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Djuro Zatezalo – JADOVNO: Complex of Ustasha camps in 1941.

Djuro Zatezalo (1931-2017.)

Ћирилица Serbian

The complex of Croatian Ustasha camps, known under the name Jadovno on Mount Velebit, is one of the first mass death camps established in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) already in April 1941. It was established by the state authorities – the police administration, and it was a place where Serbs and Jews were sent from all over the NDH in order to be destroyed, with cooperation of state, military, police and party authorities, until the end of August the same year.

These camps preceded the well-known death camps in Germany. As soon as the Ustasha regime was established, with the help of Germans and Italians, it did everything possible to create ethically clean Croatia by exterminating the Serbian and Jewish people. While in the complex of Ustasha camps on Velebit and the island of Pag the massacre of Serbs, Jews and Croatian
anti-fascists and other “unsuitable” people, regardless of gender and age, was already underway, the Nazis had only begun the preparations to build their largest death camps (readjustment of the old barracks near Auschwitz into a camp started in October 1941, while the mass killing of Jews brought there in its chambers started on 4 July, 1942, and in Treblinka concentration camp on 23 July the same year).[1]

With laws, provisions, orders and various instructions, the authorities of the Independent State of Croatia in 1941 legalized the mass crime according to racial, ethnic and religious basis, as well as ideology.

With such legislations, authorities and organizations of the Ustasha states, groups and individuals, with blessings of the Roman Catholic Church and the law, conducted individual, group and mass murders of men, women and children whenever and as many they wanted to kill, essentially just for being Serbs, Jews or Romas.

The Catholic Church in the Independent State of Croatia hailed the creation of the Ustasha state. A significant number of Catholic priests actively participated in the Ustasha movement and slaughters of Serbian people. On 28 April, 1941 Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac published a memo in which he saluted the Independent State of Croatia, not only as “a son of the Croatian people, but even more, as a representative of the holy church”, and invited catholic priests “to do divine work on preserving and improving the NDH”.[2]

The proof that the organized terror was premeditated and thoroughly prepared were the first arrests, molestation’s and torture of prominent Serbs in Gospić: professors, priests, teachers, wealthier merchants and craftsmen, and also in other towns in Croatia, already on 11 April, 1941, immediately on the day the Independent State of Croatia was proclaimed.

When the Kingdom of Yugoslavia capitulated, the Ustasha organizations in Gospić had already been organized and ready. Gospić, the pits on Velebit and executions sites on the island of Pag were not chosen by chance to become the centre of mass destruction of Serbs. The Ustasha organization in Gospić started its work in 1930-ties, and through legal associations (“Brotherhood of Crusaders”, sports association “Victoria”, gymnast organizations “Croatian Hero”, organizations “Mary’s Congregation”) they spread the Ustasha ideology which in 1941 had a strong influence on high school youths. Gospić became a stronghold of the Ustasha organization. The most infamous Ustashas, murderers and butchers, came from the ranks of the “Brotherhood of Crusaders”. So already on 10 April, 1941 at 3pm, the Ustashas in Gospić established the “Liberation” group and the Ustasha Support Detachment (PUO) which already then numbered several hundred members deployed in so-called death squads, and under Maček’s protection they started with arrests and killings. They performed a larger part of their purpose just within first four months and before there was any resistance from the “disloyal” population, which is an obvious proof of the intention to destroy certain ethnic and religious communities, which is in turn a significant element in the definition of genocide.

This complex of Ustasha camps (Gospić, Jadovno on Velebit, Stupačinovo, Slana and Metajna), and their numerous execution sites, at the early days of the NDH, while there was still no armed resistance, represents the beginning of a planned, premeditated and executed genocide of the Serbian people and Holocaust of the Jews.

Mass murders of the Serbian people, Jews and anti-fascist Croats, Muslims and other “unfit” people started in the complex of Ustasha camp already in mid-April 1941, much sooner than 2 June when Ante Pavelić issued the official order to establish camps, and before its Ustasha system was legalized on 25 November, 1941. Therefore, many Serbs, Jews, Romany had already been killed in the cruellest ways.[3]

Emigrant Jurica Frković became the Grand Governor on 29 April, 1941 and made haste to deploy his prepared death units to other parts of Lika in order to establish Ustasha authority and to arrest and transport Serbian people to the Gospić Collection Camp, and further on into the wild of Velebit.

