Anton E. Basetić (1879-1921)
The First Victim of Yugoslav Terror among Croatian Émigrés
Dr. Ante Čuvalo
The assassination of Croatian patriots in the ranks of émigrés was a trait of the infamous Yugoslav secret police, namely, the UDBA, during the time of Tito’s regime (1945-1990). Actually, the liquidation of Croatian patriots began long before Tito’s time—that is, from the very founding of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918 (Yugoslavia after 1929). Persecution of every sort was one of the historical links that bridged the time of the bloody founding of the Kingdom until the even bloodier end of the Yugoslav State. In fact, Greater-Serbian terror in Croatian lands began even before unification. It started on the 9th of September, 1918, in the city of Vukovar, and we can still feel the ugly stench of death during and after the demise of Yugoslavia. The primary subject of Serbian terror was to be found not only among the Croatians, but also among all those who were doomed to perish for sake of the “Greater Serbia” project. That megalomania nightmare that swallowed so much blood and lives is, to our regret, alive and well even to this day and it is evidenced daily with equal insolence!
It is only recently that knowledge of those Croatians liquidated in the Diaspora (at the very least 69 of them) after the end of the Second World War is beginning to come to light in the Homeland. Although “official” Zagreb shows little interest for these and other victims, truth is slowly seeing the light of day—thanks to the Courts of foreign lands, most notably German Courts, that are attempting to solve at least some of the assassination that took place in those countries. In the meantime, little or nothing is known of the terror waged against the Croatian Diaspora prior to 1945. Here we are talking about a portion of Croatian history that is yet to be investigated and waiting for the Homeland to eventually remember it.
The very first victim of Yugo-terror in America—and, I believe, among the Croatian Diaspora in general, that followed the fateful union of Croatian Lands with Serbia and Montenegro, was Anton E. Basetić. He was the editor of the Croatian newspaper Glasnik Istine (The Herald of Truth) that was published in Chicago. Because of his explicit Croatian patriotism and anti-Yugoslav political stance, he was perfidiously liquidated “in full daylight” in Chicago on the 5th of November, 1921. This was not only the murder of a journalist, but also an attempt to frighten into submission all those who were not willing to link hands and dance the new “Yugo-dance” as accompanied by a “Serbian flute.”
The Life and Work of Anton E. Basetić
Anton Basetić was born in Primošten on the 17th of September, 1877. Church records show the date as being the 20th of June in one instance, and the 20th of September, 1877 in another. His father was Ivan, and his mother was Ana, nee Makelja. Anton’s family numbered ten children. Originally, his name was Ante Emilio Bolanča but upon arriving in America, he changed it to Anton E. Basetić/Basetich. It is unclear as to why he changed his surname (and, to some extent, his first name), or why he chose the name Basetić, but we found out that his brother Leon (born the 11th of April, 1883) also changed his surname to Basetić or Bolanča-Basetić some time after his arrival to America on October 24, 1907.
Ante Emilio Bolanča set sail into the world from Genoa on the steamship The Spartan Prince. He arrived in New York harbor on the 23rd of July, 1898. He was received by his friend, Stjepan Baković, who lived at 177 Atlanta Avenue in New York. As of the present writing, it is unknown as to what schooling Ante had, or where that schooling took place; what is known is that he was considerably more literate than the vast majority of Croatian émigrés of that time. So, whether he had a formal education or he was self-schooled is still unknown.
From the information thus far gathered about Ante after his arrival in America, and after a period of time spent in New York City, we see he stayed in Butte, Montana in 1910 and was known as Anton Basetich. The American Census documents from 1910 confirm that Anton was married at the time to 19-year-old Elsie, nee Coffin, from South Dakota. From the same Census report, we learn that Anton was a journalist by profession. (The 1910 Census document erroneously records Anton as having arrived in the U.S. in 1903. Perhaps he came to Minnesota in that year.)
A year later, Anton and Elsie were living in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was the editor of the Croatian Newspaper Radnička Obrana, (The Workers’ Defense). The Salt Lake City Directory of 1911 records that Anton was the Editor and Manager of the aforementioned newspaper, and that Emil Basetich was the President of the Slavonian Publishing Company. It is obvious that in both instances we are dealing with one and the same person. Sadly, Anton’s wife Elsie died on the 16th of December, 1912. According to the memory passed on in the family, Elsie died in childbirth of their firstborn, a girl. It is not known with any certainty what became of the little girl. It is thought that she was taken in by Elsie’s parents.
