Croatian pathologist who investigated Soviet crimes against Ukrainians remembered

    Iva Rebac, 24sata (Zagreb).

    Seventy-five years ago, a leading Croatian pathologist who was part of the international team that investigated the Vinnytsia massacre of Ukrainian peasants and workers by the notorious Soviet NKVD, was himself executed by Yugoslav communist security forces (OZNA) for refusing to retract his findings on this mass atrocity.

    The following is a from a June 9, 2020 article by Iva Rebac that appeared on the online news portal 24sata in Zagreb, Croatia. The piece was entitled

    “The Communists Executed Him: Prominent Pathologist Stuck to His Principles and ‘Paid With His Life.’”

    Dr. Ljudevit Jurak, a pioneer pathologist in Croatia and the man who performed the autopsy on the Croatian social reformer and politician Stjepan Radić, refused to renounce the mass crimes committed by the Soviets in Ukraine.

    This leading expert and respected pathologist held firm to his convictions and refused to change his story. Jurak’s life was ended after the communists took power in Croatia. He was sentenced to death and executed by firing squad on June 10, 1945.

    The Communist Commission of Inquiry pronounced him guilty because he did not cave to its pressure and remained steadfast in his convictions. The new communist government demanded that Jurak withdraw his signature from the report of the International Commission that investigated the massacres committed by the Soviets in Ukraine and that he change his story to say that he signed the massacre report under duress.

    Had Dr. Jurak caved to this pressure, he would have been spared his life. He refused to do so.

    As a result, the Military Court of the City of Zagreb accused him of ‘knowingly and maliciously carrying out propaganda against amicable Soviet Russia’. He was sentenced to death, as well as permanent loss of civic honor and all his personal property was confiscated.

    Professor Ljudevit Jurak, MD was born in 1881 in the village of Zalug near Hum na Sutli. He introduced the study of anatomical pathology to Croatia and performed the autopsy on Stjepan Radić following his assassination in the Belgrade Assembly in 1928. For many years he was a professor at the University of Zagreb School of Medicine.

    As a recognized expert, he was asked to join the International Commission that investigated the mass graves discovered in western Ukraine near the town of Vinnytsia, located approximately 260 km southwest of Kyiv.

    This investigation was conducted following the discovery of mass graves in the Katyn forest, where Stalin’s NKVD killed Polish officers in 1940. During his participation in the investigation in Vinnytsia, the cause and time of death of about 2,000 Ukrainian peasants and workers was determined to have been at the hands of the Soviets on the order of Stalin as part of the ethnic cleansing of Ukraine. Ukraine was part of Soviet Union at the time.

    The victims were shot in the back of their heads in 1938.

    Jurak himself performed autopsies on four to five bodies and participated as part of the forensic team that conducted autopsies on 74 bodies.

    Jurak wrote about the murder of these unfortunates in an article entitled “Mass Graves in Vinnytsia,” that was published in the Zagreb newspaper Hrvatski narod, on May 25, 1943.

    The article included Jurak’s description of the crime scene.

    “Gunshot wounds were established on all corpses and most were shot to the back of the head, by 5.6 mm (22 caliber) bullets… Examination of the remains of victims revealed evidence that most were shot at close-range… According to the clothing worn by the victims, they were almost exclusively regular workers or peasants, and most were of an advanced age.”

    “At the time of the investigation, many people visited the sites of the mass graves, primarily peasant women. They turned over and searched the items of clothing removed from the victims and taken out of the mass graves and hanged on lines at the orchard and the city park, in the hopes of identifying loved ones,” wrote Jurak.

    Jurak stood behind his findings even when the communists authorities tried to coerce him into retracting his statements.

    Jurak’s reputation was finally rehabilitated on September 15, 1991 during a session of the Senate of the University of Zagreb. The Department of Pathology established the “Ljudevit Jurak” Award for Comparative Pathology in memory of Professor Jurak’s contributions to medicine, forensic medicine and veterinary science. The Sisters of Mercy Clinical Hospital in Zagreb also renamed their Department of Pathology in his honour.

    Jurak’s colleague, the well-known Croatian pathologist Professor Eduard Miloslavić, MD managed to escape Jurak’s fate as he fled to America at the end of 1944. He too was asked to investigate a mass crime as a member of the International Commission that examined the crimes committed by the Soviets in the Katyn forest in Poland.

    Miloslavić wrote about this in Hrvatski narod on May 4, 1943, and also provided an interview to the German journalist A. Hausberger, in which he accused the Soviets of the massacre. Miloslavić is recognized as the founder of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Sarajevo. Following his escape to the United States, he taught as a professor of forensic medicine at an American university.

    Yugoslavia sentenced Miloslavić to death in absentia and he died in Madrid in 1952.

    Translated to English by Stan Granic