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Historical Accounts

Europe’s Largest Mass Grave

By Malte Olschewski

Translated by Henry A. Fischer

In the forests of Slovenia there are probably 100,000 skeletons.  Familiar loud noises and sounds were heard in the summer of 1945 coming from the forests all along the Drava River near Marburg and the farmers throughout the area whispered among themselves, “Tito is speaking.”  It is here where Tito’s Partisans shot and buried 100,000 persons following the German capitulation.  The masses of corpses began to swell.  The gases resulting from the decomposition seeped through the thin layer of soil offering a tell-tale stench.  Tito spoke again.

 During the Communist Era the mass murder of Tito’s opponents was a taboo subject the breaking of which was threatened with severe punishment.

Even after the independence of Slovenia in 1991 it took more than ten years until an official investigation of the events of May 1945 could begin.  A government Commission for Hidden Mass Graves under the leadership of Joze Dezman, Mitja Ferenc and Martin Kostreve has been able to locate over 500 execution sites since 2002 and undertaken exhumation operations.  But the question is seldom put to the perpetrators.  One would suppose that hundreds of persons now living in the successor states of the former Yugoslavia participated in these mass murders in the Slovenian “Katyan Forest Massacre”.

At war’s end at the beginning of May 1945 southern Carinthia and northern Slovenia turned into a witches’ cauldron.  General Alexander Löhr and his Army Group E marched up from the south in an almost endless column in the direction of the German Reich.  Along with them or following after them were large groups of Croatian Ustasi units and Serbian Chetniks (Royalists) who joined them fearing the wrath of Tito for their collaboration with the Germans.  In addition members of the German minority living in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia also joined the flight.  The Home Defence Force of Slovenia marched out of Laibach towards Carinthia.  Cossacks who had fought as allies of Hitler were stationed on the banks of the Drava River in Upper Carinthia at the end of the war.  British troops coming up through Italy occupied Klagenfurt and were joined there by Tito’s Partisans and assumed the role of joint occupiers.  A far-reaching accord was reached by the British Field Marshall Alexander (of Tunis) and Tito establishing a demarcation line between them along the Drava River.  Those units that had crossed the river prior to the capitulation were under the jurisdiction of the British and could hope to be accorded their rights (according to the Articles of War).  Those who found themselves south of the river were placed under the custody of the Partisans and had to fear possible execution.  Innumerable acts of heroism on the part of the civilian population in Carinthia led to the rescue of countless numbers of German soldiers as they risked their lives to take them across the river into the British zone.  But the Partisans hunted down all of those persons in Carinthia who had been active in the vote against annexation to the new state of Yugoslavia in the plebiscite of October 10, 1920.   About one hundred persons were apprehended and dragged off somewhere and were never seen or heard from again.  A few weeks later Alexander sent an ultimatum to the Tito forces.  They were to leave Carinthia, which they did in light of the authority and power of the British.  Recent research indicates that they made a deal:  the withdrawal of Tito’s troops in exchange for a free hand with the Ustasi, Chetniks and soldiers from the regular army and members of the German minority.

  Ten thousand German soldiers, Ustasi and Chetnik units at the time of the capitulation were located south of the Drava River.

Near the city of Bleiburg British units moved against the Ustasi and Chetniks who attempted to move north.  Nikolai Tolstoj, the grandson of the famous poet, portrayed this in his work entitled:  The Conspiracy of Klagenfurt.  In his book entitled:  Carinthia 1945, August Walzl furnishes the disturbing details of how the British Deputy Minister for the Mediterranean Region and later Prime Minister of Great Britain, Harold MacMillan staged this betrayal.  Armed Ustasi units were welcomed by the British and were talked into laying down their weapons.  Then they were handed over to the Partisans.  This resulted in horrible scenes of mass suicide.  Bleiburg today still is designated as “The Croatian Calvary” in the official history of the Zagreb government.  General Löhr, the commander of the Army Group E, following discussions with the British at Scheitern voluntarily went into captivity and was handed over to the Tito’s Army and was later executed after a show trial.  Some of the few company commanders of Army Group E who still remained had moved on into the Reich despite their orders after the capitulation and most of them got through and were well aware of what awaited them if they had fallen into the hands of the Partisans.

 

  With the help of the British ten thousand of Tito’s bitterest enemies fell into his hands.

The British set lies and ruses in place in order to place more execution material into Tito’s hands.  The Slovenian Home Defence Force had fled to Carinthia.  There they were concentrated in a camp at Viktring by the British.  They were promised evacuation to Italy but their sealed trains passed through the Karawaken Tunnel directly into the arms of the Partisan avengers awaiting them.  Individual Partisans were no longer prepared to wait and began executing men on the train.  All along the railway line there were scenes of apocalyptic proportions.  Time and time again the train halted.  Each time there were always more corpses thrown out of the boxcars.  Home Defence soldiers were chained together and thrown down on the tracks and brutally tortured and killed.  Most of the Home Defence forces were executed at the Hornwald (forest) of Gottschee and thrown into the caverns among the boulders there while at the same time the cracking sound of salvos of rifle fire from execution commando squads was heard coming from the forest all week long.  The Germans had dug a long trench for their tanks in preparation for the defence of Marbug in Tezno.  The Partisans spared themselves the trouble of digging graves.  Up to 15,000 persons were led to the tank trench and executed with salvos of MG rifle fire.  All of Upper Carinthia was gorged with execution sites:  in castles throughout the region, in the mines at Lasko and former bunkers that were filled with corpses.  The Secret Police of the Tito regime brought candidates for death by open trucks to the adjoining plateau or the Pohorje Mountains.

 

  The forest is stuffed with skeletons.

                             “Do you enjoy various exciting events and activities?

                               Do you prefer social gatherings as well as spend time

                              on your own or both at the same time?  For a wonderful

                               time enjoy the hospitality we will offer you with our

                               traditional home cooked meals and various beverages

                               along with our colourful customs and traditions.”

 

This is how the Slovenian Tourist Bureau of today publicizes a holiday in Pohorje.  Anyone who takes a hike through the woods will literally walk over corpses.  The forest is stuffed with skeletons.  Up until today the authorities still doge the question that needs to be put to the perpetrators.

Chiefly responsible and accountable for the greatest “Killing Field” in Europe is Josip Broz Tito who also carried out or ordered other gruesome deeds after the war.  Tito carried out a communist revolution battling against the German occupier and their collaborators.  For that reason there are many civilians from the middle and upper classes of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia who were victims of his series of executions.  Over all, Tito’s later Minister of the Interior, Aleksander Rankovic, was answerable for the executions carried out in all of Yugoslavia.  Who organized and acted as the commander of the mass executions in Slovenia in May 1945 remains unknown.  Boris Kidric as the leading Slovene on Tito’ staff apparently was not the person.

Mitja Ribicic, the later Prime Minister of Yugoslavia was a feared leader on the Partisan Council during the war and known as “Captain Mitia”.  He was proven to be a participant in the execution of over 200 persons but has never been charged.  There was not a single trial of anyone who was responsible for these massacres throughout the Communist Era from 1945-1991.  Since the disintegration of the state of Yugoslavia the question we are asking does not play much of a role.  In light of the crimes committed in the Separation Wars from 1991-1995 they far overshadow this issue we have raised.