CHRONICLES ONLINE, Friday, April 21, 2000
Now God has decided to use other means. He will set up missions: European missions, world missions. They will be upheld not by priests, but by army commanders, led by Hitler. The sermons will be heard with the help of cannons, tanks and bombers. The language of these sermons will be international.
GERMAN REACTIONS TO TERROR
Far from contributing to the Axis war effort, the terror unleashed by the Ustasha regime helped the enemies of both the NDH and the Third Reich. This disregard for their own survival indicated that the Ustasha and Nazi leaders considered genocide a fundamental duty that even transcended the importance of victory in war. Such fundamentalist commitment to genocide as a good-in-itself distinguishes them from other despotic regimes in history.
A distinction between Ustasha and Nazi terror should nevertheless be made: the latter adopted the "style" of a developed industrial state (complex equipment, intricate administrative network), while Ustasha terror was "primitive" and "traditional." Nazi terror included plans, orders, reports, lists of victims, statistics; Ustasha orders were mostly oral and the apparatus of terror functioned in an arbitrary manner and with a random selection of targets and methods of killing. Nazi terror was for most part depersonalized and bureaucratic, it was cold, abstract, objective - just like Nazi hatred; the Ustashas were direct, personal and "warm." Their terror was often directed against their first neighbors; it was passionate and subjective. Nazi terror (with its somberness, military discipline, bureaucratic pedantry etc) was "puritanical," while the Ustashas indulged literally in orgies of violence. Finally, Nazi terror was "modern" in its ideology and technology; the Ustashas were just terrorists, and their "fascism" undeveloped.
Some Ustasha leaders freely acknowledged their order of priorities. In late 1942, shortly before he was removed from his post as the head of Ravsigur, Eugen-Dido Kvaternik told his old classmate Branko Peselj that he allowed for the possibility that Germany could lose the war and the NDH could cease to exist. However, he added, "regardless of the outcome of the war there will be no more Serbs in Croatia." This "reality of any post-war situation" would have to be taken into account by whoever turned out to be the victor. The Ustasha terror was without precedent in the history of southeast Europe until that time; it was also the first attempted total genocide in the Second World War.
One of the first reports on "the increasing anti-Serb terror by the Ustashas" reached Berlin on 2 July 1941. Edmund Veesenmayer, special representative of the German Foreign Ministry in Zagreb, stated that "authoritative representatives of the regime" looked on the Serbs in Croatia as a problem "which is under the exclusive competence of Ustasha police and court-martials." But the Wehrmacht plenipotentiary representative in Zagreb, General Edmund Glaise von Horstenau, was the first high-ranking German official in Croatia who became convinced that Pavelic wanted to kill or otherwise eliminate all Serbs.
From his earliest days in Zagreb Glaise started establishing an efficient and reliable intelligence network. It provided him with detailed information on Ustasha atrocities. Glaise's chief information gatherer was Captain Haeffner, his assistant, who had lived in Zagreb for many years, spoke the language, and had good contacts throughout Croatia. Haeffner's reports contained graphic eyewitness accounts of Ustasha slaughters. According to his pedantic computations, the number of Serbs "who have fallen as victims of animal instincts fanned by Ustasha leaders" exceeded 200,000 by the beginning of August 1941. As the terror grew, so did Haeffner's disdain for Pavelic. He wrote of "the strong inferiority complex of Ustasha leaders and their flock vis-a-vis the Serbs, who are more numerous and superior in terms of life energy."
Glaise collected all such reports in a separate file and missed no opportunity to raise the issue of atrocities with Pavelic and other NDH officials. On one such occasion he stated to his hosts that "the Croat revolution was by far the bloodiest and most awful among all I have seen first hand or from afar in Europe since 1917" and warned that not only Serbs, but also Croats did not feel secure any longer. Typically he was given promises that were never to be carried out. As an essentially decent officer of the old Austrian school, Glaise was horrified with what was going on. He was additionally alarmed when he realized that many people blamed the Germans for Ustasha crimes. In his report dated 18 July 1941 Haeffner warned Glaise that
Croats no longer think that German troops are present merely to provide peace and security, but that they are here to support the Ustasha regime [...] The Ustashas promote the impression that they act not only in agreement with German instances, but actually on their orders. [...] There is here today a deep mistrust of Germany, because it is supporting a regime that has no moral or political right to exist, which is regarded as the greatest calamity that could have happened to the Croat people. That regime is based entirely on the recognition by the Axis powers, it has no popular roots, and depends on the bayonets of robbers who do more evil in a day than the Serbian regime had done in twenty years.
