THE BALKANS IN WORLD WAR TWO

Written by Vladimir Moss

THE BALKANS IN WORLD WAR TWO

By the beginning of the Second World War, the Orthodox Church, having suffered the most terrible and sustained onslaught in her history, had lost most of her pre-revolutionary glory. The Moscow Patriarchate, on the one hand, and the Churches of Constantinople, Alexandria, Greece and Romania, on the other, could no longer be counted as truly Orthodox in their official confession. The Churches of Serbia, Bulgaria and Jerusalem were still Orthodox – but they had not broken communion with the heretics, so the prospects of their remaining free from the quicksands of “World Orthodoxy” for long were not good. The situation of the ROCOR was only a little better – she was not in communion with the Moscow Patriarchate, but had not broken decisively with the other heretical Churches, and even her attitude to Moscow was not entirely unambiguous. The Greek Old Calendarist Church was strong in the faith, but tragically divided. The Romanian Old Calendarists were also strong, but as yet had no bishops. The Catacomb Church of Russia was bathed in the glory of a vast multitude of new martyrs and confessors. (According to Russian government figures, in 1937 alone 136,900 clergy were arrested, of whom 106,800 were killed (there were 180,000 clergy in Russia before the revolution); while between 1917 and 1980, 200,000 clergy were executed and 500,000 others were imprisoned or sent to the camps. According to another source, from October, 1917 to June, 1941 inclusive, 134,000 clergy were killed, of whom the majority (80,000) were killed between 1928 and 1940. ) But the whole apparatus of the most evil and most powerful state in history was directed towards her complete annihilation…

Could the outbreak of world war bring relief to the Orthodox Church? Or would it consolidate the power of the antichristian powers ranged against her? That was the question in October, 1940, when Mussolini invaded Greece through Albania. His forces immediately got bogged down in the face of fierce Greek resistance, and in November, the British occupied Crete. Hitler was contemplating the consequences of this, and whether he should intervene to help Mussolini, when the Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov arrived in Berlin…

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Misha Glenny writes: “Hitler wished to invite the Soviet Union to join Germany, Italy and Japan in the Tripartite Pact. Were Stalin to accept the offer to join the Axis, this would create the mightiest political alliance in history, stretching from the Atlantic and Mediterranean to the Pacific. Hitler had hit upon the idea of incorporating the Soviet Union into his scheme partly to pre-empt a future alliance of the Soviet Union, Britain and, possibly, the United States, and partly because he had become anxious about the gradual westward expansion of the Soviet Union through Finland, the Baltics, Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. In the Molotov-Ribbentrop accord of August, 1939, Hitler had effectively recognized the Balkans as a Russian sphere of interest. Meanwhile, however, Germany’s interest in the region had become more urgent. By persuading the Soviet Union to sign up to the Tripartite Pact, Hitler hoped, among other things, to extinguish Soviet influence in the Balkans. Berlin offered to compensate Moscow by supporting Soviet expansion in what Hitler termed the ‘Großasiatischer Raum’ (greater Asian space). When Molotov asked what ‘Großasiatischer Raum’ actually meant, the Germans were unable to give him a concrete answer; it has been assumed that it meant India, Central Asia and Iran.

“As Hitler unveiled his vision of the new order, covering half the globe, Molotov sat impassively and, having heard the Führer out, stated he agreed ‘in principle’ to the idea. He then proceeded to raise difficulties about all the individual issues that Hitler had hoped to resolve in Germany’s favour. The Foreign Minister mentioned Finland, Poland and Romania but he also raised for the first time the question of Bulgaria. Molotov claimed that Britain was threatening the security of the Black Sea Straits, which had prompted the Soviet Union to consider an offer ‘of a Russian guarantee to Bulgaria’.

“Molotov’s intervention threatened Wehrmacht plans to invade Greece, which included sending its divisions through Bulgaria. Stalin’s response to the Tripartite proposal arrived by letter two weeks after Molotov’s visit. The Soviet leader was adamant on the issue of Bulgaria: ‘2. Provided that within the next few months the security of the Soviet Union in the Straits is assured by the conclusion of a mutual assistance pact between the Soviet Union and Bulgaria… and by the establishment of a base for land and naval forces of the USSR within range of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles by means of a long-term lease.’

“Hitler needed the Balkans for economic reasons [especially Romania, because of her oil]. He could not tolerate Soviet interference in the region, and certainly not a Soviet military presence there. Persuaded that Stalin was becoming too conceited and dangerous as an ally, Hitler decided to destroy the Soviet Union once and for all…”

