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The Holocaust in Yugoslavia


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Letter from Adolf Renert to the National Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Croatia

Renert, Adolf letter 1943
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade

The rescue of about 3,000 Jews from the camp on the island of Rab was a substantial logistical undertaking: over several weeks, partisan vessels shipped Jewish civilians from the island to the north Dalmatian coast, sometimes under German air bombardment; from the coast, thousands of people continued walking to the liberated partisan territory in Lika and Kordun.1 Jewish families were accommodated at local peasants' homes, and many joined the partisan struggle or took up jobs in the nascent communist administration. Unlike in some areas of the Soviet Union—where despite rhetorical commitment to Jewish equality on the part of the communist leadership, individual Jews and entire families were sometimes at risk of discrimination, plunder, and even murder by some communist partisans—antisemitism was a marginal phenomenon among Yugoslav partisans and the general population.2 Yugoslav partisans perceived Yugoslav Jews to be Yugoslavs at risk, and despite occasional social tensions that sometimes slipped into antisemitism, Jews were accepted as equals, and there was no question that they needed to be protected from the Germans.

In the fall of 1943, as the Germans occupied the areas the Italian army had deserted in the northern Adriatic (including Rab, where they captured several hundred Jews who had not left the island with the partisans, and shipped them to be murdered in Auschwitz), the partisans came under increasing pressure to defend the areas they had taken control of from the Independent State of Croatia. In this situation, a large civilian population became a burden, and the partisan leadership was exploring a possibility of evacuating the Jewish non-combatant population to another liberated area, in what today is eastern Croatia. The journey was to be perilous, but civilians were perceived to be at risk. (It is worth noting that not only Jews were to be evacuated; all civilians were considered for this scenario.)

Ultimately, the plan was abandoned, as it proved too risky, and the partisans defended the civilians in the very place where the Germans attacked them. The overwhelming majority of the Rab Jews survived the war. At the time, however, it was not clear what would happen and how it would play out. In early November, a group of Jewish evacuees—mostly consisting of people who had not joined the partisan combat units or helped in other ways—addressed one of the leaders of the National Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation of Croatia (ZAVNOH). ZAVNOH was the highest communist organ in the area, the communist proto-government of a future federal Croatia within a federal socialist Yugoslavia. The Jewish evacuees appealed to ZAVNOH not to be evacuated under current conditions.

For an account of this operation, see Emil Kerenji, "'Your Salvation is the Struggle Against Fascism': Yugoslav Communists and the Rescue of Jews, 1941–1945," Contemporary European History 25:1 (February 2016): 57-74.

For experiences of Jews in Soviet partisan units, see Yitzhak Arad, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union (Lincoln and Jerusalem: University of Nebraska Press and Yad Vashem, 2009).

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Otočac, November 8, 1943 

To the Regional ZAVNOH
To the attention of Dr. Jambrišak

Otočac

 

We, the undersigned representatives of Jewish evacuees of group VIII (working group), are addressing ZAVNOH as well as You, comrade doctor, with a plea to help us this time as well.

We would like to present our situation very briefly. There were 102 of us in total; in the meantime some of the people left, some have stayed here, so now there are around 90 persons total. Thirty-eight of those are men, the rest are women and children. Of those males, we have 10 children under the age of 10, 12 elderly men who are actually sick, so 16 men remain. The situation with women is similar. Of the 52 females, there are 7 girls and 15 elderly women and the sick.

As is well known, we spent almost a year in the camp, where, for the majority of us in this group who were not in very good financial standing, living conditions were very difficult, since the diet was very weak, and better food could be procured only with a lot of money. Even those of us who are healthy and able bodied are thus, unfortunately, quite weak, so we are not up to strenuous efforts.

Our bodily condition is mostly determined by our spiritual depression. We have been persecuted and assailed for two and a half years, and each one of us hid and escaped as best as he could. Our best people have been murdered and taken to German and ustaša camps. There is not a single one amongst us who is not mourning at least two of his loved ones, and there are many of us whose entire families have disappeared. We escaped and tried to save ourselves as best as we could. Many of us went to the forest, while others, like a drowning man clinging to a straw, fled for their lives to another zone. Not thinking or reflecting much, saving our bare lives, obsessed with just one thought, to survive through the end, to survive through our victory—we repeat, ours, since we have been convinced that the victory of Yugoslavia, Russia, and the Allies is our victory, that in that moment we will again be human, again be equal.

Since we have had the opportunity to get to know how considerate and understanding You are when it comes to us, we dare to appeal again to Your humanity, and so we beg You: do not send us [across] the cold and the snow[,] we have nowhere to go, do not make us take long, uncertain, and difficult journeys, we [will not be able to make] it, we are ashamed when we see how our comrades are fighting, but we dare tell it to You, because we know we will be met with understanding.

We beg you, save our children, the sick, and the old, this is our testament, we feel obliged to bring them to our homes alive.

We beg you and we appeal to You, allow us to spend the winter here, give us back the feeling that we are humans, we will be grateful until the end of our lives, and will strive, with the meager means at our disposal, to show our gratitude immediately, give us work, we will do whatever, wholeheartedly and happily, and we will be proud that we too, even a little bit, could contribute to the building of our homeland.

Death to Fascism—Freedom to the People! [the communist greeting]

In the name of the VIII group

Group leader Deputy

Adolf Renert [illegible]

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade
RG Number 49.007M
Date Created
November 8, 1943
Author / Creator
Renert, Adolf
Language(s)
Bosnian
Croatian
Serbian
Location
Otočac, Croatia
Otočac, Independent State of Croatia (historical)
Otočac, Yugoslavia (historical)
Document Type Letter
How to Cite Museum Materials