Name: Dola Memorial Complex (Spomen kompleks u Dolima)
Location: near Plužine, Montenegro
Year completed: 1977
Designer: Luka Tomanović & Aleksandar Prijić
Coordinates: N43°03'30.0", E18°50'09.2"
Dimensions: central element, ~5m tall
Materials used: reinforced concrete
Condition: Fair to good
The Dola Memorial Site, located just south of Plužine, Montenegro, commemorates the over 500 civilians who were executed at this site on July 7th, 1943 by Nazi soldiers.
World War II
In the spring of 1943, Axis powers in the Yugoslav region began to formulate yet another operation which they hoped could finally, once and for all, capture the Partisan leader Josip Broz Tito in order to put an end to the resistance movement he had created that had caused them so much trouble. Known as the "Fifth Enemy Offensive" or "Case Black", the plan Axis commanders devised was to flush Tito and his Partisans out of their bases in present-day northern Montenegro along the Piva River valley (which they had escaped to after the failed "Fourth Enemy Offensive" of the Battle of Neretva. The plan then called to push the Partisans northwards into the Sutjeska Valley in the Zelengora mountains of Bosnia, at which point they would form a perimeter to trap him (a series of events that eventually led to the Battle of Sutjeska).
Towards these efforts, the particularly notorious unit named the 7th SS Division "Prinz Eugen" (which was comprised of both Nazis and Ustaše) was in charge of pushing Yugoslav Partisan forces north out of the Piva River Valley towards Sutjeska, which began in late May of 1943. As the Partisans were driven north, the SS Division took it upon themselves as they pass through the Piva region to terrorize the local civilian population who were suspected of aiding the Partisan forces. While the SS Division committed such atrocities up and down the Piva River valley over the course of 10 days, the most horrific of these attacks occurred on June 7th, 1943 at a site referred to as "Dola", where the SS Division commanders ordered the execution of roughly 522 innocent civilians (over 100 of which were children). The bodies were then thrown into pits. Sources relate that this massacre was finished as quickly as an hour's time. Furthermore, some sources even include grisly accounts that a newborn baby who was born here at the massacre site during the killing was also subsequently killed as well. Interestingly, even to the present day, the exact circumstances which led to this specific massacre are not completely known or understood.
Photo 1: A colorized WWII-era image of soldiers from the SS Division 'Prinz Eugen' burning a village in the Yugoslav region [source]
Over the course of these 10 days which the SS Division "Prinz Eugen" terrorized the Piva River valley, sources indicate that well over 1,000 people were killed in total (the majority of whom were ethnic-Serbs), which, at that time, was approximately 10% of the valley's population. In addition to these executions, many villages were also burned to the ground (Photo 1), sometimes with people still inside their homes as the buildings burned. This grisly series of events is sometimes locally referred to as "Piva's Bloody Fairytale" (Pivska krvava bajka). In 2015, a documentary series about these events called "Kad se Piva na nebo selila" (When Piva Moved to Heaven) was aired on Serbian television, which can be watched in full on YouTube at THIS link.
Crystalized efforts to create a memorial complex to honor the many hundreds of victims who perished at the Dola finally began to take motion in the mid-1970s. The commission to create this monument complex was awarded to the Montenegrin design team composed of Cetinje sculptor Luka Tomanović and Herceg Novi artist Aleksandar Prijić (Photo 2). Unveiled on July 7th, 1977 (exactly 34 years since the day of the Dola massacre), the work was largely financed by local people in the town of Plužine and the villages of Miljkovac, making the whole endeavor largely grassroots and self-initiated by the local community. The memorial complex consisted of five dominate elements spread across the massacre site. The first element can be seen at the entrance to the complex at an open paved plateau courtyard, it being situated the edge of the plateau and consisting of a set of three ~3-5m tall white concrete sculptures in the shape of three open hands.
