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22 Jun 2022, 17:31 PM

STA, 22 June 2022 - The remains of at least 529 people executed in post-WWII summary killings have been unearthed from an anti-tank trench in Mostec near Brežice, east Slovenia, according to the Military Heritage Administration (Uprava za vojaško dediščino), which is part of the Defence Ministry.

Archaeological excavation at the site was carried out due to construction of a chain of power stations on the river Sava.

The anti-tank trench, originally dug out in 1945 by the occupying Nazi forces, is around 4.6 metres wide and 3 metres deep.

Historians claimed an area of 120 metres of the trench contained remains of people of various nationalities killed immediately after WWII, and several probes carried out after 2008 confirmed the presence of human remains.

In 2020, the remains of at least 276 people were found alongside thousands of personal effects as excavation was carried out on some 20 metres of the trench.

The map below shows the location of Mostec, not the grave

This year's excavation work on another 30 metres started in April and ended in June to find the remains of at least another 253 persons.

So far, the remains of 529 to 532 dead, including 25 to 46 women, have been excavated, and will be handled in line with the law, including the burial.

The Military Heritage Administration - launched a year ago to also manage activities related to war graves - says that excavation will have to continue on the rest of the anti-tank trench.

Since Slovenia gained independence in 1991, a number of mass graves containing the remains of the people executed in summary killings have been discovered.

While many Slovenians lost their lives in summary killings, the majority of the victims are believed to be Croats and Serbs, whom the allies sent back to Yugoslavia after they escaped to Austria's Carinthia as WWII was about to end.

The largest site of summary killings was discovered in March 2009 in the disused Barbara Rov coal mine, which contained the remains of over 1,400 victims.

10 Sep 2020, 19:31 PM

STA, 10 September 2020 - The government commission for concealed mass graves has begun work on a site of summary execution at Mostec near Brežice in eastern Slovenia, so far discovering the remains of at least 139 victims believed to have been executed between May and October 1945.

The Mostec anti-tank trench, one of what are believed to be over 600 locations of post-WWII summary killings in Slovenia, will be exhumed because the pending construction of a new hydro power plant will flood of a part of the area.

The head of the exhumation works Uroš Košir told the press on Thursday that the remains of at least 139 people have been discovered since 25 August.

The final figure will only be known after the exhumation and studies are completed, but the work on the up to 200 metre-long trench so far has shown three layers of victims.

The remains of soldiers have mostly been found in the first and third layers, while civilian casualties, including women, are predominant in the second layer, where the remains of at least 27 victims were found. Large numbers of cartridges suggest the victims were executed on-site.

Pavel Jamnik, the head of the police campaign dubbed Reconciliation, said the Mostec site was one of the first to grab the attention of the Slovenian public and police after independence. The State Prosecution in Krško was first informed about it in 1995.

The executions there are believed to have taken place from May to October 1945 and were organised by the People's Defence Corps of Yugoslavia or KNOJ, with Slovenians also taking part.

It was established that people were transported there from the Teharje barracks, used as a concentration camp for members of the Home Guard militia that collaborated with the Nazis, as well as soldiers, civilians and refugees from Croatia and Serbia apprehended by the Allies in May 1945 and turned over to the Partisans.

At least one bus full of women was brought from the Huda Jama execution site, which was already full by then, victims were also brought in from Šentvid prison, while some of the victims are believed to have been a group of apprehended German soldiers and Croatian Ustaše, Jamnik said.

The chair of the government commission for concealed mass graves Jože Dežman announced that the remains would be transported to the Maribor ossuary.

All our stories on mass graves in Slovenia

25 Aug 2020, 11:10 AM

STA, 24 August 2020 - In Kočevski Rog, a vast forest area riddled with chasms in the south-east of Slovenia, known for being a site of post WWII-executions, archaeologists have retrieved the remains of about 250 victims from a mass grave uncovered in May. Most of the victims were young men, mainly civilians, killed in the autumn of 1945.

Presenting the findings in Ljubljana on Monday, the government commission for mass graves said that the remains had been retrieved from Chasm 3, as the grave has been termed, in July.

Archaeologist Uroš Košir said that his team found a large amount of ammunition in the chasm and along its outer edges, leading them to believe that executions were conducted on the spot.

Analysis of entry and exit wounds found on sculls has show that the victims had been killed with automatic rifles. Remains of at least six different hand grenades were also found in the chasm, as well as several unexploded devices.

Related: Mass Concealed Graves in Slovenia, an Interactive Map

Bodies were covered with rocks and debris, however, the excavation team also found bodies on top of these. "We suspect these were captives tasked with covering the chasm, but later ended up inside as well," said Košir.

Preliminary anthropological analysis results show that the remains belonged to about 250 individuals, mostly civilians. All victims were over 15 years old, quite a few were in their early 20s.

