Name: Monument to the Novi Sad Partisan Detachment
Location: Čenej, Vojvodina, Serbia
Year completed: 1971
Designer: Pavle Radovanović
Coordinates: N45°19'23.3", E19°49'44.9" (click for map)
Dimensions: Three monoliths, ~6m tall
Materials used: Brick and mortar
Condition: Poor, neglected
This spomenik complex in Čenej, located in Serbia's autonomous province of Vojvodina, commemorates the Novi Sad Partisan Detachment, the first incarnation of which was destroyed at this spot by Hungarian authorities in July of 1941.
World War II
After the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded and overrun by Axis forces in April of 1941, the former Kingdom was partitioned into several pieces whose rule would be administered by several different countries. The governance of Novi Sad and its greater region was annexed by Miklós Horthy's Hungarian Axis forces. The Hungarian troops, called Honvédség, who occupied the city did so with great brutality and ferocity. The most brutal of these crimes were committed against those people belonging to the city's Serbian and Jewish communities, who were immediately targeted with violence and oppression after occupation began. The most notorious of the civilian attacks on these communities was an incident often referred to as "The Novi Sad Raid" (often referred to as simply 'The Raid' or 'Racija'), where around 3,000 - 4,000 civilians across the region were killed by Hungarian Honvédség troops during a January of 1942 (Photo 1). In the city of Novi Sad during the Raid, over 1,200 were marched across the frozen Danube River until they fell through the ice. The primary purpose behind the Raid was to root out and eliminate all anti-Axis resistance forces (such as the Partisan and Chetnik rebels) in the area of Bačka, which were causing significant problems for the Hungarian authorities. An additional potential reason for these killings was the Hungarian policy of "systematic magyarization" during the war in regions they had annexed. In this magyarizationof the region, non-Hungarians or people of non-Hungarian backgrounds were discriminated against, persecuted, ethnically cleansed or even killed. As Serbs, Jews, Roma and other dissidents were either forced out of the region or killed, Hungarian families were brought in and moved into these now vacant homes.
Throughout the war, communist-led Partisan rebel divisions were working to undermine and sabotage Hungarian control of Novi Sad and the greater Bačka and Vojvodina region. The Vojvodina Partisan resistance had recruited into their uprisings effort well over 2,000 fighters who were composed of a wide variety of ethnicities (Serbian, Slovak, Hungarian, etc). In late July 1941, a group of rebels in the northern part of Novi Sad (in the suburb of Čenej) began to organize a fighting unit to combat Hungarian occupation, calling themselves the 'Novi Sad Partisan Detachment'. It was primarily made up of four local individuals: its commander Milan Simin, along with Antal Nemeth, Živko Ranisavljević and Stevan Nikoletić. However, the group was discovered by Hugarian patrols on the morning of July 26th, 1941. Simin and Nemeth were killed while trying to escape arrest, while Ranisavljević was arrested and Nikoletić escaped successfully. Ranisavljević was put on trial in Novi Sad by the Hungarian authorities, who argued that this Partisan unit was planning to assassinate Hungarian Regent Miklós Horthy, as he was scheduled to be in nearby Subotica the next day on the 27th -- Ranisavljević was ultimately found guilty and executed. Nikoletić was also subsequently captured and executed in January of 1942 during 'The Raid'.
Photo 1: Civilians killed during the Novi Sad Raid, January 1942
Photo 2: Novi Sad Partisans entering liberated Novi Sad, 1944
In August of 1944, the Novi Sad Partisan Detachment reformed under commander Todor Gavrilović-Rile. Then, in September of 1944, the Novi Sad Partisans assisted the Soviet Red Army as they entered Vojvodina during Belgrade Offensive military operation against Axis forces in Serbia, a move which severely weakened and drove out a great deal of German and Hungarian forces from the region. Finally, on October 23rd, 1944, the city of Novi Sad was liberated from Hungarian Axis control, with the Novi Sad Partisan Detachment being one of the first units to enter the city (Photo 2). While the region was liberated in 1944, it was administered under a communist military rule until 1945. During this military rule, many ethnic-German and Hungarian civilians (along with Serbian-Axis collaborators) living in the Bačka region faced harsh post-war retaliation, which ranged from imprisonment to death. Many thousands were killed during these communist purges across post-war Yugoslavia. In 1945, the region was organized into the Socialist Autonomous Province of Vojvodina within Serbia, with the capital city being designated as Novi Sad.
