Dinko Šakić

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Dinko Šakić
Birth name Dinko Ljubomir Šakić
Nickname(s) Ljubo
Born (1921-09-08)8 September 1921
Studenci, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
Died 20 July 2008(2008-07-20) (aged 86)
Zagreb, Croatia
Allegiance  Independent State of Croatia
Service/branch Ustaše Supervisory Service (UNS)
Years of service 1941–1945
Commands held Jasenovac concentration camp
Battles/wars World War II in Yugoslavia
Spouse(s) Nada Luburić (1943–2008; his death)

Dinko Šakić (8 September 1921 – 20 July 2008) was a Croatian fascist leader who commanded the Jasenovac concentration camp in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) from April to November 1944, during World War II. Born in the village of Studenci, near the town of Ljubuški in what was then the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, he became a member of the fascist Ustaše at a young age. When the Axis powers occupied the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April 1941, Šakić joined the administration in Jasenovac. He became the camp's assistant commander the following year, and married Nada Luburić, the half-sister of concentration camp commander Vjekoslav Luburić, in 1943. This marriage, as well as his fanatic support for Ustaše leader Ante Pavelić, led to Šakić's appointment as commander of Jasenovac in April 1944. An estimated 2,000 people were killed under his command.

In 1945, Šakić and his wife fled the Independent State of Croata alongside other Ustaše officials following the collapse of the NDH and Nazi Germany. They emigrated to Argentina in 1947, where Šakić started a textile business, was an active member of the country's 10,000-strong Croat community, and became friends with Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner. He lived an otherwise quiet life and made no effort to hide his identity. In 1990, the Feral Tribune interviewed Šakić for a magazine article and published his picture. Šakić met Croatian leader Franjo Tuđman at a reception in Buenos Aires during his visit to Argentina in 1994 and was interviewed by a Croatian publication called Magazin soon afterwards. He stated in the interview that he wished more Serbs had been killed in Jasenovac, saying that he would "do it all again". He added that he "slept like a baby".

In March 1998, Šakić was interviewed by Argentine national television. He admitted to being in a leadership position at Jasenovac from but denied that anyone had been killed there during this time, claiming that all of those who perished had died due to disease. The interview was broadcast across the nation the following month. It caused an uproar and caused Argentine president Carlos Menem to call for Šakić's arrest. Šakić disappeared soon after and was not arrested until May 1998. He was extradited to Croatia, where he was tried, found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity in October 1998 and sentenced to twenty years in prison. He called the charges politically motivated and described himself as a Croatian patriot who only wanted to defend his country. Šakić was imprisoned in Lepoglava prison and kept in a cell that came equipped with a television set and a computer for him to write his memoirs. He was allowed to visit his wife, who had been placed in a home for the elderly, several times a month. He died of heart problems in a Zagreb hospital on 20 July 2008 and was later cremated in full Ustaše uniform. He was survived by his wife and three children.

Early life[edit]

Voice of America pronunciation of Dinko Šakić

Dinko Ljubomir Šakić was born in the village of Studenci, near the town of Ljubuški in what was then the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes on 8 September 1921. He finished his education at the high school level.[1] He became a committed member of the Croatian fascist movement known as the Ustaše at a very young age.[2]

Jasenovac[edit]

In April 1941, Axis forces invaded and occupied Yugoslavia. The country was dismembered, with the extreme Croat nationalist and fascist Ante Pavelić, who had been in exile in Benito Mussolini's Italy, being appointed Poglavnik (leader) of an Ustaše-led Croatian state – the Independent State of Croatia (often called the NDH, from the Croatian: Nezavisna Država Hrvatska).[3] The NDH combined almost all of modern-day Croatia, all of modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina and parts of modern-day Serbia into an "Italian-German quasi-protectorate."[4] NDH authorities, led by the Ustaše militia,[5] subsequently implemented genocidal policies against the Serb, Jewish and Romani population living within the borders of the new state.[6]

Šakić joined the administration of the Jasenovac concentration camp in 1941. The following year he was appointed its assistant commander.[2] Here, he became the protégé of concentration camp commander Vjekoslav Luburić.[1] According to witness testimony, Šakić murdered Mihovil Pavlek Miškina, one of the finest Croatian poets of the time, in June 1942. That summer, Šakić is alleged to have personally directed an exhausted pipe into a van filled with women and children at the Stara Gradiška concentration camp, killing the people inside.[7]

