|Genocide of Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia|
|Part of World War II in Yugoslavia|
Expelled Serbs marching out of town
|Genocide, ethnic cleansing, deportation, forced conversion|
|Motive||Anti-Serb sentiment, Greater Croatia, anti-Yugoslavism, Croatisation|
Hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs were subjected to the racial and genocidal policies of the fascist Ustashe regime in the Independent State of Croatia between 1941 and 1945, during the Second World War, including extermination, expulsion and forced religious conversion.
The 6 January Dictatorship and anti-Croat policies by the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav government in the 1920's and 1930's following World War I fueled the rise of nationalist and far-right movements as well as anti-Serbian policies in the Second World War. The most extreme of these were the Ustaše, an ultranationalist and fascist Croatian movement that was founded by Ante Pavelić. At its core, the Ustaše held a deep ethnic hatred of Serbs and Serbian centralized power. Prior to World War II, the party organized an uprising in 1932 and assisted in the assassination of King Alexander I. Following the Nazi German-led Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, a German puppet state known as the Independent State of Croatia was implemented, comprising most of modern-day Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as parts of modern-day Serbia and Slovenia, ruled by the Ustaše.
The Ustaše's goal was to create an ethnically pure Greater Croatia by eliminating all non-Croats, with the Serbs being the primary target but also Jews and Roma. In addition to Nazi racial theory, the Ustaše ideology incorporated fascism, Roman Catholicism and Croatian nationalism. A major ideological influence on the Croatian nationalism of the Ustaše was Ante Starčević, who envisioned the creation of a Greater Croatia and who was both anti-Habsburg and anti-Serb. A third of Serbs were to be killed, a third expelled and a third converted to Roman Catholicism. Large scale massacres took place and concentration camps were set up in the region, the largest one being the Jasenovac camp, which was notorious for its high mortality rate and barbaric practices. Furthermore, Independent State of Croatia was the only Axis satellite to have erected camps specifically formed for children.
The regime systematically murdered approximately 200,000 to 500,000 Serbs, with most authors agreeing on a range of around 300,000 to 350,000 fatalities. At least 52,000 perished at Jasenovac. 300,000 Serbs were further expelled and at least 200,000 were forcibly converted, most of whom de-converted following the war.
Ethnic tensions between Croats and Serbs can be traced back to the Great Schism of 1054. During the time of the Austrian Empire, land privileges were granted to Serbs living in the Military Frontier of the Habsburg Monarchy. As Habsburg frontier militiamen, they were exempt from communal and church autonomy as well as feudal obligations while Croats were not. This became a source of Croat resentment and Serb determination to defend their status which became articulated in nationalist sentiments and ideologies in later history. However, both Croat and Serb communities lived in peace, if not harmony until 1941. A politically provoking moment came with Serbian minister Ilija Garašanin's Načertanije foreign policy programme (1844), a document that went unpublished until 1906. The plan controversially proposed the unification of lands inhabited by Bulgarians, Macedonians, Albanians, Montenegrins, Bosnians, and Croats under a Serbian dynasty. Garašanin's plan also included methods of spreading Serbian influence in claimed lands and onto Croats, writing: "Special attention must be paid to diverting peoples of the Roman Catholic faith from Austria and her influence, and their greater inclination towards Serbia should be fostered." The document is one of the most contested of nineteenth-century Serbian history, with rival interpretations.
Following the collapse of Austria-Hungary in the final days of World War I, the Croat and Slovene-dominated State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs was established. This new state failed to gain recognition from the Great Powers. In a note of 31 October, the National Council in Zagreb informed the governments of the United Kingdom, France, Italy and the United States that the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs was constituted in the South-Slavic areas that had been part of Austria-Hungary, and that the new state intended to form a common state with Serbia and Montenegro. The same note was sent to the government of the Kingdom of Serbia and the Yugoslav Committee in London. Serbia's prime minister Nikola Pašić responded to the note on 8 November, recognizing the National Council in Zagreb as "legal government of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes living in the territory of the Austria-Hungary", and notified the governments of the United Kingdom, France, Italy and the United States asking them to do the same.
On 23–24 November, the National Council declared "unification of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs formed on the entire, contiguous South-Slavic area of the former Austria-Hungary with the Kingdom of Serbia and Montenegro into a unified State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs". 28 members of the council were appointed to implement that decision based on National Council's adopted directions on implementation of the agreement of organization of the unified state with the government of the Kingdom of Serbia and representatives of political parties in Serbia and Montenegro. The instructions were largely ignored by the delegation members who negotiated with Regent Alexander instead.
