Wednesday, November 4, 2020


Many forget that the Italian troops were welcomed even with enthusiasm in some territories of Yugoslavia, when Italy (together with Germany) defeated Yugoslavia in April 1941. Unfortunately this "special idyll" between Italians and Slavic populations did not last long, beginning to deteriorate after the Axis attack on Stalin's Soviet Union in June 1941.

Obviously it should be noted that the followers of the Yugoslav king Peter II were almost the only ones who "really" fought against the Italian troops, even if only in Montenegro there was a serious and strong opposition. General Roatta reported in his 'Memories' that "all available forces in northern Italy gathered at the Yugoslav frontier between Tarvisio and Fiume in early March 1941: two armies on the front line, and a third in reserve. Altogether there were thirty-seven divisions, eighty-five groups of medium-caliber artillery, and all the special formations, with corresponding services and supplies".

Representatives of Slovene political parties with the Italian High Commissioner Emilio Grazioli (with military dress) on May 3, 1941. The first to Grazioli's right is Marko Zlatacen
General Ambrosio's troops broke through the yugoslav lines of defense with relative ease in Zara and Venezia Giulia and in a couple of days they arrived in Lubiana and Spalato in what was propagandistically called the "Italian blitzkrieg", making many prisoners of war while were also welcomed by many Croats who greeted them because they wanted independence from the Serbs.

Equally favorable were the Albanian populations in the southern Yugoslavia territories that were conquered by the Italians and which were subsequently united to the "Italian Albania". And almost the same happened in Montenegro and southern Slovenia, at least initially.

But it was the Serbs of northern coastal Yugoslavia who most "liked" the Italian presence in those lands, especially after the surrender of the Yugoslav kingdom and the rise to power of the immediately created "independent state of Croatia" ('Nezavisna Država Hrvatska', abbreviated in NDH) of Ante Pavelic's "Ustascia". In fact the fascist Pavelic, who came to power after 10 April with the declared support of Mussolini (who had helped him for many years: read for more information my 2015 paper, translating it from Italian language, had arrived in Zagreb early in the morning of April 15, leading a few hundred followers dressed in Italian uniforms to become the "Poglavnik" (the Croatian equivalent of "Duce"). Its first "Legal Ordinance for the Defense of the People and the State", dated April 17, 1941, prescribed the death penalty for the breaking of the honor and vital interests of the Croatian people and the survival of the Independent State of Croatia ": it was a clear omen of what would happen in his territories.

Indeed, the Ustascia immediately began to conduct a deliberate campaign of massacres, deportations and forced religious conversions in an attempt to remove the unwanted from their territory: Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, Croatian dissidents and others. The atrocities against non-Croats began on April 27, 1941, when a new unit of the Ustascia army massacred the Serbian community of Gudovac, near Bjelovar. Some days later another massacre happened at Kosinj, in the Lika region. When the Italians knew of these massacres, they strongly rejected what has been done: it was the first 'fracture' between Mussolini and Pavelic

More than a month after the creation of the NDH, the anti-fascist movement emerged in 1941 occupied Yugoslavia mainly under the command of the Communist Party, led by Josip Broz Tito. Slovenian and Croatian partisans (partizans) began what would be recognized as the 'War of Yugoslav Liberation' on June 22, 1941 (shortly after the German attack on the Stalin's Soviet Union), when their first armed unit was formed in Brezovica, near Sisak. The partisans engaged in combat for the first time on June 27 in the Lika region.

Postcard of Lubiana under Italian control in summer 1941
But in Slovenia for more than 3 months - after the defeat of Yugoslavia in April 15 and until the end of July - there was a "relatively quiet" peace without anti-Italian resistance, initially supported by the Slovenes who today are generically called "Domobranci" (Slovenian anti-communists). In August and September there were some sabotages, but only on October 1941 there was the first military action of Italian troops against the Slovenian resistance, when two Tito partizans were killed

At the same time in southern Slovenia nearly 20,000 Slovenians collaborated with the Italians (as members of anticommunist organizations, from "Civic Guards" to "BelaGardists").

The welcome to the Italians

As we all know, Yugoslavia was divided between areas of influence/occupation "(that of Italy, Germany, Bulgaria and Hungary). The Italian presence took place in four regions of its area, populated mainly by: Slovenes, Croats, Montenegrins and Albanians. The Slovenian one was special, because the "Provincia di Lubiana" was created as an attempt to assimilate/integrate this area into Fascist Italy.

