World War II persecution of Serbs

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World War II persecution of Serbs
Part of World War II and anti-Serb sentiment
Serbs, expelled from their homes in the Independent State of Croatia, march out of town carrying large bundles.
Location  Independent State of Croatia
Nazi Germany Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia
Kingdom of Hungary (1920–46) Kingdom of Hungary
Kingdom of BulgariaKingdom of Bulgaria
Albanian Kingdom (1939–1943)
Albania Albanian Kingdom (1943–1944)
Date 1941–45
Target Serbs
Attack type
Ethnic cleansing
Forced conversion
Mass murder
Genocide (in Croatia)
Deaths 300,000+ (see section)
Perpetrators Axis powers and collaborators (occupation forces), most notably Ustashe
Motive Racial laws, reprisals

The World War II persecution of Serbs includes the extermination, expulsion and forced religious conversion of large numbers of ethnic Serbs by the Ustashe regime in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), as well as killings and expulsions of Serbs by the various Axis forces and their local supporters in occupied Yugoslavia. The number of victims is a matter of debate (see section), with conservative estimates ranging between 200,000 to 500,000 killed by the Ustashe, out of which ca. 100,000 died at the notorious Jasenovac concentration camp, according to current estimates. The atrocities have been called a genocide.


Croatian ultranationalism[edit]

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,[1] Roman Catholicism, and Croatian ultranationalism. The Ustaše supported the creation of a Greater Croatia that would span to the Drina river and the outskirts of Belgrade,[2] the movement emphasized the need for a racially "pure" Croatia and promoted the extermination of Serbs, Jews[3] and Gypsies.[4]

A major ideological influence on the Croatian nationalism of the Ustaše was the 19th-century nationalist Ante Starčević.[4] Starčević was an advocate of Croatian unity and independence and was both anti-Habsburg and anti-Serb,[4] 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".[4]

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,[5] 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,[6] because the Ustaše saw the Islam of the Bosnian-Muslims as a religion which "keeps true the blood of Croats."[6] Armed struggle, genocide and terrorism were glorified by the group.[7]

Independent State of Croatia[edit]

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,[8] 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".[9]

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, [10]

The NDH combined most of modern Croatia, all of modern Bosnia and Herzegovina and parts of modern Serbia into an "Italian-German quasi-protectorate".[11] NDH authorities, led by the Ustaše militia,[12] then implemented genocidal policies against the Serb, Jewish and Romani populations living in the new state. The most conservative estimates put the number of Serbs at least 200,000 and possibly as many as 500,000 were killed by Ustashe death squads, executed, or perished at concentration camps.[13] Ramet estimated at least 300,000 Serbs "massacred by the Ustaše",[14] the Ustashe cruelty and sadism shocked even Nazi commanders.[15]

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.[16]

In 1941 the usage of the Cyrillic script was banned,[17] and in June 1941 began the elimination of "Eastern" (Serbian) words from the Croatian language, as well as the shutting down of Serbian schools.[18] 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.[19]

Ustashe militias and death squads[edit]

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,[16] some Serb villages near Srebrenica and Ozren were wholly massacred, while children were found impaled by stakes in villages between Vlasenica and Kladanj.[20]


There was a large number of massacres 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, killed at an Orthodox church, another 500–1,800 killed in the neighbouring villages, by Luburić's troops.

Concentration camps[edit]

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,[13] the creation of concentration camps and extermination campaign of Serbs had been planned by the Ustashe leadership long before 1941.[21] In Ustashe state exhibits in Zagreb, the camps were portayed as productive and "peaceful work camps", with photographs of smiling inmates.[22] Croatia was the only Axis satellite to have erected camps specifically for children.[13]

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.[23] Special camps for children were those at Sisak, Gornja Rijeka and Jastrebarsko,[24] while Stara Gradiška held thousands of children and women.[25]

The largest and most notorious camp was the Jasenovac-Stara Gradiška complex,[13] the largest extermination camp in the Balkans.[26] An estimated 100,000 inmates perished there, most Serbs.[27] 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."[28]

