- The Holocaust in Croatia by Ivo Goldstein, Slavko Goldstein
The Holocaust in Croatia is a more appropriate title for the English-language edition of Ivo and Slavko Goldstein’s volume, which first appeared in 2001 in Serbo-Croatian as Holokaust u Zagrebu. A National Jewish Book Award finalist, the book goes far beyond the destruction of the Jewish community in Croatia’s capital. Slavko Goldstein (who described his wartime experiences in 1941: The Year that Keeps Returning) and his son Ivo begin with an overview of Jewish life in Yugoslavia prior to the Ustasha seizure of power and the birth of the Nazi-backed Independent State [End Page 482] of Croatia in 1941. Rather than portraying the Jewish community of Yugoslavia as monolithic, the authors uncover the plurality of Jewish individual and collective identities in Austria-Hungary and the interwar Yugoslav Kingdom. Although many Jews clung to their religious identities or started to sympathize with the Zionist cause, the authors explore the paths by which others began assimilating into the numerous national groupings that became more open to them at the end of the nineteenth century. Some, such as the politician Josip Frank, converted to Catholicism and adopted a Croat nationalism that was radically Serbophobic. Sephardic Jewish leaders in formerly Ottoman lands encouraged Jews from eastern Yugoslavia to align their identities with the interwar state and the Serb Karadđordđević dynasty. Such diversity ensured that antisemitism in Yugoslavia often lacked consistency. Thus some Serbs praised Sephardic Jews for their supposed loyalty, while declaring Ashkenazi Jews from western parts of Yugoslavia “foreign.” The belief that Ashkenazi Jews were somehow colluding with the erstwhile German and Hungarian “oppressors” animated the antisemitism of some Croat nationalists; yet, the contempt of Croat nationalists for Belgrade and the Serbs made integrated Jews, especially those who had fought against Serbia during World War I, potential allies.
The fact that both Croat separatists and pro-Serb Yugoslav nationalists accepted “loyal” Jews suggests that the tensions between Serbs and Croats might have rendered Yugoslavia a less antisemitic place than some mono-national states where nationalists defined themselves primarily against a Jewish “Other.” The Goldsteins show too that the Serbo-Croat conflict occasionally created friction within the Jewish community. Thus Croat-oriented Lavoslav Ebenspanger accused Bernhard Gruner and Gavro Schwarz, two leaders in Zagreb’s Jewish Religious Community, of complicity in Belgrade’s suppression of Croat rights. Even though the volume indicates that antisemitism was not at first central to Serb and Croat national beliefs, the authors show that Serb and Croat leaders began to display intolerance towards Jews as the former attempted to cultivate better relations with Nazi Germany in the late 1930s.
The ensuing spike in anti-Jewish agitation does not distract the Goldsteins from the contradictions inherent in Croat and Ustasha antisemitism in their treatment of it in the book’s later sections. The authors’ lucid analysis of memoirs, laws, speeches, treatises, songs, and a wide range of other sources shows how antisemitism neatly complemented some of the Ustasha’s racist-exclusivist beliefs. Yet, the authors also bring attention to the fact that many nationalists of Jewish origin enthusiastically supported the Ustasha and that several leading Ustashas had familial connections to Jews. The fact that Ustasha leaders once defined themselves as the ideological scions of Josip Frank, who had converted to Catholicism at age 24, shows how uneasily some Ustasha ideals jibed with the rigid race laws imitated from Germany. This unease, however, did not prevent people who referred to themselves as “Frankists” from murdering some of Frank’s actual family. Geza Frank, who returned to Zagreb from the [End Page 483] relative safety of the Italian Occupation Zone because he believed that both his pedigree and the fact that Poglavnik (Führer) Ante Pavelić had once clerked in his legal practice would shelter him, provides a striking example.
Observing that “general trends” cannot convey the actual Holocaust in Croatia, the Goldsteins present hundreds of Jewish experiences under the Ustasha. Showing...