Holocaust Revisionism in Croatia: How Anne Frank Became Persona Non Grata
In Croatia, International Holocaust Remembrance Day was marked in the absence of representatives of the Croatian Jewish community. This was the second year in a row that the Coordinating Committee of the Jewish Communities in Croatia decided to boycott the official Holocaust commemoration event for the victims of Jasenovac concentration camp. The Jewish representatives say that the government is not doing enough to counter right-wing attempts at historical revisionism.
On January 17, 2017, the traveling exhibition “Anne Frank – A History for Today” was removed from a high school in the town of Šibenik after being there for only one day. This exhibition, according to the Anne Frank Museum in Amsterdam, tells the story of Anne Frank against the background of the Holocaust and the Second World War. It shows photographs of Frank’s childhood in Frankfurt and Amsterdam, and portrays the rise of the Nazis and the persecution of the Jews.
The exhibition includes 30 panels containing historical information of the specific country where it is currently being shown at a given time.
These panels deal with the history of the Holocaust in that particular country, or speak about contemporary human rights issues. It was the six panels of local history that the school’s principal wanted removed. He said that the panels spoke about Ustaša (Croatian WWII fascists) as villains who had slaughtered Jews and Serbs, while Yugoslav partisans were depicted only in a positive light. He stated that this was distorting WWII events, and that the students were not being told the real truth.
He explained that there was no mention of the numerous partisan and communist crimes, and the killings of thousands of Croatians in the Bleiburg field in Austria. When the organizers of the exhibition declined to remove the six panels depicting the history of local collaboration, the principal decided to remove the exhibition.
I spoke to Maja Nenadović from the Anne Frank House recently, and she told me: “When the exhibition first started touring in Croatia in 2013, we felt we were doing something significant in terms of commemorating victims of a dark part of European history. What we did not expect was that in 2017, we would need to defend and justify commemoration of children victims of the Holocaust in Croatia. Anne Frank’s story seems to be acceptable, but discussing the crimes committed in the Independent State of Croatia is by some considered offensive. It is disappointing to acknowledge the long way ahead in achieving historical consensus on the overall scope of Holocaust in Europe.”
World War II is a part of the daily public discourse in Croatia. The issues are constantly questioned in search for “the real truth.”
During the war, Croatia was a puppet Nazi state called the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). It was proclaimed, with the blessings of German and Italian fascists, on April 10, 1941, after the Axis powers invaded, occupied and dismembered the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The NDH was comprised of most of modern-day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as parts of modern-day Serbia. The country was led by the ultranationalist, fascist and terrorist Ustaša organization. The Ustaša immediately passed legal decrees on racial origins, and on the protection of Aryan blood and the honor of the Croatian people, as well as the legal decrees on the nationalization of the property of Jews and Jewish companies.
Between 1941 and 1945 the Ustaša authorities ran numerous concentration camps where Jews, Serbs, Roma and opponents of the regime were murdered. The worst camp was Jasenovac, known as the “the Auschwitz of the Balkans” and the “cruelest camp of all times.”
According to Yad Vashem’s records, by the end of 1941, two-thirds of the Jews of Croatia had been sent to Croatian camps, where almost all were murdered upon arrival. At the beginning of 1942, the Germans demanded that the Croats hand the Jews over to them for deportation to Auschwitz. The Croats paid 30 Reichsmarks for each Jew who was deported to Auschwitz. The Germans allowed the Croatian authorities to take all Jewish belongings.
In August 1942 and in May 1943, about 7,000 Croatian Jews who were still alive in Jasenovac were taken to Auschwitz. Out of those 7,000, 24 were found in the camp after its liberation.
Approximately 30,000 of Croatia’s Jews died during the Holocaust — 80 percent of the country’s pre-war Jewish population. Those who managed to survive were the ones who joined the partisan forces or those who fled to the region annexed or occupied by Italy. 115 persons were saved by Croatian Righteous Among the Nations.
This background is necessary in order to understand why Croatian Jews boycotted the Holocaust commemoration last Friday. Croatian Jewish communities informed the government that they would not participate in any events organized by the government, because the official bodies have not reacted to a plaque that was erected in November 2016 in the town of Jasenovac — which included the salute used during World War II by the Ustaša movement.
In 2016, Croatian Jews and the representatives of the Serb minority also boycotted the state-organized Holocaust memorial event, stating that the new right-wing government was ignoring a surge of antisemitism that included Nazi slogans chanted during a soccer match between Croatia and Israel. Croatian Jewish and Serb communities organized a separate commemoration ceremony last year in Jasenovac.
Julija Koš, an acclaimed author and a retired librarian of the Jewish Community of Zagreb, whose family members were murdered in the Holocaust, has been relentlessly addressing the historical revisionism, holding public talks, writing, and sending open letters to the president and the prime minister.
Mrs. Koš has been drawing attention to the fact that for the past 11 years, the authorities have been minimizing the atrocities of the Ustaša regime in the permanent exhibition of the Jasenovac Memorial Site Memorial Museum. In an email sent to me she reiterated that “the perpetrators are concealed, the victims of the ethnic cleansing are unspecified, and the prisoners are disrespected.” Ognjen Kraus, an official active in Croatia’s Jewish community, has stated that the museum does not depict the real truth about Jasenovac, its horrors and suffering, and that it downplays the truth about the Ustaša regime.
Mrs. Koš says that the situation in Croatia has been deteriorating for years, and that the nostalgia for the Ustaša movement and the Independent State of Croatia “is generated from the leading circles with the intention to shift the focus from the real economic problems and the corruption, which are ruining the country.”
Despite the overwhelming historical evidence, there is a movement in Croatia to deny that the Jasenovac death camp ever existed; these Holocaust deniers claim that it was merely a labor camp. The Embassy of Israel in Croatia has remained completely silent about the Jewish boycott of 2016 and 2017.