The Vatican’s Complicity in Genocide in Fascist Croatia: The Suppressed Chapter of Holocaust History

By Barry Lituchy | 10 May 1998
Things They Don’t Tell You about Christianity

(Photo by Chris Curry on Unsplash)

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. Writing about the document prior to its release, internationally renowned Nazi hunter Charles R. Allen Jr. noted that in light of the revelations contained in this and other classified documents about the role of the Vatican in the Holocaust it would be logical and proper that

“A commission of inquiry into these concerns including Jewish and Catholic scholars ought to be established to locate and examine all documentation in all relevant archives so that collectively they may determine what role both the Vatican and US Intelligence played in aiding and abetting the escape of some of history’s most notorious murderers.”(1)

Logical, that is, if one assumed that the Vatican truly wanted to get to the bottom of what really happened, and maybe even try to atone for some of the injustices it committed. But fourteen years after the fact, with the release of the Vatican’s official statement on “the mistakes” of the Catholic Church during the Holocaust, we now can see how overly optimistic that assumption was.

The “La Vista Report” was documentary evidence that opened a window on a suppressed chapter of the Holocaust: the role of the Vatican in the Holocaust. The Vatican’s report “We Remember, a Reflection on the Shoah (Holocaust),” issued this past March makes it abundantly clear that the Catholic Church is determined to do all that it can to shut that window as tightly as it can, and to keep it shut forever. Forget the idea of a commission — the Vatican has no intention of opening its archives or admitting anything other than “… the errors and failures of those sons and daughters of the Church” who did not “give every possible assistance to those being persecuted, and in particular … Jews.”

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. It also claims that “Jewish communities and Jewish leaders expressed their thanks for all that had been done for them …,” a cynical manipulation of a half-truth if there ever was one. And to top it all off the document tries to argue that fascism and genocide were incompatible with Catholic teachings: “… the work of a thoroughly neo-pagan regime. Its anti-Semitism had its roots outside of Christianity ….”(2) Certainly not the view of the tens of thousands of Catholic clergy all around the world who warmly embraced fascism and joined its ranks from Berlin to Detroit (Have they forgotten our own “dear” Father Coughlin?).

What all of this amounts to is a staggering lie of gigantic proportions, a total whitewash of the crimes committed by the Catholic Church and the Papacy before, during and after the Holocaust. It is worthwhile that we now review some of the media response to this deliberate falsification of history before we examine some of the facts this most recent Vatican document conveniently “forgot” to mention.

The Vatican document is the result of a sophisticated public relations campaign aimed at improving its image with both Jews and the American public by shirking responsibility for its crimes before, during and after the Holocaust while pinning all of the blame on others. This necessarily involves a deliberate falsification and suppression of the historical record. The New York Times was correct when it predicted that the document would try to put as much distance between itself and the Holocaust as possible. Even anti-Semitism is portrayed as the result of “wrong-headed Christian thinkers,” not the papacy or its clergy.(3) As one CNN reporter put it, “the Pope has steered clear of blaming the church itself.”(4)

Thus, the Vatican’s “memory” is highly selective. The “errors” the Vatican is willing to recall are limited only to those of omission, not commission. In other words, the errors of the Church during the Holocaust are defined only as the silence or indifference of the Church in the face of crimes of genocide, a failure to speak out. The Vatican — and apparently many journalists — would like us to believe that this is the limit of wrongdoing. Defined out of the discussion are complicity in or support for these crimes — not to mention active participation in deportations, expropriations, forced conversions, and mass murder of a specific people, that is to say, genocide itself. As long as the role of the Vatican in the Holocaust is defined in this way, it safely avoids serious examination of the much worse crimes it did commit.

We shall return to these matters presently. First, some credit should be paid to those who have openly criticized the Vatican for its mendacity. To its credit CNN presented an interview with Israel’s Chef Rabbi, Meir Lau, who was forthright in his condemnation of this atrociously retrograde document and who focused attention on the actual historical role of Pope Pius XII, whom he called “an accomplice to Nazi murderers.”(5)

There are many good reasons for this designation: Pius XII’s (then Eugenio Pacelli) efforts as Papal Nuncio in Germany were central to bringing Germany’s Catholic Center Party close to Nazism in the 1920’s, and then to cementing the agreement between the Vatican and Hitler known as the Concordat of 1933. Pacelli’s support for Hitlerism in its early stages is historical record, and preventing the disclosure of the full scope of this support is one of the reasons the Vatican will not open its archives from this period.

Indeed, Pius XII brings us to the real heart of the matter, and Pope John Paul II’s response to the question of the wartime Pope’s culpability reveals the real design behind the Vatican’s report. John Paul II has consistently defended Pius XII, often in a truculent manner. The current Pope has made it clear that he will do his part to uphold the doctrine of Papal infallibility. One of his speeches during a trip to Germany in 1995 even contained a passage attacking all criticisms of Pius XII as “cheap polemics.”(6) This kind of attack is part of a pre-emptive strategy aimed at creating an unreceptive climate for scholarship or discussion dealing with the role of the Vatican. Once again the Church finds itself fighting to prove that the world is flat.

But more importantly it exposes the motives behind this recent report, which shares certain similarities with some interpretations of the Holocaust. By placing blame on wrong-headed individuals in the Church and denying any wrong doing by the Pope or Vatican, the Church is shifting responsibility from its leaders and from the institution itself to the rank and file followers, in effect side stepping all blame whatsoever. Thus, the Church really is completely innocent — it’s the sheep, not the shepherd who are responsible! The similarities with the manner in which the ruling elites in Germany prefer to interpret the Holocaust are quite striking. In Germany, authors like Daniel Goldhagen are all the rage because books like Hitler’s Willing Executioners blur responsibility for the rise of Nazism by taking the focus off of the capitalist and aristocratic elites and institutions who backed Hitler (many of which were left unscathed by the so-called de-Nazification of post-war Germany) and putting it on the popular culture and working masses instead. Not having their own Goldhagen to rely on, the Catholic Church has to hustle this cheap shell game itself.

The Vatican’s Role: A Suppressed Chapter of the Holocaust

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.

But nowhere has the truth been hijacked and suppressed more than in regard to that one chapter of the Holocaust that historians still hesitate to confront: the Vatican’s role in fascist Croatia. The story of the Holocaust in wartime Croatia is absent from many scholarly discussions of the Holocaust and from most Holocaust museums in this country. It is an odd omission considering the fact that if one defines the Holocaust from the first mass murders of civilians, then the Holocaust itself began in Croatia with the first murders of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies by the Croatian fascist regime in April 1941 — some nine months before the Wannsee Conference, more than two months before the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. It is like a book whose first chapter is torn out.

