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A book by Jasenovac survivor:
"Witness to Jasenovac's Hell"
by Ilija Ivanović
Edited by Wanda Schindley, PhD,
Publisher: Dallas Publishing Company, Dallas 2002
Translated by: Aleksandra Lazić
The system of concentration camps Jasenovac was a true Hell on Earth.
It was organized by Catholic Nazi fanatics known as Ustashas.
Mr. Ilija Ivanović was only a thirteen (13) years old boy when he was sent to this hell. His
only guilt was that
he was born as a Serb. A rare survivor of Jasenovac Mr. Ivanović,
now in Republika Srpska, the Serbian part of Bosnia, describes in his book
the thousand days he miraculously survived in this WWII Nazi Croatia's death camp.
EXCERPT from pp. 57-58 of the above book.
The village of Gradina is situated on the right bank of the
Sava River [on the opposite side from the village of Jasenovac]
at the junction of the Una and Sava rivers on the
Bosnian side. Residents [before WWII] were mainly Serbs that
the Ustashas during 1941 forced to move, changed their religion, or
liquidated them. In 1942, it was completely deserted. So
Ustashas made there the biggest tomb of Yugoslavia. At the
area of Gradina and Draksenić, they formed a farm. The
ground was tended by prisoners.
In the camp of Jasenovac, which was divided into working
groups, there was a group called the Farm Group. Prisoners
from this group were driven by raft every day in the spring,
summer, and autumn to Gradina. Sometimes they were even
driving the majority of prisoners from other groups to finish
agriculture work on time, mostly in autumn, in the time of
harvesting corn. That’s how we know something about things
that happened in Gradina.
In Gradina, one group of Gypsies was always digging
huge graves that Ustashas were filling with murdered bodies.’
That’s how it was told in the camp. Prisoners themselves were
making chains that Ustashas were putting on them. Prisoners
themselves were sharpening the knives Ustashas were killing
them with, and they were making the mallets they were killed
with. And Ustashas were openly threatening, "You will get a
mallet on your head. It’s a pity to spend a bullet on you. It
costs fifteen [Ustasha currency] kunas." While prisoners
were working agriculture
jobs in Gradina, they often found sunken places in the field
that were 10-15 meters long and about 4 meters wide. Those
were graves of innocent people.
Horrified screams ai the end of day
Were tearing the light
And making dark,
And slaughtered victims were falling dully
Andjilling with their bodies the dug pit.
Diggers of graves had a lot of work, and when they
became weak, they finished in the pit. Then the Ustashas
immediately took a new group of people that were given the
tasks of digging and covering up massive graves, and then
they finished like the group before them.
In Gradina, every piece of ground is soaked with blood.
There are graves after graves.
EXCERPT from pp. 59-62:
In autumn when there were fewer jobs to do--especially
seasonal agriculture jobs--they cut the number of worker-prisoners
in the camp. The surplus working power was simply
liquidated. In the spring when there were more jobs to do, it
was easy to take the number of workers needed because the
number of new slaves was increasing constantly.
That’s how the camp authorities concluded there were too
many boys at trades, so they decided to cut down this number.
They commanded all of us to come and stand in line in front
of the Carpenter Building that was close to the command
center of the camp. At the gathering place was the leader of
our group, prisoner Salem Resulović; who had been a student
in a school for teachers before he came to the camp. He had
the really thankless job of taking us to the butchers. We stood
in line. A few Ustashas came, and one lieutenant came.
When I left the barber shop, my master, Milan Bosanac
from Grubišno Polje near Daruvar, advised me that when
answering Ustashas questions, I need to be decisive and loud.
I took his advice.
We were in two lines. We were waiting. The Ustasha
lieutenant came to the line from the right side. Silence! I could
hear only my heart beating like it wanted to run away from
my chest. It beat faster and faster. I breathed heavily. The
"What’s your name?" asked the lieutenant of the first boy.
"Where do you work?"
"In the Chain Building."
"Which trade do you learn?"
"Stay in this line," said the Ustasha and continued asking
the same questions of the next boy. He separated him in the
other place. That’s how two groups were formed. We knew
that one group wouldn’t survive until dawn. But which one?
Milovan Šinik from Gomji Podgradci, my school friend,
used a moment when the Ustashas weren’t looking in his
direction and joined the other group. I guess he was thinking
that our group had been chosen for killing. An Ustasha noticed
him and said, "Well, you were here. Okay, stay there. You
What has he chosen? I was wondering. The choosing was
finished fast, and afterward, the Ustashas turned to my group
and yelled, "Go away to your shops!" We spread around
camp, each running to his shop, happy because that evening
we would stay among the living.
I was thinking about Milovan and wondering why he went
to the other group and whether, if he hadn’t gone there, our
group would have been taken to Gradina. Maybe the Ustasha
lieutenant decided at the moment when Milovan was trying to
find salvation. Anyway, they didn’t really care which group
would be sent to death. The important thing was that the
number of boys was cut down because winter was coming and
they needed less manpower.
