Bleiburg, Jasenovac and Hangar Ovcara – inseparable Croatian trinity of pain

An article titled “About Croatian Deaths” by dr. Slobodan Lang was published Thursday 11 October in Croatia’s

Hrvatski List” (No. 490, pages 39 – 40).

Its contents encapsulating Croatia’s symbols of pain, memorial area, unique symbols of injustice, agony, suffering, war and post-war crimes into a plea for every person’s right to a grave to be honoured is compelling.

And, on this occasion of General Ante Gotovina’s birthday, it is most fitting that this article be translated into English and shared worldwide. I have done this here.

“Croatian Death

(Translated from the Croatian language by Ina Vukic)

Boris Sprem, president of Croatian parliament, died at the age of 56.

He died of Plasmacytoma, a grave illness, while undergoing treatment in America and still holding a high position in Croatia. Everything that could be done was done for him as a patient. The main responsibility for the future is to develop new knowledge. Bone marrow transplantation was initiated in Croatia, way back, during late 1980’s.

Wikipedia writes little about him; that he was the main secretary of the Croatian Auto Club and of some political functions. No published works.

As a student of Medicine I learned that when someone younger than 80 dies, one (the doctor) should feel anger, because that person had not fully realised his/her right to life. When a person, a patient, dies after the age of 80, we feel pain, because an irreplaceable person has gone forever. Every death stirs love and responsibility for life, remembrance of the past and work for the future.

Mr Boris Sprem’s death causes anger. He lived too short a life.

Croatian Dying

We have shown the highest level of advocacy for patient’s rights in the case of illness and dying of General Janko Bobetko. In that time, the coalition held Croatian government just as it does today.  The Hague Tribunal had, in spring of 2002, charged him with war crimes perpetrated in 1993, in Operation Medacki Dzep. The General stated that he would not go to the Hague alive and he refused to receive the indictment. War veterans surrounded his home and defended him as they did Vukovar, Osijek, Sibenik, Dobrovnik, Lasva Valley, Posavina …

At the end of September Jadranka Kosor, Vladimir Seks, Andrija Hebrang, Ljubo Cesic Rojs, Bosiljko Misetic, Slobodan Lang and Ante Kotromanovic visited him in his home at Tuskanac. Bosiljko Misetic said that he visited the General as a friend and as a lawyer. Andrija Hebrang did not want to comment, and Lang as a doctor: “The General is a courageous man and knows how to bear a burden, which is also evident in his biography.” General Ljubo Cesic Rojs said: “War veterans do not surrender to anyone, what kind of defenders would we be if we surrender? There’ll be no surrender.” As to the question of what if Bobetko were to be apprehended, Cesic Rojs bespoke: “We will defend him.”

Dr Andro Vlahusic, then minister for health, ensured home based medical services, and the professional team of doctors, headed by Dr. Mijo Bergovec, rejected handing over to The Hague. The international team of doctors accepted Croatian doctors’ opinion and the General was defended from aggression against a patient and a man. He died free, in spring of 2003 in Zagreb. By testamentary he ordered the defense of Croatian truth and dignity. “I have a clean face which allows me to leave behind a written footprint of everything I have done and finished during my military and political life that lasted for more than five decades.”

President Tudjman had shown a captivating strength even as a patient. A part of the so-called left-wing had at the time embarrassed Croatian humanism with disrespect, insults and mockery of the patient, the man and his illness, the treatment and suffering. The diagnosis was confirmed in 1996 at the Walter Reed hospital. He died at the age of 77. His funeral was magnificent, an expression of dignity and gratefulness of the Croatian people to a great man. The absence of international dignitaries demonstrated that the world does not know the truth about him or about Croatia. In the imminent future we see that they did not know the truth about themselves.

The Croatian Dead

For the short time while Mr Sprem was its president, the Kukuriku coalition parliament abolished sponsorship over remembrance at Bleiburg.

Warfare, occupation, persecution, killing, judgments, concealment of graves and persecution of truth mark the Croatia of the twentieth century. During World War II Croatia was one of 35 countries under German occupation. Racist laws were also enacted here, Jasenovac arose, and the victims did not receive a grave.

