25. June – Memory of Serbs murdered in Jadovno Croatian concentration camp system. – Near the Saranova jama on Velebit mt. near Gospic and in the Slana Bay on Pag island a commemoration for victims of Croatian Ustasha camps that killed tens of thousands of mainly Serbian civilians was held.
The camps ‘operated’ from the moment the Nazi satellite state of Croatia was established.
The Croat Ustasha state, all its agencies, from the Ustasha organization, political and military-police organs to the state administration, juridical and other organs, were engaged in organized genocide. The best example is the Gospić group of concentration camps (Gospić, Jadovno, Pag), better known in the historiography as Jadovno – after the camp and the largest place of execution set up by a state organ – the police administration. The Serbs and Jews were brought with the aid of state, military, police and party organs from the whole territory of the ISC to be destroyed there. Unlike some later camps, these didn’t even feature the title »working camp«. They were meant for destruction alone. They were set up and fulfilled greater part of their function even before any kind of resistence of the »disloyal« population, which is an obvious proof of the intent to destroy certain ethnic or religious communities, this being an important element in the definition of genocide. This system of camps and places of execution in the very beginning of the ISC’s existence, before the armed resistence, marks the beginning of the planned and executed genocide on the Serbian people and the Holocaust of the Jews.
Jadovno is the forerunner of the Jasenovac death camp system, the largest in the Yugoslav territory. The liquidation of the camp, due to the reoccupation of the 2nd Italian zone of occupation, meant also the liquidation of the inmates. Due to the shortness of time and the interventions of the occupation powers, part of the inmates wasn’t liquidated but sent to other camps – mostly to Jasenovac. It was they who were the first inmates there.
Over 40.000 people were killed in this camp during four months of its existence. Almost 95% of the victims were the Serbs, almost 5% the Jews and less than 0.3% other anti-Fascists. According to integral part of the study is the list of names with identification data of 10.688 victims . The Serbs make up 92%. Out of that over 10% were children. The Jews make up over 7%, some 2% among them being children. Somewhat less than 0.8% were other anti-Fascists. Among the murdered 74 priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church (two bishops among them) are listed by name. The bulk of the murdered were thrown into carst pits.
Photo: Serbian women taken to conc. camp Jadovno –
In the Collection of the Documents ( Documents ‘Jadovno’, research study by Djuro Zatezalo) the author presents documents about the legalization of the crime, about internment and perpetration of crimes which prove the intent of the Croat Ustasha state to destroy part of its population on account of its national, racial or religious affiliation. It also contains testimonies given to the Commissariat for Refugees in Belgrade in 1941 and 1942, statements and testimonies given before the Commission for Establishing the Crimes of the Occupants and Their Abettors 1944-1946, as well as a group of documents of Italian origin.
By a number of laws, the authorities strove to legalize the terror they have already been practicing. During the first three months of the ISC’s (Independent state of Croatia) existence, some 20 laws were passed that legalized racial and confessional inequality and terror over citizens, and several court-martials were set up: 10 “extraordinary people’s courts”, 10 “court-martials” 12 “mobile court-martials” and 2 “grand extraordinary people’s courts”. Among many other decrees, the one of July 18, on the name of religion stands out. It abolished the name “Serbian Orthodox faith”, renaming it “Greek-Eastern faith” instead. The name “Greek-Easterners” was officially used to designate the Serbs. The Cyrillic alphabet and the confession were prohibited, the name of the people, the language and the faith were taken away – all these being phases in the process of the destruction of the Serbian people in the ISC.
The propaganda campaign promoting the Ustasha views on the “Serbian and Jewish question” in the press, on the radio, from pulpits, as well as in the speeches of numerous officials, led to the increase of arrests, tortures, incarcerations and murders of the Serbs and Jews. Parallel with mass murders, the Serbian population was subjected to forcible conversions to Roman-Catholicism and expulsions. The Archbishop’s Board in Zagreb took active part in conversions of the Orthodox population, issuing special rules and instructions for action of the Roman-Catholic clergy in the ISC (published in the Katolički list on May 15, 1941). Massacres of even those who agreed to be converted, prove just how this “voluntary conversions” looked like. Thus, for example, the Ustasha rounded up 1.564 people from the districts of Vrginmost, Glina and Bosnaska Dubica under the pretext of conversion, took them to Glina and slaughtered them between July 27 and August 3, 1941 in the Serbian Orthodox church there. The Serbs from the villages of Sadilovac near Slunj, Šibuljina near Karlobag, Kolarić near Vojnić and in many other places, suffered the same fate. Crimes were turned into the normal government system. Due to sizeable Serbian population in Croatia, the crimes of the Ustasha state took on a massive character. “The Serbian people in the ISC was made a free culling game” wrote the special envoy of the German Foreign Ministry for the South-Eastern Europe, Hermann Neubacher.
Photo: Croatia erased almost all traces of their crusader’s genocidal orgies in Pag island and she even promotes the whole area as ‘Croatian Ibiza’, so that tells enough.
