Unearthing Hidden Truth About Croatian Jasenovac Camp – An Interview with Igor Vukic

Igor Vukic
Photo: Screenshot

The month of April and early May are always very difficult and painful times for people who pursue the truth. Lies about the WWII Jasenovac Camp in Croatia has been the staple food of Yugoslav communists, headed by Serbs in whose interests it was to bury the truth of Serbia as one of the first “Jew Free” countries in WWII Europe. They buried that truth by ganging-up with various unsavoury characters, dubious and conniving historians and politicians with view to throwing all the blame and more for the Holocaust crimes in the region of Yugoslavia upon Croats and Croatia! They made up ludicrous numbers of victims and regardless of the fact their lies had been exposed they continue on their course and continue labelling anyone trying to research and bring up the real history, things that actually occurred as opposed to things fabricated by Serbs and communists and their friends – revisionists!

So, I was glad to have come up with a new interview with Igor Vukic. Igor Vukic is a Croatian historian, journalist, political scientist, publicist and researcher who has made it a particular mission of him to research archives and truth about the notorious Jasenovac Camp. It is notorious because of the lies and made-up numbers of victims that did not exists, hence truly insulting all victims who perished there. Igor Vukic is the president of the Jasenovac Triple Camp Research Society in Croatia. He also published several books, such as “Jasenovac Labor Camp” and “Jasenovac Day by Day,” which somehow destroyed the dark myth of Jasenovac. Otherwise, he says for his books that they are for those who are not afraid (of the truth);  because obviously everyone in Croatia still cannot speak publicly about their scientific research findings without being sanctioned in some way.

This interview with Igor Vukic  by Mladen Pavkovic

Translated with permission into English by Ina Vukic

First published on Brantieljski Portal (War Veteran’s Portal) 

 

Why is the Ustasha Jasenovac Camp still a “myth”, a taboo topic, why does all research into it encounter problems, even disapproval?

The Jasenovac Camp is a sensitive topic because in socialist Yugoslavia it served as an ideological bat for anyone who wanted to explore and realistically depict the events of World War II. A different Jasenovac history will strongly influence the evaluation of the history of the whole war and of post war period. Tito’s regime knew this well, so anyone who dared to touch the taboo was a hit target: Bruno Busic was killed, Dr. Franjo Tudjman imprisoned, Belgrade journalist Vladimir Markovic was sent to a mental hospital in 1979 when he agreed with part of Tudjman’s claims text  about Jasenovac … There was a vigilant and careful observation over what was written about Jasenovac in textbooks, encyclopaedias and doctoral dissertations. Unfortunately, this ideological monitoring has survived to this day in some form.

Serbs continue to tell their stories, especially about the 700 or more thousand killed in that camp, but they do not substantiate this claim with facts or documents…

The documents themselves say something else, but this does not interest those who talk about hundreds of thousands of victims. Thus, in Serbia and the part of Bosnia and Herzegovina run by Milorad Dodik, they are merely repeating the story weaved by old Yugo-communist and Greater Serbian story. Even though there are people out there who are clear about how nebulous the numbers are, and how impossible it is for so many people to get there at all, let alone be killed. But politicians often become ill with this syndrome of separation from reality. It seems to be the case here, too, when it comes to Jasenovac. For anyone with little interest in this subject of my research shows that it is impossible for Jasenovac to have 83,000 victims, which is the official number claimed in Croatia. This is also shown by the work of researchers such as Roman Leljak, Dr. Nikola Banic and Dr. Mladen Koic, and others. But our people here, too, tell the same old story, in a somewhat autistic manner. They do not really want to face the past, though they often repeat that phrase. Too complicated for them to incorporate into their policymaking.

You are the author of a very noticed book about this camp, and you publish your research results relatively often. Well, you seem to be increasingly challenged, even with those challenges that bear no connection to the “brain”?

There will always be disputes. No one serious can say that he handled something perfectly and that it did not reveal a certain mistake in his historical work. But that is why there is dialogue, discussion of results, re-examination of sources, archives, published material and memoirs. I am always ready for this and have sent numerous messages, for example to Hrvoje Klasic, but he simply does not have the strength to sit down and face my arguments. A similar fear of confronting arguments can be felt with other historians on the political spectrum. But when they are alone, they are very brave with gossiping and writing against us.

Why does the Croatian state not care to finally close the pages of this book?

