„Willy Brandt faced the past and knelt down in Warsaw ghetto in 1970 on behalf of Germany. Germany faced its past and moved on. Germany did go through process of denazification and reconciliation with peoples and countries. Today it is the spiritus movens of Europe and fourth economy of the world. Croatia needs to face its ustasha past and reconcile and move on.“ – This is what renowned Israeli historian prof. Dr. Gideon Greif said in an interview for ‘’Iskra’’. Greif is a leading researcher at the Holocaust Institute „Shem Olam“. Hi got widely recognized as a participator in the trial of one of the over-aged Nazi criminals where Greif performed as an expert. This Nazi criminal was a guard from Auschwitz. To this trial Greif was summoned as an expert and one of the most important names associated with the history of the Holocaust and genocide research, as well as the fighter against history revision. He is an honorary member of the association of the Jasenovac victims and the bearer of their plaques. Greif earned his PhD in Vienna. He was also celebrated in the world as one of those who clarified the study of Sonderkommando in Auschwitz by documenting, as well as the author of the book „We Wept Without Tears“, which served Laszlo Nemes as an inspiration and main source for the film „The son of Saul“, which earned Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year in 2016th.
`Would you, as a world class historian, determine the exact definitions of the Holocaust and genocide considering the fact that these terms are used in many different ways today?
The Holocaust (disambiguation), also referred to as the Shoah, how we call it back in Israel, was a mass murder of Jews in a very specific industrial way in extermination camps through gas chambers and in furnaces during World War II in which Nazi Germany, aided by its collaborators, systematically murdered some six million European Jews, around two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe, between 1941 and 1945. It was a genocide. Very unique genocide. There were similar catastrophes perpetrated against other people (Serbs, Slavs, Roma etc.), but no one is the same and no one is similar to the Holocaust. It was unique. History is very accurate. But revisionist wave is all around us with the aim to redefine the definitions. Are our democratic systems today strong enough to answer all the challenges of growing neo-nazism? Weakness of Weimar Republic brought Adolf Hitler to power. What is the use of all definitions of Holocaust and genocide if Neo-Nazi groups and ultranationalist parties come again into power. Definitions are not going to save us. Only actions against revisionism and neo-nazism.
Would you agree with Edward S. Herman, David Peterson and Noam Chomsky that the term ‘’genocide’’ is today most frequently used against Serbian people in terms that Serbs have committed genocide towards Muslims, Croats, etc.? They stated this claim in the book called ‘’The Politics of Genocide’’.
I would not like to give qualifications of scientific work of above mentioned personalities since I personally disagree with some of them, but when it comes to the use of the term “genocide” nowadays, I must observe that it is used too often and that, unfortunately, serves for daily political reasons. When it comes to the Balkans, I think politicians over here like to use the word “genocide” as it sounds bombastic and as a solid argument for “negotiations” in post-war period and for proclaiming their nations as martyrs, but, I am afraid, in a false martyrdrom. I am personally confused with the ethnic cleansing committed by Croatia in 1995 against its own citizens in the military action “Storm”, as well as with the “Srebrenica” case in Bosnia. Spinning and making breaking news became “commercial” and highly political category. One cannot easily say what really happened. Puffery in daily news goes along with sensationalism and competition for viewers and readers, so I think that the overuse of the word “genocide” is contra productive as it degrades and relativizes the essential meaning of the term.
Politicians of some nations that took part in killing the innocent people are trying to deny the existence of the Holocaust. What should we do to stop them from succeeding in their intention?
We do research, we do documentation, we raise our voice and we leave the traces the monuments and places of sacrifice of innocent people. We commemorate International Holocaust Day in United Nations at East River in New York every single year on the day of liberation of Auschwitz inmates, January 27th 1945. Cherishing the culture of remembrance is our duty for the victims and to the young generations. Revisionists are there, but responsible historians and experts stick to facts and factography. What would you say to a person who comes today, on Thursday, and says it is Sunday? It is Thursday and you can’t and don’t need to argue with that person. So, research, documentation, publication and education. If someone thinks that Holocaust is some mythomania, than such person has a distorted mind, as it is a historical fact and distorted heart, as such person does not have empathy with millions of innocent people who were brutally murdered, only because of their race, religion or political belief.
How should we fight with the history revision that is active now more than ever?
We should oppose with historical facts. History is like mathematics it is accurate and relies on culture of remembrance of people. The culture of remembrance and education of young generations is essential in prevention of revisionism. Memorial complexes with congress centers and institutes for research and collections of personal belongings and libraries of previous researchers are precious milestones of collective memory and fortress against those who would like to rewrite the history.
