Cold War Yugoslavia: World War II Destruction

Cold War Yugoslavia
Figure 1.--It was well into the 1950s before Yugoslavia recovered from World War II. Because of the economic inefficiencies of socialism, the East Bloc countries tended to recover slower than in the West. This 1951 wire service photo was captioned, "In his hunger, patched clothing and hanbdsome features Rasin Opankovich of the village of Rakovina is typical of millions of Yugoslav children. When the war came, in 1941, Rasin was in the second grade. His school was destroyed in the war and never rebuilt. Here he's writingb his name and address so that, should a chabce come for him to come to America, he can be found."

Yugoslavia was one of the country's more devestated by World War II. The Communist Government faced an enormous job of relief and reconstruction. than any other country in Europe. The damage began with the German invasion (April 1941). Hitler was furious that the Yugoslavs overthrew the Government he forced to sign the Axis Pact. He decided to punish the Yugoslavs by the terror bombing of Belgrade. About 17,000 people were killed in the Luftwaffe terror bombing of a largely undefended city. The ensuing German invasion quickly suceeded and left the country in Axis hands. The country was occupied by Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, and Italy. The Germans granted a kind of independence to Croatia. The occupation progressed differently in these various zones. The Germans distrusted tghe Serbs because they had fought with the Allies in World War I and for racial reasons. They quickly round up the Jews. About 70,000 were killed even before the death camps in Poland were opened. It was the Serbs who were killed in large numbers. The Germans reacted viciously to acts of resistance. But even more deadly than the Germans were the Croat Ustaše. A complicated civil war developed in addition to the Resistance. Milohailovic's Chetniks and Tito's Partisans fought the Axis occupiers, primarily the Germans and Italians. The Axis occupiers executed large numbers of civilians in retaliation for attacks and sabotage, especially when Axis soldiers were casualties. But the Chetniks and Partisans also fought each other. The Albanians/Kosovars were also targeted by both the Serbs and Croats. The Ustaše allied themselves with the Germans and targeted civilians by launching an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Serb people. Hundreds of thousands of Serbs were murderedd in the most brutal manner. Whole villages were destroyed in the Axis anti-partisan campaigns and the Ustaše ethnic cleaning operations. Large areas of the country were devestated. Relatively little damage except in Belgrade was done in the initial German invasion. There were also Allied air raids. Much more damage was done during the partisan struggle and the fighting as the partisans with Soviet help pursued the Germans at the end of the War. As in the East, the retreating Germans destoyed much of the country's infrastructure and industrial base. In addition to war casuaklties and deliberate killing operations, large numbers of people died because of food shortages, famine, and disease. Accounts vary but as many as 1.7 million Yugoslavs perished in the War out of a total population of 15.0 million people. Large numbers of people were left homeless and many children displaced and abandoned.


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Created: 3:55 AM 1/8/2011
Last updated: 3:55 AM 1/8/2011