What then are the political reasons for the systematic and deliberate suppression of the history of the Holocaust in Croatia? There are several, and they are all connected to vital geo-political considerations of the leading Western powers. One is the leading role that Croatian fascist war criminals played in establishing the “ratline” escape routes of European fascism after the war and their enormous contributions to U.S. and British intelligence agencies during the Cold War. Another was the American and British governments’ refusal to return for trial and punishment to post-war Yugoslavia Croatian war criminals in particular, thus violating the Moscow Declaration of 1943 in which they had sworn to do so. Still another was the long range goal of U.S. and Western imperialism to partition and destroy Communist Yugoslavia, a plan which depended on the support of the thousands of escaped Croatian fascists subsidized by the U.S. for decades in anticipation of this long sought goal.(7) The need to suppress such information from the public and from political discourse is obvious: a self-proclaimed moral superiority based on genocide is a fraud the whole world can see.

But all of these justifications pale in comparison to the importance placed on suppressing the truth about the Vatican’s and the Catholic Church’s role in the Holocaust in fascist Croatia. For in Croatia, the question of what role the Catholic Church played in the Holocaust is not limited to the relatively minor issues of whether they did or spoke out enough against it — here the question concerns the role of the Church and the Vatican in running concentration camps and in carrying out a religiously inspired genocide. Nowhere is the role of the Vatican more worthy of investigation, and nowhere has that role received less attention.

Vatican Sponsorship of Fascism

To understand the Vatican’s role and motives in the Holocaust in Yugoslavia we need to understand the phenomenon of genocide as a product of modern imperialism. Genocide is a direct consequence of imperialist wars of conquest aimed at territorial expansion for economic, political and military domination. After World War I the Vatican was determined, like its fascist partners of Italy and Germany, to destroy the Yugoslav state and reconstitute in that region the power and influence the Papacy had lost with the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

The Yugoslav state emerged out of the century long struggle of the peoples of the Balkans to overcome colonial oppression. The idea of a federation of Balkan peoples had its roots in the struggles against first Turkish and then Austrian-German and other Western domination. It was born of the realism of Balkan political leaders in the nineteenth century that small nations by themselves cannot defend themselves against the great imperialist powers, but that together they might be able to do so. It was this ideal that Yugoslavia in a truncated form represented, and that German and Italian fascism were determined to annihilate.(8)

The Vatican was also determined to destroy Yugoslavia, though for its own reasons. The dismemberment of the Catholic Austro-Hungarian Empire was a catastrophe for the Catholic Church. The Vatican was no longer the supreme religious authority in Central and Eastern Europe and had lost the state foundations on which citizens owed a dual allegiance to Church and state. Its disappearance marked a sharp decline in the Church’s world power and influence. Worse still was the replacement of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with states dominated by other religions in which Catholics sank to a minority status. The worst of the bunch was Yugoslavia which was ruled by a King of the Serbian Eastern Orthodox faith, a church that the Vatican viewed as a “schismatic sect.” From the Vatican’s point of view, this “schismatic sect” was a cancer, to be eliminated.

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.

Having lost its “strongest bulwark” with the end of the first World War, the Vatican turned to Mussolini and fascist Italy to defend it and its long range goals. Likewise, the Vatican threw its support behind Mussolini’s imperialist ambitions for fascist Italy. The aims of the two Italian dictatorships were quite similar. Both were implacable enemies of the Yugoslav state seeking its destruction: the Pope wished to carve out a Catholic majority state from its northern half; Mussolini sought to annex parts of Slovenia, the Dalmatian coast, and Montenegro, along with Albania and Kosovo, so that he might “turn the Adriatic into an Italian lake.”

The origins of fascism in the Balkans can be traced directly back to Mussolini and the imperialist ambitions of fascist Italy, as well as to the generous support provided to them by the Catholic Church in Croatia. It was Mussolini’s fascist state that originally financed and sponsored nationalist extremist political movements in the Balkans, transforming them ideologically and organizationally into full blown genocidal, fascist parties. According to the diary of Mussolini’s foreign minister Ciano, the Italian government financed Croatian fascism at the level of around 25 million lire a year in the 1920’s and 1930’s.(12) By 1934 Italy’s investments in Croatian fascism paid handsome dividends when on October 9th King Alexander of Yugoslavia was assassinated by Croatian fascists in Marseilles, France along with the French Foreign Minister Barthou, both of them obstacles to the fascist domination of Europe.

The Vatican was kept apprised of fascist strategic planning in both Rome and Berlin through the 1930’s right up to the invasion of Yugoslavia. In May 1940 the Archbishop of Zagreb, Aloysius Stepinac, was called to the Vatican for briefings on the future invasion and partition of Yugoslavia.(13) In the years immediately preceding the German and Italian invasion of Yugoslavia of April 1941, the head of the Catholic Church in Yugoslavia, Stepinac, met regularly with representatives from both the Italian foreign ministry and the illegal Ustasha terrorist organization, as Stepinac himself noted in his diary.(14) Among these visitors was the future Ustasha Minister of Education Mile Budak, a chief architect of the genocide in Croatia, who is best known for his infamous speech on the final solution for the Serbs: “We will kill a third, expel a third, and convert a third.”(15)

The three nationalist movements that Italian fascism took under its wing were the Croatian, Albanian and Macedonian nationalist movements. The only one of these three that would graduate under Italian (later also German) fascist tutelage and financing, from a loose terrorist organization into a fully mature fascist movement was the Croatian Ustasha. Its success in becoming the largest and most mature of these fascist movements was in large part due to the considerable institutional support the Catholic Church in Croatia could provide — a factor altogether absent in the Albanian and Macedonian cases.

