Why exactly was the camp formed in Jasenovac?

The Ustashas thought the location was suitable for a camp for several reasons. Jasenovac is well-placed in terms of communications, because the railway track from Zagreb to Novska via Sisak runs right through it.

Camp III (Brickworks) was on an area of marshland between the Rivers Sava and Veliki Strug, which meant access to the camp was difficult and opportunities to escape limited. In addition, since Jasenovac lies between Lonjsko Polje and Mokro Polje, which are frequently flooded, the Ustashas justified the existence of the camp by saying that the workforce was needed to carry out improvement work. (Hrvatski narod no. 195, 31 August 1941).

Before the Second World War there was an industrial plant on the site of Camp III (Brickworks), belonging to the Bačić family, Serbs from Jasenovac. The Ustashas confiscated their property and used the industrial plant as part of the camp. There was also a branch line connecting the Bačić industrial plant with the Zagreb-Sisak-Novska railway. This was used during the camp’s existence to transport freight and prisoners.

How many prisoners were there altogether in the camp?

According to a statement made by the former camp commandant, Ljubo Miloš before the court (Court record on the Miloš hearing, quoted in Poruke, yr. 2 no. 1, Jasenovac 1971), there were about three thousand prisoners in the camp. The number remained constant because many prisoners (particularly those who were sent to the camp without paperwork and those sentenced to three years imprisonment) were liquidated on arrival.

Since official camp evidence of prisoner numbers did not survive, and many prisoners were never recorded, the exact number of those who passed through Jasenovac Concentration Camp cannot be confirmed.

How many Ustashas guarded the camp?

About 1,500 Ustashas in the Ustasha Defence Brigade guarded and secured the camp.
(Anđelko Barbić: Articles studying the function of the Ustasha Defence in securing the Jasenovac Concentration Camp, round table discussion “Jasenovac 1986”, Jasenovac Memorial Site1986.)

Did prisoners try to escape?

There were escape attempts, but only a tiny number of prisoners (about 300) were successful, while most of the others were killed in the attempt. One of the reasons for this was the location of the camp. It was on a level area, which meant it was easy for the Ustashas to keep watch, and since it was surrounded by the Rivers Sava Una and Veliki Strug and close to the marshlands of Lonjsko Polje and Mokro Polje, flooding was frequent and the area was often cut off. The camp was surrounded by a high wall with wooden bunkers and brick watchtowers, manned by armed guards. In addition, all escape attempts, if discovered, were punishable by death. If anyone succeeded in escaping, the Ustasha would take their revenge on the remaining prisoners.

How many victims were there of Jasenovac Concentration Camp?

We cannot be sure of the exact number of victims of the Ustasha camp in Jasenovac. According to research completed so far, the number can be estimated at between 80,000 and 100,000.

What was the situation in the village of Jasenovac during the period when the camp was in operation?

The command staff of the assembly camps were accommodated in the village of Jasenovac, along with the Ustasha hospital and prisons, and two camp work details; the Tannery detail (from 1942) and the Quick Assembly detail (from 1944). The village was fenced off on the side nearest the railway line with a wire fence. The exits to Jasenovac were equipped with bunkers and armed guards and it was only possible to leave the village with a permit.

What was the relationship between the villagers and the camp and its inmates?

At the beginning of the Second World War, the village of Jasenovac had a mixed Croatian and Serbian population. All the local Serbs were expelled on 8 May 1942 by the Ustashas and sent to the camps in Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška, where some were killed and others sent to other camps in the Independent State of Croatia or the Third Reich. The Croatian villagers remained in their homes until 23 April 1945, when the Ustashas forced them to retreat with them to the west. The village of Jasenovac lived throughout the war years under a kind of camp regime, so that any contact between prisoners and villagers was extremely risky and anyone offering the prisoners help was in danger of being killed themselves. Since the buildings of Camp IV (Tannery) were in the centre of the village, and the villagers had to pass close by the largest part of the camp, Camp III (Brickworks) on the way to their fields, there was contact between them and some prisoners. The villagers would secretly throw corn cobs and bread over the fence, although they risked their lives in doing so. Others helped the camp Communist Party organisation and kept alive communications between the camp and the outside world.

We call these people the righteous of Jasenovac.

Why did the Partisans not liberate Jasenovac Concentration Camp?

Among experts and the general public there has been a growing debate recently about the possible reasons why the Partisans never attempted to liberate the Jasenovac Camp. One of the most tendentious reasons given is that they deliberately wanted as many Serbs as possible to die, and therefore took no action. However, we should take into account all the circumstances in which an attack would have had to take place. The facts show that the camp was virtually impregnable.

