Croatia: Catholic Church set on ending distressing injustice for victims of communist crimes

A gentle hand moves the tortured remains of victims of communist crimes in Gracani near Zagreb, Croatia Photo: Borna Filic/Pixsell

Croatian authorities have late this month uncovered a yet another horror that befell innocent people in Croatia at the hand of WWII and post-WWII Communists.

Authorities have exhumed a new mass grave (so far over 900 have reportedly been discovered in Croatia) with the remains of 30 people executed at the end of World War II near Croatia’s capital Zagreb.

The victims are believed to be cadets of a military academy of the WWII Independent State of Croatia.

The grave is quite shallow, some bones were found only 35 centimeters (13 inches) below the ground. According to the evidence so far collected the victims were young (“coming of age” years) and were brought to the forest in Gracani at the outskirts of Zagreb between 13th and 15th of May 1945, and slaughtered.

As Croatian TV HRT reported these findings are irrefutable evidence of execution with a large amount of bullets and cartridges found at the mass grave.  Several skulls had traces of bullet holes, while some of the victims had their hands tied up with metal wire.

In July of this year, 36 victims of the communist regime were found in another grave discovered in the same area and with the newest discovery that makes 20 mass graves and 783 victims of communist crimes in the area of Gracani.

At least the remains of the latest victims found of communist crimes are afforded the dignity of their bones being temporarily kept in the mortuary at Zagreb’s cemetery Mirogoj, until the planned interment in a common grave at St Michael’s in Gracani. Their remains are handled with dignity, which cannot be said for the remains of victims in numerous other known mass graves and pits across the country.

Among these neglected mass graves Butina pit near Lumbarda on the Island of Korcula, where remains of victims of communist crimes lay strewn among discarded rubbish and garbage, comes to mind.

Butina Pit communist crimes mass grave on the Island of Korcula, Croatia – October 2012

Section inside Butina Pit, post-WWII communist crimes mass grave on Island of Korcula, Croatia – October 2012

As with all victims of communist crimes – for which no one as yet has answered in Croatia or former Yugoslavia – this is how their last moments on this Earth were for them as the WWII ended (excerpt from witness statement published in an article “Way of the Cross to the Sea” by Croatian Herald, Australia on 26 October 1990):

“…The commissar and commander, both Montenegrian, with a few soldiers from Ulcinj took those people into the forest, where a pit called ‘Butina pit’ was. There they stripped them naked and started slaughtering them. Some local people helped them in this. I remember the name of one of them … As they continued doing this the dawn started to break and then they started to throw the people into the pit alive. Then they fired into the pit with machine guns and threw bombs into it. The same man from Dubrovnik told me that there were people still alive in the pit and that cries for help could be heard. The soldiers were afraid that we’d hear that and in fury attack them and that’s why they turned us away. The same person opened up a large school hall for me and showed me the victims’ clothing. There, the Partisans rummaged all night, searching for valuables. Later they ordered the man from Dubrovnik, a man from Herzegovina and me, to fold the clothes into bales and tie them with rope. The man from Herzegovina found in one of the pockets a picture of the Heart of Jesus and a family photo of a victim from Konavlje. He took it in the hope to give it to the victim’s family later. I do not know if he managed to do that… I took several photos too, in the hope to show to somebody later but the friend from Dubrovnik warned me: there’ll be a search and if they find this on you, your head will go… I fled Yugoslavia in 1957 … and now live in New Zealand”.

The fact that the current Croatian government announced the closure of the independent Office for the investigation of mass graves of communist crimes within barely two months of its coming to power (February 2012) says a great deal about its attempts to minimise those crimes and to dilute them by attaching them to its political patronage and the Ministry for war veterans. So as things stand now the Office for the discovery, the marking and the maintenance of graves of communist crimes after WWII is within war veterans ministry. The war veterans from Croatia’s 1990’s Homeland war have indeed a great deal to be unhappy about – are there among them WWII communist war veterans who have participated in the horrendous spree of communist crimes after WWII, or their descendants who do not necessarily want justice for the victims – i.e. condemnation and prosecution of those crimes even if the perpetrators may be dead?