Following the death of his wife Elsie, most likely during 1913, Basetić moved from Salt Lake City to Duluth, Minnesota. The Duluth City Directory of 1913-1914 indicates that the Slavonian Publishing Company‘s manager was Anton Basetich, while Milan Knezevich was the editor of Radnička Obrana. The newpaper was published in that city every Thursday. That same directory of 1915-1916 indicates that Basetich continued to be the publisher of the newspaper, but was located at a new address. As gleaned from the newspaper itself, the title of the publishing company was no longer known as the Slavonian Publishing Company, but as the Croatian Publishing Company. Clearly, Anton Basetić assumed ownership and editorial management of the Radnička Obrana. The newpaper had branch offices in Salt Lake City, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Gary. Indiana.
Though many Croatian newspapers saw the light of day in America, few of them survived for any length of time. One of the rare numbers of Radnička Obrana to be found is the number dated March 11, 1916. That edition indicates that it was the twelfth year of publication for that newspaper. Clearly, this newspaper managed to survive longer than most Croatian publications in America at that time.
It would seem that around 1916, the Radnička Obrana ceased being published and that Anton moved from Minnesota to Chicago. That same year, Basetić purchased the newspaper known as Hrvatski Rodoljub, (Croatian Patriot). The paper was founded in 1915 and was published by B.F. Tolić in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Basetić transferred publication of the paper to Chicago. This would indicate that he already lived in the city.
Between Yugoslavia and Croatia
This period of time was froth with war and was an especially worrisome time for Croatians in America as well as those in the homeland. Aside from the wartime adversity, a deep political division and separation began to take shape among Croatians: there were those who were prepared to abrogate their national heritage and rights and eagerly accept unity with the Serbian Kingdom, and there were those who stood in defense of the right to Croatian Statehood. Those in the first group were more vociferous, and political conditions then present stood in their favor. The second group had to contend not only with the pro-Yugoslav element, but also with the burden of trying to prove to America and their fellow citizens (especially so after America’s entrance into the war in 1917) that they were not champions of Austria and the Central Powers, but simply desired freedom for their Croatian homeland. So as to bring a shred of light into the political fog that overshadowed the time, a well-known and respected priest, Rev. Ivan Stipanović, established and published a Croatian journal, Rodoljub (Patriot), in Chicago in January of 1915. Shortly thereafter (August of 1915), the journal’s name was changed to Hrvatski Katolički Glasnik, (The Croatian Catholic Messenger). It assumed a newspaper format and became the voice of (almost all) Croatian Catholic priests in America. Before the end of that same year, the paper established editorial links with Narodna Obrana that was published in Duluth, Minnesota, as well as with Hrvatski Rodoljub in Chicago. With such combined forces, a group of Croatian patriots now began to publish Glasnik Istine (The Herald of Truth). The editorial board resided at 2979 S. Wentworth Avenue, Chicago, Illinois. Anton Basetić was chosen as its editor. It appears that in 1916, Basetić’s Radnička Obrana changed it name to Narodna Obrana and subsequently melded into Glasnik Istine. Thus, he became its new editor.
While wartime blood flowed across the European front, a ferocious ideological war raged among the Croatians in America. One group aligned with the Jugoslavenski Odbor, (The Yugoslav Committee) and welcomed, extolled, and aided the members of that committee on their arrival in the U.S., sending monetary aid and war volunteers. Others were supporters of Croatian independence and warned about Greater-Serbian ideology and its future evil effects on the Croatian people. A third group followed socialist ideas and also caused national and religious discord among Croatian émigrés across the world. Under such conditions, Anton Basetić assumed editorship of the publication which by its orientation was Croatian and Catholic, and served as the representative and voice against the Yugoslav forces in Chicago and America.
Even prior to his assumption of the role as editor of the Glasnik Istine, Basetić wrote and spoke against the union with Serbia. A significant event in the Croatian Community of Chicago serves as a primary example of his role among Croatian-American émigrés: on the 10th and 11th of March, 1915, in the LaSalle Hotel located in downtown Chicago, a Yugoslav Congress was held. More than 550 delegates and guests to the congress were in attendance. At the congress they spoke of the “homogeneity of the Yugoslav people” (naturally, the well-known Serbian in America delegate to the Congress, Dr. Paul Radosavljević, a professor at the University of New York, considered all Yugoslavs to be Serbs) and of the soon-to-be created Kingdom of the Serbs, Croatians, and Slovenes. At the same time, a group of Croatians, mostly located around Wentworth Avenue in Chicago, held a massive counter-demonstration. Some 3,000 Croatians gathered for that massive anti-Yugoslav counter-demonstration to hear one of its main speakers, namely, Anton Basetić. Clearly, then, upon his move to Chicago and his undertaking of the role of editor of the Glasnik Istine, Basetić became a person of importance among Croatians not only in this metropolis but across all of America.