Gospić was by no means earmarked by chance to become the centre for mass destruction of the Serbs. The Ustasha organization started its activities in Gospić in the 1930s, spreading the Ustasha ideology through legal associations (»Crussaders’ Fraternity«, sports association »Victoria«, gym organization »Croat Hero«). Until 1941 it firmly took roots among the high-school and university youth. Gospić became an important centre of the Ustasha organization. The most notorious Ustasha, murderers and butchers who formed the Auxiliary Ustasha Commando which committed mass slaughters of the Serbs and Jews in the concentration camps Jadovno on the mount Velebit, Slano at the island of Pag and other execution grounds throughout Croatia, originated from the »Crussaders’ Fraternity«.
Serbian Orthodox priests in Jadovno pits
The Ustasha rule in Gospić was set up on April 10, 1941 at 5 PM. The very same evening arrests of the Serbs and the Communists started. The Auxiliary Ustasha Commando, aided by the Civic Guard, started the premeditated and organized crimes against the Serbs.
After the speach of Mile Budak in Gospić on May 2, 34 Gospić Serbs who had been tortured, manhandled, beaten and buthchered for days, were taken out of the prison, tied with wire, loaded on a truck and taken in the direction of Ličko Lešće to the execution ground in Janiče, by the so-called Macola’s Pit. Since May 4, almost every day one or more trucks would leave the Gospić prison, carrying 30 to 40 Serbs to places of execution – mostly in carst pits. The Serbs were brought to the jail every day, not only from Gospić, but from other parts of Lika too – individually, in groups or en masse, in trucks, drawn wagons or on foot – only to be taken out for execution. The time between mid-May and late August 1941 was marked by numerous Ustasha crimes in Lika, Gorski Kotar and other parts of the ISC, and by transports to the Gospić concentration camp, and then to the places of execution. Despite its spacious court-yard and corridors, the jail of the District Court in Gospić became to small, so the Ustasha set up concentration camps in Jadovno on mount Velebit and in Slana on the island of Pag. These, together with many other execution grounds provided enough space for the intake of 700 to 1.000 detainees daily.
Columns of tied men, women and children were taken through Gospić under maltreatment to be liquidated, in the sight of Italian officers and military authorities. These even sent their commissions which photographed and recorded these crimes. Whereas the Italians were helping the Ustasha without reacting to their crimes against the Serbian population during the first months of occupation, scared and endangered by the uprising of the Serbs which started in Lika in late July and early August, they reoccupied the so-called Zone Two in the second half of August. The Ustasha had to leave this area, so the concentration campsthere were closed down.
The Ustasha government organized various collection centres and camps which were run by district police authorities or local Ustasha officials. Furthermore, it organized resettlement camps and camps run by the Ustasha Survailance Service, i.e. since January 21, 1943 by the Main Direction for Public Order and Security. The first collection centers were set up in prison court-yards, district authorities’ buildings, former gyms, primary school buildings and outdoors. They were particularly numerous in 1941, but also later on, during or after larger military operations or mopping-up of the terrain. Among the most notorious were: »Danica« in Koprivnica (founded as early as on April 15, 1941, i.e. only five days after the proclamation of the ISC; the first inmates arrived already three days after its foundation, on April 18), Kerestinac (on April 19 the manor of the Ban Mihovilović was turned into a camp), Kruščica near Travnik, the Gospić group (the Gospić prison, Ovčara; the collection center at the railway station, Jadovno on Velebit, Slana and Metajna on the island of Pag, Stupačinovo near Baške Oštarije), Sisak-Caprag, Jastrebarsko, Tenja, Đakovo, Gornja Rijeka, Reka, Loborgrad; relocation camps: Vinkovci, Slavonska Požega, Bjelovar. The system of Jasenovac concentration camps deserves special mention: Krapje, Bročice, the Brick-Yard, the Tannery Camp including Stara Gradiška with its branches, economic outbuildings and execution grounds: Donja Gradina, Uštica, Mlaka, Feričanci, Bistrica and Jablanac.
Photo: Serbian children prisoners; before the execution
The first organized extermination camp meant exclusively for destruction of entire national, religious, racial or ethnic groups was the Gospić system of camps, better known in the historiography after the concentration camp and the largest place of execution as the concentration camp Jadovno.
Arrests and incarcerations in the Gospić prison started in Lika already in April 1941. Among others, some 200 Serbs from Ogulin, 35 from the village of Otok, 70 from Gomirje (abbots Teofan Kosanović and Metodije Subotin among them), some 100 from Srpske Moravice, 200 from Plaško (the bishop of Upper Karlovac Sava Trlajić with 30 priests) were deported from this area. From Karlovac and Kordun transports were sent on April 26, June 6, July 25/26 with 60 Serbs and 30 Jews, with 14 Serbs from the village of Čemernica at the time of mass slaughter of 530 persons from the area of Veljuna in Hrvatski Blagaj. 46 persons were sent from Topusko on June 28, and several women and children on August 1. To his question what would be done with all these detainees in Gospić, a guard of the transport was answered by a Gospić Ustasha, they would serve as »dung for beech-trees« on Velebit. At the same time the crime in the Glina church was committed, more than 800 Serbs were deported from Banija on July 27, more than 150 people from Sisak in mid-July, 30 Serbs and 26 Jews on July 24, and 47 Serbs on July 26.
