What are the Foibe

On 1 May 1945 Trieste was ready to celebrate the end of a long and bitter war.
On the previous day, the Volontari della Libertà (Volunteers for Freedom), the men of the CLN (National Liberation Committee) led by Don Marzari, who became the first President of the resurrected National League in 1946, had taken control of the city from the German troops, its port and other structures having been saved through the mediation of Bishop Santin.


The war was over, and the people of Trieste were set to celebrate peace with the rest of Italy and much of Europe. But they discovered a completely different reality on that morning of 1 May, for the newly arrived Yugoslav communist troops of Marshall Tito were not bearers of peace.


Tito’s troops immediately began hunting down the men of the CLN and thousands of other Trieste citizens, some for political reasons (because they were fascist or merely politically active, even if anti-fascist) and many others on no obvious political grounds but merely on whim, sometimes based on personal animosity.


Trieste lived through a long month of killings, with many of its people taken from their families into the clutches of the so-called People’s Militia, never to return. Many were to finish in those black chasms known as FOIBE. In a well-drilled routine they were roped together in pairs and taken to the edge of the chasm, where one was shot in the head, falling into the abyss and taking the other into it.


Thousands upon thousands of people died in this tragic and barbaric ritual, in which the final act was to throw in a black dog with its throat slit - all this after the war had ended! In the Basovizza Foiba, the mineshaft that represents all the foibe, the number of victims could be assessed only in the starkest manner, as 500 cubic metres of human remains.
The killings continued for over forty days until 12 June 1945, when Allied troops persuaded communist troops to leave the city. The tragedy had struck vast numbers of Trieste families and left an indelible mark on the city, which re-lived the nightmare for years with one insistent question on people’s minds - what if Tito’s troops return?


The foibe, a nightmare for the people of Trieste, represented a refined and effective tool of terror for the Istrians. The tragic events at the foibe played a decisive part in creating an atmosphere of terror in Istria, convincing 350,000 people to leave their homes and villages, and leave behind their family graves, in order to escape the oppressive and murderous Yugoslav communist regime. Everyone knew that not being communist entailed a real risk of ending up in a foiba.


Paolo Sardos Albertini
President of the National League – Trieste.