Emilio Grazioli was made by Mussolini the main Italian authority in Lubiana: his nomination was welcomed by many slovenian leaders, from Marko Natlacen (the last Governor of the Yugoslavia's "Drava Banovina") and Juro Adlesic (mayor of Lubiana) to Leon Putnik (general & anti-communist politician) and Gregory Rozman (bishop of Lubiana).

Lubiana, April/22/1941. From left: Ignacij Nadrah,Emilio Grazioli,Gregorij Rožman,Frank Kimovec

Furthermore, it is noteworthy to pinpoint that some slovenians were grateful to the Italians because of the 1941/1942 removal of the German speaking population of the so called "Gottschee" in the southernmost area of Slovenia: it was the same kind of agreement between Mussolini and Hitler that was done for the Germans in Italy's Alto Adige. Since then the Gottschee area has been a fully Slovene territory.


The southern part of Slovenia which was occupied by the Italians was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy on May 3, 1941, with the official name: "Provincia italiana di Lubiana" ('Italian province of Ljubljana') with 4545 km2 and 337,000 inhabitants (nearly 80,000 in Lubiana). This province, which took its name from the capital Lubiana (the Roman "Emona"), was in fact partially administered as an occupation zone. However there were no real attempts at Italianization (there were only 600 Italian civilians in all the 'Provincia'!), neither by the public administration (in which only some personnel from the mother-country were included) nor by the school (bilingualism was allowed) and cultural institutions (maintained and only in some cases accompanied by the fascist ones).

In addition, works were started by the Italian authorities in order to improve health services, public structures, electricity services and sewage systems in Lubiana & surroundings. A new huge & modern hospital was planned. Also, the railway service between Italian Slovenia and Trieste was improved; and the Polje airport in western Lubiana was greatly enlarged.

The Lubiana airport was greatly improved by the Italians. It was one of the easternmost airports in the "Seconda Squadra" (second division) of the Italian Air Force during WW2
The high commissioner Emilio Grazioli initially carried out a moderate policy, in an attempt to involve the conservative business classes and the Catholic Church, giving life to a "Consulta", an assembly of local notables that was supposed to cooperate and support the work of the italian authorities. Indeed, the influential bishop of Lubiana, Gregorij Rožman, and most of the country's pre-war politicians, led by political leader Marko Natlačen, immediately expressed in early May 1941 their willingness to collaborate with the fascist authorities, writing public letters of support for the annexation of the province of Lubliana to Italy. On June 8, 1941, Natlačen led Slovenian politicians and industrialists to meet Mussolini in Rome, after which they reaffirmed their loyalty, and began to officially collaborate with the Italians in the 'Consulta', an advisory body.

In the days immediately following, 105 Slovenian mayors sent a message to Mussolini, expressing "joy and pride for the incorporation of Slovenian territories into the great Kingdom of Italy". A similar message of congratulations also reached the Duce from the archbishop of Lubiana, Gregorij Rozman. This catholic "vescovo" (with Ignacj Nadrah and Frank Kimovec) became one of the most important collaborators of the fascist regime, guaranteeing the loyalty of large sections of the 'believing' catholic population.

Lubiana: Military parade of Italians on first week of April 1941, with slovenian civilians attending

The result of German harsh policy in the nazi occupied area north of Lubliana was the influx of tens of thousands of Slovenes into the Italian province. A few weeks after the end of the war against Yugoslavia, 27,000 people crossed the border between German and Italian Slovenia (17,000 settled in Lubiana). The Italian reports on these facts left no room for doubt about the causes of the exodus, identified in the German "inhuman yoke". Germany was accused of stripping Slovenian land and stripping the local population of the basis for their survival. In doing so, Berlin forced the population to seek a less "barbaric" place for its existence. And even in the final months of 1941 hundreds of Slovenians crossed the border between the two occupation zones to settle in the Italian territory. This created problems (of food, lodging, health assistance, etc..) to the Italian authorities, but showed to the Slovenians the "good side" of Italian presence in southern Slovenia.

