Name: Dotrščina Memorial Park (Spomen-područje Dotrščina)
Location: Zagreb, Croatia
Year completed: 1968 (5 years to build), elements added until 1993
Coordinates: N45°50'34.3", E16°01'40.1" (click for map)
Dimensions: ~2m tall and ~4m wide on 365ha monument park
Materials used: Stainless steel and bronze
This spomenik in Zagreb, Croatia at the Dotrščina Memorial Park is a monument which commemorates the thousands of civilians executed and buried at this site by Axis German and Ustaše forces from 1941 until the end of WWII
World War II
A reign of terror began almost as soon as Germans and Italians invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on April 6th, 1941 (Photo 1). At this point, one of the leaders of the Ustaše movement, Slavko Kvaternik, declared, on behalf of nationalist politician Ante Pavelić, a separation from the old Kingdom of Yugoslavia and that a new country, the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), would be formed. The capital of this new 'country' was designated as the city of Zagreb, with the government and the country operating essentially as an Axis puppet-state. The Ustaše forces were relentless in oppressing and waging campaigns of violence against anyone in Zagreb who attempted to oppose this new government and against anyone who was considered an 'undesirable'. At the most considerable risk of violence and execution were all of Zagreb's ethnic-Serb, Jewish and Roma populations, in addition to any ethnic-Croat civilians who the Ustaše felt to be dissidents, agitators or rebel collaborators.
In May of 1941, the new government of the NDH passed racial laws which essentially ordered the undesirable races and classes of Zagreb to either self-deport or be executed (Serb, Jew, Roma, etc) -- thus began the murder of hundreds of civilians across Zagreb. While executions occurred in several places across the city, as well as concentration camps outside of Zagreb, the most significant location for the killings in the vicinity was the Dotrščina forest, just on the eastern edge of Zagreb at that time, on the south-eastern foothills of Mount Medvednica. Sources indicate that the first victim was a local hotel cook named Dušan Zelenbaba, executed on May 30th, 1941. While only a few hundred remains have been found and positively ID'd, some estimate that upwards of 7,000 civilians could have been executed in the forests here of Dotrščina, but the exact numbers are unknown, as contemporary research on the exact numbers executed here is not complete and still ongoing. It is important to note that most of those executed here at Dotrščina during WWII were not necessarily always buried here in the mass graves, as families were often allowed to claim the bodies of loved ones after they had been killed.
Photo 1: German troops and tanks entering Zagreb in April of 1941
Executions and burial of bodies by the Ustaše occurred at Dotrščina with varying regularity up until the end of the war. On May 5th, 1945, a three day battle began against the Axis Ustaše/German occupation of Zagreb by Partisan forces. By May 8th, all remaining Axis forces had been defeated and at about 11 o'clock in the morning, the 45th and 28th Divisions of the 2nd Yugoslav Army marched into the city. It is estimated that of Zagreb's population of roughly 500,000, over 18,000 residents were killed during the war, with largest concentration of them having taken place at Dotrščina. In the years after the war, many testimonies were recounted of the executions which occurred at Dotrščina (by both survivors and collaborators). I will briefly detail segments of one such testimony here, given by a former state customs officer, Franjo Žučko:
"There was very little time during the entire period when there were no transports [to Dotrščina]. First, an open-air truck full of Ustaše would arrive [at the front of a convoy] carrying a number of people who had the task of digging graves and burying the executed; these were also prisoners, most often Gypsies. Then, at a certain distance behind, driving in trucks or police vans, were the victims. At the end of the convoy there would be a passenger car with a priest, a judge and a doctor. Often it occurred that the victims would be driven by day in an open-air truck, so there were emotional scenes; they would raise their tied arms and openly greet people along the road, but it was clear that they knew their own fate as they drove. "
Photo 2: Conceptual sketch for the 'Valley of the Graves' by Josip Seissel
Several years after the war, around 1959, the area of Dotrščina forest where the executions had occurred was initially memorialized by locals with a series of makeshift tombstones scattered around the forest in an unorganized way. However, the city of Zagreb and its veterans groups eventually felt a more coordinated effort should be put forth to commemorate the site. In 1960, a full redesign and reorganization effort of the Dotrščina Memorial area began its initial planning stages. At that time, the Association of the Zagreb City Veterans coordinated with the City of Zagreb Urban Planning to enlist famed visionary designer and sculptor Vojin Bakić to create an expansive commemorative sculpture park which would honor the events which occurred at the Dotrščina forest during WWII. Teamed with Bakić were architect and urban planner Dr. Josip Seissel (along with his wife Silvana) (Photo 2) and writer Juri Kaštelan. One of the original schematics of the park's layout can be seen in Photo 3. This would be the first major 'memorial park' project in the SR of Croatia, akin to what the SR of Serbia had already created with the Šumarice park at Kragujevac.