Now the Romanians had already suffered much from both of the totalitarian great powers. Ernest Latham writes that on June 26, 1940, Molotov, “acting on the secret annex to the Nazi-Soviet Pact, handed the Romanian minister in Moscow, Gh. Davidescu, a note with a map demanding the return forthwith of Bessarabia and the cession of the northern half of Bucovina, which Russia had never before ruled. On the advice of Germany and Italy, with Hungary and Bulgaria clamoring for their own irredentae, Romania submitted to the Soviet demands and endured the loss of 50, 762 sq. km. and 3,776,000 people, more than half of whom, some 2,020,000, were ethnic Romanians. The following August 19 negotiations with Bulgaria began to determine the fate of the Quadrilateral, which was returned to Bulgaria on September 7 with the Treaty of Craiova at a cost to Romania of 7412 sq. km. An exchange of populations ensued with 103,711 Romanians transferred north and 62,272 Bulgarians moved south. The most painful and humiliating loss, however, had occurred a week before in Vienna when Hitler determined that northern Transylvania should be ceded to Hungary. The Vienna Diktat cost Romania 42,243 sq. km and 2,600,000 people about half of whom were ethnic Romanians. 110,000 Romanian refugees fled from Transylvania to the kingdom adding their care to the other responsibilities of the Romanian social services already buckling under the weight of the 45,000 Polish refugees who had fled from war-torn Poland the previous year. The total Romanian losses in the summer of 1940 were awesome: one-third of her territory, 6.600,000 of her population including 3,000,000 ethnic Romanians, 37% of the arable land, 44% of the forests, 27% of the orchards, 37% of the vineyards, 37% of wheat acreage, 30% of corn acreage, 75% of sunflower acreage, 43% of hemp acreage and 86% of soya acreage.

“September 1940 was arguable the nadir of Romania’s history… [However,] on September 5, 1940, there stepped [in] General Ion Antonescu, called by Carol II from house arrest in the face of widespread rioting and a pending total breakdown of law and orderly governance. The following day he demanded and got the abdication of Carol in all but name, and Mihai for the second time became king of Romania…”

Antonescu formed an alliance with the Legionnaires, whom King Carol had tried to crush. He “dubbed himself Conducător Statului, ‘Leader of the State’ [a title used by the murdered Legionnaire leader Codreanu]; Horia Sima (1907-1993), Commander of the Iron Guard, became Vice-President of the Council of Ministers, and the National Legionary State of Romania was formally established. Antonescu’s alliance with the Iron Guard was one of political expediency, however, not one of ideological conviction; its draconian methods and goals often clashed with his own personal authoritarian agendum. The Legionnaires thus betrayed Antonescu, staging a coup d’état in January of 1941, which, lacking support from the Third Reich of Germany, proved abortive. This enabled Antonescu, with the blessing of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), to suppress the Iron Guard, thereby consolidating his power as military dictator of Romania.”

However, Hitler, who was preparing Operation Marita, the invasion of Greece, also needed Bulgarian support… The Bulgarians procrastinated, but eventually agreed to join the Tripartite Alliance on the very first day of Operation Marita, March 1, 1941. This left Yugoslavia…

The Yugoslavs were negotiating a treaty in Vienna that was, according to Glenny, “a diplomatic triumph. The only real concession made to the Germans in the secret clauses attached to the published agreement concerned the transport of war materials through Yugoslavia. The Germans were not permitted to send troops across the country; nor did the agreement burden Yugoslavia with any other military obligations towards the Axis powers. Although a member of the Tripartite Pact, Yugoslavia would keep her neutrality virtually intact.”

Tragically, however, for the future of Yugoslavia, on March 27 the government was overthrown in a coup led by the head of the Yugoslav air force, General Dušan Simović. The new pro-Allied government renounced the agreement with the Axis powers. In this, writes Glenny, “Simović and his co-conspirators behaved with criminal irresponsibility. The Yugoslavia whose government they seized was no longer the centralized state of King Aleksandar’s time. In August 1939 Cvetković, the Prime Minister, had come to an agreement with Vladko Maček, the man who had assumed the leadership of the Croatian Peasant Party after the murder of Stjepan Radić. The Cvetković-Maček Sporazum (Agreement) had effectively split the country in two, creating an autonomous area of Croatia which included roughly half of Bosnia and Hercegovina. Most Serb opposition parties deeply resented the Sporazum and the authoritarian rule of Prince Regent Pavle. But although the Sporazum posed problems for the future (especially with regard to Bosnia), it was on the whole a radical and successful means of preventing civil war between Serbs and Croats in the troubled international atmosphere of the late 1930s.

“Simović was not in a position to establish control throughout the country unless he could come to an agreement with the Croats, and with Maček, in particular. He secured this agreement, but only under certain conditions. The most important of these was a declaration to stand by the Vienna Agreement, committing Yugoslavia to the Tripartite Pact. Belatedly recognizing that the Yugoslav Army could not possibly resist a German onslaught, Simović and the new government consented to Maček’s condition. So the very reason for organizing a coup in the first place – resistance to the Tripartite Pact – was thrown out by the new government almost as soon as it was formed.

“Yet before Simović persuaded the Croats to back his government, Hitler had undergone a dramatic change of mood. Irritated by the intricacies of Balkan politics, the Führer exploded in fury on receipt of the news from Belgrade. Almost immediately, he tore up the Tripartite Agreement with Yugoslavia, and ordered the Wehrmacht to invade the country. As Maček appeared to be cooperating with Simović, Ribbentrop was persuaded by Mussolini to switch German backing in Croatia to Ante Pavelić and his small gang of fascist thugs, who numbered no more than 360 when they seized control of the government in Zagreb in early April. They were brought to power solely by German guns and Italian politicians, and not by popular sentiment in Croatia, which overwhelmingly backed Maček. The installation of Pavelić’s brutal fascist regime resulted in the single most disastrous episode in Yugoslav history, whose consequences were still being felt in the 1990s…”

Hitler invaded on April 6. Deserted by Pavelić’s Croats, the Serbian resistance was soon crushed… The surrender was so rapid that many Serbian units escaped, the so-called chetniks, and formed an anti-Nazi resistance movement led by Draža Mikhailović that was loyal to Prince Pavle’s government-in-exile in London. The Bulgarians occupied Yugoslav Macedonia, the Hungarians – Vojvodina, the Italians - Kosovo, and the Croatian Ustaše – much of Bosnia. Many bishops, priests and laity were killed in all these occupied regions. The Germans arrested Patriarch Gabriel and Bishop Nicholas Velimirovich; but although the two hierarchs were to spend the whole war in prisons and concentration camps (the last one was Dachau), they refused the Nazis’ suggestion that they collaborate with them.