Before touching on his tragic death, it is appropriate that we say a bit more about his family. Following the death of his first wife, Elsie (at the end of 1912), Anton married Sandra (Allessandra, Sanda) F. Herska while residing in Chisholm, Minnesota. Sandra was from Severin na Kupi, located in the Gorski Kotar region of Croatia. Two children were born from their union: Vera, a daughter, was born in 1916, in Minnesota, while Ivan (John) was born in 1919 in Chicago.
The Assassination of Anton Basetić
On November 5, 1921, around 8:15 a.m., Anton Basetić left his home at 140 West 31st Street and arrived at the real estate office of Cannizzo, Jurko, and Company that was located on 2927 Wentworth Avenue, not far from his home. Although the Glasnik Istine was printed by the Croatian Printery located a short distance away, Basetić, from all that can be garnered, chose, out of fear, to receive his mail at the aforementioned real estate office. He picked up his mail on a daily basis. That fateful morning, Marie Pullano, a 19-year-old clerk, was already at work in the office. Upon the entrance of Anton Basetić, she alerted him that two unknown men were loitering aimlessly across the street from the office. He thought she was frightened by them, and his response was: “Never mind, I’m here. Don’t be afraid.” Soon after, these two scoundrels entered the real estate office. Marie and Anton went toward the door. Marie opened one of the double-doors and asked what they wanted. They remained silent. One of the men stepped into the office, drew his pistol, and fired six rounds at Basetić as he stood alongside the young lady. Two of the bullets struck their target—one in his shoulder and another in his neck. A few short minutes later, Anton expired. Marie, the clerk, fainted, while the two thugs dissapeared without a trace. The entire tragic drama unfolded in a few short minutes.
All the newspapers in Chicago reported the incident and death of Anton Basetić. They stressed that his death was of a political nature. One of the newspapers cited the thinking of the police officials, namely, that his murder had the mark of international political intrigue. In the meantime, the news reports fostered the erroneous suggestion that Anton Basetić was a fervent pro-Austrian partisan rather than stressing that he was an ardent patriot for the Croatian cause. Even then, the well-known “logic” was in place: all who were not Yugophiles clearly had to be Austrophiles—later, after World War II, to be labeled as “fascists.” Naturally, the police and newspaper reports of the incident failed to engage the question of who was behind the loathsome crime. No serious police investigation of the murder ensued: the police did not concern themselves with who it was that wanted him dead. They simply decided that the murder was “an accounting among the émigrés,” hence, the loss of a young Croatian life was of no consequence and not investigated, despite the fact that it occurred in the metropolis of Chicago and in broad daylight.
To this very day, Anton’s descendants hold to the passed-down conviction that his murder was the work of the notorious “Black Hand;” it is known only too well what sort of a bloody role that terrorist organization played in Serbia and beyond. Although the organization was “officially” suppressed in 1917, it adherents continued their criminal work and Anton Basetić, at the very least, was a victim of their ideology.
Basetić was only 44 years of age when he was murdered. He left behind a young wife, Sandra, and two infant children, as well as his child from his first marriage. Out of fear, Sandra, along with her children, moved to Minnesota and spent the next six months there. She returned to Chicago and struggled to raise her children. Among other jobs, she worked as a cook in a student cafeteria at the University of Chicago. According to the stories passed on by members of her family, she simply would not speak of the murder of her husband or of any political matters: she had her fill of such talk. Her goal in life was to raise her children and set them on their way to success in life. By all accounts, she was successful in that goal as were many other Croatian widows of her time and later.
The martyrdom of Ante Emilio Bolanča, namely, Anton Basetić, was supressed and silenced at the time of his murder. Silence about him and his assassination has endured for some 90 subsequent years. This silence would have continued had not his two granddaughters, Sarah and Ann, the daughters of his son, Ivan, wished to know the truth about Anton, their grandfather. Sarah succeeded in interesting me in this tragic incident as well. She shared a good deal of facts about her grandfather that I relate in this article. I am sincerely grateful to Sarah for having acquainted not only me, but Croatians in general, about her grandfather. All the evidence indicates that he was the very first political martyr among the Croatian émigrés following the portentous and fateful year of 1918.
The assassinations of Anton Basetić and of other Croatian patriots across the world, remain largely unknown to us. They await further investigation, so that we might give them honorable mention in the history of our Croatian Diaspora, as well as in the history of our homeland.
(English translation of the article „Anton E. Basetić – prva žrtva jugoterora u hrvatskoj emigraciji,“ published in Hrvatsko slovo (Zagreb), Year XVI, No. 817, December 17, 2010, p.16-17.)