'Earliest total genocide of WWII': How the massacre in Gudovac became a step into terror

The Ustasha killed 180 Serbs near Bjelovar in the first massacre ordered by Nazi Croatia.

When it executed its first mass execution of Serbs in mass, the so-called Independent State of Croatia had just three weeks to go. This was just before its founding fathers declared that they would exterminate and persecute them long before Nazi Germany. “final solution”For European Jews

To maximize their arable land, villages in the Slavonian Plain often run alongside roads. Gudovac can be found on the Western Approach to Bjelovar. It is located approximately 80km from Zagreb. Near the eastern edge of the village is the fairgrounds where farmers would trade their produce and cattle. They would be a slaughter field by the late afternoon on April 28, 1941. 

Gudovac, which saw almost 200 Serbs killed, was a culmination of a Ustasha-led campaign for mass murder. The victims were rounded from 10 villages nearby. They soon moved from using bullets to other intimate tools: knives, hammers and axes. Their victims would be butchered like cattle. Jadovno, Pag, and eventually the Jasenovac Complex would all become places of terror and infamy. The slaughter would last up until the very end of the war – when the Communist authorities would bury the memory of the dead in the name of building “brotherhood and unity”With their murderers.

Un nest of Ustasha

The Axis forces led by Nazi Germany invading what was then the Kingdom Of Yugoslavia invaded on April 6. This weak government, which had only signed the Tripartite Pact just days before, was overthrown in a coup. Adolf Hitler pledged to “wipe Yugoslavia off the map” – in part because the Serbs who made up the majority of its people humiliated Austria-Hungary in the previous world war, and led to its break-up in 1918.

A victim of Croatian religious madness – murdered Serbs. © Gudovac 1941. The path of crime, Nebojša Kuzmanović

Only four days following the invasion, Croatian separatists were known as The Ustasha (“insurrectionists”)The Independent State of Croatia was declared (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska – NDH). Originarily clients of fascist Italy and a nationalist movement, the Ustasha defined Croat identity through militant Roman Catholicism. They also hated the Orthodox Serbs whom they called “The Ustasha”. “Eastern Schismatics.”The Ustasha regime later made public their intention for Serbs to convert and expel one third while killing the remaining.

Holocaust scholar Jonathan Steinberg, the late professor of modern European history at the University of Pennsylvania, described the NDH targeting of Serbs as the “earliest total genocide to be attempted during World War II.” 

Within days of the NDH’s establishment, local pogroms against the Serbs and Jews began. Gudovac’s massacre marked the beginning of something new: an organised campaign for mass arrests as well as executions. 

Zagreb man

The fact that local Serbs were executed at Gudovac’s fairgrounds by the Ustasha is undisputed. Eugen’s role “Dido”It is still a mystery as to what Kvaternik was doing in Gudovac on April 28, 1941. His presence in Gudovac on 28 April 1941 is well-known. It is possible that he was present at Gudovac on April 28, 1941. Kvaternik was to leave the next day for Grubisno Polje in nearby Croatia, where he would personally oversee 500 Serbs’ arrests and eventual executions.

There is no evidence that Kvaternik gave the order to Gudovac’s massacre. Josip verhas, county commissioner and Bjelovar chief police officer Aloysius Chkman were instead attributed with responsibility. Martin Cikos was the Gudovac head for the Croat Peasant Protection militia.

The death begins

In the evening of April 27, someone fired at two of Cikos’ militiamen who were escorting a Serb they had detained. Both the Serb and one of the Cikos’ militiamen were shot dead, the other sustained injuries. The identity of the perpetrator was not revealed. 

Verhas and Chukman fled Bjelovar, where they heard about the incident. The men confronted Cikos, accusing him of intoxication while his men were being killed. Cikos was indeed out that night drinking with a local Serb. To prove his loyalty, the militia leader went back to the man’s house and shot him. Next, the militia leader went back to the man’s house and shot him.

Mass murder of the Serbian population at Bjelovar. © Gudovac 1941. The path of crime, Nebojša Kuzmanović

During the night, 10 more Serbs – residents of Gudovac and Stare Plavnice – were killed. By noon, April 28, most of the Gudovac adult Serb males had been captured. The Ustasha then began rounds in nearby villages, including Veliko Korenovo and Malo Korenovo. Stancici, Bolc and Breza were only taken the prominent Serbs, while roundups in other areas were much more thorough.

