Esther Gitman’s Book “Alojzije Stepinac: Pillar of Human Rights” Now at Yad Vashem

Dr Esther Gitman (R), President of Israel Reuven Rivlin (C)
President of Republic of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (C-back turned) at Beit HaNassi July 29, 2019
Photo: Private collection

The gift given by President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic on July 29, 2019 at Yad Vashem Centre in Jerusalem to Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has gone almost unnoticed in both Croatia and Israel media! True, it rarely happens that the media writes about gifts that the heads of state exchange, but it’s also true that a great deal of attention and effort always stand behind every such gift. On these occasions, gifts are always given as a sign of respect and a reflection of the relationship between the gift-giving state and the state whose president receives the gift, and the gift often becomes more than the mere formality of the act of gift exchange – it also becomes a reminder of what is of particular importance within the alliance between two countries, between the giver and the recipient of the gift.

Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (Second from L) Reuven Rivlin (C) Esther Gitman (R) at Beit HaNassi July 29 2019
PHOTO: Private Collection

The President of the Republic of Croatia presented in Yad Vashem to the President of Israel a book by the author Dr. Esther Gitman “Alojzije Stepinac: Pillar of Human Rights”! Not only did the President of the Republic of Croatia, in February 2019, decorate Dr. Esther Gitman with the “Order of Prince Branimir with a Necklace” for the special merits deserved through researching, documenting and promoting the truth about 20th-century Croatian history, as well as for deepening of understanding between the Croatian and Jewish people, in July, she gifted Dr. Gitman’s book to the President of Israel which evidences the indisputable truth about the work and efforts of Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac in rescuing Jews in World War II. Bearing in mind that in June 2019, at the University of Split, Dr. Esther Gitman was awarded an Honorary Doctorate for her historical research and writings about Blessed Alojzije Stepinac, then the gift that President Grabar Kitarovic presented to President Rivlin comes as a bright link in the circle of strengthened presentation to the world the goodness which, despite various propagandistic attempts denying the goodness of Alojzije Stepinac, still existed and is a fact, and therefore indisputable.

Dr Esther Gitman and her book:
“Alojzije Stepinac: Pillar of Human Rights”

It is to be hoped that this book by Dr. Esther Gitman on the rescue of Jews in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina during World War II by its very presence in Yad Vashem through President Rivlin will usher in rays of illumination of the truth there where it brings great value for both the Croatian and the Jewish people. For, many years have passed in which the alleged truth about Blessed Aloysius Stepinac was not based on facts but on a fabricated and politically coloured spectrum of dark colours and untruths.

In the evening of July 29, 2019, an official dinner was held in Beit HaNassi, the residence of Reuven Rivlin, President of Israel, specifically to welcome Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, President of the Republic of Croatia. Usually, such events are often briefly mentioned in daily news, but this festive dinner in Jerusalem carries something special and precious, not only that the Croatian and Israeli flags were flying in front of Beit HaNassi, but also some very special guests were inside the presidential residence – Dr. Esther Gitman with her husband Dr. Israel Gitman.

Dr Esther Gitman had dinner with the President of the Republic of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, and the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin.

A week before the visit of the Croatian President to Israel, the Croatian Embassy in Israel informed Dr. Esther Gitman of the President’s arrival and announced that she would be contacted by the office of Israeli President Rivlin. She was invited by President Rivlin to that official and festive dinner as a Croatian guest and her husband Israel as an Israeli guest.

Before her arrival at the dinner, Dr. Gitman photographed the streets around the presidential residence, which were decorated with Croatian and Israeli flags, imagining how much her Croatian friends would like to see the pictures. The cocktails lasted for an hour and dinner for two hours. Dr Gitman was told that Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, on the occasion of her official visit to Yad Vashem earlier that day, had gifted to President Rivlin her book “Alojzije Stepinac: The Pillar of Human Rights”. That would have been the main reason for her being invited to the presidential dinner at the Israeli President’s residence. The work of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac is indeed great in the history of the whole world, because in the terrible times of World War II, only a few people throughout Europe committed themselves so much to fighting against injustice, against human suffering and human rights violations.

Beit HaNassi, Jerusalem, July 29, 2019
Photo: Private collection

According to Dr. Gitman, the President of Israel, Rivlin, welcomed President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic at the festive dinner, emphasising their warm relations and intentions for cooperation. The Croatian president also thanked the Israeli president for emphasising their plans for future co-operation.

What was really humorous,” Dr. Gitman told me, “was when the presidents stopped while walking out of the hall where the dinner was taking place and talked to the guests, and I introduced my husband, Israel, and he with a smile on my face quickly managed to tell President Grabar Kitarovic ‘you have a beautiful country and I gave that country my most precious possession – my wife’. The Israeli president who stood by my husband Israel’s side at the time said to my husband that the president highly respects his wife.”

