Ustaša – Croatian Revolutionary Movement
Ustaša – Hrvatski revolucionarni pokret
Poglavnik Ante Pavelić
Founder Ante Pavelić
Founded 7 January 1929 (1929-01-07) (de jure), 1930 (de facto)
Dissolved 8 May 1945 (1945-05-08) (banned)
Preceded by Party of Rights
Succeeded by Crusaders, others
Ustaše and supporters who emigrated established various pro-Ustaše-style organizations after the war; the Croatian Liberation Movement is a far right party founded by former leaders of the Independent State of Croatia
Newspaper Hrvatski Domobran
Youth wing Ustaše Youth (UM)
Membership  (1941) 100,000[1]
Ideology Croatian nationalism
Clerical fascism
Political position Far-right
Colours Red, white, blue, black
Slogan Za Poglavnika i dom spremni (For Poglavnik and homeland ready)

The Ustaše (pronounced [ûstaʃe]), also known as "Ustashe", "Ustashas", and "Ustashi", were members of the Ustaša – Croatian Revolutionary Movement (Croatian: Ustaša – Hrvatski revolucionarni pokret), a Croatian fascist,[2] ultranationalist and terrorist organization, active, in its original form, between 1929 and 1945. Its members murdered hundreds of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Roma (Gypsies) as well as political dissidents in Yugoslavia during World War II.[3][4][5]

The ideology of the movement was a blend of fascism, Roman Catholicism and Croatian nationalism.[3] The Ustaše supported the creation of a Greater Croatia that would span the Drina River and extend to the border of Belgrade.[6] The movement emphasized the need for a racially "pure" Croatia and promoted genocide against Serbs, Jews[7] and Romani people, and persecution of anti-fascist or dissident Croats and Bosniaks.[8]

The Ustaše were fiercely Catholic, identifying it with Croatian nationalism.[9] They declared that the Catholic and Muslim faiths were the religions of the Croatian people. They claimed the Islam of the Bosniaks was a religion which "keeps true the blood of Croats".[10]

When it was founded in 1930,[11] as Ustaša – Croatian Revolutionary Organization (Croatian: Ustaša – Hrvatska revolucionarna organizacija) it was a nationalist organization that sought to create an independent Croatian state. When the Ustaše came to power in the NDH, a quasi-protectorate established by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany during World War II, its military wings became the Army of the Independent State of Croatia and the Ustaše militia (Croatian: Ustaška vojnica).[3]

The movement functioned as a terrorist organization before World War II[3] but in April 1941, they were appointed to rule a part of Axis-occupied Yugoslavia as the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), which has been described as both an Italian-German quasi-protectorate,[12] and as a puppet state[13][14][15] of Nazi Germany.[14][16][17]

The NDH collaborated with the Italian and German occupation forces in Yugoslavia in fighting an increasingly unsuccessful campaign against the resistance forces, the Yugoslav Partisans, who were recognized in late November 1943 as the military of the Allied Yugoslav state. As German forces withdrew from Yugoslavia in 1944/1945, the Ustaše organized an exodus from the country, which led to the Bleiburg repatriations.


The word ustaša (plural: ustaše) is derived from the intransitive verb ustati (Croatian for rise up). "Pučki-ustaša" (German: Landsturm) was a military rank in the Imperial Croatian Home Guard (1868–1918). The same term was the name of Croatian third-class infantry regiments (German: Landsturm regiments) during World War One 1914–1918.[18] Another variation of the word ustati is ustanik (plural: ustanici) which means an insurgent, or a rebel. The name ustaša did not have fascist connotations during their early years in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as the term "ustat" was itself used in Herzegovina to denote the insurgents from the Herzegovinian rebellion of 1875. The full original name of the organization appeared in April 1931 as the Ustaša – Hrvatska revolucionarna organizacija or UHRO (Ustaša – Croatian revolutionary organization); in 1933 it was renamed the Ustaša – Hrvatski revolucionarni pokret (Ustaša – Croatian revolutionary movement), a name it kept until World War II.[3]


Ideological roots

One of the major ideological influences of the Croatian nationalism of the Ustaše was 19th century Croatian activist Ante Starčević,[8] an advocate of Croatian unity and independence, who was both anti-Habsburg and anti-Serbian in outlook.[8]

