Holocaust, commemoration and Balkans

Article published on Jan. 29, 2009
community published
Article published on Jan. 29, 2009
The UN General Assembly chose January 27 as the official day for the commemoration, as it was on this day in 1945 that Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp. Throughout Europe, tributes will be paid to the 53 million people who died during World War II, of whom 31 million were civilians. Commemoration has linked usually also to International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The background is, that on January 27, 1945, Soviet troops entered the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, the last such camp still functioning. They found 7,000 survivors from among the more than 1,000,000 people murdered there. The memory of the Holocaust in western Europe has historically been a kind of spur for ‘anti-racist’ movements, but how to define Holocaust?


Most scholars define the Holocaust as a genocide of European Jewry alone, or what the Nazis called the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. Taking into account all the victims of Nazi persecution, the total number of victims would be between nine and 11 million of which figure appr. six million were Jews.

Earlier the word holocaust has been used since the 18th century to refer to the violent deaths of a large number of people, e.g. many writers used it before World War II to describe the Armenian Genocide of WWI.

If and when the word holocaust is reserved to describe murdering six million Jews during WWII the other similar brutalities need another term and the word Genocide is most used to describe the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group. A word pogrom is used mostly in relation with a form of riot directed against a particular group, whether ethnic, religious, or other, and characterized by the killing and destruction of their homes, businesses, and religious centers.


Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest extermination center created by the Nazis. It has become the symbol of the Holocaust and of wilful radical evil in our time. The death tolls in extermination centers vary but rough estimations are following (source Wikipedia):

Auschwitz II 1,400,000 Belzeg 600,000 Chelmno 320,000 Jasenovac 600,000 Majdanek 360,000 Maly Trostinets 65,000 Sobibor 250,000 Treblinka 870,000

Few people know that 3rd biggest extermination center was Jasenovac. Two reasons maybe explain this: 1st it is located in Croatia and 2nd the main part of victims were Serbs. From total 600,000 murdered ones some 25,000 were Gypsies, some 25,000 Jews and over half a million Serbs.

Yad VaShem - "Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority" - is Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the holocaust describes Jasenovac as follows (source):

Located in Croatia 62 miles south of Zagreb, Jasenovac was Croatia’s largest concentration and extermination camp. Jasenovac, was a network of several sub-camps, established in August 1941 and dissolved in April 1945. The Nazis gave control of Jasenovac to the puppet Croatian government, which was run by the fascist Ustasa movement. A large number of Ustasa members served in the camp, most notably Miroslav Filipovic-Majstorovic, who was notorious for killing prisoners with his bare hands.

The Independent State of Croatia was created and supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. It thus adopted their racial and political doctrines. Jasenovac had a role in the Nazi "final solution"; it was also used, however, in the ethnic cleansing of Romany and Serbian inhabitants. So during the WWII, Serbs shared the similar fate as Jews at the hands of Nazis. Jasenovac was not the only place where Serbia’s neighbour Croatia ran several concentration camps where Jews, Serbs and Roma have been murdered. Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians were allies of Hitler as well.

(More about Jasenevac in my document library )

Memory today

In April 1945 the partisan army approached the camp. In an attempt to erase traces of the atrocities, the Ustaša blew up all the installations and killed most of the internees. An escape attempt by the prisoners failed, and only a few survived.

It seems that after WWII Croats tried to hide all evidence about brutalities in Jasenovac, all material evidence disappeared as if there had not been any camp in that place. Later – during Tito’s time - the state and the authorities tried to implement “Brotherhood and Unity” motto, with the aim of creating tolerance between the nations and the crime had to be forgotten as soon as possible.

On Summer 2008 Israel’s ambassador to Croatia, Shmuel Meirom, harshly criticized the funeral given to a head of a WWII Jasenovac concentration camp in Zagreb, saying also that it insulted the memory of those killed in the camp run by Croatia’s Nazi-allied Ustasha regime. “I’m convinced that the majority of the Croatian people are shocked by the way the funeral of the Jasenovac commander and murderer, dressed in an Ustasha uniform, was conducted,” ambassador Meirom said in a written statement to the state news agency Hina. “At the same time, I strongly condemn the inappropriate words of the priest who served at the funeral and said that Sakic was a model for all Croats”Meirom said. (More about this in my article )

So commemoration or International Holocaust Remembrance Day or events and history related to them has recent times been observed with various ways. In Serbia Serbs and Jews held the main commemoration ceremony at the Memorial to the Victims of Genocide in the Second World War at the Old Fairgrounds (Staro Sajmiste) in Belgrade – a place where thousands of them were murdered during WWII.

Yearly commemoration is important remainder for fair picture of history. At least one day per year is good to think what ultra nationalism can be at its worst level, what kind of interests, power game, attitudes and hidden motivations are creating possibilities for murdering civil populations or ethnic groups. And to remember that these actions have been continuing also after WWII e.g. in Cambodia, Rwanda and Darfur even today.

(More my articles one may find from my Archives:Blog)