Liberators Over the Balkans: Missions Over Europe

The Yugoslav Detachment made up of airmen from Yugoslavia trained in the U.S., would fly missions over Greece, Germany, Austria, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia as part of the U.S. Army Air Force in 1943 and 1944.

On November 8, 1943, the Yugoslav air crews were attached to the 376th Bombardment Group, under Colonel Keith Compton, stationed in Enfidaville, Tunisia. The four planes were part of the 512th Squadron of the 15th U.S. Army Air Force. They began training missions on November 11 and participated in a bombing raid over France which was cancelled due to weather conditions. The planes were numbered 20, 21, 22, and 23. They had the Royal Yugoslav Air Force insignia and the U.S. Army Air Force star and bar symbols on the fuselage.

After a week of training the Yugoslav crews flew their first combat mission on November 15 to strike the Eleusis Airport, a German air base since 1941, located outside of Athens. The attack formation consisted of 52 other aircraft. The air field sustained severe damage in the attack by 46 B-24 Liberator bombers with an escort of Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter planes. Sixty tons of fragmentation bombs were dropped which damaged hangars and fuel stores. Six German aircraft were reported destroyed on the ground.

The group was stationed in San Pancrazio, Italy thereafter. The base was located approximately two and half miles northeast of San Pancrazio Salentino in the province of Brindisi in Apulia, southwest of Brindisi, on the south-east Italian coast. The base was south of Bari, where the headquarters of Fifteenth Air Force would be located, in the heel of the Italian boot. The airfield was constructed in 1943 by U.S. Army Engineers primarily for the use by the Fifteenth Air Force. This B-24 Liberator heavy bomber base was used in the strategic bombing of Germany. San Pancrazio was also used by tactical aircraft of Twelfth Air Force in the Italian Campaign.  The 376th Bombardment Group was assigned to the air base from November 17, 1943 to April 19, 1945, consisting of B-24 Liberator bombers as part of the Fifteenth Air Force heavy bomber base.

The second mission occurred on November 24 against targets in Sofia, Bulgaria. Two detached bombers participated, Number 22 and Number 23. The crew also consisted of one American, George Cale They attacked the railroad marshaling yards in Sofia which was seen as a key Axis communication and supply center in the southeastern European theater. After their successful bombing runs, they were attacked by pairs of Messerschmitt fighter planes. Tail gunner Vaso Benderach of Number 22 brought one of the pursuing planes down but the bomber had sustained severe damage. The plane caught on fire and spiraled out of control after one of the wings broke off. The crew was able to all safely bail out as the plane crashed over Bulgarian-occupied Macedonia. They landed safely and were taken prisoner by Bulgarian and German forces.

The raid on Sofia was made up of 60 B-24 Liberator bombers. The Allied aircraft destroyed 87 buildings in the vicinity of the Central Railway Station, killing 5 people and wounding 29. Bulgarian fighter planes shot down two bombers, losing one aircraft to escorting American fighters.

Liberator Number 22, piloted by Dragisha M. Stanisavljevich, was shot down along with  Liberator 42-41018, “Earthquake “, piloted by G.W. Gore.

The crew of B-24 Liberator, 42-73137, Number 22, shot down November 24, 1943 over Sofia, Bulgaria, consisted of: Stanisavljevich, Dragisha M.  Pilot, Yelich, Millosh M. Co-pilot, Milloykovich, Zhivko T. Navigator, also known as Milloy, Joe T., Vecherina, Dinko N. Bombardier, Timothiyevich, Miodrag M. Engineer, Halapa, Ivan M. Radio, Benderach, Vaso B. Gunner, Lakich, Ognyan I. Gunner, Korosha, Ivan V. Gunner, and the American Gunner, Cale, George.

The crew parachuted outside the town of Bogomila, in central Macedonia, west of Veles, which was then occupied and annexed by Bulgaria. Bulgarian and German troops apprehended them. They were taken to the railroad station in the town. The Germans put the pilot, Captain Dragisha Stanisavljevic, the radio operator Sgt. Ivan Halapa, and gunner Vaso Benderach on a train south to Prilep and turned them over to Bulgarian forces. Zhivko Milloykovich, Sgt. Miodrag Timotijevich, Lt. Ognyan Lakich remained in the Bogomila guard house. They were transported by rail to the prison in Prilep the following day. The rest of the crew members were picked thereafter. They were moved to Skopje and then to a Bulgarian military prison in Sofia, the capital. In January, 1944, they were transferred to the Shumen POW camp in northeastern Bulgaria. Their treatment in prison in Sofia was not as difficult as when they were moved to Shumen, where they subsisted on water and bean soup and freezing temperatures in winter. There were 450 American POWs by September, 1944 in the camp. After the Soviet Red Army advance into the Balkans, Bulgaria was forced to surrender and switch sides. The airmen were incarcerated from November 24, 1943 to September 10, 1944, when they were released to the U.S. Consul.

Liberator Number 23 was again a part of a bombing run against Sofia. During this mission, the plane was pursued by 15 Messerschmitt fighters. Gunner Dusan Lazarevic shot down one Bulgarian fighter.

On December 23, Number 21 was shot down by German fighter planes over Germany. There were no survivors. Major Dusan Milojevic was part of this bomber crew. An American navigator, Levie Vause, Jr., was also on board. German Messerschmitt fighters attacked the plane, which lacked P-38 fighters to protect it, and were able to shoot it down. The Liberator was seen heading nose down with no parachutes visible. Its propeller had been shot off.

At first, B-24 Liberator and B-17 Flying Fortress bombers flew missions into the interior of Germany without fighter escorts. The slow and heavily-loaded bombers were vulnerable targets for German fighter planes and flak from anti-aircraft batteries. Long-range fighters were subsequently added to the formations to provide protection for the exposed bombers.

On December 19, planes 21 and 23 participated in the first bombing run against Germany, targeting the Messerschmitt plant in Augsburg in Bavaria in southern Germany northwest of Munich.

The Liberators typically departed in the morning carrying 2,300 gallons of fuel and 10 bombs, flying over Italian territory in a northward descent, crossing the Alps. They dropped 500-pound bombs on the Messerschmitt aircraft factory in Augsburg, Germany. Up to 30 German fighters attacked the planes, made up of 10 to 12 Messerschmitt ME 110s and 10 to 12 Messerschmitt ME 109s and Focke-Wulfe Fw 190s. A report stated: “AA – heavy and very accurate. Very large bursts.” A 98th Bomb Group operations summary stated: “Three B-24s probably shot down, most planes holed, at least 7 men wounded and 1 man killed.”

In the December 19, 1943 Augsburg raid, 42-73089, Liberator Number 21, piloted by Dushan Milloyevich, was shot down. Liberator 42-41175, Sad Sack, piloted by D.P. Rice, was brought down by enemy fighters. Liberator 41-11779, Lil Abner, piloted by E.D. Thurman, crash landed at the base.

