I’ve always marvelled at the audacity of the Croatian priesthood pushing to canonize Aloysius Stepinac, knowing the crimes of the WW2 Catholic church that served the Ustasha state and not the Saviour.
Having commenced this stunning book, I don’t marvel any more.
Goldstein is not the only author who, using his love of the Croatian people as a starting point, seeks to understand the immediacy of the brutality that followed hard upon the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia, the NDH, in 1941.
He writes: ‘the absolute power of an uncontrolled government can morally corrupt many seemingly gentle people.’
Here is how he describes Vinko Nikolić, the man who saved for him his father’s letter for half a century.
‘Nikolić would describe himself as mild-mannered, a “peace-loving man” with “a sensitive poet’s heart.” Yet he wrote hundreds of inflammatory texts filled with hatred against the Serbs.’
‘It is probable that …Nikolić was among those Ustasha intellectuals…who reluctantly accepted persecution of the Jews as the unavoidable price to be paid to Hitler for his benevolent patronage in the establishment and continued maintenance of the NDH.’
Goldstein believed that ‘Nikolić was thinking that [the émigré magazine he edited in Buenos Aires] should publish a statement of repentance for the Ustasha crimes against the Jews and also for the Ustasha's crimes in general.' He defined 'the most valuable possible mission for his magazine: the examination of the NDH phenomenon and confronting Croatian Ustasha émigrés and pro-Ustasha émigrés with the whole truth, urging them to suppress the self-controlling stories, falsifications, myths, and arbitrary accusations in which everyone else is guilty, but not we who avoid looking at ourselves in the mirror.'
Unfortunately, after Croatia's independence in 1991 most émigrés who returned 'arrived with the baggage of their old prejudices, as champions of an autocratic regime and political and national intolerance. Nikolić ...was not [able to touch on] that sacred idol, the state, or more exactly, on the NDH as the embodiment of the state of the Croatian people. Before that idol he knelt and prostrated himself for his entire life in shallow, inhibited thoughts.'
'Remorse requires exceptional courage. Something that Nikolić did not possess....he lived with a permanent division between ethical sensitivity and a fetish for the state that relentlessly crushed ethics....Goldstein concludes that Nikolić and other Ustasha intellectuals believed that 'if you loved Croatia very much, you must be forgiven completely even if in its name... you persecuted people, drove them into prisons and camps, killed them, or had them killed on a massive scale. If you have expressed remorse with a few general phrases, you have been “purified“ and you will receive the honour that you deserve.' This perverted logic arises from a fetishism of the nation'.