Heribert Troll-Obergfell, a former Austrian diplomat and counselor at the German legation in Zagreb, also reported to his ministry about anti-Serb terror. He accurately predicted that Ustasha crimes were creating "an explosive situation wherever Serbs lived" - a situation that could soon erupt into hotbeds of unrest which would be hard to quell. On the same day (10 July 1941) Glaise sent his report to the OKW:
Our troops have to be mute witnesses of such events; it does not reflect well on their otherwise high reputation... I am frequently told that German occupation troops would finally have to intervene against Ustasha crimes. This may happen eventually. Right now, with the available forces, I could not ask for such action... Ad hoc intervention in individual cases could make the German Army look responsible for countless crimes which it could not prevent in the past.
These two reports, together with Veesenmayer's report of 2 July, were the first official information to reach Berlin about the seriousness of Ustasha crimes. Requests for intervention to stop Ustasha massacres soon started pouring in from different German quarters: from the Military Commander South-East, General-Field Marshal Wilhelm List, as well as from the leaders of the Volksdeutsche in the NDH. Until August 1941 such requests were regularly motivated by the desire to preserve the reputation of Germany, and avoid any suggestion that the atrocities were being German-inspired; by the fear that Ustasha crimes could cause instability and disorder; and by simple revulsion. But lower-ranking Germans' demands went unheeded in Zagreb: in the matter of his approach to "solving the Serb question" Pavelic displayed great determination to preserve his autonomy of action. He realized that he could afford to ignore such appeals for as long as there was no pressure from the top, from Berlin, to do otherwise.
In the first weeks after the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Serb population in the NDH displayed passivity and mute acceptance of the new order. Some perceived the new state, fatalistically, as a re-enactment of Austria-Hungary, which - while certainly not loved - was well respected. As they were to learn to their peril, in the NDH there was no rational correlation between a Serb's thoughts or deeds, and the state's attitude to him:
The Ustashas refused to acknowledge that having a Serbian national consciousness was not a political act or something one [did not] intentionally choose. This admission would have made their anti-Serbian policies look like a campaign against innocent people. They therefore insisted that being a Serb was in itself a political act and that those who 'wanted to be Serbs' and who 'insisted on being Serbs' could be justly punlished for that.
Even when the bloodbath began in earnest, after the departure of German units for Russia, many Serbs were too dumbfounded to believe what was happening. Many were taken aback by the callous attitude of their Catholic and Muslim neighbors, with whom - so they imagined - they had no quarrel. By openly going beyond the pale the Ustashas also expected to create the feeling of irreversibility in Serb-Croat relations, which would make any notion of a revived Yugoslavia unthinkable.
This sense of irreversibility extended to Allied quarters. President Roosevelt expressed puzzlement how, after such experiences, the Serbs could ever be expected to live in the future in the same state with the Croats. When British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden visited the White House in March 1943 he was presented with Roosevelt's "oft-repeated opinion" that the Croats should be placed under some kind of "international trusteeship." The President expressed similar views to Secretary of State Hull in early October 1943 on the eve of Hull's departure for Moscow, where he was to attend the Foreign Ministers Conference.
The Ustasha anti-Serb terror profoundly influenced all facets of life in the NDH. This "domestic" issue affected its foreign relations too, by fanning Serb uprisings - which turned into a major guerrilla war - and thus drawing Germany and Italy ever deeper into a tangled web of military and political involvement in the Balkans. It could be argued that the Serb uprising would have occurred even without the massacres; uprisings occurred in the summer of 1941 in both Serbia and Montenegro. By the end of 1941, however, both had been pacified and remained so - in the case of Serbia - for almost three years. No such pacification could be effected in the NDH, due to the constant threat of massacres. German military officials on the ground realized that "a terrible military venture of exterminating the Serbian Orthodox population had thrown the young country into a predestined civil war."
