Tito’s Starvation Camps

From the book:
“Voelkermord der Tito-Partisanen 1944-1948: Dokumentation
By Oesterreichische Historiker-Arbeitsgemeinschaft
fuer Kaernten und Steiermark, Graz 1990
Translated by Henry Fischer

Part Four

Syrmien, Slavonia, Baranya
The Cauldron

Syrmia :
When the Beasts Ruled

“Whoever cannot work will not be allowed to live”


     The German population in Syrmien  and Slavonia was scattered and isolated and lived among Croats and Serbs who formed a majority in the mixed communities in which many of them lived.  But alongside of them were large and overwhelmingly German communities, like Ruma, Indija, Pasua, Franztal, Sarwasch and Sotin and several others, while in most communities in Syrmien  and the eastern portion of the Slavonia there were large German populations.  During the Second World War, both regions were part of the Independent State of Croatia.

     The relationships between the Serbs and the Croats during the time of the so-called Independent State of Croatia were stretched to the limits.  As long as the situation permitted the German population in Syrmien sided with the Serbs in the face of actions taken against them by the Croats.  Indija is not the only example, in which the home defense forces of the German population came to the defense of the Serbs and prevented a bloodbath.  The relationships between the Germans and both the Serbs and Croats over the previous century had always been very positive.  In the past they had not intervened or become involved in the quarrels and arguments between the two groups, and let them work things out amongst themselves.  They were always friends of both, and enemies of neither.

     Throughout the war, both Syrmien and Slavonia experienced ongoing raids and stronger and stronger attacks by the Partisans directed against the Croatian and German troops.  But the Partisans did not hesitate to include the local civilian populations in the conflict.  Their bestial treatment of the innocent civilians who fell into their hands was a clear indication of what the local populations could expect if the Partisans ever came to power if there was no one to curb them and hold them back from committing ongoing atrocities.  They acted with excessive brutality of a satanic nature during the entire war, against the Serbian, Croatian and German civilian populations who did not support and stand by them, and did so with displays of gruesome bestiality.  The Serbian Royalists had to suffer as much as the Croatians and the Donauschwaben.

     Because of what they had learned and experienced during the war years, the vast majority of the ethnic German population left their homeland in the fall of 1944, knowing that they would be helpless and defenseless against the Communist Partisans and would have to face unimaginable horrors at their hands.  Just how accurate they actually were in their assessment of the situation was soon to be proven true.  From the very first days of rule by the Partisans the German population was herded together and the majority of them were immediately shot.  But these mass shootings in Syrmien and Slavonia were not the equal of some of the gruesome and greater atrocities that the later labor camp (now called starvation camps) inmates would have to suffer.

     Semlin-on-the-Danube across the river from Belgrade on the other side of the Sava, through the incorporation of surrounding villages had a very large Donauschwaben population.  Already in October of 1944 by order of the Partisan Ruling Council a concentration camp was erected there.  Several thousands of the ethnic German civilians were brought here over a brief period of time.  The vast majority came from the Batschka and the Banat.  The camp consisted of four barracks, three of which were occupied by men and one by women.  With even less daily nutrition than the slave laborers in the Batschka and the Banat, they were set at hard labor every day.  Many of them, who were too weak or sick to work, were beaten or shot to death.  One of the inmates in this camp informs us:

