Chapter 8


The most ruthless promoters of bloodshed throughout the ages have invariably been religious and political fanaticism. The history of man has proved this to have been true, not only in the past, but, more portentous still, now in the present. Ustashi Croatia is the most frightening instance of modern times. There the identification of Church with State, of civil with religious authority, of spiritual with military ruthlessness, was found to produce individuals who committed barbarities unimagined even by themselves. Cassocks and tonsures have never given moral strength to clergymen nor rendered them immune to human frailty, passion, or vice. The murdering Catholic priests in Croatia were the victims of primitive frenzy. As such, they should be judged more with pity than with execration. Can, however, the master minds in Zagreb and in Rome, calmly exploiting the blind emotionalism and even wickedness of their clerical subordinates, be acquitted from the condemnation which history has already passed on them? Their calculated promotion of the Ustashi terror cannot be either minimized, excused, or condoned. For the mass murders carried out by individuals appareled in clerical garb truly were instigated from the archiepiscopal palaces of the Catholic Hierarchy. That Hierarchy knew, nay, it approved and tacitly encouraged the sanguinary task. Not one single member of their clergy, while the Independent Kingdom of Croatia lasted, was ever called to account by them. Not a single priest was by them ever punished, suspended, or unfrocked. Archbishop Stepinac, or any Catholic Bishop, could have done that at any time, had he been willing, not only when dealing with the most flagrant crimes, but also with minor transgressions—e.g., clerical

A Catholic priest "converting" a whole village. As a rule this meant collective mass baptism, particularly when villages had been surrounded by Ustashi detachments. The Catholic padres often used shock tactics to speed up matters, e.g., Father Ante Djuric, of the District of Dvor, who always opened his sermons with the following preliminary:

The Orthodox of this district have only three ways out: to accept the Catholic faith, to move out (leaving behind them all their possessions), or to be cleansed with the metal broom....

The higher clergy were no less explicit. Witness Bishop Mgr. Aksamovitcb, of Djakovo, who sent the following proclamation to all Orthodox Serbs in his diocese:

Up to now I have received into the fold of the Catholic Church several dozens of thousands of Orthodox. Follow the examples of these brothers of yours, send without delay your request for your prompt conversion to Catholicism. By being converted, you will be left in peace in your home....

For those who refused, or rebelled, the alternative was persecution, arrest, concentration camps, or even death.

The Ustashi, after raiding some Orthodox village, as a rule deported the women and children, either to concentration camps or to the nearest convent, where the "heretics" were re-baptized. This task was carried out by "Caritas," a Catholic organization run by the Hierarchy.

Very often, however, women and children were massacred with the rest.

In the village of Susnjary, for instance, after killing most of the inhabitants, the Ustashi led away about twenty surviving children, whom they tied to the threshold of a barn, which was then set on fire. Most were burned alive. The few who survived, horribly scorched, were then killed. As testified by eye witness Gjordana Friendlender, the Ljubo Milos case.

On September 13, 1941, several youngsters were impaled. Girls had their breasts cut and their hands made to pass through them. Many died of starvation or disease in concentration camps ran by priests or monks. In this photograph, the surviving women and children of a raided village near Bosanska, Dudica, are being taken to a camp. (1941)

fomentation of racial and religious hatred by word of mouth, writing, or deeds. A Catholic priest may not write in the Press without episcopal approval. Canon Law is very specific on this matter. It decrees this: "Any priest who writes articles in daily papers or periodicals without permission of his own Bishop contravenes Canon 1386 of the Code of Canon Law." Yet what happened? Clerical incitements to hate, to convert by force, and to massacre appeared in the ordinary Press without the Bishops uttering a single word of reprimand. They were even printed in the very ecclesiastical Press of the Catholic Hierarchy. Indeed, many bishops became the open advocates of forcible conversion, as proved by Mgr. Aksamovic, Bishop of Drjakovo, who sent the following proclamation to all Orthodox Serbs in his diocese:

Up to now I have received into the fold of the Catholic Church several dozens of thousands of Orthodox. Follow the example of these brothers of yours, and send, without any more delay, your request for your prompt conversion to Catholicism. By being converted to the Catholic Church you will be left in peace in your homes...and you will have ensured the salvation and the immortality of your souls...