I hope somebody from Yad Vashem reads my book or at least part of it! Croatia was trashed for so many years by Serbia, Croats were portrayed as murderers as anti-Semites that killed not only Jews but also Serbs, Roma and other dissidents. The Israelis are unaware that throughout the war the Serbs had armies. The Chetniks, the Milan Nedic’s army so favoured by Hitler that they received closed trucks to kill in them 50 Jews at the time! The ignorance is embracing, the information was concealed for 70 years, few only know that Belgrade was the first city in Europe free of Jews. And that 90 percent of the Jews perished there. Sorry, but for this ignorance I must blame the Croatian historians who for the past 25 years failed to tell the world what had transpired! Yes, many Ustashe were murderers, they committed heinous crimes, but there were good people who helped. Yes, even this criminal Ustashe regime saved Jewish Physicians and instituted against the Nazi will concepts such as Aryan Rights and Honorary Aryans. Just to save those whom the regime needed and respected. Stepinac rescued those in mixed marriages, orphans, 58 elderly and prevented a major catastrophe when they prevented Bastianini Giuseppe, the governor of the Italian zones, to ship back to the Ustashe all the Jews who managed to escape!” Dr. Gitman said answering my question about what President of the Republic of Croatia gifting her book to the President of Israel in Yad Vashem personally means to her.

This article of yours is not a place for all these details, but we must spread the truth and not only about Stepinac but the Croatian people and Stepinac in his sermons aimed at instilling in them the duty of saving human lives,” Dr. Gitman commented at the end of our talk. Ina Vukic

 

Prickly Croatia – Israel Relations: Aloysius Stepinac’s List Was Longer Than Schindler’s!

 

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic at Yad Vashem/ Israel with Branko Lustig (in hat)  Photo: Office of President, RH

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic
at Yad Vashem/ Israel with
Branko Lustig (in hat)
Photo: Office of President, RH

For reasons many cannot understand, even if their bias against Croatia is profound, Israel’s political establishment had in 1997 taken an anti Croatia, anti-Franjo Tudjman stand. Indeed, Israel had then pronounced Franjo Tudjman a “persona non grata” in Israel because, it was reported, Tudjman had in his books underestimated the number of Jews that perished in the Holocaust! Indeed, Tudjman was labelled by various Jewish organisations across the world as Holocaust denier and anti-Semitic because of the numbers he estimated perished in the Holocaust. Overestimates or possible overestimates of number of Jews that perished in the Holocaust had never, so many decades after the fact of the Holocaust, to my knowledge, set in motion such hateful and drastic measures on the level of state relations!

After Franjo Tudjman’s death in 1999 all three Presidents of Croatia had officially visited Israel, apologising for the crimes of the Holocaust that occurred during WWII in Croatia. Apologies, of course, are always the right thing to do as they contain, or should contain, the spirit of regret and compassion and, hopefully, determination that things apologised for shall never reoccur. Presidents Stjepan Mesic (2000-2010) and Ivo Josipovic (2011-2015) are both of hard-core communist extraction and had, as expected, molded their apologies for the Holocaust while in Israel in such a way to openly suggest that fascist or Nazi supporters were still active or “mysteriously in ghost-like fashion coming out of the woodwork” in Croatia – still.  “Apologies” of this nature are nothing more than attempts, on false but politically potent grounds, to cover up communist crimes committed in Croatia during and after WWII. Many Croatia’s “leading” Jews had, particularly since 1991, followed the same line because I dare say, most were and are communists of former Yugoslavia.

It is of great importance to note that no president of Croatia has so far, it seems, “lobbied” to Israel regarding the factual research findings by Dr Esther Gitman about the significant work of Croatia’s Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, beatified and in line to be canonised a Saint of the Catholic Church.

Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac Oil painting Croatian Church Chicago

Blessed Alojzije (Aloysius) Stepinac
Oil painting Croatian Church Chicago

It is certainly not far fetched, by a long shot, to conclude that Croatian pro-communist Jewish and Serb lobby would not want Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac vindicated by indisputable facts which point to the overwhelming lies and false grounds upon which communists persecuted him as Nazi-collaborator immediately after WWII. Former communist operatives and influential persons within the Yugoslav Communist Party between WWII and 1991 have too much face to lose were the truth to be accepted as truth. No matter, the truth still stands and its enemies are identified in this case. The battles for truth and recognition of it may, hence, be easier than before.