The crew of B-24, 42-73089, Number 21, consisted of: Milloyevich, Dushan Z. Pilot, Mucich, Dushan M. Pilot/Co-pilot, Stefanovich, Borislav V. Bombardier, pilot Dragoljub Jeremic, Intihar, Franyo F. Engineer, Tseray, Eduard S. Radio Operator, Lazarevich, Dushan S. Gunner, Ishich, Patar A. Gunner, Vidoykovich, Momchillo V. Gunner, Ognyenovich, Yovan E. Gunner. The one American who was on board the plane was Vause, Jr., Levie E. Navigator.

The ranks of the Yugoslav detachment were gradually depleted. In March, 1944, one Yugoslav crew member, Momcilo Markovic, a Bombardier, left the bomber group. Three others, Jovan Pesic, Nedeljko Pajic, and Milos Marinovic, left to join the Yugoslav Communist Partisan forces led by Josip Broz Tito. Four Slovenians from the RAF joined the detachment to shore up the depleted crews.

On March 24, Number 20 avoided a midair collision with another plane due to poor visibility because of dense cloud formations. A gunner was forced to bail out. After this near debacle, another crew member quit the detachment.

The detachment suffered another casualty in an attack on a target in Austria. Bombardier-gunner Bogdan M. Madjarevic was killed on May 24, 1944 during a bombing mission against an aircraft factory in Wiener Neustadt, Austria.

On June 16, Liberator Number 20 attacked the Apollo Oil Refinery in Bratislava, Slovakia, an independent state created by and allied to Germany under President Jozef Tiso. Germany controlled and modernized the production at the plant, known as Apolka, where diesel fuel and oil were refined to produce fuels to supply the German armed forces. Located on the left bank of the Danube River, it was attacked by waves of U.S. bombers, destroying 80% of the facility. It was reported that 176 workers and civilians were killed.

After the bombing was completed, the group was attacked by 40 enemy aircraft. Four were shot down, including one by Lt. Vuko Sijakovic of Liberator 20. Sijakovic, an Engineer, had been a pilot in the Royal Yugoslav Air Force until 1941, when he escaped capture by German troops by fleeing to Egypt with several other officers.

Disaster struck in the next bombing run. In the bombing mission on Lobau, Austria, on August 22, 1944, 42-73085, Liberator Number 20, piloted by Blagoye N. Radosavlyevich, collided with Liberator 44-40502, Bessa Me Mucho, commanded by Marshall N. Stickel, Jr. Another Liberator bomber, 44-40330, Hardway Ten, commanded by C. Andrew, crash landed during the same mission. Vuko Sijakovic was killed in the crash.

The crew of the American-staffed Liberator 44-40502 consisted of: 1/LT Stickel, Marshall N Jr., CPL Brancato, Stephen V., CPL Edwards, Horace P., CPL Jones, Robert L., CPL Catron, William H., 1/LT Good, Robert P., 2/LT Johnston, James L., CPL Newton, Lawrence D., 2/LT Scott, Douglas, and 2/LT Smith, Charles W.

The mission had originated from Bari AFB in Italy on August 22, 1944. The bombing target was Vienna but the accident occurred over Yugoslavia over Croatian territory.

The Yugoslav air crew commanded by Captain Radosavljevic took part in the aerial assault on underground oil storage tanks near Lobau, east of Vienna. It was the 200th mission of the 512th Squadron. It was the 35th combat mission for the Yugoslav Liberator 20 crew.

The B 24 Liberator, 44-40502, known as Bessa Me Mucho, under the command of American 1/LT Marshall N. Stickel, was struck over the target by several heavy shots. As a result, the damaged plane fell behind the formation. The leader of the bomber group took evasive measures to aid the crippled bomber. The other planes reduced their speed and engine power and began a descent. As they were approaching the Adriatic coast, Stickel radioed the Yugoslav Liberator to determine if they were over Allied-controlled territory. He could no longer control the flight or direction of the stricken plane. Captain Radosavljevic had his Navigator Captain Pavlovic radio back that they were exiting Axis air space. The two bombers were at a height of 12,800 feet. Liberator 31 pulled up slightly and slid to the starboard wing.

The right wing and propellers of the American bomber cut the fuselage and tail of the Yugoslav Liberator. It also broke the left wing of the bomber. The bombers crashed 12 miles northwest of Sinj, east of the village of Kijevo, south of Knin, in the Axis-allied Independent State of Croatia.

Two men were able to parachute out of the planes, one from each plane. The remaining crew members of both planes died in the crash. Yugoslav tail gunner 2nd Lt. Vojin Stojkovic parachuted to safety by escaping from the tail section.

He landed on the Dinara Mountain range separating Croatia from Bosnia-Hercegovina. He suffered a leg injury during the fall. Yugoslav Partisan guerrillas were able to locate him and transport him to Vis Island which was under Partisan control and defended by British naval vessels. He reported that he saw another flier parachute in the area west of the Cetine River. He heard gun shots. He concluded that he was killed. He was informed that he had been killed by German and Croatian gunfire. After 19 days, he returned to the base in Italy in September.

A local resident, Filip Soldic, who was seven years old at the time, witnessed the crash of Liberator 31 as it fell into a vineyard. The crew was killed instantly in the explosion. He did see, however, a member of the crew parachute out 12 yards from the plane.

The U.S. government relocated the remains of the crew members from both aircraft after the war. The remains of the Liberator 20 crew were buried in a cemetery in Zasiok. A part of the plane was also preserved. A memorial plaque erected on the site read: “Returning after an operation in the battle against fascism during the war. Died: 22 VIII. 1944. Airmen of the allied army of Yugoslav descent. Bobek Anton, Vuko Sijakovic, Radosavljevic Major and four other unknowns. This memorial was raised by the Alliance of NOR fighters of the Sinj Municipality on January 23, 1958.” This area was later flooded by the adjoining Perucky Lake.

The crew of Liberator 20 consisted of Captain Radosavlyevich, Blagoye N. Pilot, Voolich, Borivoje G. Co-pilot, Pavlovich, Slobodan M. Navigator, Tsrvenkovich, Obrad D. Bombardier, Shiyakovich, Vooko V.  Engineer, Zhivanovich, Toma M. Radio, Parapatich, Boris K. Arm, Stoykovich, Voyin P. Gunner, Bobek, Milutin A. Nose Turret, and Trampush, Emil A. Waist Gunner.

On August 27, 1944, Lt. Colonel Richard Fellows, the commanding officer of the 376th Heavy Bomb Group (H) bestowed a commendation on the Yugoslavian Air Force Detachment”

“Headquarters- 376th Bomb Group (H) AAF

It is desired to commend the Royal Yugoslavian Air Force detachment, attached to the 512th squadron of the 376th Bomb Group (Heavy) and the 15th AF for outstanding performance of duty in action in strategic support of allied forces in the Mediterranean theater.

