Croatia: Ironically The Real Rescuer Of These Jews, Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac Still Awaits Recognition As Righteous – Dr Esther Gitman

Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac Oil painting Croatian Church Chicago

Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac
Oil painting Croatian Church Chicago

It has been over two years since the release of Dr Esther Gitman’s book “When Courage Prevailed: The Rescue and Survival of Jews in the Independent State of Croatia 1941-1945” (see links to the book in the left margin of this blog website Home page).

Her research findings have confirmed that Croatia’s WWII Archbishop Aloysius (Alojzije) Stepinac was in fact a prolific and an utterly dedicated saviour of Jews during WWII days of the Holocaust and not the “Nazi collaborator” that the Yugoslav communist regime convicted him of after the war, serving him with a trial at which he had no right to a defense. It is in the latter context that Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac had been presented via the communist propaganda as a “symbol” of the Holocaust that occurred in Croatia. Despite that, the Catholic Church had not stood idle for the truth all the years and Stepinac was beatified and pronounced Blessed by Pope John Paul II on 3 October 1998.

As the time approaches when Stepinac is to be canonised (declared a Saint of the Catholic Church) there were a couple unsavoury activities in the Croatian media last week, evidently including some Jewish persons who in this way pander to a few but perhaps “powerful” Jews connected to the communist movement of the past and apparently the present. It was noted in a couple of brief articles from Croatia that certain Jewish persons from Croatia were intending to protest to the Vatican regarding the pending canonisation of Aloysius Stepinac! The reasoning behind this was presented in that while Aloysius Stepinac was the Archbishop of the WWII Croatian Catholic Church multitudes of Serb Orthodox and Jewish people were forced to convert to Catholicism! The operative lie in this propaganda is contained in the word “forced”.

To that I say: Read and grasp the truth in the independent findings on the matter by Dr Esther Gitman! Here is a sample (translated) of actual secret memos sent during the War by Stepinac 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.”

On Wednesday 19 February 2014 I had the privilege to organise a media event and presentation by Dr Esther Gitman on the good that Aloysius Stepinac did during WWII in rescuing and saving Jews. The event was held in the NSW Public Library, Mitchell Wing, next door to the NSW Parliament House.

It has been my privilege to organise this very successful event as yet another milestone in Dr Gitman’s path to spreading the researched and, indeed, personally lived truth of the Rescue and Survival of Jews in WWII Croatia. While her authoritative and detailed research findings have given her (and the world) factual insights into the great deeds humans are capable of carrying out amidst extreme adversities and horror, such as the Holocaust was in WWII, her findings and revelations of actions that Archbishop, Cardinal and now Blessed Aloysius Stepinac carried out in order to save the lives of many Jews and others during WWII have been and still are the beacon of light that shines upon the truth.

Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac was a true humanitarian who lived a horrible path to a horrible death, being wrongly convicted by the communists of the former Yugoslavia as Nazi-collaborator soon after WWII. As we see through Dr Gitman’s work it is never too late to correct the wrongs with truth, however a certain part of this world that still thrives on lies fabricated by the Yugoslav communist regime may still need time to adjust to the realisation that when it comes to Aloysius Stepinac they have been fed on terrible lies.  Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Here is the full presentation by Dr Esther Gitman in Sydney, Australia, 19th February 2014.

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Dr Esther Gitman In Sydney, Australia, 19 February 2014

Dr Esther Gitman
In Sydney, Australia, 19 February 2014

Good day, Dobar Dan . It is a privilege and honor to be with you here in Sydney, I would like to thank Ms. Ina Vukic, editor of the blog Croatia, War and the Future, among others, for organizing this event, and to the Croatian ambassador Dr. Damir Kusen for attending today. I would be remiss not to acknowledge with gratitude the rescuers and the survivors who with trepidation told me of their hardship, agonies and also of their successes. Last but not least to you Ladies and Gentlemen: Thank you for coming!

For years I felt blessed for surviving and in time I took my survival for granted, failing to think of those who risked their own lives on our behalf.  It was only when my daughter, a mother of six, began asking questions about the fate of our family during WWII did realize that I had no answers for her and that those who could’ve enlightened us were no longer with us.

I turned to history books but all I gathered was that from 1941 to1945 approx. 30,000 Jewish men women and children were annihilated in Independent State of Croatia, NDH, a truly catastrophic episode in my people’s history, but at the same time I realized that scholarly books and articles had absolutely nothing documented or written about the 9,500 Jews who survived, among them were my mother and I.

Knowing little about the situation in the dismembered Yugoslavia I searched for personal stories and slowly I gathered several accounts of rescue chief among them Albert Maestro’s testimony given in 1945 to the National Commission for the Verification of crimes committed against the Jews. He spoke about the Ustashe perpetrators and their crimes but he never forgot to thank the villagers from Jasenovac and Krapje who helped him daily and others to survive by dropping some food and encouraging words. I also researched the Internet and found names of Croatian individuals who were entitled as “Righteous Among the Nations” by the State of Israel. In 1999, I decided to undertake the almost unimaginable task a Ph.D. in Jewish History with a focus on the rescue of Jews in Croatia. My mind was made up: I’ll write about the rescue of Jews in the Independent State of Croatia, which comprised also Bosnia and Herzegovina during the years 1941-1945. In 2002 on a one-year Fulbright fellowship I arrived in Zagreb, and without a minute to waste I spent my days in the National Archives where I reviewed thousands of documents and copied 5,000 that were relevant to rescue.

