Friday, September 24, 2004


This essay first appeared in the book "Hrvatski Portreti" – (Croatian Portraits) published by Hrvatska Revija in Switzerland (Book Eleven - Munich - Barcelona, 1973, edited by Lucijan Kordic and Jure Petricevic; translation - Vicko Rendic and Jacques Perret).

The book "Hrvatski Portreti" is now available on this website.


by Tihomil Rađa

Within the scope of this Academy dedicated as always to the last remembrance of the archbishop of Zagreb Aloysius Stepinac, cardinal of the Catholic church and Croatian national hero, I will endeavour to describe briefly his historical significance and personality on the basis of the facts and attestations from that time. This profile will include the decisive moments of this life before the trial, his historical speech before the court of the communist party in Zagreb in 1946 and the repercussions of that trial in the world press, concluding with the salient facts of his life in prison up to his martyr's death on February 19th, 1960.

The biography of this great man whose memory we honour is simple and magnificent at the same time. Simple and moderate because Stepinac was born as the seventh child of a humble peasant in the village of Brezaric, parish of Krasic, on May 8th, 1898. At the age of 18 he was sent to the Italian front where he received two medals for bravery. Then he was taken as a prisoner of war by the Allies, from which he went on the Solun front where he again distinguished himself for bravery. It was enough to win him the Star of Karageorgevic, the highest Serbian decoration, which is even today acknowledged in this the second Yugoslavia.
After the war he enrolled in the department of agriculture of the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry in Zagreb. But already in 1924 he made a sudden change of plans and still young, not only abandoned his agronomy but also even broke off his engagement. He travelled to Rome and entered the Germanic University (Germanicum) where during his seven years there was the outstanding student. In 1930 he obtained his doctor's degree in theology and philosophy. That same year at the age of 32 he was ordained to the priesthood on the feast of Christ the King.

The following year he returned to Croatia to be invested with ceremony in the cathedral of Zagreb. He worked under the archbishop, besides looking after the parishes around Zagreb. He became temporary director of the parishes in Samobor and St. Ivan Zelina, besides founding the benevolent institution of Caritas. Two years later in 1934 Pope Pius XI appointed him assistant to the archbishop with the possibility of succeeding to that post himself, a move which caused genuine astonishment in the Catholic world because Stepinac at the age of 36 was the youngest member of the Catholic hierarchy to attain such a position. Only three years later in 1937, at the age of 39, Stepinac became the archbishop of Zagreb after the death of Dr. Antun Bauer.

From that epoch comes the valuable attestation of the Irish writer and priest Anthony H. Count O'Brien who for two full years was often a guest at the archbishop's table. (1) O'Brien wrote of the archbishop's social work, which consisted mainly of harbouring persecuted German Jews and even some communists; of the archbishop's Yugoslavsim prior to 1918; of his opposition to the Stojadinvoic government and his endorsement of the Agreement of 1939; and of Stepinac's considerable piety that O'Brien compared to that of Pope Pius XII.

This sketch of Stepinac by O'Brien indeed corresponded to Stepinac's nature, character and education. Educated in Rome and Zagreb, in the international milieu of the Catholic intellectual elite, as were Cardinal Griffin and others, Stepinac adopted a modern and progressive viewpoint in regard to the relations between church and state, between clerical and national interests. So on the occasion of the parliamentary elections of 1938, he left Zagreb in order not to influence the results by his presence. Yet in the following year due to the fact that the Croatian nation had entrusted its mandate to the Croatian peasant party, he set about to topple the Stojadinovic government by speaking in favour of the agreement between Cvetkovic and Macek. Likewise, according to the account of the French senator Ernest Pezet (2), he did not hesitate to denouce publically all the crimes of the police during the dictatorship of the King Alexander, pointing out that they outnumbered those perpetrated during the Austrian regime by 7,000 to 7000.

Prior to anyone among us, and perhaps in the world generally, Stepinac understood the extent of the persecution of the Jews and the communists in Germany. He took pains to protect both Jews and communists through his refugee committee with the consequence that the German ambassador in Belgrade reproached the Yugoslav government.

Soon in 1941 the Independent State of Croatia (3) became a reality. Stepinac, then as before later on, vindicated the right of the Croatian people to self-determination and to their own state. But this fact did not blunt his political judgement and already in May 1941 he refused to participate in the celebration occasioned by the signing of the so-called Rome agreements.
At that time, either to the church or directly to the authorities, (4) he raised his voice against the persecution of the Gypsies and massacre of the Serbs in Glina. In July 1941 Stepinac said the following words in a speech from the pulpit of the cathedral in Zagreb: "We are against and call God to witness against all forced conversions to the Catholic Church. We maintain that the Church has taken all possible steps to protect the Orthodox."

