The pristine eastern coastline of Croatia, known as the Dalmatian Coast, is one of the main tourist areas of the country. Visitors can spend weeks, even months, traveling between the seventy-nine islands, five-hundred and twenty five islets, and six-hundred-forty-two rocks and rocks-awash that are found scattered along the coastline.(1) Some of the larger islands are developed, and include luxury hotels, stunning beaches, and a wide collection of foliage plus many other natural sights that draw tourism. Additionally many of the smaller land-masses, even those which are uninhabited, attract swimmers, hikers, and sightseers on day excursions. Ferry boats travel north and south along this narrow belt of the eastern shore of the Adriatic Sea, carrying both young and old to every island. Every island, except for one, that is. One small islet (The area of the island is about 0.07 km2) which sits less than two miles off the coast and is directly across from the tourism capital of the area, is avoided at all costs.
The islet called Daksa is the smallest of the grouping of thirteen islands which make up the Elaphite archipelago; three are permanently inhabited. The total land mass of the group is about 12 square miles with about 850 people making it their permanent home. Yet despite the pristine woodlands, private beaches and its very own monastery, this Mediterranean isle is rarely visited due to events which took place over sixty years ago. Events that have solidified the island’s reputation in many people’s minds as being haunted. It’s been for sale by the current owner for over five year, but without a single buyer showing interest, regardless of how low the price goes. A surprise to many, since right across the bay is Dubrovnik, Croatia’s most popular and expensive tourist destination.
The earliest records of Daksa island date back to 1281 when the island became the new home to a Franciscan Monastery known as Saint Sabina or Holy-Sabine. Little is known about life on the island other than it served as a meeting place for pious people and monks from all over Europe. The owner at the time was Sabin Getaldić, a nobleman from Dubrovnik. He financed the building of the church and the monastery and later, upon his death, left the property to the Franciscans in his will. The island served as a residence for priests who lived there until the arrival of Napoleon in the early 1800’s. After the departure of the French army, the island was purchased by a Polish Prince, who spent years replanting trees and renovating the monastery, even filling the library with over 4,000 books.
The island also hides the remains of a military tower that was started but never finished. It was to be an advance position for the Republic of Dubrovnik, but construction was abandoned and the project never restarted. Additionally remains from a 19th century villa, some larger structures which appear to have been used to support agriculture, the remains of one of the smallest lighthouses of the Adriatic, and a memorial garden can be found in different locations. The lighthouse was built in 1872 by the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy who purchased the island from the Franciscans a year earlier. With no real population or draw, the island didn’t get much attention; at least until the end of World War II.
Executions of 1944
In 1944, Croatia didn’t exist as we know it today. It was then part of Yugoslavia. Throughout World War II, guerillas resisted Axis occupation, with Communist Yugoslav Partisans offering the strongest resistance. It was considered by many military historians as the strongest resistance anywhere, to Germany and the Axis powers. From 1941 until 1944, the Axis powers made seven significant attempts to destroy the Partisan movement, yet none succeeded. In late 1943, Italy concluded an armistice with the Allies, leaving occupying troops stranded and without direction. German troops moved in and tried to do what the Italians could not get done, but were also thwarted. By 1944, it was clear that the war would be coming to an end soon with Allied air support offering much needed cover for advancing Partisan units.
Within a few months, Yugoslav Partisans were celebrating victory. Across the nation, Partisans systematically rounded up all those who were identified as Nazi sympathizers. They entered Dubrovnik in October and took 53 people into custody, including the village priest Petar Perica and mayor Niko Koprivica. All 53 were taken across the bay to Daksa Island, and executed brutally October 18th and October 24th. They were were mowed down by rifle fire or shot point blank in the head; murdered in cold blood and left unburied in a heap. No one was ever charged with a crime, as it was seen as justified retribution by those who had been under an oppressive occupation for several years. The tale of the executions spread quickly throughout the local communities along with a warning that the same fate awaited anyone who intervened in any way. The corpses remained uncovered for decades and it wasn’t until recent years that they were finally laid to rest.
Excavation of the Site
In 2009, an unnamed individual discovered a mass grave on the island. A team of forensic scientists and archeologists identified and marked two mass graves on the island. They discovered over 10,000 human bones, bone fragments, and other skeletal material buried in what appeared to be the ruins of a farm building and in a pit about 50 feet away. In addition to the bones, these researchers found personal items which would be useful in future attempts to identify the remains. These included buttons, shell casings and bullets, jewelry, and priestly accoutrements including rosary beads.
The findings were removed from the excavation site to a laboratory environment for additional study. Teeth and bone fragments were sampled and cross referenced with DNA profiles to determine any possible biological relationship with people living today. Many of the bones were severely damaged which limited the researchers from determining actual ages.
A total of 53 male skeletons were discovered on Daksa island; 22 were confirmed to have gunshot wounds to the head from a 9mm caliber weapon. . Some had multiple entry points for gunshots as seen in the photo below. Others had skull fractures or fragmented skulls, and there were still identifiable signs that the bodies were bound with wire. The location of shell casings in close proximity of the skeletons suggests that they were executed at close range in a kneeling position at the actual burial site. The lack of military evidence, such as insignia or other uniform decorations, indicate that they were mostly or all civilians. At least three of the bodies were members of the clergy or priests based on the items discovered. Of the original 53, 14 have been successfully identified using various DNA analysis methods(2).
Daksa Island – Conclusion
The locals stay away from Daksa island. They say it’s haunted by the ghosts of those executed so many years ago, and those spirits are seeking revenge. Tourists are convinced by the locals to avoid it at all costs and water taxi’s keep a safe distance when passing by. Despite the fact that it’s a paradise from the distance, no one is interested in living there or developing it as a tourists area. Many people have visited the island but very few will repeat their experiences. There are no eyewitness accounts of malevolent spirits, free roaming vapors, or nefarious specters, but the avoidance continues. The fact the island has been for sale with no serious offers from anywhere around the world speaks volumes. It seems that even those who aren’t superstitious won’t tempt fate.
I’d like to thank Darmon Richter, Travel Writer & Photographer and owner of the amazing website www.thebohemianblog.com for sharing some of his wonderful photography for this piece. He personally walked the island and produced some stunning visuals, allowing readers to see the sites and history of Daksa island presented as they actually exist.
(1) The Hydrographic Institute of the Republic of Croatia classifies all land forms surrounded by water in the Adriatic Sea as islands, islets or rocks. The categorization is determined according to their surface area. Rocks are defined as islets smaller than 0.1 km², islets are between 0.1 and 1.0 km² and islands proper are bigger than 1.0 km².
(2) Autopsy and Identification Methods, Igor Boric, Department of Pathology, General Hospital Dubrovnik, Jelena Ljubkovic, Department of Forensic Medicine, University Hospital Split and School of Medicine Split, Split, Croatia, and Davorka Sutlovic, epartment of Forensic Medicine, University Hospital Split and School of Medicine Split, Split, Croatia https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3118717/
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