Lest we forget
A book by: Ms. Ruth Mitchell,
The Serbs choose war
Published by: Garden City;
The first edition was in 1943
Ruth Mitchell was a sister of General
"Billy" Mitchell - the father of U.S. Air Force.
Writing about the
demonstrations on March 27, 1941
"England and America had
certainly promised to send effective help. Colonel William J. Donovan,
personal emissary of President Roosevelt, had been in Belgrade (I was in
Sofia at the time). How much had been promised would not be for me to say,
even if I knew positively, which I don't.
I can say this, however: that
the public impression was of promises both large and definite. I believe
- anyone who knew the people well believes - that the Serbs would
have done they did if we had given them no promises at all. By the people
as a whole those promises were not much considered; they did not weigh
heavily in causing them to resist domination at any cost.
The leaders took a more pragmatic
view. For them those promises by England, America, and also Russia were
the decisive consideration. They believed them. There was no misunderstanding
- it does us no good to hedge at this date. Promises were made. They were
If the Serbs had bargained for
their resistance, they could have got almost any price. But no, it was
a "gentlmen's agreement". And the Serbs carried out their part.
war aimed just as much at America as at Europe, The
Serbs gave us without price the three most vital months in the annals of
civilization. Serbia at the end would present
no bill - that I knew - because the Serbs are like that. But
history would write down her figures and add them up. Would the final sum in
America's account with little Serbia be written in black or - red? I wondered.
A gentlemen's agreement is so agreeable gently to forget!"
was sure that the Croats meant treachery. But I could not prove
it. And the Serbs could or would not believe it. They have a curious tender
streak in them, narrow but stubborn. Treachery is foreign to their own
natures; hence they cannot predict it in others. At such times the onlooker
sees more than the perticipants.
I was not
alone in fearing that the Croats would change sides. But I did not dream
- nor did anybody else, so far as I know - that they would go completely
We knew only that the Serbs would
fight, and we knew that Serbia was in a frightful position with small hope
of effective help.
Would America at least send us
How often in that time I thought
brother General Billy! Of only he had been alive, how well that
good fighter would have understood and loved the Fighting Serbs!
I looked at my St. George sitting
on his battle charger, and his face seemed to change to that of my brother.
And the horse changed to a plane. I saw him leading a great flight of American
planes across the seas to help the Serbs.... But - my brother was dead.
He died, fighting for his dream of air power to which America had turned
a deaf ear.
Must the Serbs now die fighting,
"A judicial investigation
of the murder [of Yugoslavia's King Alexandar and the French Foreign
Minister, Barthou] by the International Tribunal at Geneva was actually
by-passed by Laval, but the French courts condemned the assassins in absentia.
However, when Mussolini refused to extradite Dr.
Ante Pavelich or any of the other Croatian Ustashi implicated in the
killing, the French did not press him. (The relations between Laval and
Pavelich still require clarification.)
The Croats of the United States,
who were afire with the hope of political independence for Croatia to be
guaranted by the Great Powers, raised $60,000 for the defense of the assassins.
It is an interesting fact that the very men who collected this money and
were then screaming loudest for an Independent Croatia and a complete break
with the Serbs are the identical men who today, seeing their homeland about
to be defeated again, are clamoring for a revival of Yugoslavia with the
anxious cry: "Let's all be good Yugoslavs together." But there
is hardly one of them who does not have relatives and friends fighting
against us in Croatia. Yet they still mean somehow to jockey Croatia back
onto the winning side. By hypocritically holding out the hand of brotherhood
to the Serbs they hope to show themselves magnanimous and co-operative
to American eyes. This spectacle of a guilty race
frantically hanging onto its victim is one of the strangest in history."
The effect of Alexander's death
on the fortunes of Yugoslavia was exceedingly unfortunate. The King had
been strongly anti-Hitler. In fact he made the fatal trip to France primarily
to warn France of the danger he foresaw from this source. His cousin, Prince
Paul, who was appointed regent to the twelve-year-old heir apparent, Peter,
at once began to place a succession of pro-German men in office. He further
worked out trade agreements with Germany, which, he announced, would foster
Yugoslavia's development but which, of course, only put the country into
commercial vassalage to Germany.
