Born in Vrbas, Yugoslavia in 1927, Ivan “Ivica’ Vranetic was raised in a Catholic family of Croatian descent that prioritized acts of kindness and respect for one’s fellow. During his childhood, most of Ivica’s neighbors supported the Ustaše, a fascist organization closely linked to the Nazis. During the 1930’s, xenophobic ultra-nationalism was the prevailing ideology in Vrbas, resulting in intense persecution of the local Jewish community. At only seventeen years old, Ivica witnessed a Jewish doctor being viciously harassed by Croatian soldiers, and the youth immediately jumped into the fray to help. The soldiers turned their attention from the Jew to the brave teenager, beating Ivica so badly that he permanently lost hearing in his left ear.
This traumatic episode only served to strengthen Ivica’s resolve to stand up against Jew hatred and fascism. Still living with his parents, Ivica reached out to terrified local Jews and helped them find hiding places with sympathetic Yugoslavians. Some of those he helped were children and elderly people, and Ivica carried them on his back. He continued to help those in hiding, bringing them food and medicine. For the next few years, as the persecution of local Jews increased, the young man kept putting his own safety at risk by helping them.
One of the Jews he helped, in the early 1940’s, was Arna Montilio, whose husband had recently been deported and killed in the Jasenovac concentration camp, leaving her the single mother of a toddler who was also caring for her elderly mother. Ivica settled all three in a secure hiding place. Arna later said, “I could have never survived with an old mother and a little girl without his help.”
The Germans entered Vrbas in 1943, and Yugoslav partisans fought Nazis in the streets. Ivica gathered information from the partisans and warned Jews when Germans were approaching. Sometimes he had to find new hiding places and transport them there, usually in the dead of night.
Seemingly unconcerned for his own safety while helping others – most of them strangers to him – young Ivica risked his life repeatedly. It is unknown exactly how many Jews he saved, but he considered each one of them a friend for life, and kept in touch with them after the war ended. He had especially tender feelings for Arna, and proposed to her after the war, but both of their mothers were opposed to their marriage due to their differing religious heritages.
Arna moved to Israel, where she re-married and had two more children. She and Ivica continued a frequent correspondence by mail, and twenty years after her immigration, he came to Israel to visit. Arna’s second marriage had ended, and the two were free to marry, which they did. A loving husband and stepfather, Ivica remained in Israel for the rest of his life.
In 1970, Ivica was honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem. He stayed involved with Yad Vashem, and was elected chairman of the Righteous in 1986. In that role he helped locate and honor other Holocaust heroes. Ivica and six Jewish survivors met Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 when he visited Israel. Ivica died the next year in his adopted homeland at age 84.
For protecting and saving persecuted Croatian Jews over several years, we honor Ivan “Ivica’ Vranetic as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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