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Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska, or NDH)

Yugoslavia declared itself a neutral in September 1939. The Serb population were overwhelmingly pro-Allied in their sentiment, as was Regent Prince Paul. The non-Serbs generally favored the Axis powers. By 1940 Germany had a significant control of Yugoslavia's foreign trade and economy. In late March 1941, Serbian nationalists and others opposed to the Axis abolished the regency and proclaimed King Peter as having come of age and joined the Axis. Two weeks later. on April 6, 1941, German forces occupied Yugoslavia and the King and most of his ministers fled to Greece. An unconditional surrender was signed on April 17, 1941.

Shortly thereafter Germany, Italy, Hungary, and Bulgaria dismembered Yugoslavia. Germany occupied a rump Serbia and part of Vojvodina. An Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska, or NDH) was established at Zagreb under Anti Pavelic, the leader of the Ustasha, a Croat nationalist terrorist organization. This puppet "Independent State of Croatia" included Croatia and Bosnia and Hercegovina, and it annexed northern Slovenia. Italy won southern Slovenia and much of Dalmatia, joined Kosovo with its Albanian puppet state, and occupied Montenegro. Hungary occupied part of Vojvodina and Slovenian and Croatian border regions. Bulgaria took Macedonia and a part of southern Serbia.

The so-called independent state of Croatia was denounced by the United States Government. Throughout the war American policy was to avoid any action that might imply acknowledgment of the Croatian protectorate, and to support the guerilla forces seeking to overthrow the German- backed regime.

Croatian History Map - World War IIIn May 1941 the Utashi began a reign of terror against the Serbs, communists, gypsies, and Jews. That month Jews were ordered into labor-brigades and policies were adopted for removing them from their property. "Aryanization" of Jewish property began in July. The next month German troops in Serbia carried out a mass internment of adult male Jews. During October and November they proceeded to murder all of them. In December 1941 the Germans carried out the same process against Jewish women and children.

Germany and Italy supported the NDH and began diverting natural resources to the Axis war machine. When Macek refused to collaborate, the Nazis made Ante Pavelic head of the NDH. His Ustase storm troopers began eliminating the two million Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies in the NDH, through forced religious conversion, deportation, and extreme violence. The NDH was backed enthusiastically by some Croatian Catholic clergy, including the Archbishop of Sarajevo; some Franciscan priests enlisted in the Ustase and participated in massacres. The Archbishop of Zagreb, Alojzije Stepinac, publicly welcomed and appeared with Paveli while privately protesting NDH atrocities. On the other hand, many Catholic priests condemned the violence and helped Orthodox Serbs to practice their religion in secret. Even the Germans were appalled by Ustase violence, and Berlin feared the bloodbath would ignite greater Serbian resistance. Italy reoccupied areas of Hercegovina to halt the slaughter there.

Jews and Serbs also were massacred in areas occupied by the Albanians and the Hungarians. Thousands of Serbs fled to Serbia, where the Germans had established a puppet regime under General Milan Nedic. Nedic considered himself a custodian rather than a collaborator and strove to maintain control of violence. In the south of Yugoslavia, many Macedonians welcomed Bulgarian forces, expecting that Sofia would grant them autonomy; but a harsh Bulgarianization campaign ended their enthusiasm.

By mid-1942, there were almost no Jews left in Serbia. Meanwhile in Croatia, where some 30,000 Jews resided, the Pavelic government at first enacted legislation against Jews and their property, and by the end of 1941 had arrested and interned most of the Jews. The Jews in Croatia, as well as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, were engaged in forced labor or were shoot. In August 1942, some 9,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz and more such deportations took place during the next two years.

King Peter and his ministers went to London in June 1941. That summer resistance against the Croats and Germans was led by Colonel Draza Mihailovic and Serbian officers, who called themselves Cetniks. Also fighting against the Germans were communists led by partisan leader Tito. During the war not only were the Jews subject to terror, forced-labor, and death. Several hundred thousand Yugoslavs, including Serb prisoners-of-war, volunteers, and forcible deportees, went to work in Germany. Many other Yugoslavs served as forced laborers in German-owned and controlled mines in Yugoslavia.

The Germans exercised great control over the Yugoslav economy during their occupation. German officials saw to it that German interests participated, on one hand, in the control of the banking system and the centralization of certain economic enterprises, and, on the other, in the division of property within the component pats of the former Yugoslavia. In Serbia, the state- owned railways, arsenals, coal mines, and forests came under immediate and full German control.

By 1944, King Peter and the British favored Tito over Mihailovic in leading the fight against the Germans. At Tito's request the Soviet Army in July 1944 came to Tito's assistance and Belgrade was liberated in late October. In March 1945 a coalition government under Tito was formed and by summer the communists consolidated their hold on the Yugoslavian government. In Croatia, Pavelic and the Utashi continued waging war. But when the German troops left in early May, Pavelic and his government collapsed.

Before its collapse the Ustasha regime had accumulated a treasury worth well over $80 million, that apparently included valuable stolen from the dispossessed and deported Jewish and Sinti- Romani victims of the ethnic cleansing campaign.

After the Ustasha regime collapsed at the end of the war, Ante Pavelic, and some companies fled to the British zone of occupation of Austria from where he escaped or was released after surrendering some or all of a quantity of gold he had brought from Croatia. Pavelic made his way to Rome, where he arrived in early 1946, and at some point got in touch with the College of San Girolamo degli Illirici which had served as a place of refuge and support for the Croatian refugees. San Girolamo, which is located outside the walls of the Vatican and paid Italian State taxes and provided living quarters for Croatian priests studying at the Vatican. After the war, it was the reported the center of an extensive and effective under ground that assisted Ustasha fugitives, including Pavelic, to flee from Europe to South America. Pavelic hid in Rome from 1946 until his flight to Argentina in November 1948.

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Page last modified: 10-01-2012 19:23:28 ZULU