Pravda | 19-22 December, 2009. | Danka Kojadinović
Dr Milan Bastašić, with his own destiny and numerous evidence of Ustasha genocide over Serbs, testifies on crimes that have never been punished
„Take heed to thy self therefore only and keep thy soul diligently, that thou forget not the things which thine eyes have seen, and that they depart not out of thine heart, all the days of thine life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons son’s.“
(The Fifth Book of Moses, 4:9)
I survived Jasenovac in 1941 and „Swath“ on Bilogora in 1991
A retired colonel, committed humanist, Dr Milan Bastašić, an epidemiologist, medical doctor, is one of few surviving children camp inmates from the Second World War. Until the beginning of the last war in Croatia he had been the President of the Former Children Camp Inmates Section in Zagreb. They were the surviving children from Kozara, Kordun, Banija, Lika, Slavonija, Srem… With tens of thousands of Serbian, Jewish and Romany children from Croatia and Bosnia (NDH), as a twelve-year-old boy, he experienced terrors of Ustasha crimes during the Second World War.
He spends his days in retirement writing and organizing available materials, documents, records, testimonies and his personal memories on tragedy which happened to the Serbs of Bilogora from 1941 to 1945 in the NDH, but also in 1991 in Tuđman’s Croatia.
Crime does not expire
Steadily, with no desire for sensationalism, strictly adhering to the facts, Dr Bastašić says:
I did not believe that the evil and genocide from the time of the NDH could repeat, but it did. The statistics is overwhelming: the Serbs were a constituent people who made one third of the Croatian population before the Second World War (1938 census, also confirmed by the census conducted by Arthur Hefner, an Abwher operative, in 1941).
At the end of the Second World War there were one million Serbs less in Croatia.
By 1991 according to the census there were 12.5% Serbs in Croatia. Today, in a „democratic and European“ Croatia, Serbs are a minority making 4% of the population. They are mostly old people.
Where and how did Serbs disappear from Croatia?
For almost seven decades there has not been the right answer on this complex, painful and frequently asked question.
Maybe the Croatian lawsuit against Serbia submitted to the International Court of Justice in The Hague is a chance to present the facts and to call out and condemn the genocide (which is a crime that does not have statute of limitations).
„We need to present the truth and nothing but the truth“ – stresses Bastašič – „and provide real arguments. Instead of us, they sue. I do not wish the deny Croatian victims for one moment, but the court must take into consideration the continuity of the crime against Serbs in Croatia, and what is most unbelievable, repetition of the crime on same locations.
Genocide on Bilogora (in 1941 just as in 1991)
Our politicians only mention operations „Flash“ and „Storm“!
No, the genocide over Serbs in that war started with „Swath“ in 1991 in a not yet recognised Croatia! -Bastašić stresses.
As an educated man working for decades in Zagreb, who studied and got his PhD there, merged with that environment, lived nicely with Croats, he did not believe nor want to believe that war and repetition of crime were possible.
„When in June 1991 the Serbs from towns started taking their children to Bilogora (Western Slavonia), and then send them farther, to Bosnia and Serbia, although the school had not finished, when adults started leaving their jobs and moving to more densely populated Serbian villages, I still did not want to believe that war is knocking at the door. The events that followed proved me wrong.
Dr Bastašić is familiar with all the sufferings of Serbs in Croatian towns.
Mass liquidations of Serbs in towns started in 1991 with intention to intimidate them and make them leave Croatia.
Around 300 civilians were killed in Sisak, about one hundred in Osijek and 280 of Zagreb Serbs were killed in the Pakračka poljana.
280 Serbs (48 of them women) were taken from Gospić on October 16, 1991 to an unknown location.
The Serbian side and the Croatian side present different facts in this issue: Serbs believe that the number of victims was much higher, and Croats decrease the number ten times?!
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) warns that families of over 100 Serbian war victims, mostly from Sisak and Paulin Dvor, and many other Croatian towns, may never live to see justice, because it is first necessary to label the death of a victim as a war crime. As the Croatian State Attorney hesitates (?!) it is possible that after 15 years murders are a subject to statute of limitations?! There are no reactions from the EU or OSCE.