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%.[25] 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.[29] 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.[30] Still, that method was unnecessary, as most inmates perished from starvation, disease (especially typhus), assaults with mallets, maces, axes, poison and knives,[30] the srbosjek ("Serb-cutter") was a glove with an attached curved blade designed to cut throats.[30] Large groups of people were regularly executed upon arrival outside camps and thrown into the river.[30] 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,[30] 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.[30] Filipović and other camp commanders (such as Dinko Šakić and his wife Nada Šakić (sr), the sister of Maks Luburić), used ingenious torture.[30] 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.[31] 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.[32] 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.[33]

Religious persecution[edit]

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 of as Croats) were recognized as Croatian national religions, Eastern Orthodoxy was deemed inherently incompatible with the Croatian state project.[34] They saw Orthodoxy as hostile because it was identified as Serb,[35] on 3 May 1941 a law was passed on religious conversions, pressuring Serbs to convert to Catholicism and thereby adopt Croat identity.[34] This was made on the eve of Pavelić's meeting with Pope Pious XII in Rome,[36] the Catholic Church in Croatia, headed by archbishop Aloysius Stepinac, greeted it and adopted it into the Church internal law.[36] The term "Serbian Orthodox" was banned in mid-May as uncompatible with state order, and substituted it with "Greek-Eastern faith".[37] By the end of September 1941, about half of the Serbian Orthodox clergy, 335 priests, had been expelled.[38]

"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.[39]

Ustashe propaganda legitimized persecution partly based on historical Catholic–Orthodox struggle for domination in Europe and Catholic intolerance towards the "schismatics".[35] 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.[35] 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,[35] the conversions were meant to Croatianize and permanently destroy the Serbian Orthodox Church.[35] 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.[40] On 8 February 1942 envoy to the Holy See Rusinović said that 'the Holy See joyed' over forced conversions.[41] 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".[42] Many fanatic Catholic priests joined the Ustashe, blessed and supported their work, and participated in killings and conversions.[43]

In 1941–42,[44] some 200,000[45] or 240,000[46]–250,000[47] Serbs were converted to Roman Catholicism, although most temporarily.[45] Converts would sometimes be killed anyway, often in the same churches they were rebaptized.[45] 85% of the Serbian Orthodox clergy was killed or expelled.[48] In Lika, Kordun and Banija alone, 172 Serbian Orthodox churches were closed, destroyed, or plundered,[37] on 2 July 1942, the Croatian Orthodox Church was founded in order to replace the institutions of the Serbian Orthodox Church,[49] after the matter of forced conversion had become extremely controversial.[34]

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,[50] the Croatian Catholic Church and Vatican in fact viewed policies against Serbs as advantegous to Roman Catholicism.[51] 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;[52] 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.[53] 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,[14] 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.[38]

Hungarian-occupied territories[edit]

Monument to the victims of the Novi Sad raid.

The occupation began on 11 April 1941 when 80,000 Hungarian troops crossed the Yugoslav border in support of the German-led Axis invasion of Yugoslavia that had commenced five days earlier. Hungarian troops killed between 1,122 and 3,500 civilians, including some Volksdeutsche,[54] on 14 April 1941, around 500 Jews and Serbs were bayoneted to death, probably as a warning to others not to resist.[55] In the first two weeks of occupation, 10,000 non-Hungarians (mostly Serbs)[56] were expelled,[57] the occupation authorities earliest actions in Bačka and Baranja was to classify the post-1918 settlers (workers and colonists).[57] On 28 April the Hungarian government decided to deport 150,000 Serbs with three days of supplies (without their assets),[58] but it failed due to German opposition[57] as Serb deportees from Croatia in Serbia posed a serious problem in terms of provisions and supplies;[58] still, German authorities[57] in Belgrade estimated 35,000 Serbs secretly sent to Serbia, while 12,000 put in Hungarian concentration camps were gradually sent to Serbia.[59][c] 10,000 of the deported were Serbian colonists.[60]

