Between March and October 1942 about 58,000 Slovakian Jews were deported, most were sent to Auschwitz where they were murdered. Deportations did not resume until September 1944 when the Red Army was approaching the eastern borders.
Slovakia's neighbour, the German-puppet state of Croatia, had many similarities. Both were ruled by men who claimed legitimacy in part through Catholicism, both sought papal approval for their regimes, both employed German-style antisemitism as government policy, both used police and militia as enforcers of anti-Jewish laws, both exercised state-sanctioned persecution, imprisonment, exclusion, expropriation and extermination of Jews, and both relied in varying measures on the tacit approval of at least some of the Catholic clergy.
Croatia was different in a number of respects - all of them marking the Ustasha regime of Ante Pavelic as one of the most bloody and sadistic episodes not only of World War Two and the Holocaust, but of modern European history. Not even the Balkan "ethnic cleansing" of the 1990s came close to the horrors of the Ustasha. One indicator was the revulsion expressed by the different members of the German and Italian military, as well as the Gestapo, to the means by which the Ustasha murdered their victims. The history of the mass murder of Jews, Orthodox Christian Serbs, and largely Catholic and Orthodox Roma by the Ustasha and their collaborators is by any standards sickening reading.
The Vatican's diplomatic involvement with the Pavelic regime began with the request from Pavelic for a papal representative in Zagreb. Pavelic visited Rome in May 1941 in part to seek Pius XII's blessing for the new Croatian state as well as score the propaganda coup of having papal recognition done on the world stage. Pavelic was to be disappointed on both counts.
Pius has been widely criticised for receiving the dictator; but what choice did he have? Having proclaimed neutrality at the outbreak of the war, the pope could not very well refuse to receive a head of state, even a Nazi puppet such as Pavelic who made so much of his Catholicism. Nonetheless, the Vatican did move to ensure that the visit was as low key as possible.
ADSS provides us with a timeline of how the Holy See saw the Pavelic visit and what was possible, what was probable, and what would certainly not happen.
The references come from Volumes 4: June 1940-June 1941 and 5: July 1941- October 1942.
4.348 16.05.1941 Note of Giovanni Battista Montini, Secretariat of State: Pavelic had requested an audience with the pope. Pius will grant a private audience. It was standard Vatican diplomatic practice not to grant formal diplomatic recognition to a state created during wartime or to recognise altered borders of a state made during war. While Pavelic was, as far as the Croatian and German governments concerned, the head of state, the Vatican still recognised the Yugoslavian government in exile in London as the legitimate government and accorded Sorgo Mirosevic (1884-1966) full diplomatic status as its ambassador. Therefore there would be no discussion of "recognition" of the new Croatian state.
4.351 17.05.1941 Note of Domenico Tardini, Secretariat of State: Making reference to the previous note, Tardini writes that the situation is "delicate". The question was how to grant the audience - it would be diplomatically foolish to deny one since Pavelic made much of his Catholicism - without it becoming a political spectacle.
4.352 17.05.1941 Note of Tardini: The pope will receive Pavelic alone in a private meeting. The diplomatic language was "without delegation". Pavelic could arrive at the Vatican in whatever way he chose, but once inside, he was going to be treated as a private person, a Catholic meeting with the pope. There would be no formal agenda, no photos, no exchange of gifts and no reception with honour guards, papal nobility etc. It would be as plain as possible.
4.356 18.05.1941 Note of Montini: Pavelic and his entourage were received by the pope in a general audience - ie, as a group of Catholics who have come to Rome to see the pope.
4.357 18.05.1941 Note of Montini: The rector of St Jerome [the Croatian National College in Rome] Monsignor Magjerec will fly the Croatian flag during Pavelic's visit.
4.358 18.05.1941 Note of Montini: Pavelic's audience with the pope. Pius XII received Pavelic as a "son of the Church". Any recognition of the new state must wait until the end of the war.
19/20.05.1941 L'Osservatore Romano published a full account of the Pavelic visit.
4.361 18.05.1941 Cardinal Luigi Maglione, Secretary of State to all Nuncios and Apostolic Delegates: Circular emphasising the apolitical nature of Pavelic's visit to the pope. The fact that this was sent to all the papal representatives is very significant. Rome wanted no misunderstanding about the visit - it was private and was in no way an approval of either Pavelic's regime or the new state. Diplomatically, this was a very begrudging acceptance of something considered very unpleasant and unwanted. I have no doubt Pavelic would have been made aware of the circular.
4.364 19.05.1941 Maglione to all Nuncios and Apostolic Delegates: More information on the audience granted to Pavelic. Pavelic and his entourage were received by the pope. Pius and Pavelic then went into another room for a private conversation. At the end of this the pope returned to greet the delegation. The customary courtesy call to the Secretary of State did not happen. This reinforces what was mentioned above and also points to the high degree of sensitivity the Vatican knew surrounded the visit. Pius knew the visit would generate hostility from many quarters. This is possibly the first recorded "public relations management" exercise by the Vatican. Misinformation was not slow to appear. See 4.373, 379,407
4.369 21.05.1941 Note of Montini: Sorgo Mirosevic, the Yugoslav minister, requested L’Osservatore Romano publish the precise details of the audience granted to Pavelic. Reports from French Radio suggest the Pope gave official recognition to the new state and spoke of a concordat.
4.385 02.06.1941 Note of Tardini: Sorgo Mirosevic had made a protest at news of a papal representative being appointed for Croatia. The protest was rejected.
4.386 02.06.1941 Sorgo Mirosevic to Secretariat of State: Official protest at the news that the Vatican will appoint a papal representative to Croatia. While Mirosevic's protest is understandable, the Vatican's position can not be ignored. There was no advantage for the pope is he refused the opportunity of having a representative in Croatia. It was a case of realpolitik. A diplomat of Mirosevic's experience would certainly understood this. The protest was a diplomatic formality.
4.392 07.06.1941 Note of Tardini: The pope has promised the Archbishop of Zagreb, Alojzije Stepinac, that he will appoint a papal representative to Croatia. I have written about this in an earlier post.
4.400 13.06.1941 Note of Tardini: Pavelic has expressed dissatisfaction that Croatia is to receive a nunciature while Croatia is to be given an Apostolic Visitor who is only "an observer". This was not accurate. Giuseppe Burzio, the papal representative in Slovakia, held the rank of charge d'affaires, which was less than ambassadorial rank. The nunciature was not restored until after the war.
4.404 14.06.1941 Secretariat of State to Sorgo Mirosevic: The Vatican's formal response to Mirosevic's protest of 02.06.1941.
ADSS 5.17 22.07.1941 Note of Tardini: (See to 5 and 9). The papal representative to Croatia will not have the title of Apostolic Visitor because of papal diplomatic policy regarding states created during war. Evidently there was a change of mind as the title was retained.
5.21 25.07.1941 Maglione to Stepinac: Abbot Giuseppe Marcone has been appointed as the papal envoy to Croatia.
Marcone's despatches from Croatia mirrored much of what Giuseppe Burzio was reporting from Slovakia, namely a regime with a murderous policy towards Jews and others deemed unworthy of participation in the building of the new Croatia.