Tape recording of a conversation with comrade Josip Balaž, a surviving inmate from Slana camp on the island of Pag
The conversation was held in the offices of the Municipal Board of SUBNOR, in Pag, on October 9, 1979. Present were:
- Nikola Bistričić, President of Pag SUBNOR,
- Srećko Jeličić, Secretary of Pag SUBNOR,
- Slavko Maržić, President of Pag UBNOR and
- Professor Ante Zemljar.
Before the conversation started comrade Josip Blaž presented a document granting him benefits for his service from June 6, 1941 to May 15, 1945. He also presented documents showing that he had been an active in trade unions from 1932 and a member of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia from 1937, and presented newspapers from that period writing about workers’ strikes. From these documents we could see his nickname was Andži. For his participation in a strike and conflicts with Frankovci and gendarmes he was fined by the court in Daruvar for obstructing gendarmes in their duty. The editor of the newspaper he showed was Božidar Adžija. When asked was that the only copy of the papers, Balaž answered: “I only have one copy, the other I gave to Krnić. These ones were not taken as evidence, because people disagreed with it, but I claimed that I had been at that assembly and had conflict with gendarmes. That is why I was fined.
I was born in Goveđe Polje, and from age 10 I have been living in Daruvar and from then I earned my citizenship. Zemljar asked him for his occupation? – Now I am retired. I worked at the Oil Factory which makes oil from pumpkin seeds. He describes Daruvar to be and also was an area with a lot of beaches. Ante Zemljar starts talking with comrade Balaž about 1941 on Pag at the time the camp was established. – Nikola already informed you about this, so I would like to talk about the thing we were not responsible for although we lived here in 1941. Comrade Balaž interjects: Just as we were not, I was guilty for being a communist. Zemljar: This evil you have been through, this camp, served us well to show the people what the NDH was and who are Ustashas and this had a positive effect on uprising and building the People’s Liberation Movement (NOP) on the island. From 800 families on Pag, 20 were theirs. This evil helped us to differentiate the people from Ustashas. At the time there was a lot of opposition to the regime on Pag by Maček’s Croatian Peasants Party (HSS) and left wing groups and this helped us a lot to start the NOP. We on Pag were the first in Croatia to raise a monument to Slana Camp and we put up a wreath in 1941 at the cemetery in Pag. (My note, it was a blackthorn wreath with a caption “To victims of Slana” which was put up by activists of NOP on a white cross (stone cross). The others do not know about that. Ustashas took down that wreath the next day and kept it in the County Court building in Pag until the capitulation of Italy. It was guarded by our man. Then it disappeared. We do not know if it was taken by Ustashas or Italians. This event helped the movement a lot). We witnessed the camp since we saw it before it was liquidated and we also managed to get through to Metajna camp. We could not do it the second time because they shot at us. But when the camp was closed I went there with a group of people from Pag, and you were there too (points at Slavko Maržić) and we witnessed what had been happening there. Along with fresh traces of the camp we also found fresh graves. We dug out one grave and found the victim, a man dressed in a sailor’s jacket wearing boots. They were not buried at a cemetery, but all over the place. Actually there was no cemetery at all. At the time we did not know about Furnaža where they had been buried. So we witnessed these things and I wanted to say that.
Slavko: All traces of blood were covered with lime to hide them.
Zemljar continues: We caught two guards in 1943, one from Zubović and one from Metajna. We let one go because it was proved that he had not been involved in the slaughter and he is now a trader in Metajna. The second one was convicted before people’s court and shot, because he admitted to participating in slaughter. Then we had a trial for Ustasha butchers in Zadar. Some of them gave statements, but I believe they were not questioned in detail about the situation in the camp, but it was more the question of proving the crime, so some things were left unexplained. Balaž interjects: There was nobody to ask them, and they did not want to say). So this information is what we would like to hear from you, since you were amongst the first people to arrive. We already had some women in Metajna (some of them were from organisation ZBOTIĆ, it is an organisation of banking clerks).
Comrade Balaž asks: Excuse me, when was the camp closed?
