For years, and perhaps centuries, the Sava River and the Una River flowed through the plains and made their way through the hills and valleys. The Sava River connects Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Serbia; while the Una River flows through Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Both rivers are characterized by the extraordinary beauty of the landscape and the vibrant eco-system. The streams formed an inlet which is located on the border of Croatia with Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the town of Jasenovac. It is here, at the Jasenovac Memorial Site, that we remember the past, at the Stone Flower.
Jasenovac is a settlement belonging to the County of Sisak-Moslavina, 109 kilometers southeast of Zagreb, on the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina. Today, about 2000 inhabitants live in Jasenovac. It is the site of the First Category Area of Special State Concern in Croatia. Nearby is Lonjsko Polje, the largest wetland in Croatia. The Sava River hugs the city on three sides, and the Una River, Sava's tributary, only makes this landscape more beautiful. Jasenovac is a place that has remained in the thoughts of people in the Balkans, and throughout Europe, since World War II. Mainly, Jasenovac is the site of what was once the largest concentration camp in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Together with Donja Gradina in Bosnia and Herzegovina, they were Europe's most immense concentration camps during World War II.
The Jasenovac concentration camp was the site of the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Roma, Croats, and Muslims. All those who didn't fit the standards of the then fascist authorities that led the Independent State of Croatia (which at that time was the puppet state of Nazi Germany) ended up here. The concentration camp existed from 1941 to 1945. At the very end of the war, this death camp was blown up, burned, and forever destroyed. So today, none of the camp buildings are preserved. The only memory of this execution site is a stone flower, a monument which its artist, Bogdan Bogdanovic, describes as:
A sign of eternal renewal - an edifice as a superstructure facing two ways - with a crypt looking toward the victims, in which its roots and crown are planted; and a kind of inversed cupola - looking towards the light and the sun, towards life and freedom…
The Stone Flower monument was officially inaugurated on July 1966, when a long path leading to it was erected. This pathway leads to the Stone Flower itself, which is made out of railway boards, the same boards over which trains used to take prisoners to the concentration camp for four years. The memorial center was opened in 1968 not far from the original site of Camp III (Brickworks) and is open for visitors today. In addition to the Memorial Museum, visitors can also access an education center.
Jasenovac, like many concentration camp memorial sites in Europe and the world, is a place that makes us wonder about our future, at the Stone Flower. The past has been painful, full of suffering and difficulties, and it is up to us to remember and make sure that no one ever repeats this kind of thing here or anywhere in the world. Jasenovac and its victims are a symbol of suffering and pain, but also the symbol of the freedom that eventually came, at the confluence of two beautiful rivers in the plain.
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