Did the history of concentration camps start with Action T4, or with something else?
Not at all. First concentration camp on the eve of WWII was established in March 1933. It was Dachau. This was the beginning. Actually, there was something prior to this and those camps were called The wild ones, because they were improvised, small and not organized. T4 belongs to different field of so called medical experiments and crimes. It is a part of the world of concentration camps, but it was different. But the establishment of concentration camps does not belong to Germans. British were the first to establish camps.
Which concentration camp do you consider the bloodiest one, or how should we say, the worst one in terms of the way people were murdered there?
There were 8 extermination camps in WWII: Auschwitz, Chelmno, Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka, Maly Trostenets and Jasenovac.
When we talk of industrial killing I would say that Auschwitz was developed with all the details of monsterous torture. The impersonal method of killing in Auschwitz was principally based on the famous speech held by the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, in which he emphasized the following statement: “ We will never make our hands dirty, we will remain clean”. The necessity to remain clean dictated the patterns of behavior of the German Nazi team of the camps.
The Ustasha on the other hand, were very happy to dirt their hands, and when blood of their victims was poured on their hand, they were really satisfied, especially in most notorious and most brutal of all exterminations camps in WWII Jasenovac.
They all were bloody because Germans are one of the most cruel, sadist and bestial people on this planet. One of goals of guards in camps was to create the suffering. They were good at causing suffering. They liked it and enjoyed it. All the camps were bloody, murderous and cruel. The SS guards were schooled. There were schools whose idea was to teach them to show no mercy, no compassion, but to be as cruel as possible, and they did it.
In Croatia people think that the majority of people murdered in Jasenovac were Croat partisans! Not Serbs, not Jewish people, not Roma people, but Croats! Balkans is known for believing in things that people outside the Balkans say, so, would you be kind enough to clarify this for us?
No person who was born after 1945 is guilty for crimes committed by their fathers or grandfathers, but they bear responsibility not to repeat the crimes their ancestors have committed. The “March of Life” is organization of descendants of SS officers and Nazis but with the aim to keep culture of remembrance on horrific crimes committed against humanity and to promote the “NEW LIFE” free of hatred, antisemitism, racism, slave labor.
Hundreds of thousands of Serbs, dozens of thousands of Jews, thousands of Roma people and Antifascists among which were some Croats, and about 20 000 of children were brutally murdered in Jasenovac camp of death.
Every other claims are stupid and should be considered a pure nonsense and historical revisionism and distortion of facts.
Concerning the number, for me the big priest of knowledge about Yugoslavia is my late friend – doctor Menahem Shelah. He wrote the book called ‘’The History of the Holocaust’. In my judgement, it is the best book ever written on the history of the Holocaust in Yugoslavia, and Shelah writes in his book: ‘’During the four years of its existence, an initiated murder of hundreds of thousands took place in Jasenovac. Besides being a concentration and slave labor camp, it was an extermination camp similar to the camps in Poland. But atrocities perpetrated in Jasenovac belong to the most horrible crimes in the whole history of the mankind.”
In another place in this book he claims that the number of 700 000 victims who were murdered in Jasenovac can be realistic. I think he is absolutely right about this number, because Shelah was one of the best experts in the world. Unfortunately, he died when he was about 50 years old. He was a highly respectable historian. This book was published by Yad Vashem in Hebrew in 1990. and still it is the best book about this theme, and I hope it would be translated to English one day.
Renowned Serbian historian Milorad Ekmecic said that he thinks that the number of the Serbs killed in Jasenovac went up to about 550 000.
If we include estimations of the survivors given to the State Commission of Croatia for war crimes in 1945 and 1946 and those who were murdered on the way to Jasenovac, those thrown into the river Sava, and in the pits in the neighborhood, the number could be, even bigger.
Croats said that the number was 40 000 people.
The size of Jasenovac was about 240 km2 aprox 150 football stadiums.
It is ridiculous. We are not idiots.
What is the most terrifying thing you heard, or that you know of or documented about Jasenovac?
Everything was cruel and planned to be extremely cruel. Even the Germans who visited Jasenovac wrote shocking reports to Berlin. They were shocked with the brutality of the Croats. Can you imagine that the most cruel people in the world were shocked by the barbarity of the Croats? I added this to my book. But let me quote some of testimonies of survivors here:
But most of all the shocking faith of Tesla family and Herzl family who were brutally murdered in Jasenovac. Tesla was famous inventor for whom, even today, Croatians claimed was a Croat inventor. The question stays, how could they slaughter all who had the Tesla name and taken them to Jasenovac and other killing sites? Theodor Herzel is the father of zionism, whose father and grandfather were born in Zemun. All Herzls from Zemun municipality under Ustasha occupation were taken to Jasenovac and brutally murdered there. Famous Rabbi Daniel Dannon from Sarajevo had the same faith.