1. The location of the camp, on marshland, abutting Lonjsko Polje and Mokro Polje, meant the camp was inaccessible from the east and west. North and south it was bounded by the Rivers Sava and Strug, which were almost impossible to force during an attack.
2. The camp was right next to one of the best protected railway lines in Europe (Zagreb-Belgrade), guarded by a system of bunkers and German armoured trains.
3. The River Sava was patrolled by boats of the Hungarian Danube Fleet.
4. The camp was manned by about 1,500 of the most hardened Ustashas, completely loyal to Pavelić and ready to fight.
5. It would have required a huge Partisan force to attack the camp, many of whom would have died crossing the River Sava. It would have been impossible to control the flat area of the camp, from where Partisan formations would have to retreat immediately after the offensive, allowing the camp to continue functioning.
6. There were no Partisan forces strong enough in the area of the camp to carry out such an attack. The Bosnian Partisans in the Kozara area had reached respectable numbers by the middle of 1942, compared to the Slavonians on the other side of the Sava, who would have been unable to mount such an attack right up to the end of the war. The First Slavonian Brigade was only formed on 11 October 1942, after the Kozara offensive and the dispersion of Partisan units in the Bosnian Krajina area.

It should also be noted that the High Command of the People’s Liberation Army of Yugoslavia and Movement for the Liberation of Yugoslavia, headed by Josip Broz Tito, knew details of what was going on in Jasenovac Concentration Camp. The illegal camp party committee (Communist Party of Croatia), which managed more or less to keep going though the entire period of the camp’s existence, maintained communications in various way with party organisations in the field (through the Nova Gradiška branch of the Communist Party of Croatia), reported on conditions inside the camp, prisoners’ needs and planned a prisoner breakout to coincide with possible Partisan intervention. This was why Tito gave the order on 31 March 1942 to explore the possibility of attacking Jasenovac from the direction of Bosnian Krajina and Slavonia, but this never came about. An excerpt reads, “Explore the possibility of an attack on the concentration camp in Jasenovac, where 10,000 of our comrades have been imprisoned, of whom only 1,500 are still alive. All others have been killed by the Ustasha bandits. This attack should be organised with the Croatian headquarters, but it must be planned to succeed.”

A great number of Partisan soldiers and officers had lost someone in the Ustasha death camp. Some Partisan leaders said that there was high motivation among the fighters to liberate the camp, but the reality of the situation was overwhelming. Even if the preparation for such an attack could be completed, it was doomed to failure. We should not forget the failed attempt to liberate Stara Gradiška Camp (during the Banja Luka operation) on New Year’s Eve 1943, when Partisan units liberated Bosanska Gradiška, but the Slavonian Partisans were halted at the village of Donji Varoš, about a mile downstream from the camp wall, by superior Ustasha forces (reinforced by Ustasha units from Lijevča Polje and western Slavonia).

Why did the Jasenovac Camp buildings not survive?

The day after the prisoner breakout on 22 April 1945, the Ustashas abandoned Camp III (Brickworks), having burned and shelled the camp buildings. When the Partisans arrived on 1 May 1945, they found the camp and the village of Jasenovac in ruins. The inhabitants of Jasenovac and the surrounding villages used the remains, with the permission and help of the authorities to rebuild their houses.

When Bogdan Bogdanović was awarded the project of designing Jasenovac Memorial Site, only traces of the camp buildings remained. Bogdanović was of the opinion that it would be wrong to build reconstructions, but rather that their locations should be marked by mounds and hollows in the earth.

Was Jasenovac a German (Nazi) and a Fascist prison?

Jasenovac Concentration Camp was exclusively an Ustasha camp, under the supervision of the Third Bureau of the Ustasha Defence, headed by Vjekoslav Maks Luburić, and at no time was it staffed by members of other military formations (Home Defence, German, Italian, Hungarian soldiers, etc). It should be emphasised that, in contrast to Nazi camps such as Auschwitz, Treblinka, Sobibor and others, in which gas chambers were used to generate an “industry of death”, in Jasenovac prisoners were killed in the most primitive, manual ways, using cold weapons and tools. Even German officers expressed horror at this in their reports to Berlin and this characteristic makes Jasenovac one of the most terrible camps in Europe during the Second World War. However, Nazi and Fascist officials and soldiers can be linked to Jasenovac Concentration Camp in several ways:

- There were visits by international commissions to the camp on several occasions, and there were German and Italian officers in these commissions.