Some 200 persons were sent to Gospić from the Slavonski Brod area on August 2-4. A mass arrest of 120 Serbs took place in Nova Gradiška on April 11; 800 Serbs and 20 Jews were transported to Gospić on August 9. During April and May 700 Serbs and 9 Croats were seized in Osijek. In the Sokol building 12 Serbs were killed, 16 were taken out of the garrison prison and shot on the bank of the Drava, whereas the rest were transported to the camp on July 21-23 after having been tortured. 345 of them ended their lives on Velebit, while the rest were sent to other camps.
101 Serbs were deported from Vinkovci in late April and the first half of May; only five of them survived. More than 800 persons were deported from Vinkovci, Vukovar, Šid and Sremska Mitrovica to Gospić during June and July.
The first group of Serbs from Sarajevo was sent on May 17, and between the end of May and August 14, 1.778 men, women and children were sent to the Jadovno camp in 9 transports. A transport was sent from Zavidović in late July and on August 1; 44 Serbs were deported from Visoko. They were joined by two wagons with 80 Serbs in each, and in Doboj by two wagons with the arrested from Bijeljina and Tuzla. 28 Serbs were transported from Doboj, on August 1, and 25 on August 2; 25 Serbs and Jews from Derventa on August 1 and 73 on August 16; more than 100 people from Bosanski Brod in July, and some 800 Serbs were deported to the concentration camp in Slavonska Požega in mid-August, where the majority were murdered. During June and July some 550 Serbs were sent from Jajce in three transports. In early August 720 Serbs were arrested, mostly in Novi Travnik and its vicinity. 43 of them, together with others from Turbe and Travnik were taken to Jadovno on August 3, whereas the rest were killed near the village of Stojkovići at the place called Smrike.
Most of the Serbs and Jews from West Bosnia were transported to the Jadovno concentration camp from Banja Luka, Ključ, Kulen Vakuf, Gornji Vakuf, Bosanska Krupa, Bosanski Novi, Bihać, Velika Kladuša and Vrnograč. A number of people, several Orthodox prisests among them, was arrested in the Banja Luka area in the night of July 10/11, as well as the day after.71 Jews and 28 Serbs were sent to Jadovno from Banja Luka, 60 Serbs from the Ključ area on August 2, 150 Serbs from Otoka and other villages of the Bosanska Krupa area in mid-July. Out of 300 people captured in Bosanski Novi on July 31, the majority were killed and thrown into the Una and Sana rivers; 40 had their throats cut in prison and only 15 were taken to Gospić. In mid-July 1941, 45 people from the territories of the communes of Vrnograč, from the villages of Bosanska Bojna and Rujnica were deported, and some 50 from the Velika Kladuša area on July 21. Mass arrests and murders started only five days later, and they were to last incessantly from July 25 to August 8, 1941. 4.700 men, women and children from Velika Kladuša, Slunj and Vojnić were killed on the place called Mehino stanje where anti-tank trenches were dug at the foot of the hill Ičungar.
Several dozens Serbs were deported from Bjeljina to Gospić on June 23; another group, with 25 Orthodox priests among them, on July 15, and a group of 45 on August 2. After the arrest and deportation to Gospić of the Serbs from the Brčko area on August 2, the district head demanded in his dispatch for the Posavlje County of August 5, that “unplanned sending of the Serbs to the Gospić Concentration Camp be prevented« because he deemed such arrests wouldn’t help achieve the goal, since the capacities were insufficient to send all the 40.000 Serbs to “the Gospić concentration camp and to solve the Serbian question in the region in that way«. For that reason he suggested eviction as a preferable solution, whereas only those who would remain would be rounded up and sent to the concentration camp. The Ustasha transported the captured Serbs from Modriča to the Jadovno concentration camp in July. In the district of Zvornik, 31 people from the villages of Osmaci and Gojčina were deported in August, 111 persons from the Serbian villages of Međaši, Dubica, Sarač and Miljenovac on August 9, and 13 Serbs from the village of Rajinci. 60 persons from Rogatica and some 200 from Vlasenica were sent to the camp in July.
The Serbs from the Herzegovina were transported via Mostar, Sarajevo, Slavonski Brod, Zagreb and Karlovac to the concentration camps in Gospić, Jadovno and Slana. A large number of Serbs and Jews from Mostar, Ljubinje, Trebinje, Stolac, Ljubuško, Konjic and other Herzegovinian places were deported via that route. The Ustasha Police in Zagreb ordered the Hum County which had its center in Mostar, that transportation of the Serbs to the Gospić concentration camp should ensue on a daily basis. It is difficult to determine how many trains were sent from Mostar to Gospić. However, the following transports could be identified from the available archival sources: after the mass arrest in Mostar on July 19-20, a train with 186 Serbs was sent to Gospić. They arrived there tied and crammed in three railwaycars after four full days of traveling without food or water. Another 174 Serbs came on July 22, and some 700 prisoners on July 23. Transports were sent from Mostar to Jablanica on August 1, 2, 3, whereas one group was sent straight to Jadovno. 750 Serbs were deported to Jablanica. People from Mostar, Ljubinje, Stolac, Trebinje, Dubrovnik, Konjic and some other places were among them. 700 men, women and children were sent in four transports from Jablanica to Gospić. 56 Serbs from Foča were taken to Gospić and 145, mostly women and children, were sent on July 31. People arrested in Stolac on August 2, arrived in Gospić on August 9. The Serbs from Mostar were sent to Jablanica and from there, together with others, to Gospić. The same happened to 56 Serbs from Konjic and Drniš, as well as to a larger number of Orthodox and Roman-Catholic Serbs from Dubrovnik and its vicinity.