Photo 3: Landscape layout schematic of the Dotrščina park designed by Josip Seissel
The completed complex was finally unveiled to the pubic during a 1968 ceremony. The central monumental element that Bakić created for this 40ha memorial park was a stainless steel crystalline-shaped sculpture (roughly 4m wide) It is oriented on its pedestal in such a way that it almost appears to be floating as you approach it across the open field it looks out onto. In 1975, the city of Zagreb was bestowed with, by the Yugoslav government, the honor of "Hero City" under the "Order of the People's Heroes" of Yugoslavia. As this was the highest recognition a city could receive, a number of additional monuments, along with an expansive museum complex, were all planned to be constructed at the Dotrščina Memorial area over the subsequent years to celebrate the honor. Four of these additional monuments were completed during the 1980s and 90s, however, with the political upheaval experienced in Croatia during the 1990s and the subsequent dismantling of Yugoslavia, all additional park expansion at the Dotrščina Memorial stopped. This consequently left additional monuments, along with the planned museum complex and an intended towering stainless-steel obelisk, as yet unrealized (Photo 4).
Photo 4: Model of an unrealized memorial museum by Neven Šegvić intended for Dotrščina
Photo 5: Nationalist graffiti on the central monument at Dotrščina done in 2016
Today, the memorial park is in reasonable shape, however, many argue that the city of Zagreb could still do more to to maintain and preserve the resource, especially as graffiti and vandalism are often a problem here. While some elements are occasionally defaced by vandals (Photo 5), it is usually promptly cleaned by efforts from both park maintenance officials and volunteer groups. However, groups who have wished to engage significant restoration and rehabilitation (notably the Dotrščina Virtual Museum/Virtualni Muzej Dotrščina), have often encountered difficulty in securing funding the funding needed from local and national government bodies in order to achieve such goals. Yet, despite some setbacks, awareness of and engagement with the memorial park are reported to be growing, as a number of remembrance ceremonies, cultural events and community activities are regular annual occurrences at the Dotrščina complex.
Along with the primary "Path to Martyrdom" memorial elements here at the Dotrščina spomenik park, there are four additional memorial elements by scattered around the park, created by various artists during different periods in the park's history. Each of the four memorials are examined in detail in the following sections, with each monument also having a photo slideshow along with its description depicting its current condition as of 2017.
Slideshow - Monument to the Fallen in Zagreb's Liberation
Monument to the Fallen in Zagreb Liberation:
This memorial, whose formal name is "Monument to Those who Died On the Streets of their City (Spomenik poginulima za na ulicama našega grada), was designed by sculptor Branko Ružić and unveiled on July 27th, 1981, marking 40 years since the uprising of the people of Croatia. The aluminum form of the monument is depicting an abstract prison, from which can be seen many birds attempting to escape. This depiction seems to be an overt allusion to the people of Zagreb attempting to break free from the bondage of fascist rule and occupation. After the fall of Yugoslavia, the monument was neglected and damaged, with a large hole notably puncturing its base. In recent years, restoration efforts repaired nearly all damage, though signs of that damage still remain. The exact coordinates for it are N45°50'48.2", E16°01'36.1".