Croats, watching the rising power of Germany, decided to do business with
Hitler. Secret agreements were arrived at and the Croat politicians
understood that Germany would back them. After Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia
in 1939, Dr. Machek, leader of the Croat Peasant Party, decided the time
was ripe to take the first step toward independence. He demanded complete
internal autonomy for Croatia "within the confines of the Yugoslav
State." The request was granted by Prince Paul with the support of
many of the Serb elements who, forthright and direct themselves, were tired
of the inveterate Croat agitation and subversion.
On March 25, 1941, Yugoslavia,
after determined pressure by Dr. Machek, Vice-Premier of Yugoslavia, signed
the Vienna pact. By it Yugoslavia agreed to co-operate with Germany. Although
the pact contained the provision that German troops were not to pass through
Yugoslav territory, this was, of course, purely hypocritical, since the
right of passage to Greece was what Germany wanted. As is now known, secret
dauses in the Vienna pact granted this and other con- cesessions to the
certain that about 90 per cent of the Croats were strongly pro- German,
while 90 per cent of the Serbs were strongly anti-German. The
Vienna pact came as a great shock to most Serbs, who had not realized that
Yugoslavia had already moved so far Axisward.
Two days after the signing of
the Vienna pact, on March
27, 1941, the Serbs acted. The Serbian general Simovich, with the help
of almost all the political leaders of Serbia,
carried out a coup d'etat, forced the resignation of the pro-German ministry,
sent the regent Prince Paul into exile, and put the young King Peter on
the throne. This was equivalent to declaring war
on the Axis. From a common-sease point
of view, it was a suicidal step. The Serbs, however, were determined not
to become German subjects, but to sacrifice their lives and all they possessed
rather than to lose the liberty which they had achieved after centuries
of bitter struggle.
On March 27 the Serbs began desperately
arming. They needed fifteen days to mobilize and would have been ready
April 12. Well aware of that fact, Germany attacked Yugoslavia on April
10 the German troops marched into the city of Zagreb, in Croatia proper,
and were greeted by the wildly enthusiastic
cheers of a people who only twenty-three years
before had received their Serb "brothers" and "liberators"
in exactly the same way. Dr. Machek, who had carried on the
intrigues with Germany, gave orders on the radio to all his followers to
cooperate with the Axis.
"To say, as Croat propagandists
in America have said, that the Ustashi were alone responsible for the horrors
that broke out immediately in Yugoslavia is, quite simply, a falsehood.
Pavelich's force of terrorists consisted at the very outside of one thousand
men when he arrived on April 7 in Croatia, the northwest province of Yugoslavia.
It is abusurd to suggest that in four days he had been able to spread his
men, even thinly, over the whole country and to organize and carry out
Serbs abroad felt bitterly ashamed
at the quick collapse of Yugoslavia. But the explanation is clear, and
it is not discreditable - to the Serbs.
That many Croats, both educated
and simple, were revolted by the action of their countrymen, I know. That
I was twice indebted to Croats for acts of kindness if not the saving of
my life, I acknowledge with gratitude. But facts are facts, and it is both
unjust and dangerous to conceal them, since the truth is the only sound
guide of action.
principal reason why Yugoslavia collapsed so quickly is that every Serbian
officer had momentarily to expect to be shot in the back by his Croatian
soldiers, and hundreds were so shot.
of 1,679 officers representing 95% of the Croat officers in the Yugoslav
Army, who had sworn to protect their king and the country, proved traitors
to their oath and went over to the enemy. The detailed figures,
as given by the official gazette of the Independent State of Croatia, include
11 generals, 4 admirals, 52 colonels, 73 lieutenant colonels, 68 captains,
and 72 naval captains and officers; also 1,342 non-commissioned officers,
aviation specialists, and mechanics. Letters have been published in
Croat papers in which Croat officers of high rank with the most cynical
brutality BRAGGED that they had married Serbian girls of influential family
with the single purpose of getting themselves into key positions for more
effective treachery: so long and so well had the thing been planned.
