The majority of our citizens (in any case, the older generations) certainly know something about the death camps Oswiecim and Treblinka, but few have heard of such a large “death factory” as Jasenovac was. However, according to German sources, in this Ustasha concentration camp, which operated on the territory of today’s Croatia, about 700 thousand Serbs were killed, and based on the data of some Serbian historians, the number of victims reached one million.
But only rare individuals know about Jadovno –the first Ustasha death camp. This summer, at the same time when Croatia celebrated its Independence day (actually the day of its bloody-violent secession from Yugoslavia), in Jadovno, near the sinister Šaranova pit that swallowed tens of thousands of victims of the Ustasha genocide, a commemorative ceremony took place for the second time in history and with the participation of delegations from several countries – marking the 70thanniversary of the camp. Our historian- balkanist and writer from Sarov, Igor Makarov, was invited to attend this event.
Why is Jadovno so little-known? The explanation is very simple. After liberating Belgrade in the autumn of 1944, the Red Army did not direct its next strike to the west, but to the north, on Hungary. As a result, a Nazi Germany satellite, the so-called “Independent State of Croatia” (NDH) was terminated not by the Soviet army, but by the Allies, who did not want to see the truth about the Ustasha atrocities exposed, because Ustasha leaders were raised in the West and through efforts of the West. This explains why many prominent Ustasha took refuge in the West, or had fled to Latin America and Australia, with the help of Western intelligence services.
This is why the Jasenovac concentration camp-unlike Oswiecim, Buchenwald, Maidaneck – did not become public property. Jadovno was completely erased from history. Croatia, “hidden” within the new Yugoslavia didn’t bare any responsibilities for the genocide and the victims have been attributed to the Germans.
The Jadovno concentration camp was located deep in the Velebit Mountains at 1,250 meters above sea level, 22 kilometers north-west of the town of Gospić. It existed for only three months (in August 1941, the Italians closed it), but during this period of time, as estimated by historians, more than 40 thousand peaceful citizens (among them 38 thousand Serbs) died a martyr’s death. Some researchers, for example, a Belgrade publicist Aleksandar Pavić, are convinced that more than one hundred thousand people were executed in Jadovno. There are testimonies from both Serbs and Croats – that the Ustasha, after filling the pits with human bodies, covered them with concrete, soil and leaves, to hide their tracks.
Jadovno was opened on the 11th April of 1941, on the next day after the proclamation of the mentioned NDH with Ustasha”Poglavnik” Ante Pavelic at the head. At the entrance to the camp a portrait of the tyrant was set up with the inscription: «For home-ready! »
Along with the camp that carried the same name, the complex of Jadovno consisted of 33 deep pits on the Velebit mountain, a loading point at the railway station in the Gospic area (where the unfortunate were transported in wagons that were labeled as “Rotten Fruit”), the city jail (coded name “Geriht”) and Several other camps, including the camps Slana and Metajna on the Adriatic island of Pag. In late August 1941, Lika (as that area is called) was placed under the Italian zone of occupation. Having been stunned by the unthinkable Ustasha atrocities, the Italian fascists, who were also, accustomed to killing disobedient people, rushed to close the camp. By the way, one of the participants of the commemoration was a lieutenant then, Aimone Finestra, and later for many years a member of the Italian Senate and the mayor of the town Latina. He served in the unit that closed down the camp.
Speaking on the ceremony of sorrow, the president of Serbia, Boris Tadic revealed his lack of elementary knowledge of history by calling the first child camp in the history of WWII Matajna instead of Metajna, while confusing the camp called Artillery barracks (Topovske šupe), where most Serbian Jews died; with something he called Artillery woods (Topovske šume). He tried at the same time to put a sign of equality between Jadovno and what happened in 1995 in the Moslem Srebrenica, which has for a long time now been the trump card of the West in creating the anti-Serb hysteria (Along the lines of: Yes, you had Nazis but we are no better). Even more devastating was his response to the Croatian journalists at the end of the ceremony in which he said that the Croatian military operation “Storm” at the beginning of august of 1995 had nothing to do with the genocide against Serbs. And this after “Storm” brought the biggest exodus of refugees after WWII from Republic of Srpska Krajina which was terminated by aggressors and from which around 300 thousand Serbs fled and a couple of thousand died in the bombings. Now that land is practically cleared of Serbs, even though no less than 40 percent of Croatia belongs to Military Border, i.e. historical Serbian land. Serbs were expelled from their own land, which, left neglected, turned into a desert.
