(April 16, 2021) Today, 80 years ago, the Independent State of Croatia was created when Dr. Ante Pavelić declared the Provision for the Appointment of the Croatian State Government, which he signed as Poglavnik of the Independent State of Croatia.
“Poglavnik,” means “Leader” in Croatian. He joined the Italian Duce, the German Führer, the Spanish Caudillo, the Turkish Milli Şef, the Greek Arkhigos and the Romanian Conducător. They would soon be joined by the Slovakian Vodca and later by the Hungarian Nemzetvezetö. They were also joined, in Asia, by the Burmese Naingandaw Adipadi, and the Indian Netaji
On April 10, 1941, German soldiers began entering the city of Zagreb, which was/is the capital of Croatia. This was part of the Axis invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
Croatia hadn’t been independent for more than 800 years. Since 1102, the King of Hungary had worn the crown of Croatia. After King Louis II of Hungary was killed in the Battle of Mohács, with the Turks in 1526, the crown of Hungary (and with it the crown of Croatia) passed to the Habsburgs of Austria.
This laid the foundation for what became known as the “Dual Monarchy,” with the Emperor of Austria (who was also the King of Bohemia) also being the King of Hungary (who was also the King of Croatia).
With the defeat of the Central Powers in World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Kingdom was dismembered, and the Imperial and Royal family dethroned and exiled.
The State of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes was created in 1918, and soon became a part of the Kingdom of Serbia, which had also just absorbed Montenegro, as a reward for Serbia’s participation with the Allies in the defeat of the Central Powers.
Instead of being a separate state within the kingdom, with full equality with the Serbs, Croatia and the whole country was run by the Serbs. For example, on the eve of the Axis invasion, all but four of the 165 generals of the Royal Yugoslav Army were Serbs. In January 1929, King Aleksandar I renamed the country Yugoslavia (“Land of the South Slavs”). The Croats now had less autonomy than they did under the Habsburgs!
It was about this time that a lawyer, Ante Pavelić, founded the Insurgent Croat Revolutionary Organization (Ustaska Hrvatska Revolucionera Organizacija) The Ustachi was a militant organization advocating Croatian independence. After the Ustashi assassinated the king, while he was visiting Marseille, France, in 1934, Dr. Pavelić went on the lam to Italy, where he was living when the Axis invasion began. The heir to the Yugoslavian throne was only 12 years old at the time of the king’s death. Therefore, the king’s cousin, Prince Paul, was named Regent.
Hitler originally had no interest in the Balkans, other than to keep them neutral. But after the Italians’ ill-advised attack against Greece, he felt he had no choice but to intercede on his ally’s behalf, because the Romanian oilfields at Ploieşti, which supplied a significant portion of the Reich’s oil needs,would be within range of bombers based in Athens. But to do so effectively, the Germans needed a land route to Greece. The Rumanians, Hungarians, and Bulgarians all agreed. Finally, on March 25, 1941, Prince Paul, on behalf of Yugoslavia, agreed.
The Serbs were incensed. Within two days, a coup d’etat, engineered by the British, and led by Air Force Gen. Dušan Simović, had sent Prince Paul into exile and placed the 17-year-old king, Peter II, on the throne. When Hitler learned of this, he flew into a rage, and on March 27, 1941, announced that he had decided to, “... destroy Yugoslavia as a military power and sovereign state.”
Plans for the invasion were drafted immediately. On April 6, 1941, the Lüftwaffe began the invasion by bombing Belgrade, the capital of Serbia and Yugoslavia. From Italy, Dr. Pavelić urged the Croatian soldiers in the Yugoslav army to mutiny, saying, “Use your weapons against the Serbian soldiers and officers. We are fighting shoulder to shoulder with our German and Italian allies!”
When the Wehrmacht entered Zagreb, Croatian Col. Slavko Kvaternik declared the existence of the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Drzava Krvatska - NDH) under the leadership of Dr. Pavelić, who, at the time, was still in hiding, in Italy, and who was taken by surprise, when he heard the news.
