ZAGREB, May 12, 2018 – A ceremony was held at Bleiburg, southern Austria, on Saturday to commemorate tens of thousands of Croatian civilians and soldiers of the defeated Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia (NDH) who surrendered to allied forces there in May 1945, but were handed over by British troops to Yugoslav forces. Many were executed on the spot, while many perished during so-called death marches back to Yugoslavia.
The ceremony began with mass led by the Archbishop of Zadar and President of the Croatian Bishops’ Conference Želimir Puljić. “Here we pray for the peace and rest of the souls of thousands of people killed at execution sites and buried, without a name or grave marker, in mass graves,” Puljić said at the start of the service.
Those gathered were addressed by the Director of Pastoral Care for Croats Abroad Tomislav Markić, who said that Bleiburg Field was filled with memories of countless victims “who were hoping for salvation but instead embarked on a difficult way of the cross which took many of them to death.”
He called on those in attendance to pay tribute to all victims of the war and the post-war period, “especially those who were killed without a trial after the end of World War II and their earthly remains were buried and hidden in known and unknown mass graves and pits.”
“Let us do this in dignity, as the Catholics do, by praying for mercy both for the victims and for the perpetrators of these terrible crimes, but also for those who still today find excuses for them or want to misuse the victims for their own selfish purposes, so that they all may turn around and repent,” Markić said. “Let us think thoughts of forgiveness and reconciliation, thoughts that open us to the future, in the light of truth and righteousness,” he added.
The ceremony was organised by the Bleiburg Guard of Honour in cooperation with the Directorate of Pastoral Care for Croats Abroad and the Croatian Catholic Mission in Klagenfurt, and was held under the patronage of the Croatian Parliament and the co-patronage of the Croatian National Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Among those attending were the Speaker of the Croatian Parliament Gordan Jandroković, who was greeted with applause and an occasional whistle, the Chairman of the Croatian National Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina and member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Dragan Ćović, the Croatian Minister of State Assets Goran Marić, in his capacity as envoy of the President of the Republic, and the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs Tomo Medved, as envoy of the Prime Minister.