Holocaust museum head tells Bosnia: Admit Nazi past

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The head of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has taken the Bosnian government to task for failing to admit to the Bosnian history of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II.

Miles Lerman, chairman of the museum's memorial council, reproached Bosnia-Herzegovina's ambassador to the United States after an ecumenical prayer service designed to call attention to the ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia.

"Tell your prime minister to acknowledge Bosnia's past or else I'll do it myself and it will be much stronger," Lerman told Ambassador Sven Alkalaj in the presence of a reporter after the half-hour ceremony.

"We have done more for your country, more than anyone else in the world," said Lerman, under whose leadership the Holocaust museum has been out front in condemning the atrocities in Bosnia.

"Unless your present government is prepared to acknowledge that some Bosnians were collaborators with Nazi Germany and wore the uniforms of the SS, this support cannot last forever."

During his exchange with Lerman, Alkalaj agreed to take the message back to Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic.

After the confrontation, Alkalaj said his government is "not denying the atrocities committed against Jews in World War II."

"The prime minister will make such a speech when he comes to this holy place on his next trip to Washington," Alkalaj pledged, referring to the Holocaust museum.

Silajdzic plans to come to Washington before the end of the year, Alkalaj said.

An estimated 60,000 Jews perished in the former Yugoslavia during World War II, according to the Holocaust museum. Most were victims of Nazi collaborators in Croatia and Bosnia.

The organized Jewish community has expressed outrage at reports of ethnic cleansing and other acts committed by Bosnian Serbs fighting the predominantly Bosnian Muslim government.

The ceremony on Thursday of last week marked the third time the museum has become the site of gatherings intended to express concern over the war in Bosnia.

During his speech at the gathering, Lerman said, "Fifty years ago, we watched with anguish" as the "world stood by and did nothing to stop atrocities."

"Today as we watch the carnage in the former Yugoslavia," he said, "we cannot remain silent."