The Ustaša - Croatian Revolutionary Movement (Croatian: Ustaša - Hrvatski revolucionarni pokret, members known collectively as Ustaše, but sometimes anglicised as Ustashas or Ustashi) was a far-right, Croatian, ultra-nationalist, fascist, and national socialist movement. It engaged in terrorist activity before World War II and ruled, under protection from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, in a part of Yugoslavia after that country was occupied by the Axis powers. After German forces withdrew from Yugoslavia in 1945, the Ustaše were defeated and expelled by the Yugoslav Partisans.
When it was founded in 1929, the Ustaše was a nationalist organization that sought to create an independent Croatian state. When the Ustaše came to power in the Independent State of Croatia, a puppet state established by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany during World War II, its military wing became the Ustaše Army (Ustaška Vojnica). Croatian law forbids Ustaše symbols and associated references.
Their name derives from the verb ustati which means "to rise"/"to stand-up", hence ustaša would mean an insurgent, a rebel. This name did not have fascist connotations during their early years in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as the term "ustaš" was itself used in Herzegovina to denote the insurgents from the Herzegovinian rebellion of 1875. The full original name of the organization was Ustaša - Hrvatska revolucionarna organizacija or UHRO (Ustaša - Croatian revolutionary organization) while in 1933 it was renamed to Ustaša - Hrvatski revolucionarni pokret (Ustaša - Croatian revolutionary movement) which it kept until the Second World War.
Various members of the Croatian Party of Rights contributed to the writing of the Domobran, until around Christmas 1928 when the newspaper was banned by the authorities of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In January 1929, the King banned all national parties, and the radical wing of the Party of Rights was exiled, among them Ante Pavelić, Gustav Perčec and Branimir Jelić. This group was later joined by several other Croatian exiles.
On 20 April 1929, Pavelić and others co-signed a declaration in Sofia, Bulgaria together with the members of the Macedonian National Committee, asserting that they would pursue "their legal activities for the establishment of human and national rights, political freedom and complete independence for both Croatia and Macedonia". Because of this, the Court for the Preservation of the State in Belgrade sentenced Pavelić and Perčec to death on 17 July 1929. The exiles did not return to Yugoslavia (until its occupation), and instead started organizing support for their cause among the Croatian diaspora in Europe, South America, and North America. Because of state terror which has entered in public eyes after Albert Einstein's protest they attained support mostly in Belgium, Argentina, and Pennsylvania. In January 1932, they named their revolutionary organization "Ustaša". In November 1932, ten Ustaše led by Andrija Artuković, supported by four local sympathisers, attacked a gendarme outpost at Brušani in the Lika/Velebit area just over the border from Italy. The attack failed with the loss of one assailant killed. The incident has sometimes been glorified as "the Lika Uprising."
Perčec was assassinated by Pavelić in 1933. Due to their previous links with the Macedonian nationalists, the Ustaše were accused of conspiring in the murder the Yugoslav king Alexander in 1934, and Eugen Dido Kvaternik was charged with planning the successful assassination committed by members of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO). The extent of Ustaše involvement in the assassination remains unknown, it is known for certain only that it was committed by a Macedonian named Vlada Georgiev and not a member of the Ustaše, although the Ustaše provided assistance. Soon after the assassination, all organizations related to the Ustaše as well as the Hrvatski Domobran, which continued as a civil organization, were banned throughout Europe. Pavelić and Kvaternik were detained in Italy from October 1934 until the end of March 1936. After March 1937, when Italy and Yugoslavia signed a pact of friendship, many Ustaše in Italy were extradited to Yugoslavia. However, these events not only did not destroy the Ustaša organization, it even attracted sympathizers among the Croatian youth, especially among university students. In February 1939, two of these returnees, Mile Budak and Ivan Oršanić, became editors of the newly published magazine Hrvatski narod ("The Croatian nation"), which supported the Ustaše ideas of Croatian independence.
