ZAGREB, Croatia (Mar. 5)
The authors of a book on the Holocaust in Croatia are coming under attack for their depiction of a Catholic leader’s actions during the Nazi years.
The weekly Catholic newspaper The Sound of the Council launched the attacks on Slavko and Ivo Goldstein, authors of “Holocaust in Zagreb,” for their criticism of Alojzije Stepinac. Stepinac was archbishop of Zagreb between 1941and 1945, when Croatia was ruled by a pro-Nazi regime.
The campaign has spread to various Croatian media, including Croatian Television — and recently, the current archbishop, Josip Bozanic, defended Stepinac.
The issue has brought to the surface tensions regarding Croatia’s wartime history and the country’s often compliant behavior toward the Nazis.
The authors of the book are a father and son. Slavko Goldstein, 73, joined the Yugoslav Resistance in 1942, after his father was killed by the Ustashe, the wartime Croatian government. From 1986-1990, he served as the president of Zagreb’s Jewish community.
His son, Ivo, is a professor of medieval history at the University of Zagreb.
When the book was published late last year, the authors were feted at Zagreb’s Old City Hall, and Croatian President Stipe Mesic was among those who spoke at the occasion.
Only 25 pages of the 725-page volume deal with Stepinac, but this part has drawn the lion’s share of attention.
In their book, which is slated to be translated into English, the Goldsteins note that Stepinac saved some Jews during World War II, such as the 58 inmates of the Jewish Old People’s Home in Zagreb to whom he gave refuge in an old castle near Zagreb.
They also write that Stepinac was sentenced to 16 years in jail after the war on fabricated charges.
But the authors note that Stepinac repeatedly failed to condemn the wartime Ustashe regime or the Nazis.
On July 21, 1941 — 20 days after 2,500 Jews were deported from Zagreb — Stepinac wrote top Croatian officials that the conditions of the deportations should be eased, but not ended.
Later, the Goldsteins write that Stepinac became more energetic in condemning Ustashe crimes, especially after his brother was killed by the Nazis or the Ustashe in the beginning of 1943.
As the authors note, “Alojzije Stepinac was a man with many dilemmas in an evil time in which it was not easy to find clear answers, so he also often did not find them.”
The book received several positive reviews. As one reviewer noted, “The Goldsteins’ book is simply a mercilessly objective collection of documents, meagerly commented and completely void of any ideology. The fact is that as such it sounds even more terrible than would be possible in the trail of the often-sentimental trash of the Holocaust industry.”
Despite their attempts at even-handedness, the Goldsteins have come under withering attack.
According to the Catholic paper, “The Goldsteins wrote that book in order to make business and to profit, to achieve political gains and personal promotion as well as to attack, to retaliate, to condemn and to banish.”
The Goldsteins respond that together they have received less than $1,000 for the book, which took three years of effort, including archival research.
“Stepinac was not a war criminal, but some of his views and his actions prove that his activity was controversial and that he himself was a controversial personality,” Ivo Goldstein told an interviewer.
Even today, 42 years after Stepinac died, his memory is still creating controversy.