Monday, July 5, 2010

July 4

Today we traveled by train to Zagreb, Croatia.

The politics of this region are very complicated. The decades, indeed the past century, of turmoil occurred in some measure because of changing political control over the region – the Ottoman Empire, the Austrians, the Hungarians, the Communists. Each time governments change, there is always the likelihood of economic, political, and social upheaval, and that’s certainly the situation here.

During World War II, the Ustase in Croatia, in alliance with the Nazis and fascists, was involved in extermination of the region’s Jews, Serbs, and Roma. The legacy of the brutality created some enduring problems over land, power, and retribution, a situation that played itself out, in part, with terrible conflict between Serbs and Croats again in the 1990s.

The Jasenovec concentration camp, a multi-facility site a few hours outside of Zagreb, was used during World War II as both a transit location for prisoners en route to Auschwitz and as an extermination site.

Throughout the war, Fascist Croatia participated with the Nazis in perpetrating genocide against Serbs, Jews and Roma (gypsies). Above is the entrance into Jasenovac death camp number 3, with the sign presenting it as a “Labor Service of the Ustasha Defense – Concentration Camp No. III.” The coat of arms above is inscribed: “Everything For the Fuhrer, Ustasha Defense.”

On the site is a memorial to the thousands and thousands of victims.

As we travel ed to Zagreb en route to Sarajevo, it’s hard to reconcile the horrors that have happened in this part of Europe with the scenery outside the train windows: fields of grain, bright sunshine reflecting off the farmhouses, and a sense of timeless tranquility. But we know that even today, the legacy of these conflicts, both the Holocaust and the 1990s war, endure.

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