The following commentary was published in Serbian in Danas on 23 April 2015
The testimonies of Slobodan Markovic, Veselin Djuretic, Kosta Nikolic and Bojan Dimitrijevic are all in support of the overturning of Draza Mihailovic’s conviction as a traitor and war-criminal. They put forward a combination of arguments: firstly, the opinions of foreign observers and others sympathetic to Mihailovic; secondly, allegations of procedural irregularities that worked to Mihailovic’s disadvantage; and thirdly, attempts at refuting specific pieces of evidence accepted by the court.
The first of these carries the least weight. Slobodan Markovic devotes much space to opinions of foreign governments (British and US) and their agents that Mihailovic was innocent of the charge of collaboration with the Germans and Italians. Naturally, such opinions should be considered by historians, but they are not a reason to question a judicial verdict – they are simply opinions of interested parties. We do not know how these agents would have fared had they testified, but they are unlikely to have resulted in an unambiguous endorsement of the pro-Mihailovic narrative. Markovic mentions Colonel William Bailey as one such source. Yet Bailey was one of the sources for Churchill’s conclusion that Mihailovic was collaborating with the Italians. According to Bailey’s report as referred to by Churchill, Mihailovic had given a speech to his troops on 28 February 1943 in which he had stated that ‘As long as the Italians remained his sole adequate source of benefit and assistance generally, nothing the Allies could do would make him change his attitude towards them.’ This fact is not mentioned by Markovic, Djuretic, Nikolic or Dimitrijevic.
Markovic mentions William Mackenzie’s 1947 report, which cites the very high Yugoslav wartime casualties, apparently in order to vindicate not only Mihailovic, but even the open collaborator Milan Nedic – presumably in opposition to the high-cost resistance strategy of the Partisans. But this argument amounts to a defence of collaboration, not a denial that it occurred.
Markovic cites Peter Solly-Flood’s opinion that Mihailovic would experience a ‘totalitarian trial’ [totalitarno sudjenje]; this is a political judgement that cannot serve to overturn a judicial verdict. If it did, then implicitly all war-criminals convicted by Yugoslav courts under the Communist regime should have their convictions overturned – Ustashas, Nedicites and Germans alike. For example, German General Alexander Loehr was convicted and executed in 1947 by the same judicial system that convicted Mihailovic. High-ranking Nazis were tried by the victorious Allies via the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, which was undoubtedly a case of ‘victors’ justice’ and in which Stalin’s totalitarian regime participated. All these convictions cannot simply be dismissed.
Kosta Nikolic claims that the Mihailovic trial was ‘fixed [montiran]’ He argues: ‘Ako uporedimo da je optuznica imala 15 tacaka, a da je Mihajlovic osudjen po 7 tacaka, to ukazuje da je vec u toku sudjenja otpalo 8 tacaka za koje Mihajlovic je optuzen.’ [‘If we consider that the indictment had 15 counts, and that Mihailovic was convicted on eight counts, that shows that already during the trial eight counts upon which Mihailovic was indicted had failed.’] It is unclear how Nikolic arrived at these figures, but if the court failed to convict Mihailovic on over half the counts, it suggests that the trial was not fixed (or at least not wholly fixed). Nikolic and Dimitrijevic both discuss the 1943 agreement on collaboration between the Partisans and Germans. Yet this is irrelevant: the question here is not whether the Partisans were hypocritical or whether they also collaborated, but only whether Mihailovic was guilty (equally, the fact that the Allied powers were themselves undoubtedly guilty of war-crimes does not invalidate the conclusions of the Nuremberg tribunal).
Veselin Djuretic’s testimony is the least convincing, amounting to little more than a political polemic. He counterpoises the ‘Etnojezicki odnosno zapadnoevropski sasnovano, [model], koji je personifikovao Gen. Mihajlovic i AVNOJevsko koji je razbijao srpske zemlje i potkopavao Jugoslaviju u sustini separatisticko retrogradnog velikohrvatskog i veliko albanskog, koji model je personifikovao Josip Broz Tito.’ [‘The ethno-linguistic or West-European-based model, which Gen. Mihailovic personified, and the AVNOJ model that fragmented the Serb lands and buried Yugoslavia – in essence separatist, retrograde, Great Croat and Great Albanian – personified by Josip Broz Tito’] Such unserious propagandistic testimony cannot have any bearing on whether Mihailovic’s conviction was sound or not.
Bojan Dimitrijevic provides the most serious case for questioning the conviction of Mihailovic, insofar as he focuses in turn on specific points of evidence in the case. Yet he omits key details that do not support his viewpoint. Thus, in discussing Mihailovic’s meeting with the Germans at Divci near Valjevo on 11 November 1941, Dimitrijevic omits to mention that Mihailovic asked the Germans for ammunition with which to fight the Partisans. Yet this is recorded in the transcript of Mihailovic’s speech at the meeting, published in the collection of documents which Dimitrijevic and Nikolic themselves edited (‘Rat i mir djenerala – Izabrani ratni spisi’, Srpska rec, knj. 1, str. 213). Dimitrijevic correctly notes that the Germans initially viewed Mihailovic as an enemy with whom they were unwilling to collaborate, but fails to note that the reverse was not true: Mihailovic viewed the Germans as his enemies in the long term, but in the short term he was willing to collaborate with them against the Partisans; this collaboration was vetoed by the Germans, not by him. The fact that Mihailovic’s Chetniks at times resisted the Germans does not mean they were not guilty of collaboration at other times.
Dimitrijevic admits that following the defeat of the uprising, ‘part of Mihailovic’s organisation in Serbia’ was ‘legalised within the framework of Nedic’s armed detachments’ and that ‘Mihajlovic tolerated this legalisation’; he admits also that Mihailovic’s commanders outside Serbia engaged in ‘tactical collaboration’ with the occupiers’ forces. Dimitrijevic therefore does not deny the collaboration; he simply argues that the Chetnik motives were legitimate.
However, Dimitrijevic does not discuss the German-Chetnik agreements in Serbia, for collaboration against the Partisans, reached on the basis of Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs’s 21 November 1943 directive. They involved several of Mihailovic’s top officers, above all Vojislav Lukacevic, Nikola Kalabic, Jevrem Simic and Ljuba Jovanovic-Patak. Simic, as the overall inspector of Mihailovic’s Supreme Command, renewed his agreement with the Germans on 17 January 1944. The agreement specified that the Mihailovic forces would receive ammunition and medical supplies from the Germans. Three days later Mihailovic ordered the buying of weapons and munitions from the Germans. These events are described in Kosta Nikolic’s book ‘Istorija ravnagorskog pokreta’ (Srpska rec, knj. 1, str. 419-423); Nikolic claims the agreements were ‘an expression of necessity [izraz nuzde]’. Altogether, Dimitrijevic’s and Nikolic’s testimonies and published work support the view that Mihailovic’s commanders across Yugoslavia collaborated with the Germans, which Branko Latas expresses in his own testimony. These crimes – agreements with the occupiers for joint military action; receiving arms and assistance from the occupiers; and ‘legalisation’ within the framework of the occupation – were all cited in the court’s guilty verdict against Mihailovic.
