ZAGREB, July 25, 2018 – The Ustasha regime was one of the horrible regimes of Nazi collaborationists in this region and an active partner in the killing of dozens of thousands of Jews, Serbs, Roma and other opponents to the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said on Wednesday in Jasenovac, adding that Croatia has the moral obligation to deal with the past as it is the foundation of every just society and an important element of its friendship with Israel.
Rivlin and Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović visited the Jasenovac Memorial Museum and laid wreaths at the Jasenovac memorial.
Rivlin recalled that not only the majority of Jews who lived in the 1941-45 NDH were killed at the Jasenovac concentration camp, but tens of thousands of Serbs, Roma and other opponents to the regime as well. He said Croatia’s ability to deal with the past and not ignore it was a moral obligation which was the foundation of every just society. It will also remain an important element in the Croatia-Israel friendship, he added.
We all have the obligation to do everything to honour the memory of those who are gone, and one must not allow support for laws or attempts to eradicate or silence historical research into the crimes committed by the Nazis and their collaborationists, said Rivlin.
On the eve of WWII, 40,000 Jews lived in NDH to whom Croatia had been a warm home for centuries, but during WWII it became a mass grave for the majority of Croatian Jews, who were killed only because they were Jews, he said.
He also said the Kaddish prayer for the dead.
Croatian President Grabar-Kitarović expressed deep sorrow for the victims of the Holocaust in Croatia and the victims of the collaborationist Ustasha regime and said that not one political objective nor order can justify the crimes committed in their name.
In this place, under the Jasenovac memorial, I wish to express my deep sorrow for all the victims of the Holocaust in Croatia and the victims of the collaborationist Ustasha regime during WWII which brought horrific suffering to the Jewish community but also to the Serbs, Roma and Croats and all those who were considered to be enemies of the regime of that time, President Grabar-Kitarović said.
It is disturbing to hear the testimonies of those who survived this place of horror in Jasenovac, who were given a voice by President Rivlin.
Not one political objective nor order can justify the crimes that were committed in its name. As such, Croatia continues to care about the collective memory of the crimes that occurred here, of the tragedy of Croatian citizens and the crime against Croatian citizens above all, the president underscored. We owe remembering each individual victim of the Holocaust. I believe that that is best done in silence, with a sincere human bow to the victims, she added.
Grabar-Kitarović underscored that many Croats opposed that regime and died for freedom and humanity, putting our homeland on the correct side of history.
Many of the Righteous Among the Nations rejected it. They were a symbol of light and courage in the darkness of war and crime. We are exceptionally grateful for their courage, she said, referring to 117 Croats proclaimed Righteous Among the Nations.
Grabar-Kitarović said that we are aware that that part of our history has had a shadow cast over it and we have faced up to that, accepting responsibility for a future based on knowing the truth and building a better society on the values inbuilt into the Constitution of our country.
She also recalled that the contemporary Republic of Croatia is founded on the anti-fascist struggle and the Homeland War which was extremely important for us because it finally brought us freedom, and that Croatia was forced to defend itself from aggression which brought horrific crimes and destruction with it.
After WWII we were convinced that nothing similar could ever be repeated on European soil. And then the tragedies of Škabrnja, Vukovar and Srebrenica occurred. Those tragedies testify that peace and values of humanity and democracy must never be taken for granted, the president underlined.
She recalled that today Croatia is a proud member of the European Union and NATO, founded on common values which we share with the State of Israel and the international community, values of democracy, freedom and respect of every individual, regardless of their origin.
I take this opportunity to once again condemn all totalitarian regimes – Nazism, Fascism, Communism – and to stress that education is the strongest weapon against any form of radical ideology, division, hate and racism, she said.
That is why I most strongly condemn manipulation with the numbers of victims of the Holocaust in the Jasenovac concentration camp that aren’t founded on historical fact and are used for daily politicking or to impose collective guilt on Croatia and the Croatian people.
We are here above all as human beings, as parents, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters. We have to responsibly insist on the truth. So that we don’t forget. So that it never occurs again, Grabar-Kitarović said in her address, concluding her speech in Hebrew with “Tikkun olam”, or “make the world a better place.”
Rivlin’s visit to Jasenovac was accompanied by tight security measures. Prior to his visit, Israeli presidents Shimon Peres and Moshe Katzav visited Jasenovac in 2010 and 2003 respectively.
Rivlin is the first Israeli president to conduct an official state visit to Croatia.
In addition to paying her respects to the Holocaust victims in Jasenovac, Grabar-Kitarović has also visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, Auschwitz and the Holocaust Museum in Washington.