On 23 March 2023, the Faculty of Law of the Josip Juraj Strossmayer University of Osijek hosted the round table “Advancement of education, research and informing about the Holocaust and systematic encouragement of remembrance of the Holocaust”, co-organised by the Police Headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior and the Osijek-Baranja Police Administration, the Osijek Faculty of Law and the Jewish Community of Osijek, as part of the project “Together against Hate Speech”.
The university and academic community, representatives of competent state bodies, notably representatives of the social care system, the judiciary, police officers, representatives of local and regional self-administration units, members of the Jewish Community of Osijek, representatives of the Ombudsperson’s regional office in Osijek and of the office of the Ombudsperson for Children, students of the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, representatives of the media and representatives of civil society organisations participated at this event.
The round table and the exhibition were organised for the purpose of education, sensibilisation and raising awareness of the public about the crimes committed during the Holocaust, and were also aimed at suppressing all forms of modern antisemitism and at stressing the importance of systematic promotion of the culture of nonviolence and tolerance in everyday life.
The fact that 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children, lost their lives during the Holocaust was presented at the round table. It was emphasised that, from the perspective of remembrance of victims, it is necessary to systematically invest in the prevention of all forms of antisemitism, extremism, radicalism and all other forms of unacceptable behaviour, starting with hate speech.
Since this programme was held as a side event/activity within the framework of the Croatian Presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the participants at the event were informed that on 1 March 2023 the Republic of Croatia took over the annual Presidency of the IHRA.
In his welcoming speech, Professor Tunjica Petrašević, PhD, the Dean of the Faculty of Law of the Josip Juraj Strossmayer University of Osijek, stressed that suppression of antisemitism is the responsibility of each individual, but also the responsibility of every educational institution and that it is exceptionally important to foster a culture of dialogue with the aim to preserve the memory of the Holocaust as a learning lesson for the future, in order to prevent genocide and mass crimes in modern times..
In his presentation entitled “Holocaust denial: a form of hate speech and criminal law standards”, Associate Professor Barbara Herceg Pakšić, PhD from the Faculty of Law in Osijek pointed out that the Criminal Code of the Republic of Croatia provides for a separate criminal offense called “Public incitement to violence and hatred”. She cited the provisions of Article 325 of the Criminal Code: “The same punishment as referred to paragraph 1 of this Article shall be inflicted on whoever publicly approves of, denies or grossly trivialises the crimes of genocide, crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity or war crimes, directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group because of their race, religion, national or ethnic origin, descent or colour, in a manner that likely to incite to violence or hatred against such a group or a members of such a group”, and further emphasised the importance of paragraph 4 of the same Article which contains an incrimination related to Holocaust denial. She also pointed out that hate speech is not limited to words, although they are the most common form, whether written or spoken; it can also take the form of symbols, gestures, images and music aimed at expressing a prejudiced opinion inciting violence, also including the denying, justifying and trivialising of genocide, including the Holocaust.
She concluded that the denial of the Holocaust represents discourse and propaganda that denies historical reality, and as such is in complete opposition to all the values of the European Union.
In his presentation entitled “Holocaust in Osijek”, Associate Professor Hrvoje Volner, PhD from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Osijek, pointed out that in the Osijek area in 1931, the Jewish population made up 6% of the population, or about 2,500 people. 455 people survived the Holocaust in that area, meaning that 87% of the Jewish population of that area perished. He emphasised that it is important to face the historical truth so that tragedies do not repeat themselves. At the same time, in the context of World War II, he paraphrased Hegel “If a nation has matured and has become historical, then it is also responsible for the actions of its rulers who rule in its name”.
On the topic of “The importance and work of the Jewish Community in the local community”, the president of the Jewish Community of Osijek, Mr. Damir Lajoš, referred to the contribution of the Community both in the past and at present, and the importance of implementation of various manifestations, exhibitions, thematic plays and events that the Jewish Community of Osijek regularly organises with the aim of promoting a culture of tolerance, dialogue and mutual respect, as well as highlighting the crimes committed during the Holocaust, so that everyone would recognise and prevent future persecutions and crimes. He also emphasised the importance of joint cooperation with all stakeholders in society, as well as the importance of participating in cultural public and other manifestations, pointing out that in this way we prevent persecution and all negative actions towards anyone.
Drago Kohn, a witness of growing up in Osijek during the Holocaust as a child of a Jewish family, told his, very emotional, personal story, telling about the suffering of his family during World War II. Due to this unfathomable tragedy, as a child of a Jewish family, he lost years of his childhood as well as years of growing up healthy and happy. Mr. Kohn also emphasised that he felt regretful that the people who had survived the camps did not share more testimonies of their grave and atrocious experiences before they died, since as a result, not enough records of personal testimonies exist today.