Doboj Deanery vicar Mirko Nikolić says that fostering a culture of remembrance is the only way to save from oblivion the suffering of 45,791 Serbs interned at the Austro-Hungarian concentration camp in Doboj during the World War I, which was the first concentration camp in modern Europe of 20th century.
Nikolić tells SRNA that on Friday, December 27, Doboj will mark 104 years since the first mass transport of Serbs to the Doboj concentration camp.
By July 5, 1917, 45,791 Serbs had been interned to the camp, including 16,673 men and 16,996 women and children from BiH, and 12,122 Serb soldiers and a number of elderly men, women and children from Serbia and Montenegro, 12,000 of whom were killed.
Nikolić said that the suffering of Serbs at the Doboj concentration camp is still an open book that is being written, as the memory of its existence has been consciously faded over the past 100 years, since the extent of the suffering was almost unknown and should not have been known.
“The first information about the Doboj camp was presented only in the `Memorial dedicated to the martyrs and victims of the Doboj internment in the World War 1915-16′, which was made during the consecration of the monument, the ossuary where the bones of the victims were laid, and the memorial Church of Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in 1938,” Nikolić said.
He says that in addition to the documents, the Memorial also provides detailed descriptions of the transport of the martyrs, as well as testimonies, including a testimony of an old man pushing a stroller with the corpses of children, their burial, as well as the suffering of a mother whose eight children died in the camp and many others.
“We must not forget where the snake bit us in order to prevent it from repeating,” Nikolić said, stating that in 2015 the re-printed edition of “Doboj Memorial”, a very important publication that became a bibliophile rarity, was promoted and repeated.
He points out that the new edition cites a document from the military archive of the Independent State of Croatia, an order issued by the Main Ustasha Headquarters in Doboj on May 27, 1941, to demolish the memorial to the victims of the Doboj concentration camp.
The fact that a railway station in Doboj was built at the site of the Doboj concentration camp during the period of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, thus preventing the collection of material, contributed to the continuity of oblivion.
The Republika Srpska Government’s Committee for fostering the tradition of liberation wars has included the internment of Serbs in the Doboj camp in a calendar of significant events. Every year December 27 is commemorated as a day of remembrance for the first mass transport of Serbs to the camp in 1915.
Nikolić says commemorating one day is not enough if one wants to preserve a culture of remembrance of the suffering of the Serbs, and recalled the unsuccessful attempts to include the Doboj concentration camp in a teaching subject in Republika Srpska.
According to him, the Deanery of Doboj, by organising exhibitions, ceremonies and choir performances in towns in Podrinje and eastern Herzegovina, is trying to create a living connection of the Doboj camp with descendants whose ancestors from Visegrad, Rogatica, Trebinje, Foča, Bileća and other local communities were interned and killed in that camp.
“Unfortunately, the hundred-year struggle to leave it to oblivion has left a mark and people are less and less aware of it,” Nikolić said.
He says the problem is that the land where the memorial ossuary with the victims’ bones was built is not owned by the church in order to properly regulate and maintain it, and to prevent deviant and inappropriate gatherings and behavior.
According to the book “Doboj Camp” by Dušan Paravac, written on the basis of church documents and statements of surviving inmates, the Austro-Hungarian concentration camp was located on the site of the Doboj railway station. Detained Serbs were housed in wooden barracks where the Austro-Hungarian army’s horses previously died of infectious diseases “Glanders”.
The camp was established on December 27, 1915 and remained operational until July 5, 1917.
The Serbian Orthodox Church published the book “Memorial” in September 1938 dedicated to the victims of the Doboj camp, and consecrated the built memorial ossuary containing the exhumed remains of approximately 12,000 victims of the Austro-Hungarian-run camp that is located in the churchyard of the Church of Holy Apostles Peter and Paul in Doboj.
A monument “Doboj Camp 1915-1917” dedicated to the inmates of the Austro-Hungarian camp was unveiled and consecrated in Doboj on July 1, 2016.