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Ustaše volunteers for the Waffen SS (Domobran Regiment) marching during a parade in the Independent State of Croatia.
Ustaše volunteers for the Waffen SS (Domobran Regiment) marching during a parade in the Independent State of Croatia.

The Ustaše (often spelled Ustashe in English; singular Ustaša or Ustasha) was a Croatian organization put in charge of the Independent State of Croatia by the Axis Powers in 1941, in which they pursued Nazi policies.

After the Axis withdrew from Yugoslavia, the Ustaše were subsequently defeated and expelled by the communist Yugoslav partisans in 1945.

At the time of their founding in 1929, the Ustaše were a nationalist organization aimed at creating an independent Croatian state. They were formed in an environment of state repression that culminated in the assasination of the Croat's political leader Stjepan Radic. When they came to power in WWII, they also had military formations (Ustasha Army/Ustaška Vojnica) that later numbered some 76,000 strong at their peak in 1944. After the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, there was a certain resurgence of Ustaše ideology and some paramilitary units claimed the mantle of the name.


[edit] Victims

The Ustaše tried to exterminate, expel, or convert all Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and basically persecuted all who opposed them or did not hold to their Roman Catholic religion and Croatian nationalism, including some Communist Croats and dissident Croat Byzantine Catholic priests. Once they came to power during World War II, they founded several concentration camps, the most notorious of which was the Jasenovac complex.

Exact numbers of victims are not known, only estimates exist. The number of murdered Jews is fairly reliable: around 32,000 Jews were killed during WWII on NDH territory. Gypsies (Yugoslav Roma) numbered around 40,000 fewer after the war. The numbers of murdered Serbs are much larger, and estimates tend to vary between at least 300,000 and 700,000.

The history textbooks in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had included 700,000 as the number of victims of Ustaše at Jasenovac. This was promulgated from a 1946 calculation of the demographic loss of population (the difference between the actual number of people after the war and the number that would have been, had the pre-war growth trend continued). After that, it was used by Edvard Kardelj and Moše Pijade in the Yugoslav war reparations claim sent to Germany.

According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center (citing the Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust):

"Ustasa terrorists killed 500,000 Serbs, expelled 250,000 and forced 250,000 to convert to Catholicism. They murdered thousands of Jews and Gypsies." [1]

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says:

"Due to differing views and lack of documentation, estimates for the number of Serbian victims in Croatia range widely, from 25,000 to more than one million. The estimated number of Serbs killed in Jasenovac ranges from 25,000 to 700,000. The most reliable figures place the number of Serbs killed by the Ustaša between 330,000 and 390,000, with 45,000 to 52,000 Serbs murdered in Jasenovac." [2]

The Jasenovac Memorial Area, currently headed by Slavko Goldstein, keeps a list of 59,188 names of Jasenovac victims that was gathered by government officials in Belgrade in 1964. Because the gathering process was imperfect, they estimated that the list contains between 60 and 75 percent of the total victims, putting the number of killed in that complex at about 80,000 - 100,000. The previous head of the Memorial Area Simo Brdar estimated at least 365,000 dead at Jasenovac.

The analyses of the statisticians Vladimir Žerjavić and Bogoljub Kočović were similar to those of the Memorial Area. In all of Yugoslavia, the estimated number of Serb deaths was 487,000 according to Kočović, and 530,000 according to Žerjavić, out of a total of 1,014,000 or 1,027,000 deaths (resp.). Žerjavić further stated that there were 197,000 Serb civilians killed in NDH (78,000 as prisoners in Jasenovac and elsewhere) as well as 125,000 Serb combatants.

The Belgrade Museum of Holocaust compiled a list of over 77,000 names of Jasenovac victims. It was previously headed by Milan Bulajić, who supported the claim of a total of 700,000 victims. The current administration of the Museum has further expanded the list to include a bit over 80,000 names.

During the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, Alexander Arnon (secretary of the Jewish Community in Zagreb) testified about the treatment of Jews in Yugoslavia during the war (see [3]) Alexander Arnon testimony:

Q. One more question: I am not sure that I heard correctly when you said that in one camp hundreds of thousands of Serbs were exterminated?
A. Hundreds of thousands.
Q. In what year was that?
A. Beginning in 1941, and until the end.
Q. And who killed them?
A. The Ustashi.

