ZAGREB — Two months after the decision of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church and two weeks after the first celebration of the feast of the Holy Children of the New Martyrs of Jastrebarsko and Sisak, on July 13, the bishops of Zagreb led by Josip Bozanić are denying that there had been concentration camps for children in Jastrebarsko and Sisak in the Second World War, instead claiming that it had been a “shelter”, where they had allegedly received medical treatment and were given help to survive the events of the war.

It is a widely known historical fact that the very top of the Catholic Church had collaborated with the Nazi authorities in the so-called Independent State of Croatia during the Second World War, where, according to multiple sources, more than 700,000 Serbs had been killed. Croatia often disputes the number of victims, and the Catholic Church increasingly often takes on the role of apologist for the Nazi regime during the Second World War.

In an extremely thorough open letter published on the website of the Zagreb Archdiocese, addressed to the Serbian Patriarch Porfirije, the Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church is being accused of having accepted, with this decision and celebration, the rhetoric and Communist propaganda, as they say, which is, according to them, full of falsehoods and manipulations which allegedly seeks to blame the innocent for the “alleged torture and murder of children, who were saved from death and survived the difficult wartime conditions by the thousand, precisely with the love and care of Croatian Catholics”.

Namely, at their May session, the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church declared the martyrs of Jastrebarsko and Sisak to be saints, while the holy martyrs of Zvornik-Tuzla also found their place on the calendar, to be celebrated on May 26, as well as the holy martyrs of Bačka, who are to be commemorated on January 10.

The decision of the Synod was made per the request of the Bishop Gerasim of Gornji Karlovac, who served a liturgy on July 13 in the Cathedral of the Holy Father Nikolaj Mirlikijski in Karlovac, where the Feast of the Holy Children of the New Martyrs of Jastrebarsko and Sisak was celebrated in prayer for the first time this year.

Following the principle of certain Croatian historians and writers, who claimed that Jasenovac, which, by the way, was the only concentration camp in the world to have a children’s camp in its system, where Serbian, Jewish and Roma children were killed, was not a concentration camp, but a resort, the Zagreb Archdiocese in their open letter which was published today described the Jastrebarsko camp as a “shelter”, where nuns allegedly rendered medical treatment to the children.

The Zagreb Archdiocese claims that the decision of the Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church is, according to them, “based in erroneous facts”, and that such a decision, they said, “may seriously damage the mutual understanding and the common service of the truth between the Zagreb Ecclesiastical Province and the leadership of the Serbian Orthodox Church”.

“We deeply mourn the children who passed, and the pain grows stronger when their deaths are being exploited in the basest of ways,” said the open letter of the Zagreb Archdiocese.

They believe that, in the matter of the insufficiently clarified topics from the past of the relations between Croatians and Serbs, Catholics and Orthodox Christians, “any attempt to take over and propagate the falsehoods promoted during communism, as well as their adaptation to certain current ideological and political aims which are in opposition of the Gospel of Christ and expansion of the heavenly kingdom must be rejected”.

If, according to the Zagreb Archdiocese’s letter, the complex issues of the care for children in the “shelters in Jastrebarsko and Sisak are approached uncritically, without being based in historical facts and the truth, that is an indirect insult to the dignity of the victims, above all, but also those who are being humiliated for doing good deeds — which is completely absurd”.

The Zagreb Archdiocese believes that this act of defamation, according to them, is distancing Catholics from Orthodox Christians.

In the interpretation of the Request to Canonize the Martyrs of Jastrebarsko and Sisak, the Archdiocese took issue with the claim of the Bishop Gerasim of Gornji Karlovac, who wrote that the Eparchy of Gornji Karlovac has been working on gathering data for some time, and the fact that he made, according to them, a claim with the conclusion that “innocent children were put through horrific and unprecedented torture in the Jastrebarski [sic] camp, which had been established during the Second World War”.

They also took issue with the fact that Bishop Gerasim wrote that “the camp was under the management of the nuns from the congregation of St. Vincent de Paul, and thus the direct responsibility for the deaths of the children (clearly qualified as killing) was attributed to the nuns as well”.

They also said that Bishop Gerasim’s used the phrase “attached testimonies and historical facts” in his request, with the claim that those testimonies, in their interpretation, “have nearly no value” from the standpoint of credibility, and what is being referred to as “historical facts” are actually “in profound opposition thereof”, as they said.

The Archdiocese also complained that Bishop Gerasim’s request mentioned archived documents and numerous scientific studies conducted by renowned historians, which, as they said, “allegedly corroborate the claim that those children had died ‘only because they belonged to the Orthodox faith’”, while they say that it was not disclosed which which documents and scientific papers or historians the claim was referencing.

The Zagreb Archdiocese also believes that “the nuns (in the Jastrebarsko camp) were being slanderously portrayed as callous and selfish”.

They especially took issue with the fact that Bishop Gerasim’s request referenced Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac in several instances, with, they said, “prejudiced descriptions and negative connotations in his interpretation, as though he had personally participated in some of the evil acts that were allegedly committed in those shelters”.

By the way, Jastrebarsko is recorded in history as a concentration camp for children established by the Ustasha regime in the Independent State of Croatia in July 1942. The Jastrebarsko camp had been one of several concentration camps for children in the Independent State of Croatia. in addition to this concentration camp for children, there had been other children’s camps in Sisak and Loborgrad. The camp was established on July 12, 1942 per the decision of the leader of the Independent State of Croatia, Ante Pavelić. According to the data of the National Commission for Determining the Crimes of the Occupiers and Their Helpers in the People’s Republic of Croatia, 3,336 children had been held in the camp, mostly hailing from the regions of Kozara and Kordun. According to the same source, at least 449 children had died at the camp by the end of October 1942. According to the data of the historian Dragoje Lukić, 768 children had died at the camp, reported Tanjug.