Ivo Politeo’s Files

Among the names of rescuers that were frequently mentioned was the name of Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac.

In the following I shall provide only a small selection from Stepinac’s sermons, letters, and actions, which will demonstrate his courageous battle against the foreign occupiers and their local collaborators. A large number of the documents were collated by Dr. Ivo Politeo, Stepinac’s defense lawyer, who compiled hundreds of documents, which had to demonstrate his innocence; since the outcome of the trial was predetermined these documents were never presented.

Today however they are an invaluable source for understanding Stepinac’s guiding principle regarding the conduct of leaders and the society in peace and in war time.

Stepinac, like most Croats yearned for a free Croatia and on Oct. 3, 1938, he described to students of the University of Zagreb the kind of country he envisioned: “Love towards one’s own nation cannot turn a man into a wild animal, which destroys everything and calls for reprisal, but it must ennoble him, so that his own Nation secures respect and love of other nations.”

On April 17, 1941, Ante Pavelic, the Ustashe leader entered Zagreb accompanied by 200-300 of his loyal Ustashe troops. The question before Stepinac was whether a Croatian state under Nazi auspices would be such a nation? Although in doubt, Stepinac, according to Hague and Geneva conventions paid a visit to Pavelic, and on April 29, 1941 in the Katolički list (Catholic news) Stepinac expressed his elation over the freedom Croatia had gained once the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was dismembered, stating: “There is no one among you who has not been a recent witness to the momentous events in the life of the Croatian nation …No reasonable person can condemn and no honest one can cast blame, because the love towards one’s own people is inscribed in the human heart by God and His commandment.”

To the sorrow of many his elation was short lived once Nazi Germany assigned the first tasks to NDH (Independent State of Croatia), the implementation of the Final Solution of the Jewish Question in NDH based on Nazi racial ideology and the murder of many dissidents, Stepinac no longer rejoiced.

On June 1941, two months into the war when persecutions of Jews and other innocent people were relentless, Stepinac took a bold and dangerous step.

He went personally to see Pavelic, and upon entering his office Stepinac declared: It is God’s command “Thou Shalt not Kill!’ And without another word he turned around and left his office. The authorities’ took from him the Katolički list and allowed him to speak freely only within the confines of his Church. Nevertheless his voice was heard, the crowds packed the Zagreb Cathedral because “The people yearned to hear the only voice, which even the dreaded Gestapo could not silence. His voice was raised time and again against the pagan doctrines of totalitarianism. His was a particularly high conception of authority and the rule of law.” The sermons were spread, recounted, copied and propagated in thousands and thousands of copies among the people and even penetrated to the liberated territory.

A Mutiny On the Judeo-Christian Ethics

Stepinac was aware that the Nazis aimed to establish a new world hierarchy based on race, where the Germans were the master, race the Slavs were subhuman and the Jews were mere organic matter. Their ideology was crystallized in the slogan:
Today Germany belongs to us, tomorrow the entire world. The solution offered by SS leader Heinrich Himmler summed it up:  “The only way to solve the social problem is for one lot to kill the others and take their land.”  This Nazi motto could not have contrasted more clearly with the teachings of Judeo-Christian Ethics: that all men were created equal, that they are endowed with equal rights and reason.  Whereas the Nazi doctrine claimed that life in this world is worthless and meaningless except in so far as it consists of the self realization of an elite of the strong and the powerful—who employ the common people as mere instruments of their own will. The Nazi ideology conflicted with both the teachings of Christ and the Messianic vision–of ultimate universal reconciliation when all shall become one true community, when nation shall not lift up sword against nation and when justice shall rule the world.

Archbishop Stepinac abhorred the pagan Nazi ideology, and although he had an option to leave Croatia he chose to remain with his people and fight the evil doctrine in his own country.

Over the four years’ war from 1941 to 1945 one main theme was woven in most of Stepinac’ sermons and letters: “every man, of whatever race or nation, whether he has studied in the universities of the civilized centers of Europe or hunts his food in the virgin forests of Africa, whether they be hated Jews or proud Aryans carries on himself equally the stamp of God the Creator and possesses inalienable rights which must not be taken from him nor arbitrarily limited by any human power. Each of them has the right to marriage, the right of physical life, the right to the life of the soul, the right to a religious education, the right to use material goods in so far as not contrary to just laws which protect the interests of the whole community; and many other rights. All people wherever and whoever they are have equal rights to say: ‘Our Father which art in Heaven’.“ Every violation of these rights of the human person can only have evil consequences.”  Thus “the Church stands for that order which is as old as God’s commandment. We stand not for that order which has been written on perishable paper, but in human conscience by the finger of the living God.

