The Holocaust in the Independent State of Croatia

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Concentration camps in the Independent State of Croatia on a map of all camps in Yugoslavia in World War II.

The Holocaust in the Independent State of Croatia refers to the genocide of Jews and other ethnic minorities during World War II within the Independent State of Croatia, a fascist puppet state ruled by the Ustaše regime, that included most of the territory of modern-day Croatia, the whole of modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina and the eastern part of Syrmia (now in modern-day Serbia). Most of the Jews were exterminated in Ustaše-run concentration camps like Jasenovac and others, while a considerable number of Jews were rounded up and turned over by the Ustaše for extermination in Nazi Germany


On 25 March 1941, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact, allying the Kingdom of Yugoslavia with the Axis powers. Prince Paul was overthrown, and a new anti-German government under Peter II and Dušan Simović took power. The new government withdrew its support for the Axis, but did not repudiate the Tripartite Pact. Nevertheless, Axis forces, led by Nazi Germany invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941.

The Independent State of Croatia was proclaimed by the Ustaše on 10 April 1941. Within the new state lived approximately 40,000 Jews, only 9,000 of whom would ultimately survive the war.[1]

The Holocaust[edit]

A Jewish prisoner is forced to remove his ring upon arrival in the Jasenovac concentration camp.
Ustaše executing people over a mass grave near Jasenovac.

Anti-Semitic legislation and start of persecution[edit]

The main race laws in the Independent State of Croatia were adopted and signed by the Ustaše leader Ante Pavelić on 30 April 1941: the "Legal Decree on Racial Origins" (Zakonska odredba o rasnoj pripadnosti) and the "Legal Decree on the Protection of Aryan Blood and the Honour of the Croatian People" (Zakonska odredba o zaštiti arijske krvi i časti hrvatskog naroda).[2] The "Legal Decree on the Nationalization of the Property of Jews and Jewish Companies" was declared on 10 October 1941.

Actions against Jews began immediately after the Independent State of Croatia was founded. On 10th-11 April 1941 a group of prominent Jews in Zagreb was arrested by the Ustaše and held for ransom. On April 13, the same was done in Osijek, where Ustaše and Volksdeutcher mobs also destroyed the synagogue and Jewish graveyard.[3] This procedure was repeated in 1941 and 1942 several times with groups of Jews.

Anti-Semitic propaganda[edit]

The Ustaše immediately initiated intensive anti-Semitic propaganda. A day after the signing of the main race laws on April 30, 1941, the newspaper of the Ustaše movement, Hrvatski narod (Croatian Nation), published across the entire front page: "The Blood and Honor of the Croatian people protected by special provisions".[4] Two days later, the newspaper Novi list concluded the Croatian people must "be more alert than any other ethnic group to protect their racial purity, ... We need to keep our blood clean of the Jews".[4] The newspaper also wrote that Jews are synonymous with "treachery, cheating, greed, immorality and foreigness", and therefore "wide swaths of the Croatian people always despised the Jews and felt towards them natural revulsion".[4] Nova Hrvatska (New Croatia) added that according to the Talmud, "this toxic. hot well-spring of Jewish wickedness and malice, the Jew is even free to kill Gentiles"[4]

One of the main claims of Ustaše propaganda was that the Jews have always been against an independent Croatian state and against the Croatian people. In April 1941 the newspaper Hrvatski narod (The Croatian People) accused Jews of being responsible for the "many failures and misfortunes of so many Croatian people", which led the Poglavnik [the Ustaše leader Ante Pavelic] to "eradicate these evils".[4] A Spremnost article stated that the Ustaša movement defines "Judaism as one of the greatest enemies of the people".[4]

Some in the Catholic Church joined the anti-Semitic propaganda. Thus the Catholic Bishop of Sarajevo, Ivan Šarić, published in his diocesan newspaper that "the movement to free the world of Jews, represents the movement for the restoration of human dignity. Omniscient and omnipotent God is behind this movement ".[5] And in July 1941, the Franciscan priest, Dionysius Juričev, in Novi list wrote that "it is no longer a sin to kill a seven year-old child".[6]

Ustaše concentration camps[edit]

