Hieromonk Jovan Ćulibrk

The Serbian Orthodox Church and Jasenovac

Љубазношћу Јасеновац Инфо, званичног сајта Одбора за Јасеновац Светог архијерејског сабора Српске православне цркве

„A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted
Because they are no more.”
(Jeremiah 31:15, Matthew 2:18)

With these words of great Jewish prophet — where the Old and New Testament interlaced like the bones of Serb and Jew people did in Jasenovac — we initiate our testimony here in the city of prophets and the city of Jesus — regarding this underground city and relations of Serbian Orthodox Church to it. For this task of testimony, Holy Synod of Bishops firstly assigned former Bishop of Zahumlje and Herzegovina Atanasije, well known to anyone who researches Jasenovac. Unfortunately, his bad health condition and obligations in The Diocese of Žica, where he replaces Bishop Stefan, prevented him to come here. This inconvenient situation, surely, won't prevent us to begin this Study with his words.

„For us, Orthodox Christians, this is not 'the City of the Dead,' but the City of Alives, as for the Lord all martyrs — victims of Jasenovac — are alive. Innocent victims of Great-martyrdom of Jasenovac live in our hearts, as well as in our souls, in memorial prayer of recollection. All of them, together with us, await for the resurrection of the dead and life of an age to come,“ — he briefly defines the self-conscious of Orthodox Church in the introduction of his study, which was later turned into the book. But this self-conscious has it's historic typology: according to him, „Great-martyrdom of Jasenovac, is our biggest Cemetery, new Serbian Kosovo, our biblical Mesopotamian Babylon.“

Why Babylon? Because the sacred history of Chosen people is what we taught the historic memory from: not only „stick of Moses which divided the sea in two (Exodus 14:16-22), and the bush fresh within the flame (Exodus 3:2 and on)“ — as St. Nicolas Cavasilas compares and recollects them like an image of the Sacrifice of Calvary — but everything what is today seen along the way from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem — the reminiscences of return to the Land of Israel — testify about the need of Jewish people to establish a memory on all what happened in it's ancient and recent history as well. That's why one of the most known experts of holocaust, Yehuda Bauer tells: „Unless one finds a measure of comparability, unprecedentness can mean only that event is not human — in other words, is not historical.“

Babylon surely is the symbol of slavery: the moment when Jews were left without their state like Serbs were in 1941.- the fact when all reports regarding sufferings of the time have begun. The Psalm 136. also remembers Babylon as a slavery „on the rivers of Babylon“ just like the whole complex of concentration camp of Jasenovac was surrounded by the rivers and waters which brought it's victims along to Belgrade.

From the moment when first sounds about the concentration camp in Jasenovac were heard and first corpses reached Belgrade, Orthodox Church, because of it's dimension of historic existence and memory, has begun to record and to remember everything what happened. In summer 1943. Holy Synod of Bishops has already formed Commission for gathering data related to sufferings of Serbian people. Between the end of 1942. and the beginning of 1943. this Commission has prepared the first Serbian Orthodox Church Memorandum of crimes in NDH. Jasenovac takes it's central part. Already in this Memorandum — which, for example, cites how the victims for one joint „liquidation of 74 Serbs and 82 Jews, this time again — sadism to be greater — should be chosen by a Serb or a Jew supervisor“ — Babylon rivers could be recognized. Jasenovac, according to it's depiction, was built „inside swampy Croatian Posavina, full of stagnant, polluted and dead waters, where the River Sava and it's tributary Una meet each other and lazy lagging behind make natural water net of their north branches and tributaries, Struga i Lunja.“

The Report from July 1941. of presbyter Ilija Jovanovic, who was the parish priest of Stara Gradiška at the time, goes one step further. Informing that he had to take over the charge of the Parish of Bosanska Gradiška, he said that it was made vocant by „martyred death of parishioner and Bishops envoy Dušan Subotic, in the eve before St. George's Day.“ Archpriest Ilija himself, who was native from Boka, born in Perast, will be commemorated by the citizens of both Bosanska and Stara Gradiška — on the both sides of the River Sava, as a men who knew how „to survive in a terrible time“, and more than that — how to engage himself completely into the reconstruction of Church of the Protection of Theotokos in Bosanska Gradiška (reconstruction of the church in Stara Gradiška was prevented by communist regime). Shortly after the death of it's founder Father Dušan, this Church was devastated by Ustaše. Despite the resistance of the communist party at the time, it was rebuilt mainly by great effort of Father Ilija on the same place at the beginning of 70's. In that way it had preceded to the most important act of Serbian Ortodox Church related to Jasenovac — the reconstruction of martyred temple of St. John the Baptist in the very Jasenovac.

Why Church has persistently fought for those temples? Though the Church (=the Temple) is the revelation of the very meaning of the Church; therefore they share the same name. In church Eucharist (=thanksgiving) is served; and one of the reasons for the thanksgiving are the saints „in which(whom) the Church found what Church searched for and gained what prayed for, and that is Heavenly Kingdom.“ Among the saints mentioned during the Eucharist a special place has been that of martyrs: first churches has been erected on their graves, we put their relics in the Holy Trapeza and antiminses as the condition for an Eucharist. „the Sacrifice and the Remembrance — this is the manner in which we exist,“ concludes a contemporary philosopher.

First Service for Serbian New-martyrs Suffered for Orthodox Faith and Serbian Name by Ustaše in World War Two was written and immediately accepted by other local Orthodox Churches in America at the beginning of 50's. The concentration camp Jasenovac, as professor Bauer says, „if anything, more horrible than its Nazi counterparts,“ in the Service is depicted as a symbol of Serbian suffering in World War Two. At the beginning of Prayer to New-martyrs — by which the Service is ended, the image from the Exodus also is applied to them: „You sailed successfully across the Red Sea, eluded the pursue of the pharaoh and entered into the promised glory.“

This image is a metaphor of disparity: as it is Pesah in Jewish history — exit from Egypt, incomparable news which had appointed the latter entity of Chosen people of God, and for what remembrance is performed — equal of what Holocaust later would be, according to Bishop Atanasije, in that way, Kosovo and Jasenovac are incomparable happenings in the history of Serbian people, as the representatives of it's cornerstones.

In that history itself „Serbian orthodox church in Jasenovac really and symbolically designates war sufferings of all Serbian“ churches and monasteries. Not only that Church was destroyed just after October 1941- stopped being used as a lodging of first prisoners, but „for that job Ustaše had used inmates from the concentration camp of Jasenovac.“ However, Jasenovac itself was the place where the first memorial service was performed for the victims on St. Vitus Day in 1945. And in Jasenovac „liturgies were performed in a small room — once had been used by Ustaše as a mechanical workshop,“ that was the reminder of the concentration camp destroyed by the communists.

Therefore the fight against the reconstruction of church in Jasenovac, led by communist bureaucracy and lasted to the very consecration of temple in 1984 — as a fight against the memory on victims — is an extension of Jasenovac and Auschwitz: „an attempt to render the victim meaningless; Auschwitz, apart from that, also to industrialize death; and Jasenovac, apart from that, also to forget the victim.“ But for the sake of what? For the sake of abolishing the identity and uniqueness of persons suffered in Jasenovac and people as collective persons either, who died in it. According to Military Encyclopedia published in former SFRY „Serbs, Croatians, then Jew and Gypsies“ in Jasenovac „were imprisoned antifascists“. Consequently they perished as impersonal fighters against an ideology, selected from the nations avalaible at the scene. Thus the memory on them should be equal of an impersonality of a concrete flower and an impersonal strophe of a Croatian poet: „Survived relatives and acquaintances“ — writes Archpriest Boško Bosanac about the time this encyclopedia was being written, „they wanted to lay the flowers and to light the candles on the very place of torture, but the concentration camp wasn't there any longer.“ The Priest in Jasenovac Lazar Radovanovic said: „When I advised that something should be preserved, reconstructed, p. e. the buildings, the barracks, crematorium, I was almost declared as an enemy, persona non grata.“

Then, when it was obvious that the new authorities would try, as much as it was in their power, to cover up the trails of the crime, the Orthodox Church realized that it should preserve the memory of victims by itself. The reconstructed parish house in Jasenovac was consecrated in July, 1951., with „strange psychological or psyche condition all of as ... really strange crying and sobbing, and folk dance after the liturgy“ — as Father Boško Bosanac wrote regarding the fight for reconstruction of church in Jasenovac. The building permit for reconstruction of temple for „fallen innocent victims and our new-martyrs“ was required in August within a year. Even, the foundation of Memorial Center didn't „reduce visitors desire to show respect by lightening candles, not only over that sublime crypts (fake by the way), but also in the room of the Stone Flower itself, as well as by throwing the yellow bedstraw (white flowers of St. John's Day) and the wreaths made of them into the water-pools inside the very Monument. That way of showing respect to deceased, actually, was 'the protest'. Because people were coming together with priests who had performed commemorations and parastoses at the open air, protesting by that act against an exclusion of Place of worship from this Monument — what was not the case in Mauthausen or Dachau — as an opportunity for believers to show respect in their own way, performing the prayer in remembrance of their victims.“

