Croatia: Rescue and Survival of Jews – World War II

Dr Esther Gitman

Dr Esther Gitman

New review of Esther Gitman‘s book “When Courage Prevailed :The Rescue and Survival of Jews in the Independent State of Croatia by Esther Gitman (Paragon House, ISBN 978-1-55778-894-8) by Mishka Gora

“No one likes to admit they have been duped, so it is no surprise that we have not seen headlines declaring that the history of Eastern Europe as we know it is largely based on Communist propaganda.  What is disquieting, however, is that there hasn’t been a rush by historians to delve into the hitherto closed archives and set the record straight.  Indeed, one of the areas that has remained largely unexamined, despite the popularity of Holocaust literature, is the rescue and survival of Jews during World War II.  Bucking this trend is Esther Gitman, whose book When Courage Prevailed details the extraordinary efforts of non-Jews to save Jews, often at great risk to their own lives, under the puppet regime of the Independent State of Croatia (which territorially also included Bosnia and Hercegovina)…”

“The most eye-opening chapter of When Courage Prevailed is perhaps the one about the Catholic Church and the Zagreb Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac who was subsequently convicted by the Communists for assisting the Ustaše in a highly political trial.  Gitman analyses diplomatic correspondence, Stepinac’s letters and “inspirational” sermons, and his interaction with both the Ustaša government and the Jewish community to argue compellingly that Stepinac “found himself between a rock and a hard place” but despite this was “outspoken” against the Ustaše and Nazis.  He also personally intervened to secure the survival of many Jews, some of whom he even gave sanctuary on church property.  Interestingly, the Chief Rabbi of Zagreb declined Stepinac’s offer of sanctuary so that he could remain with his people, but he did entrust his entire library to the Archbishop’s safekeeping and it was duly returned to the Jewish community in its entirety after the war”.

Mishka Gora’s complete review of  Esther Gitman’s book can be found at Online Opinion website or on Eyes of the Mind

Please click the book cover image on the left sidebar of this webpage (Croatia, the War, and the Future) for book purchase link.


  1. Michael Silovic says:

    (quote) What is disquieting, however, is that there hasn’t been a rush by historians to delve into the hitherto closed archives and set the record straight. Indeed, one of the areas that has remained largely unexamined, despite the popularity of Holocaust literature, is the rescue and survival of Jews during World War II.

    I can only summarize why that is so and in doing so it is not my intention to insult anyone of Jewish heritage. The fact remains that many people lost their lives assisting Jews during the holocaust including Croatians. Many were never recognized for their heroics for many reasons after the war and I would guess one was afraid of any reprisals. But the mere fact is that Jews in themselves who write their history had every chance to do so but did not do so because if they did it would have changed the course of their history by not being able to proclaim how badly they were treated by everyone including Croats I am sure and how everyone in the world stole from them all that was theirs. In essence they would not have been able to play the poor me card. This is my perception from childhood and growing up in a Jewish neighborhood and their attitudes they they had portrayed. It is the same attitude that exists today ( poor me )in Israel with the Palestinians. I know I am going to hear how they are under attack everyday but after 50 years of no peace in Israel one would think that there is a more to the problem then just Palestinians. Perhaps the answer to the quote above should be answered by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

  2. That’s an interesting observation, Michael. The first thing to be noted, I suppose, is that Jews (like any cultural or ethnic group) are not homogeneous. The Jews themselves are divided on a variety of topics, including that of ‘the Righteous’. Some are nice, some are not. Some are rational, some are not. They experience the same deep political divisions as any other nationality.

    Secondly, the focus on the crimes committed against the Jews is quite understandable given that the “vast majority perished at the hands of collaborators with Germany’s scheme” and that “[c]ollaboration and betrayal cast a shadow on the story of rescue, raising the question of how many more Jews might have been saved had more people been prepared to take the risk of helping them” (Martin Gilbert’s Preface to ‘The Righteous’). Reading Sir Martin’s book, one of the things that came across most strongly throughout was that so many of the rescuers were executed or killed in reprisals, often by locals (not just Nazis) or Communists/Russian troops. The fact is that the Holocaust wasn’t just perpetrated by the Nazis, but also by people of many European nationalities, by the Allies (Russians) as well as the Axis powers. So, the ‘poor me’ card is somewhat justified.

    You are, of course, quite right that many died to save Jews and that many have not been recognised. Unfortunately, this is largely due to the Communist takeover of these regions at the end of WWII. Though few realise it, the Communists were also anti-Semitic and many Jews could not openly thank their rescuers for fear of betraying them. Sir Martin’s book repeatedly documents how rescuers were punished (usually murdered) by the new regimes after the defeat of the Nazis. The fall of Communism now allows this to be redressed (as Gitman’s book does), but so many of the rescued are now dead and cannot speak out.

    Thirdly, the Palestinian issue is a complicated one, but the lack of peace is not the fault of Israel. The state of Israel has made enormous concessions and offers which over the years have been repeatedly rejected by the Palestinians whose ultimate aim is the destruction of Israel. They will not allow for its existence, whereas Israel has committed to a two-state solution. The situation is perhaps best summed up in the quote: “If the Palestinians were to lay down their weapons tomorrow, there would be no war. If Israelis were to lay down theirs, there would be no Israel.”

  3. Michael silovic says:

    Mishkagora I appreciate your response and for the most part agree with you.I can only hope that someday the story will be told in truth about those who helped Jews flee the atrocities that occurred especially from the former Yugoslavia and the wrath of punishment that those who helped had received. I agree the issue of Israel/Palestine is complicated and I in no way meant to convey that the problem is Israel alone. However I do not see any solution to the problem other than NATO intervening to prevent any further bloodshed and to oversee the two state solution.I see no difference between that happening anymore than Serbia and Kosovo. As always your posts are a refreshing thought.

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