Sisak & the Lonjsko Polje
The area between Sisak and Jasenovac is best known for the Lonjsko Polje Nature Park’s endangered wildlife and 19th-century villages. While the marshland area is a favorite of bird watchers, it is tiny, rustic Čigoć that attracts the most traffic. Čigoć is a designated European Stork Village and a living tribute to 19th-century Croatia. On a more somber note, nearby Jasenovac is home to an impressive memorial site, dedicated to the tens of thousands who lost their lives at a brutal concentration camp here during World War II.
Visitor Information -- The Sisak Tourist Office (www.sisakturist.com; [tel] 044/522-655) at Rimska bb can provide maps of the town, and information on reaching Čigoć and Lonjsko Polje. In Čigoć, the Information and Educational Center ([tel] 044/715-115) occupies a traditional wooden house; it provides information about Lonjsko Polje Nature Parkand can arrange guided tours. In Jasenovac, the Jasenovac Tourist Office (www.opcina-jasenovac.hr; [tel] 044/672-490) is in the city library building. The Lonjsko Polje Nature Park Administration Office (www.pp-lonjsko-polje.hr; [tel] 044/672-080), where you can get maps and information on the park, is at Krapje 30.
Getting There --From Sisak, there are seven daily buses to Čigoć, on the edge of Lonjsko Polje Nature Park,with slightly reduced service on weekends.
Getting Around -- Sisak, Lonjsko Polje, Čigoć, and Jasenovac all are best explored on foot, though a car is handy to reach the Holocaust Museum from Jasenovac, and to thoroughly explore Lonjsko Polje, which covers a huge area between Sisak and Jasenovac.
What to See & Do
Fortresses, storks, and rural villages are the area’s main attractions, and each is spectacular in its own way.
What Happened at Jasenovac?
According to United States Holocaust Memorial Museum records, Jasenovac was not just one big camp, but a cluster of five detention centers established by the Ustaša-supported government of the “Independent State of Croatia” during World War II. Collectively, the Jasenovac facility was huge—the third-largest detention camp in Europe—and it was infamous for its deplorable living conditions, unspeakable torture methods, and mass killings. Between 1941 and April, 1945, tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Roma (Gypsies), Croats, and miscellaneous political prisoners were brought to Jasenovac via trains from communities across Croatia. They were put to work if they had skills needed by the Axis regime, and savagely tortured and/or murdered if they didn’t, according to museum research reports. Jasenovac was especially notorious for its brutal execution methods—strangulation, live burning, live burial, murder by ax, ropes, and chains—as well as for the alleged participation of local Catholic clergy in those executions. Between the summer of 1942 and March, 1943, Croatian authorities reportedly emptied the camp of its remaining Croatian Jews (about 7,000 people) and sent them to Auschwitz-Birkenau, leaving only non-Jewish prisoners in the camp. The number of people who died here is still heavily debated—in April, 1945, the Ustaša guards deliberately destroyed the camp buildings and records when they realized Tito’s partisan troops were closing in on them. Most estimates indicate those killed at Jasenovac’s camps number more than 200,000.
Where to Stay
Lonjsko Polje can be done as a day trip from Zagreb, but there are several interesting accommodation options in traditional wooden houses in the old villages of Čigoć and Lonja, on the edge of the nature park.
Venture across the fertile expanse that stretches east all the way to Ilok, above the River Drava and the border with Serbia, and you’ll eventually see evidence of the violence that affected almost every town and village in the region. Skeletal remains of hothouses once filled with lush greenery and burned-out Borovo factories stand in silent witness to the conflict that left Vukovar and other eastern cities bullet-pocked and destitute. In theory, most areas have now been cleared of landmines, but you will still occasionally see the chilling skull and crossbones signs that indicate possible lingering explosive danger. Many more obvious, jagged scars from the violence provide constant reminders that inland Croatia is still suffering from the effects of the war.