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Tornado of Dust - 1944

Memory plate for primary school children
Memory plate for primary school children

The history of Leskovac can be divided into the period before and after one fateful morning in 1944. Winston Churchill's envoy to the Yugoslav partisans, Fitzroy Maclean, has given us his memories of that day:

"As the appointed hour approached, we gathered in a small group on the hillside and stood waiting. […] A mile or two away we could see the white houses of Leskovac spread out in the warm autumn sunshine. In the trees the birds twittered. From a pond came the occasional croak of a bull-frog. The cornfield buzzed with the hum of innumerable insects. It would have been hard to conceive of a more tranquil scene.

Standing there waiting, I tried to think of the German garrison and tank-crews, and not of the population of small farmers, shopkeepers and railway workers, of the old people, the women and children who at this moment would be going about their everyday business in the streets."1

Then there was "a noise of engines, at first barely audible, then rapidly growing to a roar and looking up we saw at a great height row upon row of bombers". Then "the whole of Leskovac seemed to rise bodily into the air in a tornado of dust and smoke and debris." The English Airforce, at the request of the regional partisan commander, had bombed and destroyed the centre of town. Thousands of people were killed and 35 per cent of the town was destroyed.2  This was followed by the capture of the town by partisans and the destruction of the pre-war entrepreneurial class.

Today in Leskovac, this history remains controversial: in the historical museum the section about the post-WWII history is closed, and there have been bitter debates about the meaning and background of the 1944 bombing in recent years. On the bank of the Veternica river stands a memorial stone to victims of the bombing. It was erected by the citizens only in 1991. At the entrance of the Primary School there is a commemoration to the children killed during the bombardment.

1 Eastern Approaches, p. 486.

2 Director of the Historical Museum in Leskovac Dragisa Kostic. See also "The Rape of Serbia: The British Role in Tito's Grab for Power 1943-1944", by Michael Lees.

Eastern Approaches. Fitzroy MacLean. 2004.
[ / Penguin Global]

February 2007
Gerald Knaus

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