Jasenovac Past and Present: History and Memory of Institutionalised Destruction, 15–17 December 2021

Recent years have seen an increase in public debates and controversies concerning the Jasenovac camp complex, established in August 1941 and remaining in operation until the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945. Jasenovac became the main killing site for Serbs, Jews and Roma in the fascist Independent State of Croatia, but also for Croatian, Muslim and other opponents of the regime. Concurrently with the intensification of debates, however, experts are slowly approaching a consensus regarding the camp structure, victims and perpetrators, while exploring how collective memory affects present-day societies in the region.

The aim of the international conference Jasenovac Past and Present: History and Memory of Institutionalised Destruction was to gather the foremost experts on the camp, who during three days examined the history and memory of Jasenovac by critically analysing the intricate web of connections that transcend the past and present. They revisited long-standing historical debates and presented new research findings, in the process gaining a better understanding of how the memory of the camp changed over the years. By applying a holistic approach to the object of study that connects regional trends in historiography, memorialisation and educational practice with European development, the conference provided a basis for international research cooperation to counter distortion and securing archival sources, databases and other types of information for research and educational purposes. The conference contributed to placing the Jasenovac camp firmly on the European map of consciousness as one of the larger European sites of remembrance and a key locality of the Holocaust in Southeast Europe. 

The conference was organised by the Hugo Valentin Centre in close cooperation with several European institutions, which will ensure a successful planning and implementation of the activities. The consortium includes Mémorial de la Shoah in Paris, Topographie des Terrors in Berlin, the University of Belgrade, the University of Zagreb, and of course the Jasenovac Memorial Area. special thanks go to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, whose generous financial support made the event possible.

Activities

Confiscation of personal effects from newly arrived prisoners in Jasenovac.

The online event took place 15–17 december 2021 and had the aim of

  • providing the scholarly community, students and other interested parties with state-of-the-art knowledge about the history of the Jasenovac camp
  • stimulating regional and wider international research cooperation
  • connecting the history and memory of Jasenovac to broader European trends
  • inspiring discussion about the camp in the public domain with a particular focus on issues relating to the political use of history, distortion and denial
  • increasing awareness about the use and abuse of Jasenovac among policy-makers, NGOs and practitioners in the educational field
     

Conference Programme and Activities

15 DECEMBER

09.00-09.05: Welcoming Address by Tomislav Dulić,
Director of the Hugo Valentin Centre, Uppsala University

09.0509.15: Address by Yehuda Bauer,
Honorary Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)

9.15-10.00: Keynote speech by Dieter Pohl, Alpen-Adria University, Klagenfurt: The European Camp System and Jasenovac

10.00-10.15: Coffee break

Panel I, 10.15–12.00: Genocide and Mass Killing in the NDH 
Moderator: Thomas Lutz

Ustasha Facism and Terrorism in Yugoslavia, 1929-1941
Goran Miljan, Uppsala University

The Establishment of the Independent State of Croatia and Jasenovac
Ivo Goldstein, University of Zagreb

Genocide and Mass Violence in the NDH: Security, Control and Racial Ideology
Tomislav Dulić, Uppsala University

Panel II: 12.30–14.00: Estimations and Statistics of Death Tolls
Moderator: Tomislav Dulić

The Jasenovac Victims Dataset
Ivo Pejaković, Jasenovac Memorial Area

Socio-demographic Statistics About Victim Groups in Jasenovac
Dragan Cvetković, Museum of Genocide Victims, Belgrade

The Mirage of “Mathematical Proof”: The Need for Context in Statistical Analysis
Melkior Ornik, University of Illinois Urbana-Campaign

16 DECEMBER

09.0009.15: Addresses by Ambassador Mato Škrabalo, Director General and Head of the Croatian Delegation to IHRA and State Secretary Nemanja Starović, Head of the Serbian delegation to IHRA

Panel III, 09.15–10.45: Victims and Rescuers
Moderator: Dubravka Stojanović

Jews, Serbs and ”Political Enemies”
Milan Koljanin, Institute for Contemporary History, Belgrade (emer.)