     “We were brought to Belgrade on ships from Pantschowa.  Our group consisted of men from various communities in the Banat:  Karlsdorf, Werschetz, Kovin, Mramorak, Franzfeld, etc.  We were taken on foot from Belgrade to Semlin.  On our way we were often beaten with rifle buts in our ribs.  Whoever could not keep up, was beaten.  Weaker men threw away their backpacks in order to keep up with the others in order to avoid being beaten or put to death.  On our way we ran into a column of wagons, which had license plates denoting various villages in the Banat.  They were loaded with furniture, household items, bedding and such heading for Belgrade, even though everywhere you turned you could read notices on walls that stated, “We do not need the belongings of strangers, nor do we want them.”   After a short period of waiting in front of a command station, we were led into the Camp Kalvaria (Calvary).  It was ten o’clock when we set foot in the camp and there and then we were driven into a barrack like cattle, in which all of us could not stand upright nor could we sit down to rest.  During that night, everything they had not already taken away from us was now confiscated.    The next day we were led to the airport to work.  While we working at the airport everything that we had managed to save and hide in our backpacks all disappeared.  All we had left was what we were wearing.  At the airport we had to remove debris, while others were taken to the docks to load or unload ships.   It often happened that entire work parties received no food or rations in spite of doing hard labor all day.  At evening we got watery bean, potato or pea soup, and 40 to 45 Decigrams of bread daily.  During the nights we had to dig ditches in two shifts.  For those who had no implements, they had to use their bare hands to carry the earth some 100 meters.  One of the shifts worked from the time they returned to the camp from working outside until midnight, and were then replaced by the other shift.  But often both shifts had to work through the night.  Whoever could no longer go on working and received a slip from the doctor, was allowed to rest for a day in the camp clinic.  Until the end of March the camp was without a doctor.  His function was carried out by a Partisan, who was in charge of the brutalization and mistreatment of the prisoners, and the shooting of prisoners, which he both organized and carried out.  He loved to be called “Doctor”, and would make the decision whether a person was sick or not.  Every few days, the sick that were in the clinic were sent to the “Hospital” in Belgrade.  They had to make their way to Belgrade on foot in the evening.  Those who were unable to go on, were helped by the others and dragged along with them as best as they could.  They were taken about 100 meters from the camp and shot there.  These actions were always under the direction of the “Doctor”.  In such actions, Martin Berger of Karlsdorf and Jakob Kuhn of Weisskirchen lost their lives.

     A Gypsy family with an eighteen-year-old son lived in close proximity to the airport.  He came and visited the airport on a daily basis, and he was allowed to choose any man from among the prisoners and beat him with a cane for as long as he wanted.  If any of the other prisoners turned around so as not to witness this brutality, he would be the next to endure a beating.  If any man hesitated, or spoke out against this punishment he was forced to kneel and place his hands behind his back and was then beaten with the rifle buts of the sentries.  On one occasion, when one man had already received several blows from the rifle buts, attempted to ward off the next blow by raising his hands against the offender.  His hands were immediately chained behind his back and later in the night and on the following day he was gruesomely mistreated and abused.  Every bone in his hands and feet were broken.  In the following night all of the prisoners were forced to assemble.  By order of the Camp commander one of the Partisans stepped forward and shot the man lying on the ground beaten, bloodied and moaning pathetically.  He was buried in the vicinity of the camp yard.

     On February 12th, a labor group of some six hundred men was assembled and force-marched in the direction of Mitrowitz.  On their way another four hundred men from Apatin who were working on the railway line from Schid-Vodjinci joined them.  They had to carry the heavy steel train tracks wherever they were required.    This meant that they carried them for at least six hundred to fifteen hundred meters.  Whoever could not keep up was shot.  The first few days, the men received absolutely nothing to eat.  A few days later they received a quarter liter of pea soup and 10 Decagrams of bread.  Everything lacked salt.  The ration was later increased later to a half-liter of pea or bean soup, and 30 to 40 Decagrams of bread, but both the peas and beans were hard and indigestible.   After a short time, all of the men had serious cases of dysentery, working in extreme heat and drinking excessively, they weakened physically to the point that it was life threatening for many of them, so that on May 16th the work assignment ended, because there were no longer even fifty men who were capable of any work.  Of the four hundred men from Apatin, three hundred and thirty-nine of them were sent back to Apatin on April 27th.  But on the next day at the railway station at Slankovici, twelve of the sick men were shot.  Among them was the sixty-year-old Michael Fraus of Zychidorf.  Of the group, who had come from the Semlin starvation camp the survivors returned to Semlin, but without one hundred and twelve of their fellow prisoners who had been either shot or beaten to death.

