REMEMBERING GENERAL DRAZA MIHAILOVICH – A TRULY GREAT MAN WHO LEFT HIS MARK FOREVER. / By Aleksandra Rebic April 26, 2014
“Confidence thrives on honesty, on honor,
on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful
protection and unselfish performance.
Without them it cannot live.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
REMEMBERING GENERAL DRAZA MIHAILOVICH:
A TRULY GREAT MAN
WHO LEFT HIS MARK FOREVER.
Taking to the hills of Serbia with only a few Serbian patriots to mount the first real resistance to Hitler’s occupying forces in Europe was impressive by all human standards. The guts it took and the resolve necessary for these men and their leader to initiate such a courageous act against the Nazi war machine that in 1941 appeared to be invincible seems almost inconceivable now. But it was real, and the magnificence of it has withstood the test of time to remain one of those pivotal moments in history when men stood up against monsters and said, ‘No, you will not win.’
For many years now, I’ve told the story of General Draza Mihailovich and his chetnik freedom fighters and the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland. My father Rade has been telling it for much longer than that. It’s a story that begs to be told. It’s the story of a distinguished Serbian military officer who initiated and lead the first real resistance in occupied Europe against Adolf Hitler and who, for the duration of World War Two, remained true to the fight for freedom for his people and his nation. It is the story of a man who was and remained a loyal ally of the great democracies despite the terrible betrayal that would be perpetrated against him. It is the story of a man who has been gone for almost 70 years now and for whom there is still no gravesite in his homeland nor have his remains been found. Just imagine that.
This story, a story that would span four wars, began in April of 1893 in the lovely, bucolic village of Ivanjica in Serbia and came to an end on July 17, 1946 when immediately after a phony communist trial in Belgrade, a true travesty of justice, General Mihailovich was executed. Tito’s communists, knowing what a true hero of the people Mihailovich was, made sure that no remains would be found or properly buried in the Christian Orthodox tradition. There was to be no marker, no shrine dedicated to the memory of a man who lived and died for the honor and survival of the people and country he loved, as well as for the success of the Allied cause he remained faithful to until the end of his life.
That day in July a new story began and has continued for almost seven decades now. That is the story of making sure that the significance of General Mihailovich’s life and life’s work is made known for what it truly was and that the historical record properly and honestly reflects that legacy.
For all these years since his death, those who knew and understood the value of character exemplified by General Mihailovich in his actions against the enemy and in his faithfulness toward his people and his allies have kept his memory and legacy alive throughout the world. No one truly dies unless they are forgotten. All of us who appreciate just how great a man General Mihailovich was and what made him a truly heroic figure in history must never allow him to be forgotten. That is the obligation we have been entrusted with and we carry that obligation willingly. Now that so many of those who lived that history and who fought alongside him are gone, it is up to us who have come after them and who know their story to keep that legacy alive. We must. We owe it to them, and most of all, to him.
Each one of us who knows the history of World War Two and appreciates the role that General Mihailovich played in that history has our own thoughts about what made him great. Mounting the resistance to the Nazis and their quislings in Yugoslavia and maintaining it despite the horrendous Nazi reprisals AND the genocide being committed against the Serbian civilians by the Nazi quislings in the Independent State of Croatia AND the tragic civil war with the Yugoslav communists AND the obstacles and pressures that the Western Allies burdened him with as he fought to remain true to the Allied cause is paramount. However, for me, there is something else that stands out and has become an even stronger indicator of who he was and why he is deserving of the honor and recognition that is bestowed upon true heroes. It’s that thing that makes me proud to be a member of the same nationality that he was and to feel honored to be Serbian.
General Mihailovich remained a faithful Ally. The Western Allies did not remain faithful to him. Throughout the duration of the war he struggled to maintain the fight for freedom against the multiple freedom-crushing forces in his homeland and at the same time remain a worthy and loyal ally of the Western democracies. Despite his tremendous sacrifices and those of his people, and his steadfast loyalty, General Mihailovich would be betrayed and abandoned by those who had promised assistance but who would abandon him to the wolves that would ultimately take his life. Even as he watched the betrayal unfold and came to know that he had been unequivocally abandoned by the Western Allies, he remained loyal to their cause, but not only that. He remained loyal to them.
