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Doubt everywhere

By comparing Ustashas’ confessions, statements from witnesses and other evidence concerning transportation of people from and to Velebit, it seems very clear that Ustashas were asking themselves: where to place these people and where to kill them, on Pag or on Velebit? How else we could explain why Ustashas moved the killing sites? Remember, they brought to the island people from Velebit, from Gospić or Jadovno, where the killings were a constant, and then they took some groups (how many?) from Pag and sent them to Velebit, where all of them were killed, whether next to the sea, on Oštrije, on the road to Jadovno and in Jadovno itself, or God knows where!? Often we ask ourselves, why bother with this entire trip when they could have simply killed them in Jadovno?

The following texts concerning several discovered pits on Velebit above Pag, documents of the Italian military who found these pits and sanitised them, tell us more about it.

As an additional illustration for these slaughterhouses, we quote the testimony of Danica Miličević from her article “In the lobby of death” published in the book “Resistance in wires” – printed by the Institute of Military History, 2nd book, page 698:

“… They put us in some sort of a truck and drove across Velebit. While descending from the mountain towards the sea, Ustashas suddenly stopped and drove us back to Jadovno. We did not understand why they drove us further when they killed everyone else here. There I found surviving Jews from the camp on Pag. Amongst them was Alkorn, called Hodža, a well-known man in Mostar. He told me that all people from Mostar he knew, amongst them my father, Vaso Tošić and others, had been killed in the camp”.

In this diabolic game it is really hard to determine why they acted as they did. The whole situation was pathological as a whole, just as the individual actions were, and wwe will talk about that next.


Specifics of the Serbian camp in SLANA

As far as the camp, or a part of the SLANA camp where Orthodox Christians, Serbs were, is concerned general information provided by Dr. Radan on the Jewish camp applies for this part too.

Beside his testimony, we can make conclusions about the Serbian camp according to the dead, pits they were thrown into, statements made by Ustasha and boatmen, how some groups that were arrested were taken from their houses and villages straight to the slaughterhouse and never saw neither of the camps.

According to statements of guards that were tried, we draw conclusions how the prisoners were treated, where were they taken to be killed, but we do not have a wider authentic statement about their life in the camp and their destinies except from that given by Dr. Radan, who lived next to them, working together, although separated and unable to get close.

Dr. Radan saw how they lived and how they died. That is why his testimony, albeit short, is so precious.

The location of the Serbian camp the witness explains with the following words: “There were two camps in Slana. Up to Baška Slana, from the north side, was the Jewish camp. Towards Suha, in the rocky vale, was the Serbian camp. It was larger than our camp and there were always more men. I think there were always around 700 to 750 men. There was some open space between our two camps, like a training ground. Ustashas were mostly young men and they were trained in military skills there. Serbs arrived to SLANA after us. After they arrived you could hear machinegun fire every night.”

The author can confirm that not only camp inmates were listening to this machinegun fire, but that we, residents of Pag also could hear it every evening and often during the night. Local Ustasha supporters and leaders tried to persuade the people of Pag that there were military exercises in SLANA! This gunfire from SLANA made all vales and hill around the Pag bay echo and Ustashas could not hide it.


Fates in the Serbian camp

Dr. Radan: “First Serbs arrived to SLANA maybe two weeks after us. They were mostly ordinary peasants, Orthodox Christians. They were taken out of their houses with no shoes, or maybe they never had anything better to wear from what they had on. They were so poor! From the very beginning, the treatment of Serbs was much worse than ours. During first couple of days we were not beaten, but the Serbs were. Ustashas called them Chetniks, but those people probably never saw Chetniks. I remember, these peasants, when gathered, were not allowed to stand up, only squat and so low that a guard could always hit them with his boot. We did the same work, but we were divided. We were not allowed to talk to them, and they were not allowed to go near anyone. We first came into direct contact with them when Ustashas starting executing them. We were standing together during executions. I remember that first were two peasants for whom one pathological madman, one of Ustasha commanders, stated that the two had attacked him. They did not attack him, nor did they resist him. He simply wanted to kill them. This was their first public execution. Just as when they shot Wyler, they also lined us up together to watch… Again they forced Ustashas who hardly knew how to use a rifle to shot. Older guards had to teach this firing squad how to load and aim at the very execution site… and they were such lousy shots even from six, seven metres that the two men did not die, but they shouted Orthodox Christian prayers. Even on the ground they shouted and prayed. The Ustasha commander who was there got close and killed them with his short Italian rifle.”

Both we and the people who are testifying will keep coming back to the questions on number of inmates and people killed. These same questions will be treated in several ways, not just by testimonies on what people saw or later dug out! All of the discoveries suggest the number was great and horrifying. Moving execution sites, sending inmates from one side to the other, constant transport with boats, the amount of work done, etc. are all evidence on the number of people that were there, but in the end we will come to conclusion that the real number cannot be determined.

