World War II: Yugoslav--Regions

Figure 1.--

Yugoslavia suffered on of the worst fates of the countries involved in World War II. The actual pattern varied from reguon to region. The fate of occupied Yugoslavia varied signidicantly from region to region. Here there were variations which depended on whether they were occupied by the Germans or Italians. Also the ethnicity and religion were factors as well as the politicalmorientation of local authorities. The Croats with a strong Fascist movement were treated lightly by the NAZIS. Yugoslavia with the pent up natioanlist feelings before the War fueled by NAZI genocidal occupation policies became perhaps the greatest killing field of World War II. Perhaps no other European nation except Poland suffered more and tragically it was the Yugoslavs themselves more than the Germans that did much of the killing.


While Bosnia-Herzegovina was west of Serbia, ethnic Serbs lived there and were targetted by the Croat-NDH administratuion. Bosnia was a province annexed by Austria-Hungary (1909). This angered Serb nationalists and eventually set off World War I when Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand was assasinated there (1914). It was a province with an ethnically diverse population, including Orthodox Serbs, Catholic and Muslim Croats, Volkdeutsche, gypseys and Jews. Large areas of Bosnia had no Axis garison. The IItalians were concentrated along the coast. The relatively small German force concentrated on the road and rail links between Belgrade and Bulgaria. This thus presented almost limitless possivility for NDH Ustache mahem. And they turned the region into an almost unimaginable killing field. The Ustache set about creating a Croatian Bosnia. Non-Croats were targeted in a series of bloody ethnic cleansing incidents. An estimated 750,000 Serbs, Jews and Gypsies were killed. Thosands of Serbs fled west into Serbia proper controlled where the NASIs set up a pupet state by Milan Nedish. Even the German occupation authorities were shocked by the savagery of Ustashi attrocities. Croat Muslims in Bosnia volunteered to form a SS division.


Hitler set up a Croatian puppet state and grants the Croats "honorary Aryan" status. The Croats were disturbed that the NAZIs assigned parts of Croatia (Dalmatia--the Adriatic coastline wa assigned to Italy). Ustachi leaders knew better than to actively resist NAZI decessions. Croatia was compensated for the losses along the coast by being granted all of Bosnia. The Croatian Fascists (Ustashis) targeted Serb civilians, Jews, and Gipsies. The Ustashi was led by Dr. Ante Pavelic. Unlike the NAZIs, the Ustashi, left an extensive photographic record of their atrocities. Whole villages were whiped out.


Albania was the only majority Muslim country in Europe. Muslims also lived in Yugo slavia (mostly Kosovo and Bosnia). Italy occupied Albania an experienced little opposition (1939). The NAZIs and their Axis allies invaded Yugoslavia (April 6). The invasion began with the terror bombing of Belgrade. Within 12 days the country was in NAZI hands. The NAZIs carved up Yugoslavia, parceling out portions to their Axis allies, especially the Italians. The Italians had earlier invaded Albania (1939). A large area of southern Yugoslavia were anned to Albania, then in Italian hands. This included Kosovo and Metohija which at the time were part of Serbia. Included was territory southwest of Lake Scutari which was part of Montenegro. Finally the western region of Macedonia, which was then southern Serbia (Juzna Srbija) was included in the territory given to Albania. Thus with the Italian occupation the Kosovo and Albanian World War II experience essentilly become merged. Italy and the Albanians attempted to drive ethnic Serbs out of Kosovar and neigboyting regions. After the Italian surrender, the Germans were increasingly streached to control the Balkns. They formed the 21st Waffen SS Division Skanderbeg, mostly of Kosovar Muslim recrits, to aid in security operations.


