Whilst reading W.G Sebald’s ‘The Rings Around Saturn’ I was struck by his description of the Jasenovac concentration camp, situated in Croatia. I for one had never heard of it, but from the accounts in Sebald’s book, it was, even by the standards of other such appalling places, particularly horrific.
“Seven hundred thousand men, women and children were killed there alone in ways that made the hair of the Reich’s experts stand on end, as some of them were said to have admitted when they were amongst themselves.”
According to Sebald, the preferred instruments of execution were “saws and sabres, axes and hammers” and knives specially designed for cutting throats. The fascist Ustasha, who established the camp, were even regarded by the Nazis as particularly cruel. One German representative in Zagreb, Artur Hoeffner, wrote in his diary on November 18, 1942:
“Regardless of the propaganda, [Jasenovac] is a camp of the very worst kind and can be compared to Dante’s Inferno.”
Italians who visited or served in the area during the war were also sickened. Alfio Russo wrote in Revoluzione in Jugoslavia (Rome, 1944), “Even the most extraordinary massacres in the darkest era of history would not soil its name… “
Like most camps, the death toll is disputed, but the fact the figures range from 300,000 through to 860,000 speaks volumes.
The main victims were ethnic Serbs, although other groups, such as Jews and Gypsies perished there.