The Vatican Role in the Ustasha Genocide in the Independent State of Croatia

Roman Catholic Croatian guards at the Jasenovac concentration camp prepare to execute an inmate. Source: US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

By Carl Savich

What role, if any, did the Vatican play in the genocide committed in the Independent State of Croatia, a Roman Catholic state sponsored by the Vatican? This has been a controversial topic regarding World War II historiography. Renewed debate was stirred in 1999 with the publication of Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (New York: Viking, 1999) by John Cornwell.

Vatican Knowledge

The nature of the Ustasha NDH regime was well-known by the Vatican and by the US government as early as 1941. It was no secret that the Ustasha government sought to exterminate the entire Serbian, Jewish, and Roma populations of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. There was never any intention to deny or to hide this policy by the NDH government itself. In fact, the Ustasha documented the genocide with photographs and even film. Education Minister in the NDH regime Mile Budak openly announced that the policy was to kill a third, deport a third, and forcefully convert a third of the Serbian population of Croatia and Bosnia. (1) Budak stated in 1941: “Thus, our new Croatia will get rid of all Serbs in our midst in order to become one hundred per cent Catholic within ten years.”  A policy of mass murder and genocide was openly declared. In a speech made in Zagreb, NDH leader or Poglavnik Ante Pavelic stated: “A good Ustase is one who can use his knife to cut a child from the womb of its mother.” (2)

Pope Pius XII defended Ante Pavelic as “a much maligned man” and sent Papal Nuncio Giuseppe Ramiro Marcone (1882-1952) to the NDH regime during World War II as his personal representative. The Vatican did not de jure recognize the NDH state but did send Giuseppe Ramiro Marcone as a delegate or emissary of the Holy See to the Zagreb Episcopaly on August 5, 1941. Marcone was publicly seen and photographed with Ante Pavelic and prominent Ustasha religious, political, and military leaders.

 

Ante Pavelic, center, with Vatican Nuncio or legate Ramiro Marcone, left, and Vatican Secretary to the Nuncio Giuseppe Masucci, at a ceremony in Zapresic, a town northwest of Zagreb.

The Vatican did, however, de facto recognize the NDH.  The countries which recognized de jure the NDH, legally, diplomatically, and officially, were: Finland (July 2, 1941); Hungary (April 10, 1941); Germany, Italy and Slovakia (April 15, 1941); Bulgaria (April 21, 1941); Romania (May 6, 1941); Japan (June 7, 1941);  Spain (June 27, 1941);  Japanese-occupied China (July 5, 1941); Denmark (July 10, 1941); Japanese-occupied Manchuria in China, Manchukuo (August 2, 1941); Japanese-occupied Burma, Japanese-occupied Philippines, the “Free Indian” government, and, Thailand (April 27, 1943). (3) Vichy France did not de jure recognize the NDH state but sent a trade representative, Andre Gailliard, to Zagreb. Vichy negotiated a trade agreement with the NDH on March 16, 1942, thus establishing de facto recognition. Switzerland established a trade agreement with the NDH on September 10, 1941 through trade representative Friedrich Kaestli. The Vatican established immediate and direct diplomatic relations with the NDH Ustasha regime in 1941. What prevented the Vatican from legally recognizing its puppet and proxy NDH state was the potential backlash from the Allies, particularly Great Britain and the US.

The Vatican also had unofficial diplomatic relations with the NDH government through contacts with Croat representatives of the NDH regime Nicola Rusinovic and Erwin Lobkowicz. “These arrangements were semi-secret”. (4) But “by March 1942, despite the abundance of evidence pointing to mass killings, the Holy See was nevertheless drawing the Croatian representatives toward official relations.” (5) With Germany and Italy poised to win the war in 1942, the Vatican was moving closer to establishing official diplomatic relations with the NDH.