This left Croats and Slovenes no choice but to join a union largely dominated by ethnic Serbs, which came to be known as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Upon its creation, the state was composed of six million Serbs, 3.5 million Croats and 1 million Slovenes. Being the largest ethnic group, the Serbs favoured a centralised state, whereas Croats, Slovenes and Bosnian Muslims did not.
Approved on 28 June 1921 and based on the Serbian constitution of 1903, the so-called Vidovdan Constitution established the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes as a parliamentary monarchy under the Serbian Karađorđević dynasty. Belgrade was chosen as the capital of the new state, assuring Serb and Orthodox Christian political dominance. In 1928, Croatian Peasant Party leader Stjepan Radić was assassinated on the floor of the country's parliament by a Montenegrin Serb leader and People's Radical Party politician Puniša Račić.
The following year, King Alexander I proclaimed the 6 January Dictatorship and renamed his country the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to remove any emphasis on its ethnic makeup. Yugoslavia was divided into nine administrative units called banovinas, six of which had ethnic Serb majorities.
The anti-Croatian policies of the Serbian-dominated Yugoslav government in the 1920's and 1930's, especially the assassination of Croatian Peasant Party leaders in Parliament in June 1928 by a deputy of the main Serbian political party, were largely responsible for the creation, growth and nature of Croatian nationalist forces. In 1931, the King issued a decree which allowed the Yugoslav Parliament to reconvene on the condition that only pro-Yugoslav parties were allowed to be represented in it. Marginalised, far-right and far-left movements thrived. The Ustaše, a Croatian fascist party, emerged as the most extreme movement of these. The Ustaše were driven by a deep hatred of Serbs and Serbdom and claimed that, "Croats and Serbs were separated by an unbridgable cultural gulf" which prevented them from ever living alongside each other. They organized the so-called Velebit uprising in 1932, assaulting a police station in the village of Brušani in Lika. The police responded harshly to the assault and harassed the local population. In 1934, the Ustaše cooperated with Bulgarian, Hungarian and Italian right-wing extremists to assassinate Alexander while he visited the French city of Marseille. Alexander's cousin, Prince Paul, took the regency until the new king, Peter II, turned eighteen. Ustaše leader, Ante Pavelić, believed that the assassination would cause Yugoslavia to disintegrate. Instead, countries that had assisted the organisation, such as Italy and Hungary, cracked down on its members, arrested them, and destroyed their training camps at Yugoslavia's behest. According to historian Slavko Goldstein, the Ustaše planned to commit a genocide against ethnic Serbs for years prior to the outbreak of World War II.
One of Pavelić's main ideologues, Mijo Babić, wrote in 1932:
When blood starts to spill it will gush in streams. The blood of the enemy will turn into gushes and rivers, and bombs will scatter their bones like the wind scatters the husks of wheat. Every Ustaša is poised [...] to thrust himself upon the enemy, with his body and soul, to kill and destroy it. The dedication, revolvers, bombs, and sharp knives of the Croatian Ustaše will cleanse and cut whatever is rotten from the healthy body of the Croatian people.
Croatian opposition to a centralised Yugoslavia continued following Alexander's assassination, culminating with the signing of the Cvetković–Maček Agreement by Croatian politician Vladko Maček and Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragiša Cvetković on 26 August 1939. By signing the agreement, Belgrade sought to accommodate moderate Croats through the creation of a largely autonomous Banovina of Croatia which covered 27 percent of Yugoslavia's territory and included 29 percent of its population. It also ensured that Maček became Yugoslavia's deputy premier. Ultimately, the agreement was not successful—it led to other Yugoslav ethnic groups demanding a status similar to that of Croatia and failed to satisfy right-wing Croats such as those that had joined the Ustaše, who wanted a fully independent Croatian state. The Ustaše were enraged by the very notion of Maček having negotiated with Belgrade, denouncing him as a "sell out". Right-wing Croats quickly orchestrated anti-Serbian incidents across the newly formed Banovina, and in June 1940, a Croatian National-Socialist Party was established in Zagreb. On 25 March 1941, Yugoslavia bowed to German pressure and signed the Tripartite Pact in an effort to avoid war with the Axis powers.
Two days later, a group of Serbian nationalist Royal Yugoslav Air Force officers organised a coup d'état to depose Prince Paul and the government of Dragiša Cvetković. Peter was declared to be of age and was elevated to the throne. Upon hearing news of the coup, Adolf Hitler immediately ordered the invasion of Yugoslavia.