Not even statements from the survivors, as Dr. Radan warns us, do not have to be precise, especially when it comes to numbers. Those statements given in the past, recorded long time ago, were not given during trials, or with history in mind. They were given to testify on horrors, stories and images of horror that had to be told someone, to show what sort of hardship people endured faced with such crimes. The statements were given to people who recorded them only later, so more of what they wrote down was their own shock rather than accurate chronicles. That is why such records are incomplete, filled with blanks, and sometimes jumbled. But they cannot be underestimated in any case. If nothing else they are the testimony to the victory of human morals in people who were faced with mad bestial forces.

In order to complete data that has many blanks due to very little number of survivors, especially of the Serbian camp, we will use an excerpt from a document signed by Italian medical doctor Tenente Dr. Finderle. He was the first (or one of the first) to visit the location. His full report follows:

Dr. Finderle: “When we disembarked from the boat, we saw in the distance two camps 100 metres apart.

– See photographs, No. 16, 17, and 18 (author: the note on photographs was handwritten on the document, probably by Dr. Finderle). The first, larger one is located on the right hand side in a valley and surrounded with double fence with barbed wire with two openings (entrances), one opposite from the other. In order to close the camp fully they used crossed wooden horses (cavali di frisia, a Dutch type of wooden posts crossed together and entwined with barbed wire, named after the Dutch county Frisia)”

“According to some residents of the island, this part of the camp housed Serbs who were as many as 1200 in some days. There was some sort of barracks in the middle, big enough for around 180 persons (!) while the rest had to stay in the open skies on bare rocks, exposed to the sun. As I said before there is no vegetation or shade in this area. The barracks has just been dismantled and boards were stacked in the middle of the camp. There are also two primitive toilettes; they show the scarcity of food.”

In order to show what sort of groups were here and from which distant areas they came (Pakrac, Grubišno Polje under Papuk, etc.) we will take several quotes from statements made by Ustasha guards in Slana, Datković and Matijević, half-literate peasants (who later on joined Partisans).

Nikola Matijević, son of Joso from Prizna, No. 49, (Rijeka Archives, document number K.30), age 46, Slana, War Crimes Commission, February 4, 1946, No. 191: In July 1941 we heard a rumour that Ustasha in Karlobag are hiring people. Us men, both younger and older, got ready and came to Karlobag and reported at the Ustasha headquarters. Older men were left there to work, and us younger were dressed in Ustasha uniforms and sent to Slana, where we trained for several days. After that I was transferred to Metajna, to the female camp, where I stayed for eight days, got malaria and then sent to Pag. I stayed in Pag for two days and then they moved me to Slana. I was there for a day and they transported me to Karlobag. From there I went home where my folks instructed me on how to escape, so I came back to Karlobag, stayed there for two days and then ran away home. In 1943 I was again mobilised by the Ustashas and transported to Gospić, where I stayed for nine days and then ran away to the Partisans… I did not participate in transportation of arrestees from Karlobag, but during my stay in Slana and Metajna I saw around 90 Jews at first, and later they told me there were 700 of them, men, women and children. I also heard and saw that there were Orthodox Serbs and Ustasha leaders claimed that there were 1313 of them. According to them, these Orthodox Christians were mostly from Grubišno Polje and Pakrac… I only saw two Orthodox Christias, from Pakrac, and one Jew being executed in Slana when we were all lined up to watch it… this execution was conducted by Nikolica Devčić and Gajo Devčić, both from Lukovo Šugarje near Karlobag, and Mato called Šarlo from Ravni Dabar, and one Bosnian man…”

Slana guard Josip Datković from Barbata (Rijeka Archives, Slana number 16, interrogation 10.I 46) stated:

“They chose me to go to Slana as a guard. I was there from June 16 until the Assumption of Mary. When I was on guard duty, approximately 200 metres from the camp I saw that they brought in front of the ranks a Jewish man who wanted to escape by swimming and they shot him. Several days later they shot two Orthodox Christians for the same thing. I heard that there were 3000 Orthodox Christians in the Slana camp. I don’t know where they came from, but they would disembark on upper and lower Slana. There were five to six hundred Jews in the southern[12] camp. 3000 Serbs disappeared in two to three days. During the day they would take them to upper Slana, called Baška Slana and they were told they were going to Germany to work. I saw how they boarded them into a boat and drove towards Rojanka[13] where they handed them over to other Ustashas, who would then throw them into a pit on Velebit. I heard this myself from Ustashas who were in Slana. From an elevated point I could see Sergeant Frane Šljivar from Bosnia kicking women who were under a tent[14], one by one.

[12] Wrong orientation; the Jewish camp was to the north (northwest in fact).

[13] Rojanka, a bay to the south of Karlobar under Velebit.

[14] There were no tents. Maybe they stretched a rug against a drywall or something else, or they were in the shade of the barracks. People from Pag often say incorrect words when trying to use standard “gentlemen” speech, not their own dialect.

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