He envisioned the creation of a Greater Croatia that would include territories inhabited by Bosniaks, Serbs, and Slovenes, considering Bosniaks and Serbs to be Croats who had been converted to Islam and Orthodox Christianity, while considering the Slovenes to be "mountain Croats".[8] Starčević argued that the large Serb presence in territories claimed by a Greater Croatia was the result of recent settlement, encouraged by Habsburg rulers, and the influx of groups like Vlachs who took up Orthodox Christianity and identified themselves as Serbs. Starčević declared his admiration for Bosniaks because in his view they were Croats who tactically had adopted Islam to preserve the economic and political autonomy of Bosnia and medieval Croatia under the rule of the Ottoman Empire.[8]

Poglavnik Ante Pavelić and Italy's Duce Benito Mussolini on 18 May 1941 in Rome. The Ustaše were heavily influenced by Italian Fascism and politically supported by Fascist Italy.
Germany's Führer Adolf Hitler with Pavelić at the Berghof outside Berchtesgaden, Germany. The Ustaše increasingly came under the influence of Nazism after the founding of the NDH in 1941.

The Ustaše used Starčević's theories to promote the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina to Croatia and recognized Croatia as having two major ethnocultural components: Catholics and Muslims.[8] The Ustaše sought to represent Starčević as being connected to their views.[19]

The Ustaše promoted the theories of Dr Milan Šufflay, who is believed to have claimed that Croatia had been "one of the strongest ramparts of Western civilization for many centuries", which he claimed had been lost through its union with Serbia when the nation of Yugoslavia was formed in 1918.[20] Šufflay was killed in Yugoslavia in 1931, causing an internationally publicized affair.[21][22][23]

The Ustaše accepted the 1935 thesis by a Franciscan friar, Father Krunoslav Draganović, whose thesis claimed many Catholics in southern Herzegovina had been converted to Orthodox Christianity in the 16th and 17th centuries, in order to justify a policy of forceible conversion of Orthodox Christians in the area to Catholicism.[24]

The Ustaše were heavily influenced by Nazism and fascism. Pavelić's position of Poglavnik was based on the similar positions of Duce held by Benito Mussolini and Führer held by Adolf Hitler.[8] The Ustaše, like fascists, promoted a corporatist economy.[25] Pavelić and the Ustaše were allowed sanctuary in Italy by Mussolini after being exiled from Yugoslavia. Pavelić had been in negotiations with Fascist Italy since 1927 that included advocating a territory-for-sovereignty swap in which he would tolerate Italy annexing its claimed territory in Dalmatia in exchange for Italy supporting the sovereignty of an independent Croatia.[8]

Mussolini's support of the Ustaše was based on pragmatic considerations, such as maximizing Italian influence in the Balkans. After 1937 with the weakening of French influence in Europe following Germany's remilitarization of the Rhineland, and with the rise of a quasi-fascist government in Yugoslavia under Milan Stojadinović, Mussolini abandoned support for the Ustaše from 1937–39 and sought to improve relations with Yugoslavia, fearing that continued hostility towards Yugoslavia would result in Yugoslavia entering Germany's sphere of influence.[26] The collapse of the quasi-fascist Stojadinović regime resulted in Italy restoring its support for the Ustaše, whose aim was to create an independent Croatia in personal union with Italy.[26] However, distrust towards the Ustaše grew. Mussolini's son-in-law and Italian foreign minister Count Galeazzo Ciano noted in his diary that "The Duce is indignant with Pavelić, because he claims that the Croats are descendants of the Goths. This will have the effect of bringing them into the German orbit".[27]

Nazi Germany initially held no support for an independent Croatia nor did it support the Ustaše and Hitler stressed the importance of a "strong and united Yugoslavia".[26] Nazi officials, including Hermann Göring, wanted Yugoslavia stable and officially neutral during the war so Germany could continue to securely gain Yugoslavia's raw material exports.[26] The Nazis grew aggravated with the Ustaše, among them Reichsfuhrer SS Heinrich Himmler, who was dissatisfied with the lack of full compliance by the NDH to the Nazis' agenda of extermination of the Jews, as the Ustaše permitted Jews who converted to Catholicism to be recognized as "honorary Croats", thus exempt from persecution.[8]

Political programme and main agendas

In 1933 the Ustaše presented "The Seventeen Principles" that formed the official ideology of the movement. The Principles stated the uniqueness of the Croatian nation, promoted collective rights over individual rights and declared that people who were not Croat by "blood" would be excluded from political life.[8]

Those considered "undesirables" were subjected to mass murder.[28] These principles called for the creation of a new economic system that would be neither capitalist nor communist[8] and which emphasized the importance of the Roman Catholic Church and the patriarchial family as means to maintain social order and morality.[8] (The name given by modern historian to this particular aspect of Ustaše ideology varies; "national Catholicism",[29] "political Catholicism" and "Catholic Croatism"[30] have been proposed among others.) In power, the Ustaše banned contraception and tightened laws against blasphemy.[31]

Joseph Deniker's map of European races (1899) identified "Dinarics" as the dominant group in parts of central Europe, northern Italy and the northwest Balkans.

