CROATIANS KILLED BY NAZI AND
DURING WORLD WAR II - A PARTIAL LIST
John Peter Kraljic
The Croatian struggle against
Nazism and Fascism is one which generally remains underappreciated in
the English-speaking world. While the events in Croatia during World
War II have been well-documented by experts in the field, especially
within Croatia, this rich literature, dating from both Communist and
post-Communist times, remains virtually unknown in the West.
As discussed further
below, approximately 60,000 ethnic
Croats, almost 1.5% of the pre-War population of Croats in the former
Yugoslavia, died either while fighting with Partisan forces or at the
hands of the German Nazis and Italian and other Fascists. While the
number may seem small in absolute terms, in relative terms an
equivalent loss of American lives would have led to almost 2 million
deaths, rather than the approximately 400,000 actually killed during
World War II, or over 700,000 deaths in the United Kingdom, rather than
Croatian remains highly
aware of its sacrifices during the
War. On an annual basis, numerous towns and villages hold ceremonies to
commemorate those killed in the war against Fascism. Croatia is
probably one of the only countries in Europe which celebrates
Anti-Fascism as a state holiday (June 22) while its Constitution
declares that the roots of present-day Croatian statehood lie in its
Partisan Parliament, the Regional or Land Anti-Fascist Council for the
National Liberation of Croatia (Zemaljsko anti-fašističko
narodnog-oslobođenja Hrvatske or ZAVNOH).
A mere recitation of the
historical record does not suffice in
presenting the true story of World War II in Croatia. Using monuments
of victims of the War as well as available published sources, the
author has determined that a listing of those Croats killed as
Partisans or as Victims of Fascist Terror would allow readers to come
away with a better understanding of the War in Croatia and an
appreciation of the deep memories of the Nazi and Italian Fascist
occupation which continue to inhabit the Croatian psyche.
of Anti-Fascism and Anti-Nazism in Croatia.
The roots of Anti-Fascism in Croatia date from the appearance of
Fascism in neighboring Italy. Italian Fascism embodied imperialist
ambitions toward ethnic Croat areas, as vividly shown in Istria and
Rijeka (Fiume). The poet Gabriele D'Annunzio, a progenitor of
Mussolini, and his thugs known as the Arditi seized control of Rijeka
to thwart any peaceful negotiations concerning the disposition of
Rijeka following World War I. Ultimately, Italy annexed Rijeka and
Zadar (Zara), the entire Istrian Peninsula, the islands of Cres and
Lošinj and a number of other islands, despite the fact that
ethnic Italians constituted a small minority of the population in these
Mussolini's Fascist state
took stringent measures to convert
these areas to purely ethnic Italian territory. Fascist authorities
banned the public use of Croatian in all forms. They even prevented new
born children to be registered with Croatian and other Slavic personal
names. The Croatian intellectual and business class fled. An estimated
100,000 Croats left Istria alone by the early 1930s while special
Fascist tribunals sentenced many Croats to long prison terms even
executed others (e.g., Vladimir Gortan). The plight of Istria, Rijeka
and other areas annexed by Italy remained an issue close to the hearts
of all Croatians during the inter-War period.
The remainder of Croatia
had in the meantime been placed
within the borders of the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes,
later called Yugoslavia. While many Croats initially viewed the Serbs
as brothers, the new state quickly came under Serb domination. The
levers of power, headed by the monarch and the army, remained within
the hands of the Serb ruling class. Indeed, throughout the 27 year
existence of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia only one Croat (Ivan
Šubašić) (other than Josip Broz Tito) and one
(Anton Korošec) held the office of Prime Minister.
The Croatian Peasant
Party (Hrvatska seljačka stranka or HSS)
became the largest political party of Croats in the Kingdom. Headed
initially by Stjepan
Radić, the HSS advocated the
reconstitution of the
Kingdom into a confederation of peasant republics. After being jailed
by Yugoslav authorities in 1925, Radić was forced to renounce this
initial dream. He recognized the existence of the Kingdom and the
monarchy and pledged to work through Parliament to achieve the
reconstruction of the political structure of the country. Radić's
attempts came to naught as he died in August 1928 from gunshot wounds
received in Parliament at the hands of a Serb parliamentary member.
Radić's successor, Vladko
Maček, continued his policies
through the 1930s, a period marked by a royal dictatorship imposed by
King Alexander. Maček advocated a policy of non-violence in working to
achieve his aims. Like Gandhi, Maček was jailed a number of times. His
resistance ultimately bore fruit in 1939 with the creation of the
Province or Banovina of Croatia which included most of present-day
Croatia and parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ivan
became the Governor or Ban of the Province.
While the HSS continued
to enjoy the overwhelming support of
Croatians, a small group, known as the Ustashe (Ustaše) and
by Ante Pavelić advocated the use of violence to achieve Croatia's full
independence from Yugoslavia. Pavelić's movement, however, suffered
from credibility issues given his reliance on support from Mussolini's
Italy and Hungary, states which had territorial pretensions to Croatian
When Germany, Italy and
their allies began their conquest of
Yugoslavia in April 1941, they decided to look to Croats to support
their efforts. An Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država
Hrvatska or NDH) was proclaimed and German agents approached Maček
asking that he become the head of the NDH. However, Maček remained
committed to western-style democracy and refused. As a result, the
Germans and Italians turned to Pavelić who willingly took over the
reigns of power.
While Croatians initially
welcomed the establishment of the
NDH, the mood toward the Ustashe soon soured. Pavelić personally led
negotiations to establish the NDH's borders with Italy. The result
proved disastrous as he allowed Italy to annex most of Croatia's
islands and a large part of its coastline. Moreover, Italian military
authorities soon thereafter took control of roughly half of the
territory placed under the NDH's nominal sovereignty.
