The Balkan Conflict: The Psychological Strategy Aspects
Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy
Volume XX, Number 12,
December 31, 1992
by Gregory Copley, Editor-in-Chief
It was only in August 1991, after half a century of silence, that the remains of the Serbs who were thrown to their death by the Croatian "Ustasha" into a pit at Sumarici in August 1941 were buried in the Serbian Orthodox village of Prebilovici, near Capljina in lower Herzegovina. Tito had forbidden mention of the massacres but, by 1991, the new freedom allowed the families to exhume the pit and bury their dead. The village, in 1941, had a population of 1,000. Earlier, it had given volunteers to join the Bosnian-Herzegovinian uprising against the Turks in 1875-78, and it had contributed 20 volunteers to the Serbian Army in Salonica in World War I and many villagers died as prisoners in Austro-Hungarian Empire concentration camps. Croat nationalists, however, harboured hatred at Prebilovci's contribution to the World War I Serbian army.
Prebilovci was surrounded on the night of August 4, 1941, by some 3,000 "Ustashi" made up of the village's Muslim and Croat neighbours. Expecting the attack, the townsfolk had fled to the hills on the night of August 3, but at dawn the women and children returned to their homes only to be either captured and herded into the elementary school or killed in their homes. Atrocities began in the villages including the killing of 50 infants who were swung by their legs so that their heads could be dashed against the school wall. There was continuous rape of the young girls there, and at other locations. On August 6, 150 "Ustasha" under Ivan Jovanovic ("Blacky") were joined by another 400 "Ustasha" from Capljina, and took the prisoners in rail cattle-cars to Vranac, some 500-1000m from the Golubinks pit, one of many such natural, near-vertical cave formations in the region.
There the 550 "Ustasha" took small groups of prisoners to the pit and, family-by-family pushed them into it. The initial vertical fall was some 27m, followed by a 100m steep slope to the base of the pit. Small children were thrown up into the air before falling into the pit. One woman is known to have given birth as she fell into the pit. The newborn infant died with her under the crush of bodies.
One entire family of 78 persons died in the crush of the Golubinka Pit in Surmanci. And after all were pushed into it, the "Ustasha" sat around drinking and celebrating. Only 170 villagers survived. Remarkably, 45 survived the crush of the pits and escaped later to tell of the disaster. Only 14 of the 550 known "Ustasha" were brought to trial after the war, and one of the judges was himself an "Ustashi" close to the crime. Only six were sentenced to death, the remainder received prison sentences, majority around three years.
The remains were dug up before the Bosnian-Herzegovinian civil war erupted in 1992, and a monument built. It has now been damaged or destroyed by the war. But even in 1991, when the carefully and reverently collected bones of the dead were being transported to a burial site, the truck passed under a bridge bearing the hastily-daubed sign in Serbo-Croat: "Come visit us again--God and the Croats.~
1992 Hercegovina, Square of the circle Prebilovci.
Village of victims