Friday, October 20, 2006

October 20

Kragujevac_oktobar_1941On 21 October 1941, the Wehrmacht command in the Serb town of Kragujevac announced that it had begun executing thousands of civilians the day before in retaliation for Communist and Chetnik attacks on German soldiers over the previous few weeks. After Germany's swift defeat of Yugoslavia in "Operation Punishment" (Fall Strafe), the nation was dismembered; in Serbia, the only segment of the former Yugoslavia to be occupied directly, several resistance movements emerged and began undermining German control with sabotage and guerilla attacks on German army units. On September 25 and October 10, Commanding General Franz Boehme issued orders that such attacks were to be addressed by the shooting of "prisoners or hostages" according to a simple formula of 100 for each German solider killed and fifty for each soldier wounded. "All Jews," he explained, as well as "a certain number of nationalistic and democratically inclined" citizens were to swept up "by means of sudden actions" and executed to meet these quotas.

In the town of Topola, over 2000 Serbs were shot during the first week of October -- collective punishment for the killing of 22 German soldiers in the Second Batallion of the 421st Signal Communication Regiment. After ten German soldiers were killed and 26 wounded by guerilla attacks on October 15, Boehme ordered the nearby town of Kragujevac sealed off. Although no attacks had taken place in Kragujevac, the German Ministry of Foregin Affairs later admitted than not enough hostages could be found elsewhere to statisfy Boehme's strict formula. Over 10,000 men and boys between the ages of 16 and 60 were arrested; from this pool of detainees, executions began early on the morning of October 20 and continued throughout the day. Civilians were shot in groups of 400 and trucked off to mass graves, where they were buried by fellow detainees. Although the local German command estimated that 2300 had been killed, later estimates put the figure somewhere between 5000-7000. Other towns -- Rudnik, Meckovac, Grosnica, Milatovac, Draginac and Loznica among them -- suffered similar fates in the weeks that followed. In Kraljevo, 1736 civilians were killed.

Among the dead in Kragujevac were hundreds of schoolchildren whose deaths were intended to further demoralize the resistance while liquidating a pool of potential guerillas. The Serbian poet Desanka Maksimovic remembered the young martyrs in "The Bloody Fairy Tale:"
They were all born
in the same year.
For all of them, the school days were the same:
They were all taken
to the same festivals with cheer,
they were all vaccinated
until the last name,
and they all died on the same day.

After Commander Franz Boehme was captured in Norway in May 1945, he was brought along with numerous other German military officials to Nuremberg, where they were to stand trial for the Kragujevac massacre among many other atrocities. Before he could be formally arraigned, Boehme threw himself from the fourth floor of the prison.