Everyone is Guilty
Where everybody is guilty, no one is. — Hannah Arendt
The two women in the photo are breathtakingly lovely. Their clear skin and perfect hair frame faces with smiles that reach through their eyes. They are happy women.
The two women in the photo, Maja Buždon and Nada Šakić, may have been happy, but it was the sort of happiness that horrifies the world. They were happy being female guards at the notorious World War II concentration camp Jasenovac.
Run by the Ustaša within the Independent State of Croatia, there were very few women in such roles compared to men. There were 28 women employed at Jasenovac, however, the largest extermination camp in South East Europe.
Jasenovac featured a brick factory, a women’s camp, and – alone of all concentration camps under the Nazis – a camp for children.
The brutality of Jasenovac is legendary. Almost no one survived their time there. Rather than a cruel precision, inmate deaths were meted out as a part of killing contests using specially designed tools to cut the throats and stomachs of, often random, inmates. No water was provided to those held there; but while Jasenovac lies on the Sava and Una rivers, the rivers were clogged solid with the decaying bodies of the dead. This was the only water available.
After the war, testimony quickly made it clear that the women employed at the camp were often as brutal, if not more so, than the men. Three guards in particular,Maja Buždon, Nada Šakić, and Božica Obradović, more than any others.
A British Jew, Paulina Weiss, who was held at Jasenovac testified after the war, “Maja Buždon, a Milka about 22 years old, a tailor, then Božica, about 16-years-old, Nada Lubarić, about 18-years-old, were the executioners of Kula. They slaughtered and suffocated their victims at night.”
The three were young, as were most of the female guards. And like most of the other female guards they were related to the men working at the Jasenovac camp. Nada, in particular, was the half-sister of the known war criminal Maks Luburić and married yet another war criminal named Dinko Šakić.
Inmates after the war testified about Nada Šakić, recounting in one story about an incident where Šakić attended church and after sat upon a bench as an inmate swept leaves off the path. Without any expression, Šakić reached for her weapon and killed the inmate. She then continued to sit on the bench in contemplation, ignoring the dead body.
Šakić came to the camp at age 17.
Several former camp inmates recalled incidents involving Maja Buždon in official testimony.
“Once I saw the Ustaša member Maja order an exhausted comrade to get up. When the woman was too weak and lacked the strength to get up, she strangled her with her hands.“
Of the three most notorious women guarding Jasenovac, only Maja Buždon was captured and executed for her crimes. Nada Šakić and her husband Dinko were extradited from Argentina in 1998 and put on trial, but the judges ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict Nada of her role. In later interviews she was very careful never to implicate herself in genocidal activities. Her husband Dinko was convicted and sentenced to twenty years in prison, but died after ten years and was cremated in his Ustaša uniform per his request. Nada died in 2011.
Božica Obradović completely disappeared – there is absolutely no record of what happened to the 16-year-old guard that was so feared.
To read more about World War II, please click here.
- April 16, 2021