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Donji Miholjac

Brief Details:

Name: 'Freedom Monument' (Spomenik Slobodi) or 'Monument to the Sixth Corps NOVJ'

Location: Donji Miholjac, Croatia

Year completed: 1968

Designer: Stjepan Brlošić

Coordinates: N45°45'42.9", E18°09'41.9" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~5m tall monument

Materials used: Poured concrete & bronze

Condition: Good

(DOH-nyee mee-HO-lyats)

History:

The monument at this spomenik complex in Donji Miholjac, Croatia commemorates the fallen soldiers and civilian victims from this area who perished during the National Liberation War (WWII).

World War II

The spomenik is also dedicated to the 6th Slavonian Corps who defended this region during the war and who hosted fighters from Donji Miholjac. The conflict in Donji Miholjac, and the greater Slavonian region, began as old Yugoslavia was invaded by Axis powers on April 10th, 1941 and an Axis-supported Independent State of Croatia (NDH) was created (which the town of Donji Miholjac fell within). The Ustaše regime, who controlled the NDH, waged a relentless campaign of terror and oppression across and beyond its borders against any who opposed them or who were of an undesirable ethnic/religious background. As the war progressed, severe anti-Semitic laws were introduced and the Ustaše worked to ethnically cleanse Slavonia, with tens of thousands being sent to death camps across the Balkans.

In the region of Donji Miholjac, hundreds of Jewish, Serb and Roma citizens are either forcefully evicted from their homes or killed if they refuse. Also, places of worship connected to these groups, such as the synogogue of Donji Miholjac, were destroyed. As the war continued, many remaining Serbs, communists and other anti-fascists In Donji Miholjac and the Slavonia region began to rise up against Axis oppression, forming initially the First Slavonian Battalion Partisan resistance groups in December of 1941 in Brusnik. Through the war this Partisan unit evolved, gaining even more members. Then, after gaining significantly more recruits, on May 17th, 1943 the rebels of the Donji Miholjac region reformed their ranks into the 6th Slavonian Corps (Photo 1) (which at this point contained over 5,000 fighters). By the following June of 1943, the unit had succeeded in liberating much of the Požega basin, most notably the mountainous regions. Moral among the 6th Slavonian Corps Partisans  was much heightened at the capitulation of Italy in September of 1943, which led to the Slavonian Partisans liberating more areas from Ustaše control through the beginning of 1944 and engaging in further sabotage and incursions against the enemy.

Photo 1: Commanding officers of the 6th Slavonian Partisan Corps NOVJ, 1943

Even in the area around Donji Miholjac the beginning of 1944 brought renewed success to the Partisans. On March 13th, 1944, resistance fighters with the Podravska Partisan Battalion attacked and destroyed an armored train, killing 15 Ustaše fighters and amassing a considerable amount of weapons. Progress against Ustaše and German forces around Donji Miholjac increased for the Partisans through 1944, and by April of 1945, Partisans begin to surround the town. On April 11th, several Partisan units (including the 16th Yugoslav Army Division, the 2nd Vojvodina Division and the 24th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Bulgarian Division) begin their final push to liberate the town. Then, after five days of intense fighting the last of the Ustaše and German forces were pushed out (fleeing towards Čađavica and Moslavina), resulting in Donji Miholjac being finally liberated on April 15th of 1945.

Spomenik Construction

To honor the fallen fighters who gave their lives defending Donji Miholjac and the region of Slavonia (along with commemorating the region's civilian victims), the construction of a spomenik complex was organized in the mid 1960s for the center of the city within St. Florian Park inside Freedom Square (Trg slobode), but what is today referred to as the Square of Ante Starčević (named after the controversial figure). The central memorial element for the space was designed by famed Slavonian artist Stjepan Brlošić, along with architectural intervention from Franjo Ferenčević. The completed monument was finally unveiled on November 29th, 1968, a date intended to recognize the 25th anniversary of the formation of the 6th Slavonian Corps of the National Liberation Army. The memorial sculpture that Brlošić designed consists of a roughly 5m tall inverted triangle, slightly articulated to an angle at its center. On the front face of the sculpture are installed two figurative bronze relief friezes. The left frieze depicts a group of Partisan fighters battling against German Army soldiers, while the right frieze depicts what appears to be a group of civilians holding a lifeless body (presumably killed by the occupying forces). During the days of Yugoslavia, it was a popular and will visited attraction. In addition, the monument was one of the central symbols of the town, evidenced by it being represented by the majority of postcards from Donji Miholjac during the Yugoslav-era. Some of these postcards can be seen in the Historical Images section at the bottom of this page.