The Ustashas' attempt to exterminate the Serbian peasant and small town establishment in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina - with teachers, priests, merchants and educated people always the first target - created a political vacuum. This opened the way for the Communists to gain an early foothold, and eventually grow into the strongest guerrilla army in Nazi-occupied Europe. But in the upheaval that followed the first wave of pogroms there was no ideological background to Serb resistance, which was in the early phase a struggle to preserve bare life. This was to change soon, however. The attack on the Soviet Union, on 22 June 1941, suddenly enabled the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) to present itself as a legitimate national force, able and willing to appeal to the latent Russophile sentiment of the Serbs. Its invoking the image of "Mother Russia" was a cynical ploy, of course, but it worked wonders for the small band of Party cadres hard pressed to deliver a convincing pitch to their would-be recruits.
In the months of June, July and August 1941 the Serbs in the NDH desperately looked east for deliverance. Atavistic trust in "Mother Russia" transcended all ideological reservations and offered a ray of hope in the veritable nightmare of Pavelic's Endloesung. In the initial stage the uprising was a purely Serb affair in which the CPY sought to exploit for its revolutionary ends the Calvary of the Serb population of Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, by imposing itself on the leaderless peasantry and manipulating it. The Ustasha atrocities were formally condemned by the Party, but only for tactical reasons. Its top brass knew better, and some of Tito's henchmen cynically observed that the Ustashas had done the job for the Communists by liquidating the local Serbian establishment. Pavelic's Einsatzgruppen were unwittingly clearing the ground for the agents of the Comintern.
Left without traditional leaders, and long before 1941 devoid of a coherent national program - let alone a strategy for its fulfillment - the Serbs were going to pay an exorbitant price for their own incoherence. Within the insurgent movement the principle of "revolutionary realism" of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia inevitably clashed with the "existential realism" of the "nationalists," leading to a Serb-Serb civil war within the wider anti-German and anti-Ustasha struggle. By the end of 1941 various local non-Communist resistance groups - that came to be collectively known as Cetniks - realized that co-existence with the Communists was no longer possible, since it demanded endless Serb sacrifices on behalf of distant masters and revolutionary objectives. The ensuing three-cornered civil war rounded up the truly Hobbesian drama that had no precedent even in the collective tragedy of Europe in 1941.
Italian military commanders in the NDH were aware of the tension between different nationalities in the area well before the flare-up of insurrection. In early May deputations of Muslims from western Bosnia were already asking the Italians to extend their occupation zone, and Serb community leaders made similar approaches to the Sassari division. As the Ustasha terror flared, resulting in the Serb uprising, the Italians faced a dilemma. They could either help their Croat "allies," or act in some other way to restore order.
In some areas, notably eastern Herzegovina, from very early days armed Serb groups made it clear to the Italians that they did not have a quarrel with them but only with the Ustashas. On several occasions in June 1941 Serb village heads approached Italian garrisons to request food and protection. As Italian units moved into the area of unrest to secure the lines of communication between Dubrovnik and its hinterland they encountered no opposition from the insurgents. Both sides, Serb insurgents and Italian military commanders, soon realized that they had a common interest: restoration of order and peace. If this objective demanded the removal of the cause of unrest - the Ustasha armed bands and Pavelic's administration - the Italians had no qualms about doing so. With considerable political and diplomatic skill Italian commanders proceeded to achieve their primary objective, pacification. General Dalmazzo, the commander of the Sixth Army Corps in the region of Dubrovnik (which included the rebellious eastern Herzegovina), concluded that the Ustashas and local pro-Ustasha Muslims were guilty of causing the uprising. He supplied the Second Army headquarters with detailed reports to that effect, and was given a free hand in restoring order. The Italians promptly disarmed the remaining Ustashas in Trebinje, and armed Serb rebels entered the city on 1 August 1941.
