Spokes In The Wheel For Truth For Croatian Alojzije Stepinac

Poster for documantary film: Stepinac – Cardinal and his Conscience

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the death of Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, the Croatian Catholic University and Interfilm held at the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb on Saturday, February 8, the premiere of the new documentary film “Stepinac: The Cardinal and His Conscience”, authored by Croatia’s acclaimed writer, journalist, screenplay writer and its director Visnja Staresina.

Reportedly, Staresina has been preparing for the film for ten years. Her aim is said to have been to avoid the way Cardinal Stepinac has so far been portrayed through the Croatian-Serbian disagreements, in which the Serbian propaganda machine had constantly insisted on painting Cardinal Stepinac as a Ustashe collaborator despite the fact that post-2000 historical research, when Yugoslav Archives were open to researchers in Croatia, prove beyond any doubt that Stepinac in fact rescued many persecuted Jews. Of particular note are most thorough historical research findings by USA historian dr. Esther Gitman.

“When I started working on the film, I was surprised at the way in which Alojzije Stepinac was perceived out there. For example, my reference was the American media out there, and I tried to make sure that the participants in the film are the people who are not part of this existing paradigm,” said Staresina last week.

In this new documentary, Stepinac’s involvement in rescuing Jews during WWII is enveloped in the story of Renata, a girl whose entire family disappeared in the Holocaust during WWWII in Croatia. She emigrated to Israel in 1952 and decided to forget everything. The film reconstructs and follows the rescue of Renata Bauer.

In this documentary film “I let him (Stepinac) speak through his sermons, through his letters, through his spiritual testament, where you see him condemning racism since 1937, not 1942 or ’43. New York Times, articles published by the Jewish News Agency in 1943, which mention sermons from the Archbishop of Zagreb. It wasn’t very simple to say these things at the time, and it wasn’t easy to become news in the New York Times,” Staresina comments on her film.

This documentary film has been translated into English so that it can reach more people throughout the world, and the aim of its author is to get as many people as possible to know the truth about Cardinal Stepinac.

Croatian National Theatre Zagreb
Premiere of film “Stepinac – Cardinal and his Conscience”
Photo: Pixsell

Among other things, the film “Stepinac: Cardinal and His Conscience” reveals how Stepinac, as a human being, a man and Archbishop of Zagreb, faced and dealt with the greatest challenges of the 20th century. For Alojzije Stepinac that challenge was, undoubtedly, how to execute good deeds and save as many persecuted people from sure death as possible. This indeed was no easy task in the madness of a vicious war where the fight for independence (of Croatia) and the fight against that independence (to retain Yugoslav federation of states) took the nation into often dark pursuits for victory (as all wars do), regardless of whose that victory may surface as the outcome of the war. The film delves into the challenge of talking about the global and universal significance of Stepinac’s work; it explores the reasons why his character and the works that accompany him are not globally accepted and grounded on the truth to this day.

Apart from emphasising the relevance of Stepinac’s exemplary actions and morality, which contain messages that are applicable universally to this day, this documentary film, filled with Stepinac’s courageous and righteous actions despite fatal adversities, fits so aptly into the story of Croatia within the 20th century Europe.

Stepinac’s personal involvement in organising the rescue of Jews during WWII Croatia is presented in this documentary film through interviews with historians, researchers, as well as through personal testimonies of Holocaust survivors and their descendants; likewise, through testimonies of descendants of families who participated in these WWII rescue operations.

At the film’s premiere, its director and screenwriter Visnja Staresina stated that her guiding idea was to make a film that would show why Stepinac was globally relevant in his time, not just at Croatian local levels. “From the moment he was elected the youngest bishop in the world, through his anti-racist sermons reaching out from conquered Europe, from the Independent State of Croatia to the free world as a rarity, through the trials that made him globally known and the condemnation of the trials that provoked major protests from New York to Chicago and Dublin seeking his release. Finally, at the time of his death, leading commentators wondered what would happen between the Church and the communist regimes now,” said Staresina.