Zemljar: It was closed (we think) when they killed all the Serbs, on August 14 (13 or 14). According to out information they were peasants from around the villages of Kruščica and Šibuljina, I think, since most of the Serbs were from that village. I found two notes, written on a piece of a cement bag. They said: “Mom, we’re alright”, you know as children would write it. I left those note with the rest of the documents. I still have some little shoes and some other things that could be found then. But, these documents were destroyed in English bombing raids. I hid them in a chimney. I was unlucky and the documents were gone.
Nikola Bistričić: Maybe we can fix things that were done in a wrong way. I suggest you tell us when you were arrested and why, where did they take you, how you were treated during the transport to Karlobag, on which boat you boarded, if you can remember, there was a small boat. Do you remember how you were treated, what was happening in the camp, do you remember the people, we are interested in all of that. Please.
Slavko: You say there was a small boat, but it was a boat with one mast. Balaž: no it was a boat without a mast. How many people could fit there, maybe 50? Balaž: no it was a very long boat without a mast, long and pointy, I know because I was sitting on the bow with another man from Daruvar.
Josip Balaž: Now, why I was arrested – I think because I was a communist. Mrs Balaž interjects: wait, you have to say what happened, who you worked with, what happened. – I have that in writing. – No, you have to summarise it, remember that before you were arrested you had received the Appeal.
Yes, I was given the Appeal to the Peoples of Yugoslavia to Rise. I had distributed the Appeal several days before I was arrested. – Say the date. – It was on July 24, 1941, we were arrested in the afternoon and taken to the station and loaded on cattle cars as we called them at the time. – How many of you? – Between 22 and 25, I am not sure. – Name them. – There was me, from party members there was Mato Ponorac, now alive but severely ill, Rudi Hanzevački, he passed away, then Vladimir Klubička from SKOJ. They were from the Party. Jews were: Josip Vajs, Gvido Kreti, Oskar Roklić, Dragutin Goldberger, we called him Dragec, some man named Lukač. This was the group that came to the camp. Serbs were: Svetozar Milojević, Blagoje Bosanac, Nikica Sudar, Đuro Kovačević, Pero Kovačević, then Matijević whom we called Čiko and Kosoper, and then the one they beat up on Velebit, Perica Miličić, then Blagoje Gvozdić, retired customs officer. Mrs. Balaž intervenes: Calm down, you are too excited. – Well I am, I told the comrade yesterday, when I talk about the camp I shake, I transport to that time and close my eyes not to see this in front of me so I could go back to those times. He was killed on the road, towards the crucifix, when we passed Oštarije.
When we were arrested in Daruvar there was a line of Ustashas unlike the world had never seen. One by one, all the way from the place we were arrested to the station where they loaded us into a train car. There were a lot of us. So we went to Zagreb. In Zagreb we were transferred to another car, because the railway company did not let us ride on the first one, claiming to be malfunctioned. They transported us to the southern freight station from where we went into the unknown.
We arrived at Gospić station, you could see the station, and we could see nothing from the cars, then a line of Ustashas to the prison in Gospić. There were so many of us in the courtyard, if you sat you couldn’t get up, if you got up you couldn’t sit down. You can only imagine how many of us were there.
I remember that people were singing communist songs. I know that they sang “East and West are Rising” and “East and West are Red”, both men and women sang it. It was inside the prison. Both men and women were standing at the windows and singing. Zemljar asks who was singing: Prisoners? – They certainly were not Ustashas or us, because we were beaten and spat at.
There I saw an Ustasha from Daruvar who played football with us. He brought from Glina peasants dressed in shirts, they were taken from fields. The Ustasha was covered in blood. He looked terrible, had long dark hair. We called him Popeye, but I do not know his name. We were in good relations since we played football together. He was our Daruvar Ustasha, but he went to Glina and brought 500 peasants from there. He spat at us, hit us with the rifle butt, because we were communists. He knew I was Hungarian and how I and the others got here. It was normal to take Serbs or Jews at the time, but if you were neither, they knew for what reason you had been arrested.