The Hungarian authorities established concentration camps for Serbs from which they were eventually expelled to the German-occupied territory of Serbia, as part of the "systematic magyarisation" of these territories,[61] Hungarian political parties and patriotic organisations were encouraged to be active in Bačka and Baranja, which resulted in discrimination against "less-desirable elements" of the population such as Serbs, Croats and Jews.[61] Discrimination extended to education and communication, and Serbo-Croatian was virtually banned;[62] in late 1941 temporary concentration camps housed some 2,000 Jews and a large number of Serbs for periods from two weeks to two months.[55] Thousands of civilians, mostly Serbs and Jews, were killed in the Novi Sad raid (6–23 January 1942); in mid-1942, the Yugoslav government-in-exile reported that churches had been looted and destroyed, and that Serbian Orthodox holy days had been prohibited by the Hungarian administration. These reports stated that the camp in Novi Sad held 13,000 Serb and Jewish men, women and children,[63] some Hungarian politicians acknowledged the injustice towards Serbs and called for reconciliation, and punishment for those responsible for the raid and assassinations.[64] The Serb intelligentsia was however unwilling and only a minimal portion collaborated,[64] at the beginning of 1943 the provincial governor in Újvidék (Novi Sad), Péter Fernbach, was replaced due to anti-Serb hostile attitude.[64]


Axis occupation in 1941 with modern-day borders of Kosovo.

After the invasion of Yugoslavia (6–18 April 1941), the Axis powers divided territory among themselves. Kosovo and Metohija was divided between Italian, German and Bulgarian occupation. The largest part of what is today Kosovo was under Italian occupation and was annexed into a "Greater Albania", the Albanian Kingdom through a decree on 12 August 1941, while northern parts were included in German-occupied Serbia, and southeastern parts into the Bulgarian occupational zone.[65] Parts of eastern Montenegro and western Macedonia were also annexed to Albania, during the occupation, the population was subject to expulsion, internment, forced labour, torture, destruction of private property, confiscation of land and livestock, destruction and damaging of monasteries, churches, cultural-historical monuments and graveyards.[65] There were waves of violence against Serbs in some periods, such as April 1941, June 1942, September 1943, and continuous pressure in various ways;[66] in June 1942 Prime Minister Mustafa Kruja said that Serbs would be sent to concentration camps or killed.[67] Many Kosovo Albanians were preoccupied with driving out the Serb minority, particularly the post-1919 Serbian and Montenegrin colonists,[68] often settled on confiscated Albanian land (although the Albanians themselves had confiscated land and brutally abused during the last Ottoman years, as is well-documented).[69] Albanians saw Serbian and Yugoslav rule as foreign,[69] and according to Ramet they felt that anything would be better than the chauvinism, corruption, administrative hegemonism and exploitation they had experienced under the Serbian authorities.[14] Albanians collaborated broadly with the Axis occupiers, who had promised them a Greater Albania.[69] Ultranationalism was popular among the Albanians, and communist organizer Svetozar Vukmanović described that conditions of resistance in Kosovo as the worst in all of Yugoslavia, and that the Albanian population were unfriendly to the Partisans and saw only that the power was theirs.[70] Civilians were sent to camps and prisons established by the Italian, German and Bulgarian occupation, and the Albanian community, of which the notable prisons were at Gnjilane, Peć, Priština, Uroševac and Đakovica,[71] the expulsion of Serbs proved problematic, as they had performed important functions in the region, and been running most of the businesses, mills, tanneries, and public utilities, and been responsible for most of the useful agricultural production.[70] Most of the war crimes were perpetrated by the Vulnetari ("volunteers"),[72] Balli Kombëtar and the SS Skanderbeg Division.[73] In September 1943, Italy surrendered to the Allies and shortly afterwards, the Germans occupied Greater Albania, and most Italian soldiers in the country surrendered to the Germans, the Skanderbeg Division, established in April 1944,[74] was better known for murdering, raping, and looting in predominantly Serbian areas than for participating in combat operations on behalf of the German war effort.[75]

