The ChurchinHistory Information Centre
CROATIA 1941 - 1946
4). The Old Catholics
In 1923/4 some ex-Catholic priests, having problems with celibacy, formed the 'Yugoslav National Church', which conducted wedding ceremonies for divorced Catholics. They affiliated themselves to 'The Old Catholics of Utrecht' and in 1931 had 6,000 members ((CF 409 and BK 139-140)). The Yugoslav government gave them more financial support, in proportion to their numbers, than that received by the Catholic Church ((CF 268)).
In February 1942 Mirko Puk, Minister of Justice and Religion, announced the abolition of this church. He asserted that it had been recognised by the Yugoslav government because it created religious and national division within Croatia ((SAB 84-5)). The bishops were no doubt pleased that Yugoslav subsidies to these former priests had ceased. But there is no evidence that the bishops supported any persecution. A hint to this effect in the so-called "Stepinac Diary" is not reliable (See propaganda section).
5. The Gypsies
The claim that 28,000 Gypsies were slaughtered in the NDH as part of a 'Holy War' against non-Catholics ((DK 112, 183)) must be due to the writer having been misled by Chetnik/Communist propaganda.
About 27,000 were killed in the whole of Yugoslavia ((SSJ 68: 43)). In the 1931 census 16,000 Gypsies inhabited the areas that became the NDH ((BK 137-141)). There would have been a natural increase to 17,000 by 1941. Movements into Italy in 1940 and 1941 ((DK 108-110)) would have offset arrivals from Austria after 1938. Only 1,000 declared themselves as Gypsies in the 1948 census, but many had emigrated during the two years before the census was taken ((DK 110)). The Germans also targeted part-Gypsies, such as those with three Gypsy grandparents. ((DK 115)). So the number of deaths in the NDH would have been about 16,000 (as listed in Chapter II).
There was nothing anti-Gypsy in Ustasha principles, providing an individual was not loyal to Serbia. The NDH government unsuccessfully tried to obtain the release of at least one Croatian Gypsy family from Auschwitz ((DK 155)). Those living in the Italian zone were left in peace. The reason for the killings was not religious, but the European-wide Nazi racial programme, which judged Gypsies as sub-human. The Germans also killed the Gypsies in Serbia. When the gas-vans were returned to Germany in June 1942 from the Zemun camp ((RH 442)), the German commander boasted that he had: 'Solved the Gypsy problem in Serbia' ((DK 119)). A few Ustasha thugs helped the Nazis, but it would be naive to ascribe all Gypsy deaths to the Germans and their aids. Pogledala, the most vibrant Moslem Gypsy village in Bosnia, was completely destroyed by the Serbs, with survivors fleeing to the North-West ((NM 118)).
The Gypsies tended to adopt the religion of those amongst whom they lived ((DK 21-2)). Most of those living in Bosnia were Moslem or Serbian Orthodox ((NM 116-7)). But in the whole of the future area of the NDH, the 1931 census recorded the Gypsies as being 60% Catholic, 32% Orthodox and 8% Moslem ((BK 137-141)).
Many of the Orthodox would have joined the Serbian exodus to Serbia in 1941, while arrivals from Austria would have increased the number of Catholics. So 70-80% of those killed in the NDH would have been Catholics. How can the killing of a mainly Catholic Community be logically described as a: ‘Holy war against non-Catholics’?
The repeated calls by the Church for the human rights of everyone to be respected included the Gypsies.
The Gypsies were obviously included in the vow the Pope called Humanity to take at Christmas 1942 (See Papal Silence section). Stepinac specifically referred to them in his sermon of 25th October 1943:
During a sermon on the 31st October 1943, he defended them under the name of 'Bohemians' and added:
6). The Moslems
The NDH did not, as is often asserted, establish itself as a Catholic state. The government proclaimed the new Croatia as a state of two faiths - Catholic and Moslem ((FS 175)). The government converted a large circular art gallery in Zagreb into a mosque ((FM 168)). Dzafer Kulenovic, a non-Ustasha Moslem, was Vice-President from November 1941 till the end of the war ((NM 185-6)). Many Moslem administrators were appointed and some became members of the Ustasha. The Commissioner for Bosnia was a Moslem ((NM 186)).
The Ex-Grand Mufti of Jerusalem visited Bosnia to give his blessing to the Moslem Handjar (Sword) division ((EJ 16: 877)). This was trained to fight in Russia, but returned to maintain order in Bosnia ((NM 190-1)). Despite this Moslem involvement, they held little real power. The twenty-two generals including the Minister of the Armed Forces, the Chief of Staff and the Commanders of the airforce, navy and military regions, together with their deputies were all non-Moslems ((SSJ 6: 7)).
The Moslems were not enthusiastic supporters of the NDH but, following the Serb uprising of June 1941 when over a thousand Moslems were massacred in two villages, much of the fighting in Bosnia was between Moslem and Serb ((NM 176)). The Serbs and Communists destroyed or badly damaged 756 mosques ((NM 196)). As with the Croats and Serbs, a small violent element took the opportunity for revenge, cruelty and pillage. And, like the Catholic bishops, the Moslem religious leaders condemned atrocities committed by members from their own community ((MO 39)).
7). The Military Vicarate
It has been said that Stepinac, as; "Supreme Apostolic Vicar of the army", was ultimately responsible for all crimes committed by Ustasha army chaplains.
A few facts are required. In December 1939, Pope Plus XII entrusted Stepinac with the function, although without formal title, of Military Vicar of chaplains in the Yugoslav army ((SAB 86)). He made this known in November 1940 ((RP 412)). In July 1941 the Domobran (NDH conscripted army) was formed. It asked for volunteer chaplains sympathetic to Ustasha ideals ((RP 185)), but by September few suitable ones had been found ((SAB 86)).
It is normal for the bishops to decide which of their priests would be suitable for chaplaincy work. But on 18th September the army sent a curt letter to Stepinac informing him of a meeting where he would be told what was required. It was clear that the government intended to select, appoint and control the chaplains ((SAB 86, RP 412-3)). In October, Pavelic at a public meeting in St. Mark's Square, without consulting the bishops: "announced that he had appointed Fr. Stripe Vucetic as Military Vicar and Fr. Vilim Cecelja as his deputy ((SAB 157)). Both had joined the Ustasha pre-war but were good men. Cecelja was well known for helping the poor and defending Serbs and Jews ((SL 24)).
In most countries the senior chaplain is a bishop, so the army demanded that Vucetic be consecrated ((RP 359)). Stepinac must have consulted the Holy See regarding this developing situation because a month later the Pope appointed Stepinac as Military Vicar ((SAB 157)). There were now two Military Vicars - one appointed by Pavelic and the other by the Pope.
Here was a struggle as to whether Church or State had the right to choose the army chaplains and their bishop. The twists and turns of this struggle have not been fully researched, but in early 1942 Pavelic gave way without losing face. He 'appointed' Stepinac in place of Vucetic ((SAB 86)).
As Stepinac had little time to devote to this work, he appointed Cecelja, to act as Military Vicar on his behalf, and Vucetic to assist him ((RP 131, 368-9)).
Stepinac didn't: "attend all the big Ustasha parades" as has been asserted. He went on rare occasions when he needed an opportunity to intercede for Jews, Serbs or Communists ((SL 24)). His attendance didn't make him an Ustasha. His attendance at a Partisan parade at the end of the war didn't make him a Communist and therefore guilty of Tito's crimes.