Invasion of Yugoslavia
In April 1941, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded by the Axis powers and the puppet state known as the Independent State of Croatia was created, ruled by the Ustaše regime. The ideology of the Ustaše movement was a blend of Nazism, Catholicism, and Croatian ultranationalism. The Ustaše supported the creation of a Greater Croatia that would span to the Drina river and the outskirts of Belgrade. The movement emphasized the need for a racially "pure" Croatia and promoted the extermination of Serbs (who were viewed as ethinic foreigners,) Jews, and Gypsies.
A major ideological influence on the Croatian nationalism of the Ustaše was the 19th-century nationalist Ante Starčević. Starčević was an advocate of Croatian unity and independence and was both anti-Habsburg and anti-Serb. He envisioned the creation of a Greater Croatia that would include territories inhabited by Bosniaks, Serbs, and Slovenes, considering Bosniaks and Serbs to be Croats who had been converted to Islam and Eastern Orthodox Christianity and considering the Slovenes to be "mountain Croats".
Starčević argued that the large Serb presence in the territories that were claimed by a Greater Croatia was the result of recent settlement, which had been encouraged by the Habsburg rulers, along with the influx of groups like Vlachs who took up Eastern Orthodox Christianity and identified themselves as Serbs. The Ustaše used Starčević's theories to promote the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia and they recognized Croatia as having two major ethnocultural components: Catholic Croats and Muslim Croats, because the Ustaše saw the Islam of the Bosnian-Muslims as a religion which "keeps true the blood of Croats." Armed struggle, genocide and terrorism were glorified by the group. Alexander Korb wrote:
|“||A German-Croatian agreement enabled Ustaša militias and Croatian state agents to unleash a campaign ethnic cleansing directed against the Serbs who lived on the soil the Ustaša claimed was part of Greater Croatia||”|
Independent State of Croatia
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After Nazi forces entered Zagreb on 10 April 1941, Pavelić's closest associate Slavko Kvaternik, proclaimed the formation of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) on a Radio Zagreb broadcast. Meanwhile, Pavelić and several hundred Ustaše volunteers left their camps in Italy and travelled to Zagreb, where Pavelić declared a new government on 16 April 1941. He accorded himself the title of "Poglavnik" (German: Führer, English: Chief leader). The Independent State of Croatia was declared to be on Croatian "ethnic and historical territory".
This country can only be a Croatian country, and there is no method we would hesitate to use in order to make it truly Croatian and cleanse it of Serbs, who have for centuries endangered us and who will endanger us again if they are given the opportunity.— Milovan Žanić, the minister of the NDH Legislative council, on 2 May 1941.
- One-third of the Serbs were to be killed
- One-third of the Serbs were to be expelled
- One-third of the Serbs were to be forcibly converted to Catholicism
The NDH combined most of modern Croatia, all of modern Bosnia and Herzegovina and parts of modern Serbia into an "Italian-German quasi-protectorate". NDH authorities, led by the Ustaše militia, then implemented genocidal policies against the Serb, Jewish and Romani populations living in the new state.
Viktor Gutić made several speeches in early summer 1941, calling Serbs "former enemies" and "unwanted elements" to be cleansed and destroyed, and also threatened Croats who did not support their cause.
In 1941, the usage of the Cyrillic script was banned, and in June 1941 began the elimination of "Eastern" (Serbian) words from the Croatian language, as well as the shutting down of Serbian schools. Ante Pavelić ordered, through the "Croatian state office for language", the creation of new words from old roots (some which are used today), and purged many Serbian words.
Ustashe militias and death squads
The Ustaše Militia was organised in 1941 into five (later 15) 700-man battalions, two railway security battalions and the elite Black Legion and Poglavnik Bodyguard Battalion (later Brigade). They were predominantly recruited among the uneducated population and working class.
In the summer of 1941, Ustashe militias and death squads burnt villages and killed thousands of civilian Serbs in the country-side in sadistic ways with various weapons and tools. Men, women, children were hacked to death, thrown alive into pits and down ravines, or set on fire in churches. Some Serb villages near Srebrenica and Ozren were wholly massacred while children were found impaled by stakes in villages between Vlasenica and Kladanj. The Ustashe cruelty and sadism shocked even Nazi commanders. A Gestapo report to Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, dated 17 February 1942, stated:
Increased activity of the bands [of rebels] is chiefly due to atrocities carried out by Ustaše units in Croatia against the Orthodox population. The Ustaše committed their deeds in a bestial manner not only against males of conscript age, but especially against helpless old people, women and children. The number of the Orthodox that the Croats have massacred and sadistically tortured to death is about three hundred thousand.
A large number of massacres were committed by the Ustashe. Some of the more notable ones were:
- Gudovac massacre (28 April 1941), 184–196 Serbs summary executed, after arrest orders by Kvaternik.