Finally, Mihailovic was convicted because he ‘raspirivao nacionalnu i versku mrznju i razdor medju narodima Jugoslavije, usled cega su njegove cetnicke bande izvrsile masovne pokolje hrvatskog, muslimanskog kao i srpskog stanovnistva koje nije prihvatilo okupaciju’ [‘incited national and religious hatred and discord among the peoples of Yugoslavia, as a result of which his Chetnik bands carried out huge massacres of the Croat, Muslim as well as Serb population that did not accept the occupation’]. This very serious count of the conviction was not challenged by any of the testimonies discussed here.
Review of Bato Tomasevic, Life and Death in the Balkans: A family saga in a century of conflict, Hurst and Company, London, 2008
The former Yugoslav lands have produced an extraordinarily rich body of autobiographical and eyewitness literature. So much so, that this has even somewhat squeezed out the academic literature. Rather too many readers seeking an introduction to the region have begun with Rebecca West’s dreadful, rambling travelogue Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. Rather too many English-language authors writing about Yugoslavia in World War II have relied too heavily on a small number of memoirs and diaries, so well worn from repeated use that they have virtually dissolved into general knowledge: in particular, the memoirs of Milovan Djilas and the war diaries of Vladimir Dedijer. Journalistic accounts still largely dominate the literature on the 1990s Bosnian war. For all that, memoirs can provide an accessible and vivid introduction to the region – provided they are taken with a pinch of salt. The English-language reader is, in fact, limited to the tip of the iceberg; the vast body of memoir literature available only in the former-Yugoslav languages comprises a goldmine for the historian.
Bato Tomasevich’s autobiography and family saga, Life and death in the Balkans, is rather special, in that the Montenegrin author was just old enough to remember the 1930s (his earliest memory is of the assassination of Yugoslavia’s King Aleksandar in 1934), fought and was wounded as a Partisan in World War II, was a relatively well-connected member of the Yugoslav establishment in the Communist era, played a minor, though not wholly negligible role in the drama of Yugoslavia’s break-up, and was an observer of the wars of the 1990s – all the way up to the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999. Tomasevic does not provide much in the way of grand analysis, or give the reader any greater insight into any of these episodes at the all-Yugoslav level. But in telling the story of a Montenegrin individual and his family, the author throws much light on the Montenegrin identity, relationship to Serbia and experience within Yugoslavia – particularly as regards the period up to 1945.
Nebojsa ‘Bato’ Tomasevic’s father Petar was raised on the heroic tales of his Montenegrin forebears’ battles with the Ottomans. A veteran of the First Balkan and First World Wars, he supported Montenegro’s union with Serbia in 1918. After that, fired by romantic Serb-nationalist ideals, he settled in newly reconquered Kosovo as a colonist, where he became a police officer. Despite this, Petar strove to build good relations with the local Albanians, even learning some Albanian and becoming blood-brother to an Albanian village headman. This policy was not well received by other members of Yugoslav officialdom in Kosovo, which sanctioned oppressive and discriminatory treatment of the Albanian population – which Bato describes.
Bato attributes his father’s exile from Kosovo to his friendly policy toward Albanians, as well as to his readiness to welcome into his home the relatives of a Communist killed by the Belgrade police. The book provides an insight into the nature of the early Communist movement; the Communists in interwar Yugoslavia were often the children of members of the national or local elite. Thus, the author recounts how his father, as a deputy police chief in the historic Montenegrin capital of Cetinje, where he had been relocated, confronted with his officers a Communist-led student demonstration, among whose leaders was his own daughter, the author’s older sister Stana: ‘The police were carrying truncheons, the students their schoolbags. When the two advancing columns met, Father raised his truncheon and struck his daughter. This was the signal for the rest of the police to lay into the students.’ (p. 116).
Nevertheless, as Bato tells the story, Petar and Stana ended up on the same side following the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia in April 1941 – of those who rejected collaboration with the occupier. A considerable portion of the book is devoted to Bato’s memoirs of World War II, providing the reader with an insight into the oft-neglected history of Axis-occupied Montenegro. Although Petar had been a supporter of Montenegro’s unification with Serbia in 1918, his opposition to collaboration marked him out from the Chetniks – the principal Serb-nationalist armed movement in occupied Yugoslavia. The author describes in some detail Chetnik collaboration with the occupiers: ‘In all parts of Montenegro, including Cetinje, units of Chetniks were formed as part of Draza Mihajlovic’s [sic] movement. These were armed by the Italians and sent to fight the Partisans.’ (p. 177)
Bato’s family supported the Partisans; his brother Dusko survived their legendary battle with the Germans at Drvar in May 1944, only to be subsequently killed by the Chetniks. Stana was a prominent Communist, and Bato describes how he joined the Partisans by accident, when he tried to visit her on Partisan territory and was wrongly assumed to have come to volunteer – a misunderstanding he was too embarrassed to correct. Bato nevertheless entered the movement enthusiastically, but his memoirs are far from whitewashing the Partisans’ record, and he describes their execution of the Communists’ political opponents, not to mention the atrocities of their Soviet allies. As he recalls one fellow Partisan telling him: ‘Russians are good comrades, and when it comes to fighting no worse than Montenegrins, but they’ll drink anything that’s not water. Groups of them wander around at night and go into houses, especially out-of-the-way farms, looking for wine and brandy, and raping any woman in sight. Nothing is sacred to them. They don’t seem to care we’re allies. The peasants have started keeping guard and shooting any Russians that try to enter their houses. You can imagine what problems this causes !’ (pp. 341-342)
Even under the post-war Communist regime, the ties of kinship and locality counted for much. Bato recalls how he secured a coveted place to study English at the Philosophy Faculty in Belgrade, solely because he bumped into an old Montenegrin friend who worked as a clerk at that institution, and who pushed his application to the top of the pile. Bato eventually secured an enviable job in the Yugoslav diplomatic service in the UK. His standing with the regime benefited from the fact that his sister Stana was a high-ranking functionary upon whom Tito himself looked favourably. He claims Stana was made Ambassador to Norway on Tito’s personal initiative, and that when she created a stir by marrying a Norwegian man, Tito invited the couple to be his personal guests at his Adriatic retreat at Brioni, thereby ensuring her status and career did not suffer.
Bato himself, however, was not so influential that he could get away with marrying a foreigner; his marriage to an Englishwoman called Madge Phillips resulted in the swift termination of his diplomatic career. But he remained a well connected individual in the Communist regime, which ensured that he continued to play a significant role in Yugoslav affairs. Thanks both to his connections and standing and to sheer luck, he came into personal contact with various interesting historical figures, and not just Yugoslavs. They included the Albanian Communist leader Enver Hoxha, British envoy to Tito’s headquarters Fitzroy Maclean, former Yugoslav Crown Prince Djordje Karadjordjevic and British Labour politicians Denis Healey and Hugh Gaitskell. He was a passenger on the plane that crashed at Munich in February 1958, carrying home Bobby Charlton and other members of the Manchester United football team following a European Cup match in Belgrade. But perhaps the most curious personal encounter of the book was Bato’s witnessing of the death by suicide of Milan Nedic, the former leader of the Serbian Nazi-puppet regime.
