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Commentary by Dr. Klara Mandic, Belgrade, 1993

Dr. Klara Mandic, a senior Jewish community leader, is a Belgrade dental surgeon who lost seventy-three members of her family at the Nazi Holocaust during WW II. As an orphan, she was adopted and saved by a Serb family. As she states herself, she is the product of the two, the Jewish and Serb worlds: 'As far as my birth and blood affiliation are concerned, I am absolutely Jewish, but I have grown up in the shadow of St. Sava's Church and graduated from St. Sava Elementary School, High School, Music School and the School of Dentistry, all in Belgrade, meaning that I carry in myself the spirit of a Belgrader.' Her commentary, headed 'The European Hoodlum Democracy Will Not Break the Serbs,' explains why it is that Jews were able to preserve their 'historical conscience' while Serbs were not followers.

The European Hoodlum Democracy Will Not Break the Serbs

We, the Jews, have survived thanks to such a historical conscience. We have survived for two thousand years through deep religious feelings nurturing a most powerful national identity and that is what made our survival possible. The Serbs allowed Communism to break them up so much in fifty years that they were willing to disown everything within their roots, to disown their national identity, and to feel ashamed of the word 'nationalism.' Nationalism is a wonderful word. Whoever loves his own people is also capable of loving other people. Yet you agree to this being partly eradicated in yourselves! You are unfortunate in the fact that a very honorable part of the Serbian nation, the Montenegrins, became the most ardent Communists. They allowed their churches to be overgrown with weeds, and even trees to grow out of them! The question that can really be posed is, what can be expected of a people who allow everything characterizing them, their very being and their essence to simply disappear in just fifty years, because somebody else decided that it be so?

You have also agreed to something even worse. I don't want to engage now in inhumane arithmetic in order to debate the number of victims in Jasenovac Concentration Camp; 30,000 according to Tudjman, as opposed to 750,000 according to Dr. Milan Bulajic. It is only the data published by the latter that I am taking seriously. I don't want to discuss such inhumane arithmetic. However, it is tragic that the Serbs had not agreed to count their dead, that only after fifty years you are breaking the concrete covers of the pits and counting the bones within. I am simply unable to understand that I can love you endlessly, I can live with you, but I can't understand that, and accept that you had agreed to it. Serious scientists will really have to look one day into the problem of what happened to you: where were the elements that made a distinction between yourselves and others in your history and what made you agree to become the same as others? You agreed to your not being allowed to count your dead, and you agreed to your not being allowed to speak about them. And now you are wondering why the world is not aware of what you have experienced. It is not wonder that the world is not aware.

We, the Jews, did something else. We had six million victims in the last war alone, including 1.5 million children that suffocated in the gas chambers. We disclosed these facts to the world, we listed all the victims and said: Never Again! The world understood. You can no longer have a situation in which the Jews can be exposed to any mass pogrom, with the world being so deaf and dumb, as it was in 1941. There is a beautiful kibbutz in Israel, in which among other things, there is also a house in memory of victims of the last war. One of the floors in that house is cobbled, like the streets in all major European cities in which the Jews were exposed to pogroms. Namely, the genuine cobblestones from these cities are laid there. There are six large rocks whose shadows are projected on a wall with the air of reflectors. These six shadows denote that six million Jewish victims, six shadows on the conscience of mankind that paid no heed to them. You know, when I think about the Serbs who had lost almost a million people in the Second World War and agreed not to speak about such victims, I simply can't understand it. And now, it is terrible that your are again having victims, horror, and hell. It is horrifying to learn about the young people who are killed on the battlefields and the young people who are left without their limbs...eyes...

We were banished from our lands two thousand years ago and lived among other peoples, praying to God each morning to allow us to return just once more to Jerusalem and gather there. You did something else. You agreed to be uprooted. For the sin of which we were not guilty, since others had banished us, we paid God with six million dead in order to get the strip of land to which we have returned at last. I have no other explanation. You, too, are guilty, because you have allowed yourselves to be uprooted, and now a price has to be paid to God. That's settlement. What I am saying is terrible, but you are now settling your final accounts. Either you will be a nation capable of speaking about yourself, a nation whose truth will be heard, or a nation whose survival will be in question.

The question posed now is whether the terrible extermination you experienced in the form of a genocide, affecting a third of your male population, was not enough?

I am simply unable to understand, and it no longer matters that we understand each other, However, you have the final God-given opportunity to try for the third time in this century to really identify yourself as a nation.

People are asking nowadays how the Serbs were able to proclaim their state, the third Yugoslavia, with such a constitution under existing circumstances, when their survival is being threatened and when all are against them, and why didn't they conduct a referendum first? Only a few more months would have been needed for conducting a referendum in Serbia.

Disputes could arise over the constitution and other documents in Israel too, but in the event of a threat of war, Israel would just stand its flags on the frontier and worry only about the defense of the country. Although I live here, I still cannot understand why you, too, are not doing so.

I also can't understand why the Serbs don't have a day like the Jewish Yom Kippur, which is our most important religious holiday. It's the day of the dead, and the day of reconciliation, and the day of repentance, all in one. The Israelis also have something else. They have a day of remembrance of the six thousand young men and young women killed in the Israeli wars. I'll tell you what they do. At noon on that day, sirens are sounded for two minutes. On hearing the sirens, all Israelis stand still wherever they might be, if on motorcars, they cut the engine and get out, and keep quiet for two minutes in memory of their dead children.

In the many discussions the Israelis have had here we kept suggesting to the Serbian authorities that Serbian must also have a day like that. It could be the day when the inmates of the Jasenovac Concentration Camp broke out or some other symbolic day. You must have also a day for the victims of genocide. You must find a way of telling the world about what they have done to you.