- Glina massacre (11–12 May 1941), 260–300 Serbs herded into an Orthodox church and shot, after which it was set on fire.
- Glina massacres (30 July–3 August 1941), 200 Serbs, willing to convert to Catholicism in return for amnesty, massacred at an Orthodox church. Between 500–2000 other Serbs later massacred in neighbouring villages by Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić's forces.
- Garavice massacres (July–September 1941), 15,000 Serbs massacred along with some Jews and Roma victims.
- Prebilovci massacre (4–6 August 1941), 650 Serb women and children killed by being thrown into the Golubinka pit. Some 4000 Serbs later massacred in neighbouring places during that summer.
The Ustashe set up temporary concentration camps in the spring of 1941 and laid the groundwork for a network of permanent camps in autumn. The creation of concentration camps and extermination campaign of Serbs had been planned by the Ustashe leadership long before 1941. In Ustashe state exhibits in Zagreb, the camps were portrayed as productive and "peaceful work camps", with photographs of smiling inmates. Croatia was the only Axis satellite to have erected camps specifically for children.
Serbs, Jews and Romani were arrested and sent to concentration camps such as Jasenovac, Stara Gradiška, Gospić and Jadovno. There were 22–26 camps in NDH in total. Special camps for children were those at Sisak, Gornja Rijeka and Jastrebarsko, while Stara Gradiška held thousands of children and women.
The largest and most notorious camp was the Jasenovac-Stara Gradiška complex, the largest extermination camp in the Balkans. An estimated 100,000 inmates perished there, most Serbs. Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić, the commander-in-chief of all the Croatian camps, announced the great "efficiency" of the Jasenovac camp at a ceremony on 9 October 1942, and also boasted: "We have slaughtered here at Jasenovac more people than the Ottoman Empire was able to do during its occupation of Europe."
Bounded by rivers and two barbed-wire fences making escape unlikely, the Jasenovac camp was divided into five camps, the first two closed in December 1941, while the rest were active until the end of the war. Stara Gradiška (Jasenovac V) held women and children. The Ciglana (brickyards, Jasenovac III) camp, the main killing ground and essentially a death camp, had 88% mortality rate, higher than Auschwitz's 84.6%. A former brickyard, a furnace was engineered into a crematorium, with witness testimony of some, including children, being burnt alive and stench of human flesh spreading in the camp. Luburić had a gas chamber built at Jasenovac V, where a considerable number of inmates were killed during a three-month experiment with sulfur dioxide and Zyklon B, but this method was abandoned due to poor construction. Still, that method was unnecessary, as most inmates perished from starvation, disease (especially typhus), assaults with mallets, maces, axes, poison and knives. The srbosjek ("Serb-cutter") was a glove with an attached curved blade designed to cut throats. Large groups of people were regularly executed upon arrival outside camps and thrown into the river. Unlike German-run camps, Jasenovac specialized in brutal one-on-one violence, such as guards attacking barracks with weapons and throwing the bodies in the trenches. The infamous camp commander Filipović, dubbed fra Sotona ("brother Satan") and the "personification of evil", on one occasion drowned Serb women and children by flooding a cellar. Filipović and other camp commanders (such as Dinko Šakić and his wife Nada Šakić, the sister of Maks Luburić), used ingenious torture. There were throat-cutting contests of Serbs, in which prison guards made bets among themselves as to who could slaughter the most inmates. It was reported that guard and former Franciscan priest Petar Brzica won a contest on 29 August 1942 after cutting the throats of 1,360 inmates. Inmates were tied and hit over the head with mallets and half-alive hung in groups by the Granik ramp crane, their intestines and necks slashed, then dropped into the river. When the Partisans and Allies closed in at the end of the war, the Ustashe began mass liquidations at Jasenovac, marching women and children to death, and shooting most of the remaining male inmates, then torched buildings and documents before fleeing.
The Ustashe viewed religion and nationality as being closely linked; while Roman Catholicism and Islam (Bosnian Muslims were viewed as Croats) were recognized as Croatian national religions, Eastern Orthodoxy was deemed inherently incompatible with the Croatian state project. They saw Orthodoxy as hostile because it was identified as Serb. On 3 May 1941 a law was passed on religious conversions, pressuring Serbs to convert to Catholicism and thereby adopt Croat identity. This was made on the eve of Pavelić's meeting with Pope Pious XII in Rome. The Catholic Church in Croatia, headed by archbishop Aloysius Stepinac, greeted it and adopted it into the Church's internal law. The term "Serbian Orthodox" was banned in mid-May as being incompatible with state order, and the term "Greek-Eastern faith" was used in its place. By the end of September 1941, about half of the Serbian Orthodox clergy, 335 priests, had been expelled.