The Ustaše accepted that Croats are part of the Dinaric race,[32] but rejected the idea that Croats are primarily Slavic, claiming they are primarily descended from Germanic roots with the Goths.[33] The Ustaše believed that a government must naturally be strong and authoritarian. The movement opposed parliamentary democracy for being "corrupt" and Marxism and Bolshevism for interfering in family life and the economy and for their materialism. The Ustaše considered competing political parties and elected parliaments to be harmful to its own interests.[25]

The Ustaše recognized both Roman Catholicism and Islam as the national religions of the Croatian people but initially rejected Orthodox Christianity as being incompatible with their objectives.[20] Although the Ustaše emphasized religious themes, it stressed that duty to the nation took precedence over religious custom.[34] In power, the Ustaše banned the use of the term "Serbian Orthodox faith", requiring "Greek-Eastern faith" in its place.[28] The Ustaše also persecuted "Old Catholics" who did not recognize papal infallibility.[28] Orthodox Christian churches were plundered and burnt during Ustaše rule.[28] The Ustaše altered their stance towards the Orthodox faith in August 1941 when the NDH allowed those Orthodox Serbs who held no political association with Serbia to be permitted to attain Croatian citizenship and be declared Aryans. On 2 July 1942 the Croatian Orthodox Church was founded, and Orthodoxy thus became one of Croatia's state religions.[35]

The Ustaše attached conditions to the Croatian citizenship of Muslims, such as asserting that a Muslim who supported Yugoslavia would not be considered a Croat nor a citizen but would instead be considered a "Muslim Serb" who could be denied property and imprisoned. The Ustaše claimed that such "Muslim Serbs" had to earn Croat status. The Ustaše persecuted Jews who practiced Judaism but authorized Jewish converts to Catholicism to be recognized as Croatian citizens and be given honorary Aryan citizenship that allowed them to be reinstated at the jobs from which they had previously been separated.[34]

Economically, the Ustaše supported the creation of a corporatist economy.[25][31][36] The movement believed that natural rights existed to private property and ownership over small-scale means of production free from state control. Armed struggle, revenge and terrorism were glorified by the Ustaše.[25]

The Ustaše introduced widespread measures, to which many Croats themselves fell victim. Jozo Tomasevich in his book War and Revolution in Yugoslavia: 1941-1945, states that "never before in history had Croats been exposed to such legalized administrative, police and judicial brutality and abuse as during the Ustasha regime." Decrees enacted by the regime formed the basis that allowed it to get rid of all unwanted employees in state and local government and in state enterprises, the "unwanted" being all Jews, Serbs and Yugoslav-oriented Croats who were all thrown out except for some deemed specifically needed by the government. This would leave a multitude of jobs to be filled by Ustashas and pro-Ustasha adherents. This would lead to government jobs being filled by people with no professional qualifications.[37]


Before World War II

Map of a Greater Croatia in a 26 October 1939 article of the Ustaše Hrvatski Domobran newspaper associated with the Ustaše organization of the same name, Hrvatski Domobran, which sought recruitment of Croatian diaspora emigrants in Argentina and elsewhere. The article rejected the Cvetković–Maček Agreement and the borders it provided to Croatia as insufficient.