We spent 4 days there until Monday. The place was chaotic. Trucks were coming and going all the time. Amongst us youngsters I was the eldest, so I tried to keep everyone together and get us on the same truck. So we were taken to the top o Velebit, near Oštarije, and the others were taken to Jadovno. We did not know where at the time, but after the war we heard what happened in Jadovno.
They took us to Oštarije and put us in a stable. It was filled with manure and they locked us up there and we went to toilet there. I cannot say how many of us were there, because not all of the Jews came with us. We could not see anything because we were rushed with rifle butts.
But I did not finish talking about the prison (in Gospić). There was a retired customs officer there and he had a beard (Blagoje) so Ustashas though he was a priest. We suggested sneaking in a barber to shave his beard, but he refused. Milojević had acquaintances there so they brought us fried corn each day, because we did not get any food and nobody ate from Friday to Monday. We were locked up there until 3 or 4pm. A lot of Ustashas came, they let us out, lined us up and they we went into the unknown.
I had never been there before. On the way down (from Velebit Mountain) we were lined up in columns (there was twice as many Ustashas than us) and then we walked to Karlobag. When we would come across a suitable area next to the road, the column was stopped and Ustashas searched all prisoners. We had to raise our hands and all Ustashas searched us. They took money, rings, and watches. They would tear lining of our coats. They were real gangsters – highwaymen. They would beat us during that and I have a broken rib (in order to extort items from us). This man Vlado did not give his watch immediately, and one Ustasha came to him and asked what time it was. When he said the time, the Ustasha left and sent the other to take the watch. He did not give it up immediately, saying it was a memory and gift from his mother. The Ustasha cursed his Serbian mother and hit him with the rifle butt in the ribs so he gave the watch. You know, they were experts in hitting people in ribs.
Then we moved on, and they would stop us again and beat us with rifle butts, because they would not believe we had nothing else on us. They beat up this Perica so badly that he could not stand, let alone walk. We had to carry him in a blanket. He was a strong man, an athlete, had been a goalkeeper since he was little. He was taller than you (points to Zemljar), handsome. They were especially violent against him. I don’t know why. I guess because he was a Serb. Also the man with a goatee, they would pull his beard and claimed he was a priest for sure, although he was a retired customs officer. Blagoje Gvozdić was his name. They pulled on his beard so much that they tore his flesh so he was bleeding. They were convinced he was a priest. He did not have a beard like you have (points at Zemljar), but just a goatee like Orthodox priest have. When you would see him in the street you would say he was an Orthodox priest, and he could not prove it otherwise. So they tortured us and beat us all the way to the coast Karlobag.
There we were met by Luburić in all our luck and then he questioned all of us what ethnicity we were. “He is a Serb, him a Jew and what are you? We are Catholics.” He divided everyone by ethnicity. After that he started shouting at us: “You are communists. You should have been shot. How did you get here?” Then Matijević and I said: „How can we be Ustashas (mistake, he means communists), we are friends with Ustashas, we play football with them”, which was true because I was playing football with those kids, and kids they were. Luburić: “That’s not true”, and he asked us to name all Ustashas in Daruvar. I named them all since I was older then all of them and knew them well. One of them is still alive. He was sentenced for 19 years, so he teases me today for having more (property) then me. And he does, he has 5 acres of vineyards, and my income is small. He lives like a lord. He tells me: Joža you were always a beggar, while I enjoy socialism. He was my neighbour with his garden next to mine. He was very rich, they took a lot from him, but left him 5 acres of vineyards and now he enjoys the blessings of socialism. Luburić then said: Go and we will see what to do with you. I will check if what you say is true. I guess he checked it since we were all alive.
Then we boarded that boat. I had a watch here (shows the lining of the sleeve), because a man taught me to cut the lining here and when I would raise my hands the watch would stay here (points at the sleeve), and they always started searching from our hands. I felt bad about it. It was a nice watch. It cost me 350 dinars at the time. I took it out of the sleeve and this Joža Vajs was sitting next to me and he took out the ring from his mouth, his golden wedding ring, and we looked at each other. We were sorry to throw them away and were about to when an Ustasha sitting at the bow saw us and took out his pistol and started shouting: No, you bastards. He came and we had to give them up. I would be nothing to him to throw us overboard.