He told the members of the Support Ustasha Detachment (PUO), so-called “Yellow Eagles”: “The base in Jadovno is made out of Serbs and Jews, and the frosting is going to be made out of spoiled Croats”.[4]
Everything was conveyed with that sentence: mass killing of Serbs and Jews, communists and their Croatian supporters, as well as all other people, regardless of their ethnicity, who are “unfit” for the order in the Independent State of Croatia.

All over the Independent State of Croatia hate speeches by Ustasha officials followed. For example, that of Mile Budak, already on 2 May, 1941 in Gospić in which he shouted:

“Run you dogs across the Drina” and “We are going to kill one part of the Serbs, displace another and convert the rest into the Catholic faith and in that way recast them”. Also, Dr Viktor Gutić announced in Sanski Most: “Here, soon the roads are going miss the Serbs, but the Serbs will be no more”, and so on.[5]

Bottomless pits on Velebit, the most suitable for mass murders of Serbs and Jews

This is how the Ustasha authorities started their plan to destroy Serbs and Jews already in early May 1941, and not just men from age 16 to 60, but everybody regardless of age and gender.

The NDH Ministry of Interior headed by Andrija Artuković, Eugen Kvaternik, Juco Rukavina, Mile Budak, the Frković brothers, Stjepan Rubinić and Rudo Ric, people who were quite familiar with the numerous bottomless pits on the Velebit, who were sure in the numerous and well organized Ustasha organization in Gospić and relying on Grand Governor Jurica Frković, turned the building of the Gospić County Court, its penitentiary, yard and hallways into a collection and transit camp, where up to 5000 prisoners could be housed temporarily.

However, as hundreds of prisoners arrived to Gospić from all parts of the NDH every day, the County Court Penitentiary soon became too small. That is why these Ustasha officials founded Jadovno camp in the wilds of Velebit, far from the eyes of the people, about 22 kilometres north-west from Gospić, deep in the forest of the Velebit massive, at 1200 metres of altitude, in the area called Čačić Dolac, where days are hot and nights are very cold. The camp on Mount Velebit,
called Jadovno after the nearby Croatian hamlet of Jadovno, did not have a building, prison cell, sanitary facilities, or a high concrete fence.

They simply fenced in an oval-shaped area the size of 170 x 90 metres and put up double barbed wire four metres high. They placed Ustasha and Home Guards guard posts at every 50 metres and up to 1000 metres out, above the main gate they put up a picture of Poglavnik Ante Pavlić and one Ustasha and one Home Guard at each side of the gate.[6]

The Gospić Ustashas chose this very place because there are numerous bottomless pits around, as if they were made for mass killings of Serbs, Jews and other “unfit” elements.

They founded the camp right there also because the pits of Velebit are hard to access and hard to examine, so Ustashas thought that in a potential different future neither the type nor volume of their genocidal crime could be easily investigated.

This is one of the first horrifying liquidation and mass death camps for Serbs and Jews in the NDH. The villains brought the inmates there on foot or transported them in two trucks and one bus to the village of Trnovac, and on foot from there, mostly barefooted over sharp rocks while beating them with rifle butts, towards the hamlet of Jadovno and first abysses of Jadovno camp on the Velebit.

Between 400 and 500 of tormented men, women and children were taken there every day in three to four columns in the morning and two to three columns in the afternoon. The camp could take 2000-2500 inmates. On a plateau above a well fenced camp, there were two barracks, and on vantage points machine-guns with gunners keeping a watchful eye over everything that was happening, torturing already half-dead people by shooting over their heads.

The very area of the camp points to the fact that its capacity was not for long-term accommodation of a large number of inmates. That is why every day, as if on a conveyer belt, one group was murdered with a mallet over the bottomless pits, and other was brought to the camp from the collection camp in Gospić or directly from the railway station. So each day railway transports would come to Gospić with freight cars loaded with Serbs and Jews, and at the same time the collection
camps were emptied. By taking inmates to execution sites they would make room for more. The freight cars that were used to transport Serbs and Jews would
usually have stickers on them reading “rotten fruit”.