In all countries an army prayer book will include prayers for God's blessing on the country and its leaders, praying that they will rule justly and with compassion. The Croatian army's prayerbook was not a sign of the Church praying for all the government's political aims or blessing its sins.
Most 'forced conversions' and atrocities occurred in the spring and summer of 1941. Stepinac was not appointed as Military Vicar by the Pope till November ((RP 412)), and was unable to function until early 1942 ((SAB 86)). Even then the army provided little information as to who were acting as chaplains, where they came from, where sent and what problems they had. Other bishops or Provincials could have agreed to a priest acting as a chaplain in a part of Croatia out of touch with Zagreb. So Stepinac didn't exercise his function except to discipline any priest who he came to know had been involved in unworthy activities ((SAB 87, RP 237-8)). It was his position as Military Vicar that enabled him to suspend a few Franciscan priests and those from other dioceses, who would normally not have been under his jurisdiction.
Stepinac was Military Vicar of the chaplains with the conscripted Domobran, but not of chaplains in the Ustasha units ((MB 83, SL 24)). It is also relevant to note that when the NDH forces were at their peak in September 1943, two thirds were under German command ((JT 107)).
The Archbishop was accused of having taken part in the departure ceremonies of Croatian vessels heading for the Black Sea to fight the Russians, but he never attended such affairs ((RP 106-7)). The Communists implied that there was something sinister in the Archbishop sending gifts to the 'Ustasha Legion' in Russia. But most of these men were not Ustasha. Attracted by double pay and rapid promotion, 8,000 were recruited ((MTA 153)). There was nothing shameful in Stepinac sending them gifts of cigarettes, rosaries and religious pictures ((RP 107)).
8). The Sabor
It has been asserted that Archbishop Stepinac, bishop Aksamovic and nine priests had seats in the Ustasha Sabor. So what are the facts?
On 24th January 1942 a decree was issued establishing a Sabor (Council of State), similar to an old Croatian institution. Its members were to be the Croat delegates elected to the 1918 and 1938 parliaments, some Croat Peasant Party leaders, appointees of the Party of Rights and the Ustasha, and representatives of the German minority ((RL 608)). Amongst those appointed were eleven Moslems ((NM 185)) and nine Ustasha priests ((EP 167)).
The Church was not given the right to nominate anyone. The Archbishop of Zagreb had had a seat in the traditional Croatian Sabor, but he was not offered one in this Sabor ((SL 17)). In a circular of 4th February 1942, Stepinac informed his priests that the ban on taking part in politics was still in force ((SL 3)). On 8th February, he confirmed this policy to Pavelic in a letter.
A priest who accepted a seat in the Sabor knew that by doing so he became suspended from the priesthood. Stepinac never softened this policy. On 24th September 1943 in a confidential circular to his clergy, he quoted St. Paul in 2 Tim. 2: 4, "No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits". ((SL 3)).
Photographs of Stepinac and the Nuncio in the Sabor do not always make it clear that they were sitting in the visitors' galleries. It was important that they heard certain debates, so they could plan their responses.
Although the Ustasha, and behind them the Germans, still held overall control, the Sabor did enable a wider spectrum of opinion to influence government policy. It assisted the trend to neutralise the fanatics, but was far from being representative of the whole Croatian people.
It was proposed to hold a religious service in St. Mark's church when the Sabor opened. This would have been normal on such an occasion, but Stepinac was not happy ((RP 209)). He wished to be involved in this historic event in Croatian life and hoped that the Sabor would help towards moderation.
But his realisation that his presence at the service could appear to give the present rulers more legitimacy, made him hesitate. Eventually he did agree to take part ((RP 209)). In a short welcome to Pavelic and the delegates at the church door, he said that it was not his purpose to give political advice but to:
Parts of this echoed point 11 of the bishop's statement of the previous November about equality for the Orthodox under the law.
Pavelic realised that these words implied that the laws up till that time had been unjust, irresponsible and not based on the Gospels. He didn't consider the administration needed assistance to become more just. As he left, Pavelic was overheard remarking to a colleague:
Stepinac had welcomed Prince Paul, at that same door, two years previously ((SL 17)), and was later present at the opening of the Partisan's parliament and their theatre ((SAB 152)). He accepted the government, whether Royalist, Communist or Ustasha, which was de-facto in power.
The Ustasha reformulated its objectives during August 1942. Not one of the ten new objectives mentioned religion ((RL 611-2)).
9). Stepinac and the political options
The three political forces in which the Croats were involved had a mixture of positive and negative aspects. The Serb dominated government in London promised to establish a Royal democracy with free elections. But it had decided to end Croatian autonomy, after the war ((VM 226)).
The Partisans promised autonomy, but its leaders were Communists, so likely to impose a marxist anti-religious dictatorship. The Ustasha wanted an independent Croatia, but were influenced by extreme nationalism and depended on Nazi paganism wining the war.
So people of good will not only opposed one another, but found themselves associating with unatractive colleagues. The Church saw the need to be above these political rivalries and to encourage the best elements in each movement. As the Ustasha was the de-facto government, the bishops had the most visible contacts with its administrators, but this did not mean that they excluded contacts with the other two forces.
Lt. Stanislov Rapotec, representing the government in London, landed from a British submarine in April 1942 to gather information. As a former student in Zagreb, he had many contacts in Croatia. Rapotec found the Serbs and Jews full of praise for the archbishop. They wanted the British radio to stop attacking him ((SAB 94, 101)). Rapotec was secretly introduced to Stepinac by an underground group of Jews and Serbs. The archbishop was relieved that he had come and met him four more times during the next two months ((SAB 92)).
Stepinac said that the desire for Croatian independence was waning. He believed in a post-war Yugoslavia as a federation of nations. He had not broken with the NDH and withdrawn to a monastery, as he would not have been able to help those who entirely depended on him ((AHO 17, SAB 93)). He immediately agreed to Rapotec's request that he transmit Yugoslav humanitarian funds from London sent via Switzerland, to the Belgrade Red Cross ((SAB 94)). He then used his Romanian and Bugarian diplomatic contacts to obtain passports for Rapotec to escape to Turkey ((SAB 93)).
Although the Communists controlled the Partisan leadership, its fighters were drawn from a wide section of society. The Partisans opposed the extreme nationalism of the Chetniks and Ustasha, and promised Croatian autonomy and religious freedom. In Croatia itself 60% of its membership had been baptised Catholic ((SSJ 59: 76)). Ten times more Croatian Catholics fought for the Partisans than were in the Ustasha ((CWR March 1992, 17)).
When the Ustasha discovered that one of Stepinac's priests, Fr. John Kokot, had been collaborating with the Partisans, Stepinac hid him in his own residence until he could get to Partisan territory. Stepinac allowed him and other Partisan priests, such as Victor Merz and Auguste Stanzer ((RP 132)), jurisdiction over Catholics in those territories, which were very extensive ((MTA 163)), where the Partisans were the de-facto administration ((SL 4-5)).
Mgr. Svetozar Rittig, parish priest of St. Mark's church prior to the war, was a keen supporter of the Yugoslav ideal. On Pavelic taking power, he moved to the Italian zone. In December 1942 he thanked Stepinac by letter for his very generous help for Polish refugees ((SL 4)). In 1943, Stepinac didn't prevent Rittig becoming a Partisan chaplain. He was not a Communist, but believed the Partisans were the only force able to heal Croat-Serb enmity ((SL 68)).