Photo 2: Luka Tomanović [left] & Aleksandar Prijić [right]
Meanwhile, following a set of paved stone stairs down the hillside is a circular setting in the middle of which is a ~3m tall bronze figurative sculpture set of a mother and her five children titled "Mother with Children". This marks the site where child victims of the Dola massacre are buried. Past this sculpture series along the paved pathway, there is another ~3m tall bronze figurative sculpture of a mourning woman titled "Tužbalica". This marks where the male victims are buried. As the paved pathway loops up and back around to the start, in the middle of which is a smaller circular setting containing a short carved white stone stele. This marks where female victims of the massacre are interred. The reason for the three different sites where each set of victims is interred is because when the SS Division executed these innocent civilians in June of 1943, they were divided up in a similar way for the executions.
While the Dola Memorial Complex was greatly cherished and honored during the Yugoslav-era, it never reached the levels of recognition and ceremonial remembrance that some other massacre sites of WWII received. Many sources relate that even in present times, many in Montenegro are not even aware of the site. In a Jadovno article, Montenegrin professor Jovan Delić makes the following statements in relation to contemporary memory of the Dola massacre: "Unfortunately, there are only two or three sentences about the plight of the Piva people in the history books for elementary and high school students, which has led to the situation where many people in Montenegro haven't even ever heard of the Bloody Fairytale of Piva". The article further relates that some people locally in the Piva region refer to the massacre as "Piva's Jasenovac", referring to the notorious Ustaše-run WWII Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia.
However, while awareness of the Dola Memorial Complex is low, the site itself is in a good shape overall and has been well maintained in recent years. Annual commemorative events continue to be held at this site, while honorific wreaths can often be found left at the monument complex throughout the year. In 2006, a small Orthdox church was built on the plateau at the entrance to the memorial complex. Meanwhile, in 2017, the victims of the Dola massacre and other mass killings in the Piva River Valley during June of 1943 were canonized by the Serbian Orthdox Church.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
As far as my visits to the Dola Memorial Complex have been able to allow me to determine, there are no inscribed or engraved elements (be it carvings, plaques or otherwise) at this site which bear messages or inscriptions. As I have seen very few historical images of this complex, it is difficult to say even if in the past there were inscribed or engraved elements here. As far as graffiti, I have not found any such marks, indications or past photos that it has been a problem at this site, either now or in the past.
The Five Elements of this Complex:
In this section we will examine each of the five distinct memorial elements that comprise the Dola Memorial complex. These elements include the "Three Hand" sculpture, the "Mother with Child" sculpture, the "Tužbalica" sculpture, the "White Stele" monument, and finally the Orthdox church which was built on this site in 2006. The symbolism of each of these elements will also be discussed in this section.
The Three Hand Sculpture:
On the plateau at the entrance to the Dola Memorial Complex is the central sculptural element of the site, which is a set of three white concrete open hands which are each roughly ~4-5m tall (Photo 3). While documents indicate the complex was completed by sculptor Luka Tomanović and artist Aleksandar Prijić, it is not immediately clear to what degree both artistic collaborated on this work, or if it was primarily the work of the sculptor Tomanović. Sources relate that this memorial sculpture "represents the hands of a man (father), woman (mother) and child, respectively, together creating a clear symbol of the family, pointing to the entire families who have suffered in this place". While the symbolic motif of "raised fists" is a common and easily understood theme found in numerous memorial works across Yugoslavia (such as that at Bubanj Park in Niš, Serbia, for instance), what we see here at Dola Memorial Complex is a much rarer (as thus fascinating) symbolic manifestation.
Photo 3: The three hand sculpture at Dola Memorial Complex
While the work is experiencing some small chips, flaking and staining of its concrete facade, overall, it is in a reasonable condition considering its age.
The "Mother With Children" Sculpture:
Following a set of stone stairs down from the main entrance plateau brings one to a circular courtyard at the center of which is a modest bronze sculpture set composed of five figures: a mother and her five children (Photo 4), also known as "Mother With Children" or "In the Lap of the Bronze Mother". Not seen in this photo is a small infant on the ground behind the group. This set of sculptures, which are very much in the artistic style of Luka Tomanović, are roughly 3m tall and are crafted in an abstract figurative fashion, where their features are very reduced and minimized. The children appear to be of various ages, with the children holding onto the mother and her onto them in a very emotional and nurturing way. In regards to the symbolic meaning within this memorial sculpture, sources relate that "the defocused and torn contours of children's bodies show naive childish playfulness, present regardless of the horrors of war, but at the same time symbolize the great pain and fear that children go through."
