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

Zeljko Glasnovic – On Erasing Of Collective Memory Of Communist Crimes

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Bleiburg – Commemorating Croatian Victims Of Communist Crimes

Tomislav Karamarko, First Deputy Prime Minister Shakes hand with one of the clerical officials leading the mass at Bleiburg field Saturday 14 May 2016 Photo: Sanjin Strukic/Pxsell

Tomislav Karamarko, First Deputy Prime Minister
Shakes hand with one of the
clerical officials leading the mass
at Bleiburg field Saturday 14 May 2016
Photo: Sanjin Strukic/Pxsell

The 71st annual commemoration of Croatian victims of communism (Yugoslav) at the Bleiburg field, Austria, and along the Way of the Cross from mid-May 1945 to months after, took place under the renewed auspices of the Croatian Parliament at Bleiburg field on Saturday 14 May 2016. The Eucharist led by Bishop Franjo Komarica (From Banja Luka/ Bosnia and Herzegovina) embraced the compassionate and grieving hearts of more than 20,000 Croats and their guests.
The Bleiburg field and death marches (Way of the Cross) symbolise the tragedy of the Croatian people that occurred after WWII had ended. The totalitarian communist regime of Yugoslavia then committed acts of horrendous violence on massive scales, violating basic human rights, including the most valuable human right – the right to life. All this, in the name of sick revenge and political agenda, which would see the undisturbed installation of communism as the only way of political thought and deed for decades to come.

Croatian government and parliamentary leaders at Bleiburg 14 May 2016 Photo: Sanjin Strukic/Pixsell

Croatian government and parliamentary
leaders at Bleiburg 14 May 2016
Photo: Sanjin Strukic/Pixsell

Zeljko Reiner, the President of the Parliament, Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko (who also led a delegation on the same day to lay wreaths at the Tezno pit – mass grave filled with more than 15,000 victims of communist crimes), several ministers and MPs gathered there to personally bow their heads to the victims. Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic, President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, and Deputy Prime Minister Bozo Petrov were not there with the masses on Saturday (although President Graba-Kitarovic did send a representative Bruna Esih), they each decided to avoid coming on that day but did get to Bleiburg privately or on the quiet the day or so before.

 

 

This seems to be some sort of a new fashion or a fad in Croatia from the office of the President and Prime Minister: not joining the official commemoration, not joining the people for the occasion – just going separately under the explanation that they do not want to bring politics into commemorating! Similar thing occurred for the commemorations of the Holocaust in Jasenovac in April, at least as far as the President is concerned.

Bleiburg 2016 Photo: Sanjin Strukic/Pixsell

Bleiburg 2016
Photo: Sanjin Strukic/Pixsell

 

Well, while politics should not interfere with commemorations for victims of these brutal crimes it does strike one that the very noticeable President’s and Prime Minister’s absence actually makes that choice of theirs very political. The President’s eye-poking purposeful absence from the official memorial ceremonies does colour commemorating the victims political no matter what the President or Prime Minister say. By not attending the official ceremonies, to my view, both the President and the Prime Minister have given their nod of approval to the Social Democrats/ the left parliamentary opposition for their absence from the official commemorations! So, the President’s and the Prime Minister’s calling for unity does not sit comfortably when in fact they practice separatism in this very important historic event for the Croatian nation.

Bleiburg memorial site for Croatian victims of communist crimes

Bleiburg memorial site for
Croatian victims of communist crimes

A major problem in modern historiography is that when describing the ‘struggle for historical remembrance,’ not all victims enjoy the same privilege of commemoration. Judging by the modern media body counts, someone’s World War II dead must have priority, while someone else’s dead are meant to slide into oblivion. In Croatian historical awareness the word ‘Bleiburg’ has a special meaning, just like the word ‘Viktring’ has a specific meaning for the Slovenes and for the inhabitants of Austria’s Carinthia. Indeed, in the Croatian language the word ‘Bleiburg,’ does not evoke the images of pristine woods, skiing holidays, or a new shopping center. For many Croats this word has become a metaphysical locution designating a horrific example of catastrophically failed nation-state building. Bleiburg is not a symbol of a picturesque and romantic location, but a road sign of Croatia’s sociobiological catastrophe. By the late May 1945, hundreds of thousands of fleeing Croats … were extradited from there to Tito’s Yugoslav partisans—courtesy of the Allied English troops in the vicinity,” wrote recently dr Tom Sunic in his review of Florian Thomas Rulitz’s book “The Tragedy of Bleiburg and Viktring, 1945.

 

Bleiburg commemoration 2016 Photo: Sanjin Strukic/Pixsell

Bleiburg commemoration 2016
Photo: Sanjin Strukic/Pixsell

During communist Yugoslavia, the commemorations at both Bleiburg and Jasenovac were illustrative of how Josip Broz Tito’s communist dictatorship monopolised the historical narrative through public rituals. Under Tito’s – communists’ directives – the commemoration at Jasenovac (symbol of the Holocaust) served to uplift in people’s eyes and legitimate the ruling communist party, and any questioning of the official narrative or figures was strictly forbidden. Numbers of victims at Jasenovac were blown out of reality and floundered falsely, without questioning, into hundreds of thousands just because psychologically the greater the number the more horrible the crime in people’s minds. Bleiburg, on the other hand, was a taboo topic, banned and systematically erased from the cultural and historical memory in Yugoslavia, but was kept alive in the Croatian diaspora community and its press.