In October 1928, after the assassination of leading Croatian politician Stjepan Radić, Croatian Peasant Party President in the Yugoslav Assembly by radical Montenegrin politician Puniša Račić, a youth group named the Croat Youth Movement was founded by Branimir Jelić at the University of Zagreb. A year later Ante Pavelić was invited by the 21-year-old Jelić into the organization as a junior member. A related movement, the Domobranski Pokret--which had been the name of the legal Croatian army in Austria-Hungary--began publication of Hrvatski Domobran, a newspaper dedicated to Croatian national matters. The Ustaše sent Hrvatski Domobran to the United States to garner support for them from Croatian-Americans.[38] The organization around the Domobran tried to engage with and radicalize moderate Croats, using Radić's assassination to stir up emotions within the divided country. By 1929 two divergent Croatian political streams had formed: those who supported Pavelić's view that only violence could secure Croatia's national interests, and the Croatian Peasant Party, led then by Vladko Maček, successor to Stjepan Radić, which had much greater support among Croats.[25]

Various members of the Croatian Party of Rights contributed to the writing of the Domobran, until around Christmas 1928 when the newspaper was banned by authorities of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In January 1929 the king banned all national parties,[39] and the radical wing of the Party of Rights was exiled, including Pavelić, Jelić and Gustav Perčec. This group was later joined by several other Croatian exiles. On 20 April 1929 Pavelić and others co-signed a declaration in Sofia, Bulgaria, with 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 for both Croatia and Macedonia". The Court for the Preservation of the State in Belgrade sentenced Pavelić and Perčec to death on 17 July 1929. The exiles started organizing support for their cause among the Croatian diaspora in Europe, as well as North and South America. In January 1932 they named their revolutionary organization "Ustaša". In November 1932 ten Ustaše, led by Andrija Artuković and supported by four local sympathisers, attacked a gendarme outpost at Brušani in the Lika/Velebit area, in an apparent attempt to intimidate the Yugoslav authorities. The incident has sometimes been termed the "Velebit uprising".

Universal Newsreel's film about the assassination of Alexander I.

Eugen Dido Kvaternik organized the assassination of King Alexander I by a Bulgarian mercenary, Vlado Chernozemski, a member of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO). 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 from October 1934 until late March 1936. After March 1937, when Italy and Yugoslavia signed a pact of friendship, Ustaše and their activities were banned, which attracted the attention of young Croats, especially university students, who would become sympathizers or members. In February 1939 two returnees from detention, Mile Budak and Ivan Oršanić, became editors of Hrvatski narod, known in English as The Croatian Nation, a pro-Ustaše journal.

World War II

The Axis Powers 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 German offers to lead the new government. On 10 April the most senior home-based Ustaša, Slavko Kvaternik, took control of the police in Zagreb and in a radio broadcast that day proclaimed the formation of the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH). The name of the state was an attempt to capitalise on the Croat struggle for independence. Maček issued a statement that day, calling on all Croatians to cooperate with the new authorities.[40]

A unit of Ustaše in Sarajevo

Meanwhile Pavelić and several hundred Ustaše left their camps in Italy for Zagreb, where he declared a new government on 16 April 1941.[8] He accorded himself the title of "Poglavnik"--a Croatian approximation to "Führer". The Independent State of Croatia was declared on Croatian "ethnic and historical territory",[41] what is today Republic of Croatia (without Istria), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Syrmia and the Bay of Kotor. However, a few days after the declaration of independence, the Ustaše were forced[8] to sign the Treaty of Rome where they surrendered part of Dalmatia and Krk, Rab, Korčula, Biograd, Šibenik, Split, Čiovo, Šolta, Mljet and part of Konavle and the Bay of Kotor to Italy. De facto control over this territory varied for the majority of the war, as the Partisans grew more successful, while the Germans and Italians increasingly exercised direct control over areas of interest. The Germans and Italians split 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. As a result, the NDH has been described as "an Italian-German quasi-protectorate". In September 1943, after Italian capitulation, the NDH annexed the whole territory which was annexed by Italy according to Treaty of Rome.[42]

Ustaše Militia

Meeting in Bosnia between representatives of the Chetniks and Independent State of Croatia officers (including the Ustaše militia and the Croatian Home Guard)

The Army of the Independent State of Croatia was composed of enlistees who did not participate in Ustaše activities. The Ustaše Militia was organised in 1941 into five (later 15) 700-man battalions, two railway security battalions and the elite Black Legion and Poglavnik Bodyguard Battalion (later Brigade).[43]

On 27 April 1941 a newly formed unit of the Ustaše army killed members of the largely Serbian community 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 by the Ustaše to take their place as the primary representative of the Croatian peasantry. Vladko Maček was sent to the 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 foreigners to take a stand and oppose the Pavelić government, but refused. In early 1941 Jews and Serbs were ordered to leave certain areas of Zagreb.[44][45]