Eventually seventy-eight Catholic priests lived with the Partisans of whom 42 were killed ((RJW 62)). At the end of the war the government appointed Rittig as Secretary of the Religious Affairs Commission with Fr. Pallua as his deputy. Stepinac privately agreed to this ((SAB 116)).
On 23rd November 1943 Stepinac's brother was executed for aiding the Partisans. The family farm was destroyed because his mother supplied them with food. Stepinac sent copies of his sermons, via his estates manager, to enable the Partisans to broadcast extracts over their radios ((SAB 95)).
Stepinac was so impartial that in 1943 he said that he expected to be killed by the Ustasha or the Communists ((SAB 95)). On three occasions Pavelic demanded that the Holy See remove him ((RP 353)). In early 1946 Tito informed the Holy See's representative in Belgrade that he desired the Pope to replace Stepinac ((SAB 135)).
At his 'trial', Stepinac was accused of being an enemy of the peoples' authority. He pointed out that during the war there were four groups claiming to be the legal authority: that in London, the one in Cairo, the Partisans in the woods and the Ustasha in Zagreb. He was unable to give allegiance to them all. He accepted the Communist government from 8th May 1945, when they occupied Zagreb. Before that the Ustasha were in power ((RP 240)).
10). The 1945 collapse
During the last days of the NDH and the first days of Partisan rule, Stepinac was active trying to keep suffering and destruction to a minimum. But several of his acts have been used to try to discredit him. It was alleged that Pavelic, Stepinac, General Modkov and Macek plotted to preserve the NDH, call in foreign troops and ultimately restore the Ustasha ((RP 176-7)).
The facts are that, according to Croatian tradition, the Archbishop of Zagreb would act as Regent when there was a vacuum of political authority. But when Pavelic offered Stepinac the regency, he refused because it would now be a political position. Also he would not take anything from Pavelic ((RP 218)). But Stepinac feared the Germans and Ustasha would carry out their threat to defend Zagreb and massacre 40,000 of its anti-Ustasha citizens ((RP 218)).
Macek had been elected before the war as leader of the Croats. Having spent the war period in Jasenovac and under house arrest, he could not be accused of collaborating with the Germans and the Ustasha. He would be the natural leader of a Croatian Republic within a new federal Yugoslavia. So Edo Bulat and the NDH foreign minister, Alajbegovic urged Stepinac to ask Macek to assume leadership ((SAA 108)). General Moskov's offer to escort Stepinac through the guards was accepted. Although Moskov advised Macek to flee, Macek told Stepinac he would stay ((RP 218)). But the following day he heard that Dr. Kosutic, Vice-President of the Croatian Peasant Party, had been arrested.
This showed that the Partisans were not going to share power with non-Communists and have free elections. Macek therefore left Zagreb to cross into Austria on 7th May ((SAB 113)). The responsibility to save the city from destruction was now left to Stepinac.
On the 8th, Stepinac persuaded the Germans and Ustasha not to defend Zagreb nor destroy its electrical plants, bridges and civic buildings, which had been mined ((SAB 114)). In the afternoon the Partisans occupied the city unopposed. In April 1941 the Germans had been met by welcoming crowds ((RJW 52)), but now: 'the city was as quiet as the grave'. ((SAB 115)).
It was alleged that Stepinac hid secret Ustasha files in his palace ((SL 26)). But what happened was that Alajbegovic asked Stepinac to store historically important Foreign Office documents in his palace because government buildings might be bombed. The Archbishop agreed with the proviso that the Partisans would be notified. The documents were not secret because most had been published already ((SL 26)). The Partisans were notified and the archbishop was told to look after them until he received further instructions ((SL 26)). Stepinac was arrested on 17th May and not released till 3rd June. The following day he met Vladimir Bakaric, Partisan Prime Minister of Croatia and, during the conversation, raised the question of the documents. This was confirmed in a letter of the 6th. On the 13th the government instructed Stepinac where to send them ((RP 413-5)).
It was asserted that an Ustasha leader, whilst plotting with Stepinac to overthrow the government, had slept at the archbishop's palace in September 1945 ((RP 55)). What occurred was that Eric Lisak, former police chief, returned from Austria. Using a false name, he obtained an appointment with Stepinac. The archbishop recognized him, but listened to what he had to say for 20-30 minutes. Stepinac spoke twice.
He asked what had become of the children of the refugees and of Fr. Tiso of Slovakia ((RP 119-220)). Lisak said that he was not planning terrorist actions. Stepinac instructed Salic to refuse to admit him again. The following day he was turned away but eventually spoke to Masucci, the secretary of Macone ((RP 220)), who had diplomatic immunity. It was very late when they finished talking and, as Lisak didn't have a key to his lodgings, Salic reluctantly provided him with a bed ((SAB 138-140)). There was little justice for opponents under Tito. So when individuals came for humanitarian assistance, advice or to provide an opinion, the clergy would not deliver them to the police.
The same policy had been followed during Ustasha rule. Dr. Lorkovic, a government minister, and Ante Vakic, an army general were executed for trying to contact the Allies as part of a plan to overthrow Pavelic. The mother of their young English-speaking helper, asked Stepinac to protect her son. Stepinac agreed and the boy was hidden in the palace ((SL 25)).
Stepinac couldn't see everyone who knocked on the door of the palace. He relied on his experienced secretary to know how to deal with suspicious individuals. Many people were helped without the archbishop knowing ((SL 27)). When his secretary, Fr. Lackovic, visited Rome in 1945, the Communists would not permit him to return ((SAB 140)). So the less experienced Fr. Salic had to make very difficult and quick judgements as to when to provide humanitarian help when it may provide unintentional aid to a political faction.
During his 'trial', Stepinac was accused of receiving letters from secret Ustasha members ((RP 221)). But receipt of a letter doesn't mean a person wishes to receive it or agrees with its contents. Just after the war, Canon Boric found a secondary school student, exhausted and semi-conscious in Zagreb Cathedral. He provided shelter over night. It was later discovered that the boy had shot a Partisan captain. For his act of kindness, Boric was sentenced to five years in prison ((SAA 79)).
11). Archbishop Stepinac's Trial
Nine days after the Communists occupied Zagreb, Stepinac was arrested. On 2nd June, Vladimir Bakaric (Partisan Prime Minister of Croatia), Fr. Rittig (Minister of Religion) and Tito met the two auxiliary bishops, the Vicar General and three Canons. The churchmen refused to negotiate without Stepinac, so he was released the following day. Tito invited him to a private meeting on the 4th. Stepinac insisted that the Church must have freedom to teach, to publish and to administer schools.
He also suggested 'as a man not as a bishop' that Tito broaden his government by incorporating Croatian Peasant Party members and honest Ustasha. Two senior Partisan legal officials, Hrncevic and Rankovic, were waiting in an outer office and, immediately after Stepinac left, went in to see Tito. Although Tito had not yet decided to hold a trial, he instructed them to prepare for one so that they would be ready if required. ((SAB 142)).
