May 16, 2011

Holy New Martyr Vukasin of Klepci (+ 1943)

St. Vukasin of Klepci (Feast Day - May 16)

Vukasin of Klepci was a Serbian Orthodox Christian from Herzegovina who was martyred by fascists during World War II for refusing to acknowledge the Ustashi leader.

Little is known about the life of Vukasin Mandrapa before his martyrdom, except that he was a farmer and merchant. What is known about him is from the events resulting in his martyrdom. He was born in the village of Klepci, in Herzegovina, towards the end of the nineteenth century. He and his family lived in Sarajevo and then returned to Klepci. At the beginning of World War II, in 1942, members of the Croatian fascist Ustasas arrested him and transported him, together with other Serbs of that region, into the notorious concentration camp of Jasenovac (the number of victims at this camp have been estimated to be 700,000), for both their Serbian ethnicity and for refusing to convert from Serbian Orthodox Christianity to Roman Catholicism. At least two nephews of his are said to have died in Jasenovac before he did.

After horrible days full of hard labor, in January of 1943 Vukasin was brought before an Ustashi soldier, Josep "Zile" Friganovic, who threatened to execute him due to his stoic behavior during the forced labor days and a contest of four soldiers one night as to who could slaughter the most prisoners, but who said he would spare his life if Vukasin cried loudly: "Long live Ante Pavelic!" Ante Pavelic was the leader of the Ustashi. Vukasin, who saw a knife in the hands of the soldier, replied calmly: "My child, you do what you must,"* and refused to obey the soldier`s request. The Ustashi soldier brandished his knife and cut off Vukasin's ear. The soldier then repeated his request. Vukasin repeated his answer. The soldier then cut off Vukasin's other ear, followed by his nose, and then scarred Vukasin's face. Next his tongue was cut. After repeating the request to Vukasin to utter the vicious words and hail the leader of the Ustashi (Ante Pavelic), Vukasin once again calmly replied: "My child, you do what you must." After gouging out his heart and slitting his throat, Friganovic is said to have been unable to kill more people that night, fallen into alcoholism, and years later he confessed this to a doctor named Nedelko Nedo Zets, who wrote it down. This testimony would be used later to make Vukasin Mandrapa a saint.

Below is the story from the perspective of the above mentioned soldier Friganovic, during his later testimony in court:

Franciscan Pero Brzica, Ante Zrinusic, Sipka and I waged a bet on who would slaughter more prisoners that night. The killing started and already after an hour I slaughtered much more than they did. […] And already after a few hours I slaughtered 1,100 people, while the others only managed to kill 300 to 400 each. […] I noticed an elderly peasant standing and peacefully and calmly watching me slaughter my victims and them dying in the greatest pain. That look of his shook me: in the midst of the greatest ecstasy I suddenly froze and for some time couldn’t make a single move. And then I walked up to him and found out that he was some Vukasin [Mandrapa] from the village of Klepci near Capljina whose whole family had been killed, and who was sent to Jasenovac after having worked in the forests. He spoke this with incomprehensible peace which affected me more than the terrible cries around us. All at once I felt the wish to disrupt his peace with the most brutal torturing and, through his suffering, to restore my ecstasy and continue to enjoy the inflicting of pain.

In his personal confession to physician Nedo Zets, Friganovic revealed the details he remembered of Vukasin’s death, which finally drove him to an unbearable feeling of guilt and consequently to madness.

At the regular session of the Holy Assembly of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church in 1998, Vukasin, from the village of Klepci, was entered into the List of Saints of the Serbian Orthodox Church as a courageous martyr. His feast day is May 16.


* "Radi ti, dijete, svoj posao" ("Do your job, child" in Serbian).

Read also: On the Serbian Orthodox New Martyrs of the Second World War

Zile Friganovic