War and Social Upheaval: Displaced Yugoslavia Children--World War II (1941-45)

Figure 1.--.

All of Yugoslavs neighbors but Greece by 1941 were under NAZI domination or influence. Prince Paul to avoid bloodshed felt obliged to sign a formal pact with Germany and Italy. Shortly afterwards, however, on March, 27 1941, he was unseated in a coup and the young King Peter II was declared of age. Within a week, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Italy invaded Yugoslavia as part of an offensive against Greece. The Yigoslav Government was forced to surrender. While a military disaster for the Yugoslavs, the Germans action forced them to delay the planned invasion of Russia. The precious weeks of delay was a critical element in the German failure to smash the Red Army before the onset of winter in 1941. King Peter II, with the Yugoslav Government, made his way via Athens, Jerusalem and Cairo to London where he joined numerous other governments in exile from NAZI occupied Europe. The NAZIs partioned Yugoslvia among allies and local clients. The northernmost part (Slovenia) was split. Part was annexed into German Reich. The other part of Slovenia and the Adriatic coastline of Croatia was goven to Fascist Italy. Macedonia in the south was given to Bulgaria. What remained of Yugoslavia was divided up between two NAZI puppet-states. Croatia which was compensated for the losses along the coast by being granted all of Bosnia. A NAZI controlled Government in Serbia was estblished headed by former royal Yugoslav army general Milan Nedich. Yugoslavia with the pent up natioanlist feelings before the War fueled by NAZI geocidal 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.

Occupation Policies


The NAZIS in German annexed Slovenia shipped intelectuals, teachers, muscians, and others to Slovenia. The goal was to eradicate Slovene natioanlism to Germanize the area. I'm less sure about Italian occupation policies.

Croatia and Bosnia--Pavelich/the Ustasha

Hitler after the successful campaign in the Balkans met with Croatian fascist leader Ante Pavelic (June 6, 1941). An Italian rioyal was made the nominal ruler, but he wisely remained in Italy. The two discussed a program expel a substantial portion of the Serbian population of new state of Croatia' and reppoulate it with Croats and Slovenes from the area of Yugoslavia annexed by the Germans. (Germany and Italy partitioned Slovenia.) Pavelic's regime initiated a poorly reported genocide of World War II. The NAZI-installed Fascist regime in occupied Croatia, under Ustasha leader Ante Pavelich, initiated a program of ethnic "cleansing" in the areas of Croiatia and Bosnia they controlled. This involved the murder of large numbers of Serbs, Gypsies, Jews, as well Ustasha political opponents. Deaths camps were estblished such as the Jasenovac camp , southeast of Zagreb. Thousands of Serbs were forced literaly at gun point to "become" Croats by signing loyalty oaths and converting to Roman Catholicism. In the next 3 years, the Ustasha killed 0.6-1.0 million people, including 30,000 Jews, 29,000 Gipsies, and 600,000 Serbs. Hitler met with Pavelic again while this genocide was under way (November 1942). Strangely while Orthodox Christians were considered enemies, Bosnian Muslims were seen as "Muslim Croats" in the Ustasha national view. They were largely spared in the initial rounds of killing. Many Bosnian Muslim religious and political leaders spoke out publicly against the regime's program of ethnic and religious persecution, but some Muslims joined in the slaughter. The Germans even established an all-Muslim SS division in 1943.



General Milan Nedich in occupied Serbia 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, oyjer 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.

Resistance Groups

The Chetnicks--Mihailovich

Many Serbs despised Nedich for his association with the occupying NAZI authorities. They joined a Serbian nationalist resistance movement, whichbwas known as the "Chetniks". They were also headed by a royal Yugoslav army officer, Colonel Drazha Mihailovich. The British initially supported Mihailovich by air dropping supplies in the mountains. Mihailovich after some attacks on the NAZIsS quickly stopped. The Germans responded to every resistance attack on a German soldier or unit with savage reprisals against the Serbian civilian population. As a result, Mihailovich carried out few guerrilla attacks on German targets within Serbia proper. Instead his Chetniks turned "softer" targets not unlike Nedich's goal of an ethnically pure Slavian Greater Serbia. The goal was to "cleanse" Serbia of all non-Serbs, Gypsies, Jews, and traitors. The Chetnicks saw Greater Serbia as including Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. Mihailovich's Chetniks this launch their own "ethnic cleansing" campaign in Bosnia, aimed at "undoing" the work of the Ustasha. They targeted Croats and Muslim Slavs in an effort to nchange the population ballance in favor of the Serbs. Bosnia became an upresidented killing ground, as bands of Serbian Chetniks, the Croatian Ustasha, local militias, German and Italian occupation troops and the Communist Partisans vied with each other in terrorizing oreliminating various segments of the civilian population.

The Communists--Tito

The Yugoslav Communists, led by Josip Broz Tito, and supported by the Soviets organized the only truly multi-ethnic resistance group. The Communists did engage the Germans as well as the Chetniks, General Nedich, the Ustasha, and anyone else who did not support their call for total armed resistance to the NAZIs. Tito's Partisans were most active in the mountainous terrain of central Bosnia and coastal Croatia. They were willing to attack the Germans knowing that the Germans would execute large numbers of civilian hostages or whole villages in reprisal. Tito erasoned that an enraged population would then have no choice but to join the Partisans if they wanted to take revenge on the NAZIs. Tito also used brutal measuresere also employed to enforce compliance on civilians. The Chetnicks as the War progressed were increasingly compromised by copperationfg with local Italian and German occupation forces to fight the Communists. From the Allied perspective, Tito's partisans gained a reputation for effectivly tying down German and Italian units. As a result, in early 1944 the Allies stopped supporting the Chetniks and began airdrops to Tito's partisans.


Andras Riedlmayer, "A Brief History of Bosnia-Herzegovina", internet site accessed June 24, 2002.


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Created: June 25, 2002
Last updated: J5:15 AM 9/28/2004