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Lest we forget

A book by: Ms. Ruth Mitchell,

The Serbs choose war

Published by: Garden City; New York;
The first edition was in

NOTE: Ms. Ruth Mitchell was a sister of General "Billy" Mitchell - the father of U.S. Air Force.

page 83

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 not kept.

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.

In a 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!"

p. 84

"I 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 berserk.

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 planes?

How often in that time I thought of my 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, also ignored?"

pp 245-246

"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."

p 246-247


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.

The 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 Germans.

It is 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 6, 1941.

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 these attacks.

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.

The 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.

A total 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.

Of 224,000 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 and killed."

pp. 247-250


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.

The 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 Croatian State."

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.

But from the Croats even worse was to come.

pp. 251-254


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 fellow countrymen.

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.

Bosnia 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 the Serbs.

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.

The object 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:

Document I


(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"

Document II


(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."

Document III


Source: A legal affidavit, signed and sworn to by Herberovic Hilmija, a Mohammedan [Muslim] resident Croatia, in regard to the Glina massacres: "The 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... "

pp 260-264

Document IV

A Jewish physician

"Thanks 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.

The example of the Serbian people with regard to the Jews is unique in Europe...

Jews ...should show gratitude to the Serbian people, pointing out their noble acts, their humane feelings, and their high civic consciousness and culture...

pp 264-265

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.

There 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.

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Last revised: Nov. 26, 1997