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Concentration Camp Jasenovac Today:
History Rewritten

Tudjman's idea ultimately realized?

by Julia Kos*

Paper presented at the Fourth International Conference on Jasenovac in Banja Luka, May 30th-31st, 2007 

[May 25, 2009]

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[Extermination camps] ... we seek to comprehend the incomprehensible, to grasp through their images that which ultimately cannot be grasped.
The Cultural Guide to Jewish Europe, Seuil Chronicle

Whoever controls the past controls the future:
whoever controls the present controls the past.

George Orwell, 1984

School education and propaganda by the media are weapons more dangerous than terrorist suicide bombers
Ariel Sharon


In the early 1990’s, then Croatian President F. Tudjman, internationally notorious for his scandalous statements and positions, attempting to present the WWII crimes as crimes subject to interpretation, tried with great persistence to install a common monument for the executioners and the victims of the former Ustasha Concentration Camp Jasenovac. He ultimately gave up, due to the pressure from Holocaust survivors, survivors of the Ustasha persecution of Serbs, their descendants and the members of the Union of anti-Fascists.

Today in the Jasenovac Concentration Camp Museum, Tudjman's idea is realized though in a bit more subtle version. It happened practically without any resistance as it was delivered as a finished and unchangeable product. The new permanent exhibition was opened on 27 November 2006. A few years of controversy preceded it. Several seriously concerned parties as well as some officially appointed reviewers publicly expressed their deep concern. During the preparations, the concept of the museum was a well-kept secret by the authors. In rare meetings of all interested parties only superficial presentations were given and only sparse materials presented. There was always immediate dissent and warnings that the museum's concept was heading in the wrong direction, a direction which diminished the severity and seriousness of the crimes committed in Jasenovac.

After the opening ceremony, even Croatian President S. Mesic himself said that the exhibition does not present the suffering of the victims of the Ustasha camp. Even if at first glance mild in diplomatic jargon, this is a strong negative statement. But the whole truth is immensely worse: even a superficial viewing indicates the authors' consistent and full emotional identification with the executioners rather than the inmates and their sufferings. In the monograph accompanying the exhibition the authors follow the same approach.

On more than one occasion after the opening and in several national media, I've repeatedly stated:

"The current permanent exhibition was created the same as if the Ustasha had won in 1945 and stayed in power until today."

Shockingly, I was not sued for making this serious allegation, since the authors and other presiding officials realized this would be a lost cause for them.

Offending the victims and absolving the executioners

The authors' approach to the subject brings astonishment and disgust to the visitors, even those just barely informed about the Ustasha regime and its Jasenovac Concentration Camp. Historical truth has been greatly altered by a selective choice of objects on display, film footage and photographs (well-guarded information till the opening venue). The authors bypassed a large quantity of historical facts and accentuated irrelevant aspects. Barely two weeks prior to the opening of the exhibition more than a few experts and concerned parties from various fields of interests, who were present at the disclosure of the text of the exhibition, condemned it as shameful since there "are horrific factual omissions", "degradation of inmates", "euphemisms that must be abolished",... The representative of the Serbian National Minority, M. Pupovac said that in the text "all the blame had unjustifiably been transferred onto the Nazis, and Italian Fascists, thus absolving the NDH (Independent State of Croatia) of any guilt for the crimes. There is also a lack of a clear statement that one of the innovative crimes of the Ustasha was the crime against Serbian civilians". He also said that "the text and displays do not show the extent of the horror of the Camp" and that "the persecution, ethnic cleansing, extermination and forced assimilation are not present". He concluded that what was presented was "irreparable".

Despite all criticism an almost indistinguishable version of the new text was integrated into the final exhibition. Even with M. Pupovac’s attempt to help, with just a few days left before the opening event, correction of these grave errors had failed. Corrections were limited to removing only a few of the most drastic details, where the authors referred to the victims in insulting terms such as: "some of the women inmates were criminals and prostitutes". Or when introducing a young member of the anti-Fascist movement, Nada Dimic (18), killed by the Ustasha, in her short biographical information the authors use one fifth of it to describe her actions during her arrest, elaborately stating that "at the moment of her arrest, she killed one Ustasha and injured another”. However, at the same time they omitted to say that she was tortured to obtain a confession as to her identity, and that fact was unrecognizably hidden in the authors" statement, "the Ustasha were not certain if they had captured the real Nada Dimic". Her short biography ends with an impersonal statement: "Killed in the Stara Gradiska Camp" (part of the Jasenovac Camp). Only after enormous pressure the most drastic and cynical part about the Ustasha agents being killed and injured while on duty was removed -- the rest remained.