The most harsh position of Serbs was in the Italian (Albanian) zone, and least in the Bulgarian, due to animosity between the Bulgarian occupation and Albanian population.[76] A large part of the Serb population was expelled or forced to flee in order to survive;[76] in Kosovo, between 70,000 and 100,000 Serbs were transferred to concentration camps or expelled to German-occupied Serbia, in order to Albanianize the province.[14] Serbian estimations put the number of expelled at around 100,000; an estimated 40,000 from the Italian-occupation zone, 30,000 from the German zone, and 25,000 from the Bulgarian zone.[77] The number of war-related deaths has not been concluded.[78][d]

Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia[edit]

Germans escorting people from Kragujevac and its surrounding area to be executed

Partisans and Chetniks jointly rose up in Serbia, which angered the Germans, who had already in April 1941 decreed that 100 enemies be killed for one German death, as attacks against German troops increased, Serbia once again became a warzone, in which German troops fanned through the countryside burning villages, taking hostages and establishing concentration camps. The first mass executions of hostages commenced in July,[79] the strengthening of German military presence resulted in a new wave of mass executions and war crimes. The commanders who bore the most responsibility for these atrocities were primarily of Austrian origin and had served in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I,[80] and were ardently anti-Serb.[81] Commanding general Franz Böhme, who had direct responsibility for quelling the revolt,[82] boasted a profound hatred of Serbs and encouraged his troops to exact "vengeance" against them.[83]

On 15–16 October, 10 German soldiers were killed at Kraljevo,[84] after which 300 civilians were killed in reprisal.[85] Next, Kragujevac was the site of a massacre of 2,778 people between 18–21 October 1941.[84]

Victims and death toll[edit]

As concluded by historian Rory Yeomans, 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.[13] Tomasevich said that the exact number of victims in Yugoslavia is impossible to determine.[86] Sabrina P. Ramet estimated at least 300,000 Serbs "massacred by the Ustaše".[14] Demographer Bogoljub Kočović, author of the most serious study of World War II victims in Yugoslavia, estimated 370–410,000 Serbs who died in NDH,[87] the number of victims at the Jasenovac concentration camp remains a matter of debate, but current estimates put the number at around 100,000, most Serbs.[88]

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]

In Serbia and in the eyes of Serbs, the Ustashe atrocities constituted a genocide,[89] some Western and Jewish authors acknowledge it as a genocide,[90][91][92][93][94][95][96][97][98][99] or, if not calling it explicitly "genocide", call Ustashe policies and acts "genocidal".[37][100] R. Lemkin also called Hungarian and Bulgarian policies against Serbs genocidal.[93]


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.[101] Tito himself was invited and passed Jasenovac several times, but did never visit the site.[102]

Ratlines, terrorism and assassinations[edit]

With the Partisan liberation of Yugoslavia, many Ustashe leaders fled and took refuge at the college of San Girolamo degli Illirici near the Vatican.[33] Catholic priest and Ustashe Krunoslav Draganović directed the fugitives from San Girolamo,[33] 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.[33] Many of those responsible for mass killings in NDH took refuge in South America, Portugal, Spain and the United States.[33] 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.[33] Draganović also arranged Gestapo functionary Klaus Barbie's flight.[33]

In the Croat diaspora, the Ustashe became heroes.[33] Ustashe emigré 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.[103]

Notable war-criminals[edit]

  • Ante Pavelić (1889–1959), founder and supreme leader of Ustashe. Hid in Italy, Argentine, Chile and Spain. Survived assassination attempts.
  • Andrija Artuković (1899–1988), Croatian Minister of Interior. Died in Croatian custody.
  • Slavko Kvaternik (1878–1947), Ustashe military commander-in-chief. Executed by Yugoslav authorities.
  • Dido Kvaternik (1910–1962), Ustashe secret police leader, son of Slavko. Died in car accident in Argentina.
  • Jure Francetić (1912–1942), Ustashe commander of the Black Legion, ordered massacres of Serbs in Bosnia. Plane downed by Partisans.
  • Maks Luburić (1914–1969), commander of the Ustaše Defence Brigades (Ustaška Odbrana) and Jasenovac camp. Murdered by colleague in Spain.
  • Mile Budak (1889–1945), Croatian politician and chief Ustashe ideologist, executed for war crimes and crimes against humanity on 7 June 1945.
  • Dinko Šakić (1921–2008), Ustaše leader, commander of Jasenovac. Fled to Argentina but was eventually extradited, tried and sentenced, in 1999, by Croatian authorities to 20 years in prison, dying in prison.
  • Nada Šakić (sr), Jasenovac camp guard, sister of Maks Luburić and wife of Dinko. She escaped punishment as Argentina refused to extradite her.
  • Tomislav Filipović-Majstorović (1915–1946; born Miroslav Filipović), Franciscan friar and Jasenovac camp commander infamous for his sadism and cruelty, known as "brother Satan". Captured by Partisans, tried and executed in 1946.
  • Petar Brzica (1917–?), Franciscan friar who won a contest on 29 August 1942 after cutting the throats of 1,360 inmates at the Jasenovac camp.[31] His post-war fate is unknown.


