|Tibor Cseres: Serbian Vendetta in Bacska|
AUTHOR'S PREFACE TO THE ENGLISH EDITION
At the end of World War I, the southern part of the thousand year old historical Hungary was occupied by Serbian troops. Under the terms of the Paris Peace Treaty in 1921 it was annexed to the Serbo-Croat-Slovenian Kingdom, that later became Yugoslavia. The new name of this territory, situated to the east of present Croatia, was VOJVODINA (also spelled Voivodina or Voyvodina). Its former Hungarian name had been Bacska and Banat.
During World War II, in 1941, Germany occupied Yugoslavia. At the same time, Hungary took possession of and re-annexed VOJVODINA from divided Yugoslavia. At the end of 1944, the Serbs reoccupied Bacska, which has belonged to Serbia ever since.
During the German occupation, a strong Serbian partisan movement developed with Communist leadership, which also spread over to Bacska, reannexed to Hungary at the time. The Hungarian military leadership organized anti-partisan raids and summary courts-martial against the participants in and sympathizers with the partisan movement. The biggest anti-partisan campaign took place in and around Novi Sad, in Hungarian, Ujvidek, where several hundred individuals suspected to be partisans, among them innocent people as well, were arrested and executed in the course of a three-day raid in January 1942. Although the army of every country treats partisans the same way, law-abiding Hungarian public opinion condemned the military leadership for the harsh action. Miklos Horthy, regent of Hungary, ordered an investigation against the organizers of the campaign. It is probably a unique incident in world history that a belligerent nation calls its own army to account for transgressions against the enemy. In my novel Cold Days, written in 1960, I related the story of the atrocities committed in Novi Sad in order to clear our consciences by sincerely revealing our own mistakes.
The three "Cold Days" were followed by "freezing weeks" in the whole territory of VOJVODINA in 1944, when the Serbians brutally massacred about 40,000 Hungarian civilians, the overwhelming majority of them innocent beyond any doubt, in
revenge of the execution of 3,000 suspected Szerbian partisans.
. The commander-in-chief of the partisan army, Marshal Tito, as far as we know, did not give any expressed written command to butcher the Hungarians in Bacska. He did condon and apparently orally directed his partisans in the whole territory of Yugoslavia - including Vojvodina - to revenge all "injustices" suffered by partisans and Serbians during the four years of the war. In other words, where a stream of blood flowed in 1942, a torrent of blood should gush in 1944.
In the course of the partisans three-year struggle for self-defence against the Nazis, but mainly against royalist chetniks and independence seeking Croats, homicidal traditions smouldering under the ashes ever since the Middle Ages were revived, enriching the various manners of death with numerous cruel novelties. While the Hungarian military justice executed the condemned one by one, the Serbian partisans bound ten or fifteen people with wire and killed them with a round of
firearms. They had lined them up in front of the previously dug common graves so that they would only have to bury them with the earth that they themselves had dug from the pit. Whereas the sentence of Hungarian summary courts was hanging or shooting, the Serbian partisans killed their victims after various forms of torture. Sometimes they bound together ten or more men in a circle around a straw or hay stack, then set fire to the stack. The victims dragged each other into the flames, they all burnt alive. Elsewhere, the captives were tortured before execution by walking barefoot over a carpet of glowing embers several metres long. Where the captors had enough time, they tore off all twenty nails of the victims with pliers. The enjoyment of seeing them suffer was enhanced if they went to a nearby smithy to make the tools red hot on the forge. Wherever they were able to find coal, they took the opportunity of roasting the victims alive. When they skinned somebody alive - usually prominent people who had to be punished prominently, a well-to-do burgomaster, lawyer or physician -, even some of the partisan women were on the verge of fainting, as numerous women also took part in these brutalities.
They were especially cruel to priests and monks. In most cases, they stripped them naked and cut a strap in the shape of a cross from their backs. Then, for the sake of the toughest partisan women, they started to deal with their genitals, tearing their testicles with pliers, cutting off the penis. If there was a forge nearby, they burnt the penis of clergymen with red hot iron, repeating the torture for several days. Modern sawmills also gave ideas for new methods of killing.
Mutilation of the hands or feet with large circular saws was an example of murder with long and excruciating pain. Once the guiltless owner of the sawmill stayed home with all of his family. The troop, punishing without formal sentence, bound all the family to the sawing-bench, and started the machine that cut the man, the woman and the children into two.