At the very last moment prior to the opening of the exhibition, and only after a strong protest, the authors removed the academic title "doctor" (PhD) before Pavelic's name. The authors were warned that academic titles should not be used when referring to war criminals. But the authors don't care much about that principle and the feeling of awe for the Ustasha leader still remains in the exhibition (and the academic doctorate is still present in the accompanying monograph of the exhibition). For example, in a very short segment of the text the authors could not find any room for the suffering of the prisoners, but did find room for the full title of the "... Extraordinary Legislative Decree and Order of the NDH Poglavnik [Croatian version of Fuehrer] Ante Pavelic”. The list goes on...

The "corrections" done at the very last moment before the opening, as well as the details which were removed or were left, support the conclusion that the authors approached the subject from the point of view of the perpetrators and not of the victims. Superficial cosmetic surgery could not fix the problem. Otherwise, almost nothing would have remained of the display, since the entire conception is focused on the same goal.

Some selected excerpts

The text has 1,885 words for 11 themes. The very selection of themes is also highly questionable. For example, the authors present "Labor camp" and "Death camp" as two parallel themes. Another theme, equal in size, appears: "Ways of exiting the camp", suggesting that the "exit" was a real and possible solution for a substantial percent of the inmates. At the same time these topics are equated with mass deportations, and the extermination of targeted national groups. The titles and textual ratio gives an absolutely false impression of the camp. The suffering of the prisoners is not felt; important facts are avoided and those which are intentionally selected are shown with a form of cynical detachment and mechanical indifference.

Of the Ustasha perpetrators – beside Pavelic -- just two are mentioned, and only in the context of giving orders and of labor – that is, forced labor. But the authors leave that unstated. The information is ambiguous, with no facts presented so a visitor could gain at least a partial knowledge of their crimes. The two perpetrators are presented as follows:

1 "The first commander of the camp was Vjekoslav Max Luburic, the Ustasha Colonel, who was the best known and most notorious representative of the Ustasha terror." What is noticeable is an almost naive and artificial implementation of political correctness, but also reverence/awe towards "the Ustasha Colonel". The words "notorious" and "Ustasha terror" are used only as a vain and empty ornament, as they do not say a word about why he was notorious and what the Ustasha terror was.

2 "The first commander for labor services was Ljubo Milos, an Ustasha first lieutenant". From it we learn only that there was a certain "labor service" and it was headed by a certain "Ustasha first lieutenant" whose name means nothing to the uninformed visitor (although he was one of the most brutal murderers of the camp). And nothing more.

Examples of the 11 themes

1 "About the number of victims in the Concentration Camp Jasenovac" -- The authors, while doing the last minute "corrections", abandoned most of the previous text under this title, which was initially presented to the above-mentioned small group of interested individuals a few days before the opening. So the abandoned part will not be commented on here, although it stirred further controversy -- another proof of the authors' intentions. In the final display the authors gave the total number of victims identified by name till the opening of the museum as 69,842, precisely stating that this was not the final figure. But the problem starts with the fact that there is not even an attempt to approximate the total number. This methodology is probably more suited to an institute report than to a memorial museum. It is no surprise then that the number of victims presented at the Overview Exhibition Table is one of the major problems of the Jasenovac Museum, and an indirect confirmation of the problematic intentions of the authors. In the table the number 69,842 is mentioned as the final figure, i.e., the title of the table is "Overview of Victims by Nationality and Gender". The table does not mention at all that the number given is the present figure of victims identified by name and that the number of deaths in particular groups is somewhat or substantially greater. The table -- which is visually easier to comprehend and remember than the accompanying text -- states the opposite: the number of victims shown in the table is total and final.

Furthermore, the nationalities of the victims are listed in alphabetical order (!?) and the table even has 16 unclear columns of nationality. The numbers of victims according to ethnicity are not listed in a logical order from the largest to smallest – which would present to the visitor at first glance comprehensible information of the persecutors' selective choice of victims, even with the incomplete figures currently present. A visitor not familiar with the subject is unlikely to conclude that the Ustasha regime targeted four groups for extermination (of which three were national): Serbs, Jews and Roma, and anti-Fascists (political opponents). Numerous young visitors have personally confirmed their confusion.

By mixing victims of other nationalities -- who were killed on a different basis altogether -- with the three groups of persecuted (Serbs, Jews and Roma), the authors have given a false impression about Jasenovac, as being an amorphous evil which struck everyone indiscriminately.

Anti-fascists and others who were ideologically unacceptable to the Ustashe were not imprisoned for their nationality. The statistical numbering of the victims by nationality in this table supports the well-known false belief that Jasenovac was a camp just for political opponents. The authors listed in the table among the victims: Serbs, Jews and Roma, but also: Croatians, Germans, Muslims, Czechs, Hungarians, Slovaks, Slovenians, Italians and others -- a claim that disguises the Ustasha as persecutors of certain national, religious and ethnic groups. In this way the selection of specific groups as a category for persecution becomes invisible. At the same time the nationality of Ustasha executioners becomes invisible too, since some of their fellow countrymen were also among victims. (The authors do not even have a reason to list the nationality of the perpetrators, since they were never mentioned in these 11 themes, and their numerous specific crimes were not mentioned either.)