Meanwhile Pavelić and several hundred Ustaše embarked from their camps in Italy for Zagreb, where Pavelić set up his government on 17 April. He accorded himself the title of "Poglavnik", - a Croatian approximation to "Führer" and translating to something like "Headman" in English. The territory over which he nominally ruled, i.e. the puppet "Independent State of Croatia", comprised the historical territories of Croatia (including Syrmia, which had been part of the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia until 1918) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (without the Sandžak, which had been part of Bosnia-Herzegovina until 1908) except parts of the Dalmatian coast and islands which were ceded to the Italians. De facto control over this territory was non-existent for the majority of the war, as the Yugoslav Partisans grew more successful, while the Germans and Italians increasingly exercised direct control over areas of interest. Many Croatians, including Kvaternik and other "home Ustaše" were dismayed to discover that Pavelić had agreed to cede parts of Croatia to Italy in exchange for financial and other support provided to the Ustaše by Mussolini. It was the first sign of what was to become a serious rift between Pavelić and Kvaternik later in the war. Because the Ustaše did not have a army or administration capable of controlling the territory, the Germans and the Italians split the NDH into two zones of influence, one in the southwest controlled by the Italians and the other in the northeast controlled by the Germans.
The atrocities started on 27 April 1941, when a newly formed unit of the Ustaše army killed members of the largely Serbian community of Gudovac (near Bjelovar). Eventually all who opposed and/or threatened the Ustaše were outlawed. The HSS was banned on 11 June 1941, in an attempt by the Ustaše to take their place as the primary representative of the Croatian peasantry. Vladko Maček was sent to Jasenovac concentration camp, but later released to serve a house arrest sentence due to his popularity among the people. Maček was later again called upon by the foreigners to take a stand and counteract the Pavelić government, but refused. In early 1941, Jews and Serbs were ordered to leave certain areas of Zagreb
Pavelić first met with Adolf Hitler on 6 June 1941. Mile Budak, then a minister in Pavelić's government, publicly proclaimed the violent racial policy of the state on 22 July 1941. Vjekoslav "Maks" Luburić, one of the chiefs of the secret police organizations, started building concentration camps in the summer of the same year. The Ustaše gangs ravaged villages across the Dinaric Alps to the extent that the Italians and the Germans started expressing their horror. By 1942, General Edmund Glaise-Horstenau had written several reports to his Wehrmacht commanders in which he expressed his dismay at the extent of the Ustaša atrocities, some of which took place before the Nazis had embarked on their Final Solution. His reports were corroborated by those of Field Marshall Wilhelm List.
Italian troops in the field had competing territorial claims with their Ustaše nominal allies and had cooperated from the start with Chetnik units operating in the southern areas that they controlled. Hitler tried to insist that Mussolini should have his forces work with the Ustaše, but senior Italian commanders such as General Mario Roatta ignored such orders.
By the end of 1942, the news about the Ustaša atrocities in Jasenovac and elsewhere had also spread among the Croatian population. Noted writers Vladimir Nazor and Ivan Goran Kovačić escaped from the Ustasha-held territory to join the Partisans, and were followed by others.
The regular army of the NDH, the Home Guard (Domobrani), was composed of enlisted men who were barely combat-ready and did not participate in the atrocities. The members of the Ustaša party were part of the paramilitary units that committed the crimes. Pavelić had claimed that over 30,000 people had joined the party during this time, although the more neutral reports concluded that their number was less than half of that.
In 1943, the Germans suffered major losses on the Eastern Front and the Italians started massively defecting, leaving behind even more armament the rebels used against the Ustaše. The Partisans soon became the main rebel force in all of Yugoslavia, having started accepting both Domobran and Četnik defectors, and getting help from the western Allies in the form of airdrops.
After World War II, the remaining Ustaše went underground or fled to countries such as Canada, Australia, Germany and South America, with the assistance of Roman Catholic churches and their grassroots supporters Some of them persisted in their crusade against Yugoslavia.
