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The Incredible Tito
Man of the Hour
By Howard Fast
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1944 Magazine House
All rights reserved.
In April, 1942, a year after the Nazi Panzers had raced through Yugoslavia, shattering the Yugoslavian army in ten days, a peasant approached the little town of Foca, in Bosnia. The peasant, a tall, thin man, skin burned brown from sun and weather, resembled a compact, small and mobile arsenal.
In his hands, he carried an Italian tommy gun. He wore a German automatic on one hip, a Hungarian revolver on the other. Three cartridge belts hung from his shoulders. A thin Italian bayonet, slung over his back, completed the international armament.
The peasant had come a long way. His own land was Slovenia, a part of Yugoslavia three hundred miles to the north. He had never seen the town of Foca before—or indeed any part of Bosnia. But it gave him a sense of comfort to know that he was still in Yugoslavia, that the numerous ridges of craggy mountains he had crossed on his way south were all in Yugoslavia. He was a man born and bred in mountains; and he knew that were it not for those same mountains he would not be alive here in Yugoslavia, a year after the German invasion.
As he approached the outskirts of Foca, a man rose from a clump of shrubbery and pointed a rifle at the peasant's stomach.
The peasant stopped, observed the man narrowly for a moment, and then lifted both arms, still holding the tommy gun. The man who had stopped him wore a grey uniform that had once adorned a German. Now the insignia were gone. A five-pointed red star was sewn onto the cap.
"Where are you going, uncle?" the man with the red star asked.
"To Foca, if it's any business of yours."
"And where are you from, uncle?"
The sentry nodded. "And how did you get here?"
"I walked," the peasant said sourly.
"That was a long walk for a man your age, uncle," the sentry grinned. "And what brings you to Foca?"
"I came to see a man."
"For all of my age," the peasant observed, "I would knock some politeness into your thick head—if not for that gun you're holding at my stomach. I came to see Tito."
Now the sentry studied the peasant long and carefully, and then nodded. "Come along," he said.
He followed the peasant into town. At the edge, there was a long slit trench, protected with sandbags. There was a machine gun there, a four man crew on the alert beside it. A little way beyond, there was a hut, from which an officer stepped as the two approached.
"This one wants to see the marshal," the sentry said, after he had saluted.
The officer nodded. "Your name, uncle?"
"Peter Narovich," the peasant said wearily. "I've walked three hundred miles to see Tito, not to answer every empty-head's questions."
"I'm afraid you'll answer a good many more questions. Come along with me. But you'll have to leave your guns here, uncle."
"My guns? I don't part with my guns. I killed enough damned fascists to get them."
"They'll be held for you," the officer said patiently. "As soon as you're through, uncle."
It took ten minutes more of argument before the peasant would give up his guns. Then he followed the officer down the main street of the town—to a large house from which a red flag with a star hung. Two guards, armed with tommy guns, stood on either side the door. Indeed, the peasant couldn't help noticing that the town was an armed camp, four tanks and a dozen field guns in the central square, covered over with camouflage, barbed wire, machine gun nests, trucks parked close to the eaves of the houses and under trees, and everywhere armed men—men in German uniforms, in Italian uniforms, in Yugoslav uniforms, but all with the insignia removed and the red star substituted.
They went into the large house. More men in uniform inside, girls at desks, typing and writing, three posters on the wall, portraits of Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. The officer told the peasant to sit down and wait, and then disappeared through a door. The peasant sat on a bench with two wounded soldiers, an old woman, and a grim-faced boy in his teens.
For a half hour, the peasant sat there and waited. He had come three hundred miles to find the legend that was Tito. He had known that Tito was a very great man, that Tito was drawing together and making an organization out of anyone and everyone in Yugoslavia who would kill Germans. But he had not expected anything as large and as important as this. Perhaps Tito would not see him at all.
Then the officer returned and said, "Come along, uncle."
They went through the door. They entered a small room, where a man sat at a table. As they came in, the man glanced up and smiled. And the officer said,
The marshal held out his hand, and the peasant took it. So this was Tito. The peasant liked his looks, a strong face, a big jaw, a full mouth, deep-set grey eyes.
"Sit down, uncle," the marshal said.
And the officer drew up a chair for the peasant. They sat across the table from each other. Tito leaned forward and said,
"So you are from Slovenia, uncle."
The peasant nodded.
"Walked all the way."
"That's right," the peasant agreed.
"And how are things in Slovenia?"
"Bad—that's why I am here. I have a band. We went into the mountains when the Nazis began to kill everyone. Yes, in the village near mine, everyone. Every man, woman and child. Then we decided that we would go into the woods before they killed us, myself and my son and my wife. There were other folks in the woods—we made a band of about forty souls. We had six guns, until we raided an Italian supply column. Then we had over a hundred guns. More came into the woods and joined the band. When there were sixty of us, we raided a German post, and then we got two machine guns and four tommy guns. Now we number seventy-two. We lost thirty-three in our operations, but we have accounted for over a hundred of the German and Italian swine."