Some priests, to their credit, protested openly, declaring that such instructions did not harmonize with the spirit of Christian teaching. Their bishops brought pressure upon them, to compel them to carry out the policy of forcible conversions. This was testified by none less than Bishop Aksamovic's chaplain, Dr. Djuka Maric, at a hearing before Yugoslav authorities:

I and my friend and colleague, Stjepan Bogutovac," said the chaplain, "were forced by our Bishop, Aksamovic, to go as missionaries to the Orthodox towns of Paucje and Cenkovo and to perform there the rituals of re-Christening all the inhabitants within a week's time."

The result was that, in the Bishopric of Djakovo, under the personal leadership of Bishop Aksamovic, there took place one of the biggest mass-conversions of Orthodox in the whole of Croatia.

The responsibility of the head of the Catholic Hierarchy is further demonstrated by the fact that he could have used disciplinary authority, in addition to having at his disposal canonical power. Stepinac, in fact, was not only the Chairman of the Bishops' Conference; he had supreme control over the writing of the entire Catholic Press as Chairman of Catholic Action. Had he been willing to do so, he could have silenced any member of his clergy preaching the extermination of non-Catholics. Further to that, Archbishop Stepinac was invested with civil power, which he could have used, being a fully fledged Member of Parliament. Such power he shared with other prelates, among them: Mgr. Aksamovic, Bishop of Djakovo; Father Irgolitch, of Farkasic; Father Ante Lonacir, of Senj; Father Stjepan Pavunitch, of Koprivnica; Father Juraj Mikan, of Ogulin; Father Matija Politch, of Bakar; Father Toma Severovitch, of Krizevci; Brother Boniface Sipitch, of Tucepa; Franjo Skrinjar, of Djelekovac; Stipe Vucetitch, of Ledenice.

With such authority Stepinac could easily control and direct all the Catholic clergy. Had he been met with open defiance, he could simply apply military sanctions. For Stepinac was not only the highest ecclesiastical authority in the land: he had been created Supreme Military Apostolic Vicar of the Ustashi Army at the beginning of 1942. All priests attached to the Ustashi units were directly under him, as military subordinates. And, as a rule, these were the ones who either incited the soldiers to commit crimes or committed them themselves.

That the Catholic Hierarchy were the veritable promoters of the campaign of forcible conversions is further demonstrated by the fact that forced membership of Catholicism was made legal by governmental decree on May 3, 1941, when the Ustashi Government published a "Law concerning the conversion from one religion to another." Additional measures on this matter followed. For instance, in June, 1941, the Ustashi Prime Minster set up (decree No.11,689) an Office on Religious Affairs, in charge of "all matters pertaining to questions connected with the conversion of the members of the Eastern Orthodox Church." Did Stepinac or the Catholic Hierarchy protest at the decree? Far from it; they whole-heartedly supported the law. In fact, they saw to it that the Department had at its head a priest, that same intimate friend of Pavelic whom we have already encountered, Father Dionizije Juricev. This office came into being following the very private audience with Pius Xll accorded to Pavelic a month earlier. And perhaps of even greater significance is the fact that on June 30, 1941, the Minister of Justice and of Religions sent an official letter to all Catholic bishops, in which the Ustashi Government confirmed what had already been agreed with Archbishop Stepinac—namely, the

The Bishops and Archbishops of Croatia gave full support to the Ustashi. Indeed, many of them were themselves Ustashi long before Ustashi Croatia came into being, e.g. Dr. Ivan Saric, the Archbishop of Sarajevo, who had been an Ustashi agitator since 1934. Or Mgr. Dionizije, one of the Heads of the Ministry of Cults, dealing with forcible conversions, who was Ante Pavelic's confessor.

