Jasenovac Concentration Camp

Jasenovac concentration camp train
Jasenovac concentration camp train

The Reality Of What Happened At Jasenovac Concentration Camp

During World War II, Croatia was ruled by the fascist Ustashe regime under Ante Pavelić. His government ran Jasenovac concentration camp, where Serbians, Jews, and Roma were most forcibly executed in Croatia. From 1941 to 1945 it’s estimated that more than 83,000 men and women perished at the camp.

Jasenovac concentration camp
Ustaše militia execute prisoners near the Jasenovac concentration camp. Public domain This file is in the public domain because The owner of the photograph, the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade, has according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, allowed this image to be released into the public domain.

Unlike other concentration camps, Jasenovac was run by the Ustashe regime collaborating with the Nazis and running the camps themselves.

Hitler, furious that such a small ethnic group would show such staunch rejection of his country’s offers, ordered Operation Retribution to be carried out, bombing that began in the early hours of Sunday morning when unprepared civilians were sleeping in their beds. More than 2,000 people were killed and the Nazis targeted monuments of Serbian culture, such as the National Library, which lost thousands of precious antique books in the fires that broke out from the bombing.


After that treatment, the Nazis occupied the country and set up a puppet government, just like they had done in France. This was a difficult time for both Serbs and the Jews, but some of the worst horrors were seen just across the border in Croatia, whose newly independent government had eagerly taken up the mantle of fascism.


The Jasenovac concentration camp was established in 1941, which lead to a four-year horror of torture and murders. Prisoners were starved to the point that they resorted to eating grass and dirt. Those who were executed were not shot nor gassed, but had their throats slit open in killing competitions among the guards, and parts of their bodies were cut off as souvenirs.


Children were poisoned, beaten and locked away to sleep on the cold floors of cells where they were not given food for days. Even the German officers who visited the camp found the brutality unimaginable.


What happened at Jasenovac? Ask Stoya

Some people may be wondering what exactly happened at Jasenovac concentration camp. Unfortunately, the reality is quite grim. Thousands of people were killed here, often in brutal and inhumane ways. Ask Stoya, who was there.

Jasenovac concentration camp prisoners entering the camp
Prisoners entering Jasenovac concentration camp.
This work published in Serbia is in the public domain because its copyright expired pursuant to the Yugoslav Copyright Act of 1978 which provided for copyright term of the life of the author plus 50 years, respectively 25 years for photograph or a work of applied art. This applies to works already in the public domain on or before December 29, 2004 when a new copyright act became valid.

my name is stoya

my name is stoya
almost forgotten
as was my childhood
each day our camp gathered
at wood’s edge
shoved forward
with other portioned orthodox
ogling awful gates
where rivers rushed together
i haven’t spoken of this
for many many years
pushed it away
into brain’s blockout
but it’s still sticking to now
i remember our mothers
secreting serb escape
my mother too whispered within evening’s circle
thinking me asleep
my mind clutched my eyelids
awake, alert
future fearful
but nothing came
an anxious day of cries went by
and came to nothing
but a looming look toward awful gates
that lightless night
our mothers
my mother
did not throw us into rough rivers’ rushing
to drown us gently with our dreams
with suicide swinging after
instinctively lifting babies
we wee ones too
fled into wandering wood’s foliaged fringe
to lose ourselves from guarded eyes
loose dogs
certain throated death
within awful gates
tongues hanging dry
behind withered lips
bellies crying
voices silent
we washed out upon wood’s farthest edge
my mother opened up her hands
gave us up
each to village home
where the crucifix yet hung high
with open hands
divided, separated, kept secretly safe
from murderous eyes
murdering knives
bullet conservation ruled
but taking lives advanced
within the awful gates
“Auschwitz of the Balkans”
Centerpiece of Hitler’s puppet state

How do we know what happened there?

There are many ways that we can learn about what happened at the Jasenovac concentration camp. We can read accounts from survivors, we can look at records and documents from the time, and we can examine physical evidence. All of these things help us to piece together a picture of what life was like in the camp and what happened there.

Jasenovac concentration camp
The srbosjek (“Serb cutter”), a special knife worn over the hand that was used by the Ustaše for the quick slaughter of inmates, notably in the Jasenovac concentration camp in the Nazi puppet Independent State of Croatia.

This file is in the public domain because the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website says it is public domain, courtesy of Muzej Revolucije Narodnosti Jugoslavije. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/public_domain

One of the most common methods of murder at Jasenovac was by beating. Victims were often beaten to death with clubs or other blunt objects. This was often done in front of other prisoners as a way to terrorize them.

Other methods of murder at Jasenovac included shooting, strangulation, burning, and even poisoning. Prisoners were also often worked to death, either through physical labor or by being forced to stand in freezing cold water for long periods of time.

The conditions at Jasenovac were also extremely poor. Prisoners were given little to no food or water, and many perished from disease and malnutrition. The camp was also infested with vermin, which added to the misery of those imprisoned there.

All in all, the reality of what happened at Jasenovac is quite horrifying. Thousands of innocent people lost their lives in this terrible place, and their suffering should never be forgotten.

The Timeline of Events

The Jasenovac concentration camp was a World War II Croatian extermination camp. The detention and execution of inmates took place from 1941 to 1945. The majority of victims were ethnic Serbs, although people of Roma and Croatian descent were also imprisoned and killed at the camp.

The timeline of events at Jasenovac is as follows:

-1941: The Ustasha, a Croatian fascist group, comes to power in Croatia. They establish the Jasenovac concentration camp.

