Croatia: Rescue and Survival of Jews – World War II

Dr Esther Gitman

Dr Esther Gitman

New review of Esther Gitman‘s book “When Courage Prevailed :The Rescue and Survival of Jews in the Independent State of Croatia by Esther Gitman (Paragon House, ISBN 978-1-55778-894-8) by Mishka Gora

“No one likes to admit they have been duped, so it is no surprise that we have not seen headlines declaring that the history of Eastern Europe as we know it is largely based on Communist propaganda.  What is disquieting, however, is that there hasn’t been a rush by historians to delve into the hitherto closed archives and set the record straight.  Indeed, one of the areas that has remained largely unexamined, despite the popularity of Holocaust literature, is the rescue and survival of Jews during World War II.  Bucking this trend is Esther Gitman, whose book When Courage Prevailed details the extraordinary efforts of non-Jews to save Jews, often at great risk to their own lives, under the puppet regime of the Independent State of Croatia (which territorially also included Bosnia and Hercegovina)…”

“The most eye-opening chapter of When Courage Prevailed is perhaps the one about the Catholic Church and the Zagreb Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac who was subsequently convicted by the Communists for assisting the Ustaše in a highly political trial.  Gitman analyses diplomatic correspondence, Stepinac’s letters and “inspirational” sermons, and his interaction with both the Ustaša government and the Jewish community to argue compellingly that Stepinac “found himself between a rock and a hard place” but despite this was “outspoken” against the Ustaše and Nazis.  He also personally intervened to secure the survival of many Jews, some of whom he even gave sanctuary on church property.  Interestingly, the Chief Rabbi of Zagreb declined Stepinac’s offer of sanctuary so that he could remain with his people, but he did entrust his entire library to the Archbishop’s safekeeping and it was duly returned to the Jewish community in its entirety after the war”.

Mishka Gora’s complete review of  Esther Gitman’s book can be found at Online Opinion website or on Eyes of the Mind

Please click the book cover image on the left sidebar of this webpage (Croatia, the War, and the Future) for book purchase link.

When courage prevails amazing things happen

It has been several months since Dr Esther Gitman’s book “When Courage Prevailed – the Rescue and Survival of Jews in the Independent State of Croatia” was published by Paragon House Publishers.

This is a historical study based on documented facts with the emphasis on the ways Jews survived and were rescued in the Independent State of Croatia (1941 – 1945) by Croatians, among others, who put their own lives in great peril in order to help Jews.

This work by Esther Gitman is a testament to the fact that while many in Croatia during WWII sided with the Nazi regime in terrible persecution of Jews there were also many who opposed it and acted on their conscience, held onto courage, and saved many Jews.

This side of the Croatian truth has been suppressed from the worldwide media for a very long time, and only those who searched for it could find it in rare publications.

In June 2011 Pope Benedict XVI visited Croatia as the final stage before Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac is declared a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac was among those who risked life and liberty to ensure the survival of the innocent.

He waged his own wars on Communism, fascism and, most of all, the evils of Nazism. As communists held power in Yugoslavia after WWII ended in1945 they brought church leaders to trial, charged with collaboration with the Ustashe and complicity in their crimes.

Certainly the trial was in no way near the fair trials and due processes we know today in democratic societies guided by just laws.

Archbishop Stepinac was tried and convicted in 1946. He died in 1960 under house arrest having written thousands of letters defending the Church and denouncing Communism.

In June 2011 a documentary film “When Truth Prevails”, written and directed by New York based journalist Jadranka Juresko-Kero, on Esther Gitman’s work, was shown on Croatian television HRT. The film is produced by the Zagreb based company Interfilm and television station HRT.

Dr Esther Gitman

Dr Gitman embarked upon scientific research for her PhD dissertation in New York in 1999. She decided to dedicate her dissertation work exclusively to the courageous Croatians who had saved Jews in the Independent State of Croatia and to Stepinac.

She had never heard of Stepinac until her dissertation work took her to the Croatian national archives in Zagreb where she uncovered numerous mislaid boxes that contained tens of thousands of unprocessed documents that talk of his honourable activities during the war.

Esther Gitman was born to a Jewish family in Sarajevo from which she fled with her mother during 1941. She has been living in New York since 1972.

Sixty one years after fleeing Sarajevo Esther Gitman came to Zagreb in 2002 as an American scientist where, with the aid of the Fulbright Scholarship, she spent one year researching the theme of the rescue of Jews from the Independent State of Croatia.

She uncovered previously unknown historical documents that confirm Stepinac’s perseverance in rescuing endangered Jews, especially during World War II.

Such research had previously been “forbidden” or politically unsuitable and “uninteresting” to all historians in the former Yugoslavia as well as for those in modern-day Croatia who had written about the Jewish Question during the WWII  Independent State of Croatia.

Filmed in New York, Zagreb and Sarajevo, the film reconstructs the personal and scientific paths Esther Gitman walked to understand the truth about the rescued members of her people in the Independent State of Croatia.

Dr Gitman’s message is that the rescue of the Jews in the Independent State of Croatia and the role played by Archbishop Stepinac deserve internationalisation so that the whole truth is known about the Croatian people who helped rescue the Jews during WWII. Dr Gitman does not mitigate the terrors and the crimes perpetrated by the Ustashi when the Independent State of Croatia held power. She emphasizes that there is always hope to conquer evil if there are good and decisive people who love a human being as a human being and not for his or her racial or religious belonging.

When courage prevails amazing things happen.

Truth prevails in spite of everything. Ina Vukic, Prof.(Zgb), B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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