The Croatian struggle against Nazism and Fascism is one which generally remains underappreciated in the English-speaking world. While the events in Croatia during World War II have been well-documented by experts in the field, especially within Croatia, this rich literature, dating from both Communist and post-Communist times, remains virtually unknown in the West.
ETHNIC CROATIANS KILLED BY NAZI AND FASCIST FORCES
DURING WORLD WAR II - A PARTIAL LIST
By John Peter Kraljic
Introduction. The Croatian struggle against Nazism and Fascism is one which generally remains underappreciated in the English-speaking world. While the events in Croatia during World War II have been well-documented by experts in the field, especially within Croatia, this rich literature, dating from both Communist and post-Communist times, remains virtually unknown in the West.
As discussed further below, approximately 60,000 ethnic Croats, almost 1.5% of the pre-War population of Croats in the former Yugoslavia, died either while fighting with Partisan forces or at the hands of the German Nazis and Italian and other Fascists. While the number may seem small in absolute terms, in relative terms an equivalent loss of American lives would have led to almost 2 million deaths, rather than the approximately 400,000 actually killed during World War II, or over 700,000 deaths in the United Kingdom, rather than 450,000.
Croatia remains highly aware of its sacrifices during the War. On an annual basis, numerous towns and villages hold ceremonies to commemorate those killed in the war against Fascism. Croatia is probably one of the only countries in Europe which celebrates Anti-Fascism as a state holiday (June 22) while its Constitution declares that the roots of present-day Croatian statehood lie in its Partisan Parliament, the Regional or Land Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Croatia (Zemaljsko anti-fašističko vijeće narodnog-oslobođenja Hrvatske or ZAVNOH).
A mere recitation of the historical record does not suffice in presenting the true story of World War II in Croatia. Using monuments of victims of the War as well as available published sources, the author has determined that a listing of those Croats killed as Partisans or as Victims of Fascist Terror would allow readers to come away with a better understanding of the War in Croatia and an appreciation of the deep memories of the Nazi and Italian Fascist occupation which continue to inhabit the Croatian psyche.
Sources of Anti-Fascism and Anti-Nazism in Croatia. The roots of Anti-Fascism in Croatia date from the appearance of Fascism in neighboring Italy. Italian Fascism embodied imperialist ambitions toward ethnic Croat areas, as vividly shown in Istria and Rijeka (Fiume). The poet Gabriele D'Annunzio, a progenitor of Mussolini, and his thugs known as the Arditi seized control of Rijeka to thwart any peaceful negotiations concerning the disposition of Rijeka following World War I. Ultimately, Italy annexed Rijeka and Zadar (Zara), the entire Istrian Peninsula, the islands of Cres and Lošinj and a number of other islands, despite the fact that ethnic Italians constituted a small minority of the population in these areas.
Mussolini's Fascist state took stringent measures to convert these areas to purely ethnic Italian territory. Fascist authorities banned the public use of Croatian in all forms. They even prevented new born children to be registered with Croatian and other Slavic personal names. The Croatian intellectual and business class fled. An estimated 100,000 Croats left Istria alone by the early 1930s while special Fascist tribunals sentenced many Croats to long prison terms even executed others (e.g., Vladimir Gortan). The plight of Istria, Rijeka and other areas annexed by Italy remained an issue close to the hearts of all Croatians during the inter-War period.
The remainder of Croatia had in the meantime been placed within the borders of the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later called Yugoslavia. While many Croats initially viewed the Serbs as brothers, the new state quickly came under Serb domination. The levers of power, headed by the monarch and the army, remained within the hands of the Serb ruling class. Indeed, throughout the 27 year existence of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia only one Croat (Ivan Šubašić) (other than Josip Broz Tito) and one Slovene (Anton Korošec) held the office of Prime Minister.
The Croatian Peasant Party (Hrvatska seljačka stranka or HSS) became the largest political party of Croats in the Kingdom. Headed initially by Stjepan Radić, the HSS advocated the reconstitution of the Kingdom into a confederation of peasant republics. After being jailed by Yugoslav authorities in 1925, Radić was forced to renounce this initial dream. He recognized the existence of the Kingdom and the monarchy and pledged to work through Parliament to achieve the reconstruction of the political structure of the country. Radić's attempts came to naught as he died in August 1928 from gunshot wounds received in Parliament at the hands of a Serb parliamentary member.
Radić's successor, Vladko Maček, continued his policies through the 1930s, a period marked by a royal dictatorship imposed by King Alexander. Maček advocated a policy of non-violence in working to achieve his aims. Like Gandhi, Maček was jailed a number of times. His resistance ultimately bore fruit in 1939 with the creation of the Province or Banovina of Croatia which included most of present-day Croatia and parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ivan Šubašić became the Governor or Ban of the Province.
While the HSS continued to enjoy the overwhelming support of Croatians, a small group, known as the Ustashe (Ustaše) and led by Ante Pavelić advocated the use of violence to achieve Croatia's full independence from Yugoslavia. Pavelić's movement, however, suffered from credibility issues given his reliance on support from Mussolini's Italy and Hungary, states which had territorial pretensions to Croatian territory.
When Germany, Italy and their allies began their conquest of Yugoslavia in April 1941, they decided to look to Croats to support their efforts. An Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska or NDH) was proclaimed and German agents approached Maček asking that he become the head of the NDH. However, Maček remained committed to western-style democracy and refused. As a result, the Germans and Italians turned to Pavelić who willingly took over the reigns of power.
While Croatians initially welcomed the establishment of the NDH, the mood toward the Ustashe soon soured. Pavelić personally led negotiations to establish the NDH's borders with Italy. The result proved disastrous as he allowed Italy to annex most of Croatia's islands and a large part of its coastline. Moreover, Italian military authorities soon thereafter took control of roughly half of the territory placed under the NDH's nominal sovereignty.
