Eastern Europe was the cradle of the Holocaust. Now, it's the cradle of Holocaust denial

Friday, January 27, 2017

Earlier this week, I was extremely perturbed to read a media report that the director of a high school in the Croatian town of Sibenik had refused to host an exhibition about Anne Frank.

The director, Josip Belamaric, claimed that he had no problem with the material that related to Anne's story, but was infuriated by the additional panels on World War II and the Holocaust, which were added to provide the proper historical context for Anne's fate.

He especially objected to mention the mass murder of Serbs, Jews, Roma, and anti-fascist Croatians by the Ustasha, the fascist organization which ruled the county. According to Belamaric, the portrayal of the Ustasha as murderous criminals was simply unacceptable and he therefore refused to allow the exhibition to be shown in his high school.

The sad truth is, however, that hundreds of thousands of innocent Serbs, Jews, Roma, and anti-fascist Croatians would have survived World War II, if not for the murderous policies of the Ustasha rulers of the Independent State of Croatia. From the beginning of their rule in 1941, the Ustasha sought to rid Croatia, which was a satellite state of Nazi Germany, of the minorities living in its borders, as well as their political opponents, and established concentration camps where these enemies were murdered en masse.

The fact that Josip Belamaric chose to deny his students an opportunity to learn about their bloody crimes is outrageous, but hardly surprising in a country in which the previous government's culture minister was an Ustasha sympathizer, the country's current president was recently photographed with an Ustasha flag, and its most popular rock star openly sings songs glorifying an Ustasha concentration camp and incites against Serbs.

Unfortunately, Croatia is not the only country in which Nazi collaborators who actively participated in the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust are glorified as national heroes.

Throughout Eastern Europe, since the fall of Communism we are seeing systematic efforts to minimise the role of local collaborators in Nazi crimes and the promotion of the canard of equivalency between Communism and Nazism. In the Baltic countries – Ukraine, Hungary, Croatia, and Poland – we are facing a serious assault on the accepted and accurate narrative of the Holocaust.

One could have easily assumed that, given the enormous amount of information available on the Holocaust, its narrative would already be inscribed in stone, protected against denial and oblivion. Yet this year, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, 72 years after the end of World War II, we find ourselves locked in a serious battle for historical truth, ironically in the geographical area where almost all of the 6 million Jews annihilated by the Nazis were killed during the Holocaust.

The time has come to acknowledge the serious danger posed to the memory of the Shoa by Holocaust distortion and begin a systematic campaign to discredit the false narrative being promoted in post-Communist Eastern Europe. That would be, in my opinion, a very important way to honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Dr. Efraim Zuroff is the chief Nazi-hunter of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the director of its Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs. He can be followed on Facebook and Twitter @EZuroff.