Name: Monument Cankar Battalion in Dražgoše (Spomenik Cankarjevega bataljona v Dražgošah)
Location: Dražgoše, Slovenia
Year completed: 1976 (1 year to complete)
Coordinates: N46°15'08.5", E14°09'59.8" (click for map)
Dimensions: 12m tall and 13m wide
Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar
Condition: Very good, well maintained
Click on slideshow photos for description
This spomenik complex at Dražgoše, Slovenia, in the Gorenjska region, commemorates the efforts of the Cankar Battalion at the 1942 Battle of Dražgoše, where Partisans fought a snowy winter against Germans, while also attempting to protect local peasants from deportation.
World War II
In the high Julian Alps of NW Slovenia during early January of 1942, over 2,000 German soldiers were approaching Dražgoše in order to deport the local population. In response, a small band of 200 Partisan soldiers of the Cankar Battalion (named in honor of famous Slovene poet and writer Ivan Cankar) organized a defense against these incoming German soldiers. As a result, what came to be known as the Battle of Dražgoše (Dražgoška bitka) ensued on the morning of January 9th, which lasted for 3 days along the slopes of Mt. Mošenjski and along the Jelovica Plateau through deep snow and below freezing temperatures. Not only were the Partisans vastly out-manned, the descending German units also had vastly superior firepower, which they used against the Partisans extensively from surrounding ridge-tops. Yet, through despite this imbalance, fighters of the battalions Bičkov Platoon put up a notable defense against oncoming attacks from a prominent rocky outcrop on the side of the mountain (which afterwards was remembered as 'Biček's Rock' (Photo 1)). After suffering dozens of causalities, the Partisan soldiers became unable to resist the German onslaught (only killing 26 German soldiers), so the remaining Cankar Batallion retreated to safety further into the Julian Alps, with many being later tracked down and killed.
Photo 1: A contemporary view of Biček's Rock, with Partisan star monument on top [source]. See 'Additional Sites' section for directions
Photo 2: German troops in ruins of Dražgoše after burning the village, 1942
After the Partisans had fled from Dražgoše higher north into the safety of the Jelovica Plateau region, German soldiers retaliated by executing nearly 50 villagers and burning the town of Dražgoše to the ground (Photo 2). Villagers who survived were sent to the internment camp at Šentvid.
This battle was not only the first major confrontation between Slovene Partisans and Germans in World War II, it was also considered one of the largest and fiercest resistance offensives the Germans had faced anywhere in Europe up until this point. It is necessary to note that the villagers of Dražgoše did not ask Partisans to fight for them in this way. In fact, it was just the opposite... villagers had asked the Partisans to leave (as many Catholic villagers were suspicious of Partisan's intentions), while Nazis had also warned the villagers that to collaborate with the Partisans would result in severe retaliation. Instead, Partisans stayed and fought the Germans against overwhelming odds and lost, which consequently cost many of the Dražgoše villagers their lives.
For many years after WWII, several government plans were put forward to create a monument complex to honor the soldiers and victims who fought and fell during the Battle of Dražgoše. However, it was not until the September of 1972 that the Municipal Assembly for the region of Dražgoše passed a motion for the creation of the monument and formed a committee to oversee its construction. Then, in August of 1974, an invitation-only competition to select the shape of the monument was announced two months later. Invitations to submit proposals were sent to four of Slovenia's top sculptors, Drago Tršar, Janez Pirnat, Tone Logondro and Stojan Batič. Historic documents detail that in selecting the final proposal, the selection jury was to consider several factors, such as the work being of an 'ambiguous character' and being a observation viewpoint capable of hosting large crowds for the annual "On the Trail of Jelovica Partisans" celebration. Also, the jury wanted to ensure that its chosen placement be such that Bičkov Rock and the surrounding battle ground are fully visible, as well as being fully visible from along the road leading up to the village of Dražgoše.
Photo 3: Construction of the Dražgoše monument, 1976
In April of 1975, it was formally announced that the proposal submitted by sculptor Stojan Batič (along with his design team made up of Slovene architect Boris Kobe, along with Slovene painter Ive Šubic) had won first prize and were then invited by the monument committee to proceed with the construction of their concept.
