The organisation caled Ustasha – a Croatian Revolutionary Organisation was started in the 1930’s in Croatian émigré circles (in Italy, Austria and Hungary). Members of the Ustasha organisation were usually supporters of the policies of the Croatian Rights Party, whose leader, Ante Pavelić, had emigrated to Italy in January 1929.
During the years that followed, the movement gathered in strength. The first military training camps were set up and a number of terrorist operations carried out (for example the organisation of the Velebit Uprising in 1932, and the assassination of King Alexander Karađorđević in 1934 in Marseilles).
After the collapse of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April 1941, the Independent State of Croatia was created, ruled by the Ustasha movement with its leader, the Poglavnik, Ante Pavelić.
The Ustasha government was entirely dependent on the policies of Hitler and Mussolini.
During the first few months of rule, the Ustashas began organising and stabilising their power (Ustasha commissioners were appointed, the administrative and legal organisation of the government was reorganised by creating 22 large counties, “undesirable” employees were dismissed on the grounds of racial and legal decrees…), but this power was in fact concentrated in the hands of the Poglavnik and the Ustasha Headquarters.
In order to strengthen his powers, Pavelić concentrated on popularising the Ustasha movement. The number of members rose from 2,500 in April 1941 to over 100,000 in May of the same year.
At the same time, the armed forces, including the Ustasha Militia (armed units of the Ustasha movement) came to embody the government’s main support.
In order to achieve their basic goals (genocide against Serbs, Jews and Roma and a reign of terror against Croats and Muslims with Anti-Fascist leanings), the Ustashas created an efficient administrative, military and police apparatus.
Thus the establishment of the Directorate for Public Order and Safety (the central police security institution) and the Ustasha Surveillance Service (UNS) , which monitored the work of all state institutions and police organs, marked the creation of a basis for achieving all the policies planned.
The UNS Third Bureau was responsible for supervising all the Ustasha camps in the territory of the Independent State of Croatia. Its first Commandant was Mijo Babić Giovanni, a man highly trusted by Pavelić. After his death in the summer of 1941, the position of Commandant was assumed by Vjekoslav Maks Luburić, who organised and supervised the Jasenovac Camps.
In the summer of 1942 the Ustasha Defence was organised and put in charge of organising the military units which secured the camps and the surrounding area (known as the “safety zone”). Later the Ustasha Defence Brigade was formed, with its headquarters in Lipik. In 1943 it had four detachments, of which the first and second were in Jasenovac, the third in Stara Gradiška and the fourth in Bosanska Dubica.
In May 1943 the Directorate for Public Order and Safety assumed the responsibility for the UNS and controlled the camps from then on.
During the following years, an officer and junior officer academy was formed in Jasenovac (under the leadership of an Ustasha colonel, Marko Pavlović), a quick assembly line (mechanical workshop), an artillery assembly unit, a pioneer detachment (which laid the mines which demolished Camp III (Brickworks) building in 1945), and, in 1944, an armed platoon, which enforced order among the soldiers and inhabitants of surrounding villages, and carried out inspections of trains passing through Jasenovac.
The Ustashas began to carry out mass crimes against civilians and soldiers in the Jasenovac death camps. The fate of the prisoners depended on the whims of the Ustashas, who had the power of deciding who died and who lived.
After the collapse of the Independent State of Croatia in May 1945, some members of the Ustasha movement fled into exile. Some were arrested and convicted of crimes committed during the Second World War, while others died during Ustasha, Chetnik and civilian retreats towards the Austrian border.