Slovenci grade autocestu preko grobova Hrvata

    HIC News, Tue, 23 Mar 1999


    Z.D., D.H., P.M.,


    »Slovenci grade autocestu preko grobova Hrvata«,


    Vecernji list, March 17, 1999, p. 15.




    ZAGREB - The construction of a Maribor highway bypass, as a part of the future Maribor - Lendava Highway, in the near future has raised emotions among both the Slovenian and Croatian public. Namely, the highway has been projected to pass over Tezinski Gozd (Tezno for short), a town close to Maribor where reliable sources and witness testimonies claim mass graves from just after WW II are located. Partisan units ruthlessly executed a large number of prisoners of war, without any kind of trials. Both soldiers and civilians, among whom the majority were Croatian - Ustashas, Homeguards and their families.


    The stories of mass graves at Tezno first began to spread in late 1944, when the Germans began building a network of anti-tank trenches in the form of swastikas, from where they intended to stop a possible Russian tank assault. The trenches were, all together, 15 km long, 4 metres wide and 4-5 metres deep. However, the Germans soon abandoned them and right after the war large columns of prisoners under the control of the 3rd Yugoslav Army - commanded by Gen. Kosta Nadj - began coming to Maribor and the vicinity. A large part of those prisoners found their final resting places in those trenches.


    According to the testimony of Zdenko Zavdlav, a former officer of the Department for the Protection of the People (known as the infamous OZNA), only Croatians were forced to walk to Maribor. Zavdlav, an eyewitness of these morose events, wrote a book called »Notes from a Maribor OZNA Member«, confirming that all the trenches at Tezno were full of shot soldiers and that it was a »real slaughterhouse of Croatians.«


    We visited Tezno with Dragan Truhli, who was a prisoner in Maribor at the time and we were joined by Franc Perme on the Slovenian side, who is the President of the Association for Maintaining Covered Up Gravesites, as well as Croatians, Zelimir Kuzatko and Dragutin Safaric, who are members of the Committee for Studying and Marking Victims in Post-war Slovenia and Arih Ales, from the Maribor Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments. Possible mass graves today are probably stretched between the Maribor - Ptuj road toward Bohova and in the forest we came across workers who have already begun clearing trees and some building materials have already begun to be brought there. The future path of the highway has already been marked on the trees.


    »The Slovenian authorities have done nothing up to now to protect the gravesites. We are not looking to stop the construction of the highway, rather only for the execution sites to be marked with the due respect they deserve in a civilised manner. We also want a chapel with a ossuary for all the victims who would be found during the digging of the road to be built on a visible part of the highway,« stated Perme.


    Whether or not the Slovenian side does anything to protect these gravesites, we tried to find out in the parliamentary commission for confirming victims of the war and post-war period. The secretary of the commission, Florijan Boras, told us they cannot come to an agreement with the Slovenians because, as he says, »the communists are still in power there,« and that the Slovenian side is actually obstructing the whole process.


    »The Slovenian side does not want to conduct any anthropological investigations and they even claim nothing like that ever happened there. However, in the vicinity of Maribor there is whole series of gravesites and the remains of victims would certainly be found. Graves should be a civilisational question, not a political one,« stated Boras.


    However, the Croatian foreign ministry confirmed the Croatian side does not intend on doing anything, either. Spokesperson, Zeljko Trkanjac, told us Croatia will request the Slovenian side respectfully marks and maintains any possible gravesites they come across »for which it can be established that Croatians are buried there.«


    We spoke with Angel Polajnko from the Slovenian ministry of traffic and communications, who is responsible for highways. He told us that, as opposed to Croatia, post-war events are still not readily spoken about in Slovenia.


    "The furthest point of these mass graves is in Miklavz, where the highway is being built. However, the cloverleaf of the highway and entrance to Maribor was planned in such a way that we only pass over the most minimal locations of possible gravesites. Twenty five years ago I drew the blueprints for this highway along almost the identical route of the present day project. Everything was suddenly stopped when we received information about possible gravesites. Now we are returning to the old route," stated Polajnko.


