Monday, April 18, 2005

The Forgotten Genocide

(Illustration: NIN magazine, issue 2833, 14 April 2005) 
A service and commemoration ceremony today in Donja Gradina, (Serb Republic, Bosnia) marked the sixtieth anniversary of the breakout from the Ustasha death camp of Jasenovac, the third largest concentration camp in Europe during WW2.

Much can be said and written about Jasenovac, because too much still remains unsaid. In the Jasenovac “factory of death,” the indescribable brutality of Croatian Ustasha often baffled even the monstrous imagination of their Nazi allies. Yet today, attempts to rationalize (and even deny) the Ustasha genocide of Serbs, Jews and Roma, have become more frequent and increasingly brazen.

Unlike other Holocaust-affected countries, neither the Serbian government, nor the Serbian public show the proper respect for the horrendous suffering of Serbs during the Nazi occupation, despite the warnings and appeals coming from genocide researchers like Dr. Milan Bulajić. Open attempts to minimize the horrors of Jasenovac and the Ustasha "Independent State of Croatia" (NDH) are met with indifference.

Most Serbs are familiar with the “theses” of former Croatian president and quasi-historian Franjo Tudjman about “thirty thousand dead in Jasenovac,“ and the entire libraries of similar “history” generated by the Ustasha émigrés. Recently, however, at the opening of the new Yad Vashem holocaust museum in Jerusalem, the current Croat president Stjepan Mesić scandalously insulted the victims of Ustasha genocide. During the speech of Bosnian president Borislav Paravac, who mentioned 700,000 Jasenovac dead – Mesić interrupted with a claim that the number stood for “all the dead in the former Yugoslavia.” Official Belgrade, of course, stayed silent.

Yad Vashem, however, took a clear stand; Avner Shalev, director of this respected Israeli institution and a leading Holocaust expert in the world, announced he would attend the service and the commemoration in Donja Gradina, along leading a seven-member delegation. He would ignore the commemoration in Jasenovac itself, scheduled by Croatia for the following week. [Update: Dr. Shalev could not attend the commemoration, due to illness.]

Especially shocking is the official "view" of Jasenovac in Croatia; in addition to the usual number games, the existence of Jasenovac victims is being erased through dubious redefinitions of modern Jasenovac. According to someone’s monstrous ideas, it is supposed to become a “place of tolerance,” a “symbol of diversity” or some other dubious entry in the dictionary of transitional political correctness. A one-time proposal by the Croatian authorities to turn Jasenovac into a “reconciliation park,” where the Ustasha executioners would be buried alongside their victims, simply beggars belief.

A more detailed account of the 60th Jasenovac commemoration can be found in the current issue of NIN magazine, by Branko Božić and hieromonk Jovan Ćulibrk, coordinator of the Jasenovac Council of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Hieromonk Ćulibrk reveals that the New York-based Jasenovac Research Institute (JRI) successfully lobbied Mayor Michael Bloomberg to declare 22 April – the anniversary of the breakout – as Jasenovac Day in New York City. Another result of JRI efforts will be the unveiling of a memorial plaque to Jasenovac victims in the Holocaust Park in Brooklyn.]

Another specter haunts Croatia today. During the funeral of Pope John Paul II, a CNN anchor mentioned the Pope’s “controversial beatification” of Alojzije Stepinac, the archbishop of Zagreb during NDH.(It must be a bizarre coincidence that the comment was made by the notorious Serbophobe Christianne Amanpour, of all people). This prompted heated reactions of the Croatian public and Catholic clergy, united in the defense of the name and legacy of "Pavelić's cardinal". Thus Vlado Košić, deputy Bishop of Zagreb and chairman of the ”Justitia et pax“ committee of the Croatian conference of Bishops, dubbed the linking of Stepinac with Pavelić's regime “crude untruths.” It would have been useful, though surprising, had the Croatian public expressed similar criticism towards the 64th anniversary of NDH’s establishment, on April 10…

In addition to beatifying Stepinac, the omission of Jasenovac from the late Pope's itinerary during his multiple visits to Croatia, and the Mass he held at the Petrićevac monastery – an Ustasha killing site – during his visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, did not contribute in any way to helping the Serbs heal. Nor did it do anything to further the needed rapprochement and reconciliation of Catholic Croats and Orthodox Serbs. Also, Vatican's role in hiding and rescuing Ustasha war criminals after WW2 is well known and documented. Even after all these years, the Vatican has yet to offer an official apology.
It is not the intent of this reminder to nurture bad blood towards the Catholic Church, or to accuse the entire Croat people for horrible crimes committed in its name. Quite the contrary. After all, many Croat anti-fascists perished in Jasenovac alongside the Serbs, Jews and Roma. However, to quote George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The only way to avoid a new Jasenovac or a new Auschwitz is precisely to remember the Serb, Jewish, Russian, Polish, Roma and other victims of the madness that spawned Hitler, Himmler, Eichmann, Pavelić, Luburić… There is no statute of limitations on their crime, and the names of these murderers must remain in the minds of the coming generations, as both a memory and a warning.

Their victims must never be forgotten. We owe it to them.

Memory eternal.

(Translated from; the original text uses the photos from the “Concentration camp Jasenovac” collection of the Serb Republic Archives, as well as from the collection of Mr. Carl Savich.)

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