The second item is the programme of the Serbian-Jewish Friendship Society is the erection of a monument with a priest to pray and leave flowers. You must do that; you must represent yourselves. You must have a museum of genocide to show to foreign visitors. You must list the murdered Kozara children. You must have a film about the Prebilovci pit where the procession of coffins containing the bones of the children thrown into it lasted an hour and a half! If you don't show all this to the world, how can you expect the world to know about it? That is what I can't understand about the Serbs.

I am not interested in excuses. There are no excuses. On arriving in Jerusalem, the first place any visitors will visit will be Yad Vashem, the museum of genocide, where he can see everything from the beginning to the end, from the rise of the Nazis to power to the creation of the State of Israel.

Moreover, it is not a place intended for just foreign visitors. You haven't presented your people's sufferings to your children, whereas Yad Vashem, the museum of the Holocaust, it a must for all grades in Israeli schools. Children are brought there to see the same thing for the umpteenth time. What do your children know about the genocide against the Serbs? Let's forget the world now. The world has an awful need to forget and not remember things. I ask you: what have you done towards enlightening your children and what do your children know about your sufferings in the recent past? There are still living witnesses, therefore, it's not just showing but teaching.

You are really one of the rare people of the world which can be counted on the fingers of one hand, a people that simply does not know how to hate. Much to the fortune of your enemies, God had deprived you of the capability to hate. You don't even hate those who did evil things to you. The Jews are not accustomed to being loved. Most people work with us, cooperate with us, and trade with us, but in my opinion, without ever showing any great friendship or affection for us. However, it is quite different in the case of the Serbs. Nor only do we Jews feel at home here, but since the founding of the Serbian/Jewish Friendship Society, we have instigated a whole chain of relations between Serbian and Israel. Many Israelis have stayed in Belgrade for different reasons. They are all inclined to say afterwards that they really felt at home. It's because of your warmth and your tolerance, especially religious tolerance instilled in you thanks to the Serbian Orthodox Church, which is not a militant church but a true Christian one that teaches love. Therefore, such warmth, that incredible and long-extinct hospitality and good-heartedness are the characteristics which are not know about any other people we know. You have managed to preserve all that.

You are certainly a people that deserves to be admired for the properties you have managed to preserve in this evil and ugly world.

We Jews always carry with us a burden caused by the feeling that we are not liked. However, when we are living with your, we never felt such a burden. On the contrary. Our community is a small one. There were about 5,500 of us in former Yugoslavia. There are little less than 2,000 Jews in Serbia now. Avery small community. However, we feel completely safe in Serbia. You and I can have differences as people, but you will never hurt me as a Jewess, nor will you harm children because they belong to the Jewish nation. Such are the feeling of us who are living with you, so that such feelings are also shared by the Sarajevo Jews who have now found shelter in Belgrade.

You are struck by a terrible misfortune that we can understand only too well. We know what it is like when everybody is against you, when no one wants you. That democratic, civilized Europe used to send back trainloads of Jewish children because it didn't want to shelter them from German fascism. In all this, one can also discern the common fate of the Serbs and Jews: to be guilty without guilt. For two thousand years we have been carrying the burden of guilt for the sin we have never committed. We didn't crucify Christ, the Roman soldiers did. Because of that sin involving Jesus Christ, who incidentally was Jewish by birth, we have been burned, hanged, and murdered for two thousand years, while no one has ever been called to account for it! Indeed, the feeling that you are alone, the feeling that everybody is against you is fully discernible in the Serbian fate, too.

You are in a war now, and no war is a human one. Everybody is saying that the Serbs are killing people in the war. Now I ask myself: what else should the Serbs do if they are being killed? You Serbs have had a terrible experience, you have survived a genocide. You must never forget that. I shall never forget that. I shall never forget a scene from this war: a refugee column [of Serbs] in the Papuk Mountain. Let me remind you: old men and old women wearing black kerchiefs at a temperature of -18C riding in some carts and tractor trailers, day and night, toward Belgrade. I will never forget that because of these old women who started black kerchiefs in 1941, when still as children they had buried their mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters. They had been in mourning from 1941 to 1991 and then they had to put new black kerchiefs on since they had lost their dearest once again. They had to run again and seek shelter from the same daggers, from the criminals that look the same and have the same methods as fifty years ago. I will remember these old women the longest. People say: the Serbs are shooting and killing in this war. Well, what should they be doing? Allow themselves to be slaughtered to the last man, when they as a nation are erased from the Croatian Constitution, when they are forbidden to use their own alphabet and everything that characterizes them, and when their villages are being attacked?

I remember that my brother came from Tel Aviv two years ago when those barricades were being built in the district of Knin. He, too, is a Belgrade Jew who loves the Serbs endlessly. From out talk over dinner, he realized of course that the situation was critical. That was the beginning of Croatian 'democracy' attack on Serbian villages. He listened to the panic-stricken Serbs all evening. At one point, he said that something was not clear to him: who was actually living in this Knin Krajina? He was told that it is inhabited by the Serbs, who are upset over the fact that the Croats want to repeat the events of 1941, the very same genocide they had failed to complete then.

My brother then said quite calmly: 'Well, why are you sitting here and having your dinner then? Run through Bosnia and go to defend your people in Krajina...and stop explaining this to me at the dinner table!'

You see, that is what an Israeli would do... that is why I am asking all those who are now debating as to whether we should have gone to war, what should be done when something terrible is happening to our people, something that means death and destruction? Your duty is to help your people, especially when the whole scenario is being repeated and the last act is known. My brother is absolutely right here: get together, run through Bosnia and go to defend the Serbs. I am probably saying terrible things now, but I am afraid that's how things are.

Dr. Klara Mandic

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