Remembering is not enough, research is necessary, education is imperative
There is individual, personal remembering, primarily by those who had survived the tortures, atrocities, and concentration camps. Regretfully, very soon, not a single concentration camp survivor will remain among us. When such time comes, what remains for us will be retold and transferred memories, which can not be reliable for history. Memories, which by their very nature are subjective, over time become increasingly modified and changed.
There is the so-called public memory, or remembering practiced on designated international remembrance days, when states (through statements made by authorities), once a year remember the innocent victims and terrible atrocities.
Public remembrance can be considered to include also grandiose, expensive and often difficult to understand monument, at which wreaths are laid and speeches made. Such monuments, as a rule, do not display data from which a visitor could learn about the victims or the crime. It is usual that the monument would have inscribed on it the well known statements that: „here is the place where anti-fascists and patriots were prosecuted by fascists and their collaborators.“ While in fact it was the innocent people and children who were prosecuted for the simple fact that they were Serbs or Jews. That is the truth that should be written on the monuments. That simple statement lays bare the Ustasha crimes.
Nowhere in the old Fairgrounds in Belgrade, on the site where the Juden lager Semlin used to be, is there a single word that this is the site at which 6,800 Jews, mostly women and children, perished. There are two commemorating monuments, both to fighters and anti-fascists; not a mention of Jewish children and women. I am an antifascist and have nothing against monuments for anti-fascists. But I claim that they can not and must not be a substitute for remembrance of innocent victims who perished.
In the old fairground one can get a car-wash, one can, in line with the law, change winter for summer tires, one can have a lovely walk, or something nice to eat or drink. But one can not read that on this site Jewish women with children at their breasts faced monstrous death in suffocating „gas-trucks“. Driven in these trucks through the centre of Belgrade on their way to Jajinci, they were undergoing a slow death, helplessly watching their children die in their hands.
Such public remembrance is in fact a part of political obligations of a state. States file annual reports on such remembrance days; stating that they have successfully commemorated them and thereby fulfilled their obligation.
Such kind of remembrance misses the moral, historical, educational and humanistic aspect.
I recently heard a presentation by Mr. Aleksei Roginski, a high official of „MEMORIAL“, an international organisation for humanitarian activities, history, education and human rights from Russia. Mr. Roginski stated that after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the citizens of Russia have made out of the victory over fascism, as the brightest and most magnificent detail of their past, a platform for homogenisation and building their joint identity.
When I asked him whether, despite the huge number of the Russian population who identify with the victory over fascism, there are cases of neo-Nazi organisations, xenophobia, racism and anti-Semitism, Mr. Roginski answered that, regretfully, there is a lot of all of that.
What does this tell us? Memory has preserved the joy of victory, while the remembrance of the terrible victims, the price paid for that victory, and finally the essence of the victory itself, has been lost from memory. That is why there is again blossoming of what was defeated but not eradicated. Has adequate research been done? Have the results of such research been used as the basis for education of young generations? Obviously not, and the best evidence for this is the blossoming of neo-Nazi organisations whose leadership and membership consists of young people.
We daily remember our innocent victims of the Holocaust. We have pledged before them to do everything in our power that the Shoah never again happens anywhere, to anyone. In the same manner and with due respect we remember other innocent victims, irrespective of their nationality, the religion they practiced, or their political affiliations. Those who spent the last moments of their lives together, those who went to death together, we do not wish and have no right to divide.
We remember them every day, and our lives are not long enough for us ever to forget them. But, on certain days of the year, on remembrance days, when the sate remembers innocent victims, or on days like this day, we say our memories, our pledge and our prayers out loud and in public, in order to remind those who have forgotten, and should not have forgotten, and even more importantly to teach the young. They, regretfully, do not learn enough about it in schools. They do not know that the Holocaust was the most monstrous crime of the XX century, in a time when the mind of the European civilisation, to which we all belong and of which we are so proud, was eclipsed.
If we want the crimes that we talk about never to happen to anyone, anywhere, we must invest much more effort, and do much more than just remember, as remembrance in itself is not sufficient. Only such remembrance which is well researched, proven and recorded is valid evidence of a certain time.
We see that neo-Nazism manifests itself without obstacles, that there are increasingly frequent incidents of xenophobia, racism, chauvinism and anti-Semitism. We are also witnesses of rehabilitation of those who committed war crimes and of quisling leaders. Putting equation marks between victims and perpetrators. Forging history. Even attempts to erect monuments of those who looted or property, humiliated, abused and committed atrocities against us.