From November 1943 to August 1944- four (4) crews made up of forty (40) Officers and Enlisted men forming the Detachment flew regular and frequent combat missions attacking vital enemy installations; exhibiting the greatest bravery, stamina and skill completing eighty eight (88) successful missions. During this period the Detachment lost three (3) of their B-24 aircraft, and sacrificed three of their four crews, all lost over enemy targets. The Royal Yugoslavian Air Force Detachments by its actions has constantly given its utmost in devotion to duty for the allied cause, and will always be worthy of emulation.

R.W. Fellows, Lt. Col.

Air Corps, Commanding

Captain Vojislav N. Skakich presented three officers of the U.S. Army Air Force, Major General N. T. Twinging, commander of the 15th U.S. Army Air Force, Brigadier General Charles F. Born of the 15th USAAF, and Brigadier General Hugo P. Rush, commander of the 47th Wing, with wings of the Yugoslav Royal Air Force on October 3, 1944.

In November, four members left the group to join the Partisans in Yugoslavia. Two Slovenians also left the group.

On November 13, the airmen were ordered by the U.S. Army to travel to Cairo where they were to be incorporated within the armed forces of the new Communist regime of Yugoslavia. Ivan Halapa, Miodrag Timotijevic, Dinko Vecherina, and Ivan Korosha followed the order.  Skakich and the remaining fliers refused. They continued on bombing missions until 1945 when after their 51st flight they no longer had to engage in combat.

Three out of the four Yugoslav Liberators were lost, two shot down and one destroyed in a collision with another Liberator.  Only Liberator Number 23 survived the war. The Yugoslav airmen had flown a total of 88 missions for the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II from 1943 to 1945.

By 1945, the Yugoslav detachment flew back to Cairo then returned to San Pancrazio in Italy. They refused to join the Yugoslav Partisans and remained in limbo until August, 1945, when they were inducted into the U.S. Army.

In October, they flew to the U.S. In July, 1947, they were able to attain U.S. citizenship after a U.S. Congressional bill was passed. They had successful careers in the U.S. Air Force. Vojislav Skakich and Milos Jelic rose to the rank of Colonel.

The airmen of the Yugoslav Detachment played a role in the Allied bombing campaign against Axis targets during World War II. The group was created by Peter II as part of the Yugoslav Royal Air Force to support the Allied operations and to provide material assistance to Draza Mihailovich and the royalist Yugoslav government forces under his command on the ground in Yugoslavia. The latter objective, however, was not realized. At the 1943 Tehran Conference, the Allied Powers would acknowledge the Communist guerrilla forces under Josip Broz Tito as the sole and legitimate resistance group in Axis-occupied Yugoslavia. This created a split within the crewmen. Some did join the Partisans. But the others, who had been members of the Yugoslav Royal Air Force, refused to return to a Communist Yugoslavia under Tito. They refused to join the Communist Partisan forces. Instead, they sought and found refuge in the U.S. While their efforts contributed to the ultimate Allied victory, they also witnessed Tito assume power and establish a Communist regime in Yugoslavia. The monarchy would be abolished and the pre-war royalist government replaced. They would not return to Yugoslavia. Instead, the airmen would find refuge and success in the U.S.

Russian Succor for the Serbian Orthodox Church

During the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade celebrations held on October 20, 2017, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu presented Serbian Patriarch Irinej an icon at the Saint Sava Cathedral in Belgrade. Patriarch Irinej had also attended the Freedom 2017 celebration as a guest of honor at the Belgrade Batajnica military airport along with Serbian President Alexander Vucic, Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, Defense Minister Alexander Vulin, Russian Ambassador to Serbia Alexander Chepurin, and President of the Republika Srpska Milorad Dodik. The 2017 liberation celebrations focused on the Russian support for the Serbian Orthodox Church. 

General Shoigu, accompanied by Vulin and Chepurin, presented the icon, made by the Grekov Studio of Military Artists in Moscow, to Patriarch Irinej in the Saint Sava Church. 

When he presented the painting, Shoigu stated: “Heart and soul have been put into it. I would like that a piece of our heart, our soul, would always live here”. The icon would remain in the church. 

St. Sava was completed in 2004. Work on the church had started in 1894. Construction was halted during World War II and after the war when the Communist regime assumed power. Plans to finish the church were approved only in 1986. 

The religious icon was created by the Grekov Studio of Military Art, a collective of military artists, which is part of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. The studio was established in 1934 by the Soviet military artist Mitrofan Grekov. The studio had been approved by the People’s Commissar of Defense Kliment Voroshilov. It was made up of amateur artists at first but later incorporated professionals. The original intent was to promote the Soviet Red Army and to depict Soviet battles and wartime events in a positive light.

 With the emergence of the Russian Federation, the studio has experienced a transformation. No longer ideologically based, the studio focuses on depicting periods prior to the 1917 October Revolution. From paintings on the Red Army soldier and battlefields, the emphasis has shifted to the Czarist period and on Russian Orthodoxy. Their perspective has come full circle. There has been a parallel shift in Serbia. The result has been closer ties between the Russian and Serbian Orthodox Churches corresponding to the closer political and military ties. 

Russian and Serbian religious ties had been re-established prior to the 2017 visit. Shoigu had met Irinej in 2004 when he made an official visit to Belgrade on March 23. Shoigu was received by Serbian Patriarch Pavle,  accompanied by members of the Holy Synod of Bishops, Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral, and Bishops Lavrentije of Shabac-Valjevo and Irinej of Nish. Shoigu was then the Disaster Minister of the Russian Federal Government. 

He informed the members of the Holy Synod that he had come to Serbia by directive of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He came with the blessing of Russian Patriarch Alexei of Moscow and All Russia. 

He stated that the Russian Federation strongly condemned the March 17-18, 2004 Albanian terrorist attacks against the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija and their shrines. He informed them that the Russian Government had delivered humanitarian aid “to the suffering Kosovo Serbs”. Since the arrival of the UN peacekeeping force, 112 Serbian Orthodox churches and monasteries had been either completely destroyed or damaged by Kosovo Albanians. 

Patriarch Pavle expressed his thanks to Shoigu for the support and assistance of the Russian people, their Church and State, given not only to the Serbs in Kosovo and Metohija, but also to those who have suffered during the last decade of the past century.

 Patriarch Pavle had gone to Moscow on a visit to the Russian Orthodox Church on January 20, 2002 at the invitation of the Unity of Orthodox Nations Foundation. Russian Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia and members of the Holy Synod had met the Serbian Primate at the Sheremetyevo Airport. Patriarch Pavle said that he was happy to visit Orthodox Russia: “I have come to my own people”.