When they transported us across (to Pag) there were some Jews there. I think there were two barracks. They just had roof and strong beams to save it from wind. Zemljar: You came to the upper side, straight from Karlobag? – Straight from Karlobag, straight. There was one part with a road and the barracks were facing the other way (points to the drawing in front of him) towards Velebit as far as I remember. – Did you know you were on Pag? – Yes, but we didn’t know it was Slana. I will tell you later, Slana was very near. There were two barracks.
Nikola asks looking at the drawing: Where are they? I ask if they were towards Pag or Karlobag, i.e. towards the place where they took you to bathe. – The barracks were more towards to rocky terrain, and we were bathing here – he points at the picture. – Yes, the barracks were where the Jews were held, and those Jews all had dysentery. Everything was covered with flies. These Jews were older men, and one of them was so strong, 4 times more than I was. They had vitamins and medications. They knew what they needed. People said that for 500 of us a daily food ration was 20 kilos of potatoes and 10 kilos of flour.
Zemljar: There were 200 of you? – No, 500. – And how much food? – 20kg of potatoes and 10kg of flour. That I remember. Mrs. Balaž: Tell them how they cooked it. – They would put potatoes to boil and then pour flour into the water without frying it first, but pour it raw into potatoes. When it was ready it looked like starch for laundry. You can only imagine what it was like to eat. Just like starch. It wasn’t food and people were dying in great numbers, especially the old. I was young and healthy. My health saved me. I was very health and had strong constitution.
What else? You said 500 people and two barracks. – They used toilet pots and emptied them into latrines. Men were dirty as pigs and covered with flies and everything; don’t make me say it. You didn’t have time to clean it off. You know how pigs look like when they have bloody diarrhoea – dysentery. It was horrible; you must understand I cannot say it again. I don’t know how a man could say it in details and how it is possible for something like that to happen.
Was there wire already? – We didn’t have wire. I’ll tell you about that later. There was another one. We didn’t fit all there. I personally was not inside. I brought sand for my bed and a board to be my pillow. I took off my coat and huddled and covered myself with it. It is cold at night. You know that. You can’t bare the heat during the day or cold during the night. You know that better since you’re from here. After some time, I cannot say which date it was, came men who were liaison between us and Ustashas. There was always someone from the inmates who had contact with the Ustasha administration. How should I explain it – they chose to be liaison. So, they came and asked for money saying someone would go to Slano to buy cheese. Those Jews had money, but I didn’t. Where is Slano? So they told us people would go to Slano and bring cheese and share it, just as they did. They brought Pag cheese of different size. You know how it is produced better than I do. I just know it was big. They brought the cheese and shared it by groups, you know. Each person was given a piece the size of a sugar cube, so it would last longer. People would die from it since they had been starving and now they ate too much. We ate that for a couple of days and then Luburić came and threatened to kill us and asked for cheese to be brought in front of him. So people did. He took the cheese with Ustashas and then asked inmates for money. He thought that if they had money for cheese they must have more. They looked at the Jews and asked them if they had any. They were real gangsters and they did find money. Some people gave up the money themselves while some of them were searched. They knew people had money, since they found it on some people. So he collected the money but he did not touch the people. He only came to collect the cheese and money. They must have eaten that cheese. They probably did not throw it away. It was a deliberate trick to tell people they would be buying cheese, because if you have money for cheese you must have some more, just as people had medications and vitamins. They had a lot of vitamins, C vitamins. They know these things.
So, what else? – You forgot to say about the barracks and the area inside the fence. – No, I will first tell you about Serbs. – You were together – Serbs were all together. – No, the Serbs were separated. We came to the Jews in the barracks, and Serbs left, I don’t know where. They moved to Slana, over the hill, maybe this one. I don’t know. I was lying like here, and in front of me was the road, a little bit higher. This was the barracks, the road was there and it stretched this way and went around the hill. This is where they always moved, brought people in and took them out. I saw a man from Daruvar there. A worker was carrying his case. The worker who worked for him still served him here. His name was Toša Radosavljević. He was a politician used by the regime, but he was basically a good man and found jobs for a lot of poor people. But the regime always used him. He published some sort of local newspaper supporting the regime. He was the first one in Daruvar to be arrested. We did not know when he went missing, but then we saw him there. We had thought he was killed and never made it to Pag.
