Stari Pisker

On April 11, 1941, the Germans occupied the city of Celje, about five miles east of Ljubljana. As in Eastern Europe, the Germans sought to quickly pacify the parts of Slovenia (Untersteiermark) that were occupied and incorporated in Germany. This was a task that fell on the Gestapo arriving at Celje three days after the city was occupied in the company of Heinrich Himmler himself. For Gestapo, it was a matter of quickly finding a suitable prison and, as is often the case, already existing prisons were taken over. In Celje there was one in a former monastery called Stari Pisker where there were about 200 prisoners at the time of the German occupation of the city. Most of these were released, but the heaviest were transferred to a prison in Graz (now Austria). The gestapo imprisoned intellectuals and educated people and already in May there were about 700 Slovenian patriots in prison.

There were three departments for men and one department for women. Initially, conditions were acceptable, but as Slovenian resistance increased, Gestapo’s treatment of prisoners also intensified and more and more suspected Slovenian freedom fighters were imprisoned. The Gestapo used torture during interrogation to force recognition and several times this resulted in the prisoners dying during or as a result of torture and ill-treatment. Already in September 1941, the first executions of ”political criminals” were carried out in a courtyard of Stari Pisker. Until August 1942, six summary executions were carried out in which a total of 374 prisoners (325 men and 49 women) were executed in front of an archebusier platoon. One of these archebusations was photographed by the Germans for some reason and these images were found after the war.

The condemned were placed in special cells where they were told they would be executed and they were allowed to write a farewell letter to relatives. After being executed, the bodies were placed in primitive coffins and taken to a crematorium in Graz for cremation. All executions were publicly announced where the cause and the victims’ names were published. The executions were approved by the district’s political leader (Gauleiter) Dr. Siegfried Uberreither and SS-Obergruppenfuhrer Erwin Rosener who was the supreme locale SS leader. Another SS officer with blood on his hands was, of course, Otto Lurker who, as the supreme head of SIPO and SD in Untersteiermark, was ultimately responsible for the mass executions of civilians in Slovenia (Ressens lurker was tried in Yugoslavia after the war and sentenced to death by hanging).

By November 1944, the Slovenian resistance movement had grown strong and in retaliation for the partisans’ frequent attacks on Germans in the area, prisoners and hostages were shot for deterrent purposes. This rarely had any effect without the attacks and the sabotages continued, so even the executions. In December 1944, the resistance was told that the Gestapo planned to transfer about 80 prisoners to Maribor (german Marburg) where they would be executed. The resistance movement then staged a bold plan to save them. Six opponents (partisans) took on German uniforms and managed to pass the controls surrounding Celje and with the help of an informant inside the prison to disarm the guards and free over 100 prisoners without that a single shot was fired. In May 1945, the prison was liberated by the partisans who in turn began to imprison real and suspected political opponents and collaborators.

Current status: Preserved with museum (2011).

Address: Presernova ulica 20 – 22, 3000 Celje.

Get there: Walk from central Celje.

My comment:

The brutality of the Germans in Yugoslavia was just like in Eastern Europe, but what is less well-known but no less known is the brutality that befell the opponents of the communists shortly after the war. In and around Celje, Tito’s partisans murdered about 80,000 people who they considered had made common cause with the Germans or were/suspected to be opponents of the communists. At Teharje, just east of Celje, the communists set up a concentration camp in a German former military camp and murdered until the camp was dismantled in 1950 another 5,000 people. This brutality that Tito’s partisans/communists perpetrated was not unique to Celje but occurred throughout the former. Yugoslavia, in particular the Croatians, were hit exceptionally hard. Even today, mass graves are found after executions and the debate around Tito and the years after the war are many times a sensitive topic in the former Yugoslavia. How many people were murdered will never be determined because the data differ greatly depending on the source.

Although Yugoslavia is now divided into six independent states (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia), there is absolutely no historical consensus on the country’s history. In the case of Tito, he is still a person whose historical heritage is divided. The fact that Tito’s partisans drove the Germans out of Yugoslavia while indiscriminately murdering anti-partisans makes him a complex person. Historians I have spoken to in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia do not really know how to relate to him. Generally speaking, they see him as a person who did both good and bad things. Good by freeing Yugoslavia from the Germans and that he kept the nationalist feelings in check but after his death in 1980 began to smolder and resulted in several civil wars in the nineties. He was a dictator with blood on his hands.

Follow up in books: Pavlowitch, Steven: Hitler’s New Disorder: The Second World War in Yugoslavia (2008).