The ChurchinHistory Information Centre
CROATIA 1941 - 1946
i). In the Whole of Yugoslavia. For forty years the Communist government asserted that 1,700,000 Yugoslavs had been killed by the Germans and Ustasha, during the war. It was also widely disseminated that 750-900,000 Serbs were killed in massacres or at the concentration camp at Jasenovac. These figures gained Tito's regime sympathy when extracting war reparations from Germany, and provided an excuse when repressing non-Communists. Anyone questioning these figures was accuses of having sympathy with 'Fascist Ustasha murderers'. Extremists have claimed that up to 3 million were killed by their opponents.
Details of the 1948 census were kept secret but, in negotiations with Germany, it became apparent that the real figure of the dead was about one million ((VZ 19)). An American study in 1954 calculated 1,067,000 ((VZ 23)). Following Tito's death in 1980, the 1948 census results became available for comparison with those of 1931. Allowances had to be made for the birth rates of the different communities and for emigration. Research was pioneered by Professor Kocovic, a Serb living in :the West, whose findings were published in January 1985. He assessed the number of dead as 1,014,000 ((BK 125)). Later that year a Serbian Acadamy of Science Conference heard that the figure was 1,100,000 ((VZ 23)). In 1989 Vladimir Zerjavic, a Croatian living in Zagreb published, with the aid of the Zagreb Jewish community, his calculation of 1,027,000 ((VZ 26)). B.Covic calculated 947,000 ((MTA 152)). So a figure of about one million for all Yugoslavia is now generally accepted.
ii). In the NDH. Franjo Tudgman, who in his youth as a Communist had to flee from the Ustasha, rose to be a leader in Tito's Yugoslavia. He believed the official figures until 1966 when, as an historian, he obtained confidential information showing Ustasha victims at the lower figure of 180-240,000 ((SSJ 51:34)). Kocovic and Zerjavic calculated losses from all causes on the territory of the NDH follows ((VZ 27, BK 121, 138-141)).
iii). Serbian Losses
Anti-Croatian books imply that all Serbian losses were of unarmed Serbian civilians killed by the Croatian Ustasha. But Serbian deaths in the NDH were due to many causes. All the Chetniks and many of the Communist Partisans were Serbians, and both suffered heavily while fighting each other. Both were also in combat with the Germans and Italians for four years. The regular Croatian army inflicted casulties as part of normal warfare, and Communists executed thousands of Serbian Chetnik 'class enemies'.
According to Zerjavic, the Serbian losses In the NDH were incurred in the following manner ((VZ 29)):
This total slightly exceeds the estimates given earlier by Zerjavic of Serbian dead in the NDH. But as it was difficult to fight a guerrilla war on the flat Serbian countryside, many Chetniks and Partisans had moved into the mountainous NDH. Serbian 'class enemies', killed by the Communists, were hidden within these categories.
Some of the 34,000 civilian deaths would have been accidental and others due to a disregard for human life in the midst of battle. If we add together the 28,000, the 50,000 and a proportion of the 34,000, we arrive at. a figure of 100,000 unarmed Serbian victims of the Ustasha. While this is much less than the 750-900,000 frequently asserted, it still represents a crime of atrocious proportions.
iv), Croatian and Moslem Losses
From the above, the Croats and Moslems lost a total of 250-280,000. A breakdown of these figures is not available, but there were reports of massacres of Croatian civilians along the Adriatic coast and in areas south of Zagreb, as well as in Bosnia. Moslems were 'ethnically cleansed' from areas of south-eastern Bosnia ((JT 256-9)). In the town of Foca alone 3,000 were massacred In February 1942 ((MD 139)). The Communists killed many Croatian and Moslem 'class enemies'. Probably at least 50,000 unarmed Croats and Moslems were deliberately killed. Combined with those who died on the 1945 'Death Marches' (see below), the total would rise to 100,000. This number is of the same magnitude as of unarmed Serbians killed during the war.
v). Jasenovac Camp
The NDH had several small and temporary camps for war and political prisoners, but the main ones were in the Jasenovac-Gradina area. During Stepinac's 'trial' in 1946, the prosecution alleged that 40,000 were killed during the period Filipovic was there ((RP 173)). If we double this, to allow for those killed in the earlier shorter but more violent period, we arrive at a figure of 80,000.Tudjman said the number was 60,000 ((SSJ 51:34)).
According to Zerjavic, probably the most accurate, 90,000 died in this complex of camps consisting of 50,000 Serbs, 12,000 Croats and Moslems, 13,000 Jews and some Slovenes, Gypsies and others ((VZ 30)).
vi). The Death Marches
As the Communists advanced into Croatia at the end of the war, they killed those with a record of opposing Communism. Teachers, town, administrators, priests and local activists were the main victims. Many Croats, Serbs, Slovenians and others fled into Italy and Austria. No doubt a few were guilty of crimes, but most were ordinary young men who had fought for their villages against Tito. After being disarmed, the British returned them to Yugoslavia. They were then forced to march long distances without food, dying where they fell or being killed in pits. Exiles claimed 200-300,000 Croats perished ((VZ 10)) but, based on the overall losses during the war, more cautious estimates are 45-55,000 ((VZ 30)) or 30,000 ((MTA 170)).
vii). The Serbian Orthodox clergy
As recorded previously, of the eight Serbian bishops on NDH soil in April 1941 ((SAA 10)), four arrived in Serbia, one died of an illness in June ((SAA 11)) and Ustasha thugs murdered three. ((SAA 24-25)). 334 Serbian Orthodox priests and monks, out of 577, were deported to Serbia ((SAB 73)). Of the remaining 243, it is estimated that 170 were killed ((ECR 11, 1: 30)). Anti-Croat authors imply that the Ustasha were responsible for all these deaths, but this can't be so. Some died due to the normal conduct of war (bombing of towns etc.), five by natural causes ((SAA 25)) and others serving with Chetnik units. The Communists killed priests because they were priests or because they supported the royalist government in London. Many of those who served in the Croatian Orthodox Church were executed after the war. There does not appear to be a reliable calculation of how many priests were murdered by the Ustasha. In 1966 the Serbian Church stated that 549 clergy had lost their lives during the war ((ECR 11, 1:30)). From this it appears that over twice as many Orthodox priests lost their lives outside the NDH as within it.
viii). The Catholic clergy
In September 1945 a Pastoral Letter of the Yugoslav bishops gave provisional figures for Catholic priests as 243 dead and many missing. It said the Communists were mainly to blame ((SAB 127)). In September 1946, Stepinac stated that the Communists had killed 260-270 ((SAA 111)).
