In organisation of the Association of Descendants and Supporters of the Victims of the Complex of Ustasha Camps Gospić-Jadovno 1941, and in co-organisation of the Institute for Contemporary History from Belgrade and the Academy of Arts and Sciences of Republika Srpska, the First International Conference on the Complex of Ustasha Camps Gospić-Jadovno 1941 was held on 23 and 24 June, 2011 at the Conference Hall of the Banski Dvor in Banja Luka.
With around fifty participants in this important event from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Israel, United States of America, Italy, Germany, Russia, Austria and other countries, I participated in the Conference as a representative of the Mergel Institute from Zagreb. On the first day of the Conference, when asked by the Chair of the morning session, and considering the fact that Dr Efraim Zuroff was absent (prevented to attend the Conference due to health reasons), I spoke on the need to punish the war crimes of the Holocaust and during genocide over the Serbian people in the criminal Independent State of Croatia. My speech coincided with the week of the death of Ustasha war criminal Milivoj Ašner, who died at the age of 99 without being punished in Celovec, where he stayed after escaping the Croatian authorities in early June 2004. The audience was very interested in my presentation. As a manager of the town police department in Požega during the war, Milivoj Ašner is responsible for deportations of innocent citizens of Požega to the system of Ustasha camps Gospić-Jadovno, based on criminal racial legislation and genocide policy of the Ustasha NDH.
In my opinion, the importance of this Conference is enormous. With efforts of the former Director of Archives in Karlovac Dr Đuro Zatezalo, founder of the Association Dr Dušan Bastašić from Banja Luka, and a descendant of the victims of Jadovno and Metajna Professor Dani Novak from the USA, the location of suffering of Jews and Serbs was saved from oblivion, mainly by organising commemorations in Jadovno, repairing and unveiling the memorial plaque in the Slana Bay (which was broken two days later), as well as by renewing and unveiling the monument near the infamous Šaranova Pit. They should be duly recognised for their inspirational, expert and activist efforts.
Dr Zatezalo spent a large part of his working years studying tragedies of the Gospić system of Ustasha camps, which resulted in two capital books on the topic. At the Conference he held the introductory speech, and the participants gave him special recognition for his efforts in researching and describing the tragedy in Jadovno and on Pag at the beginning of the Second World War in this area. Professor Novak during his two visits to Lika and the island of Pag from November 2005 in some way initiated the renewed interest for the locations of suffering of the Jewish and Serbian people, which in turn motivated another descendant of the Jadovno victims Dr Bastašić to start dealing with this issue, which then resulted in founding the Association of Descendants and Supporters of the Victims of Ustasha Camps Gospić-Jadovno 1941 in late 2009 in Banja Luka. (The fourth person that dedicated most of his life to saving the memories of sufferings of Jews and Serbs on Pag in 1941, poet Ante Zemljar died in early August 2004) The Conference also gave recognition and gratitude for the both of them for all their efforts to remember the victims of the Ustasha system of camps Gospić, the first death camp in the criminal Independent State of Croatia, which existed from 11 April to 21 August 1941.
The series of systematic mass murders of innocent people in the wartime Croatia did not stop and lasted until 22 April, 1945 and the breakthrough of the last inmates of Jasenovac, because the last inmates from Pag and Jadovno were at the same time the first inmates of Jasenovac. According to long years of research by Dr Zatezalo, during the operation of the Gospić system of death camps the total of 40,123 persons were murdered (38,010 Serbs, 1998 Jews, 88 Croats, 11 Slovenians, nine Muslims, two Hungarians, two Checks, one Russian, one Roma and one Montenegrin), in so far recorded 33 bottomless pits on Velebit, Šaranova Pit near Jadovno being the one which devoured most of the victims, and the Gospić camp itself (prison, collection point at the railway station), camp Ovčara near Gospić, then camp near Risova Glava, camp Slana and camp Metajna, and camp Stupačinovo near Baške Oštarije.
