After Germany and its Axis allies invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941, the country was divided between them. On 10 April 1941, the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH) was founded. It covered most of the modern territories of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and some parts of Serbia. The Ustaše movement and its leader (Poglavnik), Ante Pavelić, assumed authority in this state under joint Fascist and Nazi supervision. Fascist Italy was given some parts of the Dalmatian coast, which became part of the NDH after the Italian surrender to the Allies in 1943. By early 1945, the NDH army withdrew towards Zagreb with German and Cossack troops. It continued fighting for a week after the German surrender on 9 May 1945. The Independent State of Croatia effectively ceased to exist in May 1945.
At the outbreak of the Second World War 23,000 to 25,000 Jews lived in Croatia (out of an estimated total population of 2,481,000 according to the 1931 census). Almost immediately after their ascent to power, the Ustaše embarked upon a campaign to “purge Croatia of foreign elements”. This campaign mainly focused on the Eastern Orthodox Serb minority, hundreds of thousands of whom were murdered or forcibly converted to Catholicism, but it also hit Croatia’s Roma and Jewish population. Just days after taking control of the government of Croatia, anti-Jewish legislation was issued. In June 1941 the Croatians began arresting Jews en masse and transferring them to camps. The Ustaše regime established numerous concentration camps in Croatia between 1941 and 1945. The largest was the Jasenovac complex. By the end of 1941, approximately two-thirds of the Jews in the NDH had been sent to these camps, and almost all of them were murdered upon arrival. In two operations – in August 1942 and May 1943 – Croatian authorities transferred about 7,000 Jews in the NDH into German custody: they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In addition to those handed over to the Germans, about 32,000 Jews were killed by the NDH throughout its territory. 5,000 Croatian Jews survived the war, most of them as soldiers in Tito's National Liberation Army (Communist Yugoslav Partisans) or refugees in Dalmatia, the Italian-occupied zone.
The archival service in Croatia is regulated by the Archives and Archival Institutions Act. It defines archival service as a mandatory public service of special importance for the Republic of Croatia, and archival holdings as a cultural heritage. Under the authority of the Ministry of Culture, the archival service’s task is to protect the integrity of the country’s archival holdings, and to disseminate information on them. The network of public archives currently consists of the Croatian State Archive (Hrvatski državni arhiv, HDA) in Zagreb as the central archival institution, and of 18 regional archives (in Bjelovar, Dubrovnik, Gospić, Karlovac, Križevci, Osijek, Pazin, Rijeka, Sisak, Slavonski Brod, Split, Šibenik, Štrigova, Varaždin, Virovitica, Vukovar, Zadar and Zagreb). Furthermore, there are 8 city archives which act as archival departments (Petrinja, Krapina, Koprivnica, Požega, Nova Gradiška, Metković, Senj, Žrnovo). The HDA currently has 160 employees who work in the following departments: the Department for the Protection and Processing of Archival Records, the Department for Information and Communication, the IT Department, the Croatian Film Archives, the Central Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration, the Central Laboratory for Photography, the Department of Comprehensive and Financial Services and the Department of Archives of the Archdiocese of Zagreb.
The regional archival holdings mostly consist of documents of state administration bodies, public institutions and enterprises, but also valuable records of private organisations and institutions, business entities and distinguished families and individuals. The Croatian State Archive is responsible for documents of central administration bodies and other records significant for the Republic of Croatia, whereas regional archives are responsible for records of local government (towns, municipalities and counties), regional state bodies and other creators in their authority. In addition to the state archives, there are collections in private archives and museums.
Archival material on the Holocaust in Croatia is kept in the Croatian State Archive, the Croatian History Museum, the National University Library in Zagreb, the regional archives and museums, some church archives and archives of the Jewish community, as well in the Research and Documentation Center for Holocaust Victims and Survivors (CENDO) and at the Jasenovac Memorial.
EHRI Research (Summary)
There were only limited surveys available on Holocaust archives in Croatia, conducted by the Croatian State Archives and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The overview of relevant repositories was incomplete and the identification of collections was seriously hindered by 1) Language (only Croatian) 2) Lack of keywords indicating Holocaust-relevant sources.