Photo 4: Mother and children sculpture at Dola Memorial Complex
Meanwhile, the lone infant on the ground behind the mother may be symbolic of the newborn child born here at the killing ground who sources report was also killed during the massacre. Sources estimate that of the +500 people who were killed here, over 100 of them were children, as such, the symbolism and intention with this memorial element are very clear and poignant. It was an unusual occurrence for such a large proportion of victims of this mass execution to be children, making the incident particularly horrific and devastating. This sculptural work exists in good condition and appears to be well maintained and taken care of. While it does have a standard patina coating (normal considering its age), it contains no indications that it has been harmed to vandalized in the past.
The "Tužbalica" Tomb of Male Victims:
Just past the Mother & Children sculpture along the paved pathway and stairs is yet another figurative bronze sculpture roughly 3m tall which depicts what appears to be a mourning woman (Photo 5) which is titled "Tužbalica". This sculpture, which is also clearly in the artistic style of Luka Tomanović, is composed of a woman wearing a head covering and appears very sad and despondent. The name of this memorial sculpture "Tužbalica", is a sort of ritualistic lyrical poem or 'dirge' that was traditionally as part of the passing of loved ones and family. Like his other sculpture, Tomanović sculpts this figure in a very abstract fashion with reduced and minimized features, giving it a dream-like or almost ghostly appearance. Being that such a huge amount of the local population of the Piva River valley were killed in this June 1943 massacre, the inclusion of a memorial element to honor those survivors seems very fitting and appropriate.
Photo 5: Mourning woman sculpture at Dola Memorial Complex
Just like the "Mother with Children" memorial sculpture, the "Tužbalica" sculpture is also in very good condition and is only stained by the decades-old patina which it has accumulated. This work can regularly be seen decorated with wreaths and flowers left by members of the local community.
The White Stele to Female Victims:
Along the stone-paved pathway and stairs around the Dola Memorial Complex, the last Yugoslav-era memorial element to be mentioned is a short ~1.5m tall white stone pillar or 'stele' (Photo 6). This stele operates as a tombstone marking the site of female victims of the Dola massacre. Sitting at the center of a small circular courtyard, this stele has several smoothed out polished surfaces that appear to have been locations that were intended to have inscriptions written within them, however, they are all blank. The only other adornment on the stone pillar is a set of relief engravings of braided ropes/hair arranged in an umbrella-like shape, a motif that is engraved onto all four sides of the stele. These braids are most likely symbolic of the very pronounced thick braids worn in the traditional folk hairstyles of Montenegrin women. Interestingly, this very subtle symbolic feature is the only indication of whom this memorial work is dedicated to, as there are no other markers or signs here providing suhch infor
Photo 6: Blank stone pillar at Dola Memorial Complex
This memorial element is in good condition and is well taken care of. While the white stele appears extremely stained and weathered in the photo seen here, it has recently been cleaned and appears almost brand new.
Serbian Orthodox Church:
During the Yugoslav-era, it was virtually unheard of to construct churches on the sites of WWII memorial spaces (especially those dedicated to the sites of mass killings). This was the result of not only the secular nature of the Yugoslav state, but also it was avoided in an effort to prevent ethnic and religious nationalism in connection to sites of memory and atrocity. However, in 2006, a small Serbian Orthodox church was constructed at the entrance plateau of the Dola Memorial Site (Photo 7). The church itself is dedicated to the Biblical beheading of John the Baptist, which seems to be a symbolic gesture in relation to the massacre which occurred here. This small church is made of local stone and is constructed in a circular shape. Next to the church is a short bell tower which was constructed in the mid-2010s. In contemporary times, this church has become one of the primary fulcrums around which all memorial and ceremonial events are held in relation to the honoring of the victims of this site.