Did the Vatican know of the mass murders and genocide being committed in the NDH? The three heads of the Vatican Secretariat of State, Domenico Tardini, Giovanni Battista Montini, later Pope Paul VI, and Luigi Maglione, knew of the atrocities in the NDH but did nothing to stop them, remaining passive.

Eugene Tisserant, a French cardinal prominent in the Vatican hierarchy, told Rusinovic on March 6, 1942 that he was aware of Croatian Roman Catholic clerical involvement in the mass murders:

“I know for a fact that it is the Franciscans themselves, as for example Father [Vjekoslav] Simic of Knin, who have taken part in attacks against the Orthodox populations so as to destroy the Orthodox Church. In the same way you destroyed the Orthodox Church in Banja Luka. I know for sure that the Franciscans in Bosnia and Herzegovina have acted abominably, and this pains me. Such acts should not be committed by educated, cultured, civilized people, let alone by priests.” (6)

In a meeting of May 27, 1942, Tisserant informed Rusinovic that based on German figures, “350,000 Serbs had disappeared” in the NDH and that “in one single concentration camp there are 20,000 Serbs.” (7)

The full extent and nature of the genocide committed in the NDH was fully known by the Vatican by early 1942. The role and complicity of the Roman Catholic Church in Croatia and Bosnia in the genocide was also fully known. And yet Eugenio Pacelli, Pope Pius XII, did absolutely nothing. In fact, “Pacelli was never anything but benevolent to the leaders and representatives of the Pavelic regime.” (8) As late as 1943, he expressed to Lobkowicz “his pleasure at the personal letter he had received from our Poglavnik.” (9) And Ante Pavelic was Pacelli’s Poglavnik or Fuehrer in the NDH. Pacelli was not only Hitler’s Pope. He was also Pavelic’s Pope.

Vatican legate, or personal representative from the Pope to the NDH from 1941 to 1945, Ramiro Marcone, right, with Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic, center. The Vatican Secretary to the Vatican legate is Giuseppe Masucci on left. The Vatican de facto recognized the Independent State of Croatia and established diplomatic relations.

The objectives of the Ustasha regime were known by the Italian government and by the Vatican. Cornwell described “the campaign of terror and extermination conducted by the Ustashe of Croatia against two million Serb Orthodox Christians” that occurred in the Nazi puppet state of Greater Croatia, which included Bosnia-Hercegovina, from 1941-1945:

“An act of ‘ethnic cleansing’ before that hideous term came into vogue, it was an attempt to create a ‘pure’ Catholic Croatia by enforced conversions, deportations, and mass extermination. So dreadful were the acts of torture and murder that even hardened German troops registered their horror. … Pavelic’s onslaught against the Orthodox Serbs remains one of the most appalling civilian massacres known to history.” (10)

What knowledge did the Vatican have of these atrocities? Could it have intervened to lessen or to stop them? What actions did the Vatican take after the war?

NDH Poglavnik Ante Pavelic, left, with the Papal Emissary Ramiro Marcone.

What did Pope Pius know about the Ustasha? In 1939, “Pacelli had warmly endorsed Croat nationalism and confirmed the Ustashe perception of history” according to Cornwell when in November, 1939, Alojzije Stepinac came to Rome to meet with the Pope in an attempt to promote the canonization of Nicola Tavelic. Tavelic was a Croat martyr who had been killed in 1591 in Jerusalem and who was canonized by Pope VI in 1970. At that time, Pacelli reiterated a term that Pope Leo X had used to describe the Croats as “the outpost of Christianity”, meaning, the outpost of Roman Catholicism. They were seen as a spearhead and as a bulwark against not only the Serbian and Greek Orthodox, but against the Russian Orthodox as well. The Croats were the Vatican’s ramrod against the Orthodox.