How on earth in that cluster can victims of communist crimes receive justice!? Certainly even the name of that Office gives no suggestion that the ministry of war veterans intends to pursue full justice for these victims; it just talks of uncovering, marking and keeping the graves tidy!

This lot in the Croatian government is no different to their late, pro-communist, colleague Ivica Racan who, as Prime Minister in 2002, closed the Commission for war and post-war victims and attached its work to the Ministry of Science.

As the government keeps fiercely resisting the putting together of a complete list of WWII and post-WWII victims of communist crimes the Croatian Catholic church has October 29 announced its initiative to start the process of recording every victim fallen. According to Vecernji List, the Catholic Church in Croatia is commencing with the collection of details of victims of communist persecutions by having every parish priest collecting information about local victims.

This is the Church’s reply to the government’s avoidance of dealing with the problem of communist crimes and to its closing of the Office for the victims of communist crimes.

This initiative arose in the Commission for martyrology of the Bishops’ Conference at its recent meeting in Zagreb, under the leadership of Bishop mons. Mile Bogovic from Gospic-Senj district.

It’s announced that the Croatian martyrs website ( will soon have available for download the needed forms and material people can fill in and send to the appropriate parish office.

As the victims of the Holocaust are written on a list so too the victims of communist crimes should be. It is only a small measure of justice, but humane justice nevertheless.  Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)


  1. I’ve always said, often despite some vulgar and ignorant opposition, that Croatia today would not exist if it were not for what people today call ‘extreme’ Croatian emmigrants and the Catholic Church. A large number of Croatians living in yugoslavia 1945-1990 succumbed to the pressure of accepting defeat at the hands of tito and the party, and another large number was too afraid to voice any opposition for fear of all kinds of things. In fact these two circumstances are closely related, because one produced the other.

    We emmigrants that lived in free society could dig for truth without any fear of reprisal other than the cleverly placed UDBA agents who could never be successful enough in identifying anti-jugo perpetrators to the point that they could discourage the rest of us to give up our continuous battle for recognition and acceptance of our homeland by our new hosts. Together with the church, we held picnics, dances, pageants, we organized speakers, folklore groups, Croatian language classes, sports teams. All with the church’s help.

    Now it seems the same has to be done again. The old party aparatchiks that weaseled their way back into power have created a crisis so harsh that it has made many people unwillingly, desperately recall better times some 30 years ago. None consider that there was a cold war still on in those years and that the US was pumping boatloads of money into jugoslavia just to keep the USSR from gaining any advantage in the region. But this wasn’t going to last, Sooner or later someone had to pay back all that money with Croatian resources, and the aparatchiks cleverly disguised as patriots, did just that, leaving people practically starving.

    These days patriotism is secondary in Croatia. The aparatchiks dealt the people the “all patriots are Ustashe” card from the bottom of the deck, which has created a lot of negative feelings towards the church in particular. The aparatchiks have taken over most of the media, which is, as mass corrupt media goes, engineering very negative opinions about most things beneficial to Croatians, and positive opinions about most things beneficial to what is now called “the region”, another name for yugoslavia.

    So what does all this have to do with exhuming bones and how the Catholic Church can have a role in this? The aparatchiks are desperate to keep communist crimes out of the world media. Too much publicity will jeopardize their cleverly constructed, yet vulnarable to truth, lies. While political parties are pandering to constituents who want answers to economic and social problems, the church is practically the only institution that can generate enough clout to have an impact on the government to go ahead with investigations (if not this one then the next one), and to finally prosecute and condemn communist crimes, particularly those between 1945 and 1990.

    • Yes the Church has the network that can do real good, despite the government’s inaction/rejection. The Church knows the soul of its people and that soul needs so very much to see justice done for all victims. Communist crimes must be condemned and prosecuted otherwise true humanity in the countries that were plagued by these crimes will never surface; constant conflict, whether internalised in people’s minds or whether manifested externally, will thrive for generations to come.

      • Are you guys sure about the appetite in Croatia for all of this?
        I don’t criticise your views or your motives but the truth is, I see little or no will here to redress or do anything other than to put history to bed and get on with making ends meet in the daily grind. I understand this will be an anathema to the views generally expressed here but it does seem to be a case of the diaspora maintaining a justifiable anger about something which has little support domestically.
        For the sake of clarity, I am no communist, just the opposite in fact, nor do I have a particular liking for Partizans or anything associated with them. I just see a gap between what I read here and what I experience in my day to day life.