With the defeat of the Independent State of Croatia, the movement ceased to exist. Infighting over the failure to establish a Croatian state also fragmented the surviving Ustase. Ante Pavelić formed the Croatian Liberation Movement which drew several of the former state's leaders. Vjekoslav Vrančić founded a reformed Croatian Liberation Movement, and was its leader. Vjekoslav Luburić formed the Croatian National Resistance. Blagoje Jovovic, a Montenegrin Serb Chetnik shot Ante Pavelić near Buenos Aires, on April 9th, 1957, inflicting injuries from which he later died.
The Ustaše enacted race laws patterned after those of the Third Reich, which were aimed against Jews and Roma, but predominately Serbs, who were collectively declared enemies of the Croatian people. Serbs, Jews, Roma and Croatian anti-fascists, including Communist Croats and dissident Croat Byzantine Catholic priests, were interned in concentration camps, the largest of which was the Jasenovac complex, where they were most often brutally murdered by Ustaše militia. The exact number of victims is not known, only estimates exist. The number of murdered Jews is fairly reliable: around 32,000 Jews were killed during World War II on NDH territory. Gypsies (Yugoslav Roma) numbered around 40,000 fewer after the war. The number of murdered Serbs is much larger, and estimates tend to vary between at least 300,000 and 700,000.
The history textbooks in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had cited 700,000 as the total number of victims at Jasenovac. This was promulgated from a 1946 calculation of the demographic loss of population (the difference between the actual number of people after the war and the number that would have been, had the pre-war growth trend continued). After that, it was used by Edvard Kardelj and Moše Pijade in the Yugoslav war reparations claim sent to Germany. According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center (citing the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust), "Ustasa terrorists killed 500,000 Serbs, expelled 250,000 and forced 250,000 to convert to Catholicism. They murdered thousands of Jews and Gypsies. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum says:
Due to differing views and lack of documentation, estimates for the number of Serbian victims in Croatia range widely, from 25,000 to more than one million. The estimated number of Serbs killed in Jasenovac ranges from 25,000 to 700,000. The most reliable figures place the number of Serbs killed by the Ustaša between 330,000 and 390,000, with 45,000 to 52,000 Serbs murdered in Jasenovac.The Jasenovac Memorial Area, currently headed by Slavko Goldstein, keeps a list of 59,188 names of Jasenovac victims that was gathered by government officials in Belgrade in 1964 . Because the gathering process was imperfect, they estimated that the list contains between 60 and 75 percent of the total victims, putting the number of killed in that complex at about 80,000 - 100,000. The previous head of the Memorial Area Simo Brdar estimated at least 365,000 dead at Jasenovac. The analyses of the statisticians Vladimir Žerjavić and Bogoljub Kočović were similar to those of the Memorial Area. In all of Yugoslavia, the estimated number of Serb deaths was 487,000 according to Kočović, and 530,000 according to Žerjavić, out of a total of 1,014,000 or 1,027,000 deaths (resp.). Žerjavić further stated that there were 197,000 Serb civilians killed in NDH (78,000 as prisoners in Jasenovac and elsewhere) as well as 125,000 Serb combatants.
The Belgrade Museum of Holocaust compiled a list of over 77,000 names of Jasenovac victims. It was previously headed by Milan Bulajić (a controversial nationalist), who supported the claim of a total of 700,000 victims. The current administration of the Museum has further expanded the list to include a bit over 80,000 names. During the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, Alexander Arnon (secretary of the Jewish Community in Zagreb) testified about the treatment of Jews in Yugoslavia during the war. Alexander Arnon's testimony included the following:
During World War II, various German military commanders gave different figures for the number of Serbs, Jews and others killed on the territory of the Independent State of Croatia. They circulated figures of 400,000 Serbs (Alexander Lehr); 350,000 Serbs (Lothar Rendulic); between 300,000 (Edmund Glaise von Horstenau); more than "3/4 of million of Serbs" (Hermann Neubacher) in 1943; 600-700,000 until March 1944 (Ernst Fick); 700,000 (Massenbach). Out of around 39,000 Jews that lived on the territory that became the Independent State of Croatia, only around 20% survived the war.
