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The Holocaust in Yugoslavia

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Letter from the Jewish Administration of the Đakovo Camp to Inmates

Jewish administration of the Đakovo camp letter 1941
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade
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tags: bureaucracy health & hygiene women's experiences

type: Letter

The ad hoc camps and murder sites that the ustaše regime had been using during the summer of 1941 in the Italian zone of the Independent State of Croatia had by the fall become unviable. The large number of prominent Serbs and Jews that had been murdered in these camps, along with many Serb peasants, had caused widespread terror among the population, provoking an uprising that rendered large parts of the Italian zone ungovernable. As a result, the Italians occupied their "zone" of the supposedly independent Croatian state, which did restore order and provided a level of protection for the civilian non-Croat population that was the target of the ustaše's genocidal policies. In the German zone, however, the camp system would prove much more durable. In the fall of 1941, the ustaše founded a camp system in the German zone of the Independent State of Croatia, in the north of the country. The lynchpin of the camp system was the camp at Jasenovac.1

The camp at Đakovo in eastern Croatia was one of the new camps in the German zone of the Independent State of Croatia. As the deportations of Jews from Sarajevo started in late 1941, Đakovo accommodated the transports, including the one about which the Jewish Community in Brod na Savi informed the communities in Zagreb and Sarajevo.2 Immediately upon the arrival of this transport, the "Administration of the Concentration Camp Đakovo" issued a circular letter, outlining the rules of administration in the camp. Under the arrangement imposed by the ustaše, the camp was under the command of regular Croatian police based in Osijek, the district center; the Jewish Community of Osijek, however, was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the camp and the lives of the inmates. The situation in Đakovo was not unlike that in some other camps in Europe under the German domination: in some places, there were "Jewish" administrations running day-to-day operations. Of course, they were appointed by the Germans or their collaborators, and the power abyss that separated the Jewish "administrations" from their overlords was insurmountable.

The bureaucratic and vaguely threatening language of the circular letter comes from this constellation of forces. Jewish "administrators" needed to make sure that there was no insubordination in the camp, as the ustaše certainly made it clear that the Jews were responsible collectively for any disorder. The document outlines a provisional administration, but it did not last long. After the ustaše deported another 1,200 Jewish and Serbian women and children to the camp, which resulted in the deterioration of living conditions, including the outbreak of typhoid fever—the Đakovo camp was liquidated in June and July of 1942, when most of its inmates were transferred to the Jasenovac camp. The overwhelming majority of them perished in Jasenovac, including most of the people mentioned by name in the letter.

For a history of the Holocaust in the Independent State of Croatia, see Ivo Goldstein and Slavko Goldstein, The Holocaust in Croatia (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016); also, Slavko Goldstein's memoir, 1941: The Year That Keeps Returning (New York: New York Review Books, 2013). For a broader history of World War II in Yugoslavia, see Jozo Tomasevich, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: Occupation and Collaboration (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).

For a history of ethnic relations during World War II in Sarajevo, see Emily Greble, Sarajevo, 1941–1945: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Hitler's Europe (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011).

The noun "inmates" here is in the female form in Croatian ("zatočenicama"), since the bulk of the inmates were women. The female form is kept throughout the letter.

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Circular letter no. 1

Đakovo, December 8, 1941

For the purposes of information and unconditional obedience, the following regulations are being announced to all inmates.1 The regulations are of temporary character, and the final "house rules" and "disciplinary rules" will be composed later, in agreement with the county police in Osijek.


Command of the camp:

The camp is under command of the county police in Osijek, and the commander of the order guard, Dragutin Majer, is named commander.


Administration of the camp:

The camp is for now (until a special camp committee is formed) under administration of the Jewish Community in Osijek. The Jewish Community in Osijek has named Mr. Vlado Grünbaum director of the camp with full powers. He is tasked with undertaking full organization of the camp within 14 days starting today, with help being provided by the Jewish communities of Osijek, Zagreb, and Sarajevo, as well as all inmates. Within those two weeks, Mr. Grünbaum will suggest to the Osijek county police an Administrative Committee of the camp consisting of 11 members. Certain members of the Administrative Committee will also head the following sub-committees:


1./ Supplies sub-committee:

Mr. Julio Sternberg from Osijek, without the members of the committee, to do business as required in Đakovo and Osijek, and his work is for now limited to procurement and transport of food to Đakovo. This sub-committee will eventually consist of 5 members.


2./ Kitchen sub-committee:

FOR THE TIME BEING, ALL BUSINESS OF THIS COMMITTEE IS PERFORMED by Mr. Scheiber from Osijek, and the cook Margita Izrael, also from Osijek. This committee is to be extended to 5 members by adding inmates.


3./ Health committee:

This committee is comprised of Dr. Jurković, Dr. Atijas [both female], and Ms. Reder, as well as Mr. Lederer and Mr. Weiss. The final shape of this committee is 5 members, in addition to Mr. ph. Hecht [a pharmacist], who will send medications from Osijek.


4./ Disciplinary committee:

The Director of the camp will name 5 members of this committee, with a task of drafting the final version of the house rules and rules of discipline. This committee will oversee the implementation of the former, and will simultaneously be appointing the inmates for individual duties. It will [illegible] administer the camp card file and will keep the up-to-date work list as well as daily reports. It will collaborate with the productivization committee.


5./ Internal administration:

This sub-committee will consist of all employees of the administrative offices, which will be taken exclusively from the ranks of the inmates. The administrative offices should be formed within 14 days. Materials are supplied by the Jewish Community Osijek. The scope of this committee includes: correspondence with suppliers, maintaining the card file, the distribution of children, performing all administrative duties, etc. The functioning of the entire camp is predicated upon good work in administrative offices.


6./ Productivization committee:

This sub-committee will be founded by younger inmates, with the task of suggesting to the Command and Administration of the camp ways to fulfill the plan. The plan is to make the inmates more productive, and thus ease the upkeep of the camp.


Other sub-committees will be founded in accordance with need.

As is already known to the inmates, the Administration of the camp wishes to cut costs by placing children between the ages of 2 and 10 with Jewish families in Osijek and other towns. Considering that the number of families who wish to receive children is sufficient, all children will be able to find shelter in those families. We ask all parents to prepare these children for transportation, and the distribution will take place from Friday through Sunday, that is, from the 12th to the 15th of this month. Envoys from individual communities will come to the camp, where they will take the children allocated to them. A list of children given over will be compiled, and the data from this list will be later entered into the card file.

Correspondence of inmates with members [words missing] is allowed through the Jewish Community Osijek. The inmates will receive cards from the camp Administration. Mail to the inmates is addressed to the Jewish Community Osijek, and will be delivered daily. Censorship of mail will be performed by the commander of the concentration camp. We ask that correspondence is limited to strictly family matters and it is, at least for now, limited to only the most necessary. Letters are not allowed at all, only open camp postcards.

Appeal to all inmates: we call on you to unconditionally obey and follow all rules, orders, and advice from the Command and Administration, as well as subcommittees. As long as we appear disciplined and obedient, the camp administration is able to fulfill its already difficult task. If, however, there are instances of disobedience, there may be direst consequences for ALL inmates. That is why we call the old and the young and the old [sic!] to take care about their behavior as well as behavior of their fellow ones. Only thus are we able to secure all needs of inmates. DISCIPLINE AND ORDER ABOVE ALL

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade
RG Number 49.007M
Date Created
December 8, 1941
Đakovo, Croatia
Đakovo, Independent State of Croatia (historical)
Document Type Letter
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