Others became full fledged members of the Ustashi Parliament, e.g. Mgr. Aksamovic, Bishop of Djakovo. The Hierarchy were the inspirers of the forcible mass conversions. A Committee of Three dealing with them was composed of the Bishop of Senj, the Bishop of Krizevci, Dr. Simrak, and Archbishop Stepinac himself, working in conjunction with the Ustashi Minister of Justice.

The whole Hierarchy gave canonical sanction to forcible conversions, following a Bishops' Conference in Zagreb, November 17, 1941. Ante Pavelic's regime stood upon the Hierarchy's unqualified support.

Here, he is seen surrounded by the Croatian Bishops and Archbishops during one of their frequent conferences with him.

The Vatican was well informed of what was going on inside Ustashi Croatia. Not only because the Catholic Hierarchy sent the Pope regular reports, but because the Pope had his own personal representative there.

The duty of the Papal Legate was to send regular and accurate information on the exertions of the Catholic clergy and Bishops. Also on the political and military doings of the Ustashi Government and of its leaders.

Pope Pius XII's representative on the spot was the Papal Legate, Mgr. Marcone, who was accredited to the Ustashi Government and to Pavelic. Mgr. Marcone was minutely briefed on every aspect of the Catholic Hierarchy and the Ustashi collaborators. In fact, he was the spokesman, not only of the Croatian Hierarchy when reporting to the Vatican, but equally of Pius XII when reporting to Archbishop Stepinac and Pavelic.

Above, Mgr. Marcone, flanked by Archbishop Stepinac and Nazi-Ustashi officers, at a Ustashi Meeting.

pursuance of a policy of liquidation of all the most influential strata of the Orthodox population—this to be carried out through refusal to accept them into the Catholic Church. "It is the wish of the Government," said the circular, "that all the priests, teachers, and, in fact, all the intellectuals belonging to the Orthodox Church, in addition to businessmen, industrialists, and the rich peasants, must on no account be accepted into the Catholic Church. Only the poor Orthodox population must be converted."

The fanatical determination of the Catholic Hierarchy to destroy the Orthodox religion at its very roots is demonstrated by their cold-blooded attitude towards the surviving Orthodox children who, unlike their parents, had escaped extermination. All these children were placed in public homes directed by Catholic priests or Catholic sisters, under the auspices of Caritas, the Catholic organization run by the Hierarchy. In many cases they were put in the care of private Catholic families. What was the real objective of such extraordinary Catholic compassion? The implanting into their "lost souls" of "the true faith," as a prerequisite for their bodies being saved. Their religious assimilation was speedy, ruthless, and efficient. Officially converted to Catholicism, re-baptized with Catholic names, growing up in Catholic surroundings, these children, under continuous relentless Catholic pressure quickly lost all contact with their original ethnic and religious group. The inevitable result was that they were soon absorbed into the Catholic fold. Their assimilation was so thorough that even after Pavelic's collapse it became impossible to trace most of them, documents relating to their origin often having been willfully destroyed. Fleeing Ustashi took a number of such children with them to their main country of refuge, the Argentine. Others were taken to Italy. The wholesale kidnapping of Orthodox children was a characteristic feature of the forcible conversion, through terror, of Orthodox adults.

The former Apostolic Administrator and Bishop of Krizevci, Dr. Simrak, like many of his episcopal colleagues, publicly promoted, discussed, and encouraged plans for the whole campaign, and published directives to his clergy in the official Bishopric News of Krizevci, No. 2, 1942. Part of the text reads as follows:

Directive regarding the conversion of the members of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Slavonia, Srijem and Bosnia.

