Foibe massacres

Foibe massacres

The Foibe massacres were killings attributed to Yugoslav Partisans during and shortly after World War II in Istria. The name derives from a local geological feature, a type of deep karst sinkhole called a "foiba" [ [ A City in Search of an Author by Katia Pizzi] ] . This term includes by extension killings in other subterranean formations, such as the Basovizza foiba, which is actually a mining pit. Estimates of the numbers of dead range from several hundred to several thousand [ [ In Trieste, Investigation of Brutal Era Is Blocked NYT April 20, 1997] ] .


In Istria and other areas, there was a forced policy of Italianization of the Slavic population in the 1920s and 1930s [] , "exacerbated by a blatant policy of erasure of Slavic identity" [] and "fascist terrorism not hampered by the authorities" [] .

In 1927, Italian fascist minister for public works Giuseppe Cobolli Gigli wrote in Gerarchia magazine, a fascist publication, that "The Istrian muse named as foibas those places suitable for burial of enemies of the national [Italian] characteristics of Istria". The minister also added stanzas of a poem, written in dialect: "A Pola xe l'Arena / la Foiba xe a Pisin / che i buta zo in quel fondo / chi ga certo morbin" ("In Pula there is the Coliseum, in Pazin the Foiba, into that abyss is thrown, whoever has some itching" [in the sense of 'bad thoughts'] ["Gerarchia", vol. IX, 1927: "La musa istriana ha chiamato Foiba degno posto di sepoltura per chi nella provincia d’Istria minaccia le caratteristiche nazionali dell’Istria"sr icon [ ] [sr icon] [it icon] [it icon] [it icon] .


Many of the bodies found in the foibe pits of Basovizza, Lokev (Corgnale), Grgar, Plomin, Komen, Socerb, Val Rosandra, Cassorana, Labin, Tinjan, Cerenizza, Heki and others were ethnic Italians, though others undoubtedly belonged to Yugoslav Partisans [ [;jsessionid=LQGJmLtCN64ymyL1cdQ5Q3PKglvVdJ1Y5lv1j4WmYyphvLMhTft8!-573992511?docId=5002299082 'Silentes Loquimur': 'Foibe' and Border Anxiety in Post-War Literature from Trieste by Katia Pizzi] ] The first claims of people being thrown into foibe date back to 1943, when the Wehrmacht took back the area from the partisans, when around 70 local people were thrown into a foiba by the Germans after a cinema bombing [ [,+after+a+bomb&source=web&ots=5WCR0iWf97&sig=s86ihov_t6P-JCn4acReV_-34-g&hl=nl&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result#PPA64,M1 A Tragedy Revealed by Door Arrigo Petacco, Konrad Eisenbichler] ] . The number of those who died in foibe during and after the war is still unknown, difficult to establish and a matter of much controversy. Estimates range from hundreds to several thousand. According to data gathered by a mixed Slovene-Italian historical commission established in 1993, "the violence was further manifested in hundreds of summary executions - victims were mostly thrown into the Karst chasms (foibe) - and in the deportation of a great number of soldiers and civilians, who either wasted away or were killed during the deportation" [] . Some historians like Raoul Pupo or Roberto Spazzali estimated the total number of victims at about 5,000, but this is again contested by many.
The episodes of 1945 occurred partly under conditions of guerrilla fighting of Croatian and Slovenian Yugoslav Partisans against the Germans, the Italian Social Republic and their Slavic collaborating allies (the Chetniks, the Ustaše and Domobranci) and partly after the territory had been secured by the Yugoslav army formations.

The number of bodies extracted from the pits has been put at 570 [Marco Ottanelli: "I quali, calcolati secondo il criterio dei corpi estratti direttamente dalle caverne, sono in effetti 570" ("Of whom, calculated according to the criterion of bodies extracted directly from the caves, there are actually 570"). See] , while other sources are attempting to compile lists of locations and possible victim numbers [] .

