News 25 Jan 17

Zagreb Event Challenges Concentration Camp Death Toll

The Zagreb authorities have given the go-ahead to a controversial event questioning the official number of victims of the World War II fascist concentration camp at Jasenovac in Croatia.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
The Jasenovac memorial. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Bern Bartsch

The Zagreb city administration has given its consent for a public roundtable discussion on Wednesday evening that will discuss “manipulations” of the official number of victims who died at the World War II concentration camp Jasenovac, which was run by fascist Ustasa movement.

The right-wing participants will also question whether Jasenovac was really a concentration camp, or just a labour camp.

The personnel running the hall where it will take place – a venue owned by the city – confirmed to BIRN that the municipal administration has given consent for the discussion entitled ‘Jasenovac - False Myth’, organised by an NGO called the Croatian Club.

The panellists will include right-wing historian Josip Jurcevic, ballistics expert and writer Zdenko Kuftinec, and two members of a highly controversial Croatian far-right NGO called Threefold Jasenovac - historian Stipo Pilic and journalist Igor Vukic.

The NGO claims that the Ustasa ran a labour camp at Jasenovac for enemies of the regime, but it says that the real death camp was run by the Yugoslav Communists, which imprisoned Ustasa members and regular Croatian Home Guard army troops until 1948, then alleged Stalinists until 1951.

The NGO supports its theory with documents - some of which are those of the camp administration and Nazi allies - that counter the vast majority of scientifically-backed documents, testimonies and writings of prominent historians.

The majority of historians believe that Jasenovac was a concentration camp for Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists, and was open between 1941 and 1945.

According to research by the Jasenovac Memorial Site, 83,145 people – 47,627 Serbs, 16,173 Roma, 13,116 Jews and the others anti-fascists – have been identified on a name-by-name basis as having died at the concentration camp during the war, a figure which is not yet final.

Jurcevic told BIRN that Wednesday’s event was “a small attempt to tackle all the manipulations regarding the Jasenovac camp”.

“People who are researchers of Jasenovac will speak here… The goal of the roundtable is to publicly, as much as is possible, present the facts on the issue in order to demythologise and depoliticise this topic,” he said.

Jurcevic claimed that the number of people who died at Jasenovac has been exaggerated for political purposes and “isn’t supported by scientific facts”.

The Jasenovac Memorial Site however compiles its list of victims from at least two verified independent sources, such as documents and relatives of those who died.

Vukic said meanwhile that he will speak about an international delegation – made up of representatives of other Nazi-aligned states as well as the Holy See – which visited the camp in February 1942 and, he claimed, described conditions at the camp in a way that “opposes the claims promoted by the official historiography”.

“They actually confirm what former President [Stjepan] Mesic said in a video published the other day. He actually didn’t say anything wrong or bad,” Vukic added.

Two videos of Mesic, both recorded in 1992, in which he questioned the death toll at Jasenovac and whether it was actually a concetration camp, were made public on Monday by far-right news site Maxportal and local TV show Bujica.

Mesic said on Tuesday however that he had made “unsubstantiated allegations” in the videos and explained that he had changed his views since the footage was filmed 25 years ago.

“In the circumstances of the political environment [in 1992] in which I actively participated… and under the influence of inaccurate information that I received, there was this reckless statement,” admitted Mesic, who was Croatia’s president between 2000 and 2010.

“If I offended someone with my reckless statement, I hereby apologise,” he added.

NOTE: This article was amended on January 27, 2016 to clarify that the Threefold Jasenovac NGO has documents which it says prove its claims.

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