Persecution of Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia

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Persecution of Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia
Genocide of the Serbs
Part of World War II in Yugoslavia
Serbs expelled from Croatia, July 1941.jpg
Serbs, expelled from their homes in the Independent State of Croatia, march out of town carrying large bundles.
Location Independent State of Croatia (Axis-occupied Yugoslavia)
Target Serbs
Attack type
Ethnic cleansing
Forced conversion
Mass murder
Deaths200,000 [1]
300,000 [2] [3] [4] –500,000 [1] [5]
320,000–340,000 [6]
Perpetrators Independent State of Croatia (Ustashe)
Motive Anti-Serb sentiment, Greater Croatia, [7] anti-Yugoslavism, [8] Catholic fanaticism, Croatisation

The Persecution of Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia, also known as the Genocide of the Serbs (Serbian : Геноцид над Србима / Genocid nad Srbima) [9] included the extermination, expulsion and forced religious conversion of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Serbs by the genocidal policies of the Ustashe regime in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) between 1941 and 1945, during World War II. The Ustashe regime systematically murdered approximately 300,000 to 500,000 Serbs out of whom up to 52,000 died at the Jasenovac concentration camp, according to current estimates.

Serbian language South Slavic language

Serbian is the standardized variety of the Serbo-Croatian language mainly used by Serbs. It is the official language of Serbia, co-official in the territory of Kosovo, and one of the three official languages of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In addition, it is a recognized minority language in Montenegro, where it is spoken by the relative majority of the population, as well as in Croatia, North Macedonia, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.

Forced conversion is adoption of a different religion or irreligion under duress. Some who have been forced to convert may continue, covertly, with the beliefs and practices originally held, while outwardly behaving as converts. Crypto-Jews, crypto-Christians, crypto-Muslims and crypto-Pagans are historical examples of the latter.

Serbs Ethnic group

The Serbs are a nation and South Slavic ethnic group that formed in the Balkans. The majority of Serbs inhabit the nation state of Serbia, as well as the disputed territory of Kosovo, and the neighboring countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro. They form significant minorities in North Macedonia and Slovenia. There is a large Serb diaspora in Western Europe, and outside Europe there are significant communities in North America and Australia.



Inter-war period

Ethnic tensions between Croats and Serbs can be traced back to the Great Schism of 1054. During the time of the Austrian Empire, many Croats came to resent the privileges granted to Serbs living in the Military Frontier of the Habsburg Monarchy. [10] 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. Having fought on the side of the Central Powers during the war, ethnic Croats and Slovenes — who formed the majority of the state's population — were viewed unfavourably by western nations and as such they failed to gain recognition from the Great Powers. This left them 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 centralized state, whereas Croats, Slovenes and Bosnian Muslims did not. [11]

Croats Slavic ethnic group

Croats or Croatians are a nation and South Slavic ethnic group native to Croatia. Croats mainly live in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but are also recognized minorities in such countries as Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

The East–West Schism, also called the Great Schism and the Schism of 1054, was the break of communion between what are now the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches, which had lasted until the 11th century. The Schism was the culmination of theological and political differences between the Christian East and West which had developed over the preceding centuries.

Austrian Empire monarchy in Central Europe between 1804 and 1867

The Austrian Empire was a Central European multinational great power from 1804 to 1867, created by proclamation out of the realms of the Habsburgs. During its existence, it was the third most populous empire after the Russian Empire and the United Kingdom in Europe. Along with Prussia, it was one of the two major powers of the German Confederation. Geographically, it was the third largest empire in Europe after the Russian Empire and the First French Empire. Proclaimed in response to the First French Empire, it partially overlapped with the Holy Roman Empire until the latter's dissolution in 1806.