In 1943 Šakić married Nada, Luburić's half-sister who began working at Jasenovac at age 16.[1] Šakić became the commander of the Jasenovac concentration camp at the age of twenty-two in April 1944, his rapid rise through the ranks of the Ustaše coming partly as a result of his fanatic support for Pavelić's regime and partly due to his marriage to Nada.[2] Jasenovac survivor Sime Klaić recalled: "Šakić was very young for such an important position. He was arrogant and always impeccably dressed in polished black leather boots and a tailored black Ustaše uniform. We were emaciated, in rags and sick. He would stride past us looking as if he had stepped out of a fashion magazine".[7]

In June 1944, Šakić ordered reprisals be carried out against prisoners following the escape of an inmate named Ivan Wollner, who was captured in Hrvatska Dubica and beaten to death by the Ustaše soon after his escape. Šakić personally selected twenty-five Jewish inmates from a group of 100 prisoners who had lived in the same barracks as Wollner. These were taken to a building called the "Zvonara", where they were put in solitary confinement, starved and tortured.[8]

Šakić took part in the torture of Remzija Rebac, who, along with Dr. Milan Bošković, led a group of twenty internees that organized an uprising and stole corn. Rebac was tortured with a flamethrower.[9] Šakić ordered the group executed by hanging during a camp "public performance" on 21 September 1944. Facing death, Bošković asked to be shot in the head instead of being hanged. Šakić agreed and, prior to shooting him, is reported to have said that he valued Bošković "as a man and expert and that he should feel honoured to have the camp's commander personally kill him".[10]

Šakić ordered the hanging of Dr. Marin Jurcev, the manager of the hospital in Jasenovac, who aided an Ustaše defector in smuggling information about the camp to the Yugoslav Partisans. Jurcev, his wife, and three internees held in the village of Jasenovac were executed.[8] Mrs. Jurcev had to be pulled to the scaffold by her hair since she fell off three times. Šakić sat and ate red beet and fried schnitzel while watching the hanged bodies with Croatian Interior Minister Andrija Artuković.[11] Food quality in Jasenovac deteriorated after these executions.[12]

Šakić is reported to have personally taken part in the killing and torture of inmates.[2] Eyewitnesses stated that he shot prisoners numerous times, often killing for sport those who were sent to work in the fields surrounding Jasenovac. Seeking to prevent the spread of typhoid, malaria and diphtheria, Šakić detained inmates who he deemed to be unhealthy – ordering that they be killed inside a house that he called "the hospital". On another occasion, Šakić ordered for two or three inmates to be locked inside a room until they died from thirst and starvation. In the fall of 1944, an American bomber crashed near the camp after conducting a raid over Hungary. Three airmen parachuted from it and landed by the Sava River. Šakić had the three captured, beaten and paraded through Jasenovac. The men were tortured for three days before Šakić ordered that they be bayoneted to death and their bodies dumped in a mass grave.[7] During the six months he was in charge of Jasenovac, at least 2,000 inmates were killed. Many others died due to malnutrition or disease.[2]

Exile[edit]

"He is the most notorious living Nazi war criminal not in custody."

— George Spectre, associate director of the B'nai B'rith center for public policy, in April 1998.[1]

With the end of the war, Šakić fled Croatia alongside Pavelić and other Ustaše leaders—many of whom came to Argentina and were welcomed by Argentine leader Juan Perón.[2] Šakić and his wife first found refuge in Francoist Spain, before settling in Argentina in 1947.[13] Šakić's wife changed her name to Esperanza.[7] The two settled in the coastal town of Santa Teresita,[14] where Šakić ran a textile business and was an active member of the country's 10,000-strong Croat community.[1] Šakić and his wife had three children, and arranged for Pavelić to be their godfather. In 1956, the Šakić family fled Argentina following the fall of Juan Perón's government. They went back to Spain before returning to Argentina three years later.[15]

Šakić was a friend of Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner, for whom he operated a "rest camp" for Croatian fascists in Paraguay.[1] He lived an otherwise quiet life and engaged in Ustaše émigré politics.[2] He did not hide his identity and did not make an effort to change his name.[1] In 1990, the Feral Tribune interviewed Šakić for a magazine article and published his picture. The interview saw Šakić admonish the Serbs and praise the Ustaše.[1] Later that year, he attended what the Chicago Tribune termed a "reunion of former Nazis" in Austria.[16] Šakić met Croatian leader Franjo Tuđman at a reception in Buenos Aires during his visit to Argentina in 1994.[16] Afterwards, Šakić was interviewed by a Croatian publication called Magazin. He stated in the interview that he wished more Serbs had been killed in Jasenovac, saying that he would "do it all again". He added that he "slept like a baby".[1]

