CROATIA: MYTH AND REALITY
C. Michael McAdams

MYTH: "THE BASKET OF HUMAN EYEBALLS"

Myth: The Croatian wartime Chief-of-State Ante Pavelic routinely maintained a basket containing twenty kilos of human eyeballs at his desk side.

Reality: This statement is literally a work of fiction taken from the novel Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte (Kurt Suckert, also known as Gianni Strozzi). The book was written as fiction, sold as fiction, and is cataloged in every library in the world as fiction. To cite Kaputt as a source about World War II is analogous to citing Gone With the Wind as an authoritative history of the American Civil War.

That this tired tale is still being retold is the second most amazing part of this myth. More amazing is that anybody, no matter how blinding their hatred of Croatians, could believe it. And yet this myth was quoted as fact as recently as 1995 in official publications printed in Belgrade by the Ministry of Information of the Republic of Serbia and repeated by naive journalists around the world. The myth survived and was given renewed life by the Serbian government, journalists and politicians because it came with quotation marks. The legend had a footnote, a citation, an author and all the trappings of fact. The author was often cited as "the most famous Italian writer," "the Italian journalist" and even the "famed Italian historian", Curzio Malaparte. His famous quote from the 1946 English translation of the novel Kaputt reads:

While he spoke, I gazed at a wicker basket on the Poglavnik's desk. The lid was raised and the basket seemed to be filled with mussels, or shelled oysters --as they are occasionally displayed in the windows ''of Fortnum and Mason in Piccadilly in London.

Castertano looked at me and winked, "Would you like a nice oyster stew?"

"Are they Dalmatian oysters?" I asked the Poglavnik.

Ante Pavelic removed the lid from the basket and revealed the mussels, that slimy and jelly-like mass, and he said smiling, with that tired good-natured smile of his, "It is a present from my loyal ustashis. Forty pounds of human eyes."

Kaputt and its author both had fascinating stories to tell. In the original press release for the book, Malaparte ed that the manuscript was started in the Ukraine in 1941 and smuggled throughout Europe in coat linings and in the soles of his shoes. Finally, the manuscript was divided into three parts and given to three diplomats, to be reunited in 1943 on Capri where it was finished. The book chronicled Malaparte's movements around Europe in 1941 and 1942, when he claimed to have visited every front and knew every head of state, usually on a first name basis. Malaparte apparently spoke every language and shared the charms of every beautiful princess.

According to his own preface to Kaputt, his personal friendships with Mussolini, Hitler and others did not save him from being thrown into jail in July 1943 as antiGerman. Miraculously, he was soon freed and was working for the Allies by September of that year. It was while working as a propagandist for the Allies that Malaparte conipleted Kaputt, which he described as "...horribly gay and gruesome."

The critics agreed. Malaparte's two major books, Kaputt and Skin were 5 labeled "Best selling Nausea" by Time magazine. His writings contained pages of sordid tales about the evil world of Fascist Europe. Malaparte's basket of human eyeballs must be taken in context, as Time magazine wrote in 1952:

"He shows mothers who sell their children into prostitution; but then, says Malaparte with a smirk, there are also the children who would gladly sell their mothers. He dwells for part of a chapter on a street peopled with twisted female dwarfs, who fed, he asserts gleefully, on the unnatural lust in the American ranks. Another chapter is concerned with a visit to a shop that sells blonde pubic wigs. U.S. soldiers, Malaparte explains, like blondes."

These offensive themes only scratch the surface of Malaparte's sick writings. That the Allies won the War through the devices of a "homosexual maquis", flags of human skin, and an Allied general who served his guests a boiled child are all included in Malaparte's fare.

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Edición electrónica de Studia Croatica, 1998