The Ustaša movement is based on religion. Therefore, our acts stem from our devotion to religion and the Roman Catholic church.
Ustashe propaganda legitimized the persecution as being partially based on the historic Catholic–Orthodox struggle for domination in Europe and Catholic intolerance towards the "schismatics". Following the Serb insurgency which was provoked by the Ustashe's reign of terror, killings and deportation campaign, the State Directorate for Regeneration launched a program in the autumn of 1941 which was aimed at the mass forced conversion of the Serbs. Already in the summer, the Ustashe had closed or destroyed most of the Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries and deported, imprisoned or murdered Orthodox priests and bishops. The conversions were meant to Croatianize and permanently destroy the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Vatican was not opposed to the forced conversions. On 6 February 1942, Pope Pious XII privately received 206 Ustashes in uniforms and blessed them, symbolically supporting their actions. On 8 February 1942 envoy to the Holy See Rusinović said that 'the Holy See joyed' over forced conversions. In a 21 February 1942 letter to Cardinal Luigi Maglione, the Holy See's secretary encouraged the Croatian bishops to speed up the conversions, and he also stated that the term "Orthodox" should be replaced with the terms "apostates or schismatics". Many fanatical Catholic priests joined the Ustashe, blessed and supported their work, and participated in killings and conversions.
In 1941–1942, some 200,000 or 240,000–250,000 Serbs were converted to Roman Catholicism, although most of them only practiced it temporarily. Converts would sometimes be killed anyway, often in the same churches where they were re-baptized. 85% of the Serbian Orthodox clergy was killed or expelled. In Lika, Kordun and Banija alone, 172 Serbian Orthodox churches were closed, destroyed, or plundered. On 2 July 1942, the Croatian Orthodox Church was founded in order to replace the institutions of the Serbian Orthodox Church, after the matter of forced conversion had become extremely controversial.
Many Catholic bishops and priests in Croatia openly supported the Ustashe's actions, and the Catholic hierarchy did not issue any condemnation of the crimes, either publicly or privately. In fact, The Croatian Catholic Church and the Vatican viewed the Ustashe's policies against the Serbs as being advantageous to Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, historian Tomasevich praised some of the public statements that were made by archbishop Aloysius Stepinac as well as some of his actions, but he also noted that these same statements and actions had shortcomings with regard to the Ustashe's genocidal actions against the Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church. In his diary, Stepinac said that "Serbs and Croats are of two different worlds, north and south pole, which will never unite as long as one of them is alive", along with other similar views. In 2016 Croatia's rehabilitation of Stepinac was negatively received in Serbia and Republika Srpska.
An estimated 120,000 Serbs were deported from NDH to German-occupied Serbia, and 300,000 fled by 1943. The general plan was to have prominent people deported first, so their property could be nationalized and the remaining Serbs could then be more easily manipulated. By the end of September 1941, about half of the Serbian Orthodox clergy, 335 priests, had been expelled.
Toll of victims and genocide classification
During the war as well as during Tito's Yugoslavia, various numbers were given for Yugoslavia's overall war casualties.[a] Estimates by Holocaust memorial centers also vary.[b] The historian Rory Yeomans concluded that the most conservative estimates state that 200,000 Serbs were killed by Ustashe death squads but the actual number of Serbs who were executed by the Ustashe or perished in Ustashe concentration camps may be as high as 500,000. Jozo Tomasevich said that the exact number of victims in Yugoslavia is impossible to determine. Sabrina P. Ramet estimated that at least 300,000 Serbs were "massacred by the Ustaše".
In the 1980s, calculations of World War II victims in Yugoslavia were made by the Serb statistician Bogoljub Kočović and the Croat demographer Vladimir Žerjavić. Tomasevich described their studies as being objective and reliable. Kočović estimated that 370–410,000 Serbs died in the NDH during the war. He did not estimate the number of Serbs who were killed by the Ustaše, saying that in most cases, the task of categorizing the victims would be impossible. Žerjavić estimated that the total number of Serb deaths in the NDH was 322,000, of which 125,000 died as combatants, while 197,000 were civilians. Žerjavić estimated that a total of 78,000 civilians were killed in Ustashe prisons, pits and camps, including Jasenovac, 45,000 civilians were killed by the Germans, 15,000 civilians were killed by the Italians, 34,000 civilians were killed in battles between the warring parties, and 25,000 civilians died of typhoid. The number of victims who perished in the Jasenovac concentration camp remains a matter of debate, but current estimates put the total number at around 100,000, about half of whom were Serbs.
