If only he could have seen ``Schindler's List" before he published his book ``Wastelands of Historical Reality" [``Bespuca Historijske Zbiljnosti"]. Maybe he would not have quoted a disgusting story about the Jews in Jasenovac [largest concentration camp in Croatia during the WWII], contributed by two antisemites who had been released from the camp. In any case, why is it that, as a historian, he did not find it necessary to quote testimonies of Jewish inmates who survived the Ustashe [Croatian fascists] Auschwitz by pure luck? Their testimonies about that inferno were collected in a book published in 1972. It is true that, later, as a president of the republic, he ``expressed sorrow for the suffering of the Croatian Jews in the holocaust." Commendable. However, the president of Germany, Roman Hertzog went a step further than expressing ``sorrow" when last summer he said in Warsaw:``I beg for forgiveness for what the Germans did to you."
The day after the premiere of ``Schindler's List", you said:``I received a high Croatian decoration, Order of Prince Trpimir... During the ceremony the president apologized to me and all members of the Jewish community for those who during the Second World War took part in Enforcement of Hitler's racist laws."
In 1941 you were still a child and maybe did not know that in Croatia racist laws were not enacted by Hitler, but by Independent State of Croatia (ISC) [Nezavisna Drzave Hrvatska or NDH was a Nazi puppet state from 1941 to 1945; it was run by Croatian fascist movement - Ustashe in Croatian] and enforced by Ustashe government. You might not be aware that Vinko Nikolic was an important functionary in that government, a member of the Ustashe High Command. He was enraptured by the Poglavnik [term corresponding to Fuhrer in Ustashe terminology] Ante Pavelic. ``Our new intelligentsia," wrote Vinko Nikolic in the Novi List on 7/2/41,``must raise new generations under ustashe [ie. fascist] values and above all, must engender in Croatian youth, from the earliest age, unlimited and devoted loyalty towards the Poglavnik." He was not only enraptured with the Poglavnik, but also interested in literature, which, according to him would help the Ustashe movement ``to mold a new man," whose main characteristics must be:``nationalistic soul, Ustashe heart, Poglavnik's teaching and Ustashe creed" (Vinko Nikolic, National Goals of Literature, Zagreb, 1944). He showed his ``loyalty to the Poglavnik" in the emigration to Madrid in 1949, when the Ustashe crimes were already known around the world, by composing an ode to Poglavnik's ISC.
Why am I mentioning this to you? Because that gentlemen recently returned to Zagreb, to the government's warm welcome. President Tudjman, fighter against fascism in the WWII, did not know better then to make this gentlemen (who with his ``Ustashe heart" took part in the machinery of the holocaust) a member of the upper house of the Croatian parliament! No, that ``educator according to the fascist values" never killed anyone himself. He sat at his desk and supported criminals with his pen. Do you know that, mister Lustig ?
Do you think that a man who in the third Reich demanded from the youth ``limitless devotion to the Fuhrer," could today, in democratic Germany become a member of Bundestag - German Federal Parliament? Do you think that the units of the German Army could be named after Nazi war criminals, as some units of the Croatian Army bear names of Ustashe butchers? Do you think that some SS-Sturmbandfuhrer, who during the third Reich signed a racist order, could get today a high decoration from the president of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG)? Still, all of this is possible. But not in todays Germany. Signatory of the racist Ustashe order in 1941, Ustashe stozernik [military rank] Ivo Rojnica, was decorated by the Poglavnik with the order of merit `` for the zealous service in Ustashe movement." The very same zealot of Ustashe movement - who declared in ``Slobodna Dalmacija":``everything I did in 1941 I would do again" - has recently received a decoration of the high Order of Prince Trpimir from the hands of president Tudjman personally! Of course this case is not unique. Accomplice in the German genocide on the Balkan, Kurt Waldheim also received a high decoration from Pavelic and then, after the war, as a secretary of the UN, another one from Tito! Some people are truly for all times. Franjo Tudjman, Tito's general, knows that much.
The grotesque part is that you, Mr. Lustig, an Auschwitz survivor, wear the same decoration as a Ustashe officer who ``zealously worked" to implement the holocaust on the territory of the ISC. And with great success. Of approximately 40,000 Jews on the territory of ISC, three quarters were killed. Survivors were only those who managed to escape to the Italian occupation zone or joined the Partisans [indigenous communist guerilla army under Tito's leadership]. Many were helped by the Croatians. But while the Croatian citizens, in personal danger, were helping persecuted Jews as much as they could, the government of ISC was killing them whenever possible.