      • Well Pavao, it’s not just the diaspora that’s seeking justice for communist crimes, after all the EU made a declaration on it in 2009 and all countries in EU who had communism before + others are on the trail. It’s a widespread belief that one cannot put history to bed without making sure it goes to bed in its true form. Diaspora is not angry just realistic and while people in Croatia might mainly be worrying about their daily existence these issues concern them but energy to deal with them at this stage might largely be depleted because of the depressive unemployment situation and battles for survival and future.

  2. Reblogged this on Eyes of the Mind and commented:
    Victims of mass murder are victims regardless of the political affiliation of the perpetrators. We need to remember this and not allow some crimes to be swept under the carpet because they do not fit into the good-evil dichotomy we have been fed about WWII. It is unfortunate that the Catholic Church is having to step in to do the government’s job in this case… but also to its credit. I fear there are many more (Communist) crimes that remain to be exposed, and it reflects badly on Croatia if such matters are ignored in favour of myopic and mythical portrayals of the past. The truth must prevail!

  3. Rage against this injustice. This injustice has generational implications. I have read that number of Croatians that perished related to WWII, especially the “coming of age” group was so high that it distorted the demographic situation in Croatia which we still have not recovered; Croatians could have numbered 10MM. Think about that…

    • Yes. We can’t change the past but we can set the history right and the future will be bright. There are also millions of Croatians abroad if just a part return and others chip in other ways – what a great thing.

  4. Michael Silovic says:

    I am so proud to be a catholic and even prouder of my church for taking this enormous task on. The church can only become much more stronger by this undertaking. I never thought I would live to see the day that someone would step forward and help to seek the truth. For all Croats regardless where we live this is a victory against our governments lack of efforts in helping to find out what happened with our loved ones, ancestors and to see that those of past crimes if they are still alive to be prosecuted. Every grave uncovered tells a story. How can any nation just except any truth when so many lives were lost and it’s history distorted.

  5. Can any human being upon realizing the magnitude and barbarity of these crimes ever complacently go on living their day to day life? It is hard for me as a Croatian emigre living thousands of miles of away not to rage about the injustice – I am so dissappointed in my Croatian people! We as a people are not cohesive- we seem to splinter at the merest sign of pressure. The Croatians say “Two Croatians-five political parties“and that is surely a legitimate truism. Our only hope at this point is our Catholic Church and its leadership because without them acting as advocates for the those massacred victims of the Communists they would still be forgotten!
    Bog i Hrvati!

  6. Too bad none of you care about the 500,000 Serbs, Jews and gypsies killed by the Ustase. Too bad only a tenth or so of that number of Croats were killed during and after WWII. The nonsensical figures of Croat dead at Stormfront online or cited by revisionists – DELETED NAMES – are nonsense, which no reliable source could or would ever endorse.

    • It’s people like you Kelly Grey that promote complete injustice and should hang their head in shame. Your figures are also unproven as they were much less, but let’s not squabble over numbers as only one victim is one too many. I am certain that the victim Serbs, Jews, Romas, Croats from that part of WWII you talk of would disown you as they would want the victims of Communist crimes to have justice just as they did. There has been no prosecution for Communist crimes as yet but plenty for the crimes of the other political spectrum. But hey, we know that – you and those like you could have been associated in some way even by descent with Communist crimes which were much worse and more numerous than those committed by pro-Nazis in Croatia. And don’t forget to root for prosecution of those in Serbia who extinguished 94% of Serbian Jews by May 1942.. When both sides receive justice can peace thrive.


  1. Anantha says:


    Croatia: Catholic Church set on ending distressing injustice for victims of communist crimes – Croatia, the War, and the Future

  2. […] where executions of innocent people occurred – e.g. Vranina, Sibal’s feet, Paklenica, Butina, St Luke’s cemetery in Town of Korcula, St Cross cemetery in Blato on Korcula … all […]

  3. […] locations where executions of innocent people occurred – e.g. Vranina, Sibal’s feet, Paklenica, Butina, St Luke’s cemetery in Town of Korcula, St Cross cemetery in Blato on Korcula … all give […]

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