Here we should stop to rest after enumerating these horrors, but we must mention another method of killing, the medieval or even older tradition of impalement. The last recorded instance of impalement took place in 1907 in Rumania. That is how Rumanian royal law punished the leaders of the peasant's uprising. Serbia was the only place that still had some "experts" in the art even in 1944. These experts were impaling executioners who preserved the "tradition" of the form of execution causing the greatest possible suffering, as described below:
A pale more than three meters long must be peeled smooth. It must have an iron tip and it should be made slippery with grease. The victim is laid flat on his belly and his torturers step on his shoulders and his bottom so that he would not be able to move. They put a loop on both of his ankles and the two executioner's assistants pull his legs in opposite directions. The chief executioner cuts the trousers on the thighs with his sharp knife, not sparing live flesh. Then he fits the tip of the pale covered with iron into the anus, paying attention to set it in a way that the pale goes along the spine, not touching the heart, so that the victim will suffer long enough. Then he takes a club and hammers the pale in the marked direction, while his aids pull the body onto the pale by the ankles. The tip of the pale should come out behind the clavicle. At this moment, they put the paled man into the formerly dug ditch and it is the triumph of the executioner and the delighted audience if the man groans on the pale for several hours...
The Hungarians occupied the Carpathian basin at the end of the 9th century. At that time, the territory of the present Vojvodina was settled sparsely by Bulgarians, but they soon merged with the Hungarian population. The immigration of Serbians started in the 15th century. As a consequence of the more and more threatening attacks of the Turks, the Hungarian king Sigismund signed a contract in 1426 with Istvan Lazarevic, the Serbian vojvode, declaring the Serb his vassal. The southern Hungarian population started to move northward, fleeing from Turkish attacks, and fleeing Serbians took this territory. In a mere four years, between 1479 and 1483, more than 200 thousand Serbians were transferred to Hungary. Numerous Serbians fought against the Turks in the Hungarian army.
The Turks occupied the central part of Hungary in 1541 and they were chased out in 1686 by the United European Forces, under Prince Eugene of Savoy. It was then that a mass immigration of Serbians to Hungary started from Serbia, which was still under Ottoman rule, after the suppressed revolt against the Turks in Kosovo in 1690, the Christian nations on the Balkan peninsula were encouraged by the Austrian Emperor Leopold. Serbian patriarch Arsenije Carnojevic from Kosovo Polje, sought asylum in Hungary with his people consisting of 36 thousand families. At the time, the Serbian newcomers were not considered permanent settlers, only temporary guests.
A letter written by Emperor Leopold to the patriarch testifies to this: "We will strive with all our force and all our ability to lead the Serbian nation that fled to our country back to their former land and to expel the enemy from there, with our victorious arms and with the help of God."
However, this did not happen. Serbia remained under Turkish rule for a long time. A century the Serbs who were granted asylum in Southern Hungary came up in 1790 with a claim of territorial autonomy. In 1848, after the outbreak of the Hungarian War of Independence, they attacked the Hungarian army in the rear and proclaimed the Southern part of Hungary an independent Voivodina.
They did this in spite of Law 1848,XX. of the Hungarian Parliament which ensured complete ecclesiastical and educational
After the suppression of the Hungarian war of independence by the combined forces of Austria and Russia, Voivodina was governed directly from Vienna for a short time, but it was reannexed to Hungary in 1860.
At the outbreak of World War I, the Pan-Serbian movement, encouraged and fully supported by Russia, openly declared that their aim was to destroy the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy and to unite all the Southern Slavic nations living on its territory under Serbian rule. All over the world, Southern Slav emigrees started propaganda activities. Together with the Czech emigrees, led by Masaryk and Benes, they undertook the production of an unbridled level of propaganda rare in modern history. In a memorandum given to the English and French governments in May 1915, they referred to Bacska and Banat (also to Croatia and even to the south-western part of Hungary) as "Yugoslav national territories" under the name of Vojvodina. They tried to justify this by the false statement: "On this territory, our nation lives in a compact mass and almost without merging with other races". In order to understand the real situation, we must turn to the data of the 1911 census referring to Bacska, when the Serb population was relatively the highest, the proportion of the Hungarian population was 40.5%, the German population 29.7%, Serbs and Croats together did not reach 20%.