Dr Bastašić stresses that he is researching and recording in details all locations, participants and times in the area of Bilogora and his birthplace Grubišno Polje. That is why there is no guessing in his work – everything is accurate.
Start of persecution
In early 1991, policemen from Herzegovina were brought to Bilogora, to Grubišno Polje, probably to remind the Serbs on 1941 and 1942, years of blood and mass executions – says Dr Bastašić. Again, Serbs are summoned for questioning, relationships between neighbours grew cold, arguments started, Ustasha paroles were written (Grubišno Polje Gazette, issue 91, July 19, 1991). After the Croatian vote of independence and secession Serbs organised a referendum to join the Daruvar Municipality and SAO Krajina (SAO – Serbian Autonomous Area). The police of still not recognised Croatia at the time (twenty or so policemen with three vehicles) took off Serbian flags off the poles! Night skirmishes started. Zengas (ZNG – National Guards Corps) from Virovitica and Bjelovar set up first checkpoints in Grubišno Polje and checked IDs.
„The Black Book“ or „Sufferings of Serbs from Bosnia and Herzegovina During 1914 – 1918 World War“ by Vladimir Ćorović is a historical testimony of crimes and genocide committed by Austro-Hungarian soldiers (especially Schutz Korps Muslims, Hungarians and Croats) over Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Taking them to camps in Arad, Turanje, Tulersdorg, Nežider and committing atrocities over dozens of thousands of innocent men, women, children, Serbian priests, was a matrix for genocide during the Second World War and the NDH.
Academician Dr Radovan Samardžić named Vladimir Ćorović one of the 100 most important Serbs (Belgrade – Novi Sad, 1993, page 529 – 534).
On August 12, 1991 they started stopping cars and checking the citizens on their list. I also experienced that on August 12, 13 and 15 that year – says Dr Bastašić.
On August 16 arrests, kidnappings and physical, deadly torture of Serbs started, still in a legally existing Yugoslavia, by Croatian paramilitary units. (Croatia was internationally recognised by Germany on January 15, 1992)
On that day the following people from Bilogora disappeared: Spaso Milošević, active policeman on a sick leave, Mlađen Kekerović, Dmitar Stanić, Dragan Mačak. All of these men went to work. Chief of Bjelorav Police Stojan Gustin released his friend Kekerović. Nobody knows where others went. Later on further arrests followed, beating and disappearance of innocent citizens. The Croatian side makes false accusations that the Yugoslav People’s Army – JNA was on Bilogora. There were only people of Bilogora and those who, fearing for their Serbian heads, sought refuge there from armed members of the Croatian Democratic Union party – HDZ.
Private armies of various suspicious charactes became the authority, judges and executioners of Serbs, according to their own decisions, in a state still called Yugoslavia. According to their own confession the first 25 Kalashnikovs HDZ members received at Česma and conducted the first live firing as early as October 1990. According to all world and European standards, the HDZ could have only been treated as a terrorist party.
The book „Swath“ (published by the HDZ) gives details on the military training of HDZ members.
In September – Dr Bastašić continues – they began destroying Serbian houses in Veliki Zdenci with explosives while the inhabitants were still inside! We need to emphasise that none of the residents of Veliki Zdenci participated in the resistance against crimes of the new Croatian authority. This use of explosives on houses was a part of the general programme to destroy Serbian houses in Slavonia in attempt to chase the Serbs from Croatia. Just take a look how many Serbian houses were destroyed in the same way and at the same time in the neighbouring Bjelovar region. In early November explosives were used on selected houses in Grubišno Polje belonging to Lazo Kosanović, both of his houses, Stevan Đukić, Živko Zagorac, Boro Dimić, Dr Milan Bastašić and some others. A day before and on the All Hollow’s Day, November 1st, 1991, armed forces of not recognised Croatia started the Operation „Swath“ and conducted an armed attacks from all directions to surrounded Bilogora and exiled from their houses around 4000 citizens of Yugoslavia and Croatia of Serbian ethnicity.