The Italian Fascists
applied the lessons they learned in Istria
to the Croatian population in
their newly annexed territories. A
stark example of Italianization policies can be seen in the town of
Omišalj, located on the northern part of Krk Island. Though
town had no Italians whatsoever, on 1 October 1941, an Italian grammar
school replaced the Croatian one. Italian authorities permitted only
one Croatian teacher to remain on the staff for a temporary period, and
she could only teach arithmetic and natural history no more than 1 hour
a day to children in the 3rd and 4th grades (see Ljubo Karabaić, "Otok
Krk u NOR-u 1943 godine" (Krk Island in the National Liberation War in
1943), in Krčki zbornik, vol. 6, 1975).
leaders came under particular attack by
Italian authorities. The Catholic Church in Croatia had a tradition
dating back almost a millennium conducting services in Old Church
Slavonic, especially along the
coast. The Fascists viewed the priests
ministering in Old Church Slavonic (known as Glagoljaši)
obstacle to their attempts to Italianize the population. As a result,
the arrests and deportation of priests became common place. Those
arrested included Dr. Josip Frančišković, vicar of the
of Senj in Bakar, and Ante Sironić, the pastor of Jelenje, both near
Rijeka; the following priests from Krk Island: Nikola Fabijanić, Karlo
Hlača, Petar Žic, Milan Defar, Ivan Žic, Jerko Čubranić and Josip
Volarić; and the following tertiaries of the Franciscan Order
(trećoredci): Nikola Milčetić, Metod Antončić, and Alfonz
(see generally Krčki kalendar (Krk Almanac), New York, 1953; and Jure
Krišto, Katolička crkva i Nezavisna Država Hrvatska (The
Catholic Church and the Independent State of Croatia), Zagreb: Hrvatski
Institut za Povijest, 1998, vol. II. - Dokumenti (Documents)).
Similar examples could be
pointed to throughout the coastal
area of Croatia. The application of such "soft" ethnic cleansing
policies led to passive followed by active resistance to the Axis
Commencement and Growth of Partisan Activities in
Croatia. The Communist
Party of Croatia (Komunistička partije
Hrvatske or the KPH), a part of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia
(Komunistička partije Jugoslavije or the KPJ), formed the nucleus of
the resistance in Croatia. As the Communist Party had been illegal in
pre-War Yugoslavia for almost two decades, the Party had a well
developed underground system whose work could continue following the
The Communists had clear
ulterior motives in using their
organizational skills in establishing Partisan forces. Initially, the
Communists took no actions whatsoever against the Germans, the Italians
or the Ustashe. Like lemmings, they followed the dictates of Soviet
foreign policy which prior to the 22 June 1941 invasion of the USSR
remained anchored in an alliance with Nazi Germany.
The German assault on the
Soviet Union changed the Communists'
attitudes overnight. Indeed, Croatian Communists established the first
Partisan unit in the former Yugoslavia, near Sisak, on the same day the
Germans commenced their attack on Russia (the group included Janko
Bobetko (1919-2003) who later served as the Chief of the General Staff
of the Croatian Army between 1992 and 1995).
However, the Communists
initially did not view their struggle
as a "national liberation war." They at first slavishly sought to
imitate Lenin's tactics in organizing the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. A
tragic example occurred in July 1941. Ninety-four mostly Croatian
Communists successfully broke out of prison at a medieval fortress in
Kerestinec, west of Zagreb. The prisoners included August Cesarec, a
well-known Croatian poet and author, and Zvonimir Komarica, the brother
of the current Archbishop of Banja Luka. Rather than attempting to
escape into the hills, the men headed toward Zagreb under the illusion
that a proletarian uprising was on the verge of breaking out as the
Soviet Red Army supposedly beat back Hitler. All but 12 of the men were
captured and executed within a matter of weeks.
Only the prodding of
Soviet and Comintern officials caused the
KPJ to change its tactics, though not its ultimate strategy. The
struggle to be led by the KPJ would be called a "national liberation"
one, which would seek to bring all anti-fascists into one united force.
The tactic, reminiscent of the People's Front which the Communists had
espoused world-wide in the years immediately prior to the Stalin-Hitler
Pact, would not be an alliance of equal partners but one dominated by
the Communists as they sought to carve off the masses of various
democratic parties from their "reactionary" leaders.
While Tito and the
members of the KPJ Central Committee left
Zagreb for Belgrade in May 1941 and in July 1941 began their military
operations in central Serbia, the KPH and its leadership remained in
Zagreb. The KPH sent various emissaries to establish links with local
Party members and sympathizers throughout Croatia. These emissaries
received aid from returning Spanish Civil War veterans. The latter, who
had not been allowed to re-enter Yugoslavia after the defeat of the
Spanish Republic in March 1939, only began to return in large numbers
after the fall of Yugoslavia through secret channels which ended in
Zagreb. These veterans played an important role in building the
military organization of Partisan forces.
Communists and their
sympathizers worked with these emissaries
and veterans to establish camps or logori in wooded, mountainous and
uninhabited areas. The camps initially served as safe houses where men
and women could hide from authorities while collecting weapons.
In keeping with their
"national liberation" tactic, the
Communists looked for support among other disaffected groups. In
Croatia, the most important initial group consisted of ethnic Serbs.
The Serbs were motivated by two forces. First, within certain areas
controlled by the NDH, and especially in Lika, Serbs came under severe
persecution (it must be noted that the persecution was not evenly
spread throughout NDH territory; thus, the Serbs of western Slavonia
remained comparatively unmolested during the initial year following the
establishment of the NDH).
Second, many Serbs
remained wedded to the concept of Greater
Serbianism. The establishment of the Croatian Banovina in 1939 in
particular brought to the fore organized political groups which openly
advocated the destruction of the Banovina and the incorporation of
large chunks of ethnic Croat and Bosniak territories within a Greater
Serbia. Such groups formed the core of the Chetniks.
successfully brought under their control large
groups of Serbs, especially in the areas of Banija and Kordun, south of
Karlovac, as well as eastern and central Lika. However, Chetnik
influence remained strong, as shown by a number of successful internal
pro-Chetnik coups in some Partisan units. Moreover, the Communists had
little to show for their efforts in certain Serb-inhabited areas of
Croatia. Serb-dominated portions of the interior of Dalmatia, centered
on Knin and continuing northward toward the area where Dalmatia meets
Lika and Bosnia, remained subject to Chetnik domination throughout most
of the War under the leadership of a Serbian Orthodox Priest, Momčilo
Djujić. The Chetniks became notorious for their open collaboration with
Italian forces while certain Chetnik units even entered into power
sharing arrangements with local NDH authorities.