Revisionism in modern-day Croatia[edit]

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.[104]

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 numbers 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.[105] Tuđman's views and his government's toleration of Ustaša symbols frequently strained relations with Israel.[106] Nonetheless, in his book, he did confirm that genocide happened:

Possibly the most overt and well-known 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 affiliations at major Thompson concerts in Croatia and elsewhere is a frequent occurrence, leading to complaints from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.[108]

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.[109] 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."[110]

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."[111]

Revisionism in Croat diaspora[edit]

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.[112]

Ustaše gold[edit]

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.[113]


Yugoslav Wars[edit]

World War II and especially its ethnic conflicts have been deemed instrumental in the later Yugoslav Wars (1991–95).[114]


Israeli President Moshe Katsav visited Jasenovac in 2003, his successor, Shimon Peres, paid homage to the camp's victims when 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".[115][116]

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[edit]


  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).[117] 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 began suggesting substantially smaller numbers.
  2. ^ The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum lists (as of 2012) a total of 320–340,000 ethnic Serbs killed in Croatia and Bosnia, and 45–52,000 killed at Jasenovac.[118] 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.[119]
  3. ^ According to K. Ungváry the actual number of Serbs deported was 25,000.[58] Ramet cites the German statement.[120] Serbian Orthodox bishop in America Dionisije Milivojević (sr) claimed 50,000 Serb colonists and settlers deported and 60,000 killed in the Hungarian occupation.[121]
  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.[122]