While Glaise and other Wehrmacht commanders were agonizing over the dilemma posed by the Ustasha-instigated uprising, worrying about the "reputation of the German Army" and its inability to prevent the massacres, Italian officers enjoyed much greater autonomy of action in matters political. By being conciliatory with non-Communist Serb insurgents, the Italians made it more difficult for CPY agitators to advocate total war. The disdain and contempt of Italian officers and common soldiers for the Ustashas turned, by the late summer 1941, into an articulate anti-Ustasha stand of the Italian Army establishment as a whole. The Commander of the Italian Sasari division, for instance, reported to his superiors:
The horrors that the Ustashi have committed over the Serbian small girls is beyond all words. There are hundreds of photographs confirming these deeds because those of them who have survived the torture: bayonet stabs, pulling of tongues and teeth, nails and breast tips - all this after they were raped. Survivors were taken in by our officers and transported to Italian hospitals where these documents and facts were gathered.
Italian generals' autonomy of action was indicative of the relative independence of the Italian army from Fascist ideology and politics. Mussolini had never brought his officer corps to heel as thoroughly as Hitler had done in the late 1930s. Much more than its German counterpart, the Italian army was a political factor in its own right, and on the issue of Croatia it acted as an autonomous pressure group with considerable decision-making power.
By the late summer of 1941 German officials on the ground were increasingly concerned by the spread of insurgency in the NDH. They realized that without some pressure from Berlin Pavelic's regime would not change its tactics. On 10 August 1941 Troll-Obergfell reported that
Croatians will say they are repelling rebels, but contrary to Croatian assertions that the fault for unrest lies exclusively with the Serbs, German military commands and sober Croatian circles are of the opinion that the uprising was essentially caused by the wild and bloody Ustasha conduct.
The Nazi Party foreign arm (Auslandsorganisation) chief in the NDH, Rudolf Epting, shared this view, and in a later report to Hitler he unambiguously named the Ustashas the main culprits. This was also the opinion of Walter Schellenberg of the Reich Security Service (RSHA) foreign department. The RSHA had an extensive network in the NDH and was particularly thorough in its reports of Ustasha atrocities and the effect they had on the unrest. Its agents sent literally hundreds of such reports, on the basis of which the Service reached its considered opinion that the Ustashas bore the brunt of blame for the spread of Partisan movement in the NDH.
The same overall view was presented to the Reichsfuehrer SS, Heinrich Himmler, on 17 February 1942 in a detailed Gestapo report. The conclusion of this long document was explicit:
Increased activity of the bands is chiefly due to atrocities carried out by Ustasha units in Croatia against the Orthodox population. The Ustashas committed their deeds in a bestial manner not only against males of conscript age, but especially against helpless old people, women and children. The number of the Orthodox that the Croats have massacred and sadistically tortured to death is about three hundred thousand.
German foreign ministry plenipotentiary representative in Belgrade Felix Benzler joined the chorus of disapproval by reporting to Ribbentrop:
From the founding [of the NDH] until now the persecution of Serbs has not stopped, and even cautious estimates indicate that at least several hundred thousand people have been killed. The irresponsible elements have committed such atrocities that could be expected only from a rabid Bolshevik horde.
The result was that, by early 1942, the occupation system established in Yugoslavia was in tatters. Most of the NDH was in a state of chaos, with the effective Ustasha authority reduced to less than half its territory. German attempts to devise a common military strategy had failed, owing to Italian unwillingness to fight a war on German terms for the sake of the Ustashas who had caused trouble in the first place.
From April 1941 until the end of the war the fanatically pro-Ustasha German minister in Zagreb, Siegfried Kasche, was alone in advocating support for the regime. He was opposed by a wide array of German generals as well as Himmler's SS and other representatives of the Nazi state, but he knew that Hitler ultimately approved of what Pavelic was doing. This dual-track policy resulted in curious situations: Pavelic's nominal sovereignty was reiterated in Berlin, but at the same time the Wehrmacht had operational and logistic control over his armed forces, and civilian authority in the zones of operations.