Stepinac Protest Letters to NDH Leaders

Stepinac expressed his concern to the NDH leaders that their inhumane policies against the Jews, took a totalitarian character which threatened to inflict great damage on the Croatian people and the Catholic Church, he stated:

Due to the malicious conduct of Pavelic’s regime, the  Croatian people would have to bear full responsibility for Ustase conduct as well as for the growth of communism.“

The loss in human lives during the war period was distasteful and morally repugnant to many Croats who continued to believe that their new government was decent but misinformed, and thus it was their duty as citizens to let them know of the injustices committed against Jews.

In the Croatian National Archives I found 420 petitions on behalf of Jews, signed by thousands, which indicate that people expected an answer from their government, the following 3 examples will demonstrate how much the people cared. Stepinac’s letters, like those of his parishioners, were sent to both Ante Pavelic and the Interior Minister Andrija Artukovic in which he raised a few issues.

First, Stepinac declared that his holiest duty as a representative of Catholic Church, was to raise his voice against interference of the state into questions of lawful marriages that are insolvable, regardless of the racial affiliation. If it uses physical power, then the state is perpetrating ordinary violence.

Second, he also protested the implementation of the anti-Semitic legislation, stating: …But to take away all possibility of existence from members of other nations or races and to mark them with the stamp of shame is already a question of humanity and of morals…Why treat in this way those who are members of another race through no fault of their own? …Do we have the right to commit this outrage…? He asked the leaders to give appropriate orders so that Jewish laws and others similar to them are executed in such a way that the human dignity and personality of every man is respected.”

He went on to say, that capital punishment inflicted on innocent people was contrary to Catholic teachings, explaining that “the system of shooting hundreds of hostages for a crime, when the person guilty of the crime cannot be found, is a pagan system which only results in evil.”  He often emphasized that it can bring us no glory if it is said of us that we have solved the Jewish problem in the most radical way that is to say, the cruelest.”

Stepinac knew that the policies implemented originated abroad, therefore he wrote to Pavelic stating: “…But if there is here [in the anti-Jewish policy] the interference of a foreign power in our internal and political life, I am not afraid if my voice and my protest carry even to the leaders of that power; because the Catholic Church knows no fear of any earthly power, when it is a question of atheistic ideologies infected much of the world with hate” and that: “The danger in adopting such ideologies is that many, in the name of Catholicism, may become victims of passion and of hatred, thus forgetting the most beautiful characteristic trait of Christianity, the law of love.”

Stepinac’s Humanitarian and non-Political Stand

The Nazis were aware of Stepinac’s political views regarding the racial laws well before their occupation of Yugoslavia. His charitable activities began in 1936 when thousands, mostly Jewish refugees from Austria and Germany, were fleeing to Nazi free territories.

Their plight and misery prompted Stepinac to send several requests for refugee support to his parishioners. In 1938 Stepinac sent a letter to 298 eminent Croats requesting financial contributions as a demonstration of their Christian obligation.

Four years later Glaise von Horstenau, the German Plenipotentiary in Zagreb recorded in his diary: “Archbishop Stepinac [of Croatia] and his entourage are friendly to the Jews, (judenfreundlich), and therefore enemies of National Socialism. The same Archbishop had been the protector of Jewish émigrés under the Yugoslav regime, although he paid no attention to the misery of his own people. …“ (We know that this was a slanderous remark aiming to drive a wedge between the Archbishop and his people.)

In several circulars between 1935 and 1943 Stepinac enjoined his clergymen to avoid political involvement. Although he was successful with the clergy in his own Archdiocese and with older priests, he continued his efforts to influence the others by frequently quoting the Apostle Paul, “No one who fights for God involves himself in the affairs of this life so that he may gratify Christ.“ Although he fought hard to keep the name of the Church clean he learned that the news reaching the outside world was that he and the clergy in Croatia had failed in their moral leadership…”in the midst of the German-inspired murderous acts.”

Although Stepinac was grieved, he replied that he did not seek transitory earthly acclaim but that he could speak of the things as they happened, and leave judgment to Christian justice and conscience.

The Germans and the Ustashe destroyed our people’s bodies. Their gory work was made     easier by those in our midst who are false of heart. Among the false, to our shame, were Catholic priests in isolated localities, who as individuals used their holy robes for treacherous political purposes. They were no longer men of God, acting authority of the church. They represented nothing, no one but their own warped desires, whited by what they saw with their diseased eyes of German power and glory.

Nazis’ Opinions of Archbishop Stepinac

Hans Helm, the German police attaché in Zagreb, sent daily reports to Berlin.
They included the news he received from agents in the field and reports based on his own observations in the cities. Berlin had many complaints that made Archbishop Stepinac a persona non-grata, for example, on December 29, 1941, Helm wrote to the Security Police: “We were informed all along about political meddling of the Cleric [Stepinac] in the internal affair of the country. He has connections in every department, most specifically education and he controls the media…The most significant news are that the Church in Croatia has contacts with London and the Yugoslavian Government in Exile. This approach undertaken by the Church could be viewed as contrary to the interests of the Third Reich and of the NDH. Our objective is to eliminate the influence of the Cleric [Stepinac]…“.

