A book by Jasenovac survivor:
"The smell of Human Flesh
A Witness of the Holocaust
On an early spring morning in 1942 we were standing lined up in ffont of our Jewish barracks in the Jasenovac camp, awaiting the arrival of the Ustashas who were daily selecting inmates for various jobs in the camp and outside it.
I overheard an inmate, the head of the construction group, calling his workers to gather around him. They were to go to the Ustasha barracks for some repairs. Hitherto I had not heard that a construction group existed, so I volunteered and told the head that I had been a student in the secondary technical school of architecture and that I would like to work in his group. He welcomed me gladly and told me to stand in the line. Since I had comprehended fully the situation in the camp, I knew that the only salvation was in escape, and that such an occasion could occur only outside the camp wires. I felt that perhaps it could happen to me.
Ten of us, lined up in two rows, walked towards the camp gate, escorted by the Ustashas. We arrived at the Ustasha barracks which were not far beyond the camp wires. We came to the first barracks, where an Ustasha non-commissioned officer ordered the head of our group to partition a part of the structure into several rooms for officers. At once we started working and the head ordered me to cut some planks for the partition walls. I went out and at the entrance steps I started cutting the planks with a handsaw. Under the pressure of the saw, the plank moved left - right and I lacked sufficient strength to hold it fast. This slowed down my work. At one moment I noticed that somebody’s hands took hold of the shorter part of the plank and thereby eased my further sawing. Wondering who that could be, I raised my eyes and saw a handsome eighteen year old youth, my age. He was dressed in village clothes with a white linen bag on his back. I smiled and thanked him, and he said:
- This way it’s easier for you, helps you a bit.
He asked me where I was from and I replied briefly:
- From Bosnia.
At that he smiled
- So we are compatriots, I too am a Bosnian, from Bihac and my name is Muhamed.
I noticed that he was willing to talk to me, so I told him that I was from Sarajevo. His curiosity was not satisfied:
- What are you doing here?
I replied that I was an inmate of the Jasenovac camp and, amazed he asked:
- But what did you do?
- If you did nothing why were you imprisoned?
- Because I am a Jew.
By the expression on his face, I saw that he did not understand.
- What is a Jew?
I tried with the name we were called in Croatia and told him that I was a ‘Chifut’ Turkish name for Jews.
Only then he understood and, unbelieving, he asked:
- You are not here because of that, are you?
It was clear to me that his knowledge of the world and events was very modest, and that it was difficult to explain them to him. So instead of replying, I asked him what he was doing there and why he had come. I saw that he was not alone and that some hundred of his age group were around. It came out that he was an Ustasha ‘volunteer’ and ‘new’. A drummer had come to his mountain village with several Ustashas and to the beat of the drum had read the ISC’s (Independent State of Croatia) proclamation on joining the Ustasha ranks. The drummer went through the village saying that whoever volunteered to join the Ustashas would serve only one year and would have a salary, and a pension for his family. Those who did not volunteer to join the Ustashas would have to spend two years in the ‘Domobrani’ (quisling forces), without payment, and the family without a pension.
'So, it’s better that I go voluntarily to the Ustashas plus a salary and pension for my family, than to spend two years into the ‘Domobrani’ without a salary and pension. So many of us volunteered for the Ustashas and we were at once brought here’. Muhamed finished.
I continued sawing, while he was holding the plank. Soon the voice of the Ustasha non-commissioned officer resounded, inviting the young ‘volunteers’ to lunch.
Muhamed returned with a full portion of smoking beans; in the other hand he held a big piece of bread. He sat on the steps and started eating, from time to time blowing into his spoon. I looked with unhidden desire into the beans and the bread ; my intenstines were in cramps of hunger. Muhamed half finished his dish, turned to me and asked whether I wanted to eat the remaining beans. As I accepted he handed me the mess kit and the remaining bread. Quickly I took my spoon out of my pocket and started eating gluttonously. He saw that I was very hungry, so he took his bag off his back, took out some corn bread which he must have taken from home, and gave me a piece. I put the corn bread in my pocket, intending to take it to my father. Night was falling, so we were taken back to the camp, escorted by the Ustashas.
In the barracks, I approached my father and told him in a low voice what had happened to me. I handed him the piece of corn bread, which he refused to take, telling me to keep it for myself since I would surely need it.
On the following day our construction group, escorted by the Ustashas went to the already started work. As I arrived, I looked around hoping to see Muhamed among a large number of new draftees. But now the picture was entirely different. Those were not village boys any more but, young men in Ustasha khaki-coloured uniforms, with tight belts, and with Ustasha caps, with a big ‘U’ sign on them. They stood stiffly and clumsily tightened their belts and smoothed their blouses. From somewhere was heard the voice of the sargeant called them to - line up.
