„The House of Wails“ in Uštica, where Roma females and children were imprisoned (Photo: Croatian State Archives)
Shortly after coming to power, the Ustaša authorities passed their version of racial laws that were directed against the Roma. In the summer of 1941, however, a decision was made that all Roma should be registered, ie their personal information should be collected and their lifestyle recorded. The mass and systematic persecution of Roma began after 19 May 1942, when a decision was made to round-up all Roma. From May to the end of July 1942, arrests and deportations had taken place. The final destination of the Roma was the Jasenovac camp.
Roma were brought to Jasenovac in overcrowded livestock or freight wagons. Before the deportation, they were told they were being relocated to Romania and Banat, in order not to resist. Their property was confiscated and subsequently auctioned. Upon arrival in Jasenovac, Roma were divided into two groups. Stronger, more capable Roma were separated for forced labor, while the second group consisted of women, children, sick, and infirm. Unlike other prisoners, they were not registered individually, only the number of wagons that brought them was recorded. All personal belongings, valuables, and money had to be handed over to the guards. Roma were held in the marshy and flooded part of the camp, bearing the name Camp III C (C stands for ciganski, Croatian: gypsy). It was only 30×60 meters in size, and was enclosed by barbed wire. Part of the Roma was located in the village of Uštica, in abandoned Serb houses, which were also previously enclosed by wire, but were quickly moved to Gradina village, where the most massive liquidations took place.
Those Roma who were separated for forced labor most often built an embankment, which was considered the most difficult job in the camp, or for digging pits that served as mass graves. Roma were particularly brutally treated in Jasenovac, their diet was reduced to a bowl of soup a day and most inmates did not survive for more than ten days. The surviving inmates stated that the position of Roma in Jasenovac was worse than that of Jews and Serbs because ” killing the gypsy was considered to a good deed”. According to some inmates, a special group of Roma from Lika was assigned to assist in the liquidation and burial of victims. Together with the other inmates, they formed a special group, the so-called “Group D”. The whole group was executed in early 1945.
Smaller groups of work-capable Roma were deported from Jasenovac to labor camps in Germany, where conditions were, ironically, better than in Jasenovac. Some of them even welcomed the end of the war. According to the available information, none of the Jasenovac Roma managed the same except for the few lucky ones who escaped.
In Jasenovac, Roma were tortured and killed daily, very often in brutal ways. To save on ammunition, they were most often killed with knives, sticks, and malles, which is evident from numerous skull fractures of exhumed victims from mass graves. There are 21 such mass graves in the Roma cemetery in Uštica, in which nearly 17,000 bodies have been found.
The Jasenovac Memorial Site maintains a list of 16,173 Romani victims, including 5,608 children, 5,688 men, and 4,877 women. Although this list does not represent the final death toll, it is a good indicator of the extent of suffering, not only of Roma, but of other victims, as well. When comparing the pre-war and post-war census in Croatia, it becomes apparent that “in the Independent State of Croatia, during the Second World War, proportionally the largest genocide of the Roma population was committed “.