Investigations of the Foibe

No investigation of the crimes had been initiated either by Italy, Yugoslavia or any international bodies in the post-war period, until after Slovenia became an independent country in 1991.

In March 2006, the border municipality of Nova Gorica in Slovenia released a list of names of 1,048 citizens of Gorizia (the twin town on the Italian side of the border) who disappeared in May 1945 after being arrested by the Partisans' IX corps [] . According to the Slovenian Government, "the list contains the names of persons arrested in May 1945 and whose destiny cannot be determined with certainty or whose death cannot be confirmed" [] .

In September 2006, the "Società di Studi Fiumani - Roma" (Society of Fiuman Study - Rome) and the "Hrvatski Institut za Povijest - Zagreb" (Croatian Institute of History - Zagreb) published an overall study regarding the "Vittime di nazionalità italiana a Fiume e dintorni (1943-1947)" (Italian Victims in Rijeka and the surrounding area (1943-1947)). For each victim found with his name and surname were reported all personal data (name, surname, date of birth, last known address and so on), the date of death and the cause. According to this study, the total number of Italians killed after the liberation of the city (May 3, 1945) until December 31, 1947 was 647, including 37 women [ [ Società di Studi Fiumani-Roma - Hrvatski Institut za Povijest-Zagreb, "Le vittime di nazionalità italiana a Fiume e dintorni (1943-1947)", Rome 2002 ISBN 88-7125-239-X. Table with victims from May 2, 1945 to December 31, 1947 is on p.206: "Dati statistici - Statisticki podaci" (Statistical data). The personal schedules of each victim from p.263] .]

Alleged motivations

It has been said that the main motive for the mass killings seems to have been a plan of "political cleansing" that is to say, elimination of potential enemies of the communist Yugoslav rule, including members of German and Italian fascist units, Italian officers and civil servants, parts of the Italian elite who opposed both communism and fascism (including the leadership of Italian anti-fascist partisan organizations) Slovenian and Croatian anti-communists collaborators and radical nationalists.

Others see the main motive for the killings as having been retribution for the years of Italian repression, forced Italianization, suppression of Slavic sentiments and, indeed, mass killings performed by Italian authorities during the war, not just in the concentration camps (among them the Rab and Gonars camps), but also in the punitive expeditions often undertaken by the fascists [cite web | author=Gian Luigi Falabrino | title=Il punto sulle foibe e sulle deportazioni nelle regioni orientali (1943-45) | url= | accessdate=2006-06-07 | language=Italian]

However, others point out Tito's political aim of adding the Istrian territories as far as Trieste and including the city itself to the new Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The ethnic map of the area could potentially be a decisive factor in the post-War conferences and for this reason, according to some Italian historians, the reduction of the ethnic Italian population was held desirable. However, the Istrian exodus, which reduced the Italian population of Istria and Dalmatia, started before the killings were widely known and was motivated, for the most part, by the desire of the Italian people to live in their own country. [cite web | author=Paolo Sardos Albertini | title="Terrore" comunista e le foibe | date=2002-05-08 | work=Il Piccolo
url= | accessdate=2006-06-08 | language=Italian

Pamela Ballinger in her book "History in Exile: Memory and Identity at the Borders of the Balkans" wrote []

The report by the mixed Italian-Slovenian commission describes the circumstances of the 1945 killings as [ Slovene-Italian Relations 1880-1956 Report 2000] :

Post-War silence

The foibe have been a neglected subject in mainstream political debate, only recently garnering attention with the recent publication of several books and historical studies. It is thought that after World War II, politicians wanted to direct the country's attention toward the future and away from fascist crimes, subsuming the issue of the foibe within this mass "forgetting".