The concept of anti-fascism has been lost in our society. It seems that, in fighting for social change, rejecting certain negative aspects of the past, we have also unthinkingly and hastily, in a manner that is unreasonable – we have also, without any grounds to do so, also rejected anti-fascism as a legacy of civilisation that hundreds of thousands lost their lives to.
Research of war crimes, including research of motives, names of victims, sites and times of prosecution, names of perpetrators, is a time demanding, painstaking and technically very demanding. But it is at the same time a higher duty of those who are capable and qualified to do it. It is only on the basis of collected valid documents, their technical processing, linking and grouping of facts, that it is possible to leave behind written evidence that is the only basis for education of all, and especially of the younger generations.
The so-called “political history” has caused much evil, at least in our regions. Written for the needs to preserve good inter-ethnic relations, it in fact hid the truth about them, about crimes, about the number of victims. It hid what should not have been hidden. The consequences of such political history are terrible.
Speaking of Jadovno, original documents are scarce. Efforts by worthy people who are dedicated to research, collection and publication of truth, are priceless. That history, written based on evidence, does not allow memories to fade. It does not allow history to be faked, nor innocent victims to be murdered. It does not allow equal treatment of victims and perpetrators. The so-called political history, written for reasons other than historical, results in new crimes.
The Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade is in possession of a document which is archived under the name JADOVNO GROUP (“Grupa Jadovno”) under serial number 833, reference number K. 24-5-1/1-1 to 1-3 containing 229 names of Jews persecuted in Jadovno. As we know that the number of persecuted Jews is at least 1998, it is clear just how important multi-disciplinary research, recording and modern archiving of such documentary material is.
From the testimony by Dr Bela Hohšteter (JIM. 1375, reference number K.24-5-1/2-1) given and signed before witnesses, we learn that the Ustasha were the authorities in the camps Danica, Jadovno and Gospić. This testimony states: “It is known to me that the murdering of camp inmates in Jadovno was executed between 30 July and 2 or 3 August 1941, thus clearly before the occupation by the Italians.”
The statement of Dr Aleksandar Blivajs (JIM 1376, reference number K.24-5-1/3-1) also given and signed before witnesses, states: “During my stay in Gospić I had the opportunity to see that all civil and political authority in that region was exercised by Ustasha, and it is completely clear from this that the camp Jadovno was under the Ustasha jurisdiction and that the execution of the inmates was carried out by them.”
It is necessary to summarize the data and facts from other texts, such as the text by Šošković, “The Diaries from Jadovno”, the lecture by Dr Ed Neufeld, delivered in the refuge camp Gattkon in Switzerland in December 1943 and published in Volume 3 of the book “We Survived” published by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Serbia, as well as the book by Dr Jaša Romano “Jews in Yugoslavia 1941 – 1945.”
Special attention should be paid to the work by David Anaf, titled “Crimes by fascist occupiers and their collaborators against Jews in Yugoslavia.” David Anaf, a surviving camp inmate, was a member of the State Commission for Identification of Crimes by Occupiers.
We all perceive the playing around with figures and numbers as shameless, a non-civilisational act, and humiliation and crime. Research, providing evidence and recording is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, Richard Cohen will be proved right in his saying: “The last victim of the Holocaust is the truth”. Our future and the future of our society depend on research.
Education is the only legitimate, acceptable and effective way of preventing the crimes from being repeated. If a society does not educate the young, it opens up the possibility and makes room for non-tolerance, xenophobia, racism, hatred, and-Semitism, thus creating conditions for.
Education means building ethical values which will empower every young man irrespective of his ethnic of religious background, provide spiritual and physical empowerment to resist crime and every evil that comes from ignorance, primitivism or fear of diversity. Young people should know that those who committed crimes in Jadovno, Pag, Jasenovac, or anywhere else, did not do it for the good of their nation, their country, or anything that would make sense. They are humanoid creatures who could not even rise to the most elementary levels of civilisation. Their brain was capable only of cherishing beastly instincts, only evil and destruction. Can such creatures do anything good, lead a nation, build a society, establish a state? Young generations should know more about it and learn about it in schools, to know that these humanoids threw living people, women and children into the pits of the Velebit Mountain where they died horrible deaths for days, that they opened up their stomachs and put stones inside to make them sink to the bottom of the sea. And when they know the full truth it is a question whether they will remain their role models, whether they will accept the ideology that they practiced, whether they will sing about them in squares and streets, whether they will accept to neglect their values to be monsters and a disgrace to their nation. I doubt it. And that is why there is need for education. Both states and nations will denounce these monsters, as will anyone who knows the truth, all normal persons, whose system of values is based on humanism, achievements of civilisation and sublime spiritualism.