About one million, not 1,700,000-2,500,000, died in Yugoslavia.
Just over 300,000 Serbs (including 100,000 in massacres and camps) were killed in the NDH, not nearly a million.
About 260,000 Catholic and Moslem Croats died, not the few often implied. Tens of thousands of these were massacred. About 50,000 Croats were murdered following the end of the war. In the NDH nearly twice as many Catholic as Orthodox priests were killed.
v). Despite the turmoil, the relative size of the communities in Bosnia, between the census of 1921 and that of 1948, remained about the same. The Orthodox fell from 44% to 43%, the Moslems rose from 31% to 33%, the Catholics were constant at 23% ((RJD 87)).
A). Archbishop Stepinac
Born in 1898 and conscripted into the Austrian army in 1916, Aloysius Stepinac became an officer and was decorated for bravery. Following capture by the Italians in 1917, he volunteered to fight in the Yugoslav Committee's Legion. As an officer he took part in the defeat of the German and Bulgarian armies at Salonica, and was awarded the very rare 'karageorge Star' ((AHO 5)).
After the war he studied agriculture and for a time was engaged to be married. But in 1924 he entered a seminary and was ordained in 1930. Four years later he became the youngest bishop in the world. Many of the older clergy had an attachment to Austrian culture, but Stepinac's war record made him acceptable to the Serbian king ((MR 21-35)). As Bauer was in poor health Stepinac administered the Archdiocese and, on Bauer's death in December 1937, became Archbishop ((AHO 6)).
Due to their education and dedication to the welfare of their parishioners, many priests throughout Eastern Europe became involved in political campaigns for social justice. With the development of political parties this activity could become full time to the near exclusion of parochial work. Parties developed a mixture of policies, some good but others non-Christian or debatable.
The Holy See saw the danger of priests neglecting their spiritual duties and becoming identified with a particular political party. A sudden ban would have left the poor in some areas without advocates, so local bishops were left to decide when to implement this policy. So while Slovenian priests were leaders of a Christian party, and had seats in parliament, Bauer had prohibited the clergy in his diocese standing as candidates ((SAB 29)). Stepinac confirmed this policy several times ((MR 139-140)) and suspended a Croatian Peasant Party priest ((RP 255)). His clergy did however warn against Nazism, Communism and uncontrolled Capitalism.
he kept private his own voting, but the government announced that he has voted for its candidate in 1939 election To refute this assertion he said he had voted for the Croatian Peasant Party, not because of all its policies, but as an expression of support for Croatian rights ((SAB 55)). He maintained, however, his loyalty to Yugoslavia. When the coup occurred in March 1941, he ordered a Te Deum to be offered for the new king ((SAB 58)).
B) Stepinac and Pavelic
Stepinac told Veceslav Vilder, a leader of the Independent Democratic Party, that he detested Nazism. It was as bad as Bolshevism, and the Church was more free under Democracy ((SAB 50)). During the 1930s, Stepinac was absolutely opposed to the Ustasha, who were ready to identify Croatia's fate with that of National-Socialist Germany and Fascist Italy ((AHO 10)). During a sermon in August 1940 he attacked both Fascism and Communism. ((RJW 51-52)).
When the Yugoslav army disintegrated, the Croats celebrated in the streets of Zagreb. For them the doors of their Yugoslav prison had opened and their Serbian jailors had fled. By then most Croats had lost hope of building a multi-cultural Yugoslavia. Autonomy had been gained due to the exceptional international situation, but the government which had granted it had already been overthrown. Yet on the eve of the German invasion Stepinac still clung to the ideal of a federal Yugoslavia ((AHO 9)) and, according to the American Zagreb Consul, urged Mecek to join the Yugoslav coup government ((1O: 7)).
Stepinac feared direct German rule. He was aware of the destruction of Catholic organisations, charitable activities, schools and press in Germany and Poland. He knew of the paganism taught to German youth, the terror used against opponents and the censorship of news and opinions. He had told a western visitor that the Munich agreement had been a mistake because Hitler would go on to take all of Czechoslovakia, dominate central Europe and launch a war within eighteen months ((MR 20)). He was not pleased on April 10th to observe young men cheering the entry of German troops into Zagreb. He commented to his aides:
Earlier that day Slacko Kvaternik had declared Croatian independence and became 'de-facto' head of civil administration. So on the 12th. Stepinac called on him to discuss the needs of the people. That same day Kvaternik, on behalf of Pavelic, asked the Germans for diplomatic recognition, which was granted later that evening ((JCS 24-5)).
Pavelic was expected to arrive from Italy at Zagreb rail station the following day. Kvaternik hoped to make his arrival a triumphal display of wide support and endorsement of Pavelic's leadership by popular acclaim. Stepinac's presence at the rail station would have greatly enhanced Pavelic's status and prestige. Contrary to false reports, Stepinac refused to attend ((RP 353)).
Like most Croatians, Stepinac had mixed views regarding the unfolding of events. As a Croat he felt and expressed the joy that Serbian domination had ended. He was also relieved that, due to the declaration of independence, the Germans were not establishing military rule. This meant the people and Church would not suffer the slaughter of intellectuals, priests, teachers and others as in Catholic Poland.
According to the International Hague Convention of 1907, an invading power may demand obedience but not allegiance ((SAB 167)). So Stepinac gave de-facto recognition to the civil authorities, appointed by the occupiers. He would also have been guided by: 'Sollicitudo Ecclesiarum' of Pope Gregory XVI, issued in 1831. This states that, 'At the time of a revolution, in the fight for power, one must not take the de-facto recognition of a state or a government by the representatives of the Church to be de-jure recognition, and one must not conclude from this that anyone's prior rights have ceased to exist' ((RP 197)).
Stepinac is criticised for recognising de-facto the Pavelic regime, yet little is said about events in Serbia. The Serbian Orthodox bishops on 8th July 1941 pledged themselves to observe the laws of the German occupiers, and to co-operate in maintaining order, peace and obedience. After August the 29th they recognized the German approved Serbian government and accepted clergy salaries from it ((SAA 14)). Both churches were facing reality and acting according to international law. Later, the Allies based their demand for the recognition of the Partisans as a regular army, on the International Hague Convention ((RP 197)).