At that time at the end of 1941, captain Rapotec came to visit Stepinac six times. Documentary evidence for this can be found in London in the archives of the Yugoslav government in exile. Captain Rapotec tried to persuade him to break off with the N.D.H. publicly, but Stepinac refused, well knowing the difference between the regime and the state.

In a letter on the occasion of the convocation of the Croatian parliament in February 1942, Stepinac wrote as follows: "If in this affair - that is in the application of the so-called Nürmberg laws to the Croatian Jews - there is a question of interference of a foreign power in our domestic policies, then I am not afraid to reprimand this authority. The Catholic Church is not afraid of any secular authority when there is a question of defending fundamental human rights".

In the same spirit he opened his sermon on the feast of Christ the King in 1942, saying: "The world may destroy all material goods but cannot belittle the dignity of the human person."
I could enumerate many more attestations and documents about Stepinac during the war. All of it has been written in the foreign press, particularly in the Swiss newspapers, for instance in the "Neue Zuricher Zeitung", the "Basler Nachrichten" and others; and in the Allied newspapers, particularly the News Digest, an organ of the British Ministry of Information during the war. Among the other facts of that time one should note further his reception and protection of Slovene priests persecuted by the Germans; his aid to those interned in Italy; his contacts with the Allies in Italy with the intention of preventing air raids over Zagreb; and his care for the Orthodox children of the province of Kordun.

Not long after the end of the war the new regime incarcerated him for 17 days after which time he was released on the order of Tito who wished to meet him. On the occasion of his meeting with Tito, he said the following: "Allow me to tell you that I am for the freedom of the people and accordingly I will raise my voice against you every time you should encroach on this freedom".

At the outset of September 1945 all the newspaper carried a picture of him beside Vladimir Bakaric and others who were creating the government of the People's Republic of Croatia. Yet already on September 20th Stepinac signed the well-known pastoral letter at the Episcopal synod in which were brought to light precise facts concerning the mass killings of priest and monks; 243 killed, 169 jailed, 89 disappeared, altogether 501.

In addition to the above, 19 theological students were killed, seven monks and nuns. The pastoral letter went on to list the names of the imprisoned bishops: Carevic, Simark, and 28 friars killed at Siroki Brijek. (5) That was more than enough. The result was that he was attackd not only in the press but even bodily, as once in Zapresic on November 4th, 1945, an assault which the Ministry of Internal Affairs explained as an attack of the church on the OZNA! (Department of National Protection).

The Herald of November 19th, 1945 carried a picture of Stepinac in the company of Ante Pavelic, but neglected to mention that this was a chance meeting at the Zagreb fair (as the Exposition was called before our time). In that way the public was deceived. So far the Herald as yet has not made this clear.

At that time Randolf Churchill, son of Winston Churchill and a man most familiar with Tito's regime, wrote the following comment in the London newspaper Daily Telegraph of January 23rd, 1946: "Yugoslav propaganda against the Archbishop of Zagreb has no other purpose than to prepare the ground for a trial against him."

The prelude to the trial was the indictment of the priest Salic, Stepinac's secretary, on September 9th, 1946 in Zagreb after eleven months of investigation on his case. A few days later, on September 17th, it turned into a travesty in the style of Stalin's trials of Zinoviev, Lev Borasavich, Kamener and others before the war. Two of those indicted, Salic and Martincic, implicated Stepinac in the so-called "Crusade trial". The next day the pulbic persecutor Jacov Blazevic gave the order to arrest Stepinac.

All around Croatia mobs gather to attack priests, churches and monasteries, expecting the death sentence for Stepinac. In the meantime, people could not be persuaded to sign the petition against the archbishop. For instance, 7,000 workers and employees of the Zagreb Railway refused. The director of the UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) for Yugoslavia, Hochstetter, wrote at length about this in the Saturday Evening Post of November 21st, 1946. At the same time bishop Lach was arrested in Koprivica, bishop Bonefacic was attacked in Imotski, bishop Pusic was maltreated while presiding at a confirmation on the island of Hvar. By this the authorities openly declared that the "people have the right to attack their enemies..." As a consequence of these provocations six priests were killed.

In the meantime on September 23rd, 1946 Jacov Blazevic brought charges against Stepinac. Already by September 30th Stepinac was summoned to court. He saw his lawyer Dr. Ivan Politeo only once and only for one hour on September 27th. Indeed the trial was prepared for a whole year and yet Stepinac was given only six days to prepare his defense. When on September 25th Mgr. Hurley, the papal nuncio in Belgrade approached Tito for his persecution of the church in general and for the trial of Stepinac in particular, Tito replied laconically: "In Yugoslavia everyone is equal before the law."

The following are the main points of the charges brought by Blazevic:
collaboration with the authority of the NDH (so-called independent state of Croatia) and the post of chaplain-general baptism of Serbian Orthodox the "Crusade" concealment of the state documents belonging to the NDH.

