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Serbia, Historians and Hitler's War

Adolf_Hitler_and_Prince_Paul_of_Yugoslavia_in_1939 - wikipedia
Adolf Hitler and Prince Paul of Yugoslavia in 1939 in Berlin. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

The blurb on the dust jacket of Stevan Pavlowitch's new book describes him as the "doyen of Balkan historians." In this case, it is no simple publisher's puff. It seems to be true. For most of his life and career Pavlowitch has lived in Britain. Now he is retired from active teaching but remains Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Southampton. In 2008 Hurst, many of whose books are featured on our site, published Pavlowitch's latest book, Hitler's New Disorder: The Second World in Yugoslavia. For any serious student of the region an understanding of the war is a key to understanding the Tito years and of course the subsequent destruction of his Yugoslavia. Under Tito a carefully nurtured myth was created. The war was fought between fascists and anti-fascists. Hence the real, far more complex story, was swept under the carpet. As the dust jacket of this book goes on to note, "as the Communist Party began to lose its monopoly of public discourse and its control over memory in the latter years of Tito's reign, people wanted to know what had really happened in those early 1940s, and the once-dominant dogma was slowly questioned. With the disintegration of Yugoslavia, revisionism exploded the dogma, to the point of letting loose an uncontrolled rehabilitation and a lumping together of right-wing, anti-communist and fascist movements, all presented as being victims of an 'anti-Serb' or 'anti-Croat' communism. In reaction to this revisionist flood, a belief in an idealized Titoism is reappearing, along with a belief in its idealized origins during the Second World War." Pavlowitch's book is a dispassionate study which succeeds in telling the story without an ideological bias and is thus a powerful antidote to much that has gone before it. Here we have chosen an extract that does not deal with the complex web of armies and insurgents but rather discusses an aspect of the German occupation of Serbia:

Germany had originally intended to operate all war-production facilities, but with the rising [of 1941], it was decided to dismantle armaments and explosives factories, and to remove machinery, tools and equipment to Germany. By March 1943, this had been carried out. The mining of copper ore at the Bor installations, seriously damaged by Yugoslav forces in April [1941, when Yugoslavia was invaded], was started again in November. By September 1942, it supplied sixteen per cent of German consumption, despite labour and other problems, just as the Trepča lead mines [in Kosovo] provided thirteen per cent of the Reich's needs. All in all, industry in Serbia was not so much taken over as destroyed, by military action, by the manner of production for the war effort, by turning out labour to work on repairing and operating railways and mines, and to go and work in the Reich. Insurgency, reprisals, removal of plants, and action to incite workers to work in Germany, all contributed to the departure of over 40,000 workers to the Reich by 1943. The cost of repairing industrial installations was borne by the Serbian government, along with compensation claimed for war damage to German property, and ever-increasing occupation costs.

Hitler's New Disorder: The Second World War in Yugoslavia. Stevan Pavlowitch. 2008.
[p. 68 / Hurst]

January 2009
Tim Judah

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