Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Ethnic German Human Loses during WWII and Thereafter
Dr. Vladimir Geiger
Translated by Rosina T. Schmidt
Continued from Part Two:
There are many statistics with larger numbers of ethnic Germans who emigrated from Bosnia and Herzegovina, which seam to be exaggerated. For example, according to the estimates of Siegfried Kasch, the ethnic German representative in the INDEPENDENT STATE OF CROATIA , in July of 1942 he personally encouraged as a necessary emigration around 23,000 of Bosnian-Herzegovinian ethnic Germans to relocate to the German Reich.
During World War II, members of the ethnic German national group in INDEPENDENT STATE OF CROATIA were [involuntary] recruited into the armed forces of the INDEPENDENT STATE OF CROATIA (Deutschen Jägerbataillons, part of the Home Guard and Einsatzstaffel der Deutschen Mannschaft in the Ustasha army) and fought in the INDEPENDENT STATE OF CROATIA , or were recruited into armed forces of the German Reich (Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS) and fought in the INDEPENDENT STATE OF CROATIA and the Balkans or in other European battlefields, mostly in the East.
The Bosnia-Herzegovina ethnic Germans joined the military and paramilitary troops of the INDEPENDENT STATE OF CROATIA and the German Reich and were involved in combat operations against insurgents, guerrilla movement, and the Chetniks (primarily as members of the Deutschen Jägerbataillons and Einsatzstaffel DM, then in the 7th SS Division “Prinz Eugen”), in defense of their settlements and the increases of the rebels on the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina (Ortsschutz, as in Heimatwacht der Deutschen Volksgruppe of the Unabhängigen Staate Kroatien).
The Bosnian-Herzegovinian ethnic German press in INDEPENDENT STATE OF CROATIA was full of obituaries and names of the fallen soldiers and killed civilians. The overwhelming fact was that the events on battlefields especially the vulnerability and insecurity of the villages and the population in the Independent State of Croatia through the partisan movement did not guarantee the safety of lives and property of the ethnic German population.
Just how many ethnic Germans emigrated from Bosnia and Herzegovina during 1943 and by the end of 1944 wary, and could be around 2,000 to 3,000 people.
During the 1943, and especially by the end of 1944 the remaining ethnic Germans in the Independent State of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina fled and left their homeland. At the beginning of 1943 the partisan forces targeted the large number of ethnic Germans in Slavonia, and was followed by displacement of the ethnic German folk group from western and central Slavonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to the surroundings of Osijek and Syrmia. According to the plans during 1943 about 5,000 ethnic Germans were to be relocated from the remaining ethnic German settlements in Bosnia. At the same time while transferring the ethnic German folk group from Central to Eastern Slavonia and Syrmia on 21st September of 1944 the rest of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s ethnic Germans from Windthorst, Adolfstal and TROŠELJ were relocated to Osijek, from where they travelled through Hungary to the German Reich. The remaining ethnic Germans from Brcko and its surroundings were forcefully emigrated at the same time as the ethnic German folk group in the districts between Sava and Danube and the areas in the eastern Syrmia districts in the fall 1944, and with that actually ended the exodus of the ethnic Germans from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
At the end of 1944 and the beginning of 1945 the National Liberation Army and Yugoslav partisan / Yugoslav Army and the newly established “national” government started systematic persecution of the remaining ethnic Germans in Yugoslavia. This has been mainly decided by the Presidency of the Antifascist Council of National Liberation of Yugoslavia on 21st of November 1944, when it was declared that the ethnic German minority was a collective culprit . “The decision to turn the enemy’s assets into state-owned assets, the state administration forcible confiscated the properties of the absent persons and the properties that were sequestered by the occupying authorities.” The president of AVNOJ released in mid-December 1944 the decision that was reached on 21st of November 1944, which determined the position of the Yugoslav ethnic Germans.
The decision by the Presidency of AVNOJ on 21st November 1944 was not depending on establishing the truth or validity of the evidence of facilitating the occupiers, but came to attack every person of ethnic German nationality, that was not directly opposed to Nazism.
The victims of collective reprisals were not the only Yugoslav ethnic Germans who could prove their involvement in the partisan movement or their help. To others their property was confiscated, they ended in the starvation camps and were deported.
