Croatia: Commemorating the 82,085 recorded deaths in WWII Jasenovac area concentration camps

Jasenovac Flower Memorial (Photo HRT)

22 April 2012 marks the 67th anniversary of the Jasenovac concentration camp prisoner break-out.

A commemoration was held at that largest detention and work camp of the Independent State of Croatia (1941 – 1945). Out of 1073 prisoners still held there on 22 April 1945, 600 of them broke out and barely 100 of them survived the breakout. The remaining 473, who did not attempt to escape , were killed or burned, reports the Croatian television HRT.

Numerous dignitaries including Ivo Josipovic (President), Zoran Milanovic (Prime Minister) and Boris Sprem (Speaker of Parliament) attended the commemoration at the Flower monument, Jasenovac.

67th commemoration at Jasenovac, 22 April 2012 (Photo:HRT)

Katica Sedmak, the president of the Advisory Council of Jasenovac Area Memorials, spoke first at the commemoration. She sent a special greeting to the survivors of Jasenovac concentration camp and some 70 other camps in World War II Croatia, who suffered from war crimes.

Sedmak said that, to date, there are 82,085 recorded deaths over ten localities in the area of Jasenovac and that the victims were Serbs, Roma, Jews, Croatians and antifascists. She said that there were 20,038 children under the age of 14 among the victims, and that if there were no humanists there that number would have been greater and more terrible.

Brigita Knezevic, the representative of prisoners and herself a survivor, said that Jasenovac area should always remind us about the victims who had lost their lives there and that evil should never be repeated, that we should build our life and future in love and tolerance. This vow we must leave to future generations, she said.


(taken from Jasenovac Memorial Site portal

Jasenovac Memorial Site is in the immediate vicinity of the former Jasenovac concentration camp, Camp III (Brickworks). In the Memorial Site the original sites of buildings and execution sites within the camp itself are marked by earth mounds and hollows. The path to the Flower Memorial is paved with railway sleepers. They denote symbolically part of the preserved railway track used to transport prisoners to the camp. 

Along with the memorial area, Jasenovac Memorial Site is responsible for the original, preserved camp building known as The Tower, the Stara Gradiška Camp cemetery, the Roma cemetery in Uštica and the mass graves in Krapje, Mlaka and Jablanac. 

The activities of Jasenovac Memorial Site have developed in different directions and include compiling, researching, scientifically processing, preserving and exhibiting the museum buildings and documents on how the Jasenovac Ustasha camp system operated; an educational programme; organising exhibitions and publications; ongoing co-operation with surviving prisoners and organising commemorative events in honour of the Jasenovac victims. 

Besides the Memorial Museum, the Education Centre is also part of Jasenovac Memorial Site. 

Jasenovac is a place in which visitors will discover the exceptional suffering and incredible courage of the Jasenovac victims, but also learn of the strength of hope in life and faith in humankind, as emphasised in particular by the survivors.

Thanks to all the Jasenovac victims, Jasenovac today is a place which encourages contemplation, learning, research, building personal convictions and actively resisting evil and crime, and is also a place where the value of human life and the moral principles which characterise humankind are embraced. Jasenovac is a place from which we should all depart having reached the decision that evil and the “Jasenovac” crimes should never be repeated, anywhere. Differences between peoples, cultures and nationalities should be respected, communicated and taught, and never again allowed to be the causes of crimes against humanity”.

This is the ugly part of Croatia’s World War II history that the whole world, rightfully, needs to remember with condemnation. That history though, haunts the people much more than what it should 70 years on, I would say, because of the irksome, grossly false representations of numbers of victims that fell at Jasenovac one finds in books, newspapers and on the internet.

Furthermore, the other ugly part of Croatia’s World War II history, viz. communist crimes and massacres committed by antifascists have not yet been fully condemned nor have the faces of the perpetrators been branded with the deserved mark of abhorrence.

It is sad to see that even on this 67th anniversary of Jasenovac deaths the “antifascists” as victims of the camp are referred to as a separate group of victims. I ask myself: why is this so? Weren’t those antifascists members of all or any of the ethnic groups on the victim list: Serbian, Jews, Croatian and Roma? Mentioning antifascists as a distinct group of victims is repugnant in this context. It is a fact that Croatians who were against the Ustashi/Nazi regime, were exterminated in Jasenovac, the same would go for some members of the other ethnic groups.

And so, sadly, the antifascists bring politics to Jasenovac commemoration. But let’s hope that people will not forget either of the two ugly parts of Croatia’s WWII history, and press on with making the antifascists condemn and convict the atrocities their predecessors committed. The young people of Croatia should recognise the destructive antifascist politics and reject the hypocrisy it brings (even to the Jasenovac commemoration), and move on into a future that has reconciled its past fully, otherwise tension and discontent will linger. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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