It was in February 2014 when the relatively young organisation that calls itself “Third Serbia”, in Serbia, urged Serbia’s government and the Serbian Orthodox Church and all Serbs to write to the Vatican and protest against the imminent canonisation of Croatia’s WWII Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac.
This politically charged organisation, rehashing the WWII concentration camp at Jasenovac in Croatia said at the time: “After seven decades we now have the opportunity to stop the silence, prevent a new path of oblivion for the victims, new whitewashing of crimes, and stop a new international recognition of genocide… This is an opportunity for Pope Francis to do that which Stepinac did not do – condemn the Ustashi genocide…”.
The organisation Third Serbia is not about reconciling Serbian history as it says it is. On the contrary, it keeps on doing what Serbia and most Serbs have always done when it comes to WWII and crimes of genocide/Holocaust – focus on WWII Croatia rather than WWII Serbia in order to continue concealment of Serbia’s atrocious record as Nazi-collaborators and exterminators of the Jews.
Indeed, the research and fact finding mission about the Blessed Aloysius Stepinac undertaken by US based dr Esther Gitman during the past fifteen years, which absolutely exonerated Stepinac of crimes of the Holocaust and revealed him as WWII rescuer of the Jews, the Serbs and the Roma people, as righteous, is a real threat to a continued concealment of Serbia’s part in the Holocaust. No wonder the “Third Serbia” has mobilised or has attempted to mobilise protests to the Vatican against the canonisation of Aloysius Stepinac!
At the International Symposium Southeastern Europe 1918-1995 Prof. Ljubica Stefan (A Righteous Among Nations), speaking on anti-Semitism in WWII Serbia, summarized the truth as follows: “Until today, Serbia has worn a hero’s halo in a land of martyrs as a member of the anti-Hitler coalition and an alleged contributor to the victory in the Second World War. This is completely untrue. Serbia was not an unfortunate occupied land subjected to German terror. During the entire war, Serbia was the most faithful ally to the Third Reich on European territory under its domination. As opposed to all the other countries of the former Yugoslavia, there was no organized, and an even less massive, armed anti-Hitler movement. When England finally ceased supporting and exalting Draza Mihajlovic, even Radio London, according to the Serbian press, had Mr. Harrison direct the following warning: ‘It is up to the Serbs to brighten their reputation and cleanse their blemishes. Serbs, remember! The Greater Serbian hegemony will never return. The other nations in Yugoslavia have been exploited enough by the Serbs. You are being given one more opportunity to save yourselves. There has been enough dawdling and enjoyment on the part of the Serbs while other nations have been fighting’.
Until now, the Holocaust in Serbia has been an unspoken topic, a taboo. Jewish and Serbian sources offer relatively little data, mostly fragmented. What really happened, nevertheless, may be seen…
The physical liquidation of Serbian Jews began immediately in the spring of 1941. Almost all the men were killed by the autumn and the women and children and the remaining men were liquidated at the end of April and the beginning of May, 1942…It was not only the Germans who captured and killed the Jews in Serbia, rather it was the Serbian Police, Nedic’s volunteers and Chetniks. Most were killed in the Sajmiste and Banjica concentration camps. Not a single Jew managed to escape from the camps…
The majority of Serbian Jews were killed in the Sajmiste camp… The camp was formed on the left bank of the Sava by the railway bridge at the entrance into Belgrade where the pre-war trade fair was located. This is where the name Sajmiste originated. This territory which was, at that time, deserted, uninhabited and marshy, was several kilometers from Zemun and formed a part of NDH (Independent State of Croatia) territory, so the Germans asked for it to be given to them. It is, however, completely untrue that this was an (Croatian) Ustasha camp which Serbian propaganda claims even today. Not one Ustasha ever entered the camp…
As camp inmates starved and froze to death, they were transferred over the frozen Sava to Belgrade where they were buried. Many (the number is unknown) were led away to be shot by firing squads in Belgrade. They were killed in the same manner, in the same place and by the same people as were the Banjica prisoners. Some were killed by the Germans in a special gas truck on their way to Belgrade and buried in Jajinci but their number is not known. A Serbian company ‘Obnova’ purchased the clothes of those. Some were led away to camps in other countries (numbers and destination are unknown). When the number of imprisoned Jews began to decrease, Serbian prisoners and others began to arrive. One of these prisoners recalls: ‘The criminals were the same as those in Banjica. The commanders were also the same – Germans, Nedic’s men and other Serbian fascists’. According to some data, all Jews in that camp were liquidated before May 9, 1942. Belgrade had become ‘Judenfrei’…