The trains mostly had 30 to 35 cattle cars with an average of 75-90 men, women and children in each car, with no food or water, in hot days of spring and summer. From the Gospić Railway Station, Jews and Croats were taken by trucks to the Collection Camp of the County Court and to the Penitentiary, while Serbs went on foot, while being beaten, in columns of two or four, tied with wire two or four together in a column connected with a chain down the length of the column, and then they were taken to collection camps, or directly to Jadovno camp and bottomless pits of Velebit.[7]

The columns of beaten, humiliated, insulted and tied up people numbered 250-300 of innocents, depending on how many of them were transported. What followed was physical terror with sadistic pleasure over individuals and masses, in front inmates’ own children, parents, in front of prominent people and priests, tortured with thirst and hunger, beatings, rapes, massacring, slaughtering, dismembering, hanging, drowning, shooting, burning, etc. After that followed triumphant celebration with drinking and praising the “ascension of the state”, race, nation, faith, ideology, Ustashas, “the oldest people”.

In order to complete the complex of Ustasha death camps, along with Gospić and Jadovno, Ustashas founded the camp Slana, on the other side of Mount Velebit, on the sea, on 25 June of the same year, on the island of Pag, on desolate ground. The camp was located in a valley surrounded with hills in which gale blows in winter, and unbearable heat scorches in summer. That was where they put the camp for the unfortunate prisoners, condemning them to a terrible death. They the divided the camp in two – a smaller one, for the Jews where they could put 600-1000 people and a larger one for the Serbs where up to 5000 inmates could fit. However, only 180 of them could hide under a roof. The rest of them had to stay under the open sky, on rocks, exposed to severe heat, and mostly without water.[8]

At the same time, deep in the Bay of Pag, in the village of Metajna, Ustashas established a camp for Serbian and Jewish women, known as Metajna camp.[9]

In early July, they also established an auxiliary camp, Stupačinovo near Baške Oštarije, not far from the Gospić-Karlobag road. They fenced it in with barbed wire, four metres high. It could temporarily house around 4000 Serbs, who were to be taken to nearby bottomless pits on Velebit.[10]

In order to achieve even more mass delivery and extermination of Serbs and Jews in the complex of death camps Jadovno, Ustashas also used stables owned by a hard-working Serbian merchant, Matija Maksimović, who along a printing press, bookstore and a reading club, also had three large stables next to the Novčica River in Gospić, where he held sheep, cows and several horses, in order to provide services to other merchants.

Ustashas killed him and several members of his family in a savage manner, took his property, and turned the stables into a collection camp for Serbs and Jews, named “Ovčara” (sheep farm) by the inmates themselves. Each day there were 1000-1600 inmates in Ovčara, mostly women with children, and from there they were taken to numerous execution sites of Jadovno camp.[11]

Ustashas also fenced off the area at the Gospić railway station, known as the collection site, which could hold 500-700 people before they went to their death.[12]
When necessary, as collection camps, they also used the movie theatre, the yard of Hotel Lika and some larger Serbian houses whose residents had already been
taken to execution sites.

Ustashas captured men, women and children in their homes, in churches, schools, hospital, fields, at funerals, markets, wherever they would find them. They would often take them convincing the poor people that they were being taken to convert from the Orthodox to Catholic faith, and that nothing bad would happen to them. Then, they would take them into some woods or an Orthodox church and kill them, mostly with bladed weapons.

Those Serbs and Jews that were not murdered in their residences were taken en masse, in the name of God and law, for the sake of “purity of Croatian people” and murdered in the camps of the Jadovno complex.[13]

Number of victims in the complex of Ustasha camps Jadovno 1941

When we take into consideration the number of victims of Jadovno camp and its collection camps, which grew quickly and lasted from mid-April to late August 1941, not even for the whole four months, the reader cannot fathom all the cruelty of the crime over Serbs and Jews over the bottomless pit of Velebit and numerous execution sites within the complex of Jadovno death camps.

In order to put them in camps Jadovno, Slana, Metajna, Stupačinovo and other collection camps, as we could see, victims from all over Independent State of Croatia were sent every day to Gospić where they were mostly held and tortured, and then sent to execution sites, or were sent directly to the execution, to be tortured along the way and then, all worn out, half alive or alive, killed and thrown into the insatiable throats of the Velebit pits.[14]

Based on long years of research of the former NDH in the field, by studying a series of authentic archival source, literature, numerous articles in the press and magazines where information on the crimes Ustashas committed had been published, testimonies of Ustashas who committed the genocide, and statements by several surviving inmates, I came to the conclusion that in 132 days that this camp existed 42246 of men, women and children were brought there.

