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Slovenia Before 1945

Slovenia was part of Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire for centuries and they enjoyed cultural freedom. Then in 1914 a Serbian student, Gavrilo Princip, shot the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in Bosnia, Sarajevo. He wanted to make a point that Austria had no right to occupy Bosnia and other regions in the Balkans.

​In 1918, after WWI, Austro-Hungarian Empire broken up and the Versailles peace treaties defined new boundaries. Slovenia became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians. Now Slovenians were subjected to the authoritarian Serb Monarchy, King Alexander, in Belgrade instead of Austria. In 1929 King Alexander renamed it Jugoslavia. The Serbs still dominated the government. Mussolini becomes dictator of Italy in 1925. Since the Italian borders included much Slovenian territory, everything had to be in Italian. To have their business licences renewed, needed Slovenian names to be changed to Italian names. Police, teachers, judges transferred from Italy. If did not follow – death, jail or concentration camps.

In 1940, Italy enters WWII waging war against Great Britain and France. Mussolini then attacked Greece and was faced with much resistance, so he asked Hitler to help. Then in 1941, the Germans needed to go through neutral Jugoslavia. Jugoslavia did not really pose any resistance and was defeated in 2 weeks. Now Slovenia was occupied by Germany, Fascist Italy and Hungary. They were the major players  of the Axis powers. Thus, Slovenians were quickly removed from positions of authority.
The Partisans started as The Liberation Front, when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union.  Other occupied countries also organized guerillas known as Partisans to fight against Nazi Germany occupation.  The occupying forces burned villages suspected of Partisans and killed or sent them to concentration camps.  By 1941 most of Europe was occupied by Axis, only Great Britain was left. Unofficially, Partisans became allies to Britain against Nazism.

By spring 1942 the Catholic community leaders; teachers, judges, priests, mayors, intellectuals, policemen or anyone who challenged the Communists were targeted for assassination.

There was a threat that young men might oppose Italian dominance, so Italians sent the Slovenian young men to concentration camps in southern Italy to work in the forests, labour camps and digging trenches. It is estimated that 9,000 Slovenians died in occupier’s concentration camps.

The king of Yugoslavia, the teenage King Peter (succeeding father Alexander) fled to exile in England.
The Serbs were content with the kingdom of Jugoslavia so the Četniks (under Mihailovitch) were supporters of the Royal Jugoslav regime. Since Britain wanted to weaken the German Army in Jugoslavia, the Partisans told Britain to switch their support from Četniks to Partisans because the Četniks were fighting the Partisans using British arms and doing little against the Germans and Italians.

Althoiugh the Partisans were fighting against the occupation of the Germans, Italians and Hungarians, now it was becoming clear that they were mainly comprised of communists. So in the Italian occupation of Slovenia, the Vaška Straža, Village Guards, was formed to protect against Partisan raids since they were really communists. The Village Guards were armed, controlled and paid by Italians. It was hard to distinguish good from evil in this war. By the spring of 1942, Catholics and communists were at each other’s throats. The Jugoslav Communist leader Tito used the world war to launch a social revolution and then seize power.

When Italy capitulated on Sept 8, 1943, Vaska Straza tried to make a break to join the Allies but were caught by the Partisans who executed many of them, even after they surrendered. The Germans took over that part of Slovenia but the Partisans, having obtained advance warning, seized the heavy Italian weaponry making them a formidable military force. The Germans didn’t want Vaska Straza around. General Leon Rupnik, mayor of Ljubljana and a veteran of the Austro-Hungarian Army, impressed on Germany that it would be mutually beneficial to Slovenia and Germany if Slovenians could defend themselves against the atrocities committed by the communists. The German military command agreed. So they reorganized Vaška Straža and they were renamed Domobranci. The communists were now confronted for the first time with military opposition. The Partisans called them traitors and now the Partisans had to fight the Domobranci instead of concentrating their efforts against the Nazis. Now Domobranci were able to protect villages and towns as Partisans were on the run and conceding defeat. Thus, the Domobranci were able to keep the Communists at bay for almost two years and recover territory from Partisans.

Now the Germans were retreating and by May 3, 1945, the Soviet Red Army captured Belgrade. The British arrived in Trieste and the Austrian province of Carinthia, however, Britain said they would not occupy Slovenia. Without help, the Domobranci had no choice but prepare to withdraw across the mountains into Austria as did many Slovenian civilians.

After 1945, Marshal Tito became the new leader of Jugoslavia. Jugoslavia is made up of six republics; Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro. Even though they were controlled by a communistic government, they were free to use their language and culture.

In 1946, General Leon Rupnik was tried and executed under Tito’s government. Many other domobranci were shot without due process.

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