You quoted president Tudjman's message to Melvin Salzberger and Abraham Foxman, in which he distances himself and the Croatian government from the quisling Croatian state [ISC] and the Ustashe regime. Very good and commendable. But if you lived here, I believe that as a Jew, you would be worried by the rehabilitation of the Ustashe ISC, which encompasses historiography, newspaper articles, TV talk shows, naming of military units after infamous Ustashe ``knights", all the way to restaurants with names like ``Poglavnik", ``Coffee Bar Ustasha" and similar reminders of the genocide of the Jews in ISC. Not far from the house in which I live, one can find Poglavnik's picture and a bust in a bar, so that the patrons can get the idea about the owner's political leanings. I am convinced that you will agree with me that it is unimaginable that in todays Germany restaurants and hotels would be named after the Fuhrer or the SS officers, or that a Fuhrer's picture could be displayed in them. In Germany, such things are regulated by the law. We in Croatia apparently have more democracy than Germans. If it is true, as you said, that it is ``improbable that in Croatia we see the strengthening of fascism," one faces a question: why does not the president and the government protest against the rehabilitation of the criminal ISC? It is true, as you said, that in Croatia ``there is no antisemitism but there are a few antisemites." After Auschwitz, antisemitism can hardly be en vogue. The Croatian president and the government on several occasions, have expressed their favorable inclination towards the Jewish community. Was that because of some special love towards the Jews? Or in order to score a few good PR points in the USA? - I leave the answer to you.
It is unthinkable that in democratic Germany an ex-Nazi propaganda boss could appear on TV and discuss the benefits of the third Reich. On the other hand, one of the Zagreb TV channels showed in 1992 a program with the boss of Ustashe propaganda, Daniel Crljen. The same one who during the ISC declared:``Croatia has radically solved its Jewish problem."
You said that ``the tendencies described in the press (I suppose foreign !) are marginal and have no support from the president or the government." Very good. However, a striking question is why that same president and the government do not publicly and decisively condemn numerous cases of rehabilitation of Ustashe ISC. Nothing would be easier, since they have a total control over the daily press and the electronic media.
For the Jewish community, the instances of Ustashe rehabilitation can hardly be ``marginal." Especially not for those Jews who survived the holocaust and who after returning to their homeland found out that they were left alone in this world, without a mother and a father, without brothers and sisters, without their children. All of them have disappeared without a trace in Ustashe branch offices of ``the final solution", in Jasenovac, Stara Gradiska, Jadovna, on Pag. By the way, the last several hundred Jews in Croatia, mostly elderly, were turned turned over to Eichmann, ie. sent straight to the Nazi gas chambers. Cardinal Stepinac tried to save Zagreb Chef Rabbi, Miroslav Freiberger and his family. He did not succeed. Eichmann's word had more importance for the Poglavnik than that of Cardinal Stepinac.
Would it therefore be marginal for you, Mr. Lustig, if you were facing today the rehabilitation of racist butchers from Auschwitz? You also said:``claims that the present government encourages fascism are absolutely false." If that is true, I would be grateful if you could explain how that squares with the fact that the approximately 2000 monuments to the fighters against and victims of fascism have been destroyed in Croatia [since 1991] ( by ``unknown" perpetrators); memorials for the people who were cruelly killed simply because they had been born Jews, or Serbs or Gypsies or were Croatian antifascists! Also, do not you find it perplexing, as an Auschwitz survivor, that president Tudjman was so keen to erase the Victims of Fascism Square name? I believe that you will agree with me, when I say that those fighters against fascism in Croatia sacrificed their lives in the common struggle of the humanity against the deadly darkness which threatened to turn all of Europe in a continental Auschwitz. Why have not the Croatian authorities condemned or why have not they decisively confronted that barbarian destruction of the memorials for the victims of fascism? Or maybe someone thinks that the historical facts can be thrown into a black hole of oblivion, as did the Big Brother's ``Ministry of Truth" in Orwell's 1984?
In your Washington speech you said:``the number of Jews in Partisans was small." With that claim you unfortunately misinformed your American audience. Yugoslavia had about 70,000 Jews before the WWII. About 4,500 of those, or more than 6 percent of the total Jewish population, took part in the national liberation war. That means that the participation of Jews in the antifascist struggle was proportionally larger than that of any other nation on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia.
You tried to convince your American audience that Kuna is an appropriate choice for the name of the Croatian currency. You said:`` I personally do not see that as a connection with the fascist period.". Ustashe ISC was just the first state to name the Croatian currency Kuna. But what sort of connection could that have with our ``most democratic country in Europe" [a common phrase in the Croatian press, referring to Croatia].
Commemoration of the 50 years since the liberation of Auschwitz has recently taken place in Poland. Eli Wiesel, Nobel Prize winner, and ,as you said, your friend from the death march in January of 1943 took part in the commemoration. you quoted his words:`` To forget is to kill the victims for the second time. We could not stop their death the first time round. We must not allow them to be killed again." Don't you also find intolerable the rehabilitation of Ustashe ISC, which was until the last moment of the third Reich its ally in the most horrendous genocide in history?