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The Second War

Sarajevo came under the control of the NDH, the fascist Croatian state from 1941-45

German bombers attacked Belgrade and Sarajevo on 6th April 1941 and royal Yugoslavia quickly crumbled. Bosnia-Herzegovina was now assigned to be part of the Nazi quisling, so-called Independent State of Croatia (NDH) whose Ustasha ideology considered Bosnian Muslims to be Croats of the Islamic faith. Throughout the war Bosnia was ravaged by conflict.

The occupiers and their collaborators wrought immeasurable harm in Sarajevo. They exterminated a significant part of the population, altered the city's demographic balance for the indefinite future, and governed principally through terror and intimidation. Their oppression spurred the growth of opposition movements, some of them peaceful and relatively impotent, others armed and dangerous to the occupiers and their allies. The communist-led Partisans, the most successful of these movements, undermined and eventually destroyed the forces of the occupiers and their collaborators. Their final victory in April 1945 owed much to an urban-rural lifeline that allowed the KP [Communist Party] inside occupied Sarajevo to mount clandestine operations in support of the Partisans in the surrounding hills.

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Fleeing Belgrade the Yugoslav royal family and top officials fled first and briefly to Pale, outside Sarajevo, which was in 1992 to become the Bosnian Serb headquarters. On the night of April 13-14 they left for Montenegro and then exile. The Germans entered Sarajevo on April 15th.

German forces quickly set the tone for their occupation. On their first day in Sarajevo, they removed the plaque commemorating Gavrilo Princip's 1914 assassination of the Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand and sent it to Adolph Hitler. On their second day in town they sacked the recently built (1929) Sephardic synagogue in the heart of the city. With the aid of local vandals, German troops confiscated or burned the invaluable contents of the synagogue's library and archives, tore elaborate ornamentation from the walls, and destroyed much of the roof.

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"The four years of occupation were the worst of times for the city's residents," writes Donia:

Most manufacturing enterprises were shut down or functioned at partial capacity. Food shortages persisted and at times approached critical dimensions. NDH authorities opened public kitchens to feed Sarajevo's poorest residents, but most aid was provided by the various ethnoreligious cultural societies and other volunteer organizations. Visitors to the city frequently remarked on the bleak atmosphere, the large numbers of persons taken for forced labour each day, and constant police surveillance and arrests.

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"Precise numbers of victims, are elusive," says Donia, yet in 1981, "a commission created by the city's veterans organization culled a variety of documents to enumerate deaths among Sarajevans during the war."

The commission concluded that 10,961 Sarajevans perished from the violence of the Second World War. Some 7,092 Jews perished in the Sarajevo Holocaust, accounting for 65 percent of all war deaths and 68 percent of the prewar Jewish population of Sarajevo. Of the other 1,945 Sarajevans who died as "victims of fascist terror" a category that excluded deaths in Partisan units and the KP), 1,427 were Serbs, 412 were Muslims, 106 were Croats, and 34 were classified as "other."

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Sarajevo: A Biography. 2005. Robert Donia [C. Hurst & Co]

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