Immediately after its inception, the NDH engaged in a policy of genocide. On April 25, 1941, the NDH promulgated legislation banning the Cyrillic script. By June, Serbian Orthodox primary and pre-schools were shut down. In May, anti-Jewish laws were passed defining Jews in racial terms, prohibiting the marriage of Jews and Aryans, and sending Jews to the Croat concentration camp of Danica. The Croat Roman Catholic Church immediately sought to convert the Orthodox Serbs to Roman Catholicism. Official statements from the NDH government, however, showed that the policy was to be exclusion, deportation, and extermination, genocide, rather than assimilation. Did the Vatican know of these objectives?

Cornwell wrote that the nature of the Ustasha regime was well-known to the Vatican from the beginning:

“From the outset, the public acts and statements concerning ethnic cleansing and the anti-Semitic programs were well-known to the Catholic episcopate and Catholic Action… These racist and anti-Semitic programs were therefore also known by the Holy See, and thus by Pacelli, at the point when he greeted Pavelic at the Vatican. These acts were known, moreover, at the very point when clandestine diplomatic links were being forged between Croatia and the Holy See.” (11)

On May 18, 1941, Pavelic met Pope Pius XII at the Vatican in what Cornwell described as “a ‘devotional’ audience” with the Pope. At this meeting, the Vatican de facto recognized the so-called Independent State of Croatia, which included Bosnia-Hercegovina, even though the NDH was an occupied Nazi puppet state, or the creation of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, maintained not by popular will but by military force. Moreover, Abbot Ramiro Marcone was appointed the apostolic legate or Nuncio to Zagreb, the personal representative of the Pope to the NDH. Marcone was a priest of the Benedictine Monastery of Montevergine. He was the personal emissary or ambassador of the Pope to the NDH regime. Marcone and his Secretary, Giuseppe Masucci, would visit the NDH and be photographed with Ante Pavelic, Andrija Artukovic, Alojzije Stepinac, and German and Italian military officers. He was photographed with Pavelic in the town of Zapresic northwest of Zagreb with his secretary Giuseppe Masucci. He was also photographed with Stepinac together with Roman Catholic priests and fascist military officers who are shown giving a fascist salute.

Giuseppe Ramiro Marcone was born in 1882 in Italy. He was ordained a priest of the Order of St. Benedict in 1906. In 1918, he was appointed the Abbot of Montevergine monastery in Italy. He lectured in philosophy at the college of San Anselmo in Rome. According to Cornwell, Marcone “had clearly been selected to soothe and encourage” the Ustasha leaders by Pacelli himself. Marcone died in 1952.

At the time the Vatican de facto recognized the Ustasha NDH state, did it know of the massacres against Serbs? The atrocities were described by Carlo Falconi in his documentation of the crimes in The Silence of Pius XII (London: Faber, 1970). On April 28, 1941, Ustasha troops attacked the Bjelovar district where 250 Serbs were killed by being buried alive. In Otocac, several days later, 331 Serbs were murdered. On May 14, in Glina, hundreds of Serbs were murdered in the Orthodox Church after being forcefully converted to Roman Catholicism. There is no evidence that the Vatican or Pope Pius knew of these mass murders.

What did the Vatican know and when? The Vatican knew that Ante Pavelic was “a totalitarian dictator”, a fanatical Croat ultra-nationalist zealot and Roman Catholic who was sponsored and installed in power by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. They knew Pavelic was a hardcore fascist who supported and endorsed Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. They knew about the anti-Serbian, anti-Jewish, and anti-Roma laws that the NDH had passed. They knew Pavelic was committed to the policy of forceful conversions of Orthodox Serbs to Roman Catholicism. Moreover, the Vatican knew that the NDH was a Nazi puppet state created by Nazi Germany that was under German military occupation and control. The NDH was not recognized by the US, Great Britain, or the Soviet Union. The NDH declared war against the Soviet Union and sent Croatian volunteers to participate in Operation Barbarossa. The NDH had even declared war on the Allies, declaring war against the US and Britain on December 12, 1941, and had sent 8,000 troops to the Russian Front, even sending troops to Stalingrad. The Allies did not recognize the NDH, an Axis belligerent or enemy state. The Vatican, however, did, even if de facto.

