Name: Monument & Crypt to the Executed Victims of Draginac (Споменик са костурницом стрељаних жртава у Драгинцу)
Location: Draginac, Serbia
Year completed: 1961 (2 years to build)
Designer: Ostoja Gordanić Balkanski
Coordinates: N44°30'17.2", E19°24'57.3" (click for map)
Dimensions: 7m tall obelisk
Materials used: Sandstone blocks
This monument at the spomenik park in Draginac, Serbia commemorates the many innocent civilians from this town and surrounding Jadar region villages who who were executed by Axis forces during the National Liberation War (WWII).
World War II
As the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was occupied with an Axis invasion in April of 1941, the Germans set up the region of Serbia into an area called the "Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia", which was then occupied by Axis forces and under the supreme control of its appointed military commander, Serbian Nazi-collaborator Milan Nedić. On July 7th of 1941, communist-led Partisan resistance forces began an armed popular uprising against this occupation and began to retake territory -- a movement in Serbia which was first instigated in Bela Crkva (nearby to Draginac). In response to these uprisings and Partisan popular revolts, German command launched a series of military offensives aimed at squashing this rebellion and re-occupying territory taken over by Partisan rebels. However, as the 342nd German Infantry Division was marching towards Krupanj from France to support these offensives, they were ambushed by Partisan rebels as they crossed the Gajić Sten bridge over the Jadar River near the town of Draginac on October 14th, 1941. During the skirmish, Partisan rebels killed and captured several German soldiers.
The German commanding general in Serbia, Wehrmacht commander Franz Böhme, was furious at this and other similar recent Partisan attacks against German forces. In a retaliatory move against the people of the Jadar region, Böhme implemented a sweeping directive to his troops that when they reached the region of Jadar, for every one wounded German soldier, 50 civilians should be executed, while for every one dead German soldier, 100 civilians should be executed. On the very same day of this Partisan attack, German 342nd Division regrouped and captured roughly 120 Partisans who were suspected to have participated in or aided the Gajić Sten bridge attack. After these prisoner were executed, the 342 Division began retaliatory executions of civilians in Draginac and the surrounding region. The vast majority of civilian executions occurred between October 14th and 19th, 1941, in which it is estimated nearly 3,000 people were killed (Photo 1) -- on a somber note, a number of reports indicate that of the total amount killed, 305 were children under 10 years of age. All the executions occurred at two sites in the town of Draginac, while those from outside of Draginac were forcibly shuttled into these locations to be executed. The bodies were then buried in two mass grave mounds at the spots where the executions occurred. In addition, the homes of those executed were often burned as well.
Photo 1: A scene of the execution of civilians at Draginac, October, 1941
Photo 2: Ostoja Gordanić Balkanski
Directly after the war, efforts were made to mark these mass graves so the tragedy would not be forgotten. Then, in the 1950s, engraved stone plaques were installed into the burial mounds with inscriptions honoring those executed. Finally, in the early 1960, plans were made by local and regional government and veteran groups to construct a more expansive memorial complex to commemorate the civilians who were executed here at Draginac. After an open competition to decide the design for this sculpture at the center of this memorial, a selection committee awarded Belgrade artist Ostoja Gordanić Balkanski (Photo 2) with the project commission. This new spomenik complex was to be located just outside of town, just off the south entrance road, near the spot where the Trnavica Stream meets the Jadar River. Construction began on the monument on October 14th, 1961 (a date which marked exactly 20 years since the original tragedy), with the burial mounds containing the remains of the executed civilians being exhumed, then re-interred in a crypt tomb at the new memorial site. The old burial mounds were developed into commemorative spaces. The new memorial complex was finally finished and unveiled to the public in a remembrance ceremony on October 14th, 1963, a date which marked exactly 20 years since the beginnings of the initial 1943 executions. The primary sculptural element at the spomenik complex is a roughly 7m tall sandstone obelisk, formed in an abstract undulating curves. At the foot of this memorial sculpture is the crypt in which the remains of executed civilians are interred.
