Chapter 4


The Independent Kingdom of Croatia, having thus officially sprung into existence, set forth with burning zeal to fulfill all the hopes so obstinately entertained by its religious and political promoters: the Vatican and Fascism. Inspired by the graciously remote majesty of good King Tomislav II, under the patronage of His Holiness the Pope, protected by Hitler, watched by Mussolini, ruled by Catholic terrorists, and policed by Catholic bayonets, the New Croatia began to transform itself into the ideal commonwealth as advocated by Catholic tenets.

A State, however, according to papal dicta must be regulated not only by civil but also by religious authority. So Pavelic, having determined that a religious equivalent of himself should partake of the rights and duties of rulership, saw to it that the head of the Hierarchy became a de facto ruler of the New Croatia. Archbishop Stepinac, the Croatian Primate, and others, members of the Hierarchy, the religious equivalent of the Ustashi, were duly elected members of the Sabor (Totalitarian Parliament). The military, political, and religious architraves of the new State having thus been erected, Pavelic and Stepinac set out to transform its whole structure into what a true Catholic-Fascist State should be. Movements, institutions, men, and everything else were made to conform to the letter and spirit of Catholicism. All potential opponents—Communists, Socialists, Liberals—were either banished or imprisoned. Trade unions were abolished, workers' organizations became pitiful caricatures of their former selves, the Press was paralyzed when it was not altogether gagged, freedom of speech, of expression, and of thought became memories of the past. Every effort was made to dragoon youth into Catholic semi-military formations; the children were marshalled by priests and by nuns. Catholic teaching, Catholic tenets, Catholic dogma became compulsory in all schools, in all offices, in all factories, and everywhere the iron heel of the new State was felt. Catholicism was proclaimed the main religion of the State. Other religions and those professing them were ostracized, chief among these, the Orthodox; while the Jews were compelled to wear the Star of David on their clothes, all members of the Orthodox Church went in fear for their property, their personal and family safety. To be Orthodox had suddenly meant to be a potential victim. Soon, in all parks and public transport vehicles, a new inscription appeared: "Entry forbidden to all Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and dogs." The Ministry of the Interior, led by Andrija Artukovic, issued the following decree: "All the Serbs and the Jews residing in Zagreb, the Capital of Croatia, must leave the town within 12 hours. Any citizen found to have given them shelter will be immediately executed on the spot."

While Ante Pavelic was transforming Croatia with a mailed fist, his religious equivalent, Archbishop Stepinac, facilitated the revolution by a timely nationwide mobilization of the whole of the Catholic Church. No opportunity was allowed to pass without Stepinac openly singing the praises of, or sprinkling with oral or holy-water blessings, the new Catholic Croatia, her great Leader Pavelic, the Duce, and the great Fuehrer. When dates commemorating the bloody ascent of Fascism to power were celebrated in Fascist Italy or in Nazi Germany, Stepinac, although in Croatia, celebrated them with no less fervour. Thus he punctiliously celebrated October 28, the day when, in 1922, the first Fascist dictatorship was installed in Italy. While Mussolini annually paraded His Black Shirt battalions in Rome on that date, Stepinac annually commemorated the march with speeches, prayers, and congratulations, distributed with equal generosity also to Hitler on his ever-gloomier succeeding April birthdays. When it came to his own new Fascist State, however, the archiepiscopal panegyrics became impassioned recommendations for everything done by the New Croatia. After Parliament was convoked in February, 1942, Stepinac, with all the sacred authority of the chief pillar of the Mother Church, asked the Holy Ghost to descend upon the sharp edged knives of the Ustashi, and to settle, at least while the parliamentary session lasted, upon the brow of Pavelic. Special prayers and extra ounces of incense were offered in all Catholic churches on Pavelic's birthday. [1]

When the pocket-sized Ustashi Navy departed for the Black Sea, to destroy, side by side with the Germans, the Red Navy of godless

A copy of the original document dealing with the conversion to the Catholic Church of all Orthodox persons employed by the Government. Issued in Zagreb by the Ministry of Justice and Religions.