At the end of the war and during the post-war period, Bleiburg and the Way of the Cross – happened. Again, killing was allowed and graves were not. The whole of Croatia is filled with tomb-less people of that war. A small monument in Bleiburg is a crossroad between West Europe, where several thousand of people have been tried and convicted for war crimes, and East Europe, where several million of people were killed out of revenge and as threat for the future.    

One man is convicted in Israel and more than 20,000 people pronounced righteous among the nations because they had exposed their own lives at risk for saving Jews. Neither Yugoslavia nor Europe has shown interest for good people and their deeds.

In Yugoslavia, after World War II, monuments were raised to some while it was forbidden to know about the others. Tito’s brotherhood and unity among various nationalities was based on the duty to hate and division inside every nation. The brotherhood of hatred is Cain’s brotherhood. The Second World War was not a conflict between good and evil, but between the bad and the worse. Allies were marked by racism and imperialism (Western and Eastern) with divisions into superior and inferior people.  Axis powers, especially Nazism, also introduced non-humans, those who must not even live. That was the conflict of Constantine’s sword and godlessness. Rare ones defended Jesus: girl and maiden Ana Frank, 20 year old Karol Józef Wojtyla, forty year old Massimiliano Maria Kolbe, Aloysius Stepinac … the righteous who defended all whose life was endangered. Everyone’s life is God’s. We are here to give it, live it and build it, and not to take life.   

Asked about how he could erect a monument in Jasenovac if it was banned to know the dead, at the end of nineties in Vienna Bogdan Bogdanovic replied that it was promised that the names of the victims would be made known before the erection of the monument. He considered himself duped. He gave me his drawing and wrote “ To Mr Slobodan Lang and with apology.” Post-war monuments in Croatia did not respect the dead but served as cover-up of truth and suffering. That’s no art.

During the Homeland War, inspired by the painful inheritance, we watched over every grave. Nevertheless, it took many years to tidy up the memorial centre in the Hangar on Ovcara (Vukovar).

Bleiburg, Jasenovac and Hangar Ovcara, are an inseparable Croatian trinity of pain, memorial area, unique symbols of injustice, agony, suffering, war and post-war crimes.  The families of victims, religious rites and scientific understandings are the most important elements of remembrance. Unfortunately, even during this very week in Zagreb a gathering was held about who has and who does not have the right to a grave.   

Based on my personal painful experience I, as a man, as a believer and as a representative of President Tudjman proposed to the Parliament more than ten years ago that all people should be given the right to a grave. Majority rejected my proposal. Instead, President Tudjman was accused of wanting to agitate bones. The proposal of a right to a grave was twisted into agitating bones. I have been proposing that Victims of Fascism Square be renamed to Victims’ Square for many years. Do not divide the dead.

Mr Boris Sprem, as Speaker of Parliament, took upon himself the responsibility of paying tribute to victims, with the following words: “We will pay tribute to the victims of the Way of the Cross in places where the number of such victims was the greatest, in an appropriate and dignified way.” Let’s do this with a joint memorial area for the Croatian trinity of pain by renaming Victims of Fascism Square into Victims’ Square, by the right of every dead person to a grave and brotherhood inside the nation, and peace and cooperation between nations.

Croatian palliative

Mr Sprem died during the week of Palliative medicine. When I headed Zagreb’s health care, I spent two hours by the side of a dying child every month. In the last war an intellectually disabled girl from Croatia, whom we found in Bosnia and Herzegovina, said: “Let them know in Croatia that we will love them even if they don’t ask about us.” My friend, a communist, a gentleman, colleague Mirko Kralj recently died from melanoma, in his home, surrounded by love of his wife and daughter, giving dignity to all. At Mirko’s funeral no one from SDP gave a speech. He, his beautiful wife and daughter achieved the act of Jesus’ love. Young nurse in Dubrovnik helps the patients, studies and establishes the palliative, and wants to create a family and become a mother. My daughter’s looking after her baby, for whom I pray, and my dear gypsy is pregnant again, in twelfth pregnancy but still came to work, collects that which we throw away. Support Palliative medicine.

Croatian Death

Since the year 2000, more than 2000 Croatian war veterans have committed suicide due to rejection, lies, persecution.

