Tags: The | Diaper | Rebellion

The Diaper Rebellion

Monday, 25 April 2005 12:00 AM

"Well, not really, Dad. But if I told you what they REALLY taught us, you'd never believe it!"

It's my turn now to be that 6-year-old child.

Since the end of World War II I've been nursing a story I heard many years ago that fills me with admiration for the ones who lived it. They happen to be the Serbs, the Serbs of the old Yugoslavia, but I realized from the first time I heard the story that I'd better relish it in silence and keep it to myself because nobody would ever believe it; and in this business of journalism that's not an advantageous position to let yourself fall into.

Over the years I made a few deliberately feeble attempts to verify the story. I never could and I decided to let it sit there, resigned to the fact that the tale probably bore the same relation to the truth as that little Jewish boy's version of the Exodus from Egypt – Army Corps of Engineers and pontoon bridge and U.S. Air Force and all.

Too many good stories are ruined by over-verification!

Finally, on a mid-April Sunday as I was sitting in the Holocaust Memorial Park in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, awaiting my turn to address the crowd at a special memorial to victims of a corner of the Holocaust most people have never heard of, a special energy overtook me and almost literally seemed to say to me: "These people assembled here are the very people who either did what you heard they did or did NOT do anything of the kind. Don't pussyfoot or equivocate. Come charging out of the closet and tell the story to their faces exactly the way you heard it and see what kind of reaction you get!"

And so I did.

This was a memorial to the over half-million Serbs, Jews and gypsies slaughtered by Nazi followers at the much-lesser-known Yugoslav concentration camp of Jasenovac. As the Germans were preparing to attack the Soviet Union, Hitler succeeded in gaining a necklace of allies that stretched from Germany all the way down to the Black Sea.

Austria joined the Nazi team with unbridled enthusiasm. Neighboring Hungary followed suit. So did Romania and then Bulgaria. Even the keenest students of history can live a richly informed lifetime without ever once thinking: "Wait a minute! How come Yugoslavia didn‘t join the Nazi lineup for the same fear-plus-opportunity reasons as those others?"

The pre-war Yugoslav government must have realized that its ridiculous army featuring cavalry with HORSES would be a slam-dunk slaughter for Hitler's modern tanks. And at that time nobody thought the poorly equipped and purge-weakened Soviets could stop any Nazi onslaught. So, why didn't Yugoslavia go along with everybody else in the East Europe neighborhood to glom onto the rewards of territory, treasure and all the other assorted perks that traditionally trickle down to those who choose the winning side?

The answer, according to my precious "story" is, Yugoslavia DID join Adolf Hitler's lineup of Nazi allies. You are now, I assure you, the only person in your crowd who knows that Yugoslavia joined Hitler as an ally.

And that alliance lasted almost all day! (OK, almost TWO days!)

On that day, March 25, 1941, the government of Yugoslavia signed a treaty virtually handing the entire nation over to Nazi Germany and putting itself at the disposal of the Hitler war machine.

Then it happened. They call it the "Diaper Rebellion."

The children in the third grade – 9-year-olds, right? – left their classrooms and began to march through the streets of Belgrade shouting slogans like "Bolye rat nego pakt. Bolye grob nego rob." That means "Better war than the pact. Better the grave than slavery."

They were quickly joined by the fifth-graders, the police, the seventh-graders, the mailmen, the university students, the faculty, the pensioners, the soccer players, the trade unionists, and on and on and on until the entire Serbian population was in the streets denouncing the pact their craven leaders had signed with Adolf Hitler.

Then the big guys moved in. Yugoslav Air Force general Bora Mirkovic rounded up the stunned leaders who'd made the deal with Hitler and threw them in jail. Yugoslavia's regent, Prince Paul, fled to Greece. The new government of Yugoslavia then renounced the Pact, thereby voluntarily moving into the tight little bull's-eye of Hitler's maximum fury.

If the Yugoslav Pact-signers were stunned by the "Diaper Rebellion," Adolf Hitler was mouth-foaming, rug-eating, throw-the-piano-through-the-plate-glass-window kind of mad. He couldn't believe a small, weak country without a single ally would stand up and defy the mightiest, most fear-engendering power in the world. And on PRINCIPLE, yet!

Hitler screamed, "We will destroy you!" There's no record of any Serb at the time denying that. But the record does clearly show the "bring-it-on" attitude of the 1941 Serbs of Yugoslavia. Their response was, in effect: "If you want us, if you want our geography, you've GOT to destroy us. We don't like you, and Serbian honor is not negotiable!"

Belgrade was bombed by German planes on April 6, 1941, killing 17,000 people. Then Yugoslavia was invaded by troops from Hungary, Bulgaria and, of course, Germany.

Now get this! Hitler had intended to attack the Soviet Union in March of 1941. His commanders realized you had to start in early spring in order to take Moscow in the first lunge before the Russian winter kicked in. Yugoslavia's defiance and resistance trashed Hitler's timetable.

Although Yugoslavia's organized resistance lasted a scant two weeks, guerrilla warfare against the Nazi invaders never ended. Yugoslavs continued to wage the most effective ongoing war against the Germans of any Nazi-occupied country. No other Nazi victim came close. By the time the Allies broke through late in the war, fully two-thirds of Yugoslavia was in Yugoslav hands!

The combined efforts of Chetnik leader Draja Mihailovich and Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito tied down hundreds of thousands of German troops in Yugoslavia, possibly enough to gain Hitler victory if those troops had been free to deploy to the Russian front.

When it became apparent that Yugoslav stubbornness would be such a major problem, Hitler's generals begged him to postpone the attack on Russia until the next year, March of 1942. No way. Hitler's attitude was "Slavic dogs will not interfere with German plans."

So, the Germans went ahead and attacked the Soviet Union in late June 1941. And they came to a standstill a mere 20 miles from Moscow, a city surrounded by Nazi troops on three sides, stopped by an unbeatable coalition of Russian guts and temperatures of 45 DEGREES BELOW ZERO. (Who cares whether that's Fahrenheit or Celsius?) And that's as close as Hitler got to the "Toxic seat of Bolshevism."

After I told the tale to that mostly Serbian audience, the master of ceremonies took the microphone and said, "Mr. Farber had no way of knowing this, but our next speaker was IN that Diaper Rebellion as a young student." I then had the pleasure – no, the ADVENTURE – of hearing a participant in that impossible story corroborate my narrative in every detail. After the ceremony, many of those Serbs congratulated me on knowing such an arcane fact of Balkan history and thanked me for bringing it up.

We've got the heroes of the Battle of Britain. We've got the incredible contribution of the Soviet army. We've got Normandy and all the American contributions to victory. We've got effective resistance movements all across Nazi-occupied Norway, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, France, Poland, Greece and elsewhere. And they all have the right to tell their grandchildren and great-grandchildren that they "saved civilization."

They're now joined by a new and unlikely force. Civilization may also have been saved in World War II by the third-graders of Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

How come nobody knows this story? I would never try to coach the Serbian people in courage, but I might offer a tip or two about public relations. I know of no effort by the embattled Serbs ever to get this story out there.

The hen lays an egg and cackles for 45 minutes. The sturgeon lays 10,000 eggs and never lets out a peep.

And that's what we call "caviar"!


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"Well, not really, Dad.But if I told you what they REALLY taught us, you'd never believe it!" It's my turn now to be that 6-year-old child. Since the end of World War II I've been nursing a story I heard many years ago that fills me with admiration for the ones who lived...
Monday, 25 April 2005 12:00 AM
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