Allow me to pass over these four points briefly in the light of the facts.

Ad a) It has already been said that in May 1941 the archbishop refused to participate in the signing of the Rome agreements which stipulated that the crown of Zvonimir had to be passed on to the Italian duke of Spoleto, designated thereby as "King of Croatia". When finally in 1943 Stepinac went on his customary visit to the Vatican that he mitigated his attitude towards the authorities. In an issue dated September 3rd, 1943 the German newspaper "Völkischer Beobachter", official organ of Hitler's Nazi party, wrote that the archbishop of Zagreb publicly attacked the regime of the NDH. In December 1943 the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the NDH complained to the papal legate Marconi that "Stepinac never has consented to the regime of the NDH." It sought to influence the archbishop to change his attitude toward the regime.
I could in this context enumerate many other facts but all of it could be reduced to this that the erstwhile communist regime in Croatia did not differentiate between the regime and the state. Therefore it cruelly persecuted everyone who declared himself for the Croatian state, but against the regime, as was the case with Stepinac.

As for his post of chaplain-general Stepinac was in the army of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, for which reason his post entailed no responsibility, so that even the Ustashe regime of the NDH held him accountable. The only one who asked him to render account of this was the public prosecutor Jacov Blazevic.

Ad b) Concerning that point in the charges Dr. N. Katicic, the state's defense attorney in Stepinac's trial, expressed himself most judiciously. The documents of this trial are found in the university library in Zagreb and abroad in the library of Father Theodore Dragoun in French. (6)

Ad c) The question of the "Crusade" is a typical example of procedures employed by the OZNA whereby Father Salic and a few others were tortured in order to obtain evidence. These letters were produced as proof of "terrorist activities". The archbishop himself replied to these, among other things, in his famous speech before the court in Zagreb.

Ad d) It is known that before the collapse of the NDH Stepinac refused to accept the regency offered to him in Croatia during the anarchy (Nicija vlast). On the contrary Stepinac consented in the name of the archbishop to keep the official archives of the NDH and immediately informed the new authority in Zagreb of this on May 8th, 1945. He said that the archbishopric had received authorization from the partisan authority itself. In the meantime at the trial itself Jacov Blazevic took care not to have these documents brought out.

At the trial itself the archbishop delivered a speech in his defense on October 3rd, 1946 after which he reverted to silence, answering every question of Jacov Blazevic and Zarko Vimpulsek, president of the court, with a laconic "I have nothing to reply". With such behaviour Stepinac brought Blazevic into a comic and ludicrous situation.

After Stepinac's declaration the defense lawyer Dr. Ivo Politeo perorated in his characteristically remarkable fashion, a courageous and dauntless thing to do in those times. While by his arguments he refuted all the points of the charges, he declared: "There is no question of Aloysius Stepinac's defending the regime of the NDH. But he is talking about the Croatian national state, such as is undoubtedly the right of the Croatian nation. After all in our days the Croatian nation has its own republic"(7).

Upon which Dr. Politeo resumed: "Aloysius Stepinac is the most authentic representative of the Catholic Church in Croatia, even in all of Yugoslavia. Whenever Stjepan Radic, a leader who best plumbed the soul of the Croatian people, would deliver his speeches he would start with the words: Blessed be God and the Blessed Virgin Mary. And in our day we can freely say that every time Aloysius Stepinac takes up the defense of the Catholic Church, the great majority of the Croatian people is with him".

Stepinac was sentenced on October 11, 1946 to sixteen years of forced labour and imprisonment, deprived of his civic rights and his property confiscated. After his condemnation public opinion around the world was astounded. Thus the erstwhile Secretary of State Dean Acheson declared the following on the day of his sentence: "The circumstances surrounding the indictment and condemnation of the archbishop are more than regrettable. The Catholic Church in Croatia is being persecuted by the inhumane methods of a police regime."

A little later the great French writer Francois Mauriac wrote in "Le Figaro" on December 2nd, 1946. "We have read the declarations and assembled the attestations and are convinced that the Archbishop of Zagreb has been sentenced to sixteen years of imprisonment despite his innocence. If after this Christians are silent then the stones themselves will speak out."

A month after Mauriac's statement Winston Churchill himself spoke in the British Parliament: "This is a political trial with the intention of causing the Catholic Church in Croatia to split with the Vatican. Tito, after all, has openly declared it. One should not forget that the resistance to atheism is stronger when there is outside support. Here I refer to the Pope. The trial itself has no connection with justice and is indeed a violation of it. Tito's regime cares nothing for justice. The martyrdom of Archbishop Stepinac would be complete should the sentence be applied and executed. God grant that the archbishop endure in spirit and in body all that he will have to endure in order that Christianity may prevail thanks to his courage."