But most shocking for me was the letter of Italian general to Mussolini in which he informs him that 120 Serbian children were brutally killed in such a way that their heads were decapitated and put on school benches and the inside of their stomach was nailed down to the sealing as the “Christmas decoration”. The school teacher and female pupils of the age of 8 were all raped and then their heads cut off. The Italian general was appealing to “Duce” to use his influence and say to poglavnik to order Ustasha to stop bestialities.
One thing slipped through the media during this revision of history. I’m talking about the claims that Jasenovac was a working camp. Do you think that it was more of a death camp?
It was one of 8 extermination camps in WWII. Even the last about 1000 camp inmates of Jasenovac were supposed to be brutally murdered on April 22nd 1945. But these bitten, starving, exhausted men decided to rise and go for a breakthrough. Although facing a certain death they decided to fight with one aim, and one aim only, that at least one of them will survive to tell the truth about Jasenovac. Only about 100 survived the breakthrough. Survivors gave their testimonies, and findings of State Commission of 1945 and 1946 give a solid picture of what it was.
In history, we know facts, and everyone who tries to distort these facts is ridiculous. No one can hide, distort or change these facts.
What do you think lead to development of Clerical fascism? What do you think made church (first of all Catholic) take part in Holocaust? Of course, we’re not generalizing, but talking about individuals that did take part in this.
I was in the Yugoslav cinematheque and watched the authentic Ustasha propaganda film from 1942 about Jews and the destruction of synagogs and film on Jasenovac from 1945. I am an expert for Auschwitz and did all my life research on factories of death like Majdanek, Sobibor etc…. but the passion of murder I saw in Ustasha Independent State of Croatia I did not see anywhere else.
As the head of International Expert Group GH7 I have organized research on Aloysius Stepinac and clero-nazism in Croatia. My colleagues from 7 countries and I made a list of 11 points why Stepinac cannot be canonized. The motto of Croat Catholic Church “Convert or die” was outrageous. If Catholic Church decides to canonize Stepinac, that would be a dangerous precedent. The true saints from WWII are St. Theresa Benedicta of Cross (Edita Stein) who was canonized for martyrdrom in Auschwitz by Catholic Church and Saint Vukasin Mandrapa for his Martyrdrom in Jasenovac, canonized by Orthodox Church. It would be insult to every true catholic and Christian to have a “false Saint Stepinac”.
How do you feel when you hear that those nations that invented or participated in the creation of the concentration camps are considered the democratic strongholds?
I really don’t have anything against the Germans or Croats who live nowadays. Now, about the democracy and those countries… There is no contradiction today. It is a good thing you can change and they changed. Germany and Poland are now some of the best friends of the State of Israel. This doesn’t mean that the criminals shouldn’t be punished. There is a new German policy of jurisdiction today that demands trial even for very old guards of Auschwitz and this is a good policy, because I think that all the criminals should be punished. Even if they are 95, 100 or 110, they should not die in their beds. This is basis of any civilization – criminals can’t die unpunished. This new policy is excellent and I praise it with all my heart.
Holocaust is one of, if not the worst things that happened to humanity. Do you think that something like that could happen again considering the politics of some countries today? I’m asking this question because I think that history doesn’t make progress. I believe that it is only repeating itself.
The Boogeyman of Nazism threatens Europe again. Adolf Hitler started in a marginal group which came into power and became a force with the aim to conquer the world. Are we aware of the marginal groups and rises of neo-nazi, ultranationalistic parties around us today? An alarming and expanding wave of revisionism and neo-nazism is evident in Eastern Europe, especially ex- communist countries, but Western democracies like Germany and Britain are not immune neither.
Remember, the weakness of Weimer republic brought Hitler into power. How weak or how strong are our democracies today? Can we handle the challenge?
They say that if something happened, it potentially can repeat itself. If we talk about us, the victims of the Holocaust, it couldn’t be the same, because we are not helpless today as we were then. Today we have the State of Israel, one of the strongest armies in the world. I think it cannot repeat itself in the same way because we would defend ourselves. We didn’t have any weapons in the time of World War Two. If we would be attacked, the reaction of the Jews would be different. We wouldn’t go again to our death like sheep in the slaughterhouse. The Jews were defending in a way they could do it. There was also an uprising in Auschwitz which I wrote about. It’s not well known, but it happened. Maybe everything could happen again, but I doubt that it would be the same.