The victims of political persecution were generally recorded with full personal details. On the other hand, an unknown but significant number of victims -- Serbs and Roma, as well as some Jews -- were murdered by the Ustasha without any record of their names. The authors mix the lists of politically persecuted victims with civilian victims; and, while the first one is rather final, the final number of the second one will never be accurately determined. In this manner the authors manipulate the number of victims. For example: the table shows the number of Serbian victims as 39,580 and of Croatian victims as 3,462. So it seems that the number of murdered Croatians was almost ten percent of the number of murdered Serbians. Due to such manipulation, an uninformed visitor couldn't notice that the Ustasha persecuted three groups: Serbs, Jews and Roma.

Moreover the table is positioned so low that a person of average height has to bend down significantly to be able to read it, to even see it.

2 "Formation of NDH (Independent State of Croatia)" -- The authors state that the NDH was established "by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy through the Ustasha movement with Ante Pavelic as the leader." Thus the Ustasha became only a passive medium. It is worth quoting further, "... Pavelic and his associates ... were pointing out that Serbs were fatal enemies of any notion of a Croatian state." The authors use the phrase "pointing out that the Serbs were fatal enemies" as an historical fact rather than show the Ustasha bias toward that particular group. In so doing the authors are identifying with the object of their presentation, i.e., Ustasha propaganda. Following in the same manner, "they [the Ustasha] were announcing radical measures against Serbs, Jews and all other real and potential enemies..." The authors describe two national groups the Ustasha targeted for extermination by simply utilizing the Ustasha terminology of "enemies" even going so far as to call them "real and potential enemies" (?!). My complaint could be perceived as just grammatical nit picking over the authors' inadequate literacy. But psycholinguistics claims that such inadvertent "clumsiness" as this reveals the tendency towards identification.

Otherwise, the text does not even closely deal with its title, and a visitor learns practically nothing about the formation of the NDH.

3 "Legal Regulations -- Legal Basis for Persecution of Already Committed Crimes and Bases for Future Crimes Against Citizens of NDH" -- a short text of eight sentences follows the long and bureaucratically detached title. The first sentence refers to "mass crimes" against Serbs, but does not reveal that they consisted of mass killings. It appears that the authors had no room in such a short text to explain that the crimes consisted of mass executions. On the other hand the titles of Ustasha laws and decrees are meticulously cited with strikingly detached emotions. For example: "Already the Legal Order for Protection of the People and the State, decreed on 17 April 1941, had prescribed the death sentence for violations of the honor and life interests of Croatian people and the sovereignty of the NDH. This regulation became one of the legislative basis upon which the repressive Ustasha regime was founded." It was not enough that the authors in a total of only eight sentences used so many words to listen various "regulations" and "decrees", but for them the Ustasha regime was no more than "repressive". Furthermore, the authors cite "violations of the honor and life interests..." with full seriousness and with no mention that such violation was only alleged and not real. All this at the very site where the crimes were committed.

Even worse follows: "The first legal measures of the Independent State of Croatia reflected acceptance of German Nazi and Italian Fascist ideological characteristics with emphasized national peculiarities." That "peculiarity" was – of course -- the persecution of Serbs! (Nazis and Fascists did not persecute Serbs). The Nazi "ideological characteristics" which the Ustasha adopted were indeed the extermination of Jews and Roma; yet the authors failed to notice that the same was not true of Italian Fascism (it was anti-Semitic, but not to the point of extermination), which is a well-known fact among the scholars in the field. The authors insist on a persistent thesis that the Ustasha committed crimes mostly if not exclusively by "accepting the ideological resolutions" of Fascism and Nazism. But they neglect the enthusiasm and hard work of the Ustasha  when carrying out these "resolutions" with their "peculiarities" from the very beginning of the regime.

4 "Deportations" -- is the most shameful part of the already embarrassing exhibition, because of the endless insensitivity towards the victims, the neutral featurelessness in depicting the camp and the respect shown to the Poglavnik (Croatian equivalent of Fuehrer) of the NDH (Pavelic) and the laws of the Ustasha. The laws are portrayed as normal or "commonsense" laws. The authors' apparent identification with the Ustasha perpetrators is such that one wonders how they did not notice it. Or did they?

