Saturday, July 14, 2018

Castua Massacre: Exhumations Completed After 73 Years

The town of Castua, near Fiume, was the site of a massacre in 1945.

During and after the Second World War, between 1943 and 1947, the Yugoslav Communist Partisans led by dictator Josip Broz Tito perpetrated a series of massacres and ethnic cleansing against the indigenous Italian populations of Dalmatia and Julian Venetia. Several thousand Italians – regardless of age, gender, occupation or political creed – were murdered and dumped into mass graves. These massacres are known as the Foibe Massacres.

The word 'foiba' means 'sinkhole' or 'pit'. It was in these large pits that Italian corpses were discarded by the Yugoslavs. Most of these sinkholes were never explored because the territory fell under Yugoslav occupation in 1945. Even after the fall of Communism and the collapse of Yugoslavia, the Croatian and Slovene governments continued to deny access to these sites for many years, so as not to draw any attention to the massacres or come to terms with their past. As a result, the vast majority of the bodies were never retrieved and most of the victims never received proper burials.

The Foiba of Castua

On May 4, 1945 the Yugoslavs eliminated the last remnants of Italian leadership in Fiume: Senator Riccardo Gigante and nine others, including the journalist Nicola Marzucco, Marshal Vito Butti and vice-brigadier Alberto Diana, were executed without trial by the Yugoslav Secret Police (OZNA) in the town of Castua (today Kastav, Croatia). Their bodies were dumped in a pit in the nearby Loza Forest, located about 10-12 kilometers from the city of Fiume (today Rijeka).

Senator Riccardo Gigante,
Fiuman Italian, murdered by
the Yugoslavs on May 4, 1945
The foiba of Castua had been covered with boulders and hidden by earth. It was first discovered in 1992, thanks to the help of Fr. Franjo Jurčević, the parish priest of the church of St. Helena in Castua. However, 25 years passed without investigation.

Throughout that entire period the Society of Fiuman Studies (Società di Studi Fiumani) and the Federation of Istrian, Fiuman and Dalmatian Exiles Associations (FederEsuli) – among numerous other Italian organizations – advocated research and investigation, but were met with silence.

The Excavations

In November 2017 the silence was finally broken: it was finally announced that a mixed Italian-Croatian commission would carry out a joint inspection in order to verify the conditions for organizing a search in order to identify and exhume the Italians still buried in the pits of Castua and Poloj.

On July 7, 2018 – 73 years after the massacre – the excavation of the foiba of Castua was finally completed. After unearthing the 3 meter deep pit, between 7 and 9 decomposed and fragmented skeletons were discovered. The remains were then delivered to the Italian Consulate in Fiume. Among these remains are Riccardo Gigante, Nicola Marzucco, Vito Butti and Alberto Diana, in addition to others whose names are unknown.

Also discovered were items presumably belonging to the victims: two watches, a prosthesis with two gold teeth, combs, a cuff link and a tobacco pipe.

The bones will be reconstructed and examined by a forensics team in order to help ascertain the number of skeletons, their age, their gender and their names. After this, the remains will finally be laid to rest. It is expected that the remains will be repatriated to Italy by September 2018.

A plan is already underway to organize and conduct a similar research campaign in Ossero, on the island of Cherso, where 28 Italians of the Decima Flottiglia MAS were shot by Yugoslav Partisans and buried in a mass grave on April 22, 1945.

See also:
April 25: The Feast of San Marco – Not Liberation
The Day of Remembrance: The Foibe Massacres and the Julian-Dalmatian Exodus
Titoist Crimes: 50 Priests Murdered in the Foibe Massacres
National Memorial Day of the Exiles and Foibe
The Meaning of the Foibe Massacres
Pits of Death Give up Their Grisly Secret
A Painful Piece of Italian History, Overlooked
The Foibe are Still Open in Our Hearts
The Priests Murdered in the Foibe Massacres
The Rape and Murder of Norma Cossetto
Italian Biographies: Riccardo Gigante