Croatia’s Serbian, Jewish groups to snub WWII death camp memorial

Umbrella organizations say they are boycotting event for fourth year because authorities tolerate nostalgia for country’s pro-Nazi past

A man looks at the World War II Jasenovac memorial camp model on April 26, 2015, during a ceremony to remember the tens of thousands who were killed by Croatia's pro-Nazi regime. (AFP/Stringer)
A man looks at the World War II Jasenovac memorial camp model on April 26, 2015, during a ceremony to remember the tens of thousands who were killed by Croatia's pro-Nazi regime. (AFP/Stringer)

Serb and Jewish umbrella groups in Croatia said Tuesday they would snub for the fourth straight year a commemoration for the victims of the country’s notorious World War II death camp, saying the authorities tolerate pro-Nazi ideology.

The Jasenovac camp, known as Croatia’s Auschwitz, was run by the country’s Nazi-allied Ustasha regime which persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascist Croatians.

The commemoration ceremony for the victims is held every April at the site of the camp, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) southeast of Zagreb.

Ethnic Serb and Jewish minorities as well as anti-fascists have snubbed the official commemoration for the past three years and held their own events.

Ustaše militia executing people over a mass grave near Jasenovac concentration camp. (Public domain)

They accuse the authorities of tolerating nostalgia for Croatia’s pro-Nazi past.

“Nothing has changed in the past year” over the issue, Ognjen Kraus, head of an umbrella association of Jewish groups here, told media Tuesday.

Ethnic Serbs echoed the view.

“The state did not undertake necessary measures to halt or at least decrease negation of Holocaust … and (historical) revisionism,” Sasa Milosevic, deputy head of the SNV ethnic Serb umbrella body, told the Novosti weekly magazine.

Anti-fascists said they would decide on Thursday whether to attend the ceremony.

The decision on a boycott comes as media reported that the government of conservative Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic had launched talks with the groups that had snubbed the official event.

In this Jan. 26, 2017 photo, the plaque bearing WWII pro-Nazi regime salute “Za Dom Spremni” (For Homeland Ready) commemorating deaths of Croatian troops killed during 1990’s conflict is on a wall in Jasenovac, Central Croatia. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Anti-fascists, ethnic Serbs and Jews were notably incensed by a plaque with an Ustasha slogan unveiled at Jasenovac in November 2016.

The plaque, laid by former paramilitaries, was removed from the camp’s immediate vicinity nearly a year later — only to be displayed at another location around 10 kilometers (six miles) away.

Jasenovac was the largest and most brutal of the country’s death camps, where many inmates were killed with hammers, knives and stones.

The total number of people killed there remains disputed. It varies from tens of thousands to 700,000, according to Serbian figures.

Some 75 percent of around 40,000 Croatian Jews were killed by the Ustasha, and Jews now make up less then 1% of Croatia’s population of 4.2 million.

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