Bleiburg Massacres of Croatians – Lest We Forget


Memorial to the Croatian victims
of communist crimes at Bleiburg, Austria

The legacy of the Bleiburg Tragedy (Massacres/genocide of Croatian freedom fighters and civilians) by Yugoslav communist forces, aided by the WWII Allies, is catastrophic for human rights. Today, 12 May 2018, the annual memorial mass and remembrance at the field of Bleiburg, Austria, of hundreds of thousands victims who fell starting with 15 May 1945 and continued to fall after those that survived that massacre walked to their deaths on the so-called Way of the Cross that lasted months, most victims ending up in mass graves and pits strewn in their hundreds across Slovenia and Croatia.

Lest we forget!

History has not been written by the victims and it is up to today’s world to set the history right – to pursue facts so that justice for these victims does not remain elusive.

On the 4th of May 1945 began the exodus of the greater part of the Croatian Armed Forces and civilian population westwards in order to surrender themselves to the Allies before the advancing communist partisans. The Allies promised them safety; the Allies knew very well that only brutal death awaited them under Josip Broz Tito’s communist regime.

Croats fleeing from communist Yugoslavia, May 1945
In search for protection

The British war archives (War Office 1704465) there were 200,000 members of the WWII Croatian army who accompanied and protected about 500.000 civilians that walked towards Bleiburg, with the intention to surrender to the British military authorities there for protection. They arrived at Bleiburg on 14 May 1945, establishing contact with the British, telling them that they wanted to surrender to the British Army and to put the civilian population under British protection. The British commending officer replied that he had been informed of the coming of the Croats, and that the Croats would be allowed tomorrow to continue their march towards the West and to keep their arms. However, next day on the 15th of May the whole situation changed. The reversal happened after the political adviser of the Supreme Allied Commander for the Mediterranean Fieldmarshal Harold Alexander, with his seat at Caserta near Naples, Harold MacMillan, directly responsible to the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, on the 13th of May 1945 in Klagenfurt ordered to the commander of the 5th Corps of the British 8th Army, General Charles Keightley, that „a great number of the renegade Yugoslav troops, excluding the „chetniks“, should be handed over to the Yugoslav partisans.“ That order was contrary to the promise given by Fieldmarshal Alexander that the Allies would receive as war prisoners the Croatian troops after these surrender their weapons. This promise was given by Alexander to a representative of the Holy See, when Pope Pius XII, at the request of the Croatian Cardinal Stepinac, intervened with the Allied Commander to save the fleeing Croatian people. That the intention of the partisans was to prevent the surrender of the Croatian refugees to the Allies could be concluded from the telegram sent by Tito, as the supreme commander of the Yugoslav Army, to his troops on the 13th of May 1945, that is after the end of the war. In essence Tito’s telegram ordered his communist Partisans that these Croats fleeing Yugoslavia must attack and destroy them.

In the morning of the 14th of May 1945 the Croatian liaison officer of Jewish extraction Deutsch-Maceljski offered to the British the surrender of the Croatian armies and of the civilians. Second World War had already ended. Weapons put down and white flag raised among the Croatians seeking protection at Bleiburg field.

Croats at Beliburg field May 1945

According to the eyewitness report of the Dominican priest Drago Kolimbatovic, during the surrender English soldiers were lying at the rims of the meadow with machine-guns pointing at the Croats. Kolimbatovic further stated:“ What followed was a bitter experience, which we could have expected from the wild Bushmen but never from the cultured Englishmen. Under the pretence of checking whether we were hiding weapons, their soldiers indulged in robbery. They took away all golden and valuable objects which some of the Croats carried with themselves in order to ease their hardships in foreign lands.“ Kolimbatovic summarized the behaviour of the British in the following words: “In the English instead of refuge, we found executioners.“ (Quoted from the weekly „Glas Koncila“ of 13th May 2007). In order that the British perfidy be even greater, Fieldmarshal Alexander sends Tito a strictly confidential telegram on the 16th of May 1945, that is one day after the surrender of the Croats to the Yugoslav communists, telling Tito that the British would like to hand over the Croatian prisoners to him and asking Tito, whether he agrees with this proposal. Tito replies to Alexander on the 17th of May that he had received his telegram concerning the proposed handover of 200.000 „Yugoslavs“ and that he (Tito) consents with gratitude to this proposal. All this was happening after the Croats had already been extradited to Tito’s communists and after many of them had already been slaughtered.

