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.

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.

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