|Some or all of this article's listed sources may not be reliable. (December 2013)|
The Prebilovci massacre was one of many atrocities perpetrated by the Croatian Ustaše regime in the Independent State of Croatia during the World War II persecution of Serbs. Roughly 650 people, mostly women and children, almost the entire population present at the time in the village of Prebilovci, were slaughtered and thrown into natural pits in Herzegovina, together with other Serbs living in surrounding areas. The remains of the victims were extracted from those pits in 1991.
During the Second World War the inhabitants of Prebilovci, a small village near Čapljina, fell victim to the Ustaša's persecution of non-Croats. The village, in 1941, had a population of 1,000. Earlier, it had given volunteers to join the Bosnian-Herzegovinian uprising against the Turks in 1875-78, and it had contributed 20 volunteers to the Serbian Army in Salonica in World War I and many villagers died as prisoners in Austro-Hungarian Empire concentration camps. Croat nationalists, however, harboured hatred at Prebilovci's contribution to the World War I Serbian army.
Prebilovci was surrounded on the night of August 4, 1941, by some 3,000 "Ustashi" made up of the village's Croat neighbours. Expecting the attack, the townsfolk had fled to the hills on the night of August 3, but at dawn the women and children returned to their homes.
In August 1941, some 650 women and children were taken away from their homes, after which they were moved to a place called Šurmanci where they were later thrown into natural pits around that area — either dead or half dead according to accounts — together with another thousand Serbs living in the Čapljina and Mostar municipalities. The men were in the mountains, hiding, in belief that the Croats would not harm their women and children.
The Serbs of Prebilovci were herded together with other Serbs from the western part of Herzegovina and eventually six carloads of them were sent off on a train that was supposedly to take them to Belgrade. They were ordered out of the six cars they occupied at a town called Šurmanci, on the west bank of the Neretva, and marched off into the hills never to return.[unreliable source?]
Atrocities began in the villages including the killing of 50 infants who were swung by their legs so that their heads could be dashed against the school wall. There was continuous rape of the young girls there, and at other locations. On August 6, 150 "Ustasha" under Ivan Jovanovic ("Blacky") were joined by another 400 "Ustasha" from Capljina, and took the prisoners in rail cattle-cars to Vranac, some 500 to 1,000m from the Golubinka pit, one of many such natural, near-vertical cave formations in the region.
There the 550 "Ustasha" took small groups of prisoners to the pit and, family-by-family pushed them into it. The initial vertical fall was some 27 m, followed by a 100m steep slope to the base of the pit. Small children were thrown up into the air before falling into the pit. One women is known to have given birth as she fell into the pit. The newborn infant died with her under the crush of bodies.
Here is how the Catholic Bishop of Mostar, Alojzije Mišić, described this and other massacres perpetrated by the Ustasha around the city of Mostar, in his letter to Bishop Alojzije Stepinac, dated November 7, 1941:
- People were captured like animals. Slaughtered, killed - thrown alive into the abyss. Women, mothers with children, adult girls, women and children, both male and female were thrown into the pits. The Vice Mayor of Mostar Mr. Baljić, proclaimed publicly, as a clerk,he should be silent instead of talking, that in the town of Ljubinje, into only one pit, 700 Orthodox Christians were thrown. From Mostar and Capljina six full rail wagons transported wives, mothers and girls younger than ten, to the station at Šurmanci, where they were taken to the hills, living mothers with children thrown down steep cliffs. Everyone was tossed down the cliffs and killed. In the parish Klepci, from surrounding villages N. N., 3,700 Orthodox Christians were killed. The poor souls, they remained peaceful. I won’t enumerate further. I’d go too far. In the city of Mostar, hundreds were tied, taken outside the town and killed like animals
One entire family of 78 persons died in the crush of the Golubinka Pit near the village of Šurmanci. And after all were pushed into it, the "Ustasha" sat around drinking and celebrating. Only 170 villagers survived. Remarkably, 45 survived the crush of the pits and escaped later to tell of the disaster.
300 children and infants were massacred that day alone.
Only 14 of the 550 known "Ustasha" were brought to trial after the war, and one of the judges was himself an "Ustashi" close to the crime. Only six were sentenced to death, the remainder received prison sentences, the majority around three years.
This incident was also the topic in a documentary before the war in Bosnia had erupted.
By 1991, the new freedom allowed the families to exume the pit and bury their dead. The remains were dug up before the Bosnian-Herzegovinian civil war erupted in 1992, and a monument built. It was later damaged or destroyed by the war. But even in 1991, when the carefully and reverently collected bones of the dead were being transported to a burial site, the truck passed under a bridge bearing the hastily-daubed sign in Serbo-Croat: "Come visit us again—God and the Croats.
- Copley, Gregory. Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy. Volume XX, Number 12, December 31, 1992. - (English)
- E. Michael Jones (February 1998). "The Ghosts of Surmanci: Queen of Peace, Ethnic Cleansing, Ruined Lives". Culture Wars (South Bend, Indiana: Fidelity Press).
- The Balkan Conflict: The Psychological Strategy Aspects Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy Volume XX, Number 12 December 31, 1992 p. 4-9 by Gregory Copley, Editor-in-Chief
- Vukušić, Tomo. MOSTARSKI BISKUP ALOJZIJE MIŠIĆ ZA VRIJEME DRUGOGA SVJETSKOG RATA. Vrhbosanska katolička teologija u Sarajevu.
Ljude se hvatalo ko zvjerinje. Klalo, ubijalo, – žive u ponor bacalo. Ženske, majke s djecom, odrasle djevojke, djecu žensku i mušku bacali su u jame. Podžupan u Mostaru gospodin Baljić, javno izgovara, ko činovnik, mora bi da šuti ne da telali, da je u Ljubinju samo u jednu jamu 700 pravoslavca bačeno. Od Mostara i Čapljine odvezla je željeznica šest punih vagona žena, majka i djevojaka, djece ispod deset godina do stanice Šurmanci, gdje su izvagonirani, odvedeni u brda, žive matere s djecom bacali u duboke propunte. Sve je strmoglavljeno i ubijeno. U župi Klepci iz okolnih sela N. N. 3.700 pravoslavaca ubijeno je. Jadnici, bili su mirni. Dalje ne nabrajam. Predaleko bih otišao. U samom gradu Mostaru na stotine ih je vezalo, odvodilo izvan grada pa ko živine ubijali"
- Prof. Dr. Vojinovic, Nikola. Srpske Jame u Prebilovcima. Genocid hrvatskih kleroustasa nad Srbima u Hercegovini (1991).