For several months the Archbishop was treated with honour as one of the victors of the war. In September 1945 pictures were published in the Yugoslav press of three Orthodox bishops, Archbishop Stepinac, his auxiliary bishop Josip Lach, the Soviet Military Attaches and the Croatian Communist leaders. They were guests of honour at a Zagreb parade to celebrate the establishment of a: 'Peoples Government' ((AHO 37-8)).
See following page for a sample of these pictures.
Within a few days of this parade, an intense government propaganda campaign through radio, meetings and the press, was launched against the Church. Priests and bishops were attacked physically when visiting parishes. The honoured patriotic prelates had suddenly become traitorous Ustasha plotters guilty of crimes stretching over four years. The reason for this sudden about face and vilification of the Archbishop, was the Pastoral Letter issued by the bishops on 20th September. In it they said they were willing to work with the state for the good of the people, but at the same time condemned the anti-religious acts that had taken place ((SL 26-7: SAA 40)).
In November 1945, Fr. Ivan Salic (Stepinac’s new secretary), Fr. Martincic (Franciscan Provincial), Fr. Margetic and some minor politicians were brought to Court. Salic admitted allowing a catechist to bless an Ustasha flag in a small chapel ((SAB 140)). Margetic had permitted some money to be buried inside a church ((SAA 100)). In neither case was Stepinac implicated. After nine months of interrogation, they also agreed that their attitude had been influenced by Stepinac’s sermons.
This was a vague agreement. Everyone who had heard Stepinac over the years, friend and foe, could agree that they had learnt something from the archbishop’s words and so had been influenced by them. The Prosecution claimed that these acts pointed to Stepinac being at the centre of an Ustasha plot to overthrow the Communist government. The trial was suspended and Stepinac arrested on 18th September 1946.
GUESTS OF HONOUR: From left: Three dignitaries of the Orthodox Church; the Partisan General commanding in Zagreb; the Secretary to the Apostolic Visitor: Auxiliary Bishop Dr. Lach; Archbishop Stepinac; Dr. Bakaritch, Communist “People’s Premier” of Croatia; the Soviet Military Attache and the Croat Minister of the Interior, Dr. Hebra.
The trial recommenced on 28th September with Stepinac included amongst those charged. The auxiliary bishops appointed Ivo Politeo and Dr. Andrus as defence councils, but the state replaced Andrus with Matko Katicic ((AHO 47)). The prosecution had had fifteen months of open access to captured government and church documents in which to prepare its case. Politeo was restricted to a one-hour visit to his client and one week in which to collect evidence for the defence.
During this short period, Salis was subjected to two long police interrogations, and Canon Slamic was imprisoned for two days. Salis and Slamic knew the diocesan achives well, so their absence greatly hampered Politeo's researches ((SAB 144)). Fourteen defence witnesses were not permitted to appear ((SAA 112)), yet 58 witnesses for the prosecution were heard, even though most were from areas outside Stepinac's diocese ((SAB 153)).
The Court refused to accept documents produced in Stepinac's defence ((SAB 174)). It was not permitted to read in Court a letter from from Fr. Rittig, the new Partisan Minister of Religion ((SAB 169)). During the war, Milutin Radetic, Serbian head of the Zagreb University clinic, had been found passing medical aid to the Partisans. Stepinac had intervened to save his life and he now visited Blazevic to intercede for Stepinac. His evidence was ignored and he was then dismissed from his post ((SAB 175)).
It was said that Ustasha gold was hidden at the Cathedral with the Archbishop's knowledge. Allegedly, Glavas had provided the evidence for this. As he had been executed, he could not be questioned and challenged ((SL 12)). The official Yugoslav account (Sudjenje) omitted the speeches by the defence lawyers, the evidence of the few permitted defence witnesses and the attempts to question those of the prosecution ((SAA 95)).
Kvaternik, who had proclaimed the NDH, was brought as a prosecution witness, but said that both Pavelic and the Ustasha hated Stepinac ((RJW 57)). His statement was omitted from the transcript and was not reported in the press ((SAB 148)). The Prosecutor was seen to 'revise' notes taken by the stenographers ((SAB 148)). Some of the notes taken by spectators were confiscated. On 18th September one hundred and fifty priests of the Zagreb diocese risked arrest by issuing a statement in support of their archbishop ((SL 3)).
The trial was held under Communist laws which had not existed during the war ((AHO 50)). Many of his judges were professional lawyers and had taken an oath to Pavelic, something the archbishop had never done ((RP 239)).
On 11th October he was found guilty of co-operating with the Ustasha during and after the war, and sentenced to sixteen years imprisonment. In November 1946, Tito admitted that the trial had been prepared months in advance ((SAA 119)). This showed the hypocrisy of the claim that the trial of priests and Ustasha agents had exposed evidence which led to Stepinac's arrest. He was transferred to house detention in 1951 ((SAB 191)), made a Cardinal in 1952 and died in 1960.
Nearly forty years later Hrncevic, the official who had arranged the 'trial', stated. "The indictments were designed rather more for publicity than for legality". ((SAB 138)). The public prosecutor, Jakov Blazevic, admitted that if Stepinac had agreed to head an independent Catholic Church, he would not have been brought to Court ((SAB 147)).
Milovan Djilas, who at the time had been a member of the inner circle of the Communist leadership, wrote in 1983 that if Stepinac had not opposed Tito's regime, the trial would not have taken place ((MTA 180)). Any book that prints that Stepinac was found guilty of war crimes, without mentioning the nature of the trial, is providing a distorted view of history.
12). Papal Silence
Some authors produce evidence that the Pope knew of atrocities committed by the Ustasha. They then point to the absence of any specific condemnation, as something of which the Church should be ashamed.
These writers live in an unreal world. The Holy See received reports, rumours, distorted stories and lies from all over Europe. Every side wanted the Pope to endorse their accusations. But he refused to be drawn into these thousands of disputed allegations. Even if desirable, it would have been impossible for him to judge the guilt of individuals from second and third hand accounts concerning incidents in remote countries and far away villages. Even when the guilt of a particular incident may have seemed clear, there may have been a worse but hidden atrocity committed by the other side. To have condemned crimes committed by one side, while not doing the same regarding those of the other because its' were hidden, would have been irresponsible, unjust and a contravention of neutrality.
The Pope left the bishops free to take whatever actions they judged best to aid and protect victims in their countries. He encouraged them and their clergy to be brave but prudent also. Throughout the war the Pope issued firm but general condemnations of sins.
Both the guilty and the innocent, whether Nazis, Italians, Communists, Ustasha, Chetniks or Partisans, knew the committing of attrocities was wrong.
In his Christmas broadcast of 1941, the Pope said:
At Christmas 1942, he complained over the radio:
While he may have had Jews and Gypsies mainly in mind, his words would also have applied to Poles, Serbs and Russians. This papal utterance, like others, was prohibited from being published in the NDH ((AHO 18-19)). Six months later, in June 1943, the Pope issued 'Mystici Corporis Christi' (The Mystical Body of Christ). This Encyclical, while expressing the desire that all should become Catholic, included this passage:
The NDH was the only area where 'forced conversions' had been reported. The Pope was making Catholic teaching clear without becoming embroiled in the political sphere by naming any individual or group.