     On May 29th, three hundred of the men who had lost the capacity to do any further work were transferred to the internment camp at Jarek in the Batschka.  They were mostly the men who had worked on railway construction.

     In September of 1945 the camp at Semlin was closed and the inmates were all sent to Mitrotwitz.

     All of the men who had spent several months in the Semlin Camp, aged dramatically in a very short period of time, so that they were unrecognizable to their families.  Young men in a short time looked like aged men, and most of them had lost almost all of their teeth.  From Semlin and Mitrowitz only human wrecks returned, at whose sight it was apparent what they had endured.


     Before the war, there were over ten thousand Germans living in Ruma.  The community, which was located in one of the most beautiful of all of the regions of Syrmien    formed the center of the German settlement in the area.  No sooner had the Partisans set up their military government on October 25, 1944 when they began the roundup of the local ethnic German population throughout the area and began to liquidate them.  They dragged off the Donauschwaben populations from Nikintzi, Grabovtzi, Kraljevtzi, Hrtkovitzi, Ptintzi, Wrdnik and many other villages herding them to an assembly area, and not only the men, but the women and children as well.  They were all imprisoned in the Hrvatski Cathedral at first.  Then they had to undress until they were naked, and left their clothes behind and were marched out to the brickyards where ditches had been dug, and as each group arrived they were shot.  The next batch to be executed had to lie down on top of the corpses of the group just executed before them.  Those who protested or refused to co-operate were bayoneted to death and thrown into the pit.  Many were severely wounded when they were thrown in.  They were still alive and cried out and moaned as the next group lay on top of them and suffocated them.  About 2,800 Germans died in this way on the first day.  Many other Danube Swabians from the vicinity were also shot individually, stabbed or beaten to death.


     In the city of Mitrowitz located in Syrmien , there was only a small ethnic German minority that lived among the Croatian population.  But close to the city there were numerous communities, among which Danube Swabians formed the vast majority of the population, while some of the villages were entirely ethnic German.  It was here in Mitrowitz where the Partisans set up an internment camp in the local silk factory, which would become the most gruesome of all of the Partisan installations.  This was especially true in terms of the high death rate in this facility.  By the beginning of December 1945 there were at least two thousands persons interned here.  In April of 1946, only four hundred and fifty were still living.  In the first half of the month of January, there were days when twenty-four persons died of starvation.  On December 15th, sixty-nine women from Betschmann were brought to the camp in Mitrowitz.  By mid-February only eleven of them were still alive.  On January 6, 1946 there were still sixty-four women from Sektisch.  By April they had all perished except for twelve.  Of one hundred and fifty children who were still alive in November 1945, by April in 1946 they numbered less than fifty.  When the inmates of the Semlin Camp were brought to Mitrowitz in December 1945, there were seventeen men from Karlsdorf.  In March of the next year, thirteen of them had already died.  Enormous were the numbers who were shot and beaten to death by the Partisans.  Twenty alone were victims of abuse and mistreatment.  The Partisans were not prepared to wait for people to simply die on their own.  In the early evenings they were taken out of the camp to the banks of the Sava River, where they were shot and their bodies were thrown into the river.  Every time they took groups away like that they were always told they were being taken to a hospital.  The high death rate was due to the inhumane mistreatment the prisoners experienced, but above all it was the lack of nutrition.  For a long time, there was only soup twice a day with only a trace of grain.  But on Christmas Day of 1945 they were only given soup once.  There were months when they received no bread at all.  When there was bread it was only a small chunk of corn bread.  The camp was hermetically sealed at all times.

