Forgotten Victims: Slovenian Mass Grave Could Be Europe's Killing Fields

Slovenian officials estimate that a mass grave found near Maribor will most likely prove to be the largest in Europe, surpassing even that of Srebrenica.

Slovenian forensic experts investigate the site discovered in 1999 by Slovenian highway workers near Maribor, where 1,179 skeletons were found in a World War II-era trench.
AP

Slovenian forensic experts investigate the site discovered in 1999 by Slovenian highway workers near Maribor, where 1,179 skeletons were found in a World War II-era trench.

A mass grave in Slovenia could turn out to be the largest in Europe, bigger even than that of Srebrenica.

Exhumations in Tezno, a residential district of Slovenia's second-largest city Maribor, are likely to uncover the remains of thousands of victims of purges carried out immediately following World War II, according to Slovenian government officials.

"It just might be that the greatest crime of the period following World War II will be uncovered in the mass grave in Tezno, one that even surpasses that of Srebrenica," Joze Dezman, head of the Commission on Concealed Mass Graves, told Slovenian state radio recently.

Dezman referred to Tezno as "the murderous epicentre of Europe," according to the English-language newspaper The Slovenia Times. He also compared Slovenia's 540 estimated post-war graves to Cambodia's infamous "killing fields," the mass graves of victims of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime.

Slovenian officials believe the grave might include the remains of roughly 15,000 Croat members of the Croatian Home Guard, known as the Domobrani, and forces of the pro-Nazi Ustashas regime, who were trying to escape from Yugoslavia at the end of the war.

The mass grave was apparently originally an anti-tank trench dug by Germans near the end of the war. It is 1 kilometer long, 4 to 6 meters wide and the layer of human remains measures 1.5 to 2 meters deep, according to measurements provided in the Slovenian daily Delo.

The mass grave was first found by chance in 1999 during highway construction in a forest near Tezno. At the time, 1,179 remains were found in an incomplete excavation of the site. A new exhumation began two weeks ago.

Slovenia was part of the former Yugoslavia ruled by Josip Broz Tito for over 40 years following World War II. The country declared its independence in 1990 and was spared the violence that tore the region apart in the following decade.

jtw/spiegel

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