The genocide committed in the NDH was open and common knowledge. In The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930–1965 (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000), historian Michael Phayer concluded that “it is impossible to believe that Stepinac and the Vatican did not know that the Ustasha murders amounted to genocide”. (12)

The massacres and atrocities, indeed, the planned and systematic genocide, were known to the Croatian Catholic clergy and to the episcopate. As Cornwell noted, “the clergy often took a leading part.” Not only did the Croatian Church and clergy know, they were at the forefront of the genocide. The Croatian Roman Catholic priests organized and led the mass murders. As Cornwell noted, priests were in many instances the instigators and leaders of the genocide: “Priests, invariably Franciscans, took a leading part in the massacres. … Individual Franciscans killed, set fire to homes, sacked villages, and laid waste the Bosnian countryside at the head of Ustashe bands.” (13) He cited an Italian reporter who described an attack in September, 1941 south of Banja Luka in northern Bosnia. A Franciscan priest was exhorting Ustashe troops with a crucifix. It was the intervention of Italian troops that prevented a larger bloodbath. The Italian Army provided protection to Serbs, Jews, and Roma, saving thousands of lives.

The Vatican could plead ignorance with what was occurring in Poland and elsewhere in Europe, but not in Croatia. According to Cornwell, Pacelli was “better informed of the situation in Croatia” than he was of anywhere else in Europe other than Italy. His legate Marcone made repeated visits to Croatia and brought back eyewitness accounts. Croatian bishops, some of who sat in the Ustasha parliament, communicated with the Pope and the Vatican on a regular basis. Pacelli also had access to the BBC, which was monitored and translated for the Vatican by Francis Osborne, the British minister to the Vatican. The BBC broadcast news reports on the atrocities in Croatia which no one could miss. On February 16, 1942, the BBC broadcast the following report attacking Zagreb archbishop Stepinac for his complicity in the mass murders:

“The worst atrocities are being committed in the environs of the archbishop of Zagreb. The blood of brothers is flowing in streams. The Orthodox are being forcibly converted to Catholicism and we do not hear the archbishop’s voice preaching revolt. Instead it is reported that he is taking part in Nazi and Fascist parades.” (14)

How was it possible for the Vatican not to know of these mass murders and forceful conversions when the Roman Catholic Church was hierarchical in organization? As Cornwell asked: “How was it that despite the strictly authoritarian power relationship between the papacy and the local Church—a power relationship that Pacelli had done so much to establish—no attempt was made from the Vatican center to halt the killings, the forced conversions, the appropriation of Orthodox property?” Why didn’t Pacelli “dissociate” the Vatican from the Ustasha genocidal policies? Why didn’t Pacelli “condemn the perpetrators”, attacking the genocide? If the Vatican took a more forceful stance, could lives have been saved? The answer to this question can be found in the actions of the Vatican, before, during, and after the Roman Catholic-sponsored genocide in the NDH. What is most revealing is the position of the Church after the war, when the full extent of the genocide was fully known.

What was the extent of the genocide in the NDH? Cornwell remarked: “The tally almost defies belief.” He offered these numbers from The Final Solution: Origins and Implementation, edited by David Cesarini (London: Routledge, 1996): 487,000 Orthodox Serbs and 27,000 Gypsies were murdered between 1941 and 1945 in the NDH. (15) Out of a population of 45,000 Jews, approximately 30,000 were murdered during the same period. 20,000-25,000 were murdered in the Croatian death camps, such as Jasenovac and Nova Gradiska, while 7,000 were sent to the gas chambers. Even if we assume these figures are inflated and subject to debate, the extent of the genocide was not minimal or insignificant. This was a genocide.

Vatican Nuncio or legate Ramiro Marcone, center, with Poglavnik Ante Pavelic, right, and Vatican Secretary to the Nuncio Giuseppe Masucci.