On August 28, 1942, Helm again informed Berlin of Stepinac’s hostile conduct towards National Socialism and the Ustashe, although he acknowledged that some lower level clergy cooperated with the Ustashe. Helm emphasized that Stepinac, frequently spoke in his sermons about “Mir” (peace), a subject which was likely to demoralize the fighting men. Helm also frequently addressed the subject of “Mixed Marriages” in Croatia. He argued that since they were acceptable to the upper echelon of the Ustashe hierarchy, several of whom were married to Jewish women, they had little motivation to control the Archbishop and the masses on this subject.

On, March 25, 1943, Helm again wrote to Berlin, this time addressing the SS chief in charge of police, informing him: on the problem of Mixed Marriages in Croatia: “The Croatian government instructed that all the Jews be registered, including those involved in mixed marriages. As a result of this order some Jews turned to Archbishop Stepinac for protection. The Archbishop promised full protection, sending a memorandum to this effect to the Pope. …As a sign of protest, Stepinac declared he would close for a period all the churches in Croatia and let the bells ring continuously. Although not as yet confirmed, the Pope intends to take up this matter with the Fuehrer. Despite the Helm’s protests, it is clear that most partners in mixed-marriages and their offspring survived.

Poglavnik! (Leader!)

Do not allow these irresponsible and unwelcome elements (the Nazis) violate the true welfare of our people. The violation of the law of nature in the name of the people and the state will bring vengeance to the people and even the state. The bitterness that will spread the spirit of retribution is being born within the country, while from outside the enemy attacks our moral values.

Archbishop Stepinac Acts on Behalf of the Jewish Community in Zagreb

Despite threats on his life, Stepinac maintained close contact with the Jewish Community in Zagreb and also in Osijek. The letters of the Chief Rabbi of Croatia, Dr. Miroslav Shalom Freiberger, attest to their mutual respect. Stepinac was deeply moved at the destruction of the main Jewish synagogue in Zagreb, in his grief he exclaimed: “A House of God, of whatever religion, is a holy place. Whoever touches such a place will pay with his life. An attack on a House of God of any religion constitutes an attack on all religious communities.“ After this incidence we learn that whenever a problem arose which the Rabbi could not resolve he turned to the Archbishop. In his 1945 testimony to the National Commission Hinko Mann, a Jewish survivor, stated:

Archbishop Stepinac was called to act on behalf of the Jews many times; he always responded favorably but, often, his interventions were unproductive, because he was considered a ’Jew lover’ by the regime. There was a major conflict of interest between Stepinac’s position and that of the Ustashe and the Gestapo who had different objectives.”

On December 6, 1943 German agents entered the “Lavoslav Schwarz” home for the Jewish elderly in Zagreb and ordered the residents to vacate the building within ten days or be deported. At the request of the Jewish Community, Alojzije Stepinac organized the transfer of 58 elderly Jews to the archbishopric’s building in Brežovica, where he was one of their frequent visitors; they remained there till 1947. Dr. Amiel Shomrony (alias Emil Schwartz), the personal secretary of the Chief Rabbi, recalled how in July 1943, he was sent on an errand to the Archdiocese where he was told of impending roundups of all Jews in Zagreb. In light of this news, Stepinac extended his invitation to the Rabbi and his family to seek shelter in the Archdiocese. Despite the gracious invitation, the Rabbi chose to be deported with his congregation, however he asked Stepinac to take his library for safekeeping. After the war the library was returned intact to the Zagreb Jewish Community.

Closing Remarks

With the declassification of U.S. Intelligence Records under the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998, many one-sided perspectives are slowly being replaced by more nuanced versions of the role Alojzije Stepinac played in the drama of WWII.
My own research demonstrates that Stepinac forcefully denounced the violation of human rights through legislation directed against Jews, Serbs and Roma and that he at every opportunity demanded a return to the Law of God. In 1941, when two of his priests and six nuns whose origin was Jewish were absolved from wearing the yellow Star of David, intended by the Nazis as a badge of shame, Stepinac solemnly declared: “I have requested that these priests and nuns continue wearing this sign of belonging to the people from which Our Savior was born as long as others will have to do so.

Alojzije Stepinac had a choice to lead a different type of life but his conscience and his strong belief in the inalienable rights of each person to live the life given to them by the Creator motivated him to stay in Zagreb and care for thousands of victims who depended totally on him – first and foremost his parishioners, but also the many others who were rejected by the Nazi and the Ustashe regimes: like the 58 Jewish elderly the orphaned children, the women involved in mixed marriages, the Greek deportees for whom Stepinac came to the train station and gave them water and first aid kits, and for the many individuals who found temporary shelter in his Palace. For all his undertakings Stepinac’s life was endangered on several occasions. He was spared only thanks to the love, admiration and the loyalty of his people.

I elected to tread into the uncharted territory of the rescue of Jews in NDH within the broader context of Holocaust history, not only because I am a survivor but because my findings convinced me that the rescue and survival of thousands of Jews in a very hostile environment and under complex conditions demonstrates to us and to future generations that dictators like Hitler Mussolini and Pavelic and their misguided philosophies, can be defeated.

