The victims of the World War II Jasenovac concentration camp were commemorated on Friday, on the 71st anniversary of the breakout of 600 inmates of the Ustasha-run death camp, of whom 100 survived.
Participants in the official state commemoration, organised by the Jasenovac Memorial Centre and held under the auspices of the parliament, walked in a procession to the Jasenovac Memorial Museum, observed a minute of silence, laid wreaths and lit candles at the Stone Flower monument and listened to letters by camp inmates that were read out.
Wreaths were laid and candles lit by a parliamentary delegation led by Speaker Zeljko Reiner as well as a government delegation led by Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic's envoy Branko Lustig and delegations of the Croatian Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Matica Hrvatska cultural association, the Croatian Peasant Party, the City of Zagreb, representatives of ethnic minorities and others.
Unlike previous years, respecting wishes of the surviving inmates, state officials did not hold any speeches and instead a letter by the oldest camp survivor, Pava Molnar, was read out as were several letters by Jasenovac inmates from the book "Letters From the Camp" by Maja Kucan.
Prayers were said by an imam and by a Roman Catholic and a Serb Orthodox priest.
"Jasenovac. A symbol of evil. Evil that did not reign only here and only then. Evil that was born out of hate of the Other, of others, of those who think differently. Hate to which human beings are not immune even today. Why does this bitter, dark and tragic school has such poor students?," the 95-year-old Molnar wrote in the letter that was read out at the commemoration.
Recalling that the Ustasha regime killed people in Jasenovac "just because they were of a different religion and ethnicity", Molnar says that the first to be killed in the camp were Roma, followed by Jews and Serbs.
"It is hard to forget an Ustasha woman killing a young Jewish woman over an aspirin, Serb children being separated from their mothers, their cries resound even today. Those children died mostly of hunger and disease, some of them were only newborns," Molnar says in the letter.
Jasenovac is a place of great pain and sadness, a place of "remembrance and warning," but it must not be a place of hate. "We, the surviving inmates, reject evil, there is no hate in us," Molnar says, adding that they owe it to the Jasenovac victims and "to our grandchildren and those who come after them."
Speaking ahead of the official commemoration, Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic said that he did not feel any personal responsibility for the fact that this year three separate commemorations were being held at Jasenovac, and that he considered those who boycotted the official commemoration responsible for it.
Before visiting the Jasenovac Memorial Centre, Hasanbegovic attended a mass for the Jasenovac victims in a Serb Orthodox church in the village of Mlaka near Jasenovac.
Operating from August 1941 to 22 April 1945, Jasenovac was a death camp where men, women and children were killed because of their religion, ethnicity and ideology. The list of victims contains the names of 83,145 victims - 39,570 men, 23,474 women and 20,101 children under the age of 14.
Most of the victims were Serbs, Roma, Jews and Croats.
Of 1,073 inmates, which is how many were in the camp on 22 April 1945, 600 attempted a breakout and only about 100 survived. The other 473 inmates were killed and burned.
A week ago, the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Communities of Croatia held a commemoration for the Jasenovac victims. On Sunday, a commemoration will be organised by the Association of Anti-Fascist Fighters and Anti-Fascists of Croatia.
Today's official commemoration was therefore not attended by representatives of the Jewish community, the Serb National Council and anti-fascist associations, who believe that the Ustasha ideology is being restored.
Still, there were individuals from the Jewish Community of Zagreb at the commemoration. One of them, Vladimir Bogdanic, said that he was in Jasenovac today because his country was commemorating the victims.