First Croatian emigrant that was assassinated and the first one that found eternal rest after 47 years in his homeland

On January 31, 1946, the patriot Dr. Ivo Protulipac was assassinated – the first victim of Tito’s evil UDBA abroad

The bloodthirsty hate a person of integrity and seek to kill the upright. Prov 29:10

This January we mark one of many sad Croatian anniversaries. Namely, on the 31st of January 1946 in Trieste, one of the most significant members of the Croatian Catholic Action – the president of the Croatian Eagle Alliance (CEA), and then The Great Crusader Brotherhood was assassinated by the criminal hand of Tito’s Yugoslav UDBA, Dr. Ivan Protulipac. We mark the 75th anniversary of this sad and tragic event and the anniversary of the first victim from the ranks of Croatian political emigration. Dr. Ivan Protulipac was the first of 76 killed (from 1946 to 1989), along with many successful and unsuccessful kidnappings and good number of missing whose faiths are unknown, although it is known that UDBA agents played a role in their demise. Unfortunately, we still don’t have full answers for the fates of many known and unknown Croatian victims! Who was this notable Croatian man, patriot, and martyr?

Ivan Protulipac was born in Hrnetići, Karlovac on 4th of July, 1899. St. Martin’s Parish in Hrnetići, where he was born, is the oldest one in the Karlovac area. According to the census of the oldest parishes of the Archdiocese of Zagreb, it was mentioned in 1334, and today’s parish church of St. Martin was built in the middle of the 18th century. The church contains a sacristy in which are entombed members of the famous noble family Patačić.

Protulipac finished high school in his hometown. He graduated from the Faculty of Law and obtained his doctorate in legal sciences in Zagreb in 1923. From 1923 to 1927, he was a trainee lawyer in Karlovac, Bjelovar, and Zagreb. He was a trainee lawyer from April 24, 1923, to November 2, 1927, at Doctor Ćiril Brajša in Karlovac; then at Doctor Vladimir and Veljko Prebeg in Zagreb; Doctor Dražen Kvaternik in Bjelovar and Doctor Aleksander Horvat in Zagreb. Since 1927, he has been an independent lawyer in Zagreb. Among others, he defended Marko Hranilović, along with several other members of the Croatian Rights Party youth (CRPY), which the royal court declared a terrorist organization. Unfortunately, Hranilović was sentenced to death and hanged in 1931. In 1933, he was an attorney for Doctor Vlatko Maček and other dissidents. He was the first president of the newly founded Croatian Eagle Association (CEA) from December 1923 to 1929 and the Great Crusader Brotherhood (GCB), (after King Aleksandar Karađorđević banned all political parties and associations during the “6th January Dictatorship” in 1929) from 1931 to 1938. The Crusaders were new, allowed, and renamed Eagle Alliance. In 1936, he became the president of the Catholic Action (CA) of the Zagreb Archdiocese. He is the author of numerous texts and the book Croatian Eaglehood (1926). In May Tito’s partisan killers came into power, and he emigrated, first to Austria, Klagenfurt, and then to Italy, Rome.

He was a great supporter of the Croatian Catholic Action and, along with Ivan Merz, an ideologist of the Eagles and Crusaders.

The “Eaglehood” as a Slavic youth movement has its beginnings in the Czech Republic and Slovenia. Before Eaglehood, there was already an organization called Falcon, which along with exercise promoted liberal ideas among its members. For the Catholic youth to preserve the Catholic faith and its moral values, in the Czech Republic and Slovenia, from 1896 the Catholic physical exercise and educational societies were founded, which have been called Eagle societies since 1909, and their members Eagles. The first to introduce the Eaglehood methodology in working with young people was the priest of the Senj diocese, dr. Dragutin Kniewald, and as a youth educator in Senj he founded, in 1919, the first Eagle Society. In 1920, after “the great landing of all eagles” in Maribor, the eagle movement entered Croatia in a big way. In 1921, the Yugoslav Eagle Association was founded in Ljubljana as an umbrella organization in which Eagle sub-associations were founded in Ljubljana and Zagreb. In 1923, a singular organization of Catholic youth was founded in Croatia, which will unite the Eagle Movement and the Croatian Catholic Youth Association. This was done on December 16, 1923, in Zagreb – under the name Croatian Eagle League. Dr. Ivan Protulipac was elected president and Dr. Ivan Merz was elected educational officer.

