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.
Formated for CROWN by Nenad Bach
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