Yugoslav prisoners of war taken into Germany, less than 2% were Croats,
and to them honor, for they only had to announce that they were Croats
to be released at once. Of the 14,000 Serb officers who, if they agreed
to submit to Germany, were offered their freedom to return home to their
families, only 800 accepted, and most of them have been retaken
CROATIA FOUGHT AGAINST SERBIA
On the same day that the Germans
entered Zagreb, as part of the price for her "independence,"
Croatia was to fight on Germany's side, not only against Russia, but especially
against the Serbs.
On April 3, three days before
Germany declared war on Yugoslavia, a Croatian officer of the Yugoslav
Army, Colonel Kren, flew to Graz and handed over to the Nazis the war plans
of the Serbian Army, as well as maps of the carefully hidden mountain landing
fields of Serbia to be used by the Yugoslav air forces. Result: Belgrade,
though declared an "open city," was bombed on April 6 and the
Serbian landing fields were all destroyed.
help given by the Croats to the German armies in their attack on the Serbs
has been often and proudly described by Croat writers. We give
here a typical example from the Croatian newspaper, "Nova Hrvatska"
(New Croatia), in its Christmas issue of 1942. The artide is titled "The
Croat Soldier in the Present War":
"It is now dear," says
the Croat author, "that the German Army, in its victorious swing,
with its tremendous technical equipment, its indescribable moral enthusiasm,
its knowledge, and its adeptness, was the main factor which caused the
defeat of the enemy at the Balkan front and smashed Greece....
"However, the internal role,
the revolutionary, destructive role, that which caused the breakdown inside,
so that there was nothing in order, nothing in its proper place, nothing
prepared or dispatched at the right moment, nothing fired or aimed correctly,
nothing running as it should-that was the important role of the Croats
in the collapse of the Balkan front. In such roles, the Croats worked splendidly.
Just as they proved themselves in peacetime in their fight against the
Serbian megalomania and hegemony, against terror and exploitation -so now
in the war all Croats acted as a unit in refusing obedience, in ignoring
orders, in preventing liaisons, in creating panics, in firing incorrectly,
in disabling tanks and guns, and in destroying all sorts of military equipment,
in disarming the disbanded Serb soldiers and people. In a word, in all
those battles the Croats acted according to an issued order, destroyed
the resistance deep inside enemy (Serbian) lines on the Balkan front as
the Germans did outside.
"Even before the beginning
of the war, the joining the colors of the Croats in the infantry was reduced
to about 30 to 40 per cent; all others remained at home or fled to the
woods, went to places other than the ones designated, or visited relatives.
During the war there were many indescribable cases
of sabotage and defeatism done by the Croats while in the service of the
former (Yugoslav) army. For instance, according to the statement
of a soldier, when the Supreme Command at Belgrade ordered him to identify
aircraft flying toward Belgrade, this Croat telephonist replied that he
had seen some planes flying but they appeared to be `ours,' although not
far from him these same planes (enemy) were bombarding military objects.
"At another place some Croat
soldiers (telephonists), instead of dispatching the orders issued to various
commands, were listening to the Ustashi radio station `Velebit' (the Croat
Ustashi radio in Italy). One very confidential courier (Croat) carrying
important military messages from one army to another, simply departed to
his home with all the confidential material. At a very important railroad
junction the commanding officer -a Croat first lieutenant- threw into the
stove all his orders and instructions and, in his `alertness' for the maintenance
of order in dispatching military transports, managed to bring into the
station ten trainloads of soldiers who did not know where to proceed, and
who finally, not knowing what to do, left for their homes, together with
their prompt and heroic commander.