On the basis of this decisions the Presidency AVNOJ on 21st of November 1944 implemented a series of decisions, regulations and interpretations of laws, which enabled them and which finally achieved the legal persecution of ethnic Germans. The issue of ethnic Germans in Yugoslavia was solved simple and without compromise.
The relationship of the People’s Liberation Army and Yugoslav partisan / Yugoslav Army and the “folk” Yugoslav authorities, towards the Yugoslav and Bosnia and Herzegovina ethnic Germans, which were labeled by collective guilt, is a best example of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia and Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of World War II and in the immediate post-war period.
As ordered by the Department of Yugoslav National Defense the units of Yugoslavian Army occupied some settlements and arrested the still remaining ethnic Germans and took them to the concentration camps, from where they were to be expelled from Yugoslavia. The few remaining Bosnian-Herzegovinian Germans were expelled and imprisoned by the Yugoslavia’s communist authorities in the concentration camps, which were in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Bosnian Aleksandrovac Bosanska Dubica, Laus, near Banja Luka, Nova Topola, Sarajevo, Zenica).
Prison camps and forced labor camps were established immediately after the partisan detachments NOV and PO of Yugoslavia established their authority in a particular area in the summer and fall of 1944, which by the end of the Second World War and in the immediate post-war period became very frequent and usual.
There were a considerable number of German soldiers prisoners in detention camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who remained as forced laborers. Those prison camps in Bosnia and Herzegovina were in: Banovici, Banja Luka, Brcko, Busovaca, Doboj, Donja Viš?a, Jablanica,Lukavac, Maglaj Modrica, Mostar, Nemila, Novo Sarajevo, Pale, Vares, Visoko, Zavidovi?, Zenica, Žep?e, Živinice, and in Sarajevo and Doboj were prison hospitals.
The Yugoslav communists intented and succeeded to completely eradicate what they called “any traces of the enemy” in the immediate post-war period as ordered by the command of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia on 18 May 1945 by the removal of military cemeteries of the occupiers. As it was confirmed through various sources in literature and contemporary events during the post-war period Bosnia and Herzegovina systematically eliminated tombstones and graves of all of the enemy armies, and even the graves of German soldiers were destroyed and removed from the well-looked after German military cemetery (such as in Sarajevo and Banja Luka).
The long duration and intensity of World War II in the Independent State of Croatia, and particularly in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the presence of significant strength of occupying forces of German Reich and Italy and operations by the Armed Forces of the INDEPENDENT STATE OF CROATIA, Chetniks – the Yugoslav Homeland Army and the partisans – the National Liberation Army of Yugoslav partisan division / Yugoslav Army resulted in direct conflicts of warring factions, which led to large numbers of casualties among the soldiers, and among the population. Irreconcilable ideologies and political and military interests of the opposing sides multiplied the human losses in the civil war.
The war crimes that were committed by some of the ethnic Germans and their disloyal attitude during World War II and the occupation of any part of Yugoslavia, including Bosnia-Herzegovina served as the reason, justification and excuse for the inhuman treatment of the German minority duing the late war years. The collaboration of Yugoslav ethnic Germans do not differ in any respects from the collaborations of Hungarian, Albanian, Italian or Bulgarian Yugoslav minorities. However, only the ethnic Germans were found to be the collective culprits.
The new Yugoslav authorities went out o their way to gather information and to corroborate (to prove) that the Danube Swabians were the “enemies of the people” and “war criminals”. It was during this time that every ethnic German citizen of Yugoslavia was regarded to be a war criminal, unless it could be proven otherwise.
The new authorities who had the task to register the war crimes, search for the perpetrators and collect the evidence, were actually not entirely in clear what a war crime actually was. The political environment that contributed to such attitudes and actions was anything but normal.
In researching and understanding the history of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian ethnic Germans during World War II one has to acknowledge the humanitarian efforts and actions of individuals in protecting the persecuted persons by the measures of the INDEPENDENT STATE OF CROATIA’s authorities and occupying forces of the Nazi Germany. It is not an insignificant fact that five of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Danube Swabians (Joseph and Rozika Eberhardt and Adam Till from Sarajevo and Francis and Lydia Griner from Mostar) were noted for their humanitarian works and for the protection of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Jews, and received the Order “Righteous Among the Nations”.