Although theoretically the Trianon Treaty ending the war referred to the lofty Wilsonian principle of the "nation's rights to self-determination", what happened in reality was exactly the opposite. Two-thirds of the territory of Hungary was annexed to the neighbouring "victorious" states, along with three and a half million Hungarian inhabitants, who were not asked to whom they wanted to belong. On the annexed territories, systematic liquidation of the Hungarian national minority that lived in a unified block started immediately. For instance, Princip, a half-official newspaper in Voivodina wrote the following on September 22, 1922:
"The eradication of the Hungarian race is the foremost task of the Slavs awakened after the war. In the course of a few decades, the tiny Hungarian oasis must be occupied with a systematic and aggressive Slav imperialist policy. Hungary must vanish from the map of Europe. The fate of minorities should not be a problem for Europe, because Europe can be consolidated only by the strengthening of national
These principles were also put forward in practice by the Serbs. In schools, they forced Hungarian children with various tricks to go to Serbian classes, they put an end to the training of Hungarian teachers, and they transferred a lot of Hungarian teachers to Southern Serbia, where there are no Hungarians. During the agricultural reforms, the Hungarian and German minorities were banned by decree from the right of claiming land. Hungarian minorities who remained without a living were encouraged to emigrate. In the first two years, around 27 thousand Hungarian emigrants left their birthplace. In place of the expelled Hungarians, the new Yugoslav state settled more than 15 thousand families of civil servants and many thousands of "dobrovoljac" settlers among or next to the remaining Hungarians.
Fortunately, the harassment of national minorities in Yugoslavia subsided after a few years and more peaceful years followed for the native Hungarians. As a result, Hungarian statesmen, in agreement with the Yugoslavs, showed a readiness to forget all the injustices of the past for the sake of appeasement. The two countries made a contract of eternal friendship in this spirit on December 12, 1940.
On March 25, 1941, Yugoslavia joined the German-Italian-Japanese Tripartite Treaty. However, on March 27, a government crisis broke out in Belgrade, and the new government was not willing to ratify the agreement signed with the axis powers. A few hours after receiving the news, Hitler decided to sweep Yugoslavia out of the way of the planned campaign against the Soviet Union. He demanded the military aid of Hungary for this action. Pal Teleki, the Hungarian Prime Minister, firmly opposed Hitler's demand. He could not reconcile his honour to attack a country with whom he had signed a treaty of friendship. However, on April 2, German troops crossed the border of Hungary and started military operations against Yugoslavia. Hungarian officials of foreign affairs were afraid that if they continued to resist the German demand, Germany would occupy Hungary too. They also reasoned that Yugoslavia, as the state with which Hungary had a treaty, had ceased to exist. Thus, they decided to reoccupy the historic Hungarian territory annexed to Yugoslavia. Prime Minister Pal Teleki shot himself at the dawn of April 3, under the weight of moral responsibility.
On receiving the news of Pal Teleki's suicide, Winston Churchill sent a message to the Hungarian nation in the name of Britain and her allies to the effect that, in memory of the great Hungarian statesman who had refused to violate a treaty, the
On April 11, 1941, the Hungarian troops crossed the Yugoslav-Hungarian border and reoccupied the territory of the former Bacska in a few days without much resistance, as the Yugoslav regular army had been forced to withdraw by the military operations of the German army. After that, they still had to take into account the guerilla actions of the still royalist Serbian chetnik organisations. These actions started as soon as the reoccupation began. For example, in Zombor, the Chetniks left 40-50 youths hiding in attics, who started to shoot at the soldiers after dark, who were walking around the town unsuspectingly. The Hungarian soldiers who were not used to ambushes started to shoot at random in sudden panic. Walking in the streets remained very unsafe for Hungarian soldiers garrisoned in some mostly Serbian towns in Vojvodina, as they would always risk becoming targets for snipers. In these circumstances, the number of partisans killed after the Hungarian occupation can be considered very low. According to Yugoslavian data (Zlocim okupatore u Vojvodini, Novi Sad, 1946), the total number of deaths during the Hungarian occupation was 2142 persons. The majority of these people died in armed resistance during guerilla fights, others, mostly Serbian chetniks, and numerous Hungarian communists, were executed after summary justice.
The local population was hostile towards the Serbs settled in 1918 in order to transform the ethnic situation by force, and supported their resettlement to their original dwelling place, Southern Serbia. In their place, 13,200 Hungarians (Szekelys) from Rumania (Bukovina) were settled in 1941.
The Yugoslav Communist Party soon organized acts of sabotage and terror. In the "Lenin-letter" published at the beginning of July 1942, they described in detail how to carry out arson, poison the livestock, blow up railways, etc. As a consequence, the court of the Hungarian general staff condemned 93 people to death at summary courts within one and a half months for sabotage, arson and murderous attacks resulting in 56 deaths. 64 of those condemned were executed, but those who participated only in the organization and did not actually commit a crime, got away with a few years of imprisonment.