Col. Kvaternik’s declaration was accompanied by the playing of “Deutschland über Alles”— the German national anthem!
Dr. Pavelić arrived in Zagreb on April 15, 1941. Col. Kvaternik was rewarded by the Poglavnik with the post of Commander-in-Chief of Croatia’s Armed Forces, and a promotion from colonel to general, and then to Marshal of Croatia (Hrvatska Vojskovodja). His marshal’s baton was a hatchet!
Since there were no Croatian Armed Forces, he immediately set about organizing the Croatian Home Defense Army (Hrvatsko Domobranstvo). He didn’t have any time to waste, because on April 17, 1941, Croatia declared war on the United Kingdom.
In an attempt to show its appreciation to its German patron, Croatia sent a fighter and a bomber squadron to serve in the Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front. During its service, the fighter squadron tallied 283 victories for a loss of two planes and five pilots.
In October 1941, the 4,000-man Croatian Legion was incorporated into the German Wehrmacht as the 369th Reinforced Croatian Infantry Regiment, commanded by Ivan Markulj. Four days later, the unit arrived at Stalingrad, where it was destroyed.
A 1,200-man Brigade also served with the Italian Principe Amadeo Duc d’Aosta Division, commanded by Gen. Mario Marazzini, on the Eastern Front. It was also destroyed, on the Don River, in the Soviet Stalingrad offensive.
On Dec. 14, 1941, Croatia declared war on the United States.
Unlike the German Führer, the Croatian Poglavnik was more concerned with eliminating orthodoxy than Judaism, especially since his wife, María was part Jewish. On June 6, 1941, while visiting Berlin, the Poglavnik was told by the Führer that, “If the Croatian state is to be really stable, a nationally intolerant policy should be pursued for 50 years.” The Poglavnik declared a policy of “purification” and announced that “alien elements” would be eliminated from the country.
The Croats were Catholics, while the Serbs were Orthodox. Of the 7 million people living in the country, 1,850,000 were Serbs. On May 2, 1941, one of the new government’s ministers, Miroslav Žanić, said, “This country can only be a Croatian country, and there is no method we would hesitate to use in order to make it truly Croatian and cleanse it of Serbs, who have, for centuries, endangered us, and who will endanger us again if they are given the opportunity.”
To that end, at least, 330,000 Serbs were murdered, with an equal number deported, and 200,000 “converted.” To demonstrate their solidarity with their German patron, 30,000 Jews and an equal number of Gypsies were also murdered.
Marshal Kvaternik was forced out of the government because of disagreements with the Poglavnik. He “retired” to Austria on Dec. 29, 1942, where he was captured by American forces, and on Sept. 9, 1945 extradited to Yugoslavia. He was tried in Zagreb, beginning May 29, 1946, convicted, and on June 7, 1946, sentenced to death. The sentence was executed on June 13, 1947.
Pavelić fled on May 6, 1945, first to Austria and then to Rome, where he was shielded by the Vatican, which then assisted him in emigrating to Argentina in 1948, where he became security advisor to El Presidente, Juan Perón, under the name “Pablo Aranyos.”
American intelligence reported that his “... contacts are so high and his present position is so compromising to the Vatican, that any extradition of Subject would deal a staggering blow to the... Catholic Church.”
On the 16th anniversary of the founding of the Independent State of Croatia, April 10, 1957, he was shot in the back and seriously wounded by a then unknown, assailant, as he was alighting from a bus.
He died on December 28, 1959 of those wounds in Madrid, Spain. He had relocated there because El Presidente Perón had been overthrown and Argentina had agreed to Yugoslavia’s extradition request. In 1999, a former partisan, Blagoje Jovovic, from Montenegro, admitted that he was the shooter. The Croatian Poglavnik is buried in the San Isidro Cemetery in Madrid.
Next week: Siege of Tobruk
Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.