Croatian spy chief shot a fascist prisoner after WWII- witness testified

Photo story (Clockwise from top left): (1) Former Croatian spy chief Josip Boljkovac photographed during a TV appearance (2) Yugoslav revolutionary Marshal Josip Broz Tito who led the Anti Nazi resistance movement during the WWII (3) Benito Mussolini, one of the key figures who created fascism (4) A partisan commander Stjepan Filipovic shouting ‘death to fascism, freedom to the people’ just before his execution on 22nd May 1942 (5) 16 partisan young soldiers are blindfolded and awaiting execution by the Nazi German forces in Smederevska Palanka in Serbia on 20th August 1941, a German soldier was also executed with the partisans due to his refusal to take part in the Nazi massacre.

Partisans or National Liberation Army led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia was the most effective resistance movement against the Nazis during the WWII. Yugoslav revolutionary, Marshal Josip Broz Tito led the Partisans in guerrilla movement during the war. He served in various roles since 1943.

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded by German, Hungarian, Italian and Bulgarian forces from all sides on 6th April 1941 at 05:12 am. The Nazi German Luftwaffe bombed major Yugoslav cities including Belgrade during an eleven days long invasion. Royal Yugoslav army surrendered unconditionally on 17th April 1941 ending the resistance.

Over 300,000 Yugoslav soldiers and officers were imprisoned. Axis occupation of Yugoslavia began and they split it up. Germany occupied Serbian state and northern Slovenia and created a puppet state called ‘Independent State of Croatia’ consisting of all of today’s Bosnia and Herzegovina, much of modern Croatia and Serbian region Syrmia.

Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italy occupied the remaining region of Slovenia, Kosovo, Croatian region Dalmatia and also controlled the newly formed Montenegrin puppet state. They were also given the kingship of the puppet state Croatia. Hungary occupied part of Serbia, Croatia and Slovene area. Bulgaria occupied almost all of Macedonia and small regions of Kosovo and Serbia.

Such annexations of a country were contrary to the international law existing during that time. Due to the severe burdens on the local population by the occupying Axis forces, the Partisans got widespread local support as it was the local’s only option for survival.

During the early occupied period, the Nazis would shoot or kill men, elderly, women and children indiscriminately, up to 100 locals for every single German soldier killed by the resistance. In the Nazi satellite state Croatia, pro fascist Croatian Ustase regime expelled 250,000 people, murdered around 500,000 people and 200,000 more were forced to convert to become Catholics. Most of the victims were Serbians, but there were 37,000 Jews as well.

Tito operated the Communist Party of Yugoslavia from underground. In the WWII Yugoslav front, Kingdom of Italy had 321,000 troopers, and the Nazi puppet state Croatia had 262,000 troopers. Yugoslav Partisans and Allied forces had 800,000 soldiers fighting in the Yugoslav front. 24,267 German soldiers were killed, 12,060 were missing in action and 209,000 soldiers from German collaborators were further killed. Around 350,000 Partisans and 581,000 civilians were also killed in action. Italy signed armistice with the Allies of WWII on 3rd September 1943. An allied victory was achieved.

The Yugoslav Partisans successfully expelled the Axis forces from Serbia in 1944 and from the rest of Yugoslavia in 1945. Josip Broz Tito was seen by the Yugoslav citizens as a national hero and supported him to lead the newly formed independent communist Yugoslavia state as prime minister.

Former Croatian spy Chief Josip Boljkovac was born on 12th November 1920. He was Josip Broz Tito’s partisan during the WWII. He was an active participant of the antifascist uprising from the very beginning. During his military mission, he even met Randolph Churchill, the British Conservative MP and son of Prime Minister Winston Churchill. After WWII, he joined the Yugoslavia state secret police OZNA and became a top official.

He became the mayor of Croatian city Karlovac from 1963-1969. After democratic reforms in Croatia, he joined the Croatian Democratic Union party and became the country’s first Interior Minister from 1990 to 1991. He later joined three other parties. He formed Josip Broz Tito society in 2008.

Local police have been investigating his roles in post WWII Croatia and WWII roles and have been considering filing war crime charges against him. However, his reply on the accusations such as murdering in Yugoslav concentration camps like Goli otok was ‘Who are the witnesses? None from the camps are alive.’

On 2nd November 2011, Boljkovac was arrested on charges of massacre of 21 civilians near Duga Resa, Karlovac County in Croatia in May 1945. He was imprisoned in Remetinec prison, Zagreb for a month. Charges against him were revoked on 29th November 2011 after an appeal to the Constitutional court.

A fresh investigation was launched in January 2012 under a new criminal procedure law. Boljkovac was indicted in September 2013. He was accused of ordering imprisonment of a large number of Duga Resa civilians between May 7 and mid June 1945 on charges of collaboration with the Fascist Ustase regime during the WWII.

Prosecution asserted that among the imprisoned Ustase collaborators, 14 unidentified and 6 identified persons were interrogated for several days and after which were killed and buried by Boljkovac’s company at his orders.

Boljkovac said that he knew nothing about the crime and the case was filed to politically harass him. 93 year old Boljkovac came to court in a wheelchair on 5th February 2014 and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Prosecution presented statements of some 40 witnesses. However, attorney Anto Nobilo representing the former Croatian spy chief said that the statements were mostly given by the family members of the victims who were small children when the crime was committed. Nobilo said that the defense admits that the crime was committed but Boljkovac was not the responsible person for it.

Website of Balkan Investigative Reporting Network publication that focuses on reports from southeast Europe, Balkan Insight reported that one of the witnesses of the Boljkovac’s trial named Peter Banovac testified on 17th February 2014 that he saw Boljkovac shooting at one prisoner Valentin Banovac two years after WWII.

In 1947, Peter was 10 years old. He said ‘Police came to our house to question my father, but someone informed them that fugitive Valentin would be at our place. I didn’t know that he was sentenced to death and escaped from prison. But I remember that I saw from a distance of 40-50 meters, Boljkovac shot Valentin’.

He also added that he, his brother and Valentin’s sister recognized the former Croatian spy chief by his uniform and hat. Anto Nobilo objected to the testimony as the incident happened in 1947 but Boljkovac was charged with the crimes occurred two years earlier. But the judge took the testimony as it could give some clue about the character of Boljkovac.

In a February 2001 interview, Boljkovac said that Valentin Banovac and another person, Slavko Volovic were Nazi Gestapo members and after a month long search, two of his OZNA subordinates traced & killed them out of revenge.

He also added during the interview that his OZNA subordinate Zatezalo’s sister was slaughtered and hanged by Valentin and therefore Zatezalo killed both Valentin and Slavko.
Video story: Documentary on WWII battle of the Balkans 1939-45

Mohammad Rafi Saad

Mohammad Rafi Saad is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE