I had bookmarked two links which I wanted to blog about at a convenient date. Though they are already dated, I suppose such themes as they convey are never go out of vogue for a historian.

Nancy Wake, legendary Resistance agent, hunted by the Gestapo who called her The White Mouse, passed away earlier this month. Honourd by France, Australia and her nation of birth New Zealand, Wake worked as a courier for the Resistance before being retrained as a saboteur. During a raid, an SS sentry spotted the maquisards she was aiding. Years later, when interviewed about what happened to the sentry. she simply ran through thumb across the throat.

I’ve travelled to Germany many times since the war. It’s a lovely country to visit but I keep well away from the older generation of Germans in case I become involved with some ex-Nazi. I will never be able to forget the misery and death they caused to so many millions of innocent people; the savage brutality, the sadism, the unnecessary bloodshed, the slaughter and inhuman acts they performed on other human beings. I am inclined to feel sorry for the young Germans of today, knowing how utterly miserable I would be if I was descended from a Nazi.

Nazi war criminals are being hunted even today  with guards and death camp officials being arrested and standing trial in Germany. However, the manhunt for Balkan war criminals seem to have come to an end. In what reads less like a news article and more like a paragraph from a Ludlum paperback the article traces the SAS and other agencies from the NATO countries picking up the war criminals from all sides – Goran Hadzic, Serb leader in Croatia, responsible for the destruction of Vukovar in 1991 reminiscent of Lidice, was the last of the 161 named by the ICC.

The first war-crimes arrests in former Yugoslavia were carried out on 10 July 1997 in an operation codenamed Tango. For the preceding four weeks it had involved SAS soldiers lying in a shallow trench beside a lake near the town of Prijedor, watching a man called Simo Drljaca. During the war, Drljaca had been Prijedor’s police chief, and had organised the “ethnic cleansing” of the town’s Muslims, who were driven into a string of horrific concentration camps at Omarska, Keraterm and Trnopolje. Many of the inmates were beaten or starved to death.

In peacetime retirement, Drljaca had relaxed, spending a lot of time fishing at the lake, and on this particular summer morning he had brought along his son and brother-in-law, unaware that his impunity had run its course.

In the clipped account of one British official: “It was a hardcore SAS operation. The SAS came out of the undergrowth saying: ‘We are here to arrest you.’ Drljaca pulled out a pistol and fired at them and they shot him.

Now that it is over

Justice is finally being delivered, but it has taken 18 years since the ICTY was established. During that time, many thousands of victims were killed and 10 Hague indictees cheated justice by dying before they were caught.

“We are pleased that at the end of the day they were all arrested, but was it really necessary that it took so long, and was so painful?” says Brammertz. “Many of the survivors of the crimes in the meantime died without seeing justice being done. So I share the frustration.” But he does not agree that justice delayed has been justice denied. As well as paving the way for a permanent war crimes court, the ICC, he said The Hague tribunal had struck a firm blow against a culture of impunity in the western Balkans and beyond.

Wonder what Nancy Wake would have had to say about the Balkan war crimes.

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