Special offices and church committees must be created immediately for those to be converted.... Let every curate remember that these are historic days for our missions and we must under no circumstances let this opportunity pass.... Now we must show with our work what we have been talking about for centuries in theory. We have done very little until now because....we are afraid of complaints from the people. Every great work has someone opposing it. Our universal mission, the salvation of souls and the greatest glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, is involved in this issue. Our work is legal because it is in accord with official Vatican policy and with the directives of the saintly congregations of the Cardinals for the Eastern Church.[1]

If these extraordinary directives had been issued by one single bishop, or even by several bishops, their significance would have incriminated the Catholic Church beyond excuse. But when it is considered that the Bishop of Krizevci, far from acting on his own, was officially following the instructions promulgated by his own very Primate, then the gravity of such instructions assumes a meaning transcending the deeds of a local Hierarchy and trespassing into fields affecting the most sacred principles of religious liberty of all men. The programme of forcible conversions was given canonic sanction after Stepinac had convened a Bishops' Conference in Zagreb on November 17, 1941—that is, the year before. From that date onward the entire Catholic Hierarchy adopted a programme which was officially followed until the fall of Pavelic. Indeed, the programme which gave hierarchical sanction to the policy of forcible conversions was further strengthened by the actual setting up of a Committee of Three. The task of the holy triumvirate? To promote the policy of the forcible conversions, in conjunction with the Ustashi Minister of Justice and Religion. The names of the Members of the Committee need no comment: the Bishop of Senj, the Apostolic Administrator, Dr. Janko Simrak, and the Archbishop of Zagreb, Mgr. Stepinac. Some of the revealing clauses of the decree read thus:

The Council of Croatian Bishops, at a conference held in Zagreb on the 17th day of December, 1941, upon deliberations in regard to the conversion of Serbians of Orthodox faith to Roman Catholicism, promulgates the following decree:

The Papal legate (in white), Archbishop Stepinac, Ante Pavelic (in Ustashi uniform) and his wife, at the opening of a home for children at Tuskanac.

Pope Pius XII's representative participated in most of the official and semi-official functions of Ustashi Croatia. He was an eyewitness to the promotion of Pavelic and to Stepinac's policies of terrorization and Catholicization of Croatia. He knew of the atrocities and horrors taking place. He watched the progress of the forcible conversions, was aware of the wholehearted participation of the clergy in the wholesale massacre of thousands of Orthodox Serbs. All these things he faithfully reported to Pope Pius XII. In addition, Croatian Bishops wrote dispatches on the Ustashi horrors to the Pope, e.g. Dr. Ujchich, Catholic Archbishop of Belgrade.

The purpose of Homes for Children was usually to re-baptize Orthodox orphans and thus convert them to the Catholic Church.

Catholic Religious Orders gave total and continuous support to the Ustashi. Before the establishment of the Independent Stale of Croatia (1941) their convents were hiding places for Ustashi terrorists, concealed Ustashi presses and were depositories of Ustashi subversive literature and even of hand grenades, guns and dynamite.

The Ustashi carried out their activities screened by the members of Religious Orders, male and female. Nuns prepared uniforms, emblems and medical equipment for Ustashi detachments.

Nuns looked after "poor little orphans," i.e. children whose parents had been murdered by the Ustashi, all of which children were re-baptized into the Catholic Church. In this manner thousands were converted to "the true faith." Hundreds of Catholic nuns became specialized in the "conversion" of the young.

In this photograph, Ante Pavelic is shown surrounded by Catholic nuns after one of his visits to a Catholic convent engaged upon the furtherance of the Ustashi Catholicization of Croatia.

  1. Concerning the vital question of the conversion of those of Serbian Orthodox faith into Roman Catholicism, the Catholic Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, according to divine right and church canons, retains sole and exclusive jurisdiction in issuing necessary prescriptions for said purpose, consequently, any action from any other but ecclesiastical authority is excluded.
  2. The Catholic Ecclesiastical Hierarchy has the exclusive right to nominate and appoint missionaries with the object of converting those of the Serbian Orthodox into the Catholic faith. Every missionary shall obtain permission for his spiritual work from the nearest local church authority...
  3. It is necessary that for conversions to be achieved, a psychological basis should be created among the Serbian Orthodox followers. With this object in view they should be guaranteed not only civil rights, but in particular they should be granted the right of personal freedom and also the right to hold property.[2]

