April 22nd 1945: Escape From Jasenovac

On April 22nd 1945 some 600 prisoners held at the Jasenovac concentration camp in the then Independent State of Croatia launched a desperate bid for freedom. 516 were killed in the attempt, whilst 84 escaped. 

Jasenovac was unique in that it was established and operated solely by the governing Croation fascist Ustaše regime rather than by Nazi Germany as in the rest of occupied Europe. Estimates as to the number of victims vary, but the figure of 100,000, mostly ethnic Serbs, but also Jews, ethnic Croats, Muslims and Roma, together with some political oppositionists, is generally considered to be accurate. Jasenovic has been referred to as "the Auschwitz of the Balkans" or "the Yugoslav Auschwitz". The Yad Vashem Centre has estimated that around 500,000 ethnic Serbs perished in the Independent State during the war.

After 1942 many of the Jewish prisoners were transported to Auschwitz for execution.

Methods of execution varied, many were killed with an improvised knife, known as a "Srbosjek" ("Serb-cutter"), which strapped to the Guard's hands. One of these guards, involved in a bet as to who could kill the most inmates, Peter Brzica, a Croatian Franciscan friar, claimed to have dispatched 1,360, although at least one other Ustaše guard, identified only as Friganović claimed to have been ahead of the clergyman at one point.

Franciscan Pero Brzica, Ante Zrinušić, Sipka and I waged a bet on who would slaughter more prisoners that night. The killing started and already after an hour I slaughtered much more than they did. It seemed to me that I was in seventh heaven. I had never felt such bliss in my life. And already after a few hours I slaughtered 1,100 people, while the others only managed to kill 300 to 400 each.

Brzica won the bet, and Friganović duly paid up.

The Ustaše abandoned the camp shortly after the prisoner revolt, first killed the remaining prisoners and burned down all structures in the camp. 

In May, when Partisans entered Jasenovic they found only ruins and the decomposed remains of hundreds of victims.

Jasenovic2


There are as many as 200 mass grave sites in the area surrounding Jasenovic.

In 1968 the Jasenovac Memorial Site, with the Memorial Museum, was founded on the suggestion of the Federation of War Veterans' Organisations of the Socialist Republic of Croatia.  

A list of the known individuals who perished in the camp runs to 2,096 pages, and can be viewed here.

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Read also: All Our Yesterdays: Escape From Sobibór, October 14th 1943

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Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright

Gary Cartwright is publishing editor of EU Today. 

An experienced journalist and published author, he specialises in environment, energy, and defence.

He also has more than 10 years experience of working as a staff member in the EU institutions, working with political groups and MEPs in various policy areas.

Gary's latest book WANTED MAN: THE STORY OF MUKHTAR ABLYAZOV: A Manual for Criminals on How to Avoid Punishment in the EU is currently available from Amazon 

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