Tito nodded as he heard the peasant's story. It was a familiar tale; the same thing had happened again and again in every corner of Yugoslavia, in Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, a gathering rage, men driven into the mountains and the woods, forming bands, striking back.
"But why did you walk three hundred miles, uncle?"
The peasant considered his words carefully before he replied. "Understand," he began, "we are not Communists. I am not a Communist—no one in my band is. But after our second engagement, we had fourteen wounded men and women, six of them very badly wounded. We had heard of another band in a valley twenty miles away, and it was said they had a doctor with them. This was a band led by Communists. We are good Catholics, and we wanted no part of this band, and once when they tried to approach us, we fired on them. But now it was a case of going to them, or letting our wounded die. We carried our wounded to them. It is true—they were Communists, but the doctor tended our wounded. Only two men died."
Tito nodded. The peasant went on, as if this was something he still did not fully understand.
"And they had a priest with them—who confessed the dying. You understand? —a good father with these Communists. I talked to him for hours. He told me about you—about how you are uniting all the partisans, about the great battles you have fought. He told me you were ready to admit any and all who will fight the Nazis and Fascists. He told me of your battle cry, 'Death to the Fascists, liberty for the people.' He told me of the four freedoms of the American, Roosevelt, freedom from fear and hunger and the right to say what I want and pray as I want to. And he told me you fight for that. I fight for that too. My people fight for that. If that makes a Communist, then I am as much a Communist as Tito. I went back to my people and spoke to them—and they sent me to you, so that we could join you—"CHAPTER 2
YUGOSLAVIA'S BITTER SURRENDER
That was what a Slovenian peasant said to Tito at his headquarters at Foca, an aging man who had suffered a great deal, who had walked three hundred miles to unite his little guerrilla band with the Yugoslav Partisan Army of Liberation. Tito's answer was to give him arms, ammunition, and food, and send him back with a political instructor who would coordinate the operations of his band with the whole partisan movement. This peasant's name was Peter Narovich; whether he is alive or dead today, his band operates as part of that Yugoslav Partisan Army which is currently engaging fifteen Nazi divisions in a full scale war. And this peasant is only one of a thousand local Yugoslav leaders who were organized into a brave and effective army by this same Tito.
Who is Tito, this mystery man of the Balkans? Not for decades has there been so romantic, so mysterious a figure. Where is he from? For what does he fight? What is the magic in his name that has united a whole nation—the first Nazi-conquered nation to rise in revolt and liberate the majority of its territory from the invader?
To answer these questions, to tell the full story of Marshal Tito, we must go back to the morning of April 6, 1941. That day was Palm Sunday, and that morning, Yugoslavia was still at peace. In Belgrade, the country's capital, the church bells rang, calling the people to prayer.
It was a warm and lovely spring day. Yet if you had looked closely at the faces of the people, you would have seen behind the smiles and the calm, a shadow of an impending catastrophe. They went about their duties; they acted as if all was normal—because they were a proud people, and in a way, happy.
But all was not normal. Only a few days before, young officers of the Yugoslav Army had engineered a coup which threw out of the government the pro-Hitler crowd. A nation which had been prepared to collaborate with the hated Nazis, suddenly set its face against them, proclaimed its independence, its freedom, and its sympathy with beleaguered England.
But it was a nation unprepared for war. Though the people were proud and happy at the stand their nation had taken, they knew well enough what faced them. For one thing, Yugoslavia was a small country—fourteen million population. Its army held some of the best fighting men in Europe, but the weapons were out of date; they had only a handful of anti-tank guns, almost no tanks, little artillery, almost no motor vehicles, and a small, obsolete airforce. In addition, the leadership of the army, the older and high-ranking officers, were twenty years behind in their military thinking. Axis propaganda had divided the country; the Quislings and the Fifth Column were already preparing to betray their nation.
So on that Palm Sunday morning, the people of Belgrade knew that they faced disaster. For all of that, they were filled with a curious sense of power and pride. In the churches, their voices rang louder and more manfully than in many years before. And the priests smiled, half-happily, half-sorrowfully, as they gave the people their benediction.
And then, a few hours later, what they had been expecting came; and it came as it had come to Rotterdam, to Madrid, to London, and to Leningrad. It came in the form of wave after wave of Stukas, savagely and murderously smashing Yugoslavia's most beautiful and largest city to bits. It came against an unprotected people, against women and children who died in the streets that Palm Sunday
Let us say that in Yugoslavia there was this difference. The people chose that way; they knew what was coming. They knew they didn't have a ghost of a chance. They knew that their army was both brave and unarmed. When their proudly uniformed leaders surrendered at the first opportunity, the people cursed and wept, but fought on. They fought practically with their bare hands. As the panzers raced through their green valleys, they fought them with rifle and pistol, as futilely as the Poles had fought.
