Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Day of Remembrance: The Foibe Massacres and the Julian-Dalmatian Exodus

Map of some of the main locations of the Foibe Massacres.
There are more than 40 known locations where masses
of bodies were dumped, many of them while still alive.

Since 2004, following the passing of a special law, Italy annually celebrates February 10 as the Day of Remembrance, dedicated to the memory of all the victims of one of the most tragic and serious forms of persecution experienced by our nation in the last century, namely the tragedy of the Foibe Massacres and the Exodus of the Istrians, Fiumans and Dalmatians from their ancestral lands.

It was a tragedy that primarily took place at the end of of the Second World War, when the winds of peace were blowing over Europe. In fact, the most tragic phase of the Foibe took place in Trieste, while the rest of Italy was celebrating the end of the war.

The 40 Days of Titoist Terror in Trieste and Julian Venetia

On May 1, 1945, Tito's troops reached Trieste, while the New Zealanders (British Army) arrived in the Julian capital the following day.

Trieste was the only European city to be supposedly “liberated” by two different armies. Yet this did not prevent many Italians from being arrested by Tito's soldiers and by the Yugoslav secret police, nor did it prevent many Italians from being tragically sent to concentration camps in Slovenia, and murdered in Basovizza and Opicina, just outside Trieste.

And Fascists were not the only ones who were killed in the Foibe Massacres. Among them there were also a number of anti-Fascists (who had been fighting against the Germans and Fascists until just a few days earlier) and even Italian Communists who were opposed to Yugoslav imperialist designs. Indeed in some cases, such as in Pola, Yugoslavs even heavily targeted the Italian working classes of the shipyards.

Tito's primary goal was not really to eliminate Fascism, but to eliminate the Italians of Trieste and Julian Venetia in order to more easily Slavicize the territory and annex it to the new Yugoslavia.

In the end, after forty days of occupation (May 1 - June 12, 1945), the victims of the terrible violence that struck this part of Julian Venetia totaled about 5,000 to 7,500. And this figure only counts those killed in the city of Trieste and the surrounding areas; this number does not include the rest of Julian Venetia, nor Istria (where most of the deaths took place), nor Dalmatia. Not to mention the deportations to Yugoslav concentration camps. In this forty day period about 8,000 people were deported from Trieste alone, and only some of them returned home.

After President Truman ordered Tito to evacuate Julian Venetia and Trieste, many Triestines and Julians were saved from the nightmare of being thrown dead or alive into a foiba, or of being deported to the concentration camps run by the new Yugoslav regime.

The Julian-Dalmatian Exodus

But the drama in these border lands did not end there because immediately afterwards there was a massive Exodus from these lands when the Paris Peace Treaties of February 10, 1947 delivered these lands to the Yugoslavs.

About 350,000 Julians and Dalmatians were forced to become refugees in a time span that ranged from 1943 (the Exodus of Zara) to 1956.

In Italy they were greeted with suspicion and prejudice. Many Italians at that time did not know whether to consider them Fascists or not. The leftist press claimed they were all quasi-Fascists and nationalists. The Christian Democrat, Communist and Socialist government forgot them and left them in dirty and decaying refugee camps.

In fact, they were a great community who paid dearly (with the loss of their property and their very identity) for a war that was wanted by western plutocrats and by Yugoslav bolsheviks for their imperialist objectives.

The most dramatic moment of the exodus was the one that happened in Pola in the winter of 1946-47, when an entire population (28,000 out of 32,000 inhabitants) left within a few months, forever leaving behind them that Istrian city which was made Slavic by the peace treaty.

Less dramatic but no less fatal was the exodus from Fiume. In the period from 1946-1954, about 54,000 out of 60,000 Italian Fiumans left Fiume. The capital city of the Quarnaro was almost completely emptied of its historical population. They all became refugees in search of peace, protection and sanctuary.

The “Great Silence”

For a long time in Italy it was not politically opportune to speak about the Foibe Massacres: the Communist Party under the leadership of Togliatti was closely allied to Tito and even offered Trieste to the Yugoslavs, while the Christian Democrats led by De Gasperi tried to limit the exodus from the eastern territories and later abandoned the Julian communities and scattered them throughout Italy.

After the split between Tito and Stalin in 1948, Yugoslavia became a so-called “friend of the West”, and no one wanted to bring attention to the responsibility of Tito's government for the Foibe Massacres and expulsion of Italians from Istria and Dalmatia. At the same time, Yugoslavia quietly dropped their attempts to extradite officials of the Italian Army who were falsely accused of committing war crimes during the war in the Balkans.

Therefore, until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, speaking of the tragedy of our eastern border was a taboo subject. The cynicism of international politics, the anti-fascist hysteria and the power games between political groups in Italy all sought to erase the past. Only in Trieste was the controversial historical memory kept alive.

There was a time when it seemed like this subject would be forever relegated to obscurity. But in the last 15-20 years the subject of the Foibe Massacres and the Exodus has finally been brought to light, after so many decades of being suppressed by the old political class.