Within this quite short text of just six sentences (?!) just two of them, at the very end of the text, actually mention the deportations, while one sentence impersonally lists other Ustasha concentration camps. The three others are rich with the titles of Ustasha laws and dates of issue, various "legally enforced acts", regulations by which "ideological outcasts and dangerous individuals" were sent to forced labor, and an "Extraordinary Legislative Decree and Order of the NDH Poglavnik Ante Pavelic". Most of this text was just copied directly from Ustasha documents. The authors repeat the worn-out thesis that tries to absolve the Ustasha, stating that "only citizens who were political outcasts, and with the proper written sentence issued by the official police or judicial authorities, could be deported to the camps." And if it is in any way possible, the worst is still to come. The authors state that this process "was applied to many particular cases, but there was a significantly larger number of inmates transported to the camps without following the legal procedures and without the written orders." It seems as if it would have been much better if these (innumerable) cases had been dealt with according to the laws and not in such an arbitrary manner without following "legal" procedures. Since many thousands were transported with written orders, based upon so called racial laws, the authors had no further explanation for this fact.

To feel a visitor's impression, this text is worth quoting it in its entirety:

"The first concentration camps in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) were established as early as April and May 1941, but were first mentioned no earlier than on 26 June 1941, in the Extraordinary Legislative Decree and Order of the NDH Poglavnik Ante Pavelic. Among the first camps established were Jadovno (near Gospic), Danica (near Koprivnica), then Djakovo and Jastrebarsko.
According to the Legal Decree on the Deportation of Social Outcasts and Dangerous Individuals to the Forced Interment in Concentration and Work Camps, it was decreed on 25 November 1941 that only citizens who were political outcasts, and with the proper written sentence issued by the competent official police or judicial authorities, could be deported to the camps. This law was applied to many particular cases, but there were significantly larger numbers of inmates transported to the camps without following the legal procedures and without written sentences. In that way Serbs, Jews and Roma were subject to mass transports from all over the territory of the NDH. Often, they were sent to liquidation immediately upon their arrival."

5 "Formation of Ustasha Concentration Camp Jasenovac, the Biggest and Most Notorious Ustasha Camp" -- The authors use the phrase "most notorious" as a concession to "political correctness", which is not consistent with the rest of the text, and euphemistically refer to Jasenovac as "one of the most important instruments in the realization of the program for an ethnically, racially and religiously pure [!] State". When describing the choice of the location of the camp, the authors see it as "efficient traffic and transport position" bypassing the explanation for whom it was efficient: perpetrators or victims. "The camp's economies were established in forcibly evicted Serbian villages" -- the authors here ignore and avoid the fact that these villagers were killed in the Camp. Further, "the work was done only during the season of agricultural work". It is interesting how the authors, while describing the forced labor of inmates, emphasize that the work was done "only" during more humane times of the year, and that they were not forced to work in the winter in the frozen fields. And why on earth the prisoners who were forced to work came to be there at all – remains untold. The authors' statement that the prisoners were "delivered", and Camp III started to "work" misleads an uninformed or young visitor, helping him/her to unconsciously form misconceptions.

6 "Death camp" -- This is a short text of a few sentences (largely copied from Ustasha documents) which featurelessly states that Jasenovac was established as a "multi-purpose camp: a concentration, transitory, working, correctional and POW camp, but mainly as a DEATH CAMP, i.e. the execution site for most of those who came into it." The authors used unnecessary uppercase letters in a desperate attempt at political correctness. Further, they say in a neutral manner, as if the murderer was immaterial, that "It was the killing without sentence of Serbs, Jews and Roma, for they did not fit within the official terms of racial and ethnic cleanliness." One gets the impression that the authors seem to think it would have been much better to kill them on the basis of some sentence.

Although the authors do not present even the minimum level of what actually took place, they strive to list all the bad things Jasenovac did not have, for example: there were no gas chambers. Why did they bother with that, if they did not present Jasenovac as a part of the extermination camp system within occupied Europe?

The text also equates the three persecuted national groups with Croatian and Bosniac-Muslim victims, as if they were persecuted in the same way. Then follows a statement in a neutral manner that in "carrying out the genocide and Holocaust (Shoah), Concentration Camp Jasenovac had a central role". (Shoah is a Hebrew word for the Holocaust, almost unknown outside the Jewish community – the authors seem desperate to have as much artificial political correctness as possible.)

7 "Work camp" -- Manipulation becomes obvious in the text under the title of what was really forced labor. Could it really be a "work camp" when innocent civilians were forced into labor under the threat of death and were soon to be dead from exhaustion anyway. A discussion about forced labor that leads to certain death should be under the title "Death Camp", and the title "Work Camp" is no more than the authors stretching an idea. In quite a detached way they present the conclusion that "forced labor was one of the fundamental characteristics of prisoners' lives." In reality, forced labor was a part of system of persistent daily torture and exhausting the inmates to death.

