Croatia: Yet Another New Mass Grave of Communist Crimes Victims Discovered

Covering up or largely ignoring communist crimes, that were above all – horrendous, is an assault on truth.

Pits and mass graves such as Jazovka in the Zumberak Mountains area (and there are more than 1400 so far discovered in Croatia since its secession from communist Yugoslavia) filled with skeletal remains, rusted wiring they were bound together with when dumped into the pits alive or dying from bullets or knife wounds and rotting attire of thousands of communist Yugoslavia crimes’ victims,  like so many other places where the partisans executed their crimes, was erased from history until the fall of the communist regime soon after Berlin Wall fall in 1989.

Jazovka pit is the symbol and definition of communist partisan brutality and crimes against patriotic Croats, those who wanted nothing to do with any form of Yugoslavia, just independence. On 15 May 1945, a week after the end of World War II, communist partisans took numerous wounded Croatian soldiers who fought for and independent Croatia from Zagreb’s hospitals and brought them to the psychiatric hospital in Vrapce on the outskirts of the Zagreb, an institution then run by the Sisters of Charity. Once there, all the prisoners were strangled or butchered in the basement of the hospital. After killing them, the partisans loaded the corpses into trucks and transported them to Jazovka and other mass graves. Three nuns, Sisters Geralda Jakob, Konstantina Mesar and Lipharda Horvat, witnessed the massacre. The communists saw the sisters and decided to murder them so that there would be no witnesses to the horrific crime. The three nuns, along with many others, were thrown into the Jazovka pit.

 Until 1989, under the communist Yugoslavia regime, mass graves and pits filled with victims of communist crimes were kept as buried secrets and nobody apart from communist party operatives and the perpetrators of those crimes knew anything about these massacres of Croatian people. In fact, it could be called genocide against a political will for freedom and independence. In 1989 Jazovka mass grave was rediscovered by a speleologist, Mladen Kuka, but the exhumation of the victims’ remains would not take place until July 2020, when the Croatian Veterans Ministry began work and determined that there were at least 814 skeletons at a depth of about 40 metres. The first victims were Croatian soldiers captured in January 1943 and executed by the partisans. In 1945, the partisans used the pit for victims from Zagreb hospitals: wounded prisoners, civilians, doctors, nurses, and Catholic nuns. Most were dead when they were thrown into the pit, but others were thrown in alive to die in terrible agony.

The officials of Gospic, a town in the mountainous and sparsely populated region of Lika in Croatia, announced late last week that the third phase of exhumation of the newly discovered remains of people killed in the Second World War at the Gospic cemetery officially ended on Friday 13 October 2023, and a total of 253 victims of partisan-communist crimes have been found there. This is the date that overlaps with the day of the victims of nearby Siroka Kula, brutally killed by Serb rebels on the ethnic cleansing spree on October 13, 1991 in the midst of Yugoslav Army and Serb aggression against Croatia as it pursued exit from communism and independence.

The mass grave at Ovcara, Vukovar, is also one of the most tragic reminders of the sufferings of the Croatian Homeland War when 200 wounded persons from Vukovar Hospital were taken away by Serbs and executed near the estate of VUPIK (Vukovar Agricultural Industrial Complex) at Ovcara. The first public insights into the occurrences near Ovcara were provided in October 1992 in the article published in Vjesnik entitled “The Wounded were Taken Away Through the Rear Exit” on the basis of the testimony of a survivor, later a prisoner who was exchanged in Nemetin in 1992. Similarities in the manner and cruelty of crimes committed by Yugoslav communists after WWII and Serbs during the 1990’s War are enormous, and I believe not coincidental at all – both hated Croats for asserting their independence and freedom.