From a survey of arrests and transportation of people from the territory of the ISC to the Jadovno concentration camp, it can be concluded that the Ustasha state pursued the plan of extermination of the Serbian and Jewish peoples on a daily basis ever since its foundation. The Jadovno concentration camp complex with its auxiliary camps and Velebit pits was the spot of systematic destruction of people on account of their ethnic, religious and racial affiliation. Although the Serbs were arrested every day, the Ustasha arrested and killed them most massively during the Serbian-Orthodox holidays: on Easter (which in 1941 fell on April 25), St. George’s Day (May 6), St. Vitus’ Day (June 28), St. Peter’s Day (12. July) and St. Elias’ Day (August 2).
Fulfilling its mission of keeping the lasting memory of the victims of the genocide and the Holocaust, the Museum of Genocide Victims is engaged in collecting, processing, preserving, researching and presenting to the public of data and materials about the genocide against the Serbian people in its ethnic and state territory, about the Holocaust of the Jews and the genocide of the Gypsies, as well as the human losses and suffering of members of all nationalities in the Yugoslav territory in the wars of the 20th century.
Torture and Liquidation of Prisoners
If one has in mind the number of victims in Jadovno and its camps from mid-April to mid-August – in only four months – the intention of the Croat Ustasha state to destroy the Serbs and Jews becomes quite clear.
From the documents, statements of survivors and of the criminals themselves, we learn about the means and methods of torture the Ustasha applied on men, women and children from the moment of the arrest, to their stay in concentration camps to the execution places themselves. However, all these statements are but a faint shadow of a terrible reality, because it is impossible to describe all that was done to the innocent people. In their brutality these crimes surpass everything a psychologist can suppose a human individual is capable of doing.
It seems the favorite way of killing for the Ustasha was with a sledge-hammer, the so-called macola. The sledge-hammer, weighting some 3 kg, was used for killing most of the victims, regardless of their age or sex, but mostly for killing women and children – if they weren’t thrown into the pits alive. Apart from the sledge-hammer, men were also murdered with knives, and during the transport from Karlobag to Pag, the victims were hit on the head with a stone, having previously been tied to a stone, so as to sink when thrown into the sea. When screams of the living and half-living were heard from the Velebit pits, the Ustasha would kill them by throwing hand-grenades on their half-dead and mutilated bodies.
Photo: Serbian babies murdered by Croats
Beatings of the tied and the helpless were a daily occurrence, as well as cutting off of body parts, tearing out of fingernails, driving of nails under them or into the head, poring hot water or spreading salt into the ripped parts of the body, gouging out of eyes, breaking of legs and arms, tying the victim to a bench and pulling legs in different directions. Some were crowned with a thorny crown which was hit so the thorns would dig into the head. A brother was ordered to beat brother, a son to torture and kill his father, and vice versa. Faces and eyes were scorched with burning cigarettes. Some had their bodies ironed with a hot iron, soles of their feet cut with razors and…who could enumerate all the perversities of these sadists! The cases of murder without previous manhandling, beating or torture were very rare. Women were raped before being killed, their breasts cut off and children torn from their wombs. Some Roman-Catholic priests (Don Ljubo Magaš, Don Krsto Jelinić and others) took part in these crimes and in satisfying their sexually aberrant instincts. The victims of the Jadovno concentration camps were only rarely killed with fire-arms. Before being killed, their hands, and sometimes legs too, were tied with wire… Usually children were tied to their mothers and killed before them so as to cause mothers the worst mental suffering.
Orthodox priests were maltreated, tortured and killed with particular cruelty. In the execution places of Jadovno 74 murdered Orthodox priests were identified, the Sarajevo metropolitan Petar Zimonjić and the bishop of Upper Karlovac Sava Trlajić being among them. Metropolitan Petar was manhandled and tortured from the day he was arrested, on May 12, 1941, during his transfer to Zagreb, in the prison of the Zagreb police, in the Kerestinac concentration camp where his beard was shaven off, and finally on July 15, while he was taken to the Gospić camp where the Ustasha orgy was at its peak. He had to carry logs on his bare back, to clean the yard and the toilets, being most vulgarly insulted in the process. Under beating he had to hold sermons for the inmates as if he were in a church, which additionally spurred the Ustasha to beat him on the head and body. He and Bishop Sava of Plaško were several times taken out of the Jadovno concentration camp to Šaranova jama to watch their faithful being slaughtered, only to be murdered over the same pit with a stroke of a sledge-hammer in the back of the neck.