In order to find an excuse to treat this theme individually, the authors suggest the (forced) labor in the Camp as common work. In five out of the total of ten sentences forced labor is treated simply as "work". For example: "Work on repair of the existing industrial items as well as enabling them to function was slow, so the majority of the machinery became operational only in February of 1942." Who can -- from this information -- learn that the prisoners were forced to build the camp in which they were imprisoned? Further, "Formation and allocation of work groups happened during the winter of 1941 - 1942. Work was divided between indoor and outdoor, and work groups were named for the type of work they were doing. ... Large groups were divided into smaller groups of between a hundred and ten people. Every group had its own work leadership formed from the inmates." The authors put a great deal of the responsibility for committed crime on the inmates themselves, since it was shown that they kept control on the "work", while the perpetrators of the crimes remain invisible. In their description of inmate–foremen - the authors use the idiosyncratic Ustasha term, which publicly occurs at the museum for the first time since the WWII period.

8 "Women’s camp (Camp III Ciglana)" -- Once again the national identities of inmates are strongly misused for manipulative purposes. In this part of the text, only “Serbian, Jewish and Croatian women” are explicitly mentioned. The authors here do not even mention the Roma women. This information creates the false and absurd image of Croatians as one among the persecuted groups. All of that in spite of it being obvious that the few Croatian women who were imprisoned were there for political offences rather than for being a member of a certain national group which by itself qualified as a crime.

The authors state -- in a most detached way -- that women and children were "arriving" at the camp were "transferred to the Stara Gradiska Camp, or they were liquidated." It seems it is not enough that authors state that a group of "about 100 women were delivered to the camp for seasonal work in the fields", but we are also told they were "mostly young and healthy women". What happened to older women, the sick, and pregnant, and the many children – the authors do not inform the visitor about. Further, "By the end of Autumn, field work was done and most female inmates were returned to the Stara Gradiska Camp." The text does not state what happened to them later. It shouldn’t have been so bad as the visitor is told that "in Autumn 1944 the women’s camp was transferred to a new brick building...". The tragic end of the last women inmates a few months later is described in a neutral clinical way: "The Camp ceased to exist on 21 April 1945 when the last group was taken to be liquidated in Donja Gradina."

9 "Resistance in the Camp and the Break out of Prisoners on 22 April 1945" -- This part of the text has –together with the part of text on the subject of the number of victims- also undergone significant correction as a result of pressure by interested individuals immediately before the opening. These corrections partially toned down the initial cynical insensitivity of the text. The final version contains a bit more respect for the historical truth, and for the prisoners, although through decorative phrasing, and to a certain extent, a clumsy combination of the previous politically incorrect text and the text that was subsequently added.

10 "Stara Gradiska Camp" (a part of the complex of Jasenovac Camp) -- the authors couldn’t resist the temptation to spend/waste a large part of the text by providing a detailed list of the titles of legal decrees with exacts dates which, if taken out of context, are meaningless. But it leads an uninformed visitor to a serious level of respect. Grave manipulation is repeated in listing the women inmates by their national origin, and the authors state that “Croatian, Jewish and Serbian women" were imprisoned there. (The Roma women are not mentioned at all and Croatians are even mentioned first). With clinical coldness it continues: "... and from June 1942 there were children too, mostly Serbian", but we learn nothing about their ultimate tragic fate.

11 "Ways of exiting the Camp" -- is merely 150 of the 1,885 words of the museum’s layout. The title implies that there were exits from the camp in large numbers and in various ways. The authors, although inconsistent with the title, correctly state that "most prisoners who entered the camp would be killed there". Their exit was death: premature, painful and undignified, which no human being should experience. But the authors do not care about that – so, death found its place among the ways of “exiting” the Camp.

We find out from the layout that some prisoners left the Camp “after serving their sentence, or through the intervention of some Ustasha in charge, or amnesty on some important dates.” (Important to the regime – but we are not told that). In fact very few prisoners left the camp that way, and they were not from the largest groups of civilians persecuted for their nationality, religion or ethnicity. They were the small number from the groups such as "social outcasts" and similar groups.

We also find out there were few of prisoners who escaped the Camp to freedom. The authors do not make the distinction between being released vs. escape, it apparently justify the very existence of this chapter. At the same time they succeed in highlighting that the Partisans were not very successful in helping prisoners to escape. They say: "Till now we know of only one group [big-small-how many people? - we don’t learn that] which was rescued by the intervention [?] of the Partisans." There is mention of around 2,000 prisoners that the Partisans rescued by exchanging them with POW’s: Ustasha and German soldiers - that is also counted as a way of “exiting” the camp.

