History > World War II
War broke out soon after the Sporazum was signed, and Yugoslavia declared its neutrality; invasion, occupation, and partition followed in 1941. In their campaign against Yugoslavia, the Germans exploited Croatian discontent, presenting themselves as liberators and inciting Croats in the armed forces to mutiny. In April 1941 Germans and Italians set up the Independent State of Croatia, which also embraced Bosnia and Herzegovina and those parts of Dalmatia that had not been ceded to Italy. Though in fact this state was under occupation by the German and Italian armies, Pavelic's Ustae were put into powera takeover facilitated by the passivity of Macek and of the Roman Catholic archbishop Alojzije Stepinac. Initially, there was enthusiasm for independence, but, once in power, the Ustae began a ruthless and violent persecution of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and antifascist Croats. The Ustae planned to eliminate Croatia's Serb minority partly by conversion to Catholicism, partly by expulsion, and partly by extermination. As many as 350,000 to 450,000 victims were killed in Ustae massacres and in the notorious concentration camp at Jasenovac.
Sporadic resistance, above all among Croatia's Serbs, began almost immediately, but it was the communist Partisans, under Josip Broz Tito (himself a Croat), who provided the resistance with leadership and a program. Croatian Serbs joined the Partisans in flight from Ustae terror; antifascist Croats were attracted by the broad popular front and by the Partisans' emphasis on national self-determination; and both groups supported the proposed reordering of postwar Yugoslavia along federal lines. Mass enlistment in their ranks made the Partisans more successful in Croatia than anywhere else outside their mountain strongholds. By 1944 most of Croatiaapart from the main citieswas liberated territory, and Croats were joining the Partisans' ranks in large numbers. As the war neared its end, however, many Croats, especially those compromised by involvement with the Ustae regime or those who opposed the communists, fled north along with other refugees toward the Allied armies. British commanders refused to accept their surrender and handed them over to the Partisans, who took a merciless revenge. Tens of thousands, including many civilians, were subsequently slaughtered on forced marches and in death camps.