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Without permission, for fair use only: 

They Shared Our Fate


by Mr. Joseph Lapid,
a columnist and editorial writer for "Ma'ariv" a leading Hebrew daily.

Published in: The Jerusalem Post, February 4, 1994. 


In his article "Astonishing Argument" (The Jerusalem Post, January 23), Prof. Igor Primorac accuses me of taking remorselessly pro-Serbian stand in the present Yugoslav conflict. He states my position as follows: we Jews have a clear and irrevocable historical obligation to the Serbs, to support them and give them all the sympathy we can - "no matter what they might do".

As Jews, we do indeed have a historical obligation to the Serbs, though we may not support everything they do. In fact, we may not support many things they do, but will feel obliged to stand by them. just as many diaspora Jews who disagree with Israeli policies....

It is true, as Primorac states, that there were Serbs who collaborated with the Nazis in World War II, just as there were Croatian and Bosnians who fought bravely against Hitler. But Primorac also knows that the Serbs are one of the very few philosemitic people in Europe; that a great majority of them tried to help "their" Jews during the Nazi occupation and that hundreds of thousands of Serbs were slaughtered, together with 30,000 Jews, by Croatian Ustashi.

He also knows that Bosnian Moslems enlisted, voluntarily, in the infamous Hanjar SS division, whose flag was personally consecrated by the Mufti of Jerusalem. In fact, they guarded the trains which transported their Jewish neighbours from Sarajevo to Auschwitz.

Does this justify the wholesale slaughter of the grandchildren of those who might have perpetrated such gruesome acts? asks Primorac. Of course it doesn't. Nothing justifies the slaughter of innocent civilians. But as Primorac well knows, the present Croat leadership deliberately cultivates the spirit of the Nazi head of the independent Croat state, Ante Pavelic.

The state symbols of present day Croatia are identical to the emblems of Nazi Croatia, as is its currency, the kuna. Memorials to partisans who fought the Nazis are being razed, streets honoring martyrs of the Nazi era are being renamed after people like Mile Budak, Minister of Religion and Education in the Ustashi government, who introduced racial laws in Nazi Croatia.

And then there is, of course, the vituperative attack against the Jews in The Wasteland of History, a book written by Croatian president Franjo Tudjman and published in Zagreb in 1989. Most foreigners can read only the expurgated English export version of the book, But Prof. Primorac and I read the Serbo-Croat original, didn't we? and wasn't it President Tudjman who openly said, in an election address: "I'm happy that my wife is neither gypsy nor Jewish"? So it isn't only the shadows of the past.

As for Alija Izetbegovic, current president of the Bosnian Republic, his The Islamic Declaration - a program for the islamization of the Moslem peoples is a tract of which Khomeini could have been proud. He distinguishes between good Jews and bad Jews, the latter being the Zionists, against whom every devout Moslem should fight to his last breath. His present "moderation" may bring him sympathies in the West, but can hardly mislead those who recognize a Moslem fundamentalist when they read one.

Apart from humanitarian considerations, why should any Israeli in his right mind support his cause? One should also state, if only in parenthesis, that while Serbs have obviously committed many atrocities in Bosnia, Croats and Moslems have also had their share in the slaughter.

The Yugoslav tragedy in the ironic outcome of Germany's first postwar diplomatic venture into the Balkans. In the late 1980s, Yugoslavia was on its way to becoming a confederation, with its central authority weakened but viable. It was then that the Germans, with a little help from Austria, decided to support the full independence of the two federal republics which were closest to them historically, culturally, religiously and economically: Croatia and Slovenia.

The Germans pulled along other Western nations, without whose support neither the Croats nor the Slovenes would have dared to sever their ties with Yugoslavia entirely. Suddenly, the balance between the Serbs and the smaller nations of old Yugoslavia was askew.

The Bosnians and Macedonians felt threatened by an overwhelming Serb majority within the remnants of Yugoslavia. Bosnia was never independent and has never had the attributes of a separate national entity. It was forced into independence by German interventionism, Austrian opportunism, Croatian nationalism and the fear of Serbian dominance.

The Bosnians didn't anticipate the violent reaction of the Serbs. They should have known better; they should have taken into account the collective memory of horrors the Serbs suffered at the hands of Croats and Moslems in Nazi times.

We Jews identify with people who shared our fate. We understand them when they say "never again," and act accordingly. We appreciate their motivations and identify with their fears, without condoning their misdeeds. 


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