It could happen to someone else and it could happen to humanity, because people have bad memory and are preoccupied with leisure and pleasure, not aware of global danger which is around corner, somewhere around them. We should educate them to recognize and reject Neo-nazism.
I know that this question may be a bit risky, some would say that it is not fair to be asked today, but which countries do you consider the ones that have the most blood on their hands when we’re talking about Holocaust?
All countries collaborated with Germany except two. There were two great rescues. First one was in Denmark, and the second one in Bulgaria with 80% Jews rescued. The French collaborated, the Dutch collaborated, Scandinavian kwislings the Poles collaborated and murdered themselves. Germans were the worst. They killed somewhere between 6 million and 7 million Jews and they are to be considered the biggest murderers in the history of humanity. But the most brutal murderers by the methods of bestial killings in WWII, for sure are Croat Ustasha.
But we should not generalize. Even in epicenter of Nazism in Germany itself, among Germans there were individuals and groups who were opposing Nazi mass hysteria and wanted to overthrow Hitler. In France, Poland, Hungary, Croatia and other countries there were “Righteous among nations” who were saving Jewish people.
Today, there is an organization in Germany “The March of Life” consisting of descendants of Nazi officers going from country to country spreading the idea of fight against antisemitism, neo-nazism and discrimination of any kind. They marched in Jerusalem in May on the occasion of 70 years of establishment of the State of Israel. Some have learnt the history lesson. Some we have to educate, and never get tired from explaining and passing on the truth about Holocaust to new generations.
How can we have normal political relations with those countries today? What is the key to cohabiting with them in today’s world if we remember what they did, and they are denying it? Should we forget, or should they admit it?
Willy Brandt faced the past and knelt down in Warsaw ghetto in 1970 on behalf of Germany.
Germany faced its past and moved on. Germany did go through process of denazification and reconciliation with peoples and countries. Today it is the spiritus movens of Europe and fourth economy of the world.
Croatia needs to face its ustasha past and reconcile and move on.
As the New York Times observed in 1997 “Perhaps no other country has failed as openly as Croatia to come to terms with its fascist legacy. While the French celebrate a resistance movement that was often dwarfed by the wider spread collaboration with Vichy regime, and while the Austrians often act as if the war never happened, the Croats have rehabilitated the Croatian fascist collaborators, known as the Ustasha, sky high”
As a matter of fact, the government of Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic in 2016 appointed to the post of Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier, grandson of Colonel Ivan Stier, the right-hand man of the notorious Ustasha officer Vjekoslav Maks Luburic, known as commander of the Jasenovac camp where Serbs, Jews and Roma were brutally murdered. Stier’s grandfather was highly placed in the hierarchy of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH)!
The Foreign Minister of Croatia, Davor Ivo Stier, was born in Argentina to which almost all NDH leaders and Ante Pavelic himself fled, and his granddad was the right-hand man and the closest associate of Maks Luburic and a crony to Miro Barisic, who brutally murdered Yugoslav Ambassador Vladimir Rolovic in Stockholm, a terrorist in whose honor Croats recently erected a monument.
Stier himself, who came to head the Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs straight from the benches of the European Parliament where he was a Croatian MEP, admitted that he used to celebrate the Nazi Independent State of Croatia, as a young man and subsequently publicly repented because of it.
With this appointment, Croatia continues to have attested supporters of the Ustasha movement in its government, such as Minister of Culture Zlatko Hasanbegovic, as well as to glorify the Nazi Ustashi Independent State of Croatia created by Ante Pavelic.
Nonetheless, it must be said that the fact that the Croatian Foreign Minister’s granddad was a Croat Nazi Ustasha does not tell us anything. Grandchildren cannot be responsible for the sins committed by their grandfathers, and very often the descendants make a U-turn and be the most ardent advocates of fighting fascism and Ustashism. However, the truth is cruel: Davor Ivo Stier is the grandson of a proven Croat Nazi Ustasha.