The Italian Fascists applied the lessons they learned in Istria to the Croatian population in their newly annexed territories. A stark example of Italianization policies can be seen in the town of Omišalj, located on the northern part of Krk Island. Though the town had no Italians whatsoever, on 1 October 1941, an Italian grammar school replaced the Croatian one. Italian authorities permitted only one Croatian teacher to remain on the staff for a temporary period, and she could only teach arithmetic and natural history no more than 1 hour a day to children in the 3rd and 4th grades (see Ljubo Karabaić, Otok Krk u NOR-u 1943 godine (Krk Island in the National Liberation War in 1943), in Krčki zbornik, vol. 6, 1975).
Croatian religious leaders came under particular attack by Italian authorities. The Catholic Church in Croatia had a tradition dating back almost a millennium conducting services in Old Church Slavonic, especially along the coast. The Fascists viewed the priests ministering in Old Church Slavonic (known as Glagoljaši) as an obstacle to their attempts to Italianize the population. As a result, the arrests and deportation of priests became common place. Those arrested included Dr. Josip Frančišković, vicar of the Diocese of Senj in Bakar, and Ante Sironić, the pastor of Jelenje, both near Rijeka; the following priests from Krk Island: Nikola Fabijanić, Karlo Hlača, Petar Žic, Milan Defar, Ivan Žic, Jerko Čubranić and Josip Volarić; and the following tertiaries of the Franciscan Order (trećoredci): Nikola Milčetić, Metod Antončić, and Alfonz Vlašić (see generally Krčki kalendar (Krk Almanac), New York, 1953; and Jure Krišto, Katolička crkva i Nezavisna Država Hrvatska (The Catholic Church and the Independent State of Croatia), Zagreb: Hrvatski Institut za Povijest, 1998, vol. II. - Dokumenti (Documents)).
Similar examples could be pointed to throughout the coastal area of Croatia. The application of such soft ethnic cleansing policies led to passive followed by active resistance to the Axis powers.
The Commencement and Growth of Partisan Activities in Croatia. The Communist Party of Croatia (Komunistička partije Hrvatske or the KPH), a part of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (Komunistička partije Jugoslavije or the KPJ), formed the nucleus of the resistance in Croatia. As the Communist Party had been illegal in pre-War Yugoslavia for almost two decades, the Party had a well developed underground system whose work could continue following the Axis invasion.
The Communists had clear ulterior motives in using their organizational skills in establishing Partisan forces. Initially, the Communists took no actions whatsoever against the Germans, the Italians or the Ustashe. Like lemmings, they followed the dictates of Soviet foreign policy which prior to the 22 June 1941 invasion of the USSR remained anchored in an alliance with Nazi Germany.
The German assault on the Soviet Union changed the Communists' attitudes overnight. Indeed, Croatian Communists established the first Partisan unit in the former Yugoslavia, near Sisak, on the same day the Germans commenced their attack on Russia (the group included Janko Bobetko (1919-2003) who later served as the Chief of the General Staff of the Croatian Army between 1992 and 1995).
However, the Communists initially did not view their struggle as a national liberation war. They at first slavishly sought to imitate Lenin's tactics in organizing the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. A tragic example occurred in July 1941. Ninety-four mostly Croatian Communists successfully broke out of prison at a medieval fortress in Kerestinec, west of Zagreb. The prisoners included August Cesarec, a well-known Croatian poet and author, and Zvonimir Komarica, the brother of the current Archbishop of Banja Luka. Rather than attempting to escape into the hills, the men headed toward Zagreb under the illusion that a proletarian uprising was on the verge of breaking out as the Soviet Red Army supposedly beat back Hitler. All but 12 of the men were captured and executed within a matter of weeks.
Only the prodding of Soviet and Comintern officials caused the KPJ to change its tactics, though not its ultimate strategy. The struggle to be led by the KPJ would be called a national liberation one, which would seek to bring all anti-fascists into one united force. The tactic, reminiscent of the People's Front which the Communists had espoused world-wide in the years immediately prior to the Stalin-Hitler Pact, would not be an alliance of equal partners but one dominated by the Communists as they sought to carve off the masses of various democratic parties from their reactionary leaders.
While Tito and the members of the KPJ Central Committee left Zagreb for Belgrade in May 1941 and in July 1941 began their military operations in central Serbia, the KPH and its leadership remained in Zagreb. The KPH sent various emissaries to establish links with local Party members and sympathizers throughout Croatia. These emissaries received aid from returning Spanish Civil War veterans. The latter, who had not been allowed to re-enter Yugoslavia after the defeat of the Spanish Republic in March 1939, only began to return in large numbers after the fall of Yugoslavia through secret channels which ended in Zagreb. These veterans played an important role in building the military organization of Partisan forces.
Communists and their sympathizers worked with these emissaries and veterans to establish camps or logori in wooded, mountainous and uninhabited areas. The camps initially served as safe houses where men and women could hide from authorities while collecting weapons.
In keeping with their national liberation tactic, the Communists looked for support among other disaffected groups. In Croatia, the most important initial group consisted of ethnic Serbs. The Serbs were motivated by two forces. First, within certain areas controlled by the NDH, and especially in Lika, Serbs came under severe persecution (it must be noted that the persecution was not evenly spread throughout NDH territory; thus, the Serbs of western Slavonia remained comparatively unmolested during the initial year following the establishment of the NDH).
Second, many Serbs remained wedded to the concept of Greater Serbianism. The establishment of the Croatian Banovina in 1939 in particular brought to the fore organized political groups which openly advocated the destruction of the Banovina and the incorporation of large chunks of ethnic Croat and Bosniak territories within a Greater Serbia. Such groups formed the core of the Chetniks.
The Communists successfully brought under their control large groups of Serbs, especially in the areas of Banija and Kordun, south of Karlovac, as well as eastern and central Lika. However, Chetnik influence remained strong, as shown by a number of successful internal pro-Chetnik coups in some Partisan units. Moreover, the Communists had little to show for their efforts in certain Serb-inhabited areas of Croatia. Serb-dominated portions of the interior of Dalmatia, centered on Knin and continuing northward toward the area where Dalmatia meets Lika and Bosnia, remained subject to Chetnik domination throughout most of the War under the leadership of a Serbian Orthodox Priest, Momčilo Djujić. The Chetniks became notorious for their open collaboration with Italian forces while certain Chetnik units even entered into power sharing arrangements with local NDH authorities.