During WWII, various German military commanders gave different figures for the number of Serbs, Jews and others killed on the territory of the Independent State of Croatia. They circulated figures of 400,000 Serbs (Alexander Lehr); 350,000 Serbs (Lothar Rendulic); between 300,000 (Edmund Glaise von Horstenau); more than "3/4 of million of Serbs" (Hermann Neubacher) in 1943; 600-700,000 until March 1944 (Ernst Fick); 700,000 (Massenbach).

Out of around 39,000 Jews that lived on the territory that became the Independent State of Croatia, only around 20% survived the war.

[edit] Concentration camps

The first group of camps were formed in the spring of 1941. These included:

These six camps were closed by October 1942.

The Jasenovac complex was built between August 1941 and February 1942. The first two camps, Krapje and Bročica, were closed in November 1941. The three newer camps continued to function until the end of the war:

  • Ciglana (Jasenovac III)
  • Kozara (Jasenovac IV)
  • Stara Gradiška (Jasenovac V)

There were also other camps in:

Numbers of prisoners:

  • from 80,000-100,000 across 300,000-350,000 up to 700,000 in Jasenovac
  • around 35,000 in Gospić
  • around 8,500 in Pag
  • around 3,000 in Đakovo
  • 1,018 in Jastrebarsko
  • around 1,000 in Lepoglava.

[edit] History

[edit] Before WWII

In October 1928, after the assassination of Croatian leader Stjepan Radić in the Skupština by radical Serbian politician Puniša Račić, a youth group named Croat Youth Movement, founded around Branimir Jelić at University of Zagreb, was to be the first populist reponse of the outraged Croat public. A year later, Ante Pavelić was invited by the 21-year old Jelić into the organization as a junior member, yet this invite would prove an event of historical significance. A related movement "Domobranski Pokret" (which was the name of the legal Croatian army in Austro-Hungary) started publishing "Hrvatski Domobran" - an eponymous newspaper dedicated to the Croatian national matters. The organization around the "Domobran" newspaper used the rightful indignation of moderate Croats at the murder of their most prominent politician in the state Parliament to stir and radicalize the already tense environment in Croatia. By 1929, however, two divergent political streams had formed within Croatia, with Pavelić and a number of others supporting violence as means of redressing political concerns.

Various members of the Croatian Party of Rights contributed to the writing, until around Christmas 1928 when the newspaper was banned by the authorities of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In January 1929, the King banned all national parties, and radical wing of the Party of Rights was exiled, among them Ante Pavelić, Gustav Perčec, Branimir Jelić. This group was later joined by several other Croatian exiles.

On 20 April, 1929, Pavelić and others co-signed a declaration in Sofia, Bulgaria together with the members of the Macedonian National Committee, asserting that they would pursue "their legal activities for the establishment of human and national rights, political freedom and complete independence of both Croatia and Macedonia". Because of this, the Court for the Preservation of the State in Belgrade sentenced Pavelić and Perčec to death on 17 July, 1929.

The exiles never returned to Yugoslavia, and instead started organizing support for their cause among the Croatian diaspora in Europe, South America and North America. They attained support mostly in Belgium, Argentina, and Pennsylvania. In January 1932, they named their revolutionary organization "Ustaša".

Their name derives from the verb ustati which means "to rise", hence ustaša would mean an insurgent, a rebel. This name didn't have fascist connotations during their early years in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as the term "ustaš" was used in Herzegovina to denote the Serb Orthodox insurgents from the Herzegovinian rebellion of 1875.

In 1932 some Ustaša members led by Andrija Artuković also attempted to stage an uprising in the Lika/Velebit area, but failed, and retreated to northern Italy, where they formed a training camp near Brescia.

Perčec was later assassinated by Pavelić in 1933. Due to their previous links with the Macedonian nationalists, the Ustaše were accused in conspiring to murder the Yugoslav king Alexander in 1934, and Eugen Dido Kvaternik was charged with planning the successful assassination committed by members of the Macedonian Revolutionary Organization IMRO. The extent of the Ustaša involvement in the assassination remains unknown, it is known for certain only that it was committed by a Macedonian named Vlada Gheorghieff and not a member of the Ustaše, although the Ustaše provided assistance.

Soon after the assassination, all organizations related to the Ustaše as well as the Hrvatski Domobran, which continued as a civil organization, were banned throughout Europe. Pavelić and Kvaternik were detained in Italy between October 1934 until the end of March 1936. After March 1937, when Italy and Yugoslavia signed a pact of friendship, most of the Ustaše members were extradited to Yugoslavia.

