Vjekoslav Zugaj


After the war, in 1945, Stara Gradiška camp was an important site where surviving participants of the Way of the Cross, as well as large numbers of new convicts were condemned. According to a statement by an inhabitant of the town, in addition to the prisoners inside the prison, there were many prisoners of war who were located outside the prison walls in an open-type camp. All the prisoners were forced to dig the Strug-Sava channel. Due to the very hard conditions and lack of food, quite a few prisoners died soon after their arrival and their bodies were built into the Strug channel and the earthworks surrounding the remains of what was once a fortress. There is no reliable evidence of the total number of prisoners in the prison since the prison management kept records of the prisoners using ordinal numbers. After some time, for reasons known only to the camp management, the ordinal numbers were cancelled and the next prisoner to come in prison was given the ordinal number 1. The priest, Nikola Soldo, who spent fifteen years in prison, confirmed in his statement that this procedure was used by the prison management.

The lack of documentary material and the unwillingness of the guards and management of Stara Gradiška camp to give their statements, makes the reconstruction of life in Stara Gradiška camp very difficult. Some information concerning the duties and tasks of the guards and the organisation of life of that time can be found in articles in the prison newspaper "Prosvjetnik" (Educator) that was printed and edited in the prison by order of the manager (60). The editorial of the first issue of this prison newspaper outlines the tasks and the future of the prisoners as well as the expectations of "their management". It is explained that the prisoners had been sentenced and imprisoned in accordance with the "will of the people" and that their rehabilitation would be possible if they fully accepted the newly established political system with all its values. Rehabilitation, according to the editor of this newspaper, should be achieved through untiring and devoted voluntary physical work "that should be carried out by each citizen and conscious member of the nation for the benefit of his/her national community at all times and everywhere".

The prisoners in Stara Gradiška, who were immune to these infantile and artificial slogans, received less well- meant and clearer messages: "He who does not march along in time, will be crushed without mercy..."

Other pages of the "Prosvjetnik" (Educator) are dedicated to political topecs of that time and the content can be guessed from the titles of propagandistic articles. The first page is dominated by titles such as "Trieste - our Door to the World" and "A Materialistic and Idealistic Approach to History".

After these ideological articles, the other pages are filled with cultural and amusing articles, as well as with instructions concerning the treatment of tuberculosis. Since there were no serious articles, the editor filled the blanks with short reports showing the success achieved by the Soviet Union in various areas of human activity, extolling the cradle of the Communist system. These data are comparable to probably invented data on ever-increasing criminal activity in Western European countries.

The only useful information found in this propagandistic, communist leaflet is that to do with the craft workshops that employed large numbers of prisoners. The introductory note says that these workshops were established "last summer", meaning that June-July 1945 can be identified as the beginning of work in the post-war camp.

This article was written in the spirit of the voluntary work drives popular at that time and is full of terminology reflecting super productivity and descriptions of work achievements. The author, who was apparently inspired by these ideas, started his article with an optimistic title - "We are Working - We are Competing!", although only the prisoners were forced to work and mostly in inappropriate conditions. I have decided to quote the whole article, unchanged, so as to present the descriptions of the establishment of these workshops as originally interpreted by the camp employee responsible for propaganda and the re-education of the prisoners.

"The first group of prisoners, who arrived here during last summer, started clearing up the ruins left by the Ustashas who t7ed from the advancing National Liberation Army. The industrial buildings were destroyed together with the machinery, the workshops were plundered and the residential buildings were full of blood, showing evidence of the cowardly liquidation of the prisoners of that time. After cleaning and tidying the residential buildings, the prisoners started clearing up the workshops and putting them into operation, one by one.

The description of the activities of each craft branch will be roughly outlined and later a more detailed survey will be given of each of them illustrated with some photographs.

Shoemaking Workshop

It is in full operation. The working quota has been considerably exceeded. In the last 8 months, more than 6,000 major or minor repairs of prisoners' shoes have been carried out as well as 700 orders coming from outside, also including the repairs of new shoes. All kinds of footwear are made in this workshop, from very simple ones to the most luxurious. Currently, as a part of a 1 st May competition, 1 ,000 pairs of shoes for workers are being made for the central warehouse in Zagreb. The manufacturing is organised in a chain-like manner and the remnants are used for making leat.her balls of different sizes and toe-plates.

Dressmaking Workshop

Apart from repairing prisoners' clothing, new clothes are made of the highest quality for men, women and children. Approximately 300 repairs and about 160 pieces of clothing for men, women and children are made to measure monthly. In March of the current year 3,600 pairs of underwear (pants and vests) were made for the police.

Joiner's Workshop

This workshop deals with structural and artistic carpentry. In addition to structural repairs and constructions required by the Institution, furniture of all kinds is made to order. Professional repairs of antique furniture are performed and children's toys and chess pieces as well as many other useful or decorative figures are made of remnants. Within the joiner's workshop, there is a wood carving department where very fine carvings are made for practical and decorative purposes.

Basket-Making Workshop

Baskets of all kinds are made here from willow reeds. We would like to point out our very fine and highly sought after hampers as well as many other objects of original design and shape. Large numbers of private customers and public shops are regularly supplied with the products made in this workshop.

Toolmaker's Workshop

It deals with structural and artistic activities. Apart from services required by the Institution, the workshop makes very nice objects for sale. Some craftsmen are so skilful that they are able to make with their bare hands highly precise tools required by other crafts (watchmaker's workshop and similar), to repair machines, manufacture component parts and carry out highly demanding precision mechanical tasks.

Blacksmith's Workshop

This workshop carries out repairs to the building, and a range of tools including studding of agricultural tools and wagons and shoeing horses. Considering the skill of the workers, this workshop could do a much better job if it were equipped with all the tools and iron required.

It should be noted that almost all the work is done with iron waste. Iron waste is used for forging and precisely shaping many tools for some other crafts (cooper's workshop and similar).

Tinsmith's Workshop

Almost the same could be said about this workshop as about the blacksmith's. It could do a much better job if it were properly equipped but due to the lack of tools and raw materials it is limited to carrying out repairs required by the Institution.


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