Croats along the Croatian Littoral and its hinterland in the Gorski kotar, became the first to join the Partisans in large numbers in late 1941. In addition to being motivated by their disgust with the occupying Italian Army, they received added motivation during 1942 as Italian officials, in an effort to stamp out rebel activity, applied sadistic repressive measures toward Croats both in the Littoral as well as in Dalmatia. As the reader will learn in reviewing the list of victims, Italian troops engaged in mass executions as well as deportations in an attempt to break support for the Partisans. By the time Italy capitulated in September 1943, an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 Croats were found in prison camps established along the Croatian coast as well as in Italy. It can come as no surprise that the number of Croats in Partisan forces steadily increased.
The Croatian Partisan Government. Of major importance in understanding the success of the Croatian Partisans is their well-developed civilian administrative structure. National Liberation Committees (Narodno-oslobodilački odbori or NOOs) formed the basis of Partisan control over the civilian population. The NOOs had their roots in committees established in occupied cities and villages to collect food, clothing and other supplies for Partisan units. Gradually, their competency grew to include other administrative tasks, including judicial and educational matters. NOOs took various forms, some established on a street basis, others focused on various professions.
As the War continued, the NOOs became more structured on a territorial basis, with district and provincial committees established. In early 1943, the Communists took steps to establish ZAVNOH to act as a parliamentary body for all of Croatia. ZAVNOH held three plenary sessions during the War in areas which remained surrounded by Axis troops. At its fourth and last session, held on 24-25 July 1945 in Zagreb, ZAVNOH proclaimed itself as the Croatian Parliament or Sabor. Today's Croatian Parliament traces its direct historical continuity to this body.
This governmental structure impressed many contemporary observers. There was nothing like it anywhere else in occupied Yugoslavia and it remains a unique in Europe during World War II. In no other country was such an assembly held in the midst of Hitler's Europe. By the end of 1943, 4,596 NOOs were operating throughout the territory of the present Republic of Croatia. (See Dr. Ivan Jelić, Hrvatksa u ratu i revoluciji 1941-1945 (Croatia in War and Revolution 1941-1945), Zagreb: Školska knjiga, 1978).
ZAVNOH included many non-Communists, such as Vladimir Nazor, a prominent poet who served as ZAVNOH's President, Slavko Rittig, the pastor of St. Mark's (Sv. Marko), the most prominent Roman Catholic parish in Zagreb, and a number of members of the HSS. This policy reflected in part the tactics used with local NOOs which usually consisted of prominent local individuals; indeed, some NOOs did not even have Communist members.
However, the Communists did not allow any political party, other than their own, to form organizations within areas under Partisan control. Such tactics especially damaged the HSS, as seen in the case of Božidar Magovac. Magovac had been a prominent leader of the HSS and he determined in 1943 to join Partisan forces. Magovac, who served in the Secretariat of ZAVNOH, became an opponent of Maček and sought to establish a new HSS organization, one which would return to its pre-1925 republican roots. However, Andrija Hebrang, the head of the KPH, quashed Magovac's efforts and removed Magovac from all influential positions.
Thus, while outwardly ZAVNOH held out the promise of a democratic future for Croatia, ZAVNOH, together with the NOOs, ultimately became tools of Communist repression, especially as the War drew to an end and in its immediate aftermath.
The Partisans - Were They All Communists? The answer is a firm NO. As shown by the example of ZAVNOH, the Communists skillfully used propaganda and other means to portray themselves as democrats. Given that Croats had traditionally been republican rather than monarchical in orientation, they found the Communists' opposition to the Serbian monarchy to be especially attractive as well as the Communists' claim that the new Yugoslavia would be a federation of free and equal peoples.
Many Croats fought with the Partisans as draftees, especially after Italy's capitulation in September 1943.
Another source of men for the Partisans proved to be the Domobrani or Home Guard, the regular Army of the NDH. Throughout the War, desertions on an individual and sometimes on a larger scale of Domobrani to the Partisans took place. The most spectacular of these included the desertion of a large number of pilots (with their planes) as well as coast guard patrol boats (Italy did not allow the NDH to have any battle ships or submarines). The Partisans also found sympathizers within the Domobrani who would pass information as well as arms and other supplies to Partisan forces.
Certainly, the presence of Communist Party members within the Partisans increased as the War continued. Such increases in numbers represented a natural progression as the Party gained in strength and discredited its potential opponents. However, the Communists remained a minority only 24,780 or approximately 10% of the total forces which had been under the control of the National Liberation Army of Croatia (NOVH) were KPH members in July 1945 (see the work of Jelić, op. cit.). The fact that the Communists remained a minority can be see in some newly restored Partisan monuments one finds in certain towns in Croatia where the Communist red star has been replaced by or is now accompanied with the Catholic cross.
The Germans Take Over. The fall of Italy in September 1943 led to a massive national uprising by Croats along the entire coast. Croatians liberated all of Istria (other than the city of Pula and Rijeka) as well as the city of Split, Croatia's second largest city and one of its largest ports, without any assistance from Partisan forces. The Partisans and their Communist leaders quickly sent delegates and military units to these areas to take control of the uprising.
However, it soon became clear that the Germans would move down the coast in an effort to thwart the Allied forces, then moving up the Italian boot, from crossing over into the Eastern Adriatic. While German troops had a presence in eastern regions of the NDH, the number of troops they had in Croatia after September 1943 rose dramatically.
The arrival of large numbers of German troops brought great misery to the Croatian people. While the Germans displayed greater sensitivity to Croatian national feeling, even allowing the NDH to formally proclaim its sovereignty over areas Pavelić gave to Italy more than two years previously, German troops in fact continued Italy's policy of mass reprisals. The Germans deported thousands of Croats to concentration and labor camps (Ivica Račan, the Prime Minister of Croatia from 2000 to 2004, was born in one such labor camp where his father died). Tens of thousands of others, especially from Dalmatia and the islands, fled to Italy. From there, British authorities transported approximately 25,000 to 30,000 Croats to a displaced persons camp in El Shatt in the Sinai Peninsula where 825 of them died. (See, e.g., http://www.egypttoday.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=6189).