  1. ^ Hory & Broszat 1964, pp. 13–38.
  2. ^ Viktor Meier. Yugoslavia: a history of its demise English edition. London, UK: Routledge, 1999, p. 125.
  3. ^ Tomasevich (2001), pp. 351–52
  4. ^ a b c d Fischer 2007, p. 207.
  5. ^ Fischer 2007, pp. 207–208.
  6. ^ a b Butić-Jelić, Fikreta. Ustaše i Nezavisna Država Hrvatska 1941–1945. Liber, 1977.
  7. ^ Djilas, p. 114.
  8. ^ Fischer 2007, p. ?.
  9. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 466.
  10. ^ "Deciphering the Balkan Enigma: Using History to Inform Policy" (PDF). Retrieved 3 June 2011. 
  11. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 272.
  12. ^ Tomasevich 2001, pp. 397–409.
  13. ^ a b c d e Yeomans 2013, p. 18.
  14. ^ a b c d e Ramet 2006, p. 114.
  15. ^ Yeomans 2013, p. vii.
  16. ^ a b Yeomans 2013, p. 17.
  17. ^ Ramet 2006, p. 312.
  18. ^ Levy 2011, p. 61.
  19. ^ Fischer 2007, p. 228.
  20. ^ Paris 1961, p. 104.
  21. ^ Yeomans 2013, p. 16.
  22. ^ Yeomans 2013, p. 2.
  23. ^ Levy 2011, p. 69.
  24. ^ Bulajić 2002, p. 7.
  25. ^ a b Levy 2011, p. 70.
  26. ^ Yeomans 2015, p. 21, Pavlowitch 2008, p. 34
  27. ^ Yeomans 2015, p. 3, Pavlowitch 2008, p. 34
  28. ^ Paris 1961, p. 132.
  29. ^ Levy 2011, pp. 70–71.
  30. ^ a b c d e f g Levy 2011, p. 71.
  31. ^ a b Lituchy 2006, p. 117.
  32. ^ Bulajić 2002, p. 231.
  33. ^ a b c d e f g h Levy 2011, p. 72.
  34. ^ a b c Ramet 2006, p. 118.
  35. ^ a b c d e Yeomans 2015, p. 178.
  36. ^ a b Vuković 2004, p. 431.
  37. ^ a b c Ramet 2006, p. 119.
  38. ^ a b Tomasevich 2001, p. 394.
  39. ^ Paris 1961, p. 100.
  40. ^ Vuković 2004, p. 430.
  41. ^ Vuković 2004, p. 430, Rivelli 1999, p. 171
  42. ^ Vuković 2004, p. 431, Dakina 1994, p. 209, Simić 1958, p. 139
  43. ^ Mojzes 2011, p. 64.
  44. ^ Djilas 1991, p. 211.
  45. ^ a b c Mojzes 2011, p. 63.
  46. ^ Vuković 2004, p. 431, Đurić 1991, p. 127, Djilas 1991, p. 211, Paris 1988, p. 197
  47. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 542.
  48. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 529.
  49. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 546.
  50. ^ Tomasevich 2001, pp. 531, 537.
  51. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 565.
  52. ^ Tomasevich 2001, pp. 563–564.
  53. ^ Vuković 2004, p. 432.
  54. ^ Ramet 2006, p. 137, Tomasevich 2001, p. 169
  55. ^ a b Mojzes 2011, p. 87.
  56. ^ Sedlar 2007, p. 73.
  57. ^ a b c d Tomasevich 2001, p. 170.
  58. ^ a b c Ungváry 2011, p. 75.
  59. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 170, Ramet 2006, p. 138
  60. ^ Janjetović 2008, p. 156.
  61. ^ a b Tomasevich 2001, p. 171.
  62. ^ Tomasevich 2001, pp. 170–171.
  63. ^ Lemkin 2008, p. 263.
  64. ^ a b c Ungváry 2011, p. 82.
  65. ^ a b Antonijević 2009, p. 9.
  66. ^ Antonijević 2009, p. 10.
  67. ^ Bogdanović 1985, p. 203, "We should endeavor to ensure that the Serb population of Kosovo should be removed as soon as possible ... All indigenous Serbs who have been living here for centuries should be termed colonialists and as such, via the Albanian and Italian governments, should be sent to concentration camps in Albania. Serbian settlers should be killed."
  68. ^ Fischer 1999, p. 237.
  69. ^ a b c Denitch 1996, p. 118.
  70. ^ a b Fischer 1999, p. 238.
  71. ^ Antonijević 2009, p. 24.
  72. ^ Antonijević 2003, Božović 1991, p. 85
  73. ^ Mojzes 2011, p. 95.
  74. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 154.
  75. ^ Mojzes 2011, pp. 94–95, Fischer 1999, p. 185
  76. ^ a b Antonijević 2009, p. 27.
  77. ^ Antonijević 2009, pp. 26–27.
  78. ^ Antonijević 2009.
  79. ^ Pavlowitch 2008, p. 61.
  80. ^ Lampe 2000, p. 215.
  81. ^ Pavlowitch 2008, pp. 60–61.
  82. ^ Tomasevich 1975, pp. 97–98.
  83. ^ Shepherd 2016, p. 199.
  84. ^ a b Pavlowitch 2008, p. 62.
  85. ^ Shepherd 2012, p. 306, note 109.
  86. ^ Tomasevich 2001, p. 719.
  87. ^ Pavlowitch 2008, p. 34.
