German Atrocities in the Balkans: German-Occupied Slovenia, 1944

German occupation troops committed horrific atrocities and war crimes in the former Yugoslavia during World War II. The country was dismembered and ceased to exist in 1941. In Serbia, the Pancevo and Kragujevac mass executions of civilians were the most brutal and shocking atrocities and war crimes. German occupation forces resorted to reprisals and punitive measures against the civilian population due to the guerrilla movements which were causing casualties for German occupation forces. The magnitude and scope of the Yugoslav resistance was unprecedented and came as a surprise to German forces. The German occupation forces had the law on their side as the victors. Under international law, the guerrillas had virtually little if any legal protections and could be summarily shot. They were technically not “legal combatants” under international laws and customs of war. They were what could be termed “terrorists”. The Germans took full advantage of their rights as occupiers. German forces were brutal against the resistance movements.

One of the most brutal actions was the execution of two 20-year-old Slovenian guerrillas who were killed on a farm in the Slovenian village of Idrijske Krnice west of Idrija in Slovenia on June 11, 1944. These executions are notable because German forces photographed the killings. The way the prisoners were killed was also noteworthy. The German troops used an axe to behead them.

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Were the executions war crimes and murders of POWs? As guerrillas, it could be argued that they were not “legal combatants” but were what was then called “free shooters” who could be summarily killed. As such, they would not be afforded the customary rights of POWs.  The issue would revolve around whether they were civilians or combatants and whether they shot at or endangered the lives of the German occupation troops. In the photos, the two guerrillas are wearing civilian clothes. One is wearing a white shirt. There are no signs of a military uniform of any kind.

The two captured prisoners were beheaded by members of the SS Volunteer Karstwehr Battalion during the anti-guerrilla operation codenamed Annemarie in the summer of 1944. The soldiers in the photos are Waffen SS troops. The insignia on the sleeve of one soldier is a Waffen-SS chevron designating the rank of SS-Rottenführer. The insignia is a double silver-aluminum sleeve chevron on a black wool base. Their uniforms are those of mountain troops of the Waffen SS.

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Slovenia ceased to exist as a country after the German invasion of Yugoslavia which began on April 6, 1941. The Axis allies divided up the spoils. Germany annexed the north region. Hungary annexed the eastern section. The southern section was annexed by Italy. The newly formed Independent State of Croatia occupied some towns as well. The Slovenian town of Idrija was occupied by Italian troops from 1941 to 1943. It is in the Slovenian Littoral region. German troops occupied the region after Italy surrendered in 1943.

The German goal was to resettle the northern section of Slovenia with ethnic Germans and to expel the Slovenian Slavic population to Serbia, Croatia, and Germany. Italy formed the Province of Ljubljana in its zone.

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The troops who committed the executions were members of the SS Volunteer Karstwehr Battalion which was made up primarily of ethnic Germans or Volksdeutsche from the Balkans and the South Tyrol region of Italy. It was engaged in several anti-guerrilla operations: Zypresse, Märzveilchen, Maulwurf, Hellblau, Osterglocke, Liane, and Annemarie. It was eventually downsized to a brigade as the Waffen Mountain Karstjaeger Brigade of the SS in December, 1944. The brigade retreated into Austria between Villach and Klagenfurt where it surrendered to the British 6th Armored Division on May 9, 1945.

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The formation was initially organized in 1942 as an anti-guerrilla unit as a company based in the Karst region of the former Yugoslavia, Italy, and Austria. The Karst area was a limestone region that was barren and mountainous. The company was established at the Dachau SS training base on July 10, 1942. The core of the men were taken from the supply services training and replacement battalion of the Bosnian Muslim 23rd Waffen Mountain Division of the SS “Kama” , officially designated as the 2nd Croatian division. On July 18, 1944, the Battalion was upgraded to the 24. Waffen-Gebirgs-(Karstjaeger-) Division der SS on the orders of Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler. SS Standartenfuehrer Hans Brand was the first commander in 1942 until June, 1944 when he was replaced by SS Sturmbannfuehrer Josef Berschneider.

In February, 1944, the battalion conducted Operation Ratte, Rat, against guerrilla forces in the area during which it burned down the villages of Komen and Rihenberg and resettled the population in camps. In one operation in Cividale del Friuli, in northern Italy, 15 members of the battalion were captured, tortured, and killed. Their bodies were found with their decapitated heads placed on bayonets.

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In Slovenia, the guerrillas were part of the Chetnik guerrilla movement, the Yugoslav Army of the Homeland, led by Draza Mihailovich, and the Communist National Liberation Front, a Partisan movement. The two guerrillas in the photos are believed to be Slovenian Communist Partisans.

The two guerrillas had been tortured before they were beheaded. They were beaten with logs, kicked, and dragged by the hair. Reportedly one SS member had a knife with which he cut out their eyes. They were taunted: “Do you see now the Allies?” They were laughed at and mocked.

They were then taken to a chopping block. A large group of members from the battalion gathered around the execution site and watched. Two SS members held the victims by the arms. Another member with rolled up sleeves then beheaded them with an axe. Some of the SS troops smoked cigarettes. Some are wearing tropical uniforms.  Their uniforms are clearly and unmistakably those of Waffen SS mountain troops. Some are wearing Waffen SS mountain caps and camouflage jackets and belts and buckles.

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The German troops put the two decapitated heads on a table with a note next to it. It was written in Slovenian: “Warm greetings from SS KWB – the men in green jackets!” The “SS KWB” abbreviation stood for “SS Karst-Wehr-Bataillon”, “SS karst defense battalion”. The objective was to terrorize the local population and to deter them from supporting or aiding the resistance movement.

In one of the series of photographs of the execution, two SS troops hold the prisoner down with his neck on a chopping block which appears to be a tree stump. A third SS soldier is shown bringing the axe to the neck of the prisoner. The SS troops are shown watching in the background smoking cigarettes.

In a second photograph, an SS soldier with rolled up sleeves brings the axe down on the neck of the prisoner. The executioner has a satisfied grin on his face. A second SS soldier is holding the prisoner. His Waffen SS uniform is clearly visible with SS collar tabs and rank insignia on the left arm. On the left, one SS soldier is wearing shorts as part of the Waffen SS tropical uniform.

