ZAGREB, Croatia, March 5 (JTA) Documents from Croatia’s most notorious concentration camp, kept in a private home for eight years by a museum curator, are slated to be examined later this month in Washington.
The artifacts from 19 tin boxes, now being stored at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, will be examined in the presence of Croatian Embassy officials and the director of the Jasenovac museum, Mate Rupic, according to sources in Croatia.
During the past decade, the artifacts, a product of World War II-atrocities, have become enmeshed in the Balkan conflict.
When the war in Yugoslavia started in 1991 and the Yugoslav army entered Jasenovac, Simo Brdar, a Bosnian Serb who formerly was assistant director of the Jasenovac museum, took the archives to his home in what is the Serb-run portion of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
He kept the trunks with the documents in his home until September 1999, showing them occasionally to foreign news crews.
Two years ago, the Croatian weekly magazine Globus quoted Brdar as saying, “the collection is in my flat, and I am the watch dog.”
The trunks contain 2,500 books, 10,000 pages of documents and more than 6,000 letters, photos and postcards, according to Rupic.
During World War II, an estimated tens of thousands of people were tortured and killed at Jasenovac, known as the “Auschwitz of the Balkans.”
Unlike most camps, Jasenovac was run not by Germans but by local Croatian fascists. The great majority killed were Serbs, but victims also included Jews, Gypsies and anti-fascist Croats.
The search for the camp’s history is triggering Balkan passions that have horrified the world.
The former president of the Zagreb Jewish community, Slavko Goldstein, said he supports Brdar’s efforts to shelter the documents, “but the way he did it, and how he kept them, gives way to various doubts.
“The big question is whether some of the material has already been taken away, selected, hidden and given to somebody else for some purpose,” Goldstein said.
Melita Schvob, a Holocaust survivor who directs Zagreb’s new Documentation Center for the Research of the Holocaust, told JTA: “These artifacts have been taken away from Croatia, and they should be brought back here to Jasenovac, and to Croatia, which is where they belong.”
Croatia’s Culture Ministry said that under an agreement with the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the material will be returned to Croatia by the end of October.
For its part, the U.S. Holocaust museum considers itself the “temporary guardian” of the materials and is currently discussing their future with both Croatian and Bosnian Serb officials, according to Arthur Berger, the chief spokesman at the museum.
Meanwhile, after it became known that the documents were transported to Washington, the Serbian Orthodox Church issued a statement that “all the most important documents concerning Jasenovac have been removed and taken to a safe place in one of the Serbian monasteries.”
A high-ranking Bosnian Serb politician, Zivko Radisic, told a Serbian newspaper that it was “a criminal act” to allow the documents to be taken away to Washington.