Croatian Jews hold own Holocaust commemoration, rebuking government


Croatian Jews held a Holocaust commemoration a week before the scheduled government event that the community said it would boycott.

Some 300 Jewish residents of Croatia attended the ceremony held Friday at the Nazi death camp at Jasenovac, near Zagreb, The Associated Press reported.

Earlier this month, the Coordinating Committee of the Jewish Communities of Croatia said it would hold its own commemoration “in line with Jewish tradition” instead of participating in the government one at the death camp, in order to protest alleged government inaction to curb neo-Nazism.

The committee’s president, Ognjen Kraus, said at the time that the move followed cases of open anti-Semitism, including chants by demonstrators of pro-Nazi slogans at an anti-government march in January and during a soccer match between the Israeli and Croatian national teams last month.

Every April, Croatia honors the victims of the Jasenovac death camp, which was operated by the pro-Nazi Ustasha regime of World War II. The camp is known as “Croatia’s Auschwitz.”

In all, some 30,000 of Croatia’s Jews died during the Holocaust — 80 percent of the country’s Jewish population, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

Croatian Jews to boycott country’s official Holocaust commemorations


The Jewish community in Croatia said it will boycott the country’s official Holocaust commemoration events this year to protest alleged government inaction to curb neo-Nazism.

The Coordinating Committee of the Jewish Communities of Croatia said it would hold its own commemoration “in line with Jewish tradition” instead of participating in the government one, the Voice of America reported Monday.

The committee’s president, Ognjen Kraus, told the radio station that the move followed cases of open anti-Semitism, including chants by demonstrators of pro-Nazi slogans at an anti-government march in January and during a soccer match between the Israeli and Croatian national teams last month.

“The state is simply not doing anything about it and does not want to,” Kraus said Monday.

The Croatian government has not yet responded to the Jewish community’s decision to ignore the official ceremony. But Prime Minister Tihomir Orešković has spoken out against hate speech in the media.

Every April, Croatia honors the victims of the Jasenovac death camp, operated by the pro-Nazi Ustasha regime of World War II. The camp is known as Croatia’s Auschwitz.

In all, some 30,000 of Croatia’s Jews died during the Holocaust — 80 percent of the country’s Jewish population, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.

Simon Wiesenthal Center center urges dismissal of Croatia’s culture minister


The Israel-based Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Croatia's government on Friday to dismiss its culture minister, saying he took a disdainful attitude toward Croatian resistance to fascism during World War Two.

The Jewish human rights group expressed “shock and indignation at several actions taken and comments made” by minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic.

Hasanbegovic has previously dismissed similar criticism as unfounded. He could not immediately be reached for comment on Friday.

During World War Two, Croatia was under Nazi control and led by local collaborators called Ustashe. Many Croats fought as partisans within the communist-led resistance movement.

Croatia is now a member of the European Union.

“We urge the Croatian government to replace Hasanbegovic with a person suitable for the post of minister of culture who will bring honor and prestige to the post, rather than embarrass his country before the entire world,” the director of Wiesenthal Center, Efraim Zuroff, said in a statement on its website.

No comment was immediately available from the Croatian government or from Hasanbegovic.

Zuroff accused Hasanbegovic, a historian who is also involved in publishing, of failing to recognize the genocidal nature of the Nazi-sponsored Ustasha regime, and showing disdain for Croatians who fought against it.

Hasanbegovic is a minister in Croatia's center-right government, an alliance between the conservative HDZ party and the small reformist Most party.

Croatia's center-left opposition and several civic groups have already criticized Hasanbegovic's appointment.

‘Schindler’s List’ producer donating Oscar to Yad Vashem


A Croatian Holocaust survivor who worked as a producer on “Schindler’s List” will give his Academy Award from the movie to Yad Vashem.

Branko Lustig, 83, a survivor of the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, said that the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem “is the place where the award should be kept after my death,” Ynet reported Monday.

Lustig, who reportedly is in ill health, will present the Oscar statuette at a ceremony to be held at the museum in his honor next month. The ceremony will coincide with a visit to Israel by Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, according to Ynet.

Lustig’s mother survived the Holocaust, and they were reunited after World War II. Most of the rest of his family were killed in Nazi death camps.

Lustig won a second Oscar as a producer of the 2001 film “Gladiator.”

From Croatia to Israel to the NBA?