Photo: Tortured Serbs in Independent State of Croatia
Dimitrije Jerković, a priest from Široka Kula near Gospić was flayed alive, his skin and hair cut off together. His beard was ripped off and he was killed over Macolina jama. The priest from Smiljan, Matija Stijačić was thrown after terrible torture half-dead into Šaranova jama together with the priest from Raduče, Grozdanović, parts of whose body were torn off beforehand. The Ustasha tore hairs from the beard and mustches of priest Nikola Bogunović from Donji Lapac, pricking his nose and whole body with red-hot needle. Priest Stevan Steva Čurčić from Ogulin was tortured by the Ustasha in the Ogulin tower, then taken to Vrginmost where he was tied and beaten, his beard torn off. Thus mutilated he was taken to the Zagreb police from where he was escorted tot the Danica concentration camp, and then to Gospić, only to be taken half dead after torture to Velebit and thrown into Šaranova jama. Priest Spasa Lavrnja from Suvaja near Donji Lapac was arrested by the Ustasha during a funeral and tortured before the whole funeral procession. After that he was taken to the Jadovno camp and muredered. In his house they cut the throat of his wife Ljubica, in the last stage of her pregnancy at that time, first ripping her belly open and tearing a child from her womb. Her four years old son was left by her dead body. The child cried for three days near the dead mother, and on the fourth day the Ustasha came and cut his throat too.
Such tortures were not done in concentration camps alone. Priest Đorđe Bogić from Našice, born in Subocka, was tied to a tree and his tongue, nose and beard with skin were cut off. Than his eyes were dug out, and when the butchers noticed he was still conscious, they ripped open his chest. Proko Pejović, hidden in the bush heard the Ustasha say: “Damn his Vlach mother, his heart is still beating, he’s still alive.” Than they shot him from the rifle.
We learn about the cruelty of the torturers from themselves. Seven Ustasha criminals were brought to justice only twelve years later, in 1953. In their statements they spoke about their crimes in the camps on Velebit, Jadovno and Slana. By the verdict of the District Court of Zadar, June 30, 1953, they were sentenced: Luka Barjašić to life imprisonment; Slavko Baljak and Ivan Kevrić to death; Jander Strika, Jerko Fratrović and Bene Barić to life imprisonment – the sentence of the last mentioned was soon converted to 20 years in prison; Mile Dudulica was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The Supreme Court confirmed this sentence on August 24, 1953. Slavko Baljak had joined the partisans and was in the Yugoslav People’s Army (YPA) from September 15, 1944 to December 5, 1953. Jerko Fratrović was in the YPA from May 30, 1945 to June1, 1946 and Strika Jandre was in the YPA too. All of them were employed until 1952 and lived in peace with no compunction.
They, with more than 180 members of the 1st Regiment of the 5th Ustasha Division which was in the Slana camp on the isle of Pag commanded by Ivan Devčić Pivac (from June 25 to August 25) took part in mass mishandling, torture and murders of the Serbs and Jews in the camps of Slana, Jadovno, over pits near Karlobag, Baške Oštarije and the village Stupačinovo on the slopes of Velebit. In their statements they spoke about thousands of murdered on Velebit and in the area of Furnaža on the isle of Pag. The largest massacre in the Slana camp between August 14 and 15, 1941 was a present to the Holy Virgin of Pag to which the butchers were bowing with bloody knives with which they had bestially murdered 800 women and children. Having done this criminal job the Ustasha returned to the camp with knives stuck to their belts and celebrated merrily the Holy Virgin, criminal, one Luka Barjašić and an eye-witness one Jakov Dokozić, reported. On that same day 60 of them came to the town of Pag to take part in the procession – to carry the Virgin’s statue in a large church procession from the church in Slani Grad to Pag.
On Velebit and Pag island the Ustasha killed anywhere they felt like doing it, so that it is today impossible to determine where all the Serbian and Jewish graves are. They usually killed without using fire-arms: with knives, sledge-hammers, with various other objects and by throwing the living into abysses or the pits they had dug out.
We learn about the crimes in the Jadovno concentration camp complex also from the reports of the Italian medics, from the statements of people whose throats were cut before being thrown into pits but who managed to survive by incredible chance, from the description by people who witnessed exhumation and burning of the mutilated bodies and from other reports.
Despite strict security measures of the Jadovno and Slana concentration camps, there were attempts at escape and at salvation from certain death.
Some managed to escape the Ustasha already at the arrest or while being transported or incarcerated or transported, even from the camps themselves. Some even managed to crawl out of the pits. Thanks to these individuals who managed to escape from the Ustasha claws, thousands of other innocent lives were saved because the people no longer trusted the Ustasha and their government. To 1991, 50 years later, there were those who remained the most trustworthy witnesses of the genocide committed by the Croat Ustasha against the Serbian and Jewish people.
17 incarcerated Serbs tried to escape from the Jadovno concentration camp complex. However, only the following succeded: Serđo Poljak from Šibuljina, Branko Cetina from Vrepce near Gospić, Savo Zoroja and Dane Čanak from Kuzmanovače near Široka Kula, Bogdan Lemajić from Smiljan near Gospić, Radoslav Grubor from Turbe near Travnik and three others whose names are unknown.
