Jasenovac? No, I Hadn't Heard of it Either

Auschwitz. Bergen-Belsen. Majdanek. Dachau. Treblinka. Chelmno. Sobibor. Mauthausen. When we hear these names, we don't think about the towns and civilisations in and around these places, but images of Nazi concentration camps; barbed wire, barracks, sites of mass suffering and death. But what about Jasenovac? Admittedly, this is not a name I had heard until today, but it is a name that is also synonymous with persecution and extermination. The difference is that this was the only extermination camp set up in World War II that was not run by the Nazis.

The Stone Flower memorial in Jasenovac

*If you decide to look up information on Jasenovac, particuarly photographs, I would warn that you need a strong stomach and may become distressed by them. Even Google shows explicit pictures, so do be careful.*

Jasenovac was a village in the Independent State of Croatia when the camp, one of the largest in Europe, was set up in August 1941 by the Fascist Ustaše (Croatian Revolutionary Movement), a group that thrived on the principles of Nazism and Croatian Nationalism. The main victims of their persecution were the ethnic Serbs of the former Yugoslavia, but Roma and Jews were also exterminated at Jasenovac. The camp was in full operation until April 1945, when it began to be dismantled and many of the remaining prisoners revolted. The Nazis would often abandon camps with the sick and weak left behind; at Jasenovac, the Ustaše murdered everyone, so that Partisans who arrived later had no survivors to liberate.

In some ways, Jasenovac appears worse than places like Auschwitz. Is there such thing as worse than Auschwitz? Apparently so. Whilst the industrialised killing and individual acts of violence at Auschwitz are well-known, a great deal of inmates at Jasenovac were murdered individually by having their skulls bashed in with hammers or axes, or their throats were cut with agricultural knives such as the one below.

Agricultural knife, nicknamed 'Serbcutter', used for killing inmates

The Nazis began their large-scale gassings so that guards and soldiers would not become traumatised by witnessing actual murders; no such problem, it would appear, for the Ustaše guards. Some gassings and poisonings did take place, but individual murders seemed more...enjoyable. On one night, allegedly, some guards had a bet going as to who could kill the most people. The 'winner' boasted of having killed around 1,360 new arrivals by cutting their throats. Another stated he had murdered 1,100.
Another notable difference is that the Nazis were organised enough to dispose of bodies by cremation. Any bodies initially buried were also exhumed and burned after the smell became unbearable. At Jasenovac, corpses were buried in mass graves or, horrifically, thrown into the Sava river, sometimes reportedly floating down as far as Belgrade.
These are just some of the details I have discovered about the camp; there are others, but I presently do not have the heart to write them down, particularly incidents concerning children. As with most camps, the number of victims vary greatly. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum put them at between 66,000 and 99,000, but other sources, such as Yad Vashem and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, quote much larger figures: between 500,000-600,000. At Jasenovac itself, a sign commemorates the 700,000 victims, 200,000 of which were children. It is extremely hard to know for sure, but of course, just one death at the hands of racism and genocide is one too many.

So, why was it that, until today, I had never even heard the name Jasenovac? Why is it not taught in schools as part of the Holocaust module on the curriculum, and why is it only Nazi camps that we are properly educated about?

Well, I cannot blame teachers leaving Jasenovac out of the curriculum. How would you teach a 14-year-old about these horrors without giving them nightmares at the very least? I find it seriously hard to comprehend that there could have been even more sadism displayed than in places such as Auschwitz. Just when I thought I'd discovered mankind's lowest act of barbarity, I read about Jasenovac.
There is also the awkward issue of politics that causes problems. The late Yugoslavian President Marshal Josip Broz Tito refused to visit the site of the former camp, saying that Yugoslavians should forget about the Ustaše's crimes in the name of "brotherhood and unity". Forget?! How is such a thing possible? To try and 'forget' these things as if they never happened is almost to accept them, and that should never, ever happen. In the present day, we don't wish Germans to feel guilty for the Holocaust, but neither will we let them forget what their predecessors carried out.
Additionally, during civil war in 1991, the memorial site was broken into and documentation and evidence from the camp was destroyed. Thankfully, some was salvageable and is now kept in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In short, Jasenovac is seen as an embarrassing stain on the face of Croatia and the former Yugoslavia. However, in 2011, the Croatian President and Prime Minister both addressed the issue of the Ustaše regime and the atrocities that took place at Jasenovac.

Hopefully, these are steps forward in education of the camp, and go to show that the Nazis managed not only to infiltrate their country's citizens, but those of other countries, too.