After the year 2000, Croatia is being judged, robbed, thieved, doesn’t allow the young to form a family, to give birth to children nor to work.

That is structural genocide. Croatia is dying.

Croatian Truth

To a very large extent the world had neglected the truth about Polish suffering in World War II. We know of the Holocaust, of the Warsaw ghetto and uprising, of the Katyn forest, but not of Poland. Himmler decided that “the only aim of education was to teach them simple arithmetic, nothing above the number 500, writing of own name and that God’s law was to obey the Germans … Reading is not desirable.”  It was planned to ethnically deport 30 million of Poles, 200 000 Polish children of Aryan appearance were kidnapped and given to German parents. Majority was never returned. It was only in 2012 that a book was published of the whole truth about Poland’s suffering and the magnitude of it.

We do not know the truth of Croatian suffering, persecution, patriotism, courage, wisdom, adaptability, universality. President Tudjman was persecuted as a historian for telling the truth, before 1990 and after his death. The would be intellectuals began, from 1993, talking about the need to de-Ustashesise. Then, with discretion, people from outside told them to rather talk about de-Tudjmanisation. 

Croatia does not know the truth about itself. We are not allowed to know it, our children are not allowed to learn it, and it is not allowed for world to be informed. I’m ashamed of Croatian historians. Let’s permit Croatian truth.

Croatian Faith

The Mayor of Zagreb, Minister Mrsic and only a few parliamentarians – Gordana Sabol, Jozo Rados, Zeljko Reiner … – were at the Mass held for Mr Sprem. Politics are more important to the parliamentarians than faith. I’m a believer; of course I attend a Mass for Ante Pavelic.

Is there a God?

Pervading all and everywhere and always beckons us to continue God’s work with human responsibility and care for the family, care for the environment and development of society.

Believe in Croatia, in the young, in having children, in work, in truth, in creating Croatia, in respect of suffering, in President Tudjman, in the innocence of Gotovina and Markac, in future, in Jesus.

Goodbye Mr Boris Sprem. As a citizen, I’ve proposed to today’s members of parliament, regardless of which party they belong to, how they should pay tribute to you. Has Croatia got even one single representative of the people?

We need a Croatian National assembly!

Happy birthday General Ante Gotovina!

Dr. Slobodan Lang

Dr Slobodan Lang Photo: Pixsell

About dr. Slobodan Lang. Born to Jewish family 8 October 1945 in Zagreb, Croatia. Physician, author, writer, politician and former personal adviser to the first Croatian President dr. Franjo Tudjman. His paternal grandfather Ignjat was the president of the Jewish community in Vinkovci (Croatia) and his grandmother Terezija was a housewife. In 1941 Catholic priest Hijacint Bošković, distinguished Dubrovnik and Croatian Dominican, was engaged in an extraordinary attempt to rescue the Langs from Nazi persecution. Bošković traveled from Dubrovnik to Vinkovci with a special permit that allowed him to relocate the Langs to Dubrovnik. Langs grandfather refused to leave, saying that he “was the president of Jews in peace and he will stay one in the war”. Both of his grandparents were killed in the concentration camp during the Holocaust. He graduated at the University of Zagreb School of Medicine and is a specialist in social medicine. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slobodan_Lang)

 

Croatia: Government attempting to belittle WWII Communist Crimes

Section of Tezno mass grave - 15,000 victims - Photo: Ben Freeman

While the Croatian Social Democrat led government has declined to continue sponsoring the WWII Bleiburg Tragedy commemorations, its leaders have decided to pay respects to victims at the Tezno mass grave (about 15,000 murdered there).

The only problem is that Tezno mass grave is only one of many places of WWII, and after, where communist crimes against innocent people occurred and commemoration at Bleiburg honours all the victims, everywhere along the locations of the so-called Way of the Cross (death marches), after World War II ended.

It would seem clear that the government’s move to pinpoint Tezno as THE place to pay respects is a move to belittle and degrade the symbol that Bleiburg has become and to ensure that Jasenovac is seen as the place of terrible and widespread WWII war crimes in former Yugoslavia.

This way, they attempt to reduced in importance and severity of the communist crimes committed at Bleiburg and along the Way of the Cross.