Modern Croatia is not a successor to the World War II independent state of Croatia and its ideologies,” Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic told i24news, in an exclusive interview at the end of a two-day visit to Israel, 24 July 2015. Kitarovic, who during her visit participated in a Yad Vashem ceremony in which Croatian-American producer Branko Lustig donated his “Schindler’s List” Oscar to the Holocaust memorial, brushed off any connection to what she calls “a dark period in our history that casts a shadow on Croatia’s past.”

I find it regretful that there seems to have been no opportunity during this visit to refer to Blessed Aloysius Stepinac while at Yad Vashem or elsewhere in Israel. Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac had his own “Shindler’s list” and saved thousands upon thousands of Jews during WWII Croatia! After access to historical documents/archives had been possible at the fall of communist Yugoslavia his “list” is found to have been much longer than Schindler’s! His list was longer than Schindler’s and yet state politics keep this truth hidden or are not inclined to talk about it publicly!

 

A book by Esther Gitman

A book by Esther Gitman

Part of Croatia’s World War II history, the collaboration with the Nazis has been a prickly issue in diplomatic relations with Israel, which were established in 1997. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has, on this occasion of visiting Israel, maintained the stance of her predecessors Mesic and Josipovic, and “focuses on building relations with Israel today and is strongly committed to the victims and survivors in order to prevent future atrocities”. “There is no connection today between the Nazi ideology and modern Croatia,” Grabar-Kitarovic said, and vowed that she feels “no resentment” from her Israeli counterparts, reports i24 news.
In addition to the Ustashi regime, which was a collaborationist Nazi regime, there was comparably one of the biggest anti fascist uprising resistance movements in Croatia,” Grabar-Kitarovic said, mentioning that members of her own family participated in this movement. “These people who fought fascism and Nazism put Croatia on the right side of history, and what is embedded in our constitution today is our anti-fascist and anti-Nazi roots and the Homeland War that we fought back in the 90s in order to liberate Croatia from aggression and occupation,” Grabar-Kitarovic said in Israel last week.
I use this opportunity to condemn every totalitarian regime – Nazism, Fascism, Communism,” said President Grabar-Kitarovic at Yad Vashem in Israel, and emphasised education as the strongest weapon against every form of radical ideology, divisions, hatred and racism. “We must tell the truth because we are denuded in this place, we have no and carry none of our official functions. We are here as human beings. As people, as parents, sisters and brothers we have the responsibility to pursue for the truth.”

All what President Grabar-Kitarovic said in Israel last week stands as truth but such plethora of historical references still omit the fact that many, including Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, are considered as Nazi-collaborators, participants in the Holocaust, when the truth and facts point the other way – the righteous way! So, I often agonise and ponder: why is it so difficult for the Holocaust remembrance environment to accept the truth about Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac’s role in helping and rescuing Jews? An answer that comes to mind is that communists of former Yugoslavia have, on false grounds and utter lies, made Aloysius Stepinac synonymous with the concept and reality of the Holocaust in Croatia and to now accept him for what he truly was – innocent of those charges, would somehow take  a significant part of the heavy gravity away from the act of the Holocaust! So, the Holocaust remembrance environment seems in part to prefer perpetuation of untruths rather than facing the truth. Nothing can take away the heavy gravity the Holocaust carries for human kind – for it was an abomination – but unjust treatment of individuals within this environment, unwillingness to recognise the actual rather than reported or estimated truth, do add to its tragedy for human justice. I do hope that the pursuit of truth of the Holocaust in Croatia will surface with the righteousness of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac: with a proud revelation of a Schindler’s List not even the revered Schindler could match! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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.

_____

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

—————–
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)

Disclaimer, Terms and Conditions:

All content on “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is for informational purposes only. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” blog is not responsible for and expressly disclaims all liability for the interpretations and subsequent reactions of visitors or commenters either to this site or its associate Twitter account, @IVukic or its Facebook account. Comments on this website are the sole responsibility of their writers and the writer will take full responsibility, liability, and blame for any libel or litigation that results from something written in or as a direct result of something written in a comment. The nature of information provided on this website may be transitional and, therefore, accuracy, completeness, veracity, honesty, exactitude, factuality and politeness of comments are not guaranteed. This blog may contain hypertext links to other websites or webpages. “Croatia, the War, and the Future” does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness of information on any other website or webpage. We do not endorse or accept any responsibility for any views expressed or products or services offered on outside sites, or the organisations sponsoring those sites, or the safety of linking to those sites. Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome and encouraged to voice their opinion regardless of identity, politics, ideology, religion or agreement with the subject in posts or other commentators. Personal or other criticism is acceptable as long as it is justified by facts, arguments or discussions of key issues. Comments that include profanity, offensive language and insults will be moderated.
%d bloggers like this: