“Chetniks” by Jozo Tomasevich: The Fallacy that Endures

According to the author’s own announcement, the German documents should have prevailed here. However, the count of reference points reveals a surprise as they refer to the following sources: 68 are attributed to the communist sources, and 64 to German…

Writes: Miloslav SAMARDŽIĆ


The length of the review concerning Jozo Tomasevich’s book on the Yugoslav Army in World War II, known as the Chetniks, would have been equal to that book’s length, as its each page calls for a rebuttal. Yet, even after four decades, this book is still listed among the most cited sources in the field. If you decide to search for the relevant data using regular internet search engines about the Chetniks, General Draza Mihailovich, and his commanders, first hits will inevitably involve Wikipedia—either in English, Serbian or Croatian where Tomasevich’s “The Chetniks” will dominate the footnotes section. Furthermore, if you examine the list of references across historiography pieces written abroad, Tomasevich’s book will be prominently featured yet again, and specifically its first U.S. edition from 1975. The reason for such phenomenon can certainly be the fact that no book of the same or similar title has ever been published in English, while historians from around the world during the course of their work require pieces written by authors from the countries of their research topics as language and financial barriers can prevent their actual visits to archives.

Jozo Tomasevich’s book gained fame within the socialist Yugoslavia as soon as it was translated and published there in 1979. Moreover, current official historians in Belgrade, Zagreb, Sarajevo, and other post-Yugoslav centers refer to this book even today as an example of objectivity.

In 1979 communist dictator Josip Broz Tito had been in power for three and a half decades and all the restrictive laws still applied. Freedom of speech, opinion, and expression did not exist. Harsh prison sentences were particularly imposed for challenging the “achievements of the Revolution” or for any history account that would go counter to what the Communist Party and its leader declared. When it comes to World War II, history as a scientific discipline virtually did not exist back then as it was boiled down to assignments given to historians-in-name-only to develop the points propelled by Josip Broz Tito and other communists at their party conventions.

These facts suggest that Tomasevich’s book “followed the party line” while raising the question of how and why it got published in Yugoslavia considering that the author had emigrated from his native Croatia [then also part of Yugoslavia] as early as 1930s. He lived in the United States, was involved in various business dealings, and worked as a clerk and a college professor until his retirement in 1973.

The first link in this chain was definitely the support of Croatian immigrants in the United States given to the Yugoslav communists during World War II. These Croats found themselves in dire straits when the “Independent State of Croatia” became Hitler’s golden boy in the Balkans and when it officially declared war on the United States. In the following 1942, the whole world already learned that the guerilla leader in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was Serb General Draza Mihailovich, which Croatian immigrants interpreted as a sign that after the war their native land will be punished for its alliance with Hitler and genocide committed over Serbs, Jews, and Roma.

However, in 1943 the news broke out that there was one other guerilla within the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the communist one, led by Croat Josip Broz Tito, whose goals were ultimately anti-Serbian. The American Croats, and among them Jozo Tomasevich, did not have any dilemma. That the communists were a good choice for them, they became convinced in 1944, when under the pressure from Great Britain, Yugoslav Prime Minister exiled in London was removed from office, Serb Dr. Bozidar Puric. The whole cabinet got dissolved, the Provisional Yugoslav government was established led by Croat émigré Dr. Ivan Subasic who was given the task to reach an agreement with his compatriot Tito, primarily concerning the liquidation of the Serbian Karageorgevich Dynasty and General Mihailovich. Subasic and Tito did just that and Yugoslavia was reconstituted: the Socialist Republic of Croatia as a federal unit emerged 10 percent larger than the two prewar Croatian “banovina” provinces, and by contrast, the Socialist Republic of Serbia as a federal unit became about 50 percent smaller than the six prewar Serbian “banovina” provinces.