In contrast to the state-sponsored rituals at Jasenovac, individuals paying homage to the victims at Bleiburg and its aftermath often did so at great risk to their lives – the first commemoration in Bleiburg occurred in 1952, All Saints Day, when three survivors laid a wreath at the graves of Croatian soldiers in the Unter-Loibach cemetery. As attendance of the commemoration grew over the following few years, held annually on Mother’s Day, Yugoslav intelligence agents began monitoring, threatening, and killing Croatian émigrés involved with the Bleiburg ceremony. Communist Yugoslavia Secret Police/UDBA operating internationally hunted down their Croat political opponents with beastly brutality.

Original monument to Croatian victims at cemetery near Bleiburg

Original monument to Croatian victims
at cemetery near Bleiburg

 

The atrocities and mass murders committed by Josip Broz Tito’s Partisan units of the Yugoslav Army immediately after the Second World War had no place in the conscience of Socialist Yugoslavia. More than once, the annual Croatian commemoration of the Bleiburg victims was subject to attacks carried out by the socialist Yugoslav state. Abroad in the West, on Austrian soil, the Yugoslav secret service (UDBA) did not shy away from murdering the protagonist of the Croatian memory culture, Nicola Martinovic, as late as 1975. The official history was aligned with a firm interpretational paradigm that called for a glorification of the anti-fascist ‘people’s liberation resistance.’ With the breakup of Yugoslavia and its socialist regime in 1991, the identity-establishing accounts of contemporary witnesses, which had mainly been cherished in exile circles abroad, increasingly reached public awareness in Croatia and Slovenia.

In the 1990s Croatia witnessed the emergence of a memory that had been suppressed by the socialist-Yugoslav regime—namely the Bleiburg tragedy. The situation in Slovenia was similar in terms of identity and remembrance culture… Reports on the communist postwar crimes and on the countless discoveries of mass gravesites have also begun circulating in the media of the German-speaking world in the last few years…” part of foreword to the English translation of the book by Florian Thomas Rulitz, “The Tragedy of Bleiburg and Viktring 1945”

Tragedy of Bleiburg
The collapse of communism, the 1990’s war in Croatia, and the post-war efforts at reconciliation and EU integration all contributed to the public changes in the meanings, symbolism, and political significance of the commemorative events at Bleiburg. The annual gathering at Bleiburg Field transformed from an illegal commemoration attended largely by émigrés into a commemoration of victims of communist crimes and a proud symbol for all Croats who had sacrificed themselves for the freedom and independence of the Croatian state.

In 1990, on the 45th anniversary of the Bleiburg massacre, the Croatian media reported on the commemoration at Bleiburg for the first time in Croatia, but such reporting, especially the left-leaning media, has often continued with utter brutally untruthful allegations against innocent victims, often miserably implying they (or many of them) deserved death even if they were not ever tried in court or found guilty, fueling international media to do the same. That’s the talk of executioners who do not want to bear any guilt for their crimes that sadly still lingers strongly, preventing the victims to rest in dignified peace they truly deserve.

Tomislav Karamarko, First Deputy Prime Minister (front left) and Zeljko Reiner (front right) President of Croatian Parliament Pay respects to victims of communist crimes at Bleiburg Saturday 14 May 2016 Photo: Vlada RH/Twitter

Tomislav Karamarko, First Deputy Prime Minister (front left)
and Zeljko Reiner (front right)
President of Croatian Parliament
Pay respects to victims of
communist crimes at Bleiburg
Saturday 14 May 2016
Photo: Vlada RH/Twitter

 

So, amidst all the politicking and media “cannibalism” let’s remind ourselves:

What has 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 (Croatian army) 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. Only those who were present at that apocalyptic massacre could describe what thereupon followed. 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 machine guns 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 Pavić in Nikolaj Tolstoy’s book “The Minister and the Massacres”, London 1986, p. 104). Another eyewitness Jure Raguz reports, that in his vicinity he saw a desperate Croatian officer shoot his two small children, a boy and a girl, then his wife and in the end himself (quoted on the above indicated page). 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 Kočevski Rog and others further on, on a death march known as the ‘Way of the Cross’. A Slovenian Franc Perme in his documentary book ‘Concealed graves and their victims’ proves, that in the first days after the end of the Second World War, only within the area of Slovenia, therefore outside of Austrian Bleiburg, further189,000 Croats were killed, and further 144,500 died in the death columns on the Way of the Cross from the Slovenian-Croatian border to the Romanian border…

Bishop Franjo Komarica Photo:Ivica Galovic/Pixsell

Bishop Franjo Komarica
Photo:Ivica Galovic/Pixsell

In his homily, Bishop Komarica said that Bleiburg is the most prominent symbol of totalitarianism and ideologies that have humiliated and disgraced human dignity of humanity – terribly and deeply; shamelessly trampling upon human dignity, rights and freedoms and destroying a man’s sense of co-responsibility and moral and ethical values. Lest we forget! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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