In the common denominator of eagles, we note: “The participation of ecclesiastical universalism connected to the apostolic Church; the Eagles should wear emblems of the Holy Church – they must be unique, holy, Catholic, apostolic; The Eagle is neither a gymnastic nor a political society, but rather a Catholic, educational, religious-social organization; the Eaglehood is the vanguard of the Catholic Action and has best understood its meaning and fundamental purpose – the consecration of souls for the sake of the Catholic social apostolate.

By the Manifesto of King Alexander I Karađorđević on January 6, 1929, the Vidovdan constitution was abolished, and the activity of all political parties and free associations, parties, and societies that were based on the so-called tribal and religious foundations. The names of the nations were abolished, and the names Yugoslav people and Yugoslavia were introduced, all except Jugosokol! In the conditions of the king’s dictatorship, the Domagoj discipleship continues to operate under the name Apostolate of St. Cyril and Methodius, and the Eagles under the name of the Crusader Brotherhood.

From 1930 Protulipac intensified the establishment of a crusading organization. Soon, the Belgrade regime arrested him on suspicion of restoring the abolished Eaglehood. In 1931, he was elected president of the Crusader organization, and he remained the president of the Eagle-Crusader organization for a full fifteen years, until 1938. Along with all his activity in these two organizations, he wrote numerous articles and the aforementioned book The Croatian Eaglehood. During his detention in 1930, his father visited him in prison, to whom he uttered prophetic words, “I have charted my path and I know why. No matter what happens, don’t let anyone grieve for me. God lives! In 1938, he was again brought before the District Court in Zagreb on charges of offenses under Art. 3. Of the State Protection Act. He was acquitted of the charges. In 1943, he married Nada Klemenčić, who in 1993, 47 years after parting, will meet his remains in the Homeland. During the war, he lived in seclusion and practiced his law practice. He was imprisoned twice for disagreeing with certain actions of the new authorities, but he was never convicted. Namely, he opposed the merging of the mass Catholic movement into the state movement, which would then be eminently political movement.

Worldview – Foundations of the Eaglehood and Crusaders

Ivan Protulipac and the blessed Ivan Merz are the key founders, organizers, and ideologists of the Croatian Eagle Alliance and the Crusaders, which replace the banned Eagle Alliance. In his last article from 1928, Merz wrote,

“The Catholic Church needs its attack force – associations in Croatia today. In the new pagan society of our homeland, we need associations full of idealism, high character, and courage, which will open the way for the Church and the priest to the indifferent or opposing masses. ” (Crusaders of the New Century, the Eagle’s Guard no. 5, 1928)


A year after that, Merz dies, and with him the Orlovstvo, but only in its external form. An even stronger organization for the youth was born from it – Crusading, the life’s work of Ivan Merz, in which his spirit and his ideas live today, as the best devotee of the Crusading organization, especially the works of Ivan Merz, Father Božidar Nagy, points out in his work Croatian Crusading. According to the provisions of the Statute from 1930, the Crusaders are a Roman Catholic, church, religious and educational association. They are established with the approval of the church authorities and belong to the Apostolate of Prayer. The purpose of the Crusaders is to gather and educate wholesome Catholic forces through the youth to work on their sanctification and the general religious and religious-educational renewal of national life according to the principles of the Gospel. Crusading is not a political organization. Its goal is not political and as such it doesn’t participate in any political ceremonies or events anywhere. It is primarily a youth organization. The credit for accepting the Crusader name for the new Catholic organization goes to Ivan Merz, who got acquainted with the French Eucharistic Crusaders during his studies in Paris and tried to spread its ideas. From them, he takes the slogan that he gives and the Crusade adopts: SACRIFICE – EUCHARIST – APOSTOLATE. GOD LIVES. Contrary to Nietzsche’s GOD IS DEAD. Sacrifice is a constant companion of human life and work. Not a single great work was created without sacrifices. Without the Eucharist, one cannot imagine a true spiritual life, let alone realize those ideas that permeate the spirit of the organization. The apostolate is our duty according to the sacrament of confirmation. Through that sacrament, we became soldiers of Christ and through it, we received the strength of the Holy Spirit. Crusading experienced its peak in 1938: 784 crusading fraternities with 26,689 crusaders and about 15,000 crusading women with 414 societies (sororities), so a total of about 40,000 members, and since 1923, about 100,000 members have passed through the eagle-crusading organization, with a solid Christian formation. It is important to mention the Crusader pilgrimage to Rome in 1933 to meet Pope Pius XI led by Sarajevo Archbishop Ivan Ev. Šarić and Assistant Bishop of Zagreb Salis Seewis. A former member of the Eagles, Zagreb Archbishop Alojzije Stepinac provided great help to the Crusaders. In the desire to arrange the Catholic Action in the Zagreb Archdiocese by the Church’s circumstances and needs at the time, archbishop coadjutor Stepinac with Archbishop Bauer issued the famous Christmas Epistle on the Catholic Action in 1934. The following year, Archbishop Stepinac appointed Dr. Ivan Protulipac, who remained at the head of the Crusader organization, as the president of the Catholic Action of the Zagreb Archdiocese.