    As has been the case thus far, the Slovenian authorities did nothing. Polajnko sent a proposal to the government and the Maribor Prefect, Boris Sovic, to build a chapel with an ossuary near the new road and to organise a symbolic funeral for all of the victims. Polajnko feels the government should purchase all the land parcels from private owners and declare the entire area a protected zone. However, in the field, in Maribor, it seems some are still opposed to exposing these gravesites.


    "Some Serbs have settled near Maribor, close to the location of the crimes, who might have even participated, themselves. They were always opposed to any kind of construction in that area, probably for fear something would be uncovered that could be detrimental to them," concluded Polajnko.


    Nobody knows the exact number of prisoners the Partisans shot at Tezno, near Maribor. The 3rd Yugoslav Army lead by Gen. Kosta Nadj, according to Partisan information up to May 16, took approximately 185,000 soldiers of various nationalities prisoner, among whom the majority were Croatians. However, civilians were not included in this statistic. That this was truly a huge number of prisoners was confirmed by the former political commissar of the 51st Vojvodina Division, Milan Basta, who stated that the column of people from Dravograd to Maribor was over 60 kilometres long!


    Zagrebian Dragutin Truhli believes up to 10,000 people were killed at Tezno, but everybody else feels this number is substantially higher. Angel Polajnko claims between 30 - 60 thousand people were killed there, while Florijan Boras claims between 40 and 70 thousand Croatians were executed at Tezno!


    We found out from the Slovenian side that the former German foreign minister, Klaus Kinkel, had promised assistance in finding the locations of the mass graves to the head secretary of the Slovenian Liberal Party, Daniel Malensek. Namely, Kinkel stated he has the blueprints of the German trenches around Maribor, which is no surprise, if one considers he used to be the head of the German secret service for a while.


    "I was a cadet of the Homeguard School. In 1945 I was 16 years old. The Partisans took us prisoner close to Bleiburg and returned us back in columns. We also stopped in Maribor, where we were divided into Ustasha, Homeguard, officers and civilian groups. They took us to a field, which was what I could hardly wait to happen. I fell asleep on the grass immediately. I woke up and was surrounded by a huge crowd of people. They kept telling me I almost lost my head overnight. I did not understand what they were talking about. They only pointed to the sky, saying that the guards were waking people up during the night, asking for their documents to see who was not properly registered. They tried to wake me up, but I just could not wake up and they left me asleep. Those who were caught during the night were loaded into trucks and, as I later learned, were executed," stated Dragan Truhli, who showed us at Tezno where he was kept by the Partisans and where the mass graves are.


    He learned about the fate of other prisoners of war in 1989 from his co-worker in »Geofizika«, Pero Sliskovic.


    "Sliskovic told me that in 1955, with a team from the company there, work was being done around Maribor on the water bearing level of soil for the Maribor city waterworks. The measurements gave the team some strange results. At that point Sliskovic was told by the driver, Ljubo Vajdic, that he was a Partisan guard in 1945. Vajdic stood guard over the prisoners and said that they waited there a number of days, completely naked, then they were killed and thrown into the trenches," concluded Truhli.


    "At that time I was almost twelve years old and I was collecting bullet shells and ammunition with my friends, as we lived close to Tezno. We saw a lot of people, not only soldiers, civilians also. There was constant screaming, shots and machinegun fire. One day I hid in the bushes and saw a naked woman for the first time, who was later shot, together with her three children and they were thrown into a trench. All of them had their hands tied with wire," stated Maribor resident, Silvo Kajzer, who added that he asked one of the guards why they are taking the clothes off the prisoners. The guard told him it would be a sin to ruin the clothes!


    Kajzer claims the daily executions took place between May 20 to the end on June, 1945, and that the executors were Partisans from Bulgaria and Chetniks who were disguised by Gen. Nadj as Partisans.


    »Those soldiers were drunk every day and were shooting salvos into the air in Tezno. Later on my friends and myself saw that some of the trenches, where they executed the prisoners, were covered over with soft earth and some kind of white powder. We enquired as to what this could be and were told it was lime whitewash. Bones and the wire that tied the prisoners« hands protruded from the ground and the stench of the dead bodies lingered for a full two years," Kajzer claims.