As the War neared its end, Croatia became a lawless place. In addition to German troops, the Nazis relied on so-called Mongols, former Soviet troops captured by the Germans who agreed to serve under the renegade Soviet General Andrey Vlasov, and on Chetnik forces, who, along with the Mongols, carried out mass killings throughout the country.
In many areas ostensibly occupied by the remains of Axis forces, the Partisans still held some control, particularly at night. Ominously, a Partisan secret police force, the PPK (which stood for Protiv peta kolona Against the Fifth Column) often carried out night-time executions in these areas against real and perceived enemies of the people (such killings were done on an ad hoc basis and despite protests by some local NOOs).
Non-Partisan Resistance to the Axis. A word needs to be said of other forms of resistance to the Axis in Croatia during World War II, especially among HSS leaders.
After Pavelić took control of the NDH, he applied tactics similar to those used by the Communists to discredit the leadership of the HSS while trying to win the support of the masses of HSS members. While a number of right-wing members of the HSS switched their allegiance to the Ustashe, this number remained small.
Maček and some of his closest collaborators had in the meantime been imprisoned by Pavelić in a concentration camp and, later, Maček remained under house arrest at his farm outside of Zagreb for almost the entire length of the War. The NDH officially banned the HSS on 11 June 1941.
While HSS members secretly set up pro-Allied committees (know as Akcionskih odbori or Action Committees) throughout the country, Maček steadfastly opposed starting any armed resistance to the Axis throughout the War. He argued that the numerically small Croats could not afford the risk of being physically annihilated. In Maček's opinion, Croatia's fate would be decided at the negotiation table after the War. Maček believed that Croatians could only rise up as Allied armies approached. In this regard, he and his supporters specifically looked to the Domobrani as a force which could be used to over throw the Ustashe and bring western democracy to the country. While Maček's stance has earned him much criticism, in his defense it must be kept in mind that his tactic to wait for the arrival of Allied forces followed that urged on all resistance movements in occupied Europe by the US and Great Britain.
Pavelić, in the meantime, vainly tried to gather greater grassroots support for this regime. In early 1942, he even called a session of the Croatian Parliament. The Parliament's members included HSS members elected to the Yugoslav Parliament in the last pre-War elections in 1938. However, only approximately 60 of the over 90 invited HSS delegates agreed to participate in the Parliament. Those who did come to the Parliament petitioned Pavelić to institute a number of reforms which would have had the effect of decreasing his political power; Pavelić ignored them.
In 1943, Pavelić sought to gain support from the pro-Maček wing of the HSS leadership led by August Košutić, the son-in-law of slain Stjepan Radić. The negotiations continued into 1944, led, on the Ustashe side, by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mladen Lorković, and the Minister of the Armed Forces, Ante Vokić. The negotiators agreed to establish a new government under HSS control and to use the Domobrani to bring the NDH onto the Allied side.
When Pavelić learned that the deal would require him to voluntarily retire as the leader of the state, he took action and arrested Lorković and Vokić, as well as a number of the negotiators of the HSS (e.g., Ivan Farolfi), all of whom were executed in April 1945. At this turn of events, Košutić escaped to Partisan-controlled territory. Despite Košutić's work in trying to end Pavelić's rule and to bring the Allies into the country, and ignoring his efforts to also negotiate with Partisan delegates, the Communists placed Košutić under arrest.
In addition to HSS leaders within Croatia, a number of HSS leaders left the country prior to the Axis conquest where they joined the Yugoslav government-in-exile in London. Led by Juraj Krnjević, these men strongly supported the Allied war effort. However, they soon came into conflict with the more extremist Serb members of the government who consistently refused to reaffirm their commitment to the resurrection of the Banovina after the War. While Krnjević's insistence on obtaining such a pledge may appear petty, it was in fact essential. The Banovina had been formed by a decree of the Prince Paul, the Yugoslav Regent. Under the Yugoslav constitution, such a decree could be overturned by the Yugoslav Parliament. Moreover, apart from this constitutional issue, major Serb politicians, including the Prime Minister of the government-in-exile from 1942 to 1943, Slobodan Jovanović, had vociferously condemned the creation of the Banovina. Indeed, Jovanović's opposition had been such that he oversaw the establishment of Serbian Cultural Clubs within the borders of the Banovina which became hotbeds of Greater Serbianism in Croatia. Krnjević's arguments were made more urgent by the pronouncements of Chetnik leaders in occupied Yugoslavia who openly campaigned for the creation of a Greater Serbia and who had allies in some of the ministers within the government-in-exile.
While Krnjević remained opposed to the Communists, his colleague, Ban Ivan Šubašić and some other HSS leaders, believed that the Partisans offered the best means to secure Croatia's status as an equal partner in a Yugoslav federal state. Ultimately, Yugoslav King Peter II appointed Ban Šubašić, under pressure by the British, as the first Croatian Prime Minister of Yugoslavia in mid-1944, tasked specifically with negotiating a deal between the government-in-exile and Tito. The ultimate agreement gave the Communists legitimacy and assisted in paving their way to power. The Communists later caused Šubašić to resign in 1945 from all political posts. Other HSS members who continued to support the Communists despite the repression meted out to Košutić and Magovac (e.g., Frane Frol, Franjo Gaži) came under attack by the Communists; some were later jailed or executed them in the post-War period. Others, such as publicist Bogdan Radica, turned against the Communists and joined Maček and other HSS members in exile where they continued to fight for the establishment of a democratic Croatia.
While not the topic of this paper, it must be noted that the repression of these individuals is dwarfed by the crimes committed by the Communists in the immediate post-war period. The Communists killed an estimated 35,000 to 45,000 Domobrani (consisting of Croat and Bosniak (Muslim) members) and Croat civilians following the surrender of the NDH's forces near the town of Bleiberg in Austria. While some have justified these summary mass executions as somehow being tied to Ustashe crimes, in fact the Domobrani remained a predominately conscript Army.
How Many Croats Fought the Nazis and Fascists? While no precise figure is possible to answer this question, available sources can provide us with some approximations.