The leadership of the Church was well aware of the leading role it was expected to play in the soon to be independent, fascist Croatian state. In the years prior to 1941 the Croatian fascist movement recruited members of legal Croatian nationalist parties and from within the Yugoslav military with the help and encouragement of the Croatian Catholic Church. Not only did the Croatian Catholic clergy meet secretly in the years prior to 1941 with Italian fascist agents to help prepare for the final destruction of Yugoslavia, but they provided the Ustasha with all of the vast resources at its disposal, including its buildings and monasteries for meetings and safe-houses. The operational headquarters in which the plans for the Ustasha take-over were made was in the Franciscan monastery at Chuntich. Monasteries, parish houses, cathedrals, Franciscan high schools, seminaries, etc., throughout Croatia doubled as meeting places, recruiting centers, arms depots and staging areas for Croatian fascism and terror in the years prior to the war. We know this to be true because the Croatian fascists themselves boasted of it when they came to power in 1941 in their official publications and on the memorial plaques they affixed to these places.(16)

If the Vatican criticized Nazi Germany in the last half of the 1930’s, it had less to do with fascism than with Hitler’s imperialist conflicts with Mussolini over the fate of Central Europe. The Vatican’s interests were more in line with those of Mussolini’s: a “Pan-Danubian” confederation of Catholic states centered around Austria and Hungary as the core of a restored Catholic empire.(17) The Ustashi too favored a reconstitution of the old Habsburg empire following the destruction of Yugoslavia. But by the time Hitler annexed Austria in 1938, Mussolini had to face facts and reach a tacit agreement with Hitler over who would call the shots. Moreover, the Munich agreement in the fall of 1938 signaling the end of Czechoslovakia, and Hitler’s creation of the clerical-fascist puppet state of Slovakia several months later, proved to Croatian fascists (if they had any doubts by then) that Hitler was their real fuhrer, not Mussolini. Hitler had wanted to put off the destruction of Yugoslavia until after Britain and the Soviet Union were defeated. But Mussolini’s mucked up invasion of Greece forced the issue, much to the delight of the Croatian fascists — and the Catholic Church in Croatia.

The group of high Italian state officials and church dignitaries shown as they arrived at the Lateran Palace, Rome, for the signing of the Papal Pact, making peace between the state and church after almost fifty years dissension. In the center of the photograph is Cardinal Gaspari, the Papal Secretary of State, and to the right is Premier Benito Mussolini. 1929 Rome, Italy.

It is assumed that Pius XII would have preferred Mussolini’s leadership in Central Europe to Hitler’s. But Hitler’s creation of two semi-independent clerical fascist states out of the remnants of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia certainly showed a great deal of consideration for the Vatican’s interests as an ally. Besides, the Vatican recognized that of the three major alternatives for Central Europe, Nazi Germany may have been a less desirable arbiter than Fascist Italy, but still a whole lot better than Soviet Russia. And in the end, faced with larger problems, Hitler granted the Italian and Croatian fascists and the Vatican most of what they wanted anyway.(18)

Why did Hitler create two independent clerical-fascist states which considered themselves vassals of the papacy? The answer to this question explains why historians hardly ever mention Slovakia and Croatia in their discussions of World War II or the Holocaust: because the Vatican was a silent partner in the Axis alliance, as well as in the Holocaust.

The Vatican’s Holocaust

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.

Ante Pavelić giving Nazi salute (far left) with Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac (far right) and other Catholic Church leaders
Ante Pavelić giving Nazi salute (far left) with Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac (far right) and other Catholic Church leaders.

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.”(25)

There is no question that Stepinac knew of the Ustasha’s plans for committing genocide even before they came to power. After Stepinac’s death in 1960, Ilija Jukic, a leading member of the Croatian Peasant Party, wrote of how he had told Stepinac in March 1941 that the Pavelic-Budak group “were thinking of applying Hitler’s methods to the Serbs in Croatia if they ever came to power.” Stepinac disingenuously told Jukic that he would look into it.(26) But Stepinac already was resolved on an attitude of passive acceptance of genocide, as is revealed from entries in his diary, such as one from 1940 when he wrote: “… the Serbs have not learned anything … and in the end they will lose everything…. I wish them no evil because they are God’s children. But if nothing can teach them a lesson, distress will.”(27)

Of course, Stepinac was easily outdone in fascist criminality by other high ranking clergy, most infamously by the second highest ranking cleric in fascist Croatia, the Archbishop of Sarajevo, Ivan Sharich — called “the Hangman of Serbs” by his fellow Ustashi. Sharich had been a secret member of the Ustasha since 1934, and had been in close contact with them at least since 1931. Whereas Stepinac was willing to spare the lives of some Jews and Serbs who had converted to Catholicism, Sharich ridiculed those who did not have the stomach for total genocide, declaring it “stupid and unworthy of Christ’s disciples to think that the struggle against evil could be waged in a noble way and with gloves on.” Among Vatican documents that have emerged is one dealing with Sharich’s personal expropriations of property belonging to Jews in Bosnia.(28)

Since the Ustasha wished Croatia to be a vassal of the papacy, Catholic clergy held high positions at every level of the fascist government. In the majority of towns and villages throughout the newly created fascist state, Catholic clergy became the official Ustasha authority. A certain number of seats in the fascist “Sabor” were reserved for Bishops including Stepinac and Sharich. Pavelic included several priest-advisors and a personal confessor in his cabinet. In its inaugural radio address to the nation on April 11, 1941, the new fascist government instructed the population to apply to their local priest for further instructions, indicating again that the fascist take-over was planned in advance with the complete knowledge of the Church hierarchy.(29) When Pavelic fled the country in 1945 he turned over the reigns of state leadership to Stepinac. Thus, it truly was a clerical-fascist state in praxis as well as theory.

In its ideology, Croatian fascism combined extreme Roman Catholic fanaticism, Nazi eugenics and Croatian chauvinism, creating perhaps the most psychotic political movement of all time. Pavelic was obsessed with Croatia’s racial purity on both biological and religious grounds. The Ustashi claimed that the Croats were not Slavs but rather of the “Aryan race,” descendants of the Germanic Goths. However, unlike the Nazis, the Ustashi’s leading racist theorists were Catholic clergy, like Dr. Ivo Guberina, a priest and leading Ustasha emigre, whose writings reconciling religious purification with racial hygiene lent a spurious scientific veneer to Ustasha propaganda.(30) Croatia had to be purified of its “foreign elements,” namely Serbs, Jews and Romas. Purification for the Ustashi always meant extermination; they never hid their desire to commit genocide. In the 1930’s they were already known for songs with verses like: “We shall hang Serbs on the willows” (“Serbe o verbe”), and “We shall tear their children out of their womb.”(31)

The Italian and German fascists were astonished by the speed with which the Ustashi initiated their systematic policy of genocide. Already on April 18, 1941 the very first racial law, on “the Aryanization of Jewish property” was issued. Other racial laws of the Independent State of Croatia promulgated in April 1941 included laws ordering Serbs to wear blue bands on their sleeves with the letter “P” (for Orthodox), and Jews a band with the Star of David and the letter “Z” (for Jew), along with laws forbidding Serbs and Jews to walk on sidewalks and ordering the posting of signs in public places stating “No Serbs, Jews, Gypsies or Dogs Allowed!” In May 1941 laws carefully defining Serbs, Jews and Romas (as well as anti-fascist Croats) as “undesirable peoples” directed what was to be done with them: their rounding up, the dispossession of their property, and their deportation to death camps. Laws on the rounding up, dispossessing and deportation of the families of undesirables as well, including children, were issued later that same month. Racial laws regulating all aspects of society continued to be issued in the weeks and months to follow. Bound volumes of these published laws are available in the European Law Division of the Library of Congress.

