All apologies for victims of the Holocaust not equally welcome?

Jasenovac – the memorial monument

During his visit to Israel last week Croatia’s president Ivo Josipovic apologised to the Jewish people for the role Croatia played during World War II in the crimes against Jews.

In almost the same breath, Josipovic said: “amendments to the compensation law that will be made soon, will also include Holocaust survivors, private individuals, their inheritors or local communities.” Jerusalem based newspaper Haaretz reports.

Haaretz also reported that the former Croatian president Stjepan Mesic had done the same thing a few years ago (2001), but omits to mention that the late president of Croatia dr Franjo Tudjman publicly stated in 1997 (when diplomatic relations were established between the two countries) that he intended to visit Israel and apologise on behalf of Croatia for Croatia’s role in the Holocaust.

I would have thought that one formal or official apology on behalf of Croatia was adequate and all further ones are unnecessary. What’s done is done and I have no doubt that both Mesic’s and Josipovic’s apologies reflect the sentiments of regret of the Croatian people, as did President Tudjman’s way back in the 1990’s.

Having said that, it’s quite interesting (politically calculated?) how “Israel” accepted apologies given by former (if not still) pro-Communist Yugoslavia lot (Mesic and Josipovic) and brushed aside rather rudely the apology publicly announced (and broadcasted by the world’s major news media houses) by Franjo Tudjman for his planned visit to Israel in the 1997.

Tudjman’s visit to Israel, though, never eventuated in 1997/1998, and he died in 1999.

Back in 1997, the Israeli government’s decision to establish diplomatic ties with Croatia came under sharp criticism from Labor Knesset member Yossi Beilin, who said Tudjman had yet to fully repudiate writings that cast doubt on the number of people killed during the Holocaust.

 The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel also joined the chorus of critics urging Israel to reconsider its ties with Croatia.

The establishment of ties came (1998) after Tudjman said he planned to visit Israel and apologise for his nation’s persecution of Jews during World War II.

By the way, this was not the first time Tudjman directed a sincere apology to Jews on behalf of the Croatian people for the role Croatia played in WWII crimes against Jews. In January 1992 he wrote letter to Edgar Bronfman, president of World Jewish Congress, noting:

“…The Ustashe regime committed countless war crimes and crimes against humanity. That was a regime which, under the protection of the Nazi and Fascist occupation forces, persecuted Jews and members of other nationalities as well as Croatian political opponents in the most brutal manner. With these crimes, it irrevocably joined its patrons, sharing their historical fate. On the other hand, a vast number of Croats, myself among them, took up arms against the Ustashe reign of terror and the Nazi and Fascist occupation forces. We deeply regret the fact that the Jewish people in Croatia suffered the tragic fate of the Holocaust during World War II.”

Undeniably, for Israel and the case of apology on behalf of the Croatian people, it’s not all the same (as it should be) who utters that apology. That is truly sad and wicked, not to mention politically driven.

Tudjman wrote in his book about Jasenovac concentration camp run by the WWII Croatian government. Historians have not agreed as to the number of people that perished in Jasenovac and the truth may never be known. Estimated numbers of victims that perished put forth by world’s historians since WWII range from 700,000 to 150,000. These numbers include the killings of Serbs, Jews, Roma and Croatians who were against the fascist government.

Croatians have long maintained that about 60,000 perished in the camp, but Tudjman claimed that even this figure is too high. The most probable figure, he maintained, is between 30,000 and 40,000. Moreover, he went on to say that Jewish inmates were largely responsible for the killings there. Besides, Tudjman had also publicly rejected the “Six Million” Holocaust victims in WWII Europe.

No wonder he wasn’t welcome in Israel. It’s easier to stick to claimed or possibly exaggerated estimates than to do something about investigating and confirming the true number of victims? Never mind, things may be slowly taking a reality check on numbers of victims as even the Simon Wiesenthal Center representatives are now publicly saying that the Serb version of 700,000 killed in Jasenovac “may possibly be an exaggeration”.

Back to what president Josipovic said in Jerusalem last week, i.e. his mention of changes in Croatia’s compensation laws. At the same time, Croatia’s foreign minister Vesna Pusic said that “the question of Jewish property which was taken, robbed and confiscated by the Ustashi regime from 1941 to 1945 must be solved”.

What tree do Josipovic and Pusic live on!? For crying out loud!

  • The law regarding the return of all nationalised/confiscated property (including the property confiscated during WWII) was passed in Croatia during 1990’s under Tudjman’s leadership.
  • For about 15 years there have been many cases by Jewish families living abroad from before and since WWII claiming the return of confiscated or nationalised property before Croatian courts with relatively little results so far.
  • Jewish property was confiscated during WWII but also before and after it. Before while Belgrade-based Yugoslav Kingdom ruled over Croatia and after, in Communist Yugoslavia. ALL confiscated property needs to be either returned or compensated for, not just the properties confiscated between 1941 and 1945.
  • The Communists (the camps from which Josipovic and Pusic stem) when they took power in Croatia after WWII did not go about returning the confiscated properties, oh no, they tightened up the nationalisation of property and moved their families into the confiscated properties. It is more likely than not that even president Josipovic and foreign minister Pusic grew up in those confiscated-from-Jews properties/ houses/ flats.
  • It would only be fair to say that, since WWII and post-WWII Communists/antifascists (who were happy to follow the Communist Yugoslav nationalisation laws) enjoyed freely for decades the properties they say Ustashi stole during WWII, they and/or their beneficiary descendants should participate in the compensation to Jews out of their own pockets and stop pointing a finger at the long-dead and gone Ustashis.
  • Many Jews left Croatia during the late 1930’s when the Third Reich was on the rise in Germany and their life and welfare threatened, leaving their possessions behind, unattended. This was the case in other European countries as well. Ustashi regime did not exist then.
  • Communists and antifascists have a nasty and vicious knack of throwing blame onto the WWII fascist regime for the confiscation of Jewish property and yet they themselves were the ones who actually nationalised all the confiscated properties, took more properties, and enjoyed them for personal gain for nearly 70 years.

Tagging the compensation laws and return of Jewish property only confiscated during WWII (not before or after) to an apology for crimes against Jews is absolutely repulsive and makes Josipovic’s apology a joke and a pathetic political manoeuvre attempting to score points for Communists or antifascists. Certainly, Croatian people do not deserve to be represented by an apology tainted with such political tricks,  point-scoring and half-truths. As for Stjepan Mesic he had done very little if anything during the ten years of his presidential mandate to advance and speed up the claims in Croatian courts that Jewish families filed in courts during the last couple of Years of Tudjman’s presidency. Whichever way one looks at it, despite Israel’s rejections of giving Tudjman credibility, Tudjman did more on the front of apologies and putting the processes for the return of the Jewish property in place than Josipovic and Mesic put together.  Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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