My aim is not to minimize the role Ustashe played in the annihilation of seventy five percent of the Croatian Jews. Rather I want to challenge the widespread perception that the entire Croatian population was culpable as was advocated by Tito’s regime and his followers.

I must admit that during all these years of research two questions remain on my mind: How would I have behaved under an oppressive regime? Would I have had the courage exhibited by my mother who left behind home and family and fled with one thought in mind her responsibility to save me. And would I have the courage of Archbishop Stepinac and of thousands of rescuers while placing my own life and that of my family in harm’s way?

I have no answers to these questions, however I know that their lives and actions made a difference and should be a guiding light to us and to future generations.

May Archbishop Stepinac be awarded the Righteous Among the Nations, which he already is. He saved his church, his people and many of us.

Thank you – dr Esther Gitman, Sydney Australia, 17 February 2014

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Addendum in Dr Esther Gitman’s presentation:

Even before the war ended Meir Tuval Waltmen and Chief Rabbi Herzong as representatives of the Jewish authorities in Palestine wrote to Archbishops Stepinac, with copies to the Holy See thanking with deep gratitude for his conduct and assistance to the Jews of Croatia especially to Hugo Kon the president and to Chief Rabbi Dr. Shalom Freiberger. After the war and during the trial hundreds of letters from dignitaries and media were sent to the media and the archdiocese praising him for his courage during the war, surprised from the outcome of the trial.

Jews Testify on Stepinac’s Behalf

In mid-1943, after the visit of Heinrich Himmler, Dr. Miroslav Dujic confided in Major General Stjepan Steiner, a fellow physician, how he and many other Jews who were under the personal protection of Stepinac were approached by him and told to leave Zagreb at once because his own life was in danger. Dr. Steine concluded our conversation by stating: there were many good people but there were two extraordinary Croatians who rescued hundreds of Jews during the war: Archbishop Stepinac and Dr. Ante Vuletic, who was responsible for the rescue of 142 Jewish physicians and approx. 600 members of their families.  Dr. Teodor Gruner related that when his father, Bernard Gruner, the chief Cantor of Zagreb, was taken to the central detention center, prior to his deportation to concentration camps. Word was sent to Stepinac and with his intervention, Gruner was rescued.

Count O’Brien, confirmed that hundreds of Jews he met from mid 1941 to late 1943 in Korcula  (my own place of rescue) told him that they had been saved by Archbishop Stepinac.

Olga Rajsek Neumann, a Catholic rescuer, described how her Jewish fiancé,  Zlatko Neumann, a Yugoslav army POW in Germany, asked her to rescue his nephew Danko Shtockhammer who lived in Pakrac Slovenia and bring him  to Zagreb.  On April 12, 1943 a neighbor reported to the Ustashe that Olga was harboring a Jewish child. Danko was caught for the third time and sent to detention. Olga turned for help to her parish priest who in turn approached Archbishop Stepinac for assistance.  After a few hours Danko was returned. To keep Danko safe, Stepinac saw that he was placed in a Catholic orphanage where he stayed until the end of the war. Olga Rajšek was named Righteous Among the Nations by the Yad Vashem Memorial in Jerusalem, an honor which she rightfully deserves.

Ironically, the actual rescuer in this case—Archbishop Stepinac still awaits similar recognition. (Dr Esther Gitman)

Croatia: Sex Education Causes Calamitous Rift In Society

Education Minister Zeljko Jovanovic and Archbishop Josip Bozanic              Photo: Cropix

Education Minister Zeljko Jovanovic and Cardinal Josip Bozanic
Photo: Cropix

Croatian government and the Croatian Catholic Church have been at serious loggerheads, to say the least, since the government announced late last year its new school health education plan, which includes sex education in all its “modern-day” imagery, facets, spectrum. Suffice to say, the government would not budge from its plan to implement the program to school children that has caused enormous discomforts, distress, fury, and downright (futile) rejection from much of the community. To put fuel on this sorry “state of the nation”, a TV program (Picture of Croatia/Slika Hrvatske), produced by TV journalist Karolina Vidovic-Kristo, went under “the knife” as soon as it broadcasted the episode that examined possible correlation between the results of studies with pedophiles and school sex education (issues raised in association with the Kinsey Syndrome documentary). One would have thought that the media has the duty to offer the public information on all facets in and around a socially important issue such as sex education in schools – but, the powers that be think differently; they’ve made up their minds and nothing will stop them – or will it?

A two-way street of barrages of insults, cynicism, sarcasm … between the Church and the Government opened, just before Christmas Day, with saddening tides for celebrations of the birth of Jesus Christ. I say saddening because the 2011 census showed that there are 86.28% (of total population) Catholics in Croatia. I would have expected the Government to announce its seemingly controversial school sex education curriculum at some other time in the year, not so close to one of the most celebrated religious days in the year for so many of its constituents. As in any country, sex education in schools is a sensitive issue and usually carefully vetted, discussed or tested through parents’ associations etc. Whether a parent has the right to decide how sex education will be delivered in the school their child attends is a moot question that touches upon morality and social responsibility. The governments, on the other hand, have the responsibility to deliver education and, hence, dialogues are essential between all concerning parties, including the Church.