In late 1960, the Novi Sad government and regional veterans groups organized the creation of a spomenik complex in the countryside about 10km north of Novi Sad, near the small village of Čenej, which was the location of the 1941 formation of and Hungarian attack on the first incarnation of the Novi Sad Partisan Detachment. After several artists had submitted proposals for the project, local Novi Sad designer Pavle Radovanović (Павле Радовановић) was awarded the commission to create the monument. An image of Radovanović's concept sketches for this monument can be seen in Photo 3a.
The completed memorial complex was officially unveiled to the public on July 7th of 1971 (Photos 3b & 3c), a date which commemorated 30 years since the region's uprisings against Axis occupation. The primary memorial element of the spomenik complex are four yellow brick monoliths, roughly 6m tall, sitting in the middle of a grassy field in the Pannonian farmlands.
Photo 3a: A photo of some concept artwork by Radovanović's for his monument at Čenej
Photo 3b: A photo of the 1971 unveiling ceremony of the monument at Čenej [source]
Photo 3c: A photo of the 1971 unveiling ceremony of the monument at Čenej [source]
After the fall of Yugoslavia, the Čenej spomenik complex began to descend into a state of neglect. Much of the original paths and walkways have overgrown with grass, while memorial sculpture itself is exhibiting advanced crumbling and decay. The original engraved memorial stone at the entrance to the complex was damaged beyond repair during the 1990s, then eventually replaced in 2001. The site sees few regular visitors, however, finding honorific candles, flowers and wreaths left here by locals is a common sight. Meanwhile, annual commemorative ceremonies are still held here by Novi Sad government officials (among others), generally on July 7th (Uprising Day) and October 23rd (Novi Sad Liberation).
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
At the entrance pathway to the spomenik complex here at Čenej, there is a large polished engraved granite stone which is used as a welcome marker for those visiting the site (Slides 1 & 2). The inscription on this inscribed stone is one line repeated three times in three different languages: Serbian (top), Hungarian (middle) and Slovak (bottom). This inscription reads as, translated into English, as:
"Monument to the Partisan Detachment of Novi Sad"
1941 - 1945
At the bottom of the plaque (Slide 3) it states that this site was restored in 2001 by the municipality of Ličje, as the previous plaque was most likely damaged or fell into neglect after the dismantling of Yugoslavia during the 1990s.
After evaluating the shape and form of the series of four memorial monolith sculptures here at Čenej (along with taking into account information related by historian Predrag Bajić of the Museum of Vojvodina), the creator of the monument, Pavle Radovanovic, would seem to be depicting highly stylized human forms which represent the four members of the first Novi Sad Partisan Detachment who were killed in 1941/1942. Two of the Partisans, Simin and Nemeth, were killed at the site of this monument as they were attempting to escape the Hungarians, which may explain why two of the monoliths are connected (illustrating their bond and shared death). Meanwhile, one of the monoliths is separated from the other group of three, making a crude cross shape, as if the person it is depicting is raising his arms in defiance -- this may represent the one member of the Partisan unit who escaped the attack, Stevan Nikoletić. After escaping, Nikoletić joining the Šajkaš Partisan Detachment, but he was later caught and executed by a firing squad in January of 1942. As a result, this monolith's separation from the rest of the group could firstly signify the fact he managed to escape the group, while the defiantly raised arms could represent him facing his final death in front of the firing squad. In addition, Bajić suggests that the figure with raised arms might represent a Christian cross, which would interestingly add a further layer of religious symbolism to the sculpture. However, I have found such overtly religious symbolism to be mostly absent from the vast majority of abstract WWII memorials from the mid- to late-Yugoslav era, yet, this memorial could be an odd exception.
