“Jews”: The Solution to the Jewish Question in the Independent State of Croatia

by Carl Savich | The Independent State of Croatia, which included Bosnia-Hercegovina, was unique and extraordinary during the Holocaust in that Croatians and Bosnian Muslims themselves murdered the Jews of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. Croats and Bosnian Muslims committed genocide against not only their Jewish populations, but also against their Serbian Orthodox and Roma populations as well. A 1942 Zagreb exhibition, “Jews”, or “Zidovi”, showed how the NDH solved the Jewish question.

The Solution to the Jewish Question in Croatia

The Independent State of Croatia was one of the closest allies of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy during World War II and the Holocaust. The NDH enacted racial laws based on those established in Nazi Germany, the Nuremberg Race Laws. The leader of the NDH, Poglavnik Ante Pavelic, was one of the main supporters of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini during the war. Pavelic even sent Croat and Bosnian Muslim troops to the Russian Front, where troops from the NDH fought at Stalingrad. The NDH, more importantly, followed the Nazi racial policies which it applied in the NDH. Not only Jews, but Serbs and Roma, were targeted for extermination in the NDH. The NDH embarked on a planned and systematic program of genocide against Jews, Serbs, and Roma. It is estimated that 30,000 Jews were murdered in the NDH during the Holocaust. Moreover, the Jasenovac Memorial Site listed 12,765 Jews killed at the Jasenovac concentration camp, the largest death camp in the NDH. The numbers of Serbs murdered ranges from hundreds of thousands to three-quarter of a million. Tens of thousands of Romani were estimated to have been killed in the NDH.

The German authorities carried out anti-Semitic programs in all the countries they occupied. Croatia was unique, however, in that the Croatians themselves organized, planned, and carried out the genocide. The Croatian authorities set up their own concentration and death camps in the NDH. The genocide in Croatia was unique in that the Croats themselves committed the genocide against Jews, Serbs, and Roma. The Croats themselves solved the Jewish question in Croatia and Bosnia.

Racial Laws

Racial laws modeled on the Nuremberg laws in Germany were adopted on April 30, 1941 in the Independent State of Croatia. These anti-Jewish laws consisted of the Legal Decree on Racial Origins (Zakonska odredba o rasnoj pripadnosti) and the Legal Decree on the Protection of Aryan Blood and the Honour of the Croatian People (Zakonska odredba o zaštiti arijske krvi i časti hrvatskog naroda). The confiscation and seizure of Jewish-owned property and business was decreed in the Legal Decree on the Nationalization of the Property of Jews and Jewish Companies which was enacted on October 10, 1941.

Top, an NDH Croatian badge that Jews were forced to wear in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina during World War II with the Star of David and the letter “Z”, for the Croatian term for “Jew”, “Zidov”, on the bottom. The bottom armband shows the Star of David and the Croatian word for “Jew”, “Zidov”.

Jewish men, women, and children were forced to wear a yellow NDH Croatian armband in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina during World War II with the Star of David and the Croatian term for “Jew”, “Zidov”, on the bottom. Serbs were forced to wear blue badges in Jasenovac.

Jewish property was confiscated and Jews were subjected to mass arrests and deportations to Jasenovac and the other Croatian concentration camps and to Auschwitz and other camps.

A caricature of a Jew as a spider astride the globe from Jews, Zidovi: The Solution to the Jewish Question in the Independent State of Croatia, 1942 Anti-Semitic Exhibition in Zagreb.

“Zidovi”: The 1942 Anti-Semitic Exhibition in Zagreb.

From May 1 to June 1, 1942, an anti-Semitic exhibition was held in Zagreb, Croatia, then the capital of the NDH, which included Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. The exhibition was entitled “Jews”, or “Zidovi”, in Croatian. The exhibition was announced as “Jews: The Solution to the Jewish Question in the Independent State of Croatia”. It was modeled on German anti-Semitic exhibitions staged in Germany and in occupied countries in Europe.

The “Jews” exhibition focused on six themes regarding Jews:

1)   A history of the Jews from the oldest time. Examples of how the Jews of old are the same as the Jews of today. How the Jews became mixed with other peoples.

