The massacre in Kraljevo 1941 - www.zlocininadsrbima.com


Rate us this article:

Period: Second World War

Region: Serbia


The massacre in Kraljevo 1941



The massacre in Kraljevo refers to massive liquidation of Serbian people in the middle of October 1941 in the city of Kraljevo (Raska district) in occupied Serbia which was committed by German soldiers of 717th Division of Wehrmacht. This massacre had genocidal character due to German occupation rule to kill 100 Serbs for 1 killed German soldier, and to kill 50 Serbs for 1 wounded”. On that occasion, at least 2,190 Serbs (although there are reasonable doubts that the number goes up to 2.255) were killed in several days. Order for this monstrous crime was issued by German major Otto Desch.

 

The aim of the German occupation authorities was to revenge to Serbian people for defeat in the First World War and to intimidate Serbian patriots in order to prevent expansion of rebellion which had already occurred. This crime was followed by the massacre in Kragujevac which happened several days later on October 21, 1941.

 

After the Second World War, the National Museum was founded in Kraljevo with the permanent exhibition presenting the story of the massacre in 1941.

 

 

Background

 

Belgrade demonstrations
on March 27th, 1941.

 

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians, the first South Slavic state, later renamed into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, was created after the First World War, with its promulgation on December 1, 1918 in Belgrade. The territory of Yugoslav Kingdom was divided into banates in 1929 and the structure of its government was a parliamentary monarchy. The royal title was held by Serbian Karadjordjevic dynasty. It consisted of Southern Serbia, Shumadia, Raska, Kosovo and Metohija, Eastern Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Vojvodina, Slavonia, a small part of Dalmatia, Dubrovnik Republic, Lika, Kordun, Banija, Zagorje, Gorski Kotar and Slovenia. After the assassination of King Alexander I Karadjordjevic in Marseilles on October 9, 1934, the country was ruled by regents: Prince Paul Karadjordjevic, Dr. Radenko Stankovic and Dr. Ivo Perovic, and the government was formed by Dragisa Cvetkovic and Vlatko Macek.

In mid-1930, Europe witnessed the rise of Nazism and Fascism, especially in Germany, Italy and Spain. This led to formation of the Tripartite Pact, on September 27, 1940 between Germany, Italy and Japan. In the next months, this alliance was joined by the following countries: Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, etc. Thus, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia found itself surrounded by Axis Powers.

In Vienna, on March 25, 1941 the signing of the protocol between the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Nazi Germany took place regarding the passage of German and Italian troops through Yugoslav territory. Among the patriotic forces of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia this was interpreted as a treason, and the British and Soviet intelligence officers organized a military coup and demonstrations on March 27, 1941 in Belgrade resulting in the overthrow of  the governorship led by Prince Paul and putting on the throne a minor king Petar II Karadjordjevic. Hitler changed the plans and the armed forces' plans to attack Greece, were diverted to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

On April 6, 1941, Nazy Germany and Fasist Italy, together with its allies (Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Albania) attacked the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which capitulated after only few days. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was dismembered, and most of its territory belonged to the Independent State of Croatia, which was promulgated on April 10, 1941 in Zagreb. Ante Pavelic (notorious Ustasha commander) was elected as its leader.

Immediately after the formation of the Independent State of Croatia, conduction of genocide against Serbs, Jews and Roma began. Also, the SPC was banned and had its property confiscated, while the SPC clergy was persecuted and killed and churches burned and demolished. Serbian Cyrillic was also prohibited on the territory of ISC. It was estimated that the percentage of Orthodox Serbs in ISC was higher than 37%, which was not acceptable to the Ustasha government and Vatican which provided great support to the new Ustasha authorities in Zagreb.

Ustasha ideology was reflected in that genocide and extermination of Serbs, which was publicly uttered by Mile Budak, Ustasha minister, in Gospic on May 2, 1941.

 

 

"One third of the Serbs will be killed,
another third baptized,
and the remaining will be banished!"
(Mile Budak, minister in Government of Independent State of Croatia)

 

 

Situation in Kraljevo

 

Monument of Serbs solider from WW1
 

Kraljevo is a city in the northeast parts of the Raska district. It is situated on 200m of altitude at the mouth of the river Ibar in North Morava, between mountains of Sumadia and Kopaonik mount. Near Kraljevo there are medieval Serbian monasteries: Ljubostinja, Zica, Studenica, Sopocani, etc. The climate is continental. The life traces back to 2000 years b.c. Before it became part of Serbia in the era of the Nemanjic dynasty, this area had been part of the Roman Empire. The medieval place Rudo Polje from 14th century became the city of Kraljevo. 