The Serbian regime tried with all its might to destroy everything Croatian and Catholic, and especially the future of the nation – its youth. Among the first victims of persecution was Ivan Protulipac, after a programmatic article for the newly founded Crusade, entitled In the Sign of the Cross, who was accused by the Serbian-Yugoslav authorities of insulting the law on state security, and of having committed a criminal act, because it causes tribal strife and is directed against state security. Among other things, Protulipac stated the following in the article,

“The cross and the teaching of the Church must once again become the center of our people’s thoughts and views. (…) The cross will seek and do so that the bright heritage of our past, on which our entire national life is built, is known to current and future generations. The life of the Croats should be united to the full extent with the Catholic Church and the noble and beautiful characteristics of our people shall continue to develop on this basis. This kind of Catholic and national life should be achieved by the new generations who are coming and are already their debutantes in our society.”

Jesuit O. Josip Vrbanek, DI, spiritual leader and confessor to I. Merz in his biography of I.M. (Knight of Christ – Ivan Merz, Zagreb, 1943 claims that with the founding of the Crusades, the most ideal youth movement that the Croatian people ever had was preserved. Marica Stanković, president of the Great Crusade Sisterhood, in her book The Youth of Cheerfulness, from 1944, claims that “No one could break the idealism of our youth, God’s youth.” Furthermore, Marica Stanković writes “what I.M. meant for the Crusades, in the Crusade in her words, his life’s work was realized – it is the fruit of his work, the birth of his soul.”

Article I is extremely important. Protulipac’s From the First Days of the Crusades, published in the Crusader’s weekly magazine Sundays in 1936. In it, he warns,

“Not a step back! behind us is the abyss, ahead of us is only honesty and truth, even if it is covered with thorns.”

In the text, he is determined to resist the dictatorial intentions of the regime to abolish the new crusader organization, and especially the orders of the head of government, Pera Živković. He points to the brutal attacks of Freemasonry, especially through the press. Protulipac is imprisoned and completely isolated in a prison cell. After the criminal proceedings, against him and other leaders of the Crusader organization, for example, Avelin Ćepulić, they were convicted of a crime against the people and the state with the payment of a fine, or seven days in prison. According to Serbian Prime Minister P. Živković, “Tribal and religious organization is unnecessary!” It is interesting that the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Korošec, was against Crusaders, who already in 1935 issued unfavorable provisions on the rights of church societies.

In the Homeland, again, in 1993 – after 47 years

At the end of the war, on May 6, 1945, he left his homeland and went, first to Austria, and then to Rome, where he was in a safe place! However, after hearing about the difficult life of Croatian refugees in Trieste, who needed all kinds of help, he returned to Trieste. He was a victim of an assassination on January 31, 1946, as the first in a series of murdered Croatian martyrs. Already in July 1945, Archbishop Stepinac dissolved all organizations of the Catholic Action, in order to protect the members from persecution, imprisonment, trials, staged trials, murders… The UDBA confiscated about 50 boxes of documents from the Crusader organization. After the assassination of Protulipac in 1946, in the following 1947, the third president of Crusaders, Feliks Niedzielski, was sentenced to death and shot in Banja Luka. Numerous members perished at Bleiburg and at the Ways of the Cross throughout the country at the time.


Dr. Ivan Protulipac was assassinated by the Yugoslav secret service. He was killed by a confidant of the UDBA, a certain Đino (Gino) Benčić, from the Rijeka area, who was arrested by the Italian authorities. However, his commanders soon arrested two English officers at the border, who allegedly crossed into Yugoslav territory. According to the good old pattern, there was an exchange of arrestees, so the murderer escaped the hand of justice. During his exile in Trieste, together with Rev. Stanislav Golik, he helped Croatian refugees. He even intended to found a transport company whose profits would finance the needs of Croatian political refugees.