The so-called Ustasha Minister of Education, Dr. Mile Budak, summarized the racial policy of Croatia in a speech on July 22, 1941 in Gospic when he said:

“The movement of the Ustashi is based on religion. For the minorities — Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, we have three million bullets. We shall kill one part of the Serbs. We shall deport another, and the rest of them will be forced to embrace the Roman Catholic religion. Thus, our new Croatia will get rid of all Serbs in our midst in order to become one hundred percent Catholic within ten years.”(32)

Meanwhile the foreign minister of fascist Croatia, Mladen Lorkovic, sent instructions to his diplomats and to the world: “… the Croatian people annihilate all foreign elements, which weaken its powers; those foreign elements are the Serbs and the Jews.”(33)

How committed was the Catholic Church in Croatia to this ideology and its racial laws? As has been mentioned already, priests were among the intellectual godfathers of Croatian fascism and racism. Whereas anti-Serbian racism had roots deeply connected to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, anti-Semitism in Yugoslavia was almost entirely the product of Catholic propaganda after World War I. Official church publications in Croatia like Catholic List frequently published condemnations of Jews during the 1930’s as being the source of communism, free-masonry, abortions and immorality.(34) It should not be surprising therefore that the man appointed to be President of Ustasha Central Propaganda Office (equivalent to the position held by Goebbels in Germany) was none other a priest, Father Grga Peinovic. To claim that the Catholic Church simply adapted to the fascist regime would be a whitewash of their long-standing promotion of racism. They were the very leaders responsible for articulating this ideology to the people and for the regime itself.

But there were considerable obstacles blocking the creation of a pure Croat-Catholic state. The most serious of these was the fact that Croats did not even constitute a majority of the population in their own state, just 3.3 million out of around 6.7 million people. There were 2.2 million Serbs, 60,000 Jews, 700,000 Muslims, 70,000 Protestants, not to mention hundreds of thousands of Romas and other minorities. The Ustasha solution was clear: kill as many Serbs, Jews and Romas as quickly as possible — and then sort the rest out later.

The Ustasha regime wasted no time at all commencing upon their systematic policy of racial extermination of all Serbs, Jews and Romas shortly after coming to power. If we are to adjudge that the Holocaust began with the first mass murders of entire peoples, then it is clear that the Holocaust began in Croatia in April 1941. The earliest punitive actions against Serbs are believed to have taken place on the evening of April 13, 1941 in Ogulin where Pavelic stopped to make a speech on his way to Zagreb from Italy.(34) Mass killings began in earnest on April 28, 1941 as Ustasha military units were dispatched to towns and villages all across the fascist state. Thousands of Serbian men, women and children were rounded up and killed that day, their property confiscated, in cities like Vukovar and villages like Gudovac, Tuke, Brezovac, Kokochevac, Bolch. Throughout May and June hundreds of towns and villages throughout the Croatian state underwent these same terrorist operations in which Serbs, Jews and Romas were either murdered on the spot or led away to concentration camps. By the beginning of July nearly 200,000 people, the vast majority of them Serbs, already were killed.(35) As Holocaust historian Jonathan Steinberg has pointed out, the Ustashi pioneered the methods of genocidal terror and extermination only later perfected by the Nazi SS Einsatzgruppen another fact “conveniently” overlooked in conventional Holocaust studies.(36)

The Ustasha operations were carried out with incredible acts of sadism and torture. In some cases entire villages were axed to death, in others men and women were hanged, crucified, burned to death or buried alive, body parts mutilated, decapitated, infants impaled or hammered. In the Orthodox church at Glina hundreds of Serbs were lured inside only to be slaughtered. Nazi Wehrmacht units attached to the Ustasha military were so impressed by the Ustashi’s methods for carrying out genocide that they established a commission to study the killings at Bjelovar, exhume the bodies, take photographs and write a report, later published under the title “Ustachenwerk bei Bjelovar.”(37) However, the top Nazi and Italian military authorities were concerned that they were dealing with out of control psychopaths who would destabilize their own regime, and thus Axis control of the Balkans. They were right. The Nazi “Plenipotentiary” in Zagreb, General Edmund Glaise von Horstenau reported back anxiously to Berlin in early June 1941 that “according to reliable reports from countless German military and civil observers during the last few weeks, in country and town, the Ustashi have gone raging mad.”(38)

As the noted historian of fascism Ernest Nolte has put it, “Croatia became during the war a giant slaughterhouse.” The operations continued with only brief pauses throughout 1941 and 1942, then at a slightly slower pace thereafter through 1945. No portion of territory given to Ustasha rule was untouched by this terror. In those areas where the Orthodox Serbs comprised a majority of the population, the Ustashi committed the worst atrocities. Vast areas were emptied of population and left a wasteland. Only a minority of those affected were killed immediately, the rest were rounded up for deportation to death camps.

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.

Roman Catholic Croatian guards at the Jasenovac concentration camp prepare to execute an inmate. Source: US Holocaust Memorial Museum. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

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?

The answer lies with the Catholic Church. What was the Church’s reaction to and role in all of this? How deeply involved in genocide in fascist Croatia was the Catholic Church and the Vatican? In response to the persecution of the Jews and Serbs the Croatian clergy rallied around the regime and provided endless articles and pamphlets justifying their extermination. Stepinac had the racial laws published in his own publications. Writing in response to the publication of the racial laws of April and May 1941 the Catholic weekly “Hrvatska Strazha” in its editorial of May 11, 1941 welcomed the legislation as necessary for “the survival and development of the Croatian nation.”

