Croat death camp chief to face court

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IT WAS more than half a century later and a continent away but Dinko Sakic's leer was the same. His alleged victims - Jews, Serbs and gypsies - went to their deaths watching that same twisted smile on the face of their concentration camp commander.

As his neighbours booed and jeered, Sakic, 76, pulled the derisory smile for photographers in Argentina when he was arrested last week on suspicion of war crimes. He is expected to be extradited to his native Croatia shortly to face trial in connection with tens of thousands of deaths at the notorious Jasenovac concentration camp.

Sakic admits he ran Jasenovac but insists that no one was exterminated and that the victims merely fell sick. "They died from an epidemic of typhoid. There were no cremation ovens," he stated. His lawyer said he would not fight extradition and would base his defence on the epidemic argument.

His wife, Nada, also said by Holocaust survivors to have taken part in exterminations, has not been detained by the Argentinians.

Sakic and his wife had lived unnoticed in Argentina for 51 years but he stunned his neighbours in the Atlantic coastal resort of Santa Teresita last month by revealing his fascist past in a television interview. He said for the first time that he had been commander of Jasenovac, about 50 miles south of the Croatian capital Zagreb from 1942 until 1944, when Croatia was a Nazi puppet state set up by Hitler as a buffer against communism.

Under pressure from his country's powerful Jewish community, who have criticised the presence of ex-Nazis in the past, the Argentinian President, Carlos, Menem ordered his arrest.

Croatia admits that tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews and gypsies were exterminated at Jasenovac. But Serbs, Jewish groups and many historians say the figure was in the hundreds of thousands, and was comparable to Hitler's own concentration camps inside Germany and Nazi-occupied territory.

Sakic was 21 when he took control of Jasenovac in 1942 under the Nazi- backed Ustashe government of Croatia. He also oversaw another concentration camp at Stara Gradiska, south-east of Zagreb. After the war and the triumph of Tito's communists in Yugoslavia he first received shelter in Franco's Spain before fleeing to Argentina in 1947.