Slideshow - Monument to Revolutionaries Before the War
Monument to Revolutionaries Before the War:
This memorial, whose formal name is "Memorial to revolutionaries and patriots who fell in Zagreb from 1919 to 1941" (Spomen-obilježje revolucionarima i domoljubima poginulima u Zagrebu), was created in 1985 by sculptor Stevan Luketić [profile page]. Its layout consists of two stone-paved circular courtyards, both arranged on either side of the main pathway. The west circle, at which the bronze abstract monument resides in the center of, represents the fallen patriots from the past, while the empty east circle represents the ideas and struggles of generations yet to come. The structure of this spomenik is in poor shape, with multiple visible cracks and fissures in the bronze. Also, at some point in the 1990s, the large metal plaque in front of the spomenik was stolen. The exact coordinates of this spomenik are N45°51'02.2", E16°01'30.8".
Slideshow - Valley of the Graves
'Valley of the Graves' (Dolina Grobova):
This set of memorials, located in the stream valley that runs through the center of the park, is formally named "Valley of the Graves". This group of of six 'crystalline' sculptures (Slides 1 - 7), created by artist Vojin Bakić, made of polished stainless steel, were installed over several years during the early 1980 and intended to mark several mass grave sites found in the wooded valley here at Dotrščina after WWII. In addition, set amongst the sculptures are several dozen small square black stone markers where remains of a specific body or bodies have been found. It was the intention of Bakić to create more of these 'crystalline' sculptures over time as more mass graves were found here, but that aim was never realized (Photo 6). The sculptures are in good shape and are well maintained and their exact coordinates are N45°50'52.2", E16°01'26.3".
Photo 6: An early drawing by Josip Seissel showing how many more crystalline sculptures were initially intended for the Dolina Grobova at Dotrščina Park
Slideshow - Monument to Zagreb Citizens Killed in WWII
Monument to Zagreb Citizens Killed in WWII:
This memorial, formally called "Monument to people of Zagreb Killed in the Liberation Struggle, 1941-1945" (Spomen obilježje poginulim Zgarepčanima u NOB-u, 1941 - 1945), was completed in 1989 by sculptor Kosta Angeli Radovani. The plan for this memorial was selected in a unique design competition where the participants themselves chose the winning entry of all those submitted. However, while the artwork for the memorial was completed in 1989, it was not officially installed in its present location until 1993. This delay of installation was a result of lack of funds available at the time for the project, a situation which also resulted in a drastic alteration of the monument's original design schematics. It sometimes considered to be one of the last spomeniks to be built during the era of Yugoslavia.
The memorial consists of a roughly 9m long curved bronze frieze set upon a curved stone block wall. The frieze depicts many of the horrors and grisly scenes experienced by the citizens of Zagreb during Liberation Struggle. However, in 2007, one of the right-most panels of the frieze was stolen by vandals, presumably for scrap metal. A faithful attempt at reproduction of it was made and replaced the damaged section, yet, some sources argue that the historic documentation the reproduced panel drew from was flawed, potentially leaving the final product diverging from the artist's original intent. Currently, the memorial's condition is good and seems to be well maintained. The exact coordinates for this spomenik are N45°50'47.9", E16°01'27.5".
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
When standing in front of 'The Path of Martyrdom' sculpture, to the left you will see a large slab of stone engraved with a short poem (Slide 1). The inscription reads, translated from Croatian to English, as:
"Eternal springs of strength, unbreakable wings of freedom, brave in the death, eternal in life, in the accomplishments of the living, your achievements will be everlasting."
As far as graffiti, the main spomenik element here is occasionally spray painted with nationalist and fascist symbols, as seen in Slide 2 (a photo from a few years ago) -- however, municipality workers and volunteers are diligent about cleaning and removing it. As of March of 2017, it is clear of graffiti.
Along the trails just north of the central sculpture element, you will come across the "Monument to those killed in Zagreb 1941-1945", by sculptor Branko Ružić. This monument is situated within a stone paved courtyard, designed by architect Dragutina Kiš, which has a short black granite-block wall on its north-end bearing an engraved inscription (Slide 3). The engraving is from the poem 'Spring' (Proljeće) by notable Croatian poet Ivan Goran Kovačić, This inscription roughly reads as, when translated from Croatian to English:
"They're gone because they wanted to be"
"To the people of Zagreb who fell in their streets of their city, 1941-1945."
