Bosnian Jewish leaders express ‘deep hurt and disbelief’ at fascist commemoration in Sarajevo

The head of the Bosnian Jewish Community, Jakob Finci, and the head of the Jewish Community of Sarajevo, Boris Kozemjakin, expressed their deep hurt and disbelief following an announcement by the Bosnian Catholic Church that a mass will be held in memory of facists killed at Bleiburg in 1945.

“The Jews of our country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Jews of Sarajevo especially, as the descendants of the more than ten thousand Jews who were killed, of whom more than seven thousand were from Sarajevo, can not accept the fact that the city of Sarajevo, which we marked the liberation of a month ago celebrating it as the Day of Sarajevo, condemn the announced commemoration and Mass for the Ustasha (ideology) which was defeated long ago,” wrote the Jewish leaders in an open letter.

The Mass “commemorates the executioners of our mothers, fathers, grandfathers, compatriots and all other innocent people killed by the fascists of the NDH (Independent State of Croatia) para-state,” it said, naming fascist officials Maks Luburic and Jure Francetic among those who would be commemorated.

Finci and Kozemjakin emphasised that Sarajevo is “a multiconfessional and multinational city, a city of freedom where a lot of innocent blood was shed in the past in the fight against totalitarianism and repression, fascism in particular,” and as such does not deserve to be a place where “attempts to rewrite history and equate victims with executioners” are taking place.

They wrote that they are not trying to dispute the right of the Catholic Church to make decisions freely but also that they would be happier if it would not have decided to organise this Mass.Furthermore, the Jewish leaders expressed their “fierce protest” regarding the event, arguing that there is no way to justify it.

Part of those killed at Bleiburg were innocents, they wrote, expressing their respects for them.

“But their husbands, fathers and other members of their families, who have committed atrocities against innocent people in the infamous concentration camps and massacres throughout our country, don’t deserve their name mentioned in Sarajevo,” they wrote.

The two added that May 9, the Day of Victory against fascism, is being celebrated on Saturday and asked “would we not be hypocrites if we would commemorate fascism seven days later?”

“Let us decisively say NO,” they concluded.

A mass is held every year in Bleiburg, Austria to commemorate the killings of Croatian Nazi-allied troops and civilians by the Yugoslav Partisans during the Bleiburg repatriations at the end of World War II. Because of travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Austrian commemoration was cancelled. The organisers decided to hold commemorations in Sarajevo and Zagreb instead.

The event is deeply controversial because some participants display symbols of Croatia’s Nazi-allied Ustasa movement, which killed Jews, Roma, Serbs and others during WWII. The Honorary Bleiburg Platoon, a non-governmental association registered in Austria, is the main organiser of the commemoration, while the Bishops’ Conference is the co-organiser of the religious service in Sarajevo.

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