In neighbouring Czechoslovakia Bishop Gorazd of Moravia-Silesia, after being cut off from the Serbian Patriarchate, to which he was canonically subject, turned to ROCOR’s Metropolitan Seraphim (Lyade) in Berlin, asking him to take his diocese under his protection. Metropolitan Seraphim agreed, and gave him holy chrism and antimensia. However, in September, 1942 “after being tortured, he was shot. The Orthodox Church in Bohemia and Moravia was shut down and its priests sent to camps in Germany.

But by far the worst atrocities were committed against the Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia by the Ustaše and the Catholic Church. On April 28, 1941, the Catholic Archbishop Stepinac of Zagreb issued an appeal rapturously praising the Ustaše regime and calling on all Catholic priests to collaborate with it. Three days before, the government had issued a series of decrees banning the Cyrillic script, closing all Orthodox schools, imposing a special tax on the patriarchate, forcing all Serbs to wear coloured armbands with the letter “P” (for Pravoslovac – Orthodox) and banning the use of the term “Serbian Orthodox religion”. On June 22 the minister of education said that one third of the Serbs in Croatia would be expelled, one third killed and one third converted to Catholicism. In July the arrests of Serbs began. By the autumn over 15,000 Serbs had passed through the camps, and by 1943 there were 300,000 Serbia refugees from Croatia in Serbia.

On December 4, the Croatians passed a law ordering all Church feasts to be celebrated according to the new calendar. The Russian émigrés were informed of this, and were threatened with punishment if they did not obey. Metropolitan Anastasy, however, immediately petitioned for an exception to be made for the Russian parishes, and with the help of the German Evangelical Bishop Hackel, on March 26, 1942, this request was granted. However, no Serb was allowed to visit the émigré services.

Joachim Wertz writes: “In many villages the massacres followed a certain pattern. The Ustashi would arrive and assemble all the Serbs. They would then order them to convert to Catholicism. Those who refused, as the majority did, were told to assemble in their local Orthodox parish church. They would then lock them in the church and set it ablaze. In this manner many Orthodox men, women and children perished in scores of Serbian settlements.”

According to Archbishop Stepinac’s report to the Pope on May 8, 1944, 240,000 Serbs apostasised to Catholicism. However, many of these returned to Orthodoxy after the war. Hundreds of churches were destroyed or desecrated, and vast amounts of property were confiscated from the Orthodox Serbs. According to German Nazi figures, about 750,000 Orthodox Serbs were killed, including five bishops and 177 other clergy. 200,000 of these perished in the notorious camp of Jasenovac alone in conditions of appalling brutality, 40,000 of them on the orders of the Franciscan Father Filipovich. Bishop Nicholas Velimirovich inscribed these martyrs into the Church calendar for August 31: “The 700,000 who suffered for the Orthodox faith at the hands of the Roman crusaders and Ustashi during the time of the Second World War. These are the New Serbian Martyrs.”

One of those martyred in Jasenovac was an old man called Vukashin. He was standing “in an aura of peace and joy, softly praying to Christ. The executioner was greatly angered by the old man’s peacefulness and saintly composure, and he ordered that he be dragged to the place of execution.

“St. Vukashin was given the usual charge, ‘Accept the Pope or die a most terrible death’.

“The old man signed himself with the honourable Cross and peacefully intoned, ‘Just do your job, my son’.

“The executioner trembled with anger. He brutally slashed off one of the saint’s ears, repeating his charge. The Holy Martyr again peacefully replied, ‘Just continue to do your job, my son.’ And so the irrational persecutor continued: first the other ear, then the nose, and the fingers one by one. Like a new James of Persia, St. Vukashin was ‘pruned as a sacred grapevine of God.’ With each grisly and bloody cut, the noble Vukashin, filled with peace and joy by the Holy Spirit, calmly replied, ‘Just continue to do your job, my son.’

“At length, the vicious torturer gouged out the eyes of the martyr, and the saint once more replied, ‘Just continue to do your job, my son.’ With that, the executioner flew into a rage and slew the holy martyr. Almost immediately, the executioner lost his mind and went completely mad.”

In February, 1942, Dr. Privislav Grisogno, a Croatian Catholic member of the former Yugoslav cabinet, wrote in protest to Archbishop Stepinac: “I am writing to you as a man to a man, as a Christian to a Christian. I have been meaning to do this for months hoping that the dreadful news from Croatia would cease so that I could collect my thoughts and write to you in peace.

“For the last ten months Serbs have been killed and destroyed in Croatia in the most ruthless manner and the value of their property that has been destroyed reaches billions. Blushes of shame and anger cover the faces of every honest Croat.