Productive dialogue has not been achieved between the Church and the Government on this issue of sex education. It’s almost like the two are asserting their points of view forcefully and the umpire (the parent/the people) is confused, but at times using distasteful means to bring their own issues to the front. E.g., hundreds of people turned up January 12 in front of Zagreb’s Cathedral to witness, to protest or to participate in the so-called “kiss your neighbour” rally: LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) rights groups kissing in public, thus demonstrating their disapproval of the Church’s views on homosexuality and its place in school sex education, and the “war of words” that had been raging between the Church and the Government. The LGBT groups have announced a new rally under the banner: “Rally for secularism”! Well – one doesn’t need to look far to see where from those winds might be blowing (given that ex-Communists are in Government)! But, the critical thing here is that they don’t seem to be behaving any differently (more tolerantly) from that which they’re saying needs change, and are rallying against! The truth is that schools in Croatia are secularised, they’re public,  the government is secular/separated from church, etc. so what does “Rally for secularism” mean? To deny people’s personal right to choose to believe, to belong to a church…?

The schools reopen after the winter recess on Monday 14 January and if one is to go by several media reports many parents are boycotting (not sending their children to school) sex education lessons and the Minister for Education, Zeljko Jovanovic, has threatened that their children will be marked as “AWOL” (absent without leave)! You accumulate several of those in a year and you’re in big trouble with your school grades!

In light of all of the above, and more, on the issue of belief, good and bad, I thought it most soothing to translate dr. Slobodan Lang’s article and post it here. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Christmas Education in Croatia

By dr. Slobodan Lang

(Translated into English by: Ina Vukic)

Christmas day is a day of joy and hope, goodness is in achieving Jesus, Croatia is entering into the European Union, faith, family, human rights, education, health … During recent days Croatia was filled with debates on all subjects. We would, therefore, rightfully expect that we had welcomed the birth of baby Jesus with joy and that we had shown him that we welcome him among the people and in the country that has accepted the responsibility of goodness.

It wasn’t like that, regardless of whom we’re talking about, about priests, politicians, media, organisations. Most had placed an accent on him/herself and increased the polarisation and division among people. It’s not important at all what badness was uttered or written by whom about somebody else. What’s important is that almost nobody talked about the good.

This Christmas we all saw and were warned that Croatia lives more in the civilisation of bad than good. Most Croatian people are good people, and they know how to be good in their families, in organisations, in church, in Unions … but we do not know how to be good people in togetherness for creating Croatia.

The most valuable messages were sent, on 9th January, by President Ivo Josipovic and Archbishop Zelimir Puljic: « that, in relation to health education, good will, patience, responsibility and a sincere readiness for talks – the foundation for communication in areas of political and civil life».

Incongruous debates about health education for school children suggest that education about the good is needed for all adults in Croatia.

Croatia will either create a society of good or it will cease to exist. This goes for the whole of the Western civilisation, Europe, and perhaps (I’m relatively uninformed) for the whole world.

Pope John Paul II called upon us to create the theology of work, we want to be more, than to have more. He especially warned the Communist societies not to fall for false and dangerous dreams of the society based on consumerism, which devastates the future.

Is Christmas in today’s West and Croatia a celebration of Jesus’ birth or a celebration of a consumer society?

My family, Catholic and Jewish, filled with joy, has celebrated the Orthodox Christmas. On that day a new member of our family was born. Due to the risky pregnancy his mother spent four moths in bed. The hospital doctors and nurses provided help and cared for her all that time, her priest visited her regularly and prayed with her and an another mother in the hospital room, grandmother came regularly and helped, the whole family was enmeshed in good, even I myself was useful for some things (I brought Rosary Beads from Medjugorje). The mother is the first employer in our lives and she carries the responsibility of the love needed for us to be born and to start our lives in the community. Breastfeeding is the first work. From the very beginning children should, with their work in their family, do good for everyone, and in school the pupils need to do the cleaning by themselves, how many days has there been without aggression – needs to be written on the blackboard – have lessons started on time … Work begins much before employment, and we work for love, friendship, help, much before and much more than we do for money. Does this testimony belong to health and sex education?

Let’s conduct a research, do belief, attending Mass and prayer encourage blood donations, helping the neighbour, humanitarian work, help with employment, care for the elderly, comforting the depressed, material support, empathy. Would we not, in this way, get a better picture about goodness than by the level of education, by nationality, age or gender.

People are social and moral beings. When we face danger we also react as members of groups, first – immediately, instinctively and emotionally, and then – with deliberation and rationality. Belief helps us to realise our deliberation and prudence as quickly as possible. Fast reaction can sometimes be useful, but it leads to conflicts and disintegration. A slower reaction leads to deliberation, connects the community, strengthens Altruism and conquers negative emotions. God does not exist in order to give us our safety or to support us in our conflict with anyone. As believers, we are obligated to send messages and do deeds of goodness. Religion must not serve for the justification of conflicts and hatred – when that happens it is no longer the belief in God.