According to statistics complied by Ivan Jelić (see op. cit.), forces under the command of the National Liberation Army of Croatia (NOVH) totaled 121,351 as of 30 November 1944, 73,377 of whom were ethnic Croats. The entire National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ) (which included the NOVH) had an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 men and women in its forces at the time. Based on these figures, ethnic Croats made up between 24% and 29% of all Partisan forces on that date, well above their percentage rank within the Yugoslav population as a whole. The percentage no doubt is in fact higher given that the figure for the NOVH does not include ethnic Croats who fought under other regional commands in Yugoslavia. Further, the percentage is skewed in that a large number of Serbs entered the ranks of the NOVJ only after the liberation of Serbia in October 1944.
Jelić also notes statistics compiled in 1972 which found 228,474 former Partisans who remained alive and lived in the Croatian Republic, of whom 140,124 were Croats. Again, this statistic does not include ethnic Croats living in other republics and provinces of former Yugoslavia and obviously does not include those who had previously died.
Author Nikola Anić, himself a former Partisan, in his Narodnooslobodilačka Vojska Hrvatska 1941-1945 (The National Liberation Army of Croatia 1941-1945), Zagreb: Multigraf Marketing, 2005, while not making distinctions based on ethnic composition, notes that 64,564 persons from Croatia were killed as members of the NOVH. In absolute terms, Anić points out that this figure is greater than the total number of members of resistance forces killed in Belgium, Norway, Holland and Denmark.
In relative terms, the NOVH's losses overshadow the losses suffered by the Italian and Polish resistance. In the former, 62,000 Italian anti-Fascist fighters were killed, out of a population of around 44 million. Poland had 80,000 loses out of a population of 25 million. Croatia, in comparison, had a population of less than 4 million on the eve of World War II.
While the ethnic composition of these losses does not appear to be available, one can determine the ethnic composition with some reasonable accuracy based on the geographic distribution of the origin of those killed. Croat dominated areas included the following number of Partisans killed: Dalmatia (19,107), Northwest Croatia (i.e., Zagreb, Zagorje) (13,327) and the Croatian Littoral (4,872), or a total of 37,306. While not all of these men and women were Croats, one can with reasonable certainly classify at least 75% of them as being such. The areas of Banija (7,305) and Kordun (5,177) are predominately ethnic Serb while Lika (6,662) and Slavonia (8,114) are ethnically mixed. One should also take into account Istria, which is not included in the above figures. Istria gave approximately 28,754 men to the Partisan effort, an estimated 5,000 of whom died; most of these men were ethnic Croats with some Italians.
Vladimir Žerajević in his Population Losses in Yugoslavia 1941-1945, Zagreb: Dom i svijet, 1997, has calculated that 58,131 ethnic Croats died as Partisans or Victims of Fascist Terror during World War II, approximately 1.5% of all Croats assuming a pre-War population of four million. To put this in perspective, this would have been the equivalent of the United States losing almost 2 million of its people during the War (the actual losses in battle around 318,000, including those missing in action).
Croatia's Contributions to Defeating Nazism and Fascism in the Former Yugoslavia. Because of the large support which the Partisans received from ethnic Croats, the Partisans succeeded in building their most formidable forces in Croatia. According to Nikola Anić, the NOVH had the most brigades of all regional commands in Yugoslavia, 78 out of a total of 357. The NOVH also had the most divisions, 17 out of a total of 67.
Anić further notes some unique contributions by the NOVH. Among others, the NOVH was the only resistance force in Europe which could boast a naval force which for the most part consisted of men and women from the Croat-dominated coastline. The force sank or captured at least 95 enemy ships during the War. Further, the NOVH had been the first resistance group in Europe to have its own air force, consisting of pilots who deserted from the NDH with their planes to the Partisans. The NOVH also became the first of the Partisan forces to transform its fighting techniques to frontal assaults when it liberated Dalmatia in late 1944.
Of interest is the NOVH's role in the liberation of Belgrade in October 1944. Three Croatian Partisan units participated in Belgrade's liberation: the 6th Lika Division, the 28th Slavonian Division (commanded by Vicko Antić, born in Crikvenica), and the 13th Rade Končar Brigade (which had its origin in a Partisan group in Žumberak near Zagreb). Their forces represented 32% of those Yugoslav forces participating in the battle and took 30% of total casualties.
Anić has also calculated that the NOVH killed and captured 167,554 members of the German Army and approximately 80,000 members of the Italian Army during the 1943-1945 period alone.
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The Role of Other Ethnic Groups.
One should note that other ethnic groups supported the Partisans in Croatia. Ethnic Serbs formed the largest of the other ethnic groups.
Czechs and Slovaks, many of whom live in western and eastern Slavonia, became early supporters of the Partisans, as did some Hungarians. In Istria, ethnic Italians also fought with the Partisans. Other Italians from metropolitan Italy who had been part of the occupation forces, also joined the Partisans after Italy's capitulation. These ethic groups joined in such numbers that the Partisans established separate military formations for them. There was even a small contingent of Germans who had their own battalion.
Of interest are the Jews who had been imprisoned in the Italian camp of Kampor on Rab Island. ZAVNOH succeeded in rescuing most of them prior to the German advance on the Island after Italy's capitulation. While some support existed to establish a separate Jewish Battalion, it was ultimately determined not to do so as the men and women who would serve were physically weak from their time in the camp. Others feared that the Battalion would become a specific target of German attacks. Approximately 4,000 Jews ultimately fought in the National Liberation Army of Croatia, over 10% of the pre-war population of around 39,000 in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to Nikola Anić, some have claimed that this represents the largest percentage of Jews who fought in any resistance force in occupied Europe during the War.
Croatian Contributions Abroad. Croatia has historically been an emigrant nation. Some have estimated that half as many Croats live abroad as in Croatia itself. As a result, it comes as no surprise that Croatian immigrants and their descendants could be found in other Allied forces during the War.
Australia and New Zealand. While Croatian immigrants served in the armed forces of both Australia and New Zealand, further research needs to be conducted on this topic.