Everyone had to be or to become a Catholic. Refusal meant instant dismissal, loss of property, or arrest. And, very often, all three.

Additional decrees were issued, e.g. "Law concerning the conversion from one religion to another." On June 1, 1941, the Ustashi Premier set up an Office of Religious Affairs, in charge of "all matters pertaining to questions connected with the conversion of the Orthodox Church" (Decree No. 11,689).

Such legislation rested upon the tenet that "the movement of the Ustashi is based upon the Catholic Church," as enunciated by Mile Budak, July 13, 1941, at Karlovac.

Forcible conversions became the standard practice of Ustashi Croatia. The conversions were duly legalized by the State and gave immunity to the new Catholics, from arrest, from seizure of property and from execution.

A mass execution carried out by the Ustashi at Brode, early in 1941. Nazi troops were looking at some of the victims.

The Nazis, who for a time were posted in Croatia, were so horrified at the Ustashi atrocities that they set up special commissions to investigate them. The Orthodox Church of Serbia, in fact, appealed directly to the Nazi General Dulkeman to intervene and stop the Ustashi horrors.

The Germans and the Italians managed to restrain the Ustashi while they were under their supervision. When the Nazis left Croatia, however, the Ustashi multiplied their atrocities, unreprimanded by the Government. Since the latter's policy was one of total elimination of the Orthodox Serbian population via forcible conversions, expulsion, or straightforward massacre.

Victims were executed in groups without trial on bridges and then thrown into the river. In May 1941 the Ustashi besieged Glina. Having gathered together all the Orthodox males of over fifteen years of age from Karlovac, Sisak and Petrinja, they drove them outside the town and killed 600 of them with guns, knives and sledge hammers.

Russia, Stepinac flanked by Dr. Ramiro Marcone, the representative of that lover of peace, Pius XII, celebrated the triumphal departure in Zagreb, surrounded by the Catholic Hierarchy, mumbling Latin incantations for speedy victory by those brave aquatic crusaders. Stepinac's colleagues imitated their leader with unmatched zeal—e.g. Bishop Aksamovic, of Djakovo, who was personally decorated by Pavelic because "His Excellency the Bishop has from the very beginning cooperated with the Ustashi authorities." Or Archbishop Saric—the bosom friend of Jure Francetic, the commander of the Black Legion—who raised his right hand in the Ustashi—that is, the Nazi—salute at every opportunity, public or private.

The transformation of the Catholic Hierarchy into a de facto Ustashi Hierarchy had a most dreadful significance. It meant that the whole machinery of the Catholic Church in Croatia had been put at the complete disposal of the ruthless individuals determined to make of the new State a compact political and military unit, cemented by the most secure guarantees of the State's indestructibility. Such a policy implied, not only the transformation of the Croatian social, cultural, and political fabric, but also the complete extirpation of whatever was "alien" to Croatian stock and to its national religion. This required the total elimination of whoever was not a Catholic Croat. Not an easy task, as a large portion of the new State was composed of bulky racial-religious groups wholly foreign to Ustashi Catholicism. Out of a population of 6,700,000, in fact, only 3,300,000 were Croats. Of the remainder, 700,000 were Moslems, 45,000 were Jews, followed by sundry smaller minorities. Over 2,000,000 were Orthodox Serbs.

