"During the war Pavelic had forcibly converted tens of thousands of Serbian Orthodox under penalty of death. In fact, the atrocities were already underway at the very moment Pius XII received the Poglavnik in private audience in late April 1941. The bureaucrats at the British Foreign Office reacted with outrage at 'the reception by the Pope of a notorious terrorist and murderer', describing Pius XII as 'the greatest moral coward of our age'."

From ................. UNHOLY TRINITY - The Vatican,

pages 71-74

Such is the legend of Ante Pavelic's disappearance in May 1945, which has grown in the retelling over the years. Depending on which side is telling the story, his flight was either the end of the most glorious four years in Croatian history, or the country's liberation from a terrorist and mass murderer.1

It is impossible to know for sure the precise details of the Poglavnik's flight from his homeland. We do know that he fled from Zagreb to Austria via the Slovenian town of Maribor on the Yugoslav-Austrian frontier. However, both pro-Pavelic and pro-Tito accounts agree that panic was the predominant mood as the retreating Ustashi leadership fled for their lives ahead of the Communist forces.

Pavelic had many reasons for concern, among them the horrific massacres of Serbs, Jews and Gypsies over the previous four years; half a million innocent civilians slaughtered at his personal command. Many had been dispatched using extremely medieval methods; eyes had been gouged out, limbs severed, intestines and other internal organs ripped from the bodies of the living. Some were slaughtered like beasts, their throats cut from ear to ear with special knives. Others died from blows to their heads with sledge hammers. Many more were simply burned alive.2

Even so, Pavelic hoped to be greeted in Austria by both Church and British leaders as a prominent Catholic leader in the struggle against 'atheistic Bolshevism'. After all, British intelligence had maintained close pre-war relations with his underground terrorist network, even after the 1934 assassination of Yugoslav King Alexander in Marseilles.

Pavelic also knew that the Holy See looked on Croatia as 'the frontier of Christianity'; a special relationship between Croatia and the Pope extended back to 700 AD.3 Apart from this strong historical connection, Pavelic was also aware that Pius XII and his senior advisers held extremely charitable opinions of his militant Catholicism.

During the war Pavelic had forcibly converted tens of thousands of Serbian Orthodox under penalty of death. In fact, the atrocities were already underway at the very moment Pius XII received the Poglavnik in private audience in late April 1941. The bureaucrats at the British Foreign Office reacted with outrage at 'the reception by the Pope of a notorious terrorist and murderer', describing Pius XII as 'the greatest moral coward of our age'.

72 When pressed to justify the reception, the Vatican explained lamely that Pavelic had only been received in his private capacity, not as head of the Croatian state. They could not ignore a Catholic 'statesman' such as Pavelic, the Vatican replied. But the Foreign Office 'was indeed astonished and pained that the Vatican should so consider him even for a moment'.4 The British Ambassador to the Holy See found it difficult when he took up the matter personally with the ever charming Pius XII:

The Pope called Pavelic 'a much maligned man'.

Pius XII could not believe that he had been involved in the assassination at Marseilles, even though Pavelic had been convicted in absentia in a French court. The cynics back in the Foreign Office conceded that the Pope 'must indeed be a charmer', but told their Ambassador in no uncertain terms that his reception of Pavelic 'has done more to damage his reputation in this country than any other act since the war began'.6

It was hypocrisy of the most unbridled kind! Before the war, British intelligence had used Pavelic, despite his unsavoury reputation as a terrorist and murderer. Now, though, the Pope was to be thoroughly condemned merely for receiving him. Of course, times had changed, and Pavelic was massacring hundreds of thousands of innocents as part of Hitler's savage racial war. Surely the Holy Father would not stand aside and watch such ghastly deeds without raising the voice of Christian Charity?

A young Yugoslav by the name of Branko Bokun believed that the Pope could not. Bokun had been sent to Rome by one of Yugoslavia's intelligence chiefs to ask for the Vatican's intervention to stop the slaughter in Croatia. Armed with a large file of documents, eye witness accounts and even photographs of the massacres, Bokun finally gained entrance into the Vatican Secretariat of State in September 1941. He wanted to deliver his file to Monsignor Giovanni [later Pope Paul VI] Montini, Under Secretary of State for Ordinary Affairs, but could not gain an audience.