- The German organisation TODT began operating in Stara Gradiška Camp in April 1942, selecting prisoners for forced labour in the Third Reich. In this way, several thousand prisoners were actually saved, since their survival depended on being selected and deported to Nazi work camps in Germany and Austria.

- The armed forced of the Independent State of Croatia (Ustashas and Home Defence) shared in the Italian army offensive on Kozara, which was taken over by the German army in the summer of 1942. The Germans handed over their male, female and child prisoners to the Ustashas and helped them organise and implement the transportation of about 68,500 people to Jasenovac Concentration Camp. Thus the German army was indirectly responsible for the deaths of these people.

- The German army contributed indirectly to security in Jasenovac. The railway line running from Zagreb via Jasenovac and Novska to Belgrade and the Romanian oil fields was patrolled by German armoured trains and secured by bunkers manned by German soldiers. This was an important factor in assessing the likelihood of an attack on Jasenovac from the north, and formed part of the camp’s defence system against a possible Partisan attack.

- Vjekoslav Maks Luburić, the Commandant of the Third Bureau of the Ustasha Defence, who was responsible for all the Ustasha camps in the Independent State of Croatia, visited the Nazi Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg camp in later 1941, in order to learn about the functioning of a combined-type camp (labour/death camp). He took his experiences back to Jasenovac.

- We find German soldiers in Jasenovac Concentration Camp under bizarre circumstances. When the Ustasha malefactor Stanko-Staniša Vasilj faked the deaths of three Ustashas in Camp III (Brickworks) early in 1942 (in fact, the dead were three prisoners who had been killed and then dressed in Ustasha uniforms), with the aim of creating reasons for further torture and crimes, a delegation of German officers attended the funeral in Jasenovac and laid a wreath.

- In her book Koncentracioni logor Jasenovac – Fotomonografija (The Jasenovac Concentration Camp – a Photographic Monograph), published in 2008 by Jasenovac Memorial Site, Nataša Mataušić writes of the presence of the Volksdeutscher (uniformed members of the German national minority) in Bročice or Krapje camps in 1941. She bases her claims on analysis of photographs taken in one of these camps, in which Volksdeutscher can be seen alongside Ustasha soldiers, and on the memories of Jakov Kabiljo, a Jasenovac survivor. This is the first support we have found for the theory that the German military and civilian apparatuses, within the country and in the Third Reich, may have been involved in the functioning of Jasenovac Concentration Camp.

Was Jasenovac used after the Ustashas as a Partisan (Communist) camp?

Jasenovac Memorial Site and the Memorial Museum were founded, according to the Act on Jasenovac Memorial Site “in order to preserve in perpetuity the remembrance of the victims of the Fascist terror and the soldiers of the People’s War of Liberation who fell in the Second World War in Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška Camps, and in order to preserve the achievements of Anti-Fascism.” (OG 15/90, 28/90 and Act on Amendments to the Act on Jasenovac Memorial Site, OG 21/01).

Although the events which took place after 18 May 1945 in the former Ustasha Jasenovac Concentration Camp do not therefore fall within the remit of Jasenovac Memorial Site, as defined in the Act, in response to a great deal of public interest and many questions about what actually happened in the location of former Camp III (Brickworks) after 2 May 1945, the Board of Jasenovac Memorial Site initiated research in the spring of 2002, in order to establish the relevant facts. It was confirmed that:
- No documents could be found in the Croatian State Archives in Zagreb concerning the existence of a Partisan (Communist) prison or penal concentration camp on the location of former Camp III (Brickworks).
- About twenty detailed audio recordings and written statements made by the villagers of Jasenovac and those who witnessed the post-war years in the area are kept in Jasenovac Memorial Site. A comparison of these statements shows that they are precise and to a great degree, in agreement with each other, which allows us to arrive at a fairly precise chronology of events and a general picture of the situation on the location of the former Ustasha Camp III (Brickworks) after 1945.

(See: text of the Jasenovac Work Group 1945-1947; Slavko Goldstein; Jasenovac 1941.-1945. logor smrti i radni logor (Jasenovac 1941-1945, Death Camp and Labour Camp), Nataša Mataušić, Javna ustanova Spomen-područje Jasenovac (Jasenovac Memorial Site, 2003 ,175-184)

