In Kočevski Rog, a vast forest area riddled with chasms in the south-east of Slovenia, known for being a site of post WWII-executions, archaeologists have retrieved the remains of about 250 victims from a mass grave uncovered in May. Most of the victims were young men, mainly civilians, killed in the autumn of 1945.
Presenting the findings in Ljubljana on Monday, the government commission for mass graves said that the remains had been retrieved from Chasm 3, as the grave has been termed, in July.
Archaeologist Uroš Košir said that his team found a large amount of ammunition in the chasm and along its outer edges, leading them to believe that executions were conducted on the spot.
Analysis of entry and exit wounds found on sculls has show that the victims had been killed with automatic rifles. Remains of at least six different hand grenades were also found in the chasm, as well as several unexploded devices.
Bodies were covered with rocks and debris, however, the excavation team also found bodies on top of these. “We suspect these were captives tasked with covering the chasm, but later ended up inside as well,” said Košir.
Preliminary anthropological analysis results show that the remains belonged to about 250 individuals, mostly civilians. All victims were over 15 years old, quite a few were in their early 20s.
Most of the victims were men. While female remains have been found, the team believes there were no more than five women in the grave.
About 400 buttons were found, mostly civilian, some textiles, spoons, combs, mirrors, personal belongings, rosaries and lockets, mostly Slovenian. Newspaper scraps were also found in the grave, said Košir.
Pavel Jamnik, the head of the police campaign dubbed Reconciliation, said today that they had first been made aware of this grave in 2002, but had then been looking for it some 500 metres away.
Zdravko Bučar, the head of the Novo Mesto Cavers’ Club, said the 14-metre chasm was found due to a map deviation.
Jamnik said that an analysis of prisoner records in relation to local prisons by the former Yugoslav security and agency OZNA showed that in September of 1945 a selection was made among Novo Mesto prisoners. While some were freed, others were taken to be killed, some of them had definitely been taken to this site.
While selections were made by OZNA, transports were carried out by KNOJ, Jamnik said. The commission had previously talked to a former member of KNOJ, a corps of the Yugoslav Partisans in charge of internal security, who had transported prisoners to designated locations, where they were handed over to Partisans speaking Slovenian and other Yugoslav languages.
Jože Dežman, the commission president, said that the Kočevski Rog killings had taken on new dimensions in recent years. While the chasm Pod Krenom seems to be the grave of Serbian and Montenegrin victims, the chasm in Macesnova Gorica seems to hold Slovenian victims.
Dežman believes that Chasm 3 could provide some indication as to what had happened to the Novo Mesto Homeguard, a group of several thousand who failed to flee after World War Two.