In the third photograph, an SS soldier who is shirtless has swung the axe and beheaded the prisoner. A second SS soldier, who held the prisoner down, grimaces and steps back.

In the fourth photograph, the decapitated head of the prisoner is shown dangling from the body on the stump. The SS soldier who held the prisoner is shown smiling broadly. His Waffen SS uniform and SS runes collar tab can be seen and the rank insignia on his left arm.

In the firth photograph, the two decapitated heads are shown. The one on the right is mutilated and shows signs of torture.

No one was brought to trial or prosecuted for the executions. SS Standartenfueher Hans Brand who initially created the formation and commanded it, died in 1959. Josef Berschneider, a commander of the SS Volunteer Karstwehr Battalion at that time, was the military officer in charge at the time. Karl Weiland, a former SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer in the formation, was questioned but denied any involvement. One of the SS soldiers wielding the axe was identified as the former SS-Oberscharfuehrer Walter W. from Pforzheim in Germany. He had died, however, in 1989.

The executions remain as shocking images of World War II in the Balkans. They are merely the norm in war. What made them special in this instance was that there was a photographer present who preserved the images.

British Wartime Film: On the Set of the Movie Chetnik in 1942

In 1942, the British movie studio Ealing began filming the wartime film Chetnik in Wales. The subject was the Chetnik guerrilla movement in German-occupied Yugoslavia under Draza Mihailovich. As British support for Mihailovich dwindled, however, by the time of its release in 1943 the title had been changed to Undercover. Moreover, references to the Chetniks were removed. The movie became a fictionalized account of the guerrilla resistance in Yugoslavia without a specific reference to the Chetniks or the Communist Partisan guerrillas.

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The British Picture Post magazine, similar to LIFE in the U.S., was an illustrated magazine which featured the movie in a front page story in the October 10, 1942 issue, Vol 17, No. 2, pp. 17-19. The editor was Tom Hopkinson. The magazine was founded by Edward Hulton and was published by Hulton Press, Ltd., 43-44 Shoe Lane, London, E.C.4. The title of the feature was “How Jugoslavia Fights Back” which began on page 17. The Yugoslav resistance was described in glowing terms of superlatives and hyperbole: “A struggle that will live for ever in heroic legend. It will be brought home to the world in the film ‘Chetnik.’”

Chetnik guerrilla activity under Draza Mihailovich is described. The scenes in the film are modeled and based on actual and reported Chetnik operations in Yugoslavia: “Jugoslav patriots blow up a German military train carrying troops on the way to join Rommel. They work havoc among the Nazi soldiers on the train. They destroy large quantities of the German war material. And the Germans, as a reprisal, shoot every man in four villages, send every woman and child to concentration camps.”

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The guerrillas are under the command of Yugoslav General Draza Mihailovich: “Such is the latest incident in the epic struggle that is ceaselessly waged under General Mihailovitch, Commander-in-Chief of all armed forces resisting the Axis in Yugoslavia, leader of between 80,000 and 150,000 ‘Chetniks,’ who have pinned down for over a year no less than 36 Axis divisions.”

The film was made to chronicle and to dramatize the resistance activities of the Chetniks: “The gallantry, courage and resolution of the Chetniks will live for ever in the annals of mankind, and already a film is being made which will display their amazing story to the world.”

The origins of the film and the plot are delineated. The story began with Dr. Milosh Sekulich, “Sokulic” in the article, who was a physician in Belgrade when the Germans bombed and occupied the city. German occupation troops searched his clinic but he was allowed to work in the hospital. Sekulich was secretly working with the underground. He was described as “an intimate friend of General Mihailovitch”. The clinic became a center for the underground and for the resistance movement.

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The decision was made to send someone from Yugoslavia to London to make contact with the exile Yugoslav government. Two earlier attempts failed. Sekulic succeeded.

Sekulich wrote the original plot outline or synopsis for the story. He worked as an adviser to the film’s producer, émigré Russian screenwriter, director, and producer Sergei Nolbandov. His goal was to make the movie “realistic and authentic in its detail”. He sought to recreate the Chetnik guerrilla movement under Mihailovich.

The photos on the set in the magazine were shot during the climactic scene in the film when Yugoslav guerilla leader Milosh Petrovitch, played by John Clements, and the Chetnik guerrillas organize an ambush of German troops who have to pass through a village. Milosh fires a machine-gun at German troops as they cross the bridge. During a pitched battle, the German convoy is defeated and forced to retreat, suffering heavy casualties. Constantine, one of the Chetnik guerrilla leaders, played by Michael Wilding, is killed during the operation.

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Mary Morris played Milosh’s wife Anna who is apprehended by German forces. She escapes and joins the guerrilla movement. Stephen Murray played the role of Dr. Stephan Petrovitch, modeled on Milosh Sekulich. Godfrey Tearle played the German General von Staengel while Robert Harris played German Colonel von Brock. Tom Walls plays Kossan Petrovitch, Milosh’s father, who joins the guerrillas.

Dr. Stephan Petrovitch goes undercover as a German collaborator. She is able to obtain information which he passes on to the guerrillas. He is able to blow up a vital railway tunnel in the mountains. To deter resistance activity, the German occupation troops execute six students. Von Staengel orders that “one hundred Yugoslavs for every German” will be killed and orders retaliatory strikes against the guerrillas. German retaliation only spurs the resistance on.

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The impact and effect of the movie was described. The film would serve primarily to show the opposition and resistance to German and Axis occupation in the Balkans. The goal was to galvanize anti-German and anti-Axis sentiment. The focus was on building and sustaining morale and highlighting the struggle against German forces: “Vast opportunities are opening up to use the screen as a medium for displaying conditions in Nazi-occupied Europe and the struggle of the people against their overlords. If this opportunity is taken in the right way, the cinema will have a potent effect as an instrument for helping forward the common struggle. The production of this new film ‘Chetnik’, is a notable step in this direction.”