People who are not believers must aspire to lead a life of goodness, and to be able to publicly express and show that they morally accept the common good. Today’s world needs a new Universal declaration on human duty. Regardless of whether we are believers or not, we all should accept the duty of generosity, magnanimity, goodness and positive ethics, and reject the inherited biases, rapaciousness, selfishness, aggression, quarrels …

The short public debate on sex education has demonstrated that today’s Croatia has no vision as to what it wants us to build in togetherness.

A certain Croatian “meeting at the top” was held in the Cathedral. Cardinal Bozanic has in his sermon expressed dissatisfaction with the new program for schools. The President and the Prime Minister of Croatia were listening to him. If they were believers they would know to go to the Sacristy after the Mass and organise a meeting to discuss the matter. As politicians they could have thought about these matters and formally invited church representatives to a meeting. Regretfully, human weakness and separation, instead of clarification and linking with one another, prevailed. After that, the lack in their communication turned into the plunging out of members of the now conflicting sides, including agitating followers into conflicts between one another.  The climax was “the war of kisses” in front of the Cathedral on 12th January. In my youth we had a slogan “Make love, not war”. Reagan reacted: “It seems that this generation doesn’t know how to do either.” In the defence of and in creating Croatia we showed that we know how to do both.

The Prime Minister, Mr Milanovic, requested a ceasefire. The debate on health education in schools clearly demonstrated to him that the whole of Croatia urgently and essentially needs a joint vision of goodness.

God’s announcement of Jesus Christ as one of the people represents the ultimate trust of God in people and the people’s responsibility towards God. There is no Universal man after the fort of Babylon; all live their short lives within defined nations and time. Jesus Christ was born 2000 years ago, among Jews in Israel, which already had its faith and Shrine, but it was under the Roman authorities. Jews were preparing an aggressive revolt against Rome. Jesus was aware that this would not give Jews their freedom but, rather, a military defeat, unjust judgment and peril. That’s why, with actions from man to man, he showed that it is possible to do good, he gathered them and educated them, and finally at the mount he called upon people to jointly build the world of good, through non-aggression and humanity. As not enough Jews accepted him, but continued to prepare for an aggressive revolt against Rome, he decided to warn them of what is to come for them, using himself as example. He exposed himself to an unjust judgment, torture and death. Soon, he appeared again before his followers and awakened in them the power of faith. The remaining Jews raised, in 66 C.E., the revolt that brought the greatest catastrophe in Jewish life, before the Holocaust. Today, the Jews consider this revolt as a terrible mistake. Regretfully, since Jews do not believe in Christ, they have not to this day understood that he called for abandonment of the world of wars and aggression, and showed that every man can do good, and that a nation can only realise its freedom in the company of good. On the other hand, Christians had not for a long time given meaning to the fact that Jesus dedicated his human life to helping and teaching every man and the whole community. In this way they separated Calvary from time before and after.

John Paul II apologised for the historical mistakes of the church and Benedict XVI dedicated special attention to ties with the Rabbi. I personally believe that Jesus’ lesson is good, an invitation, equally to believers and non-believers, to join with each other and build a civilization of good, and the Croatia of good. Jesus himself lived by doing good and not by persecuting evil, which he either rejected (the Devil) or banished from the place of responsibility.

Turning back to health, human rights, school, church and politics. People live significantly longer in the European Union (which we are joining) than in Croatia. The most terrible thing is that people here could live longer if a national health program was developed. This is possible only through a national goal. Croatia is aging and the population is getting smaller. It’s possible to change both, but only through a national goal.

The whole of Europe has lived very long in following the civilization of evil, dividing people into valuable and invaluable people, till the final Nazi introduction of even non-people. After WWII Nazis were defeated and there were proclamation of human rights, humanitarian principles, righteous among nations. A further 20 years was needed for the West to free itself from racism and colonialism, and then a further 20 years for the communist totalitarianism to fall.

Advocating for the equality of all is, in today’s world, a precondition and the duty of all people who want to build Europe and who believe in Jesus Christ. The majority, the minorities and the individuals are equal. That has been implemented with the Jews, racially, gender-wise, religiously, and nationally. Equality for the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) group is being implemented in 21st Century Europe and U.S.A. Among them, throughout history, were the greats like Alexander the Great, Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo. How large is their contribution to all of us, in philosophy, in the arts, in politics … LGBT will realise their rights in Europe and in Croatia.

Let’s conclude with Jesus. He began to exist – he was conceived and killed – crucified, on the same day, 25th March. Christmas, 25th December, the day of his birth was chosen because it is nine months after conception. Both, faith and humanity obligate to full truth and do not permit the behaviour and the approach based on divisions between knowledge and ignorance. Let’s embrace responsibility, work and good – we need Easter.

____________________________

Dr Slobodan Lang   Photo: Pixsell

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: Catholic Church set on ending distressing injustice for victims of communist crimes

A gentle hand moves the tortured remains of victims of communist crimes in Gracani near Zagreb, Croatia Photo: Borna Filic/Pixsell

Croatian authorities have late this month uncovered a yet another horror that befell innocent people in Croatia at the hand of WWII and post-WWII Communists.