"What happened in the airdromes
is generally known now. On Palm Sunday the situation was normal, but on
Tuesday everything was disrupted. The Croat technicians, mechanics, as
well as other air- service crews, left the airdromes; the Serb officers
were deserted and left witbout any crews; they were unable to use their
planes and so to attack the enemy from the air. There was sabotage even
among the anti-aircraft units which turned out to be even a little comical.
The `old gunners' of the last war found means to fire shots in all but
the right direction - at German planes.
"The artillery, too, thanks
to the Croats, was rendered useless on the whole Balkan front - on the
Nishava, Kolubara, Bregalnica, Struma, and Vardar. Five or six weeks before
the war, experienced, competent, and excellent soldiers chiefly Croats
were sent there to insure this important flank at the cost of their lives,
in case the great and powerful, indivisible and unconquerable former (Yugoslav)
army became impotent, conquered, and indined to flee through the valley
of the Vardar toward Salonica and from there to any place which the great,
mighty, and unconquerable democrats and allies of Albion might determine.
"In the great German offensive
toward Nish, Pirot, Skoplye, when the hour came for Serbia to fight, Croat
hands, to the last Croat artilleryman, stuffed the gun barrels, and all
went wrong on the Nishava, Strums, Bregalnica, and Vardar front. Thanks
to the Croats, all firing was into empty space, the guns that did fire
were damaged, the instruments for aiming and the methanical implements
were ruined. Finally the Croats either deserted or surrendered. The
Serbs, seeing the destruction of their most important, most decisive, and
strongest line, were paralyzed, stunned by this Croatian sabotage.
"Although a small nation,
the Croats played indeed a great role that brought about the collapse of
the Balkan front, which cost them -heavy and bloody casualties. They were
instrumental in destroying, in cooperation with the Germans, first the
former state (Yugoslavia) and with it the eventual collapse of the Balkan
front, although this had been denied them when they (Croats and Germans)
fought shoulder to shoulder in the last war. The Germans and Croats performed
these great acts, because by the collapse of the former state (Yugoslavia)
they smashed after the English the most stubborn, most resisting, and most
bloodthirsty Versailleist in the Balkans, and thus was created the Independent
Thus a Croat describes one of
Croatia's proud achievements in the military history of World War II.
The fact that the Croats made
themselves so eagerly the tools of a foreign power proves that peoples
dissimilar in political experience, character, and aims must never again
be so closely bound together. The price which
the Serbs, through the Cain-like treachery of the Croats, had to pay for
the dream of a great South Slav state, is one which no Serbs or any other
sensible people would ever let themselves in for a second time.
The Croat betrayal was not only an aid to Germany and an almost deadly
blow to the Serbs, but also a very great misfortune to the United Nations.
Only by the mirade of a centuries - old fighting
tradition, by the stanchness of their hearts and the military brilliance
of their leader did the Serbs turn the military defeat of the spring of
1941 into a resistance which the Germans, in spite of every force and trickery,
have never been able to shatter.
from the Croats even worse was to come.
SERBS' DARKEST HOUR
On April 12, 1941, two days after
Croatia became an independent state and joined the Axis, an order was published
in the Zagreb newspapers requiring all Serbs not natives to the town to
leave within twenty-four hours and threatening that anyone hiding Serbs
would be shot. This order, by Dr. Ante Pavelich, head of the Independent
State of Croatia, was a prelude to a
massacre of Serbs not surpassed for brutality and atrocity in the whole
sorrowful history of the human race. Even
the German massacres of the Jews, incredible as this sounds, pale by comparison.
More than 6ooo,ooo defenseless Serbs, long resident
in Croatia - men, women, and small children - died in literally unprintable
circumstances and another half-million were driven from their
homes, penniless and dying of starvation by the wayside.
Excerpts from four out of many
documents describing these massacres are presented here. One is by a Mohammedan
[Muslim] resident of Croatia, another by a Jewish physician of Belgrade,
and two by Croats themselves.