Operation Barbarossa and the Tisserant Plan

The Vatican regarded the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism as their greatest threats. (16) The Balkans were seen as a buffer between the Vatican and Soviet Russia, Eastern Orthodox Russia. As Cornwell noted, Benito Mussolini’s invasion and occupation of Greece and Yugoslavia was supported. The Italian war against Greece was seen with “a measure of optimism” by the Vatican. Benito Mussolini had provided bases and training camps to Ante Pavelic before the war. Croat and Bosnian Muslim troops from the NDH would join Italian and German troops on the Eastern Front, in the Soviet Union.

The Vatican saw the conquest and destruction of Yugoslavia and Russia by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy as opportunities for the expansion of Roman Catholicism into the East. (17) Eugene Tisserant was appointed in 1936 the Vatican Secretary of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches, holding the post until 1959. He was a French priest who held several prominent high level positions at the Vatican. He was infamous for the so-called Tisserant Plan which was a plan to convert Eastern Orthodox to Roman Catholicism.

The decisive battle of World War II: Russian Red Army troops with T-34 tanks attack German positions at Kursk, 1943.

The Tisserant Plan was documented by Reinhard Heydrich, head of the RSHA, in his report “New Tactics in Vatican Russia Work”. For the Vatican, the destruction and dismemberment of Yugoslavia was an opportunity to expand Roman Catholicism in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. The weakening, and even outright destruction, of the rival Orthodox Church was planned and expected. The Vatican had its sights on Russia and Eastern Europe as well. In The Entity: Five Centuries of Secret Vatican Espionage (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008) by Eric Frattini, translated by Dick Cluster, the Tisserant Plan is analyzed. Tisserant and Father Robert Leiber devised the plan to use the German conquest and occupation of the Soviet Union to expand Roman Catholic influence. Testifying at the Nuremberg Trials on October 12, 1945, Franz von Papen stated: “The reevangelization of the Soviet union was a Vatican operation, whether carried out through its missionary department or its secret service.” In the Soviet Union, the plan was led by Niccolo Estorzi and Holy Alliance agents. Heydrich wrote in his report: “The pope’s agents are taking advantage of the situation, and this must be stopped.” Vatican agents were infiltrating Nazi-occupied areas of Russia to convert them to Catholicism.

The decisive battle of World War II was on the Eastern Front in 1943 at Kursk. This battle broke the back of the German Army and forced it into a strategic retreat for the remainder of the war. Germany would lose the war. What the Vatican did was to prepare for the military defeat of Germany. The Vatican began to disassociate itself from the more extreme elements of fascism. It was at this time that Krunoslav Draganovic settled at the Vatican, leaving his position in the NDH regime, and preparing the way for the escape of the leaders of the NDH regime and the plundered property and assets they had seized from murdered Serbs, Jews, and Roma. Investigators after the war determined that $80 million was smuggled out of the NDH. (18) The Vatican provided help in storing the proceeds and in allowing it to be laundered.

American Knowledge

When did the US government learn of the massacres and systematic genocide in the NDH? The US knew of the mass murders and genocide in the NDH in 1941. Yugoslav ambassador to the US Konstantin Fotich met with FDR on December 20, 1941 and informed him of the massacres in the NDH. Fotich had sent a memorandum to FDR on December 5 which described the massacres with a request that he be allowed to present further documentation and support. According to Fotich, on August 19, 1941, the chief of the Balkans desk of the US State Department had given him a report on the NDH’s “comprehensive policy of extermination of the Serbian race in the Independent State of Croatia”. (19) FDR was “deeply shocked by the atrocities perpetrated against the Serbs”. He expressed to Fotich “his great sympathy” for the Serbs. FDR “spoke with admiration of the resistance”. He told him after the war “the Serbs will rise again as a great people.” (20)

From left, Andrija Artukovic, the Interior Minister of the NDH, Vatican Legate Ramiro Marcone, and Zagreb Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac, at an Ustasha ceremony.