Photo 7: Orthodox church at the Dola Memorial Complex
This church site exists in a very good condition and is well maintained by various church officials of the Piva region. It sees regular use and is well patronized by the community during memorial events.
Status and Condition:
Overall, the condition of the Dola Memorial Complex is good to fair. Firstly, the grounds and vegetation at the site are kept in a managed state and are not allowed to become overgrown. Meanwhile, the memorial elements themselves all are well kept while none are overtly damaged or degrading to a severe degree. There is no graffiti, spraypaint or vandalism that can be found anywhere on the elements of this memorial site, nor are there any issues with intentional damage or defacement. Numerous renovation projects have taken place at this memorial site over the years, which has contributed greatly toward preventing the complex from falling into disrepair and ruin. As far as road signage, there is a set of very large directional signs which are situated along the main highway between Nikšić and Plužine that point towards the access road which leads to the Dola complex. However, despite this highly visible signage, there are very few tourists or non-local people who venture in this direction to visit the complex. This is the case even despite the Piva region tourism office promoting the monument on their official website.
Photo 8: A 2019 ceremony at Dola [source]
Curiously, despite the amount of effort put into this site for road signage, repairs and renovations, the complex, as of 2019, contains no informational boards or interpretive plaques whatsoever. This absence is only compounded by the lack of any engraved or inscribed memorial elements at this site. As such, anyone visiting this memorial site without being previously informed to its significance would be unable to determine or evaluate what the site is marking or commemorating.
This complex still routinely hosts annual commemorative and remembrance events (Photo 8), the most significant of which are held at the anniversary of the massacre, June 7th. These events, which are organized by the Plužine municipality and local church organizations in the Piva River Valley, are often attended by many hundreds of people in the local community and from across Montenegro.
Additional Sites in the Dola region:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Dola region that might be of interest to those studying the monumental, architectural or artistic heritage of the former Yugoslavia. The sites examined here will be the Monument to Bajo Pivljanin in Rudinice and the Monument to Fallen Fighters at Trsa.
Monument to Bajo Pivljanin at Rudinice:
Situated roughly 4km north of the Dola Memorial Complex towards Plužine at the entrance to the small village of Rudinice is a 4-5m tall monument which honors the 17th-century revolutionary fighter named Bajo Pivljanin (Photo 9), who is best known for his efforts battling Ottoman forces in his position as a "hajduk", which is a sort of bandit/freedom fighter. The majority of his efforts were put towards defending the frontier of his ancestral lands (which is the region where this monument is located) against the advancing Ottoman armies which were encroaching into this region during the 1600s. He fell in battle against the Ottomans in 1685 during the Battle of Vrtijeljka. This monument honoring him was built here near his birthplace in Rudinice in 1979 by Montenegrin sculptor Luka Tomanović. As can clearly be seen by the form of this monument, Tomanović borrowed the sculptural "hands" motif used in this work from his "three hands" memorial sculpture at the Dola Memorial Site.
Photo 9: Monument to Bajo Pivljanin at Rudinice
Photo 10: Painting of Bajo Pivljanin
The two primary forms of this monument, which are two concrete hands reaching into the sky roughly 5-6m high, hold up at its center a polished stone panel which contains an inscription on its north-facing side. This inscription, when translated into the English language, as the following message:
Bajo Pivljanin, eagle of the highest harambaša [senior commander of a hajduk band], lived from 1637-1685 and was born in this village. He rose to be a Montenegrin legend for his exceptional chivalry at the Battle of Vrtijeljka. He was immortalized by Njegoš in these verses: 'Bajo the falcon, with his thirty dragons, will live as long as time endures.' -The municipal board of SUBNOR, Plužine
The poetic verse written by Njegoš (who is considered the greatest poet in the Serbian language) is from his most famous epic poem called "The Mountain Wreath", an English version of which can be found at THIS link. Interestingly, the construction of this monument was also part of the Yugoslav political effort of enlisting and integrating locally/regionally popular historical revolutionaries of the past into the scope of the country's Partisan/revolutionary heritage and struggle. In recent years the monument has been largely marginalized and has fallen into an unmaintained state. Sources relate that some in the local community are unhappy with the monument, saying that its 'raised hands' motif resembles the symbol of 'surrender', which they see to be inappropriate for honoring the legacy of Bajo Pivljanin. As a result, efforts are underway to create a new monument. Whether Tomanović's 1979 monument will remain into the future is not clear. Its exact coordinates are N43°04'41.4", E18°50'59.6". As of 2019, new efforts are already underway to create a new monument to Pivljanin in Plužine.