Pavelić first met with Adolf Hitler on 6 June 1941. Mile Budak, then a minister in Pavelić's government, publicly proclaimed the violent racial policy of the state on 22 July 1941. Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić, a chief of the secret police, started building concentration camps in the summer of the same year. Ustaše activities in villages across the Dinaric Alps led the Italians and the Germans to express their disquiet. According to writer/historian Srđa Trifković, as early as 10 July 1941 Wehrmacht Gen. Edmund Glaise von Horstenau reported the following to the German High Command, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW):

Our troops have to be mute witnesses of such events; it does not reflect well on their otherwise high reputation . . . I am frequently told that German occupation troops would finally have to intervene against Ustaše crimes. This may happen eventually. Right now, with the available forces, I could not ask for such action. Ad hoc intervention in individual cases could make the German Army look responsible for countless crimes which it could not prevent in the past.[46][47]

Historian Jonathan Steiberg describes Ustaša crimes against Serbian and Jewish civilians: "Serbian and Jewish man [sic] woman [sic] and children were literally hacked to death". Reflecting on the photos of Ustaša crimes taken by Italians, Steinberg writes: "There are photographs of Serbian woman [sic] with breasts hacked off by kitchen knives, man [sic] with eyes gouged out, emasculated and mutilated".[48]

A Gestapo report to Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler, dated 17 February 1942, stated:

Increased activity of the bands [of rebels] is chiefly due to atrocities carried out by Ustaše units in Croatia against the Orthodox population. The Ustaše committed their deeds in a bestial manner not only against males of conscript age, but especially against helpless old people, women and children. The number of the Orthodox that the Croats have massacred and sadistically tortured to death is about three hundred thousand.[49]

In September 1942 an Ustaše Defensive Brigade was formed, and during 1943 the Ustaše battalions were re-organised into eight four-battalion brigades (1st to 8th).[43] In 1943 the Germans suffered major losses on the Eastern Front and the Italians signed an armistice with the Allies, leaving behind significant caches of arms which the Partisans would use.

An Ustaša, disguised as a woman, captured by Partisans of the 6th Krajina Brigade

By 1944 Pavelić was almost totally reliant on Ustaše units, now 100,000 strong, formed in Brigades 1 to 20, Recruit Training Brigades 21 to 24, three divisions, two railway brigades, one defensive brigade and the new Mobile Brigade. In November 1944 the army was effectively put under Ustaše control when the Armed Forces of the Independent State of Croatia were combined with the units of the Ustaše to form 18 divisions, comprising 13 infantry, two mountain and two assault divisions and one replacement division, each with its own organic artillery and other support units. There were several armored units.[43]

Fighting continued for a short while after the formal surrender of German Army Group E on 9 May 1945, as Pavelić ordered the NDH forces to attempt to escape to Austria, together with a large number of civilians. The Battle of Poljana, between a mixed German and Ustaše column and a Partisan force, was the last battle of World War II on European soil. Most of those fleeing, including both Ustaše and civilians, were handed over to the Partisans at Bleiburg and elsewhere on the Austrian border. Pavelić hid in Austria and Rome, with the help of Catholic clergy, later fleeing to Argentina.[50]

After the war

After World War II, many of the Ustaše went underground or fled to countries such as Canada, Australia, Germany and some countries in South America--notably Argentina--with the assistance of Roman Catholic churches and their own grassroots supporters.[51][51][52]

For several years some Ustaše tried to organize a resistance group called the Crusaders, but were largely eliminated by Yugoslav authorities.[3] With the defeat of the Independent State of Croatia, the active movement went dormant. Infighting fragmented the surviving Ustaše. Pavelić formed the Croatian Liberation Movement, which drew in several of the former state's leaders. Vjekoslav Vrančić founded a reformed Croatian Liberation Movement and was its leader. Maks Luburić formed the Croatian National Resistance. Blagoje Jovović, a Montenegrin, shot Pavelić near Buenos Aires on 9 April 1957; Pavelić later died of his injuries.[53]

Ethnic and religious persecution

An entire Serb family lies slaughtered in their home following a raid by the Ustaša militia, 1941.
Ustaše soldiers sawing off the head of Branko Jungić, an ethnic Serb from the village of Grabovac.
Serb civilians forced to convert to Catholicism by the Ustaša in Glina