EHRI updated the information about 12 collection-holding institutions (CHIs), which it took over from the previous Claims Conference / Yad Vashem databases. Together with the addition of newly identified institutions, the number of CHIs in Croatia became 30. Next, EHRI identified the collections via a top-down approach starting with the institutions with the largest number of relevant collections (Croatian State Archive, Zagreb City Archive; regional archives like Slavonski Brod, Osijek, etc.). By March 2015, a total of 117 collection descriptions had been added to 15 different repositories.
EHRI Research (Extensive)
A. EHRI approach to Croatia: Pre-existing research and archival guides, expert support
In order to investigate and identify Holocaust-related sources in Croatian archives, EHRI enlisted a local expert, Petra Jurlina, MA, who works at the Centre for Peace Studies, an NGO associated with the Zagreb-based Human Rights House. Ms Jurlina has a degree in Jewish Studies and has participated in previous Holocaust-related survey and research efforts in Croatian archives, coordinated by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).
To a certain extent EHRI was able to rely on pre-existing research on the Holocaust in Croatia, such as: Slavko Goldstein’s “1941. The Year That Keeps Returning” (2013), Alexander Korb’s “Im Schatten des Weltkriegs. Massengewalt der Ustasa gegen Serben, Juden und Roma in Kroatien 1941-1945” (2013), Ivo and Slavko Goldstein’s “Holokaust u Zagrebu” (2001) and Narcisa Lengel Krizman’s “Antisemitizm – Holokaust – Antifašizam” (1996).
Furthermore, a number of regional and local studies on the Holocaust in Croatia do exist, even though established research and teaching institutions do not prioritise the subject at this time.
As a result, a number of useful finding aids were identified. Online search tools are provided by both the Croatian State Archives and the National University Library:
A more traditional guide with general information about archives in Croatia is Igor Karaman’s “Studije i prilozi iz arhivistike” (Arhiv Hrvatske, 1993, Zagreb).
Furthermore, in Autumn/Winter 2013, the Croatian State Archives published an online paper presenting Holocaust-relevant collections (http://zagreb.arhiv.hr/hr/teme/holokaust.htm). It should be noted that most collections in the Croatian State Archive/State Archive branches throughout the country have their own finding aids with descriptions of what can be found in which box of an entire collection. Some collections are better explored than others, often depending on the interests of archivists who use the collections for PhD theses or other post-doc works. However, they are available only in the archives themselves, and not online. The Review of Archival Collections (Pregled arhivskih fondova i zbirki), which presents overviews of all collections within the State Archive network, is available in every Croatian State Archive. It does not, however, single out 'Holocaust' as a keyword. Its latest edition (2006) is not available in pdf.
Surveys by third parties: The USHMM has been intermittently active in Croatia since the late 1990s. During the 1990s, local experts surveyed and copied war-time material at the Zagreb State Archives. It currently leads an endeavour to digitalise material from other state archives in the country and pre-war records from Zagreb. USHMM is also helping the Jewish Community Zagreb archive to sort out its material, which will later be digitalised. The microfilmed collections from the Second World War (surveys 1990s), plus scanned material from the interwar period and Second World War (ongoing survey) from different repositories around the country will be accessible online. Zagreb, Osijek, Rijeka and Slavonski Brod are expected to present their material in 2015, while other archives will deliver somewhat later. So far, post-war material remains to be identified.
B. Characteristics of the Croatian archival system and specific challenges
All collections are usually accessible to the public, but if a file refers to a person who was born less than 100 years ago, it will not be possible to copy that file. Each archival director is responsible for the approval of requests to scan or copy of specific material, submitted by individual research projects and not through a more global agreement between institutions.
Although important online search tools are available, they are of limited use for Holocaust scholars, and virtually useless for researchers who do not master the Croatian language. Furthermore, keywords such as ‘Jewish’ or ‘Holocaust’ will not produce many results in these online search databases. Some collection descriptions on Arhinet mention that ‘part of the material was copied for the needs of USHMM’ (but typing ‘USHMM’ into the search box will not lead one to collections copied for the USHMM).