On April 11th, the Ustasha radio told its listeners to look to their clergy for direction ((CF 272)). This was a practical recommendation as, in the absence of civil officials, parish priests would become leaders in most villages. It is not 'proof' that all priests were Ustasha members. On the 16th, Stepinac visited Pavelic and received promises that the administration would not interfere with church life nor spread Nazi paganism in the schools.
While these assurances were comforting, they had been given verbally and in private. The new administration was still seeking wide support so as to confirm in Hitler's mind that there was no need to appoint a military administration. There was no guarantee that Pavelic and other Ustasha leaders, once firmly in power, would keep these promises.
On April 28th, Stepinac sent a circular letter to his priests. In it he echoed the people's joy at gaining independence. "For, however complicated is the web of contempory events; however heterogeneous the factors which influence the course of affairs, it is easy to see the hand of God at work". He urged his priests to work hard for their country. "So Croatia may be the country of God". He quoted from Scripture; "Give to God what is God's" but noticeably omitted the balancing phrase "and to Caesar what is Caesar's".
[Note: In Catholic eyes, Nazism, Fascism and Communism were based on false natural principles].
He warned that independence could be lost again. "Sovereignty passes from nation to nation on account of injustice and insolence and wealth (Sirach 10:8)". He knew that those who looked up this scripture would read just prior to this extract "Do not be angry with your neighbour for any injury". He wrote that he believed the Church in the new state would be free to: "convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and teaching (2 Tim. 4: 2)". ((RP 85)). By Stepinac publishing this circular in the Press, Pavelic's promises were made public. This would make it difficult for him or his companions to later deny the promise of Church freedom.
Later, the Communists criticised his words "Knowing the men who are today at the helm of the Croat nation, we are deeply convinced that our work will find complete understanding and help". Yet the bishops addressed similar words to Tito on September 22nd, 1945.
After pledging loyalty and their willingness to collaborate in constructing the state, they wrote: "We are persuaded that the wisdom of our statesmen will bring us victory and that through your efforts you will succeed in bringing lasting peace in Yugoslavia". ((RP 85)).
Offering a hand of co-operation to Pavelic and Tito, while sounding a note of optimism, didn't mean the Church was endorsing their ideologies or future actions.
Stepinac closed his circular of 1941 by instructing all parishes to hold a Te Deum of thanksgiving on May 4th ((RP 258-260)). He had referred to Croatia throughout not to the NDH ((RP 200)).
It has been said that by recognising Pavelic's authority before the Yugoslav forces surrendered on April 16th, Stepinac broke his oath of loyalty to the king. But the army's surrender would not cancel the oath, so this date is irrelevant. By the 12th, Kvaternick was the German appointed de-facto governor of the Croatian part of Yugoslavia. Stepinac treated him as such in accordance with international law. Stepinac gave his obedience but never swore allegiance to Pavelic or the NDH state ((RP 86)). When Pavelic invited the Zagreb clergy to pay him a visit, Stepinac refused to present them ((RP 353)).
In the course of his work as bishop he spoke to government ministers. But this didn't imply that he supported their policies and actions. Throughout the world, bishops meet government leaders who have a wide range of political programmes. Certain small religious acts of his have been used to try to discredit him. Slavko Kvaternik was not religious, but his brother Peter was. Peter had been killed during the fighting, and Stepinac on April 15th conducted his funeral ((SAB 60)).
On Easter Sunday, Slavko attended Mass and sat in the seat normally used by government ministers. At the end he went up to Stepinac, still standing at the foot of the altar, knelt and kissed the bishop's ring ((SAB 60)). Stepinac had no reason to refuse to conduct Peter's funeral or to deny Slavko a blessing. These were both pastoral acts and not evidence, as some have asserted, that Stepinac was an Ustasha sympathiser.
Stepinac has been criticized for holding a banquet for Ustasha officers at his palace on the 16th April. If this took place, it would not have been a crime. These men had been forced into political exile, but had now returned home. By meeting them at a social function, Stepinac was able to judge who were peaceful and who were dangerous. He could try to influence them to use their new influence with responsibility and justice. At this date there was no clear indication of how the new authorities would rule.
Many books state that by offering a Te Deum [a Mass of thanksgiving] in Zagreb Cathedral in the presence of Pavelic, Stepinac was showing his visible support for the new regime. But what actually occurred?
In the letter to his priests of April 28th, Stepinac ordered a Te Deum to be sung on May 5th in all parish churches to celebrate Croatian independence. ((SAB 62)). The local mayors, the great majority of whom were not Ustasha members or even supporters, were invited to attend.
A problem arose regarding the holding of the Te Deum for Croatian independence in Zagreb Cathedral. The Croatian people had not chosen Pavelic, his government had not been granted general international recognition and the de-jure Yugoslav government was still in existence. Stepinac had recognised Pavelic as the de-facto head of state, but not its de-jure head. In other words, Pavelic was seen as a German appointed administrator who had to be obeyed in civil affairs, but not as the head of an internationally recognised legal state. Pavelic was welcome to attend a Te Deum of thanks for Croatian independence as a private individual, but not as head of state.
This dispute regarding Pavelic's status first became public when Stepinac had been absent from Pavelic's arrival at the rail station. The dispute led to the proposed Te Deum in the Cathedral being cancelled ((RP 353)).
He did, however, offer a Mass for Pavelic each year on his birthday, June 13th ((RP 169, SAA 106)). He was praying for him as an individual who needed God's blessing to act justly ((SL 17)). The Archbishop told his clergy that his visit to Kavaternik and Pavelic did not mean he favoured Ustashism or that he had thereby recognised the government of the Ustasha. Relations between the de-facto state and the church were necessary to protect the people ((RP 353)).
Pavelic's office was close to the Cathedral, yet once only in four years did he enter it. This was to attend the funeral of the Italian Duke of Aosta in 1943. Pavelic was not officially received at the entrance by Stepinac or by a priest. Being a private individual, he was met by a lay sacristan ((RP 199 and 353)).