The Ustaše intended to create an ethnically "pure" Croatia, and viewed those Serbs then living in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina as the biggest obstacle to this goal. Ustaše ministers Mile Budak, Mirko Puk and Milovan Žanić declared in May 1941 that the goal of the new Ustaše policy was an ethnically pure Croatia. The strategy to achieve their goal was:[54][55]

  1. One-third of the Serbs were to be killed
  2. One-third of the Serbs were to be expelled
  3. One-third of the Serbs were to be forcibly converted to Catholicism

The NDH government cooperated with Nazi Germany in the Holocaust and exercised their own version of the genocide against Serbs, Jews and Roma (aka "gypsies") inside its borders. State policy towards Serbs had first been declared in the words of Milovan Žanić, a minister of the NDH Legislative council, on 2 May 1941:

This country can only be a Croatian country, and there is no method we would hesitate to use in order to make it truly Croatian and cleanse it of Serbs, who have for centuries endangered us and who will endanger us again if they are given the opportunity.[56]

The Ustaše enacted race laws patterned after those of the Third Reich, which were aimed against Jews and Romani and Serbs, who were collectively declared enemies of the Croatian people.[8] Serbs, Jews, Roma and Croatian and Bosniak dissidents, including Communists, were interned in concentration camps, the largest of which was Jasenovac. By the end of the war the Ustaše, under Pavelić's leadership, had exterminated an estimated 30,000 Jews, 29,000 Gypsies, and between 300,000 and 600,000 Serbs.[57]

The history textbooks in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia cited 700,000 as the total number of victims 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 Moša Pijade in the Yugoslav war reparations claim sent to Germany. 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 most reliable figures place the number of Serbs killed by the Ustaše between 330,000 and 390,000.[58]

The Jasenovac Memorial Area maintains a list of 83,145 names of Jasenovac victims that was gathered by government officials in Belgrade in 1964, as well as names and biographical data for the victims identified in recent inquiries.[59] As the gathering process was imperfect, they estimated that the list represented between 60%-75% of the total victims, putting the number of killed in that complex at between roughly 80,000–100,000. The previous head of the Memorial Area Simo Brdar estimated at least 365,000 dead at Jasenovac. The analyses of 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 (respectively). Žerjavić further stated 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 World War II various German military commanders and civilian authorities gave different figures for the number of Serbs, Jews and others killed inside the territory of the Independent State of Croatia. Historian Prof. Jozo Tomasevich has posited that some of these figures may have been a "deliberate exaggeration" fostered to create further hostility between Serbs and Croats so that they would not unite in resisting the Axis.[60] These figures included 400,000 Serbs (Alexander Löhr);[61] 500,000 Serbs (Lothar Rendulic);[62] 250,000 to March 1943 (Edmund Glaise von Horstenau);[60] more than "3/4 of a million Serbs" (Hermann Neubacher) in 1943;[63] 600,000–700,000 in concentration camps until March 1944 (Ernst Fick);[60] 700,000 (Massenbach).[64]

Of some 39,000 Jews who had lived in territory which became the Independent State of Croatia, at least 30,000 died.[57][58]

Concentration camps

Ustaše militia execute prisoners near the Jasenovac concentration camp
A knife nicknamed "Srbosjek" or "Serbcutter", strapped to the hand, which was used by the Ustaše militia for the speedy killing of inmates in Jasenovac.

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

These 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:

There were also other camps in:

Numbers of prisoners:

Connections with the Catholic Church

The Ustaše policies against 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.[66] The Ustaše represented an extreme example of "Uniatism" which was based on nationalism rather than on religion. They supported violent aggression or force to convert Serbo-Croatian speaking Orthodox believers to Roman Catholicism. The Ustaše held the position that Eastern Orthodoxy, as a symbol of Serbian nationalism, was their greatest foe and never recognized the existence of a Serb people on the territories of Croatia or Bosnia  they recognized only "Croats of the Eastern faith". They called Bosniaks "Croats of the Islamic faith", but tolerated Muslims and in fact received some support from Bosniak Muslims during World War II in the form of the Handschar division.