The books „All My Battles“ by Bobetko and „Swath“ by Debić and Delić give many untrue data that insult the truth and dignity of every man. On Bilogora there were no JNA soldiers, no Yugoslav army, no Serbian Chetniks, rebels or God knows what. There were only people from Bilogora, mostly from surrounding villages and some residents of Grubišno Polje who organised defences to protect the lives of their families who had taken refuge there, in order to avoid the fate of those who had already been killed. They fought as long as they could, for about two days, and then together with the residents left Bilogora in one night. After the retreat and onslaught of Tuđman’s troops, Serbs gave a fierce resistance on Bilogora on the last day. Behind their back, over poor roads, moved lines of tractors with their families from Kovačica, Zrinska, Šibenik, Velika Barna, Mala Barna, Mali Grđevac, Topolovica and Gakovo. During those day the temperature dropped down to minus 15 Celsius.
Massacre before „Flash“
Dr Bastašić goes through carefully collected statements by living witnesses and continues:
As far as we know, tanks were also involved in the attack from the direction of Rašenica, probably in the attempt to cut the communication of the exodus. But not a single line fell! The next day, Croatian troops very carefully moved to empty positions of the defenders and found empty trenches. It is very interesting that in the book „Swath“ the battle on Bilogora is described only in general terms. There is nothing about the course of the battle, the losses, heroisms, not a single word. What they could not hide were inappropriate crimes, blasting and burning of houses. The people, Serbs, who stayed in their houses were savagely killed (Rade Kravić, Živko Miščević, Ljubo and Ljuba Orić were slaughtered in their houses and yards). Village Mali Grđevac was razed to the ground. Not a single Serbian house remained.
The exodus of Serbs continued in December from the Daruvar and Slatina municipalities to the suburbs of Pakrac. All of this happened in late 1991 in still not recognised Croatian state, by well-armed and equipped paramilitary forces and Croatian police. In December 1991 another 7000 Serbs left their homes in Western Slavonia forced by illegal Croatian weapons. We know the numbers of the people killed, slaughtered and missing. Dozens of villages were burned. That is why I justly ask gentlemen politicians, statesmen, historians and jurists of every kind: Why do they keep quiet about the terror and massacre over Serbs in Western Slavonia, before the „Flash“, in still not internationally recognised Croatia, drenched in Serbian blood?
Using NDH methods
Dr Bastašić stresses the repeated methods used in the NDH and the tragic fate of thousands of people from Bilogora from 1941 to 1945. On April 26th and 27th 1941 Ustashas woke up 504 Serbs from Grubišno Polje and surrounding villages. They were taken to camp „Danica“ near Koprivnica, from there to Gospić, then to Jadovno on Velebit and Slana on the island of Pag. From „Danica“ several old men returned, one young boy under age of 16 and some people from mixed marriages. All the others were killed using unimaginable torture: by mallets, axes, or thrown half dead headlong into abysses of Velebit. Some of them were slaughtered during the transport over the Velebit Channel on the way to Pag Island. There are serious indications and evidence that a large, but unconfirmed number of them lost their lives in the Slana Golgotha on Pag Island. Witnesses of these execution sites of our fathers, brothers and relatives could not be found for a long time. Still, living witnesses appeared, some of them those who had escaped from Velebit. The truth came to light and there were testimonies on horrors and mindlessness of Croatian Ustashas, mindlessness never before seen anywhere in the world. After the Serbs from Grubišno Polje had been arrested, the next day on April 28th, 1941, 195 of innocent Serbs were killed in Gudovac on what was the fairground at the time. In summer 1941, over 600 Serbian families – 2500 women and children – were exiled to Serbia. On August 4th and 5thin the park in the centre of Grubišno Polje, five innocent Serbs were tortured and with their bellies gutted thrown off the balcony of Sokolana at the time. In late September and early October 1942 in Grubišno Polje and Bilogora villages Ustashas slaughtered and murdered over 500 women, children and old people. Three thousand Serbs were taken to camp Sisak and Jasenovac.
Two months in Jasenovac
I was also taken with men to Jasenovac at the age of 12, but after two months of Jasenovac horrors I was released home, blessed by fortunate circumstances. My wonderful teacher from Grubišno Polje, Božica Orlušić bravely spoke on my behalf. She was the daughter of Priest Jovan Marković who was taken to the railway station, pulled by his beard by Ustashas and sent to Caprag, and later to Serbia.