Apart from formal occasions, Stepinac visited Pavelic six times. On five these it was to plead for someone ((AHO 15-17)). On the other occasion, he walked into Pavelic's office, uttered the words, "It is God's Command: Thou shalt not kill", and then walked straight out ((AHO 17)). On June 26th the bishops paid a visit to Pavelic.
It was polite but Pavelic was not satisfied with the homage paid ((CF 285)).
Croatia became independent on the 10th and the Germans recognised the Ustasha government on the 12th. So the 12th each year was the anniversary of Ustasha rule, not the tenth. Any church services held on the 10th would not be marking an Ustasha victory.
On April 10th 1942 Stepinac preached: "The greatest victor is not he who grinds cities and villages into dust and ashes, nor him who scatters like chaff mighty armies, nor him before whom men tremble in fear for their earthly life, but Him who is lord of life and death, of time and eternity . . ." ((SAB 90)). Only one man was scattering mighty armies at this time — Hitler.
Some books say a pro-Ustasha sermon was preached in the Cathedral on April 10th. 1945. Two observations need to be made. Stepinac did not give the sermon. ((RJW 59)). Secondly, the sermon praised the sacrifices made by Croats for Independence. The version of it quoted in the West is that printed in the Ustasha controlled 'Katolicki List' ((RJW 59)). As is explained later in this booklet, the Ustasha censors often added pro-Ustasha words when reporting such sermons and could easily have done so in this instance.
According to the Communists, SS General Kasche paid Stepinac daily visits. But Kasche never visited Stepinac ((AHO 39)) and they only met on three formal occasions ((SAB 109)). Stepinac did however meet General Glaise von Horstenau, an anti-Nazi, several times to intercede for victims of the Ustasha ((SAB 169)). It was well known that the Italian representative in Croatia, Casertano, detested Stepinac ((SAB 170)).
In 1941 Pavelic ordered three priests to leave Stepinac's staff and take up government appointments. With Stepinac's backing they refused ((RP 354)) and in July, Stepinac sent Canon Josip Loncar, his close assistant and personal friend, to Mirko Puk, Minister of Justice and Religion. Loncar had often spoken against Nazism, racism and Ustashism to students and priests ((RP 355)). He had looked forward to the day when "All the Orthodox will return to their Orthodox Church" ((RP 233)). He now informed the minister that priests could not join the Ustasha or be Ustasha officials as this was contrary to Canon Law.
Loncar was condemned to death ((RP 355)). The Pope's representative to the bishops, Abbot Marcone, made a vigorous intervention, and the sentence was commuted to twenty years imprisonment ((SAB 72)). To save the canon's life the three priests had to resign from their positions on Stepinac's staff ((RP 354)).
After the war, Loncar gave evidence that the Ustasha authorities had asked the Holy See three times to remove Stepinac ((RP 355)). These incidents indicate the relationship existing between Stepinac and the rulers of the NDH during the summer of 1941.
C). The Holy See
Some authors claim that the Holy See plotted against the existence of Yugoslavia and that Stepinac worked hard to persuade the Holy See to recognise Pavelic's government ((CF 272-3)). They depict the Pope as eagerly recognising the NDH. Stepinac is said to have asked the Pope to bless the NDH. Others assert that the Vatican exchanged representatives with Pavelic's evil regime, and that the Pope received both the duke of Spoleto and Pavelic in private audiences. It is also asserted that the Pope welcomed groups of Ustasha to Rome. The facts need to be listed.
a. In August 1939 the Sporsiam agreement gave autonomy to Croatia. Three months later on the 15th of November, the Pope spoke to a group of Croat pilgrims. He urged them:
This was clear encouragement for those wishing to make the Sporsiam work, at a time when the Ustasha were opposing the settlement.
b. Following the German invasion, the auditor of the Belgrade Nunciature passed through Zagreb on his way to Rome. Stepinac asked him to recommend to the Pope that the NDH be recognised by the Holy See ((SAB 63)). He was not recommending de-jure recognition. Stepinac himself was refusing this. But de-facto recognition would be in accordance with international law for a neutral country such as the Holy See.
While granting this de-facto recognition of to the NDH, the Holy See continued to give de-jure recognition to the Yugoslav government in exile. Archbishop Ettore Felici, the nuncio in Belgrade since 1938, returned to Rome via Hungary and, although he lived there, retained his accreditation to the Yugoslav government throughout the war ((JFM 148)).
The granting of de-jure or de-facto recognition is not based on whether one country agrees with the politics of another. It is a question of international law. Pavelic was furious at not obtaining the de-jure recognition which Slovakia had received in 1939 ((SAB 65)). But the situation of Slovakia was different as may be seen from the 28 countries, including Britain, the Soviet Union, China and France, which recognised her de-jure. ((See Slovakia booklet on this web site)).
The American Consul remained in Zagreb and informed the NDH government that the United States recognized the sovereignty of Croatia de-facto and that his country was only waiting for an opportune moment to recognize it de-jure. The American representative remained in Zagreb until 22nd June 1941 when, under German pressure, the NDH declared war on America ((IO 1)). Switzerland also granted de-facto recognition ((AK 124)). In October 1943 the Allies signed a secret treaty with the NDH. The Croats agreed not to fire on Allied planes passing over to bomb targets to the north. In return the Allies would stop bombing Croatian cities ((IO 185)). This was a form of de-facto recognition by the Allies.
c. Owing to the small size of the Vatican, several ambassadors to the Holy See, including Niko Mirosevic Sorgio representing Yugoslavia, needed to live in the Italian sector of Rome. Mussolini permitted this, but in July 1941 the Italians accused him of spying and therefore of abusing his accreditation to the Holy See, a neutral country. The Holy See refused to criticise him without proof. The Italians could not produce their evidence because this would have disclosed that they were tapping Vatican telephone lines. When on July 31st he was expelled across the Swiss border, the Holy See protested at this Italian infringement of the Lateran Treaty ((OC 162-4)).