These are only some of the individual reactions. I could enumerate hundreds such as those of Cardinals Spellman and Griffin; of bishop Fulton Sheen and the Serbian Orthodox bishop Milovijevic; of the Jewish National Conference in the U.S.A.; of the Methodist and Presbyterian churches; of Ivan Mestrovic, Vladko Macek, Bogdan Radica; of the Irish parliament and so on. The same with all the world newspapers, of which we will mention "The New York Times", "The New York Herald Tribune", "The New Leader", "American Journal" and particularly "L'Osservatore Romano" and many Swiss newspapers. It is particularly pertinent to quote The New York Times of October 13th, 1946: "The trial of Archbishop Stepinac was a purely political one with the outcome determined in advance. The trial and sentence of this Croatian prelate are in contradiction with the Yugoslavia's pledge that it will respect human rights and the fundamental liberties of all without reference to race, sex, language and creed. Archbishop Stepinac was sentenced and will be incarcerated as part of the campaign against his church, guilty only of being the enemy of Communism."

It is likewise pertinent to quote the declaration of Lois S. Breier, representative of the American Jewish Committee, uttered on October 13th, 1946 at the Bronx Round Table: "This eminent ecclesiastical dignitary was indicted for collaborating with the Nazism. We Jews deny this. We know from his past that since 1934 he has been a sincere friend of the Jews whom Hitler and his henchmen destroyed. He was one of the very rare men in Europe who raised his voice against the Nazis tyranny at a time when it was very difficult and dangerous for him to do so. This man who is today a victim of a shameful trial, during the whole Nazi epoch publicly and dauntlessly denounced the horrible Nürmberg laws. His opposition to Nazi terrorism never let up. He likewise denounced the infamy of the yellow armbands, asserting that it was an affront to human dignity. It was all to his credit that this procedure was abandoned in Croatia."

In contrast to the reaction of the cultured and free world Tito made this comment to the press in Zagreb in a statement on the trial: "We are accused of having jailed Stepinac only in order to remove him. In the meantime, before passing his sentence, I have already told Mgr. Hurley, the papal nuncio, that he must recall Stepinac himself or we will jail him."

Djilas himself when he was still in power asked Ivan Mestrovic what he thought about the sentence passed on Stepinac. He replied the following: "To tell you the truth I, and not only I, think that Stepinac is a man of integrity and firm character who will not be broken. He was indeed innocent despite his sentence but how often in history has it happened that innocent people have been sentenced out of political necessity."(8)

After he had spent five years in the prison at Lepoglava Stepinac was interned in the end of 1951 in the parish hall in Krasic. Since that time until his martyr's death on February 10th, 1960 there had been many documents revealing the person and the character of the Archbishop of Zagreb. As soon as he arrived in Karsic Stepinac gainsaid the information broadcast over Radio Belgrade: "Radio Belgrade is mistaken when it speaks of me as the 'former Archbishop Stepinac'. I am the Archbishop of Zagreb. They can oust me from this country by force alone."

Already at the beginning of 1952 he complained to the correspondent of the Belgian newspaper "La Gazette d'Anvers" with these words: "My freedom is illusory. I cannot freely receive anyone, being under constant surveillance. But I would rather die than yield."

The circumstances of the archbishop's internment considerably aggravated him after the Vatican's secret consistorium of January 12th, 1953 in which Pope Pius XII appointed the Archbishop of Zagreb cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, saying among other things this: "In this celebration we remember with heavy heart our distinguished brother the Archbishop of Zagreb to whom it is not given to share this joy with us and to return to his homeland. Although he is absent, we embrace him with paternal love. I fervently wish everyone to know that the dignity of cardinal has been bestowed upon him. Our only wish is to reward his great merits and the staunch faith of his nation, which in these troubled times courageously confessed the creed of Catholicism. Our conscience does not permit us to accept the indictment and sentence passed on the Archbishop of Zagreb. Besides this we are answering the wishes and hopes of the whole Catholic world when we elevate to the honour of cardinal of the Catholic Church this exemplary pastor who epitomizes the apostolic creed and the strength of Christianity."

From that time dates the widespread upheaval instigated by the UDBA (Yugoslav Secret Police Intelligence Service) against the clergy and the increasingly difficult position of the interned archbishop, now cardinal, in Krasic. The archbishop's torments and sufferings came to a climax before his very death. Of this we have grim attestations in the letter sent by him from Krasci to the district court in Osijek on December 4th, 1959. (9) In that historical letter Stepinac among other things said this: "My present state of health is a direct result of that sentence which among other things caused the indignation of the whole world. The thirteen years of my imprisonment and internment have brought me to the edge of the grave. Up to this date I have undergone about 34 blood transfusions, all in vain. When Dr. Sercer sought to have me sent to the seaside for the purpose of convalescence, the authorities refused. I told the doctors that it is impossible for me to go for a walk, which I have not done for a year, not because it is expressly forbidden, but because the guards follow me everywhere. I fight against the ideology of the communist party because I am conscious of its sins and errors. But it is possible to infer thereby that I am subverting the state? If it is a legitimate battle that the communist party has waged these past 15 years with fire and sword against the Catholic Church, how then can one impute to me as a crime that I have denounced such operations? How then can one consider as a crime my reproaches uttered in defense of the Catholic Church?

