Jews, Serbs and Roma join Croatia memorial at WWII death camp

Breaking five-year boycott, Croatian minority groups attend Holocaust memorial at Jasenovac concentration camp. 'We want deeds, not words.'


Memorial built on site of Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia
Memorial built on site of Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia

Croatia's Jews, Serbs and Roma joined an official commemoration for the victims of a World War II death camp for the first time in five years Wednesday, after snubbing the event to protest a resurgence of Nazi ideology.

Known as Croatia's Auschwitz, the Jasenovac camp was run by the Nazi-allied Ustasha regime, which persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascist Croatians during the war.

On Wednesday, the 75th anniversary of the camp's closure, representatives of ethnic Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists joined the top officials to honor the dead at the striking flower-shaped monument that stands on the former camp-site.

The groups said they decided to attend this year's ceremony to show solidarity during the coronavirus crisis as well as to start a conversation with authorities about lingering intolerance.

"Things have not changed but taking into the account the difficult situation caused by the virus ... we decided to join the ceremony," said Ognjen Kraus, head of an umbrella association of Jewish groups.

"We also extend our hand (to the government) to start talking about the burning issue ... and remove the stain on Croatia due to historical revisionism," he told AFP.

"We want deeds not words."

Croatia's conservative government has come under criticism in recent years for failing to condemn celebrations of Ustasha slogans and ideology.

The victims groups, who have been holding their own separate ceremonies in recent years, were particularly incensed by the placing of a plaque with an Ustasha slogan near the Jasenovac memorial in November 2016.

The plaque, laid by former paramilitaries, was removed from the camp's immediate vicinity nearly a year later -- only to be displayed at another location 10 kilometers (six miles) away.

Jasenovac was the largest and most brutal of Croatia's concentration camps.

Many inmates were killed with hammers, knives and stones.

The total number of people murdered remains a matter of dispute, and has been politicized notably since relations between Serbia and Croatia soured during Yugoslavia's bloody collapse in the 1990s.

Serbian estimates of the number of dead, the majority of whom were Serbs, varies from tens of thousands to 700,000.

The camp was dismantled in April 1945 and the commemoration is held every April.