The Independent State of Croatia, generally known as the NDH (the acronym for its Croatian name, Nezavisna Drava Hrvatska), was created with the support of the Axis powers following Adolf Hitler’s conquest of Yugoslavia in April 1941, and lasted until the defeat of Germany in May 1945. The NDH incorporated most of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. It called for the extermination of Jews and Romani, and the elimination of Serbs through physical extermination (one-third), expulsion into Serbia (one-third), and forced conversion to Roman Catholicism (one-third). About 32,000 of 40,000 Jews living in the NDH, and almost all the Romani in the state, about 26,000, were killed. Figures on Serb victims are more controversial, as noted below, but the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that between 330,000 and 390,000 Serbs were killed by the Ustasha regime of the NDH.
Within weeks of ascending to power, the Ustasha issued racial laws defining Aryan and non-Aryan and prohibiting marriages between Jews and Croats, and adopted the legal system of Nazi Germany. Jews were required to wear yellow stars and deprived of their rights of citizenship and their property. The Cyrillic script was banned. By August 1941 the Ustasha had established concentration camps for political prisoners and so-called racially undesirable peoples: Jews, Romani, and Serbs.
The Ustasha created a number of concentration camps throughout Croatia and Bosnia, the largest of which was a series of five camps on the River Sava, collectively known as Jasenovac. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates that between 56,000 and 97,000 people were murdered in Jasenovac alone, including some 45,000 to 52,000 Serbs. Estimates of the Jews killed in Jasenovac run from 8,000 to 20,000. From 8,000 to 15,000 Romani were also killed there. In addition, the Ustasha deported another 7,000 Jews to Nazi concentration camps.
Most of the killing in the NDH, however, did not occur in camps, but rather in villages and without the use of sophisticated weapons or technology. Ustasha attacks on villages were not driven by military necessity, but propelled by the desire to drive Serbs out of Croatia by murder, rape, and terror, the same tactics that in Yugoslavia during the 1990s came to be known as “ethnic cleansing.” An Ustasha attack would customarily involve the slaughter of anyone remaining in a village, including women, children, and the elderly. The purpose of such a campaign of terror was to convince other Serbs to leave, or convert to Catholicism. The extent of the violence is reflected in the high percentage of Serbs killed in the NDH. Even using the lower estimate suggested by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 330,000, about one-sixth of the Serb population residing in the NDH, were killed between 1941 and 1945, a percentage of deaths exceeded only by those of Jews and Romani during World War II in Europe.
With the defeat of the Third Reich, the NDH also collapsed, and Croatia became a republic in the new Yugoslavia. Most of the leaders of the NDH escaped and went into exile in Argentina, Spain, the United States, and Canada. However, the partisans did massacre somewhere between 45,000 to 55,000 NDH soldiers in May 1945.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
DO THESE CONSTITUTE WAR CRIMES OR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY?
SHOULD ANYONE BE PROSECUTED FOR THEM?
IF SO, WHO?