September 4, 1991 was the most difficult day of the Homeland War for the Orahovac and Slatina region of Croatia as rebel Serbs and irregular Chetnik forces attacked and massacred the villages of Četekovac, Balinci and Čojlug.
These villages on the northern slope of Papuk mountain, except for a part of Balinci, were inhabited by Croats. They were attacked with mortar fire in the morning after which enemy troops conducted an infantry assault with artillery and armoured support. After rebel forces took control of the road to Mikleuš (the only connection between these villages and the unoccupied territory) the Croatian population found itself surrounded with no chance for escape. The few and poorly armed defenders who found themselves there were powerless.
The bloody raid lasted all day and resulted in 24 victims, comprised of men and women ranging in age from 18 to 92. When Croatian troops entered the torched villages the following day, they encountered gruesome scenes of people massacred on the doorsteps of their homes. Most of the houses and farm buildings were burned or mined and almost all the houses were looted.
The youngest victim of the attack was Josip Tonc, 18, who was killed following an ambush by terorists at the entrance to Čojlug on the road from Mikleuš. As Tonc drove with passengers Marija Matičić and Terezija Troha, the terorists opened fire with machine guns. Tonc got out and tried to escape but was soon caught and killed by the terorists who then pulled the two old women from the vehicle and murdered them as well.
A few years after his death, Tonc’s mother wrote a touching letter to her deceased son Josip that was published in the book “Letter to a Warrior – A Book of Remembrance for Veterans of the Homeland War from the Slatina and Orahovica Areas”:
Our dear, beloved and unforgettable son, it is not easy to express all that hurts us and how it is for us to live without you. You were so gentle yet persuasive and determined when that unfortunate war was brewing. I remember that conversation when you begged me to go with the others because it was known that we would be attacked. I didn’t want to be without you and you assured me that you were young and that you would manage. You were only eighteen, but you knew how to provide everything a mother expects from a son: love and kindness. When your brave and noble heart stopped beating, we knew that it is what fate so desired but that she still should not have taken you so early. You left two older brothers who loved you so much and sorrowful parents who will never forget you. My beloved son, that is why I place white roses on your grave, because they are proof of your beauty and goodness. Our beloved son, only those you have loved so much know how difficult it is without you.Roza Tonc
Cover photo – Damaged church of saint Nikola Tavelića in Četekovac
Brekalo, Miljenko. Slatinska kronika Domovinskog rata. Osijek: Svjetla grada i Matica hrvatska, Ogranak Osijek; Slatina: Matica hrvatska, Ogranak Slatina, 2017
Gazdra, Miroslav. Zločin za koji još nitko nije odgovarao. Virovitica: Admiral tisak i Zajednica udruga HVIDR-a Virovitičko-podravske županije, 2011
Žarković, Petar, prir., Pismo ratniku – Knjiga sjećanja na poginule branitelje u Domovinskom ratu slatinskoga i orahovičkog područja. Slatina: Udruga roditelja poginulih branitelja Domovinskog rata Slatina, 2000
Graduated with a Master’s Degree in History from the University of Zagreb. He has worked at the Croatian History Museum and as a researcher for the popular TV Calendar program for Croatian Radio and Television. He has authored several books and documentaries about Croatia’s Homeland War and is the creator/producer of the immensely popular “It Happened on this Day – Homeland War” Facebook page as well as the online portal Domovinskirat.hr. Borna also edits the Braniteljski.hr portal and is the host and editor of the daily segment “Patriotic Minutes” on Croatian Catholic Radio. He created CroHis to promote the values of the Homeland War and ensure that the sacrifices of those who defended Croatia’s independence would not be forgotten.