The inclusion in the New Croatia of so many alien elements was due to the territorial ambitions of Croat Separatism. These, as we have already seen, had been epitomized in the conception of the "Greater Croatia" of Ante Starcevic, who founded an extreme political party, the Croatian Law Party, subsequently elevated to the level of a fanatical National programme by Ante Pavelic. The Party's ideology, although one of racial and religious exclusiveness, accepted geographical expansion. This meant the inclusion in an independent Croatia of disputed territories, and hence of non-Catholic elements, which became automatically the greatest obstacle to the complete Catholicization of the new Croat State. To solve the problem, a policy directed at the swift elimination of all the non-Croat, non-Catholic population was adopted and promptly set in motion. This was repeatedly and publicly enunciated by members of the Ustashi Government—e.g. on June 2, 1941, in Nova Grarfiska, Dr. Milovan Zanitch, Minister of Justice, declared:

This State, our country, is only for the Croats, and not for anyone else. There are no ways and means which we Croats will not use to make our country truly ours, and to clean it of all Orthodox Serbs. All those who came into our country 300 years ago must disappear. We do not hide this our intention. It is the policy of our State, and during its promotion we shall do nothing else but follow the principles of the Ustashi.

Dr. Mile Budak, Minister of Education and of Cults, lost no time in enlightening his listeners of the nature of such principles. During his first Press interview as a Minister, when asked what the policy of Croatia would be in relation to the non-Croat racial and religious minorities, his reply was an ominously simple one: "For them" (the minorities), he said, "we have three million bullets." This was not the boasting of a fanatical individual. It was the epitomization of a policy, coolly planned by Pavelic in concert with the Catholic Hierarchy, which was set in motion immediately when the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia. Dr. Milovan Zanich, Dr. Mirko Puk, Dr. Victor Gutich, Ustashi Ministers, unhesitatingly declared that the New Croatia would get rid of all the Serbs in its midst, in order to become 100 per cent Catholic "within ten years." On July 22, 1941, the plan was again officially confirmed by Dr. Mile Budak: "We shall kill one part of the Serbs," were his words, "we shall transport another, and the rest of them will be forced to embrace the Roman Catholic religion. This last part will be absorbed by the Croatian elements." Ways and means to enact such a scheme were swiftly adopted. The most radical and most ruthless: mass removal of Serbians from the contested zone. According to the Ministers, one-third of these were to be transported to Serbia proper, one-third would be "persuaded" to embrace Catholicism, and the remainder would be "disposed of" by other means. "Other means" soon signified biological extermination, and "persuasion" forcible conversion.

Conversion and extermination spelt one thing: the total annihilation of the Orthodox Church. That, in fact, turned out to be the official policy of the New Catholic State of Croatia. Such a policy was

"The Pit of Death" An Orthodox Serb being thrown alive into a mass grave in the notorious concentration camp of Jasenovac, in 1942.

"The Pit of Death" was reserved for those Serbs who challenged their Catholic converters. The camp, when run by the Franciscan Monk, Father Filipovic, squalled in horrors Dachau Concentration Camp. These horrors, however, were often committed in rural districts as well.

On April 28, 1941, for instance, Ustashi storm troopers encircled the villages of Gudovac, Tuke Brezovac, Klokocevac and Bolac, in the district of Bjelovar, and arrested 250 Orthodox peasants, among whom was Stevan Ivankovitch and the Orthodox priest, Bozin. Having led them all to a field, the Ustashi ordered them to dig their own graves. This done, their hands were tied behind their backs. Thereupon, they were ALL PUSHED ALIVE INTO THEIR GRAVES.

The barbarity created such a commotion, even among the Nazis, that they set up a Committee to exhume the bodies and took photographs as evidence. The oral process was incorporated in an official Nazi document, "Ustachenwerk bet Bjelovar."

Corpses of children starved to death in the notorious Concentration Camp of Jasenovec, whose Commandant at one time was a Franciscan Monk, Father Filipovic. Father Filipovic, following the advice of Father D. Juric, let more than 2,000 other Orthodox children die while the camp was still under his rule,

Jasenovac Concentration Camp distinguished itself because of the number of young inmates sent there. In 1942 the Camp held over 24,000 Orthodox youngsters. Twelve thousand of them were murdered in cold blood by the Commandant.