The Holy See continued to recognise the London Yugoslav government as the de-jure government of all Yugoslavia, even though its ambassador was now living in Portugal ((OC 164)). The Communists were the source of much anti-Catholic propaganda, yet the Soviet Union had withdrawn de-jure recognition from the London Yugoslav government in April 1941 and expelled its ambassador ((FM 126)).
d. In May 1941 a delegation led by Pavelic arrived in Rome. It aimed to request the Duke of Spoleto to become king of Croatia; to finalise with Italy the borders of the NDH; and to obtain de-jure Vatican recognition ((SAB 63)). It would have helped Pavelic if Stepinac had been there, but he wouldn't join the delegation ((AHO 49)). As the delegation was planning to visit the Pope,
Stepinac asked his auxiliary bishop Salis-Seewis to accompany it: 'as a matter of form', and he reluctantly agreed ((SAB 63)). The Pope received the Duke of Spoleto as a private individual before he became king. The duke accepted the throne without enthusiasm but never visited Croatia ((SAA 21)). The Pope agreed to see Pavelic privately for half an hour on the 18th of May, providing the Italian press didn't use it for political purposes and Pavelic arrived in his own car ((ADSS:4 491-6)). The story of the Swiss Guard honouring Pavelic comes from Ustasha propagandists ((MB 105)). To underline the private nature of the receptions, neither the duke nor Pavelic were allowed to see the Secretary of State. Later that evening, the Pope received those who had accompanied Pavelic, but they were not treated as an official delegation. They were introduced as "A group of Catholic Croats accompanied by His Excellency Mgr. Francesco Salis-Seewis, titular bishop of Corico, and auxiliary of Zagreb" ((CF 330)).
During his meeting with Pavelic, the Pope repeated several times that it was a private audience. He refused to grant de-jure recognition to the NDH or send an ambassador. A circular was sent to Nuncios and Apostolic Delegates around the world to explain the private nature of the meetings with Spoleto ana Pavelic ((SAA 21)). Despite this clear papal policy, Nikola Rusinovac arrived in Rome calling himself: 'The Croatian ambassador to the Holy See' and this was announced over Zagreb radio.
The Vatican Press Office publicly denied Rusinovac's right to call himself an ambassador ((SAB 66)). But the Ustasha controlled Croatian press repeatedly implied that the NDH had been recognised by the Holy See. Anti-Catholic authors quote these Ustasha lies as 'proof' of papal recognition.
e. Soon afterwards, the Pope appointed Abbot Giuseppe Romiro Marcone as his Apostolic Visitor to the Croatian hierachy ((JFM 149)). This was not a diplomatic title ((JFM 149)) and he was not a nuncio, a legate or an envoy, as stated in some early dispatches. He was not a member of the diplomatic service ((SAA 21)). Neither 'Osservatore Romano' nor 'Acta Apostolicae Sedis' mentioned the appointment and he continued to be listed in church publications as the abbot of Montevergine ((CF 324)).
Lobkowicz, who had replaced Rusinovac as the NDH 'representative' in Rome, hoped Marcone would not lodge with, the Archbishop, as this would emphasise his status as an envoy to the hierarchy not to the government ((SAB 66)). To avoid his presence being used by Pavelic to imply he was an ambassador, Marcone and his secretary, Giuseppe Masucci, arrived in Zagreb unannounced on 3rd August.
A hospital chaplain found beds for them in a monastery. When Stepinac was informed on the 6th, he invited them to live in his palace ((SAB 67)).
The Holy See had deliberately chosen two men without diplomatic training, but this left them open to dangers. They were like lambs amongst wolves. ,Neither could speak Croat and they were treated in a manner which could appear to be that of diplomatic status. Marcone was given precedence on the list of diplomats issued by the NDH ((CF 328)).
A major part of Marcone's work was to report on the religious needs of the country ((JFM 149)). As he was not accredited to the government, this could have made his work difficult. But Pavelic treated him as a de-facto nuncio so as to raise the prestige of the NDH ((JFM 149)). Marcone did not evade this unofficial honour as it enabled him to meet Pavelic and other government leaders to press the views of the Holy See and intercede for Serbs and Jews.
As he toured the country on fact-finding visits, which involved meeting national and local Ustasha officials, pictures were taken of him with these dignitaries. These were used so as to imply that the Holy See recognised the NDH de-jure and supported Pavelic's regime. These Ustasha photographs, together with other Ustasha propaganda statements, are now used by anti-Catholic authors as ‘proof’ of Catholic support for Pavelic. Yet the Ustasha were complaining to Marcone that the bishops were doing nothing to persuade the Holy See to grant de-jure recognition of the NDH ((RJW 55)).
f. The Pope has been accused of welcoming four groups of Ustasha criminals to Rome. But what are the facts?
The papal words to the police would have been to urge them to carry out their duties in a Christian manner. If today a group of British doctors were at a papal audience, and it was alleged that some were guilty of killing unborn children, it is unlikely the Pope would refuse to speak to the whole group.
g. When Italy switched to the Allied side in 1943, Italians living in Croatia were arrested. The police called on Marcone, who lacked diplomatic immunity. Stepinac claimed that, as a personal representative of the Pope, Marcone was not an Italian. When Stepinac threatened to ring the church bells in protest if Marcone was arrested, he was left alone ((SAA 67)). Marcone continued to live in Yugoslavia after 1945 ((SAA 60)), which shows the Communists recognized that he had not been a diplomat accredited to the NDH.
h. During the life of the NDH, the Holy See did not recognise border changes, nor permit changes in Church administration in the Medjumurge district incorporated into Hungary. Nor did She recognise the absorption of part of Dalmatia by Italy.
i. The refusal of the Holy See to grant de-jure recognition in 1941 may be contrasted with Her recognition in 1992 ((MB 208)). In 1945, Tito's Communists regime claimed that the various ethnic groups were freely co-operating to build a Socialist Yugoslav Federation. So, as in the Soviet Union, large distinct ethnic peoples were granted the right to leave the federation ((BC 37, CB 53-4)), even though under a Communist dictatorship this could not occur. But with the introduction of free elections, Croatia voted for independence. In this situation the Holy See, as other countries, gave de-jure recognition to the new Croatian state.
D). Forced Conversions
The short answer to these accusations is that the first two items are correct, but the others are untrue. To understand this period, its history needs to be recounted in the manner in which it unfolded.
The Pope, like most observers, was aware of the pent up hatred of many Croats towards the Serbs, and that revenge was highly likely. As part of a letter to Stepinac in May 1941, he urged him to see that the Serbs were not "too harshly treated" ((SAB 63)).