The Roma in Jasenovac
Milovan Pisarri, Centre for Public History, Belgrade

Children in Jasenovac and the Rescue Effort of Diana Budisavljević
Nataša Mataušić, Museum of Croatian History, Zagreb

Panel IV, 11.00–12.30: Perpetrators in Focus
Moderator: Ljiljana Radonić

Perpetrators in Jasenovac
Emil Kjerte, Clark University

Removing the Traces of Crime: The Destruction of Jasenovac in 1945
Goran Hutinec, University of Zagreb

What’s in a Trophy Photograph? The Evidentiary and Symbolic Function of Perpetrator- generated Images of Ustaa Atrocities
Jovan Byford, The Open University, UK

Panel V, 13.00–14.30: Collective Memory about Persecution in the NDH
Moderator: Snježana Koren

Social Memory about WWII in Yugoslavia
Sabine Rutar, Leibniz Institute for East and Southeast European Studies, University of Regensburg

Jasenovac in Socialist Yugoslavia
Heike Karge, University of Regensburg

Post-transition Cultural Memory on Persecution in the NDH
Vjeran Pavlaković, University of Rijeka

17 DECEMBER

09.0009.15: Address by Georges Santer,
IHRA representative and former Luxembourg Chair of the IHRA

Panel VI. 09.15–10.45: The Jasenovac Memorial Area in Perspective
Moderator: Ivo Goldstein

Memorials as Places of Remembrance and Education
Thomas Lutz, Topographie des Terrors, Berlin

Jasenovac and Terror Museums in Post-socialist Societies
Ljiljana Radonić, Austrian Academy of Sciences

The Death toll in Jasenovac between History, Memory and Politics
Gavro Burazor, University of Belgrade

Panel VII, 11.00–12.30: Jasenovac in Education
Moderator: Bruno Boyer

Jasenovac in Serbian History Schoolbooks
Dubravka Stojanović, University of Belgrade

Jasenovac in Croatian Schools
Snježana Koren, University of Zagreb

The Holocaust in Graduate Research: Reflections on Student Research Topics and Subject Choices
Roland Kostić, Uppsala University

13.00–14.00: Roundtable Discussion
Chair: Heike Karge

Panelists: Bruno Boyer, Tomislav Dulić, Ivo Goldstein, Thomas Lutz, Ljiljana Radonić, Dubravka Stojanović, Georges Santer

Suggestions in conference report

  • Strengthen regional research collaboration on Jasenovac history and memory
  • Modernisation and update the Jasenovac permanent exhibition
  • Undertake measures to stimulate school visits to Jasenovac
  • Integrate Jasenovac into regional teacher training initiatives
  • Strengthen and develiop teacher training among practitioners and students

About the Jasenovac-Stara Gradiška Camp Complex

History

Stara Gradiška camp.

Immediately after he Ustašas and Ante Pavelić came to power on 10 April 1941, the new fascist regime embarked on a campaign of mass killing and persecution of the nation’s Serbs, Jews, and Roma. The authorities adopted racial laws pertaining to Jews and Roma as early as the end of April that year. Serbs for their part were excluded from participation in the new state not on the basis of race, but due to their supposedly "eastern" culture deemed "inferior" to the Croatian. Adding to the targeted ethnic communities were numerous Croat, Muslim (today Bosniak) and other enemies of the regime. Many of the political prisoners were incarcerated in nearby Stara Gradiška alongside women and children.​

Jasenovac remained in operation from August 1941 to May 1945, when it was liberated by forces of the "People's Liberation Army" under Josip Broz “Tito”. A ceremony is held on 22 April each year to commemorate the camp’s victims, marking an attempted outbreak just before liberation. 

Memory

Jasenovac Memorial "Stone Flower".
Photo: JUSP Jasenovac.

Since the administration succeeded in destroying most of the camp before liberation, there are hardly any original buildings left today. Small mounds instead mark where the barracks used to be. Today, one can visit a museum and Bogdan Bogdanović’s memorial monument The Stone Flower at the site of the Jasenovac Memorial Area. At the foot of the monument is inscribed a passage the Croatian poet and Partisan Ivan Goran Kovačić's war poem "The Pit" (transl. to English by Alec Brown):

That simple happiness, the window's glint;
Swallow and young; or windborne garden sweet -
Where? - The unhurried cradle's drowsy tilt?
Or, by the threshold, sunshine at my feet?

Kovačić's fate is symbolic for the suffering that affected millions of Yugoslavs during the Second World War. He was killed by Serbian Četniks in eastern Bosnia on 13 July 1943 and himself thrown into a pit. In the end of the poem, he expresses the hope that one can transgress the past and present for a better future he never saw:

Is there a place where suffering and pain
Men suffer, and endure, but yet alive?
Is there a place where men forget again
And live with those who wronged them by their side?​​​​

Last modified: 2024-02-01