However this continuous influx of people from the north was viewed with suspicion -after summer 1941- by the Italian administration, which feared that once they arrived, especially men, they could become a threat to the internal security of the province (because linked to Tito's partizans): according to general Roatta they were the main culprit of the guerrilla & terrorism attacks that destroyed the good relationships between Italians and Slovenians at the end of 1941/beginning of 1942 (M. Roatta, "Otto milioni di Baionette. L’esercito italiano in guerra dal 1940 al 1944". Mondadori. Milano, 1946).

Some historians pinpoint that the original population of Lubiana & southern Slovenia was going to behave in a relatively "quiet way" with the Italians, like happened in the Governorate of Dalmatia at least untl the end of 1942: it was people from northern Slovenia (and other areas of Iugoslavia) who enrolled in Tito's partizan groups and who created the fracture between Italians and local Slovenians, mainly after fall 1941!

Although very few, Slovenian fascists had made themselves known in Slovenian politics since the 1920s: in 1923 a small fascist party of Slovenes of Venezia Giulia ("Vladna Stranka", government party) was born, which then in 1925 merged into the 'Party National Fascist', and a certain amount of unemployed Slovenian youth joined the Fascist militia. In Lubiana in May 1941, immediately small groups of Slovenian fascists were created who obviously supported the union with the Kingdom of Italy (but only on 21 October 1941 the National Secretariat of the National Fascist Party established - on Mussolini's orders - the "Federation of Fascists of Combat of Lubiana ": Grazioli was appointed Federal Secretary).

After all, some Slovenes (fascists and non-fascists) immediately promoted the establishment of collaborationist armed bands, subsequently called MVAC (Voluntary Anti-Communist Militia) and integrated into small units in the Italian army. The MVAC had a decidedly notable importance in Slovenia, where some old adherents of the conservative pre-war parties, tightened around the highest ecclesiastical hierarchies and animated by a heated anti-communism, created a political-military structure that obtained a wide consensus and came to mobilize more than 6,100 men in 1941 and 1942. In fact, the Italian authorities immediately supported the anti-communist Slovenian political forces, especially of Catholic inspiration, which, fearing the communist revolution, had at that moment identified the greatest danger in the partisan communist movement, and had therefore made themselves available for collaboration.

These political forces had thus created "self-defense formations" (the most numerous "Vaška Straža" and the most militant "Legija Smrti" or 'Legion of Death' - the latter also called more commonly 'White Guard' or "Bela Garda"- under the direct inspiration and coordination of the Bishop of Lubiana Gregorij Rožman: the Italian commands (under General Mario Roatta of the 2nd Italian Army) organized these formations, in the following August 1942, in the" Anti Communist Voluntary Militia" or MVAC (new name collective hired by the pre-existing Slovenian organizations from 6 August 1942), using them successfully in the anti-partisan struggle.

Also worth mentioning is the "Civic Guard" ('Vaške Straže' or village guards), which was created in November 1941 by Ernst Peterlin. It was a militia of Slovenian Catholic peasants set up to prevent the robberies and assaults of the "Tito" communist partisans in the Slovenian countryside. The Civic Guard was also created (in the intentions of its leaders) to prevent the establishment of communist political and military power on Slovenian territory, with the ultimate aim of contributing to the establishment of a Catholic political system in the country.

The 'Civic Guard' (with dark berrets) of Rakitna -a village between Lubiana and Postumia- with Italian officers and some civilians & religious groups, in summer 1941
It should be noted that in addition to the approximately 6,100 of the MVAC, the Slovenian Catholic auxiliary forces deployed a total of 7,000 men alongside the Italian authorities at the end of 1941, when the communist resistance in Slovenia began to be present in a serious form (with attacks and murders): the idyll in Slovenia was over!

Furthermore, in December 1941 an Italian teacher was killed by the Slovenian Communists in front of her pupils in Lubiana (read for further information She was the first Italian civilian (and the first Italian woman) assassinated by the Tito partizans in Slovenia, sparking the reaction of the Italian military authorities (who consequently -also because of this murder- enclosed with a barbed wire fence all the city of Lubiana in January 1942).

In other words, this "special idyll" had been quite successful and even happy in the months of May and June 1941, but with the Axis attack against Stalin's Soviet Union it began to disintegrate and by early 1942 it had completely vanished: it didn't even last one year!
Map of 1942, showing the new northeastern borders of the kingdom of Italy.