By Carl Savich
In his seminal 1973 analysis of the roles Draza Mihailovich and Josip Broz Tito played during the World War II conflict in Yugoslavia, Tito, Mihailovic and the Allies, 1941-1945, Walter R. Roberts was able to show that Tito’s Communist Partisans had collaborated with the Nazis. The Communist Partisan collaboration with the Nazis was long-covered up and suppressed by the Communist dictatorship which took over Yugoslavia in 1945.
Walter R. Roberts, the Counselor of the American Embassy in Yugoslavia from 1960-1966 and Associate Director of USIA, described the meeting between the Partisans and German occupation officials as follows:
“Within the framework of negotiating … prisoner exchanges, a meeting was arranged … between the commanding general of the German 717th Infantry Division, Lieutenant General Benignus Dippold, and three high-ranking representatives of the Yugoslav Army of National Liberation: Milos Markovic, Vladimir Petrovic and Koca Popovic. Only Popovic, an army commander, used his real name. Markovic was in reality Milovan Djilas, a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPY, and Petrovic was an alias for Vladimir Velebit, in whose house in Zagreb the radio transmitter was hidden through which the CPY and the Comintern had exchanged messages in 1941.
“A German memorandum states that the German-Partisan conversation took place in Gornji Vakuf (west of Sarajevo) on March 11, 1943, from 9:30 to 11 A.M. . . . During the March discussions, the Partisan delegation stressed that the Partisans saw no reason for fighting the German Army – they added that they fought against German troops only in self-defense – but wished solely to fight the Chetniks; that they were oriented toward the propaganda of the Soviet Union only because they rejected any connection with the British; that they would fight the British should the latter land in Yugoslavia; that they did not intend to capitulate, but inasmuch as they wanted to concentrate on fighting the Chetniks, they wished to suggest respective territories of interest.
“The content of this German memorandum of conversation is confirmed by a document which the Partisan delegation left behind and which bears the signatures of the three Partisan emissaries. In it Djilas, Velebit and Popovic proposed not only further prisoner exchanges and German recognition of the right of the Partisans as combatants but, what was more important, the cessation of hostilities between German forces and the Partisans. The three delegates confirmed in writing that the Partisans ‘regard the Chetniks as their main enemy.’
“. . . . A few days later, on March 17, the German [Foreign] Minister in Zagreb, [SA Obergruppenfuehrer Siegfried von] Kasche, sent a telegram to Berlin in which, clearly referring to the German-Partisan talks, he reported the possibility ‘that Tito and supporters will cease to fight against Germany, Italy and Croatia and retire to the Sandzak in order to settle matters with Mihailovic’s Chetniks.’
“Meanwhile in the wake of the discussions between the three high Partisan representatives and Lieutenant General Dippold, further talks were arranged at Zagreb. . . . Velebit and Djilas passed again through the German lines and were brought by a German military plane from Sarajevo to Zagreb on March 25, 1943. There they had talks with Glaise von Horstenau and his staff.
Milovan Djilas and Vladimir Velebit met with German General Edmund Glaise von Horstenau in Zagreb. Horstenau was the German Plenipotentiary to the Independent State of Croatia, Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska (NDH).
“Not having received a reply from Ribbentrop to his message of March 17, Kasche sent another telegram to his Foreign Minister on March 26, 1943, in which he reported that two duly authorized representatives of Tito had arrived in Zagreb for the purpose of discussions with German, Italian and Croatian military representatives. One of them, Kasche said, was Dr. Petrovic, a Croat, and the other a Montenegrin by the name of Markovic. These people, he added, again offered to stop fighting if they could be left in peace in the Sandzak . . . .
“On March 29, Ribbentrop sent Kasche a telegram in which he prohibited all contact with the Partisans and asked on what Kasche based his optimism. . . .
“The discussions between the Partisan representatives and the Germans in Zagreb regarding a possible cessation of hostilities got nowhere, not only because the Partisan proposals were unacceptable to the Germans but, above all, because Berlin utterly opposed any accommodation with the Partisans. When apprised of the Zagreb contacts, Hitler reportedly said: ‘One does not negotiate with rebels – rebels must be shot.’
“. . . . The fact remains, however, that the Partisans, who labeled Mihailovic and the Chetniks traitors for their accommodation with the enemy, sent two high-ranking officers to the German general in Zagreb with the purpose of arranging a cease-fire, after having declared in writing that their main enemies were the Chetniks and not the occupying Axis forces.
