Völkermord der Tito-Partisanen1944-1948
Für Kärnten und Steiermark
Genocide Carried out by the Tito Partisans
There were approximately one half of a million persons of German origin living in Yugoslavia before the Second World War according to the census of March 31, 1931. These figures however only include those individuals who claimed German as their mother tongue. Those of German origin actually numbered more than that, and historians suggest that they numbered in the neighborhood of 600,000.
Among the German speaking population of Yugoslavia the vast majority of them can be counted as the descendants of those commonly known as the Danube Swabians. German colonists who had been settled by the Hapsburg Monarchy some two centuries before in the area that lay between the Danube, Tisa, Drava, Sava and Morash Rivers after the expulsion of the Turks who left an unpopulated wilderness and wasteland behind them.
In addition to them, there were also the Germans in Lower Steiermark, the descendants of Bavarian and Franconian colonists who migrated in the 9th century to resettle the unpopulated area left after the Avars were driven out. There were also the Gottscheer Germans, who were the descendants of Franconian, Swabian, Tyrolian and Carinthian peasant farmers who were settled in the area and were subsequently scattered from there. Above all, many of them moved into the towns and were known as ethnic Germans in Croatia and Slovenia.
The Danube Swabians to a great degree originated in the hereditary Hapsburg lands, from Alsace and Lorraine and the Palatinate, and a portion from Austria as well and many others from the south-western German principalities. With the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the Danube Swabian settlement areas and populations found themselves divided up into the various successor states of Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia. As a result, some 600,000 now belonged to Yugoslavia. The major settlement areas in Yugoslavia were the Batschka, where one third of them resided, in addition to a portion of the Banat, plus Syrmien (Srem), Slavonia and Lower Baranya.
The Lower Steiermark was annexed to the new Yugoslavian state after the First World War.
During the Second World War Yugoslavia was occupied by the German Army and their allies. As the German Army and their allies in Yugoslavia began to retreat, a portion of the German speaking population was evacuated. But about one half of the German population, who had lived in peace and friendship with their various Slavic neighbors for almost two centuries were not prepared to abandon what for them was their homeland and remained behind.
At the beginning of October 1944 the first Russian troops entered Yugoslavia and in a few day’s time they first occupied the Banat, and then the Batschka, and completed the occupation of Syrmien and Slavonia by the war’s end. In those areas occupied by the Russian troops, the Military Governments of the Serbian Partisans were quickly installed in every region, and were in power until the third of March of the following year. Attempts by their political opponents, other nationalists and royalists to share in government were denied and they were eventually liquidated.
Immediately with the setting up of Military Government by Tito’s Partisans a systematic program of liquidation of the remaining German-speaking population was put into effect. It was a field day for individual revenge and sadism. The vast majority of the survivors of Tito’s death camps managed to escape to West Germany in the 1950s, while a few thousand remained in Yugoslavia scattered throughout the country and who no longer constitute a “German minority”.
Estimates of the numbers of Danube Swabians in Yugoslavia who were victims of mass shootings, starvation, and the diseases which raged in the camps and other causes, have been set at about 175,000 persons, which is 32.7% of the population reported in 1939. Included in that number are men killed or missing in action in the military, some 40,000 who constitute 7.5% of the population, which indicates that 135,800 civilians lost their lives (25.3%). The vast majority of the civilian casualties occurred after the occupation by the Red Army, during the reign of the Partisan’s “military government”. There were mass shootings and executions, but also a planned systematic liquidation program in effect.
(The authors digress about variations in the estimated numbers and are not included)
The purpose of this documentation is not simply to put blame or guilt on individuals who were involved, but to raise our voices in condemnation over what occurred, and how it occurred. These are the crimes of Tito and his henchmen, which are centred on the following charges and issues:
The November 21, 1944 “National Decree” that all persons of German origin were outside of the law with no legal recourse or standing and were to be dispossessed of all property and possessions.
The systematic mass shootings of men in all areas and districts.
The carrying off of all able bodied men and younger women for slave labor in Russia.
The internment of all other civilians regardless of age or sex into concentration camps where massive numbers died from beatings, malnutrition, epidemics, cold and brutality.
Those released from the camps had to provide three years of slave labor.
The “kidnapping” of children without parents from the internment camps and their placement in state children’s homes to be made to forget their identities and be raised as Communists and speak only Serbo-Croatian.
We raise these complaints not only against individual Partisans but also many who were not Partisans who committed crimes against innocent people, killed, tortured, murdered, beat and sexually abused them. We know only too well, that these kinds of acts were not looked upon as crimes because they were done to Danube Swabians who were outside of the law and there could be no consequences for the perpetrator. Nor could the Danube Swabians call upon any of the state institutions to plead their case. These acts were not crimes, for there was no law against them nor was it forbidden to do, and no court would have convicted them.