Another reason for the neglect of the foibe can be found in the high degree of ideology historically present in the public debate in Italy. Many Istrians concealed their origins for fear of being identified by other communist Italians, who tended to believe that Italian Istrians who left after the war likely co-operated with the Fascists. Moreover, because of the Cold War and the desire to maintain good relations with Tito, the foibe were a dangerous topic to broach. Furthermore, Italy never extradited or prosecuted some 1,200 Italian Army officers, government officials or former Fascist Party members, accused of war crimes by Yugoslavia, Ethiopia, Greece and other occupied countries and remitted to the United Nations War Crimes Commission. [cite web | author=Crimini di Guerra | title=La mancata estradizione e l'impunità dei presunti criminali di guerra italiani accusati per stragi in Africa e in Europa | url= | accessdate=2006-06-03 |language=Italian] According to some, the Italian government tacitly "exchanged" the impunity of the Italians accused by Yugoslavia for the renunciation to investigate the Foibe killings.cite web | author=Marco Ottanelli | title=La verità sulle foibe | url= | accessdate=2006-06-03 |language=Italian]

Re-emergence of the foibe issue

.The coalition of Silvio Berlusconi brought the issue back into open discussion: the Italian Parliament (with the support of the vast majority of the represented parties) made February 10 "National Memorial Day of the Exiles and Foibe", first celebrated in 2005 with exhibitions and observances throughout Italy (especially in Trieste). The occasion is held in memory of innocents killed and forced to leave their homes, with little support from their home country. In Ciampi's words: "Time has come for thoughtful remembrance to take the place of bitter resentment". Moreover, for the first time, leaders from the Left, such as Walter Veltroni, visited the Basovizza foiba and admitted the culpability of the Italian Left in covering up the subject for decades. However, the conciliatory moves by Ciampi and Veltroni were not endorsed by all Italian political groups.

Nowadays, a large part of the Italian Left acknowledges the nature of the foibe killings, as attested by some declarations of Luigi Malabarba, Senator for the Communist Refoundation Party, during the parliamentary debate on the institution of the National Memorial Day: "In 1945 there was a ruthless policy of exterminating opponents. Here, one must again recall Stalinism to understand what Tito's well-organized troops did. (...) Yugoslavian Communism had deeply assimilated a return to nationalism that was inherent to the idea of 'Socialism in One Country'. (...) The war, which had begun as anti-fascist, became anti-German and anti-Italian." [cite web | author=Luigi Malabarba | date=2004-03-11 | title=Declaration of Vote | work=Transcript of the 561th Session of the Italian Senate | url= | pages=15 | format=PDF | accessdate=2006-06-05 |language=Italian] However, Malabarba and his party maintained that the discussion on the killings was being manipulated by the right-wing parties and that the new Memorial day was part of a general attempt to criminalize anti-fascism and Resistance.

In February 2007 a period of diplomatic tension between Croatia and Italy arose after Italian President Giorgio Napolitano described the killings as "ethnic cleansing" and said the massacre had been motivated by "a wave of bloodthirsty hatred and fury as well as a Slavic annexation plan". Croatian President Stipe Mesić responded in writing, saying "it was impossible to not see overt elements of racism, historical revisionism and a desire for political revenge" in Napolitano's words [] [] . President Napolitano's remarks on the foibe massacres were praised by both centre-left and centre-right in Italy, and both coalitions condemned Mesić's statements, while the whole of Croatia stood by Mesić, who later acknowledged that Napolitano didn't want to put in discussion the Peace Treaty of 1947.


Many books have been written about the foibe, and results, interpretations and estimates of victims can in some cases vary largely according to the point of view of the author. Since most of the alleged foibe currently lie outside Italian territory, no formal and complete investigation could be carried out during the years of the Cold war, and books could be of a speculative or anecdotal nature. Since the topic seemed especially appealing to the far right, there is an overrepresentation of authors that can be traced to neo-fascism. Many authors from the left wing of politics have maintained that the foibe were either an exaggeration (or an invention) of the extreme right for propaganda purposes, [cite web | author=Claudia Cernigoi | title=Capitolo III: Le foibe triestine | work=Operazione foibe a Trieste | url= | accessdate=2006-06-07 |language=Italian] since the fascist crimes in the same areas dwarf even the most lavish of the foibe allegations. Since a definitive investigation on all foibe has not yet been carried out, and is unlikely to be carried out anytime in the near future due to technical and political difficulties, the subject is still controversial, and one should approach any book in this bibliography with a critical spirit.

