When we think about tourist attractions, we tend to take into consideration museums, castles, fortresses, impressive gardens, where history and art combine beautifully to offer an impressive image of the past times.
But all the places we visit are meant to leave a mark on us, to contribute to the development of our view over life. And while tourists are interested in beautifying experiences, there are some which bring shivers down our spines, but which are necessary nonetheless in order for us to understand our past.
And one such experience consists of visiting a Nazi concentration camp. Located in former Yugoslavia, now in Serbia, the Red Cross Concentration Camp, is evidence of the cruel behavior adopted towards the “lesser” races during World War Two. It is estimated that 30,000 people were incarcerated here – belonging to the Jewish and Roma communities, but also members of the Yugoslav Communist Party, partisan prisoners of war and their family members.
The name conveyed to the camp is definitely ambiguous due to the association of the terms: Red Cross and Concentration Camp, although the red cross could be representative of the Nazi swastika.
The concentration camp is located opposite of the Tower of Skulls and it has been constructed during the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia. The site maintains its gloomy appearance as the swastika, the barbed wire and the guard tower are still in position. It is impossible not to be moved by this striking image which gets you thinking immediately about the atrocities that the prisoners had to have been subjected to.
But besides the terrible things the imagination seems incapable of conceiving, there is a more uplifting story that revolves around this concentration camp. The year 1942 marks the moment when an armed revolt that occurred within the camp favored one of the largest escapes ever to occur inside one such camp.
With this occasion, approximately 100 prisoners managed to escape. But the fugitives were not of Jewish origin which is a little disappointing so to speak as whenever the issue of the Holocaust comes to mind, it is the Jews who are portrayed as the victims. And it is as if we would expect for at least some of them to escape the tormenting death of being burnt alive. Not that it is in any way insinuated that one death is more tragic than the next.
The escape has actually become the main subject of a movie directed by Miomir Stamenkovic in 1987 which was entitled “Lager Nis” (which is another name by which the concentration camp goes by). There were actually 150 people who had attempted to regain their freedom, but 50 of them were killed by machine guns as they were trying to pass through the barbed wire.
The last three levels of the Red Cross Concentration Camp were filled with solitary confinement cells. Trapped alone between four walls, the prisoners engaged in carving words or drawings on the walls and these are still visible to this day, as the walls have been covered in plexiglass precisely for this reason, to allow those interested to see the marks left behind by the victims of the Holocaust.
What probably most of you do not know is that the prisoners of the Red Cross Camp were not only sent to solitary when behaving badly, but they were obligated to sleep on barbed wire.
There is a fee charged for visiting the concentration camp, but the sum is quite small, less than a dollar, and the money is going into a fund which will be used so as to preserve the memorial museum as it is. Not everyone is extremely fond of the idea of visiting such a place, due to the horrible reality that is linked to a concentration camp, and also to the emotional weight it carries which is inevitable to affect even us, who have not experienced that historical time first –handedly.