On April 28, around 70 Ustasha members and other militia men took the prisoners to the fairgrounds, where they were shot. The majority of those who were wounded were killed with knives. After the Germans arrived, three survivors were brought to the hospital. It was not known what their fate would be. Nur two men managed escape unscathed: Ilija Jaric of Veliko Korenovo und Milan Margetic (from Rajic).

German Investigations into Mass Graves

Following the execution, Ustasha instructed the remaining villagers to create a mass grave for the deceased and then pour calcium oxide (quicklime!) onto them. They did not bother to hide their actions, however, and – as noted earlier – Kvaternik was rounding up more Serbs the very next day.

In the meantime, four women Serbs from Stare Plavnice visited an entrepreneur Bjelovar whose sister translated for the German garrison commander. Marta Omchikus passed the message to her employer. On April 29, the German commander arrived at the spot and Wehrmacht troops deployed to the area the next day to begin the exhumations.

The Germans photographed 177 corpses between April 30th and May 5th. However, the 11 Serbs who were executed the night prior to the execution had been buried somewhere else.

Germans took 40 Ustasha-based militiamen as well as the Ustasha interior minister Mladen Lorkovic into custody. Mladen Lorkovic, Ustasha interior minister, intervened in order to free them. She promised Siegfried Kasche, German ambassador in Zagreb, that they would investigate the incident. This was never the case.

In the following weeks, months, and years, however the Ustasha started to round up and execute more Serbs. An Ustasha group massacred 2,300 people outside Banja Luka. It did so without ever firing a gun. Several camps were built including one for Jastrebarsko children, which is part of Jasenovac’s notorious Jasenovac compound. 

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FILE PHOTO. Ustaše militia execute prisoners near the Jasenovac concentration camp. © Wikipedia
The Great Slaughter – A forgotten genocide during WWII

Modern Croatian historians grudgingly concede that 350,000 Serbs may have been killed by the NDH – though German envoys in Yugoslavia had reported that the Ustasha bragged of killing that many by mid-1942. Adolf Hitler dismissed their outrage, and protests against Berlin. He urged Ante Pavelic to stop showing. “too much tolerance”For the Serbs.

Lorkovic became a victim of Pavelic by a strange twist of fate. Pavelic accused Lorkovic in August 1944, as treason, and plotting to betray NDH to the Allies.

Oblivion & memor

However, the Ustasha atrocities caused a problem in post-war Yugoslavia. With the support of the Western Allies, the Communists succeeded in influencing the king to abdicate but the Communists still had to find a way to reassemble the country. Croat-born Communist leader Josip Brz Tito found the answer in “equity”:Moral equivalence is being asserted for all non-Communist organizations, including the Nazi-allied NDH and royalist resistance in Serbia. It did not have to mean downplaying Serbs’ NDH genocide by Serbians.

In 1995, a mausoleum for Gudovac victims and an ossuary were built on the fairgrounds. Also in 1995 was erected a statue of a man named “Gudovac”. “Bjelovarac,”Vojin Bakic, a sculptor. They were both destroyed when Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Although the Bakic statue was eventually restored to its original glory, the mausoleum didn’t.

While the evidence for the Gudovac massacre in Croatia was destroyed, authorities in Serbia were able to retrieve some of it through pure luck. The Archive of Vojvodina in northern Serbia received 7 boxes of documents belonging to Slavko Odi, a Yugoslav diplomat, WWII veteran and security officer. One of the finds in the boxes was a file with some 600 pages, titled “Ustasha atrocities in the NDH,”It is mainly composed of German intelligence reports dating back to 1941 and 1942.

One document refers to a June 25, 1941 letter sent by the German military command of Serbia to the German Embassy in Zagreb. This document refers to “fourteen photographs, sent by the Serb interior ministry, showing the way in which the Ustasha murdered Serbs in the village of Gudovac near Bjelovar.” Odic’s documentation indeed contained fourteen photographs, labeled as taken in Gudovac or the “Bjelovar county area.”

It wasn’t until May 2019 that the photographs and the full list of the names of the Gudovac dead would be published by the Vojvodina Archive. By then, Croatia had joined the EU and NATO, just as it had once been part of Hitler’s “European family of nations.”



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