“Defense from Judaism, from that destructive worm, was started by the Fuhrer and Duce…. Our Poglavnik has also announced a regulation on the protection and honor and blood, and we would add, on the protection of the survival and development of the Croatian nation, and with it the Poglavnik wants to prevent the dangerous worm from eating away at the tree of our Croatian national life.”(40)

Writing in response to new racial laws against the Jews the Archbishop of Sarajevo Ivan Sharich declared: “There exists limits to love. The movement for ridding the world of Jews is a movement for restoring human dignity. All mighty God stands behind this movement.” The Catholic Bishops of Banja Luka and Djakovo made similar public statements. The Croatian Academic Catholic Society also published a brochure in 1941 entitled “Why Do They Persecute Jews In Germany?,” explaining that Hitler was to be praised for eliminating the Jews because he was defending the German people. Hitler was merely righting the wrongs of the past.(41) By the time the Ustashi and Catholic Church were done with their work they had killed approximately 30,000 of the 40,000 Jews living in the territories of the Independent State of Croatia.(42)

Toward Serbs the rhetoric in favor racial extermination was even more severe. The Franciscan Priest Shimich stated bluntly: “All Serbs must be murdered within the shortest time. That is our program.”(43) And the actions of the Catholic clergy were not limited to words. Catholic priests and members of orders were recruited into as many Ustasha military commands as possible. As with the clerical fascist state, the clerical fascist army was led by priests. Taking up arms as if in a medieval crusade, the Catholic clergy were transformed, as Carlo Falconi has said, “into thorough going butcher-leaders.”(44) At the very first punitive action against Serbs at Ogulin it was the parish priest, Ivan Mikan, who addressed the Ustashi and said “Now there will be some cleaning…. Scoot you dogs (Serbs) over the Drina.”(45) It was speeches such as these that gave the signal to launch massacres all across the Independent State of Croatia. Sometimes priests gave less than spiritual reasons for liquidating Serbs, such as Father Mate Mogus in Udbina who told his congregation “Look, people, at these brave Ustashi who have 16,000 bullets and who will kill 16,000 Serbs, after which we will divide among us in a brotherly manner the fields …”

Meanwhile, Franciscan priests in dozens of villages attacked Serbian and Roma settlements, tortured, killed and expropriated their victims. Father Mogus explained in another sermon that “We Catholics until now have worked for Catholicism with the cross and with the book of the mass. The day has come however to work with the revolver and the machine gun.(46) The Jesuit priest Dragutin Kamber, who was also the Ustasha Commander for the district of Doboj, personally led numerous raids and ordered the execution of 300 Serbs in Doboj. Father Peric of the Gorica monastery participated in the massacres of 5,600 Serbs in Livno. Father German Castimir, the Abbot of the Guntic monastery, personally directed the massacres at Glina.(47)

The genocide of the Serbs was to be carried out in three ways: extermination, deportation and forced conversion. There were simply too many Serbs to kill them all. We have left this third part of the genocide plan, forced conversion, for last because this phase of the genocide was almost exclusively carried out by the Catholic Church itself. At his trial for war crimes in 1986 Andrija Artukovic emphasized that the management of forced conversions was entirely in the hands of Archbishop Stepinac and the church leadership.(48) In June 1941 the Ustashi created an “Office of Religious Affairs” to handle the conversion of Serbs to Catholicism. On July 18, 1941 the government decreed that the Serbian Orthodox religion had ceased to exist. By early September 1941 the government decreed the expropriation of all Orthodox Church property. Across Croatia Priests were instructed to inform the Serbian population that they had only one way out: become Catholic or die. This was the ultimatum the Catholic clergy offered to a lucky third of the Serbs in fascist Croatia.

The Ustashi kept particularly good records of this phase of genocide. One of the reasons for this is that the Ustashi were so awfully proud of their accomplishments in this regard, that they filmed dozens of such forced conversions for Croatian newsreels. Another is that each Catholic diocese published weekly and sometimes daily reports of new conversions. Children were especially targeted for conversion, especially orphans. No doubt, today there are tens of thousands of people living in Croatia, if not more, who do not know that they had Serbian or Jewish parents or grand-parents, nor what happened to them. In a letter to the Vatican dated May 8, 1944 Stepinac informed the Holy Father that to date 244,000 Orthodox Serbs had been “converted to the Church of God.”(49)

As the Serbs were marked for genocide, it was desired that no trace of their cultural heritage should remain. 299 Orthodox churches were destroyed. Some 300 Orthodox priests and five bishops were murdered. As this was a clerical-fascist crusade, the Orthodox clergy were marked for especially cruel torture, usually ending with the gouging out of their eyes or other forms of bodily mutilation. In one case the eighty-one year old Bishop of Banja Luka was shod like a horse and forced to walk until he collapsed, at which point his heart was cut out and he was set on fire. In Zagreb the Orthodox Bishop was tortured until he went insane. Some 400 Orthodox priests were killed in concentration camps.(50)

The Croatian Catholic clergy saw the rise of fascism as the beginning of an international Catholic-fascist crusade that would convert the world for Catholicism and the Papacy, as the following statement in Katholicki Tjednik of August 31, 1941 makes clear. This was the time to destroy the enemies of Catholicism: Communism, Judaism, Eastern Orthodoxy.

“Until now, God spoke through papal encyclicals…. And? They closed their ears … Now God has decided to use other methods. He will prepare 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, machine guns, tanks, and bombers. The language of these sermons will be international.”(51)

The clergy had to be ready to take on a military role if that was God’s will. Indeed, it had to be prepared for death and destruction. Perhaps this explains the scale of the Catholic clergy’s participation in running concentration camps. The exact number of Catholic priests who worked as commanders or guards at these camps in Croatia is unknown. However, there is no question that there were hundreds, if not thousands. In a surprising number of cases Catholic priests were named commanders or staff officers of concentration camps. These appointments were reported in the Catholic press during the war. Thus, we read in Novi List in 1941 that Father Stepan Lukic was named camp adjutant of the Zepce concentration camp, Priest Ante Djuric Commander of all camps in the Drvar district, and Father Dragan Petranovic commander of the camp in Ogulin. The active participation of clergy in running concentration camps in Croatia was known by the German, Italian, British and American intelligence services, as well as the Vatican. The U.S. intelligence report of February 23, 1943 entitled “Massacres of Serbs in Croatia” speaks bluntly of “the bloody hands of the Catholic clergy in the camps.”(52)