What had actually happened on the 15th of May 1945, the day of the surrender? When after the laying down of the weapons Tito’s partisans were certain that their victims could no longer defend themselves and that the British did not intend to intervene (the British, namely, threatened that they would bombard the Croatian troops and civilians if the Croats did not immediately lay down their arms), the partisan commissioner Milan Basta, a Serb from Lika, issued his order.

What followed could only be described as an apocalyptic massacre. Here is the testimony of one eyewitness. „Men, women and children were falling down in sheaves while the partisans were mowing left and right with their machineguns over the open field. Soon so many people were slaughtered that the partisans ventured to descend among the survivors and with visible pleasure to beat them to death, to kick them with boots and to stab them with bayonets.“ (Report of the eyewitness Ted Pavic in Nikolaj Tolstoy’s book „The Minister and the Massacres“, London 1986, p. 104).

Croats who were not massacred at Bleiburg field
in May 1945 were forced to walk
to their death by communist Yugoslav forces
Photo: Celje, Slovenia, 18 May 1945

When the slaughter at Bleiburg was finished on the 16th of May, the remaining mass of disarmed and frightened Croatian prisoners was driven on foot into Yugoslavia, to the blood-fields of Kocevski Rog. Huda Jama, Tezno, and others further on, on a death march known as the Way of the Cross – across Slovenia and Croatia all the way to the Romanian border. Just under 1,000 mass graves with victims of these communist crimes have been discovered in Croatia to date.

Huda jama/pit
filled with Croatian victims of communist crimes

Although communist Yugoslavia government murdered and repressed more people than any other regime in the history of Croatia, their crimes have gotten only a tiny fraction of the public awareness, recognition and justice. We must do more, much more, to give justice to the victims and perpetrators of communist crimes. It isn’t yet too late. But it might well be in a few years, as more members of both groups die of old age and, in general, people become so impoverished in spirit and sustenance. Human rights pressure for victims of communist crimes must get its day in the sunlight of a just world. Without justice dished out to the past, the future is almost not worth having, as it will be the same as the past. Ina Vukic


  1. Dreadful!

  2. No atrocity must ever be forgotten

  3. Memorials are so important. We should never forget.

  4. Lest We Forget

  5. “History has not been written by the victims… and it is up to today’s world to set the history right”: such powerful and accurate statement. I completely agree with you.
    Thanks for the contribution and tribute, dear Ina. Love and best wishes 🌟💛

  6. Humanity may forget its crimes, but all of us will be subject to God’s justice in the end.

  7. Velibor Petkovic says:

    How can you write “fighters of freedom” ?!
    These are the same fighters who carried out the laws of Budak, Pavelic, Francetica and similar fascists.
    In addition, Croatia is the only country in Europe that has remained with Hitler to the end.
    For this reason, “fighters of freedom” went to seek salvation in Hitler’s Germany.

    The same army “freedom fighters”, as you call them, has annexed the whole of Bosnia and part of Serbia from 1941 to 1945.

    Imagine that Germany’s President Merkel is visiting murdered Nazis who have implemented Hitler’s laws, founding Auswitz, Dahau … and similar camps.