Today, there is a tendency of equating Communism and fascism, and depicting Ustashas as “liberators and patriots”, as “two sides of the same coin”. In his Article “Croatia Is Brazenly Attempting to Rewrite its Holocaust Crimes Out of History-An alarming and expanding wave of revisionism in Eastern Europe” in leading Jewish on-line magazine “Tablet” Principal Council of World Jewish Congress prof. dr Menachem Z. Rosensaft, on October 9, 2017 he stated the following on the behavior of Croat Government in 2016 and 2017:
“The leadership of the small Jewish community in Croatia, along with representatives of the country’s Serb minority, has boycotted the last two government-sponsored Holocaust commemorations in 2016 and 2017. Demonstrating impressive moral courage and integrity, they refuse to condone a historical revisionism with echoes of Holocaust denial that aims to rehabilitate the Ustasha, a Croatian fascist movement led by the nationalist dictator Ante Pavelić that aggressively and ardently murdered hundreds of thousands of Serbs and tens of thousands of Jews during World War II.
The present stand-off between the Croatian Jewish community and the Croatian government (celebrating Croatian independence yesterday) over the manner in which the Holocaust is commemorated—or not commemorated—and the effective rehabilitation and glorification of the Ustasha came to a head after a March 2016 Israel-Croatia soccer match, where Croatian spectators shouted the notorious Ustasha slogan “Za dom spremni,” or “Ready for the Homeland,” in the presence of the Croatian prime minister, who apparently sat by without reacting.
Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic subsequently issued a statement in which he said “the Croatian government, and I personally, condemn the crimes of the Ustasha regime.” However, “revitalization of the Ustasha regime is only exceptionally condemned,” Dr. Ognjen Kraus, president of the Coordinating Committee of the Jewish Communities of Croatia, said at that time. “It is an avalanche that reminds us of what was happening in the so-called independent state of Croatia.”
As I said, we have great collaboration with Germany and Poland today, but we will not forget the past. We have to differentiate between the criminals and those who were born after ’45. Those who were born after this year are innocent even if their grandfather or father murdered people. They are Germans or Croats, but they did nothing wrong. Why couldn’t I be friends with these people, as I am friends with them, if they show me their sorrow and sympathy for Jews, and they do. I’m connected to the group TOS and they express their love for the Jewish people and they established so called ‘’March of Life’’ in many cities and many countries. They plan to do it in Balkans too and they are good people. They come from families who were nazis, but they are not responsible for what their people done.
My people is ready to forget many of these things so we could have normal relations with everybody in order to go along with globalization which is conditioning us with making us forget our history and dumbing everyone down to a useless, unnational, forgetting and forgiving citizen of the world. What would be your message to Serbian people, of course, if you have any?
I’m very often asked if the German criminals should be excused and our philosophy of forgiveness is different than the Christian one. In Judaism only God is allowed to forgive. Cherishing collective memory is important. Do not give up on your culture of remembrance. Fight for each and every victim’s right to be remembered.
Jewish people survived thanks to remembrance and did return to its ancestors Land thanks to our decisiveness to remember. Serbian people should remember the past, because it is important to present and for the future.
History is like a chain, so you can’t cut it, because it will not remain a chain. Life is the combination of past, present and future, and even if the past is a tragedy it is a part of you and you can’t run away. Your past is an inseparable part of your identity. If you say a hundred times that it is not a part of you, it still is a part of you. You can’t deny your past, it is necessary to face it and move on and I think it helps you to have a better present and a better future. Your past is a part of you, of your genetics. Like Auschwitz and Jasenovac is a part of genetics of Serbian and Jewish people and we should never forget it, because that is the only way that we do not risk it from happening again.
You said that Serbs and Jews are starting to look alike. What did you mean by that?
From the minute I started to investigate the crimes of the Ustasha, I find similarity between the Serbs who suffered so much and the Jews who also suffered like no one else did. There are many others, besides these historical similarities, and those are before all nice character and hospitality. I feel among friends here.
This was the reason I dedicated so much time to Serbs in order to teach them to remember, because you said and you were right, the national memory is still to be developed here and I am contributing to this goal.
I hope that my new book about Jasenovac will be the milestone in this direction of remembrance.
This book will be published in Hebrew, Serbian and English and it will be presented here at Belgrade book fair in October. I hope that this book will be read here in Serbia and abroad, because everyone needs to know about Jasenovac and the things that were happening there. World doesn’t know much or anything about this horrible place where Serbs, Jews and Roma people were murdered in terrifying ways.
I’m surprised that almost no one knows about Jasenovac, and I think that now is the time for changing this. It is important that everyone knows this so it would never repeat. People who died in Jasenovac can’t speak no more, and we need to be their voice.
You know, I’m the one who made people not hate Sondercommando’s. Those people were hated before I published a book about them called ‘’We wept without tears’’ and it was translated in 12 languages, but not in Serbian. I hope that it will be publish in Serbian, because those interviews from that book deserve to be read and remembered.