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14. 04. 1999. 16:11H

ZAGREB, April 14 (Hina) - Dragutin Skrgatic (aged 77) on Wednesday testified before the Zagreb County Court in the trial of Dinko Sakic, a commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp during World War II.

Skrgatic spent about three years at the Stara Gradiska and Jasenovac camps, from May 1942 to April 1945. He said he had heard that Dinko Sakic belonged to an Ustashi battalion which secured the Stara Gradiska camp, but did not know what he did there or what office he held. The witness did not know anything about Sakic's role at Jasenovac, because during his imprisonment Hinko Dominik Picili was the camp's commander.

The witness was arrested as an anti-fascist in early May 1942.

After some ten days, he was transferred to Jasenovac, which was at the time commanded by Ljubo Milos. On the same day, he was transferred further to Stara Gradiska, where he stayed until November 1943. He was then taken back to Jasenovac, returned to Stara Gradiska in February 1944, and in November the same year went back to Jasenovac. He escaped from Jasenovac on April 22, 1945 in a breakthrough.

"There were 1,073 inmates at that time in the camp. Six hundred of us participated in the breakthrough, of whom 70 survived", Skrgatic said adding the night before the breakthrough, the Ustashi executed about 600 women at Gradina.

Serbs, Jews and Romanies were sent to camps without previous decisions or rulings, on the basis of racial laws implemented by the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), while Croats were imprisoned because of their opposition to the regime, for political reasons. Romanies were executed immediately upon their arrival at camps, Jews worked in workshops, but were, like Serbs, executed before a camp was closed down. Croat prisoners were treated a little better, Skrgatic said.

Upon Skrgatic's arrival at Stara Gradiska, the camp commander was Mile Oreskovic and his deputy was Ante Vrban. "After those two, camp commanders were Gacic, Miroslav Majstorovic-Filipovic, Bosak and Stojcic", he added.

At Stara Gradiska, Skrgatic performed mainly construction works, tended to the park and chopped wood. At Jasenovac, he built facilities and worked on the construction of a bridge over the Sava River. "Had we been better fed, it would have been easier to work, but it was intolerable", he said adding that meals were poor and always the same.

Sanitary conditions were poor in both camps. "We had fleas, bedbugs, ticks, and were scabby", he added.

Speaking about the executions at Stara Gradiska, the witness said that after the offensive on Mt Kozara in May 1942, Lieutenant Vrban killed some 150 children with Zyklon-B. Skrgatic said he had not personally seen the event, but learned of it later from grave- diggers who buried the children.

He also recalled commander Nikola Gacic, who in 1943 ordered the imprisonment of about 30 prisoners at the "K" unit basement. "They were kept there for 26 days without food and water. Those who did not die of hunger and thirst broke out of the basement, after which the Ustashi killed them with knives and mallets", he said.

Skrgatic also remembered an Ustashi hospital, called "Hotel Gagro", the basement of which was also used for torture and executions. He heard that Pavlek Miskina was imprisoned there.

Skrgatic said he saw Andrija Hebrang at Stara Gradiska, who was later exchanged for two Ustashi officers.

"In Majstorovic's time", he continued, musters and executions were frequent. "Friar Majstorovic favoured a mystical approach to the killings", he said, adding Majstorovic often used to carry out executions by himself. He remembered when Majstorovic shot about 40 villagers to head. "After he killed them, he sat on a chair and said 'justice has been done'", Skrgatic said, adding that after those executions Majstorovic would often force Catholic believers to attend Holy Mass, which he personally conducted.

"He then used to preach about love for one's neighbour, and on Monday he would continue with the executions", Skrgatic said.

Between November 1944 and April 1945, prisoners were transported to Jasenovac in carriages. "Some of them would be executed right away, while others spent the night in the camp and were taken the next day to Gradina and executed there", the witness said adding at night the Ustashi would take about 10 prisoners for execution. In the period between November 1944 and April 1945, 400 to 500 prisoners from his barracks were taken for execution.

In February 1945, the Ustashi, led by Hinko Dominik Picili, started an operation of "hiding the traces". "They made stakes out of rail wood, at which they would throw corpses dug out at Gradina, pour oil over them and set them afire. The stench of burnt bodies would spread through Jasenovac".

After the war, Skrgatic visited the camp with a commission for war crimes. On that occasion, on a field near Kosutarica, they discovered the bodies of 200 inmates, who had been killed in the breakthrough. All buildings at the camp were destroyed and the barracks burnt. In two hospital barracks, the commission found the burnt bodies of camp inmates. In one building, the commission found the bodies of inmates who had not participated in the breakthrough. The bones of those who were incinerated by Picili were found in furnaces and the chimney of the brickworks, Skrgatic said.

The trial continues tomorrow.

This material is provided by Croatian News Agency (HINA)
HINA News Line: http://www.HINA.Hr/

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