2)   The settlement of Jews in Croatia from the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD to 1788. How the Jews enslaved the Croatian people. The Jews did this gradually, but securely.

3)   The settlement of Jews in Croatia from 1782 to 1918. During this period, Jews infiltrated Croatia and became entrenched in the land.

4)   The Jews as participants in the oppression (“tlacitelja”) of the Croatian people from 1918 to 1941. How and why the Serbs and Jews suppressed or oppressed (“ugnjetavali”) the Croatian people. Croatian industry and work was in Jewish hands or control during the post World War I period.

5)   Liberation from Jewish oppression under the Ustasha NDH regime. How Croatia under the Ustasha regime solved the Jewish question.

6)   Jews in other countries. The USSR is under Jewish control. England is a country with mixed Jewish blood. Jews are at the forefront in the USA. Jews control the US economy and US politics.

The brochure then explained why and how the exhibition was formed. The account begins with a description of how Croatia as a nation has been unfortunate. There have been good times and bad times in Croatian history. Croatia had fallen under chains. Poglavnik Ante Pavelic has arrived to make Croatia strong and prosperous not only for today, but for the future as well. The suffering and misfortune of Croatia is due to the Jews.

A map of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina showing the locations of synagogues in the NDH. The map is meant to show the growth and spread of Judaism and the Jewish population in Croatia and Bosnia, 1942 Zagreb “Jews” exhibition.

Is it possible that 40,000 Jews in Croatia could cause such hardship and waste on the Croatian people? Could these 40,000 Jews cause the misfortune and ruin of the Croatian people? Jews are the worm at the root of the nation. They are a danger to every nation.

The Poglavnik has stated that his goal is to bring order (“red”) and work or industry (“rad”). He has come not to rule, but to work (“dosao ne da vlada, nego da radi”). The exhibition was set up so everyone could see who the Jews are. Jews have always been the enemy of Croatian progress and prosperity.  Everyone in Croatia should attend the exhibition which the NDH has established to start on May (“svibnja”) 1 in Zagreb.

This exhibition has been created by the people of Croatia. This exhibition is meant to show the danger that the Jewish question poses for the future of Croatia. The exhibition should help in freeing our homeland from the Jewish threat.

The brochure then describes what the exhibition shows (“Sto prikazuje izlozba”). The narrative then recounts the history of the Jewish people. Like Gypsies, Jews have no homeland and mix with other peoples and settle in other nations. Jews focused on taking over professions and occupations.

Jews settled the Balkans from a base settlement in Salonika. They built synagogues in Macedonia. A look at the map shows that Jews settled in Croatia from the Salonika-Skopje-Belgrade route. Jews crossed the Danube and the Sava Rivers and settled in the fertile Pannonian Plain. Jews also came by sea and settled near Split. They were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 1492 to 1497 period. They went to the Ottoman Empire which allowed them to settle in Bosnia and Dalmatia from where they settled in Croatia. Their sea route was thus joined with the Salonika-Belgrade route through Sarajevo. The connection between Dubrovnik-Sarajevo and Sarajevo-Belgrade was established.

A diagram comparing the number of Jewish-owned  businesses with non-Jewish Croatian-owned businesses in towns, coastal regions, and districts in the NDH.

Panels were displayed showing the history of Jews in other lands. Today, when the head of the Jewish snake is crushed, this is a fact every Croat must know. Jews are always aliens in Croatia.

The current conflict is one between world Jewry and the rest of the people of the world. Soviet Russia is under Jewish control. Jews control England and America.

King Tomislav of Croatia was concerned about the exploitation of the Croatian people by the Jews. Jews have been exploiters of other peoples throughout their history. Jews controlled the slave trade in the Americas. Jews have always worked to oppress and enslave people. This is why the Poglavnik has passed legislation against the Jews. The Poglavnik has confronted the danger to the Croatian people.