*Gianni Bartoli, "Il martirologio delle genti adriatiche"::Gianni Bartoli was the former mayor of Trieste, with the centrist Christian Democracy.
*Claudia Cernigoi, "Operazione Foibe—Tra storia e mito", Kappa Vu, Udine, 2005, ISBN X001486360. (The first edition of the book, published in 1997 as "Operazione foibe a Trieste" and limited in scope to the Trieste territory, is [ available online] )::Claudia Cernigoi [ is apparently a former member] of the Communist Refoundation Party.:: [ Kappa Vu] is a small left-wing publishing house.
*Vincenzo Maria De Luca, "Foibe. Una tragedia annunciata. Il lungo addio italiano alla Venezia Giulia", Settimo sigillo, Roma, 2000.:: [ Settimo Sigillo] [ is a small publishing house] , specialised in revisionist books.
*Gianni Oliva, "Foibe", Oscar Mondadori, 2003, ISBN 88-04-51584-8.
*Luigi Papo, "L'Istria e le sue foibe", Settimo sigillo, Roma, 1999.
*Luigi Papo, "L'ultima bandiera".::Luigi Papo has been accused by the left of [ being a war criminal] in Istria during World War II.
*Marco Pirina, "Dalle foibe all'esodo 1943-1956".:: [ Pirina has been associated] to the youth wing of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, the FUAN, and "Fronte Delta", an extreme-right university movement.
*Raoul Pupo, "Il lungo esodo. Istria: le persecuzioni, le foibe, l'esilio", Rizzoli, 2005, ISBN 88-17-00562-2.
*Raoul Pupo and Roberto Spazzali, "Foibe", Mondadori, 2003, ISBN 8842490156 :: [ Raoul Pupo] is an associate professor in contemporary history at the University of Trieste.
*Franco Razzi, "Lager e foibe in Slovenia".
*Guido Rumici, "Infoibati", Mursia, Milano, 2002, ISBN 88-425-2999-0.
*Giorgio Rustia, "Contro operazione foibe a Trieste", 2000.:: [ Rustia is apparently close] to Forza Nuova, a neofascist movement.
*Carlo Sgorlon, "La foiba grande", Mondadori, 2005, ISBN 88-04-38002-0.
*Pol Vice, "Scampati o no - i racconti di chi uscì "vivo" dalla foiba", Kappa Vu, Udine, 2005.


Further reading

*en icon [ History in Exile: Memory and Identity at the Borders of the Balkans by Pamela Ballinger]
*en icon [ In Trieste, Investigation of Brutal Era Is Blocked] Report of the Italian-Slovene commission of historians (in three languages)
*en icon [ Slovene-Italian Relations 1880-1956 Report 2000]
*it icon [ Relazioni Italo-Slovene 1880-1956 Relazione 2000]
*sl icon [ Slovensko-italijanski odnosi 1880-1956 Poročilo 2000]
*it icon [ Operazione foibe a Trieste by Claudia Cernigoi]
*it icon [ Le foibe]
*it icon [ Il punto sulle foibe e sulle deportazioni nelle regioni orientali (1943-45)] , by Gian Luigi Falabrino
*it icon [ Site connected to Lega Nazionale] , claiming 16,500 victims of "slavo-communist" terror.
*it icon [ The truth about the foibe] by Marco Ottanelli. The article claims that crimes on the Yugoslav side were negligible compared to war crimes by the Nazis and Fascists before and during the war.

See also

*Yugoslavia during the Second World War
*Istrian exodus
*Il Cuore nel Pozzo


* [ Italian documentary of 1948]
* [ Italian documentary of 1998]

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