Dragan Bender, a 17-year-old from Croatia, is heading to New York City for this weekend’s NBA All-Star Game festivities to see the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The Israeli team Maccabi Tel Aviv believes Bender, a 6-foot-11 power forward, could one day be playing in the game. So do scores of other European clubs and U.S. college coaches who recruited him.

Bender plays in Maccabi’s new youth basketball academy, but is likely to be promoted to the big club for next season. In New York he will scrimmage and practice with top international junior players while attending the weekend’s main events — the Rising Stars Challenge, the Slam Dunk Contest and the All-Star Game itself — at the arenas that the Brooklyn Nets and the Knicks call home.

Also this weekend, a Maccabi youth team will be playing at a tournament involving teams from the city’s five boroughs.

“I’m very excited because this is a big event for me,” Bender told JTA, referring to the scrimmages and practices. As to the main events, Bender said he’s most looking forward to watching NBA stars like James and Durant, as well as brothers Pau and Marc Gasol.

One person he won’t see is his brother Ivan, a freshman forward with the University of Maryland, who can’t make it to the Big Apple, although he did visit Dragan in Israel two months ago.

Bender signed a seven-year contract in 2014 with Maccabi, but he can leave for the NBA after four years. As to whether he can imagine taking the court as an NBA All-Star, he stated the obvious: “That’s a dream every basketball player has.”

Croatia to quit UN Golan force after reports of arms shipments


Croatia will pull its soldiers out of the U.N. peace force in the Golan Heights as a precautionary step, the government said on Thursday, after media reports that Croatian arms were being sent to Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.

The Croatian government denied the reports and said it had never sold or donated weapons to the rebels, but Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said the damage was already done.

“We can deny over and over again, but everyone has already read these reports and our soldiers are no longer safe. We want them to return home safe and sound,” he told a cabinet meeting. He did not elaborate further on Croatia's reasons for the move.

Croatia, which joined NATO in 2008, has 98 soldiers in the U.N. force that has helped maintain calm in a demilitarized zone along Syria's Golan frontier with Israel since a ceasefire that ended the Yom Kippur War.

The United Nations has warned that the almost two-year-old Syrian civil war, which has killed nearly 70,000 people, could spill over into the sensitive Golan region.

Earlier this week the New York Times and Croatian media said Syrian rebels had been given Croatian armor-piercing grenades, rocket launchers and recoilless cannons, and that these arms had been flown by Jordanian cargo planes from Zagreb airport.

President Ivo Josipovic, the supreme commander of Croatia's armed forces, said he would order the soldiers to be withdrawn.

“We shall respect Croatia's international obligations and safety requirements of the soldiers from our partner countries,” a statement by Josipovic's office said on Thursday.

The United Nations reported on Tuesday that a member of the peace force in the Golan's demilitarized zone had gone missing.

Reporting by Zoran Radosavljevic; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Croatia expected to take up restitution law amendment


The Croatian Parliament is expected to discuss a proposed amendment that could change the country’s restitution law and make it possible for foreigners, including Holocaust survivors, to file property claims.

According to the Claims Coholnference, an organization dedicated to reclaiming Jewish property lost during the Holocaust, the amendment would give claimants eight months to file restitution claims for property seizures. However, according to the organization’s blog, Claims Conference restitution specialist Arie Bucheister expressed concern that the amendment would not include all property seized between 1941 and 1945, and that eight months would not be enough time to file the proper claims.

The Claims Conference pointed out other concerns, including if Croatian Jews who survived the Holocaust and renounced their citizenship to immigrate to Israel would be allowed to benefit, as well as whether the amendment would apply to Jews and their heirs equally.

Historic Croatian synagogue vandalized


Police are investigating an attack on the entrance to the historic synagogue in the Croatian city of Split, on the Adriatic coast.

Unidentified persons covered the walls, doors and the information plaque around the entrance to the synagogue and Jewish community office with spray painted anti-Semitic and xenophobic graffiti including swastikas and slogans, during the night of May 29-30.

Some of the slogans were directed toward political figures and the European Union, and scrawled ‘signatures’ included the supporters of the local soccer club Hajduk and an extreme right-wing radical Croatian party.

A statement by the Jewish community released after the incident said the graffiti differed from other such instances in the city by “the larger quantity of graffiti and hatred emanating from them.”

“Good will, ability and efficiency of the relevant authorities to find the vandals as promptly as possible and punish them appropriately with educational effects will provide an insight in how much such incidents represent acts of an individual, and how much they reflect a more general attitude of the society,” the statement added.