While many spomenik complexes across Yugoslav were faced with abandonment and destruction after the dismantling of Yugoslavia during the 1990s, the memorial site here at Draginac has remained in relatively good condition (with only minor damage visible), while still being regularly maintained and honored by those in the local community. In 2011, a major restoration of the site was organized and funded by the Serbian Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans and Social Affairs. In addition, annual commemorative events have continued to be held here uninterrupted throughout the existence of this memorial.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
As you reach the memorial obelisk, the first inscription you notice is a long engraved stone marker situated on the top surface of the crypt (Slide 1), which reads, roughly translated from Serbian to English, as:
"On fourteenth of October 1941 German fascists shot 2050 patriots in Draginac."
Then, on the obelisk sculpture itself there are a series of metal letters installed directly onto the stone, creating a raised-letter inscription (Slides 2 & 3). The inscription translates from Serbian to English as:
"Savage retaliation carried out against you solidified the resolve of our peoples to fight for their freedom, determined and until the end."
Finally, along the paved pathway from the main road which leads to the spomenik complex, there is an interpretive sign located on the north side of the pathway just where it crosses a small stream (Slides 4 & 5). The sign relates information about the historic and cultural significance of the site, along with a map of the relevant sites associated with it. The text on this sign reads, when translated from Serbian to English, as:
Shootings in Draginac
During World War II, the German Wermacht left a bloody trail across the Loznica region, with the 1941 shooting in Draginac being a significant massacre committed by the German Army against civilians in Serbia, and was preceded by mass shootings in Kragujevac and Kraljevo in October of the same brutal magnitude. This tragedy in villages across the Jadar region occurred in the middle of October, after the crimes that were committed by the Germans in Šabac and Mačva. The German advancement of the "retaliatory expedition" into the Jadar region went from the 10th until the 20th of October, 1941. 3,631 people were executed in Podrinje, along with another 1,951 people in the Jadar region. In the village of Draginac, 1,379 persons were shot in four days from October 13th to 16th.
Mass shootings and crimes committed by the soldiers of the 342nd German Infantry Division were recorded near Draginac in the following villages of the Jadar region:
From the village of Jarebica, 475 people were killed from 11th to the 15th of October, 1941.
From the village of Cikote on October 19th, 1941, 396 people were slaughtered, including 135 children under the age of 10 and 190 children under the age of 14.
From the Bela Crkva from the 13th to 21st of October, 1941, 270 people were shot, among them 23 children under the age of 10.
In the village of Cokešina, of the 181 persons who were killed in the war, 90 of them were shot from the 11th to the 15th October, 1941, among them 19 children under the age of 10.
In the village of Korenita on October 17th, 170 people were shot, 95 of them children under the age of 10.
55 people were killed in Novo Selo, of which 10 were children under the age of 10.
In the summer of 1941, in Baroš Lešnici, 142 people lost their lives. The peak of the executions was in Draginac on October 15th.
Such crimes also ravage other villages in the Jadar region, which is confirmed by the report from the Serbian War Crimes Commission, organized after the war to catalog the crimes of the occupier and their supporters. By the end of 1941, 2,385 people were killed in villages across the Jadar region. Special attention should be paid to the large number of children who were killed, with 305 young children under the age of 10 losing their lives. Some of these children were only a few days old, and as they were not yet baptized, they are known to us only by their last names. After these crimes were committed against the civilian population in Draginac, the Nazis buried all victims in four common graves.
After the war, these tombs were arranged and marked, and in 1961, all the remains were transferred to a collective tomb. The tomb is marked with a 7m tall stone monument by sculptor Ostoje Gordanić-Balkanski. The monument to the victims in Draginac was unveiled on October 14, 1963.
Execution Sites at Draginac:
Located around the vicinity of Draginac are two locations which contain the remains of executed victims during WWII that were all deposited into mass mound graves. These two mounds were the first sites commemorated in Draginac, a few years before the construction of the Balkanski stone obelisk. This section will explore both of these two sites in detail.
Execution Site I:
There are two primary execution-site burial mounds associated with this spomenik complex: Site I and Site II. The first is located just near the central town circle, roughly 150m off the road. The map section below details its exact location. At the Site I, there are three mounds, with each mound having stone slabs set directly into them (Slide 1), each engraved with inscriptions by Serbian poet Đorđe Radišić (Ђорђе Радишић). These slabs were part of the original memorial built during the 1950s. The stone slab in Mound 1, marked as Number 1, (Slide 2) reads, when translated from Serbian to English, as:
"Oh Freedom,, no man has dreamt of you like the ones that paved the road with their hearts, waiting for your arrival."