What is now modern Macedonia was final area of the largely Christian Balkans to be liberated from the Ottoman Turks just before World War I. The Balkan Wars (1912-13) was ended by the Treaty of Bucharest. Macedonia was partioned by the Kingdoms of Greece, Bulgaria and Serbia. The area allocated to Serbia became known as Vardar Macedonia and became part of Yugoslavia with the unification of the southern Slavs. Within Yugoslavia it became part of Vardar Banovina. Opposition to Serbian dominated Yugoslavia was not as strong in Macedonia as in Croatia, but there were two groups promoting autonmy or independence on the political extreme. The primary right-wing fation was the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO) which gained strength after the rise of Fascism, especially the NAZIs in Germany. The IMRO was led by Ivan Mihailov. They desired to form a pro-Bulgarian Macedonian state under German and Italian protection. There was a leftist faction within the wing IMRO. Because of the Fascist drift of the IMO, they merged with the Communists prior to World War II. Their objective was create an independent Soviet Macedonia as part of a Balkan Federation. The German Blitzkrieg invasion campaign and collapse of the Yugoslav Army stunned most Yugoslavs ((April 1941). The Germans partitioned Yugoslavia among their selves, KItaly and Bilgaria as well a recognizing a NAZI allied Croatian state. The Germans assigned most of Vardar Macedonia to the Bulgarians, except for wesern Macedonia. A strip along the Albanian border was assigned to Italian-controlled Albania. The Royalist Chetniks with their largely Serbian base had very limited support in Macedonia. The primary resistance group was the Macedonian Partisans of the People's Liberation Army of Macedonia (PLAM) which became associated with Tito's Yugoslav Partisan movement. All Yugoalavs were stunned by the overwealming German victory. Thus they did not begin to form resistanc groups for several months. This bgan after the German invasion of the Soviet Union as it became apparent that the Germans would not easily overwealm the Soviet Rd Army. The PLAM began their political and military resistance campaign (October 11, 1941). its operations were at first very limited as most Macedonians at first believed that resistance was futile. Bulgarin brutality and German defeats in the East and West brought more recruits to the movement. The PLAM gradully became more than va nusince to the Bulgarians. The turning point was the Italin suurendr to the Allies (September 1943). The Germans did not have the cpability to replace the Italian occupation forces or support the Bulgarian forces in Vardar Macedonia. The resistance struggle became known as the National Liberation War of Macedonia (Народноослободителна Борба на Македонија / Narodnoosloboditelna Borba na Makedonija).


Montenegrowas politically divided. There were Communists. Montenegro nationalist were divided. One group, the Whites (Bjelaši), supported association with Serbia. Another group, the Greens (Zelenaši) supported separation from Yugoslavia. The Greens led by Sekule Drljevića and Montenegrin general Krste Popovića supported the Italian as liberators. The Communists and White began an insurection (July 13, 1941). The Italians supressed the rising within weeks. The Whites essentially accepted defeat while thec Partisans were determined to continue the resistance. The Italians offered assistance to the Whites if they would fight the Partisans. The White hesitated, but new of the split between Partisans and Chetniks in Serbia decided the issue. Nationalistic groups contacted Mihailović (end of November 1941). He recognized Captain Đurišić as Chetnik commander in Sandžak and Major Lašić as Chetnik commander in old Montenegro. Đurišić and Lašić returned and began mobilizing forced (mid-December). Combat with Partisans grouups began (January 1942). The Partisans were weakened by a costly attack on the Italians at Pljevljima (early December). Partisan terror attacks also lost them support. As a result, the Chetniks gained in strength. Local Chetnik commanders began making arrangements with the Italians. The first agrement was between Colonel Baja Stanišića and commander of Italian Division 'Taro' (February 17, 1942). Captain Đurišić and the military governor and commander of Italian Troops of Montenegro general Alessandro Pirzio Biroli reached agreement on the the collaboration of Đurišić Chetniks and Italian forces with the 'Venezia' Division. Colonel Stanišića and general Alessandro Pirzio Biroli reached agreement (March 6). These agreements involved actions against the Partisans, sometimes joint action. The Italians provided arms and supplies. Montenegrin who had been officers in the Royal Yugoslav Army met in Cetinje to chose general Blažo Đukanović as the Chetnik commandder. was chosen. Mihailović endorsed the choice and and have even suggested him.


A NAZI controlled Government in Serbia was estblished headed by former royal Yugoslav army general Milan Nedich. He also initiated an ethnic cleansing campaign. Nedich operated concentration camps for Jews, non-Serbs, and his Serb political opponents. Some of these operations, especially aginst Jews were conducted for the NAZIs, other operations against non-Serbs were conducted to suppport Nedich's Serbian nationalist ideology. The first experiments in mass executions of camp inmates by poison gas were carried out by the NAZIs in one of Nedich's camps. Serbia became the first NAZI satellite to declare itself "Judenrein" ("cleansed" of Jews). Nedich's Serbian militia forces, which played a key role in this task, outnumbered both German security forces and resistance fighters within the wartime borders of Serbia.



Solvenia bordered on Austria which as a result of the Anchluss was part of the German Reich. German troops poured across the border and occupied Slovenia within hours with virtually no resistance. Slovenia was partitioned with Axis partner Italy. Italy was awarded southwest Slovenia, including Ljubljana. The NAZIs annexed the northern part of Slovenia into the Reich. Hungary was awarded Prekmurje. This action shows that NAZI officals judged the Slovenes as racially salvageable. NAZI officials put in charge were largely Austrians who commenced a brutal campaign in the Carinthian and Styrian regions. The level of violence in Slovenia, however, never approached that in Bosnia and other areas of Yugoslavia. Many Slovenes participated in the resistance. As part of the Reich, Slovene youth in the German section were subject to conscription and thousands were forced to fight in the German military. Boys were required to join Hitler Youth units which were organized. The language of instruction in the schools became German. The Italians in their sector set out to Italicize Slovenes, but without the racial component persued in the German section.


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Created: 7:59 PM 5/2/2007
Last updated: 6:15 PM 5/4/2015