  88. ^ Yeomans 2015, p. 3, Pavlowitch 2008, p. 34
  89. ^ Rapaić 1999, Krestić 1998, SANU 1995, Kurdulija 1993, Bulajić 1992, Kljakić 1991
  90. ^ McCormick 2014, McCormick 2008
  91. ^ Yeomans 2013, p. 5.
  92. ^ Levy 2011.
  93. ^ a b Lemkin 2008, pp. 259–264.
  94. ^ Mojzes 2008, p. 154.
  95. ^ Rivelli 1999.
  96. ^ Paris 1961.
  97. ^ Samuel Totten; William S. Parsons (2004). Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. Routledge. p. 422. ISBN 978-1-135-94558-9. The Independent State of Croatia willingly cooperated with the Nazi “Final Solution” against Jews and Gypsies, but went beyond it, launching a campaign of genocide against Serbs in “greater Croatia.” The Ustasha, like the Nazis whom they emulated, established concentration camps and death camps. 
  98. ^ Michael Lees (1992). The Serbian Genocide 1941-1945. Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Western America. 
  99. ^ John Pollard (30 October 2014). The Papacy in the Age of Totalitarianism, 1914-1958. OUP Oxford. pp. 407–. ISBN 978-0-19-102658-4. 
  100. ^ Tomasevich 2001.
  101. ^ Mojzes 2011, p. 47.
  102. ^ Bulajić 2001, p. 67.
  103. ^ Paul Hockenos (2003). Homeland Calling: Exile Patriotism & the Balkan Wars. Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-4158-7. 
  104. ^ Drago Hedl (10 November 2005). "Croatia's Willingness To Tolerate Fascist Legacy Worries Many". BCR Issue 73. IWPR. Retrieved 30 November 2010. 
  105. ^ Schemo, Diana Jean (22 April 1993). "Anger Greets Croatian's Invitation To Holocaust Museum Dedication". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  106. ^ "Croatia probes why Hitler image was on sugar packets". Reuters. 20 February 2007. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  107. ^ Boris Havel (2015). "O izučavanju holokausta u Hrvatskoj i hrvatskoj državotvornosti". Nova prisutnost. 13 (1): 105. Retrieved 16 November 2017. 
  108. ^ "Wiesenthal Center Expresses Outrage At Massive Outburst of Nostalgia for Croatian fascism at Zagreb Rock Concert; Urges President Mesić to Take Immediate Action",; accessed 4 March 2014.
  109. ^ (in Croatian) "stari govor Stipe Mesića: Pobijedili smo 10. travnja!",; accessed 4 March 2014.
  110. ^ "STIPE MESIĆ O SVOJIM IZJAVAMA O NDH I USTAŠTVU U AUSTRALIJI 'Dopustio sam da me upregnu u kola jednostrane interpretacije povijesti'". 
  111. ^ "Croatian Auschwitz must not be forgotten". B92. 17 April 2011. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  112. ^ Lefkovits, Etgar (16 April 2008). "Melbourne eatery hails leader of Nazi-allied Croatia, Jerusalem Post, 16 April 2008". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 22 March 2012. 
  113. ^ "Mass grave of history: Vatican's WWII identity crisis". JPost. 23 February 2010. Retrieved 22 April 2013. 
  114. ^ Kataria 2015, Mirković 2000, Krestić 1998, Dedijer 1992
  115. ^ "Israel's Shimon Peres visits 'Croatian Auschwitz'". EJ Press. 25 July 2010. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  116. ^ "Israel's Peres visits Croatian Auschwitsz". France24. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  117. ^ C. Falconi, The Silence of Pius XII, London (1970), p. 3308
  118. ^ "Jasenovac". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 2007. Retrieved 26 September 2007. 
  119. ^ "Croatia" (PDF). Shoah Resource Center - Yad Vashem. 
  120. ^ Ramet 2006, p. 138.
  121. ^ bp. Dionisije Milivojevich (1945). The Persecution of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Yugoslavia. Serbian Orthodox Monastery of St. Sava. p. 23. 
  122. ^ Antonijević 2009, p. 28.


Conference papers and proceedings
  • Gutman, Israel, ed. (1990). "Ustase". Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. 4. Macmillan. 
  • Latinović, Goran (2006). "On Croatian history textbooks". Association of Descendants and Supporters of Victims of Complex of Death Camps NDH, Gospić-Jadovno-Pag 1941. 

External links[edit]