CROATIA: MYTH AND REALITY
C. Michael McAdams

MYTH: "TWO MILLION SERBS DIED"

Myth: Between 500,000 and 2,000,000 Serbs were n dered by the Croatian government during World War II.

Reality: The exact number of war victims in Yugoslavia during World War II may never be known due to fifty years of intentional disinformation by the Yugoslavian and Serbian governments, Serbian exile groups, and others. However, it is likely that approximately one million people of all nationalities died of war-related causes in all of Yugoslavia during World War II and that as many as 125,000 Serbs died of war-related causes in Croatia during the War.

The question of war losses during World War II represented the most divisive, heated and emotional issue among all of the nationalities of the former Yugoslavia during the post-War period. The bloody multi-sided war in Yugoslavia involved the German, Italian, Ustase, Partizan, Domobran, White Guard, Slovenian Guard and at least four different Cetnik armies. The multifaceted war pitted Serbs against Serbs, Croatians against Croatians, Serbs against Croatians, and Serbian Orthodox against Catholics and Muslims. The loss of life was heavy and difficult to document. As the war progressed, and even long after the war ended, the mythology of the numbers of victims continued to grow.

Growing Numbers

On the question of the number of Serbs killed in Croatia, it became possible to simply pick a number and virtually any press medium in the world would publish the figure without question. In one sixty day period in late 1991, David Martin put the number at 500,000 in the New York Times; Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic at 750,000 in USA Today; Josif Djordjevich at 1,200,000 in the San Francisco Chronicle; Teddy Preuss at 1,500,000 in the Jerusalem Post; and, setting an all-time record, Peter Lennings' ABC News program set the figure at a record 2,000,000. Further, each of the sources added a separate twist to the number. For some, the number represented total "killed," for others "murdered," others "murdered in concentration camps," and still others did not define how the losses occurred. None listed any source for the figures.

To illustrate the magnitude of these charges, it would require killing one person every 90 seconds, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for the entire duration of the War to reach Mr. Preuss figure of 1,500,000. The fact is one million people did not die in Croatia from all causes during the War. Many scholars doubt that there were a million lives lost to war-related causes in all of Yugoslavia during World War II.

Yet this mythology runs deeper than virtually any other. As early as April i942, only twelve months into the war, the Serbian Urthodox Church in America, based upon Mihailovic's reports, claimed that over one million Serbs had already been killed in Croatia. As the war progressed, the numbers continued to grow in the Serbian press until actually exceeding the number of Serbs in Croatia. It must be noted that, just as in the wars of 1991-1995, no Croatian or Bosnian troops set foot in Serbia during World War II. Thus all accounting of Serbian losses must be for those living in Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovnia.

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Edición electrónica de Studia Croatica, 1998