During the former Tito’s Yugoslavia, the name Protulipac was strictly forbidden, and any mention of it entailed sanctions by the regime. Two examples: in 1972, the Society of St. Jerome published the Danica calendar in which, together with Marica Stanković, his short biography was published. The magazine was confiscated. In 1986, The Voice of Koncil published a small ad – a call to pray for the late Protulipac. This was followed by a wicked article in the Journal under the title: The Crusader’s Call from the Grave. Even before the definitive collapse, the communist authorities were still afraid of his mention. After the murder, Rev. Golik took care to find a suitable grave for Dr. Protulipac, where he will rest until his return to his Homeland.

On June 25, 1993, the body of Dr. I. Protulipac was transported from Trieste to his homeland. The body of the first assassinated Croatian emigrant and the first to find his eternal home in Croatia. He was buried with full honors on June 26, 1993, at Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb. The organization of the transfer of the remains was organized by the renewed Crusader organization. Namely, the exhumation at the cemetery of St. Anne in Trieste took place on Thursday, June 24, 1993. The body was well preserved. Two gunshot wounds were found on the skull – traces of Tito’s evil deeds. On the second day, June 25, in the Jesuit Church of the Heart of Jesus in Trieste, the funeral service of St. Mass, after which the coffin with the remains headed for the homeland. The exhumation and transfer were attended by Fr. Božidar Nagy.

Upon arrival in the homeland, the deceased was honored in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus. The mass was led by Fr. B. Nagy, and the deceased was greeted by the fourth successor at the top of the organization, dr. Lav Znidarčić (1918 – 2001). With a welcome and greeting in the Basilica of the Heart of Jesus, the meeting of Protulipac with his associate Dr. Ivan Merz was arranged in that manner. Protulipac was laid in the same grave at Mirogoj cemetery where the body of Dr. Ivan Merz was laid previously as well, which was laid to rest in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1977. The funeral ceremony was led by Zagreb’s auxiliary bishop Msgr. Marko Culej, who among other things said, “Dr. Protulipac, a great man and martyr of the Croatian people, is not among us to multiply the graves with another fresh one (there are too many of them) but to show how the soul and the Motherland are united through sacrifice and the Eucharist. On behalf of The Great Crusader Brotherhood, Dr. L. Znidarčić and others said goodbye to the deceased men.

Post-war Crusaders and reconstruction

The post-war Crusaders have nothing to do with the former organization of the Crusaders – as part of the Croatian Catholic movement. They were mainly soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers of the defeated ISC military forces. They fought against communist authorities and Yugoslavia, communist repression, and for an independent and free Croatian state. They founded guerilla groups that mainly operated in rural areas. They were not a religious movement; religion was only a symbol under which they fought against Tito’s communist authorities. In the period of their activity from 1945 to 1950, there were between 3,500 and 4,000 members in total, and they performed and acted in groups of up to ten guerrillas. Caught guerrillas from the top of the organization were mostly sentenced to death or long prison terms. The official Catholic Church did not influence their activities. They greeted each other with a greeting or slogan: For Croatia and Christ – against the communists! For Christ against the communists!

The Crusaders were restored in Croatia on May 10, 1993, in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Zagreb under the hand of Zagreb Archbishop Franjo Kuharić. In 1994, the song of Fr. Petar Perica “Crusaders, forward!” composed by him, as a member of the Crusader organization, way back in 1933. It was determined to be the new anthem for the Crusader movement, which was acknowledged as his gift from Heaven to the renewed Crusader movement. Father Petar Perica was killed on the island of Daksa in October 1944 without trial by Tito’s yugo-communists, as well as two years later in Trieste, Dr. Protulipac.

Memories of Protulipac in his Hrnetići

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Dr. Ivan Protulipac, parishioners of Hrnetić parish, in Drežnik district, erected a memorial plaque in his honor on the elementary school building. They wrote, “In honor of a student of this school from 1906 to 1910 and a man who dedicated his whole life to work with Croatian Catholic youth, assassinated on January 31, 1946, on the streets of Trieste.”

In 2019, parishioners of Hrnetić and admirers of the works of Dr. Protulipac marked the 120th anniversary of his birth and the 73rd anniversary of his death. On that occasion, the parishioners were reminded of his words from 1938, which are relevant today and always,

„It is undoubtedly the right of every nation to be able to develop freely on its territory and decide its destiny. It belongs to the sovereign rights of every living nation to determine its internal and external policy and to take care of the best possible conditions for its progress. However, one must never forget that all theoretical rights of the people are valid in real life only to the extent that the people are strong and powerful in themselves, to bring their rights to reality and put them into practice.

Bog i Hrvati – “Bog Živi”

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