Even though the government will not sponsor the Bleiburg Tragedy commemoration it is still to be held on Saturday 12 May. Its sponsors include Western Herzegovina county, Osijek-Baranja county and émigrés from California. It is announced that Tomislav Karamarko, candidate for president of Croatian Democratic Union (largest political party in Opposition) elections to be held in May, will deliver a keynote speech at Bleiburg.

In an interview by Croatian HRT TV News (28 April 2012) Croatia’s Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said that he would not attend the commemoration of the World War II tragedy (massacres) but that instead, he, Boris Sprem the Speaker of the Parliament and President Ivo Josipovic will attend a commemoration at Tezno, Slovenia, on May 15. Milanovic said that “the real victims of the execution” fell there and not at Bleiburg. Tezno was where the scaffold was, not Bleiburg, he added.

Well that is not the truth and Milanovic knows it. Real victims fell in many places.

His use of the word “scaffold” – the platform from which victims are executed – should not have been used for Tezno only as mass graves of innocent thousands of Croatians antifascist Partisans murdered in 1945, after World War II, have been discovered in multitudes.

As the prime minister of Croatia, I feel the obligation to pay my respects to the people who were killed there in their thousands. We are going to Tezno because the execution site there carries both actual and symbolic weight. Bleiburg may carry symbolic weight for some people, I can accept that, but that’s not the place to commemorate the victims”, Milanovic said for Croatian TV.

Mile Prpa, Portal HR.Svijet, in his article 22 April Bleiburg Tragedy – the Hypocrisy of Politics: “Imagine, to date there have been more than 1,600 mass graves (in some there are several tens of thousands of victims) strewn across Slovenia, Croatia (equally in parts where there were and where there were no Ustadshi), then across Bosnia and Herzegovina, but numerous also across Serbia to Macedonia. Out of the multitude of victims the names of the majority were not known, there was killings of people that were not acceptable to the government, among them about 80% Croatian”.

Bleiburg is the concept covering the destruction of almost the whole of the Croatian youth of the time, among whom there was a very, very high percentage of innocent or not even couple of percent of guilty, it’s also the concept for mass destruction of the large part of Croatian intelligence of all possible professions from journalists to priests. Bleiburg symbolizes an attack against entire people, everything that was vital had to be destroyed, when it was armed and unarmed and when they posed not even a minute threat. Rarely have people in the newer era, mainly during peace era, experienced so much and such tragedy. And those who have experienced it, have done so under the communist authorities”.

If Milanovic, Sprem and Josipovic are serious about paying respects to places where the “scaffolds” were then they must visit every pit, every mass grave of innocent lives taken by their antifascist predecessors, not just Tezno. Milanovic has been to Tezno as leader of the Opposition (Social Democratic Party) in 2009, he could have chosen another mass grave this year if he doesn’t want to go to Bleiburg. Saying that Tezno is the places where actual executions took place is wrong because Tezno is only one among many.

That is why Bleiburg commemoration is so very important – it is the place where all victims of the WWII and post-WWII communist purges are remembered. Death marches back to communist Yugoslavia started at Bleiburg. In “Bleiburg Massacres” by Count Nikolai Tolstoy one can see the very significance of Bleiburg and why that is the place to commemorate the victims without politics that Croatian current government is playing upon this terrible, sad, sad chapter of Croatian history. Ina Vukic, Prof.(Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps.(Syd)

VIDEOS: WW2 Massacre Made by Partisans in Bleiburg:

PART 1:

PART 2:

PART 3:

Croatia: Commemorating the 82,085 recorded deaths in WWII Jasenovac area concentration camps

Jasenovac Flower Memorial (Photo HRT)

22 April 2012 marks the 67th anniversary of the Jasenovac concentration camp prisoner break-out.

A commemoration was held at that largest detention and work camp of the Independent State of Croatia (1941 – 1945). Out of 1073 prisoners still held there on 22 April 1945, 600 of them broke out and barely 100 of them survived the breakout. The remaining 473, who did not attempt to escape , were killed or burned, reports the Croatian television HRT.

Numerous dignitaries including Ivo Josipovic (President), Zoran Milanovic (Prime Minister) and Boris Sprem (Speaker of Parliament) attended the commemoration at the Flower monument, Jasenovac.