Thereupon the Conference of these holy men released a complementary resolution (No. 253). In this they explained in more detail how certain forcible conversions were to be carried out. Then a second committee, which was directly under the Conference of the Catholic bishops, was set up, with the task of putting into practice the policy of forcible conversions. The list of its five members is significant: Dr. Franjo Hermann, Professor of the Theological Faculty of Zagreb; Dr. Augustin Juretitch, Adviser to the Conference of the Catholic Bishops; Dr. Janko Kalaj, Professor of Religious Education; Dr. Krunoslav Draganovitch, Professor of the Theological Faculty of Zagreb; and Mgr. Nikola Boritch, director of the Administration of the Archbishopric of Zagreb.

When examined without the frills and obscurities of their official phraseology, the various directives issued by these Hierarchical bodies turn out to be but faithful copies of similar instructions repeatedly given for centuries throughout the Christendom of the darkest Middle Ages. For that is what in reality they are. That a Catholic Hierarchy should have been permitted to re-issue them in the middle of the twentieth century is certainly one of the most sinister social phenomena of a civilization in swift decay.

The revival of a policy of forcible conversion assumes an even more portentous significance when one remembers that it occurred with the tacit approval of the Vatican. Had the Vatican disapproved, not a single priest could have taken part in the massacres or forcible conversions. A village priest can act only with the approval of minor Hierarchs who themselves cannot move without the permission of their Bishop, while the Bishop, in his turn, must act according to the instructions of his Archbishop; the Archbishop only on those of the Primate; the Primate on the direct instructions of the Vatican. The Vatican is the personal dominion of the Pope. The Pope being the central pivot of the vast Hierarchical machinery, it follows that the ultimate responsibility for all members of the clergy—or, to be more precise, for the collective action of any given national Hierarchy—rests with him. This cannot be otherwise. For policies of great import must be submitted to him before their promotion by all Hierarchies the world over, the Pope being their sole authority. If the responsibility for the monstrous persecutions rests with the head of the National Hierarchy—i.e. Stepinac—it has automatically to rest also with the Head of the Universal Church, without whose consent the Catholic Hierarchy would not have dared to act—i.e. with Pius XII.

Pius XII could not plead ignorance of what was going on in Croatia by bringing forward the excuse of the obstacles of war. Communication between Rome and Croatia was as easy and as free as in peace-time. From the very beginning of hostilities the Nazi Ambassador at the Vatican was treated as of far greater importance than all the Allied diplomats. In 1940-2 the Vatican was on the most cordial terms with Hitler. Political and religious Ustashi leaders came and went between Rome and Zagreb as freely as did the Germans and Italians, the Ustashi State then being a satellite of Nazi Germany, and hence a province of the Nazi Empire. Moreover, the Pope knew what was happening in Croatia, not only through the Hierarchical administrative machinery, which kept him up to date on all Croatian events, but also through other reliable sources. They were:

(a) The Papal Legate. Pius XII, it should never be forgotten, had a personal representative in Croatia, whose task was to implement Vatican policy and coordinate it with that of Pavelic, as well as reporting on religious and political matters to the Pope himself. The Papal Legate to Croatia was Mgr. Marcone, who openly blessed the Ustashi, publicly gave the Fascist salute, and encouraged Catholics (e.g. when he went to Mostar) to be "faithful to the Holy See, which had helped that same people for centuries against Eastern barbarism"—that is to say, against the Orthodox Church and the Serbs. Thus, the Pope's official representative openly instigated religious persecution, as well as praying for victory "under the leadership of the Head of the State,

Pavelic," against the Yugoslav National Liberation Army in 1944-5.

(b) Cardinal Tiseran, head of the Holy Congregation of Eastern Churches. This congregation's specific task was to deal with Eastern Churches. Cardinal Tiseran received detailed reports of every forcible conversion and massacre in Croatia. Between April and June, 1941, over 100,000 Orthodox Serbs were massacred; yet Cardinal Tiseran, on July 17, 1941, had the audacity to declare that Archbishop Stepinac would now do a great work for the development of Catholicism in "the Independent State of Croatia...where there are such great hopes for the conversion of those who are not of the true faith."