- Line up! Line up!
They ran toward him and clumsily lined up as the sargeant cried in a loud voice:
- Compatriots, ready for the homeland!
Then he spoke to them loudly and firmly with an obvious Herzegovian accent saying that they were honoured to be members of the Jasenovac Ustasha troops serving their head, Ante Pavelic and their motherland ISC (Independent State of Croatia).
- Our Croatia is a country of the Croats and all the enemies of this country will be exterminated. Those are the Serbs, the Jews and the Gypsies. Our leader, the father of the Croatian people and our mother, Croatia, decided that you should do that task. You are Croatians, irrespective of whether you are of the Catholic or Muslim religion, because our leader has said that the Muslims are the flower of the Croatian people. The successes that Germany achieves on the Eastern front, when every moment the collapse of communist Russia is expected, are the guarantee that we will cleanse our mother Croatia from the Serbs, the Jews and the Gypsies. I wish you success in this task.
Afterwards they continued, under the command of the same officer with the training - lining up, marching...
I saw Muhamed but he did not approach me and even pretended not to notice me. Noon came and the draftees were lined up in front of the cauldron. Muhamed sat far from me on a stump and ate slurping from his portion. As he couldn’t finish the dish he got up and started in my direction and I was hoping that again he would hand me the remains of his meal. But he approached a barrel where they were throwing the rest of the food for slops and looking at me, he emptied his portion.
The third day, our job in partitioning the barracks was almost completed. I was cutting the planks and observed the draftees who were already armed. They went through the usual procedures with rifles. It was obvious that they felt very important and they were pleased.
In the evening we finished our work and returned to our camp.
The following days it became suddenly warmer and abundant rains were falling. A few days passed but the rain did not stop.
It was night. I was in a deep sleep. Suddenly it was as if cannons had started firing. I awoke and understood that somebody was knocking at the barracks’s walls shouting:
- Line up! Line up!
The group leader’s voice was heard. He was shouting sharply that we were to get out immediately into line; whoever did not go out would perish. Quickly we alighted from our beds on the third level, put on our shoes and ran out. It rained ceaselessly, and outside it was completely dark. We were standing still in line. We heard only the Ustasha shouts, the clatter of weapons and the splashing of boots in the thick mud. A few Ustasha officers approached the group leader, Bararon, who was standing in front of the entrance with his cap in his hands in the ‘attention’ position. The deputy of the camp commander, the Ustasha captain, Friar Filipovic, nick nameed Majstorovic, asked Bararon in a severe voice whether there was anybody left in the barrack. The latter replied that there were a few sick men. Majstorovic’ smiled and said cynically:
- We will cure them now.
I was standing in the line just in front of the entrance to the barracks and under the light of a bulb I saw the passage traversing the entire barrack. The Ustashas were carrying thick sticks in their hands, made of iron and bent at one end like ordinary walking sticks. First they started hitting the sick who were helplessly lying on the lowest berths. Horrible cries were heard from them. One stroke was sufficient for them to die. The strokes were showered over the heads, backs, arms and legs, breaking the bones of the helpless, sick men. Then the Ustashas climbed to the second and third levels and repeated the same bestialities. Once they had finished that job, they appeared at the entrance panting and ordered the group leader to call the gravediggers. Bararon’s loud, strong voice was heard:
- Gravediggers, gravediggers!
The gravediggers appeared immediately at the barracks’s entrance, leaning their stretchers against the walls. I saw how they were pulling the beaten, dying men from their cots by their legs and throwing them into the middle of the passage-way. Every gravedigger took a man by both legs and dragged him to the entrance like a log. There were five wooden steps at the entrance of the barracks. While being pulled out from the barracks, the heads of the beaten men were striking the stairs with a dull sound. The wheezing and groaning of the dying men was heard. Next to me, to my left, Nisim Montiljo was standing. While the gravediggers were performing their sad job, I recognized his brothers, Sada and Sua, who had been lying exhausted those last few days in the barracks. Nisim noticed them, too, and was sobbing silently. When this horrible sight ended, Friar Filipovic approched us from the left holding a flashlight. He went from one man to the other in the line illuminating the face only. He shouted to those who were weak and exhausted:
-You, move out to the other line!