67th commemoration at Jasenovac, 22 April 2012 (Photo:HRT)

Katica Sedmak, the president of the Advisory Council of Jasenovac Area Memorials, spoke first at the commemoration. She sent a special greeting to the survivors of Jasenovac concentration camp and some 70 other camps in World War II Croatia, who suffered from war crimes.

Sedmak said that, to date, there are 82,085 recorded deaths over ten localities in the area of Jasenovac and that the victims were Serbs, Roma, Jews, Croatians and antifascists. She said that there were 20,038 children under the age of 14 among the victims, and that if there were no humanists there that number would have been greater and more terrible.

Brigita Knezevic, the representative of prisoners and herself a survivor, said that Jasenovac area should always remind us about the victims who had lost their lives there and that evil should never be repeated, that we should build our life and future in love and tolerance. This vow we must leave to future generations, she said.

ABOUT JASENOVAC
 

(taken from Jasenovac Memorial Site portal http://www.jusp-jasenovac.hr)

Jasenovac Memorial Site is in the immediate vicinity of the former Jasenovac concentration camp, Camp III (Brickworks). In the Memorial Site the original sites of buildings and execution sites within the camp itself are marked by earth mounds and hollows. The path to the Flower Memorial is paved with railway sleepers. They denote symbolically part of the preserved railway track used to transport prisoners to the camp. 

Along with the memorial area, Jasenovac Memorial Site is responsible for the original, preserved camp building known as The Tower, the Stara Gradiška Camp cemetery, the Roma cemetery in Uštica and the mass graves in Krapje, Mlaka and Jablanac. 

The activities of Jasenovac Memorial Site have developed in different directions and include compiling, researching, scientifically processing, preserving and exhibiting the museum buildings and documents on how the Jasenovac Ustasha camp system operated; an educational programme; organising exhibitions and publications; ongoing co-operation with surviving prisoners and organising commemorative events in honour of the Jasenovac victims. 

Besides the Memorial Museum, the Education Centre is also part of Jasenovac Memorial Site. 

Jasenovac is a place in which visitors will discover the exceptional suffering and incredible courage of the Jasenovac victims, but also learn of the strength of hope in life and faith in humankind, as emphasised in particular by the survivors.

Thanks to all the Jasenovac victims, Jasenovac today is a place which encourages contemplation, learning, research, building personal convictions and actively resisting evil and crime, and is also a place where the value of human life and the moral principles which characterise humankind are embraced. Jasenovac is a place from which we should all depart having reached the decision that evil and the “Jasenovac” crimes should never be repeated, anywhere. Differences between peoples, cultures and nationalities should be respected, communicated and taught, and never again allowed to be the causes of crimes against humanity”.

This is the ugly part of Croatia’s World War II history that the whole world, rightfully, needs to remember with condemnation. That history though, haunts the people much more than what it should 70 years on, I would say, because of the irksome, grossly false representations of numbers of victims that fell at Jasenovac one finds in books, newspapers and on the internet.

Furthermore, the other ugly part of Croatia’s World War II history, viz. communist crimes and massacres committed by antifascists have not yet been fully condemned nor have the faces of the perpetrators been branded with the deserved mark of abhorrence.

It is sad to see that even on this 67th anniversary of Jasenovac deaths the “antifascists” as victims of the camp are referred to as a separate group of victims. I ask myself: why is this so? Weren’t those antifascists members of all or any of the ethnic groups on the victim list: Serbian, Jews, Croatian and Roma? Mentioning antifascists as a distinct group of victims is repugnant in this context. It is a fact that Croatians who were against the Ustashi/Nazi regime, were exterminated in Jasenovac, the same would go for some members of the other ethnic groups.

And so, sadly, the antifascists bring politics to Jasenovac commemoration. But let’s hope that people will not forget either of the two ugly parts of Croatia’s WWII history, and press on with making the antifascists condemn and convict the atrocities their predecessors committed. The young people of Croatia should recognise the destructive antifascist politics and reject the hypocrisy it brings (even to the Jasenovac commemoration), and move on into a future that has reconciled its past fully, otherwise tension and discontent will linger. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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