Croats along the Croatian
Littoral and its hinterland in the
Gorski kotar, became the first to join the Partisans in large numbers
in late 1941. In addition to being motivated by their disgust with the
occupying Italian Army, they received added motivation during 1942 as
Italian officials, in an effort to stamp out "rebel" activity, applied
sadistic repressive measures toward Croats both in the Littoral as well
as in Dalmatia. As the reader will learn in reviewing the list of
victims, Italian troops engaged in mass executions as well as
deportations in an attempt to break support for the Partisans. By the
time Italy capitulated in September 1943, an estimated 60,000 to
100,000 Croats were found in prison camps established along the
Croatian coast as well as in Italy. It can come as no surprise that the
number of Croats in Partisan forces steadily increased.
Croatian Partisan Government.
importance in understanding the success of the Croatian Partisans is
their well-developed civilian administrative structure. National
Liberation Committees (Narodno-oslobodilački odbori or NOOs) formed the
basis of Partisan control over the civilian population. The NOOs had
their roots in committees established in occupied cities and villages
to collect food, clothing and other supplies for Partisan units.
Gradually, their competency grew to include other administrative tasks,
including judicial and educational matters. NOOs took various forms,
some established on a street basis, others focused on various
As the War continued, the
NOOs became more structured on a
territorial basis, with district and provincial committees established.
In early 1943, the Communists took steps to establish ZAVNOH to act as
a parliamentary body for all of Croatia. ZAVNOH held three plenary
sessions during the War in areas which remained surrounded by Axis
troops. At its fourth and last session, held on 24-25 July 1945 in
Zagreb, ZAVNOH proclaimed itself as the Croatian Parliament or Sabor.
Today's Croatian Parliament traces its direct historical continuity to
structure impressed many contemporary
observers. There was nothing like it anywhere else in occupied
Yugoslavia and it remains a unique in Europe during World War II. In no
other country was such an assembly held in the midst of Hitler's
Europe. By the end of 1943, 4,596 NOOs were operating throughout the
territory of the present Republic of Croatia. (See Dr. Ivan Jelić,
Hrvatksa u ratu i revoluciji 1941-1945 (Croatia in War and Revolution
1941-1945), Zagreb: Školska knjiga, 1978).
ZAVNOH included many
non-Communists, such as Vladimir Nazor, a
prominent poet who served as ZAVNOH's President, Slavko Rittig, the
pastor of St. Mark's (Sv. Marko), the most prominent Roman Catholic
parish in Zagreb, and a number of members of the HSS. This policy
reflected in part the tactics used with local NOOs which usually
consisted of prominent local individuals; indeed, some NOOs did not
even have Communist members.
However, the Communists
did not allow any political party,
other than their own, to form organizations within areas under Partisan
control. Such tactics especially damaged the HSS, as seen in the case
of Božidar Magovac. Magovac had been a prominent leader of the HSS and
he determined in 1943 to join Partisan forces. Magovac, who served in
the Secretariat of ZAVNOH, became an opponent of Maček and sought to
establish a new HSS organization, one which would return to its
pre-1925 republican roots. However, Andrija Hebrang, the head of the
KPH, quashed Magovac's efforts and removed Magovac from all influential
Thus, while outwardly
ZAVNOH held out the promise of a
democratic future for Croatia, ZAVNOH, together with the NOOs,
ultimately became tools of Communist repression, especially as the War
drew to an end and in its immediate aftermath.
Partisans - Were They All Communists?
answer is a firm NO. As shown by the example of ZAVNOH, the Communists
skillfully used propaganda and other means to portray themselves as
democrats. Given that Croats had traditionally been republican rather
than monarchical in orientation, they found the Communists' opposition
to the Serbian monarchy to be especially attractive as well as the
Communists' claim that the new Yugoslavia would be a federation of free
and equal peoples.
Many Croats fought with
the Partisans as draftees, especially
after Italy's capitulation in September 1943.
Another source of men for
the Partisans proved to be the
Domobrani or Home Guard, the regular Army of the NDH. Throughout the
War, desertions on an individual and sometimes on a larger scale of
Domobrani to the Partisans took place. The most spectacular of these
included the desertion of a large number of pilots (with their planes)
as well as coast guard patrol boats (Italy did not allow the NDH to
have any battle ships or submarines). The Partisans also found
sympathizers within the Domobrani who would pass information as well as
arms and other supplies to Partisan forces.
Certainly, the presence
of Communist Party members within the
Partisans increased as the War continued. Such increases in numbers
represented a natural progression as the Party gained in strength and
discredited its potential opponents. However, the Communists remained a
minority - only 24,780 or approximately 10% of the total forces which
had been under the control of the National Liberation Army of Croatia
(NOVH) were KPH members in July 1945 (see the work of Jelić, op. cit.).
The fact that the Communists remained a minority can be see in some
newly restored Partisan monuments one finds in certain towns in Croatia
where the Communist red star has been replaced by or is now accompanied
with the Catholic cross.
Germans Take Over. The fall
of Italy in
September 1943 led to a massive national uprising by Croats along the
entire coast. Croatians liberated all of Istria (other than the city of
Pula and Rijeka) as well as the city of Split, Croatia's second largest
city and one of its largest ports, without any assistance from Partisan
forces. The Partisans and their Communist leaders quickly sent
delegates and military units to these areas to take control of the
However, it soon became
clear that the Germans would move down
the coast in an effort to thwart the Allied forces, then moving up the
Italian boot, from crossing over into the Eastern Adriatic. While
German troops had a presence in eastern regions of the NDH, the number
of troops they had in Croatia after September 1943 rose dramatically.
The arrival of large
numbers of German troops brought great
misery to the Croatian people. While the Germans displayed greater
sensitivity to Croatian national feeling, even allowing the NDH to
formally proclaim its sovereignty over areas Pavelić gave to Italy more
than two years previously, German troops in fact continued Italy's
policy of mass reprisals. The Germans deported thousands of Croats to
concentration and labor camps (Ivica Račan, the Prime Minister of
Croatia from 2000 to 2004, was born in one such labor camp where his
father died). Tens of thousands of others, especially from Dalmatia and
the islands, fled to Italy. From there, British authorities transported
approximately 25,000 to 30,000 Croats
to a displaced persons camp in El
Shatt in the Sinai Peninsula where 825 of them
As the War neared its
end, Croatia became a lawless place. In
addition to German troops, the Nazis relied on so-called Mongols,
former Soviet troops captured by the Germans who agreed to serve under
the renegade Soviet General Andrey Vlasov, and on Chetnik forces, who,
along with the Mongols, carried out mass killings throughout the
In many areas ostensibly
occupied by the remains of Axis
forces, the Partisans still held some control, particularly at night.