In the final section of the book, Bato recounts his experiences during the break-up of Yugoslavia and Wars of Yugoslav Succession. Following the publication of sections of the Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts in September 1986, he recalls the heated arguments he would have with old Serbian friends: ‘Instead of a modern Yugoslavia, many of them now wanted a Greater Serbia.’ (p. 452) He is forthright in describing the role of the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milosevic in destroying Yugoslavia and promoting Serbian nationalistic hatred, though he has harsh words too for the Croatian regime of Franjo Tudjman. Appointed in 1990 director of the Federal TV station Yutel at the initiative of Yugoslav Prime Minister Ante Markovic, Bato attempted to promote Markovic’s vision of a united Yugoslavia, but was ultimately forced to flee Belgrade to escape prosecution by the Milosevic regime: ‘Serbian nationalists, it seemed, wanted to get rid of all those who in any way, however slight, obstructed the creation of their “Greater Serbia”.’ (p. 468)
Bato’s judgement on the War of Yugoslav Succession was that ‘The Partisans had now withdrawn before the onslaught of nationalism, and the resurrected Chetniks and Ustashas wanted to renew the war and, if possible, win the battles they had lost when fighting on the side of Hitler. They thought it was still not too late to achieve their goals of a greater Serbia and greater Croatia by means of violence and plunder, ethnic cleansing and concentration camps.’ (p. 483). He has no hesitation in identifying the policy waged by the Serb and Croat forces against the Bosnian Muslims as one of ‘genocide’ (p. 486).
Bato Tomasevic was raised on stories of his family’s and country’s battles with the Turks; his father was a Serb nationalist. Yet his family’s story, as he tells it, is one in which the politics of national chauvinism are consistently rejected: from the anti-Albanian racism of the interwar Yugoslav administration, through the Chetnik movement of World War II, up to the Memorandum of SANU, the regimes of Milosevic and Tudjman and the genocide of the Bosniaks. When so many choose to obfuscate the Yugoslav story, having it presented so straightforwardly by an eyewitness from such a background is a breath of fresh air.
Last week, the Serbian daily Blic published another contribution to the long-running efforts of anti-Communist Serb nationalists to rehabilitate the Nazi-collaborationalist Serbian Chetnik movement of World War II. Such efforts represent an affront to the Serbian anti-fascist heritage and to all those who survived the Chetniks’ crimes. I am therefore publishing here an extract from my book Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006 (pp. 156-162) that illustrates the anti-Semitic and genocidal character of the Chetnik movement.
As the Chetnik-Partisan breach widened, Chetnik propaganda laid increasing stress on the allegedly ‘non-Serb’ character of the Partisans. From the start, Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovic portrayed the Communists as an ethnically alien, non-Serb element. In negotiations with the Germans in November 1941, in the course of assuring the latter that ‘it is not my intention to fight against the occupiers’, Mihailovic claimed that ‘I have never made a genuine agreement with the Communists, for they do not care about the people. They are led by foreigners who are not Serbs: the Bulgarian Jankovic, the Jew Lindmajer, the Magyar Borota, two Muslims whose names I do not know and the Ustasha Major Boganic. That is all I know of the Communist leadership.’ (1) Rhetoric of this kind was rapidly adopted by the Bosnian Chetniks and became more virulent as their conflict with the Partisans intensified. Chetnik propaganda stressed in particular the presence in Partisan ranks of Muslims and Croats, some of whom were allegedly former Ustashas. A bulletin issued by the staff of Bosko Todorovic, the Chetnik commander of Operational Units for East Bosnia and Hercegovina, probably in January 1942, spoke of ‘the leaders of the Partisans from Montenegro, among whom an important role is played by JEWS, TURKS and CROATS’ [emphasis in original].(2) A bulletin issued from the same source in February spoke of ‘a shock detachment of Montenegrin Partisans, under the command of someone called Vlado Segrt, filled with criminal-Ustasha Turks from Hercegovina, some of whom had until recently been throwing our brother Serbs into pits’.(3)
Propaganda pamphlets issued by Todorovic’s staff in this period warned the Serbs in Partisan ranks that the Communists would eventually purge them: ‘And who will carry out this cleansing ? The Turks and the Croats, who will be in the majority. In the majority because the number of Serbs among the Partisans will continuously fall, while the number of Turks and Croats will continuously rise.'(4) According to Todorovic: ‘In the ranks of the Partisans are convicts, outlaws, ne’er-do-wells and Ustashas, who want, on Serb lands, to establish a Communist Croatia in place of the Ustasha Croatia.'(5) So far as the Communist leadership was concerned: ‘They are administered and ordered by the Communist headquarters for the Balkans… In these headquarters sit kikes, Magyars, Croats, Turks, Bulgarians, Albanians and Germans, and occasionally a fallen Serb is found among them.'(6) Jezdimir Dangic’s Mountain Staff of the Bosnian Chetnik Detachments denounced the Partisan detachments ‘which are led by the KIKE Mosa Pijade, the TURK Safet Mujic, the MAGYAR Franjo Vajnert and that so-and-so Petar Ilic whose real name nobody knows…’ [emphasis in original].(7) According to the same source: ‘the Partisans and Ustashas have the same goal: TO BREAK UP AND DESTROY SERBDOM. That, and that alone !’ [emphasis in original].(8)
The Chetniks viewed their struggle against the Muslims and their struggle against the Partisans as two halves of the same coin. This belief found its most detailed formulation in a pamphlet entitled The guns of Nevesinje, issued in late 1941 for the purpose of appealing to the Serbs under Communist leadership. The pamphlet carried an endorsement from Todorovic, who claimed it was ‘full of truth’ and entreated his readers: ‘If anyone tries to forbid you from reading it or claims that what is written in this pamphlet is a lie, be assured, brother Serbs, that that person is a Turk or a Skutor [Croat] or their “faithful comrade”. From such as these, hide it and read it secretly. For there is no longer any point in talking to them. They have sold or given their soul to a foreigner – the German Jew Karl Marx and his followers.’ The pamphlet presented the Chetnik struggle with the Partisans in terms of a Serb struggle against the Muslims: ‘If the Communist Party continues to kill Serbs and to accept into its society Turks and Skutors, if it continues to push Serbs into a pointless and amateurishly led struggle with the occupiers, there where the Serb villages suffer after every attack, then the Turks and others in Yugoslavia will choose a Communist regime in order not only to be equal to the Serbs but to be in a better position to them, but then the Serbs, who want to be free and to avenge their martyrs, will choose the ‘regime of the forest’ and become outlaws.’ To this possibility the Chetniks presented their favoured alternative:
When it achieves freedom, a golden Serb freedom, then the Serb nation will – freely and without bloodshed, by means of the free elections which we are accustomed to in the Serbia of King Peter I – take its destiny into its own hands and freely say, whether it loves more its independent Great Serbia, cleansed of Turks and other non-Serbs, or some other state in which Turks and Jews will once again be ministers, commissars, officers and ‘comrades’.(9)
The pamphlet explicitly condemned the Communist policy toward Muslims as an unfavourable alternative to the extermination of the latter, as favoured by the Chetniks: ‘If they [the Communists] were fighting for their people then they would take account of the desire of the Serb people, that the Turks and Muslims be exterminated in or at least expelled from Bosnia-Hercegovina. But they are fighting for themselves and their Party, and in order to win, they are ready to help the Turks not only in preventing the revenge of the Serbs, but in exterminating dissatisfied Serbs.’ The pamphlet further declared one of its post-war goals to be: ‘The extermination or expulsion of all non-Serbs, particularly the Turks, with whom the Serbs never again wish to live intermingled.'(10)