Fight for temple, fight for identity and personality of victims lasted for twenty two years. Under the concept of „antifascism“, the authorities tryed to cover up that Jasenovac was built for killing Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, only because they were members of their nations and religions, besides less number of active fighters against fascism of every nation in the territory of notorious NDH. Protecting the identity of Serbian victims, Church crushed an idea of such a „Bed of Procrustos“, enabling others to resist it, too. Even more, there was an idea of anticipating the room — as the part of new temple's complex — to make it possibly for others to perform services in remembrance of their victims. How great was effort to exterminate concrete and tangible memory could be seen, not only from the fact that Police demolished first bricks at the renovation of church, but also from an explicit demand of the architect of Memorial Center Bogdan Bogdanovic that growing out of any tree — a consequential Jews' symbol of life and memory — should be never and by no means allowed. However, one day, by God's will, through the upright pipe, which makes the base of Bogdanovic's monument, one plantlet grew out turning into a tree.

Twenty years after the cornerstone was settled and dedicated at St. John's Day in 1971., Serbian Patriarch German dedicated renovated temple in Jasenovac on Sunday, September 2th, 1984. On the iconostasis of that temple „the torches chiseled in white marble symbolizing eternal fire in memory of innocent victims of Jasenovac-martyrdom“ were depicted, besides motives of Kosovo Battle and Albanian Calvary (the way of the retreat of Serbian King Petar I, people and the Army in World War One to Greece through Albanian Mountains, where thousands of people died of hunger, cold and exhaustion) Thus fire, general art motive of memory on Holocaust, found it's place in the orthodoxy sacred art, too: settling accounts with the past of his nation, German painter Anselm Kiefer, one year earlier, would turn over Wilhelm Kreis's national „Memorial to German Soldiers to a crematorium, its darkened brick interior and recessional movement to a row of painterly flames (some would say suggestive of a menorah)“ naming that picture by beloved's name from Song of the Songs — Sulamith. The icon of Jasenovac new-martyrs, depicting in it's middle devastated martyred-church of Jasenovac among them, was settled at the central part of the temple.

In front of dozens of thousand people and great number of bishops and priests who made „that particular day Jasenovac the very centre of Serbian Orthodox Church,“ Patriarch German recolled the darkness of those days — „when father of sin, evil and eternal darkness waved with his wings of death, pouring out blood and tears, crime and death, building up Mauthausen, Auschwitz, Jasenovac, Jadovno, Glina ... as his temples.“ — telling something that will stay along with Serbs for generations: „Brothers, to forgive — we have to, as it is Gospel order, but to forget — we can not.“

Several weeks after this event, through roman-catholic magazine Aksa, member of Presidency of Central Committee of communist party of Yugoslavia Dušan Dragosavac announced that those words „in any case, are unacceptable.“ Why? Because it was required from Orthodox Church, Serbs (and also from all victims), not only to forgive, but to forget, in order to abolish, by that, the identity of Church itself. Even before the dedication of temple Aksa itself had wrote: „This is not, as some Church circles like to emphasize 'Memorial church' in memory of Jasenovac victims, but Parish church.“ Such words were also heard in other places: from communist party that those memory was against brotherhood and unity, from Roman-catholic Church that Christianity was not only to forgive, but to forget, too.

On the other side, liturgical memory is solely revealing of truly sense of Church. As „Passover and slaughter of the Lamb symbolized a memory of the slaughter of that lamb and of the blood that in Egypt saved firstborn sons of Jews“ but also disabling return to Egypt, in that way liturgical remembrance is the source of truth and knowledge — presumptions of justice, as it is the justice presumption of forgiveness. Where the truth missing the justice is impossible, where is no justice the revenge stands instead of forgiveness. Even the same one, who wrote the Service of Serbian New-martyrs, to a terrible question: „What are Serbs supposed to do?“ answered by words: „First, to not get revenge. Because someone who get revenges never became holy ... Those who would get revenge neither Serb nor Christian would have ever been ... But let them leave the revenge to Lord, to be proud with their 700,000 martyrs for Christ, and to build temples to them on the places of torture…“ „Forgetting the victim,“ added philosopher, „is forgetting the God.“

That was the reason that Church dedicated a large Collection, published by Holy Synod of Bishops in 1990., to this central event in memory of Jasenovac Sacrifice — dedication of Memorial church. In the Foreword of this Collection is written that „Memorial church in Jasenovac and this book solely are the symbols of our prayer, human and Christian memory.“ Emphasizing that „it is only about warning that neglecting recent evilness could encourage new evilness“ this book recorded the history of martyrdom by the hands of Ustaše in World War Two, as well the history of commemoration and renovation after those events.