Have I perhaps infringed upon the Declaration of Human Rights as the U. N adopted it or has someone else perhaps trampled down the fundamental rights of the human person? Is it not enough that your leader has recognized that I was summoned to the court without just cause and that the sentence was my death warrant, as I have just explained to you?
I must add further that at the present time I am with one foot in the grave and that I will soon be entirely in the grave. But if you should summon me to court or if you should come here with then intention of subjecting me to interrogation, then you ought to know that I will refuse to answer any question. In advance I refuse to accept any responsibility for the scandal, which your interrogation of me in such a state of health may occasion in world opinion. If the regime considers that my death is slow in coming then let it do with me, as it did de facto fourteen years ago.

St. Cyprian gave to his executioner 25 gold pieces before his decapitation. I possess no gold. All that I can bestow is a prayer for him who will execute me that the Lord may forgive him and grant me a peaceful death. My guards can continue to watch me in accordance with your instructions whose purpose is to render my life intolerable. I know my duty. God have mercy, I will accomplish it to the end without hatred for anyone but also without fear of anyone."

Two months after this distressing letter Stepinac breathed his last in Krasic on Wednesday, February 10th, 1960 at 2:15 p.m. according to the testimony of vicar Don Vranekovic who thus describes Stepinac's last moments: "It was 1:55 p.m. when certain nuns entered. They could hardly finger their prayer beads for weeping. He looked at the picture of the Blessed Virgin and just barely repeated the Hail Mary. Exactly at 2 p.m. he cried out loud for his candle and with one hand I helped him to hold the burning candle which he had predicted on Candlemas this very same year that he would very soon need, while with the other I supported his head so as to facilitate his breathing. The nuns were praying and weeping. The archbishop was looking about still fully conscious and praying "May thy will be done.' They were the last words that we heard from him. Three or four painful breaths later he expired. But with a prayer on his lips and in his heart, conscious of his destination, he went to meet God's judgement. This was the death of a righteous man.

The guards admitted into the parish hall only the sacristan Nicholas who with the sound of the great bell announced to the parish the death of a man of God. In one moment the whole of Krasic poured out on to the street and everyone was in black and mourning. People en masse came to the church and prayed. And so it happened that one who beside the name Aloysius also bore the name Victor became a true "Victor" because his soul rests in heaven and his body has come to its rightful place among his predecessor archbishops."(10)

On Saturday, February 13th, 1960 Stepinac was solemnly and honourably buried in the cathedral in Zagreb. About him as contemporary once said "he came to the trial as spiritual shepherd of Croatia and came out of it a national legend and a hero." Here "beside the Holy King"- as A.G. Matos has sung - rests in peace the martyred body of the great man on whose grave "in the darkness of night any woman can come with a heavy cross of one whole nation". And indeed the grave and image of Aloysius Stepinac is the great hope of Croatia.


(Speech of the Archbishop of Zagreb Dr. Aloysius Stepinac from the defendant's bench in Zagreb on October 3rd and 8th, 1946)

To all the charges laid against me here I reply that my conscience is quite clear, although the public may laugh at that. Let me say also that I have no intention of appealing the sentence on my own behalf. I am convinced that I can suffer not only mockery, contempt and denigration, but because my conscience is clear, that I am ready at any moment to die.
The expression "the accused Stepinac" has been bandied about here a hundred times. No one is so naïve as to ignore that behind "the accused Stepinac" sits here on the defendant's bench the Archbishop of Zagreb, metropolitan of Croatia and highest primate of the Catholic Church in Yugoslavia. You yourselves have so often appealed to the clergy here accused to say that Stepinac alone is guilty for the state of the nation and the clergy in general. For it is the clergy who you accuse through me. Citizen Stepinac could not have such an influence, but only Archbishop Stepinac.

These past seventeen months the fight against me has been waged in the press and public. For the past twelve months I have suffered as an internee in the confines of the archbishopric.
I am charged with having performed the baptism of Serbs. This is a misrepresentation of the facts for there is no need to baptize once more one who has been baptized already. The question here is rather one of conversion. I will not speak at length about that but will say that my conscience is clear and that history will bear me out. The fact is that I had to relocated the priest because the Serbian Orthodox population for hesitating to convert them to Catholicism menaced them with death. The fact is that during the war the Church had to compromise in order to render a favour to the Serbian nation with the intention of protecting it as best it could.
Mr. President has shown me a copy of a letter as proof that I was looking for the abandoned Orthodox (formerly Pauline) monastery in Orahovica to intern temporarily Trappists banished by the Germans from Reichenburg. I considered it my holy duty to help my Slovene brethren ousted by the Germans to obtain temporary shelter.