During the first weeks of the NDH people were presenting themselves to priests asking to become Catholics or to be received back into the Church. There were varying motives for this. Some had joined the Serbian Church in order to obtain farmland or gain promotion. Eastern rite Catholics were asking for Eastern rite priests to replace the Orthodox ones who had been imposed on them. Some Catholic girls had become Orthodox so as to marry Serbs, but by now their husbands had fled or been killed. Many of these decided it would be safer to return with their children to the Croatian Catholic community ((SSJ: 63: 81)).
At a time when the government was expelling Serbian clergy so as to destroy all Serbian influence, there was an incentive to disassociate oneself from a church loyal to Serbia. This was especially true of Serbian farmers who had been settled on Croatian land. The most visible way was to leave the Serbian Church and join the Croats in the Catholic Church.
Bosnia had become part of the Austrian Empire in 1878 and, in the following years, several Moslem girls had fled from their families to ask Catholic clergy for protection. Some were wishing to marry a Catholic in the Catholic Church. Moslem politicians accused the bishops of kidnapping and forcing conversions. To stem Moslem agitation, the Austrian authorities passed a law in 1891. It introduced a state supervised process for conversion, including a two-month waiting period ((NM 145)). On May 15th 1941 the government simplified this law to enable local authorites to grant permission for immediate conversion on receipt of a written application ((SAB 75)).
Stepinac sent a circular to his priests giving guidance for dealing with different backgrounds and motives of those approaching them. This included normal enquiries required to validate marriages contracted by Catholics outside their church ((SAB 75, CF 279-281)).
About this time reports were heard of Ustasha bands forceably 'converting' whole villages. On May 22nd Stepinac, in a letter to the minister of the interior, condemned attacks on Jews, Serbs and Gypsies. [See Jewish section for details]. A week later, Stepinac published an explanation of his circular. In it he made clear that admission to the Church was for those who gave evidence of sincere belief, which was a matter of free choice. No other motives were valid. Applicants must receive instruction, come to Mass and share in the religious life of the Church. Great understanding was to be shown to those who had converted to Orthodoxy under pressure and now wished to return ((SAB 75)).
When the government's Panovu Agency sent out 'missionaries', the Church took steps to control its actions ((RP 233)). In the middle of June the five Croatian and the one Slovenian Franciscan Provincials held a meeting. At this they banned Franciscans from membership of the Ustasha. [See Franciscan section for fuller details].
Following an episcopal meeting, the bishops visited Pavelic on June 26th, to emphasise the need to restrain the Ustasha bands. The following day Pavelic issued an order that there were to be 'no arbitrary actions', but it didn't have any noticeable effect ((SAB 77)). By July the Ustasha authorities were facing the problem that Serbs had become Catholics in order to avoid deportation, but in their hearts remained loyal to Serbia. This was the reason why in several villages the Ustasha killed Serbs who had become Catholics ((FM 164)).
On July 14th a joint Ministerial circular informed the bishops who they could convert. Bishop Lach, auxilary of Zagreb, replied on the 16th that the instructions were against the spirit and teaching of the Church ((SAO 27)). On the same day the government decreed that the Serbian Orthodox should be known as Greco-Oriental ((CF 276)).
Ignoring the Church's objections, the government published its regulations on July 36th. They may be summarized as follows:
These regulations were not promoting: 'forced conversions'. They were aimed at preventing members of the Serbian middle class outwardly joining a non-Serbian church while privately remaining loyal to Serbia.
In Bishop Lach's letter of July 16th, he had accepted that the state had to protect itself from those who became Catholics so as to enter Croatian society with the intention of destroying it. He had also accepted that converts to the Eastern rite and amongst intellectuals were few. But he had insisted on the right of converts to join the Eastern rite and of middle class Serbs to become Catholics if they so wished.
During the following years there were cases where the clergy accepted the honesty of a prospective convert but local officials would not issue a certificate of permission, or refused entry into the Eastern rite. This led to letters of protest being sent by clergy to the government. Anti-Catholic books have included extracts from these few letters as 'evidence' of the clergy complaining of Ustasha lack of enthusiasm in promoting forced conversions. But once the background is understood, the reason for these letters becomes apparent.
It also needs to be remembered that the NDH was not well organised. While priests were having these difficulties in some areas, in others Ustasha bands were still terrorising peasants into asking to become Catholic Croats. Much depended on the local military situation and the attitude of individual commanders. The efforts of the clergy were mainly devoted to reclaiming the Catholics lost pre-war. But they were also doing their best to protect Serbs from criminal sacrilegious actions.
At first the bishops mainly used private pressure when urging the government to uphold justice and human rights. But by the autumn they were also referring in public to the events of the summer months.
On 26th October 1941 Stepinac preached:
Despite the chaos, seven bishops got to Zagreb for a meeting on November 17th and 18th ((RP 384)). The Catholic archbishop Josip Ujcic of Belgrade, had learnt from Serbian refugees of Ustasha actions, and had expressed his outrage to the Pope. He was invited to attend as a guest, together with Abbot Marcone ((SAB 77-8)). The bishops agreed a list of decisions and the first ten were despatched to every parish council ((MD 25)). Stepinac sent a copy, which included the final item 11, to Pavelic with a long covering letter dated 20th November.
Note: It appears that a translation by Dr. Sava Bosnitch comes closest to the original, so is used here ((SSJ 5:1:38-47)). The translation in Richard Patee's book ((RP 384-395)), is very similar and also reliable.
"Poglavnik: The Croatian Catholic Episcopate, assembled in annual plenary conference on November 17 and 18, 1941, approved the following decisions concerning the conversions of Orthodox to the Catholic religion:
1. The Conference considers it a dogmatic principle that the solution of all questions pertaining to the conversion of Orthodox to the Catholic religion is exclusively within the province of the Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy, which alone, according to Divine Law and canonical prescriptions, has the right to lay down rules and regulations for such conversions and, as a result, all extra-ecclesiastical interference in this matter is excluded.
2. For this reason no one, outside the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, has the right to appoint "missionaries" who are to take charge of the conversions of Orthodox to the Catholic Church. Any missionary of this kind must receive his mission and the jurisdiction for his spiritual work from the Ordinary [i.e. bishop or provincial] of the place where he is to act. It is, consequently, contrary to dogma and to canonical regulations that "missionaries" receive their mission, unknown to the Ordinary of the place where they work, from the commissioners of communes, representatives of the civil authority, Ustashi officials of the Religious Section of the State Directorate for Reconstruction, or from any civil authority whatsoever.
