Bitola in the First and Second World War

The Bulgarian occupations endured in Bitola only one year, and in 1916 Bitola once more, fell under the authority of the Antanta (Italy, England, Russia and Serbia). The army of the alliance in this period occupied the city putting the front line against the Central Forces, near Bitola. This way once more Bitola remained in the centre of the events, and in the middle of the war and terror. This situation reflected extremely negatively in all the spheres of the existence of the city and its population.

A mother with her starved children in Bitola during the First World War.

The smell of smoke and death was constantly present in the city until 1918. The situation was even worse because Bitola was divided into four parts, each of them under different occupational authority (Italian, French, Serbian and Russian), but all of them under the command of the French authority leaded by General Sikr. All this just increased the tension and made the situation even more difficult.

As a result of this long occupation, the city became a city of ghosts, city that in only a few years changed all its glory with eternal darkness, and a city that all its vivid and turbulent life exchanged with death. Bitola became a graveyard for hundreds and thousands soldiers. All of them finding their death here in Bitola, also found their eternal peace. The German, French, and Serbian cemeteries are only one silent witness that in a simple but unusual way speaks about all the suffering of the people.

 

Mother with her starved children

Мајка со изгладнети деца

 

The end of the First World War did not bring any good for the people. The same story went on and on, as an eternal circle of hell. One occupation exchanged with the other force of the previous one. The kingdom SHS under whose authority remained one part of Macedonia - Vardarska Macedonia, in the process of trying to enforce its ethnic and cultural identity over the Macedonian population only worsened the situation. The tension increased the same way as the appetite of the alliances growth.

Only after twenty years another war knocked again on the city doors. This Second War was even more fearful than the First one. With the capitulation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April 1941 the doors to the occupants were widely open. And again the same alternate change of the occupants, as a century old inevitability that has no end. The Serbians banished, but replaced with the new occupants, fascists, Germans and Bulgarians. And again the same attempts for impersonating someone’s strange identity and culture and as an attempt for repeated ethnic shapelessness of the population.

 

German and Bulgarian soldiers in occupied Bitola

 

Bulgarian schools, Bulgarian reading-rooms, Bulgarian magazines and everything with only one purpose - a general Bulgarization of the population. The forming of KPM ( Comunist Party of Macedonia) and its activities in the four years’ duration of the Second World War, was the only light point that the population could see, and completely understandable, they tried to reach it.

The forming of the First partisan detachment “Pelister”, the “Bitola - Prespa” partisan detachment, the detachment “Jane Sandanski” and the forming of the Headquarters of the Second operational zone, represented the wishes of the population and the idea for final liberation.

Beside all the sufferings that for decades were a part of everyday life of Bitola, one morning brought the worst human catastrophe that one rational mind could think of, and that one human being could never even imagine. Through all the ashes and ruins, through the rivers of blood, one morning in March 1943, walked from the dream awakened 3.269 Jews from Bitola.

 

Exodus of the Jews from Bitola 

 

Starting out, they never even dreamed that for 3.013 of them, this was their last journey. The final destination the concentration camp of death - Treblinka eagerly awaited them. The streets filled with the cry of babies and children, filled with fluttering scared souls of the Jews, made the air sticky and unbearable. From the surrounding windows peered out the eyes of the curious people, as well as those of the ones that hiding their friend in their homes checked out if they were revealed in their intention. It looked like behind every latch, one more life was closed down, and as the last hope died out.

However the persistence in the trying and the intractable population, strengthened during the long years of inhuman sufferings, enabled them to wait and live the last year of the war. The members of the First Macedonian - Kosovo brigade, the Second and Third Macedonian brigade as well as the once of the  Seventh brigade of Bitola, after the hard, exhausting and predominate battles during 1944 finally managed to open the door towards the freedom and for the first time after many years to realize their wish for independence.

A part of the members of these brigades continued their military raids even after the liberation of this part of Macedonia, on the battlefields in Srem, Bosnia, Croatia and everywhere where they were needed, until the final liberation in 1945.

 

The liberation of Bitola 

 

The soldiers from Bitola and the region, taking part in all the important battles, gave their contribution for the liberation and against the fascist regime. In this period a very important role was played by nine participants - delegates from Bitola at the ASNOM Assembly.

 

 

Text: Meri Stojanova
NI Institute and Museum Bitola

 

 

 

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