Ghastly children’s camps
Nowhere in the world were there special children’s camps as there were in Croatia (Jastrebarsko, Rijeka kod Križevaca). All other camps were at the same time camps for all Serbs, regardless of sex and age.
Documents published by D. Lukić list names of tens of thousands of Serbian children, taken from their mothers, who were imprisoned in the Jasenovac camps or transported to Austria and Germany as workforce. I do not know whether on purpose or by accident, but for all children killed in the NDH a geographical term „Kozara children“ was used. However, they were children from Kozara and Potkozarje, Banija, Kordun, Lika, Slavonija and Srem. Those are the facts. Ustasha did not touch Muslim villages in Potkozarje, and Muslim neighbours often joined Ustashas and attacked Serbian villages during the Second World War and slaughtered people.
With melancholy and a child’s smile, Milan Bastašić (age 83) speaks about his strict and just teacher who would sometimes pull your ear, but who also insisted, talking to an Ustasha Camp Officer, that a woman whose older son, husband, brother-in-law and many relatives were killed should get a pass and have at least her 12-year-old son Milan returned from Jasenovac.
On October 1942 we were sent to Jasenovac suffering great torture in cattle cars. We travelled from Tuesday to Friday with no food or water. The car doors were not opened until we reached Jasenovac. This evil cannot be described – a normal person cannot understand it. In the same way women with small children were transported to the Sisak camp. Hunger, cold, hard physical labour, poor accommodation in barracks with no floor, doors and fire, everyday physical abuse of inmates, beatings on the way to work on a dyke, mass liquidations day and night, brought fear, hopelessness, despair… With no strength, will, or any conditions to survive, we were an apathetic mass suitable for any type of liquidation, with no sense and possibility to resist. We boys were forced to do various types of work: in the kitchen, picking flax plants, building a dyke. In the kitchen we would hide a potato, put it in a pocket, stitched it, so when the clothes were taken to be washed the potato would get boiled. Such way of getting food cost 16 people their lives one afternoon. They were all shot in front of everyone before dinner. When we went to pick flax in the morning we could see the remains of blood and brains. Liquidations were conducted constantly by taking long lines of inmates outside the camp. New inmates were coming all the time. Almost every morning someone you knew was missing.
Murders without trials
Dr Bastašić stresses that we will never know the number of Serbian children and babies, taken from their mother, who died in train cars on Bosnian and Croatian railways (in NDH), and the number of people thrown into the Save river and nearby swamps. He also points out another example of nonsense, both logical and linguistic:
There were never Chetniks in Slavonia where I’m from, but there were Partisans. In Serbia, there were both Chetniks and Partisans. But still they call all of us Chetnik. My father was killed for being a Chetnik, my brother and uncle as well… Unbelievable. It is the same today. When in early November 1991 they chased away people from Bilogora they called it a victory over Chetniks. In a daily newspaper filled with praise of victory and insults for exiled Serbs, there was a list of war criminals! They even added the following sentence: „amongst the Chetniks was also Dr Milan Bastašić.“ So they forced me into that list, not amongst the war criminals, but in an addition, probably so that they could stitch to me that „all-Serbian“ attribute used in Croatia. Let me tell you the truth: I have not been on Bilogora since July 15th, 1991. And then they called me a participant of every possible event and crime, indicted me, issued an arrest warrant and detention, with a note that I was unavailable. Lucky me! Since I was „unavailable“ they could not kill me as a Chetnik, but they prevented me from returning to my house, took my freedom of movement, prevented me from getting to my property, visit my mother’s grave and all those abysses on Velebit and Slana where they killed my father and 18-year-old brother, after they had been called Chetniks. As they indicted me, they would have probably killed me without a trial, as many others who were even killed without an indictment. Today I am a citizen of Serbia and I wonder: Mother Serbia, who will remove these serious accusations against me? I am ready to face any court with this Croatian indictment, but not an exclusively Croatian court. How come that, after numerous good inter-state agreements between Serbia and Croatia, the Croatian judiciary did not examine and throw away false indictments, mine included? Is there legal or judiciary ethics in courts of a state about to join European democracy? I had to talk about this „minor issue“, since it is an example that human liberties, freedom of movement and human dignity in Croatia, at least for Serbs, still a minor issue nobody cares about, and they want to join Europe.