I got this number of victims delivered to the complex of Ustasha camps Jadovno manly from original archival documents of the NDH, which contain dates and numbers of transported Serbs and Jews to the Gospić-Jadovno Collection Camps.

The documents were:
orders of the Ustasha Constabulary Directorate of the Independent State of Croatia, orders of Ustasha constabularies to the Gospić Constabulary Directorate, receipts of railway stations on the transport and number of special trains which contain dates and numbers of transported Serbs and Jews to Gospić-Jadovno camp, reports that Counties sent to the Public Order and Safety Directorate of the NDH, which also contain numbers of arrested Serbs and Jews that had been transported to Jadovno camp.

Taking into accounts these, but also many other documents that contain number of arrested and ethnically marked people, I got the mentioned number of arrested and delivered people during the existence of the complex of Ustasha death camps Jadovno.

Namely: from 11 April to 24 June, 1941, in 74 days, there were 13,346, or on average 180 people every day, and from 24 June to 21 August, 1941, or in the remaining 58 days that the executions were being conducted in the camp and at its execution sites, there were 28900 inmates. Sadly, the daily average of 498
delivered Serbs and Jews in that time period was even more horrific and unimaginable compared to the numbers in the previous time period.

In the end, from the number of 42,246 delivered inmates to the Jadovno complex of camps I deducted 2123 which Ustashas did not have the time to kill before the Italian military arrived, and I got 40,123 murdered people at execution sites in the complex of Ustasha camps Jadovno, and I believe this number cannot be lower.

In those 132 days that the Gospić-Jadovno Ustasha death camp, the predecessor of the Ustasha camp Jasenovac, existed, out of 40123 people Ustashas murdered in cruel way 32,103 people in the Gospić-Jadovno camp itself and at its execution sites, while 8020 of them were murdered in camps Slana and Metajna on the island of Pag.

They were killed just for being Serbs, Jews or Croats that did not support the Ustasha-fascist regime of the Independent State of Croatia, the chauvinist and racist government of Ustasha Poglavnik Dr Ante Pavelić.

Due to the Italian reoccupation of the Croatian coast and Lika, which started on 15 August, 1941, and which was caused by the development of the people’s liberation uprising in Lika, Kordun, Banija and Kninska Krajina, fearing the reaction of Italians to what they could find, Ustashas quickly liquidated the horror and death camps Jadovno on Velebit and camps Slana and Metajna on the island of Pag.

During those days, while Italian troops were arriving in mid-August 1941 to the island of Pag and the area around Gospić, Ustashas quickly killed 763 imprisoned Serbs inside the very fence of Jadovno camp on Velebit, out of which 258 were murdered over a pit that was only forty metres away from camp’s fence.

Before the Italians came to Gospić, Ustashas quickly put those 2123 inmates who were still in Slana camp on the island of Pag, in the penitentiary of the County Court and in the “Ovčara” auxiliary camp in Gospić, into the railway cattle cars they had used before to bring them there, and transported them using the railway to the Ustasha camp Jastrebarsko on 19, 20 and 21 August, 1941. In the last transport on 21 August, 1941 there were 900 Serbs who were transported from Jastrebarsko in the same day to the Ustasha camp Jasenovac and so became inmates there.

Other inmates that were brought from Gospić Ustashas transported during several following days to camps Kruščica, Lepoglava, Jasenovac and some other Ustasha camps. They killed 200 of them in the very Jastrebarsko camp.

Most of them met the same fate – they were executed in the cruellest ways.

According to my collected and carefully processes data, based on original archival documents, out of 40,123 victims of the Ustasha crime of genocide committed in the complex of Ustasha camps Jadovno, 39,010 of them were Serbs, 1998 Jews, 88 Croats, 11 Slovenians, 9 Muslims, 2 Czechs, 2 Hungarians, one Russian, one Romany and one Montenegrin.

From these numerical indicators we can see that in 132 days this camp existed, Ustashas brought 320 prisoners to Gospić every day and also every day killed on average 304 innocent people, without any court trials.

The data shows that at the execution sites of the complex of Ustasha camps Jadovno almost the same number of people lost their lives as the number of people that were brought in the same day.