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All references to the Chetniks were taken out of the film. Nevertheless, the uniforms, the caps, hats, the characters, and setting reveal the actual source for the film.

The film is notable for showing the vagaries and ambivalence of Allied support during World War II. In late 1942, Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik guerrillas were wholly supported and lauded in the United Kingdom. Within six months, however, by the time the movie was released, Mihailovich and the Chetniks would be in disfavor and support for them would be waning. Indeed, by the end of 1943 they would be abandoned and rejected in favor of the Communist partisan resistance under Josip Broz Tito.

The events in Sekulic’s life are well-depicted in the film as are the sabotage and infiltration operations of the Chetnik guerrillas. The character of Yugoslav Captain Milosh Petrovitch is modeled on Draza Mihailovich.

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Michael Wilding as Constantine on a 1944 Columbia Pictures lobby card for the U.S. release of the movie under the title Underground Guerrillas.

The history of the film demonstrates the vicissitudes of the war. Within the span of a single one year period, 1942 to 1943, Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik guerrillas were built up and lionized to impossible and improbable proportions and then deconstructed and vilified to the opposite extreme.

Ealing Studios released the movie under the title Undercover on July 27, 1943 in the UK. The film was re-released in the U.S. in 1944 by Columbia Pictures under the title Underground Guerrillas.

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North American Odyssey: King Peter II’s 1942 Visit to Canada

King Peter II arrived in Washington, DC on June 21, 1942 to begin his meetings with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The goal was to secure aid for the Yugoslav guerrilla resistance movement in occupied Yugoslavia. He had come at the invitation of the U.S. government.

He had arrived in Detroit, “the arsenal of democracy”, on June 30, to inspect war production plants. He met Ford Motor Company president Edsel Ford and Michigan Governor Murray Van Wagoner. He toured the River Rouge complex and the Ford Bomber Plant in Willow Run. He was photographed with Edsel Ford in a jeep during his tour.

From Detroit, he travelled by train to Canada, for a two day stay in Ottawa with a stop in Montreal.

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“A Royal Marksman Fires an R.C.A.F. Machine-Gun: King Peter of Jugoslavia tries his hand on a Browning aerial machine-gun during his visit to No. 2 Service Flying Training School at Uplands Airport, near Ottawa. Looking on at the king’s left is Wing Commander W.R. MacBrien, commanding officer of the R.C.A.F. school while in the background is Flight Lieutenant W.H.S. O’Brien, aide-de-camp to His Excellency the Earl of Athlone, the Governor General of Canada.” Photograph dated: July 17, 1942. Source: Director of Public Information, Royal Canadian Air Force.

He came at the invitation of the Canadian government. The occasion was an official state visit by an ally during World War II.

Peter made history as the first reigning monarch to sit in the speaker’s gallery of the Canadian House of Commons. He toured the Parliament Building in Ottawa with Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King and the Speaker of the House of Commons James Allison Glen. He also met with R.B. Hanson, the Conservative party leader and J.H. Blackmore, the leader of the Social Credit party. He was applauded by House members when he appeared in the gallery.

He arrived in Ottawa on Friday, July 10, by train. He told the Canadian reporters during a press conference that the Yugoslav guerilla army led by Draza Mihailovich would continue fighting “as long as it can — as long as it has something to fight for”. He stated that “very little” in terms of supplies had reached the approximately 100,000 strong Yugoslav guerrilla army. He explained the nature of the guerrilla conflict: “We get quite a lot of news from them. You probably have read that we recently made an attack on Italy. But first you have to understand that kind of warfare. Our men can go anywhere they like. They come up and attack the enemy. And then simply disappear. Then they turn up behind the enemy.”

He was asked about the exile Yugoslav government. He told them that it was based in London. He was also asked about his entourage, which included the seven ministers of the exile government along with his aides and staff. He responded: “Well, we have a big cabinet.”

A female reporter queried him about his opinion of Canadian women. He replied: “Well, I haven’t seen many yet.”

Canadian Prime Minister King asked the last question. He wanted to know what Peter thought of the U.S. and the U.S. relationship with Canada. Peter replied: “The people of the United States have a wonderful spirit, which is getting stronger and stronger.” His visits to the war plants in Detroit had convinced him that the war would be brought to a speedy end. He perceived the U.S. and Canada as one country without a border. He told them how easy it had been for him to cross the border and visit Niagara Falls several days earlier.

When queried about the economic agreement that had been signed between Yugoslavia and Greece, Momcilo Nincic, the Yugoslav Foreign Minister replied that “only the beginning of a great union of the peoples and the nations of the Balkans.” With the aid of the United Nations, he envisioned a post-war Europe where the countries of Middle Europe would be united, stretching from the North Sea to the Mediterranean Sea.

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“Royal Visitor Inspects Squadron”, King Peter II of Yugoslavia at the Uplands air force training base in Ontario, Canada, Saturday, July 11, 1941. R.C.A.F. Wing Commander W.R. MacBrien, the commander of the base, is behind Peter and the R.C.A.F. flight lieutenant. Director of Public Information, Royal Canadian Air Force. R.C.A.F. Official Photograph.

When a reporter asked about his uniform, he replied: “Really, it’s just small. It’s the rank of a captain. It makes me look like an admiral. But I’m not.”

He revealed that he was in contact with Draza Mihailovich by wireless and other means. His goal was to secure military and financial aid for the guerrillas which Mihailovich led.

The headlines in the July 11, 1942 Ottawa Evening Citizen newspaper revealed his objectives, to sustain the Yugoslav resistance forces with military and economic aid: “Says Yugoslavian Army Will Continue Hitting. Young King Peter Tells Press Conference That Getting Supplies to the Fighting Men in His Country Is Big Problem. Monarch Makes History by Sitting in Speaker’s Gallery of Commons.”

In the article “Rousing Welcome Given King Peter On Visit To Hill”, The Evening Citizen, Ottawa, Ontario, Saturday, July 11, 1942, page 7, the favorable reception he received is detailed. Like in Washington, DC, and Detroit, he was greeted and welcomed as a staunch ally of the Wesern countries fighting the Axis.

