Britić - The British Serb magazine
May 15, 2015
With the author’s permission, we publish this article by Stevan Piroćanac which appeared as a Viewpoint in the Vol. 22 of the South Slav Journal in Autumn-Winter 2001.
Stevan Piroćanac has previously written about his personal experience as a high school student in WW2. Britić welcomes articles from our the original generation of Serbs to arrive in the Diaspora with their own experiences from the war.
Britić - The British Serb magazine
FOREIGN OPINION OF THE SERB VOLUNTEER CORPS
By Stevan Pirocanac
Dimitrije Ljotić at funeral of a volunteer in 1943 with insignia (left)
One man who knew Yugoslavia very well, before and during WWII, was the late Stephen Clissold. He wrote copiously about Yugoslavia, mostly in an official capacity, and he mentioned also the SVC.
Before WWII, Clissold was living in Zagreb, Croatia, where he was employed by the British Council. Also he taught English at Zagreb University, and spoke Serbo-Croat very well. During the war, in 1943, Clissold spent a few months with Maclean’s mission in Yugoslavia and in August 1944 Clissold was a personal interpreter for Churchill at a meeting with Tito held in Caserta, Italy. When MacLean’s Commission was formed in 1946, for the interrogation of Yugoslav Royalists – Chetniks and the SVC living in the Eboli camp (Italy), Clissold became an advisor to the Commission. As such, he personally screened senior officers of the SVC and leading members of Zbor.
In his memorandum to the Foreign Office [November 1947], Clissold wrote: ‘The Serb Volunteer Corps may be considered as the Corps d’elite of the various Serb Forces: The State Guard, Gendarmerie, Frontier Guard, etc. They have given help on numerous occasions to Mihailović’s Chetniks, and through their emissary Boško Kostić helped Mihailović and the Yugoslav Royal Government in London to establish a direct link in 1941. The members of the SVC were required to take an oath of loyalty to King Peter, and technically they have remained loyal and cannot be charged with treason. And this contention has some juridical force. The Nedić Administration and the Volunteers have successfully resisted German pressure to send a voluntary detachment to the Eastern Front. It was never sent. On occasions, the Volunteers have saved the lives of American and British pilots. Two specific instances have been brought to my attention, and there seems little reason not to believe their authenticity.’
Regarding the Volunteers, Keith Steel, British political advisor to the British Commandant in Austria, wrote to the Foreign Office on April 4, 1946: ‘From the beginning of 1942 on, Serb Volunteers fought with Germans against the Communists, without compromising their own national interests. They collaborated with the Wermacht, while SS Gruppenführer August Meysner in Serbia was against Ljotić’s Movement and the Volunteers who refused to wear SS uniforms or to be used for auxiliary police duties…’
The British military historian Nigel Thomas, on May 9, 1984, wrote to Professor Staniša Vlahović, reference the SVC, the following:_ ‘Also, I was much excited with the received pictures of the Serb Volunteer Corps. They are of excellent quality, and the remarks you wrote on the backs are of great help. I looked with sorrow at the pictures of these wonderful young men, who tried to serve their country, wondering what happened to them. I would like, one day, to be in position to publish these pictures, if I am given an opportunity. You can be assured that would be done only with the permission of the Volunteer Association…’
The well-known German diplomat at the time of WWII, Dr. Herman Neubacher, wrote about the Serb Volunteers in his book Sonderauftrag Südost also. During his career, Dr. Neubacher held many important positions such as Mayor of Vienna. As an expert on Southeast Europe, he was nominated by Hitler in 1940 as Extraordinary Representative of the Reich in Southeast Europe. After spending time in Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, and Albania, he went to Serbia in 1943. His arrival brought great changes to German policies towards the Serbs. Reprisals against innocent civilians were stopped, and Neubacher gave his support to Nedić and Ljotić in their quest to form a federation between Serbia and Montenegro. Later, in 1945, he helped Nedić and Ljotić in gaining the release of both Patriarch Gavrilo and Bishop Nikolai from Dachau. He also helped, though unsuccessfully, the attempts of Bishop Nikolai and some others to cross into Switzerland, in order to establish contact with the Western Allies.