These six camps were closed by October 1942. The Jasenovac complex was built between August 1941 and February 1942. The first two camps, Krapje and Bročica, were closed in November 1941. The three newer camps continued to function until the end of the war:
There were also other camps in:
Numbers of prisoners:
The Ustaše aimed at an ethnically "pure" Croatia, and saw the Serbs that lived in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina as the their biggest obstacle. Thus, Ustaše ministers Mile Budak, Mirko Puk, and Milovan Žanić declared in May 1941 that the goal of the new Ustaše policy was an ethnically clean Croatia. They also publicly announced the strategy to achieve their goal:
The Ustaše persecuted the Serbs who were mostly Orthodox Christians yet they were tolerant toward the Bosnian Muslims because the Muslims were actually ethnic Croats that converted to Islam during the Ottoman Turk occupation of Croatian lands. These Muslim Bosnians joined in the Nazi and Ustaše forces as part of Waffen-SS divisions 13th SS Mountain Division Handschar in Bosnia (led by Amin al-Husayni) and 23rd SS Grenadier Division Kama advised by Edmund Glaise von Horstenau (the representative of the German military in Croatia) and led by Colonel Ivan Markulj, who was later replaced by Colonel Viktor Pavicic. Lt-Col. Marko Mesic commanded the artillery section. The state even converted a former museum in Zagreb for use as a mosque. The Ustaše were against industrialization and democracy. The basic principles of the movement were laid out by Pavelić in his 1929 pamphlet "Principles of the Ustaše Movement".
A problem with the Nazi ideology was that the Croats are Slavs and were considered inferior by Nazi standards. Ustaša ideologues thus created a theory about a pseudo-Gothic origin of the Croats in order to raise their standing on the Aryan ladder.
The symbol of Ustaše is a wide capital letter "U" with pronounced serif. This symbol can easily be spraypainted. A slight variation of it includes a small plus inserted at the top, symbolizing a cross. In on-line communication it is sometimes written as =U=. As with fascists in other countries, the Ustasha merely superimposed their political symbols (mainly the letter "U") on already existent national symbols. Their hat insignia was the shield of Coat of Arms of Croatia surrounded or embossed with the U.
The flag of the Independent State of Croatia was a red-white-blue horizontal tricolor with the shield of the Coat of Arms or Croatia in the middle and the U in the upper left. Its currency was the kuna. The checkered Coat of Arms of old NDH starts with white field in the corner, and that of today's Croatia with red. Some possible explanations are that first white field symbolizes Croatian nationality, as opposed to the red which symbolizes Croatian state; or that the white field is used on so-called war flag.
The Ustaše greeting was "Za dom - spremni!":
This greeting was used instead of the Nazi greeting Sieg - Heil by Ustase. While the greeting is invented in the 19th century by Croatian ban Josip Jelačić, today it is nominally associated with Ustasha sympathisers by Serbs or non-Ustasha conservatives associated with the Croatian Party of Rights. However Croats see it as patriot salute because it was used long before the Ustase regime and it means defending your country,your home. In Internet communication, it is sometimes abbreviated as ZDS.
The Ustaše held the position that Eastern Orthodoxy, as a symbol of Serbian nationalism, was their greatest foe. The Ustaše never recognized the existence of a Serb people on the territories of Croatia or Bosnia they recognized only "Croats of the Eastern faith." They also called Bosnian Muslims "Croats of the Islamic faith," but they had a stronger ethnic dislike of Serbs.