The authors, without much connection with the title but strongly consistent with their intentions, conclude: "It is difficult too to determine the number of prisoners who were moved from C C Jasenovac to other German camps ... as well as the number of those who were taken for forced labor to Germany." So, within the subject of “exiting” the Camp, the authors emphatically state that the transfer of prisoners to “other German camps” (as if Jasenovac was a German camp too?!) was also one of the ways out of Jasenovac.

Exhibits: one example

The museum at first displayed the catalogue from the anti-Semitic propaganda exhibition held in 1942, without any comment. The title of the catalogue was: "Jews - an Exhibition about the Development of Judaism and its Destructive Activities in Croatia Till 10 April 1941. Final solution of the Jewish question in the NDH." The exhibited front page depicts a mythical image of a Ustasha youth swinging his sword at a giant snake covered in scales each depicting the Star of David (such a snake was a common European anti-Semitic symbol). He is overwhelming it, while it is attacking him. The exhibit was inexplicably accompanied by photographs showing several buildings with no further explanation (visitors are not obliged to know that they were built by Jewish architects, and the information is irrelevant in the context).

After severe criticism about such strongly agitative material exhibited with no commentary, the authors put their commentary: "Nazi and Ustasha propaganda about Jewish destructive activities is contradicted by the fact that within the first four decades of the 20th century in downtown Zagreb there were numerous buildings of major significance built by Jewish architects and builders". This scandalous and amateurish conclusion is the authors’ entire commentary on the pronounced "Final solution of Jewish question", which was an open invitation to exterminate Jews in the NDH. If the result had not been so tragic, this comment could even be comic.

Monograph: two examples

The monograph published by the museum follows the same direction with the combination of an amateurish approach (with very few exceptions), and most of all a softened image of the Ustasha regime.

The whole of page 19 has been used for a well known triumphant photo of Hitler greeting Pavelic with a reverential description (the academic titles of war criminals are all kept in the monograph): "Dr Ante Pavelic at the official visit to Adolf Hitler at his residency in Berghof, Austria, 7 June 1941." The idea of blaming Germans for (at least the ideological part of) the persecution of Serbs appears in the following sentence: "On this occasion Hitler gave full support to Pavelic in his politics of the genocide against Serbs." And then in a neutral manner: "Ante Pavelic, born in Bradina (Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina). Founder and leader of the Ustasha movement. From 1941 to 1945 Poglavnik of the Independent State of Croatia. After the war immigrated to Spain. Died in Madrid 1959." The whole of page 19 could easily be a part of any publication during the Ustasha regime.

Three pages of this monograph (consisting of over 250 pages of text and photographs) are under the title: "Concentration Camp Jasenovac: part of the book C Camp Jasenovac – photo monograph", by Natasa Matausic. Of the total of 55 lines of text which should portray the Jasenovac Camp, a whole 15 are devoted to the controversy over the number of victims. The rest of the text itself seems to describe some Nazi camp, and not the Ustasha camp at Jasenovac, as the text begins with the words: "The first Nazi camps were established..." and follows: "Most of the Nazi camps were retained in their original form ... [while] the demolition of the Jasenovac Camp ... started..."

While mentioning "deportation" and "internment" of civilians during the "cleansing actions", the author highlights the role of the German troops and does not mention the role of anyone else except the Germans. The author contextually interprets "cleansing actions" (or in other words capturing local Serbian civilians or killing them on the spot) as a consequence of the “German presence” on the "territories affected by the Partisan war", inferring that the Germans and –in a way- the Partisans were guilty. This indirect (and with a negative connotation) is the only mention of Partisans in this text. Yet in those short 55 lines the author succeeds in blaming the Allies too, whose "bombardment started with destruction of the Camp buildings … and … killed several prisoners", which is fastidiously noted in a footnote.

This short text also describes a lot of things the Camp didn’t have (within 9 out of 55 lines). The author states that there were no "gas chambers", that the "inmates were not wearing any badges or specific clothes (three and a half lines for that information). In a bizarre, rhetorical and linguistic twist with no precedent, the author turns the victims – the Serbian inhabitants of the surrounding area – into some form of possible executioners, saying that "... they could not wonder and say: ‘We did not know’ because most of them were being deported into the camps".(?!)

Beside all the nonexistent things that the author unnecessary lists, she does not even once mention the only unavoidable word: "Ustasha". It appears only once, and just as an adjective used in the context of the very end of the Ustasha regime: "Formations of Ustasha ... during the retreat from the camp in April 1945." We are finding out from her text that the Jasenovac Camp was "the only one among the camps where liquidations were implemented without any direct involvement of German troops." And till the end we are in a lack of any information by whose "direct involvement" the extermination actually was "performed".

