Few people in the west know or care to remember that there were Auschwitz-like death camps in Croatia during World War II. Five camps were built in and around the village of Jasenovac, with a 7,000 daily inmate capacity. Between 1941 to 1944 a conservative estimate suggests that no less than 200,000 Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, Croats and Moslems were liquidated there. Traces of the camps have disappeared now; President Tito had them levelled after the war and put a stop to discussion of them in the interest of national unity.
Vladimir Dedijer's research in The Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican indicates that as many as 700,000 people may have died in all if one estimates liberally. The largest number of victims were Serbs from Croatia and the documents assembled by Dedijer show convincingly that they died simply for being non-Catholics and non-Croatians.
The Jasenovac camps were organized and operated by the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), which assigned Jasenovac to its Ustashe--the fascist elite of the NDH.
The author was, until his death of a heart attack before the book's English-language publication, a respected historian and leading authority on genocide in the 20th century. Together with Jean-Paul Sartre, he chaired Bertrand Russell's international tribunal on war crimes and was Yugoslavia's representative to the United Nations. He blames the Vatican for not reacting to the murders of innocent people, although it had permanent representatives in Zagreb and Belgrade during the war years.
Dedijer presents some evidence showing that the Vatican traditionally has been concerned with how to dominate the non-Catholic population of the Balkans. He demonstrates a historical continuum of the events from the beginning of the century, specifically the time of World War I. "The role of the Vatican in the Second World War," Dedijer writes, "and the relationship with Yugoslavia are the completely logical and natural result and development of old trends and interests."
Dedijer quotes the Italian press to show how each consecutive Pope has reinforced throughout the modern history the policy of curbing the demographic growth of the Slavs on the territory of the Balkans. Pope Pius X, in particular, "...hated the Slavs whether they were Orthodox or not."
The Independent State of Croatia was proclaimed on the 6th of April, 1941. It was truly Hitler's puppet state and promptly declared a war against the USSR and the Western democratic nations. It was a racist state in the fullest meaning of the term, its ideology being a mirror image of Nazi Germany's. In a matter of weeks after its creation, the Jasenovac camps were in operation.
The chief architects of the liquidation methods were Ante Pavelic and Mile Budak. According to a report quoted by Dedijer from the Ustasha newspaper Novi List of June, 1941, Budak had said: "We will kill one part of the Serbs, the other part we will resettle, and the remaining ones we will convert to the Catholic faith and thus make Croats of them... We must be a country of Croats and no one else and there is no method that we as Ustashe will not use in order to make this country Croatian and to cleanse (sic!) it of Serbs."
In search of methods to dispose the bodies of the slaughtered and tortured communists and antifascists, the inventive Ustashe finally came upon the "ring oven" in the tile factory of the camp. Other methods used in extermination of civilians in addition to poison gas were: suffocating, starvation, freezing and singeing of the sensitive body parts.
The book contains a number of documents collected from American and European archives as well as court documents from post-war trials, which have long been classified. Included are documents the United States declassified in 1986 relating to American counterespionage work, which show that the Vatican organized safe flight from Europe to Argentina for Ante Pavelic, head of the Croatian state, and 200 of his associates at the end of the war.
In view of the unfortunate events in Yugoslavia in the last two years, this solidly researched book, originally published in Germany in 1988, contributes to clarifying the historic roots of the current conflict. Reading it is an eye opener.
The preceding was a book review by Vladislav Tomovich, a sociologist who teaches at Brock University, of The Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican by Vladimir Dedijer (1992, Prometheus Books, 444 pages), which appeared in The Toronto Star, January 23, 1993, pg. G12. The photograph accompanying the review is captioned, "Catholic nuns march with Croatian legionnaires of the Nazi puppet state in 1941." This photograph can also be seen by clicking here (third photo from the top) and here (17th photo from the top).