In spite of the sentences of summary courts, the organized
The news of these atrocities soon reached Budapest, where Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinszky, member of Parliament, demanded the strictest criminal procedure against military leaders who had acted irresponsibly. The chief of staff set up a special committee to investigate the affair, and after a temporary interruption, Regent Miklos Horthy ordered the completion of the legal process. While clearing up the precedents, the investigation concluded that during the summer of 1941, acts of sabotage and fatal terrorist attacks had become more and more frequent, which proved the existence of wide-spread communist partisan activity. In January 1942, there were many fights with Serbian partisan troops. The Serbian population supported the partisans. As a consequence of this situation, the military leaders were in such a peculiar psychological state that they judged the situation much graver than it actually was, as a result of the rumors of the civilian population. They ordered heavy retaliation based on unverified information, they left individual instances of excess unpunished, and even encouraged them. In the confusion that followed, unjustified massacres were not rare. The gravest incident happened in Novi Sad between January 21-23, 1942, when they massacred the Serbian and Jewish population at random, killing 879 people altogether. A total number of 3309 civilians, including 147 minors and 299 elder men and women died in Voivodina (including the victims of the Novi Sad massacre). On the basis of these facts, the
The events in Novi Sad were heavily exaggerated by Serbian propaganda. However, the Serbian vendetta which followed two and a half years afterwards and which was ten times greater in size and many times graver in cruelty, was completely hushed up. Moreover, it was a taboo subject in Hungary over the last four decades, because the prestige of the Tito-regime (the Tito-myth) could not be destroyed, and because the other "socialist" countries would have been alarmed since they had treated the Hungarians in more or less the same way at the end of 1944.
COLD DAYS - A NOVEL AND A FILM
Interviewer, What was your aim when you revealed in 1960 things that had happened during three days in January 1942 in Novi Sad.
A: among others, I wanted to tell everything that was committed in the confusion of war, against innocent Serbian and Jewish people, at the command of a few blood-thirsty officers, unworthy of the Hungarian nation.
I: Did you have another intention besides naming the delinquents, as if taking the responsibility upon yourself instead of the innocent Hungarian nation.
A: Yes. I hoped that there would be a Serbian writer who would reveal in response the cruel series of massacres that paranoid, sadistic Serbians committed against tens of thousands of innocent Hungarians in Voivodina in the autumn of 1944.
I: Were your hopes fulfilled in the form of Serbian writers making the same symbolic act of collective regret, if not a confession for their crimes like the one you had made in Cold Days .
A: None of my hopes were fulfilled. A few Serbian writers voiced their opinion that in World War II almost two million people lost their lives in their country, so these few tens of thousands of Hungarians should not be of interest to them, especially not as writers.
I.: Did not the memory of these forty thousand Hungarians weigh upon your soul.
A.: Of course it did! The cries addressed to me have put more and more of a burden on my conscience, making me understand, although too late, that I should have presented the Serbian vendetta at the same time as the executions and murders committed by Hungarians. However, this was not possible at the time.
I.: How did you react to the indifference of the Yugoslav writers.
A.: The only thing I could do was to make myself a promise, as soon as it is possible to cry out laud about the cruel weeks of those blood-curdling events, the massacre of innocent Hungarians in Vojvodina in 1944, I will do my best. That is why I have written this book.
Budapest, April 1992
Vendetta. Retaliation Multiplied:
WAS THE MASS-MURDER COMMAND ISSUED?
In October 1944 the Hungarian Army abandoned Bacska (Vojvodina) and shortly after the Red Army, under the command of Marshal Malinovsky, crossed the Tisza river. Following the Russians and under their protection, Tito's partisans, the so-called People's Liberation Army, took over the defenseless territory.
The Serbian troops arrived under very strict order in Bacska, they had to "show the strongest possible determination against fifth columnists, especially against Germans and Hungarians".
The term "fifth column" is applied to the subversive and resistant forces and organizations left behind by a retreating "enemy".
The National Committee for People's Liberation and the Red Army had agreed on the necessary cooperation in due time. The partisans were well aware of their bloody task.
About the establishment of the military government, Josip Broz Tito said the following, "The liberation of Bacska, Banat and Baranya requires the quickest possible return to normal life and the establishment of the people's democratic power in these territories. The extraordinary conditions under which these territories had to live during the occupation, and the necessity that we overcome all the misfortunes of our people caused by the occupying forces and foreign ethnic groups requires that, in the beginning, the army concentrate all power in order to mobilize the economy and carry on the war of liberation more successfully."
