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Study Trip Commemorating Wars.
The Commemoration of the Second World War and the War of 1992-1995 in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Route and Destinations:

1. Zagreb 8. Jablanica
2. Jasenovac 9. Mostar
3. Donja Gradina 10. Sutjeska
4. Kozara 11. Gorazde
5. Prijedor 12. Srebrenica
6. Banja Luka 13. Sarajevo
7. Sarajevo
Sarajevo 2SrebrenicaGorazdeSutjeskaMostarJablanicaSarajevoBanja LukaPrijedorKozaraDonja GradinaJasenovacZagreb

Donja Gradina

Page Contents


Overview

The present-day memorial at Donja Gradina was an integral part of the Jasenovac memorial until 1991. The war and the creation of the Republika Srpska, to which the territory of the present-day memorial belongs, have fuelled the conflict regarding the remembrance of the victims of Jasenovac. At the Donja Gradina memorial, the number of 700,000 victims, a figure stemming from socialist times, is still propagated, while at Jasenovac, a figure of about 80,000 victims, a number which is accepted internationally to a large extent, has been adopted.

Presently, there exists no official website of the Donja Gradina memorial. Contact can only be established through the employees of the Jasenovac memorial.



Manuela Brenner: Donja Gradina – Site of the Mass Graves

The construction of a memorial for the victims of Jasenovac happened to be limited mainly to the Croatian or left side of the Sava. Thus, the mass graves of the camp which were located at Donja Gradina on the right side of the Sava were excluded. During the post-war years, these mass graves, in spite of their being overgrown by grass, trees and undergrowth, were clearly visible due to their rectangular form and the lowered ground. Beginning in the 1960s, when the Jasenovac memorial was already under construction, some of these mass graves were repeatedly examined. However, these examinations were never completed, neither in the 80s nor to this day. Although in the original plan for the memorial agreed on in Belgrade at the beginning of the 1960s, it did say that Donja Gradina was also to be part of the memorial, a clear emphasis was put on the complex on left side of the Sava. There, besides the representative memorial, a museum, curatorial rooms, an archive, and a parking lot were part of the plan and even a hotel for the village of Jasenovac. At the same time, there was no direct connection for visitors to get to Donja Gradina, which was located on the other side of the river, and the nearest bridge was five kilometers away.

In 1966, the opening of the Jasenovac memorial and the “stone flower” by Bogdanović was celebrated – without Tito who was not going to visit this site even once. During the next 20 years, Jasenovac became one of the most frequently visited memorials in Yugoslavia. Donja Gradina, on the other hand, the execution site of Jasenovac and the site of the mass graves, remained in a provisional state during all this time. At least the mass graves were provisionally equipped with makeshift stone tablets, the quality of which was however already deteriorating by the early 1980s. By all means, visitors of Jasenovac were told about Donja Gradina but despite all demands, no bridge was constructed over the river and not even a ferry connection was established. It was not until 1988 that Donja Gradina was officially opened as part of the Jasenovac memorial. Three years later, a new war began.

Additional Article

Part 1: Manuela Brenner: Remembering the Victims of Jasenovac before the Opening of the Memorial



Picture Gallery Donja Gradina

Abstract plan of the camp site

More Pictures ...



Marion Forster, Julia Merl and Birte Richardt: Travel Diary Entry, 23 May 2010

A little bit later. We cross the Sava and approach Donja Gradina. The border crossing to Bosnia and Herzegovina takes a long time, because of the two Russian passports. Having arrived in Donja Gradina, we meet Dejan Motl who is one of the ten curators here. He seems agitated, but very nice. We are told that we are now at the site where the killings in the camp took place. He also describes the methods which were used to kill people. [Picture 3] Bestial. With blunt sticks…

Hardly anything of this can be seen here. We walk along a path, nature surrounds us, trees, and birds singing, beautiful landscape. We are confused. Can people be murdered at such a beautiful place? We go to the memorial of numbers, which is still the central site of the memorial. Dejan talks about the key function of the site. It was no camp but an execution site, since 1942. There are nine grave fields with over 200 mass graves. They can be identified by the lowered ground level or were discovered by farmers while they were plowing. Until today, human remains get caught in the fishing nets in the Sava.