After some time, Serbs from Banja Luka came. This was significant (Are you recording this?) and when they came they started building barracks. This was a barracks with a roof and walls, just like a house. There were 500 of them, or so we heard. Amongst them was one accordion player and he had an accordion like I never saw before, although I watch TV and I am old and have seen a lot of things, but never an accordion like this. He was also a singer and he sang so beautifully it was really touching. He even sang late at night. We went to bed and when the morning came the people and the barracks were gone as if they had never been there (and they were building the barracks). When they came they built the barracks during the day and moved in. He was playing in front of the barracks and they sang. We went to bed at night, but when the morning came we were wondering where the accordion player was, because he was a jolly man. There was no trace of the barracks or anyone. Where did they take them? They certainly did not send them home. Maybe they took them to some secluded place and we can assume what happened! – The barracks was not built next to you, but at some distance? – Yes, a little bit further, but we could see it.
Do you remember the date? – No, I don’t. – Was that before the Assumption of Mary? – We think it was some time around the Assumption of Mary. Do you know when that is? You said that the camp was liquidated on 15th? – No, I’ll tell you. – No, I didn’t say on 15th, but that there was a large liquidation. – If that wasn’t the date, I don’t know which was. How do we know the dates? – You didn’t say about the barracks in the distance surrounded by barbed wire. – Yes, yes. – Then you moved into it after it had been emptied?
As you said, there was a barracks. – Was there only one surrounded by barbed wire? – There were posts and there was barbed wire between them every 10cm, so you couldn’t get your fist through it. There were three rows of wire and between each of them were those coils of barbed wire. I am not sure if there were two or three rows. Three rows of fence, then three rows of posts, and two rows of coils in between them, because there was space between them. This was the place and coils were here (Balaž explains).
So, many of us moved to that barracks. I don’t know how many. When we came it was empty and I noticed names carved into the pillars (beams). There were names Popović, Popara and it said Grubišno Polje, and that is a place near Grđevac. It was a community just next to ours. They were the first Serbs to be arrested. – Popara is a typical name in that area and it also said Grubišno Polje, which is close where I’m from; around 20 to 21 kilometres from where I am. – 15km to Zdenac and 16km from Zdenac, so 21km from where I am.
How did you get into the barracks? That’s what you were talking about. – Well, they moved us to these barracks and they were empty. I don’t know why they moved us. This is a mystery what happened to those people. We came alive to these barracks, and I don’t know if they moved someone else to the place we were before. I don’t want to guess anything. What I wanted to say is that all Serbs came from Danica. They were quickly arrested in the NDH and taken to Koprivnica to so-called Danica. The collective camp was in Danica, everybody knows that. So they had to move them from there to here. You can check that. A lot of people were arrested there. – This agrees with what we know. A wife of my neighbour Smiljanić in Grđevac told me how his brother and uncle were taken to a Salt Factory to work, but never came back. – Balaž: This is what happened when you were allegedly taken to the Salt Factory (misinformation), but they never tasted salt! What’s next?
So they moved you into a new barracks. Did you stay for a long time in it? – We stayed in there until the end. – What was the treatment in that barracks? Was it the same as in the old one? – Same as before and same food. – Then they took them to bathe every day. – I need to say that. What you marked here (points at the picture), this red part, it was black. And the thing you marked with black, it should be red. This is my explanation for things I know about the camp. I know this was red. They took us to bathe every day (he points at a direction away from the barracks) and they would hold us there for a long time. This is where they molested us, shouted at us, and didn’t let us get out of the water. There were a lot of sea urchins there, very small, and people would shout in pain, and Ustasha were screaming of joy and tried to keep us in as much as possible. The water was red and greasy from human blood, because they forced a lot of us in there.