We spent a night without peace. The fear consumed my
being. Talking in our sleep, jumping, groaning, and screaming
loudly in our dreams was usual, and all this was double on that
night. We were happy because we stayed alive, and at the
same time, we were sad because we lost so many friends.
Uncertain fortune and absolute sadness were melted into one
strange feeling that was more grief. Sadness for our friends
was genuine and the luck was precarious because we stayed
among the living at that moment, but tomorrow the Ustashas
could continue their bloody rampage. We were just as sheep in
a pen that the butcher was killing when he wanted. That one
stayed alive in the evening didn’t mean he would stay alive in
the morning. And he who stayed alive in the morning wasn’t
sure that he would achieve the next night. That was Jasenovac.
Black, bloody Jasenovac--human slaughtering place.
A new day came. From the attic of the Turnover Group
Building where our sleeping room was and the living quarters
of groups of children, each of us went to shops. During the
day there was news that too many boys stayed alive, and there
would be a nastup again at the same place. The news came
from the camp commander’s office where one prisoner was
working, a prisoner who had "eamed" the Ustashas’ trust.
(That young man later was hung in public. He was a
communist. They discovered him.)
Editor's note: Nastup: a line formation of
prisoners in the camp. Since the word here
has a particular meaning that differs from the customary definitions (which
include appearance) the author provided a footnote.
After lunch, the leader of our group, Salem ResuloviC,
gathered us and told ns that Ustashas commanded him to take
fourteen boys in front of the command building-boys who
would go to take care of animals in some village. Salem knew
it was a lie, and we knew that, too. But anyway, there was a
thread of hope, and we started believing in the thing that we
would like to happen. Salem had a hard time. He had to decide
who would go, and he couldn’t begin doing that. It was like it
was harder for him than for us--like he would go instead of us
if he could. For a long time, he was standing in front of us and
saying that the ones who go there--it will be better for them.
He was trying to lie to himself, to make the thing easier. In the
end, he had to separate the wanted boys. He knew that for us
and for himself, there was no help and that innocent victims
wouldn’t save anyone else. Anyway, all of us in the camp
were designated for death. We just didn’t know when and who
would be killed next.
With his eyes full of tears, Salem separated fourteen of us
boys and took us in front of the command office. We stayed in
two lines, and we were waiting in front of the building.
Ustashas were walking up and down, up and down. The night
is coming. What will happen with us? Maybe we are really
going to a village. Muybe someone really does need us.
Everyone was silent--dead from the fear and uncertainty.
Is this our last evening? I couldn’t get rid of the black
suspicions. They will kill us tonight at the granik, I could
hear some inside voice say, and then, like from the fog, I could see
my loved ones. I could see everything clearly--my village and
the people. But my mother’s face was the clearest, like she
was there in front of me.
Editor's note: The granik was a dock for
loading and unloading boats and barges on the
Sava River. Prisoners were killed there with mallets or knives and dumped
directly into the Sava River--so many bodies that at times the bodies made
a dam in the river and left a stench that survivors who lived along the other
side of the river still remember.
(From: Croatian State Commission; interviews)
The Ustasha officer’s sharp command woke me from the
dream and took me back to reality, "Go away. Go back to
Why they didn’t kill us that evening, I have never
discovered. Maybe the butchers were tired from killing, and
maybe it wasn’t worth driving only fourteen boys, so they
gave up. Maybe they were not going to dirty their hands for
such a small number. Going back, the most cheerful was
Salem. The heavy load was lifted. "We survived, my Dears,"
"But until when, my Salem?" asked a small, dark boy who
was from Trebovljani near Bosanska Gradiška.
EXCERPT from pp. 113-115:
Under the Locksmith’s Bench
Sometimes in camp, Ustashas commanded us to line up for a
general nastup, actually to rank all prisoners. The nastup was
at the place between the prisoner’s kitchen and buildings,
usually in the autumn when they had to cut down the number
of prisoners or when they lost in a fight with Partisans and
wanted to punish us. And every time Maks Luburić came to
the camp, we had to have a nastup.
Editor's note: Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić was the authority over camps
in the Jasenovac system.
Before he went to Italy with Ante Pavelić to train as an Ustasha
killer, he had been arrested several times as a common criminal. (Croatian
59) Luburić’s sister Nada is the wife of Dinko Šakić, who was tried in
1999 for crimes committed at Jasenovac. Witnesses to Nada’s cruelty at
the Stara Gradiska camp called for indictments against her, also.
(CNN/Time "No Harm Done?" Bernard Shaw; Christianne Amonpour,
"In nastup!" the Ustashas were yelling, and the rivers of
prisoners were coming to the designated place. Never did all
prisoners come back from the nastup. Every time, we were cut
by 300 to 500 people. They had a system of choosing that we
couldn’t understand. We knew only that they kept prisoners
they needed for work and these were experts--engineers and
tradesmen. A good tradesman had a better chance to live.