However, this did not destroy their organization but only gained them more sympathy among the Croatian youth, especially among university students. In February 1939 two of these returnees, Mile Budak and Ivan Oršanić, became editors of the newly published magazine Hrvatski narod ("The Croatian people"), which supported the Ustaša ideas of Croatian independence.

[edit] World War II

The Ustaše flag of Croatia, 1941-1945
The Ustaše flag of Croatia, 1941-1945

The Axis invaded Yugoslavia on 6 April, 1941. Vladko Maček, the leader of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) which was the most influential party in Croatia at the time, rejected offers by the Nazi Germany to lead the new government. Ustaše took the opportunity and with the help of the foreign armies installed their regime on April 14th 1941.

A group of several hundred of them infiltrated from Italy, their commander Slavko Kvaternik took control of the police in Zagreb and proclaimed the formation of the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH). The name of the rogue state was an obvious and successful attempt at capitalizing on the croats struggle for independence.

Vladko Maček called on people to obey and cooperate with the new government the same day. Ante Pavelić arrived on 20 April, 1941, to become the head of government, poglavnik (führer), of the state that would soon encompass most of modern Croatia, all of Bosnia-Herzegovina and parts of Serbia (Syrmia and Sandžak regions). Because the Ustaše did not have a capable army or administration necessary to control the territory, the Germans and the Italians split up the NDH into two zones of influence, one in the southwest controlled by the Italians and the other in the northeast controlled by the Germans.

The atrocities against non-Croats started on 27 April, 1941, when a newly formed unit of Ustaša army massacred the largely Serbian thorp of Gudovac (near Bjelovar).

Eventually all who opposed and/or threatened the Ustaše were outlawed. The HSS was banned on 11 June, 1941, in an attempt of the Ustaše to take their place as the primary representative of the Croatian peasantry. Vladko Maček was sent to Jasenovac concentration camp, but later released to serve a house arrest sentence due to his popularity among the people. Maček was later again called upon by the foreigners to take a stand and counteract the Pavelić government, but refused.

Pavelić first met with Adolf Hitler on 6 June, 1941. Mile Budak, then minister in Pavelić's government, publicly proclaimed the violent racial policy of the state on 22 July, 1941. Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić, one of the chiefs of secret police organizations, started building concentration camps in the summer of the same year.

The Ustaša gangs ravaged villages across the Dinaric Alps to the extent that the Italians and the Germans started expressing their horror. By 1942, General Edmund Glaise von Horstenau had written several reports to his Wehrmacht commanders in which he expressed his dismay at the extent of the Ustaša atrocities, which actually preceded the Final Solution. These were corroborated by those of Field Marshal Wilhelm List.

The Italians also became disinclined to cooperate with the Ustaše and would soon come to cooperate with the Chetniks in the southern areas that they controlled. Although Hitler insisted that Mussolini should have his forces work with the Ustaše, the Italian general Mario Roatta, among others in the field, ignored those orders.

By the end of 1942, the news about the Ustaša atrocities in Jasenovac and elsewhere had also spread among the Croatian population. Noted writers Vladimir Nazor and Ivan Goran Kovačić escaped from the Ustasha-held territory to join the Partisans, and were followed by others.

The regular army of the NDH, the Home Guard (Domobrani), was composed of enlisted men who were barely combat-ready and did not participate in the atrocities. The members of the Ustaša party were part of the paramilitary units that committed the crimes. Pavelić had claimed that over 30,000 people had joined the party during this time, although the more neutral reports concluded that their number was less than half of that.

In 1943, the Germans suffered major losses on the Eastern Front and the Italians started massively defecting, leaving behind even more armament the rebels used against the Ustaše. The Partisans soon became the main rebel force in all of Yugoslavia, having started accepting both Domobran and Četnik defectors, and getting help from the western Allies in the form of airdrops.

[edit] After the war

Eventually the Red Army and partisans liberated Yugoslavia and the Ustaše were utterly defeated as well. They continued fighting for a short while after the German surrender on 9 May, 1945, but were soon overpowered.

A large column of Ustaša and some Domobran soldiers, as well as many civilians, tried to flee for Austria and Italy later in the same month, but were handed over to the partisans on the Austrian border and subsequently either executed or sent to the notorius "death march" back into the country, the Bleiburg massacre. Pavelić managed to escape, hid in Austria and Rome for a while with the help of his associates among the Franciscans, then fled to Argentina.