In Serbia as well as in the eyes of Serbs, the Ustashe atrocities constituted a genocide. Many historians and authors describe the Ustasha regime's mass killings of Serbs as meeting the definition of genocide, including Raphael Lemkin who is known for coining the word genocide and initiating the Genocide Convention. Yad Vashem, Israel's official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, stated that “Ustasha carried out a Serb genocide, exterminating over 500,000, expelling 250,000, and forcing another 250,000 to convert to Catholicism”. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, also, mentioned that leaders of the Independent State of Croatia committed genocide against Serbs, Jews, and Roma.
Presidents of Croatia, Stjepan Mesić and Ivo Josipović, as well as Bakir Izetbegović and Željko Komšić, Bosniak and Croat member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, also described the persecution of Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia as a genocide.
Catholic extremism was at the heart of Ustaše policy and this meant that many Serbs in the NDH were given the option of either converting to Catholicism or facing deportation to a concentration camp. Serbs who refused to renounce the Orthodox Christian faith ultimately faced death in concentration camps across the NDH, especially at the Jasenovac concentration camp. In the post-war era, the Serbian Orthodox Church considered the Serbian victims of this genocide to be martys. As a result, the Serbian Orthodox Church commemorates the Holy New Martys of Jasenovac Concentration Camp on 13 September.
After World War II, most of the remaining Ustashe went underground or fled to countries such as Australia, Canada, the United States and Germany, with the assistance of Roman Catholic clerics and grassroots supporters.
The Yugoslav communist government did not use the Jasenovac camp as was done with other European concentration camps, most likely due to Serb-Croat relations. Tito's government attempted to let the wounds heal and forge "brotherhood and unity" in the peoples. Tito himself was invited to, and passed Jasenovac several times, but never visited the site.
Ratlines, terrorism and assassinations
With the Partisan liberation of Yugoslavia, many Ustashe leaders fled and took refuge at the college of San Girolamo degli Illirici near the Vatican. Catholic priest and Ustashe Krunoslav Draganović directed the fugitives from San Girolamo. The US State Department and Counter-Intelligence Corps helped war criminals to escape, and assisted Draganović (who later worked for the American intelligence) in sending Ustashe abroad. Many of those responsible for mass killings in NDH took refuge in South America, Portugal, Spain and the United States. Luburić was assassinated in Spain in 1969 by an UDBA agent; Artuković lived in Ireland and California until extradited in 1986 and died of natural causes in prison; Dinko Šakić and his wife Nada lived in Argentina until extradited in 1998, Dinko dying in prison and his wife released. Draganović also arranged Gestapo functionary Klaus Barbie's flight.
In the Croat diaspora, the Ustashe became heroes. Ustashe émigré terrorist groups in the diaspora (such as Croatian Revolutionary Brotherhood and Croatian National Resistance) carried out assassinations and bombings, and also plane hijackings, throughout the Yugoslav period.
- Ante Pavelić (1889–1959), founder and supreme leader (Poglavnik) of Ustashe. Hid in Italy, Argentine, Chile and Spain. Survived assassination attempts.
- Andrija Artuković (1899–1988), Croatian Minister of Interior. Died in Croatian custody.
- Slavko Kvaternik (1878–1947), Ustashe military commander-in-chief. Executed by Yugoslav authorities.
- Dido Kvaternik (1910–1962), Ustashe secret police leader, son of Slavko. Died in car accident in Argentina.
- Jure Francetić (1912–1942), Ustashe commander of the Black Legion, ordered massacres of Serbs in Bosnia. Plane downed by Partisans.
- Vjekoslav Luburić (1914–1969), commander of the Ustaše Defence Brigades (Ustaška Odbrana) and Jasenovac camp. Murdered by colleague in Spain.
- Mile Budak (1889–1945), Croatian politician and chief Ustashe ideologist, executed for war crimes and crimes against humanity on 7 June 1945.
- Dinko Šakić (1921–2008), Ustaše leader, commander of Jasenovac. Fled to Argentina but was eventually extradited, tried and sentenced, in 1999, by Croatian authorities to 20 years in prison, dying in prison.
- Nada Šakić (1926–2011), Jasenovac camp guard, sister of Maks Luburić and wife of Dinko. She escaped punishment as Argentina refused to extradite her.
- Miroslav Filipović (1915–1946; born Miroslav Filipović), Franciscan friar and Jasenovac camp commander infamous for his sadism and cruelty, known as "brother Satan". Captured by Partisans, tried and executed in 1946.
- Petar Brzica (1917–?), Franciscan friar who won a contest on 29 August 1942 after cutting the throats of 1,360 inmates at the Jasenovac camp. His post-war fate is unknown.