Cardinal Josip Bozanic (C) dr Zeljko Tanjic (R)
Photo: Pixsell

The Catholic University of Croatia in Zagreb joined this documentary film project primarily because Blessed Cardinal Stepinac, in addition to being an important church and historical figure, is also the patron saint of that University. Since its founding in 2006 the University has been involved in various ways with view to making the truth about blessed Stepinac known worldwide. Many public lectures have been given about him, students had opportunities to study the character and work of Blessed Stepinac through elective subjects, and professors participated in various conferences and scientific conferences. The Croatian Catholic University, together with the Archdiocese of Zagreb in 2016, organised a scientific conference attended by historians from Croatia and Serbia, and a large collection of papers on the Blessed Archbishop Stepinac and the Serbs in Croatia in the Context of World War II and Post-War was published. Together with the publishing house Christian Contemporaneity (Kršćanska sadašnjost), the University also published a book by Dr. Esther Gitman, “Alojzije Stepinac – Pillar of human rights” (2019).

“We are convinced that with the image, the word and the new testimonies presented in this film about blessed Alojzije will once again show the greatness of a man who, in the difficult years of Croatian and European history, was faithful to his call, resolutely and courageously, advocating especially for the endangered, led the Zagreb Church. To those who had not met him the film will give the opportunity to do so and encourage them to reflect upon his person. And also, for those who disagree with us the film gives the opportunity to evaluate his work and gives another documented insight into his life and work,” said at the premiere the Croatian Catholic University Rector Dr. Zeljko Tanjic.

Visnja Staresina (C) Esther Gitman (CR)
at the premiere of film: Stepinac – Cardinal and his Conscience
Photo: ika.hkm.hr

The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine. Have you ever heard that quote? It’s actually a paraphrase of an ancient Greek proverb. The Greek biographer Plutarch referred to this proverb in the first century A.D. when he made the following complaint. He said: “Thus, I do not see what use there is in those mills of the gods said to grind so late as to render punishment hard to be recognised, and to make wickedness fearless.”

One of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s translations was a 17th century poem, ‘Retribution,’ by Friedrich Von Logau: “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience he stands waiting, with exactness grinds he all.”

The analogy I venture to bring here is related to the fact that even though ample evidence of Alojzije Stepinac’s good deeds in rescuing Jews and other persecuted people during WWII those to whose advantage it is to continue suppressing this truth and continue promoting the Serb-led (or communist Yugoslavia-led) fabrications about his collaboration with the Nazi’s are not likely to abandon their wicked ways any time soon. Why? Well, to bring out the obvious, it is of political advantage to them to continue walking in dark corridors where truth has no chance of being illuminated. And so, regretfully, instead of turning in the right direction, the wheels of justice for blessed Alojzije Stepinac on the international level have mainly been turning in the other direction, grinding out stones that become even coarser. That has sadly been the power of politics and political interests.

The problem is that political interference which has had a devastating effect on the truth ever since the trumped-up charges against Stepinac by Yugoslavia’s communist regime in 1945 continues in many ways. The communist Yugoslavia totalitarian regime ensured that the willingness and ability to investigate injustice and corruption that would show the communists up as liars and falsifiers of history was suffocated and incapacitated. This went on until 1990’s when Croatia broke away from Yugoslavia and only since then were all researchers able to access the archives and the truth. But even when a significant mass of that truth was found to not resemble the truth communists were peddling for decades, that illuminated real truth continued to be treated with some scepticism and avoidance by even the politicians in power in Croatia, majority of whom belonged to the communist echelons of former Yugoslavia! Such cold and apparently dismissive reception of the truth, which in fact redeems Alojzije Stepinac from all the communist trumped-up charges, from all the false accusations regarding his deeds or “omissions” during WWII, is in fact part and parcel of what still goes on in Croatia: corruption and fraud perpetrated by well-connected politicians and by their allies and like-minded persons in the country and outside it. If it weren’t like that, then even common sense tells us that the Croatian government would have long ago stood behind the clearing of Stepinac’s name through research and presentation of findings and opened up its “wallet” to support such projects. It has not done that and the presentation of truth that is of national importance (because the brush that tarnished Stepinac also tarnished the freedom-loving Croatian people) still remains within the realms of good will of people and institutions willing to back such projects financially.

Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac (inset photo of Zeljko Tanjic)
Photo: Screenshot Croatian TV

This is why this documentary film by Visnja Staresina (2020), why books by Esther Gitman (“When Courage Prevailed The Rescue and Survival of Jews in the Independent State of Croatia 1941-1945”;  “Alojzije Stepinac – Pillar of Human Rights”) and dr. Robin Harris (“Stepinac: His Life and Times”), the documentary film “When Truth Prevails” authored by Jadranka Juresko-Kero (2011) and other many works on this subject are crucial spokes on the wheel of justice and truth not only regarding Alojzije Stepinac but also regarding Croatia during WWII and after. The wheel of justice turns in the right direction by the force of these spokes despite the political sabotage of the truth. Ina Vukic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Esther Gitman And Us: Great Day For History of Croatian History

Dr. Esther Gitman and the front cover of her new book:
“Alojzije Stepinac: Pillar of human rights”

 

By Matko Marusic, Prof. Emer.

(First published in www.narod.hr, 20 February 2019)

(Translated from Croatian by Ina Vukic)

 

On February 13, 2019, Dr. Esther Gitman launched her book “Alojzije Stepinac: Pillar of Human Rights” at the Croatian Catholic University in Zagreb. That day is the turning point of the history of Croatian history – because in it Croatian history has ceased to be a lie and became the truth, on an international level! A perfectly neutral person, an American Jew, presented the indisputable truths about Blessed Alojzije Stepinac. The facts about him had been distorted, terrible fabrications inserted, virtues, achievements and victories suppressed – a lie upon lie, a system of lies, a system of exterminating and shaming of Croats! And the truth was in fact the opposite: he was a pillar of human rights.

All Croatian history should be re-written, from the possible Iran about which we cannot speak even to this day, through Goldstein’s denial of King Tomislav’s crowning on the Duvanj Field, the concealment of the magnificent gathering of the Croatian people around the Croatian Peasant Party and its destruction by the communists, the terrible exaggeration of Ustashe crimes and about the partisan regime “anti-fascism”, all the way to the UDBa (communist Yugoslavia secret service) which is active even today and the “civil” associations, which are communist lodges.

The Croatian media have relayed the launch of Dr. Gitman’s book (more than 500 people at the launch) correctly, both the content and importance of her second book about Stepinac, so I will not repeat it here. However, I must point out two very important things I learned from this event.

Prof. dr. sc. Matko Marusic

1. The great dignitary of the Croatian Church is an international pillar of human rights

Dr. Gitman, in the title of her book, has called Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac – a pillar, which when translated from the English language into Croatian means “main bearer, column, supporter, anchor, tower, chief supporter”. Through scientific research Dr. Gitman has proved that the Croatian cardinal, condemned by communists and spat upon by innumerable wretches – was not an Ustasha, a criminal, a traitor, a narrow-minded cleric or a collaborator, but a main bearer, a column, a supporter, an anchor, a tower, chief supporter, a pillar – of human rights! The book should be read to the last detail because, in it, there are countless data of which we have never heard before (we have lived in a lie!) and of which we must be proud.

Dr. Gitman said that the whole world admires the Croatians because of Stepinac, but not just because of him but also because of the goodness of the Croatian people in those terrible days: she said that there were few thousands signatures of Croatian people who sought from the NDH (Independent State of Croatia) regime to release the arrested Jews – their neighbours and acquaintances, good and innocent people. Croats signed it at the cost of threat to their lives, some even signed it by thumbprint because they were illiterate!

Admit that you did not know this. (I myself didn’t know this and now I, from sheer joy and pride, I don’t know what to do with myself!) Is there a single country in the world, and a single nation, that can show signatures of few thousands of people who, at the cost of their own survival, in World War II, under Nazi occupation, openly pledged their own safety to save the Jews? No! Let Yad Vashem say if there is? Let us be proud of that now and forever, Croatian brothers and sisters! I heard another detail at the book launch that fascinated me and I want to share it with you. There were Jewish men and women in the Croatian Catholic Church before the Second World War who converted to Catholic religion and who were then ordained as priests and nuns. The NDH regime ordered that they do not have to wear the Jewish yellow star like all other Jews in public even though they were Jews. And then their leader, Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, asked them to wear the yellow star all until other Jews had to wear it!

