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.
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.
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).
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.
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.