 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 Roma 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.

Population of inmates: Serbs constituted the majority of inmates in Jasenovac. The Jasenovac Memorial Area list of victims of Jasenovac includes over 56% Serbs. In several instances, inmates were immediately killed for confessing their Serbian ethnicity and most considered it to be the only reason for their imprisonment. The Serbs were predominantly brought from the Kozara region, where the Ustaše captured areas that were held by Partisan guerrillas. 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.

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 8,000to almost two thirds of the Croatian Jewish population of 37,000 (meaning around 25,000). Most of the executions of Jews at Jasenovac occurred prior to August 1942. Thereafter, the NDH started to deport 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. 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. The figures of murdered Roma are the most controversial, with the number being between 20,000 and 50,000. 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, 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. Jasenovac camp also consisted of a unique camp for children in Sisak. Around 20,000 children of Serbian, Jewish and Roma ethnicity perished in Jasenovac. The Ustaše in Jasenovac also imprisoned numerous people of other ethnicities, including Ukrainians, Romanians and Slovenes.

End of the camp

In April 1945, as Partisan units approached the camp, the camp's Croatian Fascist supervisors attempted to erase traces of the atrocities by working the death camp at full capacity. On 22 April, 600 prisoners revolted; 520 were killed and 80 escaped. Before abandoning the camp shortly after the prisoner revolt, the Ustaše killed the remaining prisoners and torched the buildings, guardhouses, torture rooms, the "Picili Furnace", and all the other structures in the camp. Upon entering the camp, the Partisans found 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 Home Guard members. The Laborers completed the destruction of the camp, leveling the site and dismantling the two-kilometer long, four-meter high wall that surrounded it.

Victim numbers

Historians have had difficulty calculating and agreeing on the number of victims at Jasenovac. Most modern sources place it at around 100,000. 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.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 WWII. The estimates vary due to lack of accurate records, the methods used for making estimates, and sometimes the political biases of the estimators. In some cases, entire families were exterminated, leaving no one to submit their names to the lists. On the other hand, it has been found that the lists include the names of people who died elsewhere, whose survival was not reported to the authorities, or who are counted more than once on the lists.

Later events

Yugoslav President Marshal Josip Broz Tito never visited the site, as he sought to make the people of Yugoslavia forget the Ustaše crimes in the name of "brotherhood and unity" in Yugoslavia. This policy continued to modern times. The Socialist Republic of Croatia adopted a new law on the Jasenovac Memorial Area in 1990, shortly before the first democratic elections in the country.The Jasenovac Memorial Museum was temporarily abandoned during the Yugoslav Wars when it was taken over by the rebel Republic of Serb Krajina. In November 1991, Simo Brdar, a former associate director of the Memorial, stole the documentation from the museum and brought it to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Brdar 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. 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". 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 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.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. Israeli President Shimon Peres visited Jasenovac on 25 July 2010 dubbing it a "demonstration of sheer sadism". On 17 April 2011, in a commemoration ceremony, current-Croatian President Ivo Josipović warned that there were, "attempts to drastically reduce or decrease the number of Jasenovac victims." He added, "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,” and added, “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.”.

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