Ominously, a Partisan secret police force, the PPK (which stood for
Protiv peta kolona - Against the Fifth Column) often carried out
night-time executions in these areas against real and perceived
"enemies of the people" (such killings were done on an ad hoc basis and
despite protests by some local NOOs).
Resistance to the Axis. A
needs to be said of other forms of resistance to the Axis in Croatia
during World War II, especially among HSS leaders.
After Pavelić took
control of the NDH, he applied tactics
similar to those used by the Communists to discredit the leadership of
the HSS while trying to win the support of the masses of HSS members.
While a number of right-wing members of the HSS switched their
allegiance to the Ustashe, this number remained small.
Maček and some of his
closest collaborators had in the
meantime been imprisoned by Pavelić in a concentration camp and, later,
Maček remained under house arrest at his farm outside of Zagreb for
almost the entire length of the War. The NDH officially banned the HSS
on 11 June 1941.
While HSS members
secretly set up pro-Allied committees (know
as Akcionskih odbori or Action Committees) throughout the country,
Maček steadfastly opposed starting any armed resistance to the Axis
throughout the War. He argued that the numerically small Croats could
not afford the risk of being physically annihilated. In Maček's
opinion, Croatia's fate would be decided at the negotiation table after
the War. Maček believed that Croatians could only rise up as Allied
armies approached. In this regard, he and his supporters specifically
looked to the Domobrani as a force which could be used to over throw
the Ustashe and bring western democracy to the country. While Maček's
stance has earned him much criticism, in his defense it must be kept in
mind that his tactic to wait for the arrival of Allied forces followed
that urged on all resistance movements in occupied Europe by the US and
Pavelić, in the meantime,
vainly tried to gather greater
grassroots support for this regime. In early 1942, he even called a
session of the Croatian Parliament. The Parliament's members included
HSS members elected to the Yugoslav Parliament in the last pre-War
elections in 1938. However, only approximately 60 of the over 90
invited HSS delegates agreed to participate in the Parliament. Those
who did come to the Parliament petitioned Pavelić to institute a number
of reforms which would have had the effect of decreasing his political
power; Pavelić ignored them.
In 1943, Pavelić sought
to gain support from the pro-Maček
wing of the HSS leadership led by August Košutić, the
of slain Stjepan Radić. The negotiations continued into 1944, led, on
the Ustashe side, by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mladen Lorković,
and the Minister of the Armed Forces, Ante Vokić. The negotiators
agreed to establish a new government under HSS control and to use the
Domobrani to bring the NDH onto the Allied side.
When Pavelić learned that
the deal would require him to
voluntarily retire as the leader of the state, he took action and
arrested Lorković and Vokić, as well as a number of the negotiators of
the HSS (e.g., Ivan Farolfi), all of whom were executed in April 1945.
At this turn of events, Košutić escaped to
territory. Despite Košutić's work in trying to end Pavelić's
rule and to bring the Allies into the country, and ignoring his efforts
to also negotiate with Partisan delegates, the Communists placed
Košutić under arrest.
In addition to HSS
leaders within Croatia, a number of HSS
leaders left the country prior to the Axis conquest where they joined
the Yugoslav government-in-exile in London. Led by Juraj Krnjević,
these men strongly supported the Allied war effort. However, they soon
came into conflict with the more extremist Serb members of the
government who consistently refused to reaffirm their commitment to the
resurrection of the Banovina after the War. While Krnjević's insistence
on obtaining such a pledge may appear petty, it was in fact essential.
The Banovina had been formed by a decree of the Prince Paul, the
Yugoslav Regent. Under the Yugoslav constitution, such a decree could
be overturned by the Yugoslav Parliament. Moreover, apart from this
constitutional issue, major Serb politicians, including the Prime
Minister of the government-in-exile from 1942 to 1943, Slobodan
Jovanović, had vociferously condemned the creation of the Banovina.
Indeed, Jovanović's opposition had been such that he oversaw the
establishment of Serbian Cultural Clubs within the borders of the
Banovina which became hotbeds of Greater Serbianism in Croatia.
Krnjević's arguments were made more urgent by the pronouncements of
Chetnik leaders in occupied Yugoslavia who openly campaigned for the
creation of a Greater Serbia and who had allies in some of the
ministers within the government-in-exile.
While Krnjević remained
opposed to the Communists, his
colleague, Ban Ivan Šubašić and some other HSS
believed that the Partisans offered the best means to secure Croatia's
status as an equal partner in a Yugoslav federal state. Ultimately,
Yugoslav King Peter II appointed Ban Šubašić,
pressure by the British, as the first Croatian Prime Minister of
Yugoslavia in mid-1944, tasked specifically with negotiating a deal
between the government-in-exile and Tito. The ultimate agreement gave
the Communists legitimacy and assisted in paving their way to power.
The Communists later caused Šubašić to resign in
from all political posts. Other HSS members who continued to support
the Communists despite the repression meted out to Košutić
Magovac (e.g., Frane Frol, Franjo Gaži) came under attack by the
Communists; some were later jailed or executed them in the post-War
period. Others, such as publicist Bogdan Radica, turned against the
Communists and joined Maček and other HSS members in exile where they
continued to fight for the establishment of a democratic Croatia.
While not the topic of
this paper, it must be noted that the
repression of these individuals is dwarfed by the crimes committed by
the Communists in the immediate post-war period. The Communists killed
an estimated 35,000 to 45,000 Domobrani (consisting of Croat and
Bosniak (Muslim) members) and Croat civilians following the surrender
of the NDH's forces near the town of Bleiberg in Austria. While some
have justified these summary mass executions as somehow being tied to
Ustashe crimes, in fact the Domobrani remained a predominately
Many Croats Fought the Nazis and Fascists?
While no precise figure is possible to answer this question, available
sources can provide us with some approximations.
According to statistics
complied by Ivan Jelić (see op. cit.),
forces under the command of the National Liberation Army of Croatia
(NOVH) totaled 121,351 as of 30 November 1944, 73,377 of whom were
ethnic Croats. The entire National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NOVJ)
(which included the NOVH) had an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 men and
women in its forces at the time. Based on these figures, ethnic Croats
made up between 24% and 29% of all Partisan forces on that date, well
above their percentage rank within the Yugoslav population as a whole.
