Re-education camp 1949 – 1956

Goli Otok was the largest camp in the camp and prison system where Cominformists were imprisoned. In its six year existence, 13,000 people went through it, 287 of whom died of various causes. In the period between 1949 and 1956, there were several smaller camps on Goli Otok; three for men, and a single women’s camp. The UDBA ran the camp, forcing inmates to abuse other inmates. The entire system on Goli Otok was based on the idea that an inmate had to denounce other followers of Stalin on the mainland, and physically and verbally attack those inmates who still supported the Soviet Union. A system of industry was established on Goli Otok, where inmates laboured under harsh conditions; quarries, sawmills, furniture manufacturing, sand extraction, repairing smaller boats, and tile-making, etc. Inmates would spend the greater part of the day at work in one of these plants, thus generating revenue for the secret police. The camp was closed in late 1956, after the conflict with the Soviet Union had ended.

When it comes to specific camps (so-called worksites) on Goli Otok, it needs to be stressed that during the relatively short period between 1949 and 1956, after the publication of the Cominform Resolution in 1948, the authorities at the time turned the isolated island into a secret camp to serve the purpose of the so-called political re-education of convicts (Cominformists). In just a couple of years, various buildings that were to receive inmates were erected and fitted out in the greatest secrecy, while a multi-functional industrial plant was also soon to be set up.

In organising the carefully chosen spots where convicts were to be isolated were adapted to the specific landscape of the island, while at the same time designed to strictly serve the basic functions of the camp. These locations were fenced with barbed wire or surrounded by tall walls, and included the quarters for collective accommodation, individual cells for solitary confinement, administration buildings for the interrogators and the security staff, bunkers and guardhouses for guards, and areas for forced labour (quarries, areas for reforesting the island, agricultural areas). All these spaces and buildings promoted isolation, camp discipline and a pyramidal system of administration and surveillance, guaranteeing, to the greatest extent possible, the basic political function of the camp: the political re-education of the inmates.

There were four camps on Goli Otok. The first camp (Old Wire), which lasted from 1949 until 1950, the second camp Great Wire (1950-1954), and the third Goli Otok camp R-5, or the women’s camp, which lasted from 1951 to 1952, all of them situated above the natural coves of Tatinja, Vela Draga and Vela Senjska, amid the island’s bare terrain, on the peculiar spot where torrents ripping through the stone had formed rocky depressions, thus creating a natural location for camps. Unlike the other three Goli Otok camps, the fourth camp (Petar’s Pit), which lasted from 1950 to 1954, was located in the island’s interior. However, this fully isolated camp, intended for “incorrigible Cominformists” was hidden from the other Goli Otok camps so as to isolate this group of special Cominformists from other convicts. This is how this camp came to be, situated in an abandoned mining pit that was worked and dug out between the two world wars, during excavations prospecting for bauxite.

It should be stressed that Goli Otok was the largest internment camp for real and alleged followers of Stalin, where the largest number of people were imprisoned. However, it was not the only one. There were two more camps on the Grgur island – a women’s camp, and a camp where Yugoslav Army officers were held. In addition, Cominformists were also interned in prisons in Bileća, Požarevac, Stara Gradiška, the Ugljan island prison and the Ramski Rit camp, near the Romanian border, but the Goli Otok camp was the only one that functioned as a site where Cominformists were interned over the entire duration of the Yugoslav-Soviet dispute, from 1949 to 1956. There were a total of 15.737 registered prisoners interned in various prisons and camps in Yugoslavia during the aforementioned period, on charges of supporting Stalin.