Esther Gitman – Rebuttal To Serb Accusations Against Blessed Alojzije Stepinac

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Blessed Alojzije Stepinac (L) Dr Esther Gitman (R) Darko Tanaskovic (Top C) Porfirije Peric (Bottom C)

The new head of the Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Peric, like his predecessors, is not wasting time when it comes to attacking Blessed Alojzije Stepinac by introducing new, evidently maliciously twisted spanners into the canonisation works within the Catholic Church. Pope Francis, it would seem, is, when it comes to the canonisation of Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, pursuing a road that abandons the declarations of the Catholic Church’s Pope John Paull II, now Saint, regarding Alojzije Stepinac and is looking to compromise the will and the truth of Catholics of Croatia in order to achieve some kind of unity with the Serbian Orthodox Church that has for decades persistently and politically used lies and half-truths to blacken Croatia and its Archbishop and Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac. A few days ago Darko Tanaskovic, a member of the first mixed commission of Catholic and Orthodox representatives regarding the canonisation of Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, said for Sputnik news in Serbia, among other things, that Patriarch Peric has some Stepinac letters for which he says that Stepinac should not be made a saint for Christian community! And this evidently personal interpretation and defilement of historical truth, for obviously political reasons, comes from a head of the church, Serbian Orthodox Church, that still to this day refuse to accept and acknowledge the leading role it played in Serbia becoming one of the first WWII a Judernfrei (Jew free) states in Europe!

New York based Dr Esther Gitman, a reputable historian specialising in Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac and the rescue and survival of Jews and others in the WWII Croatia has sent me her written response and reaction, a rebuttal to the above public statements made by Darko Tanaskovic and Patriarch Peric. Here is what Dr Gitman wrote.(Ina Vukic)  

Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac in the Historical Context by Esther Gitman, April 2021:

In face of one of the vilest attacks against Blessed Stepinac that is taking place only days after the new Serbian Bishop Porfirije Perić was chosen to become the successor to the Patriarch Irinej. To make his presence known, influential, and acknowledged as a true Serbian religious leader, he chose, as his predecessors did, to attack the memory of Dr. Alojzije Viktor Stepinac, the former Archbishop, and Cardinal of Zagreb who had passed away in Krasić, a place of his birth, of his house arrest, on February 10, 1960, 61 years ago. 

The question one may ask: Why Porfirije (Patriarch), so soon after his being promoted to succeed Patriarch Irinej, has elected, as one of his first tasks, to attack the memory of Alojzije Stepinac, with a hope to nullify the elevation of Stepinac to sainthood. The issue of Stepinac’s canonization was raised when Dr. Darko Tanasković, one of the participants, in the joint meeting in the Vatican, between Serbs and Croats re Stepinac’s conduct during the war years. Dr. Darko Tanaskovic, one of the Serbian participants,  reported to Sputnik- news that Stepinac’s chances of being elevated to sainthood are diminishing! Tanasković asserts that Pope Francis will not bring a resolution in favor of the Croatian side which would splinter the Christian world even further.

Tanasković, and I assume other Serbs, argues that it is absolutely clear that Stepinac supported the Ustashe. Tanasković further argues that Stepinac was a problematic figure and thus under no circumstances and under no criteria he can become a saint! He explains that it was important for the Serbian side to prove this point! He goes on to state that it is not clear yet to what measure Stepinac was a criminal and that he must have been aware of all the crimes that were committed against Serbs, Roma, and Jews, and although at some instances he was helpful, he never raised the issue of cleansing the Serbs via conversions to Catholicism.

After the war, Stepinac was indicted under the laws, on crimes against the people and the State, approved on August I5, 1945, and amended July 9, 1946. These laws were entirely the product of the new popular democracy in the process of formation in Yugoslavia. They constituted a complete break from the traditional past and rejected outright the usual procedures and guarantees contained in previous legislation. Moreover, the new laws, conceived along strictly political and communist lines, were drafted and put into effect after the alleged crimes committed by the Archbishop. In this way, the prelate was arrested and tried ex post facto, for offenses that were not criminal in the code in existence at the time of their supposed commission. 