In his book Neubacher analyses in depth the situation in Serbia, the Partisans and Ljotić ‘s Volunteers. Also he writes about the handing over of the Serb Volunteers and the Slovene Home Guards by the British to the Partisans, and gives their numbers: 2,400 Volunteers and some 10,000 Slovenes. They were all killed by the Partisans. Dr. Neubacher says and affirms: ‘…those young men never fought for the Germans, they only fought against the Communists, during the German occupation’.
The German historian, Karl Hailicka, published in 1970 the book The End in the Balkans 1944/45. In this rather lengthy book, Hnilicka uses many sources, and includes much important information about Serbia and Yugoslavia from that period. He mentions the SVC as follows: In a letter written on March 15, 1943, SS General Meysner informs Himmler of the following: ‘The Serb Volunteer Corps [SVC] represents a special danger, and without any doubt it will soon become a source of disturbance, as can be seen from the enclosed report of the Commandant of the Security Service. The Supreme Commander of Serbia gave permission to the SVC to have a flag and a Volunteer’s Cross with the inscription “With Faith in God, for King and Fatherland”. This permission was used on the occasion of taking the oath of allegiance by SVC soldiers, when ovations for King Peter were given… In view of the situation, I think that such experiments are not desirable’.
A senior officer of the SS and Police, Teichman, on March 5, 1943, sent his report to SS General Meysner, in which he describes the oath taking of the IVth Battalion of the SVC. Among other things he reports that civilians who were watching the march of the Volunteers through the streets of Belgrade were shouting ‘Long Live Nedić’, ‘Serbia, Serbia’, ‘Hail the new Serb Army’ and ‘Long live King Peter’.
In his letter, dated April 23, 1943, Himmler, one of the most important Nazi leaders, reveals his opinion of the SVC in his letter to Marshal Keitel. He writes: ‘Dear Field Marshal: Enclosed is the report of the Commandant of Police from Belgrade. I find it highly problematic that we allow the Serbs a flag with the insignia, “With Faith in God, for King and Fatherland.” I am convinced that we chose the wrong approach. Also, my impression is that those Volunteer battalions are exceedingly well treated by the Commandant of the Wermacht in Serbia.’
Some time earlier, on August 23, 1942, Himmler wrote to Dr. Tumer, German Political Advisor to the Military Commander in Belgrade that ‘No Serbs should be trusted, for their tradition has taught them to rebel and organise uprisings… So a Serb will always remain a Serb, whatever happens, and we should avoid strengthening Serbs’.
SS General Meysner’s hostility towards the Serb Volunteers was especially evident during 1942. In one of his directives, August 12 1942, in order to undermine the SVC he decreed that ‘…no arms, food, clothing or any other items should be supplied to the SVC…’ On August 29, 1942, he wrote to the German Supreme Commander for South East Europe, saying: ‘I am of the definite opinion that Serb Volunteers must be disarmed’.
On March 7, 1943, the German Military Commander in Belgrade, General Bader, wrote to his superiors that ‘Serb Volunteers have been defiant and have refused the request of SS General Meysmer to do Police duty, and therefore I have placed them under Wermacht control’.
On May 16, 1943, the German Supreme Commander in Serbia informed Himmler: ’I have decided not to disband the Serb Volunteers although they have taken the oath of allegiance to their King. They wear the Cross of St. George (on their tunics), and this Cross is linked to the historical Kosovo Cross of 1389. They, the Volunteers, are loyal to their King, who is at the moment in the hands of the Western Allies as a prisoner’.
Close to the end of the war, at least in Serbia, the Supreme Commander in the Balkans informed the German Foreign Ministry: ‘because of the new situation in the Balkans we have decided not to strengthen the Serb Volunteer Corps for they would not be a reliable force if sent to face the Anglo-Americans’.
The Serb Volunteers, throughout their existence, always proclaimed their loyalty to the King of Yugoslavia. By doing so the Volunteers showed that they were fighting for the resurrection of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, contrary to the wishes of Hitler, Himmler and many others. These facts speak lucidly for themselves. There is nothing more than I can add, except that I hope that future historians will take this information into consideration if and when they write the history of those difficult days in Yugoslavia and Serbia during the Second World War – 1941-1945.
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