The Prebilovci massacre was one of many atrocities perpetrated by the Croatian Ustaše regime in the Independent State of Croatia during the World War II persecution of Serbs. On 6 August 1941, the Ustaša killed around 600 women and children from the village of Prebilovci, Herzegovina, by throwing them alive into the Golubinka pit, near Šurmanci.
During the summer of 1941, the Ustaša continued with mass murders of Serbs – of 1000 inhabitants of Prebilovci, 820 of them were killed, while in the neighbouring places of the lower basin of the Neretva river, including Šurmanci, around 4000 Serbs were murdered. The Golubinka pit was covered with concrete in 1961.
During the Second World War the Serb inhabitants of Prebilovci, a small village near Čapljina, fell victim to genocide. At the beginning of 1941, the village had a population of 1,000. Earlier, it had given volunteers to join the Bosnian-Herzegovinian uprising against the Turks in 1875-78, and contributed 20 volunteers to the Serbian Army in Salonica during World War I.
Many villagers died as prisoners in Austro-Hungarian Empire concentration camps. Croat nationalists reportedly harboured hatred at Prebilovci's contribution to the World War I Serbian army. Prebilovci was surrounded on the night of 4 August 1941 by some 3,000 Ustaša made up of the village's Croats.
In August 1941, some 650 women and children were taken away from their homes, moved to Šurmanci where they were later thrown into natural pits around that area — either dead or half-dead according to accounts – together with a thousand or so other Serbs from the Čapljina and Mostar municipalities. The men were in the mountains, hiding, in the deluded belief that the Croats would not harm their women and children.The Serbs of Prebilovci were herded together with other Serbs from the western part of Herzegovina and eventually six carloads of them were sent off on a train that was supposedly to take them to Belgrade. They were ordered out of the six cars they occupied at a town called Šurmanci, on the west bank of the Neretva, and marched off into the hills never to return.
Atrocities began in the villages including the killing of 50 infants who were swung by their legs so that their heads could be dashed against the school wall. There was continuous rape of young girls both there and at other locations. On 6 August, 150 Ustaša under Ivan Jovanović (known as "Blacky") were joined by another 400 Ustaša from Capljina, and took the prisoners in rail cattle-cars to Vranac, some 500 to 1,000 m from the Golubinka pit, one of many such natural, near-vertical cave formations in the region, where some 550 Ustaša took small groups of prisoners to the pit and, family-by-family, pushed them into it. The initial vertical fall was some 27 m, followed by a 100 m steep slope to the base of the pit. Small children were thrown up into the air before falling into the pit. One woman is known to have given birth as she fell into the pit. The newborn infant died with her under the crush of bodies.
Here is how the Catholic Bishop of Mostar, Alojzije Mišić, described this and other massacres perpetrated by the Ustasha around the city of Mostar, in his letter to Bishop Alojzije Stepinac, dated 7 November 1941:
- People were captured like animals. Slaughtered, killed - thrown alive into the abyss. Women, mothers with children, adult girls, women and children, both male and female were thrown into the pits. The Vice Mayor of Mostar Mr. Baljić, proclaimed publicly, as a clerk, he should be silent instead of talking, that in the town of Ljubinje, into only one pit, 700 Orthodox Christians were thrown. From Mostar and Capljina six full rail wagons transported wives, mothers and girls younger than ten, to the station at Šurmanci, where they were taken to the hills, living mothers with children thrown down steep cliffs. Everyone was tossed down the cliffs and killed. In the parish Klepci, from surrounding villages N. N., 3,700 Orthodox Christians were killed. The poor souls, they remained peaceful. I won't enumerate further. I'd go too far. In the city of Mostar, hundreds were tied, taken outside the town and killed like animals
One entire clan of 78 persons died in the crush of the Golubinka pit near the village of Šurmanci. And after all were pushed into it, the Ustaša sat around drinking and celebrating. Only 170 villagers survived. Forty-five survived the crush of the pits and escaped later to tell of the disaster. 300 children and infants were massacred that day alone.
A group of 170 villagers, which primarily consisted of men, survived the massacre. Two Roman Catholic priests, Ilija Tomas and Marko Hovko, were among the murderers. Few of the Ustaša who took part were tried after the war had ended. Only 14 of the 550 known Ustaša were brought to trial after the war, and one of the judges was himself an Ustaša close to the crime. Six were sentenced to death, the remainder received prison sentences, the majority around three years.
The Golubinka pit was opened in 1990 when Serbian priests headed by patriarch Pavle entered it and held a memorial service over the remnants of the victims. Around 1550 remnants were taken out from the pit. In 1991, on the 50th anniversary of the massacre, some 4000 victims, taken out from the Golubinka and from the surrounding 15 pits, were buried in the crypt of the Church of the Synaxis of Serbian Saints and Martyrs of Prebilovci. In June 1992, members of the Army of the Republic of Croatia burnt the village and destroyed the crypt and the church. The remnants of the holy relics are today held in the crypt of the temple under reconstruction.
- Dulić, Tomislav. Utopias of Nation: Local Mass Killing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1941-42, Uppsala University Library (2005), page 162
- Copley, Gregory (editor-in-chief). The Balkan Conflict: The Psychological Strategy Aspects Defense & Foreign Affairs Strategic Policy Volume XX, Number 12, 31 December 1992, pp. 4–9.
- Jones, E. Michael (February 1998). "The Ghosts of Surmanci: Queen of Peace, Ethnic Cleansing, Ruined Lives". Culture Wars. South Bend, Indiana: Fidelity Press.
- Deschner, Karlheinz. God and the Fascists: The Vatican Alliance with Mussolini, Franco, Hitler, and Pavelić, Prometheus Books, 8 October 2013.
In Prebilovci and Šurmanci, Herzegovina, where 559 Serbs, all old men, women and children, were slaughtered; the two [C]atholic priests, Ilija Tomas and Marko Hovko were among the murderers
- Vukušić, Tomo. MOSTARSKI BISKUP ALOJZIJE MIŠIĆ ZA VRIJEME DRUGOGA SVJETSKOG RATA. Vrhbosanska katolička teologija u Sarajevu.
Ljude se hvatalo ko zvjerinje. Klalo, ubijalo, – žive u ponor bacalo. Ženske, majke s djecom, odrasle djevojke, djecu žensku i mušku bacali su u jame. Podžupan u Mostaru gospodin Baljić, javno izgovara, ko činovnik, mora bi da šuti ne da telali, da je u Ljubinju samo u jednu jamu 700 pravoslavca bačeno. Od Mostara i Čapljine odvezla je željeznica šest punih vagona žena, majka i djevojaka, djece ispod deset godina do stanice Šurmanci, gdje su izvagonirani, odvedeni u brda, žive matere s djecom bacali u duboke propunte. Sve je strmoglavljeno i ubijeno. U župi Klepci iz okolnih sela N. N. 3.700 pravoslavaca ubijeno je. Jadnici, bili su mirni. Dalje ne nabrajam. Predaleko bih otišao. U samom gradu Mostaru na stotine ih je vezalo, odvodilo izvan grada pa ko živine ubijali"
- Vojinović, Professor Dr Nikola. Srpske Jame u Prebilovcima. Genocid hrvatskih kleroustasa nad Srbima u Hercegovini (1991).
- Mirković, Jovan (2014). Злочини над Србима у Независној Држави Хрватској – фотомонографија/Crimes against Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia – photomonograph. Svet knjige Belgrade. ISBN 978-86-7396-465-2.