 Russia has consistently supported the sovereignty of Serbia over Kosovo and Metohija and its territorial integrity. Russia has sought to safeguard Kosovo Serbs and to preserve and to maintain the Orthodox religious legacy and heritage. Russia also backs the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Republika Srpska (RS) and seeks to safeguard the Serbian population in Bosnia-Hercegovina and to preserve the Orthodox legacy. 

The October 20, 2017 meeting between Sergei Shoigu and Patriarch Irinej represents the continuation and reaffirmation of the historic and traditional links between the Russian and Serbian churches. 

The October 20, 1944 liberation of Belgrade by the Soviet Red Army has lost much of its ideological context. It had been extolled during the Cold War period as a victory of Josip Broz Tito and the Partisan guerrillas. It was presented as Tito’s military defeat of Germany and the Partisan liberation of Belgrade and Serbia. But this false and grossly inaccurate picture has been replaced. Now the event is perceived as an important event in Serbian history when Russia was able to help the Serbian people to free themselves from German occupation. The focus has shifted now with an emphasis on Russia and the central role it played in that event. Gone is the emphasis on Communism and the Soviet Union and the Red Army. There has been a shift in emphasis or focus. The focus now is on the historical ties between Russia and Serbia and how the common political, military, and religious bonds have united the two countries throughout history. 

Gone are the ideological and political constraints of the Cold War when Communist Yugoslavia sought to maintain a delicate balancing act between the two superpower blocs. Ideology has been replaced by national interests and security. This change and re-evaluation has resulted in closer political, military, and religious ties between Russia and Serbia. 

Peter II’s 1942 Visit to Ravanica Cathedral in Detroit

Peter arrived in Detroit by train from Washington, DC on Wednesday morning, July 1, 1942. Peter had met with FDR and Winston Churchill at the White House the previous week on Wednesday, June 24 and had delivered an address before Congress on Capitol Hill on Thursday, June 25.

He was met at the train by Michigan Governor Murray Van Wagoner and Detroit Mayor Edward Jeffries on his arrival. He would spend 18 hours in the city. He visited the armament plants in Detroit of the Big Three, GM, Ford, and Chrysler. He met with Ford Company President Edsel Ford and toured the River Rouge complex. Detroit was specially chosen by the U.S. government to demonstrate its wartime role as “the arsenal of democracy”.

Peter traveled to the Book-Cadillac in downtown Detroit where he had lunch. He was interviewed by reporters there. Peter emphasized that the reason for his visit to the U.S. was “to seek supplies for the army still fighting in Yugoslavia.” The objective was to obtain arms and equipment for the Yugoslav guerrillas headed by Draza Mihailovich who had been promoted to the rank of General and appointed the Minister of War in the London-based Yugoslav Government-in-Exile. He informed reporters that he was in constant communication with Mihailovich. Asked if the guerrillas needed aircraft, he replied that they would be of little use to a guerrilla army, especially in a mountainous area with hardly any areas to land. Delivery of weapons would have to be by air drops. The most pressing needs were food and small arms. He explained that the guerrilla forces consisted of 100,000 men, although not all are in uniform, but could be mobilized if supplies could be provided.

After his inspection tour of the plants, he traveled to the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral “Ravanica” located on Russell Street and East Warren Avenue in the Poletown East area of Detroit east of the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). Reverend Firmilian Ocokolich was the priest at the church. Peter had met him in Washington, DC where he had traveled to greet him. Peter stated that “it was in Washington that Father Ocokolich had invited me to visit ‘one of the most beautiful Serbian Orthodox churches in America—Ravanica Church in Detroit.’”

The Ravanica Serbian Orthodox Church on Russell and Warren in Detroit was photographed in 1934. This was the church Peter visited in 1942. This was the Ravanica church before the new and current church was opened in 1967 on Outer Drive and Van Dyke in Detroit. Peter visited the church a second time in 1959.

Peter recalled his visit to Ravanica in his 1954 memoirs, A King’s Heritage (New York, Putnam): “I then took time off from my inspection to visit the Serbian Orthodox Ravanica Church of Detroit where I attended a Mass celebrated in memory of my father, King Alexander.”

Peter was photographed alone holding a long candle with a burning flame with both hands during the special services held in the Serbian Orthodox Ravanica Church. Parishioners, adults and children, could be seen in the background. Peter was wearing his military uniform with the Yugoslav Air Force badge on the right on his jacket. The service was dedicated for the safety and long life of the King, for the soul of the late King Alexander, and for “the brave Yugoslavs suffering persecution and death as they resist Nazi aggression.”

Peter was photographed at a reception standing between the Rev. Benjamin I. Hoffiz of the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Rev. Firmilian Ocokolich.

Peter was shown kissing the cross which was held by Reverend Firmilian Ocokolich, the pastor of the Serbian Orthodox Church “Ravanica” of Detroit. Peter was holding a long candle in his left hand. Constantin Fotich looked on from behind in the background.

As Peter entered the full church, there were 1,000 parishioners outside. Stanley Papich, the President of the Church, gave Peter bread and salt, which was a Serbian custom. American and Yugoslav flags were arrayed in a row at the entrance.

Peter described the church: “The church was indeed very beautiful, a choir of a hundred voices was singing and many candles flickered on the altar which was banked with flowers. High at the back of the church, painted on the front of the choir loft, was a portrait of my father. As I walked with head bared toward it Father Ocokolich met me. I kissed the cross he brought to me. While I stood before the altar the pastor handed me a candle to hold through-out the service, which was deeply moving.”

Tears were seen to be streaming down Peter’s cheeks while he was listening to the choral music presentation.There was a painting of his father, Alexander, who was assassinated in 1934, painted on the choir loft at the back of the church.

Reverend Ocokolich recited the final prayer and the choir sang a psalm. Ocokolich then welcomed Peter in Serbian: “You visit to the Third Serbian ‘Ravanica’ in America will remain forever with us as our most cherished memory.

“Serbian people, who came from their old country, did not forget the religion of their fathers, nor the customs or language. As a result, they are ever thankful for the liberty which we all enjoy in this great land, building this Third ‘Ravanica,’ an exact replica of the first Serbian Ravanica in Serbia.

“Permit me, as your Serbian priest, in the name of all Serbs in Detroit, to express our desire and prayer that you return soon to our proud Belgrade to rule our homeland.

“Thank you, Your Majesty, and may the blessing of God lead you on your journey.”

After a tour of the church, Peter stated: “I believed ‘Ravanica’ to be beautiful, but did not know it was this beautiful.”

After his visit, Peter sent a check from Washington to Ravanica for the purchase of a large candle “to burn continually for all those who gave their lives in the defense of Yugoslavia.”

From the Ravanica Church, Peter went to a reception at the Book-Cadillac Hotel. He was later part of a radio broadcast at station WXYZ-Detroit, on the NBC Blue Network, to the U.S. and by short-wave to Yugoslavia.