The 253 newly found victim of communist crimes in the area of Gospic will, reportedly, be buried in a common grave, i.e. the ossuary where the other exhumed remains of communist partisan crimes were buried before. In agreement with the Ministry of Croatian Veterans, if time permits we will continue the exhumations in Ličko Osik and Musaluk this year, otherwise exhumations are already planned for April and May next year in the area of Gospic and Lika-Senj County, stated the Gospic Town officials last week. And these exhumed finds are one small stone in the mosaic of the Croatian demographic breakdown that is currently happening throughout Croatia, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina. Therefore, we send the message: “May it never happen again!”

Considering the size and complexity of the Gospic mass graves location, test excavations and exhumations were carried out in several phases of work, which were preceded by an extensive investigation of the location. Thus, a series of field surveys and aerial photographs of the location were carried out, as well as test excavations at several likely locations – along the cemetery fence, on the east side of the road and inside the playground, which confirmed the findings of human remains.

The first phase of test excavations and exhumations was carried out from October 18 to November 5, 2021, when the remains of 84 victims were exhumed. During the second phase of test excavations and exhumation, from June 27 to July 21, 2022, the remains of 69 victims were exhumed. The third and final phase was preceded by the raising of a 678m² asphalt layer of the road, and from September 20 to October 13, 2023, the remains of at least 100 more victims were exhumed. In total, in all phases, the remains of at least 253 victims were exhumed.

As expected, in the surrounds of the government heavily laced with protecting the former communists and Serb aggressor against Croatia, almost nothing of this awful find in Gospic was recorded by Croatia’s government-controlled mainstream media.  Lack of memory, or worse, selective memory, is increasingly common in Europe and in Croatia it has been force-fed to people for decades – since Croatia’s independence from communist Yugoslavia in 1991. It is sometimes enforced by memory laws that determine which victim deserves to be remembered and which to be forgotten. In Croatia no law has been passed to condemn the communist crimes, the symbols of communism. Communist butchery of patriotic Croats still awaits legislative, government and public condemnation.

These remains found in Gospic are victims, like hundreds of thousands of other Croats, of Yugoslav communist-partisan crimes, so we thank God for small mercies by which the bodies of people killed brutally, without court proceedings, human rights or justice, will be buried with dignity after almost 70 years.

The injustices of communism were not limited to mass murder alone. Even those who survived the communist deadly purges still were subjected to severe repression, including violations of freedom, of speech, freedom of religion, loss of property rights, and the criminalisation of ordinary economic activity. No previous tyranny sought such complete control over nearly every aspect of people’s lives as communism did.

Although the communists promised a utopian society in which the working class would enjoy unprecedented prosperity, in reality, they engendered massive poverty. Wherever communist and non-communist states existed in close proximity, it was the communists who used walls, shutting of borders, and the threat of death to keep their people from fleeing to societies with greater opportunities. Many fled nevertheless and they and their descendants are still a threat to the remnants of communist ideology still breathing in Croatia; some holding the reins of power, unfortunately.

The vast power necessary to establish and maintain the communist system after World War Two in Yugoslavia attracted quite a number of unscrupulous people, including many self-seekers who prioritised their own interests over those of the cause. But it is striking that the biggest communist atrocities were not exclusively perpetrated by corrupt party bosses, but by true believers like Josip Broz Tito. Precisely because he was a true believer in communism and socialism, he was willing to do whatever it might take to make his utopian dreams a reality. Ordering mass murders or tortures in political prisons was Tito’s modus operandi. In the end Tito made it to the top ten list of biggest murderers of own people of the twentieth century. Tito created a regime where many people tried to do as little work as possible at their official jobs, where possible reserving their real efforts for black market activity and corruption. As the old Yugoslav saying goes, workers developed the attitude that “no one can pay me as little as I can work!” No wonder that by 1989 the inflation in former Yugoslavia had escalated to about 1100%, shop shelves empty of most products, bead or petrol lines as long as eye could see…

Only with truth can a decent and, above all, a nation with a future be built. The better and the more we learn the painful lessons of the history of communist Yugoslavia, the more likely it is that we can avoid any repetition of its horrors. Hence, the recently discovered victims of communist crimes in Gospic are vital for Croatia’s future and its well-being. Ina Vukic

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