The percentage no doubt is in fact higher given that the figure for the
NOVH does not include ethnic Croats who fought under other regional
commands in Yugoslavia. Further, the percentage is skewed in that a
large number of Serbs entered the ranks of the NOVJ only after the
liberation of Serbia in October 1944.
Jelić also notes
statistics compiled in 1972 which found
228,474 former Partisans who remained alive and lived in the Croatian
Republic, of whom 140,124 were Croats. Again, this statistic does not
include ethnic Croats living in other republics and provinces of former
Yugoslavia and obviously does not include those who had previously died.
Author Nikola Anić,
himself a former Partisan, in his
Narodnooslobodilačka Vojska Hrvatska 1941-1945 (The National Liberation
Army of Croatia 1941-1945), Zagreb: Multigraf Marketing, 2005, while
not making distinctions based on ethnic composition, notes that 64,564
persons from Croatia were killed as members of the NOVH. In absolute
terms, Anić points out that this figure is greater than the total
number of members of resistance forces killed in Belgium, Norway,
Holland and Denmark.
In relative terms, the
NOVH's losses overshadow the losses
suffered by the Italian and Polish resistance. In the former, 62,000
Italian anti-Fascist fighters were killed, out of a population of
around 44 million. Poland had 80,000 loses out of a population of 25
million. Croatia, in comparison, had a population of less than 4
million on the eve of World War II.
While the ethnic
composition of these losses does not appear
to be available, one can determine the ethnic composition with some
reasonable accuracy based on the geographic distribution of the origin
of those killed. Croat dominated areas included the following number of
Partisans killed: Dalmatia (19,107), Northwest Croatia (i.e., Zagreb,
Zagorje) (13,327) and the Croatian Littoral (4,872), or a total of
37,306. While not all of these men and women were Croats, one can with
reasonable certainly classify at least 75% of them as being such. The
areas of Banija (7,305) and Kordun (5,177) are predominately ethnic
Serb while Lika (6,662) and Slavonia (8,114) are ethnically mixed. One
should also take into account Istria, which is not included in the
above figures. Istria gave approximately 28,754 men to the Partisan
effort, an estimated 5,000 of whom died; most of these men were ethnic
Croats with some Italians.
Vladimir Žerajević in his
Population Losses in Yugoslavia
1941-1945, Zagreb: Dom i svijet, 1997, has calculated that 58,131
ethnic Croats died as Partisans or Victims of Fascist Terror during
World War II, approximately 1.5% of all Croats assuming a pre-War
population of four million. To put this in perspective, this would have
been the equivalent of the United States losing almost 2 million of its
people during the War (the actual losses in battle around 318,000,
including those missing in action).
Contributions to Defeating Nazism and
Fascism in the Former Yugoslavia.
Because of the large support
which the Partisans received from ethnic Croats, the Partisans
succeeded in building their most formidable forces in Croatia.
According to Nikola Anić, the NOVH had the most brigades of all
regional commands in Yugoslavia, 78 out of a total of 357. The NOVH
also had the most divisions, 17 out of a total of 67.
Anić further notes some
unique contributions by the NOVH.
Among others, the NOVH was the only resistance force in Europe which
could boast a naval force which for the most part consisted of men and
women from the Croat-dominated coastline. The force sank or captured at
least 95 enemy ships during the War. Further, the NOVH had been the
first resistance group in Europe to have its own air force, consisting
of pilots who deserted from the NDH with their planes to the Partisans.
The NOVH also became the first of the Partisan forces to transform its
fighting techniques to frontal assaults when it liberated Dalmatia in
Of interest is the NOVH's
role in the liberation of Belgrade
in October 1944. Three Croatian Partisan units participated in
Belgrade's liberation: the 6th Lika Division, the 28th Slavonian
Division (commanded by Vicko Antić, born in Crikvenica), and the 13th
Rade Končar Brigade (which had its origin in a Partisan group in
Žumberak near Zagreb). Their forces represented 32% of those Yugoslav
forces participating in the battle and took 30% of total casualties.
Anić has also calculated
that the NOVH killed and captured
167,554 members of the German Army and approximately 80,000 members of
the Italian Army during the 1943-1945 period alone.
Role of Other Ethnic Groups.
note that other ethnic groups supported the Partisans in Croatia.
Ethnic Serbs formed the largest of the other ethnic groups.
Czechs and Slovaks, many
of whom live in western and eastern
Slavonia, became early supporters of the Partisans, as did some
Hungarians. In Istria, ethnic Italians also fought with the Partisans.
Other Italians from metropolitan Italy who had been part of the
occupation forces, also joined the Partisans after Italy's
capitulation. These ethic groups joined in such numbers that the
Partisans established separate military formations for them. There was
even a small contingent of Germans who had their own battalion.
Of interest are the Jews
who had been imprisoned in the
Italian camp of Kampor on Rab Island. ZAVNOH succeeded in rescuing most
of them prior to the German advance on the Island after Italy's
capitulation. While some support existed to establish a separate Jewish
Battalion, it was ultimately determined not to do so as the men and
women who would serve were physically weak from their time in the camp.
Others feared that the Battalion would become a specific target of
German attacks. Approximately 4,000 Jews ultimately fought in the
National Liberation Army of Croatia, over 10% of the pre-war population
of around 39,000 in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to
Nikola Anić, some have claimed that this represents the largest
percentage of Jews who fought in any resistance force in occupied
Europe during the War.
historically been an emigrant nation. Some have estimated that half as
many Croats live abroad as in Croatia itself. As a result, it comes as
no surprise that Croatian immigrants and their descendants could be
found in other Allied forces during the War.
Australia and New Zealand.
While Croatian immigrants served in
the armed forces of both Australia and New Zealand, further research
needs to be conducted on this topic.
Većeslav Holjevac (Hrvati izvan domovine
(Croats Outside the Homeland), Zagreb: Matica Hrvatska, 1968, 2nd ed.),
around 6,000 Croats lived in Belgium prior to World War II. Holjevac
claims that around 2,000 immigrants in Belgium from the former
Yugoslavia participated in the Belgium underground, around 150 of whom
served in two armed resistance units, the Đuro Đaković and Blagoje
Parović, named after, respectively, a Croat and a Serb Communist leader.
