Slovenia was late in acknowledging the Holocaust on its territory and continues to worry more about communist crimes against its collaborationist Home Guard than about Nazi mass murder.
After a slow start, Slovenia is moving to come to terms with its role in the Holocaust.
The Jewish tragedy long was pushed to the margins of Slovenian public life. To an extent,
this omission is understandable. Although almost all of Slovenia’s small 900 person
Jewish community were killed, this was far less than the hundreds of thousands of Slovene
victims of fascism and communism.
Slovenia’s 2006 membership in the European Union and its decision to join the International
Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2011 has kickstarted support for Holocaust
commemoration. New textbooks are being assigned to history classrooms that emphasize that
Slovenia, too, had Jewish citizens who died in the Holocaust. While the previous right wing
government has led many to fear a rise in so called “anti-Semitism without Jews,” it was
consistent in support of international norms.
At the same time, Slovenia’s commemoration of the Holocaust often remains mixed with
commemoration of ethnically Slovenian victims and soldiers. The issue of relative victimization
persists in many occupied countries, and the schizophrenic nature of Slovenia’s wartime
occupation by three different powers complicates the story. While the Holocaust is not at the
center of public consciousness in Slovenia, many related issues are, from refugee policies, to
Israel, to right wing nationalism.
More work must be done to continue to spur public debate about the relationship Slovenes have
with the Holocaust, why it matters, and what changes can be made on a societal level to ensure
that Slovenians understand the importance of Holocaust remembrance. Civil institutions,
including the Roman Catholic Church, have a responsibility to recognize Slovenia’s role in this
The Holocaust in Slovenia
On April 6, 1941 German, Italian, and Hungarian invaders divided the country. The German
occupiers instituted their standard racial policies and measures against Jews. After the fall of
Italy’s fascist government in September 1943, Germany occupied the Italian zone, persecuting
the few remaining Jewish inhabitants. The Nazis occupied Hungary in the spring of 1944,
initiating initiated a mass persecution of Jews under Hungary’s jurisdiction, including the Jewish
community in Prekmurje in Northeastern Slovenia where most Slovenian Jews resided. Ninety
percent of Slovenia’s small Jewish population died in the Holocaust, most of them at Auschwitz.
While Germany was the main perpetrator of the genocide, the Slovenian Home Guard played a
significant role in fighting partisans, opposing communists - and deporting the Jewish
population. Founded by right wing Slovenes, the Home Guard functioned like most
collaborationist forces in Axis-occupied Europe during World War II, assisting the Germans in
anti-Partisan operations. After the war, the Home Guard fled to Austria, but were turned away
and forced to return to Slovenia, where the new communist regime killed them en masse.
This massacre complicates Slovenia’s Holocaust remembrance. For many Slovenes, the
execution of the Home Guard stands as a testament to the cruelty of communism.
Commemoration of the Home Guard often is accompanied by attempts to absolve the Home
Guard of their sins in the war itself, in order to make their execution all the more tragic. This kind
of commemoration started after the fall of Yugoslavia in 1991 and continues to this day.
- 1945-50: Executions of Domobranci (Slovenian Home Guard) take place by victorious
Yugoslav forces. This event shapes Slovenia’s remembrance culture.
- 1983: ‘Auschwitz’, an encyclopedia of Slovenian victims of Nazi concentration camps is
published. No Jews are included in the volume.
- 1991: Slovenia garners independence from Yugoslavia, precipitating an increase in
- 2001: Maribor Synagogue is officially opened as a Jewish museum.
- 2011: Slovenia joins IHRA.
- 2013: Levana synagogue becomes a Holocaust museum.
Slovenia’s political climate is in flux. Elections were held in June, and it remains unclear how the
new government will handle Holocaust remembrance. A left-wing government led by former
comedian Marjan Sarec instead has formed a government. Interviewees who worked in the
Holocaust Remembrance field expressed relief that this government was formed in lieu of a
right-wing nationalist government.
The key question concerns the Slovene Home Guard. According to historian Luthar of the
University of Maribor, the state funded Study Center for National Reconciliation is responsible
for systematically removing historical references to Slovenia’s collaboration in the Holocaust
from official accounts.
Although the Holocaust is typically taught in schools, Maribor Synagogue curator Boris
Hajdinjak says textbooks are antiquated and do not address the topic for younger students. The
textbooks focus on facts and figures rather than doing work in trying to elicit emotional
reactions. According to historian Oto Luthar, a growing number of teachers are neglecting the
Holocaust subject, or only briefly covering it, due to the controversial nature of the material.
