25 Jul 16 balkaninsight.com
Nazi-Hunter Condemns Quashed Stepinac Conviction
Sven Milekic

A director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said the Croatian court judgment, quashing the conviction of Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac in 1946 for collaboration, was 'shameful and horrible'.

Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Israel and Eastern Europe office and its chief Nazi-hunter, condemned last Friday's ruling by the Zagreb County Court annulling the 1946 conviction of Croatian Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac for collaboration.

Zuroff told Bosnian Serb radio on Sunday he found the decision “absolutely shameful and horrible.

“It can’t undo the fact that, as such a person in such a position, he supported the genocidal regime established in Croatia [Nazi puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia," he said.

"This is absolutely a bad decision, which we hope will be changed by a higher court,” he added, possibly unaware that the Croatian state attorney's office will not file an appeal to the Supreme Court.

He maintained that the goal of the judgment was to “wash away” the wartime crimes of the Catholic clergy in Croatia and Stepinac's own support for the wartime Fascist regime.

Zuroff admitted that Stepinac did help some baptized Jews escape death, but only to a limited extent.

He complained of attempts throughout Eastern Europe to redraw the history of World War II and, along with that, downplay the “genocide committed against Serbs” in that period.

“This is very dangerous, such tendencies must be stopped and we are trying very hard to stop them,” Zuroff concluded.

However, the County Court ruled that Stepinac did not get a fair trial in 1946 under the Yugoslav Communist regime.

The Yugoslav Supreme Court sentenced Stepinac to 16 years in prison for collaborating with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as well as with the homegrown Independent State of Croatia, NDH.

He was also found guilty of forcing Serb Orthodox believers to be baptised as Catholics, helping the NDH regime and “spreading enemy propaganda”.

Controversy over Stepinac centres on the fact that he publicly hailed the establishment of the NDH in 1941, giving the regime legitimacy among Croatian Catholics.

Led by the Ustasa movement, the NDH, led by Ante Pavelic, immediately adopted racially discriminatory laws and carried out large-scale atrocities against Serbs, Jews and Roma, which have been characterized as genocide.

Many Croatian Catholics, however, remember him as as a pious and patriotic bishop who remained in his post after the Communist takeover in 1945 and who - they say - was then condemned in a show trial.

Moves have long been afoot to canonise Stepinac - who the Vatican made a Cardinal in 1952 - helped by the Croatian government, which the Serbian Orthodox Church and Serbian authorities have strongly condemned.

Stepinac was released from prison to house arrest in 1951 and died in 1960.

Pope Francis, aware of the bitter controversies over Stepinac, has put the breaks on the canonisation process, proposing that a joint commission involving the Vatican and the Serbian Orthodox Church examine the case first. The commission started work earlier this month.