The Detroit Free Press ran a front page story on his visit in the  Thursday, July 2, 1942 issue, “King Peter ll in Detroit on Hunt for Arms.” Two photographs showed Peter with Charles F. Kettering and Albert Bradley, the Vice-Presidents of GM: “GM officials chat with royal visitor. A second photo showed Peter driving a jeep with William Ford. The caption was: “Yugoslavia’s monarch and Henry Ford’s grandson ride a jeep.”

The focus of the article was on his tour of the munitions plants in Detroit: “The young King took it like a man. From rnldmorning until nearly midnight, Peter II of Yugoslavia was led past miles and miles of armaments and shown in intricate detail the workings of the greatest munitions machine that man has ever built. Throughout, he was unfailingly courteous and attentive. Yet there must have been many moments of bitterness for him and his warrior aides when they looked at the thundering aircraft engines, the overwhelming tanks, the cannon and the machine guns, and thought of their people struggling bare-handed in the mountains and forests back home.”

Peter stated that his objective for the visit was to obtain arms and supplies for the guerrilla resistance forces under Draza Mihailovich: “I am in the United States to seek supplies for the army still fighting in Yugoslavia and to plan the future, too. I can not say what I will get, but I can’t go back with nothing. We do not need planes, because planes cannot be landed in our mountains, but they would be useful based elsewhere and attacking the enemy. We can’t use other large supplies because there is no way to deliver them. Everything we get must be dropped to our troops by parachute. What we need mostly is ammunition.”

On his departure, Governor Wagoner told him: “God bless you.” Peter departed by train from Detroit for his next stop, Buffalo, New York, to inspect plants there.

Comic Book Hero: Peter II of Yugoslavia

The German-led invasion, occupation, and dismemberment of Yugoslavia which began on April 6, 1941 was another triumph for the Axis. In the U.S., however, the conquest was seen as a criminal act of aggression against an American ally. The U.S. government refused to recognize the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. Instead, the U.S. threw its support behind the Yugoslav Government-in-Exile led by Peter II which emerged.

Peter II was lauded and showered with encomiums for his defiance and resistance of Adolf Hitler. This euphoria of support culminated in his invitation to the U.S.  in 1942. Another sign of the positive regard in which he was held was his appearance in an American comic book in 1941.

Peter II of Yugoslavia was featured in the American comic book Military Comics: Stories of the Army and Navy, No. 3, in the October, 1941 issue. The story was entitled “School Children Defeat Hitler. A True Story.” It was in the section Secret War News.

The script, pencils, and inks were by Al McWilliams. Military Comics were published by Quality Comic Magazines, Inc., in Buffalo, New York. The General Manager and Founder was Everett M. “Busy” Arnold. The editor was William Erwin “Will” Eisner. The Executive and Editorial Offices were located in the Gurley Building in Stamford, Connecticut. The comic book ran from August, 1941 to October, 1945.

The story recounts the March 27, 1941 coup in Yugoslavia based on U.S. media accounts of the event. The overthrow of the pro-Axis regime in Yugoslavia was particularly significant because it demonstrated resistance to Germany at a time when other European countries were joining the Axis bloc.

The introduction stated that the purpose was to tell “the true story” of the Yugoslav coup by demonstrating the popular opposition to the March 25 pact with Adolf Hitler. “The pro-Nazi Cvetkovitch government willingly sold their country to the invaders.” The lesson was that even though Yugoslavia was defeated, its people had resisted and had continued the conflict as a guerrilla war. It was an example for other countries who sought to confront Axis aggression.”In Berlin Hitler gloated and boasted to Yosuke Matsuoka, Japanese Foreign Minister, that he was invincible.” Yugoslavia showed that resistance and opposition were possible.

In the first panel, Yugoslav children are being taught German in a Belgrade grade school. One student, Milan, however, protests and walks out. The teacher exclaims that he will report them. The student declares: “We don’t want any German lessons!! Long live Yugoslavia and King Peter!!”

An  American reporter notices the student “strike” against the “enslavement of their country” and telephones his bureau chief to have the story relayed to New York immediately via Istanbul. Berlin is alarmed and calls its ambassador in Yugoslavia to stop the strike. It is setting a bad precedent in other countries. The government under Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Cvetkovich arrests Milan and his friends.

Their act of defiance encourages the “secret revolutionary society” the “komitadji” to spring into action in Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia. The komitadji guerrillas, the then name for what would be termed Chetniks, proclaim that the time is right for an uprising. A member says that he will burn their membership cards. They are all regarded as dead. They have given up their lives for freedom by following the guerrilla traditions of the country.

College students march in the streets in Belgrade. They shout: “Down with the Pact!! Long live Yugoslavia and democracy!! Long live King Peter!!” The pro-Nazi government of Cvetkovich is alarmed. They order the arrest of the students. Some are killed while others are arrested by the secret police.

In Berlin, Heinrich Himmler, the head of the Gestapo, hands a list of the names of komitadji members to a subordinate for Cvetkovich and Yugoslav Regent Prince Paul to round up. Komitadji are arrested. The komitadji resist, however, by attacking the German Gestapo agents.

Then on March 27, 1941, General Dusan Simovich, the head of the Yugoslav Air Force and a komitadji member himself, calls a meeting to plan the overthrow of the government. He shouts: “Long live King Peter!!” An image of a red-clad woman drawing a sword from a sheath is shown under the title: Democracy strikes!”

Yugoslav Air Force Colonel Knezivich is shown waking Peter at 2:00AM to inform him of the coup. Peter jumps into action. Colonel Knezivich is a reference to Major Zivan Knezevic, a member of the Yugoslav Royal Guards, who was one of the key plotters of the coup, along with his brother Radoje Knezevic. He states that the “spineless Cvetkovich government” has not only endangered the country, but has “degraded the proud Serbian name.” King Peter “drafts a proclamation that later startles the world.” Yugoslav tanks move into Belgrade during the night. General Simovich goes to see Peter as the coup begins. Cvetkovich and his ministers are arrested and taken into custody as “traitors”.

Prince Paul is taken into custody. General Simovich takes him to the government building in a car. Belgrade residents cheer when they see Peter hurrying to the building. Peter comes face to face with Cvetkovich and Prince Paul. Peter tells them that he has decided to assume the crown and abolish the regency.  He is told: “Why, you’re just a boy!! How can you cope with an international situation!!” Peter responds: “I may be only a boy, but I’m ready to give my life to my country!!” He asks them to both resign. They do so, but Prince Paul promises to “get even”. Peter appoints Simovich as the Premier of the new government. He is asked to form his cabinet.

Peter reads a proclamation over the radio. He has taken over the crown. The regents have resigned. The Army supports him. Simovich is in charge.