3. Every such 'missionary' must in his work be dependent only on the Ordinary of the place where he works, either directly or indirectly through the pastor of the parish in which he is active.
4. The Catholic Church can recognize as valid only those conversions which have been or will be carried out according to these principles.
5. The civil authority may not 'annul' conversions once they have been realized not only according to the laws of the Church, but also according to those of the State.
6. The Croatian Catholic Episcopate elected for this purpose, from among its members, a committee of three persons who are: the President of the Episcopal Conference [i.e. Stepinac]; Bishop of Senj, Monsignor Dr. Victor Buric; and the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Krijevci, Dr. Janko Simrak.
This committee will discuss and settle all questions arising in relation to the conversion of Orthodox to the Catholic religion. This committee will function in agreement, with the Minister of Justice and Religion in those matters which have to do with the civil regulations concerning conversions.
7. [The bishops appointed an executive committee to provide guidance regarding conversions — Dr. Franjo Hermann, Augustin Juretic, Janco Kalaj, Nikola Boric, Krunoslav Draganovic. It would be under the supervision of the Bishop's Committee].
8. Only those may be received into the Catholic Church who are converted without any constraint, completely free, led by an interior conviction of the truth of the Catholic faith, and who have entirely fulfilled the ecclesiastical regulations.
9. [The bishops were here upholding the regulations issued by the Holy See on July 17 and October 18, 1941. These said that converts, especially when they were formerly Catholics of the Oriental rite and left because of threats or pressure, should be directed to Oriental rite parishes where available, but could join the Latin rite if they so desired. The bishops noted that these regulations were broadly in accord with the government regulations of July 30th. The bishops further endorsed the Holy See's insistence that local civil authorities and lay groups must not interfere in religious affairs].
10. The Bishop's Committee for Conversions will organize courses for priests who take charge of conversions to Catholicism. They will receive in these courses practical and theoretical instructions for their work.
11. It is necessary to create amongst the Orthodox inhabitants a psychological basis for conversion. Towards this end they shall not only be promised but actually be guaranteed all civil rights, especially personal freedom and the right to hold property.
All proceedings contrary to law in regard to Orthodox shall be strictly forbidden and they shall be penalized as other citizens through due process of law. And, most important, all private actions in destroying the churches and chapels of the Orthodox or the alienation of their property should be severely prohibited". [This eleventh point was not sent to the parish councils].
[Stepinac then cited reports sent to him by four bishops giving precise details of atrocities carried out against both the Orthodox and those who had been converted to Catholicism, and of political interference in church affairs. Several of these incidents appear in other sections of this booklet]. Stepinac finalised his letter:
It has been asserted that Stepinac in his covering letter was trying to make excuses for Pavelic. But the letter was not an academic or theological treatise, nor a judgement on the personal guilt of Pavelic. It was aimed to coax him into supporting the moderating elements within the Ustashe leadership. The bishops had doubts as to whether the government would be moved by protests based on moral principles alone, so they also used arguments based on national self- interest. These included national honour; the views of neutrals; economic and social problems and the danger of the Orthodox becoming Moslem or joining the Communist partisans.
The bishops were probably still uncertain as to what degree Pavelic was in full control and whether he was supporting or restraining the fanatics within his party. It must be remembered that a vicious civil war was being fought and the military needs of local commanders frequently dictated policy. In the early days, Serb survivors of atrocities had gone to Zagreb to protest at the actions of local Ustasha units, expecting Pavelic to protect and assist them ((CBA 43)). It was diplomatic for Stepinac to blame minor officials, and government 'mistakes', rather than to condemn Pavelic as a bloodthirsty fiend. This would have achieved nothing for the Serbs or for the Church.
Mile Budek had been removed from the government and the wilder Ustasha bands were being brought under control. Some who had been guilty of atrocities had been executed. There were therefore grounds for hope that government policy could be encouraged to move further in a more peaceful and lawful direction.
The same 'diplomatic' style was used after the war by Dr. Francis Salis, Vicar-General of Zagreb. While Stepinac was in prison, he protested to Tito regarding Communist officials persecuting nuns, those at prayer and the removal of crucifixes etc. He wrote: "We are convinced, Marshall, that you neither know nor approve of these outrageous actions". ((MR 191)).
Yet Salis was aware that as a Communist, Tito aimed to destroy religious belief and the Partisans had already deliberately murdered large numbers of priests and lay Catholics.
It is worth noting that during the summer of 1941, the Serbian Orthodox Church in Serbia asked the Germans to intervene in the NDH to protect the Serbian inhabitants. Some have criticised the wording of its letter as 'ingratiating'. The bishops used pleas rather than demands, hoping this would bring out German magnanimity ((JT 266)). Like the Catholic bishops, they were more interested in gaining relief for those suffering, than providing melodramatic quotes for Allied propaganda or future history books.
During the summer of 1941, individual priests faced terrible dilemmas. If a group of Serbs came to him asking to become Catholics so as to avoid Ustasha terror, what was he to do? To agree would be against Church teaching and law. Also he could appear to be co-operating with the Ustasha gangs. But if he refused he would be guilty of turning away panic stricken men, women and children begging for his help. This was a situation for which their training had not prepared them. Stepinac had to remove priests from parishes when their lives were in danger because they refused to accept 'converts' ((SL 21)).
The committee established in November 1941 by the bishops to watch over conversions, is accused in some anti-Catholic publications as having itself promoted a forced conversion campaign. But, due to the instructions already given and to the situation having improved by the end of the summer, the committee did not do any work ((RP 235)).
Stepinac does however appear to have modified his policy at times. Other bishops probably did so also. This is indicated by an undated 1941 circular found in Stepinac's office:
It is not known to how many priests this was sent. It was marked: 'Confidential' ((SAB 85)) and would have gone to those under serious pressure. The last sentence would be politically sensitive if it fell into government hands.
