The Vatican’s Complicity in Genocide in Fascist Croatia – The Suppressed Chapter of Holocaust History
by Barry Lituchy, 10 May 1998
Fourteen years ago the U.S. Government de-classified the now famous „La Vista Report“ of May 15, 1947, a top-secret U.S. Army Intelligence report documenting the Vatican’s role in aiding the escape of numerous high-ranking Nazi war criminals, among them Ante Pavelic, fascist leader of wartime Croatia; Franz Stangel, Commander of Treblinka; Eduard Roschmann, „the Butcher of Riga“; Klaus Barbie, „the Butcher of Lyon“; SS General Walter Rauff, inventor of the mobile gas truck; Adolf Eichmann, „architect of the Holocaust“; and tens of thousands of others.
(…) Far from suggesting that the Vatican did anything wrong, the document instead tries to portray the role of the Church during the Holocaust in a mostly positive light, insisting that „many“ members of the Church did „give every possible assistance“ — implying that those who didn’t were a minority, and going on to claim that the Vatican categorically condemned and opposed fascism and Nazism, making reference to pronouncements that at best are equivocal.
(…) If we consider for a moment the manner in which the phenomenon of genocide has been treated in the twentieth century by both historians and governments, in general we can say that it often has been cynically exploited for political purposes. When it suited the Western powers, they criticized the genocide of Armenians by Turkey in World War I. But after Turkey became a bulwark against the Soviet Union and a military ally, this chapter of twentieth century history was suppressed — and largely remains so to this day. Most historians in this country are still unwilling to consider the mass extermination of Native American peoples or the deaths of millions of Africans during slavery as acts of genocide, legally sanctioned by this country. At the U.S. Holocaust Museum the history of the Holocaust has been tailored to fit the political fashions of the Clinton administration and the New World Order: hence, one finds the words „Serbs“ and „Russians“ are altogether absent from the official record of the Holocaust, and instead are replaced in the most obscene Orwellian manner by the words „Yugoslavs“ and „Soviets.“ A most vicious and ironic cover up, considering that the U.S. today does not even recognize the existence of these states or peoples. In all of these cases we see instances of the suppression of the history of genocide against certain peoples for clearly political purposes (not least of which is the desire to target these same peoples for future destruction). The role of the U.S. and British governments in protecting and employing Nazi and fascist mass murderers will also probably not be fully disclosed or incorporated into history books in our lifetimes.
(…) The Vatican had done all it could to support the Austrian and German war effort in 1914 against Serbia and considered Serbia as the „evil“ behind the war. In his report of July 29, 1914 to the Austrian Foreign Minister Berchtold, the Austrian charge d’affairs to the Vatican, Count Palffy reported the views of the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Marry del Val, who, speaking on behalf of then Pope Pius X
„…expressed the hope that the monarchy would go through to the end… [and] the opinion that it is a pity that Serbia wasn’t made smaller much earlier…. The Pope and the Curia see Serbia as a destructive disease which is slowly eating away at the Monarchy to its very essence and which will eventually destroy it.… Austria is and remains a Catholic state par excellence, the strongest bulwark of Christ’s Church in this century. The demolition of this bulwark would mean for the Church the loss of its firmest support. It would lose its strongest defender. Therefore, for this reason, just as it is necessary for Austria, for the sake of its self-preservation to get its organism rid, if necessary by force, of the evil which is eating away at it, so it is indirectly necessary for the Church to do everything that could serve this purpose.“(9)
In August 1914 the Vatican encouraged its clergy to rally the Catholic populations of Croatia and Slovenia to fight Serbia, portraying the conflict as a holy war against the very „enemy of Jesus,“ i.e.: the Serbs. The Bishop of Ljubljana, Anton Jeglich, called on the Slovenian soldiers
„…to take arms and defend Catholic Austria and our Catholic imperial family from the sworn enemy of Jesus himself….let us fight the enemies of God, against the enemies of Catholic Austria, against the enemies of the Catholic Habsburg house.“(10)
Combined with the Catholic fanaticism encouraged by the Vatican was the extreme racial violence expressed toward the Serbs throughout Austria-Hungary and summed up in the popular jingle of August 1914: „Alle Serben mussen sterben!“(11) This blending of Catholic fanaticism and racial violence toward the Serbs born in the last days of the Habsburg Empire and sponsored by the Vatican prefigured the later emergence of Croatian fascism. Indeed, in World War I, one out of every four male Serbs would be killed — a dress rehearsal, one might say, for the greater genocide to come.