Murderers on the loose
Dr Bastašić says that in Croatia none of the Croats was indicted of tried for crimes on Bilogora, as well as those in the „Swath“. As there is a reasonable doubt in the professionalism of Croatian judiciary, and many witnesses are missing or dying, there should be an unbiased Serbian, Croatian and international court which would examine cases of Serbs indicted at the Bjelovar County Court for violations of the laws and customs of war.
Statistical data is accurate: the 1931 census shows that there were 12000 people living in Bilogora, 8000 Serbs and 4000 Catholics, not Croats. Today on Bilogora there are around 700 Serbs.
Horror! Nobody talks about that – stresses Dr Bastašić.
Covering up a crime is a crime against truth
Hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Romany and others were murdered in the most monstrous ways in the system of 26 Ustasha camps in the NDH: Jasenovac, Jadovno (as a system of camps), Jastrebarsko, Gospić, Danica, island of Pag, Stara Gradiška, Sajmište (guards from the NDH), Tenja, Đakovo, Kerestinec, Lepoglava…
Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of US President Theodor Roosevelt, said that the Ustasha genocide was one of the worst crimes in the Second World War.
The cover-up of this crime is the biggest crime against truth. Thanks to the Internet it is now possible to order, but also read parts of the book by Avre Manhatan dedicated to the genesis of Ustasha crimes, the role of Vatican, cover-up by the Allies. All of this was unavailable to the readers in Tito’s Yugoslavia. For decades, for the sake of brotherhood and unity, people kept quiet about the genocide over Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (NDH).
Cover-up of the crime
The memorial plaque for the Bilogora people who were killed in 1941 we placed on the railway station in Grubišno Polje in 1957. On the same year we placed memorial plaques in Jadovno near Šaran’s Pit. The one on Velebit was destroyed in 1971. It was placed again only to be destroyed again in the 90-ties. In the 80-ties a study was made for a Memorial on Velebit, a part of it was built, but everything stopped in the 90-ties. Serbs do not go there, and Croatian officials only occasionally show up for the sake of Europe, such as the ad hoc visit by Stjepan Mesić with associates, unfit to stand next to such a terrible execution site of Serbs, victims of Croatian Ustashas. Apparently they showed up there for Mesić to adamantly say that „by defending anti-fascism we defend democracy“, whatever that means in Croatia today. The visit did not involve representatives of local institutions, and the Health Minister, whose family originates from that area, was sweating while standing next to the President, and making faces.
And the memorial in Grubišno Polje was destroyed several times.
The plaques placed at the Grubišno Polje railway station (later the building of „Graditelj“ company) were broken and renewed. On April 27th, 1991, fifty years after the murder of five hundred Serbs, the foundation was laid for the Memorial for the April 26th and 27th, 1941 victims.
The obituary „Fifty years of sorrow and memories“ was written by Dr Milan Bastašić. The memorial service in the St. George church and blessing of the Foundation Stone was performed by His High Holiness Bishop of Zagreb and Ljubljana Jovan. A suitable performance was conducted by actors of the Cultural and Artistic Society „Prosvjeta“ from Zagreb. The foundation stone was taken out during the war and went missing. The plaque at the former railway station was renewed in 2008 through activities of the Serbian minority and some donors. The busts of people’s heroes, the monument for the victims in the local park, and the Rebellion Monument in front of the Municipal Assembly building were also removed.
Children in Jastrebarsko
When asked to explain totally opposite views of surviving Serbs and Croatian establishment and the „Voice of Council“ on children’s camps in the NDH, Dr Bastašić shares his thoughts which he had been pondering over for decades:
I always ask myself: What did those little souls do to anyone? In Jastrebarsko (Jaska) Gornja Rijeka, near Križevci, the first children’s camp was opened – a horror seen nowhere else. In that area, which was mostly Greek Catholic, a children’s camp was founded on July 12th, 1942. Nuns from St. Vincent de Paul Order were in charge of children. We do not know the exact number of children who were sent there, died or given up for adoption.