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. [12] In 1928, Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) leader Stjepan Radić was assassinated on the floor of the country's parliament by a Montenegrin Serb leader and People's Radical Party (NRS) politician Puniša Račić. The following year King Alexander I proclaimed the 6 January Dictatorship and renamed his country the Kingdom of Yugoslavia to deemphasize its ethnic makeup. Yugoslavia was divided into nine administrative units called banovinas, six of which had ethnic Serb majorities. 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. Marginalized, far-right and far-left movements thrived. The Ustaše, a Croatian fascist party, emerged as the most extreme movement of these. [13] 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. [14] 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. [15] In 1934, the Ustaše cooperated with Bulgarian, Hungarian and Italian right-wing extremists to assassinate Alexander while he visited the French city of Marseille. [13] Alexander's cousin, Prince Paul, took the regency until Alexander's son, Peter II, turned eighteen. [16] Ustaše leader Ante Pavelić believed that the assassination would cause Yugoslavia to disintegrate. Instead, countries that had assisted the organization, such as Italy and Hungary, cracked down on its members, arrested them, and destroyed their training camps at Yugoslavia's behest. [17] 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:

The Vidovdan Constitution was the first constitution of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. It was approved by the Constitutional Assembly on 28 June 1921 despite the opposition boycotting the vote. The Constitution is named after the feast of St. Vitus (Vidovdan), a Serbian Orthodox holiday. The Constitution required a simple majority to pass. Out of 419 representatives, 223 voted for, 35 voted against and 161 abstained.

Karađorđević dynasty dynasty

The Karađorđević, pl. Karađorđevići / Карађорђевићи, pronounced [karad͡ʑǒːrd͡ʑeʋit͡ɕ]) is a Serb dynastic family, founded by Karađorđe Petrović, the Veliki Vožd of Serbia in the early 1800s during the First Serbian Uprising. The relatively short-lived dynasty was supported by the Russian Empire and was opposed to the Austria-Hungary supported Obrenović dynasty. After Karađorđe's assassination in 1817, Miloš Obrenović founded the House of Obrenović. The two houses subsequently traded the throne for several generations. Following the assassination of Alexander in 1903, the Serbian Parliament chose Karađorđe's grandson, Peter I Karađorđević, then living in exile, for the throne of the Kingdom of Serbia. He was duly crowned as King Peter I, and shortly before the end of World War I, representatives of the three peoples proclaimed a Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes with Peter I as sovereign. In 1929, the Kingdom was renamed Yugoslavia, under Alexander I, the son of Peter I. In November 1945, the throne was lost when the League of Communists of Yugoslavia seized power, during the reign of Peter II.

Belgrade City in Serbia

Belgrade is the capital and largest city of Serbia. It is located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers and the crossroads of the Pannonian Plain and the Balkan Peninsula. The urban area of the City of Belgrade has a population of 1.23 million, while nearly 1.7 million people live within its administrative limits.

Croatian opposition to a centralized 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. [13] 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. [19] On 25 March 1941, Yugoslavia bowed to German pressure and signed the Tripartite Pact in an effort to avoid war with the Axis powers. [20] Two days later, a group of Serbian nationalist Royal Yugoslav Air Force officers organized a coup d'état to depose Prince Paul and the government of Dragiša Cvetković. [21] Peter was declared to be of age and was elevated to the throne. [22] Upon hearing news of the coup, Adolf Hitler immediately ordered the invasion of Yugoslavia. [23]

Cvetković–Maček Agreement

The Cvetković–Maček Agreement was a political agreement on the internal divisions in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia which was settled on August 26, 1939 by Yugoslav prime minister Dragiša Cvetković and Vladko Maček, a Croat politician. The agreement established the Banovina of Croatia, drawn to include as many ethnic Croats as possible, which effectively created a Croatian sub-state in Yugoslavia, a demand of Croat politicians since the 1918 founding of Yugoslavia.

Vladko Maček Croatian politician

Vladimir "Vladko" Maček was a Croatian politician in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and as a leader of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) following the 1928 assassination of Stjepan Radić, was a leading Croatian political figure until the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941. As a leader of the HSS, Maček played a key role in establishment of the Banovina of Croatia, an autonomous banovina in Yugoslavia in 1939.