When discussing how Pavelic reached South America after the war, it is frequently asserted that the Pope thought highly of him. As evidence it is recounted that the Pope told the British Ambassador, Francis Osborn: "Pavelic was a much maligned man". While it is true that these words were used, they were not a judgement on Pavelic's 1941-45 period of rule. They were spoken on the 13th June 1941, soon after Pavelic had taken office. A fuller version of the ambassador's report to London reads:
Osborn was pressing the Pope to condemn Pavelic for his alleged involvement in this 1934 murder. This would have greatly assisted Allied propaganda. Osborn asked London for proof of Pavelic's involvement. But his superior admitted that Pavelic had not committed the assassination. He claimed that there was an extremely strong presumption of Pavelic being an accomplice and instigator, but added: "I am afraid we have no evidence here which is likely to be circumstantial enough to convince the Pope that Pavelic is to all intents and purposes a murderer, . . .". ((FO 371/30219/R7327/162/92)).
Andrya Artukovic, also suspected of involvement in the assassination, had been arrested in Britain and extradited to France. The French Courts lacked firm evidence against him. So when Yugoslavia asked for his extradition, they agreed on condition he was not tried for terrorist activities ((IO 17)). This French attitude indicated that the evidence as to who was responsible was not clear. The assassin was a Macedonian and the 'League of Nations' indited Hungary as the main author of the plot ((SCA 4)). When Stepinac asked Pavelic directly whether he had been involved, he replied that his conscience was absolutely clear and that the French had been unsuccessful in trying to implicate him ((SAB 64)).
It is now accepted that Pavelic did plan the assassination of the royal dictator, and that Artukovic was in Britain to make a further attempt if that in France failed ((IO 17)). But in June 1941 neither the Pope nor Britain had the evidence required to prove that Pavelic was guilty.
13). The Crusaders (Krizari)
Claims have been made that leading members of the Catholic 'Crusader' youth movement were supporters of Ustasha crimes. Clarification is therefore required.
Following the First World War, the Communists built a small dedicated movement of youth amongst the students. The secular 'Sokol' youth movement also expanded. As the Sokols promoted Yugoslavism, it was accused of Serbianising Croatian youth ((RJW 41)). During king Alexander's dictatorship it enjoyed a state monopoly of youth work ((SSJ 14:29)).
There were two Catholic groups, the Domagoj for students, and the Crusaders (Krizari) for non-students. Although founded by priests and lay Catholics, not all their members were religious. Many had been attracted by the provision of social, intellectual and sporting activities. An indication of this was seen when Stepinac found it neccessary to rule that at least five minutes of each meeting should be devoted to religious instruction or prayer ((SAB 40)). At the age of thirty, members could transfer to the adult 'seniors' ((RJW 41)).
The lack of interest in Croatian culture shown by the Communists and Sokols alienated those who were proud of being Croatian. These youths joined the Catholic organisations and thereby gave them a Croatian nationalist flavour as well as a religious orientation ((SAB 43)).
In the late 1930s many young Croats were impatient with the failure of the Croatian Peasant Party to gain concessions from the Serbs. The Frankists were illegal but, by volunteering to assist in youth work, they were able to use the Crusaders as a cover for encouraging Croatian nationalism. A senior leader telling stories of Frankists or other nationalist heroes, around a camp fire,could be very influential.
A struggle developed between the extreme nationalist elements amongst the 'seniors' and the bishops ((EP 65-66, SAB 44-45)). At Christmas 1934, the bishops established 'Catholic Action', an organisation under their tight control ((RJW 44)). They also attempted to bring the Domagoj and Crusaders under firmer religious leadership. In 1936 Stepinac was concerned at Communist and Nazi ideas influencing young Catholics ((RJW 48)). In 1937 the bishops were worried at Frankist influence, so closed down the 'senior' Krizari groups. But the Frankists, as individuals, continued to exert influence ((VM 180, CF 272)).
The Frankists often met under fictitious names, such as: "Mary's Congregation", in the homes of Crusaders ((EP 66)). In 1938 there was another attempt by the bishops to gain firm control of the Crusaders ((RJW 48)). During this same period of 1937-41, the Communists were infiltrating the Sokols with varying degrees of success ((SSJ 14: 28-45)).
When the Ustasha achieved power, Frankists sent messages of praise to Pavelic in the name of some Crusader branches ((EP 66)). It is these messages which anti-Catholic books print so as to imply that all the Crusaders and the bishops were keen Frankist supporters of Pavelic.
At a later date, several organisers (Frankist and non-Frankist) in the Crusaders were offered posts in the NDH Civil Service. As an inducement, their years
of full-time paid employment in the Youth Services were treated as credits
towards their pension ((CF 272)). This didn't mean that all who joined the Civil Service were Ustasha, or that all Civil Servants condoned crimes. Soon after the German invasion,
Stepinac arranged a meeting with teachers of religion to plan how to resist the penetration of nazi and fascist
ideas ((SL 4)). The Crusader magazine was banned several times by the NDH government
The national leaders of the Crusaders were loyal to the Church, yet this does not prevent anti-Catholics making accusations against them. The pre-war President, Ivan Protulipac, was always anti-Nazi ((SL 10)). Felix Niedzielski succeeded him ((RP 116)), but in 1941 gave up this position with the Crusaders and took an appointment in Bosnian local government ((SL 11 and 15)). It appears that he joined the Ustasha two and a half years later but did not become a fanatical thug. He was always ready to protect the persecuted. When captured by the Partisans, 850 Serbian Orthodox families appealed on his behalf, but the Communists still executed him ((RP 116)). Leo Znidarcic, an exemplary Catholic and anti-Nazi ((SL 10)), had replaced Niedzielski as President of the Crusaders. The Ustasha suspected him of being a spy for the Partisans, and Stepinac had to intervene several times on his behalf ((SL 12)).
The assertion that Fr. Grega Peinoviv, the Crusader Director, was made president of the Ustasha propaganda office ((AM 59)) is untrue ((SL 15)). The accusation that the Crusaders were a 'Criminal Organization' was pure invective. Canon Milan Beluhan was well known as a saintly friend of the poor workers, so even the Communists dared not charge him with any crime. But as the foremost Spiritual Assistant of the Crusaders he should logically have been accused of being the 'Chief Criminal' of a 'Criminal Organisation' ((RP 116-7)).
The Catholic Action organisation was composed of dedicated Catholics and under close Church control. On 7th December 1941 membership of it and the Ustasha was declared incompatable. ((RP 114)).
14). The Catholic Press
Some books provide quotations from publications with Catholic sounding names, such as 'Katolicki List'. These purport to show that pre-war they published articles praising fascist Slovakia, asserting that Catholics could be National Socialists, and later welcoming the Ustasha to power.
It is necessary to place the quotations into context. The early Communists had a vision of a world socialist revolution and government, but in several countries political parties developed which wished to combine socialist aims, such as a more just distribution of wealth, with national independence. Several called themselves 'National Socialists'. This didn't imply that they had the same beliefs as the 'National Socialists' (Nazis) of Germany. As an example: the large party of that name in Czechoslovakia was secular, liberal and democratic. So Benes and Masaryk, its leaders, were `National Socialists` who spent the war years in London fighting German 'National Socialists'.
Hitler's National Socialists had cured inflation, apathy, unemployment and social disorder. So a few Slovaks and Croats, including some Catholics, wondered whether they could develop a national socialism to achieve economic social reform whilst at the same time preserving human rights. It is absurd to suggest that such Catholics wished for a Nazi anti-Catholic pagan future.