Now, I am unclear about something. If you went towards the Slana bay, was there any sand? – I don’t know. – You will see when we go there. I am unclear about this. There is a vale here, and you had to pass by these other barracks when they took you to bathe. – Yes, when we lived closer by then we did pass them, but when we moved these two could have been parallel to each other.
One question: Where did you get water from? – Where they took water, I don’t know. I don’t think I drank water. I never drank water when I was in captivity. That saved me, because everyone who drank it did not survive for long. – Look here. Near the beach where you bathed there were wells dug in the sand. Even now there is relatively good water there. Good at one place and mixed with sea water at the other.
Here, look. From one location just under the town of Pag, from Boštana we saw columns of people going down to the sea, towards the beach, so we assumed they were taken to drink water. We did not know about bathing. You probably went to this beach here?
I don’t recall from where people got water. I didn’t drink it. We ate water so we had nothing to drink it after. You drink water when you eat salty food. I didn’t drink water in any of the camps, not even in Jasenovac. People who drank water stayed alive for just eight days. There were huge rats around and water was polluted. I remember when a man came from Karlovac to Jasenovac. He was tall and strong just like our Barta. I told him: Don’t drink that water, friend, you won’t survive for long. And he told me: I’m a Serb and I will survive. Then I said: Listen, don’t brag with that, nothing can help you, whether you are a Jew or Serb, it makes no difference. And he died after 8 days.
Let’s go back to bathing. While we were bathing, the bloody bath, near us came some Jewish children carrying pots with Ustasha’s food leftovers and started eating them. (With his hands show how avidly they ate in their hunger). Those were food leftovers, skins of watermelons and such. It was a very moving thing to watch. Ustashas laughed at them and the way they ate. It was a terrible sight to see those children eat in that way. It was basically trash and they just stuffed their mouths with it and swallowed it without chewing. Ustashas laughed at that, just as they laughed at us while we were bathing. They were gloating. We were screaming, but they enjoyed it and shouted at us to make us stay as long as possible in the sea. I remember as if it was yesterday, the top layer of water was red from urchin stings. Can anything hurt more? You know it hurts very much and burns like hell! You must know that, you’re from around here. People died from it and legs got swollen. We would pull the stings from each other feet. Maybe that saved some people, because salty water disinfects. Who was healthy survived, but some people died from a little sting.
Did you work anywhere? – No, we didn’t. I didn’t see anyone from our barracks. They allegedly used inmates to build a road to Metajna. There was a road going from Baška Slana to here (he thinks Paška Slana or Suha). There was a road I could see. We were not allowed to look when someone was passing by. I lay like this and watched it under my arms. (Bending over the desk he shows how he was watching) I saw people leaving, but did not know to where. As I said the road went like this, and there was a bend here. No, I’m saying how it looked from that perspective. In front of me it went like this and then there was a bend, and after that I couldn’t see. I can’t guess what it looked like further on, because I couldn’t see it. We did not go outside this area, except for bathing, and we couldn’t know what was behind the next bay.
Zemljar: While you were in that barracks, with the Jews, did you see any killings then, any executions?
No, but I only heard that they killed this Jew from Vienna, an athlete. He tried to run away, but they caught him immediately at the coast. Jews were talking amongst themselves, that he was from Vienna and that he was shot by a firing squad. You know how it’s done. And some other people tried that. That’s what they were saying. I heard them talking about that, but I didn’t see it.
Tell me how were they treating you? So, you weren’t categorised neither as Jews or communists? – No, just as Jews and Catholics. If someone was categorised as a communist, Luburić would killed him instantly. He would do it without loosing his breath, just as he caught a fly. You don’t know how bloodthirsty he was. We were a group of Catholics. He didn’t ask us for nationality. There were five of us Catholics: me, Pongrac, Rudica Hanževački, Matijević and Vlade Klubička and nobody else. So we were non-aligned from non-aligned countries. All others were Jews, and Serbs were moved. Not all Jews arrived there. Our Jews were boarded in a different truck. We could have boarded the same truck. If we did we would have gone to Jadovno and nobody would ever know.