Even though he was wounded, Bogdan Lemajić managed to escape the massacre at the Šaranova jama. He returned to his village where he was hiding for a while. However, he was caught and beaten to death by the Ustasha Franjo Devčić who, together with other Ustasha, took part in the mass slaughter of the Serbs in Smiljan and Smiljansko Polje. Savo Zoroja, who escaped from the Jadovno camp on July 1, was killed in action as partisan in 1943. Dane Čanak, Branko Cetina and Radoslav Grubor left their written testimonies about mass murders of the Serbs in the Jadovno concentration camp.
Although he was wounded, Serđo Poljak managed to get out of the pit and escape in May 1941. The escape of Branko Cetina and his friend Savo Zoroja was also successful on July 1. Branko is today the only living eyewitness who told this author on June 17, 1990, on the very place where the camp had stood on Velebit, about how he had been arrested, incarcerated, taken to the Gospić prison, transported to the Jadovno camp and how he escaped. Only five days after him, Dane Čanak also managed to escape.
11 living people managed to crawl out of Jarčija jama in early August 1941. Janja Potkonjak was among them. She was thrown alive into the pit from which she got out, but died 30 days later of exhaustion, hunger and the traumas she suffered.
Dmitar Cvijanović, Janja Trešnjić and Janja Vujnović were captured by the Ustasha after they had left the pit, and murdered. Sava Jerković, Jela Stanić, Mara Vojnović, Mileva Cvijanović, Mile Potkonjak, a child, Marija Počuča and Pera Cvijanović had more luck. The Ustashe threw 78 Serbs from the village of Divoselo near Gospić into the Jarčija jama in Mid-Velebit, overlooking the village of Alanka on August 6, 1941. Marija Počuča with her three children was also thrown into the pit. Although she was wounded, she crawled out of the pit, as did Jela Stanić. With throats cut but not dead, some got out of pits and away from numerous execution grounds and left trustworthy testimonies about an organized and premeditated crime.
Apart from mass murders in the death camp Jadovno, the Ustasha were committing genocide in the whole territory of their state, particularly in times of Serbian Orthodox holidays: St. George’s Day, St. Vitus’ Day, St. Peter’s Day and St. Elias’ Day. The massacre of the Serbs in Hrvatski Blagaj (the Veljun masacre) took place on St. George’s Day, before any armed resistance. A massacre took place on St. Elias’ Day in 1941 in the Orthodox church of the Virgin’s Nativity in Glina. On St. Elias’ Day 1941, 113 Serbs, both men, women and children were slaughtered in the village of Bogdanić near Gospić, 48 in Lipe, 39 in Ostrvica, 27 in Barlete, 25 in Medak (hamlet of Papuče), 178 in Smiljan, where the father of Nikola Tesla served as a Serbian Orthodox priest, and where the great Tesla was born.
In the territory of the commune of Vrginmost in Kordun, in 1941 alone, the Ustasha killed in the most horrifying way 4.263 Serbian civilians in the following places of mass execution: in churches, in the fields and houses.
Out of the total, there were 925 children under 15. These are the data about the persons killed in the spring and summer of 1941: 735 people in the districts of Gospić and Perušić between July 20 and during August, and 3.217 persons until the end of 1941; 735 in districts of Korenica and Udbina from May 28 to August 3, and 1.492 until the end of the year; 684 in the district of Gračac from May through August, and 903 until the end of the year; 775 in the district of Donji Lapac from June to August 5, and 890 until the end of the year; 1.987 in the district of Slunj between May 6 and August 19, and 2.065 until the end of the year.
The Liquidation of the Ustasha Concentration Camp Jadovno
From the occupation on April 14 till the Roman Accords between the Kingdom of Italy and the ISC (Independent State of Croatia) signed on May 18, 1941 the Italians held military and civilian power in Lika. Under their auspices and protection the Ustasha power was soon established. From the Roman Accords till August 26, 1941, Lika was part of the so-called Second Demilitarized Zone of the Italian-occupied territory in the ISC. The rights of both parties to the agreement were clearly defined. Tus the ISC was in charge of the civilian administration in that zone.
