Masses for Ustashe leader leave Croatia’s Jews uneasy

ZAGREB, Croatia, Jan. 20 (JTA) — Several recent events here have given the Croatian Jewish community reason to be uneasy. In what hit the community as a particularly sharp blow, two Catholic churches — one in the coastal city of Split, one here, in the Croatian capital — celebrated Mass on Dec. 28 in memory of the late president of the Ustashe regime. During the regime, homegrown fascists ruled wartime Croatia as a Nazi puppet state. In addition, in recent months, the nationalism of Croatian President Franjo Tudjman has raised concerns among the Jewish community here about efforts to rehabilitate the Ustashe regime. Tudjman drew particular fire last year by declaring that he wanted to rebury the bones of Croatian fascists at a Yugoslav-built memorial to the thousands of Jews and Serbs slaughtered at the Ustashe’s Jasenovac concentration camp. The services honoring Ante Pavelic only heightened Jewish concerns. Croatia had 25,000 Jews before World War II, most of them prosperous and largely assimilated. Some 20,000 were killed by the Nazis or the Ustashe regime. Organized by two right-wing political parties, the Mass in Zagreb was a standing-room-only event. The Dominican friar who led the service spoke of the political merits of the Croatian fascist leader. He made no mention of the thousands murdered at Jasenovac. The 2,000 members of Croatia’s Jewish community could take some consolation, however, in the outrage voiced in the nation’s press. The political daily Vjesnik called the services for Pavelic an act of “political blindness” by people who had forgotten the “principles on which the world order has been based after the Second World War.” Another newspaper, Novi List, said the Ustashe regime was the “project of a terrorist state, which from its very beginning outlawed many groups of its citizens.” “Today, because of very transparent interests, horrible lies are being told about this period,” the newspaper also said. But some newspapers here have recently published articles that left the nation’s Jews uneasy. Several newspapers, for instance, ran pieces accusing famed Nazi- hunter Simon Wiesenthal of conducting a witch hunt because he sent letters to the Croatian authorities protesting the publication of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” last autumn in Croatia. For months, the notorious anti-Semitic tract has been on the Croatian bestseller lists. The Jewish community has not sought a ban on the book out of concern that it would be viewed as seeking to undermine the freedom of the press. The publisher of the “Protocols” recently wrote a lengthy anti-Semitic article in a weekly newspaper accusing both Wiesenthal and Croatia’s Jews of hypocrisy. The article also attacked what it described as the criminal behavior of the Jews in the Jasenovac concentration camp. In a related incident, the official paper of the Croatian Writer’s Association, Hrvatsko Slovo, ran an article accusing the country’s Jews of ingratitude toward those Croatians who tried to help them during World War II. The paper also described Wiesenthal as being obsessed by a maniacal hatred of Croatia.

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