I have always appreciated photography as a valuable historical source and an excellent supplement to traditional historical records, with the necessary caution, of course, because manipulation with the photography is very easy and sometimes it is enough to change its description underneath to give it a completely different meaning. For that reason, photography is often taken with considerable reservations. The integrity of its composition and the angle taken are determined by the person behind the camera and with the selection of the details, timing and point of view the photographer chooses and decides about the message the photo will convey to the public. However, a properly valuated photography can be of immense help in creating the full picture (image) of the research subject. During my research study about the military branch of the Ustasha movement, I came across numerous photographic materials, of which only a small part was published in the books “Ustaška vojnica 1 and 2”. Therefore, the editorial board decided to publish a special edition in the form of a photo album and on a much higher quality paper to ensure that this valuable material could be adequately presented to the public.
I had to notice that works like these do not represent “revisionism”, in terms of the charges that the authors encountered after the release of the “Ustaška vojnica 1” when some media had accused us of “distortion of history”. We only tried to bring new discoveries obtained through the study of the archival materials and thus contribute to a better understanding of this particular period of the Croatian history. In addition, I think that in the critical reviews of the historiographical texts, the mere use of the term revisionism is rather unfortunate because the historiography itself is essentially “revisionist”. Already in 1868, the German historian Johan Droysen had written that history is humanity’s knowledge about itself and it is not “the light and the truth”, but a search thereof. The progress of society is reflecting on our understanding of the past, so there will always be new findings, and none of the historical chapters can be considered definitive and fully closed. That doesn’t mean the relativisation of history doesn’t exist, and we are all witnesses that certain events from the past are distorted by the disclosure of certain facts or by presenting half-truths about them. Such attempts are foremost ideological and they protrude from the need for some acts in the present to be justified by the events from the past. The interpretations of the past are then set accordingly, and when such a vision has been fully shaped, it becomes indisputable and can no longer be questioned. I think it is unnecessary to point out that this kind of approach is incorrect, and that the task of historiography is to consider events from the past as thoroughly as possible, understand and explain them, so the society can expand them, and not repeat them; or, in the words of an American historian John Lukacz, the task of the historiography has to be: “…the struggle against all kinds of falsifications, against many kinds of untruths, detecting and exposing them for the sake of us all; aware that the pursuit of truths involves, ever and ever, hacking your way through a jungle of untruths.”
This is the task much more complex than it appears, at first, because the human objectivity has its limitations, and so has the objectivity of historians, or how Johan Huizinga pointed out in his essay “The Task of Cultural History”:
“There is, in our historical consciousness, an element of great importance that is best defined by the term historical sensation. One might also call it historical contact. … This contact with the past, a contact which it is impossible to determine or analyze completely… is one of the many ways given to man to reach beyond him, to experience the truth. The objects of these feelings are not people as individuals. … They are hardly images which our minds form. … If they take on a form at all, this remains composite and vague: the sense of streets, houses, sounds, and colors or people moving or being moved. There is, in this manner of contact with the past, the absolute conviction of reality. … The historical sensation is not the sensation of living the past again but of understanding the world as one does when listening to the music.”
In selecting the photos, the preference is given to those which are less known to the wider public, especially if they came in the form of a photo series because such photos give a better and more complete insight of the particular events. Due to limited space and because the material is only fragmentarily preserved, it was impossible to present all the units and their commanders. Therefore, the degree of preservation was one of the selection factors and I focused on those units and events that can be presented in details. For example, in this study, there are no photos of Ustasha IV. Active Brigade,
but on the other hand, there is a whole chapter dedicated to the Ustasha XIII. Active Brigade. The reason for this is simply the fact that I found plenty of material for the latter and none for the former. Some of the photos already published in the first two books have been selected again, either because their reproduction has been of low quality due to the technical reasons, or because they were not correctly identified. Namely, in “Ustaška vojnica 2”, I dated one of the photo series to the period of the Operation “Dubrovnik 2”, but, in fact, these photos were taken during the battle for Krašić, one year earlier. In this book, all such mistakes have been corrected, while the photo descriptions have been extended and enriched with additional data, that gave them additional value.
The photos are presented in chronological order, with the intention to show as many different units of the Ustaška vojnica as possible, their appearance and actions. Some of the photos were damaged, or contain various technical shortcomings, such as blurring, but we have decided to publish them because of their documentary value. As far as we know, these are the only preserved images of some units or individuals. Some of these shortcomings were caused by improper storage, while some of the photos are actually contact copies, positives developed from original negatives by direct contact with the photo paper. Such positives are identical in the format of the negatives, which, in this case, is Leica format 24×36 mm. The contact copies are actually a finding aid used as a help in the research and the selection of the photos. For example, an editor was able to make a publishing selection for publishing just by looking the contact copy tableaux, so it was not necessary to develop all of the 36 frames, as a Leica negative film usually contains. Despite the fact that the contact copies have been scanned in high resolution, the digital images thus obtained cannot achieve the same quality as those scanned from the negatives, or from positives in some common format, and they inevitably lose in details. Still, such procedure was necessary, because the original negatives and positives have been long lost or destroyed.
I tried to describe all the photos as detailed as possible, so they would be helpful in the identification of the photographic material that has not yet been treated in an appropriate manner. In doing so, many colleagues and enthusiasts have helped me, and I take this opportunity to thank them once again. Without such cooperation, the descriptions would be incomplete because, through them, I was trying to deliver as much information as possible; the context in which the photographs were taken, the identification of the individuals with their short biographies, the identification of the units, their weapons, and insignias.