Most of the victims were men. While female remains have been found, the team believes there were no more than five women in the grave.

About 400 buttons were found, mostly civilian, some textiles, spoons, combs, mirrors, personal belongings, rosaries and lockets, mostly Slovenian. Newspaper scraps were also found in the grave, said Košir.

Pavel Jamnik, the head of the police campaign dubbed Reconciliation, said today that they had first been made aware of this grave in 2002, but had then been looking for it some 500 metres away.

Zdravko Bučar, the head of the Novo Mesto Cavers' Club, said the 14-metre chasm was found due to a map deviation.

Jamnik said that an analysis of prisoner records in relation to local prisons by the former Yugoslav security and agency OZNA showed that in September of 1945 a selection was made among Novo Mesto prisoners. While some were freed, others were taken to be killed, some of them had definitely been taken to this site.

While selections were made by OZNA, transports were carried out by KNOJ, Jamnik said. The commission had previously talked to a former member of KNOJ, a corps of the Yugoslav Partisans in charge of internal security, who had transported prisoners to designated locations, where they were handed over to Partisans speaking Slovenian and other Yugoslav languages.

Jože Dežman, the commission president, said that the Kočevski Rog killings had taken on new dimensions in recent years. While the chasm Pod Krenom seems to be the grave of Serbian and Montenegrin victims, the chasm in Macesnova Gorica seems to hold Slovenian victims.

Dežman believes that Chasm 3 could provide some indication as to what had happened to the Novo Mesto Homeguard, a group of several thousand who failed to flee after World War Two.

You watch a discussion on post-WW2 massacres in Slovenia featuring the authors of Slovenia 1945: Memories of Death and Survival After World War II here

12 Jul 2020, 10:14 AM

STA, 11 July 2020 - Cavers exploring the karst caves in the Kočevski Rog woods in south-eastern Slovenia have found what appears to be another mass grave in what is an area containing the remains of several thousand people killed in summary executions after the end of World War II.

The chair of the government commission for mass graves Jože Dežman wrote on Saturday that the chasm contains the remains of at least 35 people, while dozens more are expected to be exhumed.

All but possibly one of the remains examined so far appear to be male remains, Dežman added, explaining the operation only started on Friday.

The karst chasms in Kočevski Rog contain the remains of thousands of bodies, especially those of members of the nearby Novo Mesto group of the Domobranci anti-communist home-guard who did not manage to escape abroad. They were hunted for months after the war and most were murdered, Dežman said.

 Related: Mass Concealed Graves in Slovenia, an Interactive Map 

He spoke of several more locations in the area, including the Rugarski klanci site that contains the remains of what appear to have been 22 members of the armed forces of the Ustasha-governed Croatian NDH state.

The latest research in Kočevski Rog meanwhile confirmed that the Macesnova Gorica chasm "is probably the biggest Slovenian slaughter site and mass grave". The commission hopes the exhumation of the victims will be able to begin next year.

Related: Post-War Massacres in Slovenia

As for the Kren site, which had been perceived as the largest mass grave of the Domobranci, it seems that it was mostly members of the Serb and Montenegrin Chetnik royalist and nationalist units who ended up there.

Meanwhile, Dežman added that it was today that the commemoration was held for the Muslims killed in Srebrenica in 1995. "If we condemn the crimes against POWs and civilians in Srebernica then we also condemn the crimes against POWs and civilians being discovered in Kočevski Rog and elsewhere around Slovenia," he wrote.

07 Oct 2019, 12:30 PM

STA, 6 October 2019 - Retired Celje Bishop Stanislav Lipovšek stressed at the annual Teharje ceremony remembering an estimated 5,000 victims of war and post-war summary executions the need "for true reconciliation with the past" if Slovenia wants to build a safe and happy future.

Addressing the ceremony in the Teharje Memorial Park (Spominski park Teharje) near Celje on Sunday, Lipovšek said 74 years were passing this year since the end of World War 2, 50 of which passed in forced silence and an guided concealing of the truth about events during and following the war.

While speaking of 600 execution sites around the country as proof of that, Lipovšek expressed gratitude to all who made sure that these sites are finally being tended to and that Slovenia is approaching the basic civilisational norm of giving the dead the right to a name and a grave and the living the right to remember.

Mass Graves in Slovenia: An interactive map

"For a lasting an true peace and a future of our nation, a reconciliation of with the past is vital, since we cannot build a safe and happy present time and future without making sure true reconciliation with the past occurs.

"Reconciliation is only possible if we're willing to forgive. And forgiveness is only possible when we're ready to admit the truth, no matter how painful, difficult and burdensome it may be. Only the truth sets you free," Lipovšek said.

The ceremony was also addressed by researcher Slavko Žižek, who said "no nation can survive with a burden that began with the murder of several hundred victims in the autumn of 1941 and spring of 1942 and ended with the executions of thousands at the end of the war".