The scene of some of the most barbaric killings of all time was the concentration camp complex known as Jasenovac. German, Italian, British and American intelligence reports (as well as Croatian accounts) suggest that between 600,000 and 700,000 were killed there. Aside from intelligence reports, we have the testimony of survivors and of a few of the perpetrators as to the crimes committed there by the Catholic clergy. Testimony was collected by a Yugoslav War Crimes Commission and obtained during the trials of various Ustashi. A key witness was the parish priest of Jasenovac, Juraj Parshich, who along with survivors testified to the barbaric murders committed at Jasenovac by numerous priests, among whom the most infamous were Zvonko Brekalo, Pero Brzica, Anzelmo Chulina, Father Brkljanic, and the Jesuits Zvonko Lipovac and Father Cvitan. However, there was one priest who has carved out a special place for himself in the annals of sadism, barbarism and genocide. His name before the war was Vjekoslav Filipovich, a Franciscan priest who some say was excommunicated. During the war he went from wearing priestly robes to an Ustasha officer’s uniform, and bore the name Miroslav Majstorovich. He directed numerous actions against Serbian villages in which he played a conspicuous part in the killings. Before one such attack in the town of Drakulic he strangled a Serbian baby in his hands. Then he went to Jasenovac where he served as Commander for four months, from September 1942 to the beginning of January 1943. At the War Crimes investigation prior to his trial, Filipovich testified that during the four months of his command “according to my own calculations between twenty and thirty thousand were liquidated in the Jasenovac.”(53)

It is beyond the scope of this author’s comprehension to explain the psycho-pathology of clerical-fascism. However, I do know that they killed a million with clear consciences for their belief in God, the Catholic Church and the Aryan race. This is nowhere more eloquently expressed than in the comment made by Father Srecko Peric of the Gorica Monastery who reassured his fellow Ustashi prior to a massacre by saying: “Kill all Serbs. And when you finish come here, to the Church, and I will confess you and free you from sin.”(54) In other words, they were not responsible for their actions for they killed in the name of God, on behalf of God’s vicar on earth, Pope Pius XII.

The Verdict: The Vatican is Guilty of Genocide

South Gate of Jasenovac III “Brickworks” camp.
South Gate of Jasenovac III “Brickworks” camp. South Gate of Jasenovac III “Brickworks” camp. (Credit: Public Domain)

Today Pope John Paul II claims Pius XII was innocent, the Vatican was innocent, the Church was innocent. For all these years it has kept its archives closed, claiming it has nothing to hide. But we know otherwise. Even without the Vatican’s archives we have sufficient evidence to find not only Pius XII, but Pope Paul VI (then Cardinal Montini, Pius XII’s closest advisor) and the entire Vatican guilty of crimes of genocide. We cannot convict or punish them because the United States is their protector today in the same way the Habsburg Empire once was in centuries past. But we know enough of the details to reach a verdict.

We know that the Vatican met with and supported the Ustashi before they ever came to power. We know that on April 7, 1941, the day after the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia, the British Ambassador to the Vatican, D’Arcy Osborne, implored the Pope to condemn the invasion, but that he refused to do so.(55) We know that Pius XII met with and embraced Pavelic on May 17, 1941, exactly one month to the day Pavelic arrived in Zagreb to take power, and in the very weeks in which most of the racial laws calling for a triple genocide of Serbs, Jews and Roma were being issued.

We know the Pope also met with dozens of the Ustasha leadership and blessed them all. Pavelic made another state visit in 1943, this one more friendly and loving than the first, at which point his regime had killed upwards of 400,000 people. No doubt, the Pope probably met with Pavelic after the war too when he was a wanted war criminal hiding in the Vatican before escaping with the Vatican’s help to Argentina. The Vatican cannot claim that it was too far removed from events in Croatia or too poorly informed. Croatia was on the Italian border and Vatican and Ustasha officials traveled regularly back and forth. The Vatican had its ambassadorial Legate Ramiro Marcone in Zagreb throughout the war and his Secretary Guiseppe Masucci who spoke Serbo-Croatian fluently. Both of them visited concentration camps in Croatia and met directly with those most responsible for the Holocaust there: Artukovic, Kvartnik, etc. Meanwhile, the Italian military and government officials in Zagreb were protesting the Ustashi’s massacres and the Italian press was writing about them regularly. We also have dozens of acknowledgments of receipt from the Vatican of detailed descriptions of the Holocaust in Croatia, including those from the very few Croatian clergy who actually did protest the genocides, like the Bishop of Mostar. His protest is incriminating on several levels: on one it shows that Pius XII knew exactly what was going on; secondly, it shows that clergy could oppose the Holocaust if they wanted to and not be punished, though almost all supported it; thirdly, it offers a sickening justification for stopping the killings, namely that more Serbs and Jews would convert to Catholicism.(56)

We know that the Vatican was very enthusiastic about the thousands of forced conversions of persecuted people who converted to Catholicism in order to stay alive and that the Vatican sent notes of encouragement to the Croatian clergy, though warning them that they should not accept conversions of adults who were not sincere. We know that the Pope personally met with Archbishop Stepinac in May 1943 to discuss the persecution of the Jews. This is in the report of the Ustasha ambassador to the Vatican, Lobkowicz, to the Croatian Foreign Ministry where it is explained that Stepinac “spoke very much … about the crime of abortion, which was very well received in the Vatican. On the basis of these laws the archbishop partly also justified the treatment of the Jews, who were the greatest advocates and the most frequent perpetrators of such crimes.”(57) We know from his diary that Stepinac was an arch anti-Semite. And we know how staunchly Pius XII defended Stepinac after the war, even after his trial and conviction for war crimes in 1946, rewarding him with the robes of a Cardinal, calling him a martyr. Indeed, every Pope since Pius XII has called Stepinac a martyr including the current Pope who hints at Stepinac’s beatification, and who has worshipped at his tomb. John Paul II will travel once again to Croatia this October to celebrate the Ustasha clergy. But the only real martyrs were those who died at the hands of the Catholic gangsters. Pius XII and Stepinac as far as we know never personally murdered anyone, but what they did was far worse than any single murder: they supported a triple genocide of Serbs, Jews and Romas in fascist Croatia that cost a million lives.