“The slaughter of Serbs began from the very first day of the establishment of the Independent State of Croatia (Gospic, Gudovan, Bosanska Krajina, etc.) and has continued relentlessly to this very day. The horror is not only in the killing. The killing includes everybody: old men, women and children. With accompanying barbaric torture. These innocent Serbs have been impaled, fire has been lit on their bare chest, they have been roasted alive, burned in their homes and churches while still living, covered with boiling water, then their skin was peeled off, salt poured into their wounds, their eyes have been pulled out, their ears, noses and tongues cut off, the priests have had their beards and moustaches torn off from their skulls, their sex organs severed and put into their mouths, they have been tied to trucks and then dragged along the ground, nails have been pressed into their heads, their heads nailed to the floor, they have been thrown alive into wells and over cliffs, and grenades thrown after them, their heads smashed against walls, their backs broken against rocks and tree stumps, and many other horrible tortures were perpetrated, such as normal people can hardly imagine.

“Their rivers Sava, Drav, the Danube and their tributaries have carried thousands and thousands of their corpses. Dead bodies have been found with the inscription: ‘direction Belgrade – traveling to King Peter’. In a boat which was found on the Sava river there was a heap of children’s heads with the head of a woman (which could have been a head of one of the mothers of the children) with the inscription: ‘Meat for the Jovanova Market in Belgrade’.

“Horrifying is the case of Mileva Bozinic from Stanbandza whose child was removed from her womb. There was also the case of the roasted heads in Bosnia, the vessels full of Serbian blood, the cases of Serbs being forced to drink the warm blood of their slaughtered kin. Countless women, girls and children in front of their mothers were raped or else sent off to Ustashi camps to serve the Ustashi; rapes even took place on the altars of Orthodox churches. In the Petrinje county a son was forced to rape his own mother. The slaughter of the Serbs in the Glina Orthodox church and the murder of Serbs on the altar of the Kladusa church is without precedent in history. There are detailed and original accounts of all these horrors. Even the Germans and Italians were astounded by these crimes. They photographed a large number of cases of such slaughter. The Germans are saying that the Croatians did this also during the Thirty Years War and that is why there has been a saying in Germany since then: ‘God save us from plague, hunger and Croats.’

“The Srem Germans despise us because of this and behave in a more humane fashion with the Serbs. The Italians photographed a vessel with 3.5 kilograms of Serbian eyes, as well as a Croat who wore a necklace strung with Serbian eyes, and another one who came to Dubrovnik with a belt on which severed Serbian tongues were hanging!

“The horrors of the camps in which thousands of Serbs were killed or were left to die from exposure, hunger and cold weather, are too terrible to mention. The Germans have been talking about a camp in Lika where there were thousands of Serbs; but when the Germans got there they found the camp empty, drenched in blood and bloody clothing. In that camp it has been said a Serbian bishop also lost his life. Thousands upon thousands of Serbs in the camp of Jasenovac are still being tortured as they are spending fierce winter in wooden Gypsy shacks with no straw or covering and with a ration of two potatoes per day. In the history of Europe there have been no similar cases. One would have to go to Asia at the time of Tamerlane, or Genghis-Khan, or to Africa, to the countries of their bloodthirsty rulers to come upon similar situations. These events have shamed the name of Croatia for centuries to come. Nothing can absolve us fully from this ever again. We will not be able to tell even the last wretched man in the Balkans about our thousand year old Croatian culture, because even the Gypsies never perpetrated such cruelties. Why am I writing this to you, when you are not a political personage and cannot bear responsibility for all this. Here is why: in all these unprecedented barbarian crimes which are more than Godless, our Catholic church participated in two ways. A large number of clergy, priests, friars and organized Catholic youth took an active part in all this. It has also happened that Catholic priests became camp guards and Ustashi accomplices and so approved of the torture and slaughter of Christians. A Catholic priest even slit personally slaughtered an Orthodox clergyman. They could not have done all this without the permission of their bishops, and if they did, they would have had to lose their jobs and be taken to court. Since this did not happen, it means that their bishops granted them permission.

“Secondly, the Catholic Church made us of all this to convert the surviving Serbs. And while the soil was still steaming from the innocent victims’ blood, while groans shuddered from the chests of the surviving victims, the priests, friars, nuns carried in one hand the Ustashi daggers and in the other their prayer books and rosaries. The whole of Srem is inundated with leaflets written by Bishop Aksamovic and printed in his printing shop in Djakovo, calling upon Serbs to save their lives and property by converting to Catholicism. It was as if our church wanted to show that it could destroy souls just as the Ustashi authorities destroy bodies. It is an even greater blot on the Catholic church, since at the same time many Orthodox churches and all the Orthodox monasteries have been confiscated, their property plundered as well as many historical treasures. Even the Patriarchal church in Sremski Karlovci has not been spared. All this violence against conscience and the spirit has brought even greater disgrace to the Croat nation and name…

“I write this to save my soul and leave it to you (Archbishop Stepinac) to find a way to save your soul.”

Although some have claimed that Stepinac tried to restrain the murderers, there can be no doubt about his fanatical hatred of Orthodoxy. Thus on March 27 and 28, 1941, he wrote in his diary: “The spirit of Byzantium – that is, of the Eastern Orthodox Church – is something so terrible that only the Omnipotent and Omniscient God could tolerate it… The Croats and the Serbs are from two different worlds, two different poles; without a miracle of God they will never find a common language. The schism of the Eastern Orthodox Church is the greatest curse in Europe, perhaps even worse than Protestantism.”