In the morning, Belgrade residents are jubilant that the loyal Yugoslav Army is in “complete control” while “the people are filled with renewed hope.” Residents exclaim: “Hurrah for King Peter!!” School children and college students hang effigies of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in the streets. “Angry Serbians smash the offices of the German and Italian tourist agencies.” “Serbian mountaineers” are shown battling German “tourists”, Gestapo agents and the advance guard of the reichswehr, the Army of the Third Reich.

In the last panel, the Belgrade school children who had started the revolt hold an honor parade on the terazia in Belgrade. They have defeated Adolf Hitler by their defiance and resistance.

This was how Peter and the Belgrade coup were depicted in the U.S. The comic book portrayal in Military Comics reflected the accepted view in the U.S,, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. The overthrow of the Cvetkovich government was perceived as a daring act of freedom and democracy. Yugoslavia had defied an aggressor. Peter had risen to the occasion and had assumed leadership in a time of crisis.

The 1944 Battle for Belgrade on Film

44docThe battle for Belgrade from October 14 to 20, 1944 was filmed for a documentary by the Central Documentary Film Studio, CSDF, in 1944 based in Moscow. This was the name of the studio in 1944. It began as an offshoot of Sovkino in 1927. In 1931 it was reorganized as the All-Union Newsreel Factory – Soyuzkinochronicle. From 1936 it was known as the Moscow Newsreel Studio and since 1940 as Central Newsreel Studio. Sergei Gerasimov was the head of the studio from 1944-1946. The studio had received the Order of the Red Banner award, Ordena Krasnogo Znameni.

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The documentary opens with a panning shot from right to left showing a battlefield with Soviet troops and vehicles on the outskirts of Belgrade. There is billowing black smoke and flames from destroyed vehicles on the road. A Soviet T-34/85 tank is seen moving to the right across the road. Soviet trucks with troops with artillery attached are shown heading into Belgrade past burning vehicles.

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The next scene shows tank commander Major General Vladimir I. Zhdanov of the IV Mechanized Corps with two other Soviet officers going over the plan of attack at the side of a road as a column of Soviet T-34/85 tanks pass by overhead.

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A column of Soviet T-34/85 tanks slowly drive into Belgrade along a street with infantry troops on the tanks with Spagin or PPSh-41 submachine guns wearing long overcoats.

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Soviet troops are shown moving up a Belgrade street as they near the city center. They are running past Soviet trucks which are pulling artillery guns in tow. Some are carrying machine guns.

In the next scene Zhdanov is being briefed on German positions by Yugoslav officers. Peko Dapcevic is pointing out a location for Zhdanov. There is a Yugoslav officer and a Soviet officer.

In the next scene Soviet officers are shown on a building overlooking the city. They are observing tank attacks in the city as T-34/85 tanks advance into the center of the city.

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One scene features a long distance, high angle camera shot of Soviet tanks moving slowly up a deserted street, followed by trucks.

Soviet tanks are seen on a wooded street as Soviet troops move behind on the sidewalk. Incorporating tanks into infantry assaults in street battles in cities had become a hallmark of Soviet offensives.

Soviet artillery gunners are shown from a height scanning the Belgrade skyline to locate and pinpoint German targets.

There is a long panning shot from right to left showing the Belgrade skyline and a bridge.

A street is shown with a concrete German pillbox. Then Soviet artillery is shown blasting away at German fortified positions on the street.

A Soviet tank also fires shells at the fortified German defenses. A gaping hole is shown in a brick defensive position.

There is a return to the street scene where Soviet troops have brought up an artillery piece on the sidewalk. Machine gun crews are shown firing. A large machine gun is fired. The tank is shown firing another shell.

Soldiers shoot with rifles from a window. Wounded and killed Soviet soldiers are shown being evacuated in stretchers with a Soviet truck in the background. One unconscious Soviet soldier is carried in a stretcher by two women and a man.

Soviet officers are shown telling a Yugoslav officer where the attacks are going to occur and the positioning of forces.

A Serbian Orthodox Church is shown with a cross on top. A Soviet soldier is shown breaking down a wooden fence with the butt of his rifle. He has a tankman’s hat on.

The narrator announces in Russian that infantry are now approaching the center of Belgrade as troops are shown moving up the tree lined street. The troops on the sidewalk are wearing Soviet Red Army helmets and long coats. They have rifles with bayonets for hand-to-hand, house-to-house fighting, combat at close quarters, typical of urban warfare. Guerrillas are not going to be engaged in this type of warfare. The bayonets are clearly visible. This is a clue that the front line, first echelon combat troops are Russian Red Army infantry. They are now moving into the center of Belgrade.

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There is a return to the Soviet tankman at the wooden fence where he has placed a machine gun and is firing through the opening. There is another soldier with a Soviet helmet. Another soldier is holding the belt for the machine gun. Then Soviet troops are shown moving horse-drawn artillery into the city center as they move rapidly up the street.

Soviet T-34/85 tanks are shown moving across the deserted streets of Belgrade. Then there is artillery support. Soviet troops are shown loading shells as they fire artillery at German positions. Needless to say, Russian troops were very good and effective at this type of urban, house-to-house, street warfare.

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Infantry advances. Then Katyusha rocket launchers are shown firing rockets. These are the smaller BM-13 Katyushas for close quarter combat. The first Katyusha trucks fire from a grass field. The second group fires from a Belgrade street.

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Destroyed German vehicles are shown. Troops are shown entering captured German bunkers and defensive positions. One German bunker has the Nazi swastika covered over with a Soviet red star or crvena zvezda.

The battle for the city is over. German POWs are shown being marched through the streets of Belgrade. A decorated Soviet officer wearing a cap is at the front of the group of German POWs being marched through the streets. Civilians are watching on the side of the road. One German POW is wearing a German helmet. The others have caps on. Soviet guards can also be seen on the side.

Then military personnel from the Milan Nedic regime are marched as POWs through the street.

Then Yugoslav Partisan troops can be seen marching in the street with weapons being cheered by a crowd. A Soviet soldier with a cap can be seen in the corner. Partisans distribute papers to the crowd.

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A Soviet plane flies over Belgrade filming the city after it was taken at the Palata Albanija building in the background. The narrator announces in Russian that the city is now free.

This ends part 1 of the documentary on the battle for Belgrade. The second part is on the victory parade and the speeches made by Soviet and Yugoslav commanders at the Vuk Karadzic Monument in Belgrade.

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The Vuk Karadzic Monument in Belgrade was where the podium for the victory celebration was located. Four flags were draped beneath it:  From left, the American flag, the Soviet flag, the Yugoslav flag with the Soviet red star or crvena zvezda in the center, and the British flag. These four countries participated in the Belgrade Offensive of 1944. The U.S. and UK provided air support.