We know that the Vatican aided in the escape of thousands of war criminals from Croatia and all other parts of Yugoslavia. Although Vatican representatives and Stepinac’s representatives visited Jasenovac several times, they did nothing to rescue the victims. However, when it was the turn of the fascists to face defeat and punishment at the end of the war, the Vatican stepped forward to rescue every single one of the millions of fascists it could, funneling tens of thousands of fascists from Austrian POW camps to the Vatican with false International Red Cross identity papers and the like. As early as 1943 the Vatican intervened with Allied military leaders on behalf of Nazi and other fascist POWs in Italy “to exercise that mission of charity proper to the Church.” Where was that mission of charity proper to the Church for the one million Serbs, Jews and Romas killed by the Church’s Catholic-fascist gangsters!?(58)

It is interesting to note that the Vatican ratlines, organized by the Vatican and Croatian-Ustasha clergy, would probably have never become widely known if not for the discovery and trial of Klaus Barbie who escaped through them. Because of the Barbie trial, slowly the truth about the ratlines emerged.(59) And so too did the protection by the Vatican and U.S. and British intelligence of thousands of war criminals involved in crimes of genocide in Croatia and Serbia emerge, hidden for the entirety of the Cold War. They were hidden for two reasons: because the United States and its imperialist allies were committed to the destruction of socialist Yugoslavia and therefore did all they could to prevent the extradition for trial of any of them; and secondly because of the importance of the Catholic Church to the West in the Cold War. Indeed, this is why a war criminal could become Secretary General of the United Nations: had Kurt Waldheim committed his crimes of genocide in a non-Communist country he at least would have been exposed after the war, if not also punished. Such is the human rights record of the United States and Britain concerning crimes of genocide. But should not we who do oppose fascism and do seek justice for its victims be at least as vigilant in pursuing these criminals as the Vatican has been vigilant in protecting them?

Incredibly, details now are even leaking out of the Vatican’s stealing of plundered property of murdered Serbs, Jews and Romas in Croatia.(60) This story emerged in June 1997 when a memo dated October 21, 1946 written by OSS agent Emerson Bigelow was discovered in the U.S. Treasury Department’s archives stating that the Vatican was holding around $170 million worth of Ustasha gold plundered from Holocaust victims in Croatia. President Clinton personally promised a full State Department investigation and report that was to be issued in December, then January, then February, then March…. Clinton will never keep his promise because the Vatican is not only hiding the fact that it stole the property of the people it murdered, but that it shared the loot with America’s allies, like Argentina, who were paid off to accept Nazi and Ustashi war criminals. Besides, the American government will never assist in the payment of war reparations to Serbs, or even Yugoslav Jews and Romas. America is currently in an undeclared war with the Serbs and with Yugoslavia. And who would pay?

The genocide of World War II directed at Jews, Serbs, Roma, Soviets, and others by the Nazis and their allies generated vast amounts of loot and plunder including gold coins, wedding rings, and dental gold from concentration camps.

This brings us back to the question with which we began: What is the Vatican hiding? Obviously, quite a lot. One might say that the answer is “simply” complicity in the murders of tens of millions of Jews, Serbs, Romas, Russians and others during the Holocaust. But this would not be sufficient, for the true answer goes far beyond this. The full answer to this question is that the Vatican is hiding its true historical identity and legacy, an identity that, were it to be widely recognized by historians, would bring the entire edifice of the Catholic Church crashing down. Indeed, the answer to this question is one that historians are not yet ready to acknowledge, for when one considers the crimes of the Vatican during the Holocaust alongside those committed during the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Counter-Reformation, and through thousands of years of anti-Jewish, anti-science, anti-democratic and anti-labor hatred, then what one must recognize is that it was not in Hitler’s Nazi Reich nor in Stalin’s gulags that the worst crimes against humanity of torture, oppression and murder in all of history were committed. Rather, that dubious distinction belongs to none other than the Roman Catholic Church and its “infallible” leaders, the Papacy, the most criminal institution the world has ever known.


1. Charles R. Allen, Jr., “The Vatican and the Nazis, Part II,” Reform Judaism, Fall 1983, p. 33.

2. “We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah,” Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, the Vatican, March 1998.

3. This has been a long term public relations effort. See “The Pope’s In A Confessional and Jews Are Listening,” New York Times, 30 November 1997.

4. “Vatican Expresses Sorrow over Holocaust, defends wartime Pope,” CNN, 16 March 1998.

5. “The Vatican Releases Document on Church’s Role During the Holocaust,” CNN Transcript of Program aired 16 March 1998.

6. “The Pope’s In a Confessional and Jews Are Listening,” New York Times, 30 November 1997.

7. The story of the “ratlines” and the employment of Croatian fascists and war criminals during the Cold War by the U.S. and British governments is told in Christopher Simpson’s Blowback (New York: Colliers, 1988) and in Mark Aarons and John Loftus, The Unholy Trinity, (New York: St.. Martin’s, 1991). The singularly shameless and criminal refusal of the U.S. and Britain to cooperate with Yugoslavia in the return of war criminals in total disregard of international treaties and laws is discussed in detail in Christopher Simpson’s The Splendid Blond Beast, (New York: Grove Press, 1993).

8. See L.S. Stavrianos, The Balkans Since 1453, (New York: Holt Rinehart, 1961), or Mihailo Crnobrnja, The Yugoslav Drama, (Montreal: McGill, 1994).

9. Cited in Milan Bulajic, The Role of the Vatican in the Break-Up of the Yugoslav State, (Beograd: Struchna kniga, 1994), pp. 41-42.

10. Ibid., p.38.

11. “All Serbs Must Die!” In his autobiography, Leon Trotsky (then living in Vienna) recalled the popularity of that song in the Austrian empire in 1914 and how his own son had been beaten up in the street for answering back “Hail Serbia!” Leon Trotsky, My Life, (New York: Pathfinder, 1970), p. 233.

12. Cited in Avro Manhattan, The Vatican’s Holocaust, (Springfield, Mo., Ozark Books, 1988), pp. 9-17.

13. Bulajic, pp. 48-49.

14. Ibid., pp. 49-50.

15. Ibid., p. 59.

16. Ibid., pp. 51-59.

17. Mark Aarons and John Loftus, The Unholy Trinity, (New York: St. Martins, 1991), pp. 3-17, 48-54, 125-127.

18. Frank Littlefield, Germany and Yugoslavia, 1933-1941. The German Conquest of Yugoslavia. (New York: Columbia U. Press, 1988).

19. One of the most widely respected scholarly studies of Vatican complicity in the Holocaust in Croatia is Carlo Falconi’s The Silence of Pius XII, (Boston:Little, Brown and Co., 1970). Falconi believed that the Pope gave his blessings to the Ustasha in 1939. See p. 266.