Special camps for children were set up in many parts of Croatia. Those who were sick or too old to change their religion were made to perish through neglect or where simply massacred. An Ustashi named Ante Urban, a pious Catholic, protested indignantly at his trial after the war when accused of having killed hundreds of children. He asked the Judge to consider the accusation a lie, "Since," he explained, he had killed personally "only sixty-three of them."

formally put forward in Parliament by, among others, Dr. Mirko Puk, the Ustashi Minister of Justice and Religion: "I shall also make reference to the so-called Serbian Orthodox Church," he said. "In this regard I must emphatically state that the Independent Croatian State cannot and will not recognize the Serbian Orthodox Church."[2]

Pavelic's triple programme was made to operate simultaneously everywhere, following the establishment of the New State. Its execution was simple, direct, and brutal. It ranged from hurried decrees—like that issued by his new Minister of Public Instruction only four days after Hitler's attack (April 10, 1941), which barred members of the Serbian Orthodox Church from entering the University unless they had given up the Orthodox faith before April 10, 1941—to wholesale deportations, like those carried out on July 4 and 5, 1941, by the Ustashi in Zagreb; to the massacre of men, women, and children, like that of Kljuch, on July 31, on August 31, on September I and 2, 1941, when the "Flying Ustashi" summarily executed approximately 2,000 Serbs.[3]

In a State insanely bent on a policy of racial-religious extermination, laws and legality, when observed, were nothing but tragic mockeries. The Courts Extraordinary already mentioned, for instance, always condemned regardless of evidence, did not permit the right to appeal, and their sentences had to be carried out within three hours of pronouncement. Thus, these courts sentenced an immense number of people to death without offering them any opportunity for defense, and their sentences were strictly applied. In most cases the courts punished "collectively," under the guise of "trials." One bench alone, for instance, that of Zagreb, within two days—August 4 and 5, 1941—sentenced to death 185 persons; that of Stem, from August 3 to 25, 1942, 217 persons; the proceedings at the mobile court at Ruma on August 3, 1942, lasted only two and a half hours, during which twenty-six persons were sentenced to death. At Stara Pazova, on August 8, 1942, the court proceedings lasted only half an hour, and eighteen people received the death sentence. At Ruma on August 10, 1942, a defending counsel appointed by the Ustashi handled the defense of twenty-five persons, whom he met for the first time at the trial, the chairman of the bench allowing him only two minutes for each person. The Tribunals, a most tragic mockery of justice, were veritable instruments of extermination, as proved by the fact that within four years one bench alone of the mobile court extraordinary of Zagreb, headed by Ivan Vidnjevic, sentenced to death 2,500 citizens.

But while the Tribunals had at least a semblance of legality, the Ustashi found means to exterminate thousands of persons by a quicker method—i.e. by dispatching them to concentration camps and disposing of them there. The institution and supervision of these camps were exclusively in the hands of Pavelic, who personally attended to their management. The arrests and deportations to these camps rested with the Ustashi, who could send to them anyone they judged to be an "unreliable person," and who had absolute authority to kill immediately on arrival anyone taken there. Indeed, there "was agreement," to quote Ljubo Milos, Commandant of the Jasenovac concentration camp, "that all sentenced to three years, or not sentenced at all, were to be liquidated at once."3 By virtue of this, inmates of the camps were murdered indiscriminately, either individually or collectively, without even a legal excuse. Thus, in March, 1943, the inmates of the Djakovo Camp were purposely infected with typhus, causing the deaths of 567 persons; on September 15, 1941, all those inmates of the Jasenovac camp who were unable to work, numbering between 600 and 700, were killed; in the camp of Stara Gradiska, 1,000 women were killed. Of 5,000 Orthodox Serbs being taken to Jasenovac camp at the end of August, 1942, 2,000 were killed en route, the remainder were transferred to Gradina, where on August 28 they were put to death with hammers. In the Krapje Camp, in October, 1941, 4,000 prisoners were murdered; while in the Brocice Camp, in November, 1941, 8,000 prisoners were killed. From December, 1941, to February, 1942, at Velika Kosutarica, at Jasenovac, over 40,000 Orthodox Serbs were massacred, while in the Jasenovac camp, in the summer of 1942, about 66,000 Orthodox Serbs, brought from the villages of the Bosnian Marches, were slaughtered, including 2,000 children.