Monument to Fallen Fighters at Trsa:
Roughly 29km north of the Dola Memorial Complex (or 16km as the crow flies) is situated the Monument to Fallen Fighters in the small village of Trsa (Photo 11) within the Durmitor Mountains. Created in 1973 by an author I have not yet determined, this memorial sculpture is dedicated to approximately 50 local people who died fighting in the Partisan resistance during WWII (as well as four who died during the April 6th War), in addition to 80 local civilians who died as a result of fascist terror which occurred in this region during WWII. The monument consists of concrete forms sat upon a concrete platform. The larger of these two forms is a roughly 6m tall wall on which is depicted an abstract figure with raised arms to either side of which are a series of figures hold rifles. A representation of the sun shines above this scene. The second form is a ~5m tall pillar decorated with simplistic human forms with outstretched arms. These same forms also adorn the base of the monument.
Photo 11: Monument to Bajo Pivljanin at Rudinice
This monument is in a very poor neglected condition. I found no signs or indications that it is regularly maintained or that it hosts any nature of annual commemorative events. This monument is located right at the center of Trsa across from the Eko-Solo Durmitor mountain lodge and cafe. The site's exact coordinates are N43°11'14.8", E18°56'03.2".
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Piva Monastery: Roughly 9km north of the Dola Memorial Complex is the Piva Monastery. Founded in the late 1500s, this ancient religious complex was founded by the Serbian Orthodox and it continues to be one of the most important monasteries in Montenegro (renowned for its beautiful frescos). The monastery was originally situated at the source of the Piva River, however, when the construction of a hyrdo-power dam at Mratinje was proposed in 1969 only 3 kilometers away from the monastery which threatened to flood the complex, it was moved brick by brick to its present location. In addition, over 1,000 fragments of the monastery's frescos were removed from its walls and moved by hand. The exact coordinates of the Piva Monastery are N43°06'37.1", E18°49'05.7".
Photo 12: Old shop at Donja Brezna
Old Shop at Donja Brezna: Roughly 10km south of the Dola Memorial Complex is the small village of Donja Brezna. At the center of this village is an old abandoned shop that has some very unusual and distinctive Yugoslav-era architecture (Photo 12). Its pyramidal shape not only operates well to shed snow during the winter months, but it also acts as a sort of architectural regionalism in that it invokes the mountain landscape seen in the background. The exact coordinates for this site are N42°59'48.8", E18°53'54.1".
The Dola Memorial Complex is located along the highway between Nikšić and Plužine, with the complex located roughly 14km south of Plužine. Traveling from either direction, a large directional sign (Photo 13) is visible as you approach the turn off for the access road which leads to the site. This turn-off towards the heads to the east and is approximately 1km long. The road will end after driving the 1km distance and you can park anywhere in the open dirt lot. From the parking lot, the entrance to the complex can be easily seen looking west. The entrance to the complex is a stone arch portal with a metal gate (Photo 14). The gate is closed but is not locked and can be easily opened. A short stone paved pathway will lead to the memorial complex. The exact coordinates for parking are N43°03'29.2", 18°50'13.1".
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Photo 13: Sign along highway for Dola Memorial Complex
Photo 14: Stone gate entrance to the complex
Photo 15: A 1980s image of the Dola Memorial Complex
Selected Sources and More Information:
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