WEHRMACHT PERCEPTIONS OF MASS VIOLENCE IN CROATIA, 1941–1942 1
During the Second World War, the Independent State of Croatia was the scene of intense guerrilla warfare as well as a programme of ethnic cleansing undertaken primarily, though not exclusively, by the Croatian state under the control of the Ustaša fascist party. This article investigates the Wehrmacht’s contrasting perceptions of its own violence in the anti-partisan war and its views of the Ustaša’s assault on Croatia’s Serb minority. The author argues that these different views emanated from the Wehrmacht’s conviction that its strategic concepts offered the only correct strategy for the prosecution of modern warfare. As the key to victory, Wehrmacht staff officers emphasized the maximization of force on the operational level. By contrast, the Ustaša state pursued a strategy of nationalizing war that moved away from Wehrmacht strategic concepts and infuriated Wehrmacht staff officers. Moreover, the Wehrmacht employed a starkly different vocabulary in describing its own violence and Ustaša violence. These descriptions more deeply entrenched the Wehrmacht’s sense of difference regarding the two types of violence. By examining the Wehrmacht’s views of violence, this article suggests that factors other than anti-Slavic racism more strongly determined the way in which the Wehrmacht both perceived and acted out violence in Eastern Europe.
1 The author would like to thank the MacArthur Foundation’s Council for Advanced Studies in Peace and International Cooperation for a grant that partially funded research for this article. He would also like to thank the participants of the Sokkalis Kokkalis workshop on Southeastern Europe at Harvard University’s Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies for their helpful comments on the article. He would particularly like to express his appreciation to Professor Michael Geyer of the University of Chicago for his critical comments on the article as well as to Thomas P. Bach and Andrew Oppenheimer for reading drafts of the article.