War II broke out, only between 15,000 and
20,000 Croats lived in Canada. Anthony W. Rasporich in his For a Better
Life: A History of the Croatians in Canada, Toronto: McClelland and
Stewart Ltd., 1982, writes that "[w]hile the Croatian-Canadian
contributions of manpower were not nearly as heavy as the
Croatian-American contributions, it must be remembered that the
community in Canada was much smaller and younger. Since the bulk [of
them] . . . had been in Canada less than fifteen years, the Canadian
sons of military age were few . . . ." Nevertheless, Rasporich notes
that "the honour roll and nominal rolls of regimental histories in
Canada indicate that the enlistment rates must have been significant."
Of particular interest is
the recruitment of approximately
thirty Croatian-Canadians by the Special Operations Executive (SOE).
The recruits for the most part had been members of or connected to the
Communist Party and a number had been volunteers for the Republic in
the Spanish Civil War. The SOE tapped into this pool in order to
establish initial contacts with Partisan forces as well to act as
translators for the American and English military missions subsequently
sent to Tito's headquarters as well as other regional Partisan military
commands throughout Yugoslavia. A number of American Croatians were
also recruited for these missions.
Holjevac (op. cit.), approximately 30,000
Croats lived in France prior to the War, most of them working as coal
miners. A group of Croats distinguished themselves in the French
Resistance. These men included a number of former volunteers for the
Republic during the Spanish Civil War. They found themselves interred
in camps in France after leaving Spain in 1939 as the Yugoslav
government refused to allow them to return to the country.
The best known of these
men was Ljubo Ilić. Born in Split in
1905, Ilić joined the Communist Party in 1930 and lived in Paris where
he studied architecture. After leaving Spain in 1939, he remained
imprisoned in French camps until September 1943 when he escaped and
joined the Resistance. He soon became the commander of all foreign
forces in the Southern Zone and in February 1944 became commander of
all foreigners serving in the Resistance. He thereafter served in the
National Military Committee and the Headquarters of Internal Forces
having the rank of General, under the name Louis Conty. Ilić later
served as Yugoslavia's ambassador to a number of different countries
(though he probably remains best know for marrying Zinka Milanov Kunc,
a Croatian soprano with the Metropolitan Opera in New York).
Of special interest is
the revolt of approximately 500
Domobrani in Villefranche de
Rouergue near Lyons. The unit,
consisted of both Croats and Bosniaks (i.e., Croatian Moslems), had
been incorporated by the Germans into an SS unit and sent to France for
training purposes. On 17 September 1943, they revolted and attempted to
make contact with the French Resistance. According to Radio London,
Villefranche de Rouergue thus become the first town in Western Europe
to be liberated during the War. The Germans, unfortunately, quickly
suppressed the revolt and sent most of the participants to
concentration camps. One of the leaders of the uprising, Božo Jelenek,
a Croat born in Kutina, received the Legion d'Honneur for his efforts.
A monument to the revolt is located in the town and a street in the
town (Avenue des Croates) honors the memory of these men.
group of ethnic Croats live in southern and
western Hungary (recent estimates range from 15,000 to 90,000).
Holjevac generally states that ethnic Croats in Hungary fought with a
resistance unit named after Sandor Petofi, but gives no further details.
Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics. It is known that some
Croatian Communists who lived in the USSR prior to World War II served
in the Red Army during the War. Published literature also indicates
that captured Croatian legionnaires who served under the German Sixth
Army at Stalingrad either voluntarily or involuntarily were organized
into a military force used by the Red Army. The details of Croats who
fought with the Red Army remain sketchy and needs to be further
United States of America.
While the population of Croatians in
the United States cannot be determined with accuracy, scholars have
estimated that they totaled anywhere between 500,000 and 750,000 on the
eve of World War II. The number of Croats in the US who served in
American Armed Forces during the War is unknown. However, according to
author Ivan Čizmić, the Croatian Fraternal Union (Hrvatska Bratska
Zajednica) (CFU), the largest Croatian-American organization which
boasted over 110,000 members in the late 1930s, had over 15,000 members
who served in United States forces during the War, 308 of whom were
killed. Čizmić notes that the CFU also provided much financial support
to the War effort (Ivan Čizmić, Hrvati u životu Sjedinjenih Američkih
Država (Croats in the Life of the United States of America), Zagreb:
Croatian Americans who
served include Petar (Peter) Tomich
(1893-1941), the posthumous recipient of the Congressional Medal of
Honor, America's highest award bestowed on its service personnel. Born
in Prolog, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Tomich emigrated to the United
States and entered the United States Navy in 1919. He became chief
water tender on the Navy's training ship, the USS Utah, berthed at
Pearl Harbor on the day of the Japanese attack. Tomich, while on duty
in the ship's boiler room, made sure all other men in the area got out
of the ship, losing his own life in the process. Because of the
inability of the US government to initially find Tomich's closest
relatives, the Medal of Honor could not be officially presented to his
living relatives until a ceremony held on a US Navy vessel off the
coast of Split, Croatia in 2006.
the USA soldiers in Croatia during the WWII
Others Have Written About Croatian Anti-Fascist
Activities. A number of
English language sources provide
eye-witness accounts about the scope and strength of the anti-fascist
movement in Croatia.
The Italian Capitulation.
Milovan Djilas, a member of the
Central Committee of the CPY, visited Otočac, the headquarters of the
Partisans in Croatia at the time, in 1943 after Italy's capitulation.
He describes the effects of the capitulation in his work Wartime, New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977, p. 330: "In Lika, in Otočac,
everything was turned around. Our units had disarmed two Italian armies
and liberated practically the entire coast. The booty in weapons, food
and motorized vehicles exceeded all imagination, if not all hope.
Croats from the Littoral, from the islands, from Istria were joining
the Partisan army. Old units were being filled with fresh manpower,
inexperienced but vigorous. New units were formed on the basis of
experience and around a corps of experienced men."