The chauvinism of the Chetniks, and particularly their anti-Semitism, closely mirrored that of the Nedic regime, which in turn was part of the general ideological climate created by the Nazi hegemony. Nedic peppered his speeches in this period with references to a ‘Communist-Jewish rabble’ and a ‘Communist-Masonic-Jewish-English mafia’.(11) Such rhetoric was linked to Nazi policy toward the Jews, in which quisling Serbia was deeply implicated, for the German military decree of 31 May 1941 had charged the Serbian authorities with responsibility for enforcing anti-Jewish and anti-Gypsy regulations.(12) The mass imprisonment of the Jews in Serbia began in August and, as Israel Gutman’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust notes, a key role in this was played by ‘the Serbian quisling puppet government, under Milan Nedic, whose police and gendarmerie assisted the Germans in rounding up the Jews.'(13) The Serbian Jews were then exterminated by the Nazis between the autumn of 1941 and the spring of 1942. Nedic himself appears to have been eager to impress the Nazis with his anti-Semitic zeal, and on 22 June 1942 he wrote to General Bader, complaining of the fact that Serbian prisoners-of-war in German camps were being confined alongside Jews and Communists, and requesting that ‘it would be very desirable if Jews and leftists-Communists be removed from the common camps and kept apart from the nationally healthy officers.’ Consequently: ‘The Serbian government, concerned by this action, would be extremely grateful if the German Reich would take effective measures for a maximally rapid separation, etc.'(14)
The frequent reference in Chetnik propaganda to the ‘Jews’ in Partisan ranks may have been influenced in part by this desire of Serb quislings to please their Nazi overlords. The Nazi Holocaust of the Jews in Serbia was well under way by the time the Chetniks were making the anti-Semitic statements cited above, a fact of which, given their close ties to the Nedic regime, they cannot have been unaware. This anti-Semitism was by no means purely cynical, but reflected the sentiments of many individual Chetniks. Marijan Stilinovic, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, recalls meeting a group of Chetniks outside Ivancici in January 1942 who had defected from the Partisans on the grounds that the Partisan leaders were ‘Jews’ and Vajner-Cica was a ‘Kraut’.(15) Nor did Chetnik anti-Semitism stop at words. As the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust notes: ‘As the Chetniks increased their cooperation with the Germans, their attitude toward the Jews in the areas under their control deteriorated, and they identified the Jews with the hated Communists. There were many instances of Chetniks murdering Jews or handing them over to the Germans.'(16)
Chauvinist and antisemitic themes in Chetnik propaganda were not confined to the winter and spring of 1941-42, but remained a constant in the months and years that followed – an integral element in a movement whose goal was an ethnically pure Great Serbia inhabited solely by Orthodox Serbs. At a rally in Trebinje in Hercegovina in July 1942, the Chetniks denounced the Partisans as being ‘for the Serb nation more dangerous than any others’, whose ‘leaders were for the most part Bosnian Muslims, Catholics and Jews’. They declared: ‘The Serb lands must be cleansed of Catholics and Muslims. In them must live only Serbs.'(17) Dobroslav Jevdjevic, Mihailovic’s delegate in eastern Bosnia and Hercegovina, issued a proclamation to the ‘Serbs of eastern Bosnia and Hercegovina’ in July 1942, in which he claimed: ‘Tito, the supreme military chief of the Partisans, is a Croat from Zagreb. Pijade, the supreme political chief of the Partisans, is a Jew. Four fifths of all armed Partisans were supplied to them by Pavelic’s Croatian Army. Two thirds of their officers are former Croatian officers. The financing of their movement is carried out by the powerful Croatian capitalists of Zagreb, Split, Sarajevo and Dubrovnik. Fifty percent of the Ustashas responsible for the massacres of Serbs are now in their ranks.’ Jevdjevic levelled a still more bizarre charge against the Partisans: ‘They have destroyed Serb churches and established mosques, synagogues and Catholic temples.'(18) That Jevdjevic himself shared the prejudices to which he appealed is suggested by his claim, in an internal report of June 1942, that the Proletarian brigades contained many ‘Jews, Gypsies and Muslims.'(19)
A Chetnik proclamation of September 1942 defined the difference between the Partisan and Chetnik movements as being that ‘the Chetnik movement is a Serb national organisation whose goal is to establish a Serb state that will unite all Serbs’, while ‘the Partisan movement is a multinational organisation whose goal is to establish a non-national Soviet revolutionary state in the Serb lands’; the difference between the Chetniks and Partisans was that ‘only a true Serb can become a Chetnik’ whereas ‘an Ustasha, German, Jew or Gypsy may become a Partisan; in other words anyone willing on behalf of the foreigner to participate in the slaughter and killing of the best Serb sons.'(20) It was the belief of Stevan Botic, Dangic’s successor at the head of the Mountain Staff of the Bosnian Chetnik Detachments, that the Muslims were supporting the Partisans on an anti-Serb basis: ‘The Turks, when they saw the work of the Partisans, i.e. when they saw how the Partisans mercilessly killed Serbs, immediately saw that collaboration with the Partisans would be very profitable.’ (21)
Petar Bacovic, Todorovic’s successor as commander of the Chetnik Operational Units in eastern Bosnia and Hercegovina, issued an appeal to the Serbs in Partisan ranks in October 1942, which attributed the appearance of the Partisan movement to the fact that ‘the Jews, associated with much of the scum of the earth, fled to our country and began to propagate such better and happier state of affairs in a Communist state.’ The Partisans were guilty of destroying traditional Serb society and morals:
Dividing and ruining Serb villages and Serb peasants; banning Serbs from practising their Orthodox religion; corrupting many Serb youth; teaching children not to listen to their parents; propagating free love among the youth; saying that brother and sister, son and mother, father and daughter can live together as husband and wife; bringing with them many fallen women from the towns – teachers, students, workers etc. – to serve the Communist bosses for the purpose of physical pleasure; and in the wake of their terror pushing many of our honourable peasants to kill each other and to kill all those honourable and national Serbs, who did not wish to join them and accept their bloody and corrupt ideology: godlessness, irreligion, familial corruption and immorality of every kind. (22)
The proclamation lamented to the Serb Partisans: ‘You are still being led by Tito, Mosa Pijade, Rocko Colakovic, Vlado Segrt, Rade Hamovic, Savo Mizera and many other Jews, Muslims, Croats, Magyars, Bulgarians and other scum of the earth.’ (23)
A pamphlet distributed by the Chetniks around Sarajevo in the autumn of 1942 spoke of ‘the Communists whose leaders are Jews and who wish to impose Jewish rule on the world; [though] their and the Ustashas’ collapse is inevitable.'(24) A Chetnik pamphlet distributed in eastern Hercegovina in December 1942 claimed: ‘The Yugoslav Communists who are today so bloodily and heartlessly fighting against the Serb nation’ were a nationally alien, criminal riff-raff; and that ‘the Supreme Commander of all Communist forces in the country is some Comrade Tito, whose real name nobody knows, but we know only that he is a Zagreb Jew. His leading collaborators are Mosa Pijade, a Belgrade Jew; Frano Vajner, a Hungarian Jew; Azija Kokuder, a Bosnian Turk; Safet Mujije, a Turk from Mostar; Vlado Segrt, a former convict; and many others similar to them. Their names best testify as to whom they are and to how much they fight from their heart for our people.'(25) Mihailovic himself informed his subordinates in December 1942: ‘The units of the Partisans are filled with thugs of the most varied kinds, such as Ustashas – the worst butchers of the Serb people – Jews, Croats, Dalmatians, Bulgarians, Turks, Magyars and all the other nations of the world.'(26)
An issue of the Bosnian Chetnik newspaper Vidovdan appearing at the start of February 1943 claimed that Tito’s officers were ‘the Belgrade Jew Mosa Pijade, who was not even born on the territory of Yugoslavia’ and that ‘The other members of the Communist-Partisan staff are mostly Jews, who have very little sympathy for the pain and suffering of our people.’ It complained also that ‘the Communists have promised the Croats a “Croatian Soviet Republic” in which [Croat Peasant Party leader] Macek would be president.'(27) On 10 February the Chetnik commanders for East Bosnia, Hercegovina, Dalmatia and Lika issued a joint proclamation to the ‘people of Bosnia, Lika and Dalmatia’, claiming that ‘since we have cleansed Serbia, Montenegro and Hercegovina, we have come to help you to crush the pitiful remnants of the Communist international, criminal band of Tito, Mosa Pijade, Levi Vajnert and other paid Jews’. The Partisan rank-and-file was called upon to ‘kill the political commissars and join our ranks right away’, like the ‘hundreds and hundreds who are surrendering every day, conscious that they have been betrayed and swindled by the Communist Jews’.(28) The proclamation was signed by Ilija Mihic, Momcilo Djujic, Petar Bacovic and Radovan Ivanisevic. The 9 March issue of Vidovdan described the Partisans as ‘bandits led by the Zagreb Jew “Tito” and the Belgrade Jew Mosa Pijade’.(29) A Chetnik leaflet distributed in the Sarajevo region in April described the Partisans as ‘the scourge of God’.(30)
1.Dragoljub Mihailovic, Rat i mir djenerala: izabrani ratni spisi, vol. 1, Srpski rec, Belgrade, 1998, p. 212.
