By Dr. Veljko DjurićMišina, the Director of the Museum of Genocide Victims
Every year, as soon as we approach 10 April in Zagreb and Belgrade, a series of television shows, newspaper and internet articles and interviews appear all over the place. Their subject is the Independent State of Croatia and, of course, Jasenovac and the number of victims.
The nature of my role as the Director of the Museum of Genocide Victims entails that I am kept abreast with what is said in the media. This year, my attention was caught by the interview of Prof. Dr. Ivo Goldstein, which was published on the internet portal of SlobodnaEvropa Radio.
Shortly after this interview, the Novosti Weekly published an interview with Ivo Pejaković, Director of the Jasenovac Public Institution, under the auspices of the Serbian National Council and Prof. Dr. MiloradPupovac. This institution shares a common interest with the Museum of Genocide Victims -Jasenovac.
As I did in the case of Prof. Dr. Ivo Goldstein’s interview, I will give my remarks on Mr. Ivo Pejaković and his interview, albeit with a much shorter text.
Interviewer: Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović said that it would be good to establish an international commission to determine the Truth about Jasenovac. How do you comment on this proposal?
Mr. Pejaković:I only heard about this initiative through media, so I have no other information about it. It's not quite clear to me what this commission will investigate, who will be its members and which methodology they will use. A number of books, documents, scientific articles and survivors’ testimonies have already been published on the subject of the Jasenovacprison camp. The starting point when talking about the camp is to define the crimes. By this, I mean that the Jasenovac camp was the place where the Holocaust was committed against the Jews, genocide against Serbs and Roma, and crimes against humanity against Croats, Bosniaks, Slovenians and members of other ethnic communities who did not agree with the policies of the Ustashi regime. If that proposed commission wereto reconsider or doubt these facts, I do not think it would be possible to find relevant scientistswithin the international community who would be willing to participate in the work of such a commission. The number of victims has always been the subject of disagreement when it comes to Jasenovac. IHRA (International Alliance for Holocaust Remembrance) knows about this issue, which theyduly mentioned in the reports from their last session, but they have yet to offer a model to find a solution.
Dr. VeljkoDjurićMišina’s Remarks:I agree with Director Pejaković in the assertion that there have been numerous papers, anthologies, documents and testimonies published on the subject of Jasenovac.
Also, I agree that a great crime was committed in the Jasenovac camp.
I concur that there are various claims about the number of victims.
However, I do not agree with the assertion that it would be difficult to find a group of relevant researchers to investigate this crime. The proposal for scientific and expert debates was almost unanimously rejected by the Zagreb historians. Furthermore, almost nobody mentioned that the methodology and topics of discussion should be determined before the potential participants in the research. The rare exception is, although not from Croatia, Dr. AleksandarKorb, who supported the proposal in his interview for Večernji List Zagreb entitled A German historian and one of the leading experts in the history of ISC.
Interviewer: How is the number of victims of the Jasenovac camp determined and how are you commenting on the claims that there are thousands of people on the list of victims who do not belong there?
Mr. Pejaković: The question concerning the number of victims in Jasenovac was asked as far back as during the Second World War. After the War, there were different estimates, demographic calculations as well as investigations on this subject. The Jasenovac Memorial Area Public Institution has opted to make a list of victims using their names and surnames. The basis of this research was the victims list compiled by the Federal Statistical Office of Yugoslavia in 1964. A little more than 59.000 victims were recorded on that list. In 2005, the Memorial Area initiated a project calledThe Poisonous List of Victims of the Jasenovac Concentration Camp. Through a thorough work in the archives, the access to the published material on this topic as well as through discussions with the families of the victims, the list is being constantly updated. Currently, there are more than 83.000 names in the database. The highest number is Serbs with 47.000, followed by Roma (16.000), Jews (13.000), Croats (4.000), Bosniacs (1000), and a smaller number of other ethnicities. We always emphasize that this is the current number and not the final or total number of victims.
The second goal of this project is to try and collect the names and surnames of the victims, their photographs and biographical data in one place. By doing this, they will stop being but the numbers and statistics. We are aware that our list may have some errors. They are the result of the fact that sometimes there are contradictory information about the place and the circumstances the victims died in. But the work on the victims list is transparent, the list is available on the Internet and we are open to working with all institutions and individuals who can help us to correct any mistakes there may be. I would also like to point out that often the discussion about the number of victims is limited to that related to the victims of the Jasenovac camp. It is important to note that this was not the only camp where mass detention of detainees took place. Numerous massacres took place in towns and villages across the Independent State of Croatia. I think that this whole debate on the number of victims should include the total number of victims in the territory of the ISC, but for some reason, it is always limited to Jasenovac as the symbol of suffering in the Second World War.
Dr. Veljko Djurić Mišina’s Remarks: Mr. Pejaković has shown an exemplary amount of professionalism with this answer. I have no objections to anything he has said. I would merely add that the number of victims is a bit higher on the list we have at our disposal at the Museum of Genocide Victims Belgrade.
The assertion that the IHRA (International Alliance for Holocaust Remembrance) has yet to find a suitable model to determine the number of victims is mostly correct. However, I believe that an international group of experts could come up with an appropriate methodology to resolve this issue, especially if they would consult and cooperate with related institutions across the world, which have relevant experience in this field. It would take years to get the job done, but we would finally have the correct and final numbers. Just as the Jews do!