Krndija’s Starvation Camp

1945 – 1946

By Vladimir Geiger

ISBN 978-953-6324-67-5 And 978-953-6659-40-1


By Rosina T. Schmidt


Up to the end of WWII most of the Croatian ethnic German population (Danube Swabians) fled their homes and homeland due to the raging of the war mostly to Austria and Germany but also to Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary and Italy where they waited for the war to end. Only those Danube Swabians stayed in their homelands back that were not directly exposed to the dangers of the war.

The expulsion by the Partisans and the newly established ‘peoples government’ of the rest of the Danube Swabians in Yugoslavia and Croatia started towards the end of 1944 and the beginning of 1945.  The decision to ascribe the collective guilt on ethnic German minority was influenced and implemented by the ’ Presidium of the anti-fascist Council of the People’s Liberation of Yugoslavia’ (Antifašističko vijeće Narodnog Oslobodjenja Jugoslavije – AVNOJ) on 21st of November 1944. Those Yugoslavian ethnic Germans who did not seek refugee outside of the country were exposed to the despotism of the victors towards the end and after the war.

After the Second World War the communist authorities deprived the ethnic German minority of their national and civic rights. Only those Yugoslavian ethnic German people were exempt of the collective revenge, which could prove that they actively participated in the guerilla movement.

The communist Yugoslavian government no longer regarded its ethnic German population as citizen of Yugoslavia no matter if they fled or were expulsed. Those authorities prohibited the return of the ethnic German refugees to their homeland and had the intention to throw out the remaining members of the ethnic German minority. Through the expulsion and the confiscation of the ethnic German property the Yugoslavian communist authorities had a simple way to radically change the ownership situation and the ethnicity picture in the country.

After the takeover of the power the ethnic Germans were arrested in certain localities and thrown into camps, by the order of ‘Department for the Protection of the People’ (Odjeljenje za saštitu naroda – OZN-a) and by the ‘corps of the Yugoslavian People’s Defense’ (Narodne obrane corpus Jugoslavije – KNOJ) where from they were to be expelled from Yugoslavia. One part of the Yugoslavian ethnic Germans, and of course the Croatian, was expelled to Austria immediately.

Since the Yugoslavian-Austrian, Yugoslavian-Italian and Yugoslavian-Hungarian borders were closed in mid-July 1945 by the Allied occupation forces, the expulsion of the ethnic German minority from Yugoslavia was no longer possible, and the only options for the most of the Yugoslavian ethnic Germans remained the concentration camps and forced labor camps.

Between late 1944 and early 1948 about 170,000 Yugoslavian ethnic Germans were interned into the camps from about 195,000 still living in the country. Documents confirm that whole ethnic German families were sent to camps, including elderly people, women with children irrespective of their age.

The internees were at first used as workers outside of the camps, for example working on road construction and for some seasonal agriculture work. Soon however they were used systematically in an organized way on the large agricultural estates and at diverse manufacturing companies. Farmers from the neighboring villages ‘borrowed’ the internees from the camps to work in a variety of agricultural labour; therefore in effect they were ‘rented out’ by the camp’s administration as long as they received the money for it.

Considering the living conditions in the camps, the work outside of the camp in most cases improved the survival of the internees. According to the statements or recollections of the internees, many of the farmers, Croats, Serbs and other nationalities had a great deal of sympathy for the internees and provided them assistance in clothing and food. The living conditions in the camps were more than inadequate, especially concerning hygiene and food supplies. Countless internees became ill and died. Especially during the fall and winter of 1945 the typhoid epidemic raged throughout all the Croatian/Yugoslavian concentration camps on a frightening scale.

The desperate fate of the internees were influenced not only through unfavorable living accommodation but also by very poor nutrition, inadequate sanitation, lack of medication and medical assistance, as well as from various diseases and exhausting forced labour, to which the internees were not accustomed. Only by the end of March or April of 1946 was the typhoid fever in the internment camps controlled, after the appropriate measures have been undertaken. Even if the living conditions in the camps were somewhat normalized, the life in the camps was hardly bearable. Most of the death causes in the camps were typhoid fever and dysentery, old age weakness, fatigue, coldness and hunger. Extermination was not undertaken on the grand scale or was numerous, but there have been too much ill treatments as well as killings. From all the information provided around 50,000 to 60,000 ethnic Germans were killed in the Yugoslavian concentration camps.

In the postwar period the communist Yugoslavian authorities made no age or gender differences when it came to the ethnic German population. The fate and the situation of the ethnic German people depended in some cases on their age, physical strength and health, but also on the good or bad mood of those who had the power over them and over their destiny.

At least some 10,000 to 18,000 of about 20,000 Croatian ethnic German people remained in the summer of 1945 in the internment camps after the Yugoslavian-Austrian border was sealed off and none of the displaced persons from Yugoslavia were admitted to Austria. At that time a significant number of Croatian ethnic Germans, who did not consider themselves ethnic German or declared themselves as such, were interned in the Croatian camps because of their ethnicity and their last names. The largest internment camps for the members of ethnic German minority in Croatia between May 1945 and January 1947, according to all sources, were Josipovac near Osijek, Valpovo, Velika Pisanica near Bjelovar, Krndija at Đakovo, Šipovac at Našice, Pusta Podunavlje in the Baranya and Tenja/Tenjska Mitnica near Osijek.

In May of 1945 the first major collection/concentration camps were established in Josipovac near Osijek and Valpovo, for the ethnic Germans from Slavonia, Syrmien and Baranya particularly, but also for the ethnic Germans from Bosanska Posavina (Bosnia). The first groups of ethnic German people were first interned in Jisipovac. More than 3,000 people were interned in May of 1945 in this camp mostly elderly, women and children.