A more difficult case is my accusation as chaplain general. Mr. President asked me whether I did not consider it treason to the Yugoslavian state to retain that position under the government of the NDH. I was also chaplain general in the first Yugoslavia. For eight to ten years I tried to solve the question concerning my post as chaplain general, but it came to no definite solution. The question was finally solved in Yugoslavia with a concordat that involved many difficulties and although solemnly ratified in parliament carried no effect.

When the war between Yugoslavia and Germany was over I had to administer spiritual aid to the remnants of the Catholic soldiers of the former Yugoslavian army and of the newly created NDH. Although the state collapsed, the army still remained and we had to face the situation.
I was persona non grate both to the Germans and to the "ustase", being neither "ustase" nor under oath to them, as were your officials here now in court.

The Croatian nation has declared itself by plebiscite in favour of a Croatian state. I would be a scoundrel should I ignore the pulse of the Croatian nation which was deprived of its rights in old Yugoslavia. I said that Croats were forbidden to be promoted in the army or enter into diplomatic corps unless they changed their religion or married an Orthodox woman. This is the factual basis and the background of my epistles and sermons. The rights, independence and liberty of the Croatian nation as I have outlined them are all in accordance with the fundamental principles of the Allies laid down at the Yalta Conference and in the Atlantic Charter. If according to these conclusions all nations have the right of their independence, why should the Croatian nation alone be deprived? The Holy See has so often emphasized that small nations and national minorities have the right to be free. Why should the Catholic bishop and metropolitan not say anything about that? If we must fail we will go down in the performance of our duty.
Do not think that the Croatian nation is satisfied with this trial. Still less can you pretend that the Croatian nation would not side with me. Should it have the opportunity to declare itself? I respect and will respect the will of my nation.

You accuse me of being an enemy of the state and of the people's authority. Today I acknowledge your authority. To which authority was I responsible before this? I must say it again that you are my authority only from May 8th, 1945 and before that no authority at all. Where can one in this world serve two master - you in the woods or they in Zagreb? Do I have to obey the government of the putschist Simovic (as you call him) abroad in London, or that one in Jerusalem; yours in the woods or this one in Zagreb? Is it possible to serve two masters? It corresponds neither to Catholic moral nor to international law and human rights. We could not ignore the authority here although it was "ustase". It was a fait accompli. You can call me to account only beginning with May 8th, 1945.

Regarding my terrorist activities you have no proof nor will anyone believe you. If Erik Lisak, Lela Sopianec and others came to me under assumed names, or if I received a letter, which I was unable to decipher, and if it is an offence that certain people came to me, I will accept the sentence with equanimity. If I have given a passport to Father Maric, I reproach myself in no way. My conscience is clear because I could still go to the other world with equanimity. Whether you believe me or not makes no difference to me. The accused Archbishop of Zagreb is ready not only to suffer but also even to die for his convictions. Bakaric, the president of the Croatian republic himself said to Father Milanovic, "We are convinced that the archbishop is behind these actions but we can not prove anything whatsoever!" For me this tells all.

And now what is the real conflict and why has it not come to a peaceful solution? The state prosecutore has so often stated that nowhere is there so much freedom of conscience as here in this state. Allow me to enumerate some facts from which one can conclude the contrary. I say it before all of you: the People's Liberation Movement has massacred 260 to 270 priests. In no civilized state in the world would so many priests be punished in such a ways for offences imputed to them. There is for example the case of the priest Bürger in Slatina, admittedly a member of the Kulturbund, on whom you passed the death sentence and whom you executed for having removed the sacred vessels. Yet this, as dean of the church in Vocin, was his sacred duty. You cannot content with the sentencing him to serve a term of eight years in jail. I say it again: in no other civilized state would the sentence have been met out in this manner. Father Povoljnak was executed without trial, like a dog in the street. The same methods were used against certain accused nuns. In no other civilized state would they be punished with death, but at the very most imprisonment. You have committed a fatal error in massacring priests. The people will not forget it. Here is your freedom such as it is.

Our Catholic schools built with so many sacrifices have been taken away from us. All activity in our seminaries has been thwarted. Had I not received from America seven wagonloads of provisions it would not be possible to start work this year. These are the children of our poor peasant people. You confiscated all our school property by force. You did nothing less than the Gestapo that confiscated all the property of the seminary in Mokricema. The Holy See issued many encyclicals concerning social reform. You ought to cooperate with the Holy See.