The most shocking is the testimony of the local undertaker, Franjo Ilovar, who was paid by „piece“. According to his journal published as a part of the book „Children’s Ustasha Camp Jastrebarsko“ (Gambit, Jagodina, Duško Tomić; „On Death Paths of Kozara Children“, Kozara National Park) we can see that he buried 496 „pieces“ and outside the graveyard (they were not Catholic, but Orthodox) as ordered by Barta Pulherija (a relative to Mile Budak, Vice Poglavnik).
We need to express our deep thanks and reverence to all those noble people who gave a piece of bread or a cup of tea to those martyr children. There were Croats who even adopted Serbian orphans. Many of them had problems because of that, such as Dijana Budisavljević, Dr Bresler and diligent activists of the Croatian Red Cross – Dr Bastašić stresses.
However, the basic question is: why were tens of thousands of children brought to such a position to be „rescued“ in train cars and terror trains or in Zagreb. Does somebody think that those children left their parents by themselves and willingly? We must be clear and say loudly and clearly: tens of thousands of Serbian children, at least 40 000, were brutally and violently taken from the chests of their distraught and powerless mothers! Then they piled them up, hungry and thirsty, without a basic order or care, threw away those who deceased during the day (Diary of D. Budisavljević) God knows where, stick them into cattle cars and sent those little wretches to Zagreb and Jastrebarsko in trains of death, misery and horror. That is the real truth. Again, our gratitude goes to good people who helped them in any way. Duško Lukić together with Jovan Kesar published the names of deceased children in a special issue of „Borba“. Most of them will remain unnamed.
Lies of Tuđman and Kuharić
Dr Bastašić sent a protest letter to Cardinal Kuharić and Franjo Tuđman which was published in „Ekpres politika“ from Belgrade.
– I felt an obligation as the President of the Former Children Camp Inmates Section in Zagreb, to address publicly those „distinguished gentlemen“ who with their presence desecrated the piety towards all children inmates who lived, died or were murdered in Jastrebarsko. My reaction was published only by „Ekspres politika“.
As if children’s camp never existed
The last time I went to Jastrebarsko was in 1990. In the memorial home we found a group of people who were decorating some shoemaker’s shop. The memorial collection was nowhere to be seen. I went to the toilet and there I found posters with words „Never again“ with pictures of inmate children from Jastrebarsko. I went there again a couple of days ago with a group of former inmate children. I took them to the toilet to see where the memorial collection had been thrown. We did not dare to ask or take anything. Such were the times, we would get killed…
On the Jastrebarsko municipality website there are nice photographs of Jastrebarsko and the surroundings. In the history section there is no word on the Ustasha children’s camp, or hundreds of buried children. As if nothing has ever happened there.
I think that Tuđman came to Jastrebarsko with Cardinal Kuharić on the same date when Partisans in summer of 1942 (August 26th) entered Jastrebarsko and took older children with them. That day was the Day of Jastrebarsko for decades. Then, Tuđman started bragging how in the Second World War Serbs fought under Croatian flags and how Croats saved Serbs from the occupiers!?
He said it in the context: what do those Serbs want and what are they talking about when we now want to „protect“ them again. Distinguished Cardinal Kuharić on the other hand spoke about the religious school in Jastrebarsko.
They did not utter a single word about innocent, Serbian children killed and buried a couple of hundreds of metres from the spot where they talked!
Then I took a piece of paper, used Tito’s published works and quoted Tito’s message for them from Stolice. Then in the spirit of their „evangelic care“, I told them, especially Tuđman, than in 1941 98% of Partisans were Serbs. There were no Croats even to carry flags.
My reproach to the distinguished Cardinal was that during his „evangelic address“ to children and worshippers about the „religious school“ he had not said a single word about the bones of those Christian children, Orthodox denomination, for which nuns of the Croatian Catholic Church did not allowed to be buried in the graveyard…
An „Ekspres“ journalist published my views in a text named „Lies of distinguished gentlemen Dr F. Tuđman and Cardinal Franjo Kuharić“, says Dr Milan Bastašić.
Conversion of Serbs to Catholicism
M. Bastašić: Very skilfully they removed all kinds of documents and testimonies and destroyed monuments. They believe and they are right to ask not to look into the past. It is logical: they are deeply aware that every look into the past reveals their villainy! That is why they removed all traces very meticulously.