The transports with the ethnic German people were sent to Austria from Slavonia and from Bosanska Posavina at the beginning of July 1945 as well as from the Josipovac and Valpovo camps. In the overcrowded train cattle cars there was not enough food and water so that most of the transported ethnic Germans became sick and some did not survive the trip of a few days at all. On 8th of July 1945 a train transport with 3,000 internees was sent out of the Josipovac concentration camp and none of the transported knew its destination. After the long, exhausting journey the interned ethnic German people were kept in Leibnitz in Austria for two days in sealed cattle cars, and eventually their armed escort expelled them from the wagons and just left them there. Two days later, on the 10th of July 1945 the Josipovac collection camp was dissolved and the small number of internees still there was moved to the nearby Valpovo labour camp.

On 22nd of July 1945 about 1,800 ethnic German people were transported from Valpovo concentration camp in train cattle cars to Austria. Since the British occupation authorities in Austria did not want to absorb hose internees this shipment was sent back from the Yugoslavian-Austrian boarder, and moved aimlessly for a few days until the journey ended at the concentration camp of Velika Pisanica next to Bjelovar. The same fate suffered in July of 1945 another two shipments of the ethnic German people who were sent to the Austrian boarder.

As per confirmed estimation in these rejected transports were about 5,000 to 6,000 people, mostly elderly, women and children. After a short stay in Velika Pisanica the ethnic German internees were transported as of beginning of August until 10th of August 1945 to other internment camps in the eastern part of Croatia (Valpovo and Krndija concentration camps). It prolonged the suffering of the ethnic German people from Slavonia, Syrmien, from Baranya and Bosanska Posavina, who were part of these transports.

The best example of the fate of the Croatian ethnic German population is the village of Krndija in Slavonia, four kilometers northwest of Punitovci (county of Đakovo area). The previously predominantly ethnic German settlement, which since its inception in the year 1882/1883 expanded rapidly, disappeared almost over night: at the end of October 1944 its population moved out or fled ahead of the danger and the Krndija village was transformed by the Yugoslavian communist administration into a internment camp in Croatia for the ethnic German population after the Second World War. Between August 1945 and May 1946 the ethnic German village Krndija near Đakovo (Djakovo) was one of the largest internment camps for the remainder of the ethnic German population in Croatia and Yugoslavia.

At first a prisoner of war camp was established in Krndija (German and Croat soldiers) and for Croatia’s political prisoners. The internment camp Krndija was converted into an internment camp for the ethnic German people, therefore for the remainder of the ethnic German population from Slavonia and Syrmien, from western parts of Croatia and from Bosanska Posavina only when on the 15th of August the interned ethnic Germans from Velika Pisanica were transported to there. The internees were supposed to fence the camp with barbed wire themselves. Other ethnic German internees arrived into camp Krndija later also.

The first commander of the camp was Ivan Tomljenović and later Milan Komlenović took over this function. The members of KNOJ choose the camp administration leaders and camp commander, of whom four were women, and according to the statements and recollections of the internees they were more cruel than most. The internees were picked up by the farmers of the neighboring villages and used as workers for a variety of fieldwork, respectively they were ‘hired’ for a verity of jobs and the camp administration received payment for it. According to the statements/recollections of the internees many farmers showed understanding towards their plight and gave them assistance in food and clothing. Similar as in other camps the hard lot of the internees was influenced by the dismal accommodation conditions, but also by the very poor nutrition, poor hygiene, lack of medication and medical assistance, and various diseases and strenuous forced labour to which the internees were not accustomed.

Most of the internees died from disease, especially typhoid fever, as well as from fatigue, hunger and cold. In winter 1945/1946, especially in January 1946, an epidemic of typhoid fever broke out in the camp, which soon spread alarmingly. By the end of March or early April 1946 the typhoid fever was under control after correct measures were undertaken. Outright killings and executions in Krndija camp were extremely rare, even though there were some cases, which could not be overseen. The deceased internees were buried at the village cemetery, many without any grave headstones or inscriptions.

As per the report of the Interior Ministry of the People’s Government of Croatia in the camp of Krndija in October of 1945 were some 3,500 internees kept, mostly elderly, women and children, who were used for different forced labour work. It is estimated that in the Krndija camp approximately 3,500 to 4,000 people were imprisoned during a its existence and that about 500 to 1500 of them died in the camp, mostly from starvation, dysentery and typhoid fever.   Up to this date at least 337 persons who died in the camp were identified from various historical sources and most of them were elderly, women and children.

Krndija internment camp was dissolved in May of 1946. Those internees, who were not released, were sent until the end of May 1946 to other camps (Podunalvje in Baranya, Tenja/Tenjska Mitnica near Osijek, to Gakovo, Bačka and to Knićanin/Rudolfsgnad in the Banat. They were sent as internees from those camps to others to forced labour. A significant number of former internees continued to work in agriculture as well as in different companies in Slavonia even after the dissolution of the Krndija concentration camp.

Most of the Croatian ethnic German population, but also those from other Yugoslavian republics, emigrated after their release from the concentration camps as soon as the Yugoslavian borders were somewhat opened, especially in the 50’s of the 20th Century to Austria and Germany. They were forced to this step, because of their ethnicity they were deprived of almost all of their rights.

Not until the 1st of November 1997 was the first commemoration performed in Krndija for the victims of the Krndija’s concentration camp years 1945/1946. On the part of Krndija’s cemetery where the internees from the camp were buried, a memorial to all the victims of the camp from the years 1945/1946 was placed on 7th of October 1999 with the incretion in the Croatian and German language:

“U počast i spomen Podunavskim Nijemcima žrtvama zatočeničkog logora Krndija 1945/1946”

“In commemoration of the honorific Swabian victims in extermination camps Krndija 1945 / 1946 “