Our orphanages have been shut down. Our printing presses have been destroyed and I do not know where to find any. You have so persistently harried our press that it no longer exists. Is it not an outright scandal to say that the church is nowhere so free as here? The Dominicans have sent to press a holy booklet that I have spent 75,000 dinars to translate from French. When the booklet was printed only a few copies were turned out and they could not be obtained. How much wrong does this constitute? Is this the freedom of the press? The Society of St. Jerome has been disbanded and no longer functions. It is a grave offence for a nation to treat thus our major and oldest cultural institution. You have reproached me with the Caritas. Yet I say here that the Caritas has benefited greatly our people and your children as well.

Then there is the question of the catechism. You have decided in accordance with your doctrine that in the higher classes of our secondary schools catechism is a forbidden subject and in the lower classes it is an option. How could you give small children who are still minors such a choice as to decide themselves for catechism? How can you forbid those in higher grades, who already have the right to vote, freedom of choice as regards to catechism in schools?

Our Catholic hospitals run by nuns have so much trouble. Against the will and great majority of the people you have introduced civil marriage. Why did you not have a referendum on this matter? In the United States where the republic is more tolerant, this is acceptable. There the choice between civil and ecclesiastical marriage is up to the individual. We do not oppose civil control of marriage to a certain degree. Yet our people are indignant that they must go first to the civil authority and only after that to the church to be married. If you have asked for our counsel, we would have made a suggestion on this matter.

Priests in the province of Backa have had some of their institutions nationalized. Some churches in Split were once, I do not know if they still are, used as storehouses. Church property has been confiscated without the permission of the Holy See. You saw that the people did not like to be allotted lands according to your agrarian reform.

But the question of finances is the least of our problems. The crux of the matter lies elsewhere. No priest or bishop today is sure of his life, day or night. Young people on the instigation of certain agents attacked Bishop Srebrenic in Susak. For three hours he was molested and otherwise maltreated in his room while your police and agents only looked on. And I myself had such an experience in Zapresic where I was stoned and menaced with revolvers. Bishop Lach crossed the Drava to go to a confirmation, but was arrested and sent back across the Drava to be detained the whole night in jail in Koprivnica. Even your own men who were in the woods with you came to me and declared, "This is shameful treatment. We will protest to the authorities". Bishop Buric had the windows in his home shattered by stones while he was away at a confirmation. Bishop Pusic, as I hear, was these days assaulted with rotten apples and eggs.
We consider this freedom an illusion and will not be deprived of our rights like slaves. We will fight for our rights in this state by every legal means.

Here are three or four instances of your "freedom" to show only why we are fighting. In the schools texts you officially declared contrary to all proofs in history that Jesus Christ did not exist. You know that Jesus Christ is God! For him we are ready to die! Yet today your doctrine is that he did not exist at all. If any professor should dare to contradict this he would be dismissed from school. I say, Mr. Public Prosecutor, that under these circumstances the church is not free, but will soon be eradicated.

Christ is the foundation of Christianity. You are interceding on behalf of Orthodox Serbs. I ask you, how do you imagine Orthodoxy without Christ? How do you imagine the Catholic Church without Christ? This is absurd.

In the school texts you state that Our Lady was a harlot. Do you not realize that for both Catholicism and Orthodoxy Our Lady is of the holiest conception? You maintain, and this is your official doctrine, that man has come from the apes. Perhaps some people accept this. But what is your authority for this? No scientist of any international reputation recognizes this today.

According to your concepts materialism is the only scientific system. This means that God and Christianity have no validity. If there is nothing else but matter then you can bid good-bye to freedom as well. One of you men in a high position has said: "There is no man in this state whom we cannot bring to trial and sentence." You indict us illegally, casting us in the role of criminals and friends of terrorists. But I say that not all criminal deeds in the former NDH were the work of the Home Guard and the "ustase". It was not easy sailing for the church. It had to go through many difficulties.

Let no one think that I will make war on the regime. But the present authority must enter into discussion with the Holy See. The church cannot be dictated to, but is not against reaching agreements by honourable means. It is possible. Then bishops will know their duties and will not need to find fault with certain priests for certain delinquencies committed, as has been the case so far.

Finally let me say several words on the communist party, my real accuser. If one thinks that we took our present stand on account of materialistic considerations, he is wrong. We remain firm for all to see, even after we have been impoverished. We are not opposed to the notion that the workers obtain more rights in the factories, because it is in the spirit of papal encyclicals. Nor do we have anything against reform. But you who are supporters of Communism must allow us also the right to confess and propagate our doctrines, seeing that you are free to spread and promote materialism. Catholics have die and will die for those rights.

I conclude that one can come to an understanding through good will, but the initiative must come for the present day authority in the state. Neither the episcopate nor I can mediate in bringing about fundamental agreements, but only the state and the Holy See.
As far as I am concerned, in this trial I do not look for mercy. My conscience is clear.