In March 1998, Šakić was interviewed by Argentine national television.[14] The full interview was broadcast on El Trece on 6 April.[17] In it, Šakić admitted to being in a leadership position at Jasenovac from December 1942 to October 1944 but denied that anyone had been killed during this time. He said: "When I was there no guard or administrator was allowed to so much as touch a prisoner. I'm not speaking about what it was like before or afterward, but when I was there no one could touch anyone".[18] Šakić claimed that all the deaths that occurred during his command came as a result of natural causes. The interview caused a public uproar, with Argentine president Carlos Menem calling for Šakić's arrest a day after the broadcast.[17] Šakić disappeared soon afterwards. His wife claimed that he had left to seek refuge in the Croatian Embassy in Buenos Aires, which the embassy denied. She stated that her husband had not committed acts of genocide in Jasenovac, saying: "It's such a huge lie. I am distraught. After fifty years, they come up with an atrocious thing like this".[18] Dinko Šakić was arrested on 1 May.[19]

Trial and imprisonment[edit]

The Lepoglava prison, where Šakić served his sentence.

Šakić was one of the most important figures from World War II who was still alive at the time of his trial.[7] He was the last known living commander of a World War II concentration camp.[20] Šakić defended himself by claiming that Jasenovac was a Serb-Communist myth which was "created to destroy Croats".[21] He showed no remorse and stated that Jasenovac was not an extermination camp but a work camp designed to hold the enemies of the NDH, whom he claimed were treated in a kind and benevolent manner. He also claimed that no killings had occurred during his command. He maintained that the camp was organized to hold those complicit in the "Serbian genocidal policies" that he claimed were implemented against the Croats from 1919 until 1941. Šakić stated that his conscience was clear before God and that he would do what he had done in Jasenovac again if the "biological existence" of Croats were threatened once more. He acknowledged that Jews and Romanis were detained because of their ethnicity but stated that Serbs and others were held because they were enemies of the state who supposedly wanted to destroy Croatia. Šakić claimed that the establishment of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Wars were evidence of Serbs having planned and carried out a genocide against Croats.[22] Šakić called the proceedings politically motivated and described himself as a Croatian patriot who only wanted to defend his country. He said Croatia had come under international pressure over its World War II history.[20]

The ensuing trial saw more than forty witnesses testify against Šakić. His defence lawyers asked that he be acquitted; they claimed that the prosecution had failed to prove his guilt and stated that Šakić was merely listening to orders while serving at the camp. On 4 October 1998,[20] Šakić was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced to twenty years in prison.[23] Šakić applauded mockingly as the guilty verdict was read out to him.[24] The presiding judge confirmed that Šakić had personally shot prisoners and had overseen the hanging of at least twenty inmates. He pointed out that at least four witnesses testified to having seen Šakić empty his pistol into the head of Milan Bošković in September 1944.[20]

Šakić served his sentence in Lepoglava prison. His cell came equipped with a television set and a computer for him to write his memoirs. He was allowed to visit his wife, who had been placed in a home for the elderly, several times a month.[25]

Death[edit]

Šakić suffered from heart problems throughout his imprisonment and spent most of his later years in hospital.[2] He died of heart problems in a Zagreb hospital on 20 July 2008[13] and was cremated in full Ustaše uniform.[26] He was survived by his wife and three children.[1] The clergyman who presided over his funeral, Vjekoslav Lasić, stated that "the court that convicted Dinko Šakić convicted Croatia and the Croatian nation". He claimed that "the NDH is the foundation of the modern Croatian homeland" and eulogized Šakić by saying that "every honourable Croat should be proud of [his] name".[27] Šakić's funeral was attended by several Croatian right-wing politicians, including Anto Kovačević. Simon Wiesenthal Center director Efraim Zuroff complained to Croatian president Stjepan Mesić about Šakić's funeral,[28] as did the Israeli ambassador to Croatia.[26]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Šakić is featured on the Military Channel's show "Nazi Collaborators", episode "Beast of the Balkans".[29]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]