Axis partition of Slovenia
The Slovenes experienced quite a different war than the Croats did. Their small province was entirely dismembered and divided among Germany, Italy, and Hungary. The Hungarians took a tiny portion in the extreme northeast, named Prekmurje (meaning ‘beyond the Mura [river]’), part of the territory that Hungary believed had been stolen from it at the end of World War I. Italy took the seacoast and a chunk of the southwest that — added to the chunk they’d already been given after World War I — extended a good distance inland. Germany kept the mountainous northwest corner of the country, plus everything north of the Sava except Prekmurje. Since the Sava passed just to the northwest of Ljubljana, the capital now belonged to Italy. There was nothing in this arrangement to delight Slovene nationalists at any point on the political spectrum, but not everyone was a nationalist, and at least a few welcomed and supported the Axis occupiers.

Girl awaiting deportation
Hitler’s plan for the German part of Slovenia was to render it suitable for annexation by “Germanizing” the population — primarily by deporting Slovenes and replacing them with ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche) from the Italian portion of Slovenia and from other countries including Hungary and the Serbian district of Vojvodina, where German colonies had existed since the 18th century. A few thousand intellectuals and “politically tainted” Slovenes, chosen to go first, were sent off to occupied Serbia, each allowed to take 30 kilograms of possessions and the equivalent of about $10 in cash. The Independent State of Croatia, which at first refused to accept Slovenes, made a deal with the Germans: for every Slovene they accepted, they would be entitled to deport a Serb. The agreement noted that Catholic priests would, as members of the intellectual class, be among the deportees, and that for each priest sent to Croatia, an Orthodox priest and his family could be deported to Serbia.

Some of the impoverished exiles fell into the hands of German labor “recruiters” and were sent to Germany as slave laborers. Others, however, were recruited into the armed resistance that was beginning to spring up in Yugoslavia. The deportations also outraged Slovenian opinion and made the people less inclined to tolerate the occupation and more inclined to resist it. Finding that there weren’t enough Volksdeutsche available to populate the country, the Germans had decided that certain classes of Slovenes — e.g., those who worked in industries that could help the war effort and those considered to have desirable racial characteristics — would not be required to leave; instead, they could stay in the country and be Germanized through the process of education over the course of a few generations. However, the occupiers started the deportations without making this policy clear, so Slovene resentment was universal; nobody felt safe.

Within a few months of the fall of Yugoslavia, already in the summer of 1941, the Germans realized that their deportation scheme was counterproductive, and Himmler called a halt to it. But the damage had been done, and Germanization measures that continued kept resentment on the boil. The names of towns, villages, and streets were officially converted to the German versions used in the old Imperial administration. Slovene schools were closed and replaced with new schools where German was the only language used or permitted. Having turned all Catholic priests who were not old and sick over to the Croatians, the Germans brought in replacements from Austria and Germany who neither knew the Slovene language nor had any use for it. Slovenes were required to Germanize their names — Janez Krajnc, for instance, had to become Hans Kreintz, and Jožica Češič had to become Josephine Tscheschitsch. They were strongly invited to join German “cultural organizations,” and many did so in the hope that this would save them from deportation. But the members of these groups were called on to guard against and sometimes to fight the resistance. (Other Slovenes were drafted into army units and sent to the Eastern Front, where as many as 40,000 lost their lives.)

Slovene Partisans, May 1943 (presumably posed in an atypical gender distribution)
Resistance there certainly was. The Slovene Communist party had organized an armed resistance movement (which, like Tito’s in Serbia, went into action only after Germany invaded Russia at the end of June, 1941). The resistance was more active in the Italian sector than the German, partly because German reprisals against the civilian population were merciless, but also because — through such means as the “cultural organizations” — the Germans kept closer tabs on everyone. In the summer and fall of 1942, the Italians mounted a major offensive against the Partisans and their supporters and actually succeeded at one point in surrounding them. But they failed to destroy their enemy, and in the end the offensive, rather than killing the Partisan movement, made it stronger.

The Italian army had been assisted in its campaign against the Partisans by a number of militia groups organized by Slovenia’s anticommunist parties. Like the Chetniks in Serbia, these groups at first considered it futile to conduct military operations against the occupying armies, and instead concentrated on building up a military force that could, they hoped, rise up in the ruins of Yugoslavia when the expected Allied victory came.

Germans preparing to execute hostages, Celje 1944
Their reluctance to strike out against the occupiers was also influenced by the ruthless reprisals against civilians that invariably resulted, especially in German-occupied ares. Yugoslav Partisans, by contrast, were more callous — partly, perhaps, for reasons of hard-nosed ideology, but also because their soldiers were more often operating outside their own home territories, so the lives of their own friends and families were not immediately at stake. However, I haven’t seen evidence that the majority of the people resented them for this; many evidently shared the Partisans’ belief that the price was worth paying.