Zemljar: Tell me, did you know where the others went, to Jadovno? Did you know that already? – No, we didn’t. We found out about that after we got out. You remember what I was saying about the trucks and how some went left, some right. Who would know? And you couldn’t even look, it was happening so fast. – Did you hear any gunfire during nigh, machinegun fire at a particular time of night? – I don’t know. I don’t remember that. Maybe it did happen, but I forgot it. You can’t remember everything, you know.
Did people die at great numbers and more often? – Yes, very often. These older men with dysentery, it stank, it was poison, so terrible. You know what dysentery was and there were no medications and they were old men all over the place. They would take them somewhere. – Where did they bury them? – I don’t know. They took them somewhere. Hell knows. They didn’t bury them in front of us. They took them behind the hill. You couldn’t see what was happening. There was a road going behind the hill. – How long did you stay there? – It seems until the end. – When did they take you, do you remember?
In late August, for some time, maybe 8 days, there were rumours amongst us that English submarines showed up, and that we would be transported to the mainland. You probably know if this was true or not.
So one day, right at the end of August, on 28th or 30th, I don’t know, but it was at least 28th, between 28th and 1st of September, we were transported to the mainland in boats, similar to those that brought us to the island. So they lined us up and there were 10 times more Ustashas then us. – In Karlobag or somewhere else? – In Karlobag. It wasn’t the same spot from which we went to the island. – But it was certainly Karlobag. – So we were transported there and lined up and we were supposed to move, when an Italian officer came to us and he removed Ustashas from us and said he would transport us to the train station in Gospić in trucks. – So he removed Ustashas? – Yes, and I believe that we would not make it to the station if Ustashas were with us. I know how they beat us up from Oštarije to here, and the distance from Karlobag to Gospić is twice that much. Allegedly, the Italian said that they would take over this region and that we should move as soon as possible. He said their troops would be coming. You know if this was true or not.
Zemljar: He is talking about a new agreement between Mussolini and Pavelić, because Pag and Brač were the only islands under the control of the NDH. With this new agreement Ustashas could not perform such functions, to run camps and the like, so Italians removed them from this area. So they quickly moved people to the mainland.
It seems we were lucky there. – Do you remember how many of you were transported? There were a lot of us, but I couldn’t say the number, maybe 200 to 500. – How many trucks approximately? – It is difficult to say, I could come up with a number, but I am not sure. There were a lot of us, anyway. – We have information that there were 250 to 400 of you. – Maybe, but we were moved in trucks and it took awhile. We were not all boarded at once. There weren’t just twenty of us and transported in one go. I know that we fit into several railway cars.
When we came to Gospić, and nobody knows this, there was a long train of food sent by the International Red Cross. I went into an open car and food was already tampered with. There were toast bread, cans and assorted dried food. I ate some and took some. Then an Ustasha came and told us not to touch it and that it would be distributed to us when we arrive to a certain place. But when we arrived this train was never to be seen, not a single car. These gangsters took it and there was plenty of food there sent by the International Red Cross. We don’t know if that train followed us. We were locked up in a freight car with a small door, unlike a passenger car.
On the way they connected more cars and when we stopped at the open railway or in station we could see Jewish women and children getting out. They were dirty with faeces as if they lay in them. There were a lot of them. They were throwing their dishes, underwear, shirts and everything. They were disconnected in Stupnik near Sisak, and we went on towards Jasenovac. There we stayed for 8 days at the station and we were guarded by a panzer tank. I never saw such a panzer and I survived the war. This panzer was for the Eastern Front, huge, tall, all made of iron and it was guarding us. After 8 days we got out of the cars and went to Jasenovac, because there was no camp in Jasenovac at the time.
Let’s go back to Slana. We have some data from the trial Zemljar mentioned. We have some figures. You are not familiar with these figures. – I am just saying that I know there were 500 of us in that barracks, because we talked about rations. – How many people arrived and left, do you know the numbers. – People were moving all the time. The road was in front of me. But when we were staying farther from there we saw nothing.