73 Bokun was told to leave his file and come back a week later, with the promise that 'the Monsignor will give the matter careful consideration'. This was at the height of the worst atrocities and Pavelic had taken steps of his own to influence Vatican opinion. He had dispatched Father Cherubino Seguic to Rome to counter the spreading horror with which the massacres were greeted in many Catholic circles.

Seguic soon discovered that the Ustashi regime was viewed by many as 'a crowd of barbarians and cannibals'. He promptly sought an audience with Montini, and recorded in his diary that the Vatican bureaucrat sought 'full information on the events in Croatia', also confirming that the 'calumnies' had reached the Monsignor's ears.7

Father Seguic seems to have had a persuasive effect on Montini. When Bokun returned to discuss his file detailing evidence of these 'calumnies', he received short shrift from Montini's secretary. Bokun was simply told that 'the atrocities described in your file are the work of the Communists, but maliciously attributed to the Catholics'. Bokun had the evidence but no access to Montini, while Seguic had no difficulty in presenting his side of the story.8

There is no doubt that Montini was well informed of the true situation, for on a number of occasions he castigated Croatia's representatives to the Holy See. While Montini would begin with harsh words, invariably these sessions concluded with assurances that the Holy Father would assist Catholic Croatia.9

The Pope's own attitude towards the murderous Ustashi leader was more than benign neglect. When Pavelic asked for another audience with the Holy Father in May 1943, he was assured by Secretary of State Maglione that 'there were no difficulties attached to the Poglavnik's visit to the Holy Father except that he could not be received as a sovereign'. Pius himself promised to give Pavelic his personal blessing again.10 By this time, the Holy See possessed abundant evidence of the atrocities committed by his regime.

The Vatican has consistently defended its policy, pointing out that official Vatican recognition was denied Pavelic's state. However, senior Vatican officials, including Pius XII, regularly received his 'unofficial' diplomatic representative who called himself the 'Croatian Ambassador'. The Pope also continued to receive other senior officials and delegations, turning his face away from their countless victims.11

74 Pavelic's record was well known. On one occasion a visiting Italian Fascist journalist had been granted an interview with the Poglavnik. Noticing what appeared to be a large bowl of oysters, he had asked Pavelic whether they were from the Dalmatian coast. He was shocked when the dictator replied that they were forty pounds of Serbian eyes sent to him by his loyal Ustashi.12

On another occasion, Pavelic held discussions with Hitler in Berlin. In a strange reversal of roles, he castigated the Fuhrer about the 'lenient' treatment of German Jews, boasting that in comparison he had completely solved the Jewish question in Croatia while some remained alive in the Third Reich.13 But when Hitler died, Pavelic could not be sure that even his staunchest Church supporters would offer him protection. He disappeared so completely that it was as though the Austrian countryside had suddenly opened up and swallowed him. In the following months, British and American intelligence combed the areas under their control.

The Foreign Office and the State Department repeatedly told Tito's government that Pavelic would be returned to face trial as a war criminal, just as soon as he was found, but all they discovered were shadowy rumours. The Communist government in Belgrade was sceptical of the West's repeated denials. Tito had a battle-hardened and extremely efficient intelligence network operating in Austria, tracking the Ustashi's movements. In July 1945 their Ambassador in London told the British that Pavelic had 'been made prisoner by the troops of Field Marshal Alexander, and ..... is now in the part of Austria under the control of the British Army'.

In late August the Yugoslavs repeated their claim that Pavelic had 'been taken prisoner at Celovac [Klagenfurt], Austria, by British troops'.14 The Foreign Office was adamant that Pavelic had never been in their hands, and assured the cynical Yugoslavs that every 'effort is being made to discover the present whereabouts of Dr Pavelic'. Their 'energetic attempts' had 'produced no information except that Pavelic was still rumoured to be in the Saltzburg area on September 26th'.15 Saltzburg was not even in the British zone, having been occupied by the Americans. There were still many leads for the British to follow.

Serbian Cetnik officers claimed that Pavelic was 'disguised as a monk in a monastery at Klagenfurt'; the Yugoslavs also alleged that he was in 'a villa not far from Klagenfurt'. The British conducted a .........

[end page 74]

By John Loftus and Mark Aarons - Pub by St.Martins Press [1991]

Available from Barnes & Noble [1-800-242-6657] or [1-800-843-2665]

ISBN 0-312-07111-6 [hardcover] ISBN 0-312-09407-8 [paperback]