Brigadier General Ivan Rukovina was appointed commander of the military administration. He was in constant and direct contact with Tito, the supreme commander. In his first decree, he ordered his troops to "protect the national future and the Southern Slavic character of the territories". This sentence was meant to encourage the alteration of the existing ethnic proportions, in today's terms, ethnic cleansing.
In the Oct. 28, 1944 issue of "Slobodna Vojvodina", the newspaper of the People's Liberation Front in Voivodina, one member of the Regional Committee of the Yugoslavian Communist Party summarized the intentions suggested from above, which were to be planted into the heads of the fierce partisans, "Although we destroyed the occupying German and
Hungarian hordes and drove them back to the west, we have not yet eradicated the roots of the poisonous weeds planted by them... The hundreds of thousands of foreigners who were settled on the territories where our ancestors had cleared the forests, drained the swamps, and created the conditions necessary for civilized life. These foreigners still kept shooting at our soldiers and the Soviet soldiers from the dark. They do everything they can to prevent the return to normal life, preparing, in the midst of this difficult situation, to stab us in the back again at the appropriate moment... The people feel that determined, energetic steps are needed to ensure the Yugoslavian character of Bacska."
The title of the article, "Historic Decision", clearly demonstrates that it contains not an individual's brain-child but the guiding principles of the higher leadership unashamed of falsifying history as well as the present. The historical falsification is that it presents the Serbs as the ancient inhabitants of the area who were deprived of their lands by intruding foreign ethnic groups over the centuries. The contemporary falsification is that one of the allegedly intruding nations, the Hungarians, kept shooting at the partisans from the dark, which is nothing else than the tactics typical of the Serbian snipers called chetniks (later the communist partisans) employed against Hungarian soldiers during the reoccupation of Bacska.
In reality, the Hungarians living in Bacska, although lots of weapons were laying around the fields after the front passed through, did not fire a single bullet either at the Russian soldiers marching through or at the Serbian partisans who came into power.
The vengeance on the Hungarians, the idea of the vendetta, was implanted deeply in the minds of the partisan commissars who were in constant touch with their commander, General Rukovina. Rukovina in turn had to inform Marshal Tito about all his decisions and all the "military" achievements of his subordinates. In short, it is impossible that Tito, the supreme commander, was not informed at least once a week on how the purge or rather the slaughter of the "fascist" Hungarians was going forward.
The Yugoslavian government, as soon as it got in touch with the new temporary democratic Hungarian government, declared its demand for an exchange of population. They offered forty thousand Hungarians living in Bacska for the same number of Southern Slavs who were to move there in their place. This demand, however, soon became obsolete not only because the Serbs and Croats who remained in Hungary did not wish to move
Jovan Veselinov Zharko, secretary of the Regional Committee of the Communist Party, said the following, on April 5, 1945, "We have changed our position towards the Hungarians, we must improve their awareness of the fact, that they live in this country and should fight for it."
This intention, however, was very hard to fulfil. First of all, the horrible weeks of vengeance had to be covered over with a veil of deep silence and forgetfulness.
In his book entitled "The Birth of the Autonomous Voivodina", Veselinov Zharko tries to draw a sharp distinction between himself and the murderous deeds that took place outside his secret scope of authority in the autumn of 1944 in Bacska, "Certain chauvinist groups began to emerge, which cried for vengeance on the whole Hungarian population. Due to them, serious mistakes and excesses took place, which certainly had their consequences. Instead of calling the real accomplices of the occupying forces to account, those who participated in their numerous crimes, in some villages they punished certain ethnic Hungarian civilians who had nothing to do with the bestial crimes of the fascists.
Certain persons coming from Yugoslavian headquarters along with other uninvited guests sneaking into Bacska also caused us some trouble. This applies especially to the National Defence Department (OZNA, Odeljenie za zastitu naroda), whose members for a while possessed the authority to arrest anybody without any obligation to inform the political leadership of the territory where they were operating..."
The OZNA later became infamous under the name UDB (Uprava drzhavnie bezbednosti, State Security Authorities).
Of course, with such opinions Jovan Veselinov Zharko could not remain the head of the Regional Committee in Novi Sad for very long.
The murder commands were issued and carried out without his participation. Later he said the following, "You must understand, everything that happened in those days was inseparable from the Party. There was never any question about that."
|Tibor Cseres: Serbian Vendetta in Bacska|