2. AVII (Archive of the Military-Historical Institute / Military Archive, Belgrade) Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 10.
3.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 13.
4.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 17.
5.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 18.
6.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 20.
7.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 23.
8.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 24.
9.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 4, doc. 25.
11.General Milan Ð. Nedic, Desna Srbija – Moja rec Srbima 1941-1944: Izabrani ratni govori, Slobodna knjiga, Belgrade, 1996, pp. 18, 21.
12.AVII Nedic Collection, box 1, facs. 2, doc. 8 (1941 – 1st part).
13.Israel Gutman (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, MacMillan, New York, 1990, p. 1341.
14.AVII Nedic Collection, box 1, facs. 3, doc. 38 (1942 – 2nd part).
15.Marijan Stilinovic, Bune i otpori, Zora, Zagreb, 1969, p. 140.
16.Gutman, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, p. 289.
17.HMBiH (Historical Museum of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Sarajevo) Collection ‘UNS’, box 2, doc. 443.
18.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 4, doc. 29.
19.Zbornik dokumenata i podataka o narodnooslobodilackom ratu jugoslovenskih naroda, Vojnoistorijski institut Jugoslovenske narodne armije, Belgrade, 1954-, pt 14, vol. 1, doc. 114, p. 400.
20.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 4, doc. 5.
21.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 33.
22.AVII Chetnik Collection, box 222, facs. 5, doc. 34.
24.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 2, doc. 518/3.
25.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 2, doc. 627.
26.Mihailovic, Rat i mir djenerala, vol. 1, p. 297.
27.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 3, doc. 712.
28.Zbornik dokumenata, pt 14, vol. 2, doc. 31, p. 175.
29.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 3, doc. 859.
30.HMBiH Collection ‘UNS’, box 5, doc. 1451.
Hat tip: Daniel of Srebrenica Genocide Blog.
Jasa Almuli, former president of the Serbian Jewish community, has finally admitted that the World War II Nazi-quisling regime in Serbia under Milan Nedic participated in the Holocaust. He wrote in the Serbian daily newspaper Vecernje novosti last month:
‘The role of the Nedic regime in the destruction of the Serbian Jews was evil and dirty, but it was only an accessory one.’
This represents a significant retreat on the part of Almuli, who has repeatedly gone on record to defend the Nedic regime’s record vis-a-vis the Jews and to deny that it played any role in the Holocaust whatsoever. For example, Almuli claimed in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph on 27 February 1994:
‘As one of the few Serbian Jews who survived the Holocaust I can testify that the Serbian government of Milan Nedic under German military occupation did not “manage to deport every Serbian Jew to face the Holocaust”, as Tom Carter alleged (letter, February 20). The deportation of Jews in Serbia and their complete destruction was a crime exclusively committed by the Nazi Germans. They alone deported the Jews and killed them in camps they established in Serbia.’
The apparent paradox, of why a former senior Serbian Jewish official should be so intent on whitewashing a Serbian regime that participated in the Holocaust, is something that I have explained at length.
Almuli’s retreat represents a slap in the face to others who have attempted to rehabilitate Nedic’s Nazi-quisling regime, such as amateur historian Carl Savich of the Serb-nationalist website Serbianna.com, who has written:
‘The Serbian case is more akin to the Judenrat or Jewish Councils which the Nazi occupation forces established in Nazi-occupied Poland and the Soviet Union. These were administrative bodies composed of Jewish political and religious leaders in the Jewish community who were responsible for local government in the ghettoes. The German authorities made the councils responsible for organizing lists of Jews, deportations, and labor recruitment. The Judenrat was imposed by force. There was no choice involved. Similarly with Serbia, the regime Germany established in Serbia had no choice in the matter. They were not allies or loyal partners as Ante Pavelic was. The goal was to preserve the Serbian population. It was known as the government of “salvation”. Like the Judenrat, the alternative was even more brutal Nazi measures against the population.’
Nevertheless, Almuli’s admittance of Nedic’s Serbia’s involvement in the Holocaust is simply a disclaimer in a series of articles in which Almuli otherwise seeks once again to defend the Serbian quisling record. Even this disclaimer – buried in the sixth article of a thirteen-part series – is couched as a plea for mitigation; Nedic’s Serbia played an ‘evil and dirty’ role in the Holocaust, ‘but it was only an accessory one’.
Furthermore, in his series of articles for Vecernje novosti entitled ‘The destruction of the Serbian Jews’, Almuli claims: ‘The killers were only Germans’. This is a falsehood; as I have documented, both Nedic’s Serbian quislings and Draza Mihailovic’s Chetniks were guilty of murdering Jews. Moreover, in a total of thirteen articles, Almuli manages to avoid discussion of the Serbian quisling role in the Holocaust – which he himself admits was ‘evil and dirty’ – almost entirely. Readers may compare his exercise in minimisation with what serious Serbian historians of the subject have written.
Finally, Almuli is continuing with his favourite tactic of attributing nefarious motives to anyone who has the nerve to raise the subject of quisling Serbia’s collaboration in the Holocaust, and on this occasion singles out for attack the Serbian human-rights activists of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia. As he puts it, ‘if they succeed in persuading the world that the Serbs together with the Germans killed Jews, they will more easily persuade it that in the wars in Bosnia and Croatia the Serbs again carried out ethnic cleansing.’