Present-Day

Today, despite the turmoil of the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, the spomenik complex remains in reasonable shape and shows little signs of damage or neglect. It sees many visitors each year, as it is in the middle of the city's pedestrian green-way trail, while it is still regularly honored by locals with wreaths and annual remembrance events.

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

There are two primary inscriptions located at the monument complex here at Donji Miholjac. Firstly, when standing directly in front of the monument, on either side of the concrete 'V' shaped form of the structure there are two bronze relief sculptures (Slide 1). A closer view of these two reliefs can be seen in Slide 2. On the right hand side can be seen a relief depicting a group of Partisan fighters battling against what appear to be (from looking at the shape of the helmet) some German soldiers. Meanwhile, on the left hand side of the monument is a relief which depicts a group of civilians holding a person who was presumably shot by the aforementioned German soldiers. As seen in Slide 2, directly underneath both of these small bronze sculptural reliefs is a small thin bronze plate bearing a brief inscription. These inscriptions read as, when translated from Croatian to English, as:

Slideshow

[left inscription]

These freedom fighters will remain illuminated characters through the generations as we celebrate 25 years since the founding of the 6th [Slavonian] Corps of the NOVJ. The people of Donji Miholjac raise this monument of freedom on November 29th, 1968.
 

[right inscription]
They liked the sun and freedom. They wanted happiness for everyone in the world and that is why they gave their life - O beauty - O my dearest - O sweet freedom.

The final line of the Right Inscription depicted above is a verse from the famous Baroque-era Dubrovnik poet Ivan Gundulić, taken from his work "Oda slobodi" (An Ode to Freedom). Finally, the images from Slide 2 were taken by photographer Tomislav Lacović.

Meanwhile, as far as graffiti, I have not observed an recent instances of defacement or spray paint targeted against this monument, nor have I observed any from when looking at images of the site over the last decade or so.

Symbolism:

The Freedom Monument here in Donji Miholjac seems to be a work that is meant too be a reminder of the suffering and oppression that the people of this town endured during WWII (aka the People's Liberation Struggle). This is most clearly evidenced by the two bronze relief friezes attached to the front of the monument. These friezes depict not only the battles waged by the Partisans, but also the plight of the civilian victims. Meanwhile, to what degree the inverted triangle form of the monument contains any specific symbolic meaning is less clear. As the original name of this square was "Freedom Square" and the aptly named Freedom Monument, with its arrow-head like shape, is positioned right at the center of this square, perhaps the form is meant to symbolically act as a indicational marker communicating that the Partisan struggle lay at the very center of freedom itself.

Status and Condition:

Overall, the Freedom Monument complex in St. Florian Park in Donji Miholjac is in good condition. The park setting within which the monument sits is well maintained and cared for, while all the vegetation and landscaping around the site is well manicured and kept up. The monument itself appears to be in good condition, showing no signs of neglect or degradation. No graffiti is visible or has been visible on the surface of the sculpture from evaluating photos from its recent past. In addition, the bronze relief fixtures on the monument also appear to be in semi-decent shape, though one of them does have two small holes piercing it (which may simply be from weathering over the past 50 years. However, while the overall state of the monument appears good, it bears mentioning that it no longer seems to retain its once-held position of standing as one of the symbols of the town.

Meanwhile, I found no reports or articles indicating that any notable annual commemorative ceremonies continue are held at this monument site any longer, but I have seen evidence that some in the community come to lay wreaths in front of the memorial sculpture. There are no educational or interpretive placards around the monument, yet, the local tourism board of Donji Miholjac does mention the Freedom Monument as a point of interest on their list of local monuments, while the city authorities do have it listed [PDF] as a cultural asset in official documents.

Directions:

This spomenik is directly in the city center area of Donji Miholjac. It is located right near the corner of Ulica Augusta Harambašića and Ulica Petra Preradovića 2, set within the small forested St. Florian Park just to the east of the intersection on the north side of the road (see HERE for Google StreetView). As it is in the city center, parking can be made anywhere it is available, but there is a sizable parking area just east of the spomenik (see HERE for Google StreetView). The exact coordinates for this parking area are N45°45'43.3", E18°09'44.2".

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Slideshow

Comments:

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