Authorities have exhumed a new mass grave (so far over 900 have reportedly been discovered in Croatia) with the remains of 30 people executed at the end of World War II near Croatia’s capital Zagreb.

The victims are believed to be cadets of a military academy of the WWII Independent State of Croatia.

The grave is quite shallow, some bones were found only 35 centimeters (13 inches) below the ground. According to the evidence so far collected the victims were young (“coming of age” years) and were brought to the forest in Gracani at the outskirts of Zagreb between 13th and 15th of May 1945, and slaughtered.

As Croatian TV HRT reported these findings are irrefutable evidence of execution with a large amount of bullets and cartridges found at the mass grave.  Several skulls had traces of bullet holes, while some of the victims had their hands tied up with metal wire.

In July of this year, 36 victims of the communist regime were found in another grave discovered in the same area and with the newest discovery that makes 20 mass graves and 783 victims of communist crimes in the area of Gracani.

At least the remains of the latest victims found of communist crimes are afforded the dignity of their bones being temporarily kept in the mortuary at Zagreb’s cemetery Mirogoj, until the planned interment in a common grave at St Michael’s in Gracani. Their remains are handled with dignity, which cannot be said for the remains of victims in numerous other known mass graves and pits across the country.

Among these neglected mass graves Butina pit near Lumbarda on the Island of Korcula, where remains of victims of communist crimes lay strewn among discarded rubbish and garbage, comes to mind.

Butina Pit communist crimes mass grave on the Island of Korcula, Croatia – October 2012

Section inside Butina Pit, post-WWII communist crimes mass grave on Island of Korcula, Croatia – October 2012

As with all victims of communist crimes – for which no one as yet has answered in Croatia or former Yugoslavia – this is how their last moments on this Earth were for them as the WWII ended (excerpt from witness statement published in an article “Way of the Cross to the Sea” by Croatian Herald, Australia on 26 October 1990):

“…The commissar and commander, both Montenegrian, with a few soldiers from Ulcinj took those people into the forest, where a pit called ‘Butina pit’ was. There they stripped them naked and started slaughtering them. Some local people helped them in this. I remember the name of one of them … As they continued doing this the dawn started to break and then they started to throw the people into the pit alive. Then they fired into the pit with machine guns and threw bombs into it. The same man from Dubrovnik told me that there were people still alive in the pit and that cries for help could be heard. The soldiers were afraid that we’d hear that and in fury attack them and that’s why they turned us away. The same person opened up a large school hall for me and showed me the victims’ clothing. There, the Partisans rummaged all night, searching for valuables. Later they ordered the man from Dubrovnik, a man from Herzegovina and me, to fold the clothes into bales and tie them with rope. The man from Herzegovina found in one of the pockets a picture of the Heart of Jesus and a family photo of a victim from Konavlje. He took it in the hope to give it to the victim’s family later. I do not know if he managed to do that… I took several photos too, in the hope to show to somebody later but the friend from Dubrovnik warned me: there’ll be a search and if they find this on you, your head will go… I fled Yugoslavia in 1957 … and now live in New Zealand”.

The fact that the current Croatian government announced the closure of the independent Office for the investigation of mass graves of communist crimes within barely two months of its coming to power (February 2012) says a great deal about its attempts to minimise those crimes and to dilute them by attaching them to its political patronage and the Ministry for war veterans. So as things stand now the Office for the discovery, the marking and the maintenance of graves of communist crimes after WWII is within war veterans ministry. The war veterans from Croatia’s 1990’s Homeland war have indeed a great deal to be unhappy about – are there among them WWII communist war veterans who have participated in the horrendous spree of communist crimes after WWII, or their descendants who do not necessarily want justice for the victims – i.e. condemnation and prosecution of those crimes even if the perpetrators may be dead?

How on earth in that cluster can victims of communist crimes receive justice!? Certainly even the name of that Office gives no suggestion that the ministry of war veterans intends to pursue full justice for these victims; it just talks of uncovering, marking and keeping the graves tidy!

This lot in the Croatian government is no different to their late, pro-communist, colleague Ivica Racan who, as Prime Minister in 2002, closed the Commission for war and post-war victims and attached its work to the Ministry of Science.

As the government keeps fiercely resisting the putting together of a complete list of WWII and post-WWII victims of communist crimes the Croatian Catholic church has October 29 announced its initiative to start the process of recording every victim fallen. According to Vecernji List, the Catholic Church in Croatia is commencing with the collection of details of victims of communist persecutions by having every parish priest collecting information about local victims.

This is the Church’s reply to the government’s avoidance of dealing with the problem of communist crimes and to its closing of the Office for the victims of communist crimes.

This initiative arose in the Commission for martyrology of the Bishops’ Conference at its recent meeting in Zagreb, under the leadership of Bishop mons. Mile Bogovic from Gospic-Senj district.

It’s announced that the Croatian martyrs website (hrvatski-mucenici.net) will soon have available for download the needed forms and material people can fill in and send to the appropriate parish office.

As the victims of the Holocaust are written on a list so too the victims of communist crimes should be. It is only a small measure of justice, but humane justice nevertheless.  Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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