 

Osmanli Turks came to these lands in the middle of the 15th century bringing Islam and the place named Karanovac became part of the Sanjak of Novi Pazar. Due to different military and political agreements this town became border town, the trade center and the intersection of people and places. In the era of Serbian rebellions, Kraljevo was the center of the Nahiye of Pozega. During the Balkan wars at the beginning of the 20th century, residents of Kraljevo significantly contributed to the liberation of South Serbia and to the liberation of Serbian people during the First World War. In the Kingdom of Yugoslavia Kraljevo was part of Drina’s banate. 

 

With the aggression of the Axis powers in April 1941, Kraljevo faced tremendous demolition because German aircrafts bombed Serbian cities in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. 

 

 

The reason for revenge

Serbian patriots had already taken on arms, not accepting invasion and started to join guerilla formations which conducted diversions. At the beginning of October 1941, several blockages and sabotages of German soldiers were conducted, and, among others, access to Kraljevo was blocked on October 4, 1941, resulting in the reaction of the German command which imprisoned 540 workers of the Aircraft Plant in Kraljevo. 

 

In conflicts between Serbian patriots and German soldiers from the 717th division, 14 soldiers of Wehrmacht were killed and 10 were wounded. This incited terrific revenge.

 

“Your task is to reach every corner of the land where streams of German blood were spilled in 1914 due to perfidy of Serbian men and women. You are the avengers of those victims. The entire Serbia must be shown a frightening example which has to strike the whole nation…”

Franz Böhme, German general, Deputy commander of the Wehrmacht in Serbia. 

 

 

 

War crimes


 

Serbian victims in Kraljevo
 

Commander of the 749th Austrian-German regiment, major Otto Desch, issued an order on initiating a massive revenge. They had permission to enforce the rule “100 hostages for 1 killed, and 50 hostages for 1 wounded German soldier.”

 

The state of emergency and kangaroo court were implemented in Kraljevo on 15th October, 1941, on the same day when liquidation of hostages began. Hostages were forced to dig ditches in front of soldiers of 749 infantry regiments of the 717th crew division, which included 66% of Austrians and the rest Germans, not suspecting that these ditches were to become their graves. Statements of survivors and messages which were sent by hostages to their families represent upsetting testimony about their last days.

 

Marko Slomovic: “Door of the hall closed and we were left outside. There were around 100 of us. They showed us a pile of mud and ordered to take a spade, mattock, and shovel. Then, they have lined up us in a row of three men one next to another and taken us along the railway to a stokehold. They have stopped us on a vast wasteland with a lot of bushes in the vicinity of the Engine House. Germans told us not to dig ditches in the center but along the edges and what we had dug was a great square where we throw excavated soil. I could see several machine-gun nests. In the moment, all hopes were lost. Some rushed out of the line and started to explain in German that they had small children, others peacefully waited for a bullet to take away their life. Some were yelling at Germans, cursing and swearing. Machine-gun burst interrupted all of that…”

 

The last day of liquidation was October 20, 1941. The members of the Firefighting Society who were under surveillance of German authorities after their colleagues had passed by Guard as a firefighting orchestra, over the bridge on the river Ibar, on September 27, 1941 to reach a detachment in Goca, were assigned by a commander to bury victims after liquidation. 

 

After the massive crime the whole place was covered with lime. A lot of families lost more than one of their members in this liquidation. The victims are kept in memory of successors and citizens.  

 

 

Information on victims


Investigation found the minimum number of 2,190 victims killed in the storehouse. Thanks to preserved primary sources, and testimonies, perennial investigation confirmed the number of at least 2,190 civilians with women, children and elderlies among them. What is more significant is the fact that each victim has its name determined, and for the most, there is even information on birthplace, name of the father, occupation, job and photograph. Further investigation has determined 2,255 names with detailed personal information for 2,194 victims. 

Sociological and demographic analysis made on the basis of memorial inheritance in databases, indicates the cruel and genocidal character of the war crime against humanity that had been committed by the regular army of Wehrmacht in Kraljevo, in October 1941. 

 

Data show that at least 102 underage persons were killed in the storehouse. Among victims, there were 28 women. The extent of the war crimes against humanity can be seen from the number of families which were left without foster parents, the number of orphans, destruction of the economy for which the proof lies in the fact that most of the victims, around 1,840, were men in the most productive age between 18 and 55, and those were workers and employees of the aircraft and wagon plants, railroaders and employees of institutions and schools. The fact that liquidation took place in the hospital as well, is proved by sources and recorded names of its patients who were victims.