What do you think how many people were moving. – Well, hundreds, I can’t really say precisely. Look, the camp was there for three months. It was established in June (Balaž does not know exactly) and disbanded in late August. – No, on 15th, not in late August. They were killed around 14th or 15th August. – Possibly, but I’m saying that the camp was there until late August. – Zemljar: We are talking about the liquidation of the camp, about day when they killed most of the people. We did not know how long they stayed there and when did your group leave. It is good that you explained this to us, because we didn’t go to the camp when it was liquidated, but when Italians removed the remains of the camp (and victims).
There are some things here that need explanation. You mentioned Jewish children. – Yes. – What about women? – No, we didn’t see them. – According to our data, Slana Camp had two parts. The male camp was in the Slana Bay. Were there any children there? – I didn’t see children there. I only saw them when they brought those leftovers. – Where did these children come from? – I only saw them when they brought the leftovers. – How many of them were there, ten maybe more? – I didn’t see the Ustasha kitchen, they were hidden somewhere. – We will show you. – Neither did I see where their barracks were. We will show you. It wasn’t where we were.
Look, as I said this camp had two parts; the bay and the whole Slana complex and Metajna village. In Metajna was the female camp at first. So we assume there were also women with children, since we found victims. According to our data, women and children were buried in this part of Furnaža, where there was some earth and victims could dig ditches. This is the reason for the movement of people. They were going there, but you didn’t see them. They were allegedly going to work, but they were practically going to be killed. It is very interesting to us that you didn’t see any women in that area, since you would have to. You’ll see that the terrain is such that you had to see what was going on, unless you were at a different location. You’ll show us in the field, because the vale is very clear, you know.
I am telling you and assure you that the vale is clear looking from this area. The bend is there and the road goes around the hill. I am looking at this today, here is a flat area and behind the hill you can’t see anything. This is interesting. The victims from Metajna and Slana camps are in this area. This is where we visited, very close to where you were, maybe a little bit behind. We do have some data, if we could call it that. It is true that you couldn’t hear gunfire, because they didn’t always use guns. You couldn’t hear axes. We didn’t find any firearms traces. All people were killed with knives and blunt weapons. Axes – they were masters with axes. Look, we have different data here. Even Ante (Zemljar) disagrees when we say there were 8000 men. I am talking about number of people killed. Here it says they were over 19000! There is also a piece of data from a letter, and I believe it to be true, since it was given by an Italian supporter. He had contacts with Italians at the time and probably got that information from them. They say it was over 23000 people. These are data worth thinking about and considering. So, I’m telling you what I know and what I heard. But the exact number is a secret to us. It is a mystery how many victims were killed. This will probably remain a secret.
I have never heard of this Metajna. This is the first time. We couldn’t see any houses. I only know that they were saying they would go to Slane and buy cheese. Every place in the world has its name in the land registry.
Look, I suggest you think about those details and then tell us what you think when we get there. Look, we found beds made out of barbed wire you mentioned which they used to punish inmates, and I think Ante saw them too. They would simply throw them on that wire and make them lay there. Maybe it was next to their accommodation. – Zemljar: Exactly where the Jewish camp was, where the barracks were. (A dialogue between Slavko and Zemljar on this issue).
If I find this spot I will tell you exactly, unless it has changed a lot. – Everything’s gone. There are only traces of rock where the barracks were. And that road you saw, there is only a wall there and a bit of flattened land, good enough for walking but not for cars.
So you see, all of this is a secret to us and we can’t see what it was like in the camp. See, there were victims both old and young man and women and children. But you say you didn’t notice them even women were in Metajna. – They were held separately. We had no contact with them. When you have two camps, people from one don’t know about the other. If there are two camps at different ends of a village, they are unaware of each other. You couldn’t ask! Who could you ask? Inmates don’t know and Ustashas are not allowed to say.
Did you see anyone else besides the boat owner? – I don’t remember seeing anyone, just that one boat.
If they transported someone else, I don’t know. – You didn’t see Ustashas killing people and throwing them into the sea during your ride? – No, I didn’t. I even remember many things, considering the fact I was in five different camps, and here (in Slana) I spent barely a month.
You must forgive me if I didn’t say the things you expected me to say. I told you everything I knew and remembered. I did not add anything. Only less could have been said, not more.