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How the New York Times Doctored its Count of Croatia's W.W.II Victims
Part 2 of "Oppose Fascist Rock Star's US Tour with the Truth"
by Jared Israel
Member, International Commission on Jasenovac
Editor, Emperor's Clothes
[Nov. 6, 2007]
(For Part 1 go to
Before 1991, the Times reported that the Croatian Ustashe (clerical-fascists) murdered some 800,000 people -- Serbs, Jews, and Roma, as well as antifascists of all backgrounds -- in the Jasenovac death camp complex.
After 1991, the Times and other media reported that some "tens of thousands" (or sometimes 80,000, or 85,000) were killed. A 90% cut. Enough to make a Holocaust denier green with envy.
At the same time, the Times radically altered its perspective.
Before 1991, the murders were described as being caused by fascism. After 1991, they were described as being caused by fascism and 'ethnic enmity,' as if genocidal hatred of Serbs, Jews, and Roma was the fault of both sides -- the Serbs, Jews and Roma, as well as those that hated them. This supposed 'ethnic enmity,' along with a supposed desire of Yugoslav Communist leaders to (as the Times put it) "demonize" fascism, was now presented as explaining a supposedly long-term dispute over the victim count.
Thus the Times not only drastically minimized
the extent of Ustasha crimes, but it also lied
about the numbers dispute. Lied because prior to 1991 it was the Times
itself that had publicized the figure of 800,000 victims, which the
Times itself was now denying.
First, here are the relevant parts of New York Times articles that mentioned Jasenovac before 1991.
July 12, 1948: The Times referred to Jasenovac for the first time while describing Yugoslavia's arrest of some agents of the defeated Croatian Ustashe:
May 20, 1961: Covering the trial of Nazi criminal Adolf Eichmann, the Times reported the testimony of Alexander Arnon, described as "wartime secretary of the Jewish Community in Zagreb":
Mr. Arnon's reported use of the phrase "Jasenovac alone" makes sense because Jasenovac was the name of a complex of Croatian death camps and also of the biggest site in the complex. So, Arnon was indicating that significantly more than 600,000 people were murdered in Croatian death camps as a whole.
October 1, 1972: In the New York Times article "Yugoslavs Assail Croat Dissidents," which reported on the Yugoslav government's response to terrorist attacks by Croatian Ustasha exiles, the Times again stated that 800,000 people were murdered in Jasenovac. This article is most helpful in understanding the Holocaust in Croatia, how it was dealt with in Communist Yugoslavia, and how the Times has, since 1991, misinformed readers.
Emperor's Clothes has transcribed part of the article; the first six paragraphs are posted below. (The full text is scanned here.)
To summarize the key points:
a -- The Ustashe murdered 800,000 at Jasenovac;
b -- Yugoslav Communist leaders tried to suppress discussion of Jasenovac, "discourag[ing] publication of... photographs about the atrocities" and banning books;
c -- Why the repression? The leaders feared discussion might "reopen old wounds"; also they feared a violent reaction from Croats, who were pro-Ustashe;
d -- Even when the Ustashe, working from outside Yugoslavia, escalated their terrorist attacks, the Yugoslav government continued its policy of preventing a political counter-attack. For example, they continued banning books on Jasenovac.
The straw that broke the camel's back was when:
In response, the Communists finally began publicly attacking the Ustashe.
What line did they take? The Times quotes the following from an editorial piece, written by a New York-based Yugoslav reporter and published in Politika, the leading Yugoslav daily, criticizing U.S. coverage of the Ustasha terror:
Notice that in describing
what the America media was
leaving out, Politika left out the Serbian victims of genocide
(and the Roma/Sinti victims as well).
300,000 to 340,000 Serbs (and pro-Yugoslav Croats) killed between May and October of 1941. 60,000 to 68,000 Serbs a month.
Here is a final excerpt from the 1972 Times article. It is most revealing:
So, while Belgrade school children were learning for the first time that the Ustashe had existed, it was only if and when they "[began] to raise questions" that they also learned what the Ustashe had done during the war.
The Communists were (finally) publicly attacking the Ustashe for supporting Nazi Germany, for opposing democracy, for killing Jews, and for current acts of terror -- but not for their genocide against Serbs and Roma, hence the children's need to "raise questions."
