ZAGREB, Croatia (Feb. 3)
A 60-year-old lie about the role of Jews at a concentration camp operated by Croatia’s wartime Ustashe fascist regime has once again surfaced.
Serbian scholar Milan Bulajic alleged in his 1989 book, “The Genocidal Crimes of the Ustashes,” that Jews held privileged positions in the Jasenovac concentration camp and were partly responsible for the mass killings that were carried out there.
The book has since been translated into English, and the translation retains these allegations.
According to historians, some 75 percent of Croatia’s 40,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, most by Croatian collaborators.
And at Jasenovac itself, which was considered the worst concentration camp in Croatia, some 18,000 Jews were murdered, along with tens of thousands of Serbs, gypsies and others.
The anti-Semitic allegations in Bulajic’s book were the topic of heated discussion at a conference about Jasenovac held last December at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Jennie Lebl, a Holocaust survivor from Serbia who has been living in Israel since the 1950s, and herself the author of a number of books on the history of the Jews in Serbia and Macedonia, blasted Bulajic’s book during a conference session.
More criticism came from the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, Efraim Zuroff, who demanded that Bulajic issue an apology for the anti-Semitic slurs in his book.
Indeed, Bulajic did apologize during a “very tense and dramatic session” at the conference, Zuroff told JTA.
Moreover, Bulajic publicly stated that the anti-Semitic testimonies of Serb inmates of Jasenovac that he presented in his book had in fact been made under duress — after the same Serb inmates had originally spoken favorably about the camp’s Jewish inmates.
One such “testimony” came from Vojislav Prnjatovic, a Serb from Sarajevo. After being released from Jasenovac in March 1942, he reported to Belgrade’s collaborationist government headed by Milan Nedic about the circumstances in the camp.
According to this report, “the Jews were exploiting to the utmost the positions they held in the camp management to protect themselves and other Jews, but often at the expense of the Serbs” and that “some Jews were helping the Ustashes in their numerous crimes against Serbs.”
Prnjatovic also claimed that the Jews held a privileged position in the camp, that the “camp administration was run by Jews” and that Jewish camp officials had “participated in the killings” there.
In addition, Prnjatovic repeated some centuries-old canards about Jews.
“The Jew remains a Jew even in the Jasenovac camp,” Prnjatovic is quoted as saying in Bulajic’s book. “They retained all their faults, which under such conditions became even more obvious. Their principal characteristics were selfishness, cunning, lack of solidarity, stinginess, slyness and informing on their fellow prisoners.”
While Prnjatovic’s “testimony” flies in the face of what historians know about the suffering of Jews at Jasenovac, the authors Ivo and Slavko Goldstein cite an additional reason to ignore the anti-Semitic accusations.
According to the Goldsteins, who authored “Holocaust in Zagreb,” there is ample evidence that the purported testimony was a forgery.
The prime reason to draw this conclusion, they say, is that the alleged statement by Prnjatovich was given on March 11, 1942, but at that time the witness was still imprisoned and was certainly not in Belgrade.
They also point out that while all other reports made at the time by former Jasenovac prisoners were properly certified, this one was not.
Jewish historians are unanimous about the need to reject the comments supposedly made by Prnjatovic.
For one thing, they say, it will prevent them from being quoted time and again by those with questionable motives.
Among those who quoted Prnjatovic was former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, who used the purported testimony in his book, “The Horrors of War.”
The book prompted Israel to refrain from establishing diplomatic relations with Croatia and was the main reason why Tudjman was never invited to visit Israel.
Tudjman died in December 1999 — and since then, relations between Israel and Croatia have blossomed.