It need hardly be said that many
Croats are filled with horror at the fiendish crimes committed by their
A note on how such massacres
were feasible is necessary.
As all students of race, language,
and nationality know, Europe does not consist of homogeneous populations,
but of a series of race, language, or nationality islands. This was true
of Yugoslavia. The Serbs did not live exdusively in Serbia nor the Croats
in Croatia. Like Americans who move freely from state to state, they settled
now here, now there, and some of these settlements were of very ancient
date. Thus in the fifteenth century, when hard
pressed by the Turks, many Serbs had moved northward, and about a million
had settled in Croatia, so that in the Independent State of Croatia one
third of the population of Croatia proper was actually Serb.
From 1918 onward, Croat politicians
like Pavelich and Machek had been deliberately teaching their people to
hate the Serbs. One of the dever stratagems which the Croats, as a minority
group, found effective was never to oppose the government or a particular
ministry or party. Instead they opposed a people. For twenty-three years
prior to the massacres the Croat leaders had been persuading the Croat
peasants and workers that all their troubles were due to the Serb "oppressors,"
just as the Germans were taught that all their troubles were due to the
Jews. In thus instilling hatred in the Croats against their brothers, the
Serbs, they may have failed to realize that the repression of centuries
of vassalage when released would make the Croats run berserk. At any rate,
Pavelich decided to secure his position by not only ridding himself of
the large Serbian element in Croatia proper, but also eliminating the
Serbs in Bosnia, where the majority of the population is Serbian, but
which had been given to Croatia in payment for her deal with Germany.
has always been considered by historians, geographers, and ethnologists
to be a Serbian province, since it is predominantly Serb.
The population statistics of Bosnia compiled by
the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914 (prior to the outbreak of World War
I), when Bosnia was an Austro-Hungarian province, may be considered
to be impartial, since Austro-Hungary never liked or was likely to favor
Austro-Hungatian Statistics on
the Population of Bosnia: 1914
Orthodox . . . . . 930,000
Moslem . . . . . . 620,000
Catholic . . . . . 420,000
Total . . . . . .1,970,000
The 930,000 Orthodox believers
of Bosnia were Serbs. The 620,000 Moslems were Serbians
who had adopted the Mohammedan faith in the fifteenth century, at a time
when this province was ruled by the Turks. The 420,000 Catholics
were Croatian Roman Catholics. It is a fact that there are no Croat Orthodox
Catholics and no Serbian Roman Catholics. Adding the Orthodox Serbs and
the Moslem Serbs together, it will be seen that there were 1,550,000 Serbs
in Bosnia in 1914. That is, three fourths of the population was Serbian.
Croatia's extermination of the
Serbs of Bosnia was therefore as much a violation of the ethics of race
and nationality which Europe has evolved during the centuries as anything
ever done by the Nazis. It is another return to the barbarism which is
the black stigma of our century.
The massacres were carried out
ty the three branches of the Croatian forces, the Ustashi, the Home Defense
[Domobrani], and the regular army. Local Croat officials often participated
in the shooting of prominent Serbian citizens belonging to their locality.
Most of these officials were men who had been put in by Dr. Machek himself
when he set up his autonomous government. They went over, with almost no
resignations, to the Axis and continued their functions under Pavelich.
of the massacres was deliberate and political: it was to make Croatia a
Greater Croatia by annexing Bosnia and Herzegovina, so that, if the Allies
should by any chance win and allow the population to vote on their choice
of country, there should be no Serbs alive to cast their ballots.
The history of the massacres
is as follows: Between April 12 and 15 and on the night of May 31, 1941,
mass arrests were made in Zagreb, Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja-Luka, Travnik,
Dubrovnik, Livno, and other towns. The first large massacres occurred the
night of May 31, when groups of prominent Serb citizens were seized and
taken to the outskirts of the towns and shot. These spring killings in
Croatia proper are generally referred to as the Glina massacres.