However, a different symbolic interpretation is given in the 1988 book "Spomenici Revolucije u Vojvodini", which instead interprets the abstract shapes of this memorial sculpture to that of a tattered and war-torn farmhouse (Photo 4):
"The structure is obvious — brick — it represents the towns of this region. These are the "remains" of a building, forcibly demolished, beaten by rain and wind, and the passage of time will testify to these injuries. In conveying meaning through this motif, the author decided to communicate his artistic message through the form of the demolished farmhouse on the plains. In the farmland where man and apple trees are monuments on the horizon, the farms were bases, fortifications, starting points and support for the heroic resistance and the victims in war. The houses were burned and destroyed. Looking at them, there was a story about the countless heroes of Novi Sad and other detachments. The farmsteads that were demolished in this way grew into symbols of freedom, bordering the path to liberty. It is associated with suffering, rebellion and the immeasurable price of sacrifice, the consciousness of freedom."
Photo 4: A vintage photo of a farmhouse destroyed during WWII
Status and Condition:
The memorial complex here at Čenej sits in a very degraded and poor condition. Firstly, the landscaping is very neglected, with no certain signs that mowing or grounds maintenance is any sort of regular feature of this site, especially as I found the grounds completely covered in trash upon my most recent visit. Meanwhile, the memorial sculpture itself is extremely cracked, weathered and deteriorated. Large pieces of brick are falling off of it in several places, while the bricks are chipping and decaying across most of the four monoliths. In addition, looking around the site, there are historic features of the memorial which have obviously been destroyed and/or stolen over the years. One thing that is certain is that the original engraved stone plaque was destroyed during the 1990s, as the current replacement one indicates it was installed in 2001. Furthermore, there are no directional or promotional signs leading visitors or tourists to the memorial, nor are there any informational or interpretive signs at the site itself relating to visitors of its cultural or historic significance. It does not even seem as though the city of Novi Sad goes to any effort to promote the site as a tourist destination or visitor attraction.
Photo 5: A 2017 ceremony being held at the memorial site in Čenej
It was apparent upon visiting the site that it sees few regular visitors, much less any tourists, as I found the place extremely deserted and desolate upon my most recent visit in the spring of 2017. However, it is notable to point out that the engraved memorial stone at the spomenik park entrance did have several sets of honorific flowers, candles and wreaths set out in front of it, which indicated to me that locals in the community do pay it a good deal of respect and reverence. In addition, I found ample documentation that annual commemorative ceremonies continue to be held here at the Čenej memorial complex (Photo 5), generally on July 7th (Uprising Day) and October 23rd (Novi Sad Liberation). These ceremonies appear to be well attended, hosting significant numbers of military personnel along with notable politicians and local dignitaries. Yet, despite this attention, I have found no indications that any efforts or funds at any level are being put forward to restore or rehabilitate this site.
Additional Sites in the Čenej Area:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Čenej region that might be of interest to those studying the monuments of the former Yugoslavia. Here we will examine the Monument to the Executed Villagers of Sirig, as well as the "Freedom Monument" in the town of Temerin.
Monument to Executed Villagers of Sirig:
Roughly 14km north of the monument complex at Čenej you will come across the small village of Sirig. On the north end of the village is a modest memorial sculpture which commemorates the incident early on during WWII, on April 13th, 1941, where occupying Hungarian Honvédség forces executed over 110 civilian villagers of Sirig. To mark the 35th anniversary of this grisly event, a monument was built near the place where the killings occurred (Slides 1 - 3), unveiled in 1976 and built by local Novi Sad artist Pavle Radovanović. The memorial sculpture consists of a dozen or so raw and unhewn limestone boulders, with two long and sharp stones stood up tall at the center of the collection (standing roughly 6-7m tall). Many of the boulders around the sites are engraved with the names of the executed victims. On one of the tall pillars of the monument is written a poetic verse by famous Novi Sad writer Miroslav "Mika" Antić (Slide 4). The inscriptions translates to English as:
Monument to the Executed Villagers of Sirig - Slideshow
"For anyone who is an enemy of this place, this is the end of the world. From Sirig it can go further. 1941 - 1976"
There is an additional inscribed element at this site in the form of a bronze plaque with raised relief lettering (Slide 5). The plaque has the same inscription in four different languages, from top to bottom, Serbian, Bulgarian, French and English. The inscription reads as:
"On this day, the lives of the first victims of fascism in Yugoslavia, 111 innocent people were taken on the 13th day of April, 1941"
Finally, it is notable to mention that the two tallest stone blocks have several sets of relief carvings on them depicting scenes of Partisan fighters in action. This site sits in very good condition and commemorative events are still held here annually (Slide 6), generally on April 13th. The exact coordinates for the spomenik site here at Sirig are N45°26'42.0", E19°48'37.8".
