Catholic Mass held in commemoration of World War II-era Croatian leader, Ante Pavelic

Jewish communities, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center, have condemned the holding of a Catholic Church mass at the end of December in Zagreb, Croatia, to commemorate the life of Ante Pavelic. Ante Pavelic was a fascist leader of the Ustasha regime in Croatia, which was part of former Yugoslavia between 1941 and 1945. Pavelic and his party were supporters and allies to the Nazi regime in Germany and fascists in Italy.

He often met with and was photographed with leaders in the Nazi party, including German World War II foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. Under Pavelic’s leadership, thousands of Serbians, Jews, Roma and locals who were against fascism were killed and withheld in concentration camps. December 2014 was the 55th anniversary of the controversial politician’s death. A mass is held annually on this anniversary in both Zagreb and Split.

Jewish communities are finding it hard to digest that a country like Croatia, which has been a member of the European Union since 2014, would commemorate a Nazi sympathiser in such a way. Around 90% of Croatia’s population are Roman Catholics, so the Jewish community is also denouncing the Catholic Church’s involvement for hosting the mass. They say it is an insult to the thousands of victims who suffered and died under Ante’s leadership, The Times of Israel reports.

Ante Pavelicwas born in July 1889 and became politically active during World War I when he joined the Party of Rights which was based on the ideology of Croatian nationalism. He protested for Croatian independence in the 1920s and opposed Serbian nationalism. Pavelic went on to establish the Ustasha regime whilst in exile in Italy as the King of Yugoslavia declared a dictatorship.

In 1941 Germany and its Axis proponents invaded Yugoslavia and installed Pavelic as leader. During the war, Pavelic’s regime undertook the most violent and widespread ethnic cleansing, behind only that of the Nazi regime in terms of numbers of people it killed.

When Germany surrendered, Pavelic fled to Italy dressed as a priest and is thought to have been taken in by the Vatican. He went on to South America where he stayed until he was personally attacked and suffered severe injuries in 1957. Pavelic moved to Spain where he died from the wounds of the attack in 1959.

Pavelic was never put on trial for his war crimes, but several other leaders of the Ustasha regime were tried and convicted at the Nuremberg Trials.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE