On October 13, 1941, Serbian resistence attacked and besieged the central Serbian city of Kraljevo, occupied by the 717th German Wehrmacht Infantry Division. In response, the Division took Serbian civilians as hostages. On October 15, German troops were able to repel the Serbian attack with heavy losses. Shots continued to be fired into the town by Serbian guerrillas. In retaliation, 300 Serbian civilians were executed by German troops as a reprisal. The male population was subsequently assembled in the yard of the Railroad CarÂ Factory and were shot in groups of 100. In the Wehrmacht war diary, it was reported: “For losses, 15. October so far altogether 1,736 men and 19 resistance women shot.” In the following days, an estimated 7,000-8,000 Serbian civilians were executed in Kraljevo and the surrounding area.
On the picture: Serbian Youth to be shot
In the spring of 1941, Yugoslavia did its best to avoid a war with Nazi Germany. Prime Minister Dragisa Cvetkovic and Foreign Minister Alexander Cincar-Markovic had even signed the Tripartite Pact with Berlin on March 25, 1941. But on March 27, a group of military officers led by Air Force General Dusan Simovic overthrew the regency of Prince Paul and established the underage King Peter II as the titular ruler of Yugoslavia. The overthrow was preceded by violent anti-German demonstrations in Belgrade and wide-spread popular antipathy towards a Yugoslav-German agreement.
German soldier with executed Serbian civilians, Kraljevo 1941.
Hitler perceived the coup d’etat as an affront to Germany, and an unacceptable act of defiance. Even though the new Simovic government requested a dialogue, Hitler immediately decided on the total destruction of Yugoslavia as a country.
Under Directive No. 25, Hitler ordered the invasion of Yugoslavia on March 27, 1941. The invasion of Yugoslavia was known as Operation Punishment (Fall Strafe), while the planned invasion of Greece was dubbed Operation Marita. Hitler ordered that Yugoslavia “must be destroyed as quickly as possible,” and announced his plans for the invasion as follows:
“It is my intention to break into Yugoslavia in the general direction of Belgrade and southward by a concentric operation from the area of Rijeka-Graz on the one side and from the area around Sofia on the other and to give the Yugoslav forces an annihilating blow. In addition I intend to cut off the extreme southern part of Yugoslavia from the rest of the country and seize it as a base for the continuation of the German-Italian offensive against Greece… As soon as sufficient forces stand ready and the weather situation permits, the ground organization of the Yugoslav Air Force and Belgrade are to be destroyed by continuous day and night attacks of the Luftwaffe.”
Hitler also emphasized in this directive the plan to exploit the pro-German Croats, who had been subjects of Austria-Hungary until World War One, and use them as a Fifth Column to destroy Yugoslavia. He stated that “the domestic political tensions in Yugoslavia will be sharpened by political assurances to the Croats.”
Kraljevo, Serbia Central, 1941. – Germans taking Serbs to execution: “The more unequivocal and the harder reprisal measures are applied from the beginning the less it will become necessary to apply them at a later date. No false sentimentalities! It is preferable that 50 suspects are liquidated than one German soldier lose his life…If it is not possible to produce the people who have participated in any way in the insurrection or to seize them, reprisal measures of a general kind may be deemed advisable, for instance, the shooting to death of all male inhabitants from the nearest villages, according to a definite ratio (for instance, one German dead: 100 Serbs, one German wounded: 50 Serbs).” – General Franz Boehme, ( formerly Austrian officer who then commanded the XVIII Army Corps in Greece; commissioned to handle military affairs in Serbia )
Kraljevo area, October 1941 – Hanged Serbs
Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel, chief of the supreme command of the German armed forces, pursuant to Hitler’s directive, sent instructions for the suppression of insurgency movements in the occupied territories, which List issued to his subordinate commanders:
“Measures taken up to now to counteract this general communist insurgent movement have proven themselves to be inadequate.
The Fuehrer now has ordered that severest means are to be employed in order to break down this movement in the shortest time possible. The following directives are to be applied here:
(a) Each incident of insurrection against the German Wehrmacht, regardless of individual circumstances, must be assumed to be of communist origin.
(b) In order to stop these intrigues at their inception, severest measures are to be applied immediately at the first appearance, in order to demonstrate the authority of the occupying power, and in order to prevent further progress. One must keep in mind that a human life frequently counts for naught in the affected countries and a deterring effect can only be achieved by unusual severity. In such a case the death penalty for 50 to 100 communists must in general be deemed appropriate as retaliation for the life of a German soldier. The manner of execution must increase the deterrent effect. The reverse procedure to proceed at first with relatively easy punishment and to be satisfied with the threat of measures of increased severity as a deterrent does not correspond with these principles and is not to be applied.”