ZAGREB, April 10, 2018 – Israeli-American historian Efraim Zuroff, who has played a key role in the arrest of the remaining Nazi war criminals over the past 35 years, presented in Zagreb the Croatian edition of his book “Operation Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice” as part of the 12th Festival of Tolerance.
The book was published by Fraktura and brings a part of Zuroff’s experience in looking for some of the most notorious Nazis. It begins with a chapter on the June 2008 finding of Milivoj Ašner, a former Ustasha police commander accused of deporting hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Roma and communists. He ranked fourth among the ten most wanted Nazis in the world.
Speaking at the launch, Zuroff said that growing up in a middle class American family he had no intention of dedicating his life to the Holocaust or the Nazis, but that he had always been very interested in history, notably Jewish history, and that he was politically quite active as a student. He said three things that happened after the 1967 Six-Day War were crucial for his intellectual interest in the Holocaust. He said that war had a strong impact on many Jews outside Israel because the national component became an important part of their Jewish identity. Three things became important – defending Israel, fighting for the recognition of Jews, and remembering the Holocaust, Zuroff said, adding that to him it was especially important to try to understand how it had been possible for something like that to happen.
In the summer of 2002, encouraged by the founder of the Targum Shlishi foundation, Aryeh Rubin, Zuroff began Operation Last Chance, which included financial reward for information that would help to condemn Nazi war criminals. The project was launched in 14 countries, including Croatia, and brought to light the names of over 1,000 previously unknown suspects, of whom 110 have been tried.
Zuroff said there were many obstacles to bringing the criminals to justice, including formal obstacles to the criminal prosecution of Nazis, notably in the US, Canada, Great Britain and Australia. Thanks primarily to the media, that has changed in the meantime, he added.
In that sense, an especially important thing happened in Croatia, where there were many people whose families had fought against the Ustasha and where the media, notably Globus, greatly helped in a process which resulted in a long prison sentence against Dinko Šakić, commander of the Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška concentration camps.
For comparison’s sake, in Latvia and Estonia there was no local support, the autochthonous population did not want to bring the culprits to justice, which led to failure, said Zuroff.
A whole chapter in his book is dedicated to Šakić. Croatian historian and university professor Ivo Goldstein spoke of Šakić’s role in the crimes, saying his guilt was confirmed beyond question by numerous testimonies from surviving victims. “When we talk about the Holocaust, we are talking about the crime against Jews but also about all the genocides that happened during the 20th century. Therefore, this book talks about what was done and what should have been done to bring the criminals to justice,” Goldstein said.
Former Croatian president Stjepan Mesić, who wrote the Croatian edition’s afterword, said the book’s title suggested that death would soon take away from the hands of justice the remaining of those responsible for the Holocaust unless one last effort was made to catch them. Mesić met with Zuroff at the latter’s request a number of times during his terms in office from 2000 to 2010.
Mesić said this was the right time for such a book, or the last time, because the criminals’ biological clock was ticking and there were still those who “will try to write their own history” about the biggest crime in the history of humankind, the Holocaust. “That is why it is important that those who want to change history read the book. No one has succeeded in that and the present-day revisionists, who think it’s possible to turn the winners into those defeated and vice versa, won’t succeed either,” Mesić said, adding that this was especially important for Croatian society “because we live in a time when fascistisation or the Ustashisation are being offered.”
Zuroff is the recipient of a Croatian state decoration for his outstanding contribution to the fight against historical revisionism, the reaffirmation of Croatia’s antifascist foundations, and the establishment of good relations between Croatia and Israel.
Asked when he would stop, Zuroff said he would do that when he was fully convinced that nothing more could be done. He said that, as a historian dealing with the Holocaust, he believed that when the hunt for Nazi war criminals was over, one must continue to work so that those wanting to deny and/or distort the history of the Shoah did not succeed in changing or manipulating historical facts.