The Aftermath of WW2: The Foibe Massacres

The Aftermath of WW2:
The Foibe Massacres

The foibe are large vertical caves typical of the Karst region of Friuli, Venezia Giulia, and Istria, though over the years the word foibe has taken on a new meaning: today it refers to the massacres of the Italian population that occurred at the end of the Second World War and in the post-war period between 1943 to 1947, perpetrated by the hand of Yugoslav partisans. The crazier part of the foibe is a story with tragic connotations, long in silence with it only being brought to light in recent years.

foibe massacre

There are deep natural splits of the terrain that can be traced back to the Carso Mountains in Friuli. The foibe were the stage of a horrible show that took place between 1943 and 1945 thousands of men were thrown into these ditches, an inestimable number of innocent people died without dignity within those grooves that rendered their bodies lifeless. In order to understand the historical situation, it is important to note that in the first 20 years of the 1900s, and today in the Friuli region, there were people from different ethnic groups: Italians and Slavs (the latter can be further divided into Croatians, Slovenes, Serbs etc.). With the establishment of the fascist regime in Italy, the government of Mussolini implemented a policy of modernization and Italianization in this area of the country; it began in 1922 with many measures, the impossibility of speaking different languages from Italian in the public domain, for example. The government also had the obligation to translate its Slavic name with an Italian surname.

The hints of hatred and ethnic opposition that are the basis of the tragedy of the foibe can be traced back to the affair surrounding the eastern border of the country. It must be traced back to 1915, when the Pact of London was concluded with which the Italian government were obliged, with the Triple Entente, to go to war against the Central Powers in the First World War. In return for this promise, Italy would have received some territorial compensation, including the whole of Istria, Trieste, and Northern Dalmatia including the islands. Regarding the city of Rijeka, however, mostly populated by Italians, it was not included among the promised possessions. The Treaty also provided for naturalization. The story of the eastern Italian border and the fate of Italians thrown in the foibe is one of the most controversial and painful pages in Italian history.

In the foibe, the deep rocky deserts in the Gorizia and Triestinian territories, hundreds and hundreds of lifeless bodies were found that witnessed the violence and the non-respect of human dignity. It is from the armistice of September 8 1943 that exploded the first wave of fierce violence. Hundreds of Italians were massacred and thrown into the Karst cavities.


At the end of World War I, Italy obtained only a part of the territories promised by the Pact of London: it did not get Dalmatia, but only the city of Zara and some islands, and the question of the river which Italy claimed remains open.

The presence of many Slovenian and Croatian ethnic minorities soon began to cause tensions that, in a short time, fueled claims of cultural autonomy and territorial detachment then by the same minorities. Tensions led to real violence, as already mentioned, following the armistice of 8 September 1943. It was unilaterally proclaimed the annexation of Istria to Croatia and began reprisals against political opponents and the Italian community. Hundreds of people were tortured and killed and their bodies were thrown into the foibe.

Karst corpses, deep even up to 200 meters, were used to conceal the corpses of those who opposed the policies of the Yugoslav Communist Party of Tito. In some cases, people in the abyss were not dead but only injured. This process became, in the popular culture, the symbol of massacre. However, many were the Italians and political dissidents who were deported to the Yugoslav concentration camps where many were killed or died from the atrocious living conditions.

In May 1945, the IV armed forces of Tito entered the city of Trieste and then to Gorizia. The wave of violence ended in June 1945, when Tito and General Alexander traced the Morgan line of demarcation which included two areas of occupation of the Gorizia and Trieste territories. The persecution of the Italians lasted until at least 1947. By the signing of the peace treaty of 1947, the first division of Istria was decided, but the Osimo Treaty of 10 November 1975 had to wait for the final sale of Zone B of Trieste, or the northwestern part of Istria, to Yugoslavia. Preserving the memory of a tragedy does not simply mean remembering an event.

To keep alive the memory of the past serves to understand, to continue to ask questions, and try to answer the facts in everyday life. It is not enough to remember that intolerance among peoples does not justify any war, but every day it is necessary to remember that whomever is different from us is not an enemy, but a human being.

Written by PFC Valitutto.
Edited by T/5 Vonk & PFC Laird.
Formatted by PFC Laird.


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