Although I try hard, I cannot understand it. Almost every day around the world Jasenovac is mentioned in an extremely negative context. Through it, almost the entire Croatian people are accused of fictitious crimes. This coronavirus did little to help prevent the premiere of a new Jasenovac film (Dara from Jasenovac) in Serbia, which will repeat these worst accusations and portray them in the film for maximum propaganda effect. When that movie comes out, our politicians will be asked for comment. They will also have to explain and protest, as was the case two or three years ago when Serbs at the United Nations staged an exhibition about Jasenovac and Cardinal Stepinac. It looks like they have not learned anything from that lesson. It would be expected that for this very reason they organizs thorough research of Jasenovac and enable historians to show the Croatian and world public a realistic picture of Jasenovac.

It is little known that some of your family loved ones were in this camp…

My father and that part of my family lived in the village of Donja Gradina, opposite the Jasenovac camp. They lived there, although everyone in the village was of Orthodox faith without anyone touching them even after the camp across the Sava was established in August 1941. My father was born in 1938. In December 1941, partisans came to Gradina and attacked the camp by firing across the river. The whole village then, in fear of retaliation, had to retreat south to Mount Kozara. So, after June 15, 1942, they found themselves surrounded by German and Croatian forces who had taken action against a partisan group on that mountain. With many other civilians and my relatives surrendering to the oncoming army, they came out with white flags from the woods. They were then taken the same way, but in a different direction, north, towards Jasenovac. They were there briefly, without entering the camp itself, and were transported by train to western Slavonia, to Lipik. Together with at least 15,000 other refugees and prisoners from Kozara. My grandfather was not with them, because he was a partisan commander, first of a platoon and then of a company. He was captured and, according to some sources, shot dead in a cemetery near Bosanska Dubica, along with other prominent captured partisans. At the conclusion of the Battle of Kozara, German forces formed courts of war that assessed who was to be shot. Several thousand captured partisans were sent to work in Germany, while about 300 prominent commanders, commissioners, etc., were sentenced to death. The rest of the family: my father, grandmother and great-grandmother arrived in Pakrac Poljana via Lipik. Like other refugees and prisoners, they were distributed and allocated housing, food and assistance. After the war, my grandparents stayed in Poljana. My father married into the neighbouring village of Medric: my mother is of Croatian-Czech descent. I went to school in Pakrac Poljana from the first to the eighth grade.

And what is your opinion about the work done by the Jasenovac Memorial Area?

I learned water skiing on the Sava River just outside the Memorial area. We used to visit my dad’s relatives in Gradin, and we had one plastic boat with 28 horsepower Yamaha and that was great for enjoying the water. We also visited this museum very often. That is why I have always kept a close eye on what is written about Jasenovac, whether new information and memoirs of former detainees are emerging. I read a lot of what was published at the time. I was always interested in history as an excellent student and later a political science student at the Zagreb Faculty of Political Science, so I asked my family members how come they were not killed in the camp when they were Serbs. That is how it was believed then. I was told that they were rescued by an Ustasha who knew my grandfather before the war and did him a favour. Only later, through my own research, I found that passing through Jasenovac, but without entering the camp, was no exception in those days. As I said, at least 15,000 refugees from Kozara were sent to Slavonia. Thousands were taken to Germany for work – and many captured partisans and civilians. Some by train from Sisak, some by boat from Sava to Zemun, and from there by boat up the Danube to the Third Reich. When I recently confronted their relatives with research results, they confirmed it and added a wealth of valuable data. And that speaks to how taboo-topic Jasenovac was.

Josip Broz Tito reportedly visited Jasenovac twice but never talked about it. Is this important?

Dusan Dragosavac, a senior official of the League of Communists, claimed that Tito was in Jasenovac for the first time immediately after the war and then for the second time in the mid-1970s. He was supposedly with him that second time. But they were non-public, almost private tours. Tito never attended official commemorations. He did not need to be there. His propaganda machinery did his job for him. Jasenovac was a motive with which any movement for Croatian independence was threatened, for example. At the same time, Serbs were being spooked they would suffer again from a reoccurrence of the camp. Now we are slowly finding out that there was no such massive casualties. Tito laid the groundwork. In the spring of 1942, he wrote to local partisans to consider attacking the Jasenovac camp, “in which our 10,000 best comrades had already disappeared.” By that time, only about 2,000 prisoners had arrived at that camp. The promotional machine has begun building beyond the basic 10 thousand.

Where is most of the archive related to this camp?