The objective of this response is to rebut the accusations made against by Archbishop Stepinac for more than seven decades. And reached a crescendo with the rise to power of Bishop Porfirije Perić, I will begin with three memorable quotes uttered by Stepinac during his trial. He stated: 

“You accuse me of being an enemy of the government of the state and of the people of Yugoslavia. Please tell me what was my government in the year 1941? Was it that of the instigator Simović in Belgrade – the traitor, as you call him – the one in London, or was it You in the forests or the one in Zagreb? …We were not able to ignore the government here, even if it was a Ustaša regime.  Only since May 8, 1945, have you had the right to interrogate me and to hold me responsible. In summary, he declared…My conscience is clear and I’m not going to say any more about it. You can bring a thousand proofs, but you will never be able to prove a single crime against me! His motto was:  

“Only one race really exists and that is the Divine race. Its birth certificate is found in the book of Genesis. All of them without one exception, whether they belong to the race of Gypsies or to another, whether they Are Negroes or civilized Europeans, whether they are detested Jews or proud Aryans, have the same right to say ‘our Father who Art in Heaven.”   

The second quote: Hundreds of times during the trial I have been called “the defendant Stepinac.“ There is no one so naïve as not to know that with the defendant Stepinac” here on the bench sits the Archbishop of Zagreb, the Metropolitan and the head of the Catholic Church in Yugoslavia. 

The final quote: I was not persona grata to either the Germans or the Ustashe; I was not an Ustasha nor did I take their oath as did some of the officials of this court whom I see here. 

The question posed is one of the most delicate and serious nature, connected not only with modern warfare but with the entire problem of post-war Europe. Collaborationism has been used as a term of reprobation with incredible largesse. In most of the western European countries that knew the tragedy of occupation by Nazi Germany and their collaborators, hundreds of citizens have been accused, indicted, and sometimes imprisoned for collaboration, whose acts were very different from those of out and out collaborators or participants in the governments imposed by the invaders. What really constitutes collaboration in the case of the ordinary inhabitants is not always easily proved. Many post-war lawyers, including Ivo Politeo, Stepinac’s post-war lawyer argued that simply because one was not a resistance hero, does not make him ipso facto a traitor.

In this final segment, by no means all-encompassing, I will discuss briefly, the rules and regulations imposed upon Alojzije Stepinac while serving as an Archbishop of Zagreb during World War II (WWII). Some of these rules were imposed on him by the Roman Catholic Church and by the decisions of the European League of Nations. By understanding what was required of Stepinac during the war, many accusations levelled against him will have to be reconsidered. 

During the war the Archbishop of Zagreb was bound by the Church Constitution, “Solicitude Ecclesiarum; issued by Pope Gregory XVI in l831. This document was consistent with provisions of the 1907 Hague and 1929 Geneva conventions, which affirmed that: 

During a state of war, all legal power passes into the hands of the occupier, who is authorized and obligated to maintain public order and public life by demanding obedience of the inhabitants, with specified exceptions.”  

The Church’s Constitution directed the highest religious authority to enter into discussion with the occupiers commanded that in order to ensure the spiritual welfare and rights of its parishioners, church representatives should enter into relation and a conversation, with those persons who actually exercise power, in other words with the occupiers. These representatives, of the likes of Archbishop Stepinac, also had a duty to defend the rights of the Roman Catholic Church as they existed prior to the occupation. Under these obligations, Stepinac acted as his vows and the Vatican expected of him. He chastised the regime for daily violations of church ordinances, such as forced conversions of Serbs who had already been baptized, although he approved of conversions that were voluntary and undergone in order to save human lives. Stepinac also raised his voice against violations of human rights and insisted on preserving human dignity.

Historians who questioned his visits to Slavko Kvaternik and Ante Pavelic and, in fact, accused him of treason, did it either out of ignorance of what his duties vis-à-vis the occupiers were or wished maliciously to accuse him of cooperating with the enemy. But, in fact, they failed to consider the constraints under which Stepinac was obliged to act in his official role as archbishop.  Stepinac always abided by the Laws of the Church which coincided with his own conscience. 

The Vatican instructed Stepinac to be mindful of his words and conduct, in the interest of saving lives. He also raised his voice against violations of human rights and requested conduct that would preserve human dignity. Historians of the likes of Ivo Goldstein and many other Serbian historians and politicians questioned his visits to Kvaternik and Pavelic accusing him of helping the enemy while in essence, he was acting exactly as he was supposed to act in order to keep law and order and save lives. performing as was requested of him to act in his official role as an archbishop.  

Moreover, the Vatican instructed Stepinac to be mindful of his words and conduct in the interest of saving lives. This was especially of the essence after the Vigorous efforts to defend Jews by the Catholic hierarchy in the Netherlands, when in 1942 the Nazis rounded up all Jews, even long-time converts, including priests and nuns, and ended their lives. The Dutch bishops demonstrated great courage, but 79 percent of the country’s Jews, 110.000 individuals, were murdered. The Nazis were determined to prevent similar attempts of rebellion against them and attempts to rescue Jews elsewhere.