A part of this book — related to sufferings inside the concentration camp, where numerous documents taken from Church archives were published for the first time — was extended and revised and turned into a book under the title Great-martyrdom of Jasenovac by hieromonk at the time Atanasije (Jevtic) and published within a year. Yugoslavian President Vojislav Koštunica wrote about this book: „He did that just to prevent of oblivion and to make a burial service for uncountable, innocent Serbian victims,“ concluding: „By underlining that there is a symmetry of crimes and responsibility on the both sides — Serbian and Croatian, and finally, by superficial, cynical, impersonal relation to the real sufferings of hundreds thousands of people, committed crimes are the relativism of granting amnesty of leading offenders from responsibility ... The lie or cover up the truth about Jasenovac represented one of the cornerstones of the Second, communistic Yugoslavia.“

Victims of Jasenovac and their descendants have never had an opportunity to ask themselves about those who deny pages of Shoah well known to anyone, as Ephraim Kaye has: „Is it desirable to honor such a superficial phenomenon with such a detailed and serious answer? Should we perhaps simply ignore these madmen and avoid lending them more importance than their public status warrants?“ On the contrary, another Jew, composer Enriko Josif shouts: „One of the horrible spiritual crimes is that in a world public has been kept in secret what happened to Serbs. It is the continuation of a horrible crime after the war.“

The evilness was suppressed and covered up, that's why it was to happen again. „The second edition of the book of Bishop Atanasije, Bishop of Herzegovina and Trebinje, comes at the moment when the temptations for Serbian people and Church are repeated,“ wrote historian Dragoljub Živojinović at the moment when this book, under the title Jasenovac of Great-martyrs after Jasenovac was appeared in 1995. This book has been supplemented by all what had happened in Jasenovac by May of the same year, when Croatian forces entered Jasenovac and when the Memorial church suffered again. Already in 1991. it was „hit by small grenade into the dome of belfry, and it's windows and walls were hit by rifle bullets.“

In May 1995. after the attack of Croatian forces on Jasenovac and Western Slavonia, Milenko Popovic, priest of Zagreb, reports as follows: „The church is intacted, but it's interior is plundered and burnt. There is no chandelier in the church, inside it members of Croatian Military and Police Forces, armed and under the full equipment sleep. They eat at the Holy Trapeza and the chalice we found was full of the spittle and buttes. We also visited the monument of victims of Jasenovac and found the fresh trails of blood.“ Holy Synod announces at that time: „Along the River Sava dead bodies of killed people float, as it was at the time of the 'work' of the first Jasenovac.“ Performing the memorial service on the Bosnian side of Jasenovac for those who were perished in the concentration camp, Serbian Patriarch Pavle also now on sends the words: „Sadly, for our Serbian orthodox people, the World War Two continues.“ The place of execution in Jasenovac, Donja Gradina, is wrinkled by the mortars. Already in 1997. we have detected and extracted out of it the rests of mines and iron and their rests probably still exist over there. Not only the alives, but, by some insane hater into which Balkan peoples sunk in 1991. the dead were killed, too.

„Have we learned anything?“ asked Yehuda Bauer in his speech in German Bundestag on the liberation day of Auschwitz, on January 27th, 1998., and answered by himself: „We are trying not to recognize the dark side of history — the mass murders, the agony, the suffering that is screaming into our faces from all of history.“ Two years after this speech Memorial church in Jasenovac was converted into a monastery, in accordance with words which Patriarch Pavle sent from the place of execution on May 10th, 1995.: „Let this be a call from this suffered watchtower of Jasenovac, from where the all grief of human evil and hater can be perceived, and to all people and nations to not achieve their earth aims by evil and injustice anymore, but by goodness and justice.“

Simultaneously, according to the competence of eschatology and the apprehension of final sense of history, accepted from Israel at the same time when the sense for history was accepted, the Church knows that Jasenovac and Shoah, besides all historic events which are commemorated, their full sense will discover and obtain there, where: „are indeed many and different 'mansions'„ (John 14:2), where every measure of virtue will be rewarded, and nothing will be left non-paid from the righteous and man-loving Judge“ For that reason, as we began by an eschatological scream of Jewish pan-mother which resounds through the ages, we'd like to end by the scream of Serbian mother which will inauspiciously resound in the Valley of Jehosaphat when the death will be dying:

„because here where death first begin to thresh
and thresh pouring with blood,

and at the very end its own death threshed, -

like blood today, tomorrow honey will begin to pour out,

honey and milk up above the heads of the children of ours -
up to the sun our land will sound of joy!