”No wonder that there is great sensitivity in Yugoslav Communist circles about that chapter in history. None of the official Yugoslav documents mentions the Velebit-Djilas trip to Zagreb, while every possible Chetnik Axis meeting is duly recorded.”
Robert’s primary sources for these meetings and discussions between the Partisans and German forces concerning collaboration were based on the Nuremberg Armed Forces High Command document series which was assembled by prosecutors at the Nuremberg war crimes trials by the U.S. The document that disclosed the meeting was NOKW 1088, Record Group 238. The Communist dictatorship that Tito established after the war covered-up and suppressed this evidence of Communist Partisan collaboration with Nazi forces.
The March, 1943 meeting between Partisan leaders Djilas and Velebit and German occupation leaders was suppressed and covered-up by the Yugoslav Communist dictatorship under Tito and by Tito’s supporters in the U.S. and the West, many of whom were known to be Communists, Communist sympathizers, or even Communist moles and spies like James Klugman, the deputy chief of the Yugoslav section of SOE, the British Special Operations Executive.
Communist mole and spy James Klugman falsified reports and data in support of the Communist Partisan forces of Tito, backed and supported by Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Union.
Tito’s objective was thus to negotiate an end to hostilities and combat between Communist Partisans and German occupation forces. The goal was to allow Tito to concentrate on destroying the Chetnik forces under Draza Mihailovich before a possible Allied landing that would allow a link up of Allied and Chetnik forces that would ensure Mihailovich’s victory in the civil war conflict in Yugoslavia. Mihailovich had not yet been completely abandoned and betrayed by the British and the U.S. Because Britain and the U.S. supported Mihailovich over the Communist Partisans, Tito and the Partisan leaders were willing to collaborate with the Nazis occupation forces and to engage in combat against British and U.S. forces if doing so would allow them to prevent the Chetnik guerrillas from linking up with Allied forces and emerging victorious on the battlefield.
In Milovan Djilas’s war-time memoirs, published as Wartime (1977), he confirmed and admitted for the first time that the allegations of Partisan collaboration with the Nazis made by Walter R. Roberts were correct and accurate. The negotiations between the Germans and
Tito’s Partisans in fact did take place. Djilas’ account corroborated the Roberts description of the meeting. The meeting occurred when top Partisan commander Koca Popovic conferred at Tito’s headquarters in Bosnia. A German transport plane then took Djilas and Velebit from Sarajevo to Zagreb. The discussions and negotiations centered around Partisan proposals that the Communist guerrillas would collaborate or cooperate with the Nazis if they were allowed to concentrate on destroying the Chetnik guerrilla forces. The Partisans anticipated a possible British and American landing in Yugoslavia on the Adriatic Coast similar to the landings in Italy. At that time, Mihailovich was still being backed and supported by the Allies as the primary resistance leader in Yugoslavia. The Partisans feared that an Allied landing in Yugoslavia would ensure a victory for Mihailovich and his Chetnik guerrilla forces.
The Partisan objective was to destroy Mihailovich’s forces before any Allied landing. For this to occur, the Partisans needed German and Axis help. The meeting shows that the Partisans were willing to collaborate with the Nazi occupation forces if it meant that they could destroy their military and political rivals, the Chetnik forces of Draza Mihailovich. German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop rejected the Partisan proposal of collaboration. Hitler refused any collaboration with the Yugoslav Partisans, whom he regarded as rebels and bandits, not recognized military combatants, who should be executed. The proposed Partisan-German agreement on collaboration, thus, did not emerge. But the incident showed that the Partisans did collaborate with the German occupation forces and were, indeed, willing to engage in collaboration with the Nazis. It was only the German rejection of these offers that prevented any large-scale and long-term agreements of collaboration.
Djilas explained and rationalized the Partisan collaboration with the Nazis as follows:
“Neither I nor the other Central Committee members had any pangs of conscience that by negotiating with the Germans we might have betrayed the Soviets, internationalism, or our ultimate aims. Military necessity compelled us. The history of Bolshevism — even without the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and the Hitler-Stalin Pact offered us an abundance of precedents. The negotiations were held in great secrecy. There were no differences among the top leaders, except that Rankovic and I were more dubious of the outcome than Tito. As for a more permanent truce and broader agreement, no one really believed in that.”
Djilas admitted that Communist Partisans had captured, tortured, and executed Chetnik guerrillas. He further conceded that the Yugoslav Partisans were essentially auxiliaries for the Russian Red Army who saw their role as being in support of Soviet Russia. In Wartime, Djilas discussed the historical sympathy that Montenegrins had for “Mother Russia”, which was ingrained, “but Russia was far away.”
