An Archive Story, in: S:I. Methods, Documentation 4 1, Lebow At the same time it argues that in addition to the important insight these kinds of microanalysis can provide on everyday life and survival in wartime Europe during the Holocaust, they also bring ambiguity to seemingly distinct historiographical categories such as resistance and collaboration and force us, the readers, to confront our own subjectivity through reading their autobiographical petitions.
Successful revolutions tear off masks: that is, they invalidate the conventions of self-presentation and social interaction that obtained in pre-revolutionary societies [ ] In such upheavals, people have to reinvent themselves, to create or find within themselves personae that fit the new post-revolutionary society.
So wrote Sheila Fitzpatrick in Tear off the Masks!
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Paradoxically, she argued, while revolutionary militants tend to become obsessed with authenticity and transparency, hunting for careerists and accommodators in order to unmask them, they also demand that ordinary citizens invent new identities in order to demonstrate their loyalty to the revolutionary new society and its values. The study of diaries written by everyday people is now an established part of the historiography of the Stalinist Great Terror of the s in the Soviet Union; petitions written to the state by Soviet citizens during the 1 Sheila Fitzpatrick, Tear off the Masks!
Rory Yeomans: In Search of Myself While a diary is a more obviously autobiographical form of writing, one in which the author can explore their inner-most thoughts and subjectivity, the increasing importance social historians of Stalinist Russia have placed on petitions underlines the extent to which petitions to Stalin, senior officials, or middle-ranking Soviet bureaucrats from collective farm workers, factory foremen, lonely soldiers, or anxious students were also a highly subjective autobiographical genre of writing, expressing a desire on the part of the writer to identify themselves with Soviet values whether as a means of escaping the terror or as an expression of a sincere desire to integrate fully into the new society.
While in the past two decades the diaries and, less frequently, letters and petitions of adult and adolescent Jewish victims in Hitler s European empire have increasingly become a meaningful subject for study by Holocaust historians, almost none of these cases studies have addressed the fate of Jews and other persecuted groups in the Nazi satellite states of what was until April the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
Deeply confessional in tone and content, this subset of correspondents facing deportation, ghettoisation and ultimately death, employed the state s totalising discourse to express a sense of belonging to the Croatian national community then under construction. Often bitterly rejecting the Jewish or Serb identity which they had been ascribed, like Soviet subjective diaries, their petitions and letters were full of emotion and intimate details, self-reflexive, endeavouring to show that the writers had transformed themselves into members of the new society. Young Writers Diaries of the Holocaust, New Haven A number of diaries and notebooks written by Holocaust victims have also been published.
At the same time, these Serb and Jewish citizens were writing in extreme times and their letters, heartfelt and confessional as they were, must have been strongly influenced by the threat of terror which hung over them.
One way or another, tens of thousands of ordinary people drawn from all social classes, ideological persuasions, and national groups were involved in the process of remaking themselves through petition writing. Moreover, in order to save themselves, supplicants and petition-writers were required to denounce their own communities and even their families while insisting that an exception should be made in their case, evidence that they were people who had overcome their past and undesired identities.
By contrast, in the post-war Socialist period, some of these same letter-writers once more felt compelled to engage in similar autobiographical practices to either explain or, more frequently, to conceal their interaction with a regime whose sympathisers the new Socialist Yugoslav authorities had vowed to unmask and tear out at the roots as a necessary precondition for the reconstruction of the Yugoslav homeland.
In the case of Serbs, in particular, many had also already been murdered. There are a number of reasons why this subset of the Jewish and Serb correspondents to the state matters to an understanding of the Holocaust in Croatia. First, a case study of the subjectivity of victims in wartime Croatia adds an important dimension to our understanding of how ordinary people in Europe experienced terror in real time during the Holocaust and Nazi occupation. Simultaneously, the subjectivity of persecuted Jews and Serbs in occupied Croatia challenges conventional thinking about the nature of identity or at least perceptions of identity in the South-Eastern Europe of the late s and early s.
Third, the fact that some of the petition writers survived the Holocaust enables us to better appreciate how, after the liberation, they reconciled their roles in that terror and recast their biographies once again to write themselves into the new Socialist state.
Whether the writers of the petitions consciously saw themselves as creating new identities is less clear: For many, it seems, letter-writing provided a means not so much of demonstrating their inner transformation as a chance to express the identity which they felt they had always possessed, less an attempt to become someone new than to find their authentic selves. Seen from this perspective, and given how little other information there is about the victims, debates about the sincerity of the sentiments in their letters become less central; it is through their writing ultimately that we know them.
As Hannah Arendt observed: The sources talk and what they reveal is the self-understanding as well as the self-interpretation of people who act and believe they know what they are doing.
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If we deny them this capacity and pretend that we know better and can tell them what their real motives are or which real trends they objectively represent no matter what they themselves think we have robbed them of the very faculty of speech insofar as speech makes sense. Nonetheless, despite becoming progressively fascistised, the movement s terroristic instincts remained an important feature of its character and view of the world and had a fundamental impact on the development of state ideology.