Members of the
And for citizens of generally liberal or democratic sympathies, many of whom were repelled by the reactionary tendencies of the anticommunist militias, the Communist Partisans offered what looked like the best chance of defeating the occupiers and some day building a more democratic Yugoslavia. Many who had never considered themselves leftists or even socialists were thus led to enlist in the Partisan ranks. This detail from a picture of the “Dolomit” Partisan detachment is blurry, but clearly shows their flag — the Slovenian tricolor with a red star. The name of the unit is not a reference to the Dolomite mountain range, which is well within Italy, but to the stone named after it, which is ubiquitous in the Slovenian mountains. Partisans spent much of their time in such demanding environments.

As the Partisan movement grew in strength and popularity, the anticommunist resistance groups, seeing them quite realistically as a potent threat, began to work against them — at first by passing damaging information to the occupiers, and then, increasingly, by direct attacks. As early as November, 1941 Draža Mihailovič, leader of the Serbian Chetniks, led an unsuccessful attack on Tito’s Partisan headquarters. Throughout 1942 there were battles all over the country between Yugoslavs who hoped to restore the prewar kingdom and Yugoslavs who aimed to replace it with a communist state. The anticommunists, though few expected the Axis to win, hoped that by helping the occupiers defeat the Partisans they could ensure their own emergence as the paramount military force in the country when the dust finally settled.

Slovene anticommunist forces had preferred to ally themselves with the Italians rather than the Germans. (One writer I came across pointed out that, from the perspective of Serbs and Slovenes, at least, World War II appeared to be primarily a struggle between Germans and Slavs.) But Italy was losing its part of the war, and in the summer of 1943, when the Allies invaded Sicily and Mussolini was overthrown, it became obvious that an Italian surrender was imminent. When it came, on September 8, some Serbian Chetniks and Slovene collaborationists headed for the coast, hoping for a landing of Allied forces with whom they might negotiate some sort of a deal. But no Allied forces came ashore to meet them, and the Partisans, who had managed to acquire some heavy artillery and even tanks from the departing Italian army, soon mopped them up. For a moment the Partisans controlled all of the former Italian sector, but the Germans soon sent in forces to secure this area. They couldn’t afford to concede to it to the Partisans, because the German army fighting the Allies in Italy needed Rumanian oil — all of which had to be transported by rail through southern and central Slovenia.

Newly formed SD on parade in Ljubljana, December 1943
Germany couldn’t keep enough soldiers in Slovenia to fight the Partisans unassisted, and the collaborators, though now significantly weakened, still had staying in power and defeating “godless communism” on their agenda. In the circumstances, further collaboration — this time with Germany — was inevitable. The Germans organized the Slovene Home Guard (Slovensko Domobranstvo or SD; members were referred to as Domobranci), incorporating what remained of several right-wing party militias that had fought as Italian allies, to whose numbers the Germans added more recruits. In the fall of 1943 the Germans and their Slovene allies conducted a major offensive similar to that of the Italians a year earlier. Like the Italian offensive, it seriously hurt the Partisan forces, but failed to defeat them.

Italian cavalry crossing the Triple Bridge into Prešeren Square
In Slovenia, as in Croatia, there is saddening evidence of Axis sympathies on the part of Catholic authorities. Grigorij Rožman, the Bishop of Ljubljana, believed (like many conservative European Catholics) that the Italians and Germans were fighting a “Jewish conspiracy” — which they associated with Communism — against Christian Europe. Less than a month after the Yugoslav surrender, the Bishop offered a Mass of Thanksgiving, honoring Mussolini (whose troops now occupied his part of Slovenia), in Ljubljana’s cathedral. He paid friendly visits to the high commissioner in charge of the new Italian “Province of Lubiana” and sent the military commander suggestions on how the assistance of Slovene militias (some of which he had helped organize) could make the Italian forces more effective against the resistance.

The Bishop and the SS General
When the Italians left in 1943, Bishop Rožman welcomed the Germans with equal cordiality and sent out a pastoral letter declaring that "only by this courageous fighting and industrious work for God, for the people and the Fatherland will we, under the leadership of Germany, assure our existence and better future in the fight against the Jewish conspiracy." He also helped the SS General Erwin Rösener (with whom he enjoyed cordial relations, as the picture shows) to establish the SD, to which he sent a Christmas letter praising it for “defending your nation against wolves and jackals […] who are poisoning souls with the foreign mentality of atheistic communism.”

Slovene Home Guard flag with the arms of Carniola
The SD continued to grow until, by September 1944 it numbered about 13,000. Its members (in at least one case immediately after attending a special mass celebrated by Bishop Rožman) took an oath in which they promised to “stand in common struggle with the German armed forces [...] under the command of the leader of Greater Germany, SS troops and police against bandits and communism and their allies” (in other words, against western and Soviet troops). This tended to undercut the argument the collaborationists had urged on the western Allies that they were really on the same side. The Germans were aware of their contingent loyalty and handled these forces with care, but ultimately the collaborators’ actions put them beyond the pale of Allied sympathy.

Bishop Rožman managed to escape from Yugoslavia at the end of the war, although Tito’s government tried and convicted him in absentia. He participated actively in the enterprise, managed by Croatian churchmen in the Vatican, that helped many German, Austrian, and Croatian Fascists escape to North and South America. The bishop died in Cleveland in 1959.