There are quite enough documents that can clearly show its nature that can be found in Zagreb. They are available to anyone at the Croatian State Archives in Marulic Square. It sounds paradoxical, but an important part of the archive, from which one can see what the camp was like, is actually located in Zagreb. Now it is easy for me to say, but before 2012 I was not aware of this. About a year or two before that I had decided to explore Jasenovac as deeply as possible. I first started reading all the books published about the camp, from 1945. I was surprised that in many of the books published before 1990 there was much that coincided with the results of my present findings. But as mentioned before, that was something that one should not emphasise. Then, the Internet was already available as a tool for searching information about Jasenovac. One time, Google search accidentally showed that there was one letter from Jasenovac in the Croatian National Archives, in this and that fund. I asked them if I, as an ordinary citizen, as a journalist, could view archival documents, because I thought openly that only graduate historians, college professors, or employees of state institutes could do so. Seriously! They told me I could come, but I needed to know the fund number, boxes, documents … I started looking through the seven boxes first, one small fund left over from the Ustasha Surveillance Service. It was a real revelation: so much is written there! And these are original documents, not retold in a book. Then I would pick up a book by a historian and look at the footnotes at the bottom of the page. I would order a box with the document listed in the note, but then I would also take a few boxes before and after that first box. And gradually, the multidimensional world of the past began to unfold before me. I was thinking of staying in the National Archives for a week, so I bought a weekly pass. Here I have already collected nine annual cards and countless hours spent in the archive reading room.

Have you seen the movie “Diary of Diana Budisavljevic”, which I believe has little to do with the truth …?

Of course, I went to watch it at the first opportunity I got. Just as I read some new text related to Jasenovac as soon as I get my hands on it, no matter who wrote it. The movie “Diary of Diana Budisavljevic” is quite boring to say the least. Then, it is manipulative because it plays to the impression. That is legitimate in a movie, but here marketing presents that movie as if it depicts real events. Although even documentaries are not a literal account of reality, they tend to place events in a realistic context, especially the better ones. Everything is subordinate to the impression here, using deliberate pranks and movie tricks. Although this film presents itself as the result of 10 years of research, it is actually a few scenes written based on selectively chosen portions of Diana Budisavljevic’s diary. Distorted picture, but I believe more and more people in Croatia are realising this.

You also founded an association that deals with the problems surrounding the Jasenovac camp. Do you have government support, or is everything done relying on enthusiasm?

We were successful two years in a row to win a relatively modest amount of HRK 40,000 each year, in a tender for state finances for our project.  That is very modest compared to what some other associations receive. The project consisted of an examination of the records of the Communist World Commission for the Determination of War Crimes (ZKRZ), stored in the Croatian State Archives. In 1945, investigators from the ZKRZ questioned former detainees from the Jasenovac and Stari Grad camps. Most of the testimony clearly did not appeal to the propagandists of the time, because former detainees mostly spoke about their work in Jasenovac in one of the production facilities and did not see any mass killings. The fund holds 700 boxes, each with 700 to 1000 sheets of documents. My two colleagues and I were searching through, leaf by leaf, looking for statements relating to Jasenovac. Two years later, when we passed the 250 boxes, and started publishing our works and books, criticism was raised against the Government and the Ministry of Croatian Veterans Affairs, which carried the funding competition or tender for grants.  We were rejected for the third year, on the grounds that such research should be conducted by historical institutions and departments of history, and not by a civic association like ours. As if it is our fault that institutes and historical departments do not deal with this! There are also several historians in our society by education, we have war veterans and their children, we meet all the criteria! But it was enough that criticism was made by the Novosti weekly (newspaper Milorad Pupovac and the Serbian National Council publish), by the US Ambassador and Croatia’s Ombudsman Lora Vidovic. Prime Minister Plenkovic easily bowed to this “terrible pressure”. And with him, Minister Tomo Medved, who was not afraid of tanks during the war. But with them you never know where you stand, and you never know what the people’s  Ombudsman is setting up for you.

How do you think the truth about Jasenovac and other World War II camps will come out?

Researching archives first and foremost. I said that an important part of the information can be found in Zagreb, and there are many documents about Jasenovac in the regional archives – in Sisak, Pozega, Bjelovar, Slavonski Brod … Of course, there are many things in the Belgrade archives. Then, in Banja Luka, in Sarajevo, in Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria… It is little known (and little used) that there is a rich collection of microfilms in the Croatian State Archives in Zagreb, which contain copies of original documents from various bodies of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). So, the archive of original documents from this or that NDH ministry is are located in Belgrade, but here, at our fingertips, in Zagreb, we have films and recordings of them and are able to review them and write about them. For example, you have an uprising against the NDH in July, August, and September 1941. These are accounts and reports from the field that flow into the General Staff of the Ministry of Homeland Security. You see cities and places in flames, in the environment, you see a state that is making extreme efforts to protect its population. That sends planes with food and ammunition to surrounded crews, counts the dead … Sounds familiar? It is like watching a war game, or the best documentary on History. It is all there! Why have Croatian historians used their documents (their recordings) so rarely? Here we go back to the beginning of our conversation. But it seems that there are more and more historians willing to address these taboos.