How crime became seriously questionable: applied techniques

How did the authors succeed in rewriting the historical truth about Jasenovac without even reaching for false facts? They used the combine technique of emphasizing utterly irrelevant though truthful details and avoidance of relevant facts, photographs and artifacts. They also used a seemingly neutrally detached attitude towards the perpetrators: listing their academic titles, military ranks and omitting to state their particular crimes. At the same time they insult, degrade and blame the victims with a selection and combination of facts, and highlight some facts while omitting important others.

The authors were either not capable of presenting the relevant facts within the small space of the layout, or they did not want to do so. (The author of the Museum's concept, N. Matausic, stated in her newspaper interview that problems arose because it is difficult to present any theme in a short and at the same time clear way.) The result, nevertheless, is the same: practically the whole text and everything on display or reduces the severity of the image of the Ustasha regime and throws the blame on others, or degrades the victims. All that in the name of (what they would like to present as) a postmodern approach.

Croatia will soon –in a most cynical way- even acquire positive points from the international community for the mere act of opening the Museum. That is, if it succeeds to silence the voices of its critics. But, the Museum’s permanent exhibition speaks for itself and beats all the statements of Croatian politicians about the good intentions to publish the truth within the Jasenovac Museum.

In January 2006, the Croatian Minister of Education, D. Primorac, guaranteed to the Israeli Ambassador, a few other diplomats and journalists that Croatia wants to present “the truth and only the truth about the Jasenovac Camp within the Museum”. Yet his photographs in the media after that, while attending the concert of an openly pro-Ustasha pop singer, M. Perkovic "Thompson", carries a very contradictory message to the public and to teachers. (Because of the pop singer’s open pro-Ustasha attitude his concerts for Croatians living abroad were vetoed on few occasions, despite his popularity at home. His song "Jasenovac and Gradiska Stara" is a direct call for restoration of the Ustasha regime, mocking the victims and the resistance movement, and inviting the reincarnation and return of Tudjman. This song is openly played at private party and is available on the Internet without any consequences or reprimand.)

The Croatian Minister of Culture, B. Biskupic, (who is the highest responsible Government official with jurisdiction over of the Museum in Jasenovac) was officially informed in writing before the opening about the seriousness of the direction of the Museum’s conception. He strongly dismissed all the allegations in one short memo. However, the main author N. Matausic -faced with a well-based strong critique after the opening- announced her resignation. The Minister did not accept her resignation, and the media had already announced the same author’s involvement in several new public projects.

The Jasenovac Camp Museum lacks basic information about most of the relevant facts. There is no entry sign indicating that the site is the location of the former Concentration Camp Jasenovac, of which there is no preserved structure today. There are no clear disclosures of the horrific ways of killing, long lasting mass starvation of prisoners, about children victims, about the executioners. There are no legends next to the bats or other objects used for killing prisoners, which were displayed only after much protest. Uninformed visitors are left with the impression that these objects are tools the prisoners used in their work. An assumption of several young visitors was that the tools (with no written description) were used for work not killing. Databases -- among other -- document information about the Righteous among the Nations, which has more serious material errors than correct facts. Most names, relationships, rescue accounts... were not correctly written, although the stories had to be only copied from an existing verified material.

Errors and lack of information detract from the quality of a museum. A museum may be made in a low quality if its authors are incapable of anything better, but it must never manipulate historical truth, offend victims and embellish the image of the perpetrators, which is exactly what has happened in the Jasenovac Museum. The Museum as it is opened in Autumn of 2006 is representing to the Croatian public one fatally twisted and misleading image of Croatian local history. It is sending this wrong message to the Croatian youth too. Its views of the world are already limited by growing up in bitterness and "warming up" of nationalistic ideology, caused by the recently ended war (which caused many casualties on the Croatian side too).

Few Court Jews & Serbs, and a severe conflict of interest around the Museum

The new Jasenovac Museum exhibition emerged from a major conflict of interest. It is costing tax payers at least US$ 1,5 million. Practically all persons officially assessing it or acting as various consultants are at the same time paid co-authors of this project. The main author N. Matausic also chairs the Governing Board of the Museum that ordered (!) and paid the project. All consultants, advisors, and reviewers are co-authors in various paid positions.

To secure a politically correct approval and to be protected from any future criticism, some court Serbs and Jews were engaged in the project. It ensured the project a kind of political "kosher seal" and protection from any attempt of criticism. (I was also called to perform the role of as a Jewish puppet as what was presented to be a member of the Governing Board. But I was very soon completely cut off for my strong opposition to what I recognized as the concept of "absolution of crimes of the Ustasha regime". During the months following I have not received a single invitation to attend the official work meeting. Only after sending an official letter of demand to the head of the Governing Board, a very small portion of the material was sent to me.)

