A Brief Summary of the History of the Holocaust in Croatia  

The independent state of Croatia (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska – NDH) was established by the Nazis and their Italian allies on April 10, 1941 in the wake of the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. Its territory consisted of Croatia and parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and its rule was entrusted to the Croatian fascist Ustasha party, headed by Poglavnik (leader) Ante Pavelic.

From the very beginning of their rule, the Ustasha sought to rid the country of its minorities (among them close to two million Orthodox Serbs, 700,000 Bosnian Moslems and 40,000 Jews) and all their political opponents. Their campaign against the Jews was initiated by legislation modeled after the laws passed in the Third Reich which defined Jews, stripped them of their civil rights, and orchestrated their removal from the economy, and professional and commercial life of the country. The Jews’ freedom of movement was restricted and they were ordered to wear the yellow Jewish badge with the letter Ž (for židov, Jew).

The first Jews arrested were about one hundred young Zionist activists in addition to lawyers, both of whom were considered the Ustasha’s political opponents who were deported in spring 1941 to concentration camps, where most were murdered. In June 1941, the mass arrests of Jews began after Pavelic issued a decree accusing Jews of spreading lies to incite the population and interfering with the distribution of supplies in order to engage in black market activities. By the end of June, several hundred families from Zagreb had been deported to the Pag and Jadovno concentration camps, and in July the smaller communities of Varazdin, Koprivnica, Ludbreg, Karlovac and Bjelovar were liquidated. In August, the Jews of Bosnia and Herzegovina were rounded up, starting with the smaller towns. The deportations from Sarajevo were completed in November, with most of the Jews being deported to the infamous Jasenovac concentration camp constructed in August 1941. By the end of 1941, two-thirds of Croatian Jewry had been deported to local concentration camps, where the overwhelming majority were murdered upon arrival or shortly thereafter. The main camps to which Jews were deported were: Jasenovac, Djakovo, Loborgrad, Pag, Jadovno and Tenje.

In spring 1942, at the urging of the Germans, the Croatian government agreed to deport the remaining Jews to the death camps in Poland. According to the agreement, the Croatian undertook to arrest the Jews, bring them to the trains, and pay the Nazis 30 reichmarks per person for travel expenses to the death camps. In return, the Germans agreed to allow the Croatian government to take all the victims’ belongings.

Between August 13 and 20, 1942, five trains with 5,500 Jews aboard were sent to Auschwitz and additional trains were directed to that death camp on May 1943 during a visit to Zagreb by SS chief Heinrich Himmler. Of the thousands of Croatian Jews deported to Auschwitz, only a few dozen survived.

In all, approximately 30, 000 Croatian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, mostly in Croatian concentration camps.