He entered Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday afternoon, July 10, at 3:45 PM. He was greeted enthusiastically with 200 members pounding their desks. He received an ovation that lasted five minutes. He stood and bowed to the MPs. He stayed in the House of Commons chamber for fifteen minutes. He was accompanied by seven ministers in exile and his aides. They toured the building. He visited the Peace Tower, the Senate chamber, the portrait gallery in the corridors, and the library. He spent 90 minutes in the building.

Afterwards a dinner was held in his honor hosted by PM Mackenzie King at the Country Club. Those in attendance included the Governor-General, Earl of Athlone, Canadian and Yugoslav cabinet ministers, House Speaker Glen, Sir Lyman Duff, the Chief Justice of Canada, and members of the opposition parties.

On Saturdy, July 11, Peter went on inspection tours of Canadian military installations in the vicinity of Ottawa. “Uplands Show Features King Peter’s Busy Day”, an article in the Monday, July 13 issue of The Evening Citizen, Ottawa, page 8, recounted his visit to the Uplands Canadian Air Force base.

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“First Photo of King Peter After Taking Throne”, The Evening Citizen, Tuesday, April 8, 1941, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, page 2, an NEA Radiophoto from Berlin to the U.S.

On that Saturday morning, he had first visited the Petawawa military base to observe artillery maneuvers. In the news article “Peter Scores Direct Hits in ‘Gun Play’ at Petawawa”, The Evening Citizen, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Monday, July 13, 1942., page 8, his tour of the military facility was detailed. He had arrived at the base in a twin-engine amphibious aircraft at Lake Alumette. He was greeted by the commander of the Petawawa district, Brigadier A.V. Tremaine, Col. F.E. Wootton, Col. S.M. Polson, and Major M. Darling. Peter fired a high-velocity anti-tank gun at decoy tank and truck targets at the camp. Captain P.S. Fitzgerald of the ‘E’ company battery told him: “Well done, sir. That was a direct hit.” Peter had struck the decoy tank directly on target. Peter replied: “I would like to try again.” He also rode a jeep with Izidor Cankar and his aide. He also watched artillery target practice from a shelter and barbed wire surmounting exercises.

He then had lunch with the 1st Earl of Athlone, Alexander Cambridge, the Governor-General of Canada since 1940 and PM King at the Yugoslav legation. At 4:00 PM, he visited the Uplands air base for two hours. He toured the hangars, the classrooms, and the grounds. He fired a new Browning machine gun and rode in a Link trainer. He also visited the tower. He saluted as troops marched past. He then inspected the planes and witnessed a flyover. He also inspected a Harvard single-engine training plane in the hangar. Wing Commander W. MacBrien, the commanding officer at the base, accompanied him on the tour along with Canadian Royal Air Force Vice Air-Marshal Ernest Walter Stedman.

At 6:30 he made a 10 minute speech over the CBC in an address to the Canadian people. He spoke in English, French, and Serbo-Croatian.

Peter had studied at Claire College at Cambridge University in the UK. Aviation and mechanics were his major interests. He spent the war years in London.

Peter had escaped German troops in a plane which was attacked by German fighters. En route from Yugoslavia to Greece, his plane was machine gunned. Marko Dakovich, a Minister Without Portfolio from Montenegro, was killed. The seven members of his Cabinet of the Yugoslav Government in exile accompanied him on his visit to the U.S. and Canada. His cabinet consisted of: M. Nincic, Minister of Foreign Affairs, M. Trifunovic, Minister of Education, B. Cubrilovic, the Ban of Croatia, I. Subasic, the former President of the Cabinet and currently Minister of State, B.D. Jevtic, Minister of State, B. Markovic, Minister of State, S. Kosanovic, Minister of State, F. Snoj, Minister of State, and R.L. Knezevic, a top aide to Peter. During his tour, he was escorted by Slovenian-born Izidor Cankar, who was appointed by the exile Yugoslav government in 1942 as the ambassador to Canada.

At the Seigniory Club the next day he rowed a boat on the Ottawa river for an hour. He showed reporters his hands which were covered with blisters.

On that Sunday, July 12, Peter left for Montreal where he attended a dinner held in his honor. This was his last destination in Canada. From here he traveled to New York.

The Canadian visit had been a success. From Montreal he traveled to New York where he would be greeted by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Nikola Tesla.

The Death of Gavrilo Princip: How Did He Die?

The statements that Gavrilo Princip made to Dr. Martin Pappenheim during his conversations from February to June in 1916 reveal a contradiction. The picture presented is contrary to the accepted perception that Gavrilo Princip was in ill health his entire life. Gavrilo Princip told Pappenheim that he was always healthy. There was no history of illness in the family. This contradicts the accepted view that he was “sickly” and had “tuberculosis”.  Two contradictory views emerge. Princip was in perfect health. Princip was ill and diseased. Which view is accurate?

The contradiction in what Princip told Pappenheim and the accepted view obfuscates a key issue: How was Gavrilo Princip treated in prison? How did he die? How did the other plotters fare?

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Was there a cover-up? Was Gavrilo Princip murdered? Was the accepted historical view meant as a smokescreen or deception? Eight of the thirteen plotters died in prison. This was all in the space of several years. They died before the end of the war in 1918. What could account for such an unusually high mortality rate among the prisoners? Were they all sickly and diseased? Or were they slowly murdered, through starvation, abuse, neglect, and mistreatment?

Gavrilo Princicp told Pappenheim at his first meeting: “Was always healthy. … No illness in the family.” This appeared in Gavrilo Princip’s Confessions in 1926, translated as Princip o Sebi in Serbo-Croat and published in Zagreb that same year. This is what Gavrilo Princip told Pappenheim in 1916. He was in perfect health. He had always been so.

In the news story “Gavrilo Princip: His Life and Death”, Saturday, July 9, 1927, Townsville Daily Bulletin, Australia, page 4, an account of the Pappenheim booklet, Princip is described as being in perfect health: “Princip did not drink, had always good health, and no serious injuries until after the outrage; then he had wounds on his head, and wounds everywhere.” In the February 19, 1916 conversation, Pappenheim described his health and the family history of illness: “Was always healthy. Had no serious injuries until assassination. … Father is a peasant, and is also in business. Father is a calm man, doesn’t drink; lives in Grahovo, Bosnia. No illness in the family.” He was “an intelligent youth, mentally normal.”

He had been rejected by Serbian Major Vojislav Tankosic when he wanted to join a guerrilla band but this was because he was “small” and “weak”, not because he was “sickly” or diseased or unhealthy.

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The accepted or orthodox view of his health is succinctly expressed on the historywiz.com website: “Gavrilo Princip was a sickly man his whole life who died in prison from tuberculosis.” Variations or permutations of this conclusion permeate all the standard accounts that relate to Princip’s health. The implication is that he was sick or ill all his life. He was always in poor health. Therefore, it is not surprising that he died in prison. His illness was only exacerbated in prison but it was not due to his imprisonment. This orthodox view, however, is challenged by what Princip told Pappenheim.

Where did this perception of Princip as sickly emerge from? Was it meant to preclude an examination of his treatment in prison? Was it meant to hide the fact that he was slowly starved to death in prison, that he was murdered?

But if he was, on the other hand, always healthy, how did the accepted view gain acceptance that he was sickly and always in ill health?

How did the prisoners fare as a whole in prison? The trial lasted from October 12 to October 23, 1914 and was held in Sarajevo. The verdicts and sentences were announced on October 28, 1914.

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The interior of Gavrilo Princip’s cell in the Theresienstadt prison. Source: The Holocaust Education Foundation.

Gavrilo Princip, sentenced to 20 years, died in prison on April 28, 1918, aged 23. The cause of death given was tuberculosis.

Nedjelko Cabrinovic, also sentenced to 20 years, died in prison on January 20, 1916, aged 20. His cause of death was also tuberculosis.

Trifun Grabez, who also received a sentence of 20 years, died in prison on October 21, 1916, aged 21. The cause of death was tuberculosis.

All three thus died of tuberculosis only after a short period of incarceration. Did all three suffer from tuberculosis? Was the disease the result of their imprisonment?

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease caused by strains of mycobacteria, most commonly Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The most common form of the infection is of lungs, known as pulmonary tuberculosis. But other areas of the body can be infected, such as the bones and nervous system. High risk factors are malnutrition. Untreated wounds and illnesses are also risk actors as are unsanitary conditions and overcrowded areas. It is highly unlikely that all three had tuberculosis before their imprisonment or that all contracted the disease randomly. That they all died of tuberculosis is highly suspicious and raises obvious red flags.

Lazar Djukic died on March 19, 1917 in Prague. He had received a 10 year sentence. He was a student who did not accept Danilo Ilic’s offer to participate in the assassination but directed him to other plotters. He was also sent to Theresienstadt. His remains were never found.

Nedjo Kerovic died in prison. His original sentence had been death by hanging which was commuted to 20 years in prison by Kaiser Franz Joseph based on the Finance Minister’s recommendation.

Jakov Milovic died in prison. His original sentence had also been death by hanging which likewise was commuted to life in prison by Kaiser Franz Joseph based on the court and Finance Minister’s recommendation.

Mitar Kerovic died in prison. He had received a life sentence.

Marko Perin died in prison. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Five of the prisoners survived their captivity and were released after the war.

Vaso Cubrilovic was released in November, 1918. He had received a sentence of 16 years in prison. He died in 1990.

Cvjetko Popovic also survived. He had received a sentence of 13 years in prison. He was released in November, 1918.

Ivo Kranjcevic survived as well. He had been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Cvijan Stjepanovic also survived. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

Branko Zagorac served his sentence of three years in prison.

Three of the defendants were sentenced to death by hanging and were executed on February 2, 1915. They were Danilo Ilic, Veljko Cubrilovic, and Mihaijlo Jovanovic.

Nine of the defendants were acquitted: Jovo Kerovic, Blagoje Kerovic, Nikola Forkazic. Dragan Kalenber, Miko Micic, Obren Milosevic, Ivan Momcinevic, Franjo Sadilo, and Angela Sadilo.

The deaths were all due to the following causes: Starvation, exhaustion, diseases contracted in prison, and untreated wounds, ailments, and injuries. Their deaths were due to the conditions of their imprisonment and their treatment or lack thereof.

How was Princip treated in prison? During his conversations, Pappenheim recorded his physical and mental states very succinctly.

On February 19, 1916, he told Pappenheim: “Here since 5 XII 1914. The whole time in solitary confinement. Three days ago, chains off.” Princip was in solitary confinement and he was chained against the wall. He most lamented the lack of books.

Princip had to be tight-lipped about his treatment in the prison: “Will say no more in the presence of the guard. Is not badly treated. All behave properly toward him.” He could not safely reveal to Pappenheim his real treatment in the prison.

Princip tried to kill himself: “Admits attempt at suicide a month ago. Wanted to hang himself with the towel. It would be stupid to have a hope. Has a wound on the breast and on the arm.”

On May 12, 1916, Princip was in the prison hospital. He again spoke with Pappenheim. He told him that he was hungry and that he was being starved. Here we have evidence that he was, indeed, being starved. Starvation was being used to slowly kill him. This was also being done to the other prisoners.

Pappenheim described this meeting: “He recognizes me immediately and shows pleasure at seeing me. Since 7 IV here in hospital. Always nervous. Is hungry, does not get enough to eat. Loneliness. Gets no air and sun here; in the fortress took walks. Has no longer any hope for his life. There is nothing for him to hope for. Life is lost.”

Pappenheim revealed that Princip was ill during their meetings: “For two months has heard nothing more of events. But it all is indifferent to him, on account of his illness and the misfortune of his people.”

He described how Princip wrote down his responses to his queries. He revealed that “for two years he has not had a pen in hand.”

Princip could not continue writing because he was ill: “Broke off here, feeling ill. My thoughts are already—I am very nervous.”

He was weak and could barely write: “The time before he wrote ten lines and one word. Now after this talk he continues writing again. Stops often and reflects. Complains himself that it is difficult for him. Ceases writing again after fifteen lines.”