Is there in the history of battles for human rights a more beautiful and a more noble gesture than this? There isn’t! Croatian brothers and sisters, we who have this in our history, let’s not permit people who hate us and who want our state to disappear to dish out to us lessons on human rights!

Here, I ask Minister Divjak: is this very important fact of history going to appear in the new history curriculum???

2. Croatian history must be re-written Croatian history must be re-written!

That with which Dr. Gitman came out with regards to Cardinal Stepinac is big enough and unquestionable to point out to the need to also come out with other Croatian truths, against lies that were and are taught to us, against prohibitions, distortions and suppressions that still prevail. The lies about Stepinac were terribly big, negative and horrible, and after the findings of the neutral, educated and honest Jewish Dr. Gitman it turns out that not only what was said was not the truth but that the truth is actually on the opposite side! That is why from that day onwards, in the public domain, with trumpets and drums, the works, arguments and evidence, by B. Matković, S. Lozo, V. Horvat, N. Banić, R. Leljak, M. Koić, S. Pilić, I. Vukić, S. Razum, J. Jurčević, M. Ivezić and other Croatian historians who have exposed all the main falsifications by Croatian enemies – must come out.

Those who distort Croatian history, such as S. Koren, I. Goldstein, H. Klasić, T. Jakovina and others similar to them, should face these Croatian historians with scientific arguments, in public, so that we can all se who is in the right! Dr. Gitman has called upon E. Zuroff and G. Greif, the Jewish slanderers of Croatian people, for a debate, and Croatian historians have called upon those who cling to the old lies for a public debate (e.g. Igor Vukić). And this must occur! The Croatian public must not stop calling for the slanderers of Croatian people from Croatia (they are mentioned above) to faee up at a public debate with the Croatian historians, who have exposed their lies, the lies of their teachers and their Serbo-communist commanders! Mounting one argument against the other could be presented in all the media and in every form, from HTV to HAZU. Without insults and labelling! With Dr. Esther Gitman’s books, the age of labelling and insulting (judging, destroying) those who prove different has well and truly passed!

We want a truthful Croatian history! We want the truth in historical science, in public, in institutions, in the judiciary, in schools and in textbooks. Dear readers, you must never forget this and you must never relent from your national and human rights! Besides, through your Cardinal Blessed Alojzije Stepinac and your ancestors, who, although at the cost of their own lives, massively defended and guarded their Jewish co-citizens under the World War Two Nazi occupation, you too are a main bearer, a column, a supporter, an anchor, a tower, a chief supporter and a pillar of human rights! Who then can take away, deny or diminish your human rights? Nobody! A new time has come; Croatians are now righteous among nations. Our history is noble and bright and we need to realise that and openly talk about it to all and everywhere.

Matko Marušić, professor emeritus

Split (Croatia)

Another Croatian Maliciously Convicted By Yugoslav Communist Regime – Rehabilitated

Filip Lukas
B: 26 April 1871
D: 26 June 1958

Zagreb county court on Thursday 20 July 2017 published its decision to quash the verdicts that communist Yugoslav “people’s” courts handed down on 21 November 1945 convicting and pronouncing death-by-firing-squad sentence to academic Filip Lukas, in absentia, over his close ties with the WWII Independent Croatia movement. Wise and careful, Prof. Lukas fled Croatia just before the communist Partisans entered Zagreb and lived in Rome, Italy, to his death in 1958.

The communist Yugoslav courts convicted and sentenced him to death because of his academic and publishing works, which makes his case very revealing example of the maliciousness and depravity the Yugoslav “antifascists” operated during WWII and after it. His only “crime” was that he headed the Croatian Matica (Matrix) organisation (mainly promoting Croatian culture and connecting Croatian communities throughout the world) from 1928 to 1945 and for being chief editor of “Our Homeland” journal. His case had been hidden from the Croatian public until about 2008 when researchers found documents relating to it buried in State archives in Zagreb.