Hitler's unwillingness to get rid of Pavelic was initially inspired by the desire to maintain an institutionalized chaos, which the Ustashas duly provided. Later on, however, there was no alternative to Pavelic: once it became clear that Germany would lose the war, no replacement could be found. Sensing this the Ustashas, in turn, escalated their anti-Serb zeal in the last phase of the war, showing that they were fighting an anti-Serb, rather than a pro-German war.
The NDH thus lingered on after Italy's capitulation, fatally dependent for its survival on the dwindling fortunes of the Third Reich. It was as marginal to the war's outcome as Tiso's Slovakia or Szalasi's Hungary. Even its end was humiliating: the British refused to accept surrender of the NDH armed forces in Carinthia (13 May 1945) and turned them back to Tito. In London and in Washington it was a matter of common knowledge "of what was happening to the Serbs in territory under Ustasha control."
The Ustasha experience added to the European scene a distinctly pre-modern rendering on the theme of chauvinism, despotism, terrorism, and crude "native Fascism" sui generis. The numbers are important in order to grasp the magnitude of that contribution. German contemporaries stated that close to one third of all Serbs under Ustasha rule were killed: "The Serbs have become slaughterhouse material... from the total of two million Orthodox population, almost 600,000 were murdered." The Simon Wiesenthal Center has reached the same number for Serbs, 30,000 for Jews (75-80%), and 29,000 for Gypsies (97%). Encyclopedia of the Holocaust states that "over half a million [Serbs] were murdered, about a quarter of a million were expelled from the country, and another quarter of a million were forced to convert to Catholicism." One way or another about one half of all Serbs in the NDH were subjected to the Ustasha dictum of "kill a third, expel a third, convert a third."
Croat nationalism, small, insecure, underdeveloped linguistically and ideologically, was thus brought to paroxysm by Pavelic's Ustasha movement, and turned into a caricature of itself. But the fact that the Ustasha legacy is freely acknowledged as a constitutive pillar of today's "democratic" and utterly Serbenfrei Croatia is interesting, and illustrative of the situational morality that guides our political leaders. The benevolent tolerance by "the West" of that living legacy on its fringes reflects the ascent of higher cynicism under the guise of "Human Rights." Not all Balkan genocides are the same, and the ones that did not happen - in Bosnia in 1992-1995, or in Kosovo in 1999 - are more equal than others. Pavelic and Tudjman must be having a good posthumous laugh. To paraphrase a contemporary German historian's warning about another ghost from Europe's not too distant past, "We are far from done with the Ustashas" (originally Wir sind mit Hitler noch lange nicht fertig).
There are people in the West who would like to forget, or even deny, the Croatian Holocaust, to gloss over its victims, and to demonize the victims' descendants as the devils-incarnate of our own time. This approach is not only immoral; it is also foolish. Sins unatoned have the nasty habit of coming back to haunt the culprits, and the Goetterdaemmerung of our spiritually arid, morally bankrupt, and demographically moribund civilization may come even before the last Serb disappears from the face of the Earth.
 DGFP, D, 12, Minutes of Hitler's talks with Pavelic, 6 June 1941.
 See Fikreta Jelic-Butic: HSS. Zagreb 1983, p. 47.
 Hory and Broszat, Der Kroatische Ustascha-Staat, 1941-1945. Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1964, p. 15.
 On the role of the Vatican in Croatia see Carlo Falconi. The Silence of Pius XII. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1970. He argues that by July 1941 350,000 people had been killed (p. 291).
 Jonathan Steinberg, "The Roman Catholic Church and Genocide in Croatia, 1941-1945," unpublished essay to mark the 50th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, January 1992.
 From a speech by Pavelic's minister of justice Milovan Zanic, as reported by Novi list, Zagreb, 3 June 1941.
 A speech by the Ustasha commander in Banja Luka Viktor Gutic quoted by "Hrvatski Narod."
 Hrvatska Straza, May 11, 1941
 Falconi, op. cit. pp. 272-273.
 Ibid., p. 298.
 Hrvatski Narod, 25 July 1941.
 Katolicki Tjednik, Zagreb, 31 August 1941.
 Branko Peselj to the author, Washington D.C., 1988.