Dragiša Cvetković Yugoslav politician

Dragiša Cvetković was a Yugoslav politician active in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Creation of the NDH

Occupation and partition of Yugoslavia after the Axis invasion Axis occupation of Yugoslavia 1941-43 legend.png
Occupation and partition of Yugoslavia after the Axis invasion

In April 1941, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded by the Axis powers, and the puppet state known as the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) was created, ruled by the Ustaše regime. The ideology of the Ustaše movement was a blend of Nazism, [24] Catholicism, [25] and Croatian ultranationalism. The Ustaše supported the creation of a Greater Croatia that would span to the Drina river and the outskirts of Belgrade. [26] The movement emphasized the need for a racially "pure" Croatia and promoted the extermination of Serbs (who were viewed as ethinic foreigners, [27] ) Jews [28] , and Gypsies. [29]

Kingdom of Yugoslavia Kingdom in southeast Europe between 1918 and 1943

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was a state in Southeast Europe and Central Europe that existed from 1918 until 1941, during the interwar period and beginning of World War II. From 1918 to 1929, it was officially called the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, but the term "Yugoslavia" was its colloquial name since its origins. The official name of the state was changed to "Kingdom of Yugoslavia" by King Alexander I on 3 October 1929.

Invasion of Yugoslavia German-led attack on the Kingdom of Yugoslavia by the Axis powers during the Second World War

The invasion of Yugoslavia, also known as the April War or Operation 25, was a German-led attack on the Kingdom of Yugoslavia by the Axis powers which began on 6 April 1941 during World War II. The order for the invasion was put forward in "Führer Directive No. 25", which Adolf Hitler issued on 27 March 1941, following the Yugoslav coup d'état.

A puppet state, puppet regime, or puppet government is a state that is de jure independent but is de facto completely dependent upon an outside power. It is nominally sovereign but effectively controlled by a foreign or otherwise alien power, for reasons such as financial interests, economic or military support.

A major ideological influence on the Croatian nationalism of the Ustaše was the 19th-century nationalist Ante Starčević. [29] Starčević was an advocate of Croatian unity and independence and was both anti-Habsburg and anti-Serb. [29] 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". [29]

Ante Starčević Croatian politician

Ante Starčević was a Croatian politician and writer. His works are considered to have laid the foundations for Croatian nationalism and he is referred to as "Father of the Homeland" by some Croats.

Greater Croatia

Greater Croatia is a term applied to certain currents within Croatian nationalism. In one sense, it refers to the territorial scope of the Croatian people, emphasising the ethnicity of those Croats living outside Croatia. In the political sense, though, the term refers to an irredentist belief in the equivalence between the territorial scope of the Croatian people and that of the Croatian state.

Bosniaks South Slavic ethnic group

The Bosniaks are a South Slavic nation and ethnic group inhabiting mainly the area of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A native minority of Bosniaks live in other countries in the Balkans; especially in the Sandžak region of Serbia and Montenegro, and in Croatia and Kosovo. Bosniaks are typically characterized by their historic tie to the Bosnian historical region, traditional majority adherence to Islam since the 15th and 16th centuries, common culture and Bosnian language. As of 2017 Bosniaks are also recognised as a national minority in Albania. English speakers frequently refer to Bosniaks as Bosnian Muslims or simply as Bosnians, though the latter term can also denote all inhabitants of Bosnia and Herzegovina or apply to citizens of the country.