The court in Zagreb on Thursday 20 July decided in favour of the conservative Christian NGO ‘In the Name of the Family’, which filed in January 2017 the request for the review of the case and for Lukas’s rehabilitation. The NGO’s attorney Kresimir Planinic had said at the time that “we want to expose the way in which the communist totalitarian regime functioned and in which many Croats suffered and perished… We want to correct the injustice and help remember our Croatian historical greats from who we can learn a great deal for both today’s and future Croatian opportunities.”

“It has been established that Filip Lukas was convicted for politically criminal actions, of verbal political offense, which was a result of the obvious abuse of the political power exercised in the criminal proceedings by the then communist authorities that violated internationally recognised principles of juridical states, such as the principle of lawfulness and the principle of applying a more lenient law,” said the Zagreb court decision from Thursday 20 July 2017. The court explained that at Lukas’s trial, the Yugoslav courts used a law that was passed in 1945, although he was tried for alleged acts dating from the 1941-44 period. The 1945 law provided for courts to prosecute alleged crimes committed before it came into force, but only if the sanctions are more lenient than in the law in force at the time of the crimes. The court also, among other errors made in the Yugoslav courts at the time of Lukas’ conviction in 1945, pointed out that there was no death sentence in the previous law (the law prior to 1945) for the crimes of which Lukas was convicted, so the 1945 law was incorrectly applied in his case.

Zagreb county court in July last year also annulled a verdict convicting Croatian WWII-era Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, arguing that he did not get a fair trial under the Yugoslav Communist regime.

Today’s “antifascists” (pro-Yugoslav communism lot) will try and justify Luka’s 1945 communist court conviction by saying that Lukas supported the WWII Independent State of Croatia regime headed by Ante Pavelic and the Ustashe. It appears they hold the Orwellian neologism – thoughtcrime – as something that should perhaps be practiced today; thought, speech and actions control – just like their communist predecessors practiced years before George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” came into being! Beliefs contrary to the communist norms were indeed a crime in post-WWII Yugoslavia as Lukas’ case evidences.

“Our Homeland” Journal
Croatia 1943

For libertarians, the idea that courts can weigh the thought, belief, or emotional affect behind an act is chilling. Hate itself counts for nothing in criminal law. Violence counts for a lot. Hate paired with violence, under hate crimes laws, counts for even more. Like the neutrino, hate has no mass, but it changes things. In a free society it should be axiomatic that only action, never thought, can be subject to punishment. Lukas was never a man of violent acts nor of incitement to violent acts and certainly 1945 his indictment did not list any.

It needs to be said that, during the times of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia hatred for Croatian self-determination in Serbia saw Serbia’s politicians publicly call for the murder of Croatia’s leader Stjepan Radic and his Croatian parliamentary colleagues from the Croatian Peasant Party – and in 1928 Punisa Racic did just that while the parliament was in session in Belgrade. Post-WWII Yugoslav communist totalitarian regime continued with the same practices. Not aligning in thought and belief with the communist regime was a crime, regardless of whether such thoughts or beliefs were displayed during or after WWII.

While Croatia’s criminal law today provides for hate speech sanctions if such speech is practiced with a clear aim of spreading racial, religious, gender, national, ethnic hatred, or hatred based on skin colour or sexual orientation, or other characteristics, or with the aim to disdain, publicly promotes thoughts of racial superiority, ethnic or religious superiority … it is there to be adhered to by all, for obvious reasons that engage a civil society into respecting freedoms of thought and speech, without casualties. The lesson “antifascist” reactions during the past few days to the rehabilitation of Filip Lukas teach are those that point to the sad reality that, regardless of the fact that the Zagreb court delivered a just annulment of the 1945 Lukas verdict, today’s communist mindset present in Croatia must be eradicated. Bit by bit, if it cannot be achieved with speed. Court cases that prod into the past communist judicial injustice, like Lukas and Stepinac ones, go a fair way toward achieving this.

There is much that we can do, through individual, collective, and governmental action, to heal the wounds of an unjust and hateful past. A self-confident, mature democracy (which Croatia is yet to become with our help) that trusts its own capacity for public debate can afford to leave the policing of mind and tongue to the North Koreans, but not to the recycled communists in Croatia who wrongfully call themselves antifascists and who keep throwing spanners into democratic and just anti-communist works that are essential if Croatia is truly to become a full democracy. Ina Vukic

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