Finally, how did the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) act during World War II? Not one word of condemnation of the genocide, the yellow bands, the concentration camps or the racism was ever heard from them. Immediately upon the arrival of the Germans, representatives of the Holy Synod paid homage to the German military commander and stated, first in print and then in person: ‘The Holy Orthodox Synod will loyally carry out the laws and commands of the occupying and territorial authorities and will, through its organs, endeavour to effect the complete abidance of order, peace and obedience.’ The synod remained loyal to their promise until the end and it never violated its promise given to the ‘father of Serbia’ General Milan Nedic that ‘the Serbian Orthodox Church will, in the spirit of St. Sava’s Orthodox tradition, continue to fight on his side’. There are no known cases of any Serbian Orthodox priest saving the life or attempting to save the life of one Jew, although some of them often openly expressed anti-Semitic attitudes in their sermons, instigating their congregation against Jews. Metropolitan Josif, as the head of the Serbian church during wartime, signed orders that Jews be forbidden to transfer to the Orthodox faith, even though this would have saved them. Three episcopates were the first to sign the ‘Appeal to the Serbian people’ of August 1941, in which over 500 of the intellectual elite of Serbia publicly expressed their support of the occupiers and quislings, which was a unique case in war-affected Europe…”
While the Serbian Orthodox Church signed orders that Jews be forbidden to transfer to the Orthodox faith, even though this would have saved them, Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac, as evidenced from Dr Esther Gitman’s factual research, sent memos to the parish priests in Croatia:
“When you are visited by people of the Jewish or Eastern Orthodox faith, whose lives are in danger and who express the wish to convert to Catholicism, accept them in order to save human lives. Do not require any special religious knowledge from them, because the Eastern Orthodox are Christians like ourselves, and the Jewish faith is the faith from which Christianity draws its roots. The role and duty of Christians is, in the first place to save people. When this time of madness and of savagery passes, those who would convert out of conviction will remain in our church, while the others, after the danger passes, will return to their church.”
Indeed, the canonisation of Croatia’s Aloysius Stepinac will serve justice to humanity for, among celebrating the good in people that existed despite the horrible adversities of WWII, it will also undoubtedly open up a new window into the WWII truth of Serbia – something that is desperately needed if reconciliation of history is to be fully achieved. The organisation Third Serbia has a great deal to fear, indeed. No wonder they protest Stepinac’s canonisation!
On 22 November 1941 a major anti-Masonic exhibition was opened in Belgrade, Serbia. It was widely promoted by the media. Exhibition was funded by city authorities, at proposal of Djordje Peric, Head of Serbian state propaganda. The Serbian press hyped up the message of the exhibit: “Jews deserved their fate, for interests of the Jewish internationalists never coincided with those of Serbs.”
The WWII anti-Semitic exhibition in the Museum of Yugoslav History in Belgrade had breathed a new life in 2012, albeit under the banner of “The Holocaust in Serbia” for the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The eerie atmosphere emanating from Serbs attending the exhibition cut a loathsome, painful repulsion in an observer: a sense of hovering derangement in which the Serbs looked upon these exhibits as if they were someone else’s work, not theirs! And still, the loudest of Serbian population continues to blame Germany for the horrors of the Holocaust in WWII Serbia. Just like with today’s organisation “Third Serbia” that selective memory, which attempts to erase the responsibility of Serbs loyal to Nazism, is palpable almost everywhere one looks or happens to stumble upon. Instead of truly reconciling history “Third Serbia” has, like all other like-organisations of Serbs, taken the well-worn route of anti-Croatian propaganda by rehashing WWII events in Croatia without any regard to the truth as far as Aloysius Stepinac is concerned, in this case! I hope that if letters of protest against Stepinac’s canonisation do arrive in Vatican from Serb sources they will bounce back to where they originated from with “Return To Sender” written in bold black ink on the envelope. Truth wins hands down every time, even if that does take a long time in many instances. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)