Along pathway of the "Valley of Graves" memorial area, there are also several engraved stone blocks. As you approach the south entryway to this area, you will see a large engraved stone block to your left (Slide 4). The inscription on this stone simply reads as an announcement in Croatian of this name of this particular memorial, "Valley of the Graves".
Meanwhile, at the center of the "Valley of the Graves" memorial area, there is a large flat stone slab that has been pushed over onto its face (Slide 5), presumably by vandals. It is believed that this stone bears an engraved inscription on it, which, due to the stone's current position, is unreadable. The stone's massive, and its remote inaccessible location, make the prospect of up-righting the stone unlikely.
Then, just as your approach the "Monument to Citizens Killed in Zagreb, 1941-1945" you will see an engraved plaque on the left (Slide 6). The inscription on this stone slab, just as in the "Valley of the Graves", is simply an announcement in Croatian of the name of this particular memorial, "Monument to Citizens Killed in Zagreb, 1941-1945".
At the main entrance to the Dotrščina spomenik complex, there is a wooden Croatian language sign (Slide 7) announcing to visitors the official name of the park, which, when translated to English, reads as:
"Dotrščina Memorial Area"
In the original layout of the memorial park, a very large engraved standing stone slab also existed at the main entrance pathway to the park complex. A historical photograph from the 1960s of the stone and its inscription can be seen in Slide 8. During the Yugoslav Wars in 1991, the stone was destroyed. Since then, no efforts have been made to replace it. The inscription on the stone once read, when translated from Croatian to English, as:
"In the forest called Dotrščina, from 1941 to 1945, invaders and their collaborators tortured, killed and threw into pits thousands of known and unknown sons and daughters of our country and our defiant Zagreb. The Dotrščina Memorial Cemetery and Revolution Park is dedicated to the indestructible memory of fighters and martyrs."
The crystalline shape and form of the central spomenik here at Dotrščina Memorial Park, which is designed by Vojin Bakić, appears to be of an overtly abstract and non-representational nature, as if it is attempting to avoid the direct communication of any specific representational symbolism or ideology. The same can be said for the series of smaller 'crystalline' sculptures in the memorial park called 'Valley of the Graves' (Dolina Grobova) (Photo 7). However, the choice by Bakić to create a purely abstract and non-representational sculpture series may be symbolic in itself. As the vast majority of victims executed at this site that this spomenik is commemorating were ethnic-Serbs, Bakić possibly hoped to avoid creating any visceral symbols or images that might serve to instigate contention or bitterness among any surviving Axis collaborators, especially since Dotrščina was one of the most brutal and deadly killing fields in all of Croatia during WWII. Bakić may have felt that through the act of decontextualizing his work, it could then exist purely as a monument to healing and reconciliation without intentionally stirring any painful feelings, as might a monument which overtly and unambiguously depicted the grisly crimes which occurred here.
Photo 7: A Dolina Grobova sculpture
However, while the geometric form of the crystalline sculptures may avoid any direct or overt symbolism, the material they are made of, stainless steel, seems very much to be conveying subtle, yet significant, messages. In discussing his use of stainless-steel at Dotrščina, Bakić is reported to have stated:
"In the artistic solution for the memorial of the Dotrščina cemetery, I came to the realization that the crystal, realized in this glittering material, reflects what the victims who have fallen there represent for us: purity, permanence, eternal light... The brightening mass of the steel reflecting light in such a form arouses singing from among the tombstones, as well as the motivation to rediscover the physical and ideological radiation of the free-hearted people who are buried there."
Meanwhile, Belgrade researcher Marija Martinović relates in a 2013 paper [PDF] that Vojin Bakić made the following statements describing the symbolic qualities of his sculpture at Dotrščina:
"I no longer see any possibility to express anything through figure. For example, when I was designing the monument for the memorial site Dotrščina, I have found that the crystal, made out of reflective material, actually represents for us the same thing as the victims that were executed there: purity and permanent, eternal light."