The waiting to have the light flashed on one and hear that disastrous ‘you’, which meant the end of life, dragged an eternity. He came to Nisim who was very exhausted by hunger and sick of dysentery. He lit his face and said firmly:
Reconciled to his cruel fate, sobbing after his brothers, Nisim went in the direction of the second line. Those were the last steps of the last Montiljo. Suddenly the flashlight illuminated my face, blinding me. Petrified and frozen with fear, I expected the verdict. But the light was transferred from my head to the head of an inmate standing on my right side. The fatal ‘you’ was heard and immediately the dull fall of the man into the mud. Quickly one of the Ustashas approached, took the man’s legs and pulled him through the mud into the death line. The captain went further on from one to the other and repeated the terrible word: - You! You! You!
Every ‘you’ meant a death in the most horrible manner, a death by the Ustasha knife, or by the blow of a huge wooden club over the head.
It took me some time to realize that I was still alive and after that horrible sight came the nervous breakdown. My whole body was shaking. Fearing to fall down, I bent a bit and held my knees with both hands; they were trembling. In this way I gained some stability, managed to stay on my feet and gradually calmed down.
Men taken from our line were driven by the Ustashas towards the camp gate. The downpour was still falling. It was clear to me what awaited those poor men. The next day, returning from the embankment I came across a big heap of clothes and shoes at the gate and I recognized Nisim’s muddy winter coat.
Once the selection for the death line was completed, Friar Majstorovic told us in a stern voice that abundant floods were caused by the rains, that the main embankment was giving way and that water was penetrating into the camp. He ordered us to go to the embankment to strengthen it and stop the penetration of the water. We started out and on the way we got the necessary tools-spades, shovels and the earth pushers. I got something made of a piece of round trunk with two boards nailed on the sides. It was dawn when we reached the embankment and found ourselves on the spot where the water had penetrated. We were ordered to throw the earth fast and pack it with our tools. The Ustashas were lighting up the place with strong flashlights. Soon I realized that all our efforts were without any effect, since the water easily carried away the piles of earth. The dawn slowly came, it was still raining, and all of us were soaked to the skin and frozen. I felt great exhaustion and hunger from the hard work and stopped working for a moment, leaning on the handles of my tool. At one moment I felt a hard dull stroke on my back. Luckily I was leaning on the handles, otherwise I would surely have fallen. I turned suddenly to see who had hit me. I saw the furious face of an Ustasha who was holding a thick lath in his hand. Surprised, I recognized the volunteer Muhamed, the young man who just a few days ago had given me the remains of his bean portion.
The Ustasha lieutenant was standing in front of the embankment; upon the stroke on my back Muhamed glanced at him expecting him to react. The officer smiled and nodding he let him know that he approved and praised his deed. Encouraged and stimulated by the support of his superior, Muhamed went on hitting the group of camp inmates. He hit one of them very hard on the head and the latter fell to the ground; his body made an obstacle to the torrent penetrating through a crack in the embankment. Thereby the water was momentarily halted. When he saw this, the Ustasha officer quickly climbed up the embankment and ordered, briefly and firmly to Muhamed: - More, more!
Muhamed continued hitting madly and tumbling men and the officer ordered us to carry them next to the first body which had stopped the water and to arrange them like logs. With ten corpses placed horizontally at its flow, the water was stopped and the Ustasha shouting loudly demanded to have them covered with earth and to make a defensive wall. We worked the entire day on strengthening the embankment, digging, bringing and filling up the earth. We were working with the earth pushers all the time. Whoever stopped for a second got a terrible stroke on his head which sent him to the ground. The earth was at once thrown over them and filled in. So we strengthened the enmbankment with the bodies.
By sunset many tens of the inmates were killed in my vicinity. Before the dark fell, when we were already exhausted to the maximum, the Ustashas stopped the work. The danger was over, we started towards our camp. The column was almost halved. The cauldron with the steaming supper was awaiting us. We lined up and with a big laddle we scooped up the liquid from the cauldron and put it in our kits. It was the soup of Sava water, full of sand, saltless, greaseless, with a few pieces of the cattle turnip - the sole food given to us, camp inmates, once a day.
When I came to the barrack I saw it was half empty. More than half of the men staying there has remained on the embankment. Fearful, I looked around hoping to see my father and then I heard his trembling voice:
- My son, my son, Braca, I am alive...
We embraced each other tightly, and sobbed from grief and happiness. Both of us had thought that we would never see each other again.
Other excerpts from the book (in HTML):
Mr. Cadik Danon, Belgrade, November 2006
Click to enlarge.
(Photographed by Petar Makara)
Where am I? PATH:
The truth will free us all.
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First posted: September 26, 2007