(End of speech)

In his concluding speech of October 8th, 1946, the Archbishop of Zagreb, Dr. Aloysius Stepinac, declared the following in a voice of quiet composure: "Although I refused a lawyer, I accepted his defense. I must expand on the facts relative to the conversions and stress again that the competent bishops are responsible fro the conversions in their own bishoprics according to church canons. According to that I cannot be responsible for what happened in other bishoprics, but only in the bishopric of Zagreb. Even in my bishopric, because of the extraordinary circumstances, some irregularities occurred against my will. These indeed were not conversions, but rather a travesty and for this the church cannot bear the responsibility. I repeat: the church never made any conversions by force.

I know very well that if I did not approve and enable conversions on the repeated insistence of the converts themselves, I would sit here today just the same on the defendant's bench. For I did not have the heart to allow the Serbs to be massacred.

Although the public mocks at all insinuations and charges coming from Mr. Public Prosecutor and the prosecuting attorney, I declare before God, the nation and the diplomatic corps and insofar as it is allowed in court, before the representatives of the foreign press and the public, that I am quite innocent and that history will exonerate me in view of my deeds."


In remembrance of Cardinal Stepinac

The whole world transformed
Pulsates over the earth:
Every stamen looks up to the sky anew
And in the plain building sites hum;
And this tower grows and thrives
Out of the volcanic depths,
Out of the stones, iron and ore,
Out of the mount's loveliest tree,
Cased in white hardness
On a majestic sparkling crown,
The legacy of enchanting dawn.
His life as by a token
Spells the epoch's burning issue.
The present hour prepared handcuffs
And future verses slip a noose.
The convicts'stripes are like a flag -
Peak of Timor where acute suffering
Groans with utmost glory.
His strength is steeped in his bosom,
In the flanks of the quarries,
While in the excavated dock
The foundation resound and desire dwindles
For the arbours, for the solar eclipse.
This is the tower of the homeland's waters
That boil over in whirling eddies-
Rapture and sorrow raise echoes to one another;
Krapina and Bosut call out across the plain;
Korana and Zrmanja wash away the rock paths;
Vrabas and Neretva their songs of mourning
Roar forth through the gorges-
Crossroads of glory,
Beds of scoriaded lava.
Their murmur in a climate of freedom
Buffets the second crop of the sun:
Everlasting word of rebellion and ardour.
This tower is the fortress of nymphs -
It defies the clouds and confounds darkness.
Dreaming it runs toward the horizon
Foreboding the outcome of battle:
Klis, glorious remembrance and blood;
Siget, irresistible human effort;
Jajce and Bobovac, spark and battle hymn
Of proud Bosnia - fabric of her life.
Through windows as far as the eye scans
All one beholds is turbans and rockets,
While the birds no longer chirp
Nor the flowers burst into song.
This tower is those festal belfries
Which pledge that they will scintillate
And give to the disinherited land,
Touched with emotion, a succinct voice.
The uppermost bells peal
On the summits of Ucka, Majevica and Cvrsnica.
The melody of their days
Strokes the ores of the foundry
Calling on insurrection and revolt,
On the resurrection for the grave.
They peal in the hearts of nuptials and verdure
Rekindling the hearth's cold embers.
The wonder of world peals over the centuries,
Tower fully visible from the highways.
It weaves dreams and precipitates the centuries
Hurling new pollen on sandy loam.
It prepares the banquet for the patriot's heart,
The unseen end's reality:
May's hymn of praise and prayer for freedom.
A computer, it marks the passage of time
And believes in everlasting rejuvenation,
In life and radiant track
Through nothingness and ravines.
In the reverberating Croatian tower the pulse throbs,
Rowing the youth and awakening the spring,
As the sun's tempest, as the bird's wing.

Lucijan Kordic


  1. Anthony H. Count O’Brien, Archbishop Stepinac – The Man and His Case, The Standard Ltd,. Dublin, March 1947.
  2. Ernest Pezet, Stepinac-Tito, Contextes et eclairages de l’affaire, Novelles Editions Latines, Paris, 1951.
  3. Hereinafter referred to as the N.D.H.
  4. Letters to Pavelic and the government of the N.D.H. dated 14/5/41; 22/5/41; 30/5/ 41; 17/12/41
  5. R. Pattee, The Case of Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, The Bruce Publishing Co., Milwaukee, 1953.
  6. R.P. Thedore Dragoun, Le dossier du Cardinal Stepinac, Nouvelles Editions Latines, Paris, 1958.
  7. E. Beluhan, Stepanic govori (Speeches), Valencia, Spain, 1967, pp. 127-132.
  8. Ivan Mestorvic, "Stepanic – dohovni heroi" (Spiritual hero) Hrvatska revija, Buenos Aires, August 1956, v. 23, p. 201.
  9. The London-based Nova Hrvatska published the full text of this letter in issues no. 3-4, 1960. With the aid of Dr. Jose Poduja an English text of the letter has been published in the American Congressional Record of March 10th, 1960.
  10. Nova Hrvatska, London, 1960. Special Issue.


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