BANJALUKA – Historian Goran Latinovic says there is irrefutable evidence of the genocide committed in the Independent State of Croatia /NDH/ against the Serbs, Jews and Roma but that, unfortunately, given the policy of brotherhood and unity after World War II, there has never been a thorough research into what had actually happened.
“It has never been determined precisely how many Serbs were actually killed in the NDH; there are only estimates. We are talking about several hundred thousand people. Since the NDH genocide, the Serbs couldn’t recover until 1991, but given the circumstances between 1991 and 1995, the Serbs were virtually reduced to the ‘remains of the remains’ of a once numerous population that had inhabited the territory,” Latinovic told Srna.
NDH’s casualties, apart from the Serbs, were also the Jews and Roma and everything was carried out in accordance with the Croatian racial legislation at the time, which was practically copied from the Nazi Germany.
Latinovic recalls that the science of history identified two roots of the NDH genocide primarily against the Serbs – the Roman Catholic Church ideology and the Croatian Party of Rights ideology.
“According to the ideology, the Serbs were to be totally wiped out and on the basis of a motto openly promoted by the then Croatian minister Mile Budak /one of the chief ideologists of the Croatian fascist Ustasha movement/, one third of the Serbs should be killed, one third expelled, and one third catholicised and converted into Croats,” noted Latinovic.
He said: “Genocide was organised by the NDH state policy which had the full support of the Nazi Germany. It was based on the policy Germany conducted against the Jews.
According to Latinovic, the contemporary Croatia has inherited only the borders from the socialist Croatia, i.e. Yugoslavia, while everything else, when you compare the terminology and ideology, reminds one more of the NDH.
“In Croatia today, there is a need to minimise the number of NDH genocide victims, but we have to point out that the people were not killed in concentration camps only. A great many of them were killed at home, which some analyses neglect,” Latinovic said.
He asserted that the Jasenovac system of Ustasha death camps was the biggest execution site, but that an enormous number of people were killed in villages, fields and their own houses.
Dusan Bastasic, the leader of the civic association Jadovno 1941 Banjaluka, stated for Srna that since the Treaties of Rome Agreements /a set of three international treaties signed on May 18, 1941 by the Independent State of Croatia and Kingdom of Italy at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome. The treaties refer to the borders between the two states/ between May 18, 1941 and August 26 of the same year, Lika belonged to the so-called second demilitarised zone of the Italian occupation area in the NDH and the NDH was in charge of the civilian government in the zone.
Italy’s 2nd Army reoccupied the second and third zones on the basis of an order received on August 15, while the execution turned out to be a mass murder of thousands of prisoners in the Jadovno concentration camp system, carried out between August 10 and 25, the purpose being for the Italians to find as few prisoners as possible.
“To these events testifies a report of the Command of the Croatian 1st Police Regiment of August 22, 1941, submitted to the NDH Directorate of Public Order and Security, stating that the Ustasha were forced, due to the arrival of the Italian army, to exterminate the Jadovno camp system, meaning all its collection camps and collection points,” said Bastasic.
Under the new circumstances, Ante Pavelic /NDH leader/ ordered the Ustasha Lieutenant Colonel Maks Luburic to eliminate the Jadovno camp on Mt Velebit, all its auxiliary camps, as well as all the death camps on the island of Pag as soon as possible, before the arrival of the Italian army, so that Luburic carried out the task with extreme dedication, trying to kill the prisoners in the shortest period possible and thus exterminate the camp.
“Up until August 18, the prisoners were taken to Jadovno and killed above bottomless pits or in the camp itself. The last group of prisoners including 1200 Serbs and 300 Jews were killed by the Ustasha between August 15 and 20. In mid August, 3000 Serbs transported during those days and nights from Camp Slana were also killed in Jadovno,” Bastasic said.
Between August 12 and 20, the Ustasha transported 800 men, women and children from the island of Slana making two rounds, and 450 more in three rounds, killed them all above the pits of Camp Stupacinovo, while on August 21, the remaining 250 prisoners were taken with Italian escort to Gospic, where they were temporarily safe, said Bastasic.
Tanja Tulekovic, director of the Donja Gradina Memorial, recalls for Srna that the Jasenovac concentration camp was founded in the August of 1941 for the purposes of extermination of the Serbs, Jews and Roma in the NDH.
“This death camp operated for the total of 1337 days and killed 700,000 victims. Its biggest execution site was Donja Gradina with the total of 105 mass graves in nine burial grounds. The mass graves in Donja Gradina, their form and distribution prove that the execution, thereby the ethnic cleansing in the NDH, was conducted in a well thought-out and systematic manner,” concluded Ms Tulekovic.
Dobrila Kukolj, head of the Association of WWII Camp Prisoners of Banjaluka, recounted for Srna that she was imprisoned in Jasenovac for three months where she went through horrific things and saw the torture and murders of the Serbs, Serbian children, women and the elderly.
Ms Kukolj still remembers how the Ustasha Blackshirts persecuted the Serbs from Kozara and took them to the collection camp Cerovljani /near Kostajnica, BiH/, then to Ustica near Mlaka /Croatia/, and then to the Jasenovac and Donja Gradina concentration camps where her father, brother, uncles, grandfather, and neighbours were brutally killed.
She was unable to count the days and nights in Jasenovac, saying they “plucked the grass to eat and drank the water when it rained to survive.”
Kukolj was saved from Jasenovac thanks to a visit by Red Cross, who then gave her to a Croatian family named Petrusic in Slavonia.
On August 19 this year, the main event in Donja Gradina will be hosted by the governments of Serbia and Republika Srpska to mark the 75th anniversary of the beginning of genocide against the Serbs, Jews and Roma in the Jasenovac concentration camp.
The protocol of the event until 7 p.m. includes the gathering of visitors, victims’ descendants and supporters of Jasenovac victims near the Poplar of Horror in Donja Gradina.