    • Velibor, your comments give evidence that you belong to that group of people who approve of the horrific communist Yugoslavia crimes committed during and after WWII. You fail miserably to see the tragedy of freedom fighters and that tragedy in the case of Croatia was caused by the communists who fought against independent Croatia forces with view to keeping Croatia within Yugoslavia. You fail miserably to see the wrong in the murder of unarmed soldiers and innocent civilians including children. You fail miserably to see that the so-called Ustashi concentration camp in Jasenovac was kept open by the communists until 1952 where post-WWII innocent Croats who opposed communism were exterminated. You fail miserably on every count and your bigotry of course cannot see even the civilians murdered at Bleiburg and thereafter. And yes, Ustashi did want an Independent Croatia and as to BiH territory etc – just check out the factual history going back centuries about those lands

      • diana_napoca says:

        Don’t bother,Velibor is Serb and that is enough said.You can’t argue with Serbs…They have no logic and no commons sense.

  8. Esther Gitman says:

    Dear Ina,
    I was vaguely familiar with the Bleiburg story and the massacre committed by both the British army and Tito’s Partisans. I took the time to read this sad and unimaginable drama in human history in which hundred of thousands were just murdered without a trial
    I think that talking about it year after year and even having conferences is just plain waste of time! Because conferences are held every years, historians and journalist conduct research, present slightly different talks than a year earlier, but the following day all remain as it was prior all these events!

    Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying: “If You Want Different Results, You Have to Try Different Approaches.” Or even more powerfully: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, different results.” Either of these statements applied to most of us and therefore we cannot make any progress nor changed people’s minds.

    Why not try something new something different? I would suggest that on one of these memorials the organizers should mobilize a large group of hundreds and even of thousands of old and young, from all walks of life come out with shovels and start digging the pits and bring out to the light of day for all to see hundreds of corpses for all to see and feel the catastrophe that has been committed against the Croatian people!

    Only when you will change the approach and change the conference papers into shovels that will bring the corps out something will unimaginable will happen.

    In Bleiburg, unlike in the many Jewish concentration camps, where the corpses were burned and only ashes remain, there are really bones, each corps has a DNA and the person can be identified and also have again an identity and a belonging. This world of ours is cruel and thus have to be rattled! Thousands of corpses will gain their voices back and the world will see, what the British and Tito’s army has done!
    I’m aware that such undertaking is complex and cannot be completed from today to tomorrow but I strongly urge the Croatian people to start acting without having always to feel sorry for the injustice that has done to them. They can stat being victors in face of all the atrocities that they have committed and the brutal murder of their own people that they have experienced.

    Elect a government that will support such an effort, mobilize volunteers, students, the older people who are in retirement and just go and do it! Do it!

    Esther Gitman

    • Well said, thank you Esther! Indeed conferences and talks are just that if nobody picks up on messages with positive action…it becomes a hard task when one comes across media censorship and control, we have seen that in Croatia where in past 25 years about 1000 of mass graves with remains of victims of communist crimes have been discovered, even now one could say Zagreb is a ground where new mass graves are being unearthed regularly…but media bar a small mention does not pick up to bring home the awful message…Yes I agree, new approaches to action are essential.

  9. Very true that ALL atrocities should never be forgotten, no matter who the perpetrators. But throughout history the British seem to be very good at forgetting and ultimately dismissing the atrocities and injustices committed by them throughout the world. History conveys that human rights were not always priority to the British. They are cultured if you are on the “right side”. If not, atrocities such as Bleiburg happen! The truth shall set us (all) free! The British are not excluded, If, they want to be part of the human race. Thank you for THE BLEIBURG MEMORIAL. Finally!

    • The truth shall set us all free, indeed,Marie, including the British for their part in the Bleiburg massacres – one day, one day the truth will out!

  10. Ivan Corluka says:

    Dear Ina,
    Thank you for your kind words and dedication to commemorate innocent victims.

    Even if one innocent soul was killed it deserves to be commemorated and remembered.

    If I were the one to write the article I would have used a different approach.

    For example I would be very worried about putting everyone in the same group. The reason being is that in that group there were soldiers and not all soldiers are innocent.

    Just take a look at the photos, there are no women, no children. There are only men with hats in those photos who look like soldiers. We cannot assume that all soldiers are innocent even if they are Croats. While there might have been children and women, only a forensic examinations can prove that.

