Memory Loss: The Campaign to Whitewash Croatia’s WWII Children’s Camps

Beneath the landmark red-brick bridge in the town of Sisak, some 50 kilometres from the Croatian capital Zagreb, there's an unusual statue.

It depicts seven small children standing or sitting around a rock in a - now dried-up - pool of water. Nothing about it suggests its purpose.

As we walk around it, the parents of children playing in a nearby playground eye us with a mixture of suspicion and curiosity, no doubt wondering what strangers might be doing looking at the dilapidated statue.

But although it is unmarked, the statue is actually a monument commemorating one of the greatest tragedies in the history of this former industrial town: a notorious World War Two concentration camp for children.

"The creator of the monument, Gabrijela Kolar, personally knew the children who are portrayed," Sanja Horvatincic from the Zagreb Institute of Art History told BIRN.

"The boy sitting down, Milan, was saved from the camp by her [Kolar's] parents, and luckily survived the war," she added. "The piece, called 'Unfinished Games', is a unique monument. The site of the former camp has been transformed into a public park with a children's playground. Such a concept was intentional, and was meant to console and give hope to the survivors of the war and to the visitors who are faced with the brutal history of the site."

Fifty-five years after it was built, the monument can hardly be said to be giving hope.

The way it has been defaced by vandals and the fact that the story of the children it depicts remains hidden to passers-by serves as a fitting illustration of current attitudes towards the memory of Croatian children's camps from World War II.

Since the violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia, attempts to reinterpret the region's...

Continue reading on: