Liberation of Zagreb by the Partisans

Liberation of Zagreb by the Partisans

Ever since 1945., Croatian schoolchildren spent their education learning about the “National Liberation War” (or more accurately, “People’s Liberation War”) and about the “liberation” of Zagreb on 8th May 1945. So-called “antifascists”, both old and not so old, celebrate this event with gusto. Issue is, “liberation” of a city by socialists and by an occupying army is precisely as it could be expected, and was in fact worse than what had happened when Zagreb was first “liberated” on 10th April 1941.

Because when Communist Partisans came and liberated Zagreb, they did what Communists always do the best: they liberated the citizens of their pride, property and life. All citizens who did not run away and could not prove their membership in the Communist Party were either killed, or became second-class citizens at best, at the mercy of Communist officials and partisan troops.

Overview of Events

On 7th May 1945. in Reims, Wehrmacht representatives signed a protocol about unconditional surrender of all German armed forces on European battlefields. With this the Second World War was practically over. Zagreb was open; only question was which Partisan formation would reach it first.

Official historiography might give an impression that the first unit to enter Zagreb was the 10th Zagreb Corps, formed of Partisans who were either from Zagreb or its immediate surroundings. This would have made sense, from multiple views. They knew the city and thus could watch out for a potential ambush; they were less likely to be perceived as enemies by the populace. It is thus unsurprising that the 10th Zagreb Corps is precisely the unit that is most often mentioned when writing about Partisan capture of Zagreb.

Another unit often mentioned is the Posava detachment, whose members were predominantly from Turopolje and other areas near Zagreb. It is sometimes mentioned as the first or one of first units to enter Zagreb. But not only is this a lie, it is also completely irrelevant due to small size of the unit.

Reality is completely different. First Partisan unit that entered Zagreb was comprised of Serbs, many of them former Chetniks. Moreover, the “liberation” of Zagreb was not an idyllic story of “brotherhood and unity” – it was, in fact, the first step in evolution (or rather, continuation) of Serbo-Croatian conflict in new Yugoslavia.

Primary role in capture of Zagreb was played by the 45th Serb Division, more specifically the 20th Serb Brigade, one of three brigades which made up said division. And among its membership were three people who would go on to become intellectuals of Greater Serbian imperialism: Živorad Živa Stojković, future literature historian and political agitator and activist; Miodrag Mića Popović, future painter, director and writer; and Stojan Ćelić, future painter and from 1985. to 1986. a member of Commission for creation of Memorandum of Serbian Academy of Sciences and Art (Memorandum SANU, a document which helped prepare later Serbian aggression in 1990s).

It is precisely the 45th Serb Division that entered Zagreb first. Specifically, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 20th Serbian Brigade crossed Sava on 8th May 1945., entering Trnje (part of Zagreb) between 10:30 and 10:45. Some other units had crossed Sava over the Red Bridge. It was also the 20th Serb Brigade that, with the help of 24th Serb Brigade (also from the 45th Serb Division) that first captured Radio Station Zagreb. Thus it was the 45th Serb Division that had captured Zagreb.

In some histories that are really Communist propaganda, “liberation” of Zagreb has been ascribed to 28th Slavonian Division (example here“Ako je pak bitno da su u grad trebale prve ući domaće jedinice, onda bi rijetko koja partizanska jedinica bila prikladnija od 28. slavonske divizije, koja je imala ključnu ulogu u razvoju NOP-a u okolici Zagreba oslobađajući Zagorje, Prigorje, Podravinu i Moslavinu i čije su borbene redove činili i Zagrepčani koji su s njom sudjelovali i u oslobođenju Beograda.” Translated, it would read “If it is somehow important that local units were first to enter the city, then few partisan units would be more appropriate than the 28th Slavonian Division, which had a key role in development of People’s Liberation Movement in vicinity of Zagreb, liberating Zagorje, Prigorje, Podravina and Moslavina, and whose ranks were also made of Zagreb citizens which with it participated in liberation of Belgrade). This however makes no sense, for four reasons.

First, the 28th Slavonian division had entered the city several minutes after the 45th Serbian Division did. This is clear from both testimonies (e.g. Antun Magić, a former member of 28th Slavonian Division, and Duško Doder, member of illegal Communist HQ for Zagreb) and documents. It is also stated in historiography. Second, the 28th Slavonian Division had entered the city across the bridge over Sava, and via Sava road reached the HNK (Croatian National Theatre) where it stopped. This line of movement was not only far more distant from the radio station than that of the 45th Divison (which had entered the city either via Bundek ferry or the Red bridge), but the 28th Division had never even attempted to capture the radio station. Third, while 28th Slavonian Division’s commissar Jure Devčić did report that Partisans were entering Zagreb, he did it from outside Zagreb itself – he himselv never even crossed Sava. Fourth, while the 21st Brigade of the 28th Slavonian Division did carry the title “Slavonian”, brigade itself was ethnically Serbian. Brigade had gone to battle of Belgrade in 1944. with 800 soldiers and left it with 3 000. All new additions were Serbs from Serbia itself, and at least 300 out of 2 200 new recruits were “former” Chetniks.

Another proof that it was the 45th Serbian Division that first entered Zagreb and also first started operations of capturing the Croatian Radio are memories of Zagreb Communist and member of illegal headquarters for liberation of Zagreb, Duško Doder. In an article for 1972. edition of “Zagreb 1941-1945” magazine, he wrote that he himself and the then-head of Zagreb Communist Party, Živka Nemčić, first met the liberators of Zagreb at 11:20 at the corner of streets of Kanal (today Držićeva) and Varaždinska (today Vukovar Avenue), and that these partisans were members of the 45th Serbian Division.

According to monograph about 45th Serbian Division (published in Belgrade, 1992.), capture of Croatian Radio had been carried out by elements of the 2nd and 3rd Battalion of 20th Brigade. Following the successful capture, commander of the 20th Brigade, Major Vojin Vidović, “informed the peoples of Yugoslavia that Zagreb had been liberated”. Among the first partisans to have entered Zagreb were Žika Stojković and Stojan Ćelić from the 20th Brigade. They were also the ones who went to Radio Zagreb and forced the newsreader to read the announcement of conquest of Zagreb.

Živorad Žika Stojković was born in Belgrade in Čubura, on 28th September 1922. His father Aleksa, a Serb from Macedonia, was wood trader and politically a convinced proponent of Greater Serbia. Živorad joined the war of his own initiative only in the late summer or early autumn of 1944., as a member of the 20th Brigade of the 45th Serbian Division. This brigade had been founded in eastern Serbia, near Niš. Žika never fought however, but was a member of medical staff – specifically, a Commissar of the hospital unit.

According to Medaković, Žika had come to Zagreb with a rank of lieutenant. As such he was subordinate to his colleague and friend Stojan Ćelić, a Serb from Bosnia. Stojković was a chief of the agitprop department of the 20th Brigade until the 20th March 1945. By the time of liberation of Zagreb on 8th May 1945., he was already a Captain. He was a very dangerous individual, and was with Dobrica Ćosić one of key individuals in Serbian imperialist movement. He was especially important player in 1971., when he was far more radical than even the Serbian “father of the nation” Dobrica Čosić. He wanted either a unitary Yugoslavia, or else a Greater Serbia that would consist of all areas where Serbs lived. In a speech in Belgrade of 28th April 1971. he even compared Constitution of 1971. to Austro-Hungarian annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1908., and called for open warfare should Constitutional amendments be accepted. Žika was also the author of anticonstitutional speech of Serbian philosopher Mihailo Đurić, which the latter had read at the Faculty of Law in Belgrade on 18th March 1971. and ended up in prison for it. In it, Đurić had called for Serbia to annex all areas of other republics where significant number of Serbs lived – this was essentially Memorandum SANU decade and a half before it had appeared. Žika Stojković also openly attacked the Catholic Church in Croatia, accusing both the Church and the Croatian people in their entirety of being guilty for crimes carried out by the Ustashi regime in the Second World War.

Liberation of Zagreb in 1945. was only really celebrated in Belgrade. Festivities began on 9th May 1945., a day after the “liberation”, and lasted from 10 in the morning until 3 in the morning of the following day. Of course, nobody cared what was happening in Zagreb itself.

What was happening was that in the night of 8th onto 9th of May 1945., units of the 1st Army entered Zagreb from eastern side. These were commanded by General-Lieutenant Peko Dapčević, a Montenegrin – but majority of overall leadership of the Army were Serbs. And it was the 21st Serbian Division that was most noticeable in fighting at the eastern periphery of the city. The 10th “Zagreb” Corps entered Zagreb on the afternoon of 9th May 1945., but the unit had not participated in fighting around Zagreb at all, having been several tens of kilometers away from Zagreb, somewhere towards Varaždin. Comissar of the 10th “Zagreb” Corps, Ivan Šibl, wrote in his memoirs that he himself and the entire Corps had felt humiliated and ashamed by the fact that it were the Serbs who had captured Zagreb.

Celebratory parade in Zagreb was held on Jelačić Square, on 11th May 1945. – full three days after the parade in honor of “liberation” of Zagreb was held in Belgrade. Vjesnik, newspaper from Zagreb, gave full two pages to the Zagreb parade, of which the first page – also the newspaper’s title page – had on it the victory speech of commander of the 2nd Army, Koča Popović. His statement “I am saying this as a son of Serbia, new Tito’s democratic federal Serbia” was greeted with an applause and calls of “Live Serbia!”.

On the second page of Vjesnik was published “Commendation of the Supreme Commander Tito” to liberators of Zagreb”, aimed at units of the 1st and 2nd Armies. In it, Tito had named seven high-ranking officers of the 2nd and 1st Armies, of which three were Serbs (Koča Popović, Milutin Morača and Mijalko Todorović), four Montenegrins (Peko Dapčević, Radovan Vukanović, Ljubo Vučković and Blaž Lampar) – and not a single Croatian. This despite the fact that the antifascist uprising had been ongoing in Croatia since 1942., but only began in Serbia in 1944.

Moreover, official historiography still holds that Koča’s 2nd Army, including the 45th Serbian Division, were not supposed to enter Zagreb at all but ended up doing that purely by accident, as a result of development of events. This however is a lie. Especially for the leadership of the 45th Division, Zagreb was the capital city of independent Croatian state, something that could not be allowed to survive, even irrespective of the crimes that Ustashi had carried out against the Serbs.

War plans of the 45th Division’s Headquarters for 7th – 12th May 1945. quite explicitly state that the Partisans were fighting hard with only one goal in mind – reaching Zagreb. Mića Popović, a follower of Dobrica Ćosić, had in 1983. painted an image called “Secret Dinner Without Savior”. It is a replica of Da Vinci’s Last Dinner, except that Apostles had been replaced by famous Serbs – some of them Chetniks – while “Jesus’” chair is empty. The message is that Serbs are still waiting for a savior who will lead them to paradise. This leader would soon appear in the shape of Slobodan Milošević. Popović had also filmed a movie “Man From Oak Forest”, where the main character is a Chetnik that is slaughtering Partisans, and counting his kills by carving lines on a tree.

Popović’s personal diary mentions Zagreb on nearly every page, as a final goal of the 45th Serbian Division in its march from Bosnia westwards. This thought is repeated again and again, in various contexts but with the clear message – just as Muslims had wanted to conquer Constantinople for millenia, so now Serbs have to conquer Zagreb. Zagreb was the overall goal – Serbian victimology had (forgetting of course some uncomfortable facts) created a strong wish to reach Zagreb and “show Croatians up”. Ivan Fumić, a Partisan, recalled later how Chetniks repeated that “When we cross Sava, we will slaughter Croats!”. And this thought remained even after mass murders of 1945. – 1947., and would again show up in 1990s.

Murders in Hospitals

Not even hospitals were spared, as the case of hospital “Rebro” (founded in 1942.) shows. One of surviving witnesses of the events, Ivan Čičak Markov – who served as a Croatian Home Guard intendant at the time – describes the fright night of 9th onto 10th of May 1945:

At around 1 o’clock after midnight the on-duty nun came and said to me: “Sir, the Partisans have surrounded the hospital!”. I went towards the window intending to jump out of it, but the nuns prevented that. Two orderlies came and calmed me down. In the morning we were ordered to come down and to line up by branches of the military. Orderlies placed me among the civilians. Home Guard soldiers were ordered to remove their own wounded to the basement, and prepare the hospital rooms to accept Partisan wounded. I was ordered to write down the names of the arriving wounded, because I had nice handwriting and because orderlies had testified that I had been wounded in the leg, which I accepted. After the Home Guard soldiers had brought the wounded down, they were chased off somewhere.

Around 22 hours, dozen or so armed female Partisans went to the basement to the wounded. They beat them, abused them, threw them out of the beds, unheeding of all protests. One of them struck a Home Guard soldier so hard that a fragment of his tooth was left in her fist, and so she went to doctor to have it removed. While this was being done, I was holding her hand steady.