The Conference did not stop just on direct tragedy in Jadovno and on Pag, but this topic became a starting point for various expert presentations based on memories and study of genocide, Holocaust, but also historical revisionism, which has been plaguing Eastern Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, with the Balkans as no exception, especially Croatia, to which I dedicated my two books in 2008 and 2010. The first one (Magnissimum crimen – Half a Century of Revisionism in Croatia) was also the first book in the Balkans on this topic which worries us all.
Dr Đuro Zatezalo from Karlovac on the first morning session presented his paper “Jadovno – a Complex of Ustasha Camps – Execution Sites in 1941”. In his presentation he gave an extensive overview of the founding, operation and disbanding of the system of Ustasha camps on Velebit and the island of Pag. His presentation was followed by a session named “Memory is not enough”, chaired by the newly elected Bishop of Ljipljan and Patriarch’s Vicar Jovan (Ćulibrk) from Jerusalem, representative of the Jasenovac Committee of the Holy Archpriest Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who informed the participants that the administration of the Yad Vashem classified the First International Conference on Jadovno as a first priority international conference on Holocaust.
In the first session the presentations were held by: President of the Union of Jewish Municipalities of Serbia Aleksandar Nećak (paper “Memory is not enough”); former President of the Union of Jewish Municipalities of BH and Expert Associate at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem Ivan Čerešnješ (paper “Memory as ideology in changing societies – ‘Never again’ as a paradigm to the memory of Holocaust”); lecturer from the University of Vienna Dr Francine Friedman read a letter to the Conference by the Executive Director of the Simon Wiesenthnal Centre in Jerusalem Dr Efraim Zuroff (who was supposed to present the paper “Importance of post-Holocaust justice in Eastern Europe after the fall of communism”), after which I spoke about the Ašner case and important social messages sent by the failure to prosecute him in Croatia and Austria.
Aleksandar Nećak’s paper gave some lessons we should take from everything that was and was not done in the past few decades in preserving the memory of Holocaust in Serbia and in the Balkans, with the resume – the memory is not enough. With memory and memorials, we should not neglect research and education, especially in the light of the fact that it has been 66 years since the end of the Second World War, therefore young generations are not aware enough of all events in the area from 1941 to 1945. “When a society does not educate young people, it creates a possibility and leaves room for intolerance, xenophobia, racism, hatred and anti-Semitism”, as he said in his paper. Along with that, in his paper Dr Zuroff adds that it is necessary to bring Holocaust criminals to justice, to make people aware of collaborations, to accept the guilt, but also to have restitution.
With rich and very impressive video presentation, Čerešnješ tried to explain how to “bridge history and collective memory of Jews and non-Jewish communities that exist in the same areas”. He showed that with examples of (non)preserved Jewish graveyards and monuments from the People’s Liberation Struggle in Yugoslavia, i.e. memorials of the suffering of the Jews in the Second World War in the Balkans, as well as genocide over Serbs and other peoples.
A valuable presentation by Dr Radonić provoked reactions and a fruitful discussion, rebuttals and explanations, which is very useful and adds an interesting dimension to such conferences; the character of the Conference without some controversy would not be complete, and its shape would not be distinguished. The basic thesis of Liljana Radonić’s paper was that “individuals and collectives use the memory of the past for purposes of the present, remember only those events which they can fit into their own image of themselves or their group”, with the final question: whether, in ‘the war of memories’ we would be able to remove ourselves from the arguments saying that only THEY manipulate the past, while WE are innocent victims”. I believe that her paper would cause the same reactions if it had been presented in front of other audience in Zagreb, Belgrade or Sarajevo, Ljubljana, Skopje, Novi Sad, Podgorica, Priština, Mostar, Split, Osijek or Dubrovnik, Rijeka, Pula… Looking from that perspective, we should not be surprised that one “side” feels hurt, although it should not, because all sides are equally treated. This is basically the same matter shown and explained in Dr Radonić’s book from 2010 Krieg um die Erinnerung – Kroatische Vergangenheitspolitik zwischen Revisionismus und europäischen Standards (which she gave me on this occasion, and I gave he my second book Sociology of Croatian Revisionism). The book mentions my first book and my proposal that the Jasenovac Memorial Area and Donja Gradina Memorial Area are named UN extraterritorial areas, unified and put under UNESCO and international community’s protection, since it is a location of a unique concentration camp from the Second World War, which simply demands to be unified both in memory, commemorations, education and direct protection.
