The canonization of Croatian Catholic Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac would be itself a crime, says Israeli Holocaust expert, Professor Gideon Greif.

According to him, the people who intend to canonize Stepinac are “criminals who are mocking the victims of Jasenovac” – a camp where, according to the survivors, torture was even more horrible than in Auschwitz.

Jasenovac was a death camp for Serbs, Jews, and Roma, ran by the Ustasha regime of the Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia (NDH) during the Second World War in the Balkans.

Greif, the chief historian of the Israel Institute for Education, Documentation and Research of the Holocaust Shem Olam, told the Belgrade daily Vecernje Novosti in an interview that he and Rabbi Avraham Krieger, who heads the institute, came to Belgrade to express their opposition to Croatian attempts to revise history.

“When it comes to Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, I will tell you briefly: his canonization is a crime in itself, and people who intend to canonize him are criminals mocking the victims. Anyone who has supported a criminal regime like the Ustasha one does not deserve any reward,” said Greif.

He noted that it was devastating that many of his colleagues, historians, do not know anything about Jasenovac.

“They do not even know in which state it was in, let alone locating it. And the history of those killed in Jasenovac is not only a history of death, but a history of atrocities, of evil, sadism, inhumanity. In the concentration camps led by the Croats, death had the highest value,” the daily quoted Greif as saying.

He added that Jasenovac and other camps in its “system” were different from other Nazi camps because, according to the testimonies of the survivors, torture there was much more monstrous than in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. It is also different because it was established and operated without the involvement of German soldiers.

“It was hell on earth. That is why in Jasenovac, the Croatian hands are completely covered in blood,” Greif said.

The professor has been studying Jasenovac for the last two years, and has announced the publication of his book, “Jasenovac – the Auschwitz of the Balkans.” He observed that Jasenovac was unique in having death camps for children.

“The Germans had camps for women, men or mixed, where children were with the adults, but the Croats went a step further and even had children’s camps. Horror,” said Greif, adding that “the terrible and indisputable truth” is that even German officers visiting Jasenovac and other camps in Croatia were stunned by the brutality of they saw.

The professor then recalled that on July 10, 1941, the German military attache in Zagreb, Edmond von Horstenau, wrote to Heinrich Himmler that the German troops were “silent witnesses to the brutality of the Ustasha over the Serbs, Jews and Roma.”

The professor said that because of all the horrors he learned about the victims of Jasenovac over the past two years, he decided to devote some of his work to their lives, pointing out that he was certain that “their killers the Croats and their friends” will not succeed in “erasing the traces of the crime, rewriting history, and twisting the facts.”

Vecernje Novosti also published an article on Wednesday stating that the documents that hide the true truth about the role of Alojzije Stepinac are locked in the Zagreb Catholic Archdiocese, and inaccessible.

All compromising documents have been taken out of the Croatian State Security’s dossier on Stepinac and ended up locked away, instead of in the Croatian State Archives, the daily said.

This “triage” of documents was done by top Croatian Catholic officials, “while some documents were taken out by Croatia’s first president, Franjo Tudjman.”

The documents remain unavailable to researchers and historians, including the members of a mixed commission made up of representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) and the Catholic Church in Croatia, who have been in dialogue for a year hoping to clarify the role of Stepinac during the Second World War.

The SPC is opposed to the canonization of Stepinac, which is why Pope Francis last year suspended the proceedings.

B92