What do you know about the first Ustasha camp Danica (Koprivnica)?

I have not gone much into it but I came across an excellent book about Danica, published by historian Zdravko Dizdar after many years of research. As far as I could see, he found that three detainees had lost their lives in that camp. And many earlier texts talk about there being 2000 to 4000 prisoners killed in there. Then, that 30,000 people were interned, and in fact, about 4300 were imprisoned. These were exaggerations, like those about Jasenovac. That is why it is important to thoroughly cover all these neuralgic points of Croatian recent history.

Do you know that this camp is not of interest to various Pupovacs and the like, that no one from the state bodies has officially visited it so far, and that after all, this Memorial Area is in a place where camps did not exist !?

There is no need to spend too many words on minority representatives and their relationship with history. They are pursuing their interests and are not interested in some serious, realistic approach. That is why they are focusing on Jasenovac and several other places, because they can get away with that for now.

And what do you think of your fellow historians? Don’t you think there is a “cheer” among them as in football?

The social sciences are not exactly mathematics or physics where something can be accurately measured with the help of some technical devices, though I see that there are some controversies among mathematicians, physicists and, say, epidemiologists. Contributions about history are often more or less marked by the character and heritage of its author, his social position, and even his personal courage. But all this can normally be remedied by dialogue, serious and well-grounded criticism, comparison with other research, and similar techniques.

The Serbs, we hear, are also making a feature film about Jasenovac. Why don’t Croats do the same?

– Croats could make several great films with themes from the Homeland War, but they still do not. When they make a movie about World War II you get the Diary of Diana Budisavljevic. I hope that the time will come when good films will be made about Jasenovac, which will have both cinematic and artistic value and will not distort what was really going on there. First, the results of a serious investigation into the Jasenovac camp must be given public rights, and then interested filmmakers may indeed emerge.

What is scarier to you: the Srebrenica massacre or all that was happening in Jasenovac?

There were no mass, serial killings in Jasenovac. There are no remains of victims, no documents, no credible witness statements. If we take only the segment of treatment of prisoners of war, we will see that in 1943 the Independent State of Croatia acceded to the Geneva Convention and applied its provisions even to the captured partisans. Although this type of illegal fighters was not covered by the convention. Even the partisans captured in Sutjeska were brought to Jasenovac. Imagine this situation, taking prisoners across the country, providing food, medical treatment if needed. Partisan spy Jaroslav Cherni, discovered in Sarajevo, was the head of a construction group in Jasenovac and was paid a salary. A young partisan, Bogdan Petkovic, was captured at Oborov and wounded in the arm and leg. He was transported to Zagreb, cured in hospital and imprisoned in a camp in Jasenovac. In February 1945 he was sent from the camp to work in Germany with a large transport of prisoners. And almost everyone returned home after the war. And the prisoners of Srebrenica?

How do you look at the “For Home Ready” greeting? Specifically, this greeting was used in World War II, but also in the Homeland War!

First of all, I think it is important that no one be prosecuted or punished for using this greeting in Croatia. As I believe no one should be punished for pointing out a red star and other symbols of communism. I believe that Croatian society is democratically mature enough to bear it. “For Home ready” is undoubtedly an Ustasha greeting, conceived by the leader of that movement, Ante Pavelic, and did not exist in that form before him. The ZDS is undoubtedly one of the symbols of the Independent State of Croatia, both of what was good and what was not valid. I am interested to refer to the book by the renowned historian Dr. Jere Jareb, “Half a Century of Croatian Politics”, which describes how well it prevailed. Regarding the use of greetings in the Homeland War, it is even easier and clearer to see how the positive things prevailed. The vast majority of people in Croatia know this, too, and these attacks on the HOS and its sign are doomed.

Mr. Vukic, what are your future plans?