The second session “Sources, documents and testimonies” was chaired by Director of the Institute for Contemporary History from Belgrade Professor Momčilo Pavlović, and we had the opportunity to hear presentations by: Jovan Ćulibrk, MA from Jerusalem (“Memoirs, autobiographies and biographies of members of Allied missions in occupied Yugoslavia as sources for the research of 1941 and Jadovno”); Italian historian and editor of RAI World Television Mila Mihajlović (“Italian sources – Documents on the massacre of Serbs in Dalmatia, Lika and Kninska Krajina /1941 – 1943/); and Orthodox priest and military vicar in the Army of BH Dragan Šućur (“Suffering of Serbian Orthodox Church priests in the system of Ustasha camps Jadovno – Gospić 1941”).
A PhD candidate at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Jovan Ćulibrk MA in his excellent presentation emphasised the importance of recent opening of until now unavailable or even unknown archives. As he stated: “An especially important group of sources are those whose authors or protagonists are Jews from Palestine who participated in different British missions, usually those organised by MI9, the intelligence department specialised in rescuing downed pilots. Considering the fact that one of their missions was also rescuing Jews found on territories they visited, they paid attention to execution sites and camps.”
Mila Mihajlović’s presentation was the most detailed one at the Conference, along with Dr Zatezalo’s introductory speech. It presented much new information, among others also on Jadovno and execution sites on Pag, which she obtained spending almost a year researching Italian military archives in Italy. Her extensive research continues. We expect new results and resumes in expert publications she is preparing.
The presentation of Dragan Šućur, a priest from Banja Luka, on the suffering of Orthodox clergy in the system of Ustasha camps Jadovno-Gospić 1941 was also comprehensive. According to his data, in several months that the camps had existed two archpriests, five hieromonks, 56 priests, two deans, two monks, two theology students and one Orthodox theologian were killed.
The third session of Day 1of the Conference “Context of the Second World War” was chaired by Fellow Nikola Popović. The presentations were: historian Dr Kiril Feferman from the Moscow Holocaust Centre and a member of Award Committee of Yad Vashem’s Righteous among the Nations medal (“Nazi ‘Divide et impera’ – Comparing Soviet and Yugoslav cases in 1941); historian Dr Filippo Petrucci from the University of Cagliari (“Italian occupation in Tunisia and Yugoslavia: differences and similitude in the relations with the Jews”); and historian Professor Raphael Israeli from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (“Islam in the Balkans under the German occupation”).
Dr Feferman gave an interesting presentation with several exclusive short films from Russian archives on Nazi military entering several towns in occupied Europe, including Zagreb and Sarajevo.
Dr Petrucci also had an interesting paper on the fate and different fates of some Jewish communities in Tunisia, Algeria and Yugoslavia, and different treatment of two communities in Tunisia, indigenous Tunisian Jews and the community of Italian Jews in Tunisia, originating from Livorno.
Dr Israeli gave the third interesting presentation on the attitude of the Islamic community in the Second World War in the Balkans towards the Jews and Serbs, and the influence of the Jerusalem Mufti on the change of the dominant attitude of the Muslim community in Bosnia and Herzegovina from criticizing, and even resisting Ustasha and Nazi terror over Serbs and Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina – which was demonstrated in resolutions of some Muslim communities in towns (the Margel Institute is in a possession of one such resolution from Banja Luka on 12 November, 1941) – to actively participating in Ustasha and Nazi units that went to Stalingrad, but also committed mass crimes over Serbs and Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Handžar Division).