Knowledge on regional history on how institutions were organised, and on who (or which political body) was in charge at given dates in time is essential to find relevant information within the body of archival material. In some cases, there is a high probability of identifying Holocaust-relevant files, such as in the Ministry of the Interior files relating to the Second World War, but often it is more like ‘finding a needle in a haystack’. Very often one needs the local archivist’s assistance to identify or at least narrow down the search for relevant information to a number of collections. However, often this still leaves one with sometimes up to 800 boxes of materials to consult, without knowing what they contain. The organisation and conditions of the collections can vary considerably. Intermediate knowledge of the language is required for any researcher in countries of ex-Yugoslavia. The archives’ management is usually open-minded and highly cooperative; the detection of relevant material through projects like EHRI will only be welcomed by them and might lead to a better navigation of Holocaust researchers through the system.
Researchers are encouraged to contact the archives’ staff prior to their visit to explain the topic of their research and ask for advice on which collections could be valuable for their research. Employees in smaller archives who do not speak English, will usually forward the email to somebody who does and reply within a few days.
C. EHRI identification and description results on Croatia
C. I. In Croatia
EHRI identified and investigated Holocaust-relevant archival institutions and collections in Croatia in close cooperation with USMM and YV. In the process, EHRI’s list of repositories was updated, and the second stage of EHRI’s work was initiated, i.e. filling the repositories with Holocaust- relevant collections. Material related to the Holocaust is often dispersed throughout very large collections, which are rarely entirely about the Holocaust.
As a result, EHRI’s list of repositories for Croatia now includes all the Holocaust-relevant State Archives in the country. The Croatian State Archive in Zagreb and the State Archive of the City of Zagreb are of particular importance.
Two other state archives, in Osijek (in the eastern part of the country, close to the Hungarian and Serbian border) and Rijeka (a port town near Italy) are equally important. These two archives are regional centres; Osijek has a rich Jewish history and during the Second World War the border town of Rijeka received thousands of Jewish refugees who had escaped to the Italian sector where life for Jews was somewhat more secure (at least for a while). Three other towns with state archives and a relatively rich Jewish history are Varaždin, in the north, Slavonski Brod, on the border with Bosnia, which also has a relatively strong and as yet unnoticed Jewish heritage, and Split, on the southern coast. Split’s Jewish community mostly consisted of Sephardic Jews, but also of Jews dating back to the Roman period, as the nearby town of Salona was an important Roman town in the eastern Adriatic.
Apart from the State archives, other important collection-holding institutions are the National and University Library in Zagreb (which stores interwar Jewish periodicals, some of which were published until April/May 1941), and the library and archive of the Jewish community centre in Zagreb. The latter is at the moment of writing of this report not open to the public, awaiting archival renovation and sorting of the archival material into collections. Apart from the abovementioned Jewish community centre in Palmotićeva Street (integrated in the EHRI portal, because of its archival holdings), there is a second Jewish community centre in Zagreb: Bet Israel Community centre (Mažuranićev trg/ 6 Mažuranić sq). This new centre does not hold archival materials concerning the Holocaust, but has orientated itself towards creating a contemporary Jewish studies (‘Judaistika’) department and library. Finally, there are smaller Jewish community archives, which do not function as public institutions. One needs to first contact somebody from the local Jewish community to find out what is where and if it can be analysed.
Other relevant institutions for Holocaust research in Croatia are museums. The History Museum of Croatia in Zagreb reported that they have some possibly interesting materials concerning Croatian Jewish families within the Documentations / Documents Department, and in the Photography department. However, the museum is under-staffed, so the archives have not been completely sorted out and are not recognised as ‘Holocaust material’ even though many of the families whose lives are documented perished during the war. The museum would like to see these materials labelled as Holocaust-related in the future. A similar situation is true for the Museum of Slavonia (‘Brodsko Posavlje’) in Slavonski Brod.
The Archdiocesan Archives are now a part of the Croatian State Archive system, but some collections are held in a separate location within the church. Therefore, they have been added as a separate institution.
EHRI started by integrating collection descriptions for the Croatian State Archive followed by the State Archive of the City of Zagreb; The National Library; State Archive of Slavonski Brod and their sub-department at a nearby town Požega; State Archive in Osijek; Rijeka; Split; Dubrovnik, and Varaždin.
EHRI’s survey does not provide a complete and final list, as archivists’ work on collections is an ongoing process, and search tools are being updated on a yearly basis. Also, all sources in Croatia are being manually added to EHRI.
C.II. In other countries
EHRI has yet to determine which archival institutions and collections outside of Croatia are relevant to Holocaust research on Croatia. However, archival institutions in other former Yugoslavian successor states are likely to hold relevant collections.