How the Exhibition Was Created

A documentary short was filmed by the NDH government in 1942 on 5 reels of 35 mm film on the exhibition entitled Kako se Stvaraju Izlozbe, How the Exhibition Was Created, by Hrvatski Kinopis, or Croatia Film, which was 12 minutes in length. The documentary detailed the production that went into the creation of the 1942 anti-Semitic exhibition and highlighted the exhibits.

A Croatian artist paints a caricature of a Jew at the 1942 “Jews” exhibition in Zagreb sponsored and organized by the Croatian government.

It began with the assembly of anti-Semitic books and the gathering of information on Jewish history. The film showed how the text was written and how the artwork was created. The preparation of the promotional or PR materials was also shown. The Research Institute where the traveling exhibit entitled “Jews” or “Zidovi” was assembled and put together was shown. People brought in whatever information they had on Jews including books and pamphlets. Translations of parts of the Talmud were shown being made to find out what Jews thought of non-Jews. The preparation of text panels and illustrated art caricatures of prosperous businessmen were shown.

The drawing, painting, and sculpting of a stereotypic “Jewish” head was depicted. The director was shown giving a preview to journalists and reporters.

A panel shows how Jews first came to Bosnia as well as panels showing the history of the Jewish people and their role in history.

“The entire Croatian industry has fallen under Jewish control.”  (“Citav Hrvatski prirad presao je u Zidovske ruke.”)  A Croatian speaker pointed to a diagram for journalists and reporters explaining how all industry in Croatia is controlled by Jews.

A map was shown on the wall of Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Srem, Slavonia, and Dalmatia to show Jewish expansion and settlement in Croatia and Bosnia and their migratory patterns in the territory of the NDH. Cartoons of Jews riding the backs of working people are also shown to demonstrate the control of the economy by Jews in Croatia. Illustrated art panels were presented of various Jewish activities throughout history up to the present time. Anti-Semitic propaganda posters in Croatian were shown close-up illustrating the alleged Jewish manipulation of world events, the exploitation and seduction of women, the slave trade, prostitution, usury, economic exploitation, and other vices.

Finally, the poster advertising the exhibit entitled “Zidovi” or “Jews” was shown. On the poster, Jews are represented by a large snake or as a serpent being attacked by a naked warrior with a sword and a shield with the Croatian checkerboard national symbol with the letter “U” in the middle standing for “Ustasha”. On the scales of the serpent or snake that has ensnared the warrior are Stars of David representing Judaism and world Jewry.

The poster was displayed for the anti-Semitic exhibition presented from May 1, 1942 to June 1, 1942 in Zagreb, the capital of the NDH, the Independent State of Croatia, consisting of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. The exhibit was entitled “Zidovi”, “Jews”, the Croatian term for “Jews”, showing a man with a sword and a shield with the Croatian national checkerboard symbol with the letter “U” for “Ustasha” slaying a large snake or serpent with Stars of David on its scales. The cover in Croatian reads: “Zidovi. Izlozba o razvoju zidovstva inhijovog rusilackog rada u Hrvatskoj prije 10.IV.1941 rjesenje Zidovskog pitanja u N.D.H. 1. V. 1942 1.VI.192. Umjetnicki Paviljon na Strossmayerovom Trgu.” The Exhibition on the Evolution of Judaism and its Destructive Work in Croatia Prior to 10 April 1941. The Solution of the Jewish Question in the NDH (ISC). May 1, 1942 to June 1, 1942. The Art Pavilion on the Strossmayer Market.

The booklet for the “Jews” exhibit had a map and a diagram showing where the Jewish populations were concentrated in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. A map of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina showed the territory of the NDH in black, listing all of the synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. The description of the map emphasized the spread and growth of Judaism on the territory of the NDH: “The position of synagogues in the jurisdiction of the Independent State of Croatia demonstrates how Jews expanded.” (“Raspored sinagoga po podrucju Nezavisne Drzave Hrvatske pokazuje kako su se Zidovi sirili”.)  “The year that the Jewish cemeteries were established and the year the synagogues were built best shows how year after year Judaism grew.” (“Godine osnivanja Zidovskih groblja kao i god. gradnje pojedinih sinagoga, najbolje prikazuje kako se Zidovsto iz godine u godinu jacalo.”)

