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(photo credit: Courtesy)
A US-based Jewish foundation held a Holocaust seminar for Croatian teachers, Thursday, to help them present the era effectively to their pupils. Stories of Anne Frank, Oscar Schindler and Croats who saved Jews during World War II were retold in the seminar, organized by the New York-based Jewish Foundation of the Righteous.
"We teach the history of the Holocaust, A to Z, in depth," said Stanlee Stahl, executive vice president of the foundation, which organized the three-day seminar. "Only with programs like this will the teachers learn how to be more effective."
It is the first time the foundation has organized its education seminar outside the United States because Croatia "was the first one to say: let's work together," Stahl said.
The initiative is another sign that Croatia has become ready to face its World War II past, when it was a Nazi puppet state that persecuted hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and anti-fascist Croats.
In the early 1990's, when Croatia was run by nationalist President Franjo Tudjman, authorities often tried to justify crimes committed by its pro-Nazis and school textbooks often omitted or distorted some wartime events.
The pro-Western governments that took power after Tudjman's death in 1999 have openly condemned Nazism and fascism. New textbooks were printed and teachers are encouraged to devote additional time to teaching about it, beyond mandatory lessons on the subject.
The issue, however, remains sensitive, and some Croats still play down the wartime crimes.
Helena Strugar, one of about 25 teachers at the seminar, acknowledged the treatment of the World War II in schools changed significantly since 2000.
Asked whether young Croats, who grew up in the 1990's, have a distorted view of the Croatian role in the war, Strugar, who teaches history in Zagreb, said they were a minority.
"But they also can be turned around," she said. "When we explain it to them, they understand."
AP contributed to this report.