Slovakia obtained autonomy in 1938 and became independent in 1939. It was not shameful that some Croats hoped that Croatia might follow a similar path. An account of how Slovakia became independent, and of its alleged fascism, is provided elsewhere on this web site.
The Archbishop of Zagreb appointed the editor of the weekly 'Katolicki List'. Its policies during the pre-war years were broadly in accord with its Catholic readers. In its pre-war editorials it regularly attacked both Nazism and Communism. In June 1934, following a bishop's Pastoral Letter condemning Nazism as: 'an extreme nationalist view . . . the worst of heresy . . . an apostacy from Christianity", it wrote: "Hitlerism is a very poisonous growth in the soil... where it is beginning to bear fruit". It also provided statistics of Hitler's victims ((SAB 53)).
In 1941 the editors of Catholic publications, like most Croats, welcomed independence and praised Pavelic for achieving it ((SL 17)). But this didn't mean that they supported Nazi paganism or the unchristian acts of Pavelic's government during the following years.
Within two days of achieving power, Pavelic closed the leading Catholic daily, 'Hrvatski Glas', and within two months two thirds of the Catholic periodicals had been closed down ((RP 112)). 'Katolicki List' was permitted to continue but, like other papers, was strictly censored. This not only involved words and phrases being suppressed, but words being added or changed. As an example, in May 1945 when the bishops issued their joint Pastoral Letter, they referred to 'Hrvatska' (Croatia), but the censors changed this to 'NDH' ((RP 216-7)). Katolicki List was constantly made to refer to Marcone as if he was the Pope's representative to the NDH ((EP 77-8)):
Catholic publications had the choice of submitting to censorship and distortion, or closing down ((SL 16)). The Church was determined to retain some publications so as to be able to influence thought. She relied on readers 'reading between the lines' when pieces were distorted. When there was a similarity of expression and phraseology in diverse publications, readers were alerted to these passages having been added by the censor ((RP 113)). Even so, the government twice suspended publication of Katolicki List ((RP 357)).
An item in Katolicki Tjednik of Sarajevo in June 1941 shows how little the smaller publications remained Catholic. It wrote that the killing of Serbs: "Does not concern our religious and Catholic conscience". ((EP 85)). On 29th June 1942 Stepinac openly challenged the censors from his Cathedral pulpit:
When in 1944 Stepinac preached against government atrocities, the whole Croatian press attacked him for: ‘meddling in politics’. Katolicki List joined in this attack ((AHO 50)), clearly showing who controlled it. So extracts taken from publications with Catholic names or under catholic auspices are completely unreliable for assessing the views of the bishops and loyal Catholics at that time.
15). Rebaptisms and Oaths
The word 'rebaptism' is misleading. Once a person is baptised he cannot be baptised again. It is possible that gangs of thugs poured water over terrified Serbs, so as to make them 'Croats'. If so, this would be sacrilegious play-acting and indicate a complete disregard for religion amongst the thugs involved.
There are different accounts of the setting in which the Ustasha oath was taken, and it probably varied. Stepinac's view was made clear in a letter to be communicated to all military chaplains in October 1943.
1). The Authors Manhatten and O'Brien
Knowledge of an author's background can often assist in deciding his reliability. So it is interesting to compare Avro Manhatten with Anthony O'Brien.
Manhatten was born in 1915 and hated religion from a young age ((RHA 317)). Although a close friend of Marie Stopes, the pioneer of contraception in England, she called him a 'murderer' when one of his girl friends had an abortion ((RHA 317)). During the war he was trained by the Allies in Political Warfare ((AM 114)), so became proficient in the production of deceptive propaganda. He spent the rest of his life using this skill in his warfare against the Catholic Church. As a friend of Communism, many of his falsehoods came from that source, but in 1976 he admitted to admiring the British racist 'National Front', Enoch Powell, the leading opponent of coloured migration into Britain and Ian Paisley of Northern Ireland ((RHA 317)).
Anthony H. O'Brien was a lawyer born in Austria of Irish parents. He commanded the auxiliary formation which quelled the Nazi Austrian rising of 1934. Later, when Hitler invaded Austria, O'Brien escaped to Czechoslovakia. But the Germans demanded his extradition, so he fled to Yugoslavia. He had been in correspondence with Stepinac for over four years. For the next two and a half years he had a weekly lunch with him ((AHO 3-9)). For two of these years he assisted relief work for Catholic Jewish refugees from Hitler ((AHO 10)). When the Germans invaded Yugoslavia he tried to leave, but was interned with 1,000 Jews in an Italian camp on the isle of Korchula ((AHO 12)). So O`Brien`s small book, 'Archbishop Stepinac' that witnesses to Stepinac's firm anti-Nazism, was authored by a dedicated anti-Nazi.
2). Propaganda Tricks
The statement issued by the bishops in November 1941 which clearly forbad forced conversions, presents a problem for anti-Catholic authors. It is therefore instructive to see how they have dealt with it.
On page 97 of his 1986 book, Manhatten mentions the statement and prints an extract from point 1. Following pages of pictures, he then prints on page 100 an extract from point 2. This stated the need for each missioner to gain authority from a Church authority. But the part forbidding a 'missioner' being appointed by the civil authorities is omitted. Manhatten then prints the first two sentences of point 11, with the following omitted: "All proceedings contrary to law in regard to Orthodox persons shall be strictly forbidden and they shall be penalized as other citizens through due process of law. And, most important, all private actions in destroying the churches and chapels of the Orthodox or the stealing of their property should be severely punished".
At the end of the shortened extract from point 11, a small number is given as if it is a reference to source material. Few may bother to look it up, but those who do so will come to pages 227 and 228. There the reader will see abreviated versions of points 3,4,5,6,9 and 10, which gave instructions of how priests should prepare people to join the Church. By breaking up the statement of the bishops in this confusing manner, many readers may not notice that points 7 and 8 have not been given at all. If they should notice this, they are likely to presume that they were of little importance. Yet point 8 is the most important of all. It reads: "Only those may be received into the Catholic Church who are converted without any constraint, completely free, led by an interior conviction of the truth of the Catholic faith, and have entirely fulfilled the ecclesiastical regulations".
It may be added that when introducing the bishop's statement, Manhatten provides a wrong date. This hinders a reader's ability to locate the full text. (See forced conversions section).
The anti-Catholic writer, Edmund Paris, in his 1961 book: 'Convert or Die', does list the points, but avoids the problem by writing that the bishops were being hypocritical ((EP 144)). In another book he omits mention of this key statement, yet finds room to print that Stepinac, Saric and nine members of the Sabor were Jesuits! ((EPA 144-5)). Such assertions would be laughable if not about a serious subject. While useful pieces of information may occasionally be found in his books, his writings are very unreliable.
Dr. Milan Bulajic's book, translated into English in 1994, exudes a blind hatred of Croats and Catholics. It omits the statement itself and merely quotes short extracts from Stepinac's covering letter to Pavellc ((MB 125)).
Another trick, amongst many, used by Manhatten appears in his 1986 book. He implies that Louis Adamic was the main Catholic defender of the Church's record. He writes that Adamic: 'was the Catholic spearhead . . . and that the ponderous Catholic machinery was set in motion to promote the Adamic line' ((AM 113)). When he disposed of Adamic's arguments, readers could fall into the trap of believing the Church's defence to be weak. But Adamic was not a Catholic spokesman. A Slovene born in 1890, he went to America in 1913 and visited Yugoslavia in 1932. In 1934 he published a book condemning the Serbian dictatorship and called on Eastern Europe to revolt and join the Soviet Union.