After World War II, the remaining Ustaše went underground or fled to foreign countries, such as Canada, Australia, Germany and South America, with the assistance of the Roman Catholic churches in those areas and their "grassroots" supporters.

Some of them persisted in their crusade against Yugoslavia: Ustaše were implicated in over two dozen terrorist acts following the post-war period including bombings in the United States. They were generally unsuccessful due to lack of domestic support and actions of the Yugoslav intelligence agencies (i.e. UDBA/KOS), whose agents, notably, shot Ante Pavelić in Buenos Aires, inflicting injuries that would later prove to be fatal.

[edit] Ideology

The word "Ustaše" is a plural of "Ustaša"--a person who participates in "Ustanak" (uprising). Translating to 'insurgent' in English. The Ustaše aimed at an ethnically "pure" Croatia, and saw the Serbs that lived in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina as the their biggest obstacle. Thus, Ustaše ministers Mile Budak, Mirko Puk, and Milovan Žanić declared in May 1941 that the goal of the Ustaše was

  1. One third of the Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) were to be forcibly converted to Roman Catholicism (which met with the approval of the Roman Catholic church and hierarchy in the environs and in Rome).
  2. One third of the Serbs were to be expelled.
  3. One third of the Serbs were to be liquidated.

A small problem with the Nazi ideology was that the Croats are Slavs and thus themselves "inferior" by Nazi standards. Ustaša ideologues thus created a theory about a pseudo-Gothic origin of the Croats in order to raise their standing on the Aryan ladder.

The Ustaše held that Bosnian Muslims were Croats of the Muslim faith. Unlike Orthodox Serbs, Muslims were not persecuted by them and some joined in the Nazi and Ustaše forces as part of Waffen-SS divisions 13th SS Mountain Division Handschar in Muslim Bosnia (led by Amin al-Husayni) and 23rd SS Grenadier Division Kama advised by Edmund Glaise von Horstenau (the representative of the German military in Croatia) and led by Colonel Ivan Markulj, who was later replaced by Colonel Viktor Pavicic. Lt-Col. Marko Mesic commanded the artillery section. The state even converted a former museum in Zagreb for use as a mosque.

On other subjects, Ustaše were against industrialization and democracy.

The basic principles of the movement were laid out by Pavelić in his 1929 pamphlet "Principles of the Ustaše Movement".

[edit] Symbols

The symbol of Ustaše is a wide capital letter U with pronounced serif. This symbol can easily be spraypainted. A slight variation of it includes a small plus inserted at the top, symbolizing a cross.

The U

As with fascists in other countries, the Ustasha merely superimposed their political symbols (mainly the letter U) on already existant national symbols.

Their hat insignia was the shield of Coat of Arms of Croatia surrounded or embossed with the U.

The flag of the Independent State of Croatia was a red-white-blue horizontal tricolor with the shield of the Coat of Arms or Croatia in the middle and the U in the upper left. Its currency was the kuna.

It is interesting to note that the checkered Coat of Arms of old NDH starts with white field in the corner, and that of today's Croatia with red. Some possible explanations are that first white field symbolizes Croatian nationality, as opposed to the red which symbolizes Croatian state; or that the white field is used on so-called "war flag", etc.

The Ustaše greeting was "Za dom - Spremni":

Salute: Za dom! For home(land)!
Reply: Spremni! (We are) ready!

This greeting is used instead of the Nazi greeting Sieg - Heil.

While the greeting appears to be invented in the 19th century by Croatian ban Josip Jelačić, today it is nominally associated with Ustasha sympathisers or non-Ustasha conservatives associated with the Croatian Party of Rights.

[edit] Connections with the Catholic Church

Main article: Involvement of Croatian Catholic clergy with the Ustasa regime

The Ustaša policies against the Eastern Orthodoxy are incorrectly associated with "Uniatism" in some Eastern Orthodox circles. This term has not been used by the Roman Catholic Church except for Vatican condemnation of the idea in 1990 (see[4]).

It is a generally pejorative description of the Catholic Church's efforts to convert large numbers of Orthodox Christians through aggressive evangelism or the creation of unions with them.

The Ustaše represented an extreme example of "Uniatism" rather based on nationalism than on religion. They supported violent aggression or force in order to convert Serbo-Croat speaking Serbian Orthodox believers. Forced conversion had however been condemned by St. Augustine, Pope Leo XIII, and other members of the Roman Church in general. The Ustaše held the position that Eastern Orthodoxy, as a symbol of Serbian nationalism, was their greatest foe, although this was out of the Roman Catholic mainstream.