Involving a few Court Serbs and Jews in this project did not happened by chance, since it seems to make any attempt at criticism absurd and rambling. (To some extent, this situation is similar to -- a reminder of -- "proofs" used by those occasionally defending the Ustashe by stressing that some of their leading members were married to women of Jewish background, therefore they "could not" be guilty for the crimes they actually committed.) Obviously in this context it is not by chance that it was being avoided to involve representatives of the Serbian, Jewish and Roma communities.

Surprising lack of reaction

When the author of the Museum’s concept N. Matausic was interviewed, she publicly admitted that there "were mistakes" which were to be "corrected". But she did not say: when, by whom and how. Matausic also made a comment about the criticism her team received, and said it will all "settle down with time". Perhaps settle down it will, if anyone who has some influence in Croatia and abroad does nothing about it. Once Albert Einstein said, "The world is too dangerous to live in – not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who sit and let it happen." It is now reasonable to raise the question why there were not any reactions.

Croatia is a small and highly corrupt country, whose society and media are strictly controlled by an impenetrable and tightly knit political and social group of friends, as well as a network of opportunistic societal relations. Such hermetically sealed mechanisms keep the media from all possible 'undesirable' content. Only a loud cry can reach to the ears of the Croatian public and with a very short term effect too, for that voice is soon silenced by an absence of interest in the media (despite the media logic of profit). And, if it is not in the media, it is as if it did not happen at all.

Under such circumstances, even naturally interested parties in Croatia did not voice their opinion, although many individuals are strongly resentful of the exhibition. First and foremost are the Serbian, Jewish and Roma communities (persecuted by the Ustasha regime and with the majority of victims in Jasenovac), as well as the Union of anti-Fascist. Yet this massive silence is largely the only reaction. Even worse: the journal Voice of the Anti-Fascists of Democratic Croatia in its issue no. 48 of February 2007 -- pretending to have not a bit of notion about the shameful Museum -- carries a very affirmative article on N. Matausic and her future engagements in new big public projects. Political opposition (in the expectation of parliamentary elections) completely failed to comment on the subject too. While the ones can’t be heard in the media, others are opportunistically silent or are trying to get credits from the current Government.

Although more then a few liberal members of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Science and other intellectuals are ready to react, without personally witnessing the exhibition on the spot they would not publicly express their opinion. Logistically it is impossible to organize a needed half day gathering of them and viewing of the Jasenovac Museum, without the support of a relevant institution. Presently there is no such institution in Croatia ready to undertake this project.

The international community, it seems, is unaware of the situation in the Jasenovac Camp Museum. At the time of the opening, the authors pointed to numerous praises received from international institutions, mostly those dealing with the Holocaust. Were these alleged praises indeed ever received? If that was the case, it would be shameful. Yet the key question is: were this Museum and permanent exhibition really known to these institutions praising it or were they simply believing the big promises? None of those alleged praises are publicly available and it is quite possible they don’t exist in writing at all. It is far likely that what was praised was the intention to open such a museum, the efforts to open it and not ever such a horribly twisted historical truth about the perpetrators and their victims. And then again, it has to be established first, if those praises were ever received or their mention was only a strategic maneuver and a dirty trick.

The only reaction from the international community so far was from Dr. E. Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem, who seriously and strongly criticized the whole exhibition after he personally saw it.

* * *

If you do not know much about the crimes committed in the Jasenovac Camp, in this Museum you will not learn anything, but if you know enough you will find yourself astound by the scandalously embellished presentation of the perpetrators and humiliation of their victims.

The worst thing of all - this is happening at the actual scene of the crime.

However, if you like dogs, drop by, as you may see a likeable dog happily running around and doing what dogs usually do outside. And this is not any stray dog that wandered into the grounds of the Memorial Site of the Jasenovac Concentration Camp. This dog belongs to the head person of this public institution, N. Jovicic, who is getting it there all away from Zagreb.

The scene itself paints more than could thousands of words.


Julia Kos

All emphasis by the author. All the quotations from the Museum layout and monograph were translated from the Croatian original.

I am deeply thankful to my associate Kristijan Lepesic for supplying me with materials, as well as for many invaluable advises he gave me during writing this text.

* * *

* Julia Kos holds an MA in information science, graduated in art history, archaeology, and library science. She is a prolific author and editor of numerous publications and lexicographical articles in the fields of Jewish history and culture. She is the head librarian of the Jewish Community Zagreb Central and Specialized Library, and an associate of Yad Vashem’s Department for the Righteous. She is still officially a (pro bono) member of the Jasenovac Memorial Site Governing Board, asked in 2005 to join as a Jew and a professional. Actually she was (non-officially yet completely) cut of from the process of creation of the permanent exhibition immediately after strongly protesting against the way which preparations were going, some eight months before the opening.

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