A diagram charted the number of Jewish-owned businesses in relation to non-Jewish Croatian businesses as a percentage of their respective populations. (“Upravo porazno djeluje odnos broja Zidovskih poduzeca prema Hrvatskim, kad ih se usporedi s odnosom broja Zidova prama broju Hrvata.”) The focus was on how Jews owned businesses disproportionately to their population in the NDH. In the city of Pozega, for instance, Jews made up 16.6% of the population, but owned 200% of the businesses. In Kotar Ogulin, Jews were 0.04% of the population, but owned 50% of the businesses. In Velika Zupa Gora, Jews were 8.33% of the population, but owned 66% of all the businesses. In Kotar Ludbreg, Jews were 0.08% of the population, but owned half of the businesses. In Velika Zupa Lasva and Glas, Jews were 3% of the population, but owned one of the only two businesses. The allegations in the brochure were common tropes and memes of anti-Semitism as espoused in Nazi Germany during the 1930s.

The three movies shown at the “Jews” exhibition were the 1940 anti-Jewish German films The Eternal Jew, Vjecni Zid, directed by Fritz Hippler, Die Rothschilds, directed by Erich Waschneck, and Jud Suss, Zidov Suss, directed by Veit Harlan. They were shown at the Danica Theatre in Zagreb with free admission.

Greater Croatia

“The War of United Europe Against the East. The Independent State of Croatia.” (“Borba Udruzene Europe na Istoku. Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska.”) 1941 NDH stamp depicts a Croatian soldier and shields with Axis crests of Nazi Germany, Ustasha Croatia and fascist Italy. Michel Catalog #69. B6 SP4 in the Scott Catalog. The first shield shows a Nazi swastika under an eagle representing the national symbol of Nazi Germany, the Third Reich. The second shows a Croatian soldier wearing a German helmet with a shield showing the checkerboard national symbol of Croatia under a “U” for Ustasha. The third shows the fasces symbol, the fascist national symbol of Italy. The stamp was issued on December 3, 1941. 4 + 2 KN, Kuna, in dark blue. It was issued in panes of 100 stamps. The surtax was used for Croatian volunteers with Axis troops in the East, the Soviet Union, during Operation Barbarossa.

NDH Poglavnik or fuehrer Ante Pavelic annexed Bosnia-Hercegpovina as part of a Greater Croatia, the NDH. Pavelic was photographed wearing a Bosnian Muslim fez with a “U” or Ustasha symbol on the front, an Ottoman Turkish fez which was the national attire of the Bosnian Muslims or “Bosniaks” of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Pavelic himself was born in Hercegovina. He sought to incorporate the Bosnian Muslim population into a Greater Croatia based on the premise that they were ethnically Croats who had converted to Islam. Bosnian Muslims were integral parts of the NDH leadership. The Vice-President of the Ustasha NDH government was Bosnian Muslim Dzafer-beg Kulenovic from 1941 to 1945. The NDH Foreign Minister was Bosnian Muslim Mehmed Alajbegovic (May 7, 1906-June 7, 1947), born in Bihac in northwestern Bosnia, who had been the General Consul of the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska – NDH) at Munich, the Croatian Minister for War Damaged Places, “skrbi za postradale Krajeve”, from the middle of 1943 to late 1944, and the Croatian Minister of Foreign Affairs, from late 1944 to May, 1945. He had been a teacher of Islamic law or Sharia at the University of Zagreb. Alajbegovic was arrested after the war and put on trial for high treason by the Croat Supreme Court at Zagreb. He was convicted and sentenced to death by a firing squad on June 4, 1947 as reported in the New York Times, June 8, 1947. His execution was announced by the Yugoslavian government on June 18, 1947, New York Times, June 20, 1947.

Croatian Nazi ally Ante Pavelic, left, meeting with Adolf Hitler on September 18, 1944.