In his entry for May 18, 1916, Pappenheim describes vividly the deterioration of his wound. Princip’s injuries were never treated. They were allowed to fester and worsen.

Pappenheim described his physical and mental state: “Wound worse, discharging very freely. Looking miserable. Suicide by any sure means is impossible. ‘Wait to the end.’ Resigned, but not really very sad.”

He noted his isolation: “Does not speak to anybody for a month.”

The final entry was on June 5. This was their last meeting. Only a few sentences were written on this date. Princip reveals that his condition had deteriorated to the point where his arm had to be amputated: “When permission comes, arm is to be amputated.”

The Theresienstadt fortress became a Nazi concentration camp in 1941 after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1940. The treatment that Gavrilo Princip and the other plotters received is similar to the slow murder that was a key component of the concentration camps. Inmates would be deprived of required and necessary nutrients and sustenance. They would gradually weaken and wither and sicken. How did concentration camps inmates die? From malnutrition and disease.

Princip’s statements to Pappenheim in 1916 raise questions about how he was treated in prison. They challenge the accepted view that Princip and the others were always sickly, unhealthy, and diseased. A contrary view presented in the conversations is that he was always healthy and there was no history of disease or ill health. Was he thus slowly murdered in prison, along with the other plotters? The accepted view has the result of precluding or preventing an examination of this question.

Croatia and the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis: The 1941 Venice Conference

On Sunday, June 15, 1941, following his June 6 meeting with Adolf Hitler at Bechtesgaden in Bavaria at Hitler’s Berghof residence, Ante Pavelic attended a conference in Venice in which the newly-created Independent State of Croatia, Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska (NDH), formally joined the Axis. Pavelic was personally welcomed by Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister, at the train station where he saluted an Italian Naval honor guard. Croatian and Italian flags draped the station. German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop later joined Ciano and Pavelic at the meeting. The Japanese representative, Zembei Horikiri, the Japanese Ambassador to Italy, attended on behalf of Japan.

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From left, seated, Slavko Kvaternik, the head of the NDH armed forces, Ante Pavelic, the Poglavnik, standing, Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister, and the Japanese representative, the Japanese Ambassador to Italy, Zembei Horikiri,

Croatia signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany, Italy, and Japan, the Axis Powers, becoming a junior partner in the Axis. The Axis also included Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Bulgaria by 1941. Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria had joined the Tripartite Pact to regain territory. Hungary and Bulgaria sought to regain land from Yugoslavia which they lost following World War I, the Bachka region and Macedonia respectively. Hungary received northern Transylvania from Romania. Romania sought land from the Soviet Union, Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. Croatia and Slovakia were newly-created states after the German occupation and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia.

The location for the meeting was the Palazzo Ducale di Venezia, The Doge’s Palace, in Venice, built in 1340. The structure had been a museum since 1923. The meeting took place in the hall of the palace.

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From Croatia, Pavelic and Slavko Kvaternik, the vojskovoda and doglavnik, chief of the NDH military forces, attended. Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister, and the Marquis d’Ajeta and Count Pietromarchi, two high-ranking Italian officials, represented Italy. Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister, and the Japanese representative, Zembei Horikiri, the Japanese Ambassador to Italy, acting on behalf of the Japanese Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka, were also in attendance.

Zembei Horikiri, the brother of Zenjiro Horikiri, a Japanese cabinet minister and former mayor of Tokyo City, was a former Vice Minister of Finance (1931-1932), who became ambassador to Italy in September, 1940. He was replaced in December, 1942. He died on November 26, 1946.

Yosuke Matsuoka was the Japanese Foreign Minister from 1940 to 1941. He was one of the major proponents of the Tripartite Pact. Although he signed the Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact in April, 1941, he advocated a Japanese attack on the Soviet Union, which the Japanese army and navy, as well as Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe, opposed. He also was confrontational with the U.S. He died in 1946 before his war crimes trial began.

The meeting was photographed and filmed for Italian and German newsreels. The arrivals of Ribbentrop and Pavelic at the train station in Venice were photographed as they were greeted by Ciano. The assembled delegations in the senate hall of the palace were also photographed. Kvaternik and Pavelic sat on the left side of the podium while Ribbentrop and the Japanese representative sat on the right. Ciano was in the center as the host. Both Ciano and Pavelic spoke at the conference with the latter reading from a prepared text. Ciano and Pavelic were photographed on a boat on the canals of Venice.

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The Venice Conference was featured in the German newsreel Die Deutsche Wochenschau, No. 564, June 25, 1941.

A gondola on the canals of Venice was shown in the opening shot of the newsreel. “In the colorful city of Venice, the ceremony for the entry of Croatia into the three-party agreement is completed.” Cheering crowds are shown greeting the Italian Foreign Minister Count Ciano. The Palazzo Ducale is shown along with other buildings in the city. There is an Italian Naval honor guard that welcomes them. The Reichsminister of Foreign Affairs von Ribbentrop is shown entering. The Croatian head of state, Dr. Pavelic, giving a fascist salute with upraised right arm, is shown arriving. The camera pans down the façade of the palace which features a Gothic edifice.  Ciano is shown at the hall speaking. “The senate hall of the palace” is shown. Pavelic shakes hands with Ribbentrop as Ciano looks on. They give a “heil Hitler!” salute. “In this speech, Count Ciano describes the three-power pact as the enduring foundation of co-operation between those nations which seek a world of justice and peace.” Ciano and Ribbentrop are shown conferring. They are then shown signing the documents. Pavelic signs for Croatia, Ciano for Italy, Ribbentrop for Germany, and the Japanese representative, Zembei Horikiri, for Japan.

An Italian newsreel showed Count Galeazzo and Ante Pavelic boarding a motor boat, getting in the cabin, and passing under a bridge over the Venice canals. In a photograph, Ante Pavelic gives a fascist salute as he boards a motor boat in Venice with Count Galeazzo Ciano with the flags of Croatia, Italy, Japan, and Germany hoisted on the dock surrounded by cheering spectators.