In 1946 Stepinac was tried by the communist government, found guilty of treason to the State and the murder of Serbs, and imprisoned for five years. On coming out of prison he was awarded a cardinal’s hat by the Vatican, and is now a candidate for canonization!…

Another creation of the Ustashi was the so-called “Croatian Orthodox Church”. On June 8, 1942, the Romanian Patriarch Nicodemus raised ROCOR’s Archbishop Hermogen (Maximov) to the rank of metropolitan of this uncanonical church, whose main task was to “Croatize” the Serbs. It enjoyed the full support of the Croatian authorities, but was rejected by the Serbian Church and by ROCOR under Metropolitan Anastasy, who banned Hermogen. However, the Germans did not allow this ban to be published. Moreover, on July 27 the Ecumenical Patriarch, followed by most of the Orthodox Churches in the German orbit, recognized the Croat Church. But believers did not go to it. Metropolitan Hermogenes was killed by Tito’s partisans in July, 1945.

The Greeks, meanwhile, having been conquered by the Germans in April, 1941, saw their country divided between the Bulgarians (in the north), the Germans (in the centre, Athens and Salonika) and the Italians (in the rest of the country). Hunger and disease stalked the land – hundreds of thousands died. Many priests perished at the hands of the German, Italian and Bulgarian forces during the occupation of 1941-1944.

The situation was particularly bad in the Bulgarian zone, where the Bulgarians wanted revenge for their defeats in 1913 and 1918. “In September 1941,” writes R.J. Crampton, “the local Greek population staged a rising, and committed atrocities against Bulgarians; the latter took fearsome revenge in an effort, some believe, to drive the Greeks out of the region.”

“Hitler had sanctioned Bulgaria’s occupation of Western Thrace, not its annexation. The Bulgarians disregarded this fine point. They had just emerged as the most powerful country in the Balkans and saw that possession was nine-tenths of the law. The Bulgarian administration in western Thrace was arguably one of the harshest occupational regimes in all Europe. Up to 100,000 Greeks were expelled from the region, and many thousands imprisoned in the island of Thasos. The smallest manifestation of Greek culture was persecuted. The Bulgarians also seized Greek-owned land and distributed it to tens of thousands of Bulgarian peasant colonists…”

In whatever lands the Germans occupied or dominated, the Jews – there were one and a half million in the Balkans – were rounded up and deported. Some local populations – the Ustaše in Croatia, and the Legionaries in Romania – did not need encouraging, and were even more savage than the Nazis. In Bulgaria and Greece, church leaders were found who did their best to protect the Jews.

Of particular note are the actions of Tsar Boris of Bulgaria. Professor Ya.Ya. Etinger writes: “Hitler demanded from his ally Bulgaria the despatch of all the Jews of Bulgaria, Macedonia and Thrace to Auschwitz – about 48,000 people were subject to deportation. The head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Stefan of Sophia, on learning from the chief rabbi Asher Khamanel, the president of the capital’s Jewish community, that ‘the Commissariat for Jewish questions’ had already prepared the first lists of eminent Jews subject to deportation to Hitler’s death camps, openly declared: ‘I will conceal all the Jews in the churches and monasteries, but I will not hand them over for reprisals.’ He personally demanded that Prime-Minister Filov revoke the arrests of Jews in a series of cities in the country. The metropolitan also sent a letter to Tsar Boris, in which he wrote: ‘Let us not commit abominations, for which our good-hearted people will sometime have to feel shame, and perhaps other misfortunes.’ The metropolitan promised that he himself would remain under house arrest until the arrested Jews were released. For this he was accused by the local fascist organizations of ‘betrayal of the race and treachery’. Rabbi Khamanel, whom the police were hunting, was hidden by the metropolitan in his own podvorie. On May 24, the day of the national feast of SS. Cyril and Methodius, thousands of people came out onto the streets of the capital declaring that they would not tolerate the murder of their fellow citizens. Another highly placed clergyman, Metropolitan Cyril of Plovdiv, later patriarch of Bulgaria, also sent an epistle to the tsar. In his letter he demanded that the tsar immediately revoke the barbaric order. Otherwise, declared the metropolitan, he would not answer for the actions of the people and clergy. According to the reminiscences of eye-witnesses, he warned the local police authorities that he had said to the Jews of one of the poorest quarters of the city: ‘I present you my house. Let us see whether they will be able to get you out of there.’ And in a letter to Filov he said that he would go with a cross in his hands to the death camp in Poland ahead of the convoys with the Jews. These many protest actions attained their goal and the deportation was stopped. Tsar Boris III invited the German consul, A. Bickerle, and categorically declared: ‘The Jews of my country are its subjects and every encroachment on their freedom will be perceived by us as an insult to the Bulgarians.’ Prime Minister B. Filov wrote in his diary: ‘His Majesty completely revoked the measures taken against the Jews.’ On returning from Hitler’s head-quarters on August 28, 1943, Tsar Boris very soon died. There are grounds for supposing that he was killed by the Hitlerites for refusing to carry out the will of the Führer.”

