by H.L. deZeng IV

In the second half of July 1942, the Croatian Ministry of Defense published a manifest that ordered all men of the Orthodox religion (Pravoslavni), including those who had converted to other religions and who served as recruits in the former Yugoslav Army during 1940-41, plus those of the Orthodox faith who served as reservists in the former Yugoslav Army between 1937 and 1939, to present themselves at the nearest military district headquarters within 24 hours of the publishing of the manifesto for assignment to specia1 compulsory labor service battalions. Initially, three battalions were to be formed, with headquarters in Petrinja, Slavonski Brod and Sarajevo. Conscripts from the military districts of Zagreb, Varaždin, Bjelovar, Karlovac, Petrinja, Otočac and Knin were to be used to form the I Battalion. Those from the military districts of Osijek, Slavonska Požega, Hrv. Mitrovica, Ruma, Tuzla and Banja Luka the II Battalion, and those from the military districts of Travnik, Sarajevo, Mostar, Trebinje and Sinj the III Battalion. Service was to be performed in civilian clothes with pay fixed at 10 kuna a day. The battalions were later reorganized and expanded into regiments of 4 to 5 battalions each with one regiment assigned to each corps.

Soon after the plan's expansion in the early fall of 1942, the name of the organization was changed to the General Labor Service (Opšta radna služba - or ORSA) and it was made a part of the Ministry of Defense. The conscripts were issued uniforms and new labor projects, such as ore mining, fortification construction and airfield construction, were added to the Service’s list of responsibilities. By 1 September 1943, there were a total of 5,996 men serving in the three labor regiments.

Although the formation of the Labor Service met with initial success, the manifest also drove many Pravoslavni into the ranks of the Partisans, that being preferable to forced labor under Pavelić’s Ustasha regime. (1)


Footnotes

1. NARA WashDC: RG 242 (T-821 roll 278/476).

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