In 1942 the Catholic Church converted my mother, sister and me. The news of our conversion came to us from the Jews who were promised not to be sent to camps if they convert. Of course they were sent to camps, never to return. We were converted in June or July 1942. After the Partisan attack this meant nothing to them – they killed everyone they could. All those who they did not kill, they sent to Jasenovac and Sisak.
Somewhere in the 80-ties, through my friends who were in good relationship with the Catholic priest, I asked to be given some sort of certificate to prove I was Catholic. There must be some sort of record about that.
„Oh, no, that is not allowed“ – they answered as one.
While the Orthodox churches were always empty – maybe some granny with a grandchild, so they wouldn’t bother people at home, the Catholic churches were always full. In Plemija (1991), in Ivanovo Selo, Priest Baković arrived. People in the church were instructed who they should vote for, whose name to circle…
Dr Bastašić shows many photographs from seminars, congresses he participated, his travels around the world, his work in a Zagreb hospital…
– For years I lived and worked in Zagreb. I integrated into that environment. When I would warn my colleagues that I was a Serb also after they had cursed a Serbian mother or something else Serbian to someone, they would say: this does not imply you, leave it be.
Of course, I could not accept the „Croatian Spring“ and Savka Kučar, Tripal.
However, I could understand that Croatian youth in some way. Along with those older nationalists who set the tone, those young Croats felt that there was some mistrust towards Croats, that it must be some sort of scheme from Serbia that someone is attacking them… I realised it was a terrible historical defect – a matter of catharsis…
After all, one of the basic educational principles is: nobody can be brought up well if he is not told the truth… That truth, until this very day – was never told to Croats by Croats. They would accept it from their own. Anything that Serbs would say would not work.
Do not forget so it would not happen again
Dr Milan Bastašić claims that Tuđman’s authorities did everything to hide evidence of Ustasha crimes over Serbs. In this work, just as in the cover-up of its own atrocities, they also used brutal media manipulation.
„When the Zec family was murdered, it was used to tuck under the carpet the sufferings of all other Serbian families, hundreds of them, in towns and villages. What about Sisak, Zadar, Split? Jadranka Kosor had an audience for surviving members of the Zec family – how bizarre… There is no mention of hundreds of other Serbian families who had a similar end.
Testimonies on human baseness
An especially important book is „Magnum Crimen“, by Croat Viktor Novak, who had access to Vatican archives. The new edition of this book is soon to be released (Gambit, Jagodina).
Dr Bastašić collected a significant collection of books, photographs and documents dealing with sufferings of Serbs in the last century, especially in NDH camps, by authors from all over the world. News clippings from „Arena“, „Borba“, photos, copies of documents, support his search for the truth. He believes that a book by Dr Nikola Nikolić, a Croat, is especially important. Testimonies he wrote down about the Ustasha genocide over Serbian, Romany and Jewish children in Jasenovac.
– These are the most shameful moments in human history: tying the little hands of those angelic creatures with wire so that they could be slaughtered more easily, taking children from their mothers’ hands with inappropriate brutality by Ustashas, starvation and destruction… (The book „Kozara Children and Jasenovac Death Camp“) – Br Bastašić stresses.
– A special manipulation was the TV footage shown during the visit of Mr Bozanić to Jasenovac. They showed rooms with bunk beds, solitaries with toilet seats?! It was shown in such a way that a viewer could believe it really happened like that. It is shameful before God and people to launch such lies in the presence of such a distinguished person. Maybe the accommodation was really like that, but only for Vlatko Maček, for Andrija Hebrang, his future wife at the time and people like them… I, as everyone else, slept on the ground, wet and cold. Two men I slept next to made bedding from twigs and brushwood which we covered with rags. Later on I was moved because of work, so I slept on the attic of a workshop, but on concrete, on my own rags.
They made Jasenovac look like a hostel? Disgrace!
Jasenovac, a genocide machine
The Jewish Association „Magelo“ from Zagreb submitted a claim for Croatia to pay damages to camp inmates from Croatia.
– One part of children inmates received some damages from Germans at one point. I never asked or got any. The damages were received by those from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and I came there from Croatia. My name is on the last claim. We will see what will happen, if we live to see it… – says Dr Bastašić.