Fitzroy Maclean, the head
of the British military mission
posted to the General Headquarters of Partisan forces in Yugoslavia in
1943, left headquarters toward the coast after the capitulation and
noted his impressions in the hinterland of Brela, near the village of
Zadvarje in his work Eastern Approaches, London: Jonathan Cape, 1949,
pp. 360-61: "The village for which we were bound lay on some flat
ground at the top of the next range of hills. There were, it appeared,
Germans quartered in it. The house we were looking for was a farm on
the outskirts of the village. The rest of us lay behind a hedge while
one of the Partisans went and knocked on the door. . . . Finally, after
much whispering, a tall, gaunt elderly man in a cloth cap emerged, with
long drooping moustaches, and a rifle slung over his bent shoulders. He
was, it seemed, the Partisans' chief contact-man in the village, where,
under the nose of the Germans, he conducted his own miniature
underground movement. . . . [H]e led a clandestine, surreptitious
existence, full of nerve racking episodes such as this. . . . Here and
there stood the remains of a peasant's cottage, its blackened stones an
eloquent reminder of the results of Italian military government. Then,
rounding a corner, we came upon a church and three or four houses round
it, and a group of Partisans with tommy-guns standing in the roadway.
We had reached Zadvarje - our immediate destination."
Wilkinson, a member of the SOE, discusses his
trip from Slovenia back to Croatia, in early 1944 during which he
passed through parts of western Istria, near the town of Umag, in his
Foreign Fields: The Story of an SOE Operative, London: I.B. Tauris
Publishers, 1997, p. 175: "I wanted to form some idea of the Partisan
organization in Istria which was of obvious strategic importance and
not yet been reported on by a British officer. From Vodice we skirted
Trieste and made our way across hilly country in the direction of Umago
[Umag] at the north-western tip of the Istrian peninsula. The
Trieste-Pola [Pula] railway, like the main roads, was only lightly
patrolled and we crossed both without incident. Early on the morning of
23 February we arrived at Petrovija, a small village only about five
miles from the sea. This was a mainly Slavic community and the village
boys had organized themselves into a Partisan Odred [Unit]. That
afternoon we were disturbed by the arrival of the Odred commander, a
burly youth of about seventeen who had escaped from a convoy taking him
to forced labour in Germany. He reported that he and his section had
that morning ambushed a party of Germans on the Trieste-Pola [Pula]
road and had taken prisoner four Mongols and a German. He had brought
the latter with him to show us. This was the worst possible news for it
meant that the Germans were almost certain to send out a retaliatory
expedition during the next twenty-four hours and that all able-bodied
villagers would be obliged to take to the hills. Even the old and sick
who were left behind might be taken hostage and we could certainly not
remain where we were. Meanwhile the young Maquisards insisted on my
seeing their prisoner. He was a farmboy from Schleswig-Holstein aged
about nineteen who stood there blindfolded. . . . I urged his captors
to take him up to the main road and set him free. However, they were
proud of their prisoner who was the first German they had captured and
one of the escort assured me that he would shortly be posted to the
'Thirteenth Battalion.' This seemed to reassure the prisoner but I knew
that this grisly euphemism meant that the Partisans would shoot him as
soon as we left."
Partisan Government and
Territory in Croatia. A
sources describe the extent of the Partisan-controlled territory and
government in Croatia. Milovan Djilas, a member of the Central
Committee of the CPY, describes his impressions when he visited Otočac
in 1943 in his work Wartime, p. 314: "Nowhere was a power structure as
conspicuous and as real as on this liberated territory. It was evident
not only in the better dress and food of the staffs and agencies, but
also in the official bureaucratic mode of operation. ZAVNOH . . . was
headed by my former prison mate Pavle Gregorić, a long-time Communist;
it had every appearance of an assembly and a government, though
Gregorić was as accommodating and as informal as one could wish. All
kinds of schools were operating; agencies exchanged reports and
Franklin Lindsay, a
member of the US Office of Strategic
Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, made similar observations.
After spending some time in Slovenia, he went to Topusko, Croatia in
1944 where ZAVNOH then had its headquarters: "Unlike in Stajerska
[Slovenia], in Croatia the Partisans held very large areas of liberated
territory. Here the revolutionary political organization was
significantly more advanced. The forces were larger and better armed,
and I now had the opportunity to see for myself the next step in the
progress of Partisan political and military organization." Franklin
Lindsay, Beacons in the Night: With the OSS and Tito's Partisans in
Wartime Yugoslavia, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993, p. 219.
Elsewhere, Lindsay notes that "Life in Topusko was positively luxurious
compared to Stajerska. The Croatian Partisan headquarters remained
there for the nearly two months of my stay. Topusko had been a spa of
sorts and the hot mineral baths were still working. . . . Food was
plentiful, though it was mostly bread, meat and potatoes." (p. 231).
Support from the Catholic
Church. Fitzroy Maclean
the support the Catholic clergy gave to the Partisans when he visited
Korčula after Italy's capitulation in later 1943: "Answering some
questions and avoiding others, we made our way, followed by an excited,
gesticulating crowd which increased in size as we went along, through
the winding streets of the town to the old Venetian palace which housed
the new rulers. Over the doorway the Lion of St. Mark's stood headless,
decapitated by some over-zealous Partisan, anxious evidently to
celebrate the end of Mussolini's rule by destroying the symbol of an
earlier period of Italian domination. We went in, through a magnificent
colonnade and up a fine Renaissance staircase, and we entered to find
ourselves face to face with a Franciscan friar, who rose to greet us
with the clenched fist salute. He was, he said, the Chairman of the
Odbor, the local Soviet. . . . Other isolated incidents remain
ineradicably impressed on my memory. I remember being pelted with
flowers by nuns. . . . [H]ere the priests in most of the villages on
Korčula seemed to be leading lights in the Partisan Movement." (pp.
Communist Suppression of
Other Anti-Fascist Forces.
Lindsay describes in his memoirs how the Communist Party worked to end
the influence of the HSS as the War drew to a close: "OSS was
increasingly interested in political developments in Croatia. The
Partisan political organization in Croatia was well established. The
steps by which the Partisan movement was becoming the de facto
government of Croatia and all of Yugoslavia were carefully planned. A
part of their strategy was to get rid of all remaining elements of
prewar political parties that might contest their drive to total power.