Photo 4: The unveiling ceremony at Dražgoše monument, 1977
The foundation stone for the monument was laid on July 22nd, 1975. Construction proceeded over the following year (Photo 3), with work being carried out by the local Škofja Loka building firms Lokainvest and SGP Tehnik. officially completed and opened to the public the following July 22nd, 1976, a date which marked 35 years since the start of the Slovenian uprisings against Axis forces. Then, on May 3rd, 1977, a large and elaborate unveiling ceremony was held at the memorial site to celebrate (Photo 4). The ceremony was attended by many notable politicians, including a personal visit by Tito and his wife Jovanka, while the inaugural speech during the event was given by Serge Kraigher, the president of the Assembly for the SR of Slovenia. A written copy of the speech Kraigher gave during the ceremony can be found HERE [PDF]. The memorial structure itself is organized into a three-level configuration, with the lower level acting as a sanctum, the middle-level set up as an entrance way and sculpture exhibit, while the upper-level acts as a promenade and viewing platform for the surrounding battlefield. At the entry-level there are two sets of bronze sculptures (created by sculptor Stojan Batič) pointing their guns and hands into the distance. Meanwhile, back towards the road under the parking area, a large mosaic is set into the hillside depicting the horrors of the battle itself (created by artist Ive Šubic).
All aspects of this memorial complex here at Dražgoše are in very good condition, as it is well maintained and has very well kept grounds and facilities. Even after the years of the Yugoslav-era, this complex has continued to be regularly visited and honored by many locals and tourists alike. In addition, many commemorative events and memorial ceremonies continue to held at the site annually. The most notable annual ceremony which occurs at this monument site is part of a series of remembrance events on January 9th which are called "On the Trail of the Jelovica Partisans" (Po poteh partizanske Jelovice), which marks the beginning of the Partisan's conflict against German soldiers which started on January 9th, 1941. The events are put on by the Federation of Fighters for the NOB Values Slovenia and the Youth Fighters for the NOB Values of Slovenia.
Finally, it is interesting to note that as the Yugoslav-era monuments have increased in international popularity since the beginning of the 2010s, their forms have been utilized in a variety of ways in popular art & media. For instance, the monument here at Dražgoše was recently used as an inspiration for imagined monument within the digital world of the 2020 video game 'Call of Duty: Warzone' (Photo 5).
Photo 5: Object within 2020 Call of Duty game inspired by Dražgoše monument [source]
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There are a number of inscriptions and relief panels here at the monument at Dražgoše. Within the bottom level of the spomenik structure, there is a large engraved granite slab (Slide 1) with the text painted in bright red. Roughly translated from Slovenian to English, this engraving reads as:
"In the name of eternal memory, of the great battle of the Slovenian people, for survival and freedom, in memory of the fallen, and the survived heroes of the Cankarjev Batallion, who, on the 9th, 10th & 11th of January, 1942, fought a great Slovenian Partisan victory against sadistic Nazi aggressors."
At the top level of the spomenik, there is a wrap-around viewing promenade. On the south side of it, looking out over the valley, there are two engraved aluminum plates depicting a legend, a time-line and map of events from the Battle of Dražgoše (Slide 2). The left-most plate (Slide 3) has text at the bottom of it which is the legend to the map above it, translating from Slovenian to English as:
The Battle of Dražgoše took place over three days:
⎕ Partisans: 1st and 2nd troop of the Cankar Battalion with 208 fighters
◯ Occupying Germans: 44th, 93rd, 171st and 181st reserve police battalions with close to 2,500 soldiers
During the battle, nine Partisans died, while 11 of them were wounded. During the battle, Germans killed 41 villagers and afterwards burnt and demolished the village.
The map above the text is a silhouette image of the mountain vista seen from the viewing promenade. On the map, the '⎕' and the '◯' in the legend above refer to the different locations on the mountainsides on the map where German and Partisan batallions were located. Places referred to in the time-line are identified with lines pointing to them in the map. The right-most aluminum plate (Slide 4) contains the time-line (along with more of the mountain silhouette map), which translates roughly from Slovenian to English as:
Jan. 9th, 1942: The Germans attack with artillery from the direction of Jamnik, Lajše and Rudno, while from Novak Farm to the crossroads, heavy machine gun attack is made.
Jan. 10th, 1942: Germans penetrate the ridge, from Rudno to the crossroads. Partisans new crucial position becomes Biček's Rock.
Jan. 11th, 1942: Germans break through Partisan defenses at the [hamlet of] Jelenšče and kill 18 villagers. Partisans withdraw to the Jelovica [Plateau].
Jan. 12th, 1942: The Germans kill and burn another 23 villagers.
In Feburary, 1942: German soldiers demolish villages and churches.