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The first scene in the second part on the parade and victory celebration shows a banner with an image of Joseph Stalin. In Russian is written: “Glory to the Red Army!” “Krasnaya armiya slava!” It is not in Serbian. So the victory parade is for the Soviet or Russian Red Army not for the Yugoslav Partisans.

The first vehicle is a personnel carrier like a jeep with Soviet troops. The overflow crowd cheers them on. The crowd shouts “Zhiveli!” “Long life!” Then a Soviet truck with three soldiers standing passes by. The windshield has two cracks in it.

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Then five signs appear on the right in Serbian Cyrillic and in Latin. “Death to fascism! Freedom for the people (narod).” “Ziveli Crvena Vojska.” “Long live the Red Army!” “Long live the united youth!” “Zhiveo Marshal Stalin.” “Zhiveo Marshal Tito.”

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The crowds are overflowing with civilians raising their hats, raising their hands, and clapping. A group of Soviet officers are shown passing by on a vehicle as they salute. One Soviet soldier is holding a Red Army banner as he passes by. Soviet trucks pass carrying artillery.

Women are shown cheering the Soviet troops. A column of Red Army soldiers march past with their rifles. Yugoslav Partisans can be seen by the crowd cheering the Soviet troops. The Soviet troops are wearing long overcoats and Red Army caps that can easily be confused with Yugoslav Partisan caps.

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Soviet troops march in a column wearing Soviet Red Army helmets holding a banner with garlands of flowers and carrying rifles.

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A Soviet T-34/85 tank slowly passes in the parade among a sea of people. One Soviet tankman is riding on the front of the tank and shakes hands with people along the parade route. Belgrade residents cheer on the Soviet tank crew. Then a Soviet truck pulling heavy artillery is shown.

Horse-mounted Soviet troops are shown on three horses, the first one is white, with the soldier carrying a banner. Then a column of Soviet troops on horses march past.

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A Soviet soldier with a mortar being pulled in a horse-drawn cart is seen laughing. A woman is shown clapping. Then a group of army cooks are shown. One cook is shown wearing an apron and chef’s hat in a wagon with a stove.

The cameraman films from a vehicle in the parade. Soviet troops on horses are shown. The massive cheering crowd can be seen along the parade route. This ends the victory parade.

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The next segment shows Red Army Major General Vladimir I. Zhdanov holding a wreath walking to the podium. This segment is on the speeches at the Vuk Karadzic statue. Again, the crowds are overflowing and at capacity. A Yugoslav Partisan soldier introduces Zhdanov. Zhdanov makes a speech to the crowd waving flags. Then Peko Dapcevic speaks. He then embraces Zhdanov. They shake hands and Dapcevic salutes. Then there is a shot of the crowds with flags.

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The final scene is in Russian script noting that the commander of the Yugoslavian Army of National Liberation is Josip Broz-Tito. This ends the documentary.

Tito is not in the documentary and was not in Belgrade during the operation.

The portrayal and assessment of the battle has changed over time based on political and ideological considerations. From 1944 to 1948 the event was depicted in a positive light in Yugoslavia. Following the 1948 Stalin-Tito Split, however, the Soviet Union and the battle for Belgrade were seen in negative terms. Following the 1955 rapprochement with Nikita Khrushchev, a modus vivendi was achieved. The battle was re-evaluated in 1964 following the deaths of Vladimir Zhdanov and Sergey Biryuzov in a plane crash while en route to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the battle. Another re-evaluation occurred in 1997 when once again streets named after the Red Army and Soviet commanders were removed. In 2009, there was a move to commemorate Soviet commanders again. In 2016, the announcement was made that streets in the western New Belgrade or Novi Beograd section of Belgrade would be named after Fyodor Tolbukhin and Vladimir Zhdanov.

The 1944 documentary presents a filmed account of the battle as it occurred. It thus gives one of the clearest glimpses of what happened.

World War II in Film: The Ninth Circle (1960)

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In 1960, the Yugoslavian film Deveti krug or The Ninth Circle was released on the Holocaust in Croatia during World War II. The film was directed by Slovenian-born France Stiglic. It was made in Croatia by Jadran Film based in Zagreb. The film starred Boris Dvornik as Ivo Vojnovic, Dusica Zegarac as Ruth Alakalaj, Desanka Loncar as Magda, and Dragan Milivojevic as Zvonko.

The film is on the Independent State of Croatia, the NDH, during World War II. The NDH existed from 1941 to 1945. The title of the film, Deveti krug, The Ninth Circle, refers to a Croatian Ustasha concentration camp known by that name. The allusion is to Dante’s Inferno from The Divine Comedy, consisting of Nine Circles of Hell. The Ninth Circle is Treachery. The camp is based and modeled on the real Jasenovac concentration camp complex but the word “Jasenovac” is not used.

The screenplay adaptation was written by France Stiglic and Vladimir Koch based on the original story by Zora Dirnbach.

The glaring and fatal flaw of the film is that it does not refer to Jasenovac or any of the other Croatian camps that made up the system. By using the vague and obtuse term “Deveti krug” the film engages in misdirection and obfuscation. By omitting the context, the film becomes too generalized and too generic to have any meaning. The concentration camp in the film becomes a generic concentration camp, one that could be based on Auschwitz, or any of the other German camps. Without the term “Jasenovac”, the film has no meaning either within the Yugoslav context or internationally.

There is not enough elucidation or background to explain the camp. The concentration camps in Croatia were unique and remarkable historically because they were set up by the Croatian government itself. They were not German, but Croatian concentration camps. The film does not explain this crucial fact. The camp guards are Croats and wear Croatian uniforms who speak Croatian. This is evidence that they are Croatian camps. But then the slogan at the camp is ambiguous. It could imply that the camp is Auschwitz or another German camp. A slogan on the entrance to the Croatian Ustasha concentration camp named The Ninth Circle, modeled on the Jasenovac camp system, is “Rad oslobadja” or “Work makes you free”. In German, it is translated as “Arbeit macht frei”. This was the slogan not only at Auschwitz, but also at Dachau, Gros-Rozen, Zahsenhauzen and Therezienstadt. The slogan at Jasenovac was “Rad. Red. Stega.” “Work. Order. Discipline.” There is no question that the camp guards are Croatian Ustasha. This is clearly a Croatian concentration or death camp that is depicted in the film.

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The plot focuses around Serbian-born Dusica Zegarac as Ruth Alkalaj, a Croatian Jew living in the Independent State of Croatia. Croatia has enacted racial laws based on the Nuremberg Race Laws in Germany.

The film opens with Ivo and Ruth playing a board game on the floor. Boris Dvornik is Ivo Vojnovic, a 19-year-old Roman Catholic Croat. His father is played by Branko Tatic. His mother is played by Ervina Dragman. Ruth Alkalaj is a 17-year-old Jewish Croat. Her father is played by Bozo Drnic. Her mother is played by Djurdjica Devic. Their families are in the room. A boy playing the game puts on his coat which has the yellow armband with the Star of David and the letter “Z”, the Croatian word for “Jew”.

