(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Hundreds of Croatians attended a memorial mass in Zagreb on Sunday for World War II-era dictator Ante Pavelić, local media reported.
Pavelić’s fascist regime was allied with Nazi Germany and was responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of Jews. Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs were also murdered under his rule.
Protesters yelling “Oppose the glorification of fascism” and other anti-fascist slogans pushed against police, who blocked them from entering the church. In a video of the confrontation, posted on You- Tube, several policemen stood in a tight knot around the door of the church in falling snow, while others kept the opposing sides apart, at one point detaining a man who attempted to breach the lines.
The founder of the extreme nationalist Ustaše movement, Pavelić advocated armed rebellion against the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and engaged in acts of terror in furtherance of this goal. After the Germans conquered Yugoslavia in 1941, he was installed as head of the new puppet state, described by Yad Vashem as a “fiercely cruel regime” in which “hundreds of thousands of Serbs and tens of thousands of Jews were murdered in death camps and in other awful ways, such as being thrown off cliffs or burned alive in their homes.”
Following the war, Pavelić made his way to Argentina, where he was wounded in an assassination attempt. He died in 1957.
In a 2012 speech before the Knesset, Croatian President Iso Josipović apologized for his nation’s role in the Holocaust and asked that survivors forgive Croatia.
“Some members of my nation worked to systematically destroy parts of humanity. We must look in our hearts, at the darkest stain in our history,” he said.
Thirty-three percent of Croatians harbor anti-Semitic views, according to a recent Anti-Defamation League global survey, with over half of the respondents in that country saying they believed that Jews were more loyal to Israel than to their countries of residence, that they hold too much power in business and that they speak too much about the Holocaust.
“It is hard to believe that in the center of the capital of a member of the European Union, very close to Zagreb’s Jewish community, hundreds of people gathered yesterday to commemorate the memory of one of Europe’s biggest mass murderers,” Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, said in a prepared statement.
“Such a ceremony is an insult to the memory of Pavelić’s hundreds of thousands of innocent victims,” Zuroff said. “It is also a badge of shame for the Catholic Church, which allowed such a ceremony to take place in the Basilica of the Heart of Christ – who, had he been alive during World War II, would have been targeted for annihilation as well.”