Israeli center calls on Croatia to cut pensions to former Nazi-allied servicemen

Simon Wiesenthal Center Director, Efraim Zuroff (Reuters/Ints Kalnins)
Israeli chief of the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Center has called on the Croatian government to stop paying pensions to former soldiers who served in the country’s Nazi-allied armed forces.

Paying pensions to members of the Ustaša armed forces is a "horrific insult to the victims, their families and all Croatians with a sense of morality and integrity," said the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, Efraim Zuroff, in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, as quoted by AFP on Tuesday.

"In view of the horrendous war crimes committed in the so-called Independent State of Croatia (NDH)... such a policy is inherently mistaken," he said.

The Ustaša was an ultranationalist and fascist movement active between 1929 and 1945. After Ustaša came to power in part of Axis-occupied Yugoslavia , the NHD army and the Ustaše militia cooperated with Nazi Germany in the Holocaust, supporting the genocide of Serbs, Jews, Romani people, and anti-fascist Croatians.

According to historians, by the end of the war Ustaše had exterminated 30,000 Jews, about 29,000 Gypsies, and up to 750,000 Serbs in NDH concentration camps in Europe.

Croatia is paying pensions to about 10,000 such collaborators, costing the government around 50 million euros ($56 million) yearly, according to AFP estimates.

In 1993 Croatia amended a law on pensions to provide them to former members of the Ustaše army. Under the amendment, they would also receive double for each year spent in the armed forces or in detention after the war.

Zuroff urged the Croatian PM to "take the appropriate measures to change this policy as quickly as possible and spare Croatia the shame of rewarding those who were among the worst and most cruel perpetrators of WWII crimes."

It’s not the first time the Simon Wiesenthal Center, named after the Holocaust survivor and world-famous Nazi hunter, has criticized the Croatian government on their stance towards its Ustaša members.

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In 2012 Zuroff slammed memorial masses conducted in Zagreb and Split on December 28 to mark the 51st anniversary of the death of Ante Pavelić, the head of NDH state which existed from 1941 to 1945.

He called the service “unthinkable” and questioned: “How does such an event to honor the memory of one of the biggest mass murderers of World War II pass with nary a word of protest or condemnation?”

He also criticized the EU governments for failing to deal with the revival of fascist ideology.

“The sad truth is that in this respect, the European Union has failed miserably in dealing with the resurgence of neo-fascism and the promotion of Holocaust distortion in its post-Communist members. Once admitted to the EU (and NATO), countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary and Romania have begun to take active steps to rewrite their World War II histories, minimizing or attempting to hide the highly-significant role played by their nationals in Holocaust crimes, with barely a word of protest or condemnation from Brussels,” he wrote in a Jerusalem Post article.