Eleanor Roosevelt had also learned of the mass murders and atrocities in the NDH in 1941-42. (21) The author Avro Manhattan met Eleanor Roosevelt at a private dinner party in Upper Brook Street, Mayfair, London in the late 1940s. At the time he was researching and writing his book on the Ustasha massacres in the NDH. In 1953, he published Terror Over Yugoslavia: The Threat to Europe, (London, UK: C.A. Watts, 1953). In 1986, he published The Vatican’s Holocaust: The sensational account of the most horrifying religious massacre of the 20th century (Springfield, MO: Ozark Books, 1986).

He asked her if she had ever heard of the massacres and atrocities in the NDH. She replied: “One of the worst, if not the worst, crimes of the war. I heard of them in the winter of 1941-2. Neither I nor my husband [FDR] at first believed them to be true.”

“I did not believe them either,” Manhattan told her. “I assumed them to be propaganda.”

“We thought the same,” replied Mrs. Roosevelt. “The Catholic lobby was the most successful at the White House for years.”

He asked her if she was familiar with Slovenian Roman Catholic author Louis Adamic. She replied that she was. Adamic had been one of the many who had persuaded her husband that the atrocity stories from Croatia had been concocted by the Nazi propaganda machine.

He inquired if she could explain why the Catholic atrocities were not as well known as the Nazi ones?

“Nazi Germany is no more,” replied Mrs. Roosevelt. “The Catholic Church is still here with us. More powerful than ever. With her own Press and the World Press at her bidding. Anything published about the atrocities in the future will not be believed. . .”

Manhattan then informed her that he was writing a book on the Vatican role in the atrocities in the NDH.

“Your book might convince a few,” she commented. “But what about the hundreds of millions already brainwashed by Catholic propaganda?”

Manhattan recalled: “A few years later, in 1953, when the book was eventually published, although two editions were sold within weeks, no part of the British or American Press dared even to mention it.” Adamic wrote that “the atrocities were all propaganda … to stir up anti-Catholicism…”

FDR knew of the genocide in Croatia and Bosnia and was appalled to the point that he did not think it possible for Serbs and Croats to live in the same country. In Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate Biography (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948) by Robert E. Sherwood, Harry L. Hopkins, one of FDR’s closest advisers, took notes on the meeting held on March 15, 1943 between FDR and Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary. They discussed the post-war European landscape. Regarding Serbia, FDR was adamant that Serbs and Croats should not be in the same country:

“The President expressed his oft repeated opinion that the Croats and Serbs had nothing in common and that it is ridiculous to try to force two such antagonistic peoples to live together under one government. He, the President, thought that Serbia, itself, should be established by itself and the Croats put under a trusteeship. At this point Eden indicated his first obvious objection to the Trustee method which the President is going to propose for many states. Eden did not push it but it was clear to me that the British Government have made up their minds that they are going to oppose this. Eden thought the President’s opinion about the inability of the Croats and the Serbs to live together a little pessimistic and he, Eden, believed it could be done.” (22)

Vatican Reaction

How did the Vatican react to the genocide committed in the NDH? Not only did the Vatican deny and ignore it, but took an active part to hide and suppress it and to protect the perpetrators from prosecution and justice. After the war, the major planners of the genocide, Ante Pavelic and Andrija Artukovic, were helped to escape by the Vatican through the Ratlines. Dinko Sakic and Vjekoslav Maks Luburic also escaped. A Croatian Roman Catholic priest, Krunoslav Draganovic, who himself had been a part of the Ustasha NDH regime, organized and masterminded the escapes. In addition, he was able to launder the assets that were seized from Serbs, Jews, and Roma in the NDH. The Vatican has never acknowledged its role in the genocide committed in the NDH. This is genocide denial. It is denial of the Holocaust.