The setting is Zagreb, the capital during World War II of the Nazi allied country of the Independent State of Croatia, which also consisted of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Adolf Hitler has created the NDH which was proclaimed on April 10, 1941. Ante Pavelic was installed by German forces as the new leader or Poglavnik.

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The Croatian Ustasha regime immediately promulgates anti-Jewish race laws modeled on the German Nuremberg Race Laws. Serbs and Roma also targeted for elimination by the new regime. The film does not explore this issue but focuses solely on the anti-Jewish legislation.

Croatian Jews become the targets for elimination. As the NDH regime cracks down on Jewish citizens, Ruth’s parents get arrested. Ruth would be arrested next. Ivo’s parents concoct a plan to save her. They convince Ivo to marry Ruth. The marriage would be bogus and temporary to prevent Ruth from being apprehended and sent to the camps.

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Ivo has a relationship with Magda, played by Serbian-born Desanka Beba Loncar. In one scene, they ride on a bicycle through the streets of Zagreb. Another concern is the stigma and embarrassment. At school, Ivo is ridiculed by fellow students for marrying in his teens.

In the next scene, Ruth is shown wearing the NDH yellow badge with a Star of David and the letter “Z”, Croatian for “Zidov” or “Jew”, as she walks with Ivo’s father. A child in the street throws her a ball. She is spotted by a Croatian Ustasha officer who notices the yellow badge. He gazes at her suspiciously.

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She sees Ustasha troops put a prisoner in a truck. She sees a poster that Ustasha forces have put up of a racist caricature of a Jewish man. It reads in Croatian: “Measures against Jews can never be too harsh. Jews are worthy to be eradicated before birth.” It is an “Oglas” or “Announcement”. Ruth is shocked. Behind her German military vehicles are shown being transported by rail. The NDH Operation Barbarossa poster for the Eastern Front can be seen on the kiosk: “United Europe Against the East”. The poster reads: “Rame uz rame”. “Shoulder to shoulder.” Croatia is shoulder to shoulder with Germany and Italy in the invasion of the Soviet Union.

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Ivo puts a wedding ring on Ruth’s finger as they are married at a Roman Catholic Cathedral. They celebrate at Ivo’s parents’ house by dancing. They are committed of going through the ruse.

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Ivo continues to see Magda. Ruth notices that Ivo goes to take Magda on a bike ride. She is distressed. Ruth realizes that the marriage is causing problems for Ivo and his relationship with Magda. She decides to run away. She runs through the streets of Zagreb, past the Oglas poster and the War Against the East poster. Ivo runs after her and desperately seeks to find her.

It is Ivo’s father who locates her and brings her back. Ivo walks home dejectedly but finds Ruth in bed. They re-establish their relationship. They are shown playing the board game. He clutches her hand to reassure her.

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As Ivo and Ruth walk through the streets of Zagreb the Ustasha officer recognizes her. He throws down the flowers she is carrying and forces her to clean his boots. He pulls the scarf from her neck and forces her to kneel down and wipe his black leather boots with it. Ivo notices what is going on. Ivo is able to intercede and to diffuse the situation because one of the Ustasha soldiers, Zvonko, played by Montenegrin actor Dragan Milivojevic, recognizes him and can vouch for him. They are allowed to walk away.

The experience bonds their relationship and they grow closer to each other. They both come to accept the necessity of continuing the relationship. But they also develop a close interpersonal bond.

Ivo witnesses armed Ustasha forces rounding up Jews as they lead them down stairs. They are wearing the yellow Zidov badge. Their IDs are checked. One of the Jews has a Croatian medal which the Ustasha soldier rips from his chest. They are hauled into trucks.

Ivo attends a rally where an Ustasha officer speaks to a crowd. The podium is draped with a Croatian flag. Zvonko and Ivo fight on the stairs. Zvonko pulls out a knife. They are pulled apart.

Ruth runs down the same stairs where the Jews were rounded up. She walks past the fountains. She throws the ball. There plaza is deserted. She goes on the swing. She plays hopscotch.

She suddenly notices a poster on the kiosk. “Oglas: Na smrt vjesanjem.” “Announcement: Hanged to Death.” She read the name: Alkalaj Daniela, Jew. She is devastated. She breaks down. She surrenders to two Ustasha policemen.

Ivo tells his parents that he is committed to look for her. He goes to a train with wagon cars. Behind the grate are prisoners, including children. The train moves on. He hangs on the sides of the train.

In the next scene he is in a swamp. He sees female prisoners digging.

He is getting closer to the concentration camp. He encounters an Ustasha in a horse drawn cart. His next stop is the camp.

He reached the entrance which has a slogan on top: “Rad Oslobadja”. “Work Makes You Free”. He meets Zvonko at the camp. There are armed guards. There is also an electrified barbed-wire fence. Zvonko takes him on a tour of the camp. They see female prisoners. There is a watchtower with a searchlight.

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A gas van enters the camp. A driver opens the back door of the van. The Croatian Ustasha camp guard induces children at the death camp to enter a gas van. Children are shown before being put in a gas van to be gassed to death. There is a skull and crossbones symbol on the bottom rear fender of the van. This reveals that the van is, indeed, a gas van to kill the children.

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Croatian NDH camp guards push the other children away as the gas van is filled up with children.

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Ivo sees female prisoners at the camp. Camp guards grotesquely dance with them. The female inmates are dazed. Ivo notices Ruth and calls to her. Zvonko intercedes and takes him away. He confronts Zvonko, punches him in the mouth. Zvonko is knocked out. Ivo escapes.

He finds Ruth and they make a run for it. They make their way through the camp unseen by the camp guards at night.

They watch as a female inmate runs to the fence where she is electrocuted on the barbed wire fence. The searchlight from the watchtower scans the camp as they move around it trying to find an escape route.

They finally reach the fence and both climb it. Ivo helps Ruth climb the fence. She reaches the top. They appear to be able to escape. But then the guards turn on the electricity and they are both electrocuted. There is a flash of white light. This is the final scene.

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The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 33rd ceremony. It was also entered into the 1960 Cannes Film Festival where it was nominated for the Palme d’Or. The film won the Velika Zlatna arena award for best film at the 1960 Pula Film Festival. The film was also released in the U.S., the Soviet Union, France, Argentina, and Hungary.

The film is an effective dramatization of the World War II period in the NDH. The major flaw of the film is that nowhere does it make any reference to the real Croatian concentration camps. The word “Jasenovac” does not appear in the film. This distances the film too much from the historical reality and the context of the events. The term “Deveti krug” is a meaningless designation that functions to distort and to obscure the actual facts. If one can get over this fatal flaw, the movie remains a powerful evocation of the NDH period.