. . . Because [Maček] was held in such high respect among Croats, Maček
was potentially a major obstacle to the consolidation of Partisan power
in Croatia. . . . A violent smear campaign against Maček and other
Peasant Party leaders as German collaborators, was in full cry when I
arrived in Croatia. . . . After hearing the anti-Maček propaganda for
several days, I asked Vladimir Bakarić what actual evidence they had on
him. His response was that the only thing they had against Maček was
that he had not openly supported the Partisans. There was no evidence
of collaboration with the Germans or Pavelić." (pp. 232-34).
and Other Sources of Victims.
primary and most easily available source of Croatians killed by Nazi
and Fascist forces are the many monuments which were raised to their
memory throughout Croatia.
In the early part of the
present decade, I became intrigued by
these monuments. Partly, my interest stemmed from the many news reports
in Croatia's media which discussed the vandalism to which the monuments
became subjected to. Croatia's Association of Anti-Fascist Veterans
(Savez antifašističkih boraca i antifašista
Hrvatske or SAB), a newly formed entity which took the place of the old
Alliance of United Veterans of the National Liberation War (Savez
udruženja boraca Narodno-oslobodilačkog rata) (SUBNOR) to represent the
interests of Croatia's Partisan Veterans, especially became active in
bringing this issue to the attention of the press. Certainly such
vandalism has occurred; however, it is important to note that some
members of the SAB included under the rubric of "vandalism"
restorations of some of the monuments to encompass Croatian victims of
all Wars, or which removed the Communist red star and/or added
Christian or national symbols.
The vandalism to which
these monuments were subjected to had
political motivations. This appears to be especially the case in areas
which were subject to Serbian occupation in the 1991-95 period. Outside
of these areas, vandalism was concentrated in certain areas while in
others the monuments have been restored.
I determined to try to
photograph as many of these monuments
as possible. Given that many of them provide information on victims,
these photographs form a large part of the basis for the information
The monuments themselves
take many forms. Generally, they can
be found in town squares, quite often next to the local parish church,
in front of schools and at crossroads. Most are simple square walls on
which are mounted marble plaques where names are listed. Local
cemeteries also have monuments and, in some cases, "Partisan
cemeteries" where the remains of those killed have been buried.
In addition to general
monuments, there are other monuments
which mark the sites of specific events, battles or executions.
A number of publications
also list victims killed during the
War. The publications cover specific localities and, unfortunately,
there are many localities which have not been covered by similar
Given the above, the
lists provided in this work are
necessarily limited by the scope of the author's travels in Croatia and
his access to relevant published works. While the lists are not
complete, they will hopefully mark a start toward preparing a
comprehensive lists for all victims from Croatia killed during World
It should be noted that one comes
across mistakes or contradictions in the spelling of names and dates
when comparing certain monuments and published books.
One should further note
that a number of victims died after
the end of general hostilities in May 1945. These people generally died
from wounds or other trauma suffered during the War, though one cannot
exclude the possibility that they were killed in the efforts to stamp
out guerilla resistance by small bands of Chetniks and Ustashe in back
country regions of Croatia.
Categorization of Victims.
authorities distinguished between "Fallen Partisans" (Pali borci) and
"Victims of Fascist Terror" (Žrtve fašističkog terora).
clearly those killed in battle were classified as fallen Partisans,
sometimes the label included those executed by the Nazis and Fascists
who served as underground workers or in the NOO. These decisions seem
to have been made on an ad hoc basis, and could be tied to the fact
that the determinations were made by local commissions. Their decisions
could have been influenced by Communist Party membership of the victim
or familial ties. As can be seen below, in some cases, earlier
decisions were reversed. Presumably, the families of those who received
the classification of Pali borci obtained greater financial benefits
than those who were Victims of Fascist Terror.
In addition, from time to
time one also comes across the
designation "Victims of War" (Žrtve rata). The designation is not
common and generally refers to those killed as an accident of war
(e.g., due to bombings, stepping on mines, etc.). Sometimes, such
Victims are included as Victims of Fascist Terror and sometimes they
are "People's Heroes"? Some
monuments and "official" histories from the Communist period use the
term Narodni Heroj or "People's Hero" in describing certain people
killed during the War. The first award of the title People's Hero to a
Partisan killed during the War occurred in 1942. An order issued by
Tito as the Chief Commander of the National Liberation Army and
Partisan Forces of Yugoslavia (NOV and POJ) on 15 August 1943
formalized the award, stating that it is to be provided to a person who
has "demonstrated heroic works on the field of battle and a heroic
stance in the face of the enemy." It became one of the most important
titles bestowed during Communist Yugoslavia. A total of 1,312 People's
Heroes were proclaimed by Communist authorities, including a number of
foreigners. The title seems to have been only given to members of the
Communist Party and, quite often, was limited to those killed during
A total of 282 people
from Croatia (almost 22% of the total)
received the designation People's Hero, the largest number from any
Republic in the former Yugoslavia.
Composition of the List.
The goal of
this study is to set forth the names and certain other available
identifying data of ethnic Croats killed during World War II. Of
course, not all the names listed are those of ethnic Croats. However,
the list for the most part will be limited to towns and villages where
ethnic Croats predominated or were the exclusive ethnic group. It
should be noted that the lists from more ethnically diverse larger
towns and cities contain a number of non-ethnic Croats.
Names. Some names and
in the text will be duplicated. Usually, a person will be listed under
the locality from which he originated or lived. In some cases, the same
person may appear in another monument or list based on where or the
method by which he or she died (e.g., those killed in camps or
to Victims of Communism.
1990, the extent of crimes committed by Communists during and after
World War II has no longer been a taboo within Croatia. As a result, a
number of monuments have appeared to honor those victims. To date, such
monuments are not extensive. A number have been placed in various
parish and other churches to honor local priests. The author has
included such monuments in the text, though the available information
included for such victims remains far from complete.
of Text. The text is
separate Counties or Županija in Croatia. Within each County, specific
localities are listed in alphabetical order.
Used in the Text.
KPH Communist Party of
Croatia (Komunistička partija Hrvatske)
NDH Independent State of
Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska)
NOVH National Liberation
Army of Croatia (Narodnooslobodilačka
NOVJ National Liberation
Army of Yugoslavia
(Narodnooslobodilačka Vojska Jugoslavija)
SKOJ Alliance of
Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (Savez
komunističke omladine Jugoslavije)
Antifascist Council for the National
Liberation of Croatia (Zemaljsko antifašističko vijeće
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