It is absolutely necessary to educate young generations, although education would also be useful for the older ones. But let us think of the kind of education that we need. If the newly established states, after the disintegration of the earlier common state, each have their own ways of “educating” their young generations; if they repeat the past mistake and under the excuse of “brotherhood and unity”, based on propaganda and political history they hide the crimes committed during the World War Two, then we can be sure that evil will be repeated.
Our history, the history of this region, is one and it can not be a “rashomon”.
It is not possible in this region to have and teach about the same events, two, or who knows how many different kinds of history. It is not possible to have one figure be seen on one side as a war criminal and on the other as a saint. It is not possible to have different counts of innocent victims. And most importantly, it is inadmissible to find excuses for crimes. And that is exactly what we see in practice.
Valid data about innocent victims must be jointly accepted by all. We also must jointly, based on archive materials, based on valid documentation and scientific research, determine who ordered these crimes, who committed them and who covered up the perpetrators, during the war and after the war, and even today.
It is impossible to understand, to use an understatement, that the Saint Alojzije Stepinac has two times so far been proposed for a medal of the Righteous among the Nations. Righteous among the Nations is an institution which Knesset – the Israeli Parliament – has established to honour and acknowledge those who during World War Two saved Jews, without any benefit from it, risking their lives, and the lives of their families. Did the top religious leader of the Ustasha state risk his life or the lives of those dearest to him? How is it possible that someone who throughout the whole period was aware of the Ustasha crimes, including Danica, Gospić, Jadovno, Pag, Jasenovac, etc., who blessed the perpetrators, and after the war facilitated their hiding and fleeing from deserved punishment, be proposed for the Righteous among the Nations?
There will be those who will say that there is no evidence to substantiate my allegations. I invite them, since they can not study the Vatican file Stepinac, to study the available documents of Counter Intelligence Corps, Rome Detachment, A.P.P. 512, U.S. Army, 12 September 1947, Case № 5650-A.
According to the data of the US Counter Intelligence Corps — S.I.S., dating from the period immediately after World War Two, which since 1986 have been publicly accessible for all, the British and the US military occupation forces in Rome were aware that in the Vatican hide, in the seminary of the St. Geronimo in Rome, address Giacomo Veneziano 17 C, under the auspices of the representatives of the Croatian Catholic Church — the Zagreb Bishop Dr Alojzije Stepinac, priest Dr Krunoslav Draganović, and others, the most culpable genocide criminals and direct perpetrators of the crimes in the death camp Jasenovac were hiding, headed by the Ustasha leader Dr Anto Pavelić.
The file of the Roman-Catholic priest Dr Krunoslav Draganović, who received his Ph.D. in Vatican, on the creation of the ideological basis of genocide against the Serbs, allegedly the Orthodox „schismatics“, the author of „CROATIA SACRA“, the active genocide criminal during the times of the Independent State of Croatia, the link between the Ustasha government, the Arch-Bishop Dr Alojzije Stepinac and the Vatican, who according to the words of the Ustasha priest Dr Lacković „for us Croats is as valuable as gold“ — is not accessible. Why?
In present day Serbia, according to recent surveys, 60% of respondents do not know who was Alojzije Stepinac. This was presented in a program broadcast by RTS. Results of the survey are pessimistic. It is the price that we pay for lack of education.
Every Jews respects the Talmud. The Talmud in Hebrew means learning, teaching, knowledge. After the Holocaust we educate ourselves and others in the Yad Vashem (literally, Yad – the hand, Shem – name), which in Hebrew means the monument. (Symbolically, “remembrance and the name”… ”the eternal name which shall not be eradicated”, the Bible – Isaiah, Chapter 56, verse 5.)
We must have our common Yad Vashem – a place with a modern central archive, library, and facilities for research, educational workshops, round tables, public lectures of history for all children irrespective of their nation or religion. For all children whom we have to save from future pits. For myself and many others the Old Fairgrounds in Belgrade is a symbol of our persecution. It is a holy site and we should make it our “remembrance and the name” for all Serbs, Jews and the Roma.
There are no good and bad nations. There are in every nation good and bad persons. Good persons, the righteous, should be the role models for the young. It is our sacred duty to educate the young and make them righteous.
Happy is the society made up of the righteous.
And finally: If we want than Jadovno never happens again, anywhere and to anyone, there is imperative need for joint education, accepted by all those from this region which abounds with pits and bones …
President of the Federation of
Jewish Communities of Serbia