Already in April 1941 the Ustaše established the concentration camps Danica[7] (near Koprivnica) and Kerestinec, where along with communists and other political opponents, the Ustaše imprisoned Jews. In May 1941, the Ustaše rounded up 165 Jewish youth in Zagreb, ages 17–25, most of them members of the Jewish sports club Makabi, and sent them to the Danica concentration camp (all but 3 were killed by the Ustaše).[8] In May and June the Ustaše established new camps, primarily for Jews who came to Croatia as refugees from Germany and countries which Germany had previously occupied, and some of these were quickly killed. Also arrested and sent to the Ustaše camps were larger groups of Jews from Zagreb (June 22), Bihac (June 24), Karlovac (June 27), Sarajevo, Varaždin, Bjelovar, etc.

On July 8, 1941 the Ustaše ordered that all arrested Jews be sent to Gospic, from where they took the victims to death camps Jadovno on Velebit, and Slano on the island of Pag,[9] where they carried out mass executions. The historian Paul Mojzes lists 1,998 Jews, 38,010 Serbs, and 88 Croats killed at Jadovno and related execution grounds,[10][full citation needed] among them 1,000 children. Other sources generally offer a range of 10,000–68,000 deaths at the Jadovno system of camps, with estimates of the number of Jewish deaths ranging from several hundred[10][full citation needed] to 2,500–2,800.[11][full citation needed]

In August 1941 the Ustaše established the Jasenovac concentration camp, one of the largest in Europe.[12] This included the Stara Gradiška concentration camp for women and children. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C. presently estimates that the Ustaša regime murdered between 77,000 and 99,000 people in Jasenovac system of camps between 1941 and 1945.[13] The Jasenovac Memorial Site quotes a similar figure of between 80,000 and 100,000 victims.[14] Of these, the United States Holocaust Museum says that at least 20.000 were Jews. The Jasenovac Memorial site lists the individual names of 83,145 victims, including 13,116 Jews, 16,173 Roma, 47,627 Serbs, 4,255 Croats, 1,128 Moslems,[15] etc. Of the total 83,145 named Jasenovac victims, 20,101 were children under the age of 12, and 23,474 were women.[15]

Other events[edit]

The destruction of the Sephardi synagogue in Sarajevo was carried out by Nazi German soldiers soon after their arrival in the city on 15 April.[16] The Sarajevo Haggadah was the most important artifact which survived this period. The demolition of the Zagreb Synagogue was ordered by the Ustaše mayor Ivan Werner and was carried out from 10 October 1941 to April 1942. The two Jewish football clubs in the state, ŽGiŠK Makabi Zagreb and ŽŠK Makabi Osijek, were banned in 1941.[17]

In April 1942, the Jews of Osijek were forced to build a "Jewish settlement" at Tenja, into which they were herded along with Jews from the surrounding region. Approximately 3,000 Jews were moved to Tenja in June and July 1942.[2] From Tenja, 200 Jews were transported to the Jasenovac concentration camp and 2,800 Jews were transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.[2]

In February 1942 the Ustaše Interior Minister, Andrija Artuković, in a speech to the Croatian Parliament declared that:

"The Independent State of Croatia through its decisive action has solved the so-called Jewish question ... This necessary cleansing procedure finds its justification not only from a moral, religious and social point of view, but also from the national-political point of view: it is international Jewry associated with international communism and Freemasonry, that sought and still seeks to destroy the Croatian people".[18] The speech was accompanied by shouts of approval -" yes! - from the parliamentary benches

On 5 May 1943, Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler paid a short visit to Zagreb in which he held talks with Ante Pavelić.[19] Starting on 7 May, a roundup of the remaining Jews in Zagreb was carried out by the Gestapo under the command of Franz Abromeit.[20] During this period, Archbishop Stepinac offered the head rabbi in Zagreb Miroslav Šalom Freiberger help to escape the roundup, which he ultimately declined.[21] The operation lasted for the following week, and resulted in the capture of 1,700 Jews from Zagreb and 300 from the surrounding area. All of these people were taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp.[22]