Children were not spared, and special concentration camps were set up for them. Nine of these were at Lobor; Jablanac, near Jasenovac; Mlaka; Brocice; IJstici; Stara Gradiska; Sisak; Jastrebarsko; and Ciornja Rijeka. The destruction of infants in these places would be incredible, were it not vouched for by eyewitnesses, one of whom has testified:

At that time fresh women and children came daily to the Camp at Stara Gradiska. About fourteen days later, Vrban [Commandant of the Camp] ordered all children to be separated from their mothers and put in one room. Ten of us were told to carry them there in blankets. The children crawled about the room, and one child put an arm and leg through the doorway, so that the door could not be closed. Vrban shouted: 'Push it!' When I did not do that, he banged the door and crushed the child's leg. Then he took the child by its whole leg, and banged it on the wall till it was dead. After that we continued carrying the children in. When the room was full, Vrban brought poison gas and killed them all.[4]

At his trial, Ante Vrban protested that he had not killed hundreds of children personally, "but only sixty-three."[5]

In 1942 there were some 24,000 children in the Jasenovac camp alone, 12,000 of whom were cold-bloodedly murdered. A very large portion of the remainder, having subsequently been released following pressure by the International Red Cross, perished wholesale from intense debilitation. One hundred of these infants, aged up to twelve months, for instance, died after release from the camp because of the addition of caustic soda to their food.

Dr. Katicic, Chairman of the Red Cross, shocked by these mass murders, lodged the strongest protest, threatening to denounce to the world this mass slaughter of infants. As a reply, Pavelic had Dr. Katicic flung into the concentration camp of Stara Gradiska.

That was not all. Even worse horrors—if worse there could be—took place in Pavelic's concentration camps. There were cases when the victims were burned alive:

The cremation at Jasenovac took place in the spring of 1942. In this they meant to imitate the Nazi camps in Germany and Poland, so Picilli had the notion of making the brickworks into a crematorium, where he did succeed, out of 14 ovens (7 a side) in making an oven for cremating people. There was then a decision to cremate people alive, and simply open the huge iron door and push them alive into the fire already alight there. That plan, however, excited terrible reaction among those who were to be burned. People shrieked, shouted and defended themselves. To avoid such scenes, it was resolved first to kill them and then to burn them.[6]

The representatives of the "only true Church" not only knew of such horrors: not a few of them were authorities in these same concentration camps, and had even been decorated by Ante Pavelic—e.g. Father Zvonko Brekalo, of the concentration camp of Jasenovac, who was decorated in 1944 by the leader himself with the "Order of King Zvonimir"; Father Grga Blazevitch, Assistant to the Commandant of the concentration camp of Bosanski-Novi; Brother Tugomire Soldo, organizer of the great massacre of the Serbs in 1941; and others. The worst abominations could hardly have been surpassed by the deeds of these individuals, the vilest betrayers of civilization and of man.


I. Katolicki List, June 11, 1942.[Back]

2. Speech by Dr. Mirko Puk, Minister of Justice and Religion. Excerpt from stenographic record of the proceedings of a regular session of the Croatian State Assembly, held in Zagreb, February 25, 1942.[Back]

3. All the crimes described in this book are authentic. For further atrocities of this kind, see the Memorandum sent to the General Assembly of UNO in 1950 by A. Pribicevic, President of the Independent Democratic Party of Yugoslavia, and by Dr. V. Belaicic, former Justice of the Supreme Court of Yugoslavia. Also Dokumenti, compiled by Joza Horvat and Zdenko Stambuk, Zagreb, 1946.[Back]

4. Statement made by witness Cijordana Friedlender, from the shorthand notes of the Ljubo Milos case, pp. 292-3.[Back]

5. From shorthand notes of the Ljubo Milos case.[Back]

6. Idem. See also official indictment of Ante Pavelic.[Back]

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