There are three main plans: research, research and – research. There is much more archival material to review in order to complete the historical picture of the events in the war-time Jasenovac. It would be nice to visit the archives in Serbia and BiH and see what they all have on Jasenovac. An arrangement should be made with friends who live abroad (Germany, Italy, Hungary, Finland, etc.) to go through the archives in the countries where they live, because of they have good knowledge of the local language. We have already done some of this and it has produced great results. It would be good to make a documentary film. I would like to write a history of Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia. At the same time book presentations should be organised, fundraising for the work of our society on Jasenvac should be raised. Then, answer the questions of those who are interested, participate in discussions on social networks (since we cannot yet on national televisions). There are many tasks, but for those interested in these topics, this job is also a real pleasure – said Igor Vukic.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Frank N says:

    I agree that the figures regarding Jasenovac are inflated and used by the communists then the Serbs (or both at the same time to shame Croatia and Croatians) but I also find it hard to believe that any fascist government during World War 2 did not have a camp or did not deport prisoners to German run camps. Hitler’s policy regarding the Jews was pretty clear. He required all states that were funded and supported by Germany to enact his racial policies. There was nothing inherently anti-semitic in Croatian national culture at the time (well nothing more than anywhere in the west) but they were required to kill Jews (for which the State received a bounty) or (possibly) hand them over to the Germans. This happened throughout all the Axis states or those under Axis control (including in Serbia). Archbishop Stepinac himself (well documented) hid Jewish families to give them safe passage out of Croatia. In relation to Serbs killed at Jasenovac, I likewise find it hard to believe that “There were no mass, serial killings in Jasenovac”. Unless I have missed it, with all respect to Mr Vukic, he doesn’t give us a number of persons killed at Jasenovac, though clearly he suggests some where (it just wasn’t systematic). All of the warring nations of World War 2 had some forms of internment camps and most had atrocities and massacres attached to their names … I’m not sure why NDH would be any different. Again, I think the figures the Serbs use are inflated and I don’t know about 80000 deaths either. Tudman put it at around 40000 deaths which is nothing to be proud of but (he correctly says) it was an internment camp that was made up of dissident Croats, Croatian communists, Serbs, Gypsies, Jews, Catholic priests who complained, and probably local criminals and bandits also, and i suspect it was cold and none to hygienic. But it is clear something else was going on there – maybe not “systematic” (whatever that may mean) but something “murderous” outside of warfare. Again, the great (my adjective) Cardinal (then Archbishop) Stepinac wrote to Pavelić on 24 February 1943, saying (referring to the murder of priests but alluding to something bigger) “This is a shameful blot and crime which cries to heaven for revenge, as the whole Jasenovac camp is a shameful fault for the Independent State of Croatia… the entire public, and especially the relatives of the killed priests, ask for compensation and satisfaction and ask that the killers, who are the greatest misfortune for Croatia, be brought before a court of justice”.

    • I do not believe anyone is saying there were no victims in Croatia during WWII but the way the history has been rigged does no justice to them either. Facts need to be researched, this was forbidden during times of communist Yugoslavia, so we wait and see. We certainly cannot take as fact the fabrications made and published by the communists and their subscribers.

      • Frank N says:

        Yes, I agree with you, “We certainly cannot take as fact the fabrications made and published by the communists and their subscribers”. They have not tired to look at the subject impartially or just follow the “party line” ..something that unfortunately happens in politics on all sides in all countries. I suspect there are a lot of documents that could shed light on the issue of Jasenovac, amount of deaths and other ancillary issues that are buried in files in Belgrade. I’m sure there are independent Serbian historians who would love to access them. Whether their government want them released is another question.

  2. Hope you are well during pandemic

  3. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:
    AN IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW–TO ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO LOOK PAST THE PROPAGANDA

  4. When will Croatia truly exist?

    • …and uninterrupted Sunman!~ Must work towards that, nothing comes easy when communists have had their hands on it for seventy plus years!

  5. Stjepan says:

    Hi Ina, Thank you so much for posting this. It is true that the evil communists of mordor in fact perpetrated this heinous crimes in the sanotorium of Jasenovac. I have studied history in Oxbridge and find clear evidence that make true the notion that no Jews or Serbs died in croatia. I find truth that this piktura https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antisemitic_Exhibition_in_Zagreb#/media/File:%C5%BDidovi_izlo%C5%BEba_ndh_1942.jpg
    is fake news. This poster was invented by Titomir Josipovac to bring about new industry in poor Jugoslavia from 1950s! Firstly Senior Pavelic was not interested in Jews, he was interested in killing communists! I believe that the Jew of croatia went to Austria in Bleiburg and the communists kill them there in 1945. I have evidence from arhiva in British Library london to suggest that there was a special army create from death in Bleiburg. Now evil bosnia is killing our catholic freedom, Bosnia is now saying that we are facists. there is also reason to believe that NDH was actually fighting HITLER – SS HAndzar divizija was created to show the muslims how to kill chetniks. ANyway you are brave for information. Long live the NDH favourite sons of croatia and herceg-bosna – so much pride to be catholic.

    • Stjepan, much falseness has been written about WWII Croatia besides some facts, we can only pray that the truth and facts will surface one day through professional research.

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