Some former priests, mostly Franciscans, particularly in, but not limited to, Herzegovina and Bosnia, took part in the atrocities themselves. Miroslav Filipović was a Franciscan friar (from the Petrićevac monastery) who allegedly joined the Ustaša army on 7 February 1942 in a brutal massacre of 2730 Serbs of the nearby villages, including 500 children. He was allegedly subsequently dismissed from his order and defrocked, though when he was hanged for his war crimes, he wore his Franciscan robes. Filipović became Chief Guard of Jasenovac concentration camp where he was nicknamed "Fra Sotona", and by Croats themselves.
For the duration of the war, the Vatican kept up full diplomatic relations with the Ustaša state (granting Pavelić an audience), with its papal nuncio in the capital Zagreb. The nuncio was briefed on the efforts of religious conversions to Roman Catholicism. After the Second World War was over, the Ustaše who had managed to escape from Yugoslav territory (including Pavelić) were smuggled to South America. It is widely alleged that this was done through rat lines operated by members of the organization who were Catholic priests and had previously secured positions at the Vatican. Members of the Illyrian College of San Girolamo in Rome were reputedly involved in this: friars Krunoslav Draganović, Petranović, and Dominik Mandić.
The Ustaše regime had sent large amounts of gold that it had plundered from Serbian and Jewish property owners during WW II into Swiss banks.Of a total of 350 million Swiss Francs, about 150 million was seized by British troops; however, the remaining 200 million (ca. 47 million dollars) reached the Vatican. Allegations exist that it's still being kept in the Vatican Bank. This was reported by the American intelligence agency SSU in October 1946. This issue is the theme of a recent class action suit against the Vatican Bank and others.
Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac, Archbishop of Zagreb during the Second World War, was accused of supporting the Ustaše, and exonerating those in the clergy that collaborated with the Ustaše of complicity in forced conversions. On the other hand, he himself helped Jewish, Serb and Roma/Sinti victims of the Ustaša terror at the same time. Once, while celebrating mass in Zagreb's cathedral, he reportedly said:
katolička crkva ne priznaje podjele na gospodujuće i robujuće rase. Svaki narod, svaka rasa i svaka religija ima jednako pravo dignuti ruke prema nebu i reći oče naš, koji jesi na nebesima.... Neka se srame oni, koji su dušu čovječju, hram Božji, pretvorili u spilju razbojničku!(Croatian) - ''The Catholic Church does not recognize divisions into "master" and "slave" races. Every nation, every race and every religion has an equal right to lift their hands to Heaven and pray: "Our Father who art in heaven..." May those be ashamed who have made the human soul, which is God's temple, into a cave of thieves.However, Archbishop Stepinac also said this on 28 March 1941, in note of Yugoslavia's early attempts to unite Croatians and Serbs: "All in all, Croats and Serbs are of two worlds, northpole and southpole, never will they be able to get together unless by a miracle of God. The schism (Eastern Orthodoxy) is the greatest curse in Europe, almost greater than Protestantism. Here there is no moral, no principles, no truth, no justice, no honesty."
In 1998 , Stepinac was beatified by Pope John Paul II. On 22 June 2003, John Paul II visited Banja Luka. During the visit he held a mass at the aforementioned Petrićevac monastery. This caused public uproar due to the connection of the Petrićevac monastery with the crimes of former friar Filipović. At the same location the pope also proclaimed the beatification of the Catholic layman Ivan Merz (1896-1928) who was the founder of the "Association of Croatian Eagles" in 1923, which many Serb nationalists and communists view as the precursor to the Ustaše.
Roman Catholic apologists defend the Pope's actions by claiming that the convent at Petricevac was one of the places that went up in flames causing the death of 80-year-old Friar Alojzije Atlija. Further, that the war had produced "a total exodus of the Catholic population from this region"; that the few who remained were "predominantly elderly"; and that the church in Bosnia then risked "total extinction" due to the war. Therefore, supporters state that the focus on the anti-Croatian tragedy presently occurring was more important than focusing on one of 60 years ago.