(The authors engage in questions of complex legal considerations and niceties. In its place I offer this summary that capsulate the situation in which the Danube Swabian civilian population would find itself)
1. All persons of German origin living in Yugoslavia automatically lose their Yugoslavian citizenship and rights, privileges and protection of such citizenship.
2. The entire property of all persons of German origin can be confiscated by the state and claim ownership of it.
3. All persons of German origin cannot appeal to their rights of citizenship in the courts or state institutions, nor could they seek legal defense.
With this law in effect the 250,000 Danube Swabians were robbed of their property and possessions and declared to be outlaws. Confiscation meant more than loss of property or money. It meant the very clothes on your back. Everything now belonged to the State, even their lives and their bodies. Danube Swabian labor was only for the benefit of the State. No one had a right to live with their family nor any rights to their children who were taken away from them. No right to come and go anywhere on one’s own. The Danube Swabian had no rights but that of a beast of burden. They were in effect reduced to slavery.
There is no question now that the liquidation program that followed was systematic and planned from the top. Tito and his Partisan leadership were at the helm and in control throughout. There were three basic methods and phases of the liquidation:
1. Mass liquidations through execution and mass shootings
2. Deportations of the able bodied to Russia
3. Mass liquidation through starvation and slave labor in the concentration camps and the labor camps
All three of these methods were already set in motion prior to November 21st, but not entirely everywhere at the time. But from this point onward the three methods would affect all persons of German origin and would eventually lead to their extermination.
The Mass Liquidations
These mass shootings and massacres were not the result of the decree but occurred along with the arrival of the Red Army and the setting up of the Military Governments by the Partisans who quickly followed on their heels. The bestial nature of these actions is hard to describe and was subject to the local situation. The final destiny of thousands of men and women from the Danube Swabian communities is still unknown and has not seen the light day, and eye witnesses are no longer alive in the terms of the perpetrators of the genocide program while the testimony of the survivors could fill volumes.
Most of the mass liquidation operations occurred prior to January of 1945, and only small groups and individuals met their deaths in this way after that date. In these later actions it was a matter of sadism rather than official policy. A beast had been unleashed in search of victims. Part of the process was always terror and torture.
An observer comments: “The Tito Partisans thought up various ways and methods, which in their eyes were appropriate for the extermination of their victims to maximize their suffering. For instance there was the Schichttorten-Effect. For this purpose old and abandoned wells and mine shafts were used. They threw in a group of men in the shaft or well and then tossed in hand grenades after them. Then another group of men were thrown in and the process repeated itself, until the last layer, who were left wounded with no way of getting back up to the top.”
Deportations to Russia
The first mass deportations were carried out on Christmas Eve in 1944. The choice of date was hardly accidental, which would make thousands upon thousands of children virtual orphans.
In all areas and communities of the Batschka and the Banat, all Danube Swabians men from 18 to 40 years of age, and all women from 18 to 30 had to report to an assembly area where they were examined physically to determine if they were able bodied for labor by a Russian commission. They were then packed into cattle cars and transported to a destination that was unknown to the victims. Only pregnant women and nursing mothers were exempt, but for many of them their fate would be even worse.
The officials were not satisfied with the numbers they had apprehended and a second so called “recruitment” was undertaken, in which the age for women was raised to 35 years, and some mothers of infants were also taken. At the time of this second deportation the Partisans also occupied parts of southwestern Hungary and carried out the deportations there as well. In Slavonia and Syrmien, only isolated actions associated with the deportation were carried out. There were some 40,000 persons involved in these deportations, including 2,400 persons from Apatin alone. It was only in the summer of 1945 that their destination and destiny became known. Few families were left intact.
Only the aged and the children were left behind, and only a few of the children had one of their parents with them to face what the future would hold for them. Most of the children were with grandparents, or under the care of a teen-age brother or sister or relative. In many cases small children were left alone in their houses and had to fend for themselves. One old man in Filipovo gathered twenty-eight of his grandchildren in his house because all of their parents had been deported to Russia.
(The authors now detour into an examination of what they perceive to be the reasons behind the liquidation of the Danube Swabian population, and I offer a precise.)
The reasons for the liquidation of the Danube Swabian population had several sources. But at no time were they accused of going over to or supporting National Socialism. At least no Yugoslavian government has ever accused them of such! It was a well-known fact among their Slavic neighbors that the vast majority of the Swabians did not support the Nazis. During the occupation by the German Wehrmacht (Army) there were numerous instances where the local Danube Swabian populations offered protection to the Serbians among whom they lived and many of the Danube Swabian men had served in the Yugoslavian Army during the German and Hungarian invasion in 1941. This was also well known in government circles. Nor was membership in the Swabian Folk Group Union before the war seen as anti-Yugoslavian, but primarily pro-German in terms of language and culture. The government never took action against the organization or saw it in any way subversive. None of these issues were reasons for the persecution that was unleashed against them.