- From statements given by the villagers of Jasenovac, officials who served in Jasenovac between 1945 and 1948, and prisoners-of-war who worked at the time in Jasenovac, it is clear that the buildings of the former Ustasha camp were in ruins, rendering them completely unusable for prisoner accommodation. Only the east and southeast sections of the camp walls remained standing, along with the foundations of the brickworks and the lower section of the chain factory, while all the other camp buildings were in various stages of collapse, due to shelling and incineration.
- The first prisoners-of-war who worked on de-mining the camp wall and the village of Jasenovac in May 1945 were billeted in the sheds of the former Ustasha food warehouse, opposite the school in Jasenovac.
- Prisoners-of-war who were brought to Jasenovac from Bročice and Stara Gradiška Camps at the end of 1945 and beginning of 1946, to perform various kinds of forced labour, were also billeted in these sheds. In this case, about 100 prisoners-of-war were given various tasks (disassembling the electrical generator and weapons factory, collecting scrap iron, clearing the ruins, removing the remains of the dead from the River Sava and burying them in existing mass graves on the site of the camp, seasonal agricultural work in the surrounding villages, demolishing the camp wall, collecting the bricks and loading them on carts, collecting the barbed-wire from the camp and taking it to the forestry department, repairing the Jasenovac-Novska railway line), after which they were taken back to the camps they had come from. Most were captured German soldiers and members of the armed forces of the Independent state of Croatia.
- In the summer of 1945, in Viktorovac in Sisak, a huge prisoner-of-war camp was established, which was transformed in the autumn of the same year into a penal camp known as the “Sisak Forced Labour Institution”. In the autumn of 1945 about 600 prisoners and prisoners for war were taken from this camp to forced labour in Jasenovac. The external security of the group was carried out by members of the Corps of National Defence of Yugoslavia, while internal security was in the hands of the secret service. The group was known as the “Sisak Forced Labour Institution -  Jasenovac Detail” and mostly comprised former members of the Independent State of Croatia armed forces, with a few Chetniks and members of the “White Guard” from Slovenia. Some had already been sentenced to several years hard labour for crimes committed, while others were awaiting sentencing. Among them were some who managed to hide their real identities by assuming false names. About twenty of these were exposed and tried by the competent courts. Those convicted in the Jasenovac Work Detail were handed their verdicts while in Jasenovac and then sent to Lepoglava or other prisons to serve their sentences.
- The Jasenovac Work Detail was accommodated in three places in Jasenovac village – the forestry barracks, the sheds of the former Ustasha food warehouse opposite the school, and in the school itself. They worked six days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with a lunch break. They were given breakfast and supper in their accommodation and lunch at their place of work. They did not work on Sundays, when they were allowed visitors who could bring them changes of clothes, letters and parcels.
- The Jasenovac Work Detail stayed in Jasenovac from the autumn of 1945 to the autumn of 1947 (Jasenovac Work Detail I from the autumn of 1945 to April 1946, under the command of Savo Šakan, and Jasenovac Work Detail II from April 1946 to the autumn of 1947, under the command of Mirko Šimunjak).
- From witness statements kept in Jasenovac Memorial Site, it is evident that during this period, there were no killings, either individual or mass liquidations, in the area of former Camp III (Brickworks). It was claimed that small groups were liquidated in the surrounding areas and near Camp III (Brickworks) – in the woods of Zelenika and near the railway line. The victims were returnees or refugees from Bleiburg, people from the surrounding areas who had been conscripted into the Ustashas or who had joined up of their own accord. As they reached home, they were cut off and killed.
- All the witness statements mention the liquidation of prisoners in a column of prisoners-of-war returning from Bleiburg, in late May or early June 1945, in the village of Trebež, 15 kilometres upstream from Jasenovac. These were prisoners-of-war taken away from the Sisak Forced Labour Institution for liquidation.
- Since many bridges had been destroyed, the columns of prisoners-of-war returning from Bleiburg did not pass through or stay in Jasenovac. Only one group is recorded as having been in Jasenovac, according to contemporary eye witness accounts, in the summer of 1946. A column heading for Novska ran into bad weather and their escort sought shelter for them in Jasenovac. They spent about eight hours in the forestry buildings, separated from Jasenovac Work Detail II, before continuing their journey to Novska,.
- In the autumn of 1947 work was completed on clearing the ruins of the former Ustasha Jasenovac Concentration Camp and about 170-180 prisoners stayed in Jasenovac, who were joined by captured German soldiers and members of the so-called “Blue Battalion” (Croatian volunteers in Nazi units). They were put to work on repairing the railway bridge over the Sava and the tracks. This group of prisoners was billeted in barracks close to the railway bridge, near the River Sava.
- When the work was complete, all the prisoners-of-war were taken away from Jasenovac in 1948.

Who designed the Stone Flower Memorial in Jasenovac?

It was designed by Bogdan Bogdanović, architect, sculptor and writer.

