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INTRODUCTION:  In our booklet [745] Croatia 1941-1946; Chapter V8 pdf  page 122) we included a few words concerning Prvislav Grisogono.  We are now able to provide more details kindly provided by his granddaughter.



Prvislav Grisogono (1879-1969) was a distinguished Croat, a man of exceptional strength, courage and integrity. By profession a lawyer, politician and diplomat, he lived by the highest ideals, and was correct, exact and measured in speech and action.

It is therefore a tragic irony that he is best remembered for a letter of lies couched in uncouthly intemperate and bellicose language, supposedly addressed to Archbishop Stepinac. The purpose of the letter was to "prove" that the Croatian Catholic Church was aiding the quisling WW2 Ustashe regime in perpetrating heinous crimes against Serbs, and therefore to justify Serbian vengeful hatred against all Croats and their institutions.

The apocryphal letter has been circulating the world for well over fifty years under Grisogono's name but he had no part in writing it. In all the extant copies of the supposed letter, none has anything like his signature on it. Prvislav Grisogono himself refuted the letter categorically many times, as did his personal assistant, advocate Vlastimir Stojanovic, who typed all of Grisogono's major correspondence and writings throughout Grisogono's political career before, during and after World War II. However, nothing has stopped the apocryphal letter from re-surfacing at very frequent intervals right up to the present time, in defence of the Greater Serbia programme.

The contents of the apocryphal letter

The letter is long and packed with lurid and subsequently disproven tales, such as 'Thousands and thousands of Serbian corpses have been carried by the Sava and Danube rivers and their tributaries. One corpse carried the inscription ’To Belgrade. For the attention of King Peter'... In Bosnia vessels were found filled with the blood of Serbs. In one instance, Serbs were forced to drink the warm blood of their slaughtered brothers... Women

have been raped on the altars of Orthodox churches! In Kotar a boy was forced to rape his own mother."            1

 The Catholic Church is described as participating in "all these crimes of unexampled barbarity which are worse than Godless. ...... The awful fact is that Catholic priests have become commanders of Ustasha camps and as such gave the orders and approval for these dreadful tortures and killings of Christian folk. One Catholic priest even killed an Orthodox priest with his own hands.

They could not do this without the permission of their bishops, but if they did so,  they should lose their authority and stand trial. Since there is no prospect of this occurring, it is clear that the bishops indeed gave their permission, …the Catholic Church has made use of all this in order to convert the surviving Serbs, even while the earth still reeks with the blood of innocent victims. Even while cries still rent the breasts of the unfortunate survivors, priests, monks and nuns carried Ustasha daggers in one hand and a prayer book and rosary in the other." And so on. The stuff of horror films. Scary tales to fill a nation with fear and hatred in order to justify its "historical" paranoia.


Prvislav Griaogono, a significant figure

The real authors chose to take Grisogono's name in vain because he was a Croat, because he was a significant public figure in then-Yugoslavia, because he had a formidable reputation for incorruptibility, fairness and justice, and because he was known to oppose violence and terrorism.

Prvislav Grisogono was an ardent believer in democracy. He opposed Austro-Hungary and by 1918 believed that unity between the regions which later became Yugoslavia would create a strong buttress against future foreign occupation. As a Croatian politician within the united Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, he promoted the extension of the suffrage. Like the other Croatian Deputies, Grisogono withdrew from the Belgrade Parliament immediately following the shooting of Stjepan Radic and his colleagues by Montenegrin Deputy Punisa Racic in 1928. He was appalled to witness the Serbian Deputies dancing the kolo round the fallen Croatians, a scene he could only bring himself to describe to his son Nenad years later towards the end of his life.


Grisogono did not return to Parliament after the lifting of King Aleksander's Dictatorship, but entered the Diplomatic Service as Ambassador in Prague in 1932. He was Ambassador in Warsaw on the eve of the Second World War. He then went to Belgrade to resume his work as a lawyer for a brief period until the Nazi Occupation.

When Tito came to power by force in 1945, Grisogono and his colleagues put forward a doomed plan for reintroducing democracy in postwar Yugoslavia. Aware that all his fellow- democrats were systematically being imprisoned or killed, Grisogono escaped from then- Yugoslavia in 1949, bringing with him his two young grandchildren Branko and Marija to rejoin their parents who were already in exile. The last twenty years of his life were spent in the sadness of exile, knowing that his hopes for his beloved homeland would not be achieved in his lifetime. He remained active physically and intellectually. He did his last radio broadcast at the age of 90, shortly before his death.


