Refugee camp in El Shatt
Address of the President of the Republic of Croatia at the renovated El Shatt Cemetery
Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Republic of Croatia, “the homeland that does not forget” as written on the wreath ribbon, I have paid homage to all those who rest in this Cemetery under the Sinai sands. More than sixty years ago the winds of war brought them here, to a strange country and an unfamiliar climate. They sought a haven to escape from the occupying Nazi forces, and found it here with the help of the National Liberation Army and our British allies.
They came here tired, exhausted, wounded, starving – about thirty thousands refugees. Several hundreds remained here forever. They rest in this Cemetery. But war seemed to have followed them even beyond the boundary between life and death. On two occasions over the past decades war almost brought the El Shatt Cemetery ill-fated oblivion and disappearance.
Its survival was first affected by the Israeli-Arab conflict. At the time the Cemetery was renovated by the former Yugoslavia, which also took care of it. And then, as the Yugoslav federation disintegrated amidst war, the Cemetery was neglected, almost forgotten. It was renovated by the Republic of Croatia in cooperation with the authorities of the Arab Republic of Egypt.
There is a lot of symbolism in our assembling here to mark the completed renovation the El Shatt Refugee Cemetery at a time when we are preparing to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of victory in the Second World War. The people who came here from the Croatian coast and the islands fled the horrors of war brought to their country by fascism and Nazism.
But even in this refugee camp, with no possessions, having escaped with their bare lives, they kept their pride and dignity. Allied reporters who visited them left us records of that. Their bearing conveyed the message about the dignity and magnitude of the fight waged by their homeland, by their loved ones.
Today we pay homage to all of them – to the fighters who stormed the sky, as some would say later on, with a rifle in their hands, and to the brave refugees who did not let war, poverty and misery kill their humanity.
I would like to thank all the people, both in Egypt and in Croatia, who were involved in the renovation of the Cemetery. I thank all the people who helped maintain the memory of the hundreds of refugees, some of them literally at the start of their lives, who never returned to their homes from the faraway Sinai expanses.
The Croatian refugee camp in El Shatt is only a minor episode in the history of the Second World War, known only to few people in the world. But for us in Croatia it is a part of our history which we shall and must never forget.
And I am here today in order to bear that out!
I am here to say: heroes of El Shatt, for you were all heroes, your homeland has not forgotten you!
820 Croatian refugees evacuated from 1943 to 1945 from Croatian region of Dalmatia died during their exile and has been buried at the El Shatt Cemetery, 160 kilometers form Cairo.