Slovenia cares about its past, and memorials are common. The Study Center for National
Reconciliation, a department of the Ministry of Justice, sponsored a plaque that “commemorates
victims of totalitarian violence, including fascism, Nazism and communism.” This
memorialisation risks creating a false equivalence between the suffering of Slovenians and
Despite this dedication, state sponsored memorials for Jewish victims remain scarce. A
memorial at the train station in Murska Sobota, where Jews were first deported from Slovenia,
was inaugurated in 2010; before no memorials existed dedicated to the Holocaust. Another
museum in Levanda opened in 2013. It focuses on the Holocaust, but is located in a remote
region and unheard of by most Slovenians.
The country’s main research and remembrance institution is the Maribor Synagogue, a 15th
century synagogue-turned museum. The synagogue is a strong symbol of the long history of
Jewish life in Slovenia, but its main mission is to curate local Jewish history, not pursue
The curators at the Maribor Synagogue are working to correct this by publishing record of
Slovenian Jewish victims. Stolpersteine have been installed in Maribor, and more are on their
way thanks to the synagogue researchers’ work. Other Jewish historical sites are being
renovated and memorialized with both private and public funds, particularly at graveyards in
such places as Nova Gorica.
Even so, few reminders exist testifying to the Jewish presence in Slovenia. Maribor Synagogue
curator Hajdinjak, points to the efforts to rename streets after prominent Jewish citizens of the
city, such as lauded post Holocaust Slovenian-Jewish author Berta Bojetu. Despite the Jewish
influence on the history of the city of Maribor, no political or civic will exists to name a street
after her, or any of a number of other former Jewish persons of interest from the city.
Restitution is difficult in Slovenia’s situation since acceptance of guilt is not taken as a given.
Further, the small size of the Jewish population and the poor records kept through the past
seven decades of postwar history have made finding and restoring lost property difficult. Still,
historian Oto Luthar and others have helped with several Jewish families and heirs and almost a
dozen cases have successfully reallocated lost property or damages.
The main opposition party in Slovenia, and indeed the largest party receiving 24% of the vote, is
the Slovenian Democratic Party. It is a right wing party with a track record of vilifying
communists, exonerating the Slovenian collaborationist Domobranci (Home Guard), and being
associated with neo-Nazi groups such as the so called “Blood and Honor” group.
Most of this rhetoric is on the fringes of the party, and this connection to Nazism is ostensibly
anti-communist rather than anti-Jewish. It remains to be seen whether the party will step back
from this kind of radicalization and denounce all forms of totalitarianism, or whether it will
continue to glorify the country’s fascist past.
The Holocaust remains a marginal topic in everyday Slovenian life. It most often arises in
discussions and debate about Slovenian nationalism and with regard to current events in Israel.
While this dialogue is not a significant part of the national discourse, it is a growing matter of
concern. A number of institutions in civil society fail to their influence to enact positive change,
namely the Roman Catholic church.
Notable problems in civil society exist with regard to its fascist past. The Home Guard, the Nazi
collaborationist force, is commemorated at sites such as Grahavo in the Notranjsko region.
These are soldiers who collaborated with the Nazis, yet it is still acceptable to commemorate
them. public commemoration of the Home Guard still takes place openly. In the media, too, this
commemoration of Nazi apologists and collaborators lingers.
According to anthropologist Irena Sumi, anti-Semitism remains a significant concern but it is
directed against new forces. Slovenia’s relationship to Israel, for example, is often questioned
by anti-Semites both on the right and left wings of the political spectrum. Even among the
intellectual community it seems that there is a feeling that Israel is not treating Slovenia with
respect. Maribor synagogue curator Hajdinjak described how members of Yad Vashem went to
Belgrade to get information about the Holocaust in Slovenia, and Sasa Petejan described how,
when a group of Slovenian teachers visited Yad Vashem, they were disappointed to see little
recognition of the plight of Slavic peoples in the concentration camps alongside the Jews.
While no significant private institution dedicates itself to Holocaust remembrance in Slovenia,
religious communities have significant influence on the public discourse and shape
remembrance in the country. Chief among these is the Catholic church. Almost 75% of
Slovenes are Catholic. According to Irena Sumi, the Catholic church has been known to bless
memorials to collaborators, such as the one at Grahavo. The Slovene church was often
complacent during the Holocaust, and church leaders have not made any statements of regret
for this complacency.
Though the community is small, Slovene Jews play an important role in Holocaust
remembrance in Slovenia remains strong. The community serves as a watchdog against the
rising tide of anti-Semitism, and their media presence and influence is significant relative to their
size. Above all, the Jews in Slovenia serve as a reminder of the long history of Jewish life in
-Author: Nicholas Haeg