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. [30] 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, [31] because the Ustaše saw the Islam of the Bosnian-Muslims as a religion which "keeps true the blood of Croats." [31] Armed struggle, genocide and terrorism were glorified by the group. [32] Alexander Korb wrote:

Independent State of Croatia

Gathering of Ustaše members in Zagreb

After Nazi forces entered into Zagreb on April 10, 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. [33] 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". [34]

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, [35]

The NDH combined most of modern Croatia, all of modern Bosnia and Herzegovina and parts of modern Serbia into an "Italian-German quasi-protectorate". [36] NDH authorities, led by the Ustaše militia, [37] then implemented genocidal policies against the Serb, Jewish and Romani populations living in the new state. The Ustashe cruelty and sadism shocked even Nazi commanders. [38]

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. [39]

In 1941 the usage of the Cyrillic script was banned, [40] and in June 1941 began the elimination of "Eastern" (Serbian) words from the Croatian language, as well as the shutting down of Serbian schools. [41] 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. [42]

Ustashe militias and death squads

Ustase sawing off the head of a Serb civilian, Branko Jungic Ustase sawing off the head of a Serb civilian.jpg
Ustaše sawing off the head of a Serb civilian, Branko Jungić

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. [39] Some Serb villages near Srebrenica and Ozren were wholly massacred, while children were found impaled by stakes in villages between Vlasenica and Kladanj. [43]


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 Luburić's forces.

Concentration camps

The train which carried prisoners to the Jasenovac concentration camp Voz Jasenovac.JPG
The train which carried prisoners to the Jasenovac concentration camp

The Ustashe set up temporary concentration camps in the spring of 1941 and laid the groundwork for a network of permanent camps in autumn. [1] The creation of concentration camps and extermination campaign of Serbs had been planned by the Ustashe leadership long before 1941. [44] In Ustashe state exhibits in Zagreb, the camps were portrayed as productive and "peaceful work camps", with photographs of smiling inmates. [45] Croatia was the only Axis satellite to have erected camps specifically for children. [1]

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. [46] Special camps for children were those at Sisak, Gornja Rijeka and Jastrebarsko, [47] while Stara Gradiška held thousands of children and women. [48]

The largest and most notorious camp was the Jasenovac-Stara Gradiška complex, [1] the largest extermination camp in the Balkans. [49] An estimated 100,000 inmates perished there, most Serbs. [50] 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." [51]

The Srbosjek ("Serb cutter"), an agricultural knife worn over the hand that was used by the Ustase for the quick slaughter of inmates. Srbosjek (knife) used in Croatia - 1941-1945.jpg
The Srbosjek ("Serb cutter"), an agricultural knife worn over the hand that was used by the Ustaše for the quick slaughter of inmates.

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%. [48] 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. [52] 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. [53] Still, that method was unnecessary, as most inmates perished from starvation, disease (especially typhus), assaults with mallets, maces, axes, poison and knives. [53] The srbosjek ("Serb-cutter") was a glove with an attached curved blade designed to cut throats. [53] Large groups of people were regularly executed upon arrival outside camps and thrown into the river. [53] 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. [53] 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. [53] Filipović and other camp commanders (such as Dinko Šakić and his wife Nada Šakić  [ sr ], the sister of Maks Luburić), used ingenious torture. [53] 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. [54] 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. [55] 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. [56]

Religious persecution

Group of Serb civilians forcibly converted at a church in Glina, after which their throats were slit or heads bashed in, as part of a massacre campaign in the area. Glina church massacre.jpg
Group of Serb civilians forcibly converted at a church in Glina, after which their throats were slit or heads bashed in, as part of a massacre campaign in the area.

The Ustashe viewed religion and nationality as 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. [14] They saw Orthodoxy as hostile because it was identified as Serb. [57] On 3 May 1941 a law was passed on religious conversions, pressuring Serbs to convert to Catholicism and thereby adopt Croat identity. [14] This was made on the eve of Pavelić's meeting with Pope Pious XII in Rome. [58] The Catholic Church in Croatia, headed by archbishop Aloysius Stepinac, greeted it and adopted it into the Church internal law. [58] The term "Serbian Orthodox" was banned in mid-May as uncompatible with state order, and substituted it with "Greek-Eastern faith". [59] By the end of September 1941, about half of the Serbian Orthodox clergy, 335 priests, had been expelled. [60]

The Ustaša movement is based on religion. Therefore, our acts stem from our devotion to religion and to the Roman Catholic church.

