Budisavljević Diana

Language of Description
1941 - 1945
Level of Description
  • Croatian
  • Latin

Extent and Medium

3 boxes

Biographical History

Diana Budisavljević (15 January 1891 - 20 August 1978) was a humanitarian of Austrian descent who led a major relief effort in Yugoslavia during World War II that rescued ethnic Serb and, in smaller numbers, Jewish, children from the concentration camps operated by the Independent State of Croatia, saving more than 12,000 lives.

Born in Innsbruck as Diana Obexer, in 1917 she married Julije Budisavljević, an ethnic Serbian medical doctor who at that time worked as an intern at the surgical clinic in Innsbruck. In 1919, Dr Budisavljević was appointed professor of surgery at the School of Medicine, University of Zagreb, so the couple moved to Zagreb, at the time in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

During World War II, Yugoslavia was invaded by the Axis forces in April 1941 and the Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia began a genocidal campaign against Serbs, Jews and Roma, setting up numerous concentration camps in Croatia. After she learned about children held at the camp Lobor-Grad, in October 1941, together with a number of collaborators, in particular Marko Vidaković and Đuro Vukosavljević, she launched a relief campaign named "The Action of Diana Budisavljević". The Action took care of mostly Serbian children but also women held in various concentration camps including the Jasenovac death camps.

With help from the local Jewish community, which was forced to support the camp inmates, her team sent supplies of food, medicines, clothes and also money, first to Lobor-Grad and later to another camp at Gornja Rijeka, both situated north of Zagreb. Her team also helped the members of the Croatian Red Cross at the main railway station in Zagreb, providing travel supplies for workers in trains that stopped there on their way to forced labor in Germany - some of those men, women and children returned to Zagreb after they were stopped in Maribor and Linz and were not allowed to travel further due to their illness - they were taken care by the Red Cross and the Action. During that work, in March 1942, Diana Budisavljević met the Headnurse Dragica Habazin, who became a close collaborator in the following months and years in helping the inmates from various camps that were relocated to Zagreb and other places.

At the beginning of July 1942, with assistance from German officer Albert von Kotzian, Budisavljević obtained written permission to take the children from the Stara Gradiška concentration camp. With the help of the Ministry of Social Affairs, especially prof. Kamilo Bresler, she was able to relocate child inmates from the camp to Zagreb, Jastrebarsko and later also to Sisak. After the rescue efforts in Stara Gradiška, Budisavljević, wearing the uniform of a Red Cross nurse, took part in the transport of children from Mlaka, Jablanac and Jasenovac. More than 6,000 children had been moved away from those camps by the "Action" in July and August 1942. After obtaining permission in August 1942 to move the children from the institutions in Zagreb into the care of families, she worked together with the Zagreb Archdiocese branch of the Caritas and in that way made it possible for several thousands of children to be placed with families in Zagreb and rural communities.

Out of 15,536 children that Budisavljević saved, 3,254 children died during the rescue or immediately after leaving the camp, exhausted by torture, hunger and disease, while more than 12,000 rescued children survived the war. Eleven members of her team were killed during World War II. On the basis of transport lists and other sources, a card-file of children was made, which by the end of the war contained information of approximately 12,000 children. Upon request by the Ministry of Social Politics in May 1945, she handed over the card-files that she managed for 4 years together with Ivanka Džakula.

Later life Budisavljević was almost forgotten after the war, publicly unmentioned in Yugoslavia for decades, because the post-war authorities did not look favorably upon her.She lived in Zagreb with her husband, for a total of 43 years before 1972, when they moved back to Innsbruck. She died on 20 August 1978, aged 87.

Legacy Budisavljević's granddaughter, Silvija Szabo, wrote that, as a 1980s Vjesnik story had described her as a mere Communist Party activist inside the Red Cross, which she knew had not been the truth, she decided to read Budisavljević's diary in 1983 to learn the full extent of her grandmother's deeds. In 2003, the Croatian State Archives' director Josip Kolanović edited and published Budisavljević's war-time diary, translated from German to Croatian by Silvija Szabo.

A Zagreb film production studio Hulahop produced a documentary about her called Dianina lista, made by Dana Budisavljević and Miljenka Čogelja, that won an award at a European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs event in January 2012.

Scope and Content

The collection contains copies of various documents (mainly the list of dead and missing children and women during World War II); copies of documents on "The Action" conducted by Mrs. D. Budisavljević; parts of the translation of her diary relating to the Action; Card index for persons and institutions mentioned in the diary, and materials related to the publication of her Diary.

Conditions Governing Access

Partially accessible to the public. The material that contains personal information is available in 70 years after creation or 100 years after the birth of the individual to whom the personal data refer.

Rules and Conventions

EHRI Guidelines for Description v.1.0