When Tito, backed by Communist intellectuals, emerged as head of the Partisans, Adamic wrote articles for the American Press urging Yugoslavia, and the Yugoslavs in America, to support Communism. At the end of 1944 he told a friend that the: ". . . well meaning liberals and particularly the Catholic clergy, had to be removed if not wiped out". He closed his mind to the persecution of the Churches and was highly praised by Tito while visiting Yugoslavia in 1949 ((SSJ 5: 15-30)). So, as the spokesman for Yugoslav Communism in America, Adamic was an enemy of the Church, not its 'spearhead'. Manhatten used this ruse to distract attention from the fact that he didn't mention the real defenders of the Church and the evidence they presented.
Pictures are available of Catholic bishops, priests and nuns associating with Ustasha leaders and Croatian troops. In anti-Catholic books, captions are added presenting them as evidence of Catholic friendship for Ustasha killers.
As in all countries, it is necessary for the clergy to meet government ministers and local officials. In Britain, hospital chaplains converse with doctors, even though several may be carrying out abortions daily. In business meetings and at official and informal ceremonies, such as the presentation of a retirement gift to a nurse, priests and abortionists may be seen together in photographs. They may even be caught on a film smiling at the same joke. But these pictures are not evidence that the Catholic Church, or the priest shown, advocates or condones the killing of babies.
Throughout its existence the NDH government endeavoured to show that it had Church support. So it was eager to publish pictures of clergy in conversation with government officials. Accompanied by photographers, Pavelic would arrive at the same public functions as Stepinac ((SAB 93)). One photograph 'shows' Stepinac having a 'political meeting' with Pavelic and other Ustasha leaders. In reality it was taken at the annual Zagreb Fair to which both had been invited ((AHO 38-39)). There are pictures of Ustasha leader Macanec visiting the Franciscan college of Visoko in Bosnia. As he was the Minister of Education ((SL 24)), there was nothing surprising or sinister in him visiting a school. He was the man who in November 1943 wrote the long racist and bitterly anti-Stepinac article, which appeared in all the papers ((AHO 50)). It is quite likely that Macanec spent his visit to Visoko arguing with the Franciscans.
As in other Catholic countries, many nuns in Croatia acted as nurses. There are photographs of them walking to the front line with Croatian troops, but this didn't make them criminals. Some were awarded service medals, but this didn't make them guilty of condoning atrocities committed by undisciplined bands in a different area of the country a few years previously.
Pictures of clergy showing respect to a chequerboard flag are presented as evidence of their support for the Ustasha. But the design was not an Ustasha invention. It was the traditional Croatian 'Sahovnica' symbol ((RJD 291)) and became so again in 1990 ((RJD 292)). The Croatian people did not give permission for the Ustasha 'U' emblem being placed above the chequerboard.
A photograph of Stepinac leading a group of bishops to meet Pavelic is captioned as an example of their alleged 'frequent conferences with him'. ((AM 94)). But the bishops were dispersed throughout the country and rarely came together. The picture appears to have been taken when they met Pavelic at the end of their November 1941 conference. It was at that meeting that they demanded that state officials stop 'converting' the Orthodox.
In one picture soldiers are shown giving a Nazi-type salute at a funeral. The priest's arm is also raised and the implication in the caption is that clergy eagerly gave this salute. But a priest raises his arm, although not so high nor so stiffly, in order to give a blessing over a grave, yet in a picture this could look like a Nazi salute. A wave by a bishop to someone leaving by train may also look like a low angleded Nazi salute.
Some pictures could be genuine when concerning a rebel Ustasha priest, but in general this type of photography merely aims to inflame emotions and distort evidence. It doesn't add any factual knowledge about life in NDH. Many Ustasha and Chetnik bands, especially in the early days of the war when most atrocities were committed, did not have uniforms ((HT April 1992)). It is not possible therefore to determine whether those shown near atrocities were: 'wild Ustasha' or 'wild Chetniks'.
Edmond Paris wrote a caption under one picture as: 'Stepinac together with his personnel bringing New Year greetings to Pavelic' ((EP 240)). This evokes feelings of friendly intimacy. Milan Bulajic prints this picture in a wider frame ((MB 105)), and it shows a Moslem wearing a fez just behind Stepinac, so not 'part of Stepinac's personnel'. He dates it as 3rd February 1945, which is rather late for a New Year greeting. In another book we are able to view the whole photograph, showing not only the Moslem leader but also the Metropolitan of the Croatian Orthodox Church ((CF 273)). So the picture was not of an intimate private Catholic-Pavelic meeting, but of a formal gathering of all the main religious leaders with the head of state.
During Archbishop Stepinac's 'trial', thousands crowded the churches to demonstrate their support for him. Normally 200 Zagreb university students participated in the Easter retreat. But in 1946 this rose to 4,000 ((RP 50)). The Communists were desperate to show pictures of anti-Stepinac crowds. So in January 1946 the Partisans organised a 'peoples demonstration' against the black market. As it was led past the Archbishop's residence, a few Communists, using the huge numbers as a backdrop, demanded the trial and conviction of Stepinac for crimes against the people ((RP 53)). The photographers were ready to take pictures of the angry faces and banners. So the impression was given of a huge angry crowd of Croatian Catholics having gathered precisely to demand Stepinac's conviction.
4). Archbishop Stepinac's Diary
Many books print extracts from this diary so as to indicate Stepinac's alleged character and frame of mind. They show him as secretly hating the Serbs, Orthodoxy, Protestants, the Old Catholics and the Yugoslav state, while Outwardly showing goodwill towards them.
How reliable are these alleged extracts? The diary consists of five books about the size of large dictionaries. They cover the period 30th May 1934, when Stepinac became auxiliary bishop, to 13th February 1945 ((CF 273)). The government did not use them at Stepinac's 'trial'. The Communists claimed to have found them during 1950 in the building which had housed the Foreign Ministry of the NDH ((SAA 109)).
It was not a private diary of Stepinac's inmost thoughts as implied. It was an official diary of public events, drawn up by himself and members of his household ((CF 420)), such as secretaries and the Master of Ceremonies ((EP 56, CF 273)). Letters and other documents were pasted-in ((SAA 109)). Some documents were merely 'attached' to the diary ((CF 420)). Many entries are in the third person ((CF 273)) such as: "The Archbishop had his first meeting", rather than: "I had my first meeting" ((MB 73)). This semi-public official diary in, scrapbook form, would have been a most unlikely place to write down secret evil thoughts.
The author Falconi was permitted a brief look at it, so that he could write down some of the alleged entries ((SAA 109)). Anti-Catholic Communist and Serbian authors have printed edited extracts they claim were in the diary. But both the Communist and the Serbian Belgrade governments have refused to permit Western scholars to examine it ((RJW 60)). The published extracts conveniently supported the Communist propaganda image of Stepinac. They could have added them after the war. For example: "The Schismatics are the curse of Europe — almost worse than the Protestants". ((FM 162)). These words do not appear in larger extracts reproduced in other books ((MB 61-3)).
Most countries refuse to publish classified State Papers, but this 'diary' is not such a paper. Until the diary is made available to international scholars, including handwriting experts and forensic scientists, extracts should be considered as fiction. If it were truly unfavourable to Stepinac, it would have been released many years ago.