When they were choosing the prisoners, Ustashas would say
they needed a number of workers who would go to another
place to work. Each prisoner, when it was his turn, had to say
his name, his nationality, where he worked, and what his job
was. They were especially looking for Jews, Serbs, and
Gypsies. We saw that they mostly took prisoners without
trades or who were physically weaker. Everyone knew that the
separated were going to die, and that’s why waiting in line
was agonizing and intolerable.
I was in nastup a few times, and each time death went
around me, but each time I went back to the barber shop in the
Brickyard completely broken and petrified with fear. During
the night in my dreams, I would jump from the floor, scream,
cry, and try to run away. So Stjepan, Herman, and Master
Milan had a hard time waking me up to calm down. To save
me from more pain, they decided that in the future they would
hide me so I would avoid the nastup. It was a risky decision,
dangerous to life-theirs and mine. In the event they
discovered me, there was only one punishment - death. But
death was lurking in the nastup, too. Death was an every day
thing in Jasenovac, so it was worth a try.
Not long afterward, there was again chaos in the camp.
Again Ustashas were yelling "In nastup!" Stjepan and Herman
quickly started taking the scrap iron from under the
locksmith’s bench, and when they finished they told me,
"Hide in there, Son." I hid under the bench in the corner next
to the wall, and they put pieces of iron, of tin, and tools on me
and completely hid me.
I was covered with heavy locksmith’s bench and metal,
and I couldn’t get out alone. I was thinking, what if none of
them comes buck from the nastup? Almost like they heard my
thoughts and knew what I was afraid of, they said these words
of comfort, "Don’t say anything to anyone until one of us
comes back. I hope all of us won’t die."
I heard doors opening and steps that were walking away. I
was alone. I was afraid. My heart was beating so loudly that I
was thinking someone could hear it even outside of the shop.
Going into the nustup is awful, but staying alone and helpless
wasn’t good either. How long will this hell last?
For a long time, I was curled up, lying in the comer and
listening to each sound. Finally, I heard prisoners under the
window of the shop. The doors opened, and Stjepan said to
me, "Everything is okay. Don’t be afraid. Now, we will get
you out of that den.
They took the iron away, and I, completely sweaty, came
out. Until the escape from camp, at each nustup afterward, I
was hiding under the redeeming locksmith bench.
Editor's note: Prisoners took risks to save children.
The war crimes commission reports
Throughout 1942, Camp 3-C was full of children who were brought to
Jasenovac together with their parents.
Upon liquidations, many of the children went astray and lost their
parents, and the prisoners adopted those children. Many a prisoner thus hid
an orphan without a mother and a father in his barrack, feeding him with
food he had deprived himself of. The prisoners who were sent packages
with food from home, gave everything they had got to the children.
At the end of summer 1942, Luburić noticed that a large number of
children was kept in the attics of the workshops and prisoners’ barracks.
Therefore, he ordered the Ustashas to search the whole camp and collect
Thus, it was found out that there was over 400 children, boys and girls,
from 4 to 14 years of age in the camp. Luburić had a council witb his
"officers" and had all the children registered and accommodated in
separate rooms, which the prisoners regarded as a miracle. He found
several teachers among the prisoners and busted them with teaching the
children how to read, write and sing.
Thus, the little "orphanage" became the only joy of the prisoners. Their
rejoicing did not last long. Ivica Matković, Kapetanović and Ivan Slisković
were not satisfied with the results in the children’s education. It seemed to
them that the education was not conducted in the Ustasha spirit as much as
it should have been, and besides, they found out that the majority of
children were of Serb or Jewish origin.
When Luburić came to Jasenovac, they reported the matter to him, so he
ordered that all the children, who had already presented a buden to [the]
supplying budget, should he killed.
The Ustashas took groups of 60-80 children to Gradina, where they were
slaughtered and buried by the Gypsies.
(Section D. Individual Mass
Crimes, Article XIV, Croatian State Commission.)
Other excerpts from the book:
Daily horrors of Jasenovac
Break out from Jasenovac!
MORE EXCERPTS -- to come.
about the book and how to order it.
of Jasenovac speak
Nazi Croats - the Ustashas?
This and other excerpts from Mr. Ivanović's book are presented on
Srpska-Mreza.com site with strict
and explicit permission from the author, Mr. Ilija Ivanović and editor,
Dr. Wanda Schindley.
The author's main wish is for the entire world to get to learn about
Jasenovac so that horrors and injustice of this sort never, ever repeat -
anywhere in the world. He is painfully aware that he is a rare survivor
of the Jasenovac hell. He is also one
of the few survivors who is still among us.
Today, September 26, 2007, Mr. Ivanović is still alive and well.
He lives in Republika Srpska -- the part of Bosnia that indigenous Serbs
were able to defend from onslaught of resurrected Croat Nazis, from
Bosnian Muslim fundamentalists and from the criminal, shameless NATO.
The truth will free us all.
Feel free to download,
copy and redistribute.
First posted: October 27, 2007