Pictured here is Croatian President Stipe Mesic (left) together with Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate, studying an exhibit in the Historical Museum
31 October 2001
Croatian President Stjepan Mesic asked for “forgiveness from all those who were harmed by Croatians and, of course, first of all from the Jews,” in a meeting with Israeli President Moshe Katsav, and later on the podium of the Knesset, on October 31, 2001.
At the conclusion of his visit to Yad Vashem, President Mesic wrote the following in the Yad Vashem guest book:
“The Holocaust is a crime the monstrosity of which has no parallel in the history of humankind. Whenever I come across its records, I ask myself, although I know the answer: was something like that truly possible? Filled with horror, I reply to myself: yes, it was! We must not let ignorance replace the knowledge of the Holocaust in the awareness of the present and coming generations.
We must know, so that what happened should never happen again.
By visiting Yad Vashem I am paying homage to all the victims of the Holocaust with the message that their memory must never pale.”
Croatia: Region of Yugoslavia until spring 1941 and after the end of World War II. Croatia was a puppet state ruled by the fascist Ustasa movement but supervised by the Germans during most of the war; since 1991, it is a separate state.
Germany invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, and divided the country amongst its allies. The region of Croatia was united with Bosnia and Herzegovina into the Independent State of Croatia, and put under the control of the Ustasa movement. Almost immediately, the Ustasa embarked upon a campaign to “purge Croatia of foreign elements.” This mainly referred to the Eastern Orthodox Serb minority living in Croatia, greatly despised by the Catholic Ustasa. More than 500,000 Serbs were murdered in horribly sadistic ways (mostly in the summer of 1941), 250,000 were expelled and another 200,000 were forced to convert to Catholicism.
Another group of “foreign elements” whom the Ustasa wanted to destroy was Croatia’s Jewish population, numbering some 37,000. Just days after taking control of the Croatian government, the Ustasa began issuing anti-Jewish legislation. Over the next few months, Jews were stripped of their property and jobs, their freedom of movement was restricted, and they were forced to wear the Jewish badge.
In June 1941 the Croatians began arresting the Jews en mass and transferring them to camps. A camp called Jasenovac was established in August; from then on, most arrested Jews were sent there or to smaller camps. By the end of 1941, two-thirds of the Jews of Croatia had been sent to Croatian camps. Almost all were murdered upon arrival.
For several months the Germans allowed the Croatians to go about killing their country’s Jews without much interference. However, at the beginning of 1942, it seemed that the Croatians might halt their murder spree, so the Nazis felt compelled to step in. During the spring the Croatians agreed to let the Nazis deport the remaining Jews in Croatia to the east. In August 1942 and again in May 1943 thousands of Jews were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz. In all, some 30,000 of Croatia’s Jews died during the Holocaust – 80% of the country’s Jewish population.
Ustasa (“insurgent” in plural Ustase), Croatian nationalist, fascist, terrorist movement created in 1930. Ustasa was led by Ante Pavelic.
The Ustasa opposed Yugoslavia as a national entity, which was ruled by a Serb royal family, as Ustasa members fiercely hated Serbs. They also hated Jews, Communists and non-Catholics. Until 1941, fascist Italy acted as the group’s political sponsor. In the mid-1930’s the Ustasa began to woo Nazi Germany by adopting various aspects of Nazi ideology, including its anti-Jewish sentiments. When World War II broke out, the Ustasa began hating Jews as much as they hated Serbs. However, the Germans ignored the Ustasa until their invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941.
At that point, the Nazis created a Croatian satellite state, and allowed the Ustasa to run a puppet government with Pavelic at its head. During their four years in power, the Ustasa carried out a Serb genocide, exterminating over 500,000, expelling 250,000 and forcing another 200,000 to convert to Catholicism. The Ustasa also killed most of Croatia’s Jews, 20,000 Gypsies and many thousands of their political enemies.
The Ustasa government was dissolved in May 1945. After the war, most of the Ustasa leaders escaped to South America or Spain.
From: Robert Rozett and Shmuel Spector (eds.), Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, New York: Facts On File, 2000.