Israel's Ambassador to Croatia Zina Kalay Kleitman on Wednesday, on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, presented four Croatians with Righteous Among the Nations medals on behalf of the Yad Vashem memorial centre in Jerusalem.
The medals were awarded to the descendants of Amalia, Emerich and Blazenka Glojnaric as well as Juraj Pavlek for saving the life of a 13-year-old Jewish boy in World War II.
The Glojnaric family and Juraj Pavlek hid and saved Paul Schreiner, whose family owned a brickworks in a northern Croatian town Bedekovcina during WWII. The boy lost 20 members of his family during the war. Because they had hidden him, Emerich Glojnaric, who at the time was a reputable member of the Croatian Peasants' Party (HSS) and a friend of Paul's father, was killed by the Ustasha authorities along with his sister Blazenka. After that, their mother Amalija took refuge in Zagreb and Juraj Pavlek took over caring for the boy.
Israel announced the posthumous awards in May and Ambassador Kleitman officially presented the medals to their descendants in the Dverce Palace in Zagreb in the presence of representatives of the Jewish community, Parliament Speaker Zeljko Reiner, Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic, Education Minister Predrag Sustar, Zagreb University Chancellor Damir Boras and Oscar winning director Branko Lustig.
This is an important day for us and me personally, for Yad Vashem and Israel, Ambassador Kleitman said presenting the awards. Despite the risk to their own lives, the ambassador underscored, those people showed unbelievable humanity and helped that Jewish boy and we say that whoever saves one life, saves the entire world.
This is the second time since coming to Croatia that I have presented this award on behalf of Yad Vashem and I can say that humanity is still alive, Ambassador Kleitman said, expressing hope that one will never again witness such tragic events like the Holocaust.
Parliament Speaker Reiner said that this "is a moment that at the same time fills us with sadness and joy," because it shows that what happened in the past is still occurring in some parts of the world, but we also have the awareness that people, even "surrounded by evil, have the strength to help others," and these people have "carved themselves in the hearts of the Jewish people and all of mankind."
"Recalling the horrors of the Holocaust is terrible. We saw what also happened in our Homeland War, however, there are people who helped their neighbours regardless of their religion or nation," Reiner said and underscored that it was important to know that "sooner or later, good always wins."
"It is important to recognise people who in the darkness represented light and they are the Righteous Among the nations," he said.
Receiving the award, Albert Glojnaric said that he was proud of the family he belonged to and that he hoped that this will be a signpost for younger generations. Drazen Pavlek thanked Schreiner for publishing his book, "Saved from Zagreb" and also Yad Vashem.
Paul Schreiner came to Zagreb to attend the official ceremony and in an emotional statement briefly said that he was glad he was able to experience this. "I was able to, because I am alive because the Glojnarices and Jurek saved me," he said.
There are 113 Croatians on the list of the Righteous Among the Nations in Yad Vashem.
Established in 1953, Yad Vashem is located on the western slope of Mount Herzl on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem in memory of the Holocaust. People recognised by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations are honoured in a section of Yad Vashem known as the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.
Film director and Oscar award winner Banko Lustig is amongst those listed amongst the righteous Croatians recognised in Yad Vashem. Lustig won an Oscar in 1993 for "Schindler's List".