Jewish Croatia: Through the Looking Glass


This past October I found myself, along with four other North American Jewish journalists, flying business class — a wonderful way to fly — to Croatia on Lufthansa Airlines. The Croatian Tourist Office in conjunction with Lufthansa had generously put together a 12 day guest package, hoping we would like what we saw (after all, parts of Croatia, especially the Dalmatian coast on the Adriatic Sea, are quite beautiful). The thought was we would combine descriptions of the famous tourist sights with a report to our readers on the life and times of Jewish Croatia.

There was a certain disarming lunacy about the whole enterprise. Certainly a journalist can discover interesting and important stories to recount about Croatia — its politics, its recent history, and its estrangement from the West; reportage about Croatia’s dying, autocratic President Franja Tudjman and the likelihood of his party’s (the HDZ or Croatian Democratic Union) success in the elections scheduled for Jan. 3; accounts of the high levels of unemployment (nearly 20 percent) along with the moribund tourist trade; or the way in which modern life continues to persist (with energy) in this strange isolated land: from urban Central European Zagreb, the capitol city, all the way to the Dalmatian Coast on the beautiful Adriatic, with its Italian and Mediterranean ambiance looming out of the sea in such lovely port cities as Split and Dubrovnik.

Despite the generosity of the Croatian Tourist Bureau towards me and the other journalists, these are not Jewish stories and have little to do with what might be called Jewish Croatia. Ironically, the outcome in all these political matters — Tudjman’s successor, unemployment, tourism, relations with the U.S. and Western Europe — will determine the fate of Croatia’s 2,500 Jews just as it will the rest of the nation’s near 5 million population.

Jewish Croatia to all intents and purposes is a statistical blip. More than half the Jews, 1,500, live in Zagreb which has a population of about one million. Split, a jewel of a city (population about 200,000) on the Dalmatian Coast, contains about 150 Jews, but not all are participants in the community. In Dubrovnik, with its marvelous old walled city, there are 44 Jews. Bruno Horowitz the leader of the community, explains that services are held infrequently; only “when there are enough tourists to have a minyan.” Carefully he traces through the list of each Jewish family in Dubrovnik: he’s a dentist; she’s a teacher; he’s a photographer; and on through all 44.

Crypto – Jews Unmasked


This past October I found myself, along with four other North American Jewish journalists, flying business class — a wonderful way to fly — to Croatia on Lufthansa Airlines. The Croatian Tourist Office in conjunction with Lufthansa had generously put together a 12 day guest package, hoping we would like what we saw (after all, parts of Croatia, especially the Dalmatian coast on the Adriatic Sea, are quite beautiful). The thought was we would combine descriptions of the famous tourist sights with a report to our readers on the life and times of Jewish Croatia.

There was a certain disarming lunacy about the whole enterprise. Certainly a journalist can discover interesting and important stories to recount about Croatia — its politics, its recent history, and its estrangement from the West; reportage about Croatia’s dying, autocratic President Franja Tudjman and the likelihood of his party’s (the HDZ or Croatian Democratic Union) success in the elections scheduled for Jan. 3; accounts of the high levels of unemployment (nearly 20 percent) along with the moribund tourist trade; or the way in which modern life continues to persist (with energy) in this strange isolated land: from urban Central European Zagreb, the capitol city, all the way to the Dalmatian Coast on the beautiful Adriatic, with its Italian and Mediterranean ambiance looming out of the sea in such lovely port cities as Split and Dubrovnik.

Despite the generosity of the Croatian Tourist Bureau towards me and the other journalists, these are not Jewish stories and have little to do with what might be called Jewish Croatia. Ironically, the outcome in all these political matters — Tudjman’s successor, unemployment, tourism, relations with the U.S. and Western Europe — will determine the fate of Croatia’s 2,500 Jews just as it will the rest of the nation’s near 5 million population.

Jewish Croatia to all intents and purposes is a statistical blip. More than half the Jews, 1,500, live in Zagreb which has a population of about one million. Split, a jewel of a city (population about 200,000) on the Dalmatian Coast, contains about 150 Jews, but not all are participants in the community. In Dubrovnik, with its marvelous old walled city, there are 44 Jews. Bruno Horowitz the leader of the community, explains that services are held infrequently; only “when there are enough tourists to have a minyan.” Carefully he traces through the list of each Jewish family in Dubrovnik: he’s a dentist; she’s a teacher; he’s a photographer; and on through all 44.