What is the meaning of the mounds and hollows in the grounds of the Jasenovac Memorial Site?

The hollows mark the places where the camp buildings used to be, and the mounds mark the sites of graves or execution sites within the camp.

Why did Tito never visit Jasenovac?

Josip Broz Tito never made a official visit to Jasenovac.

The reason why he never came to pay his respects to the victims of the largest Ustasha Concentration Camp in the Second World War cannot be established with certainty. Several authors who have tackled this topic have made the following suppositions:
- The estimate of the number of victims of the Jasenovac Ustasha Concentration Camp emerged as a direct result of a speech given by Josip Broz Tito in Osijek in early June, 1945. In this speech he said that Yugoslavia had sacrificed one million, seven hundred thousand victims during the Second World War. This number formed the basis for war reparations demanded from Germany, and the Commission for Establishing the Crimes of the Occupiers and Their Helpers was handed this number, although researchers in the field did not succeed in arriving at this total number of victims, according to lists compiled in 1946 and 1964.

The official list was placed under embargo and these figures (the total number of Yugoslav victims of the Second World War being 1,700,000, of whom 700,000 were said to have died in Jasenovac Concentration Camp), although unsubstantiated by scientific research, somehow became official and were the means of exercising various forms of manipulation, particularly in terms of the numbers of victims who died in Jasenovac. The authors think Josip Broz Tito was aware of the fact that the number of victims of the Ustasha concentration camp in Jasenovac had been exaggerated.

- Some published articles have openly criticised Josip Broz Tito, without justification, for not taking steps to liberate the Jasenovac prisoners by attacking the camp. This assertion does not hold water, because Tito gave an order on 31 March 1942 concerning an examination of the possibility of attacking the Ustasha concentration camp in Jasenovac

- Insufficient research into the events in Jasenovac after 2 May 1945 (when Partisan units entered Jasenovac) led to the premise that a Partisan (Communist) camp existed on the site of the former Camp III (Brickworks) in Jasenovac. The authors think this may be one of many possible reasons why Tito did not make an official visit to Jasenovac. The following have written on this topic: Antun Miletić, Koncentracioni logor Jasenovac (Jasenovac Concentration Camp), vol. IV, Gambit, Jagodina, 2007, pp. 460, 467-471); Bogdan Bogdanović (Ukleti neimar (The Cursed Builder), Feral Tribune, Split, 2001, pp.153-156), Tihomir Ponoš (Novi list, 27. 04. 2008).

Josip Broz Tito expressed an interest in the fate of the Jasenovac victims during the war, from the moment that news of the Ustasha Jasenovac concentration camp as a death camp leaked out. In addition to issuing the order we have already mentioned concerning examining the possibilities of attacking the camp, as the Commander of the Headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army, Tito issued an order for German military personnel and Ustashas to be exchanged for prisoners from Ustasha camps (about 700 prisoners from Jasenovac were involved in such exchanges). In 1942 he also ordered that the crimes committed by Ustashas, Chetniks, Nazis and Fascists be established, and the Propaganda Department of the Anti-Fascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia published in the same year a brochure entitled “The Jasenovac Camp – Statements by Escaped Prisoners”. Later, the Commission for Establishing the Crimes of the Occupiers and Their Helpers was formed.

Although he never visited Jasenovac formally, Josip Broz Tito kept a watchful eye on events concerning Jasenovac, and proposed in person that Bogdan Bogdanović be selected to create a memorial to the victims of the former concentration camp. The Flower Memorial was intended for “those victims who were destined to perish, merely for their ethnic, racial, confessional, political or philosophical affiliation, promising them a mystical return to the circle of life.” (Quotation from “The Cursed Builder”, Bogdan Bogdanović, Feral Tribune, Split 2001, p. 143).

Did President Tuđman ever visit Jasenovac?

The late Franjo Tuđman, President of the Republic of Croatia, visited Jasenovac and Jasenovac Memorial Site on 16 June 1996, when he laid a wreath in the crypt of the Flower Memorial 

I found inaccurate details concerning a family member who died in the List of Individual Victims of Jasenovac Camp on the Internet https://cp13.heritagewebdesign.com/lituchy/victimlist.php). What can I do to correct this information?

The list of camp victims to which you refer (https://cp 13.heritageweb desing.com/lituchy/victimlist.php) is the List of Victims of the Second World War in Yugoslavia. It contains 597,323 names, regardless of the place of death or executioner, and was compiled in 1964 by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s Federal Institute of Statistics. It was placed on the internet by the Jasenovac Research Institute in Brooklyn, New York, therefore all comments and questions should be addressed to them.