I testify as an eye witness: a huge part of Croatia lies in ruins today. Tourists are fooled by the shine of Dubrovnik and other coastal towns but one should travel only 40 kilometers in the country where a zone of endless social disaster begins. It is worse than remote areas of our Nizhegorodskaya Oblast.
During the ceremony I heard rumors that on the eve of the remembrance event the police combed the nearby forest to remove any tablets with inscriptions that say “Serbs into pits!” But of course no one tried to remove similar messages from the Internet forum of the Ustashe website “Free Lika”. Besides, at the same time as the commemorative event in Jadovno, there was a dog show being held, which judging by the local news paper, left a much stronger impression on the citizens of Gospic.
To Serb’s honor, they had their say. A cold shower for the official Croatian representatives was the speech of Dusan Bastasic, the president of the Association Jadovno 1941 from Banja Luka (Republic of Srpska)
Leaving aside whether the Republic of Croatia is the legal successor of NDH or not, it is undeniable that on its territory there are the places of mass murder, that the victims of these crimes are not exhumed nor identified nor buried, and that an insignificantly small number of perpetrators was named and brought to court-he said decisively. It’s appalling that the requests of Serbian and Jewish organizations to treat the places and victims of war crimes in accord with laws have been ignored. Moreover, places of war crimes that already were registered as historical monuments have been skillfully hidden for years in hope that time will erase the traces of Ustasha war crimes.
Addressing the Croatian government (represented by the minister of culture Jasen Mesic and Vesna Pusic the special envoy of President Ivo Josipovic), D.Bastasic openly asked: if, as you say, the nineties were just a continuation of the anti-fascist struggle from the time of WWII, how do you explain the fact that Croatian forces have destroyed all monuments built until the year 1991in honor of to that same anti-fascist struggle?
Here, it should be said that the monument to the victims of Jadovno, which existed not far from the Šaranova pit, one of the biggest karst pits in which they threw the inmates, was destroyed at the beginning of the nineties by the new generations of Ustasha and was revealed again during the commemoration itself.
Šaranov pit, next to whose mouth we are standing, is one of the 33 deep tombs in which they threw Serbs, Jews and Roma, and also anti fascists of all nations as-Dusan Bastasic told me later -Of those 33 pits only 3 were partly researched by speleologists. It was established that the Šaranova pit is 42, 5 meters deep, but then a layer of human bones begins. There weren’t any exhumations to date because of the obstruction by the Croatian authorities, which until recently swore allegiance to the Ustasha ideology.
The technology of mass murder was terrifying. A long line of convicts, connected with a long barb wire would be brought by the Ustashe to the pit mouth. Those who were at the beginning of the line, executioners would kill in their usual ways, with axes- Serb cutters or mallets and then push down into the pit. Four or five falling bodies took with them the whole line, up to a hundred living people. There was no mercy not even for babies. The youngest victim of Jadovno was 6 months old.
The Šaranova pit is a small part of Jadovno. The concentration camp command was situated 4 or 5 kilometers deep in the forest. Last year when Dusan asked the local government of the town of Gospic to show him the site of the camp, they answered that there is no road to that place and that it is dangerous to go in the woods. Together with the historian Djuro Zatezalo Bastasic found that place. There you can still see graves of 1500 victims who were shot in a hurry before the camp’s closure. After the war there was a monument in this place but it is destroyed now. Only the bluish waves of the wild saffron mourn for the innocent victims.
Ustashe (Croatian: Ustaše – the ones who stood up, rebels) – The Croatian fascist movement. What differentiates Ustashe from other Croatian opposition movements was that they primarily used violent means including terrorism in achieving their goals.
Following the example of Nazi Germany the Ustashe regime issued racial laws following the pattern of Nuremberg laws, set against Jews and Roma. Besides them all Serbs were declared enemy of the Croatian people. Serbs, Jews and Roma and Croatian anti-fascists were imprisoned in concentration camps and extermination camps. By expressing extreme nationalism, and applying the Nazi racial theory, and committing crimes against humanity and genocide, the Ustasha regime was the Croatian variant of German Nazism.