 A photograph showed Pavelic and Slavko Kvaternik and the Croatian delegation on a gondola on the canals with paddles.

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Current Biography, in its 1942 issue featuring Pavelic, described the Venice meeting as cementing Croatia to the Axis alliance: “Dr. Pavelic went to Venice for the induction of Croatia into the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo military alliance. On June 15 he put his signature to a protocol giving his country the right to be represented at any tripartite discussion which might affect Croatia. Replying to Count Ciano’s address of welcome, Pavelic was quoted as saying: ‘Croatia gives its full adherence to the principles and reasons which inspire a united front for creation of a new order in the European and Asiatic world.’ “

The meeting was also significant because it had ramifications for the Holocaust: “Croatia’s induction into the military alliance of the Axis powers had immediate effect on its ‘Jewish problem.’ Dr. Ante Pavelic announced that it would be solved ‘in a radical way under the German order.’ Also ordered by Hitler to put a ‘river of blood’ between the Serbian and Croatian nations, Pavelic did so by carrying out the slaughter of some 300,000 Serbs living in Croatia and the destruction of scores of their communities.”

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The Milwaukee Journal on Monday, June 16, 1941 featured on page 2 an AP news story on the meeting, “Croatia Joins Axis as Minor Partner”. The article emphasized that the NDH was a “minor” or “secondary” member of the Axis: “Croatia, the new state carved from part of Yugoslavia, Sunday joined the ranks of secondary members of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo Axis.” The “Poglavnik” signed a protocol that assured that Croatia would be consulted on any measures that affected the country. Croatia had been personally invited by Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano to join the Axis. Pavelic was quoted as saying that he fully supported and endorsed the new order which the Axis sought to create in Europe and Asia.

British press accounts reported: “Croatia Joins Axis. London, Monday. Croatia joined the Axis Pact with great ceremony at Venice yesterday. Those present included the Nazi Foreign Minister (Herr von Ribbentrop) and the Italian Foreign Minister (Count Ciano). The Australian Associated Press reported: “Croatia Joins Axis. London, June 15. Croatia, the German puppet State carved out of Northern Yugoslavia, has signed an Axis three-power pact. The German. Foreign Minister (Herr von Ribbentrop) signed for Germany, and presided.”

Germany and Italy had established the Berlin-Rome Axis or alliance on November 1, 1936, after a treaty of friendship had been signed between the two countries. Germany and Japan signed an agreement creating an alliance on November 25, 1936, the Anti-Comintern Pact, an anti-Communist and anti-Soviet alliance. Italy signed the Anti-Comintern Pact on November 6, 1937. Germany signed the Pact of Steel agreement with Italy on May 22, 1939. This agreement tied the countries to a formal military alliance.

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Germany, Italy, and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact in Berlin on September 27, 1940 known as the Berlin-Rome-Tokyo Axis, or the Axis alliance. They were the three Axis powers known collectively as the Axis. To secure the Balkans region for the invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler sought to bring in the countries of eastern Europe into the Pact. Hungary joined on November 20, 1940, Romania on November 23, 1940, Slovakia on November 24, 1940, and Bulgaria joined on March 1, 1941. Yugoslavia joined on March 25, 1941 at a meeting in Vienna. Yugoslav accession was followed by a coup that replaced the Prince Paul regime with a pro-British government under King Peter II led by Air Force General Dusan Simovich. This overthrow resulted in the German invasion, occupation, and dismemberment of Yugoslavia that began on April 6, 1941. Following Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, Finland joined the Axis powers on June 26, 1941, as a “co-belligerent” but did not sign the Tripartite Pact. Like Romania, Finland sought to gain territory from the Soviet Union.

Benito Mussolini had allowed Ante Pavelic and his Ustasha organization sanctuary in Italy during the 1930s where training camps were set up for terrorist attacks against Yugoslavia. Mussolini supported an independent or sovereign Croatian state but only if territorial concessions were made to Italy. Mussolini annexed a large section of the Dalmatian coast and Adriatic islands, seizing territory around Split (Spalato), Zadar (Zara), and Kotor (Cattaro). Pavelic agreed to these concessions in exchange for Italian support of Croatian sovereignty. Moreover, Italy supported the annexation of Bosnia-Hercegovina by Croatia as well as territory from Serbia. The NDH was subordinated to Italy and to Italian interests. Conflict also developed over Italian opposition on the ground to the genocidal policies of the NDH against Serbs, Jews, and Roma. Italian forces provided safe havens and refuge for Serbian, Jewish, and Roma civilians fleeing Ustasha forces.

Pavelic retained Hitler’s unwavering and staunch support during World War II. Although German military and civilian commanders in the NDH and in the Balkans called for Pavelic’s removal, he was able to preserve his regime until the end of the war. The genocidal policies of his regime had alienated segments of the Croatian population and the Serbian populations of the NDH, resulting in armed opposition and resistance to his government. This instability necessitated an increased German military presence. As a committed and dedicated supporter of Adolf Hitler and of Nazism, however, Pavelic was able to sustain his regime in power.

Italy would surrender on September 3, 1943 to Britain and the U.S., while Romania and Bulgaria would surrender in 1944 to the Soviet Union. Croatia, however, would remain a German ally and a part of the Axis until the end of the war in Europe. In fact, the NDH would outlive the Third Reich by a day. Ante Pavelic would also survive the war, fleeing to Rome and the Vatican where he was allowed to escape by British and American occupation forces.

Spring Storm: Adolf Hitler’s Headquarters During the Invasion of Yugoslavia

During the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia that began on April 6, 1941, Adolf Hitler established his forward command headquarters in his personal train known as the Fuehrersonderzug Amerika, the Fuehrer’s Special Train “Amerika”, or FHQu Mönichkirchen. The train was stationed in the Austrian town of Monichkirchen during the Yugoslav campaign. The headquarters was codenamed “Spring Storm” or Frühlingssturm.

Mönichkirchen was a market town with a population of approximately 600 in 1941 located between Graz and Vienna. Hitler’s private train arrived in the town on April 12, 1941 during the Balkans campaign, the Axis attacks on Yugoslavia and Greece, known as Operation Marita. It stood at the exit of a tunnel, near a hotel called the Mönichkirchnerhof. Hitler stayed there for fourteen days.