     Even in 1946, long after the war was over, the camp officials for no reason at all continued to order the death of Donauschwaben civilians in their hands.  They demonstrated special brutality in the butchering of the ethnic German physician, Dr. Franz Ehrlich and his helper the nurse known as Sister Juli in September of 1946.  Dr. Ehrlich, in his position as camp doctor had the duty to keep medical records of all of the inmates, recording their illnesses and the causes of their deaths.  He did all of this conscientiously and truthfully, and if someone died of starvation he recorded it as such, and if a Partisan beat a prisoner to death he reported it as such.  Because of this he greatly angered the camp commander who then threatened him.  He was instructed to record other illnesses as the causes of death.  But the doctor refused to do so and continued to record the truth.  In response the commander ordered that his assistant, the nurse, Sister Juli a nineteen years old from Ruma be thrown into the punishment bunker.  She was a very beautiful young woman.  During the night, the commandant went to the bunker and raped her.  At her request, Dr. Ehlers examined her the next day and he noted the crime in his medical records.  Because of that he was ordered to appear before the commandant, who asked him to change his records.  Dr. Ehrlich refused to do so.  He would not falsify the truth.  He would not lie.  Immediately following his interview, he was taken out of the camp that evening.  At the same time the young nurse, Sister Juli was also taken.  The two of them were dragged to the banks of the Sava River.  There they were tortured in frightful ways and then towards morning they were butchered with knives.  Their bodies were thrown into the Sava.  But the bodies did not float away, but remained there by the riverbank.  Their corpses had been decapitated.  Serbian civilians had witnessed this massacre.

     In the spring of 1947, the inmates of the camp were transferred to Jarek where they were housed in an old warehouse.  From among the many thousands who had been in the camp at Witrowitz only four hundred had survived.


     Vukovar was an important Croatian city with a large ethnic German minority.  The city was occupied by the Partisans on April 12,1945.  On the very same day, the Partisans arrested all of the leading personalities if the area, including the teachers Michael Paitz, Jakob Kiefer and Leonhardt Baumgartner.  The arrested men were immediately shot.  Their liquidation was announced publicly the next day to the entire population.  The next day a new series of arrests and imprisonments began.  As a result one hundred and twenty men simply disappeared.  They were shot in the former German military campground trenches.  Among the victims that day were the most important officials in the city, which included Matthias Schreckeis and the mayor, Ing. Turk.  Fathers of some of the Partisans were shot that day.  Three of them were driven on foot and forced to cross a minefield that tore them all apart with their explosions.  On the same day the plundering of homes and properties began.  Anything the Partisans wanted they took.  On one of the following days Martin Muller and Martin Hutz were publicly executed standing up against a wall and shot by a Partisan formation.  It was reported that guns had been found in their possession, one hidden in a wheelbarrow and the other buried in the garden.  In truth neither of them had any arms nor had they tried to hide them.  The finding of the guns was only a ruse.  On April 16th all of the inhabitants of the city had to report and indicate their nationality.  The intention of the registration was revealed on April 24th, when all persons who had claimed to be Danube Swabians, had to leave their homes and Vukovar that day.  A portion of those being expelled from the city were led down to the Danube and put on ships and sent to Palanka.  The group consisted of young mothers with children and old women.  From Palanka they were driven on foot to Jarek heading for the internment camp there.  The pace of the march had to be maintained by everyone or they were beaten.  One woman who could no longer go on, was beaten and shoved about by the Partisans, and fell into a ditch and broke her leg.  Without any consideration for her condition she had to come along and maintain the pace of the march.  She was helped along by some of the others.  Without counting the children, there were sixty-two persons in this group when they arrived in Jarek on May 1st.  After three and one half months only six of them were still alive.

     The second, and much larger group of the expellees from Vukovar on April 24th was taken to the Ovtschara-Puszta of Count Elz.  There were one hundred and sixty persons in this group.  At the end of May they were driven on foot to Jarek.

     A third group of those expelled on April 24th were taken to the Czech College on the Danube.  Not counting the children, there were some two hundred persons.  They would be the third group to be sent to Jarek later.

     Another group made up of able-bodied women and men were assembled and were taken to Mitrowitz and Schid to work on railway construction.  They numbered two hundred persons.  After some time, almost worked to death and unable to work any further they were also brought to Jarek.  But the vast majority of them had succumbed and become victims while they were in Mitrowitz.  Only a few individuals survived and came to Jarek.  Of four brothers who had been sent to Mitrowitz only one came to Jarek and he died four days after his arrival. 