Even after the betrayal was complete, and he was left on his own against the Nazis and the Communists, General Mihailovich and his people would perform acts that were beyond honorable and that almost defy the imagination considering how selfless those acts were.
Many allied personnel found themselves wounded and stranded in the former Yugoslavia in 1944 after the Allied leaders had turned their backs on Draza and his people. General Mihailovich could have left them to the wolves in retaliation or out of spite, but he did not. Instead, throughout the latter half of 1944 he oversaw and enabled the evacuations of hundreds of Allied personnel who had been shot down by the Nazis and who had landed on Serbian territory that was occupied by the enemy. All of the evacuations were successful. Not one man was captured. Not one man was left to his own fate and at the mercy of the enemy. All were fed, housed, protected, and evacuated to safety to return to their homes and families and to go on with their lives. They all lived to tell stories about the war and about the man who had saved them. Many of them would spend the rest of their lives dedicated to telling this story and fighting for official recognition of the man who had made their survival possible. Even more importantly, literally thousands of people are alive today, because those men were saved by the Mihailovich Serbs. It is comforting to know that many of these people are very much aware of this phenomenon and recognize the grace that blessed the lives of their fathers and grandfathers.
The fact that General Mihailovich did indeed have other options is what will never cease to amaze me, and what lies at the heart of his story are the honorable choices that he made. He could have turned his back, justifiably so, but he didn’t. He did the honorable thing, that unselfish thing, that reflects a “sacredness of obligation” which only true men of character, men of greatness, carry within them no matter what the circumstances are. I’m not qualified to judge what General Mihailovich’s relationship with God was, but I can imagine. I can only hope that when God saw all the General did, that He was pleased.
Through the years I have had the privilege of coming to know many of the WWII veterans that are part of this great story, both Allied and Serbian, and to call them my friends. I never grew tired of their story. I’ll not forget their passion and dedication to keeping this legacy alive. And now that so many are gone, it’s up to us to keep telling that story. We must. That is our sacred obligation.
Progress has been made. Serbia has begun to slowly officially recognize the worthy legacy of the son whom she shunned for too long. The prestigious Legion of Merit Medal awarded to General Mihailovich by the United States in 1948 finally made it home in 2005, where it belongs. Though the old groups and organizations established years ago continue their remembrances and celebrations of his life, new groups and organizations have been established in his memory. It does the heart good to see the young people getting involved in keeping the legacy alive.
As the old guard passes on, it’s up to us survivors to continue maintaining the goal of securing for General Mihailovich the official recognition and place in history that he deserves. The old guard did all the hard work. It’s up to us to make sure that it was not in vain.
My father Rade has never given up. For over 70 years he has remained faithful to the cause that he fought for as a young man, a kid really, and has never wavered. His passion has been passed on to me, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have gotten to know the Mihailovich story and to be part of carrying on his legacy. It’s in my blood now. I can only hope that all of us who share that same passion will maintain the same faithfulness to the cause that our fathers and grandfathers did.
I know the day will come when General Mihailovich is given his proper due and his rightful place in history is permanently established with all the honor that he deserves. He was and remains a true soldier, a distinguished officer, an honorable leader, a faithful ally, and ultimately a decent human being who never turned his back on the sacredness of his obligations. That, by any measure, is what makes a man great.
It is this kind of greatness that makes General Mihailovich a man I wish I had known. As we mark 121 years since his birth this April weekend in 2014, let’s remember the glory of his life, a life that began in the beautiful little Serbian village of Ivanjica back in 1893. Though he was on this earth for only 53 years, he left his mark forever.
Glory to General Mihailovich!
Chicago, IL U.S.A.
April 26, 2014