The Balkanfeldzug or Balkan Campaign was coordinated from here. There is a tunnel located near the station, that could be used as a shelter if there was an air attack, but an attack never occurred. Hitler stayed in the Sonderzug or took a walk to the small hotel or hof in the town.

King Boris III of Bulgaria, Admiral Miklos Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, Italian Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Hungarian ambassador to Germany, Dome Sztojay, and German Admiral Erich Raeder were all guests at the train headquarters to discuss the occupation and dismemberment of Yugoslavia.

On April 20, Hitler’s 52nd birthday was celebrated here with a concert in front of the train.

Hitler left Mönichkirchen on April 26, 1941 to travel to Graz and Marburg an-der-Drau, or Maribor, Slovenia, in northern Yugoslavia, before he returned to Berlin.

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Adolf Hitler stands in front of the Sonderzug Amerika train, the Special Train “Amerika”.

The name of the train was later changed from “Amerika” to “Brandenburg”. The Führersonderzug can be regarded as the first of his field headquarters. During the 1941 Balkan campaign, the train was Hitler’s command and control headquarters stationed in Monichkirchen between Vienna and Graz. This was the only time it was a headquarters. After the Balkans Campaign, Hitler traveled on the train between Berlin, Berchtesgaden, Munich and other headquarters.

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Spring Storm: Adolf Hitler in a cabin of the Sonderzug Amerika train examining the 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque on his 52nd birthday, April 20, 1941 stationed in Monichkirchen, Austria, southwest of Vienna, north of Graz. Amerika was Hitler’s command and control headquarters during the invasions of Yugoslavia and Greece. The train’s closed curtains can be seen on the left as well as its low ceiling.

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The Fuehrersonderzug Amerika, the Fuehrer’s Special Train “Amerika”, can be seen in the background.

The Amerika train was well equipped to function as a mobile headquarters or forward command and control center. The components of the train were ascertained when each car was listed from June 22 to 24, 1941. The individual 17 components of the train in order were:

1)   two BR52 Class locomotives;

2)   a special Flakwagen armored anti-aircraft train flatbed car with two anti-aircraft guns, a pair of Flakvierling cannon batteries, one at each end of the car;

3)    a baggage car;

4)    the Führerwagen, which Hitler used;

5)    a Befehlswagen or command car, including a conference room and a communications center;

6)   a Begleitkommandowagen, for the accompanying Reichssicherheitsdienst;

7)   two cars for guests;

8)    a dining car;

9)    a Badewagen or bathing car;

10)               a second dining car;

11)                two sleeping cars for personnel;

12)                a Pressewagen or car for the press;

13)                a second baggage car; and,

14)                a second Flakwagen..

Heinrich Himmler, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and Hermann Goering also had special trains, as well as the OKW chief, Luftwaffe and Navy commanders, and OKH staff.

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Adolf Hitler in front of the Monichkirchnerhof or hotel in April, 1941.

Benito Mussolini did not meet with Hitler in April, 1941 while Hitler was at his headquarters in Monichkirchen. Hitler met with Mussolini on June 2, at the Brenner Pass. Their previous meeting was on October 4, 1940, also at the Brenner Pass. Mussolini was against plans to invade the Soviet Union. He was not informed of Operation Barbarossa by Hitler at the June 2 meeting.

In Hitler: A Chronology of his Life and Time, Second Revised Edition (2008 Palgrave Macmillan edition), Milan Hauner detailed Adolf Hitler’s timeline of events for April, 1941.

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Adolf Hitler in front of the Amerika train at Monichkirchen in April, 1941.

From April 1 to 10, Hitler was in Berlin. He left that evening for Munich to go to his final destination, which was the command and control headquarters known as Spring Storm in Monichkirchen, Austria, aboard his special train Amerika, to coordinate the attacks against Yugoslavia and Greece.

From April 12 to 25, Hitler was aboard his train Amerika in Monichkirchen and the hotel in the town.

On April 13, Hitler issued Directive 27 for the occupation and dismemberment of Yugoslavia as German troops entered Belgrade.

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Adolf Hitler in Monichkirchen in April, 1941.

On April 15, Hitler sent a telegram to Ante Pavelic congratulating him and Slavko Kvaternik on the proclamation of the NDH, Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska, the Independent State of Croatia, on April 10.

On April 19, King Boris III of Bulgaria met with Hitler at the Amerika train. Count Dome Sztojay of Hungary also was a guest. Sztojay was the Hungarian ambassador to Germany. Their discussions centered on the coming dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the spoils which would accrue to Bulgaria and Hungary.

On April 20, Hitler’s 52nd birthday, Hitler was visited by Count Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister under the Mussolini regime from 1936 to 1943. Hitler was photographed by Heinrich Hoffmann examining the 1930 Gavrilo Princip plaque given to him as a gift by German forces who had removed it after seizing Sarajevo. Count Ciano congratulated him on the surrender of Greece. German Admiral Erich Raeder was also a guest.

On April 24, Admiral Miklos Horthy, the Regent of Hungary, was a guest who met with Hitler to discuss the dismemberment of Yugoslavia.

The German newsreel Die Deutsche Wochenschau, The German Weekend Show, Nr. 556 for April 30, 1941, captured the visits by King Boris, Count Ciano, and Admiral Horthy, to Hitler’s train headquarters.

On April 26, Hitler traveled to Graz, Klagenfurt, and Maribor, Slovenia, in northern Yugoslavia, which had been incorporated into the Reich.

On April 28, Hitler returned to Berlin where he stayed until May 4.

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Adolf Hitler walking beside the Amerika special train headquarters in April, 1941, in Monichkirchen.

The Balkan campaign was over. Yugoslavia and Greece had surrendered. Hitler then focused on the planning for the next offensive, Operation Barbarossa, the attack on the Soviet Union, scheduled for June 22.

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Adolf Hitler in Maribor, Slovenia, in northern Yugoslavia, after the region was annexed by Germany, April 26, 1941.