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Crimes of the Fascist Occupants: the Holocaust in Yugoslavia

August 18, 2005

The Crimes of the Fascist Occupants and their Collaborators against the Jews in Yugoslavia

Jasenovac Research Institute, 2005 (in Serbian, with summary in English)

Reviewed by Christopher Deliso

Originally compiled by a former Yugoslav army captain and concentration camp survivor and published by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia in 1952, this detailed account of war crimes against Jews during the Second World War has always been attacked by Croat and other former Nazi collaborators as nothing more than Tito’s Communist propaganda.

However, as the preface to the new 2005 edition makes clear, very few copies were printed and when in the early 1960’s a newspaper editor wanted to republish it, he “…quickly received a sharp rebuke and strict orders from government authorities not to publish a second edition under any circumstances, because it would ‘open old wounds and it would have a negative impact on brotherhood and unity.’”Thus the ‘Black Book’ as it was dubbed “…was known mostly by reputation only, for just 1,000 copies were published, and therefore few people ever had a chance to read it.”

With this new printing, the New York-based Jasenovac Research Institute hopes to increase world awareness of the magnitude of war crimes committed by Yugoslavia’s Nazi collaborators, especially against the 60,000 Jews of the country, 83 percent of whom lost their lives during the war.

The Foreword

Old critics of the book have also said that it was a central piece of Communist propaganda wheeled out for “show trials” under the Yugoslav State Commission for Investigation of Crimes of the Occupants and their Collaborators. While it is true that together with the Jewish groups the State Commission did inaugurate the work, the original 1952 preface laments that by April 1948 the Commission had wrapped up, leaving the Holocaust research incomplete and the book unpublished. At that point the Jewish groups of Yugoslavia had to continue by themselves, says Dr. Albert Vajs, then President of Yugoslavia’s Federation of Jewish Communities in the 1952 foreword.

A further caveat to the claims of state propaganda, at least by the implication of the original authors, was the discerning scholarship of David Anaf, who “…entered deeply into the whole complex of the problem and with the studiousness characteristic of him and pointed to the flaws with an expert confidence, insisting on their being removed for further investigation and personally participating in the gathering of new documentary evidence” (p. xv).

It should be noted that the old ideals of rigor in documentation have long since been lost. A look at any of the modern Yugoslavia’s war crimes trials shows a frantic zeal to uncover ever more evidence and, though numerous snafus have emerged in the Hague due to its presentation of erroneous or even willfully fraudulent information, few whether in the media or the “international community” take much notice of the inconsistencies.

Vajs Crimes of the Fascist Occupants show further restraint when disclosing that the researchers were at time of publication aware of a great amount of evidence that they could not, for reasons of insufficient time or money, include in the book. This is again in sharp contrast to the modern flair for excess, but it only makes the book’s case stronger.

A strong sense of having been forgotten permeates the final pages of the foreword. While Vajs seems resigned to their fate of having to publish the book themselves, he laments that individual war criminals – chief among them former Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic – remained at large. Waxing rhetorical, he complains, “…is it not almost incomprehensible that such arch-criminals as Pavelic and [Andrija] Artukovic are still enjoying freedom, and that our country has been vainly fighting for months to obtain their extradition although their responsibility is thousandfold proved?!” (p. xvii). Vajs goes on to mention others, who received sentences out of all proportion to their crimes: “…is not incomprehensible that Franz Rademacher, guilty for so many grave crimes, and for the deaths of several thousands Jews in Serbia, should have been sentenced recently to only 3 ¬Ω years imprisonment?!” (p. xvii).

Based on this reality, Vajs ponder something which, as it turns out, was eerily prophetic for the future of the country:

“…are we not to wonder then that fascism and Nazism are raising their heads again and glorifying the odious crimes of the past, sometime timidly at present but each day more and more conspicuously, thus preparing the atmosphere for new crimes and acts of genocide in the future?!” (p. xvii)

Contents

Crimes of the Fascist Occupants is divided into six major sections, covering crimes against the Jews committed in each of the Yugoslav republics. An annex of revealing photographs is also included; “…these photographs represent only a comparatively small choice from the huge materials of that kind available are meant to serve only as further documentary illustrations of some passages in the text” (p. xvii).

The English section of the book corresponds to this organizational design. In part one, covering Serbia, the subjects of the deportation of the Banat Jews, internment and shooting of Jews in Belgrade, murder of Jews in the hospitals of Belgrade and Kovin are covered, as are the seizure of Jewish property and the destruction of signs of Jewish culture.

Part two, which covers Croatia and Bosnia, discusses the concentration camps of Sanica, Jadovno, Jasenovac, Stara Gradiska and more. Anti-Jewish activities in Bosnia are also discussed, as well as seizure of property, destruction of Jewish cultural and religious objects and anti-Jewish laws.

The third part, on Slovenia, is only two pages long- despite the statement that “…of 1000 Slovenian Jews less than one hundred survived” (p. 21).

Part four covers the parts of Yugoslavia under Italian control – chiefly, Montenegro and Kosovo, though there is mention of Italian concentration camps in Croatia. Following the capitulation of Italy, Germany moved in to Kosovo, which is when the bulk of crimes against Jews were committed. This period is also discussed.

Part five is far lengthier than the previous two combined and covers the German and Hungarian mass murder of the Jews in Backa and Vojvodina. This, along with the second chapter, shows unbelievable barbarity and delight in torture that most people could not have expected outside of the more “famous” areas of German occupation in northern Europe.

The final part covers Macedonia and the efforts of its German and Bulgarian occupiers to eliminate the Jews there. Of over 7,000 Jews living in Macedonia then, only 6 remain there today.

While being just a summary of the Serbian original, these sections provide very detailed statistics and survivor testimony. A full picture of the horrors suffered by Yugoslavia’s Jews is painted. Again, since most of the world is unaware of the scale of the Holocaust here, this book – compiled when the dust had not yet settled, and when far more survivors and other witnesses were still alive – is an indispensable resource for historians. One note of the warning: the many gruesome photos are not for the squeamish.

The Lone Drawback

That said, the one great drawback is that only a summary was published in English – barely 20 percent of the full 268 pages. The bulk of the book is still in the original Ser
bo-Croatian- therefore making it inaccessible on the level of detail to any reader who does not know that language. It is unclear why this decision was made, but it unfortunately seems that it will limit the use of the book as a historical source.

Nevertheless, readers who are interested in this period and this history, whether or not they can read the full text, will find Crimes of the Fascist Occupants a compelling and provocative read. The Jasenovac Research Center has performed an important service in re-issuing the book; we can only hope that in the future they will publish a complete English translation.

Or, even better, would be to honor the memory of Dr. Albert Vajs, who apologized for not releasing a more comprehensive work. But he stated that “it is our intention, however to study and publish these new materials one day” (p. xvi). Perhaps over time an even fuller account may be told. In any case, even this re-issue of the Crimes of the Fascist Occupants, in addition to re-introducing a primary source to the modern public, gives some measure of justice to the murdered and forgotten Jews of the former Yugoslavia.

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