NDH Poglavnik Ante Pavelic met with Adolf Hitler on several occasions during the war to coordinate policy. He also met with Benito Mussolini in Rome on an official state visit, May 22, 1941. Ante Pavelic even visited Croatian and Bosnian Muslim troops at Stalingrad. He met with General Friedrich von Paulus, the commander of the German Sixth Army, at Golubinskaya, outside of Stalingrad, in the Soviet Union, September 24, 1942, during the initial Axis assault on the city of Stalingrad. He remained committed and dedicated to Adolf Hitler’s New Order vision for Europe until the end of the war. He was the only Nazi and fascist wartime leader to escape arrest and prosecution for war crimes and genocide after the war.

The Croat Question

Croatian Poglavnik Ante Pavelic, wearing a Bosnian Muslim or Ottoman Turkish fez with Ustasha markings. The NDH was a joint Croatian Roman Catholic and Bosnian Muslim state.

Ante Pavelic wrote about the ant-Semitic policies of the Ustasha Movement in 1936, in a paper entitled The Croat Question. In extracts from The Croat Question (1936), Pavelic analyzed the Jews and their role in Croatia:

“The Jews

Today, practically all finance and nearly all commerce in Croatia is in Jewish hands. This became possible only through the support of the state, which thereby seeks, on one hand, to strengthen the pro-Serbian Jews, and on the other, to weaken Croat national strength. The Jews also celebrated the establishment of the so-called Yugoslav state with great joy, because a national Croatia could never be as useful to them as a multi-national Yugoslavia; for in national chaos lies the power of the Jews. … In fact, as the Jews had foreseen, Yugoslavia became, in consequence of the corruption of official life in Serbia, a true Eldorado of Jewry. The latter shows its gratitude for the patronage of Belgrade by using its capital, squeezed out of the Croat people, against the Croat freedom struggle. … The entire press in Croatia is also in Jewish-masonic hands, because after the establishment of the military dictatorship in 1929, the Croat press was prohibited and destroyed. This press serves primarily to combat the Croat independence movement directly or indirectly, and also to misrepresent abroad the popular feeling in Croatia. …

4. Communism

Communism has not been able to penetrate wider layers of Croat society. Nevertheless, the Belgrade government has sent a large number of communist-infected Serbian students to attend the Croat university in Zagreb at the cost of the state. Together with the Jews, these students spread communist propaganda in Croatia, demonstrate at every opportunity and try to falsify before the outside world the true position of the Croat nationalist student body.”

Genocide in Croatia and Bosnia

U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum photograph: “Ustasa (Croatian fascist) camp guards order a Jewish man to remove his ring before being shot. Jasenovac concentration camp, Yugoslavia, between 1941 and 1945.” NDH Croatia, which included Bosnia-Hercegovina, was unique and extraordinary during the Holocaust in that Croatians and Bosnian Muslims themselves murdered the Jews of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. Pictured is Croatian Jew Teodore Grunfeld, born in 1879 in Zagreb, surrounded by two Croatian concentration camp guards on his arrival at the Jasenovac concentration camp. Both Teodore Grunfeld and his wife Teresa Kohn Grunfeld died in the Croatian Jasenovac concentration camp. He is being forced to remove his ring in the photograph. The Jasenovac concentration camp was run by Croatians themselves.

On August 14, 1941, Ante Pavelic, in a speech in Vukovar, in Srem, announced the official policy of the NDH:

“This is now the Ustashi and Independent State of Croatia. It must be cleansed of Serbs and Jews. There is no room for any of them here. Not a stone upon a stone will remain of what once belonged to them.”

Pavelic’s speech and the law passed in Srem were published in the Ustasha Hrvatski Narod newspaper of August 15 and 16, 1941.

In 1941, Pavelic declared his commitment to the genocide of Jews of Croatia and Bosnia: “The Jews will be liquidated within a very short time.”

On July 22, 1941, Mile Budak, the Minister of Education in the NDH, declared that the goal of the NDH was to create a Croat Catholic and Bosnian Muslim state by the extermination of “foreign elements”, which were Jews, Orthodox Serbs, and Gypsies. He reiterated that the solution was genocide: “The basis for the Ustasha movement is religion. For minorities such as Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies, we have three million bullets.”