Translated from Serbian

by Sanja Trifunovic

1 Јеромонах Атанасије Јевтић, Великомученички Јасеновац, in: Јасеновац — мјесто натопљено крвљу невиних, Holy Synod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Beograd, 1990, p. 20

2 Ibid, р. 11

3 Никола Кавасила, Тумачење Свете Литургије, Беседа, Нови Сад, р. 44

4 Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, Yale University Press, London-New Haven 2001, р. 39

5 Јеромонах Атанасије Јевтић, Великомученички Јасеновац, op. Cit., р. 31

6 Ibid, р. 25

7 Ibid, р. 93

8 Свети Никола Кавасила, Тумачење Свете Литургије, op. cit., р. 130

9 Bogoljub Šijaković, On Sacrifice and Memory, in his book Between God and Man, Academia Verlag, Sankt Augustin, 2002, p. 79

10 Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, op.cit, р. 50

11 Свети Владика Николај, Служба Новомученицима српским, Манастир Рукумија, 2000, р. 35

12 Динко Давидов, Уништавање црквених објеката у Независној Држави Хрватској 1941-1945, in: зборнику Јасеновац – мјесто натопљено крвљу невиних, р. 214.

13 Ibid, стр. 214

14 Ibid, стр. 214

15 Bogoljub Šijaković, On Sacrifice and Memory, op. cit., p. 85

16 Dragoljub Joksimović, Jasenovac, in: Vojna enciklopedija, 4, second edition, IRVE, Beograd, 1972

17 Прота Бошко О. Босанац, Време које је претходило и хронологија изградње Спомен-храма у Јасеновцу у Епархији Славонској, in: Јасеновац — мјесто натопљено крвљу невиних, р. 249

18 Ibid, р. 250

19 Ibid, р. 251

20 Ibid, р. 253

21 Ibid, рp. 252-3

22 Слободан Милеуснић, Јасеновачки Спомен-храм, in: Јасеновац – мјесто натопљено крвљу невиних, р. 278

23 Lisa Saltzman, Lost in Translation: Clement Greenberg, Anselm Kiefer, and the Subject of History, in: Visual Culture and the Holocaust, The Athlone Press, London, 2001, р. 81

24 Драган Вукић, Освећење Спомен-храма Светог Јована у Јасеновцу, in: Јасеновац – мјесто натопљено крвљу невиних, р. 285

25 Говор Патријарха српског Германа на освећењу цркве у Јасеновцу, in: Јасеновац – мјесто натопљено крвљу невиних, рp. 287-8

26 Градимир Станић, Средства информисања о освећењу Спомен храма Светог Јована у Јасеновцу 1984. године, in: Јасеновац – мјесто натопљено крвљу невиних, р. 299

27 Ibid, р. 299

28 Свети Никола Кавасила, Тумачење Свете Литургије, op. cit., р. 51

29 Епископ Жички Николај, Најстрашнија инквизиција, in: Епископ Атанасијe Јевтић Великомученички Јасеновац послије Јасеновца, Хиландарски фонд-Задужбина «Николај Велимировић и Јустин Поповић», Beograd-Valjevo, 1995, р. 336

30 Bogoljub Šijaković, On Sacrifice and Memory, op. cit., p. 85

31 Јован, српскоправославни митрополит загребачко-љубљански, Предговор, in: Јасеновац – мјесто натопљено крвљу невиних, p. 6

32 Ibid, р. 7

33 Војислав Коштуница, Књига против лажи и заборава, in: Епископ Атанасијe Јевтић, Великомученички Јасеновац послије Јасеновца, р. 5

34 Ephraim Kaye, Desecraters of Memory: Confronting Holocaust Denial, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1997, р. 56

35 Cited in Јован, српскоправославни митрополит загребачко-љубљански, Предговор, op. cit., р. 7

36 Епископ Захумско-херцеговачко приморски Атанасије, Великомученички Јасеновац после Јасеновца, ibid, р. 389

37 Ibid, р. 401

38 Ibid, р. 413

39 Ibid, р. 406

40 Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust, op. cit., р. 262

41 Епископ Захумско-херцеговачко приморски Атанасије, Великомученички Јасеновац после Јасеновца, op. cit., р. 407

42 Свети Никола Кавасила, Тумачење Свете Литургије, op. cit., р. 161

43 Јеромонах Атанасије Јевтић, Великомученички Јасеновац, in: Јасеновац — мјесто натопљено крвљу невиних, Holy Sinod of Bishops of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Beograd, 1990, p. 20

43 Скендер Куленовић, Стојанка Мајка Кнежопољка, in: Стојанка Мајка Кнежопољка и друге поеме, Просвета, Београд, р. 24

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