Slideshow - Execution Site I
Meanwhile, in Slide 3 you can see the engraved 'Number 2' stone plaque set into Mound 2. The inscription on this stone reads, when translated from Serbian to English, as:
"Here, on their own, tired plows fall, and on that spot, to the last drop, they are worth that the thirsty land within which their blood is sown."
Then, in Slide 4 you can see the engraved 'Number 3' stone plaque set into Mound 3. The inscription on this stone reads, when translated from Serbian to English, as:
"Nothing here has disappeared, the eyes have become heaven, and the hearts the countryside, while the tears are a drop of clear water."
"Nothing here has disappeared, and it is constantly growing, the flower of life, freedom"
Execution Site II:
The Site II mound is located along the main thoroughfare of Draginac, about 100m north of Site I. The site consists of just one long mound around which is a paved walkway and also has an engraved stone slab set directly into it (Slides 1 & 2), contained an inscribed verse from Đorđe Radišić. Roughly translated from Serbian to English, its inscription can be read as:
"Rose of serenity, growing on the edge of memories, don't look for them in the grass, for they have risen to the stars. Silent rose of memories, don't shiver with your petals. Above the heads of men is the constellation of freedom."
Help with these Radišić translations at Sites I & II are courtesy of Reddit users theystolemyusername, asmj and BlueShibe.
Slideshow - Execution Site II
From what I have been able to determine, the shape of the memorial sculpture at the spomenik complex here at Draginac is of a purely abstract and non-representational design. The overall form of this monument most closely resembles an 'obelisk', a shape which generally coveys the meaning of strength and victory. Following that meaning, this abstract obelisk of undulating curves would most likely signify the victory over the Axis powers and the Partisan victory in the National Liberation War (WWII).
Status and Condition:
This spomenik complex at Draginac, Serbia in reasonably good condition. While older photographs of the complex show grass and vegetation had been allowed to become overgrown in the past, currently, the landscaping around the complex is very well maintained and manicured, with grass being regularly cut and overgrown vegetation being kept under control. Meanwhile, the facilities, infrastructure and monument elements are all being fairly well cared for and maintained, however, the main obelisk monument itself shows signs of poorly made repairs to sandstone blocks, which even now appear insufficient and lacking. Along the main road heading into Draginac, there are directional and promotional signs alerting passers-by and tourists of the way to the spomenik complex, while there is also a dedicated parking area for visitors. A large modern interpretive sign is also included at the site, which informs visitors of the historic and cultural significance of the site (although it is only in Serbian). Furthermore, the town of Draginac itself very much promotes and advertises this memorial as point of interest and cultural attraction, both through local signage and on the region's official website.
Photo 3: A commemorative ceremony at the Draginac memorial, 2016
Meanwhile, annual commemorative ceremonies are regularly held here at the memorial, which is clearly evident in the significant amount of honorific wreaths, candles and flowers I found left in front of the monument upon my most recent visit. These ceremonies are often attended by notable Serbian politicians and dignitaries. The most notable ceremony held at the site are the "October Days" remembrance event, which takes place every October 12 - 14th (an event that has occurred every year uninterrupted since the construction of the memorial) (Photo 3). All signs and evidence relate that this monument is well cared for by the local municipality and community residents, with no indication that it is under any immediate threat or at any risk of damage or degradation. Yet, it is important to note that during the 1990s and 2000s, the site did experience some neglect and deterioration, however, in 2011, the Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans' and Social Affairs organized and funded a major rehabilitation project for the memorial complex, renewing the site nearly to its original condition. The Serbian government's Republic Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments has designated the site an immovable cultural asset.
From the town center of the town of Draginac, follow Jadranska Road south out of town. Just a few hundred meters before you cross over the Jadar River bridge, you will see a small parking area on the left hand side of the road next to a farm field. Park here and follow the paved path up the hill 150m and you will find the spomenik. The exact coordinates for parking are N44°30'21.7", E19°24'52.8".
The gold stars on the map are the locations of the two burial mounds associated with this spomenik complex. The exact coordinates for Site 1 are N44°30'31.8", E19°25'04.8", while the exact coordinates for Site II are N44°30'38.8", E19°25'06.9".
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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