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Revisionism in modern-day Croatia
Some Croats, including politicians, have attempted to minimise the magnitude of the genocide perpetrated against Serbs in the World War II puppet state of Germany, the Independent State of Croatia.
By 1989, the future President of Croatia, Franjo Tuđman (who had been a Partisan during World War II), had embraced Croatian nationalism, and published Horrors of War: Historical Reality and Philosophy, in which he questioned the official number of victims killed by the Ustaše during the Second World War. In his book, Tuđman claimed that fewer than thirty-thousand people died at Jasenovac. Tuđman also estimated that a total of 900,000 Jews had perished in the Holocaust. Tuđman's views and his government's toleration of Ustaša symbols frequently strained relations with Israel. Nonetheless, in his book, he did confirm that genocide happened:
It is a historical fact that the Ustasha regime of NDH, in its implementation of the plan to reduce the 'hostile Serb Orthodox people in Croatian lands', committed a large genocidal crime over the Serbs, and proportionately even higher over the Roma and Jews, in the implementation of Nazi racial politics.
An example of ultranationalist, anti-Serb sentiment in contemporary Croatian public life is Thompson, a Croatian rock band that has been protested against on numerous occasions for having sung Ustaše songs, most notably Jasenovac i Gradiška Stara. People publicly displaying Ustaše affiliation at Thompson concerts in Croatia and elsewhere is a frequent occurrence, leading to complaints from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
In 2006, a video was leaked showing Croatian President Stipe Mesić giving a speech in Australia in the early 1990s, in which he said that the Croats had "won a great victory on April 10th" (the date of the formation of the Independent State of Croatia in 1941), and that Croatia needed to apologize to no one for Jasenovac. Later on, Mesić apologized for his indecent statement and stated that he undoubtedly considered anti-fascism to be the basis of modern-day Croatia, appreciated Yugoslav Partisans and considered it necessary to "reaffirm anti-fascism as a human and civilization commitment in the function of the unavoidable condition for the building of a democratic Croatia, a country of equal citizens."
On 17 April 2011, in a commemoration ceremony, Croatian President Ivo Josipović warned that there were "attempts to drastically reduce or decrease the number of Jasenovac victims", adding, "faced with the devastating truth here that certain members of the Croatian people were capable of committing the cruelest of crimes, I want to say that all of us are responsible for the things that we do." At the same ceremony, then Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor said, "there is no excuse for the crimes and therefore the Croatian government decisively rejects and condemns every attempt at historical revisionism and rehabilitation of the fascist ideology, every form of totalitarianism, extremism and radicalism... Pavelić's regime was a regime of evil, hatred and intolerance, in which people were abused and killed because of their race, religion, nationality, their political beliefs and because they were the others and were different."
Croatian historian and politician Zlatko Hasanbegović, who previously served as the country's Minister of Culture in 2016, has been accused of downplaying the crimes of the Ustaše and trying to rehabilitate their ideas in his work. In 1996, Hasanbegović wrote at least two articles in the magazine "The Independent State of Croatia", edited by the small far-right Croatian Liberation Movement party (HOP), in which he glorified the Ustaše as heroes and martyrs and denied crimes committed by the regime. In response, Hasanbegović denied being an apologist for the regime, stating that Ustaša crimes during the Second World War were "the biggest moral lapse" of the Croatian people in their history and that his words were taken out of context for political manipulation. An old black-and-white photo also resurfaced from the 1990s, published in the same magazine of Hasanbegović wearing a cap with what is allegedly an Ustaše Militia badge. He claimed the photo had been manipulated and that he wore a black cap of the Croatian Defence Forces (HOS).
Croatian mathematician Josip Pečarić wrote books titled Serbian myth about Jasenovac and Otkrivanje jasenovačkih laži which claimed that the total number of victims in Jasenovac concentration camp was drastically lower. He went on to label Jasenovac concetration camp "a myth". Pečarić also negated The Holocaust. Director of Simon Wiesenthal Center from Jerusalem criticized Pečarić's statements and called for a ban of Ustashe symbols.