Some 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 as chaplain and, on 7 February 1942, joined in the massacre of roughly 2730 Serbs of the nearby villages, including some 500 children. He was allegedly subsequently dismissed from his order and defrocked, although he wore his clerical garb when he was hanged for war crimes. He became Chief Guard of Jasenovac concentration camp where he was nicknamed "Fra Sotona" by fellow Croats. Mladen Lorković, the Croat minister of foreign affairs, formulated it like this: "In Croatia, we can find few real Serbs. The majority of Pravoslavs are as a matter of fact Croats who were forced by foreign invaders to accept the infidel faith. Now it's our duty to bring them back into the Roman Catholic fold."[67]

Marko Došen (far left, giving Nazi salute) and Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac (far right)

For the duration of the war, the Vatican kept up full diplomatic relations with the Ustaša state (granting Pavelić an audience), with its papal nuncio in Zagreb, the Croatian capital city. The nuncio was briefed on the efforts of religious conversions to Roman Catholicism. After World War II ended, the Ustaše who had managed to escape from Yugoslav territory (including Pavelić) were smuggled to South America.[50] This was largely done through rat lines operated by Catholic priests who had previously secured positions at the Vatican. Some of the more infamous members of the Illyrian College of San Girolamo in Rome involved in this were Franciscan friars Krunoslav Draganović and Dominik Mandić, and a third friar surnamed Petranović (first name unknown).[68]

The Ustaše regime had deposited large amounts of gold plundered from Serbs and Jews during World War II into Swiss bank accounts. Out of a total of 350 million Swiss francs, an estimated 150 million was seized by British troops;[68] however, the remaining 200 million (ca. $47 million) reached the Vatican. In October 1946 the American intelligence agency SSU alleged that these funds were still held in the Vatican Bank. This issue was the theme of a class-action suit against the Vatican Bank and others (see Alperin v. Vatican Bank).[68]

Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb during World War II, was accused of supporting the Ustaše and of exonerating those in the clergy who collaborated with them and were hence complicit in forced conversions. Stepinac stated on 28 March 1941, noting early attempts to unite Croatians and Serbs:

"All in all, Croats and Serbs are of two worlds, northpole and southpole, never will they be able to get together unless by a miracle of God. The schism (between the Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy) is the greatest curse in Europe, almost greater than Protestantism. Here there is no moral, no principles, no truth, no justice, no honesty."[69]

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 monastery with Filipović. At the same location the Pope proclaimed the beatification of a Roman Catholic layman Ivan Merz (1896–1928), who was the founder of the "Association of Croatian Eagles" in 1923, which some view as a precursor to the Ustaše. Roman Catholic apologists defend the Pope's actions by stating the convent at Petrićevac was one of the places that went up in flames, causing the death of 80-year-old Friar Alojzije Atlija. Further, it was claimed by the apologists 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 allegedly risked "total extinction" due to the war.


At the top of the command was the Poglavnik (meaning "head") Ante Pavelić. Pavelić was appointed the office as Head of State of Croatia after Adolf Hitler had accepted Benito Mussolini's proposal of Pavelić, on 10 April 1941. The Croatian Home Guard was the armed forces of Croatia, it subsequently merged into the Croatian Armed Forces.[1]


The symbol of the Ustaše was a capital blue letter "U" with an exploding grenade emblem within it.[70][71]

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 NDH kuna. The checkered coat of arms of the NDH started with a white field in the corner, and that of today's Croatia starts with a red field in the corner. Some possible explanations are that the white field symbolizes the Croatian nationality, as opposed to the red field which symbolizes the Croatian state; or that the white field is used on the so-called war flag.

The Ustaše greeting was "Za dom - spremni!":

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

This was used instead of the Nazi greeting Heil Hitler by the Ustaše. While the greeting was invented in the 19th century by Croatian ban Josip Jelačić, today it is nominally associated with Ustaše sympathisers by Serbs or non-Ustaše conservatives associated with the Croatian Party of Rights. However, some Croats see it as a patriotic salute, because it was used long before the Ustaše regime, emphasising defending one's home and country. On the internet, it is sometimes abbreviated as ZDS.

Modern usage of the term "Ustaša"

After World War II, the Ustaša movement was split into several organizations and there is presently no political or paramilitary movement that claims its legacy as their "successor". The term "ustaše" is today used as a (derogatory) term for Croatian ultranationalism. The term "Ustaše" is sometimes used among Serbs to describe Serbophobia or more generally to defame political opponents. When Slobodan Milošević was at the end of his rule, some protesters called him an "Ustaša".[72]

The Ustaše plays an important role in Harry Turtledove's short alternate history story, Ready for the Fatherland. It plays a brief background role in In the Presence of Mine Enemies, an unrelated work by the same author. In both these works, the regime founded by Pavelić lasted several decades beyond the 1940s.

See also


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