Because in the Italian judgement Italian interests were threatened, and the Croat state being unable to prevent the spreading of the uprising of the Serbian people in the regions of Kordun, Banija, Lika and Kninska krajina, with the simultaneous spate of uprisings in Serbia, Montenegro and Bosanska krajina in late July and early August, triggered off by putting into practice the intentions of the ISC to destroy the Serbs as a national entity, reoccupation of Lika was carried out and the Italian troops took over the military and civilian power in the Second Zone again, in keeping with the order of August 15, given to the 2nd Army. The Croat formations’ activities in this area were banned, which resulted in the disbanding of the Jadovno concentration camp complex. Pavelić entrusted the task to the Ustasha lieutenent-colonel Vjekoslav Luburić – Maks. He speedily set about disbanding the camp and removing the traces of the crimes. The licquidation of the camp was understood as commission of mass murder of thousands of inmates, so the Italians would find as few as possible of them alive. Thh killing was going on every day from August 10 to August 25. We learn about that also from the report of the 1st Croat Gendarmerie Regiment of August 22 for the Administration of Public Order and Security of the ISC, in which it is stated that, due to the arrival of the Italian army the Ustasha were compelled to liquidate the Jadovno concentration camp complex. Except by killing the prisoners, other way to liquidate the camp either by moving it upcountry or by sending the inmates to other camps or prisons, wasn’t even considered. Until August 18 the inmates were sent to the Jadovno camp and murdered in pits by the side of the road or in the camp itself. The last group of 1.200 Serbs and 300 Jews was killed in the camp itself between August 15 and 20. They had to dig pits for themselves in the camp area, over which they were killed and covered with earth, whereas part of them was killed in the very vicinity of the camp, the bodies being thrown into pits 30-40 m to the South of it. The Ustasha piled stones, timber and branches on the last killed Serbs and Jews. Some 3.000 Serbs brought from the Slana camp were also killed in Jadovno in mid-August. The Jadovno concentration camp on Velebit was disbanded on August 20. On that day the Ustasha moved spades, pikes, caldrons and other equipment from Velebit to the collecting camp Ovčara.
Simultaneously with the liquidation of the Jadovno camp, the Ustasha were liquidating prisoners of the Slana camp. The camp guards were divided into three groups: one was killing on the island, the other at the sea, and the third was transporting the inmates to Karlobag and further on to Velebit where they were thrown into pits. Apart from the above-mentioned 3.000 Serbs who were sent to Jadovno, two more times 800 men, women and children were transported from the island, as well as three times 150 people who were killed over the pits of the Stupačinovo concentration camp between August 12 and 20. The command of the Italian division “Re” which arrived in Karlobag also learned about the liquidation of the last inmates on the island of Pag. A platoon in two motor-boats was sent to the island to see what was going on. On that day the Italians took 120 women and children to boats and transported them to Karlobag. They ordered the Ustasha to take the prisoners to Gospić in three trucks, but they (the Ustasha) killed them in Stupačinovo instead. The Italian command also transported some 250 inmates to the Gospić railway-station on August 21, from where the Ustasha sent them, together with other prisoners brought there from Ovčara, to Jastrebarsko.
From the prisons of the District Court on four occasions on August 17, 700 Serbs were sent in the direction of the Jadovno camp. These were the last prisoners who were taken out of the prison and thrown into the Šaranova jama. Some 1.100 prisoners of the Gospić camp, accomodated in the jailhouse, were tied with wire and the chain that run along, early in the morning of August 18, awaiting to be taken to Jadovno. Just when they were ordered to get moving around 1 PM, they were suddenly ordered to return. They were kept in the prison only until the next morning, when they were tied and transported to the railway station, where they were held at the collection cneter until night. Than they were loaded onto 13 freight cars. In the report by the 1st Croat Gendarmerie Regiment of August 22, it is said, among other things: «On August 19, between 3 and 6 o’clock, the Chetniks from the Gospić concentration camp were transported in 36 trucks to the local railway station where they were loaded into wagons and sent in the direction of Zagreb. The precise destination couldn’t be determined.«
The first train with prisoners sent from Gospić arrived in Jastrebarsko in the morning of August 20, 1941. The inmates themselves took the dead out of the cars and threw them on the drawn wagon which took them to a field near Jastrebarsko for burrial. The Ustasha took 170 Serbs off this train and took them to the prison of count Eördödi’s mansion. Several hundreds of Jews and some Croats were put up there. In the evening a train with 900 Serbs moved in the direction of the newly-founded concentration camp Jasenovac. They arrived in the morning of August 21 and were taken over by the Ustasha of the 17th Ustasha Company. Three hours after the first train was sent to Jasenovac, the second one left, carrying some 400 inmates, mostly Jews. Several Croats and Serbian and Jewish women were taken off this train in Jastrebarsko. They were put up in the prison of Eördödi’s mansion. From the Gospić prison the last Serbs and the remaining Croats were taken out on August 20. They were transported to Jastrebarsko and locked up in the rooms of the local concentration camp.
The Jastrebarsko camp was run by Gospić camp commanders: Stjepan Rubinić, Dragutin Pudić Paraliza and Janko Mihailović. They arrived to Jastrebarsko with their Ustasha with the first train from Gospić and took over the entire organization of this camp. There were 2.200 inmates in all in the Jastrebarsko concentration camp at that time, with some 140 Communists brought from the Lepoglava jail among them and a few from Gospić.
There were some 60 Serbian women with children on the train that left Gospić on August 20, whom the Ustasha didn’t manage to kill in the Stupačinovo on Velebit because of the arrival of the Italian military. The last transport was sent from Gospić on August 21, containing some 900 inmates – mostly Jews and Jewish and Serbian women with children from the Ovčara concentration camp. At the Gospić railway station they were joined by 250 Jewish and Serbian women with children whom the Italian soldiers took by their trucks from the Slana camp via Karlobag to Gospić. The inmates were brought to the Jastrebarsko camp on August 22, and they remained there until September 1, when they were taken to Jasenovac, arriving there in the morning of September 2.