But of course, Serbian quislings did participate in the extermination of the Serbian Jews, and Serb forces did carry out ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Croatia – something almost nobody seriously attempts to dispute any more. The motive that Almuli attributes to the Serbian human-rights activists that he attacks is really the mirror image of his own motive, and the motive of other Serb nationalists and revisionists, for trying to brush the history of Serbian participation in the Holocaust under the carpet: ‘if they succeed in persuading the world that Serbian quislings did not assist the Germans in destroying the Jews of Serbia, they will more easily persuade it that in the wars in Bosnia and Croatia the Serbs were innocent of any wrongdoing.’
Fortunately, the Serbian nationalists and revisionists are failing in this goal.
PS Funnily enough, Vecernje novosti failed to publish the comment I attempted to post on the thread under Almuli’s series…
Update: Almuli’s revisionism is not limited to whitewashing Serbia’s Nazi collaborators; he has also gone on record to downplay the evil of the Auschwitz death-camp itself.
Earlier this year, the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Belgrade came under attack from Jasa Almuli, a Serbian journalist and former president of the Belgrade Jewish community. What apparently provoked Almuli’s ire was the claim made by the Helsinki Committee’s 2006 report: ‘During the course of the Second World War, the Jews in Serbia perished at a high rate, not only at the hands of the German occupation authorities, but at the hands of the Government of National Salvation of Milan Nedic, the Ljoticites [Serbian fascists], gendarmes and Special Police, whose effective work contributed to the fact that, already in August 1942, Belgrade, as the first European capital city, was proclaimed a city cleansed of Jews (Judenrein).’
Almuli objected: ‘This equation of the German occupiers and the quisling organs in the destruction of the Serbian Jews does not accord with the truth.’ Allegedly basing himself on Serbian Jewish sources, Almuli claimed that ‘they all state that the German occupiers alone decided on the destruction of the Jews in Serbia and that the perpetrators were German organs.’
This is far from the first attempt by Almuli to defend the Serbian fascists and quislings of World War II from the charge that they participated in the Holocaust. In a letter published in the UK’s Sunday Telegraph on 27 February 1994, Almuli wrote:
‘As one of the few Serbian Jews who survived the Holocaust I can testify that the Serbian government of Milan Nedic under German military occupation did not “manage to deport every Serbian Jew to face the Holocaust”, as Tom Carter alleged (letter, February 20). The deportation of Jews in Serbia and their complete destruction was a crime exclusively committed by the Nazi Germans. They alone deported the Jews and killed them in camps they established in Serbia. The Serbs, who always resisted German invasion, rebelled against the Nazis and were subjected to exceptionally cruel reprisals in which for each German soldier killed by the Serbian partisans 100 Serbian hostages were executed. All Jewish males were killed by the German army as Serbian hostages, and no history of the Holocaust written by Jews blamed the Serbs for their deportation.’
However, what Almuli claims – that the Serbian quislings of Milan Nedic were innocent of any role in the Holocaust, and that no history of the Holocaust written by Jews blames ‘the Serbs’ for deporting Jews to the Nazis – is untrue. According to Israeli historian Menachem Shelah, writing in Israel Gutman’s Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (MacMillan, New York, 1990), the extermination of Serbia’s Jews was indeed the work of the Nazi SS and military leaders, but ‘Others involved in determining and carrying out Jewish policy were… the Serbian quisling puppet government, under Milan Nedic, whose police and gendarmerie assisted the Germans in rounding up the Jews.’ (p. 1341) Shelah writes in the same volume (p. 289): ‘There were many instances of Chetniks murdering Jews or handing them over to the Germans.’
Thus, whereas Almuli claims that the deportation and extermination of the Serbian Jews was ‘exclusively’ the work of the Nazis and that the Serbian quislings were innocent of any involvement, a respected standard reference work on the Holocaust says otherwise.
This is not the extent of Almuli’s efforts to whitewash the role of the Serbian quislings in the Holocaust. But before I go into this in greater detail, it is necessary to say a few words about him. According to the Serbian independent news magazine Vreme in June 1992, Almuli was one of a group of Serbian Jewish leaders who ‘directed all their efforts to just one goal: to be as close as possible to the existing regime.’ The regime in question was the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. This resulted, Vreme‘s journalist continued, in ‘the fact that Mr Almuli was a frequent guest at sessions of the Serbian government, at which propaganda activities were discussed.’ (Ivan Radovanovic, ‘Guzva u jevrejskoj opstini: Ovozemaljski izbori’, Vreme, 1 June 1992). Another member of this group of Serbian Jewish leaders was Klara Mandic, who founded the ‘Serbian-Jewish Friendship Society’ in 1987, to lobby the Jewish world, and in particular Israel, on behalf of Milosevic’s Serbia. Mandic had been a close ally of Milosevic and his intermediary in dealings with semilegal business enterprises on whose support he drew. She lived for nine months with the Serb paramilitary leader Dragan Vasiljkovic (‘Captain Dragan’) and was a close associate of both Radovan Karadzic and Zeljko Raznatovic ‘Arkan’. She was murdered in Belgrade shortly after the overthrow of Milosevic.
According to Vreme‘s journalist, Almuli resigned as Belgrade Jewish community president in the face of opposition from among Belgrade Jews to his initiative to publish an attack on the leadership of the sister Jewish community in Zagreb (for its own alleged closeness to its ruling regime – in this case, Croatian). He subsequently emigrated to the UK. Whereas Mandic was a flamboyant propagandist for the Serbian nationalist cause, her former mentor Almuli more quietly wrote letters in defence of the Serbian cause, as he saw it, for publication in newspapers.
On 25 May 1992, at the height of the Bosnian genocide, a letter of Almuli’s was published in the Jerusalem Post, attacking what he claimed was the Israeli newspaper’s ‘lack of objectivity’ with regard to Serbia: ‘We deplore your one-sided, biased presentation of the situation in the republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina. You do not state a single fact or argument bearing out your claims that Serbia is “aggressive and cruel”, that it has become a “grave danger to stability in Europe” and that it should be punished by a “total trade embargo and diplomatic isolation”.’ In a non sequitur which was already becoming all too familiar to anyone paying attention to Serbian propaganda in the early 1990s, Almuli then jumped straight from the events of 1990s Bosnia into an account of Serb suffering and Croat and Muslim wrongdoing in World War II.
Almuli then proceeded to present the Serb-nationalist case to his Israeli audience:
‘We, the Jews, who, together with the Serbs, suffered in Ustasha death camps – of which Jasenovac is recorded in the Hall of Remembrance in Yad Vashem – understand their current concerns. The Serbs want the Yugosalv crisis settled in a way that will not reduce them in the republics other than Serbia to a helpless minority… The republic of Serbia is not indifferent to the fate of the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the same as Israel is not indifferent to the fate of the Jews in the Diaspora.’
In a further apparent effort to mitigate Serb war-crimes in Bosnia and appeal to Israeli sensibilities, Almuli claimed: ‘In recent years, the Republic of Serbia took on the leading role in demanding the re-establishment [by Yugoslavia] of diplomatic relations with Israel.’