Letter circulated from 1941

A lifelong pacifist, Grisogono was a moral fighter. He was held under house arrest by the Austrians during the First World War. When the Nazis occupied Yugoslavia in 1941, a friend took him to see the concentration camp just outside Belgrade where Jews were being rounded up for deportation. He immediately wrote a report asking the Pope to take action, and it was taken to the Vatican by his son, Nenad, at grave risk to both of them. They also helped Jewish friends and colleagues to escape.

In the autumn of that year, Prvislav Grisogono was arrested by the Gestapo, and held in the Banjica prison under appalling conditions until the end of January 1942. It was while he was in prison that the letter was forged by one or more Serbs in his name and immediately circulated throughout then-Yugoslavia. Nenad Grisogono, Prvislav's son, was later told that the instigator was Adam Pribicevic, brother of the Serb leader Svetozar, but there is no existing evidence of this.


On his release from prison, Grisogono immediately wrote a letter of repudiation to the Archbishop (Zagreb, 20th January 1942). This did not stop the continuing distribution of the false letter, with a false date and provenance added: Zemun, 8th February 1942. The German-run Press Office in Belgrade, keen to foster hatred between Serbs and Croats, encouraged Serbian collaborators to spread it around.

It was sent to the Yugoslav Government-in-Exile in London, where the (Serbian) Prime Minister of the time, Slobodan Jovanovic, ordered that it should be distributed to Government members and broadcast (in December 1942) on the radio station 'Karadorde', which operated from the Middle East. Two members of the Govemment-in-Exile recognized that the letter must be a fake: Mr Veceslav Vilder, a colleague of Prvislav Grisogono's from their Independent Democratic Party, and Mr Milan Grol, Minister of Communications and Leader of the Serbian Democratic Party, who denounced the letter in his Londonski Dnevnik 1941-1945, (published by Filip Visnjic, Belgrade 1990). The letter was published in the American Serbian magazine United States government report (number 130) dated

June 3 1943, entitled "The Greater Serbia Movement in the United States". The apocryphal letter was also lodged in the British Public Record Office (reference FO/371/37630), preceded by the blatantly misleading statement: 'The following is a precise copy of a letter written by Mr Prvislav Grizogono, - a Croat – former Minister of the government of Yugoslavia to Dr Aloysius Stepinac, Croat Roman Catholic Archbishop of Zagreb. The letter was written at Zemun, February 8, 1942. This copy was received from the most trustworthy sources and we publish it here to offer, to the civilized world, another shocking proof of the most brutal and beastly crimes committed against unarmed, unprotected Serbian civilians by Croatian bearers of a thousand-year-old culture".

      Copied by hand at first, the apocryphal letter was later published as if true in magazines and historical and fictional books, including ‘The Serbs Choose War’ by American Ruth Mitchell (Doubleday, Doran & Co, New York, 1943), Ko je bio Alojzije Stepinac by Dr Ivan Cvitkovic (Izdavacka djelatnost, Sarajevo, 1986 2nd Edn), Varvarstvo u ime Hristov oby Dragoljub Zivojinovic and Dejan Luci6 (Nova Knjiga, Belgrade 1988), Molitva by Vuk Draskovic (Nova Knjiga, Belgrade 1989), Ustase i Pravoslavlje by Veljko ^uric (Narodna Biblioteka Srbije, Belgrade 1989).


The false letter has surfaced innumerable times since 1991 in Serbian propaganda for the recent and continuing Serbian war of aggression. It was circulated to Serbian Information Centres worldwide and in Serbia, and has appeared over and over again in pamphlets and booklets about alleged Croat mistreatment of Serbs. It appeared in an article about the Catholic Terror by Avro Manhattan published in the Belgrade magazine 'Intervju' (29th May 1992), and in Svetigora (numbers 78-80) in 1998. It has also been featured on Serbian television.