We first need to prove to the world what Jasenovac is – he adds with melancholy – that it was maybe even more terrible than Dachau, Mathausen and Auschwitz in its torture methods… The fact is that some people lived of Jasenovac, with Jasenovac, wrote about it and were content by that. The world still does not know the real extent of that genocide. In whole 50 years, none of those people dealing with Jasenovac ever thought to have an international recognition of Jasenovac, to say that this was a system of camps which was a unique genocide machine and that it should be recorded in history as a whole in all possible variants. In this way we have Jasenovac separately, Donja Gradina Memorial Area (who in the world knows about it?), Stara Gradiška again separate, and about to be forgotten Bročice, Uštica, Jablanac, Mlaka…
Jews remember their suffering
– Maybe I am not right, but I reproach Belgrade. Belgrade and Serbia did not experience Jasenovac as Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia did. Since Bosnia was divided into entities, and we were chased out of Croatia, our position is desperate. Our attempts to ask for our rights from Croatia, since it ate all that was ours, even our real estate is unavailable.
Would they support the idea to establish a worthy Genocide Museum?
– So far there is nothing besides few rooms of the Genocide Museum in Belgrade. We certainly need a proper Genocide Museum. Our gratitude goes to Jews, because they are more organised, assertive and thanks to them there was an exhibition in New York and there is some mark of Jasenovac.
However, for the first time I dare to express my view publicly: Jews from Jasenovac dominate the media. Serbs and poor Romany from Jasenovac have been pushed aside. We need to respect all victims, but we cannot disregard the facts. Jasenovac was made and built for the destruction of Serbs. It is true that Jews also built it and met their tragic end there. It was more rational for the Third Reich to have a large number of Jews end up in Jadovno, Slana on the island of Pag and Jasenovac.
Jadovno system of camps
Dr Bastašić emphasises the fact that both Serbs and Jews pushed aside.
I must say that the sites of first mass and terrible tragedies for Jews and then Serbs in the Balkans, in the so-called Independent State of Croatia, were Slana on the island of Pag and Karst pits, abysses of Velebit around Jadovno.
Declaration on Ustasha genocide
Dr Milan Bastašić believes that revealing the real truth about Ustasha crimes would help the new generations of Croats as well to go through catharsis.
– If hundreds of thousands of Croats knew about these facts, it is hard to believe they would cheer to Thompson and sing „Jasenovac and Gradiška Stara“ – Bastašić believes.
– Just as the EU, USA and Russia did, all democratic states, especially all parliaments who have already adopted the declaration on the Turkish genocide over Armenians, have a moral obligation to adopt the declaration on Croatian genocide and ethnocide of Serbs, Jews and Romany during the NDH, but also during the operations „Swath“, „Flash“ and „Storm“…
The declaration must be written by unbiased scholars, experts, patriots, because nobody has any illusions that the current regime in Serbia would have courage and responsibility for such a thing – says Dr Bastašić.
It is a historical injustice towards the enormous number of Jewish and Serbian victims that the Jadovno System of Ustasha Camps (Pag Island, Velebit Channel, Karst pits above Karlobag and above over Alan to the abyss near Grgin dol, Šaranova jama and Devčić Draga) neglected in some way, being overshadowed by the Jasenovac System of Camps, remaining unknown to the world and public. That system of camps served for mass liquidations every day with unimaginable speed, just one month after the NDH had been founded!
This must be told to the world, the world needs to know it, that not only the Jasenovac System of Camps existed in that Monstrous State, but also a terrible Jadovno System of Camps. The two volumes by Dr Đuro Zatezalo on Jadovno camp is for now the only reliable monument, but limited to two books. It is an inexhaustible source of information for the Project and building of a common Memorial Centre, with the whole series of terrifying locations. Serbs from Croatia cannot do anything there, and Croatia, not being ashamed of its past and in attempts to hide it, will do nothing. It is up to Serbia and Israel and their Diasporas to use the moral strength of the international community and create conditions and acquire funds for this humane obligation.
I say all of this for the sake of truth and coexistence, because, as people say, if we do not put the truth on the table, experience catharsis, there is no possibility for a real coexistence of Serbs and Croats in this area. It is a condition for the stability of the Balkans – Dr Bastašić concludes.