On 27 September 1941, Stepinac had asked Rome for guidance regarding Orthodox property and wrote again on 21 November. A reply of 9th December ((CF 296-7)) set out principles which may be summarized as follows:
By the late spring of 1942 the situation in most areas had changed. The Croatian Orthodox Church was being established and the government was not encouraging forced conversions, although isolated incidents still occurred. Most of those who had outwardly changed their religion had now transferred to the new Croatian Orthodox Church ((MO 50)). An insincere conversion was more likely to be due to reason of business, or social advancement, rather than fear. This was reflected in a public statement by Stepinac on March 5th, 1942:
The Germans and the Ustasha were claiming to be building a 'New Order' in Europe. At the end of May 1942, Stepinac referred to this in a sermon.
During a sermon on 29th June 1942 Stepinac hinted that he had agreed to admit people into the Church, from the motive of Christian charity, when they had asked for protection ((SL 22)).
On March 14th, 1943 ((RP 271-6)), and again on October 25th ((RP 276-281)), he publicly and firmly condemned racialism as it affected the Jews, but his words also applied to the Serbs and Gypsies. [See Jewish section].
During a further sermon to thousands on the 31st of October 1943 he said:
He added that crimes and injustices were driving people to the forests ((RP 285)). By these words he was accusing the perpetrators of helping the Communists to gain recruits.
The Ustasha leaders were furious and priests were arrested for publicly reading extracts from the sermon. Stepinac was placed under house arrest for several days and the sermon banned from the press ((AHO 20)). But it was made known by leaflets.
Jules Makanec, Minister of Public Instruction, in a long article in 'Nova Hrvatska' of 7th November ((RP 287-291)) extolled racism:
Anyone who makes an estimate of the number of conversions, should state as to which type he is referring. A total of 200-300,000 has been suggested ((MT 111)). But amongst them would have been Catholics, who had "conformed to the Serbian Church due to pressure or bribery, and were now returning to the church of their youth. It was estimated that pre-war 30,000 Catholic girls had become Orthodox in order to marry ((TB 12)) and many men had done so for career or social reasons. It was generally accepted in Catholic circles that 200,000 Catholics had become Orthodox between the wars due to discrimination and political pressure ((SL 22)).
The Orthodox accepted as 'converts' in order to save their lives, were not considered by the Church as real converts. Others would have been opportunists lacking any true religious commitment. After the war, Stepinac stated that there were very few true conversions amongst the Serbs ((SAA 106)). Confirmation that the policy of 'forced conversions' was not motivated by religion comes from an unexpected source. In the Communist Indictment of Stepinac, read at his 'trial', were the words:
Popagandists draw a picture of close Church-Ustasha co-operation and a cosy friendship between Stepinac and Pavelic. The killings and 'conversions' reached their peak in July 1941. Yet at that time Stepinac and Marcone were striving to prevent Stepinac's personal friend and subordinate, Canon Loncar, from being executed because of his outspoken defiance of Pavelic.
E). Some of Stepinac's actions
a. As the Yugoslav state collapsed in the spring of 1941, the Orthodox Metropolitan bishop of Zagreb, Dositej Vasic, was arrested and beaten prior to being expelled to Serbia. He told a fellow prisoner that he would have been killed if Stepinac had not firmly intervened on his behalf, and arranged for his release and safe journey to Serbia on May 14th. He also said that his Cathedral would have been burnt down with the Synagogue ((SSJ 53: 97)).
b. When Stepinac heard from Catholic Archbishop Ujcic of Belgrade, that Orthodox bishop Sava Trlajic of Gornji Karlovic was in jail, he went with Marcone to Pavelic to ask for his release. But they found he had already been murdered ((SAB 73)).
c. Orthodox bishop Ireneus Ciric asked Stepinac to help his brother Stephen Ciric, a former Yugoslav government Minister, who was in a concentration camp. Following Stepinac's intervention, Pavelic promised that he would be released ((SL 20)).
d. On May 14th 1941, Stepinac protested to Pavelic that he had heard that 260 Serbian men had been murdered at Glina ((AHO 15)).
e. After the war, Stepinac's secretary, Stephen Lackovic, wrote regarding his Archbishop: "Innumerable were his protests and interventions before Croatian and German authorities in favour of single or entire villages or groups of Serb Orthodox in Croatia, for whom the Archbishop sought mercy. I was there, as his former secretary. I wrote the protests and petitions and accompanied him". ((SL 21)).
f. Stepinac rescued 7-8,000 homeless, orphaned Serbian children of Chetnik and Partisan parents from camps ((RJW 57, SAA 36)). He placed them in foster homes or Catholic institutions and gave instructions that they were not to be brought up as Catholics ((SAA 75)).
g. Stepinac was criticised for putting Catholic monks into the Orthodox monastery of Orahovica. But this building had earlier been taken from the Catholic Pauline Fathers and handed over to the Orthodox. When they left it empty in 1941, Stepinac considered that he had the right to use it for sheltering Trappist monks driven out of Slovenia by the Germans ((SL 23, SAB 163)).
h. In July 1941 he protested to Pavelic regarding young priests being recruited into the Ustasha ((CF 411)).
i. In December 1941, Bogdan Raskovic, secretary to the Ministry
of Communications in the Belgrade government, visited Stepinac secretly. He was pleased at all the archbishop had
done to save Serbs ((RP 296)).
k. In February 1942 Stepinac protested to the minister of the Interior regarding the destruction of Orthodox churches especially in Senj ((SL 21, AHO 17)).
l. Stepinac sent chaplains and welfare aid to Croats in German and Italian camps in various parts of Europe ((AHU 22)).
m. Stepinac has been criticised for not expelling any priests from the priesthood. but his immediate authority was limited to the priests in the Zagreb diocese. Of these five hundred, it is thought that 15 were in the Ustasha and thirty sympathised with it ((RP 354)). Although a few had to be disciplined for meddling in politics, none were guilty of a crime ((SL 17)). He did suspend priests who had come to Zagreb from other dioceses and were guilty of crimes. Also, as Vicar General of the army, he was able to suspend unworthy chaplains when he had proof of their misdeeds. [See Military Vicar section].
n. He helped a German Communist who was escaping from the Nazis to reach the Soviet Union ((MR 39-40)). He persuaded German and Italian commanders to discipline troops who had committed crimes ((RP 262-6)).
o. When professor Zunic criticised the anti-Ustasha activities of the clergy, Stepinac expelled him from the University ((SSJ 2: 20)).