Consider the effect of this policy of suppressing discussion, both on Croats and on the main surviving victim population, the Serbs.
Communist Yugoslavia declared that most Croats had opposed the Ustashe. But this was manifestly untrue. How could the Ustashe, a tiny group of exiles, have returned to Croatia in April, 1941, and immediately launched a campaign of mass murder against 'foreign elements,' meaning Serbs, Jews and Roma -- how could they have done this in the face of opposition from both 'foreign elements' and most ethnic Croats? They needed massive support from Croats from the start, which in turn required that ordinary Croats were already indoctrinated in the basics of Ustasha ideology: hatred of 'foreign elements' and Catholic fanaticism.
Looked at in one way, the Communist-perpetrated myth of Croatian antifascism was of great practical use to Croatia, since it allowed Croats to hold onto the vast properties stolen from murdered Serbs, Jews and Roma, rather than losing it and paying restitution to boot.  It allowed the perhaps tens of thousand of Croats who had committed overt fascist-criminal acts, and the much larger number who had in various ways supported those acts, to escape unscathed. It allowed the Catholic church, "many" of whose priests had, as the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust states, directly participated in the killing, to mainly escape punishment.
Looked at in another way, this was a terrible abuse of Croatian children, who were therefore raised in a double-talk fascist society, whose pro-Ustasha sub-culture thrived beneath a veneer of Communist rhetoric. There were things you did not -- could not -- for now -- say in public, but you were of course to believe them and act on them as soon and as much as possible, things about the need to purify Croatia from 'foreign elements,' whose presence polluted the Croatian national being and mocked God's religion.
This policy rewarded the behavior of chameleons, as exemplified by current Croatian president Stjepan Mesic, who boasted in a videotaped speech, delivered around 1992, apparently to the Croatian community in Australia, that the great strength of Croatia was its ability to deceive:
This same glib doubletalk is manifested today in the claim, made in tones of outraged dignity, by Croatian organizations in the US and Canada, and by leading Croatian rock star Marko Perkovic Thompson himself, that the Thompson band is not fascist. How dare anyone say such a thing!
And consider the effect on the surviving victims -- mainly Serbs, since all but a few Roma and Jews had been killed. If they wanted a Yugoslavia (a state uniting all southern Slavs), they had to pay with a terrible silence, a silence that was enforced by the state. Even their children must not be told what had happened to perhaps a million of their relatives.
It is a grim irony that, during most of the existence of Communist Yugoslavia -- with the exception of a few years immediately after World War II, when there were trials of some Ustashe -- the officially approved slogan of 'brotherhood and unity' meant in practice toleration of clerical-fascist beliefs and freedom for many clerical-fascists criminals in the republics of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
October 7, 1984: There was no mention of Jasenovac from 1972 until 1984, when, in a piece discussing a proposed but much-postponed trip to Croatia by the pope, the Times wrote:
Now we come to the watershed year: 1991.
1991: The Times invents a kinder Jasenovac
March 4, 1991: With Croatia on the verge of secession, the Times wrote about Jasenovac for the first time in seven years:
From a Ustasha death machine that killed "as many as 800,000 people" (see N.Y. Times, 1972), Jasenovac was now, somehow, a consequence of ethnic "enmity" (suggesting fault on both sides) where "tens of thousands...were killed." An ugly place, but not part of the organized and systematic machinery of genocide, known as the Holocaust.
With few exceptions, throughout the 1990s and until now, Times articles have either bluntly stated that "tens of thousands" (or 80-85,000) died; or, alternatively, they have stated that the casualty figures are disputed, with the correct figures being somewhere in the "tens of thousands" (or 80-85,000).
May 19, 1996: Chris Hedges of the Times reported that:
A few points.
First, the above is an early example of the 'disputed-figures' approach. As you can see, it renders the Times' desired figure -- 80,000 -- both more believable and also easier for readers to remember by associating it in our minds with a supposed dispute. (We pay more attention when there is a dispute.) So the 'disputed figures' approach is a learning aid.
It also enhances the Times' already-existing aura of impartiality, since the writer is championing supposedly honest mediation against supposed eternally feuding Balkans factions.
For Hedges, the honest mediators are some "independent scholars in the United States."
