On February 10 of every year, since 2005, the Day of Remembrance is celebrated.The massacres or massacres of Foibe began after March 8, 1943 with the disintegration of the Italian armed forces following the collapse of the fascist regime, when in the territories of Istria the power was assumed by the Yugoslav liberation movement Alfonso Iuliano
Foibe in Trieste, archive image. The term foibe is at least partially improper given that only a small part of the victims were hidden in the sinkholes, while the majority lost their lives in another way (in the Yugoslav prisons or concentration camps, or in the transfer marches).
With the massacres or massacres of the Foibe we refer to the thousands of Italians tortured, murdered and thrown into the sinkholes by the militias of Tito’s Yugoslavia towards the end of the Second World War. The sinkholes are nothing more than large karst slits or sinkholes, sometimes of spectacular size, typical of the Giulia region. In Istria there would be about 1700 of them
. The term is at least partially improper given that only a small part of the victims were hidden in the sinkholes, while the majority lost their lives in another way (in the Yugoslav prisons or concentration camps, or in the transfer gears).
The first wave of violence followed on 8 March 1943 and the disintegration of the Italian armed forces following the collapse of the Mussolini regime. The Germans occupied the strategic centers of Trieste, Pula and Rijeka, while in the interior of Istria power was taken over by the Yugoslavian liberation movement. The picture soon became extremely confused between the peasant uprising and the arrival of the Croatian partisan formations.
‘Popular powers’ were established, Istria was annexed to Croatia and arrests immediately began. The partisans of the Tito People’s Liberation Committees established courts that passed hundreds of death sentences. The initial intention was at least to take revenge on the fascists accused of having administered those territories in the interval between the two wars, harshly and by imposing a forced Italianization. But the victims were not only fascist hierarchs, or political and institutional exponents, but also simple characters in view of the Italian community, considered an obstacle to the affirmation of the new political course.
Croatian sources of the time speak of how one of the priority tasks entrusted to the popular powers in Istria was precisely to ‘cleanse’ the territory of the ‘enemies of the people’: a formula that, in its indeterminacy, lent itself to understanding all those who did not actively collaborate to the liberation movement.
The town of Pazin became the center of repression: a revolutionary court was created there and most of those arrested from other parts of Istria were concentrated in the castle.
Most of the condemned were thrown into sinkholes or bauxite mines, some while they were still alive. The killings, according to some accounts, took place in a frighteningly cruel manner. The condemned were tied to each other with a long iron wire tied to the wrists, and lined up on the banks of the sinkholes. Then fire was opened by piercing, in bursts of machine guns, not the whole group, but only the first three or four of the chain, which, falling into the abyss, dead or seriously wounded, dragged with them the other unfortunates, forced to survive. for days in the depths of the sinkholes.
Some of the killings have remained etched in the common memory of the citizens for their brutality: among these are those of Norma Cossetto (who was awarded the gold medal for civil valor), Don Angelo Tarticchio and the three Radecchi sisters.
Foibe in Trieste, archive image
In May 1945 the second phase of the phenomenon started, the one that gave rise to the highest number of victims. The Yugoslavs with General Petar Drapsin in command of the 4th army headed towards Fiume, Istria and Trieste. The order was to occupy Venezia Giulia as soon as possible, thus anticipating the Anglo-Saxon allies.
Hundreds of soldiers of the Italian Social Republic who had fallen prisoners were taken to arms (the same happened to the Germans) and thousands of others were sent to prison camps – among which the one of Borovnica was particularly notorious – where hunger, violence and disease claimed a large number of victims.
The aim of the repressive action was the liquidation of any form of armed power not framed in the Yugoslav army. The indications present in the sources are explicit in this regard, which underline the concern of the leaders of the Slovenian Communist Party for the existence in Trieste of political structures and military forces not only not willing to become subordinates to the Yugoslav liberation movement, but also committed to seeking autonomous anti-fascist legitimacy in the eyes of the population and Anglo-Americans. Consequently, the fighters of the Italian partisan formations were also persecuted.
The Yugoslav authorities launched a wave of arrests that spread panic among the Italian population, especially in Trieste, Gorizia and Pola. Part of those arrested was immediately eliminated, many more were deported and often perished in captivity, there is talk of disappearances and killings of hundreds of people, some of whom were thrown into the sinkholes still alive. The targets of the raids were all those who did not accept Yugoslav hegemony. The chasms were used for the concealment of corpses with three purposes: to eliminate political opponents and Italian citizens who opposed (or could have opposed) the policies of Tito’s Communist Party of Yugoslavia.
The violence in the areas currently under the Italian border ceased only after the replacement of the Yugoslav administration with that of the allies, which took place starting from 12 June 1945 in Gorizia and Trieste; The allies did not arrive in Fiume and the persecutions and violence continued.
The massacre of the sinkholes was followed by the forced exodus of the majority of ethnic and Italian-speaking citizens in Istria and Kvarner, where entire villages and towns were emptied of their inhabitants. All the territories ceded by Italy to Yugoslavia with the Treaty of Paris and also Dalmatia were involved in the exile.
More than 90% of the ethnically Italian population originates from Pula, as well as from some Istrian urban centers. It is estimated that the Julian-Dalmatian exodus involved a number between 250,000 and 350,000 Italians.
The dimensions of the Foibe phenomenon have always represented a very complex topic, the estimates are sometimes very discordant and are made problematic by the nature of the sources, bearing in mind that the authorities of the countries belonging to the former Yugoslavia have only recently wanted to collaborate in the historical reconstruction.
Hypotheses speak of about 600-700 victims for the period of 1943 and of a general order of magnitude ranging between 4 and 5000 victims; other estimates inevitably of adverse political parties come to count up to over 20,000 deaths.
The Foibe drama ended with the signing of the Paris peace treaty on 10 February 1947, when the Paris conference decided that the French line would be followed to establish the borders between Italy and Yugoslavia. And on February 10 of each year, since 2005, the Day of Remembrance is celebrated, a ceremony to commemorate the massacres and the subsequent exodus of Italians.

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