 

Most of the victims, around 21%, had worked in the prestigious Aircraft Plant,  then in the Railway and the Engine House as high as 31% of those for which there is information on employment. Not only engine drivers, locksmiths, turners, air mechanics, engineers, clerks, apprentices, but referees, farmers, barbers, teachers, principals, pupils, a police unit, soldiers and commanders of former Army of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia which escaped captivity in Germany, housewives, masons, the Post Office and Telegraph employees, county representatives, officials of the Financial Control and Technical department, musicians were also liquidated. Being mainly Orthodox Christians with 73 Catholics of whom most were Slovenians, they were shot at the same place- in the north part of the Engine House property. 

 

 

Years later…


Authentic lists with the names of victims created a year after the tragedy at the order of the Mayor of the district, represent the first record on the victims. In the place of the biggest tragedy that happened in the area of Kraljevo, at least 27 captured had survived and their testimonies are valuable material. 

 

The culture of memory, based on research, analysis, and comparison of different sources which were passionately collected and preserved in the Historical Archive, the institution of Memorial Park and the National Museum of Kraljevo, needed personalization of the victims. 

 

Creation of the Historical Department and collections of the National Museum of Kraljevo, began to collect documentary material with the help of enthusiastic citizens. The first manager of the museum, prof Milorad Jovic said “by collecting the heritage, we fulfill our responsibility towards people of our county and the city honored with the glory of the martyrs in order to preserve and show our values...the war legacy dominated and within it, valuable documents and objects of the victims kept by their families. With mutual cooperation of the Historical Institute, the National Museum and the institution of  Memorial Park valuable memorial heritage was collected which consisted of authentic historical sources of different provenance, personal things and documents of the victims liquidated between 15th and 20th October 1941.”

 

The National Museum holds the notebook of the crimes of the occupying forces (1945)- the state commission for determining the crimes of the occupying forces; the list of the victims in the attachment of the Decision on determining the crimes for Otto Desch, commander of the 717th Division of Wehrmacht. As the official documents of the legal body kept in the Archive of Yugoslavia, they served as a basis for indictment of Yugoslavia against Orderers and Executors of the crime before the Military Court in Nunberg.

The report which was submitted to the International Court in Nunberg by the government of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia in January 16, 1946, included the list of victims and “decisions for persons accountable for massive slaughter of civilians in Serbia who were members of the 717th Division of Wehrmacht”, formed from 1 to 14 May 1941 and transported in Serbia from 15 May 1941 to 11 June under command of the 65th Special Purpose Command. 

 

The record on deceased persons of the Serbian Orthodox Church- parish lists of liquidated persons (1, 2, 3, 4 Parish) contains authentic, original sources (1941-1945) where the deceased parishioners during World War 2 were named, the victims of the storehouse among them. Slightly later sources- the record of the refugees in Kraljevo, were made in the provenance of the District Committee for housing refugees and migrants on September 9, 1942, whose purpose was to record expelled who had come in the area of Kraljevo until Summer 1942. 

 

 

The names of persons who ordered and executed the crime

 

Below are the names of the members of 717th Division of German Wehrmacht (formed from 1 to 14 May 1941) accountable for massive liquidation of Serbs in Kraljevo in October 1941:

 

  1. Hosterbach, general
  2. Alphons Maciovic, lieutenant
  3. Otto Desch, major, commander of the 749th regiment
  4. Zaifert, sublieutenant
  5. Pothof, sublieutenant
  6. Hansl Bauer, captain
  7. Bendinger, captain
  8. Majer, sublieutenant
  9. Garhofer, sublieutenant
  10. Shulte, sublieutenant
  11. Smith, sublieutenant
  12. Pichler, sublieutenant
  13. Haifner, sublieutenant
  14. Lerh, sublieutenant
  15. Mader, sublieutenant
  16. Lex, sublieutenant
  17. Xojer, sublieutenant
  18. Rotmajer, sublieutenant
  19. Majer, non-commissioned officer
  20. Volkmajer, non-commissioned officer
  21. Shorkmajer, non-commissioned officer
  22. Varas, non-commissioned officer
  23. Volfinger, non-commissioned officer 
  24. Bajgerhof, non-commissioned officer
  25. Salvovski, non-commissioned officer
  26. Moser, non-commissioned officer
  27. Stik, non-commissioned officer
  28. Val, non-commissioned officer
  29. Mige, non-commissioned officer
  30. Gruber, non-commissioned officer
  31. Venc, Oberleutnant
  32. Vetstajn, Oberleutnant
  33. Fritz Valentin,
  34. Zonderfajher
  35. Skorajnc Hans
  36. Feldvebel
  37. Hajnrih Miler, agent of Gestapo
  38. Joseph Komarek
  39. Herbert Kinas
  40. Helmut Bes
  41. Joseph Kucik

 



LEST WE FORGET, LEST WE REPEAT!