In other words Almuli, as the former pro-regime leader of the Belgrade Jewish community, was using these credentials to agitate on behalf of the Serb nationalist cause. Despite his readiness to attack his fellow Jews in Croatia for their own alleged closeness to their own regime, he frequently presented his polemics in terms of ‘we Jews’ or ‘us Jews’ – as if his past history of official service in Serbia qualified him to make statements on behalf of all Jews in the former Yugoslavia. Thus, in a letter published back in November 1993 (see below), Almuli claimed that ‘In the present propaganda battle among the waring factions in former Yugoslavia the history of the Holocaust is insistently revised with the aim of making the opposing faction guilty of killing the Jews.’ He finished by saying that ‘I plead with the warring factions in former Yugoslavia, and with their respective friends abroad, to stop using Jews in their propaganda warfare.’ Yet he failed to mention that he himself sided with one of the warring factions, that his own agenda was to whitewash his own country’s (Serbia’s) role in the Holocaust while emphasising the role of its enemy (Croatia), and that he himself was ‘using Jews’ in his own propaganda warfare aimed at defending the role of Serbia in the Bosnian war.
Almuli made an additional intervention in the propaganda war over Bosnia in January 1994, in response to an article in the International Herald Tribune by Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress, who condemned Serb aggression as involving ‘genocide’ and a ‘Holocaust that is taking place in the heart of Europe’, and who called for US military action to halt in, and for the lifting of the arms embargo against Bosnia. Almuli responded:
‘It is very dangerous for a Jewish leader to take sides in an alien civil war with strong religious connotations, as Mr. Siegman does in Bosnia. He barely mentions the Catholic Croats, although they exposed themselves to widespread criticism by their military involvement in Bosnia and the resurgence of Ustase elements, which are of grave concern to the local Jewish community. He strongly supports the Bosnian Muslims, despite the fundamentalism of their leader, Alija Izetbegovic. And he invites Western military intervention against the Bosnian Serbs, who are Christian Orthodox, thus provoking possible reactions against Jews in other Christian Orthodox countries.’
In this way, Almuli attempted to silence Jewish criticism of the Serb genocide in Bosnia by raising the spectre of Orthodox Christian retaliation against Jews elsewhere.
In his recent attack on the Serbian Helsinki Committee, Almuli claims:
‘I am not defending Nedic or his regime, but defamed Serbia, and I fight always against revision of the history of the Holocaust. Therefore I present the question: Do the ladies and gentlement of the Helsinki Committee in Belgrade not know all this, or did not know how to read ? Some great Western powers, in the absence of any kind of international legal basis, claim that Serbia has no moral right to Kosovo, because it has killed there many Albanians at the time of the bombardment in 1999. Does this moral disqualification of Serbia need to be covered by the lie that Serbia is just as guilty as the Germans for the murder of the Serbian Jews ?!’
So it is, that this former leader of the Belgrade Jewish community sees his task as ‘defending defamed Serbia’ over Kosovo by whitewashing Serbia’s Nazi collaborators.
If readers are wondering why I am bringing up the subject at this time, it is not only because I have only just learned of Almuli’s attack on the Helsinki Committee, but also because I figured in his attack, as a ‘Briton with family links to Croatia’, who has also been ‘guilty’ of bringing up the Nedic regime’s role in the Holocaust. Almuli refers to a letter he had published in the London Review of Books back in November 1993, in which he accused me – back when I was a 21-year-old undergraduate – of making false claims about the Nedic regime. You can read his letter here. Indeed, I made some mistakes; above all, I put the figure for Jewish Holocaust victims in Serbia at 23,000, when it was closer to 15,000 (though Almuli, through confusing the territory of wartime Croatia proper – which I referred to – with the territory of the ‘Independent State of Croatia’, falsely accused me of getting the figure for Croatian Jewish victims wrong as well). I also mistakenly attributed the building of the quisling Serbian death-camp of Banjica to Nedic, though in fact its construction was initiated in quisling Serbia before Nedic personally took office. Yet while Almuli correctly pointed out the first of these errors, his letter otherwise consisted of a factually inaccurate apologia for the quisling regime in Serbia.
The allegation that the regime of Milan Nedic, installed by the Germans in Serbia in August 1941., enthusiastically participated in the Holocaust, is the second incorrect statement in Mr. Hoare’s letter. No anti – Jewish legislation was passed by this regime, no death camp for Jews was established or run by it and virtually no killing perpetrated. All that was done by the German Army, police and SS which had almost entirely destroyed the Serbian Jewish population by May 1942., although several hundred Jews were still hiding with Serbian friends. The German police were hunting them and many were caught with the help of police loyal to Nedic’s regime, attracted by the financial reward the Germans were paying. This is all that can be found about Nedic in the published research of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia. The Germans themselves dealt with the Jews in Serbia; the duty of Nedic‘s regime was to carry out internal administration.
The half – truth in Mr. Hoare’s letter refers to the concentration camp Banjica in Belgrade. It was indeed a death camp and staffed by Serbian policemen, but it was not destined for Jews. This camp was established by German order and the Serbian personnel were subject to the control of the Gestapo. The camp was intended for Serbs who opposed the German occupation, for Partisans, Communists and liberal patriots. Out of 23,697 persons who were imprisoned in this camp only 455 were Jews.
In absolving the Nedic regime of responsibility for anti-Jewish legislation, Almuli did not choose to mention that the German commander in Serbia had issued an anti-Jewish and anti-gypsy decree on 31 May 1941, which required Jews to register with the Serbian police and wear the yellow star, banned them from public service, prevented them from visiting theatres and cinemas, and so forth. The decree specified: ‘The Serbian authorities are responsible for carrying out the orders contained in this decree.’ As Serbian prime minister from August 1941, Nedic presided over the enforcement of this decree by the Serbian authorities. Almuli’s claim that the Germans alone were responsible for measures against the Jews, while Nedic merely carried out internal Serbian administration, is therefore false.
As for Almuli’s attempt to downplay the role of the Serb quislings in the organisation and management of the Banjica death camp, and its role in the destruction of the Jews, historian Jennie Lebel (Zeni Lebl), in her book ‘Until the final solution: The Jews in Belgrade 1521-1942’ (‘Do konacnog resenja: Jevreji u Beogradu 1521-1942’, Cigoja stampa, Belgrade, 2001, pp. 312-313), has this to say:
The decision [to establish the Banjica camp] was taken in the staff of the German military commander for Serbia on 22 June 1941, and the same day the chief of the administrative staff Dr Turner informed the first person of the Commissars’ Administration [Serbian quisling government] Milan Acimovic of it. As it was a question of a joint, Nazi-collaborationist camp, the carrying out of the order was entrusted to the administrator of the city of Belgrade, Dragi Jovanovic, i.e. to the Administration of the city of Belgrade, the Belgrade municipality and the Gestapo. Dragi Jovanovic appointed on 5 July Svetozar M. Vujkovic as the first manager of that first concentration camp in Belgrade; and for his assistant, Djordje Kosmajac. They maintained daily close contact with the Special Police and with them decided the question of life or death for tens of thousands of prisoners in the camp. The security of the camp was exercised by a special detachment of the gendarmerie of the city of Belgrade, under the supervision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and with the special engagement of the Department of the Special Police. The German part of the camp was under the administration of the Gestapo.