It is no wonder, then, that after his retirement Jozo Tomasevich started working with the Yugoslav communists, especially one of Tito’s former Partisans and then Assistant Director of the Military History Institute in Belgrade—main institution for fabricating history—Colonel Vojmir Kljakovic, as well as Dr. Jovan Marjanovic, one of the leading official “historians” of the time. Kljakovic and Marjanovic sent literature and copies of selected documents to Tomasevich while acting as his reviewers and guides of his work.

We can conclude from Tomasevich’s notes on bibliography that the goal of this cooperation was to annul the effects of a piece written by history professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Dr. Ivan Avakumovic titled “Mihailović According to German Documents” which was published in London in 1969. This book was printed only in Serbian, but there was always a fear it could get translated into English at any time. Avakumovic examined the seized Wehrmacht documents in the National Archives of the United States while expressing their essence: the main German enemy in the Balkans were the Chetniks under General Mihailovich’s command, while the Partisans were a terrorist formation of the Communist Party who took advantage of the war conditions for power grab and thereby even joining forces with convicts who escaped prison sentences using the chaos of the April War in 1941.

This is why Tomasevich emphasizes that primarily what mattered to him were “the most relevant German and Italian war documents available in the National Archives of the United States” while he provides an extensive overview of this material and especially its German portion. He then states he used the U.S. and British documents, as well as “a series of Chetniks’ documents,” obtained through the Military History Institute in Belgrade. Finally, under “published materials” he cites around 500 books and other writings practically from all over the place.

In other words, there was an obvious ambition not only to rebut, but also surpass Avakumovic’s work, dedicated “only” to the question of how Germans saw the Chetniks and along the way—the communists too.

This is why the critique of Tomasevich’s book must commence with the following question: was the principle to examine the Chetnik movement according to German sources adhered to in addition to completing the picture by referencing American, British and their own (Chetnik) documents, along with the ample literature as well?

To further examine this question, we are taking into consideration chapters 7, 9, and 11: “The Chetniks and the foreign enemy,” “From the collapse of Italy to the Battle for Serbia,” and “The loss of grassroots support in Serbia.” Those chapters are critical because the first six chapters relate to the prewar situation, the April War, and other general issues; the eighth chapter is dedicated to politics; the tenth concerns the relations with the Allies; and the final twelfth chapter deals with the period when everything was already decided.

The seventh chapter, pages 180-232 in Croatian edition, contains 184 footnotes. According to the author’s own announcement, the German documents should have prevailed here as well as the German sources in general, then the Italian, American, British, and Chetnik sources which should have followed. However, the count of reference points reveals a surprise as they refer to the following sources: 68 are attributed to the communist sources, and 64 to German, 25 to Italian, eight to the notes from the Serbian émigré circles, six to the primary Chetnik documents, and two to a [Milan Nedic] Nedic’s source (Stanislav Krakov’s book). The remaining 184 footnotes are author’s own explanations.

The ninth chapter, pages 283-320, contains 111 footnotes, and specifically: 85 German sources, 12 communist sources, five British, four from the Serbian émigré circles, and one [Dimitrije Ljotic] Ljotic’s source. The American and Chetnik documents are missing.

The eleventh chapter, pages 353-379, contains 99 footnotes, and specifically: 39 communist sources, 33 German, 19 from the Serbian émigré circles, two British, one American and one Ljotic’s source. Again, no primary Chetnik document is referenced.

Thus, in two out of three main chapters, the greatest number of sources are communist. Overall, in all those three key chapters, only six footnotes refer to the primary Chetnik documents, which practically means the Chetniks are described through the enemy lenses whose sources are being referenced by more than 90 percent of the footnotes. Such choice is, certainly, a matter of the author’s own prerogative. However, it is only important here to establish that such choice is being masked by the claims of objective approach. In his introductory notes on bibliography, the author even fails to specifically indicate those communist sources that would end up dominating those two out of three key chapters.

