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Croatia concentration camp chief was guilty of slayings

OBITUARIES : Dinko Sakic

July 22, 2008|From the Associated Press

Dinko Sakic, the last known living commander of a World War II concentration camp, died Sunday night in a Croatian hospital while serving a 20-year sentence for war crimes, officials said Monday. He was 87.

Sakic, a former chief of Croatia's infamous Jasenovac camp, died in a hospital in Zagreb, Justice Ministry spokeswoman Vesna Dovranic told the Associated Press.

Sakic had heart problems and had been receiving treatment at a prison hospital, but he was recently transferred to a better-equipped hospital when his condition deteriorated, Dovranic said.

Sakic fled Croatia at the end of the war when the country's pro-Nazi regime was crushed. He lived peacefully in Argentina for decades and owned a textile factory.

In 1998 he was extradited to Croatia for trial.

The next year, Zagreb district court sentenced him to 20 years in prison -- the maximum penalty at the time -- for carrying out or condoning the torture and slaying of inmates while in charge of the camp in 1944.

Tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and anti-fascist Croats were killed at Jasenovac, the worst of about 40 camps run by what was then a pro-Nazi puppet state in Croatia.

The ruling said that Sakic was responsible for mass and systematic torture, killings, inhuman treatment, terror and intimidation of inmates.

Judge Drazen Tripalo said he hoped the sentence, handed down 55 years after the torture and killings occurred, "will be a warning that all those who committed crimes in the near or distant past will not escape justice."

Sakic never expressed regret for his role in Jasenovac, known as the Auschwitz of the Balkans, defiantly claiming that all he did was for the good of Croatia and that "no harm was done" to the inmates.

During the trial, he appeared unmoved as more than 30 camp survivors recalled the haunting details of torture, starvation and killings.

Tripalo said Sakic's "lack of remorse" was an aggravating circumstance.

When he received the guilty verdict, Sakic mockingly applauded.

The trial was significant for Croatia at the time, because it was run by the late President Franjo Tudjman, who was criticized for the kind of nationalism that hearkened back to World War II.

Even today, with Croatia governed by a pro-Western regime that clearly denounces fascism, some Croats seek to justify or diminish the crimes committed by Croatia's Nazis, known as Ustasha.

Sakic is survived by his wife, Nada, who changed her name to Esperanza after moving to Argentina. She was also extradited from Argentina on suspicion of war crimes committed while she was a guard at an adjacent camp for women, but the charges against her were dropped because of a lack of evidence.

No funeral arrangements were immediately announced.

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