After the capitulation of Italy on 8 September 1943, Nazi Germany annexed the Croat-populated Italian provinces of Pula and Rijeka into its Operational Zone Adriatic Coast. On 25 January 1944, the Germans demolished the Jewish synagogue in Rijeka.[22] The region of Međimurje had been annexed by the Kingdom of Hungary in 1941. In April 1944, the Jews of Međimurje were taken to a camp in Nagykanizsa where they were held until their transport to Auschwitz. An estimated 540 Međimurje Jews were murdered in Auschwitz, while 29 were murdered at Jasenovac.[23]

Other ethnicities[edit]

Order for Serbs and Jews to move out of their homes in Zagreb, Croatia and a warning of forcible expulsion and punishment of those that failed to comply.


Many historians describe the Ustasha regime’s mass killings of Serbs as meeting the definition of genocide.[24][25][26][27][28] Some racist laws, brought from Germany, in addition to Jews and Roma, were applied to the Serbs. Vladimir Žerjavić estimates that 322,000 Serbs were killed in the Independent State of Croatia, out of a total population of 1.8 million Serbs. Thus one in six Serbs were killed, which represents the highest percentage killed in Europe, after the Jews and Roma. Of these Žerjavić estimates that about 78,000 Serbs were killed at Jasenovac and other Ustasha camps. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, between 320,000 and 340,000 Serbs were killed in the NDH.


Main article: Porajmos

The Ustasha regime launched the persecution of the Roma in May 1942. Whole families were arrested and were transported to the Jasenovac concentration camp, where they were immediately, or within a few months, killed. Estimates of the number of victims vary from 16,000 (this figure is given Vladimir Žerjavić) to 40,000. The Jasenovac Memorial in Croatia lists the names of 16,173 Roma killed at that concentration camp. Due to their way of life, many more victims are probably unrecorded. Thus, the German historian Alexander Korb and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, both estimate at least 25,000 casualties among the Roma, which represents nearly the total Roma population in the Independent State of Croatia

Abolition of racial laws[edit]

On 5 May 1945, the Legal Decree on the Equalization of Members of the NDH Based on Racial Origin (Zakonska odredba o izjednačavanju pripadnika NDH s obzirom na rasnu pripadnost) was declared which repealed the racial laws enacted over the course of the war.

Number of victims[edit]

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum lists the following number of victims in the Independent State of Croatia:

  • 32,000 Jews,[13] with 12.000 to 20.000 Jews killed at the Jasenovac system of camps[29]
  • At least 25,000 Roma, or virtually the entire Roma population in the Independent State of Croatia[29]
  • Between 320,000 to 340,000 Serbs, most killed by the Ustasha authorities[29]

Slavko Goldstein estimates that approximately 30,000 Jews were killed from the Independent State of Croatia, with approximately 12,790 of those killed in Croatia. Vladimir Žerjavić's demographics research produced an estimate of 25,800 to 26,700 Jewish victims, of which he estimates that 19,000 were killed by the Ustasha in Croatia and Bosnia, and the rest abroad.[30]

By site[edit]

The Jasenovac Memorial Site maintains the names of 13,116 Jews killed at the Jasenovac concentration camp.[15]

Holocaust Testimonies[edit]

Concentration camp survivors, Nazi and Italian officers testified about the horrors of the Holocaust in the Independent State of Croatia

Lt. Dr. Stazzi Santo, Pag concentration camp

Italian medical officers described a brief trip to Jadovno, Gospic and the Island of Pag, where they uncovered evidence of some 12.000 people killed by the Ustashe among the various concentration camps and pits, in the summer of 1941. The following excerpt is from the report by the Italian medical officer Lieutenant Dr. Stazzi Santo, of one site they uncovered on the island of Pag, where he estimated 8.000 people were killed,[31] of which some 2.000 to 3.000 were Jews, the rest Serbs:

“We worked methodically, removed all rocks from the excavated earth… After the first 5 to 20cm removed we saw many hands, often bound, bare feet, sometimes with shoes, heads looking upwards or with necks exposed. Although we had already got used to limbs and heads sticking out, there was something particular about the way they had been buried.... The proof that they had been buried mortally wounded, but still alive, were the distorted and terrible facial expressions of most corpses”