It is a great story line, but here's the rub: In order to mediate a real struggle, the mediators must exist. Searching in both the Lexis-Nexis and the New York Times archives, I found that no New York Times article ever identified Hedges' "independent scholars." Are they so independent they have no names? Are they living incognito, perhaps wanted for a felony? Did the Times interview them in the realm of Pure Spirit?
Since I can see no reason for not identifying American scholars -- we are not talking about Salman Rushdie here -- and since, given the importance of the question of whether some hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Roma were or were not murdered, I can see every reason for identifying the supposed scholars -- I can only conclude that said scholars were imaginary.
Second, this made me wonder, apropos the claim that imaginary scholars had rejected both sides in the supposed dispute over numbers, 'Do imaginary scholars have the right to reject things?' But then I answered myself: 'Why not, just as long as the things they are rejecting are also nonexistent.'
Which was definitely the case in this instance. Because there never was a dispute over numbers between Franjo Tudjman, on the one side, and former Yugoslav communist leader Tito, on the other.
Because just as before 1991 it was the New York Times that informed the world that "as many as 800,000 people" were murdered in Jasenovac, so the Times had also reported that Yugoslav Communist leaders banned books and discouraged pictures dealing with Jasenovac.
In other words, the two sides in this dispute were not Tudjman and Tito, they were the New York Times before and after 1991.
And finally, notice that Hedges made the remarkable claim that Tito tried to "demonize his fascist rivals." Aside from the fact that Tito had no serious fascist rivals -- the Partisans, with Soviet help, had thoroughly defeated the Ustashe -- aside from that, the claim is remarkable because, while 'demonize' has the meaning of 'portray as evil,' it also has the connotation of deception -- 'falsely portray as evil.' Is Hedges trying to plant the thought that fascism was unfairly maligned?
Nov 2, 1998: For reasons whose explanation lies beyond the scope of this essay, for a number of months before the start of Croatia's 1999 trial of Jasenovac camp official Dinko Sakic, the Western media published some almost-accurate articles about Jasenovac.
Case in point: the Reuters dispatch below. To be sure, the Times buried it on page 13, but at least they published it.
Two points about this.
First, notice that the Times has admitted that Jewish groups (not former Yugoslav leaders, and not only Serbs) were defending a "much higher" count than Croatia's. The Times did not inform readers of the number being put forward by Jewish groups, which, according to the London-based Financial Times, was 600,000.  By withholding this information, the Times prevented people from seeing the stark contrast -- 600,000 vs. 85,000 -- which might have caused them to wonder if Croatia was engaged in Holocaust denial. Nevertheless, the Times had made a major admission. The "much higher" count was not a propaganda weapon created by Tito in an effort to 'demonize' clerical fascism.
Second, notice that the Times admitted that the Croatian establishment, not some nameless "independent scholars in the United States," was behind the 85,000 figure. Meaning, the Times' own previous coverage (the Chris Hedges piece, quoted above) was a lie.
The Western media used the trial of Sakic, a Jasenovac
commander, to create the
spectacle of a Croatia that was supposedly struggling with the painful
truth about its past and therefore now deserved to be welcomed
into the family of nations. To reinforce that impression, after Sakic's
conviction, in October 1999, the media quoted a few people, perceived as representing Serbs and Jews,
who said they approved the conduct of the trial and praised Croatia.
Thus, the day the trial ended, the Times published another Reuters dispatch, the relevant part of which is posted below.
While the almost-accurate pre-trial dispatch was buried on page 13, the post-trial dispatch got top billing: column 1, page 3. The Times uses that space for leading foreign news.
Before the start of the trial, the 85,000 figure was Croatia's view, sharply disputed by Jewish groups. Now, along with Croatia, the 85,000 figure had been miraculously transformed: it was now the upper limit of the number of victims of clerical-fascist terror at Jasenovac.
The year was 1999, but it wasn't really 1999. It was 1984 plus fifteen.
"Yugoslavs Assail Croat Dissidents,"
The New York Times, October 1,
1972, by Raymond H. Anderson.
To read the complete transcription of the article "Croatia" of the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, go to
leader's alleged speech glorifying WW2 pro-Nazi state widely
condemned," Text of report in English by Croatian news agency HINA,
BBC Monitoring Europe -- Political Supplied by BBC Worldwide
Monitoring, December 10, 2006 Sunday, 498 words