— Ustashe chief ideologist Mile Budak, 13 July 1941. [61]

Ustashe propaganda legitimized persecution partly based on historical Catholic–Orthodox struggle for domination in Europe and Catholic intolerance towards the "schismatics". [57] Following Serb insurgency provoked by Ustashe terror, killing and deportation campaign, the State Directorate for Regeneration launched a program in the autumn of 1941 aimed at mass forced conversion of Serbs. [57] 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. [57] The conversions were meant to Croatianize and permanently destroy the Serbian Orthodox Church. [57] 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, giving symbolical support to their acts. [62] On 8 February 1942 envoy to the Holy See Rusinović said that 'the Holy See joyed' over forced conversions. [63] Cardinal Luigi Maglione, the Holy See secretary, encouraged the Croatian bishops in a 21 February 1942 letter to speed up the conversions, and also stressed that the "Orthodox term" be replaced with terms "apostates or schismatics". [64] Many fanatic Catholic priests joined the Ustashe, blessed and supported their work, and participated in killings and conversions. [65]

In 1941–42, [66] some 200,000 [67] or 240,000 [68] –250,000 [69] Serbs were converted to Roman Catholicism, although most temporarily. [67] Converts would sometimes be killed anyway, often in the same churches they were rebaptized. [67] 85% of the Serbian Orthodox clergy was killed or expelled. [70] In Lika, Kordun and Banija alone, 172 Serbian Orthodox churches were closed, destroyed, or plundered. [59] On 2 July 1942, the Croatian Orthodox Church was founded in order to replace the institutions of the Serbian Orthodox Church, [71] after the matter of forced conversion had become extremely controversial. [14]

Many Catholic bishops and priests in Croatia openly supported the Ustashe actions, and also, there were no condemnations of the crimes, public or private, by the Catholic hierarchy. [72] The Croatian Catholic Church and Vatican in fact viewed policies against Serbs as advantegous to Roman Catholicism. [73] Nevertheless, historian Tomasevich praised some of the public statements and deeds made by archbishop Aloysius Stepinac, but noted that there were shortcomings in statements and actions regarding genocidal actions against the Serbs and the Serbian Orthodox Church. [74] 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. [75] Croatia's rehabilitation of Stepinac in 2016 met negative reaction in Serbia and Republika Srpska.


An estimated 120,000 Serbs were deported from NDH to German-occupied Serbia, and 300,000 fled by 1943. [2] 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. [60]

Victims and death toll

During the war and during Tito's Yugoslavia, various numbers were given for overall war casualties. [a] Estimations by Holocaust memorial centers also vary. [b] The historian Rory Yeomans concluded that the most conservative estimates put the lower number of 200,000 and possibly as many as 500,000 Serbs killed by Ustashe death squads, executed, or perished at concentration camps. [1] Tomasevich said that the exact number of victims in Yugoslavia is impossible to determine. [76] Sabrina P. Ramet estimated at least 300,000 Serbs "massacred by the Ustaše". [2]

In the 1980s, calculations on World War II victims in Yugoslavia were made by Serb statistician Bogoljub Kočović and Croat demographer Vladimir Žerjavić. Tomasevich described their studies as objective and reliable. [77] Kočović estimated that 370–410,000 Serbs died in the NDH during the war. [5] [78] He did not estimate the number of Serbs killed by the Ustaše, saying that the task of categorizing the victims would in most cases be impossible. [79] Žerjavić estimated the total number of Serb deaths in the NDH at 322,000, of which 125,000 died as combatants, while 197,000 were civilians. Žerjavić categorized the civilian casualties at 78,000 killed by the Ustaše in prisons, pits and camps, including Jasenovac, 45,000 killed by the Germans, 15,000 killed by the Italians, 34,000 killed in battles between the warring parties, and 25,000 that died of typhoid. [80] The number of victims at the Jasenovac concentration camp remains a matter of debate, but current estimates put the number at around 100,000, about half of which were Serbs. [50]