Belgium. According to Većeslav Holjevac (Hrvati izvan domovine (Croats Outside the Homeland), Zagreb: Matica Hrvatska, 1968, 2nd ed.), around 6,000 Croats lived in Belgium prior to World War II. Holjevac claims that around 2,000 immigrants in Belgium from the former Yugoslavia participated in the Belgium underground, around 150 of whom served in two armed resistance units, the Đuro Đaković and Blagoje Parović, named after, respectively, a Croat and a Serb Communist leader.
Canada. When World War II broke out, only between 15,000 and 20,000 Croats lived in Canada. Anthony W. Rasporich in his For a Better Life: A History of the Croatians in Canada, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd., 1982, writes that "[w]hile the Croatian-Canadian contributions of manpower were not nearly as heavy as the Croatian-American contributions, it must be remembered that the community in Canada was much smaller and younger. Since the bulk [of them] . . . had been in Canada less than fifteen years, the Canadian sons of military age were few . . . ." Nevertheless, Rasporich notes that "the honour roll and nominal rolls of regimental histories in Canada indicate that the enlistment rates must have been significant."
Of particular interest is the recruitment of approximately thirty Croatian-Canadians by the Special Operations Executive (SOE). The recruits for the most part had been members of or connected to the Communist Party and a number had been volunteers for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War. The SOE tapped into this pool in order to establish initial contacts with Partisan forces as well to act as translators for the American and English military missions subsequently sent to Tito's headquarters as well as other regional Partisan military commands throughout Yugoslavia. A number of American Croatians were also recruited for these missions.
France. According to Holjevac (op. cit.), approximately 30,000 Croats lived in France prior to the War, most of them working as coal miners. A group of Croats distinguished themselves in the French Resistance. These men included a number of former volunteers for the Republic during the Spanish Civil War. They found themselves interred in camps in France after leaving Spain in 1939 as the Yugoslav government refused to allow them to return to the country.
The best known of these men was Ljubo Ilić. Born in Split in 1905, Ilić joined the Communist Party in 1930 and lived in Paris where he studied architecture. After leaving Spain in 1939, he remained imprisoned in French camps until September 1943 when he escaped and joined the Resistance. He soon became the commander of all foreign forces in the Southern Zone and in February 1944 became commander of all foreigners serving in the Resistance. He thereafter served in the National Military Committee and the Headquarters of Internal Forces having the rank of General, under the name Louis Conty. Ilić later served as Yugoslavia's ambassador to a number of different countries (though he probably remains best know for marrying Zinka Milanov Kunc, a Croatian soprano with the Metropolitan Opera in New York).
Of special interest is the revolt of approximately 500 Domobrani in Villefranche de Rouergue near Lyons. The unit, which consisted of both Croats and Bosniaks (i.e., Croatian Moslems), had been incorporated by the Germans into an SS unit and sent to France for training purposes. On 17 September 1943, they revolted and attempted to make contact with the French Resistance. According to Radio London, Villefranche de Rouergue thus become the first town in Western Europe to be liberated during the War. The Germans, unfortunately, quickly suppressed the revolt and sent most of the participants to concentration camps. One of the leaders of the uprising, Božo Jelenek, a Croat born in Kutina, received the Legion d'Honneur for his efforts. A monument to the revolt is located in the town and a street in the town (Avenue des Croates) honors the memory of these men.
Hungary. A large group of ethnic Croats live in southern and western Hungary (recent estimates range from 15,000 to 90,000). Holjevac generally states that ethnic Croats in Hungary fought with a resistance unit named after Sandor Petofi, but gives no further details.
Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. It is known that some Croatian Communists who lived in the USSR prior to World War II served in the Red Army during the War. Published literature also indicates that captured Croatian legionnaires who served under the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad either voluntarily or involuntarily were organized into a military force used by the Red Army. The details of Croats who fought with the Red Army remain sketchy and needs to be further explored.
United States of America. While the population of Croatians in the United States cannot be determined with accuracy, scholars have estimated that they totaled anywhere between 500,000 and 750,000 on the eve of World War II. The number of Croats in the US who served in American Armed Forces during the War is unknown. However, according to author Ivan Čizmić, the Croatian Fraternal Union (Hrvatska Bratska Zajednica) (CFU), the largest Croatian-American organization which boasted over 110,000 members in the late 1930s, had over 15,000 members who served in United States forces during the War, 308 of whom were killed. Čizmić notes that the CFU also provided much financial support to the War effort (Ivan Čizmić, Hrvati u životu Sjedinjenih Američkih Država (Croats in the Life of the United States of America), Zagreb: Globus, 1982).
Croatian Americans who served include Petar (Peter) Tomich (1893-1941), the posthumous recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest award bestowed on its service personnel. Born in Prolog, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tomich emigrated to the United States and entered the United States Navy in 1919. He became chief water tender on the Navy's training ship, the USS Utah, berthed at Pearl Harbor on the day of the Japanese attack. Tomich, while on duty in the ship's boiler room, made sure all other men in the area got out of the ship, losing his own life in the process. Because of the inability of the US government to initially find Tomich's closest relatives, the Medal of Honor could not be officially presented to his living relatives until a ceremony held on a US Navy vessel off the coast of Split, Croatia in 2006.
What Others Have Written About Croatian Anti-Fascist Activities. A number of English language sources provide eye-witness accounts about the scope and strength of the anti-fascist movement in Croatia.
The Italian Capitulation. Milovan Djilas, a member of the Central Committee of the CPY, visited Otočac, the headquarters of the Partisans in Croatia at the time, in 1943 after Italy's capitulation. He describes the effects of the capitulation in his work Wartime, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977, p. 330: "In Lika, in Otočac, everything was turned around. Our units had disarmed two Italian armies and liberated practically the entire coast. The booty in weapons, food and motorized vehicles exceeded all imagination, if not all hope. Croats from the Littoral, from the islands, from Istria were joining the Partisan army. Old units were being filled with fresh manpower, inexperienced but vigorous. New units were formed on the basis of experience and around a corps of experienced men."
