Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac saved hundreds of Jews in war-torn Croatia but, amazingly, is still considered a war criminal by many. Sharyn McCowen talks to a Jewish academic who says the world has got it all wrong, in The Catholic Weekly.
A Jewish academic is working to clear the name of Blessed Aloysius Stepinac, a Croatian Church leader who, in a post-war Communist show-trial, was convicted of war crimes and collaboration with the enemy during World War II.
For 70 years, Cardinal Stepinac has often been portrayed as a Nazi collaborator who failed to protect Jewish families who sought his protection during the Holocaust.
But Dr Esther Gitman’s research, and subsequent book and documentary, paint a picture of a man who risked his life to protect Jews from certain death. That she is alive to do this work is thanks to the Croatians who helped her mother to flee Sarajevo for Israel.
'I saw what my mother sacrificed in order to save me, and she was helped by many people,' says Dr Gitman, who later married and settled in the United States. She admits she 'knew very little' about her own family history and the plight of Jews in the former Yugoslavia until her late 50s, when she enrolled at City University in New York to study history.
Her studies had focused on Jewish families who fled for Spain until she won a year-long Fulbright Scholarship which enabled her to travel to Zagreb to study the rescue of Jews in Croatia.
There, as she reviewed more than 30,000 documents and conducted interviews with historians and survivors, one name emerged over and over. Stepinac. 'His name came so often,' Dr Gitman says in the documentary on her studies, When Truth Prevails, 'and I was so surprised because in my mind all the Catholic priests were anti-Jewish.'
Survivor and witness Branko Polic said 'people had faith' in Stepinac.
FULL STORY Recovering history (The Catholic Weekly)