The Ustaše never recognized the existence of a Serb people on the territories of Croatia or Bosnia — they recognized only "Croats of the Eastern faith." They also called Bosnian Muslims "Croats of the Islamic faith," but they had a stronger ethnic dislike of Serbs. Roman Catholic priests among the Ustaše supported their hostility by carrying out forced conversions of Serbs to Catholicism throughout Croatia.

Some former priests, mostly Franciscans, particularly in, but not limited to, Herzegovina and Bosnia, took part in the atrocities themselves. Miroslav Filipović was a Franciscan friar (from the Petrićevac monastery) who allegedly joined the Ustaša army on 6 February, 1942 in a brutal massacre of 2730 Serbs of the nearby villages, including 500 children. He was allegedly subsequently dismissed from his order and defrocked, although there is no concrete proof of this whatsoever. In fact when he was hanged for his war crimes, he wore his Franciscan robes, even though expelled from the Church itself.

He then became a member of the Ustaše and also Chief Guard of Jasenovac concentration camp where he was nicknamed "Fra Sotona", even by Croats themselves.

For the whole duration of the war, the Vatican kept up full diplomatic relations with the Ustaša state (granting Pavelić an audience), with its papal nuncio in the capital Zagreb. The nuncio was briefed on the efforts of religious conversions to Roman Catholicism. The true extent of Vatican support/involvement is unlikely ever to be known due to the destruction of evidence.

After the Second World War was over, the Ustaše who had managed to escape from Yugoslav territory (including Pavelić) were smuggled to South America. It is widely alleged that this was done through rat lines operated by members of the organization who were Catholic priests and had previously secured positions at the Vatican. Members of the Illyrian College of San Girolamo in Rome were reputedly involved in this: friars Krunoslav Draganović, Petranović, and Dominik Mandić.

The Ustaša regime had sent large amounts of gold that it had plundered from Serbian and Jewish property owners during WW II into Swiss banks. 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. Allegations exist that it's still being kept in the Vatican Bank. This was reported by the American intelligence agency SSU in October 1946. This issue is the theme of a recent class action suit against the Vatican Bank and others.

Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb during the Second World War, was accused of supporting the Ustaše, and exonerating those in the clergy that collaborated with the Ustaše of complicity in forced conversions. On the other hand, he himself helped Jewish, Serb and Roma/Sinti victims of the Ustaša terror at the same time. He also secretly undermined forced conversion procedures of the Ustaše. The cardinal was nevertheless criminally prosecuted and convicted after the war by the new Communist authorities of SFRY.

In 1998, Stepinac was beatified by Pope John Paul II. On 22 June 2003, John Paul II visited Banja Luka. During the visit he held a mass at the aforementioned Petrićevac monastery. This caused public uproar due to the connection of the Petrićevac monastery with the crimes of former friar Filipović. At the same location the pope also proclaimed the beatification of the Catholic layman Ivan Merz (1896-1928) who was the founder of the "Association of Croatian Eagles" in 1923, which many Serb nationalists and communists view as the precursor to the Ustaše[citation needed].

Roman Catholic apologists defend the Pope's actions by claiming that the convent at Petricevac was one of the places that went up in flames causing the death of 80-year-old Friar Alojzije Atlija. Further, that the war had produced "a total exodus of the Catholic population from this region"; that the few who remained were "predominantly elderly"; and that the church in Bosnia then risked "total extinction" due to the war. Therefore, supporters state that the focus on the anti-Croatian tragedy presently occurring was more important than focusing on one of 60 years ago.

[edit] References

  • Aarons, Mark and Loftus, John: "Unholy Trinity: How the Vatican's Nazi Networks Betrayed Western Intelligence to the Soviets". New York: St. Martin's Press, 1992. 372 pages. ISBN 0312071116
  • Edmond Paris: "Genocide in Satellite Croatia 1941- 1945". (First print: 1961, Second: 1962), The American Institute for Balkan Affairs, 1990.
  • Hermann Neubacher: Sonderauftrag Suedost 1940-1945, Bericht eines fliegendes Diplomaten, 2. durchgesehene Auflage, Goettingen 1956
  • Ladislaus Hory and Martin Broszat: Der Kroatische Ustascha-Staat, 1941-1945 Stuttgart, 1964

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

[edit] Ustaša sites

[edit] Outside views

[edit] Croatian views

[edit] Serbian views

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