The issue behind the liquidation of the Danube Swabians at its simplest was racist. The Partisans, like the Nazis saw assimilated families (inter-marriage with Hungarians, Serbs, Croats, Slovaks) to be the source for “contamination” of the “race”, and they were as brutal, bestial and sadistic as any of those involved in the Final Solution of the Jewish population during the reign of the Third Reich.
The attitude of the local Slavic populations also played a role and through the support and help of many of the different nationalities, some 20,000 to 25,000 Danube Swabians escaped from the camps, and some 15,000 to 20,000 of them were able to flee to Austria and Germany. That some 42,000 survived in the extermination camps after three and one half years of inhuman treatment was due to the assistance of thousands of Serbs, Croats, Hungarians, Slovaks and Ukrainians. These people put their lives and the lives of their families on the line in assisting the Danube Swabians in any way they could. This puts a lie to the claim that the Danube Swabians had lorded it over their neighbors during the Nazi occupation.
The other issue, as always, was economic. The Danube Swabians property, homes, assets and savings were confiscated. Nor were the bestial reprisals against them a result of any of their actions taken during the Nazi occupation. The Roman Catholic priesthood, and the Lutheran and Reformed Danube Swabian pastors always sided with their Slavic neighbors against any Nazi attacks or actions taken against them. In effect, the clergy in sense were the only anti-Nazi force that was active during the occupation. It is ironic that such a large number of the anti-Nazi clergy were included in the mass shootings and executions. They had three strikes against them. They belonged to the German racial group. Religion and Communism were enemies. They were often the leading intellectuals in the Danube Swabian communities.
For example, in the Batschka there were forty-eight priests who were persecuted by the Partisans in some of the most bizarre cruel manner representing both German and mixed parishes. Eighteen of them were killed. Four were taken in the deportation to Russia. Seventeen were interned in the camps and nine were imprisoned.
There were large elements of the population in the Batschka who were able to evacuate prior to the coming of the Russian Army and the Partisan Military Governments that followed. While in Slavonia and Syrmien there had been well organized mass evacuations of almost the entire Danube Swabian population, but in the Banat most of the attempts at flight were thwarted by Folk Group officials and the local populations were trapped in stalled treks and had to return home and to death and destruction, along with thousands of other Danube Swabians fleeing from the Romanian Banat who had sought to cross the Danube passing through Yugoslavia and make it to safety in Hungary but shared in the fate of the Danube Swabians of Yugoslavia instead.
The imprisonment of the Danube Swabians in internment camps began in December of 1944 and was completed by April 1945. There were three kinds of camps:
1. Zentralarbeitslager “Central Labor Camp”
2. Ortslager “Regional or District Camp”
3. Konzentrationslager fuer Arbeitsunfaehige
“Concentration Camp For Those Unable to Work”
In the Central Labor Camps most of the inmates were men who were put into work groups and put to hard labor. In the District or Regional Camps, the local Danube Swabian population was interned, often in their own villages as a stopgap method. The Concentration Camps were for women, children and older men unable to work. But in some cases, mothers were separated from their children and teen-agers were later taken to the Labor Camps with them as well.
The Forced Labor Camps
As soon as the Russians occupied an area and the Partisans “set up shop”, various forms of the slave labor were demanded of the Danube Swabian population. They were always given the hardest and most difficult tasks, but their food and accommodation were at the bare minimum. They worked from 4:00 am to dark and received a piece of bread and watery soup at each meal. In many instances work parties would be replaced and they themselves were then released to go home. This was the general rule for work parties under the command of the Russian military at the airport in Sombor. This never happened to those who were under the jurisdiction of the Partisans. There was no release, except death or flight. Those released by the Russians were invariably picked up by the Partisans and put back into labor battalions.
The Danube Swabian slave labor battalions were made available to the railways, sanitation departments and such. To be more available for work, local labor camps were set up in old factories, schools, and former homes of Danube Swabians that were converted into guarded compounds. Prisoners were shifted from camp to camp and were marched on foot over long distances during the night to be available for work the next day at the new site. The Partisans command was in charge and in control of this action and placement.
The slave laborers included both men and women and their life in the camps was miserable. Torture and beatings were “normal”. Many died because of this constant abuse and mistreatment. They could not keep up with the marching column going to work and would be beaten and driven to the work place. Many such laborers did not last for more than a week at the labor camp.
Families of those who were in the labor camps had no contact or any information about their family members. Often mothers had to leave their children in the care of the oldest child or turned them over to a relative or friend or simply left them to fend for themselves without knowing if they would ever meet again. Often those who took in other children would be interned in a camp and had to provide for them. It was against the law for “Germans” to send our receive mail and mothers had no way of letting their children know where they were. Nor did the mothers know of the situation or whereabouts of their children.