He emphasized in a speech on July 6, 1941, that the Bosnian Muslims were to be an integral part of the NDH: “The Croatian state is Christian. It is also a Moslem state where our people are of the Mohammedan religion.”  Jews and Orthodox Serbs were targeted for elimination as well as their religious institutions. Synagogues and Orthodox churches were plundered and destroyed and Jewish rabbis and Serbian Orthodox priests were tortured and murdered.

On February 24, 1942, NDH Interior Minister Andrija Artukovic gave a speech before the NDH Parliament or Sabor in Zagreb in which he pronounced that the Jewish question had been solved or settled in the NDH:

“The Croatian people, having re-established their independent state of Croatia, could not do otherwise but to clean off the poisonous damagers and insatiable parasites— Jews, Communists, Freemasons. The independent state of Croatia, as an Ustashi state settled the so-called Jewish question with a decisive and healthy grasp.”

Top, the demolition of the Zagreb Synagogue on Prashka Street by the Croatian government in 1942. Bottom, the area is now a parking lot.

The Zagreb Synagogue on Prashka Street built in 1867 was demolished by the Croatian government beginning on October 10, 1941 and ending in April, 1942. The order was from Ivan Werner, the mayor of the city. Today the location is the site of a parking lot. Earlier, on April 15, 1941, when German troops entered Sarajevo on April 15, 1941, the Sephardic Synagogue in that city was destroyed by German forces, along with Croats and Bosnian Muslims.

Implications for Guerrilla Resistance

The systematic genocide conducted against not only Jews and Roma, but against the Serbian population in Croatia and Bosnia had wider implications for the guerrilla resistance movement under Draza Mihailovich. This is an aspect of World War II Yugoslavia that is neglected or ignored. Draza Mihailovich had to focus not only on a guerrilla resistance against the German and Italian occupation troops, along with Hungarian and Bulgarian troops, but also on the genocide and ethnic cleansing being committed against the Serbian population of Croatia and Bosnia. This complicated the resistance. On the one level, there was the German and Italian occupation. On a second level, there was the genocide committed against the Serbian population. Which should be the focus of the resistance movement under Draza Mihailovich? Should Mihailovich focus on a no holds barred attack against the German and Italian troops at the expense of the mass murder of the Serbian population? Should he, instead, put primary emphasis on safeguarding Serbs from the genocide against them by Croats and Bosnian Muslims? This issue is not addressed in assessing the goals and objectives of the Chetnik resistance movement. The Communist Partisans were oblivious to the genocide committed against Serbs. The more Serbs were murdered, the greater the opportunity for recruiting volunteers. Moreover, the Communist Partisans perceived the conflict as a so-called people’s struggle, without regard for national, religious, or ethnic distinctions, ignoring the specific nature of the genocide, targeting Serbs, Jews, and Roma. The Partisans, thus, did not have any concern for the genocide committed against the Serbs. This meant they could tailor their policies without regard for the retaliation and retribution against Serbian civilians.

Draza Mihailovich, on the other hand, had to be mindful of retaliation against Serbian civilians, men, women, and children. He could not engage in resistance strategies that were self-defeating and self-destructive. The repercussions against Serbian civilians were always factors or considerations in his strategic outlook. The genocide against the Serbian population in Croatia and Bosnia committed, not by German and Italian occupation forces, but by Croats and Bosnian Muslims, was a part of the equation he had to factor in in his overall guerrilla resistance strategy.

Conclusion

The Independent State of Croatia, which included Bosnia-Hercegovina, was unique and extraordinary during the Holocaust in that Croatians and Bosnian Muslims themselves murdered the Jews of Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina. Croats and Bosnian Muslims committed genocide against not only their Jewish populations, but also against their Serbian Orthodox and Roma populations as well.  The Croats and the Bosnian Muslims in the NDH were Adolf Hitler’s most willing executioners and allies. They set up their own concentration and death camps. They themselves murdered Jews, Serbs, and Roma. Adolf Hitler had his staunchest and most loyal and dedicated follower in Ante Pavelic, the Croat Poglavnik. In the Independent State of Croatia, the solution to the Jewish question was achieved, by the Croats and Bosnian Muslims themselves.