AN: A term paper for a second year WWII history class. I'll be honest - I don't remember writing this. I did it in a 24 hour blur of amphetamines and self hatred. This must be what Philip K Dick felt like in the 70's when writing his 2045 page Exegesis, except that Philip K Dick unlocked the secrets of the universe and I wrote a shitty history essay. Mark: B+

The Most Rigorous Methods: An analysis of violent resistance movements in Yugoslavia during the German occupation of the Second World War


Under the threat of invasion, the Yugoslav government signed the Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany in March 1941 against the wishes of the public. In the following days the government succumbed to a coup d'etat. This resistance among Yugoslav citizens to co-operation with Nazi Germany caused Hitler to respond by delaying Operation Barbarossa and instead promising to "wipe Yugoslavia off the map"1 in Operation Punishment.

With both the three-day bombing of Belgrade in Operation Retribution and Operation Punishment the Germans wiped out all resistance within seven days. By the summer of 1941, two resistance movements were challenging the Nazi occupation; the anti-communist chetniks and their rivals the Partisans and National Liberation Army led by Josip Tito.

The German response was brutal, in addition to launching military operations against the guerilla groups, they conducted massive reprisal massacres of civilians in central Serbia. The most bloodstained and notorious of these massacres took place in October 1941 at Kragujevac.

Ideologically, the German oppression of Yugoslavia brought together an unprecedented alliance of unexpectedly tenacious guerilla groups within Yugoslavia, as well as British resistance forces and were repressed further still. Self-sabotage and waring ideologies largely undermined this resistance. How necessary is violence in resistance movements such as the Chetniks or the communist Partisans? It can be argued that oppressing resistance creates a cycle of more violent resistance, thus perpetuating nationwide trauma.

Historical context for the occupation of Yugoslavia

Staring down the barrel of the German gun of war in the spring of 1941, Yugoslavia under Prime Minister Dragisa Cvetkovic and Foreign Minister Alexander Cincar-Markovic signed the Tripartite Pact with Berlin on March 25, 1941. But on March 27, a group of military officers led by Air Force General Dusan Simovic overthrew the regency of Prince Paul in a coup d'etat with British support and established King Peter II as the titular ruler of Yugoslavia. The overthrow was preceded by violent anti-German demonstrations in Belgrade and wide-spread popular hatred towards a Yugoslav-German agreement.

By the summer of 1941, Colonel Draza Mihailovic spearheaded the first significant uprising against the German occupation. Such an uprising threatened the southern flank of Hitler's European empire at the tip of the German invasion of the USSR.2 Hitler was of course, appalled at the unprecedented act of defiance and immediately perceived the danger of Serbian insurrection posed to German control over the Balkans. Hitler ordered the rebellion to be crushed by "the most rigorous methods."3

Subsequently, Chief of the German General Staff Wilhelm Keitel issued an order that for every German solider killed in Serbia, a hundred Serbian civilians would be executed. For every wounded German solider, fifty would be killed. The Axis forces had a significant advantage against Yugoslav resistance. Axis divisions consisted of a total of fifty-two, twenty-four of those being German divisions with 1500 German aircraft. The Yugoslav army meanwhile, managed just thirty poorly equipped, pitifully armed and entirely demoralized divisions.

According to Franklin Lindsay, an American OSS officer who had arrived in Yugoslavia to aid the partisan resistance forces writes based on an official German report that: "the executions in Kragujevac occurred although there had been no attacks on members of the Wehrmacht in this city, for the reason that not enough hostages could be found elsewhere."4 Hitler's orders resulted in a massacre of five thousand Serbian civilians at Kragujevac. In the midst of other massacres during the Second World War such as those at Babi Yar and Nanking, Kragujevac epitomized the horror of war crimes. There would not be another massacre in Europe of that precedence until nearly fifty years later in the early 1990's.

However, revenge was not the sole motivation for the occupation of Yugoslavia. The Germans had several tactical reasons for occupying Serbia proper. The most prominent being control over the railway between central Europe, the Danube River and critical resources such as metal for wartime industry production. The Germans achieved this control through a puppet government, and Serbian workers were kept in place by arrangements made between the Germans and the Chetniks under the command of General Mihailovic.

The Resistance

As a veteran of the First World War, Mihailovic was intimate with the German onslaught against civilians. Even though Mihailovic had initially led the first resistance, the Chetniks would selectively collaborate between occupying forces throughout the war. Mihailovic considered these arrangements as sabotage, the Chetniks were "using the enemy." 5 The government was a military government, and was the only Balkan country occupied with an Axis military government because the resistance was so fierce that direct military occupation was the only way Serbia could be contained, mainly due to the Partisan resistance.

The Partisans however were not homogenously Serbian. Led by Croat-turned communist and veteran of the First World War Josip Tito, the communist Partisans were the pinnacle of violent resistance. For Tito, the German occupation was both simultaneously a chance to crush their ideological enemies in German fascism and to stage a communist takeover of Yugoslavia. Tito had been taken prisoner by the Soviet Union until he led the Yugoslavian communist movement, which he would maintain until his death. The resistance forces in Yugoslavia were nothing if not divided, fighting a war on two fronts.

The German response was initially a tactical bombing of Belgrade, considered a neutral ground, that lasted for three days. The German response that followed would be continually more aggressive, culminating in the massacre at Kragujevac. Yugoslavian forces did not significantly slow down the German Wehrmacht, but they were never able to fully control the Serbian territory.


Despite Tito's aggressive position on the resistance effort, the account of OSS officer Franklin Lindsay provides a significant argument for why it was necessary, although not morally just.

The conflict between the Chetniks and Partisans largely foreshadowed the collapse of Yugoslavia's communist government in the late 1980's, ahead of the other USSR satellite countries towards the end of the Cold War. These post Yugoslavian nations undoubtedly suffered, like other former Soviet nations within Eastern Europe that had been better off shielded by the Iron Curtain. What distinguishes Yugoslavia is that due to it's divided past, it was never really been part of the Iron Curtain to begin with. This divide is perhaps best personified by the events during the German occupation in the Second World War.

The years following the fall of communism were especially disastrous for the Balkans. During the Bosnians wars in the early 1990's, these broken Yugoslavian nations themselves fell into the tragic rhizome of ethnic cleansing. With over 100 000 Bosniak and Croats massacred in the first genocide in Europe following the Second World War.

Towards the latter portion of his life, Sigmund Freud wrote Civilization and its Discontents in response to the trauma of the individual recovering from the brutality of war: "to represent the sense of guilt as the most important problem in the development of the civilization and to show that the price we pay for our advance in civilization is a loss of happiness through the heightening of the sense of guilt."6

The rhizome of trauma continues to write itself into the history of war. The unbearable burden of guilt drives the unconscious tragedy of self-sabotage. For advancement and progress in a civilization, there must be a facing and bearing of trauma and guilt and integrating it as part of the tragic dimension of human existence.


"Berlin: Hitler's Order Of The Day." Berlin: Hitler's Order Of The Day. Accessed April 03, 2017. .

Freud, Sigmund. Civilization and its Discontents. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2016.

Lindsay, Franklin. Beacons in the Night: With the OSS and Tito's Partisans in Wartime Yugoslavia. Standford: Standford University Press, 1985.

Savich, Carl K. "German Occupation of Serbia and the Kragujevac Massacre." German Occupation of Serbia and the Kragujevac Massacre. October 18, 2003. Accessed April 03, 2017. . .

Tomasevich, Jozo. War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1975