The Freedom Monument in Temerin:
Roughly 7km north of the monument complex at Čenej you will come across the town of Temerin. In the middle of a square near the center of the town (just across from the post office) is a modest memorial sculpture called the "Freedom Monument" (Spomenik Slobode) (Slides 1 - 4). It is dedicated to the local Partisan fighters who fought and perished during WWII. Created in 1985 by local Temerin architect Mićo Vojnović, the monument consists of four white concrete right-triangles with a semi-circles cut out of their vertical sides, with all four arranged radially at right angles to each other. The tallest of the triangles stand roughly 6-7m tall. Steps lead up to an elevated platform at the center of the work. The name of the piece "Freedom Monument" is printed in raised lettering at the top of two of the triangles in both Serbian and Hungarian. Two plaques in those same two languages are attached onto the inner edges of two of the triangles (Slide 5), reading in English as:
The Freedom Monument in Temerin - Slideshow
"To the fallen fighters of the People's Liberation War and victims of fascist terror. -The town of Temerin, 1987"
Two more additional plaques exist within this inner area of the monument, also communicating their inscription in Serbian and Hungarian (Slide 6). However, the Serbian plaque of this pair is mysteriously missing. The plaque's inscription reads in English as:
"We maintain the great achievement of our Brotherhood & Unity revolution"
The site appears in reasonable condition, while the monument continues to host annual commemorative events. As of 2018, there are future plans in the works to rehabilitate the square and the monument as well. The exact coordinates for the 'Freedom Monument' in Temerin are N45°24'27.2", E19°53'18.4". Also, it is interesting to note that on the south end of Temerin is an addition memorial sculpture by Mićo Vojnović which is almost exactly the same as the Freedom Monument, but only consisting of one of these triangle elements instead of four. Its exact location is N45°23'28.8", E19°52'52.4".
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Freedom Monument at Srbobran: In the middle of Srbobran Park in the town center of Srbobran, Serbia, roughly 24km north of Čenej, is the memorial sculptural work that commemorates local fallen fighters and victims of fascism from WWII (Photo 5). This work is located directly in front of the Temple of the Holy Epiphany and consists of a 3m tall figurative sculpture of a woman with her arms extended, holding a bouquet in one hand. The sculpture sits upon a 10m tall pedestal, while the base of the pedestal is adorned with four bronze reliefs depicting brutal wartime scenes of Axis oppression upon local people. Created by famous Vojvodina sculptor Stevan Bodnarov in 1957, this memorial work continues to exist in good condition and routinely hosts remembrance events. The exact coordinates for the location of this monument are N45°32'42.5", E19°47'27.9". As an interesting aside, the Temple of the Holy Epiphany, located right behind the monument, experienced a horrible fire in 1987 which consumed much of its two towers. However, it was restored by the local community in 1991.
Photo 5: A photo of the Freedom Monument at Srbobran, Serbia
Finding the memorial complex at Čenej is a relatively easy endeavor. Firstly, from the center of Novi Sad, drive north out of town on Road 102. Follow this about 3km until you pass over the E-75 motorway. Once you've crossed over, take your immediate left onto Highway 100 heading north. Go about 1.5km and you will see the spomenik on your right hand side. Just before you pass it, turn off onto a small gravel road (see HERE for Google StreetView). Park here right off to the side of this gravel road and from here you can easily walk to the spomenik. Exact coordinates for parking are N45°19'21.2", E19°49'41.2".
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Here is a photo from the 1980s of the spomenik site at Čenej, Serbia.
Here is a photo from the 1970s of the spomenik site at Čenej, Serbia.
Here is a photo from the 1980s of the spomenik site at Čenej, Serbia.
Selected Sources and More Information:
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