The last session of Day 1 “Jadovno in the policy and ideology of the NDH”, was chaired by an expert for East Europe politics, with emphasis on the former Yugoslavia, political scientist Professor Francine Friedman from the Ball State University in the USA. The presentations were by: historian Dr Milan Koljanin, senior expert at the Institute for Contemporary History from Belgrade (“Camp Gospić in Croatian national and racial policy in 1941”); Dr Mladenka Ivanković, senior expert of the Institute for Recent History of Serbia and advisor of the Jewish History Museum in Belgrade (“Jadovno – ‘Aryanisation of cultural environment’ of the Independent State of Croatia – Jewish intellectuals and student youth as one of first victims of mass executions”). Excellent presentations by Dr Koljanin and Dr Ivanković gave a clear and broad picture of the background and multiple dimensions of the Ustasha racial and national policy and ideology immediately after the criminal NDH was established, but also later.
The first session of Day 2 of the Conference “Kaleidoscope of insights”, chaired by Dr Filippo Petrucci, did not have the announced presentation by the Director of NGO CENDO from Zagreb Dr Melita Švob (“Jews killed in Jadovno”), who did not attend the Conference due to health reasons – as it was announced – and the presentation of Senior Curator of the Museum of Genocide Victims from Belgrade and Kragujevac Dr Jovan Mirković was read at the end of the fifth session by another curator of the Museum of Genocide Victims from Belgrade (Victims of 1941 – 1945 war born in the area of Bosanska Krajina according to the revision of the 1964 census with special emphasis on the suffering of elderly and the suffering in camp Jadovno”). The fifth session was opened by a very informative presentation by Dr Nikola Žutić from the Institute of Recent History of Serbia from Belgrade “Bloody summer in Lika of 1941 – Roman Catholic instigators and perpetrators of genocide”). The printing of the proceedings of the Conference presentations on the invitation of the organisers and the Scientific Committee was announced, so we are probably going to have an opportunity to read the paper which was to be presented by Dr Švob. However, the topic was partially covered by Dr Mladenka Ivanović with her excellent presentation.
In his presentation, Dr Žutić gives a historical context of Lika, an area where it was possible to organise first death camps in the Balkans when the Ustasha NDH appeared. He explains the reasons why it was so, i.e. why did the first mass murders of Serbs and Jews started in Lika specifically, and why systematic killings of these peoples was organised in camps in our part of Europe. He shed some light on the role of the Roman Catholic Church in that genocide. He stressed that the first Croats who were killed in the criminal NDH were “unitary liberals” and “Yugoslav nationalists”, and then communists.
After Dr Žutić’s presentation, a very emotional one followed, full of humanist messages, by a university math lecturer Professor Dani Novak from the Ithaca College, New York (United States) about the suffering of his family in Jadovno, Metajna and in Karlobag in 1941, and his journey on the same roads in 2005 in search for the truth about those terrible events that had happened before he was born in 1959 in Israel. In the presentation he showed a video of his trip to Jadovno and Pag. When he had finally found the derelict location of the Šaranova Pit on Jadovno, after much hardship and searching, at the edge of the grotto Dani left a lighter with the Star of David from his pocket to mark the place and as a memory on the suffering of his family. That was a moment that brought tears to my eyes. That simple memento spoke more than words.
Very impressively, Dani spoke about the hardship of his family who had not known the truth about the fate of its members for a long time, so that difficult secret pressed hard the lives of all family members, until he, not being able to bear the pressure of not knowing, two years after his mother had died, Zagreb born Zdenka Novak, nee Steiner, decided to leave America for a quest in Croatia and find out how and where his grandmother, aunt, uncle and his mother’s first husband died. Although he was born after the war, as a symbol of personal solidarity with the victims and through transcendental moment of connection and a sort of noble identification with them and their suffering, Dani Novak named his presentation “A surviving child camp inmate – Personal memory and transferred experience”. The Margel Institute on 9 December, 2010 held a first Croatian promotion of Zdenka Novak’s book ‘When the sky came down’. The Institute is also the distributer of the book, eight years after it had been published and seven years after the author had died. At the end of his presentation, Dr Novak said: “It is time for the truth to come out, so that we can heal and forgive. History does not have to repeat”. It would be good if the world could hear and adopt the words of this noble man.