Fitzroy Maclean, the head of the British military mission posted to the General Headquarters of Partisan forces in Yugoslavia in 1943, left headquarters toward the coast after the capitulation and noted his impressions in the hinterland of Brela, near the village of Zadvarje in his work Eastern Approaches, London: Jonathan Cape, 1949, pp. 360-61: "The village for which we were bound lay on some flat ground at the top of the next range of hills. There were, it appeared, Germans quartered in it. The house we were looking for was a farm on the outskirts of the village. The rest of us lay behind a hedge while one of the Partisans went and knocked on the door. . . . Finally, after much whispering, a tall, gaunt elderly man in a cloth cap emerged, with long drooping moustaches, and a rifle slung over his bent shoulders. He was, it seemed, the Partisans' chief contact-man in the village, where, under the nose of the Germans, he conducted his own miniature underground movement. . . . [H]e led a clandestine, surreptitious existence, full of nerve racking episodes such as this. . . . Here and there stood the remains of a peasant's cottage, its blackened stones an eloquent reminder of the results of Italian military government. Then, rounding a corner, we came upon a church and three or four houses round it, and a group of Partisans with tommy-guns standing in the roadway. We had reached Zadvarje our immediate destination."
Istria. Peter Wilkinson, a member of the SOE, discusses his trip from Slovenia back to Croatia, in early 1944 during which he passed through parts of western Istria, near the town of Umag, in his Foreign Fields: The Story of an SOE Operative, London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 1997, p. 175: "I wanted to form some idea of the Partisan organization in Istria which was of obvious strategic importance and not yet been reported on by a British officer. From Vodice we skirted Trieste and made our way across hilly country in the direction of Umago [Umag] at the north-western tip of the Istrian peninsula. The Trieste-Pola [Pula] railway, like the main roads, was only lightly patrolled and we crossed both without incident. Early on the morning of 23 February we arrived at Petrovija, a small village only about five miles from the sea. This was a mainly Slavic community and the village boys had organized themselves into a Partisan Odred [Unit]. That afternoon we were disturbed by the arrival of the Odred commander, a burly youth of about seventeen who had escaped from a convoy taking him to forced labour in Germany. He reported that he and his section had that morning ambushed a party of Germans on the Trieste-Pola [Pula] road and had taken prisoner four Mongols and a German. He had brought the latter with him to show us. This was the worst possible news for it meant that the Germans were almost certain to send out a retaliatory expedition during the next twenty-four hours and that all able-bodied villagers would be obliged to take to the hills. Even the old and sick who were left behind might be taken hostage and we could certainly not remain where we were. Meanwhile the young Maquisards insisted on my seeing their prisoner. He was a farmboy from Schleswig-Holstein aged about nineteen who stood there blindfolded. . . . I urged his captors to take him up to the main road and set him free. However, they were proud of their prisoner who was the first German they had captured and one of the escort assured me that he would shortly be posted to the Thirteenth Battalion.' This seemed to reassure the prisoner but I knew that this grisly euphemism meant that the Partisans would shoot him as soon as we left."
Partisan Government and Territory in Croatia. A number of sources describe the extent of the Partisan-controlled territory and government in Croatia. Milovan Djilas, a member of the Central Committee of the CPY, describes his impressions when he visited Otočac in 1943 in his work Wartime, p. 314: "Nowhere was a power structure as conspicuous and as real as on this liberated territory. It was evident not only in the better dress and food of the staffs and agencies, but also in the official bureaucratic mode of operation. ZAVNOH . . . was headed by my former prison mate Pavle Gregorić, a long-time Communist; it had every appearance of an assembly and a government, though Gregorić was as accommodating and as informal as one could wish. All kinds of schools were operating; agencies exchanged reports and circulars."
Franklin Lindsay, a member of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, made similar observations. After spending some time in Slovenia, he went to Topusko, Croatia in 1944 where ZAVNOH then had its headquarters: "Unlike in Stajerska [Slovenia], in Croatia the Partisans held very large areas of liberated territory. Here the revolutionary political organization was significantly more advanced. The forces were larger and better armed, and I now had the opportunity to see for myself the next step in the progress of Partisan political and military organization." Franklin Lindsay, Beacons in the Night: With the OSS and Tito's Partisans in Wartime Yugoslavia, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993, p. 219. Elsewhere, Lindsay notes that "Life in Topusko was positively luxurious compared to Stajerska. The Croatian Partisan headquarters remained there for the nearly two months of my stay. Topusko had been a spa of sorts and the hot mineral baths were still working. . . . Food was plentiful, though it was mostly bread, meat and potatoes." (p. 231).
Support from the Catholic Church. Fitzroy Maclean describes the support the Catholic clergy gave to the Partisans when he visited Korčula after Italy's capitulation in later 1943: "Answering some questions and avoiding others, we made our way, followed by an excited, gesticulating crowd which increased in size as we went along, through the winding streets of the town to the old Venetian palace which housed the new rulers. Over the doorway the Lion of St. Mark's stood headless, decapitated by some over-zealous Partisan, anxious evidently to celebrate the end of Mussolini's rule by destroying the symbol of an earlier period of Italian domination. We went in, through a magnificent colonnade and up a fine Renaissance staircase, and we entered to find ourselves face to face with a Franciscan friar, who rose to greet us with the clenched fist salute. He was, he said, the Chairman of the Odbor, the local Soviet. . . . Other isolated incidents remain ineradicably impressed on my memory. I remember being pelted with flowers by nuns. . . . [H]ere the priests in most of the villages on Korčula seemed to be leading lights in the Partisan Movement." (pp. 367-70).
Communist Suppression of Other Anti-Fascist Forces. Franklin Lindsay describes in his memoirs how the Communist Party worked to end the influence of the HSS as the War drew to a close: "OSS was increasingly interested in political developments in Croatia. The Partisan political organization in Croatia was well established. The steps by which the Partisan movement was becoming the de facto government of Croatia and all of Yugoslavia were carefully planned. A part of their strategy was to get rid of all remaining elements of prewar political parties that might contest their drive to total power. . . . Because [Maček] was held in such high respect among Croats, Maček was potentially a major obstacle to the consolidation of Partisan power in Croatia. . . . A violent smear campaign against Maček and other Peasant Party leaders as German collaborators, was in full cry when I arrived in Croatia. . . . After hearing the anti-Maček propaganda for several days, I asked Vladimir Bakarić what actual evidence they had on him. His response was that the only thing they had against Maček was that he had not openly supported the Partisans. There was no evidence of collaboration with the Germans or Pavelić." (pp. 232-34).