Tito too was a hardcore, Soviet Communist, who had studied in the Soviet Union and had emerged as one of the leading Communist leaders when he returned to Yugoslavia. Tito was familiar with the Serbian area because in 1914 and 1915 he had fought as an Austro-Hungarian sergeant against Serbian troops. A Croat-Slovene Roman Catholic by birth, Tito had little sympathy or empathy with Orthodox Serbs or with Serbian national aspirations. Captured by Russian troops during World War I, Tito became a POW in Russia, where he adopted the Communist/Bolshevik ideology following the October Revolution, in 1917. He became a prominent Communist/Marxist/Leninist leader, lived and worked in the USSR. His first wife was Russian. Tito emerged as a pan-Slavist, staunch Marxist-Leninist, who sought to create in Yugoslavia a Communist Republic, a Soviet-style model, a Balkan USSR. Tito sought to create a Soviet-style dictatorship of the proletariat in Yugoslavia. After World War II, this was initially exactly what happened. The Partisans were able to seize power in Belgrade not through democracy or by popular will. The Soviet Red Army advance into Hungary and Serbia forced the German forces to retreat in October, 1944. Soviet tanks and Soviet troops put Tito and the Communist Partisan regime in power in Belgrade.
In September, 1984, in the BBC program “The Sword and the Shield” on the Special Operations Executive (SOE), Sir Julian Amery, a high-ranking SOE official stationed in Cairo, Egypt, explained why Draza Mihailovich was abandoned: “When we saw that the Russians were going to liberate Yugoslavia we had to drop Mihailovic but, instead of saying ‘this is realpolitik, you’re very welcome to come out’ – we did invite him out – we justified changing sides by branding his supporters as fellow travellers of the Nazis which they never were.” The infamous “Percentages Agreement” between Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin reached in Moscow in 1944 confirmed that Yugoslavia was ceded to the Soviet “sphere of influence” in exchange for Greece being placed in the British and U.S. sphere of influence.
Finally, the Communist Partisans “collaborated” with the Nazis from the time of the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact from August 23, 1939. When Hitler attacked Yugoslavia on April 6, 1941, the Communist Partisans did not resist the invasion. It was only when the Soviet Union was attacked on June 22, 1941, that the Partisans change this collaborationist policy. The decision to begin an armed struggle against the Nazi occupation forces was not made until a July 4, 1941 meeting held in Belgrade on 4 July 1941. The Communists celebrate the Day of Uprising on July 7, when a Communist murdered two Serbian officials. The Partisan resistance began with the murder of two Serbs, not with any resistance against Nazi troops. According to Djilas, in 1945 Communist partisan leaders decided that was it decided that July 7 should be the anniversary for the beginning of resistance, when shots were fired “at gendarmes and not at the Germans.”
From April 6, 1941 to July 7, 1941, the Partisans collaborated with the Nazi occupation forces. Only when the Soviet Union was attacked were they reluctantly forced to begin a resistance. Draza Mihailovich and the Chetnik forces, by contrast, had launched a resistance movement from the start of the German invasion of Yugoslavia.
The documented proof that Tito’s Communist Partisans collaborated with the Nazis challenges the assumptions that the Partisans represented the popular will of the population of Yugoslavia and that they were an effective and viable resistance movement. The evidence of Partisan collaboration shows that the Communist Partisans were obsessed with achieving power and establishing a Soviet-style and Stalinist-style Communist dictatorship in Yugoslavia at all costs and by whatever means necessary, even collaboration with German occupation forces. This evidence provides historical background and context on the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991. Military force, in the form of Soviet tanks and troops of the Red Army, put Tito into power in Belgrade. The bullet, not the ballot, established the Communist dictatorship in Yugoslavia under Tito. Moreover, the rejection and betrayal of Allied ally Draza Mihailovich and the support of the Communist faction by the U.S. and Britain gave the Partisans the decisive advantage in the civil war conflict. This evidence supports the argument that foreign intervention in the Yugoslav conflict from 1941-1945, by the U.S., the Soviet Union, and Britain, resulted in a Communist Partisan takeover of the Yugoslav government and the creation of a Communist dictatorship. Without this foreign intervention, the Communist Partisans were forced to collaborate with the Nazis because they faced defeat and loss in the conflict with Draza Mihailovich’s forces.