“We found machine gun shell casings near the pit, and on many corpses we could see mortal wound made with blades on chests, backs and necks. One young woman had her breasts completely cut off with a sharp weapon. We found only women and children in two pits while in the others men, women and children were buried together. In this way we [excavated and] burned 791 corpses… Out of these corpses there were: 407 men, 293 women, 91 children age 5 to 14. There was also one infant approximately 5 months old”

Cijordana Friedlender, Stara Gradiska concentration camp

A former prisoner, Cijordana Friedlender, testified at the trial of Ante Vrban, Ustasha commandant of the concentration camp at the Stara Gradiška concentration camp, constructed by the Ustasha for the extermination of women and children.

"At that time fresh women and children arrived daily at the Camp in Stara Gradiška. About fourteen days later, Vrban [the Commandant of the Camp] ordered all children to be separated from their mothers and put into one room. Ten of us were told to carry them there in blankets. The children crawled about the room, and one child put an arm and leg through the doorway, so that the door could not be closed. Vrban shouted: 'Push it!' When I did not do that, he banged the door and crushed the child's leg. Then he took the child by its whole-leg, and banged it on the wall until it was dead. After that we continued carrying the children in. When the room was full, Vrban brought poison gas and killed them all."[32]

At his trial, the camp commander, Ante Vrban admitted to killing children with zyklon gas and other crimes

Egon Berger, Jasenovac concentration camp

In his book,"44 Months in Jasenovac", the former inmate, Egon Berger, described the following atrocity, by the camp commander and former priest, Miroslav Filopovic-Majstorovic:

"The priestly face of Fra Majstorovic, all made-up and powdered, dressed in an elegant suit an green hunter's hat, watched with delight the victims. He approached the children, even stroked their heads. The company was joined Ljubo Milos and Ivica Matkovic. Fra Majstorovic told the mothers there will now will be a baptism for their children. They took the children from the mothers, the child whom Father Majstorovic was carrying, in his child's innocence caressed the painted face of his killer. The mothers, distraught, perceived the situation. They offered their lives for mercy for the children. Two children were placed on the ground, while the third was thrown like a ball into the air, and Fr Majstorovic , holding a dagger upwards, missed three times, while the fourth time with a joke and a laugh, a child was impaled on the dagger. Mothers began throwing themselves on the ground, pulling their hair, and began to shout terribly. Ustasha guards of the 14th Osijek Company took them away and killed them. When all three children were so brutally killed, these three two-legged beasts exchanged money, because they seem to have a bet on who would the first to stick a dagger in a child."[33]

After the war Filipović admitted that he had personally killed about 100 prisoners and had attended mass executions of many more. He estimated that during the course of some 6 months under his command, 20-30,000 prisoners were killed at one of the Jasenovac camp. He said prisoners would often be made to stand in prepared trenches where each was then killed with a sledgehammer blow.[34]

General von Horstenau, Jasenovac concentration camp

The Nazi general, Edmund Glaise von Horstenau, Hitler’s plenipotentiary in the Independent Croatian State, described in his book his visit to Jasenovac, as follows:

"We now entered the concentration camp in a converted factory. Appalling conditions. A handful of men, many women and children, without enough clothing, sleeping on a stone tablet at night, screams all around, cries and sobbing. The camp commander - a scoundrel - I ignored him, but instead told my Ustasha guide: "This is enough to make a person vomit" And then worst of all: a room along whose walls, lay on straw which had just been brought for my inspection, something like fifty naked children, half of them dead, the other half dying. We should not forget that the inventors of concentrations camps were the British during the Boer War. However, these camps have reached the height of hideousness here in Croatia, under the Poglavnik [Ustasha leader] installed by us. The greatest of all evils must be Jasenovac, which no ordinary mortal can glimpse"[35]

Concentration camps[edit]

Notable people[edit]




Righteous among the Nations[edit]

