The horrors of Nazi concentration camps during WWII remain well-known and documented throughout history. Lesser known, however, are the atrocities committed at concentration camps in Jasenovac, Croatia — camps in no way affiliated with Nazis. In fact, if not for Jasenovac concentration camp photos and the determination of Jasenovac concentration camp survivors, the world might have forgotten the camp existed at all. Due to the camp's relative isolation from the rest of WWII, the Ustaše, Croatian fascists, basically allowed themselves free reign against the Serbian population. A combination of the camp's brutality along with government attempts to conceal the tragedy also muddles estimates of the Jasenovac victims list; at least 60,000 died there, but tens of thousands more likely did as well.
Jasenovac photography along with memorials and museums dedicated to the tragedy hope to ensure its crimes never get erased from history. Like Holocaust deniers, Jasenovac deniers also try to downplay the history of the camp, despite evidence of its deplorable conditions and sadistic brutality. After all, how many other places in history got described by Nazi officers as being like Dante's Inferno?
Some Estimate Nearly 100,000 People Perished At These Camps Over Four Years
Regardless of the exact number, between 1941 and 1945, thousands upon thousands of people died in concentration camps in Croatia. The numbers remain contested, and range anywhere between 40,000 and 97,000. The United States Holocaust Museum puts the number on the higher end of the spectrum, at 97,000, while Serbia's Museum of Genocide says the total comes in at around 80,000.
Authorities Kept Jasenovac's Purpose A Secret From Everyone, Including The Nazis
The Jasenovac camp consisted of five sites grouped around the town of Jasenovac. Known as the "Aushwitz of the Balkans," the camps sat on marshland and fell under the control of the Croatian police, called the Ustaše, sometimes spelled "Ustache."
Though the police used the camp primarily for extermination, they attempted to hide it as much as possible - even from Nazis. When visitors came through (a rare occurrence), the Ustaše propped up their prisoners and presented Jasenovac as a labor camp, not a brutal killing ground.
The Camps Specifically Targeted Serbs, Along With Jews, Roma, And Political Dissidents
Though Croatia took inspiration from German Nazis when creating their concentration camps, most of those targeted in Croatia during WWII were Serbs rather than Jews. But, much like German camps, basically anyone other than Catholics, fascists, or Croatians was subject to torture and murder in these camps, including Roma and anti-fascists.
The Guards Took Joy In Torturing Their Prisoners, And Even Held Killing Contests
The conditions at Jasenovac were brutal to say the least. Poor sanitation led to rampant disease; prisoners slept in tunnels, on stone, or even outside, and had no access to clean water.
A large part of the horror experienced at Jasenovac came from the sadism of the guards. Officials encouraged guards to drown the prisoners in the latrines. There was excessive rape, wanton murder, and excessive torture all conducted by guards who reveled in their atrocities:
"Finger and toe nails were regularly pulled out. Special hooks were used to gouge victims eyes from their skulls. People were blinded by having needles stuck in their eyes. Human flesh was cut and salted. Noses, ears, and tongues were cut off using wire cutters."
Some guards even held contests to see who could kill the most prisoners - one guard reportedly slit 1,360 throats. Another guard recounted cutting off an old man's extremities one by one, until he eventually cut out the man's heart.