He rejected the continuing accusations of treason, collaboration etc, saying that the "only sin of these people was to resist the terror of the red star".

Many had to leave Slovenia because of their "love of God, of the nation, homeland and life" and they managed to preserve the Slovenian language and love of the homeland and transfer them to their offspring, which "simply does not square with the definition of treason", he said.

Among the victims the Teharje Memorial Park pays respects to were members of the Home Guard, a militia that collaborated with the Nazis; soldiers; civilians; and refugees from Croatia and Serbia apprehended by the Allies in May 1945 in the northern Koroško region as they were fleeing north.

Book: Post-War Massacres in Slovenia

The Allies turned them over to the Partisans, who brought them to the Teharje barracks, a facility formerly used by the Nazi Germany military.

In the subsequent two months, some 5,000 people were killed without a trial on several locations nearby Teharje, including the notorious Huda Jama mine shaft near Laško.

It took a long time until the locals dared to speak about what had happened. Many mustered the courage to speak up only after Slovenia gained independence in the early 1990s.

A memorial park was inaugurated at the site of the former barracks in 2004 but it still not fully finished.

29 Aug 2019, 13:00 PM

STA, 28 August 2019 - Work has started on another mass-grave site in the woods of Kočevski Rog in south-eastern Slovenia to prepare it for exhumation of the remains of victims executed in reprisal killings after the Second World War. The victims are presumably mostly Slovenians.

Currently the main project of the government commission for mass graves, the Macesnova Gorica site is being cleared out with the exhumation scheduled to begin next year.

According to the commission, the remains of more than 1,500 Slovenians lie in the underland of the Kočevski Rog woods, where numerous summary execution sites and mass graves have been discovered in the past years.

Following the government's backing of the commission's programme for this year, the Economy Ministry selected the Kočevje public utility as the project's contractor.

Related: Mass Concealed Graves in Slovenia, an Interactive Map

The company started preparation works in August and has already completed site deforestation. Last week, it started to clear the site of rocks which were piled up after the Second World War to conceal the grave.

"We will remove about 800 cubic metres of rocks, protect embankments and prepare an access for archaeologists this year. We will also create a work site for them out of removed rocks," the commission's president Jože Dežman told the STA.

Selected experts will then exhume the remains and analyse them - a process that will presumably start next year.

Objects, such as prayer cards, crosses and Home Guard paraphernalia found near the pit indicate that the bodies of Slovenian victims lie inside the mass grave. The burial site for them is yet to be determined.

Dežman told the STA that a burial site location for the victims of reprisal executions committed by the Communists just after the Second World War could be set at the Ljubljana Žale cemetery this year pending an agreement on the cooperation between the government and the Ljubljana city.

Historians have determined that there are around 750 mass graves and execution sites across the country, with some 150 possible new locations of concealed graves being considered.

27 Feb 2019, 12:50 PM

STA, 25 February 2019 - Following President Borut Pahor's recent assessment that the work of the government commission for mass graves has "become not only socially acceptable but also socially accepted", substantial progress in the field has also been confirmed by the commission's vice-president Mitja Ferenc.

So far 233 mass graves and post-WWII execution sites have been confirmed and registered in Slovenia. Full or partial reburial was performed at 129, while the the existence of body remains has been confirmed for the remaining 104, Ferenc told the weekly paper Reporter.

The historian attributes major importance to the 2015 act on concealed mass graves and the burial of victims, adopted under a centre-left coalition at the initiatives of the centre-right opposition New Slovenia (NSi).

In the last three years, 162 summary execution sites were marked and tended to. The remains of at least 2,532 bodies were discovered in them and 1,615 were buried, he said.

Related: Mass Concealed Graves in Slovenia, an Interactive Map

The commission's main project presently is the Larch Hill mass grave in the south-east of the country, where he hopes exhumation will already start in the spring.

Expecting to discover around 1,500 victims, Ferenc said "the objects found near the pit indicate that Slovenian victims lie inside".

While asserting that the EUR 480,000 allocated to the commission by the state annually suffice for its tasks, Ferenc is not happy with the attitude of the Economy Ministry.

He said legislation tasked the commission with a large number of tasks that are demanding and require assistance. A key issue are delays in tenders and unreasonable deadlines, which for instance give the commission six weeks for reburial on demanding terrain and winter conditions.

Meanwhile, Ferenc said that concealed mass graves are not the only problem in Slovenia: "We have a neglectful attitude to all grave sites, including those of the Partisan forces. They are not looked after, the registry is not systematic, there are also sites that do not really contain any victims."

Ferenc, who said it was time to stop looking away, announced an initiative to establish an institute for war graves, to be presented on the occasion of the nearing tenth anniversary of the entry into Huda Jama, a site which contained 1,416 victims.

Related: Post-War Massacres in Slovenia (Video)

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