Five Holocaust survivors from Yugoslavia, who are now American citizens, have filed a class action legal suit against Andrija Artukovic, the former Minister of the Interior of the Nazi puppet state of Croatia, the Simon Wiesenthal Center at Yeshiva University reported today. The action was taken Monday when the complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court Central District of California.
The survivors have asked the court for a jury trial with the hope that the final judgement will enable them to recover compensatory and punitive damages for personal loss and injury sustained by them, as a result of Artukovic’s crimes against humanity and other violations of international and Yugoslavian law. The suit also seeks a declaration of rights on behalf of the class members, so they can establish, in the litigation, the fact that Artukovic is legally responsible for those war crimes.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said that “this new initiative in the ongoing legal battle against the Nazis among us, if successful, will send a message to former Nazis residing here that they will no longer live freely in America confident that the worst that can happen to them would be to face deportation charges.”
Artukovic, currently a resident of Surfside (Seal Beach), California, is believed to be the highest ranking former Nazi official known to be living in the U.S. He has successfully dodged all attempts by the government to have him deported since 1951.
The five Holocaust survivors were citizens of Yugoslavia in April 1941 when the Nazis installed the terrorist, fascist Ustashi organization as the government for the new “Independent State of Croatia,” the Wiesenthal Center reported.
The Ustashi, whose ideology closely paralleled Nazis’ virulent hatred for Jews and other minorities, were among the first regimes in Europe to institute a “final solution” against its Jewish population. By 1945, more than 28,000 of the total Jewish population in the area had either been murdered by the Creations or shipped off to Auschwitz. More than 700,000 Serbs and 40,000 Gypsies were butchered in the Jasenovac concentration camp alone.
THE CASE AGAINST ARTUKOVIC
The suit outlined Artukovic’s leadership in the Croatian Cabinet from its 1941 inception until its demise in 1945. It charged that from “April 15, 1941 … Croatia and Artukovic pursued a genocidal policy with regard to civilian Serbians and Jews,” and that he announced during that time their decision to solve the “Jewish Question” the way it was being solved by the Third Reich.
Artukovic was charged in the suit with “promulgating and signing into law” measures which created concentration camps, and personally advocating the slaughter of Serbian women and children. The resulting policy led to the deaths of over 1.2 million innocent civilians and the illegal confiscation of millions of dollars of property belonging to the victims.
The legal brief also reviewed the route used by Artukovic to illegally gain entry into the United States following World War II and the so far futile attempts by U.S. officials to have him deported.
Hier, in commenting on the survivors’ action, said that their suit “could open the door to other litigations which would enable those who suffered directly from their heinous crimes to have their day in court. We also commend the tireless efforts and commitment of the numerous attorneys who have volunteered to help the few who survived Artukovic’s reign of terror.”
The suit was filed by Los Angeles attorneys Jack Corinblitt and Marc Seltzer, and involved, among others, Washington attorney Michael Hausfeld and Wiesenthal Center legal counsel Martin Mendelsohn.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.