GENOCIDE OF THE SERBS BY THE USTASE
During WWII the Independent State of Croatia was established – a puppet state of the Nazi regime, ruled by the racist, fascist “Ustaša” party. The Ustaša established a number of concentration and extermination camps, in which over 500,000 Serbians were murdered, along with tens of thousands of Jews and Roma (Gypsies).
In the 1930s, there was a great deal of tension among the various Yugoslavian nations in the aftermath of World War I. There was a particularly tense power struggle between the Serbs and Croats. The Croats demanded that the state be structured as a federation in which they would have significant autonomy, while the Serbs – who were the largest national group in Yugoslavia and controlled the government – wanted to continue to hold on to power. The conflict reached a peak after the assassination of Croatian delegates to Parliament in 1928 and the establishment of the dictatorship of King Alexander in 1929. Extremist Croatian groups thought the only solution was the establishment of an independent Croatian state, and therefore they established the Ustaše under the leadership of Ante Pavelić.
The Ustaše, the national Croatian separatist organization focused on terrorism, was established in 1930. In 1923 Pavelić said, “The knife, the gun, and explosives are the tools with which the Croatian will regain the fruits of his labor.” The murder of King Alexander in 1934 during a visit to France was considered their biggest success. The ideology of the Ustaše relied mainly on Italian Fascism and on the supremacy of the leader and the state. The planned-for Croatian state was supposed to function according to the model of Italian Fascism. All activity, both public and private, was to be subject to the state.
During its reign the leaders of the Ustaše consistently sought the support of strong countries. Until 1941 they were under the auspices of Italy. In the mid 1930s, the Ustaše opened talks with Germany, but the Germans disapproved of them for many years. Pavelić was not deterred by this and continued to court the Germans by adopting parts of Nazi ideology, especially in relation to Jews.
In 1941 Hitler decided to create a state in part of Yugoslavia subject to Germany and put the Ustaše in power. Political opponents were outlawed. The Croatian Farmers’ Party was banned in the Ustaše’s attempt to be the sole representative of Croatia’s farmers and workers. During the four years of their regime, the Ustaše conducted genocide against the Serbs.
In May 1941, the Ustaše Organisation declared their three aims:
1) A third of the Serbian population in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) were to be forcibly converted to Roman Catholicism.
2) A third of the Serbian population in Croatia were to be deported.
3) A third of the Serbian population in Croatia were to be killed.
Atrocities began on April 27, 1941, when a unit in the Ustaše army committed mass murder near Gudovac (northeast Croatia). In 1941-42, in the new Croatian territory, a number of concentration camps were set up, the largest amongst them being Jasenovac, which, according to various estimates, held between 100,000 and 700,000 prisoners, most of them Serbs and Jews.
The Ustaše used several methods to carry out the massacre. At first, they killed by hand (hammers, axes, knives, etc.). On the night of August 29th, 1942, the Jasenovac guards took bets as to who could kill the most prisoners. According to testimony, one of the guards, Petar Brzica, slit the throats of 1,360 prisoners that same night. According to another method, the guards bound the prisoners with barbed wire and took them to a ramp near to the Sava River, where they put weights on the wires that were wrapped around the prisoners, slashed their throats and stomachs, and then threw their bodies into the river. The Ustaše moved on to the use of starvation and gas vans, and later on to mass murder using gas, under the inspiration of the Nazis. Many people also died as a consequence of diseases such as typhus and typhoid. In certain instances people were burned alive, especially the sick, women, and children, who could not resist. In the Gradina camp, “soap factories” were set up in which bone marrow fat was boiled in an attempt to transform it into soap. According to certain testimonies, there were also live prisoners found in these “cauldrons.” Most of the camps were closed by the end of 1942, but the Jasenovac camp continued to operate. The Ustaše destroyed entire villages in the area surrounding the Alps, and during a certain phase even the Italians and Germans disapproved of their actions.
At the same time, a number of underground partisan organizations arose in Yugoslavia. On July 7, 1941, an uprising erupted, organized by the Communist Party led by Marshal Tito (who later governed Yugoslavia for 35 years). The uprising also spread to Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Towards the end of 1942 the picture began to change. In the battle for the Croatian public, rumors were spread about Ustaše atrocities. Many people escaped from Ustaše-controlled territory and joined the partisans. In 1943, the Germans suffered heavy losses on the eastern front, and German and Italian forces began to desert, leaving behind massive quantities of ammunition that assisted the rebels in their fight against the Ustaše. The partisans, lead by Tito, became the main rebel force in the streets of Yugoslavia and received significant assistance from the Allies.
On July 4, 1944, the Yugoslavian nation’s war of independence erupted under the leadership of Tito. The Red Army and the partisans freed Yugoslavia and the Ustaše were defeated. They continued to fight even after the German surrendered in 1945, but soon they too were defeated. According to estimates, 30,000 Jews, 40,000 Roma (Gypsies), and 300,000-700,000 Serbs were killed in Croatia during the Ustaše regime.
After the Genocide:
Ustaše members, as well as many civilians, attempted to flee to Austria and Italy in late May 1945, but were handed over to authorities by the partisans on the Austrian border. Some of them were killed on the spot, and others were sent on death marches back towards Croatia, an event known as the Bleiburg Massacre. Ante Pavelić managed to flee and hid in Austria and Rome for a time, eventually escaping to Argentina. After the Second World War, the remainder of the Ustaše fled underground or escaped to foreign countries such as Canada, Australia, Germany and South America, where they received assistance from local Catholic churches.
Some Ustaše members persisted in their crusade against Yugoslavia. Members of the organization participated in more than 24 terrorist acts after the war, including attacks in the United States. Most of their actions were not successful, partly due to a severe lack of popular support for these activities, and partly due to their pursuit by the Yugoslavian intelligence agencies (UDBA/KOS) whose agents assassinated Ante Pavelić in Buenos Aires in 1959.
After the war, Yugoslavia was ruled for many years by a Communist government led by Tito, which succeeded in stabilizing the country during his reign. But tensions between different ethnic groups did not disappear. After Tito’s death in 1980, these tensions began anew and eventually led to the war that broke out in Yugoslavia in the 1990’s.