     On August 7th another sixty-two persons in Vukovar were driven out of their homes.  They were individuals who had claimed to be Croatians, even though they had German names.  About forty of them were brought to Jarek, and twenty were sent to Valpovo.  Only a few of them from Valpovo arrived in Jarek the next year.  Again in November another forty persons were taken to Valpovo.  From among them only a few individuals were able to survive.

     On January 4th an additional sixty persons were driven out of their homes and were driven to Valpovo.  Among them was the 76-year-old Elisabeth Kleiber the benefactress of the community.  Years before she had established a large children’s’ orphanage at her own expense and continued to support and maintain it.  At the time she was expelled she was living in the orphanage and had entrusted all of her estate to its future.  This kind and generous woman, the friend of the poor, was dragged off to Valpovo, where she would die.  When the camp at Jarek was closed and the survivors were sent on to the camp at Kruschevlje, of the hundreds of Donauschwaben from Vukovar who had been brought to Jarek, only twelve persons were among them.  All of the others had perished.



     Esseg (Osijek) is the capital city of Slavonia, it is an old military fortress city, and since the expulsion of the Turks had a large ethnic German population.  With the passage of time there was a gradual assimilation of the Donauschwaben with the Croatian population, but there was ongoing ethnic German influence on the life of the city.  But the large increase in the Croatian population also played a major role in lessening the Donauschwaben influence on Esseg.  In the previous decades an important ethnic German Catholic weekly newspaper, “Christliche Volkszeitung” had wide circulation both in Syrmien and Slavonia as well as the Batschka.  A much larger Danube Swabian population could be found in the vicinity, among which were some purely Donauschwaben villages and communities.  After the evacuation of the German troops from the area only a small proportion of the Danube Swabian population in the area remained behind.  But there was actually one transport that was retrieved by the Partisans in Austria and brought back to Yugoslavia.  The minority, who remained behind, still amounted to thousands and ended up in the camps at Valpovo and Josipowatz.  The total number of inmates at the Josipowatz camp began with four thousand persons, mostly women and children.  The youth of the children rich ethnic German families in Slavonia was totally annihilated.  Hunger and accompanying diseases made quick work of them.


      The largest internment camp in Yugoslavia by far was in Valpovo.  There was a small Donauschwaben population in Esseg along the Danube, where it was almost submerged with the much larger Croatian population among whom they lived.

     The ethnic German population of Esseg and its vicinity, who had not been consigned to slave labor in Josipowatz, were expelled from their homes in May of 1945 and brought to Valpovo.  The number of inmates in the camp at the time was in the neighborhood of some five thousand.  In the summer of 1945 and frightful typhus epidemic broke out in the camp, and claimed some three thousand victims.  In May of 1946 some of the inmates of the camp were brought to Esseg to stand on trail before the Peoples’ Court and were condemned to prison at Lepoglava for several years, and a smaller number were released.  About eight hundred persons were transferred to Rudolfsgnad and the camp in Valpovo was closed.

     Like all of the camps in Slavonia, this camp was not exclusively an internment camp. It involved a large number of able-bodied workers, who made up at least half of the inmates and who served as slave labor.  As it was true throughout Slavonia, their methods here were brutal, but there was far less in the way of shootings and torture.  Here the objective was the quick death of thousands of persons through hunger to assure there could be no resistance, and make them susceptible to a host of fatal diseases.  The Partisan sentries adhered to the code, “Don’t murder any.  Just leave it to the cauldron to do the work for us.”  After May of 1945 the countless and often daily and weeklong detention in punishment cells, along with torture and abuse no longer took place.  There was only one case where a man was shot in the back of the neck for having left the camp and gone begging for food in the neighboring village.

     Nutrition consisted of a breakfast, consisting of tea brewed from various kinds of leaves.  There was no sugar.  For lunch there was soup, in which you hoped to find potato peelings or the pods from which beans were taken.  Otherwise it was clear water without lard or salt.  There was bread twice a day, about 15 Dekagrams.  It was baked out of barely or oats.  For shelter there were barracks, without windows, without heat, and without light.  Lice and fleas and other insects were everywhere among the three hundred inmates in each barrack.  They were also the cause of many of the illnesses and epidemics, which followed and affected all of the inmates at one point or another.  Only after the inmates arrived from the city was there any effort made to control the lice and fleas, without any concern about those who were already ill.