First-hand denials ignored

Prvislav Grisogono was dismayed at the continuing appearances of the apocryphal letter even after his personal letter of denial to Archbishop Stepinac. In 1953, the letter was cited again, this time in the British publication Time and Tide (10th January), in an article entitled Tito and Stepinac" by C.F Melville. Oddly, it became a "justification" for British support of Tito and his communist regime. The magazine then published a short letter from Prvislav Grisogono repudiating the letter (17th January): "Adhering strictly to the principle that as foreigner I must abstain from interfering in a question which has to be dealt with by the competent authorities of this country only, I feel that I should not allow my name to be used in a conflict between the Communist regime in Yugoslavia and the Holy See, which has, in this matter, the support of the whole civilized world. The quoted sentences have been taken from a letter which had been ascribed to me but which I neither wrote nor knew about. In fact, as soon as I learned of it I wrote indeed a letter to Mgr Stepinac in which, according to my conscience, I vigorously condemned the un-Christian behaviour of a certain section of Catholic clergy and of some higher dignitaries in Yugoslavia, but in which I never allowed myself, in the absence of documentation, to express any judgment whatsoever on the personal responsibility of Mgr Stepinac himself".

 Mr Melville rejoined (24th January): "If, as he maintains, he did not write  the letter to the Archbishop as I quoted it, then perhaps the fault lies with the source from which I took it. It was not a Titoist one. It was the Martyrdom of the Serbs, published in the USA during the war under Royalist Yugoslav auspices.


But since Mr Grisogono admits that he did write a letter to Mgr Stepinac vigorously condemning the 'un-Christian behaviour' (as he puts it) of 'a certain section of the Catholic clergy and some of the higher dignitaries in Yugoslavia', then I do not see that he can complain if I have ranged him amongst those who condemned that un-Christian behaviour."

The exchange was typical of the intransigence of all those who have made use of the apocryphal letter. Rather than admit that his thesis condemning Archbishop Stepinac was undermined by his use of patently false testimony, Mr Melville, through his use of "IF and "perhaps", sought to imply that the letter might still be genuine despite the repudiation, and that anyway the criticism that Prvislav Grisogono admitted to making of some Catholic clergy was sufficient to justify his argument.

This type of reasoning has been used many times since. An objective reading of what Prvislav Grisogono actually said in his letter to Archbishop Stepinac, authenticated copies of which still exist, does not support that argumentation. After repudiating the false letter, he stated that he shared the pain of all Croat Catholic intellectuals, including a great number of the priesthood, at the inhumane behaviour of some too many -Catholics during that time of crisis in the country. But he would not allow the pain to dictate his judgment and take the place of the documentation and evidence about wrong doing which would only become available in time. Individual priests who had done wrong, whoever they were, had to be condemned now, uncompromisingly. But he believed that the majority of Catholic priests had not betrayed their religious and humanitarian duties.

He knew through personal experience that many Catholic priests and believers in most places had actively supported persecuted Serbs, demonstrated through the ages initiatives of the highest ethical and humanitarian excellence. He concluded by saying that he hoped his thinking was shared by the majority of the Catholic priesthood, and he was sure it was the opinion of the vast majority of Catholic Croats.


Later denials ignored

Since Prvislav Grisogono's death there have been many other repudiations of the false letter. The family has always reacted to its publication with letters and articles, including "An Apocryphal Letter" by Dr Nenad and Vivian Grisogono, published in the South Slav Journal, May 1993, Vol 14, 1- 2, issue 51-52. The issue was painstakingly researched by the late historian Ljubo Boban, with the full co-operation of the Grisogono  family and Dr Stojanovic. Professor Boban wrote about it in the greatest detail in his books Hrvatska u Arhivima Izbjeglicke Vlade 1941-1943(G].ob\is, Zagreb 1985) and Kontroverze iz Povijesti Jugoslavije (§kolska Knjiga, Zagreb 1989). Archivist and historian Dr Frano Glavina went through it, all again in an article about Serbian propaganda in Globus (21st  August 1998).

Pain from a good name defiled

Prvislav Grisogono and his family have suffered greatly from the misuse of his good name caused by the repeated appearances of the grotesque falsified letter. There is no justification for its continued use in the face of the incontrovertible evidence that the letter is apocryphal. The fact that it is still used so frequently underlines the immoral manipulation of the truth that forms the basis of the vast majority of the Greater Serbian propaganda.

Prvislav Grisogono's memory deserves better, for he represented truth, peace, and justice through his every thought, word and action.

Vivian Grisogono             

London, May 1999

This article is written in loving memory of my grandfather, who had a lasting positive influence on me from our times together in London and Paris during my childhood.

This item is from the DOCUMENTATION section of the www.churchinhistory.org web site.


This version: 8th June 2007

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