After Dr Novak, member of the International Committee for the Truth about Jasenovac Dr Vladimir Umeljić from Mainaschaffa, Germany held an inspiring and important presentation (“Socio-psychological aspects of the genocide phenomenon in the light of the definitionism theory”). Dr Umeljić made a conclusion. “Statistically looking, most of perpetrators of a genocide are ‘normal’ people and it is unlikely that a normal man would want to do harm to his mother, brother, son or wife. To put a ‘normal’ man into a state where he cannot see his mother or child, his brother or sister in a helpless victim at the moment of personal and severe criminal act (torture, murder) involves a high degree of psychagogic success of redefining the victim – this sacrificial being is not human for the perpetrator at that moment and his own act for him is neither criminal nor wrong”.
The Conference ended on Saturday, 24 June in the afternoon, and in the evening of the same day there was a promotion of two books of memoirs of Italian Senator and long-term Mayor of Latina, 90-year-old Aimone Finestra, who is the person with most credits because the truth about Ustasha death camps Slana and Metajna was not covered up, because as a young officer leading Carabinieri units after Italian reoccupation of that occupation zone he ordered bodies of men, women and children from mass graves on Pag to be exhumed, and to perform an official post mortem and make full and expert records. The Margel Institute is in possession of both books.
The Conference was attended by numerous journalists and editors of daily and weekly newspapers, and several publishers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Germany, authors and publicists, and among the audience on both days were a lot of students of the Faculty of Philosophy of the Banja Luka University, which is very important for the education of young people in the local community about the Holocaust and genocide, and also distinguished individuals and activists from the region. I would like to name a few:
Dr Milan Bastašić, the author of an excellent monographic Bilogora and Grubišno Polje 1941 – 1991; representative of the Jasenovac Research Institute from New York for the former Yugoslavia Nada Ljubić from Belgrade; President of the Niš Jewish Municipality Jasna Ćirić; Senator and advisor to the President of Republika Srpska Arie Livne; Vice President of Republika Srpska Professor Emil Vlajki; Envoy of the President of Serbia Mlađan Đorđević; President of the Republika Srpska Academy of Arts of Sciences Fellow Rajko Kuzmanović; Fellow Vladimir Lukić from the International Committee for the Truth about Jasenovac and the Association Jasenovac – Donja Gradina; assistant chief editor of “Pečat” magazine from Belgrade Nataša Jovanović; Secretary of the Jasenovac Committee of the Serbian Orthodox Church Presbyter Dragoslav Topolac; lecturer from the Law School of the Istočno Sarajevo University Sanja Savić; Janko Velimirović from the entity Commission for Research of War Crimes and Records on Victims of War; President of the Second World War Camp Inmates Association Gojko Knežević; poet Gavrilo Stević; former editor of Tanjug News Agency and publicist Jovan Babić; President of “Nefeš haja” Association from Banja Luka Mira Jovanović, numerous priests from the Banja Luka Eparchy. I apologise to all those I forgot to mention, but noticed them, met them again, or met them for the first time on this occasion – there were many.
I would like to stress that the Conference was also attended by surviving inmates of Ustasha concentration camps. On Sunday, 25 June, 2011, participants of the Conference together attended the Second Commemoration to the Jadovno Victims at the Šaranova Pit, where the renewed monument at that location was unveiled. It would be unfair to single out any presentation from the First International Conference on the Complex of Ustasha Camps Gospić – Jadovno 1941, because all of them were valuable and important in their own way, and told a careful listener a lot about the Jadovno – Pag tragedy in the Ustasha NDH, but also about other problems and topics connected to this great subject. At the end, we need to praise excellent organisation of the Conference, which we especially have to thank to Dr Dušan Bastašić and the Association of Descendants and Supporters of the Victims of the Complex of Ustasha Camps Jadovno – Gospić 1941 from Banja Luka.
I hope that one of the following conferences is going to be held in Gospić. I would be, without a doubt, a decisive moment towards the catharsis of the local community itself, but also of the Croatian society as a whole, which still does not have the strength and determination to take an unquestionable, clear and – finally – right attitude towards the enormous suffering of Jews and Serbs in Lika and Croatian Coast in 1941, but also towards the Holocaust and genocide over Serbs in the Second World War in general.
Source: Margelov institut