Both Croatian and German officials viewed Stepinac as Judenfreundlich-friendly toward Jews. Stepinac acknowledged that the Ustashe would be a liability to the humanitarian fabric of the Croatian society for years to come, and he detested the Nazis, Ustashe and the communists in equal measure. Stepinac emphasized the Christian principles of justice and freedom of the individual and nations…

With great sorrow, he wrote: The Croatian government would have to bear full responsibility for the growth of the Communist partisan movement. Because of severe and unlawful measures employed against Orthodox Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies in imitation of German methods! 

I just cannot imagine that Pope Francis will ignore all the goodness Archbishop Stepinac has done during the war years! Yesterday was a Remembrance Day for all the Jews that have perished at the hand of Nazi Germany and their European collaborator. At some point during the memorial, my thoughts drifted to Archbishop Stepinac who, in 1942. prevented a major catastrophe when he heard that the governor of the Italian zones of occupation, Giuseppe Bastianini wished to send all the Jews, around 6000, back to the NDH (WWII Independent State of Croatia). Stepinac, jointly with Abbot Marcone obtained a permit, with the help of the Vatican, for all Jews to remain under the protection of the Italian Second Armata. My mother and I were among thousands of other Jews who survived. I owe gratitude and acknowledgment to Archbishop Stepinac and the Vatican! The documents and the testimonies of survivors demonstrate his unstoppable battle against the perpetrators’ devious plans. Stepinac’s generosity and kindness towards all those who sought his assistance, and received it regardless of religion, ethnicity, or political affiliation is documented in factual history! Thank you! Esther Gitman

Comments

  1. I tried to give Porfirjie the benefit of the doubt when he was elected, since many thought he would be better. But I’m not the tiniest bit surprised about his choice to continue smearing Stepinac. In his logic, my priest is a communist sympathizer because he forcibly served in the military, read and watched state-sponsored media, and worked for the state-established system in the totalitarian communist yugoslavian state. My priest does in no way condone the terrible crimes the communists committed, but he worked for them because he had no choice, but also because he loved his homeland and he must have known that Tito had no power over God’s will. When Tito died, the state unsurprisingly fell, but the many years of misinformation, lies and smear campaigns against Stepinac did not end. The current Croatian state should absolutely apologize, even though the politicians alive today did not participate in the initial smear campaign against Stepinac. Why? Because they claim heritage to the partisans, and the partisans were responsible for thousands of propaganda drawings, posters, and articles against Stepinac, as well as massacres and murder of thousands of innocent people.

    If Stepinac had spoken out loudly against the crimes committed by the ustashe right from the start, he might have been killed quickly, and become a martyr. My theory is that he chose a different strategy that would allow him to save more people and not get killed before he was able to. Regardless of what he choose to do, he was a holy man, and I knew it from the moment I first saw a picture of him. I know Pope Francis well enough to know that if he wasn’t so guillible he would canonize Stepinac immediately. I bet the left would love his sermons against racism if he was not a catholic. In fact, he would be much more celebrated if he was not a catholic.

    • Stepinac did speak out against crimes, against race laws (that all countries had then in one way or another, by the way). He did save a lot of people and not all Ustashes committed crimes, in fact a quite small proportion when you look at the crimes other elements such as Serb Chetniks and communist Partisans did in the then Yugoslavia. Croatia and Ustashe fought for independence from Yugoslav concoction. It is indeed sad that crimes were committed but crimes did not define Independent State of Croatia, NDH, fighting for independence did. The false history written by the enemies of independent Croatia must be rectified for triuth’s sake, Salli!

  2. I learned a lot by your well written post. It sounds like some are trying to hide the truth and rewrite history, just as they are trying to do here.

  3. O duminică plăcută, Ina ! 🙂
    Alioșa ! 🙂

  4. O duminică plăcută, Ina ! 🙂
    Alioșa ! 🙂

  5. Mary Beke says:

    We need to get copies of Dr. Gitman’s book available in the US. i don’t believe that Amazon is going to do anything and have noticed that they now carry more books on Abp Stepinac written by Serbians – telling the same old lies. i don’t think people worldwide yet understand that Serbia was the first country to entirely rid itself of the Jewish people. So, somehow we need to get Dr. Gitman’s book “ALOJZIJE STEPINAC: PILLAR OF HUMAN RIGHTS BY ESTHER GITMAN” available here in the US. i have consistently tried to order a copy for myself from the Croatian publisher and have not been able to. Maybe there is a way that Dr. Gitman can contact Ignatius Press – a Catholic publisher and bookseller in the US and ask them to re-print her book? And also have somebody help the Croatian Publisher do an order page in English so we can get this book?

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