The Fall of Yugoslavia

At the beginning of 1941 nothing apparently was changed in our daily sche- dules. I studied, preparing for my first examination; Serbo-Croat literature and Italian, required for the Foreign Language group to which I registered; my main subject was English, second French. Mirica was in her last year at high school and Fritz worked with my father. The politicians in Yugoslavia had a harder time. They tried to keep Yugoslavia's neutrality, a task that became more difficult from day to day and almost impossible with Hitler's obvious victories. Wavering between two possibilities, either to bow before Hitler or to resist him, relying upon Western powers, Yugoslavia chose to sign a secret agreement with Hitler on 24 March. This fact became known and the opposing powers organized, three days later (27 March), a putsch in Belgrade, that was actually a revolutionary stroke carefully planned and prepared long before that time. Under the pressure of these rioting masses the government was forced to revoke that pact. Their action let loose an outburst of popular enthusiasm which may well have surprised its authors. The streets of Belgrade were soon thronged with Serbs, chanting 'Rather war than pact; rather death than slavery.' There was dancing in the squares; English and French flags appeared everywhere; the Serb national anthem was sung with wild defiance by valiant, helpless multitudes.18 The whole nation shared this enthusiasm. That evening my parents happened to be in Belgrade to accompany their best friends who left for Palestine. They returned convinced more than ever before that Yugoslavia was an exception among the neighbouring nations who had betrayed the just cause and accepted Hitler's terms. We admired the 'courage' of this small nation without thinking of the consequences. The triumphal hymn turned into a requiem. Hitler became infuriated and decided to destroy Yugoslavia. He carried out his plan with unmerciful harshness. Churchill's description agrees so well with the accounts that were delivered to us by survivors that I quote it: On the morning of April 6 German bombers appeared over Belgrade. Flying in relays from occupied air fields in Romania, they delivered a methodical attack lasting three days upon the Yugoslav capital. From roof-top height, without fear of resistance, they blasted the city without mercy. This was called Operation "Punishment". When silence came at last on Aprit 8, over seventeen thousands citizens of Belgrade lay dead in the streets or under debris. Out of the nightmare of smoke and fire came the maddened animals released from their shattered cages in zoological gardens. A stricken stork hobbled past the main hotel, which was a mass of flames. A bear, dazed and uncomprehending, shuffled through the inferno with slow and awkward gait down towards the Danube. He was not the only bear who did not understand.19 Simultaneously with the ferocious bombardment of Belgrade, German troops invaded Yugoslavia in the early morning of 6 April; They marched from several directions. The Yugoslav Army tried to resists but in vain: The four Yugoslav Army Corps in the north were rapidly and irresistibly bent inwards by the German armoured columns, supported by Hungarian troops which crossed the Danube, and by German and Italian forces advancing towards Zagreb. The main Yugoslav forces were thus driven in confusion southwards, and on April 13 German troops entered Belgrade. Meanwhile General Lists' Twelfth German Army, assembled in Bulgaria, had swung into Serbia and Macedonia.20
Table of Contents The Darkest Hours of My Life