     Valpovo, Semlin, Mitrowitz and Jarek were millstones whose task was to grind to death as many of the people as possible.  Once you were caught in it, few would be able to come out of it alive.  This quartet made complete and quick work of its victims.


    Only a few Donauschwaben lived in the Episcopal city Djakovo.  But in its surrounding territory there were a large ethnic German population.  The evacuation of the scattered Donauschwaben populations in Slavonia had been a difficult undertaking.  It is no wonder that in the area around Djakovo there were large numbers of ethnic Germans who had remained behind.  They were all taken to Krndija.  From among all of the camps in Slavonia this one earned its reputation for brutality.  Thousands of people were here on the shortest way to death, through hunger and disease.  From among almost four thousand inmates, after a short period of time, only eighteen hundred remained.


     Even in central Croatia, the Partisans established their extermination camps for the Germans.  In Pisanitza by Bjelovar they held thousands of them in a concentration camp.  The inmates came from Croatia, Slavonia and Syrmien.  Most of them had been evacuated but after the war was over they had returned home.  Among them were also families from the Wojwodina (Batschka).  On arriving in Agram (Zagreb), everything they had was taken away from them.  They had been given provisions and food from UNRRA and other relief organizations for their journey “home”.  This was all booty from the point of view of the Partisans who were only too happy to take it.  The treatment of the people in Pisanitza was such that one thousand persons died of hunger or its consequences.  In September of 1945 all young women and girls were ordered to report for assembly.  They had to submit themselves to an examination by the Partisans to determine whether they were carriers of sexually transmitted diseases and in the process sexually abused many of them.



     The small portion of Baranya that was at first part of the Wojwodina, was annexed to Croatia in the spring of 1945.  In the fall of 1944, the Partisans allied with the Red Army had gone far beyond the Yugoslavian border and had taken not only the Hungarian part of the Batschka as far as Baja, but also the Hungarian County of Baranya up to Pecs.  While they co-operated with the Red Army in the rounding up of the able bodied among the ethnic German population for slave labor in Russia in the Hungarian Batschka, in the Baranya the Partisans began with the arrests and internment of Donauschwaben civilians in concentration and slave labor camps.  This herding of the ethnic German population into camps in the Baranya resulted mostly after they had finished working on fortifying defensive positions for the Russian army, which had involved some 14,000 laborers from the Batschka.  Those from the Baranya, both men and women in these brigades were not released, but interned in slave labor camps in the Batschka, overwhelmingly in Sombor.  Those who were not fit for work from among the German population from the vicinity of Bezdan on the other side of the Danube and the German villages and mixed villages in its vicinity were all taken to Gakovo.  In the Baranya the Hungarian assimilation process had been most effective and many of the families involved no longer spoke German and considered themselves to be Hungarians with German names.  The vast majority of the ethnic German populations of Baranya were taken to the camp at Belmonoschtor (Beli Manastir).  There in its vicinity, close to Grabowatz, in the spring of 1945, thirty-six German persons, both men and women, who were too sick to work, were shot.

     In Belmonoschtor itself the Partisans carried out a reign of terror from the point that they set up their military government there.  Countless German men, mostly intellectuals, including the local priest, Theodor Klein, the mayor Johann Seller, the innkeeper Franz Gunter, the merchant Wittmayer and his father-in-law Jakob Binder were all shot and were buried out in the fields.  They cut off pieces of Father Klein’s body while he was still alive and rubbed salt in his wounds.  They left him lying there in pain until he finally died.  The camp in Belmonoschtor was closed in the fall of 1946. The surviving inmates were transferred to Tenje by Esseg.  On January 20th the camp in Tenje was also closed and the rest of the survivors were sent to Rudolfsgnad.

End of Part Four