Among the Serbs who died in the
spring massacres were the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Bishop of Zagreb,
who was seventy-five years old; Dr. Dushan Jeftanovic, president of the
Chamber of Commerce and Industry; the patriot, Dr. Vojislav Besarovic;
and a famous leader of the Sokol youth movement, Bogdan Vivodvic. It
should be noted that the Italians again and again tried to intervene to
save the defenseless
Serbs and often succeeded. Thus about 350 Serbians imprisoned
by the Croats in Mostar, Livno, Trebinye, and Dubrovnik were released by
the Italians. There were many other instances where the horrors revolted
not only the Italians but even the Germans.
The great massacres of 1941 did
not take place until June 24 to 28. They continued intermittently until
November 1945, by which time practically all the 1,250,000 Serbs and Jews
had been either exterminated or driven out. The later massacres were characterized
by the truly Hitlerite trickiness of Dr. Ante Pavelich. On June 22 he issued
an order stating that anyone using force against citizens of the country
would be severely punished. This notice, designed to put the Serbs off
their guard, was broadcast on the radio, read in churches, and published
in newspapers. But simultineously he sent a coded telegram to the Ustashi
ordering them to proceed with the massacres. What happened can best be
told by eyewitnesses:
(Privislav Grizogono, a
Croat and a Roman Catholic, member of the Yugoslav Diplomatic Corps,
Minister to Czechoslovakia, Poland,...)
"...unheard-of crimes. Ustashi are so terrible
they have shocked even the Germans and Italians... Eyes were dug out of
live victims... Countless women, girls, and children were raped"
(Dr. Theodore Lukac, a
Croatian, director of the District Hospital at Mostar): "From
June 24th to the 28th over 100,000 Serbs were murdered in Bosnia,
... The Serbs were caught as if they were wild
beasts, in the streets, in official buildings, and in their offices....
in Glina. Each night Serbs were bound and taken
... to the Orthodox Church,
where they were killed with knives. The corpses floated on the blood, and
the murderers boasted that they walked in Serbian blood up to their knees."
Source: A legal affidavit, signed
and sworn to by Herberovic Hilmija, a Mohammedan [Muslim]
resident Croatia, in regard to the Glina massacres:
killing was done in several ways. Some were locked up in the Orthodox Church
in Glina, which could contain 1,000 men. Then the company oficer chose
about fifteen men to do the killing. They were then sent into the church
with knives... "
to the Serbs, the Yugoslav Jews had succeeded in saving and rescuing many
of their compatriots from Germany and German-occupied countries...
In Serbia... anti-Semitic
feeling has never had any root. No German
measures in Belgrade were able to upset the friendly relations between
the Serbs and Jews... during the period
when Serbian students and peasants were hung in the main square in Belgrade,
the Serbs of the capital had sufficient courage to protest publicly their
indignation at the treatment of the Jews.
example of the Serbian people with regard to the Jews is unique
...should show gratitude to the Serbian people,
pointing out their noble acts, their humane feelings, and their high civic
consciousness and culture...
The preceding documents, only
a few of many, give some indication of the extent and ferocity of the Croat
crime against their utterly defenseless fellow countrymen and also of the
really magnificent spirit of our allies and brothers, the Serbs. The thought
of what the result will be is truly terrifying.
is not a Serb alive who has not lost some relative dear to him murdered,
with unimaginable torture, by
a race whom the Serbs themselves rescued from what the Croats then called
their "oppresor", Austria by those same Croats, even the identical
men, who only twenty-three years ago received their "dear deliverers,"
their "dear brother-Slavs," with fervent aclamation and expressions
of "undying gratitude and love."
If ever revenge massacres were
justified they are justified in this case. But in the interests of world
peace and of the remaining Serbs themselves, our splendid allies,
every one of whom we value and want to save alive, we must prevent a
postwar war of revenge in the Balkans.
of the first Yugoslavia ]
most catastrophic mistake ]
during WWII ]
The truth belongs to us all.
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Last revised: Nov. 26, 1997