President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday, 13 Menachem Av, during a state visit to Croatia, visited the Jasenovac Death Camp, accompanied by the Croatian President Kolinda Garber-Kitzrovic. Jasenovac is the largest concentration and extermination camp in Croatia, and is found south of the capital, Zagreb. The camp was established by the Ustasha regime in Croatia, and operated between 1941-1945. Tens of thousands of Jews were murdered in the camp.
At a ceremony, held at the foot of the central monument in the camp, the President said the memorial prayer ‘Kaddish’ in memory of the tens of thousands of Jewish victims who perished in the camp. Afterwards, the Presidents both laid wreaths, and delivered addresses.
“On the eve of World War II, 40,000 Jews lived in the territory of ‘the Independent Croatian state’. The Jewish communities flourished here. Small communities – but vibrant communities, patriotic. For hundreds of years Croatia was a comfortable home for Jews, but during the Second World War, this home turned into a mass grave for most of the Jews of Croatia. Thousands of Jews, most of the members of the Jewish community, babies, children, women, the elderly and men, were murdered, exterminated with terrible cruelty just because they were Jews,” the President said, and continued, “Most of the Jews who lived in the independent state of Croatia were murdered here in the Jasenovac camp. With them a great many thousands of Serbs and Romany and opponents of the regime who were brutally murdered.”
The President stressed, “The Ustasha regime, one of the terrible regimes of Nazi collaborators, grew here.” He continued, “We know there were others too, but they were a minority. A regime that was an active partner in the murder. There are some who prefer to repress their past and see it as a ‘black hole’ which requires no study or soul searching. Some believe especially today that the historical circumstances of World War II, the fact that they were under Nazi occupation, exempts them from any moral responsibility, personal and national – for the horrors that took place in their land. I was present in the Knesset, when presidents of Croatia, over the years, spoke of and recognized their moral and national responsibility. They asked for forgiveness, and vowed to continue fighting against a snake that is still found deeply rooted. We cherished their words then, and we appreciate and expect to see efforts made by the Croatian Republic to ensure these dark pages of history will not be forgotten. Facing the crimes of the past is a long journey – that one must be persistent in, with great determination and courage, despite all difficulties. Croatia’s ability to deal with the past and not to ignore it, is a moral obligation which is a fundamental part of any just society and will continue to be an important element of the friendship between Croatia and the State of Israel.”
He concluded, “We are all obligated to make every effort to honor the memory of those who perished, and not to lend a hand to legislation or any attempt to damage or silence historical research of what the Nazis and their collaborators did. Only by honestly and bravely dealing with the past and by educating the younger generation – can we say, from this terrible place, “never again”.
President of Croatia spoke and said, “I was horrified by the testimonies of the horrors that took place here to the victims whom President Rivlin gave a voice today. Here, today, at the foot of the monument in this terrible place, I wish to express my deep sorrow for all the victims of the Holocaust in Croatia, and the victims of the Ustasha regime during World War II, which caused terrible suffering to the Serbs, Romani, Croats, and all those who were considered enemies of the regime at the time. I would like once again to express our condolences to all the victims of the Holocaust from Croatia, to the families and descendants of those who are no longer with us.”
She continued, “A large number of Croats opposed this regime and died in the struggle for freedom. Among them were Righteous Among the Nations from Croatia, a symbol of light and courage in the darkness of war and horrors. We are grateful for their courage.”
She added, “No political purpose justifies the crimes committed in its name. Croatia continues to preserve the memory of the atrocities that took place here, the memory of the tragedy of Croatian citizens and the crimes committed against Croatian citizens. We are aware that a shadow has been cast on this part of our history. We have to take responsibility for our future, based on truth and building a better society, and these values are anchored in the constitution of our country. We are proud members of the European Union and NATO, both of which are based on shared values we share with the State of Israel and the international community – the values of democracy, freedom and dignity for all people.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem/Photo Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom, GPO)