On the 3rd of March 2009, the Commission of the Government of the Republic of Slovenia for the Resolution of the Issues of Concealed Mass Graves broke through the 11th barrier in the St Barbara mine pit after numerous bureaucratic and physical obstacles, and then came to a shaft where they found a pile of white mummies, for which it turned out that they lay in one of the largest Slovenian mass graves, left behind by Tito’s partisans. Below, we are publishing a photo story by a member of the aforementioned government commission, Marko Štrovs, which was published on his blog.
I took many photographs at the time of the discovery of the mass murder site of the victims of communism in the Huda jama cave, most of which I have never published before. I have collected some of them here in a photo story.
St Barbara’s mine pit had long been abandoned. The closed door to the tunnel, known to the locals as a mass murder site, haunted the end of the gloomy ravine.
After the year 1991, numerous delegations visited the site of the mine pit, trying to figure out what to do. They all came to the same conclusion – that nothing could be done. And they went home.
The mine pit was firmly secured against visitors. The first obstacle were the heavy iron gates.
In the year 2008, the War Graves Service was established at the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs. I was appointed its leader. Immediately after joining the service, we organised the break through the wall blocking access to the mass grave with the Trbovlje-Hrastnik Mine (Rudnik Trbovlje Hrastnik – RTH). The grave was located in a side tunnel, about 300 metres from the entrance. As neither the Ministry in charge of mining nor the one for construction had given us permission for the works, due to bureaucracy, we arranged for a team of cave rescuers to break through the wall under the guise of a “cave rescue team practice.”
Disappointment followed. The bandits filled the tunnel with rubble, all the way to the top.
And since the Huda jama coal mine had been abandoned long ago, there were no installations left in it that would have allowed machine excavation. We dug “the old-fashioned way” – by using pickaxes, shovels and other tools. The excavated material was transported by the diggers to another abandoned tunnel in the mine pit.
From time to time, we tried to see what was ahead of us. Nothing. Just the pile of rubble.
After the first 40 metres of the tunnel had been dug, which was cut through solid rock, we came to a section that was cut through crumbly marl. The miners had fortified it using the old method of building support structures from wood. Hafner from the Trbovlje-Hrastnik mine and a cave engineer Kenda, who managed the cave for the owner, the Laško brewery, checked the strength of the supports.
Upon leaving the cave, we admired the work of Perme, who was able to place a chapel exactly on the axis of the entrance tunnel, for the Society of the Forgotten Graves.
When 90 metres of the tunnel had been excavated, and 11 barriers had been broken through, we were able to crawl under the ceiling of the tunnel to see what was waiting for us ahead.
The Trbovlje-Hrastnik Mine had already broken through all the barriers by the 24th of February 2009, but at that time, it was found that there was too much carbon dioxide in the open part further down the tunnel, so we had to wait until the tunnel was properly ventilated. On the 3rd of March 2009, a team of men entered the tunnel – it consisted of Štrovs from the Ministry of Labour, Family and Social Affairs, Dr Ferenc, Jamnik, criminal investigators from the Celje police station and the responsible bosses from the Trbovlje-Hrastnik Mine. The first thing that this team encountered was a mass of shoes covering the floors of the tunnel all the way down to the first shaft. At the shaft, the tunnel was backfilled with material that had broken in from the tunnel that lies perpendicular to the direction of the main tunnel. The team went over this backfill and, 10 meters further down the tunnel, found many corpses covering the entire width of the tunnel and extending to the second pile of rubble about 20 metres further down.
Apparently, in this tunnel, the Communist murderers killed the victims that they had driven to the pit last. Earlier, masses of victims had been thrown into a shaft dug to the left of the tunnel. According to the cave documentation, the shaft is 45 metres deep and runs diagonally under the tunnel. When it was discovered, the shaft was empty to a depth of 5 metres, to where the backfill reached.
The miners set about excavating the backfill in the shaft. The work was secured in accordance with the mining rules.
After excavating 3 metres of the backfill, the remains of the victims were found, at the depth of 8 metres. The investigating judge from Celje ordered the remains from the shaft to be lifted – all of the remains to a depth of 13 metres.
On the 2nd of June 2009, the investigating judge ordered the excavation to stop. From the 5 metres of the shaft that had been emptied, the miners had lifted the remains of over 300 victims, i.e. 60 per metre. With 32 metres left to the bottom of the shaft, I assume that there are still around 2000 victims of communism inside.
The investigating judge ordered and paid for a forensic examination of the remains of the 500 victims found on the floor of the tunnel, and the 300 victims lifted out of the shaft. The remains were then wheeled by the miners to the entrance of the tunnel, where forensic medics set up a makeshift laboratory and cleaned and examined each victim.
The remains were then placed in plastic crates, and the miners drove them back into the tunnel.
After the year 2009, no major moves have been made in regards to the Huda jama cave, even though several million euros of budget money have been thrown at it. Instead of removing the remains of the 2,000 victims who were left in the shaft after the judicial investigation had been completed, the bodies that have already been removed are being moved back and forth through the tunnels, one of which has been named the “Ossuary.”
The Huda jama cave has been closed again, with new barriers, nets, and locks. A plaque with the inscription “War Grave” was hung over the entrance. But this is not a grave! It is still just an unkempt murder site with the unburied bodies of the victims there.
At the time of the massacres in the Huda jama cave, Konrad Pevec from the Department for People’s Protection of Yugoslavia or OZNA was in charge of that district. After the war, for some years, he was the director of the Laško coal mine, which also included St Barbara’s mine pit. It was probably at that time that they built the barriers and filled the tunnel up with clay and tailings. But it was this impermeable backfilling of the tunnel that helped preserve the remains so that they could be discovered, and now they stand as mute witnesses to the horror of the Communist crimes.