The Vatican protected the accused Ustasha war criminals and assisted them in escaping prosecution for war crimes. In Pius XII, The Holocaust, and the Cold War (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2008), Phayer showed that the Vatican put diplomatic pressure on the US and the UK not to apprehend Ante Pavelic or any other wanted Ustasha war criminals. (23) US intelligence had located Pavelic but was prevented from arresting him. Why would the US not arrest arguably one of the most notorious mass murderers of World War II? Why would the US help to shield an accused war criminal suspected of committing genocide? Why and how could such a fanatical fascist accused of genocide escape arrest and prosecution? Why was Ante Pavelic allowed to escape to Argentina by the US government?

The answer is that the Vatican orchestrated his escape. Why? Phayer quoted US Counter Intelligence Corps agent William Gowen (the son of Franklin Gowen, a US diplomat in the Vatican), who reported in 1947 that Pavelic’s “contacts are so high and his present position is so compromising to the Vatican, that any extradition of the subject would be a staggering blow to the Roman Catholic Church”. Pavelic and the other Ustasha war criminals guilty of genocide were allowed to escape to protect the Vatican.

Both Britain and the US could have arrested Pavelic and the other Ustasha war crime suspects but chose not to, enabling them to escape and to elude prosecution for war crimes and for genocide. In Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Quest to Bring Them to Justice (New York: Broadway Books, a division of Random House, 2009), Guy Walters documented a US CIC report that stated that the British had allowed Ante Pavelic to escape. In October, 1946, a CIC report stated that “there can no longer be any doubt that the British aided the escape of Dr. Ante Pavelich.” The US also knew of Pavelic’s location but refused to arrest him. (24) Walters showed that the US knew where Pavelic’s daughter lived as she reported regularly to US occupation authorities. According to Walters, the British reported that: “It’s no use trying to get Pavelic, the Yanks are backing him.” (25) In August, 1947, US CIC agent William Gowen reported that Pavelic was “receiving the protection of the Vatican.” (26) Why were Britain, the US, and the Vatican all helping Pavelic to elude capture? Gowen wrote that the Vatican opposed the extradition of Pavelic because his capture would only “weaken the forces fighting against atheism and Communism in its fight against the Church.” (27) In other words, the Serbs would only benefit. The Orthodox would benefit. The Russians would benefit. And ultimately Communism and the USSR would be the beneficiaries. It was a zero sum game.

Cui bono? Who benefits? Who would gain if Pavelic was arrested and prosecuted for war crimes and genocide? Certainly not the Vatican. Only the Orthodox would benefit. Only the Serbs would benefit. Only Communism would benefit. Only the USSR would benefit. This is how the Vatican sold the idea to the US government. Arresting Pavelic would be detrimental in the Cold War against the USSR. This had much wider political implications. If the Vatican were discredited, the Communist Party in Italy would benefit, which might allow it to win the elections. The US supported democracy in Italy only if a non-Communist party won the elections. Because the Italian Communist Party was poised for victory in Italy, the US did everything it could to rig the elections, to deny democracy.

Moreover, this had the potential to set off a chain reaction for other parts of Western Europe. More importantly, it would reveal the true core of Roman Catholicism to the mass public. People would see that the Vatican was corrupt and hollow at its center, obsessed with power at any price, even genocide. It would show the moral bankruptcy of the Vatican, or the Roman Catholic Church. And this could not be allowed to happen. Especially not during the ideological conflict of the Cold War, which was ultimately a contest for the hearts and minds of the people.

The Vatican could never acknowledge that it was complicit in genocide, even though the evidence is abundantly clear that it was. The largest religious denomination in the US is Roman Catholicism at 23% of the population. There are over a billion Roman Catholics globally. The decision was an easy one for the US. As a result, Pavelic was allowed to settle in Argentina and live a comfortable life there, while Artukovic was allowed to settle in the US itself, living in Seal Beach, California as a model American citizen.

The Vatican continues to suppress information on its role in the NDH. John Cornwell noted that “more than half a century after the war, the Vatican has still failed to make a clean breast of what it knew about the Croatian atrocities and the early stages of the Final Solution, and when it knew it.”

stepmarc3

Vatican Legate Ramiro Marcone, third from right, Alojzije Stepinac, first on right, and Ante Pavelic, partially obscured, far left, at the 1944 funeral for Marko Dosen, the President of the Ustasha Parliament.