As early as the fall of 1944, each district where the Danube Swabians lived had a large central Forced Labor Camp. When the Military Government was abolished on March 3, 1945 these camps came under the command and direction of various state “enterprises”. The worste feature of these forced labor camps was the practice of gathering groups of them for mass shootings or individual executions. Many of those who were sick and too weak to work were the victims of these shootings. But one could work hard and dutifully all day, only to be return to camp and face a gruesome death to entertain the guards. It was during the time when the Partisans were in control that the mass shootings took place, later everyone lived in fear of individual execution.
The situation was better for those slave laborers who worked and were lodged at their work place away from the District Camp. These facilities were not well guarded. There were no barbed wire compounds and it was easier to leave at night and scrounge for food. Often the officials of such camps had too much heart to let the inmates starve and increased their rations. If a person were unable to be assigned to such a camp, he/she would weaken to such a degree that they would be sent to a concentration camp. The situation of the forced laborers simply got worse as they were moved from one work place to another. Everything they had was taken away from them. Their garments became rags.
The Labor Camps were guarded by the military and a sentry accompanied all work groups on the way to their work place. The guard’s task at the camp was to keep the inmates inside and prevent all outside contact.
With the introduction of a civilian government on March 3, 1945 the forced laborers could be purchased for work at the rate of 50 to 110 Dinar per day and the purchaser would have to provide accommodations and food. The slave labor “market” proved to be the salvation of many as former neighbors, friends, acquaintances of the other nationalities purchased them and assisted them back to health and well being and made contacts and traced the whereabouts and fates of their family members.
2. Concentration Camps
The Concentration Camps were introduced in the Banat, when all the remaining Danube Swabian population was driven from their home communities to a central camp. This was carried out in Werschetz on November 18, 1944 and then preceded to be carried out everywhere. In the Batschka it began on November 29, 1944 in the southern districts in Palanka and several of the villages around Neusatz. In a planned approach all of the rest of the Batschka followed suit, with Stanischitsch the last to be effected in August 1945. This community had a large Serbian population that spoke out against the expulsions of the Danube Swabian population. At the same time the actions were also begun in Syrmien and Slavonia, so that by September 1945 no person of “German origin” was at liberty anywhere in Yugoslavia.
In every district there was at least one Forced Labor Camp. But those unable to work were driven into the concentration and internment Camps that in effect were designed to be extermination camps and often served several districts. These extermination camps were located at:
- Guidritz (Guduvica)
- Kathreinfeld (Katarina)
- Stefansfeld (Supljaja)
- Molidorf (Molin)
- Karlsdorf (Banatski Karlovac)
- Brestowatz (Banatski Brestovac)
- Rudolfsgnad (Knicanin)
- Jarek (Backi Jarak)
- Sekitsch (Sekic)
- Gakowa (Gakovo)
- Kruschevlje (Krusevlje)
- Pisanitza (Pisanica)
The number one rule and order in these camps was that no inmate could leave except in the company of a guard. All outside contacts were forbidden and to go out begging for food was punishable by death. The Partisans themselves called the camps, “extermination centers” and they were mills grinding out death.
In systematic fashion in both the forced labor and concentration camps all of the possessions of the inmates were taken away from them except what would be necessary to clothe their naked bodies at burial. Food was practically non-existent and as a result thousands would die of malnutrition, disease, cold and starvation.
They would receive soup two times a day, usually with a sprinkling of beans, peas, oats, barely or wheat cooked along with the clear water. There was a daily bread ration, but not always, a small piece the size of two matchboxes. Both the bread and soup contained no salt and the soup was without lard. The rate of death was horrific. Every day a hole the size of a room in a house was dug and the bodies of the dead were sewn into rags in their clothes or naked and were thrown into it the next day. Some mothers accompanied all of their children to one of these mass graves, while more often a child would be forced to toss the body of their mother and other siblings into one of these graves, only to end up in another one themselves. For the Danube Swabians victims there was no cemetery or funeral of any kind.
3. The Closing of the Camps
In the summer of 1948 all of the camps in Yugoslavia were shut down. Those able to work had to take on jobs. Those unable to work could rejoin their families and find work there in order to support themselves. Others who were unable to find somewhere to live were sent to what was called, “The Old Folks’ Home” in Karlsdorf-Rankovice. This was hardly any different than the camps they had survived. Since 1948 Karlsdorf bears the name of Rankoviecvo in honor of the head of the OZNA who was personally responsible for the carrying out of the liquidation of the Danube Swabians from the fall of 1944. Karlsdorf is the last station of the cross of the Danube Swabian minority in Yugoslavia of what was planned to be the total extermination of all persons of German origin in the country …genocide.