The camp building had to be very quickly repaired and organised to suit its new purpose. According to the model of German concentration camps, metal walls, iron doors and bars were put up at Banjica, and grates were put on the windows. The first prisoners were brought to the newly formed camp already on 9 July, while the adaptation of the building was still in progress, even before the building of the high camp walls. The bringing of prisoners, Serbs, Jews and Gypsies, was carried out at a fast tempo, as were their daily executions.‘ (emphasis added)
Lebel is not the only historian to write about the role of Banjica in the Holocaust. Sima Begovic, a Yugoslav historian who was himself imprisoned in the camp during the war, is the author of a two-volume history of Banjica (‘Logor Banjica 1941-1944’, Institut za savremenu istoriju, Belgrade, 1989). He writes the following (vol. 2, pp. 25-26):
Larger groups of Jews reached the camp at Banjica on 14, 15 and 16 September 1941. Among them appear the surnames of well known Belgrade Jewish families: Albano, Gris, Finci, Pijade, Konfino, Sabitaj, Demojorovic, Mandilovic, Ruso, Gozes, Solomon, Almulzino, Amar, Demajo, Benvenisti, Janjatovic, Frajdenfeld, Isakovic, Zonensajn, Nisim, Altarac, Singer, Adanja, Melamed, Karic, Masic, Kon, Nahimijas, Kabiljo, Naftali, Grinberger, Anaf, Mor, Razencvajg, Munk, Blau, Hercog, Gutman and others. From the Banat group there were in the Banjica camp four Jews, doctors by profession: Djordje Farago from Petrovgrad (Zrenjanin), Franjo Loza from Srpska Crnja, Pavle Miler from Kovino, and Branko Auspic from Vrsac. In those three days alone 202 Jews were brought to the camp at Banjica. All of these were transferred, as recorded in the first register of the Banjica camp, to a different camp on 17 September 1941. Because the camp at the Old Fairground still was not completely finished, this was probably a matter of transfer to the camp at Topovske supe. It is a still more likely assumption that they were then, or a little later, executed at the village of Jabuka in the Banat, where the first executions were carried out both of Banjica prisoners and of Jews imprisoned at Topovske supe.
In terms of the numbers of Jewish victims from Banjica, Begovic writes (vol. 2, p. 28):
It is not easy or straightforward to determine the number of Jews who resided at the camp at Banjica and from it taken to the execution site. Judging by the Banjica registers, that number just exceeded 900 individuals. However, not all Jews were recorded in the registers of the Banjica prisoners.
Thus Almuli’s claim, that ‘only 455’ Jews passed through Banjica, is false. His figure of 23,697 prisoners at Banjica is also rejected by both Begovic and Lebel, who point out that this only represents the number of prisoners recorded in the camp registers, and does not include the thousands or possibly tens of thousands more who went unrecorded.
The camp at Topovske supe that Begovic mentions is described by Lebel as ‘the first Jewish death camp in Belgrade’. She writes (pp. 312-314) of the incarceration of the Jewish prisoners:
‘The guard was kept by Nedic’s gendarmes, who were inhuman and, to show their loyalty to the Germans, often worse than the latter. They prohibited them things that the Germans sometimes permitted. At the entrance there were not many guards, and even on the occasion of the transport of the prisoners to work there was not a particularly prominent guard. But it was made clear to them that every attempt at escape would be punished most strictly. They were soon convinced of this: when some nevertheless attempted to escape and were caught, in front of all the prisoners they were hanged in the camp courtyard.’
Nedic himself was an anti-Semite. As I demonstrate in my book, ‘Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941-1943’ (Oxford University Press, London, 2006), he peppered his speeches with references to the ‘Communist-Jewish rabble’ and ‘Communist-Masonic-Jewish-English-mafia’ against which he was supposedly fighting. On 22 June 1942 he wrote to German General Bader to complain that Serbian prisoners-of-war in German camps were being confined alongside Jews and Communists, and requested that ‘it would be very desirable if Jews and leftists-Communists be removed from the common camps and kept apart from the nationally healthy officers.’ Consequently, ‘The Serbian government, concerned by this action, would be extremely grateful if the German Reich would take effective measures for a maximally rapid separation, etc.’ (‘Genocide and Resistance’, pp. 158-159; the citations are from archival documents that I located in Belgrade; photocopies of them are in my possession).
The Serbian historian Olivera Milosavljevic, in her recently published study of the Serbian quislings (‘Potisnuta istina: Kolaboracija u Srbiji 1941-1944′, Helsinski odbor za ljudska prava u Srbiji’, Belgrade, 2006, p. 25), based principally on an extensive examination of the Serbian quisling press, has this to say of Nedic’s official ideology:
‘The principle of a ‘clean’ nation encompassed all spheres of social life in Nedic’s Serbia, in which state officials, professors, pupils and students had to demonstrate that they were Serbs. The ‘Aryan paragraph’ entered the official documents of Nedic’s goverment which, on the occasion of employment in state service, required that candidates provide evidence that they were of Serb nationality and ‘Aryan origin’ and that their families did not have ‘Jewish or Gypsy blood’. Confirmations were provided by the municipal authorities.’
The Serbian fascist leader Dimitrije Ljotic, a central figure of the Serbian quisling regime, was most explicit in his statements on the Jews. For example, in a speech over Radio Belgrade in August 1941: ‘I have said, that the Christian nations have become so blind, that they see danger in every imperialism – except the most dangerous imperialism: the Jewish’; ‘Only the Jew could on the one hand be the creator and user of capitalism, and on the other create Marxism and lead revolutions, supposedly against capitalism’; ‘And to the Jews it must be clear that for the forseeable future the realisation of their dream of world revolution is ended’; ‘You will only then, with the fall of red Bolshevik Moscow, see what wrong toward the Russian nation and toward you, Serbian tribe, has been committed by those renegades, who convinced you that that Jewish-Unrussian creation is – your Slavic Russia’. (Dimitrije V. Ljotic, ‘Sabrana dela’, vol. 8, Iskra, Belgrade, 2003, pp. 46-48). Ljotic’s militia was closely involved in hunting down and arresting Jews.
This, then, is the true face of the Serbian quisling regime of World War II, whose record Almuli sees fit to defend. Almuli’s record may be set against that of Simon Wiesenthal, a Holocaust survivor who devoted his life to bringing Nazi war-criminals to justice and fighting Holocaust revisionism. In contrast to Wiesenthal, Almuli has tried his best to ensure that the crimes of his own fellow-countrymen, who participated in the Holocaust, are forgotten.
Addendum: For another defence of Milan Nedic’s Nazi-quisling regime, one that writes its role in the Holocaust out of history, see amateur historian Carl Savich at Serbianna.com, who writes that in its collaboration with the Nazis, ‘the regime Germany established in Serbia had no choice in the matter. They were not allies or loyal partners as Ante Pavelic was. The goal was to preserve the Serbian population.’ The Nedic regime’s involvement in Nazi genocide has also been written out of the history of World War II by the Jasenovac Research Institute and other Serb nationalist organisations and websites that claim to deal with the subject.
- Basque Country
- Central Europe
- East Timor
- European Union
- Faroe Islands
- Former Soviet Union
- Former Yugoslavia
- Holocaust denial
- Marko Attila Hoare
- Middle East
- Political correctness
- Red-Brown Alliance
- South Ossetia
- The Left
- World War II