Jozo Tomasevich explains the conspicuous absence of the U.S. documents through his personal assessment that the American intelligence officers deployed with the Chetniks “did not know” what took place. He makes similar comments on the British officers as well: “They did not have established evidence on the Chetnik collaboration with the Germans.” In fact, around 1,000 allied officers, non-commissioned officers, and servicemen passed through the Chetnik units. Some were intelligence officers, others fought alongside the Chetniks, the Chetniks helped some escape the Axis, others Chetniks saved from certain capture (the downed Allied airmen), etc. Each of these 1,000 witnesses attested to the Chetniks as being part of the Allied military effort while the substance of Tomasevich’s work, as well as of the communist propaganda, is to actually present the Chetniks as fighting alongside the Axis. This is the true reason why both American and British officers either “did not know” or “did not have evidence.”

Tomasevich misses the opportunity to provide explanation for his failure to use the Chetnik documents. However, when the book is titled “The Chetniks,” it should overwhelmingly contain the Chetnik documents, specifically due to their greatest number (when it comes to the Chetnik movement). The Military History Institute Archives in Belgrade keeps approximately one million of pages belonging to the original Chetnik documents as primary sources. In Tomasevich’s book, these documents pertain only to about one percent of its entire content. Following the Western academic standards, this seems highly unusual. A serious book on the U.S. or British armies that would contain only one percent of the American/British documents does not even exist. However, this is a regular course of business under the communist propaganda demands.

The same principle does not apply to Avakumovic’s work, because he secured it from criticism by giving it a title “Mihailović According to German Documents” while Tomasevich opted not only for general but for “final history” of the Chetnik movement as his U.S. publisher announced. His official reviewer Colonel Kljakovic was also explicit when he claimed how “Tomasevich did not leave a single component of the Chetnik phenomenon out” which is why the future writings “will not succeed in discovering new elements with greater relevance.”

This all appears like everyone is enjoying themselves while the host is gone as communist sources provide the main tone to the book even though they tend to run out concurrently with the communist ideology’s expiration date. Some of the pieces from Tomasevich’s footnotes constitute the basis of Tito’s Yugoslav propaganda: “The War of Liberation,” “Tito—The Military Accomplishments,” “Neretva—A Compilation of Writings,” “Documents on Draza Mihailovich’s Betrayal,” “Trial against Leadership of the Draza Mihailovich Organization,” etc. Some of the writings were less known: “Dalmatia in 1942” (published in Zagreb in 1959), “Emergence and Development of the Chetnik Movement in Croatia” (Belgrade 1962), “International Relations of Yugoslavia During World War II” (Belgrade, 1962), etc. By utilizing all this, Tomasevich fails to acknowledge the fact that socialist systems—from Cuba, through Yugoslavia, to North Korea—are characterized by a systematic fabrication of events. Furthermore, he also repeats the inevitable praises to the “great leader” Tito, in addition to the very many negative remarks dedicated to his main opponent, General Draza Mihailovich. Likewise, he uncritically uses documents that were evidently falsified for purposes of the postwar show trials against Mihailovich and his people.

To criticize the aforementioned communist literature seems superfluous, at least for now, which leaves us only to examine the way Tomasevich used German documents, which provide basis to almost half of his book.

The foremost test in this respect are the orders and reports from the German Commanders of the Southeast from 1942 and 1943. Specifically, General Löhr explicitly wrote in 1942, “the most dangerous opponent is Mihailovich,” while his successor, Feldmarschall von Weichs, declared Tito as the most dangerous opponent in 1943. At that time, in November 1943, Mihailovich himself declared the communists as his number 1 enemy while the Germans became enemy number 2 as those first ones suddenly gained power due to the large Allied weapon deliveries, which they primarily used to attack the Chetniks.

Therefore, the test is simple: Does Tomasevich’s book cover both Löhr’s and Weichs’ assessments? His official reviewer Dr. Jovan Marjanovic, for example, fails this test as he omitted to include these words in his book “Draza Mihailovich Between the British and the Germans” (even though he cites other – less relevant parts of that same document). As expected, Tomasevich fails here too.

Translated by Andreya Komnenovic

End of part one

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