Romanian anti-semitism brought them voluntarily into the Axis camp. The official church even declared a kind of apocalyptic crusade against “Judaeo-Bolshevism”. Thus the new-calendarist metropolitan of Moldavia declared that God had “had mercy on them [the inhabitants of the Soviet-occupied provinces] and sent his archangels on earth: Hitler, Antonescu and [Finland’s] Mannerheim, and they headed their armies with the sign of the cross on their chests and in their hearts a war against the Great Dragon, red as fire, and they defeated him, chased him in chains , and the synagogue of Satan was ruined and scattered in the four directions of the earth and in their place they erected a sacred altar to the God of peace.”

Patriarch Nicodemus of Romania showed that the anti-semitic religiosity of the Iron Guard had penetrated deep into his church’s consciousness: “God has shown to the leader of our country the path toward a sacred and redeeming alliance with the German nation and sent the united armies to the Divine Crusade against destructive Bolshevism… the Bolshevist Dragon… has found here also villainous souls ready to serve him. Let us bless God that these companions of Satan have been found mostly among the sons of the aliens [the Jews], among the nation that had brought damnation upon itself and its sons, since it had crucified the Son of God. If by their side there had also been some Romanian outcasts, then their blood was certainly not pure Romanian blood, yet mixed with damned blood. These servants of the Devil and Bolshevism, seeing that their master, the monster called Bolshevist Russia, will soon be destroyed, are now trying to help him… they disseminate among our people all sorts of bad new words…”

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The Teheran agreement of 1943, combined with the Allies’ decision not to invade the Western Balkans, sealed the fate of the Balkan nations: with the exception of Greece, they were all to become communist in the post-war world. And yet the victory of communism, and its near-victory in Greece, did not take place on an empty space. The roots of this victory go far back into the pre-war years.

Communism had been a growing problem in the inter-war years. In Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece the communists were held at bay by Orthodox kings who freed themselves from parliamentary control – King Alexander of Yugoslavia from 1929, and King Boris of Bulgaria from 1934. In Greece, “the Communist party made a small but significant showing in Parliament for the first time in 1935. That same year the monarchy was restored and King George II returned to Greece. In 1936 Communist agitation disrupted the country, and to forestall civil war John Metaxas [a protector of the True Orthodox Christians] imposed martial law with the consent of the King and the senior politicians, and became dictator.”

Only in Romania were the communists not a major problem – the danger there was from the fascists. But there, too, the king took control. King Carol, writes Mark Mazower, “had the popular fascist leader Codreanu arrested and shot, created his own new Party of the Nation which struck observers as ‘a complete flop’, and presided over a Government of National Union.

“Thus despite the region’s early experience of democratic politics, mass parties of left and right failed to survive. By the end of the 1930s, the parliamentary system and political parties had disappointed the hopes invested in them by liberal intellectuals. Few mourned their passing…”

However, growing ethnic tensions (especially in Yugoslavia) combined with worsening economic conditions and unemployment on the land undermined the authority of the kings. Finally, with the coming of the Nazis they were forced to flee or abdicate. Only Tsar Boris of Bulgaria remained in power, keeping his country out of military alliances with either the fascists or the communists by cleverly playing them off against each other.

In Yugoslavia and Greece, Nazi occupation elicited guerilla resistance movements of both royalist and communist kinds. However, in Yugoslavia the communist partisans under Tito proved more successful than the royalist chetniks under Mikhailović because they were better organized, more ruthless (if the Nazis killed ten Yugoslavs for every German killed, this didn’t bother them) and recruited more volunteers from non-Serb nationalities. And so the British transferred their support from the chetniks to the partisans.

In spite of this support, towards the end of the war Tito was determined to resist any encroachment on Yugoslavia from British troops in Italy. This drew a sharp rebuke from Stalin, who had agreed a 50-50 split with Churchill in Yugoslavia. And so, as Glenny writes, “the leadership of the new [communist] Yugoslavia made some formal concessions to the Big Three. They invited Ivan Šubašić, Prime Minister in the royal government in exile, to become Foreign Minister, to show that the new regime enjoyed a broad democratic base. On the ground, however, they imposed a harsh revolutionary justice. As German troops streamed out of Yugoslavia, the Croat fascist leader, Ante Pavelić, and 1-200,000 Ustaša troops and civilians set off for the Austrian border on 7 May 1945, with Partisan forces in hot pursuit. They got as far as Bleiburg, a small Austrian border town, before being surrounded by British troops to the north and Partisans to the south. With RAF Spitfire buzzing overhead, about 30-40,000 soldiers, including Pavelić, managed to disappear into the surrounding woods and then deep into Austria. But the remainder were taken prisoner by Partisan forces amid scenes of carnage. Some 30,000 Ustaše were killed on the four-day march towards the Slovene town of Maribor. On 20 May, near the village of Tezna, ’50,000 Croat soldiers and about 30,000 refugees, mainly women and children, were executed over a five-day period… A macabre end to the ‘Independent State of Croatia’.

“In Serbia, the Chetniks fared little better even though many had fought bravely against the Germans. Mihailović, the Chetnik leader, led a small band of fighters into the mountains of eastern Bosnia. He was eventually caught, tried and executed in 1946 as an alleged war criminal. But thousands of Chetniks became fugitives in a twilight world. Many were secondar-school pupils when they joined the resistance. Now, they were hunted in villages and towns throughout Serbia. Thousands hid from the secret police in Belgrade, moving at dusk from one safe place to the next. Occasionally, they would risk capture by visiting their families. In place of the bright adolescent who had left three or four years before, mothers and fathers now saw a ‘tall, grim-looking young man… who appeared… on their doorstep with one hand always clutching something in the pocket of his raincoat and whose eyes were ringed with dark circles.’