(c) Ante Pavelic, who, by his representative to the Vatican, through whom Pius XII sent "special blessing to the Leader (Pavelic)," forwarded regular reports, at times straight from the Minister of Religions, about the "rapid" progress of the Catholicization of the New Croatia.

(d) Last but not least, Archbishop Stepinac himself, who in person visited Pius XII twice, and who supplied His Holiness with figures of the forcible conversions. In an official document, dated as late as May 8, 1944, His Eminence Archbishop Stepinac, head of the Catholic Hierarchy, in fact, informed the Holy Father that to date "244,000 Orthodox Serbs" had been "converted to the Church of God." [3]

Monks and Friars were the backbone of the policy of forcible conversions. Many participated in acts of terrorism. E.g. Simic Vjeckoslav, a Monk of the monastery at Knin, who killed dozens of Orthodox with his own hands. Sidoniie Solo, another Monk of the Franciscan monastery in Nasice, deported the Orthodox population of whole villages. The Abbot of the monastery of Gunlic, Father G. Castimir, directed the massacre of hundreds of Orthodox at Glina.

Father Dr. Dragutin Kamber, a Jesuit, ordered the killing of about 300 Orthodox in Doboj, and the court martial of 250 others, most of whom were shot.

Father Srecko Peric, of the Gorica monastery, on August lit, 1941, personally incited the massacre of more than 5,600 Orthodox in the district of Livno.

Friars were Ustashi officers. Others Commandants of Concentration Camps .Above, Ante Pavelic during one of his periodical visits to Franciscan monasteries.

A band of Ustashi robbing the Orthodox Serbs of their possessions before shooting them. This picture was taken near Mount Kozara, in 1942.

The Ustashi, prior to executing their prisoners, very often mutilated and tortured. When dealing with Orthodox churches, they kept all the valuables to themselves or shared them with the Catholic Padres. The latter not only accepted the "gifts" but transferred to the Catholic Church the property of the Orthodox parishes. Such property included the baptism registers and all other official and semi-official documents.

Catholic padres and the Ustashi asked for money also as a condition for saving the lives of those they converted, e.g. the Catholic priest of Ogulin, Canon Ivan Mikan, who charged 180 diners for each forced conversion. In the Orthodox village of Jasenak alone he collected 80,000 diners.

Catholic Monasteries became gorged with Orthodox valuables and goods. Many of these were sent to the Catholic Bishops.


1. Glasnik krizevacke nadbiskupife, No. 2, 1942.[Back]

2. Other clauses of the decree:

3. Such missionaries shall be responsible only to the local church authorities or directly to the local Catholic priests.

4. The Roman Catholic Church will recognize as binding only those conversions which have been made in accordance with these dogmatic principles.

5. Secular authorities shall have no right to annul conversions made by the Church representatives.

6. The Croatian Catholic Bishops constitute a directorium consisting of three persons...they are authorized to consult with the Minister of Religion on all questions relating to necessary and proper procedure....

9. Concerning the rites to be applied in the conversions, the Croatian Roman Catholic Bishops will adopt in full the rule prescribed by the Holy Congregation of the Eastern Church as of July, 1941, and which has been communicated to the President of the Bishops' Council....

10. The Committee of the Croatian Catholic Bishops for conversions will organize courses for those priests who are to act as instruments in the conversions of the Serbian Orthodox into the Catholic Church. In these courses they will receive both theoretical and practical instructions for their work. [Back]

3. The authenticity of his reply was personally confirmed by Dr. Grizogono's son, Dr. N. Grizogono, a practicing Catholic. For further details, see Ally Betrayed, by David Martin, 1946. Archbishop Stepinac wrote to Pavelic about the conversion—more than once. See Mgr. Stepinac's long letter to Pavelic on the conversions, first translated and published by Hubert Butler.[Back]

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