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After Decade Abroad, World War Ii Archive Returns Home to Croatia

December 6, 2001
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

After 10 years away from home, documents from Croatia’s most notorious World War II concentration camp have returned home.

The archives were returned to the Jasenovac museum in a news conference Wednesday.

Some 17,000 Jews were tortured and killed in the camp, known as the Auschwitz of the Balkans,” as well as tens of thousands of Serbs, Roma — commonly known as Gypsies — and others.

The collection was taken from the Jasenovac museum for safekeeping during the civil war that ravaged the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. It was turned over to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington last year.

The return of the documents appears to improve a situation that had become enmeshed in historic Balkan enmities.

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 the Serb-run portion of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

There he kept the trunks with the documents until September 1999, showing them occasionally to foreign news crews.

He then turned them over to Serbian authorities in Bosnia.. They did not initially inform Croatia because of lingering resentment stemming from World War II, when Croatia’s Nazi puppet state persecuted Serbs.

In October 2000, Bosnian Serbian authorities agreed to give the documents to the Holocaust museum in Washington for a year to restore and inventory them, a plan that Croatian authorities agreed to.

In late November 2000, hundreds of thousands of documents — including more than 200 photographs, 70 taped oral histories and thousands of other historical artifacts — were shipped to the museum.

Some items were missing, and their whereabouts are still unknown.

When it became known last year that the Jasenovac documents were transported to Washington, the Serbian Orthodox Church issued a statement saying that “all the most important documents concerning Jasenovac have been removed and taken to a safe place in one of the Serbian monasteries.”

The mistrust between Croats and Bosnian Serbs still lingers, but church officials from Serbia, Croatia and America have praised the museum’s efforts in preserving the documents.

“Your collective commitment is truly appreciated,” Father Iri Nej Dobrijevic, a senior official with the Serbian church in North America, wrote to the museum.

In addition to keeping copies of the documents for itself, the Holocaust museum is making copies for the Bosnian Serb archives in Banja Luka, the government of Yugoslavia and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.

“Researchers around the world for the first time are going to get accurate information about the history of the Holocaust in Croatia, as well as what really happened in the Jasenovac concentration camp,”said Arthur Berger, director of communications for the U.S. Holocaust museum in Washington.

The museum also has put up on its Web site — — a history of the Holocaust in Croatia, a memorial to the Jasenovac camp and a section of oral histories in English, Serbian and Croatian.

Meanwhile, in Croatia, a permanent exhibition on Jasenovac is being planned for next year.

“There is still a lot of research to be done,” says Slavko Goldstein, who heads the Council of the Jasenovac Memorial Grounds, which is made up of members of Croatia’s Jewish, Serbian, and Roma communities and Jasenovac survivors.

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