Over one hundred Croatians have been recognized as Righteous among the Nations. They include Žarko Dolinar and Mate Ujević.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Goldstein, Ivo. Croatia: A History, C. Hurst & Co. Ltd., London, 1999. (p. 136)
  2. ^ a b c Živaković-Kerže, Zlata. Od židovskog naselja u Tenji do sabirnog logora
  3. ^ "Jewish Virtual Library". 
  4. ^ a b c d e f Boško Zuckerman, "Prilog proučavanju antisemitizma i protužidovske propagande u vodećem zagrebačkom ustaškom tisku (1941-1943)" Zavod za hrvatsku povijest, Vol. 42, Zagreb, 2010
  5. ^ Michael Phayer, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2000. Page 35
  6. ^ Michael Phayer, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930-1965, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2000. Page 34
  7. ^ Despot, Zvonimir. "Kako je osnovan prvi ustaški logor u NDH". Vecernji list. 
  9. ^ "Concentration camp "Uvala Slana", Pag island". 
  10. ^ a b Mojzes 2011, p. 60.
  11. ^ Mojzes 2009, p. 160.
  12. ^ Pavlowitch (2008), p. 34[full citation needed]
  13. ^ a b "Jasenovac". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 
  14. ^ Official website of the Jasenovac Memorial Site[full citation needed]
  15. ^ a b c "Poimenični Popis Žrtava KCL Jasenovac 1941-1945" [List of Individual Victims KCL Jasenovac 1941-1945] (in Croatian). Spomen podrucje Jasenovac Memorial Site. 
  16. ^ Never-ending story of the Sarajevo Haggadah
  17. ^ Nogometni leksikon, Miroslav Krleža Lexicographical Institute, Zagreb, 2004. (p. 307)
  18. ^ "‘U NDH je rješeno židovsko pitanje’". Jutarnji list. Retrieved 17 April 2014. 
  19. ^ Goldstein, Ivo. Holokaust u Zagrebu, Novi liber, Zagreb, 2001. (p. 475)
  20. ^ Goldstein, Ivo. Holokaust u Zagrebu, Novi liber, Zagreb, 2001. (p. 470)
  21. ^ Goldstein, Ivo. Holokaust u Zagrebu, Novi liber, Zagreb, 2001. (p. 472)
  22. ^ a b Krizman, Narcisa Lengel. Antisemitizam Holokaust Antifašizam, Studia Iudaico-Croatica, Zagreb, 1996. (p. 256)
  23. ^ Sudbina međimurskih Židova
  24. ^ Ivo Goldstein. "Uspon i pad NDH". Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb. Retrieved 20 February 2011. 
  25. ^ Samuel Totten, William S. Parsons (1997). Century of genocide: critical essays and eyewitness accounts. p. 430. ISBN 0-203-89043-4. Retrieved 28 September 2010. 
  26. ^ "Mesić: Jasenovac je bio poprište genocida, holokausta i ratnih stratišta" (in Croatian). 30 April 2006. Retrieved 28 September 2010. 
  27. ^ Helen Fein, Accounting for Genocide, New York, The Free Press, 1979., p. 79, 105
  28. ^ Robert M. Hayden. "Independent State of Croatia". e-notes. Retrieved 20 February 2011. 
  29. ^ a b c "Axis Invasion of Yugoslavia". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  30. ^ Zerjavic, Vladimir. "YUGOSLAVIA-MANIPULATIONS -WITH THE NUMBER OF SECOND WORLD WAR VICTIMS". Croatian Information Center. Retrieved 19 April 2014. 
  31. ^ "TRANSLATION OF ORIGINAL ITALIAN DOCUMENTS". Association of Descendants and Supporters of Victims of Complex of Death Camps NDH, Gospić-Jadovno-Pag 1941. 
  32. ^ Statement made by witness Cijordana Friedlender, from the shorthand notes of the Ljubo Milos case. pp. 292–3. 
  33. ^ Berger, Egon (1966). 44 mjeseca u Jasenovcu. Zagreb: Nakladni zavod Hrvatske. p. 57. 
  34. ^ SCC (op cit) Section D-XXVI[full citation needed]
  35. ^ von Horstenau, Edmund (1980). Ein General im Zwielicht : die Erinnerungen Edmund Glaises von Horstenau. Wien; Koln; Graz.: Bohlau. p. 167. ISBN 3-205-08740-2. 

External links[edit]