Three modern Slavs have thrown terror into the German hearts. One is Stalin of Russia, the other Demitroff, who defied the Germans at the famous Reichstag fire trials, and the third is Tito.
Who is this genius who organized armed resistance in Yugoslavia? Where does he come from? Who is this man who forced the Nazis to send a whole army against him? Where did he receive his military training?
Tito's real name is Josip Broz. He was born about 65 years ago in the village of Kranak in the hills of Croatia. His father was a poor peasant who, in addition to his farming, had to work as a metal worker in the mines to make enough for his family and himself to live on.
He grew up on his father's small farm, learned to read and write from the village priest, left the farm in his teens and went to one of the Croatian: towns where he found work as a metal smith alongside his father. He became in turn a mechanic and a locksmith. Later on he went to work in the railway shops of Zagreb.
Croatia was under Austrian rule when the first World War broke out and Josip Broz was drafted into the Austrian army in 1916, at the age of 24. Broz was a Yugoslav, and as a Yugoslav he hated the Hapsburg Empire and admired the Russians against whom he was forced to flight. He was speared by a Cossack and was taken prisoner by the Russians. He contracted typhus fever, but recovered.
At that time, in Russia, a Yugoslav battalion was formed to fight the Germans. In 1917 Broz joined it and when the Russian revolution came he and most of his battalion cast their lot with the revolutionists, for to him the revolution meant freedom. Freedom was almost the first word he had learned to read from his parish priest.
When the Red Army was organized, Broz joined it and took an active part in the battles against General Wrangell and Petlura's pogrom army. Broz stayed in Russia throughout the revolution. He fought in the Communist ranks, learned their methods of partisan warfare and then in 1927 he returned to the land of his birth. He again went to work in the Zagreb railway shops and began organizing the metal workers there. He became one of the leaders of the metal workers union. By this time Broz was a Communist.
During Alexander's reign of terror Broz was imprisoned for his union and political activity.
Josip Broz, however, was no ordinary political prisoner. He knew that in his prison he could not help the masses outside and so he planned his escape, and escape he did. Thus began his underground existence.
Because of circumstances he was forced to change his abode and his name very frequently. After assuming many aliases, he became known as Tito.
Hitler's coming to power in Germany strengthened the fascist, dictatorial tendencies of the Yugoslav royal house. The fascist Ustachi movement started up at that time. It was the agents of this gang of hoodlums that tried unsuccessfully to kill Alexander time and time again. He was finally assassinated by a Macedonian terrorist named Georgieff, who had been working with the Ustachi, whose leader was a Croat named Pavelich.
The terror against the workers and the national minorities grew and followed the same pattern, as it did wherever fascism strengthened itself.
Tito in Spain[A]
In 1937 the Spanish civil war began and from the outset it was supported by Hitler and Mussolini. Some liberals in every country realized that this was no ordinary struggle, but was another fascist attempt to force a democratically elected government out of office.
Tito realized the urgency of the situation and threw himself into the struggle against fascism in Spain. Through his underground movement in Yugoslavia he recruited volunteers to help the Spanish Loyalists.
How he helped to smuggle men into Spain is a story in itself. Strange as it may seem, there was a law in Yugoslavia that forbade its citizens to leave the country, excepting by special permit.
The Paris Exposition in 1937 created an unusual interest among the people of Yugoslavia to see the wonders of the world in Paris. Due to pressure on account of the Exposition, the government was forced to modify travel restrictions. Tito utilized this occasion for his own underground recruiting.
Eleven thousand of Tito's followers received passports on the pretext of seeing the wonders of the Exposition. However, not one of them ever got to Paris.
Tito organized not only their exit from Yugoslavia but also their entry into Spain. He also helped thousands of Americans, Poles, Czechs, Norwegians and other anti-fascists who wanted to join the international brigade, get into Spain.
Tito wasn't satisfied merely making it possible for other men to fight, he took a gun in hand and fought alongside them, 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 and was interned in France.
Somehow he escaped the concentration camps and got to Paris. Speaking to people who knew him there, they described him as 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 that of a fighting anti-fascist.
He felt that the fight against fascism would come to Yugoslavia sooner or later.
The victory of fascism in Spain was a great lesson for Tito — a lesson that taught him that all progressive anti-fascist forces the world over must unite to lock themselves in mortal combat with the fascist scourge.
Tito Returns To His Native Land
An agent of the Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee contacted Tito in Paris and provided him with funds and means to return to Yugoslavia.
The Communist Party of his native land was underground and the corrupt pro-Axis Yugoslav government joined the Nazi inspired witch-hunt for radicals. When that government was overthrown by the officers' coup and Yugoslavia threw in her lot with Britain, Tito knew that his underground organization would play a vital role in the coming struggle.
At that time Tito was in Slovenia, the northernmost section of Yugoslavia. There during the next few years he consolidated his forces, drew tighter the strings of the local Communist party, and, most of all, sought to make common purpose with every democratic and progressive organization.
[A] Note from MIA transcriber: In Howard Fast's 1990 biography Being Red, Fast notes that some of his writings regarding Tito's involvement in the Spanish Civil War were highly problematic and likely inaccurate. This came to the forefront during his testimony before HUAC in 1946:
...I go by my own notes, since I no longer have the record, I did my best, explaining slowly and carefully, to make them understand that the Josip Broz in our records was not Tito, and that Tito had never been either to Spain or to France...To put together any kind of a rea- sonable story about Tito in 1943, with the scraps and fragments of information available to me, was nigh unto impossible.
Fast, Howard. Being Red. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1990: 154.