5). A 1943 Report
During the 'trial' of Stepinac in 1946, the prosecution produced a report allegedly sent by the archbishop to the Pope dated 18th May 1943 ((RP 184)). This bitterly condemned the Serbs and the Orthodox Church. It also showed Stepinac working for the Ustasha and calling on the Pope to arrange for foreign intervention in Yugoslavia ((RP 211)).
Stepinac denied he had sent it ((RP 211-2)). It was not written on diocesan paper, was without an address, signature or conclusion. It was in Italian, instead of the formalized Latin style normally used by bishops. It referred to Stepinac as: 'Metropoleta de Croatiae et Slovoniae', yet Stepinac never referred to himself as such. It contained detailed information about Bosnia and its history which Stepinac was unlikely to know ((SAA 113)), especially as Bosnia was not part of his diocese. The Communists claimed that it was found in the NDH Foreign Ministry, yet Stepinac didn't send copies of his reports there and others were not produced. As the Foreign Ministry archives were left at the end of the war in the Archbishop's palace, Stepinac would have had the opportunity to remove such an incriminating report, if it had existed. The Holy See had sent a letter to Stepinac on June 17th 1943, but the subject matter was completely different to that in the alleged report ((RP 212-5)).
No just legal system in the world would have accepted this 'Report' as evidence. Yet this Communist Court did so, and it is reprinted as factual evidence by anti-Catholics authors.
6). Allied Intelligence Documents
These are sometimes used to provide apparently independent evidence of Church support of crimes. But Allied agents sent home vast quantities of information. Facts were inter-mixed with rumours, lies and propaganda from all sides. It was for the experts in London and Washington to try separate truth from falsehood. Some of this information has now been declassified and it is possible for it to be misused. Items were obtained from Chetnik, Ustasha, German or Communist sources, some were mere rumours. Sometimes an agent would add his own assessment of the partial information he had collected from his area. When an extract is photocopied from Allied files, with important looking reference numbers, an unwary reader may be deceived into accepting it as coming from an unbiased well informed American or British source. Yet they were usually merely comments made on the basis of Chetnik or Communist propaganda.
7). The Aksamovic Leaflet
Copies of a leaflet have been found which claimed to have been produced on the printing press of bishop Aksamovic. It was entitled 'Friendly Advice' and signed 'Friends of the People'. Undated, it was in circulation during May 1941 ((SAB 74, 225)). It urged Serbs to become Catholics so as to avoid being killed. There is no proof that it was printed on the diocesan press or authorised by the bishop.
Since the time of the proposed Concordat in 1937 the country had been flooded with alarmist rumours, anonymous pamphlets and tendentious articles ((SAA 5)). So this leaflet is valueless as evidence of the bishop's views. Most likely an Ustasha militant produced it to frighten Serbs into leaving the country. Even if printed on the press used by the diocese, this would not prove that the bishop was aware of it. Rapotee, the London Yugoslav government's agent, named Aksamovic as one of the three outstanding Catholic bishops upholding Christian values ((SAB 94)). At a later date, pro-Partisan leaflets were secretly printed in Stepinac's palace without his knowledge ((SL 27)).
8). The Grisogono Letter
In December 1941 copies of a letter signed by Dr. Prvislav Grisogono, a well-known Catholic and a respected Croatian politician, came into circulation. It was addressed to Archbishop Stepinac and condemned the leaders of the Church for permitting priests and monks to kill and torture thousands of Serbs. The writer condemned the sending of nuns, with a dagger in one hand and a prayer book in the other, to convert the survivors. He condemned bishop Aksamovic's threatening leaflet. He gave details of priest-led gangs of thugs, of jars of Serbian eyes, strings of tongues and even greater acts of beastiality. Signed by such a man, his charges could not be explained away as Chetnik propaganda.
A Serb in the Yugoslav government in London ordered the letter to be broadcast from the Middle East over 'Radio Kavageorge' to Yugoslavia ((SSJ 51: 87)). The Germans also encouraged its circulation as it promoted hatred between Serbs and Croats ((SSJ 51: 86)). A later and expanded version was dated 8th February 1942 and had the address of the German concentration camp at Zemun ((SSJ 51: 86)).
Although this letter was reprinted in many books after the war, it was a forgery. Prvislav Grisogono was in the Gestapo prison at Banjica, near Belgrade, from 1st October 1941 till late January 1942. On his release he wrote to Stepinac to disown the letter ((SSJ 51: 86)). Stepinac's secretary has confirmed that this letter of denial was received ((SL 19)).
Prvislav was dedicated to the unity of Yugoslavia so can not be justly accused of Ustasha sympathies by writing this denial.
Since the war Prvislav's son Nenad and daughter Vivian, have both informed historians that the letter was a forgery. Nenad, In September 1943, led the defence of Split against German and Ustasha forces ((SSJ 55: 1)).
He then became a minister in the Royal government in London. Both he and his sister remained firm supporters of Yugoslavia and loyal to king Peter throughout their lives so their testimony cannot be ignored. The Serbian son and daughter of Adam Pribiceic have stated that it was their father who forged the letter. Adam's political assistant throughout his career, Vlastimir Stojanovic, has endorsed their statements ((SSJ 51: 87)).
Despite all this evidence, anti-Catholic authors still use this forgery. Edmund Paris prints extracts in his 1961 book ((EP 162)) and Manhatten introduces it in his 1986 book with, "Yet nothing could more eloquently indite his Church than this letter . . ." ((AM 117)). In May 1992 he repeated it in an article in a Serbian publication ((SSJ 51: 86)). This falsehood has been repeated so many times that even normally reliable authors have thought it to be authentic.
1. It has not been possible in this booklet to answer all accusations made against Croatian Catholics. In many cases witnesses are unfortunately no longer with us.
2. The allegation is sometimes heard that the Holy See helped Ustasha criminals escape to South America at the end of the war. This is part of wider allegations concerning what happened to Hitler's supporters who had been active throughout Europe, so it is more logical to consider this allegation in another booklet
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SCB.......A Short History of Yugoslavia by Stephen Clissold, 1966.
SG.......A Crown of Thorns by Stephane Groueff, 1987.
SH.......Croatian Struggle for Freedom by Stjepan Hefer, 1959.
SKP.......Yugoslavia by Stevan K. Pavlowitch, 1971.
SL.......The Case Against Tito by Stephen Lackovic, memorandum, 1947.
SSJ.......The South Slav Journal, 4 Church Road, London, N6 4QT.
TAB.......The Tablet, London. W6 1QZ
TB.......The Tragedy of a Nation by Theodore Benkovic, 1947.
VI.......LV Memoirs of a Yugoslav by Vane Ivanovic, circa. 1977.
VAL.......The Jesuits and the Third Reich by V. A. Lapomarde, 1989.
VM.......In The Struggle for Freedom by Vladko Macek, 1957.
VZ.......Yugoslav Manipulations by Vladimir Zerjavic, 1993.
The use of a publication as a reference source does not imply that ‘Church in History’ accepts as reliable all other statements or opinions made in that publication. As far as possible, references have been taken from books in the English language. This enables readers to check quotations if they wish.
The full texts of three sermons preached by Archbishop Stepinac against racial hatred during 1943, are available on this web site.
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