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Witness to Jasenovac's Hell By Ilija Ivanovic Edited by Wanda Schindley

Jacket: Hardcover
Pages: 272 pages
Publisher: Dallas Publishing Company; Bilingual edition (July 2002)
Genre: Concentration camps
ISBN: 0912011637

Review: "In the concentration camp at Jasenovac, on the night of August 29, 1942, orders were issued for executions. Bets were made as to who could liquidate the largest number of inmates. Peter Brzica cut the throats of 1,360 prisoners with a specially sharp butcher's knife. Having been proclaimed the prize-winner of the competition, he was elected King of the Cut-throats. A gold watch, a silver service and a roasted suckling pig, and wine were his other rewards." (104)

After Germany and its Axis allies invaded Yugoslavia in April of 1941, the Nazis permitted the fascist and terrorist Ustasha organization to found the Independent State of Croatia. The Ustasha regime established numerous concentration camps in Croatia between 1941 and 1945: The largest was the Jasenovac complex. Set up in 1941, the camp complex functioned with ruthless efficiency until 1945. During these few short years, some 600,000 people were slaughtered there. In 1945, nearly all of the remaining prisoners were killed and the camp was blown up to conceal evidence of the Ustasha's mass murder campaign.

Witness to Jasenovac's Hell is a grim first person account of a thirteen-year-old boy, Ilija Ivanoviæ, who was taken from his home in the former Yugoslavia and interred in the Jasenovac concentration camp for three years. During this time, Ivanoviæ was witness to innumerable, unspeakable horrors many of which are graphically portrayed in this work. In April 1945, as the partisan army approached the camp, the Ustasha blew up all the installations and killed most of the internees in an attempt to erase traces of their atrocities. Sensing that their total annihilation was at hand, the remaining few prisoners banded together in one last desperate effort to break free of their captivity. En masse, the prisoners broke down the doors of their prison, and despite their frail conditions, fought their captors for their lives. Of the 1,060 men and boys left alive in the camp on April 22, 1945, less than one hundred survived this mass escape attempt. Machine gun fire decimated the escaping prisoners leaving only eighty to survive the slaughter. Ivanoviæ was one of the few to escape the confines of the camp and to eventually reach freedom.

In addition to this compelling first-person account, readers will be gripped by the riveting imagery presented through multiple photographs illustrating the monstrous actions perpetrated by the Ustasha against camp internees.

Initially published in its original Serbian language edition in 1988, this release was edited by Wanda Schindley, Ph.D. with translations by Aleksandra Laziæ. Schindley has done a thorough job in editing this translation with copious footnoting and sound commentary in her forward and the editor's epilog. In doing so, Schindley has started down the road to making an important, and apparently overlooked page in twentieth century history available to a broad English speaking population. Placed in the broader context of World War II histories, Yugoslavia and Croatian history, this work will be a valuable addition to college and university libraries as well others interested in this dark era of world history.

— Reviewed by: Timothy E. McMahon, M.S.


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