Beginning in April , the Office for Economic Renewal later the State Directorate for Economic Regeneration DGRP embarked on a programme to expropriate Serb and Jewish businesses which included the appointment of commissioners to Jewish and Serb factories and businesses in preparation for their nationalisation, liquidation, or sale. An employment law of 23 May, for example, allowed commissioners to sack workers with one month s notice.
Nationalism and Genocide in Sarajevo, , in: Slavic Review 68 1, A state national was defined as someone who stands under the protection of the Independent State of Croatia, while a citizen was defined as a state national of Aryan origin who by his actions has demonstrated that he did not work against the liberation aspirations of the Croat people and who is willing to readily and faithfully serve the Croat people and the Independent State of Croatia.
Only the citizen was defined as the bearer of all political rights and this law effectively meant that Jews and Serbs as well as other undesired elements such as foreign citizens, Roma, and politically disloyal Croats could be stripped of their citizenship rights, deported or worse. This legal statute deems it necessary to use the title Greek-Eastern faith when referring to them instead. In a style guide for officials, he stressed that Serbs were henceforth to be known as Greek-Easterners, Vlachs, and ormer Serbs.
Under no circumstances, he added, should the word Serb be used when dealing with the Vlachs in Croatia.
The same order banned marriage between Jews and non-jews. In exceptional circumstances, they could become members of the national community, but they would need to prove that they had overcome their undesired and shameful origins. Ostensibly, this was part of an agreement with the Nazi occupation authorities in which Croatia would accept a comparable number of disloyal Slovenians the Reich wanted to expel from Slovenia. Conditions in these camps were terrible, characterised by poor hygiene, insufficient food, inadequate shelter, and brutality on the part of the guards; death rates were high.
For their part, the German authorities in Serbia made frequent complaints that the Serb refugees arriving from these camps were often half starving and naked and frequently showing signs of abuse. As early as 6 July, the German military authorities in Serbia were demanding a halt to the mass deportations, barely a week after the programme had begun to be systematically implemented. Some Serbs although it is not clear how many likely hearing rumours about conditions in these camps wrote letters to the DRP asking for permission to stay in Croatia.
In their letters, they invariably employed the state s discourse, asserting a specifically Croatian sense of belonging. In fact, they often explicitly rejected a Serb identity, referring derisively to their former identity. In fact, in some states, which did not introduce legal exemptions from persecutions, such as Romania and Bulgaria, a far greater number of native Jews survived the Holocaust, especially in the core parts of the respective states.
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In an atmosphere of economic destitution, impoverishment, and increasing terror, a smaller number wrote asking permission to move to Serbia. However, volunteering to emigrate came at a heavy price. In order for the DRP to grant approval and issue a travel permit, applicants had to sign a form agreeing that they would transfer their assets and property to the state and waiving their right of return. Initially, these conditions were limited only to those who voluntarily left the state, but they were subsequently extended to those Serbs being forcibly deported, too.
A small number of Jews, unlikely though the request was to be fulfilled, also applied for travel permits so that they could emigrate, in some cases to Serbia when they had Serb spouses, but more often to other parts of Europe where family members were living and which were unaffected by the war. In practice, this meant seeking an exemption from wearing the yellow star and thereby expressing their innate Croatian identity. In their letters they often differentiated themselves sharply from the rest of the Jewish community, looking with scorn on those Jews who, they asserted, had made no effort to overcome their Jewish past and transform themselves into Croats.
While the letters were very different in some respects from diary entries and private letters which Jewish individuals were writing in many other parts of occupied Europe in response to ghettoisation and persecution they were written for an audience but for one the sender did not have a relationship with they were often equally as self-reflexive, autobiographical, and confessional, with emotional appeals to a shared identity.
In contrast to Holocaust diaries, though, which expressed diverse attitudes to the catastrophe unfolding around them, the correspondence of Serb and Jewish writers with the Jewish Office and the DRP expressed a consistent desire to belong by overcoming an accident of birth. Shameful Jews in Search of the National Community As well as fear caused by their overnight destitution as a result of the Aryanisation of the economy, the letters of many Jewish correspondents to the Jewish Office convey a deep sense of shame at having to wear the Jewish star.
The Jewish star not only marked them out as separate and not belonging to the Croatian national community but were a visible daily reminder that, despite their loyalty and sense of belonging, they were perceived as enemies of the Croat people. Surely, if they had deserved the right to honorary Aryan status, it would be given to them?
This was particularly true of the Germanspeaking Ashkenazi community, some of whom had long exhibited a fiercely nationalistic Croatian outlook. In his memoirs, Imre Rochlitz, a young Jewish refugee from Austria in the period immediately before and after the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia, described the incredulous reaction of many such Jews to the antisemitic laws. As he recalled, many Jews, including in his own family, were susceptible to the very same antisemitic prejudices that they eventually fell victim to, often despising the unassimilated Jews: A major family dispute ensued.