After the Serbian and Jewish men were taken from Jastrebarsko to Jasenovac, Serbian and Jewish women with their children were transported to the Kruščica concentration camp near Travnik. Some 250 men and women, mostly Croats, remained in the Jastrebarsko camp. On September 14 they were taken to Koprivnica where they found some 3.000 inmates. From Koprivnica they were transferred to Jasenovac and some of them to Zagreb.
While committing crimes against the Serbs and Jews since April 1941, the Ustasha authorities and their military formations were covering up in different ways murders, mass slaughters and massacres of civilian population. In documents they were covering up the truth about the crimes, and many documents were also destroyed. However, despite various ways of concealment, due to their massive character, these acts couldn’t remain undiscovered. The Ustasha threw bombs into many pits, filled them in and masked them with branches and stones, and even pored concrete over some of them. Local population was also hiding places of crimes in various ways, so that they were gradually covered with foliage and every trace of them was lost.
The after-war authorities also prevented in a way collection and publication of the authentic sources about the mass crimes of the Croat state against the Serbian and Jewish peoples. It was seen to that that as little as possible was spoken and written about them, so that they be forgotten. Oblivion was justified in the name of peace and brotherhood and unity.
A contribution to the destruction of the traces of the crimes was made also by the Italian occupation forces. After the liquidation of the Jadovno and Slana concentration camps in late August 1941 following the arrival of the Italian military, the civilian and military administration at the Croat coast and in Lika was taken over by the command of the 2nd Italian Army on September 6. Confiscation of all documents about the concentration camps in the Lika region was ordered. Most of them would eventually be destroyed. However, several documents of the 5th Corps of the 2nd Italian Army survived. They give information about the destruction of the traces of the Ustasha mass crimes, since it was the soldiers of this Italian unit who were entrusted with that task. From the report by Dr. Finderle of September 6, it is clear that he and a team of soldiers were charged by the Health Administration of the 5th Corps of the 2nd Italian Army with the task of finding mass graves and disinfecting them so as to prevent the spread of a possible contagion. In his report he informed his superiors about what he had found: pits with corpses of those killed on Velebit, mass graves in the Furnaž area and in some other places at Pag where the bodies were buried very shallow, so that they ‘presented tocsicological and infectious danger”. On the basis of his report, the Military-Sanitation Administration of the Italian 5th Corps ordered “the bodies buried in Slano on Pag to be exhumed, and piled onto a pyre, to be drenched with incendiary liquid and burned immediately.” A special sanitation platoon with the aid of 50 more soldiers accomplished the task in September 1941 in the course of full 10 days, working from morning till dusk.
The mass graves found by Italian medics don’t exist any more. The photos the Italians made while exhuming and burning the bodies were also lost. According to the report by Dr. Stazzi of September 22, the albums with photographs and his report were sent to the Italian Ministry of War in Rome. Ante Zemljar searched for them. He addressed also the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Italy. He got a reply from the head of the Office, stating the photographs couldn’t be put at his disposal since they had been lost somewhere. This author also tried to find this evidence, as well as other documents for which he had learned that they were in keeping of certain families from the island of Pag, but without success. Thus these sources about the Ustasha crimes also remain unknown to the public for the time being.
Concentration camps and places of mass executions: Jadovno on Velebit, Slana and Metajna on Pag, Stupačinovo, Ovčara and the Gospić concentration camp, numerous pits and other places of execution remained to this day mostly unmarked or only partly marked.
Among the marks erected in this locality there are: a grave in the Jadovno camp was fenced off by a wooden fence in 1961; over time it rotted and disappeared. Šaranova jama was surrounded by a stone wall and marked by a small memorial plaque by the road passing some 70 m by it. The way to the camp remained impassible and the path to it overgrown so that hardly anyone could pass and find the place of the camp itself. Between 1951 and 1961 on the wall or near the wall of the Šaranova jama several memorial plaques were put up: in 1961 a plaque for the victims from Sremski Karlovci, the memorial plaque of the Union of the Associations of Orthodox Priests of Croatia in which 51 names of the priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church are chiseled – the names of the metropolitan Petar Zimonjić and the bishop Sava Trlajić among them . (According to this author’s research, some more names were identified.) In 1961 over a pit some 40 m away from the camp a monument was erected that is nowadays in completely dilapidated state. In 1975 a modest monument was erected on a rock in Suha, where the Slana camp was beginning.
The place of the auxiliary camp Stupačinovo, collection camp Ovčara, prison of the Gospić District Court and the Accepting camp on the Gospić railway station were never marked. Numerous pits into which thousands and thousands of victims were thrown not only remained unmarked, but are completely inaccessible. These pits, except for the Šaranova jama and Jamina, were not even speleologically explored. The places of the Ustasha crimes are today inaccessible, overgrown with weeds and out of the way, and the graves can be found only by one who knows the terrain very well.
Research: Dr Đuro Zatezalo, THE JADOVNO, COMPLEX OF USTASCHA CONCENTRATION CAMPS 1941.