    I would be afraid to place innocent victims in the same group as soldiers who potentially killed other innocent people, raped and murdered.

    There are documented accounts of soldiers who were fighting for the Nazis and who were part of the so called “Croatian freedom fighters” army and who killed innocent people. Such soldiers could have been also part of that group in Bleiburg who the Partizans killed and we as modern humans cannot put them in the same group as those Croats who were innocent civilians.

    These lands require a new approach to history.

    It is in your duty as a human being to mention that in that group there might have been Croats who were not innocent.

    When Bleiburg is mentioned we need to say that innocent people died, but we also need to mention that some of those people were murderers themselves.

    It is the only way to move forward.

    If you write about only innocent Croatians being killed then you are only adding fuel for young generations of Croats to hate others. The young Croats need to know that mistakes were made on all sides.

    I can tell you stories from my family, who are Croats from Hercegovina and who our grandfather couldn’t sleep at night because he was forced to rape and murder innocent villagers with his army in the name of Croatia and Axis forces. He spent his life regretting being an Ustasha and only wanted to be forgiven.

    As a Croatian collective memory, we must talk about our mistakes and also fight for our innocents to not be forgotten so that this does not happen again in the future.

    And one last mention if I may, I hope you will not take it badly. Please remember that the Partizans were also Croats and therefore the Partizans didn’t murder Croats because they were Croats but because they were Nazis or so called Ustashe.

    Please always remember that statistically speaking there were way more Croats who were Partizans than those who were Ustashe.

    I am sure you can see the difference between Ustashe who were Nazis and and the difference between regular innocent Croats.

    The Ustashe movement has had and still has the same ideology as Nazis where tolerance is not acceptable towards others. Therefore please be careful when you put everyone in the same group. Always mention more than one side to a story.

    Bleiburg has now become a flag for Ustashe movement to be victimized and articles like yours only given such intolerant people fuel for hate. Do not fall into the trap of hate, please do your duty and always mention all sides to a story.

    Having said all of that, I thank you again for your courage and emotion in your article to remember the innocent Croats who should have never been there. May their souls rest in peace and I hope that they can forgive humanity.

    • Oh Ivan, what a shame you do not mention Domobrani, Home Guards – the third group of soldiers there in majority. If you don’t or haven’t seen children and women in this or related image then you are selectively blind. What a shame you don’t mention that Partizans fought for Yugoslavia and not independence of Croatia. What a shame you don’t mention that the War had ended at this time and that the Croatian soldiers gave up their arms. What a shame you don’t mention that all these people were murdered after the War ended without the human thing afforded and that is justice in court if they were individually considered to have committed war crimes. But then again the Partizan court were mounted without evidence, like the one for Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepinac. No, Ivan, this was politically driven mass murder and genocide of all those who wanted nothing to do with communist Yugoslavia once the war ended and that Yugoslavia started. Croatia’s history was written by those communists and it is only historical research and fact-finding that will correct the wrongs.

  11. Denise Millet says:

    When a war is over and you wave the white flag you are now a political prisoner. Those soldiers aka Ustaci should’ve had their day in court but no. They were slaughtered along with thousands of innocent civilians who only wanted to return home and it wasn’t just Croats.
    Those people that were in refugee camps in Austria and were told by the British, “The war is over”, “you can go home now”.
    On their way home they were stepping on dead bodies. One of which resembled a mother.
    No war is a good war!
    This war was over but not for all.
    The hatred for the slavs still goes on today.
    Written by someone whos parents went through this.
    ALL war criminals should be brought to court.

  12. Patrick says:

    Hello Ina,
    I am trying to find any documentation about blieburd. I have seen that you have refurd to The British war archives (War Office 1704465). I could not find this on the internet so is there any link that can be provided about the numbers with the križni put. Thanks

    • Hope this helps Patrick. I had researched it from another source. Also Michael Palaich has made a number of documentaries with members of British Forces at Bleiburg, they are on Youtube…



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