Therefore, the authorities of the Independent State of Croatia rushed with great speed to achieve their goal – ethnic cleansing of Serbs, Jews, anti-fascist Croats and other “unfit” people.[15]

The truth about the complex of Ustasha death camps Jadovno, its auxiliary camps and numerous execution sites around Gospić, on the island of Pag and on Velebit, the first legalised mass execution sites for Serbs and Jews in the racist Independent State of Croatian, has been kept hidden in the most various ways for over 66 years. There were attempts were to destroy the traces of the most horrific mass crime of genocide committed in a planned manner by Ustashas over the Serbian and Jewish people in the first months the Independent State of Croatia existed in 1941.

The attempts were to cover up, as much as it was possible, these monstrous Ustasha crimes so that they could be forgotten over time, and all under the motto of brotherhood and unity of the peoples and ethnicities of Yugoslavia. The truth about the complex of Ustasha camps Jadovno has been supressed, avoided and concealed.

For 66 years the execution sites of the Jadovno death camp cried for truth, so that all crime from the Second World War from 1941 to 1945 could be thoroughly investigated and scientifically presented to the public, so that our descendants would know what is human evil, so that this would never happen to anyone and that such a criminal hand is never risen over anyone anywhere.

But 1991 came and the Serbian people lost their constituency and statehood in their own homeland. They were turned into a minority, so out of 12.16% of the total population of the Socialist Republic of Croatia, according to the 1991 census, they were reduced to 4.54% according to the 2001 census in the Republic of Croatia.

The monuments to anti-fascist fighters and victims of genocide from the Second World War were destroyed, Serbian households were robbed and burned, their resident expelled from their ancient homeland.

The monuments on Velebit and the island of Pag were also destroyed, even the memorial plaques at the Šaranova Pit, the biggest tomb for Serbs and Jews in the complex of Ustasha death camps, the plaque which was built with hard-earned money of descendants of the people murdered over countless bottomless pits of the cursed Velebit.

Today’s image of the complex of Ustasha camps Jadovno is less than inhumane. It shows to only few of those who stumble across its traces what has not been done for the memory of the victims of the crime of genocide committed in the first days the NDH existed in 1941, before the armed resistance and the uprising against the fascism and that Quisling and criminal creation. Already in 1941, the Ustashas destroyed the traces of their unspeakable crimes. They covered the execution sites with rocks, logs, earth, and some of them even with concrete. What remained after them was destroyed later on, in 1945 and the following years. Even those humble memorials that were built during the socialist era, mostly on the initiative of the descendants of the victims and with minimal financial aid, were destroyed in 1991, and in the following years.

Still, there exist the indestructible bellies of bottomless pits and execution sites with remains of the victims. Nobody has exhumed them, counted them or given them a proper burial.
People used to say that “for the sake of brotherhood and unity of the peoples this should not be done, let their bones rest where they are” – uncovered, uncounted, forgotten in the darkness of abysses and precipices of Velebit.

Đuro Zatezalo Historical Archives Karlovac

[1] In more
details, Dr Đuro Zatezalo, Jadovno – A
Complex of Ustasha Camps in 1941,
Museum of Genocide Victims, Belgrade,
2007, pg. 40-44.

[2] Ibid, pg.

[3] Ibid, pg. 105

[4] Ibid, pg. 108

[5] Ibid, pg. 65

[6] Ibid, pg. 112–126

[7] Ibid, pg. 126–152

[8] Ibid,

[9] Ibid, pg. 155-167

[10] Ibid, pg. 152–155

[11] Ibid, pg. 154–155

[12] Ibid, pg. 101–115

[13] Ibid, pg. 101–145

[14]Based on a series of original documents and statements by many people who know Velebit well and with whom I walked on several occasion over that mountain, and especially with Branko Cetina who managed to escape Jadovno camp, I found locations of 32 bottomless pits, execution sites for many Serbs and Jews. (See annex). These pits are not the only the graves of Serbs and Jews in the complex of Jadovno camps. There are, unfortunately, several more. However, during the research, due to a series of difficulties, unpleasant situations in the field and simply due to lack of power to find out something more, they were not located. Besides the Šaranova Pit, Jamina Pit and St. Ana Pit, the rest of them were neither explored by spelunkers, nor marked. The victims were not exhumed or given a decent burial.

[15] Ibid, pg. 382 i 383


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