In Serbia and in the eyes of Serbs, the Ustashe atrocities constituted a genocide. [81] Some Western and Jewish authors acknowledge it as a genocide, [82] [83] [84] [85] [86] [87] [88] [89] [90] [91] or, if not calling it explicitly "genocide", call Ustashe policies and acts "genocidal". [59] [92] R. Lemkin also called Hungarian and Bulgarian policies against Serbs genocidal. [85]

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 face deportation to a concentration camp. [93] Serbs who refused to renounce the Orthodox Christian faith ultimately faced death in concentration camps across the NDH, especially at Jasenovac concentration camp. In the post-war era, the Serbian Orthodox Church considered that the Serbian victims of this genocide were martys. As a result, the Serbian Orthodox Church celebrates Holy New Martys of Jasenovac Concentration Camp on September 13. [94]


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. [95] Tito himself was invited to, and passed Jasenovac several times, but never visited the site. [96]

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. [56] Catholic priest and Ustashe Krunoslav Draganović directed the fugitives from San Girolamo. [56] 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. [56] Many of those responsible for mass killings in NDH took refuge in South America, Portugal, Spain and the United States. [56] 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. [56] Draganović also arranged Gestapo functionary Klaus Barbie's flight. [56]

In the Croat diaspora, the Ustashe became heroes. [56] 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. [97]

Notable war-criminals


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. [98]

Franjo Tudman, the late President of Croatia, confirmed that genocide happened during World War II FranjoTudman.JPG
Franjo Tuđman, the late President of Croatia, confirmed that genocide happened during World War II

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.[ citation needed ] Tuđman also estimated that a total of 900,000 Jews had perished in the Holocaust. [99] Tuđman's views and his government's toleration of Ustaša symbols frequently strained relations with Israel. [100] 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. [101]

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. [102]

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. [103] 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." [104]

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." [105]

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 that of two other commanders 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 this was not the first time that 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. [106]

Ustaše gold

The Ustaše had sent large amounts of gold that it had plundered from Serbian and Jewish property owners during World War II into Swiss bank accounts. Of a total of 350 million Swiss Francs, about 150 million was seized by British troops; however, the remaining 200 million (ca. 47 million dollars) reached the Vatican. In October 1946, the American intelligence agency SSU alleged that these funds are still held in the Vatican Bank. This matter is the crux of a recent class action suit against the Vatican Bank and other defendants. [107]


Yugoslav Wars

World War II and especially its ethnic conflicts have been deemed instrumental in the later Yugoslav Wars (1991–95). [108]


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 to be a "demonstration of sheer sadism". [109] [110]

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.

To commemorate the victims of the Kragujevac massacre, the whole of Šumarice, where the killings took place, was turned into a memorial park. There are several monuments there: the monument to the murdered schoolchildren and their teachers, the "Broken Wing" monument, the monument of pain and defiance and the monument "One Hundred for One", the monument of resistance and freedom. Serbian poet Desanka Maksimović wrote a poem about the massacre titled Krvava Bajka (A Bloody Fairy Tale).

See also


  1. ^ 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). [111] 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.[ citation needed ] Since the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Croatian side[ clarification needed ] began suggesting substantially smaller numbers.
  2. ^ 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. [6] 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. [112]
  3. ^ According to K. Ungváry the actual number of Serbs deported was 25,000. [113] Ramet cites the German statement. [114] Serbian Orthodox bishop in America Dionisije Milivojević  [ sr ] claimed 50,000 Serb colonists and settlers deported and 60,000 killed in the Hungarian occupation. [115]
  4. ^ The only official Yugoslav data of war-victims in Kosovo and Metohija is from 1964, and counted 7,927 people, out of which 4,029 were Serbs, 1,460 Montenegrins, and 2,127 Albanians. [116]

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