Croatian Jews Hold Holocaust Vigil Amid Surge in neo-Nazism

The Croatian Jewish community decides to boycott the official remembrance ceremony due to take place April 22, citing government’s failure to act on rise in neo-Nazi sentiment in the county.

Coordinator of the Jewish communities in Croatia Ognjen Kraus (L) and Croatian rabbi of the Jewish community Luciano Mose Prelevic (R) stand in front of a memorial in the shape of a flower in Jasenovac on April 15, 2016.
Coordinator of the Jewish communities in Croatia Ognjen Kraus (L) and Croatian rabbi of the Jewish community Luciano Mose Prelevic (R) stand in front of a memorial in Jasenova, Apr. 15, 2016. AFP

Croatia's Jewish community has held a separate Holocaust commemoration at the site of a notorious World War II death camp to protest the government's alleged inaction to curb the surge of neo-Nazi sentiment in the country.

About 300 Jews held their remembrance Friday at the Nazi-run World War II death camp at Jasenovac near Zagreb, a week before the ceremony that is to be attended by government officials.

The president of the Coordinating Committee of the Jewish Communities, Ognjen Kraus, said that the separate commemoration was held as a warning to the new right-wing Croatian authorities that they are downplaying the crimes committed by Croatia's pro-Nazi regime during the war.

Tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs and Gypsies have died in Jasenovac, which is known as the Croatian Auschwitz.

The decision to disregard the official April 22 ceremony was made due to the government's alleged inaction to control the rise of neo-Nazi sentiments in the country.

Representatives from the Jewish community have cited government passivity over recent incidents including a march where protesters shouted the greeting of the WW2 regime and a soccer game last month where pro-Nazi slogans were chanted by Croatian fans during the match against Israel.

They say these incidents "downplay and revitalize the Ustashe regime" which ruled the so-called Independent State of Croatia from 1941 to 1945.

However, in a bid to win their support ahead of the remembrance event, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic met representatives of Jews, Serbs, Gypsies and anti-fascists, and Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic issued a statement condemning the Ustashe's crimes. "The Croatian government and I personally, condemn the crimes of the Ustashe regime," he said.

Milorad Pupovac, a representative of Croatian Serbs replied saying "The president is concerned about divisions and negative trends visible in society. We're ready for talks on how to start changing the negative trend of playing down the Ustashe ideology and the victims of its regime."

The Jewish and Serb communities have also voiced concern over changes to the exhibits at the Jasenovac museum which they say fail to adequately and fully reflect the criminal nature of the Ustashe regime.