“Arrested by the Gestapo during the war, Dimitrije Djordjević, a young Chetnik leader, survived Mauthausen only to fall into the hands of the Gestapo’s communist successor when he returned to Belgrade. ‘Both [organizations] had in common the violence with which they imposed their authority. The Gestapo destroyed the body; Ozna [the Yugoslav equivalent of the KGB] raped the soul. The Gestapo killed by shooting and by imprisonment in death camps; Ozna engaged in brainwashing, demanding repentance for sins not committed and self abnegation. ‘The difference was one of physical as opposed to spiritual annihilation.’

“OZNa, Odsek za zaštitu naroda (Department for the Protection of the People), modelled itself on the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. But during the war, under the dour leadership of Aleksandar Ranković, the Communist Minister of the Interior, it matured independent of Soviet control. Ranković built a network of informers and a devoted political police whose efficiency gave birth to the popular Orwellian rhyme, Ozna sve dozna (Ozna finds out everything). He aimed to make OZNa omnipresent, recruiting ‘in every block of flats, in every street, in every village and in every barrack room’. The Nazi and Ustaše camps throughout Yugoslavia were turned over for use by the communists. Tens of thousands of people were executed in 1946-7 while hundreds of thousands were interned. In 1947, there were so many men in camps or prisons that the penal system started to buckle under the strain. The mass arrests had removed so many young men from the labour market that the economy was being disrupted. Against Ranković’s better judgement the Party was forced to declare amnesty for tens of thousands.

“Thanks chiefly to OZNa, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (Komunistička Partija Jugoslavije – KPJ) was able to neutralize all political opposition soon after the elections of November 1945, which was comprehensively rigged. The communist monopoly on power took hold in Yugoslavia much earlier than anywhere else in eastern Europe…”

In September, 1944, as the Germans left Greece, the communist partisans of ELAS (Ellenikos Laikos Apeleutherotikos Stratos) with their two political sponsors, EAM and KKE (the Communist Party), and OPLA (KKE’s nascent secret police), poured down from their mountain strongholds in the north and were soon in control of four-fifths of the country. They caused great suffering to the people they were supposed to liberate, and more than 200 Orthodox priests were murdered by Communist partisans during the civil conflicts of 1943-1949, often with a bestial cruelty worthy of their Soviet counterparts. The only non-communist resistance movement, EDES, which was loyal to King George II, was esconced in north-western Epirus in much smaller numbers.

Among the hieromartyrs of this period was Hieromonk Joseph Antoniou. In 1938 he was imprisoned by the new calendarists. On his release he was sent by the True Orthodox Bishop Germanos of the Cyclades to Xylocastron, near Corinth. Once installed in Xylocastron, he brought his parents there and continued his apostolic activity. During the German occupation, communist guerillas entered the area and occupied several of the villages. Fr. Joseph fearlessly denounced their false teaching and terrible cruelties against the people. Two or three times they warned Fr. Joseph to stop speaking against them. But he replied: “You are waging the anti-Christian communist struggle, but I am waging the opposite struggle, the Christian struggle.”

Soon the decision was taken by the communists to execute the troublesome priest… Shortly after Pascha, 1944, an unknown old man entered the church where Fr. Joseph was serving, and told him that throughout the service he had seen blood flowing from under this cassock. From that time, Fr. Joseph prepared himself for martyrdom. Attacks on priests were increasing at this time. Only three months before Fr. Joseph was killed, he invited Bishop Germanus of the Cyclades to baptize the son of his spiritual son John Motsis. The local communist chief ordered the bishop to leave immediately.

On July 20 Fr. Joseph celebrated the Liturgy in the village of Laliotis. Then the communists entered the house where he was staying, arrested him and threw him into prison, where he was tortured. On July 22, he was taken out of prison with another young man by three guerillas. On seeing the youth of the executioners, Fr. Joseph sadly shook his head and urged them not to commit the crime. The communists forced their victims to dig their own graves, killed the young man, and then turned to Fr. Joseph.

He was allowed to sing his own funeral service. Then one thrust a knife into his back, but the blade broke. While another knife was being fetched, the executioners smoked and watched Fr. Joseph’s death agony. He said: “I will be the last victim of this knife, but the one who kills me will be the first to die from this knife.” After killing the martyr, as the executioners were returning, they quarrelled and the one who had killed Fr. Joseph was killed by his comrades, while the first one was later executed by the Germans… In September, 1945, Fr. Joseph’s father and brother, with the help of his donkey, found and exhumed his body. It was fragrant. A heavenly light was often seen over the tomb of the hieromartyr during the evenings.