20. Falconi, p. 409, footnote 13.

21. Bulajic, pp. 72-73.

22. Manhattan, pp. 20-22.

23. Ibid. Also Falconi, p. 271.

24. Falconi, pp. 272-273.

25. Bulajic, p. 74.

26. Ibid., p.59.

27. Ibid.,p.47.

28. Falconi, pp.294-296.

29. Ibid., pp. 266-272.

30. Vladimir Dedijer, Jasenovac – The Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican, (New York: Prometheus, 1992), pp. 136-137.

31. Recalled in an article by Josef Matel, a Professor at Graz who served in the Wehrmacht in Yugoslavia, quoted in Lazo M. Kostic, Holocaust in the Independent State of Croatia, (Chicago: Liberty, 1981), p.12.

32. Kostic, p. 272.

33. Ibid., p. 80.

34. Manhattan, p. 62.

35. This figure was cited by several German intelligence reports compiled by Abwehrand other Nazi officers in Croatia in July 1941. Quoted in Kostic, pp. 36-37. Carlo Falconi, who had extensive and perhaps better access to archival materials than most historians, argues that by July 1941 350,000 people had been killed by the Ustashi, Falconi, p. 291.

36. Jonathan Steinberg, “The Roman Catholic Church and Genocide in Croatia, 1941-1945,” unpublished essay marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, January 1992.

37. Manhattan, p. 52.

38. Jonathan Steinberg, All or Nothing: The Axis and the Holocaust, 1941-1943,(New York: Routledge, 1990), p. 57.

39. German, Italian and Croatian primary sources collectively support these numbers as base figures. The works by Kostic and Bulajic cited above provide abundant information on and from these sources. The Roma historian Dragljub Ackovic argues that the number of Roma victims was much higher in Dragoljub Ackovic, Roma Suffering in Jasenovac Camp, (Belgrade: Struchna, 1995). The names of the camps (logors) within Jasenovac were Versajev, Krapije, Ciglana, Kozhara, Stara Gradishka, Ciganski (Gypsy), Mlaka, and Jablanac. The current regime in Croatia today carries on a constant propaganda war of denial about Jasenovac and has desecrated the site itself.

The Tudjman regime to date has not acknowledged that crimes of genocide were even committed by fascist Croatia during World War II and holds to the view that it represented a positive chapter in Croatian history.

40. Bulajic, pp. 129-130.

41. Ibid.

42. The Independent State of Croatia comprised the provinces of Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Srem, and Slavonia. In these territories there were about 40,000 Jews, out of a total of 82,242 in pre-war Yugoslavia. About 35,000 Yugoslav Jews from other parts of Yugoslavia which were under German, Italian, Bulgarian, Albanian and Hungarian rule, died, most of them in German death camps. Thus, altogether 65,525 Yugoslav Jews were killed.

43. Kostic, p. 80.

44. Falconi, p. 298.

45. Bulajic, p. 73.

46. Manhattan, pp. 61-67.

47. Ibid., p. 102.

48. Bulajic, p. 88. Bulajic was present at the trial.

49. Ibid., p. 99.

50. Falconi, pp. 287-293.

51. Manhattan, p. 83.

52. Bulajic, pp. 159-161.

53. Bulajic, pp. 148-161; Falconi, pp. 297-298.

54. Manhattan, p. 68.

55. Bulajic, p. 100.

56. Falconi, p. 294.

57. Bulajic, p. 115.

58. Aarons and Loftus, pp. 35-36.

59. The best account is Christopher Simpson’s Blowback, (New York: Collier, 1988).

60. See “A Vow of Silence. Did Gold Stolen by Croatian Fascists Reach the Vatican?,” U.S. News & World Report, March 30, 1998. The Bigelow document is listed as PG 226, Entry 183, Box 29, (copy in possession of the author).

Barry M. Lituchy has taught European, US and World history at the City University of New York for the past twenty years, and currently teaches at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, NY. He is editor of and a contributing author to the book Jasenovac and the Holocaust in Yugoslavia: Analyses and Survivor Testimonies published in 2006, and, as co-editor, brought out a new edition after fifty years of the book The Crimes of the Fascist Occupants and their Collaborators Against Jews in Yugoslavia in 2005. In 1999 he conducted videotaped interviews of refugees from Kosovo and later testified as a witness at the International Criminal Tribunal on the Former Yugoslavia at the Hague.

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  1. In Seconde Crusade War – 30 000 000 Sorbs/Serbs were killed and a total cultural genocide over peaceful matriarchal, vegetarian Serbian culture was done.
    Geneva means in Serbian language "woman", Lausanne means "vine", Geneva see was called Serbian See.. all toponyms are Serbian.
    Sorbonne in France means Serbian !

    150 Orthodox Serbian churches were burned in 2004 in total media blackout : Mother Theresa was "invented" for help Albanian muslims in Kosovo to destroy Serbs:
    In Bosnia, all Serbian/Christian symbols are destroyed with help of USA :

    Vatican commit crimes in Ukraina too !

    All Slavonic people were Orthodox and lived peacefully over from Portugal to Pacific !

  2. Now let's hear about the very long genocide against Catholic Croats by Serbian Orthodox. All this article is a reaction to the Serbs trying to wipe out Catholic Croatia. And Yugoslavia was a fake State, like Czechoslovakia, made up after WWI with the Croats forced into it under the rule of Serbs who hated them with a passion simply for being Catholic.

    • This isn't true. If King Aleskandar chosed Greater Serbia over Yugoslavia than Croatia would be splited between Italy Hungary and Serbia. Serbia would took only Serbian majority parts. But King Aleskandar has chosen Yugoslavia to save Croats and Slovenians although the Croats who were in the Austro-Hungarian army in devil divisions who commited a lot of crimes in Serbia against civils. Croats have always hated Serbs because they have a complex because they know they are Catholic Serbs. Serbs never hated Croats. If Serbia wanted to wipe out Croats we would choose Greater Serbia and then will Croats be assimilated by Italians and Hungarians. And after we saved Croats we as a thank you get Jasenovac, Stara Gradiska etc. Croatia was the only country that had concentration camps for torturing and butchering kids and babies.
      They killed 700K Serbs just in Jasenovac but they were killing Jews and Gypsies. Even Italian Generals were sending letters to Vatican and Italy about how its disgusting and its a shame what are Croats doing to Serbs.


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