Some time after midnight, that is on 10th May 1945., came two trucks full of Partisans who proceeded to surround the hospital. Despite in great fear, we watched everything from the windows. They had brought eight captured Germans and sent them to the basement to the wounded. I wanted to see what they are doing. I took the book in which I was writing down arriving Partisan wounded and moved towards the door. Partisan guard greeted me with a curse and prevented me from passing. I sharply told him “You do your job, and let me do mine. Where is the commander?”. At this, he let me pass. I went through the entrance where trucks were parked. In passing I saw how four German prisoners brought prisoners on stretchers, two took them by arms and legs and threw them into the trucks, while remaining two were placing them on the truck under the tarp one atop another, much like logs. The wounded were crying, calling for God, st. Ante, mothers, wives, children, and so on, but nobody was paying them any attention. Next to them was, while they were doing this, standing one partisan with a machine gun pointed at the prisoners, and so he did not notice me passing by. As soon as I entered the hospital, I was sick from what I had seen. I told everything to a nun and two nurses, and asked them to stay silent.

As soon as they embarked the wounded, the trucks went towards Maksimir and suddenly stopped. Driven by curiosity I went to leave the circle of the hospital, but a guard stopped me. I returned to the staff building and from the balcony watched as they pulled the wounded from the trucks and threw them into the hole one atop another. As soon as that was done, the partisans shot at the pile of the wounded from automatic weapons. German prisoners later covered the hole, and dug another one in which they themselves were shot.

According to some calculations, Partisans took and killed 280 wounded from Rebro hospital alone.

City full of graves

Rebro hospital was only a small part of of Partisan blood orgies in Zagreb. Entirety of Sljeme and its basis are covered in bones of people murdered by Partisans so that nationally conscious people could be removed from Tito’s empire. As testified by Miroslav Haramija in his report “On work of burying corpses in the area of Local People’s Committee in Gračani”:

On the day of 10th of May, after the fighting had ended between the People’s Liberation Army that is the Yugoslav Army and the enemy army that was defeated, we began work on burying corpses and cadavers, which were many, and were a danger for health of inhabitants there as well as inhabitants of Zagreb.

Work was done under directions of Comrade Ferda Negro, and under oversight of Comrade Haramija Miroslav, both members of the People’s Liberation Committee of Gračani, and with help of local peasants which all had responded to a call for work which was massive and of great importance.

All corpses and cadavers were buried on appropriate places with prior disinfection with lime milk, bleaching powder and lysol, into properly deep ditches, and properly covered them with earth.

These even today unmarked graves are located everywhere in Gračani, along the Stepinac Way towards Marija Bistrica, and on the Zagreb hill all the way to Sljeme itself. Everywhere one goes, he is likely to be walking on the bones of people killed by the Partisans.

In total, Partisans killed several tens of thousands of people in Zagreb. Of those, 4 791 were wounded taken from hospitals and shot. Not one murderer had answered for his crimes so far, and not a single mass grave had been exhumated. Most significant murders had happened on the periphery of Zagreb, especially in the areas just under Medvednica such as Gračani. People murdered included children aged 7 to 15, sick from the hospitals, women, elderly… Serbian partisans killed without aim.

Case of Milo Budak

Statistics alone however do not show the true nature of Partisan liberation. In murders and abuses in Zagreb in 1945. also participated the “Lajbek militia”, and especially bad were the female Partisans. Several houses were turned into whorehouses for Partisan officers, where captured women and girls were first raped and then murdered. One of the victims of these whorehouses was Grozda Budak, daughter of Milo Budak. After several rapes, female Partisans cut off her limbs with a carpenter’s saw.

Person who provided the above testimony, chief of the military court of the 2nd Army, dr. Gabrijel Divjanović, stated that every single torture was documented with still camera, and that he and Vlado Ranogajec showed these photographs to Milo Budak before murdering him.

Murders of Orphans

Just in Pustodol, over 500 children aged 7 to 15 were murdered. These were orphans that had lost both parents in war and were being cared for by Croatian State Institute of Child Education. Miroslav Haramija, who had been ordered by the “people’s government” to disinfect the tombs in the area of Gračani, testified that the corpses had been mutilated:

Victims had been dreadfully multilated. Execution grounds had been filled by dismembered and multilated naked human bodies. Their heads had been cut off or split apart by axes, their throats cut, limbs, genitalia or breasts cut off. Most of the victims were still alive when their organs were being removed – mostly heart, liver or womb.”.

Following the disinfection, tombs were inspected by health inspectors of the Public Health Institute in Zagreb, Sabadoš and Farkaš, as well as the representatives of the same institute, dr. Berlot and dr. Sindik.

“Lajbek division” had been attributed murder of some 15 000 innocent people by August 1945., when the division was disbanded.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s