Monuments and Other Sources of Victims. The primary and most easily available source of Croatians killed by Nazi and Fascist forces are the many monuments which were raised to their memory throughout Croatia.
In the early part of the present decade, I became intrigued by these monuments. Partly, my interest stemmed from the many news reports in Croatia's media which discussed the vandalism to which the monuments became subjected to. Croatia's Association of Anti-Fascist Veterans (Savez antifašističkih boraca i antifašista Republike Hrvatske or SAB), a newly formed entity which took the place of the old Alliance of United Veterans of the National Liberation War (Savez udruženja boraca Narodno-oslobodilačkog rata) (SUBNOR) to represent the interests of Croatia's Partisan Veterans, especially became active in bringing this issue to the attention of the press. Certainly such vandalism has occurred; however, it is important to note that some members of the SAB included under the rubric of "vandalism" restorations of some of the monuments to encompass Croatian victims of all Wars, or which removed the Communist red star and/or added Christian or national symbols.
The vandalism to which these monuments were subjected to had political motivations. This appears to be especially the case in areas which were subject to Serbian occupation in the 1991-95 period. Outside of these areas, vandalism was concentrated in certain areas while in others the monuments have been restored.
I determined to try to photograph as many of these monuments as possible. Given that many of them provide information on victims, these photographs form a large part of the basis for the information found below.
The monuments themselves take many forms. Generally, they can be found in town squares, quite often next to the local parish church, in front of schools and at crossroads. Most are simple square walls on which are mounted marble plaques where names are listed. Local cemeteries also have monuments and, in some cases, "Partisan cemeteries" where the remains of those killed have been buried.
In addition to general monuments, there are other monuments which mark the sites of specific events, battles or executions.
A number of publications also list victims killed during the War. The publications cover specific localities and, unfortunately, there are many localities which have not been covered by similar published works.
Given the above, the lists provided in this work are necessarily limited by the scope of the author's travels in Croatia and his access to relevant published works. While the lists are not complete, they will hopefully mark a start toward preparing a comprehensive lists for all victims from Croatia killed during World War II.
Errors. It should be noted that one comes across mistakes or contradictions in the spelling of names and dates when comparing certain monuments and published books.
One should further note that a number of victims died after the end of general hostilities in May 1945. These people generally died from wounds or other trauma suffered during the War, though one cannot exclude the possibility that they were killed in the efforts to stamp out guerilla resistance by small bands of Chetniks and Ustashe in back country regions of Croatia.
The Categorization of Victims. Communist authorities distinguished between "Fallen Partisans" (Pali borci) and "Victims of Fascist Terror" (Žrtve fašističkog terora). While clearly those killed in battle were classified as fallen Partisans, sometimes the label included those executed by the Nazis and Fascists who served as underground workers or in the NOO. These decisions seem to have been made on an ad hoc basis, and could be tied to the fact that the determinations were made by local commissions. Their decisions could have been influenced by Communist Party membership of the victim or familial ties. As can be seen below, in some cases, earlier decisions were reversed. Presumably, the families of those who received the classification of Pali borci obtained greater financial benefits than those who were Victims of Fascist Terror.
In addition, from time to time one also comes across the designation "Victims of War" (Žrtve rata). The designation is not common and generally refers to those killed as an accident of war (e.g., due to bombings, stepping on mines, etc.). Sometimes, such Victims are included as Victims of Fascist Terror and sometimes they are not.
What are "People's Heroes"? Some of the monuments and "official" histories from the Communist period use the term Narodni Heroj or "People's Hero" in describing certain people killed during the War. The first award of the title People's Hero to a Partisan killed during the War occurred in 1942. An order issued by Tito as the Chief Commander of the National Liberation Army and Partisan Forces of Yugoslavia (NOV and POJ) on 15 August 1943 formalized the award, stating that it is to be provided to a person who has "demonstrated heroic works on the field of battle and a heroic stance in the face of the enemy." It became one of the most important titles bestowed during Communist Yugoslavia. A total of 1,312 People's Heroes were proclaimed by Communist authorities, including a number of foreigners. The title seems to have been only given to members of the Communist Party and, quite often, was limited to those killed during the War.
A total of 282 people from Croatia (almost 22% of the total) received the designation People's Hero, the largest number from any Republic in the former Yugoslavia.
Ethnic Composition of the List. The goal of this study is to set forth the names and certain other available identifying data of ethnic Croats killed during World War II. Of course, not all the names listed are those of ethnic Croats. However, the list for the most part will be limited to towns and villages where ethnic Croats predominated or were the exclusive ethnic group. It should be noted that the lists from more ethnically diverse larger towns and cities contain a number of non-ethnic Croats.
Duplicate Names. Some names and information in the text will be duplicated. Usually, a person will be listed under the locality from which he originated or lived. In some cases, the same person may appear in another monument or list based on where or the method by which he or she died (e.g., those killed in camps or executed).
Monuments to Victims of Communism. Since 1990, the extent of crimes committed by Communists during and after World War II has no longer been a taboo within Croatia. As a result, a number of monuments have appeared to honor those victims. To date, such monuments are not extensive. A number have been placed in various parish and other churches to honor local priests. The author has included such monuments in the text, though the available information included for such victims remains far from complete.
Division of Text. The text is divided by separate Counties or Županija in Croatia. Within each County, specific localities are listed in alphabetical order.
Abbreviations Used in the Text.
KPH Communist Party of Croatia (Komunistička partija Hrvatske)
NDH Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska)
NOVH National Liberation Army of Croatia (Narodnooslobodilačka Vojska Hrvatska)
NOVJ National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (Narodnooslobodilačka Vojska Jugoslavija)
SKOJ Alliance of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (Savez komunističke omladine Jugoslavije)
ZAVNOH Territorial Antifascist Council for the National Liberation of Croatia (Zemaljsko antifašističko vijeće narodnogoslobođenja Hrvatske)
Formated for CROWN by Nenad Bach
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