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Croatia Jews boycott WWII memorial, say government tolerates pro-Nazi sentiments

Jasenovac death camp, where some 100,000 were killed during Holocaust, was run by Ustasha regime, whose symbols are not banned in the country

File: Hundreds gather at the memorial center to pay their respects for tens of thousands of people killed in death camps run by Croatia's pro-Nazi puppet state in WWII, in Jasenovac, Croatia, April 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Nikola Solic)
File: Hundreds gather at the memorial center to pay their respects for tens of thousands of people killed in death camps run by Croatia's pro-Nazi puppet state in WWII, in Jasenovac, Croatia, April 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Nikola Solic)

ZAGREB, Croatia — Jews in Croatia on Friday snubbed an official commemoration for the victims of the country’s most notorious World War II death camp accusing authorities of tolerating pro-Nazi sentiments.

Jews as well as ethnic Serbs and anti-fascists had boycotted the event for three consecutive years before rejoining it in 2020.

At the time they said they wanted to show solidarity during the pandemic and start a conversation with authorities about lingering intolerance.

Last year a joint commemoration at the camp dubbed Croatia’s Auschwitz was not held due to the coronavirus crisis.

The camp, 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Zagreb, was run by the Nazi-allied Ustasha regime.

The Ustasha persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascist Croatians.

The European Union country’s conservative government has faced criticism in recent years for failing to condemn the use of Ustasha slogans and historical revisionism among right-wingers.

File: Hundreds gather at the memorial center to pay their respects for tens of thousands of people killed in death camps run by Croatia’s pro-Nazi puppet state in WWII, in Jasenovac, Croatia, April 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Nikola Solic)

The latest outrage was sparked this month when a government envoy who attended a ceremony to commemorate 1990s war paramilitaries, said Croatia “would not exist if there was no April 10, 1941.”

He was referring to the date when the Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia was founded.

The government distanced itself from his statement while Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said Friday that the “inexperienced” envoy made a “grave mistake.”

“A clear condemnation of the crimes in Jasenovac is extremely important, not only for the victims, but also for young people who have yet to become aware of what has happened in our history,” Plenkovic said at the ceremony marking the 77th anniversary of the camp’s closure.

Jews, who want the government to explicitly ban Ustasha symbols, will commemorate the camp’s victims next week.

Representatives of other persecuted groups accompanied top officials and laid wreaths at the striking flower-shaped monument Friday.

Jasenovac was the largest and most brutal of Croatia’s two dozen concentration camps, and where many inmates were killed with hammers, knives and stones.

The total number of people slaughtered there, the majority of whom were Serbs, remains disputed.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates the number of victims at some 100,000.

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