(…) The Croatian Catholic Church and the Vatican were directly involved in helping the fascist regime in Croatia carry out a triple genocide against Serbs, Jews and Romas from 1941 to 1945 in every possible way. By the time they were done, they had killed one million people. The Catholic Church assisted the Croatian fascists in every aspect of their murderous rule, from open political and financial support, to serving in their military units in every phase of the war, to serving in their government, to participating in arrests, expropriations, deportations, forced conversions and mass murders of racially persecuted peoples. Catholic Priests even served as concentration camp commanders in some of the worst death camps of World War II. And it was all done with the full knowledge and support of Pope Pius XII and the Vatican.(19)
On April 10, 1941 the Independent State of Croatia was declared by Ustashi arriving in Zagreb with Nazi troops during the Nazi’s invasion and dismemberment of Yugoslavia which began on April 6 and continued until the surrender of the Yugoslav government on April 17. While 30,000 were killed by the Luftwaffe in the bombing of Belgrade, Zagreb and Croatia were left untouched and the Nazis were greeted like heroes in the streets of Zagreb. Once again much of the responsibility for preparing public support for Nazism in Croatia lies with the Catholic Church, which had published articles in its publications as early as 1939 calling for an independent Croatia. In 1940 an article appeared in the official Church publication „Catholic List“ praising Mein Kampf and adding that there was no conflict between being a good Catholic and a good Nazi.(20) Indeed, similar articles were published by innumerable Catholic clergy all over Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Urged on by the Catholic clergy, thousands of Croatian officers and soldiers in the Yugoslav army deserted to the Nazi-Ustasha side as did a large part of the membership of the popular Croatian Peasant Party.
While the Ustashi rode to power on the backs of the Nazi Wehrmacht, units of Ustasha soldiers fought alongside them. Among the very first armed divisions of the Ustasha army were numerous Catholic priests. The military exploits of one priest, Ilija Tomas of Klepac, were hailed in the Croatian fascist publication „Hrvatski Narod“ on July 25, 1941.(21) Another Catholic publication „Nedelja“ praised the military exploits of dozens of priests, especially those in monastic orders such as the Franciscan Radovan Glavas, and the priest Ivan Miletic who led Croatian fascists in joint battle with Wehrmacht forces.(22) Priests who led Catholic organizations in Croatia and Bosnia such as the „Crusaders Brotherhood“ and „Catholic Action,“ which had tens of thousands of members, established military units within them and were used as recruiting centers for the Ustasha military.(23) These are not unique examples. The entire Catholic press in this period in Croatia was thoroughly pro-fascist, racist and supportive of the elimination of the „minorities.“
The leader of the Catholic Church in Croatia, Archbishop Stepinac, fervently supported the Ustasha movement and welcomed the invading Nazi army as it entered Zagreb. On April 11th he met with Ustasha leaders and on April 12th he blessed the newly arrived Ustasha leadership in a public ceremony at his cathedral. In his Easter address of that month he compared the creation of the new fascist state to the resurrection of Christ. In his pastoral letter of April 28th he ordered the clergy and called upon all Catholic people of Croatia and Bosnia to follow their „Poglavnik“ (Fuhrer) Ante Pavelic, for he had seen in Pavelic’s rule „God’s hand in action.“(24) The pastoral letter was read over the radio and in every Catholic parish in fascist Croatia.
Stepinac met with the Croatian Fuhrer when he arrived from Italy on April 16th. That evening Stepinac held a dinner party in his residence in honor of Pavelic and the Ustasha leadership. In his diary, Stepinac described the day and admitted that Pavelic told him of his plans to „exterminate“ the non-Catholic religions in Croatia. Stepinac’s diary indicates that he too was prepared for an all out religious war, for he added that „If that man (Pavelic) rules Croatia for ten years…. Croatia will be a paradise on earth.
(…) Croatia became at this time, as Croatian historian Antun Miletic has said, „a land of concentration camps.“ In order to execute the state’s racial laws, the Directorate for Public Security under Eugen Kvaternik was ordered by Interior Minister Andrija Artukovic to create a series of concentration camps throughout Croatia. From April to August 1941 Serbs, Jews, Romas and anti-fascists who were not killed outright were relocated to collection camps, such as Danica, Kerestinec, Pag, Caprag, Jadovno, Krushchica, Loborgrad, Gornja Rijeka, Djakovo, Tenj, Sisak, Jastrebarsko and the Lepoglava Prison. Some of these, like Jadovno and Djakovo were also major death camps. In other cases surviving inmates were transported for extermination to the main concentration camp system in Croatia which opened in August 1941, Jasenovac.
It was at Jasenovac that between 600,000 and 700,000 Serbs, at least 30,000 Romas and 25,000 Jews were systematically murdered between August 1941 and April 1945. Of all of the death camps during the Holocaust Jasenovac was the third largest overall in terms of victims. In terms of size it was probably the largest, spread out over 240 square kilometers (150 sq. miles) and encompassing actually a series of five major and three smaller „special“ camps.(39) Jasenovac was intended to serve as „the radical solution“ to Croatia’s racial problem a factory of death. Indeed, it was built around a former brick factory. Its first Commander was the notorious Maks Luburic, a man specifically sent to the Third Reich for training at various Nazi concentration camps prior to the opening of Jasenovac.Jasenovac holds a number of ghastly distinctions for its cruelty. It possessed some of the largest camps for women and children during the war – the names of some 20,000 children murdered there have been collected thus far. It was noted also for its extreme brutality every known method of murder and torture was employed there, as well as a few unknown anywhere else. There are very few examples in human history that can compare with the scale of murder, terror and barbarism conducted at Jasenovac.
And yet it is not even mentioned at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. Why?