However, atheism never gained a strong foothold in Greece – in a poll carried out in 1951 only 121 out of 7,500,000 people declared themselves to be atheists. It is this fact, together with the strength of the True Orthodox Old Calendarist movement, which probably saved the Greeks from the horrors of a permanent communist yoke. But it came close to that, nevertheless… “By the end of 1944, membership of EAM has been estimated at about two million, an astonishing figure in a country of seven million. They had been drawn to the movement because it established rudimentary health and education facilities, food supplies where necessary and, above all, a sense that for the first time the peasantry actually mattered to the men and women of the cities. The stage was set for victory in Athens where the KKE held enormous popular appeal. But the order to march on the city was never issued…”

Nevertheless, by mid-December most of Athens was in communist hands: only the very centre, “Scobia”, named after the British General Scobie, was outside their control. What saved Greece were two military mistakes, and the informal alliance between the British and the Soviets based on Churchill’s agreement with Stalin allowing him 90-10 dominance in Greece. The mistakes were, first, KKE’s order to ELAS forces in the north to attack the royalists of EDES in the north-west, and secondly the consequent abandonment by ELAS troops of the siege of Salonika, allowing its defenders, the British India division, to sail to Piraeus and reinforce Scobie’s hard-pressed soldiers in Athens.

Then, on December 26, 1944, Churchill and American and French representatives arrived in Athens and met with the warring sides. The new calendarist Archbishop Damascene also tried to mediate. Churchill eventually persuaded the Greek king to make Archbishop Damascene the temporary head of the government on condition that the communists did not form part of it. This, the Varkiza Agreement of February 9, 1945, “led to the disarmament of ELAS. In exchange, the provisional government headed by General Plastiras promised an amnesty for political crimes and the disbanding of the right-wing formations that had collaborated with the Nazis. EAM/ELAS continued to control the Greek interior and much of Macedonia. Plastiras’s government enjoyed little support and the General was unable to administer the entire country; yet in Attica and the Peloponnese, the Government was at least the nominal power. As the communists receded, the brutal killers of χ, a right-wing paramilitary organization, and other anti-communist groups, roamed the Athenian walkways and the mountains and coasts of the Peloponnese. White Terror was eager to prove that it was more than a match for Red Terror.

“Popular support for the communists waned after the Varkiza Agreement. Their behaviour during the December uprising had alienated many ordinary Greeks, not only because of the murder of hostages. In Aegean Macedonia, they had fought with the SNOF, the Titoist Liberation Front representing tens of thousands of Slav Macedonians still living in Greece. EAM had permitted the publication of Slav newspapers and encouraged cultural autonomy for the Slavs which many Greeks considered a real threat to the country’s sovereignty.

“The Right was in contrast bolstered by the Varkiza Agreement. Over the next twelve months, the National Guard, the police and the army expanded rapidly to a strength of almost 200,000 well-armed men. In areas like the Peloponnese and Epirus, where monarchists and rightists drew their traditional strength, these forces were swift to exact revenge on the communists. The authorities were unable to prevent the lumpen fascists of χ from infiltrating the security forces. Inside the Army’s officer corps a new conspiracy, the Sacred Bond of Greek Officers (IDEA), disseminated its anti-communist and expansionist philosophy. With their allies in the government, IDEA members weeded out suspected liberal or left-wing sympathizers from the officer corps.

“The absence of war improved the material circumstances of most Greeks, who benefited from a heroic effort made by United Nations Refugee and Rehabilitation Agency (UNRRA). The British presence curbed the more extreme political violence in the major towns and introduced a greater professionalism into the police force. But as one bumbling administration after another fell, it was hard to disguise the fact that British troops were propping up a sordid coalition of unforgiving nationalists and businessmen intent on reviving the hugely exploitative interwar economy. The elections called under American and British pressure in March 1946 were boycotted by the KKE… The populist administration which was swept into office redoubled the repression against communists and their sympathizers. Pressure for actions mounted in the ranks of ELAS, emboldened by the return of veteran fighters from Yugoslav camps. When King George was welcomed back in September 1946 after a dubious plebiscite restoring the monarchy, chaos was come again…”

Romania and Bulgaria were directly in the path of the Red Army, and had in any case been given up by Churchill to Stalin’s tender mercies, so they had no chance. The only difference was that the Romanians were relatively worse treated because of their Russophobia, while “there was less looting, rape and expropriation in Bulgaria than elsewhere. In general, Bulgarians welcomed the liberating troops with polite enthusiasm. The Soviets found the local Communist Party larger and better-organized than its Romanian counterpart [only 1000 members under Ana Pauker at the beginning].”

Nevertheless, communists will be communists, and in the end there was little to choose between the sufferings of the different Balkan countries. Thus after the death of Tsar Boris, his brother, Prince Cyril, was arrested by Soviet troops and shot on “Bloody Thursday”, February 3, 1945. Again, as in all communist countries, the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria was persecuted: so-called associations of priests controlled by the communists were infiltrated into the Church of Bulgaria, as into neighbouring Serbia. “After assuming power,” writes Ivan Marchevsky, “the communists began to destroy the clergy: a third of the 2000 members of the clergy was killed. Then they began to act in a different way: Vladykas appointed ‘from above’ ordained obedient priests...”

And so, after the horrors of fascist occupation, most of the Balkans fell under the even worse horrors of the communist yoke. Only Greece escaped – but only after the Civil War between the royalists (supported by Britain and the United States) and the communists (supported by Yugoslavia, Albania and Bulgaria) that ended in 1949, leaving Greece bitterly divided and in ruins… And yet, “If My people had heard Me, if Israel had walked in My ways, quickly would I have humbled their enemies, and upon their oppressors would I have laid My hand…” (Psalm 81.12-13).

January 10/23, 2013.

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