We are still facing the signs with the numbers of victims. Next to signs with numbers of the killed Roma, Muslims and Jews, a sign in the middle sticks out: 700,000 victims. The victims are divided into groups. 40,000 are Sinti and Roma. 33,000 Jews. Additionally, there are of course also 127,000 “anti-fascists”. No word about Croatians. However, a large sign next to the one with the 700,000 victims mentions that 500,000 Serbs were among the victims. This is the old figure propagated by the socialist regime which was actively manipulated to receive higher reparation payments. The newly investigated figures listed at Jasenovac, which encompass around 80,000 victims, according to Dejan have only appeared recently as the investigations were only begun in 2004/05. He adds that it is going to be impossible to obtain a precise estimate of the total number of victims in retrospect as entire families and villages disappeared because the Orthodox Church kept birth certificates in the church records which were burned and destroyed together with the churches.

Schild mit der Anzahl der KriegsopferThus, the actual number must be somewhere in between the two, says Dejan. Probably a couple of hundred thousands. Nevertheless, our tutor observes that the memorial was given new signs since her last visit in 2003. These new signs are bearing the old numbers. We walk on. We are being presented huge cauldrons which were used for the boiling of the bones. Human bones. To produce soap. I can only defensively shake my head in disbelief.

At the end, we are being led into a room where we are going to be shown a film. First we have the opportunity to look around the room. Pictures by students from a drawing competition. The subject: Associations of Jasenovac. Human beings who are being cooked in large cauldrons with blood running down their arms and legs. Then the film begins. A twenty-minute production by Šime Brdar.

A man. A Jewish survivor from Sarajevo. He talks about the killings, the slaughtering of humans. About everyday life. Also about his best friend. About his death. He tells the story. This friend was starving. The cook had come outside to throw away the kitchen waste. Potatoe peels. His friend smiled at him, shortly before he began running towards the container. Having arrived at the container with the kitchen waste, he greedily crammed everything he could grab as quickly as possible into his pockets and his mouth. The man in the film remembers how his friend quickly sent him a large smile over his shoulder. And then? The cook returned. He grabbed his friend by the forehead, took out a kitchen knife and cut his throat. The man in the interview tries to find the right words, to describe how the blood had spilled, endlessly. He was sitting right there. In his hiding place. Saw. Felt. Despaired.

I begin to cry. I feel embarrassed. I’m sitting on the ground in the darkness and I’m crying. The film continues. The music becomes more aggressive. All of a sudden, we find ourselves in a rapidly moving dia-show showing us never-before-seen and extremely cruel pictures. A child holding his head in his hands accompanied by the hammering music. And a baby who has only a stump left for a leg and the music. And a man whose eyes have been carved out and the music. I have trouble breathing and my pulse is beating faster. I have to get out but I do not get up.

Finally. The show comes to an end. I am glad about it. Otherwise I would have had to throw up. Afterwards. In front of the house. We all stand there in disbelief. Just looking. Unbelievable. This film is being shown to school children. Serbian school children. Others do not visit. For the first time, many of us realise that this will not be a trip to Dachau and back…

A little later. Something happens which would become very characteristic of our trip. A few moments ago, deeply shocked and touched, full of sympathy. Now? We have got over the first shock and once again feel how hungry we all are. It is already 3 p.m. We had breakfast at around 6.30 a.m.

Weird. We talk about it on the bus. Somehow we are all confused. But in the first place we are simply hungry.

We drive to Kozarska Dubica to finally have “lunch”. As we arrive, a woman is sent away to buy meat because the restaurant was not prepared to serve this many people. Like wolves, we all wait for the food and accordingly feel very happy when we are finally being served. Each of us gets a large chunk of meat and fries along with delicious, greasy bread. We all eat way too much. Afterwards, I feel so sick I have to drink another Rakija : - )

We want to depart again. The people from the restaurant thank us once again and give bottles of juice or water to some of us. Of course, none of us want to accept it but they insist. These people show us so much gratitude for having eaten there. Even though we got to eat so much delicious food for only 7 Euros. We ought to be thankful to them.

Continue with the Diary ...