Conclusion

The Vatican denied and ignored the role it played in the genocide committed in Croatia and Bosnia during World War II. Moreover, it took an active part in concealing and suppressing not only the genocide itself, but its role in that genocide. Finally, it acted to protect the perpetrators and to shield them from prosecution and justice. The Vatican has never addressed these issues.

Footnotes

1. Vladimir Dedijer, The Yugoslav Auschwitz and the Vatican: The Croatian Massacre of the Serbs During World War II (New York: Prometheus, 1992), p. 141. Mile Budak made this statement in a July 22, 1941 speech.

2. Ronald H. Bailey, Partisans and Guerrillas (Time-Life Books, 1978), p. 87. “A good Ustashi,” he told his men, “is he who can use his knife to cut a child from the womb of its mother.”

3. Mato Rupic, Croatian State Archives, Zagreb, Croatia.

4. John Cornwell, Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (New York: Viking, 1999), p. 258.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid., p. 259.

7. Ibid., pp. 259-260.

8. Ibid., p. 260.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., p. 249.

11. Ibid., p. 251.

12. Michael Phayer, The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930–1965 (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000), p. 38.

13. Cornwell, p. 254.

14. Ibid., p. 256.

15. Jonathan Steinberg, “Types of Genocide? Croatians, Serbs and Jews, 1941-45″, in The Final Solution, edited by David Cesarini (London: 1996), p. 175.

16. Cornwell, p. 260. Pope Pius XII regarded the Soviet Union as the “one, real and principal enemy of Europe”.

17. Ibid., pp. 264-65. “The potential for enticing mass conversions of the ‘schismatic’ Orthodox, through their close proximity to the Catholic Eastern rite, explains Pacelli’s indulgent policy toward Pavelic and his murderous regime.”

18. Ibid., p. 266.

19. Constantin Fotich, The War We Lost: Yugoslavia’s Tragedy and the Failure of the West (New York: Viking Press, 1948), pp. 117-118.

20. Ibid., pp. 128-129.

21. Avro Manhattan, The Vatican’s Holocaust (Springfield, MO: Ozark Books), 1986, pp. 107-108.

22. Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate Biography (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948), p. 711.

23. Michael Phayer. Pius XII, The Holocaust, and the Cold War (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press), 2008, p. 220..

24. Guy Walters, Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Quest to Bring Them to Justice (New York: Broadway Books, a division of Random House, 2009), p. 122.

25. Ibid., p. 120

26. Norman J. W. Goda, “The Ustasha: Murder and Espionage”, pp. 203-226, in Richard Breitman, Norman J. W. Goda, Timothy Naftali, Robert Wolfe, U.S. Intelligence and the Nazis (Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 214-215.

27. Ibid.

Bibliography

Cesarini, David, ed. The Final Solution: Origins and Implementation. London: Routledge, 1996.

Cornwell, John. Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII. New York: Viking, 1999.

Falconi, Carlo. The Silence of Pius XII. London: Faber, 1970.

Frattini, Eric. The Entity: Five Centuries of Secret Vatican Espionage. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008. Translated by Dick Cluster.

Manhattan, Avro. Terror Over Yugoslavia: The Threat to Europe. London, UK: C.A. Watts, 1953.

Manhatta, Avro. The Vatican’s Holocaust: The Sensational Account of the Most Horrifying Religious Massacre of the 20th Century. Springfield, MO: Ozark Books, 1986.

Phayer, Michael. The Catholic Church and the Holocaust, 1930–1965. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Phayer, Michael. Pius XII, The Holocaust, and the Cold War. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2008.

Sherwood, Robert E. Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate Biography. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948.

Walters, Guy. Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Quest to Bring Them to Justice. New York: Broadway Books, a division of Random House, 2009.