Why should they persecute us?
The various accusations of the Nazis did not seem to fit us: We were not rich, we did not exploit Gentiles, we certainly were not international conspirators, financiers, or Zionists, our culture was Germanic, we spoke Hochdeutsch [ ] without an accent and we didn t even have big noses. They could not possibly mean us; surely their hostility was directed against the Jews of other cultures and nationalities, some of whom we secretly thought might even deserve a small dose of discipline.
In , he had helped organise the first international amateur film festival in Croatia.
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Subsequently, in socialist Yugoslavia, he became one of Yugoslavia s most internationally successful, popular, and acclaimed film directors. Hence, wearing the Jewish insignia would not only damage her reputation, he explained, but would cause me great shame in my old age. Among respectable citizens and businessmen, I enjoyed a good reputation and supported all philanthropic and cultural Croatian institutions and never got involved with Jewish organisations and nor did I ever attend Jewish schools, as many people can testify. He felt the need to emphasise that in my soul, even in my early childhood, I always expressed myself and felt in every way a Croat.
In this sense, the need to wear a yellow star struck at the core of who he was or thought he was. Although I don t want to stress how this affects my feelings, it deeply offends me and strongly debases me that as a Jew I am counted among those who positively worked against the yearnings of the CROAT PEOPLE, he added, hoping that in my everyday life I can be permitted to walk about without having to wear the Jewish marking.
He recalled the various ways he had sought to overcome his Jewish taint by becoming extremely active in the Croatian Sokol in Virovitica from until the time when the notorious Serbian authorities disbanded it. Afterward, he was among the first to take on the role of auditor, hiding its documentation in the hope that there would come a time for Croats when the Croatian Sokol could again be active.
Returning from self-imposed exile in April , he experienced, he wrote, the prospect of wearing the Jewish insignia as profoundly shameful, particularly in an independent Croatia he had fought so hard to realise. In his petition of May , he pointed out that in my fifty years of work for the Croat people and especially its liberation I suffered the unceasing chains of persecution. Like Imre Rochlitz and his family, they were convinced that an exception would be granted in their case because they had demonstrated that they were different from other Jews and therefore had transformed themselves into Croats.
In fact, some petitioners viewed Jews with scorn, contrasting the eagerness with which they seemingly wore the insignia with their sense of humiliation.
While she conceded the practical difficulties in having to wear a yellow star and being classified as a Jew would cause her, being publicly marked as Jewish, she stressed, would represent a sign of moral defeat for her: It would associate her with an identity she viewed with revulsion and associate her with a community whose values were alien to her.
She pointed out that she had converted to the Roman Catholic faith in and, despite coming from a Jewish family, had a modest occupation like most Croats, living a hand-to-mouth existence, barely able to afford the bare necessities, and owning no property of her own. Moreover, she wrote that while there are Jews in Zagreb who wear the designated sign with pride, considering themselves martyrs, for me, this insignia is the greatest shame because I always felt myself to be a Croat and I will always feel like this. I am a tailor s assistant, a worker, and so that I can continue to work I am pleading to be exempted from wearing the Jewish sign.
Despite attempts to find work in the past half year, my husband is unemployed and if I were to be without a job and income that would mean catastrophe for us both.
He sought to differentiate himself from the Jewish community in two ways. First, he praised the wisdom of the antisemitic laws while suggesting that an exception should be made for him as one of a small number of Jews who had transcended their Jewish origins. Second, by emphasising his achievements on the sports field and the role this had played in the construction of a new steely nationalist youth, he sought to emphasise that he stood apart from the stereotype of the weak intellectual Jew, one who had, moreover, made an important contribution in the building of the youth of the future in a Croatian nation-state which would be free of Jews.
He belonged, he wrote, to those who by birth belong under the constraints of those laws, but who with their life and their work are to be separated from the majority of non-aryans and who are unselfish and sincere Croat nationalists whose life s work is devoted to the awakening of the national consciousness as well as to the progress and prosperity of our nation. He lauded the Poglavnik for his farsightedness and generosity in granting such people all the rights which belong to people of Aryan origin. In the national organism, there were countless acts which had a great influence on the life of the nation.
One of these activities, he added, was sport. Among the countless young athletes who dedicated themselves to sport, I attempted with my modest means to make a contribution to the hardening of the Croat soul and body for the most sublime struggle: the liberation of the nation. In his letter, he provided a detailed biography, talking emotionally of his Croat identity and nostalgically of his transformation into a Croat, overcoming his Orthodox roots and stigmatisation as a Serb.
One of the most noticeable aspects of his letter, common to many of the petitions Serbs and Jews wrote to the authorities during this period, was the appropriation of the state s language.