Nothing stopped the German advance. No minefields had been laid. The few anti-tank guns would not work. Artillery ammunition was defective. The fifth column had done its work thoroughly and effectively, and the German armies cut through the country like cheese.
In ten days, it was over. In ten days over one hundred of the one hundred and thirty odd generals of the Yugoslav Army had surrendered. In ten days, the chief of staff and the minister of war signed an order of capitulation. The government bolted for what planes were left, in a wild scramble to get out of the country. The people wept and cursed and fought on.
But organized resistance was over. Peasants came back to their farms, dug holes, wrapped their rifles in oily rags, and hid them. Divisions, cut to pieces, formed into small bands, and retreated into the woods. But nothing was coordinated, and no real resistance was left. For the moment, Yugoslavia was conquered. The world knew that yet another country, stunned, broken and bleeding, had surrendered to Hitler.
And then, where the fire had been so thoroughly extinguished, a small flame flickered up. Two weeks after the country had surrendered, in the capital, Belgrade, a poster appeared, plastered on a wall in the central square. The poster said:
WE GIVE YOU SOLEMN
DEATH TO ALL FASCISTS!
LIBERTY TO THE PEOPLE!
That was the poster, proud, defiant, almost pathetic, yet within an hour every Yugoslav in the city knew about it. They whispered the slogan to one another on the street, in the stores, in the shops, in the factories. They shouted it in their homes. It gave them courage just to hear it—just to repeat it. Men and women prayed and wept and laughed—for the first time in weeks.
And that same day, a messenger went into the mountains, contacted the first of the little bands of soldiers who had escaped after the surrender, and said:
"I bring you greetings from the People's Liberation Front, and from our commander, Tito!"
Tito! The name had a romantic and mysterious ring to it; it was the sort of name Yugoslavs liked. It was unafraid. It almost gave a man strength just to say the name—Tito!CHAPTER 3
WHO IS TITO?
Tito's real name is Joseph Broz. What do we know about him? Not much, yet understandably so. All of his adult life, he fought for freedom; and in the Balkans a man who fought for freedom did not seek publicity.
He was born in Yugoslavia of peasant parents. The date of his birth was 1889, 1890 perhaps. Even of that we are not sure. He grew up on a small farm in Croatia, learned to read from the village priest, left the farm in his teens and went to one of the Croatian towns, where he found work as a metalsmith. Then, Croatia was under Austrian rule, and when the first World War broke out, Joseph Broz was drafted into the Austrian Army.
Broz was a Yugoslav; as a Yugoslav, he hated the Hapsburg Empire and admired the Russians against whom he was forced to fight. And at the first opportunity, he deserted to the Russian Army.
In Russia, a Yugoslav battalion was formed to fight the Germans; Broz joined it, and when the Russian Revolution came, he and most of his battalion cast their lot with the revolutionists. To him, the revolution meant freedom; freedom was almost the first word he had learned to read from the parish priest. A Yugoslav knew the value of such a word. And during the Russian Revolution, Joseph Broz became a Communist.
Broz stayed in Russia during the civil war. He fought in the Communist ranks, learned their methods of partisan warfare; and then, in the mid nineteen-twenties, he returned to Yugoslavia.
He went to work in the Zagreb railroad shops and organized the metal workers there. The Yugoslav government, terroristic at that time, imprisoned him. When Broz was released, the Communist Party had been forced underground by the Yugoslav dictatorship. For a while, Broz worked through the underground—then he left the country.
For a while now, there is a gap. Some years later, Joseph Broz, already known as Tito, turned up in Spain, as an anti-fascist, a member of the International Brigade. I spoke to a man who met him then, in Republican Headquarters at Madrid. This man remarked upon Tito's physical similarity to Abraham Lincoln, the same large jaw, the big, bony build, the lined face, the deep-set eyes, the large nose. In Spain, Tito organized Yugoslav antifascists. He helped them across the border from France and collaborated with French anti-fascists.
When the Franco Dictatorship, with the aid of Hitler and Mussolini, finally defeated the Spanish Republican Army, Tito was one of those who escaped across the border into France.
Somehow, he escaped the concentration camps and got to Paris. I spoke to people who knew him there, and they described a man more worn than the one in Madrid, leaner, more tired—but as purposeful and hopeful as ever. By now, he knew that his role in life would be a fighting anti-fascist. He saw Hitler's power increasing, and he realized that sooner or later it would be the turn of his native land, Yugoslavia. He decided to go home and organize for the fight against fascism that would come to Yugoslavia, sooner or later.
Excerpted from The Incredible Tito by Howard Fast. Copyright © 1944 Magazine House. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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