So, through his use of stainless steel, Bakić was attempting to create an experience for the viewer in which they could symbolically interface and commune with those who perished at this forest, however, it would be in such a way that was subdued and respectful, avoiding any direct indulgence or invocation of the horrific memories. Furthermore, the face's of these faceted stainless steel sculpture reflect all manner of the surroundings... the sky, the grass, the trees, the earth, etc. As such, the sculptures become integrated into the background of nature itself, pulsating and transforming as the viewer moves around them to uncover new reflections and new sources of light. So, in a sense, Bakić's sculptures ultimately create a communion between the viewer and their surroundings, revealing and illuminating the landscape which had been for so long cast over in darkness by the shadow of past horrors.
Status and Condition:
Overall, this spomenik complex in the forest of Dotrščina is in good condition. Firstly, while there are no directional or promotional signs in the general area for tourists or visitors leading them to this park (or to make them aware of it), the park is readily visible and adequately marked as you approach it on the main road. While I am not aware of any official efforts on the part of the City of Zagreb to promote or advertise the park, it is listed as a point of interest and attraction on Google and several internet travel sites. Meanwhile, the park's landscaping is kept well maintained and manicured, while overgrown vegetation is kept to a minimum, giving it a very attractive and welcoming appearance. The sculptural elements themselves are, for the most part, in good shape, although some aspects of a few of them are in need of some repairs and restoration.
The park is regularly visited and patronized by people in the community, both as a place of commemoration and a place for leisure and relaxing (walking, jogging, recreation, etc). Honorific wreaths, candles and flowers can often be found left in front of the memorial sculptures here, a fact that further testifies to the amount of respect locals pay to the memory of this park. Interestingly, one element absent from this complex (which is often found at other well-maintained highly trafficked spomen -parks) is some nature of multi-lingual interpretive sign. A large Croatian language engraved stone that briefly told the story of the park was included in the park's original layout, however, this was removed during the 1990s. Meanwhile, anti-facist groups are again holding annual remembrance ceremonies at this site, most notably around May 8th (Photo 8) which is Zagreb's Liberation Day. However, it is reported that senior state officials are absent from such events.
Photo 8: A May 2015 commemorative event at Dotrščina park
Photo 9: A 2012 memorial ribbon installation organized by the Dotrščina Virtual Museum.
After the fall of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, the Dotrščina spomenik park fell into neglect and disrepair for many years. It approached the point where many young people in Zagreb were no longer even aware of its existence. In 2012, social activist Saša Šimpraga started an online resource called the "Dotrščina Virtual Museum", which strove to increase local/international awareness of the park, while also organizing public art installations, restoration efforts, commemorative ceremonies and community programs to be held at the park complex. Since Šimpraga started these efforts, local popularity and community interest for the park and its history have greatly increased. Once a year, an open call to artists is held by the Dotrščina Virtual Museum to solicit ideas for temporary artistic memorial installations to be set within the park (Photo 9), generally around World Peace Day in September. So far, a number of distinguished Croatian contemporary artists have had their work exhibited at the Dotrščina Memorial, such as Davor Sanvincenti, Slaven Tolj, Daniel Kovač and Zoran Pavelić.
From in front of the central Zagreb train station, take Ulica Kneza Branimira east away from the city center. After about 2km, take a left onto Avenija Gojka Šuška. After another 2km, the road will reach a "T" intersection with Štefanovec Ulica, which you will take a left on. After taking this left, you will immediately see the entrance for Spomen-park Dotrščina on the left. Parking can be made right in front of the park. Exact coordinates for parking are N45°50'32.0", E16°01'41.7". You can see a Google StreetView image HERE of the park entrance. In addition, you can also find in this section a walking map of the park complex itself.
Click to open in Google Maps in new window
Trail map of the Dotrščina Memorial Park
Selected Sources and More Information:
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