Mitja Ferenc: Slovenia hears of yet more WW II mass graves in historian's quest to expose extent of revenge

Historians in the News

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia—This country can't rest its bones.

Skeletons are buried in meadows and beneath parking lots, and just beyond the rumble of trucks and cars near a major highway.

More than 570 hidden grave sites from World War II have been unearthed by a university professor intent on a fair accounting of the past in this former Yugoslav republic now riding high as current holder of the European Union presidency.

A slaughter was conducted in Slovenia in the war's last days and aftermath by the troops of Marshal Tito, the partisan leader and communist who would rule for decades across the region. Thousands of Germans, Croatians and others on the losing side of the war were killed.

History has long known that Slovenia was a field of vengeance. But Mitja Ferenc, a mild-mannered historian, is uncovering the depth of the killing—a level that few imagined.

The massacres were unexplored in communist times and given short shrift in the first decade after Slovenia broke free from Yugoslavia in the 1990s. But Ferenc's digs have cracked a psychological barrier in Slovenia and sparked political debates anew about the sins of World War II.

Ferenc's greatest — or worst — discovery emerged last summer. He returned to an old anti-tank trench near the city of Maribor that had given up 1,179 skeletons in 1999 when road workers cracked its perimeter.

This time, Ferenc explored farther and located a pit of skeletons that he believes stretches for a half-mile. Military gear indicates that these were Croatians and Germans. Ferenc believes as many as 15,000 dead lie in this spot of timberland—a mass grave of historic proportions for Europe and especially for a country of just 1 million people at the time.

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