-1942: Mass killings of inmates begin at Jasenovac. Thousands of people are murdered in gas chambers or by other means.

-1943: The tide of the war turns against the Axis Powers. The Ustasha begin to lose control of Croatia. Conditions at Jasenovac deteriorate further.

-1944: Allied forces invade Croatia and liberate the Jasenovac concentration camp.

Plan of Jasenovac main camp
Jasenovac concentration camp map

Goran tek-en, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

my brother

dirt-hoed hands

helped my brother shuffle away

war wearied

mother let him go

a boy with

trousers lengthened

to work the farm

beyond the wood

where my eyes

and enemy eyes could not reach


how he longed for us,

for mother

how he cared for the farm

like the garden

a hidden place

where Jasenovac’s guards could not reach

the garden

layered with tousled trees

around which river Sava flows

giving life to the thirsting farm


the fall came

browned leaves crusted upon river’s crest

my brother went to see

where coldering river ran

savagely deadened, reddened

by bodies

like sawn logs from topless trees beyond

limbs stiffened

my brother with fear leeching

faced fear and turned each trunk

skirting young saplings

grayed crowns

with child’s hands

child’s eyes

searching for our mother

but she was none

How many people died at Jasenovac?

The estimates of how many Jewish people died at Jasenovac vary widely. Some sources say that as many as 600,000 Jews were killed at the camp, while other sources estimate the death toll to be closer to 100,000. Regardless of the exact number, it is clear that Jasenovac was a site of mass murder and brutal torture during the Holocaust.

In Jasenovac, the majority of victims were ethnic Serbs (as part of the genocide of the Serbs); others were Jews (The Holocaust), Roma (The Porajmos), and some political dissidents. Jasenovac was a complex of five subcamps[9] spread over 210 km2 (81 sq mi) on both banks of the Sava and Una rivers. The largest camp was the “Brickworks” camp at Jasenovac, about 100 km (62 mi) southeast of Zagreb. The overall complex included the Stara Gradiška sub-camp, the killing grounds across the Sava river at Gradina Donja, five work farms, and the Uštica Roma camp.[1]

During and since World War II, there has been much debate and controversy regarding the number of victims killed at the Jasenovac concentration camp complex during its more than three-and-a-half years of operation. After the war, a figure of 700,000 reflected the “conventional wisdom”.[10][11][12][13] Since 2002, the Belgrade Museum of Genocide Victims has no longer defended the figure of 700,000 to 1 million victims of the camp.

In 2005, Dragan Cvetković, a researcher from the Museum, and a Croatian co-author published a book on wartime losses in the NDH which gave a figure of approximately 100,000 victims of Jasenovac.[14][15] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C. presently estimates that the Ustaše regime murdered between 77,000 and 99,000 people in Jasenovac between 1941 and 1945.[2]  Source: Wikipedia

What was life like for children in Jasenovac?

Jasenovac was a concentration camp in Croatia that was in operation from 1941 to 1945. The camp was run by the Croatian Ustasha regime and was one of the largest extermination camps in Europe. An estimated 83,000 people, mostly Jews, Roma (Gypsies), and Serbs, were killed at Jasenovac.

Children were not spared at Jasenovac and many were killed along with their families. Those who were not killed outright often suffered terribly at the hands of the Ustasha guards. Many children were starved, tortured, and worked to death. Some children were even used for medical experiments.

The reality of what happened at Jasenovac is horrifying and difficult to comprehend. The suffering of the children who were imprisoned there is especially heartbreaking. We must never forget what happened at Jasenovac and other concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Jasenovac Memorial Park
Monument to Jasenovac concentration camp.

Petar Milošević, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Was Jasenovac different than other Nazi concentration camps?

This camp had a unique local focus and control, with mostly Serbs and Muslims the target. Roma and Jews were targeted, though of the 100,000 or so historical estimates, maybe 13,000 were Jewish.  Most executions of Jews happened before 1942; after that most were deported to Auschwitz.

It is also the only Nazi concentration camp run by the local population. Instead of mass killings there was individual brutality, which was not as machine like as other camps, though intensely violent.

Modern Representations of Jasenovac

The Jasenovac concentration camp has been the subject of much debate and controversy in recent years. A number of different films, books, and other media have been released that purport to tell the story of what happened at Jasenovac. However, many scholars and eyewitnesses have disputed the accuracy of these modern representations.

One of the most controversial films about Jasenovac is ‘Jasenovac: The Truth’. This film was released in 2006 and caused a great deal of controversy. Many people claimed that the film was inaccurate and downplayed the seriousness of the atrocities that took place at Jasenovac. The film claims less than 20,000 victims, which is the opposite pole of the historical exaggerations of 700,000.

It’s clearly a historical fight, revising what’s happened and placing blame all around for the inaccuracies. Even today this long ago history is being debated and used for political purposes.

In addition to films, there have also been a number of books written about Jasenovac. One of the most famous is ‘I Was a Slave in Jasenovac’. This book was written by a man named Filipovic-Majstorovic, who was an inmate at Jasenovac. Filipovic-Majstorovic’s account has been widely criticized as being unreliable.

It is clear that there is still a great deal of disagreement about what really happened at Jasenovac. There are many different versions of events circulating, and while the 83,000 estimate is considered to be the most reliable, it’s being argued as being too low or too high.

Once again people are wrapped up in arguing the actual numbers, while the causes continue to erupt in violence like in the 1990’s in the same region, with many of the same sides attacking each other.

Jasenovac concentration camp train - Voz Jasenovac
Jasenovac concentration camp train

Petar Milošević, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons