The horrors behind the beauty of a memorial site in “Europe’s Unknown Death Camp – Jasenovac – Croatia – WWII”

Graham Phillips, “Europe’s Unknown Death Camp – Jasenovac – Croatia – WWII” (22 April 2021)

I had not known of the infamous World War II concentration / death camp in Jasenovac, established by the Independent State of Croatia in 1941 in Occupied Yugoslavia, in which tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people were brutally murdered by the Ustaše regime. One of the largest camp complexes in Europe – the third largest according to Wikipedia – the Jasenovac camp complex became notorious for its barbaric methods of murdering people: prison guards were often hired from local farming communities and they killed their victims – Serbs, Roma, Jews, anti-fascist dissenters – as if they were animals, with blunt objects such as hammers, knives and axes. The camp was run from 1941 to 1945, when the Ustaše tried to wipe out evidence of the camp by digging up and burning corpses, killing all remaining prisoners, and torching the camp buildings so that only ruins, smoke, ash and burnt bodies were found by Yugoslav forces when they came to liberate the camp. Jasenovac and other similar camps in Croatia represent the only major concentration camp network operated by a regime to imprison and kill Jews and other ethno-religious groups and dissenters independently of Nazi German control, though the Ustaše were also allies of the Germans at the time.

In this short video, British journalist Graham Phillips visits the Jasenovac memorial site on the banks of the Sava River near the Bosnia-Herzegovina border. The camera (probably a drone) pans out over the now-peaceful and bucolic rural scene, interrupted only by a monumental statue in the shape of a flower commemorating the dead. Archived films from the 1940s and sub-titles convey the stark truth about the horrific crimes committed at Jasenovac; even now, 80 years after the camp was established, controversy over the actual numbers killed with Croatian sources attempting to minimise the numbers of victims continues.

The video is well made with a very judicious selection of background music that encourages silence and respect for the dead. The usually gregarious Phillips keeps his narration to an absolute minimum save for explanations about the nature of the statue at the memorial site. Viewers will be most struck by the difference between the peace and beauty of the site and the surrounding landscape with its calm and gentle river, and the thought of the horrors suffered by the Jasenovac camp victims.