The Croatian Wikipedia has received attention from international media for promoting a fascist worldview as well as a bias against Serbs by means of historical revisionism and negating or diluting the severity of the crimes that were committed by the Ustaše regime. The controversy erupted in September 2013 when a group of exiled Wikipedians started a Facebook page in order to discuss the takeover of the Croatian Wikipedia by right-wingers, bringing the issue to the attention of Croatian and Serbian news outlets. The issue was reported by Croatia's daily Jutarnji list and even made its print edition's front page on 11 September 2013. Croatia's Minister of Science, Education and Sports, Željko Jovanović, called for pupils and students in Croatia to avoid using the Croatian Wikipedia due to its dubious and forged content. Robert Kurelić, a professor of history at the Juraj Dobrila University of Pula, commented that Croatian Wikipedia administrators "want to exploit high-school and university students, the most common users of Wikipedia, to change their opinions and attitudes, which presents a serious issue". Snježana Koren, a historian at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, in an interview with Croatian news agency HINA stated that the ulterior motive of controversial articles in the Croatian wikipedia is to rehabilitate the Independent State of Croatia. In one pertinent example, the Croatian page on the Jasenovac concentration camp refers to the camp as both a “collection camp” and a labor camp, and it downplays the crimes that were committed at Jasenovac as well as the number of victims who died there and it also relies on right-wing media and private blogs as references. Apart from whitewashing the crimes and vices of World War II-era criminals, the same thing is done for contemporary Croatian politicians and public figures.
Revisionism in the Croat diaspora
In 2008, in Melbourne, Australia, a Croat restaurant held a celebration to honour Ustaše leader Ante Pavelić. The event was an "outrageous affront both to his victims and to any persons of morality and conscience who oppose racism and genocide", Dr. Efraim Zuroff, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, stated. According to local press reports, a large photograph of Pavelić was hung in the restaurant, T-shirts with his picture and pictures of two other commanders who served in the 1941–45 Ustaše government were offered for sale at the bar, and the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia was celebrated. Zuroff noted that this was not the first time in which Croatian émigrés in Australia had openly defended Croat Nazi war criminals.
It is high time that the authorities in Australia find a way to take the necessary measures to stop such celebrations, which clearly constitute racist, ethnic, and anti-Semitic incitement against Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies.
The Ustaše deposited large amounts of gold that it plundered from Serbian and Jewish property owners during World War II in Swiss bank accounts. Of a total of 350 million Swiss Francs, about 150 million were seized by British troops; however, the remaining 200 million (c. 47 million dollars) reached the Vatican. In October 1946, the American intelligence agency SSU alleged that these funds are still being held in the Vatican Bank. This matter is the crux of a recent class action lawsuit against the Vatican Bank and other defendants.
Israeli President Moshe Katsav visited Jasenovac in 2003. His successor, Shimon Peres, paid homage to the camp's victims when he visited Jasenovac on 25 July 2010 and laid a wreath at the memorial. Peres dubbed the Ustaše's crimes a "demonstration of sheer sadism".
The Jasenovac Memorial Museum reopened in November 2006 with a new exhibition designed by a Croatian architect, Helena Paver Njirić, and an Educational Center, designed by the firm Produkcija. The Memorial Museum features an interior of rubber-clad steel modules, video and projection screens, and glass cases displaying artifacts from the camp. Above the exhibition space, which is quite dark, is a field of glass panels inscribed with the names of the victims.
The New York City Parks Department, the Holocaust Park Committee and the Jasenovac Research Institute, with the help of then-Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY), established a public monument to the victims of Jasenovac in April 2005 (the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the camps.) The dedication ceremony was attended by ten Yugoslavian Holocaust survivors, as well as diplomats from Serbia, Bosnia and Israel. It remains the only public monument to Jasenovac victims outside the Balkans.
- Anti-Serb sentiment
- Anti-Eastern Orthodox sentiment
- Catholic clergy involvement with the Ustaše
- The Holocaust
- During the war, German military commanders gave different figures for the number of Serbs, Jews, and others killed by the Ustaše inside the NDH. Alexander Löhr claimed 400,000 Serbs killed, Massenbach around 700,000. Hermann Neubacher stated that Ustashe claims of a million Serbs slaughtered was a "boastful exaggeration", and believed that the number of 'defenseless victims slaughtered to be three-quarters of a million'. The Vatican cited 350,000 Serbs slaughtered by the end of 1942 (Eugène Tisserant). Yugoslavia presented 1,700,000 as its war casualties, produced by mathematician Vladeta Vučković, at the Paris Peace Treaties (1947). A secret 1964 government list counted 597,323 victims (out of which 346,740 were Serbs). In the 1980s Croat economist Vladimir Žerjavić concluded that the number of victims was around one million. Furthermore, he claimed that the number of victims in the Independent State of Croatia was between 300,000 and 350,000, out of which 80,000 victims in Jasenovac. Since the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Croatian side began suggesting substantially smaller numbers.
- The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum lists (as of 2012) a total of 320,000–340,000 ethnic Serbs killed in Croatia and Bosnia, and 45–52,000 killed at Jasenovac. The Yad Vashem center claims that more than 500,000 Serbs were murdered in Croatia, 250,000 were expelled, and another 200,000 were forced to convert to Catholicism.
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