Set within the hillside, between the two sets of stairs that lead down to the spomenik from the road, there is a large ~7m wide mosaic (Slide 5) created by Ive Šubic. The mosaic graphically depicts grisly scenes from the Battle of Dražgoše there on Mošenjski Mountain. It is fitting that Šubic created this mosaic, as he himself fought at this battle in the Cankarjev Battalion and survived.
Finally, in the very center of the ground level of the monument there is a three-sided bronze frieze sculpture also created by Stojan Batič (Slides 6 - 8). The various friezes depict scenes of suffering, uprising and oppression faced by the people of the Dražgoše region during WWII. Certainly the most dramatic and visceral of the scenes depicted here is seen in Slide 7, which shows civilians being executed by a German firing squad.
Ive Šubic Mosaic:
Set into an alcove in the hillside underneath the main parking area here at Dražgoše spomenik, there is a massive tile mosaic by Slovenian artist Ive Šubic (Photo 6). This mosaic, roughly 7m wide, fiercely and graphically depicts the 1942 Battle of Dražgoše at Mošnje Pasture (Mošenjska planina). The visceral and emotional way this scene is depicted, showing all natures of the horrors, atrocities and suffering of war which occurred during the battle, surely was a result of Šubic having himself directly taken part in this very battle during his time serving in the Partisan army. It is also important to point out that within this mosiac, Šubic includes a depiction of a hay-rack in the lower half of the center of the scene. As hay-racks are considered integral symbols of Slovene culture and identity, Šubic was overtly attempting to integrate the struggles which occurred on this hillside into the greater Slovene story and narrative. Currently, this mosaic is in excellent condition, as it is clearly regularly maintained and cared for by local municipalities and veterans groups.
Photo 6: A view of the Ive Šubic mosaic
Photo 7: Mosaic inscriptions
Finally, it is interesting to point out that within this mosaic there are two posters which can be seen near the center of the scene (Photo 7). Interetingly, these are depictions of posters that Šubic himself designed and distributed during the war. The first one, seen in the red colored flag, reads in Slovenian as "SMRT! SVO = BODO" which reads in English essentially as "DEATH! FREEDOM". Why the word freedom is hyphenated with an equals sign may simply be a stylistic decision by Šubic, however, it also may have been an overtly intentional symbolic decision to add an extra dimension of "equality" to the word 'freedom'. Finally, the orange-colored banner flag reads in Slovenian as "BRATJE, PODAJMO SI ROKE", which roughly reads in English as "BROTHERS, TO ARMS", which is a line from the famous traditional Partisan battle song "BRATJE, LE K SONCU, SVOBODI", so very much fits into the 'resistance' and 'uprising' theme of the mosaic.
This central memorial structure at the spomenik complex in Dražgoše is interesting in the regard that it is two things at once. On one hand, this memorial stands as an abstract sculpture to the victims of this battle, while on the other hand, it serves as a utilitarian viewing platform, situated in a prime panoramic location, which can be used to view the magnificent landscape of the valley as well as the scene of the battleground area itself. The viewing area even includes as plaque for interpreting the surrounding battleground landscape. As such, the choice of building the monument in this location was no doubt a deliberate effort meant to connect the visitor to the landscape and the historic battle which occurred here. An additional subtle symbolic insertion within the monument by its creator, Boris Kobe, is the monument assuming the shape of a Slovene hayrack (Photo 8) (albeit a circular version of it). Even Šubic went so far to deliberately include include a depiction on the hayrack as an overt element in his mosaic, as it is a integral symbol of Slovene culture and identity, Kobe was attempting to connect with Slovenes on a visceral level with the shape of his monument and also the battle it was designed to commemorate. A 2015 publication by historian Sanja Horvatinčić relates a quote by Kobe about his symbolic intentions behind his design choices in creating the monument:
Photo 8: Traditional Slovene hay rack
"I decided for the location by looking for the point from which people could easily view the entire space of the dramatic battle... I used the hayrack motif, with its horizontal rhythm and vertical columns. The passages connection the three terraces, from Šubic's mosaic to Batič’s sculpture and further to the sightseeing platform, are linked by a spiral staircase – the life vein."
Meanwhile, another memorial element present within the structure are two sets of bronze sculptures of Partisan soldiers, one set arranged in a "V" shape, with weapons pointed, while the other, the soldiers are arranged in an upside down "V" shape. Created by Stojan Batič, this orientation of the sculpture sets represent Partisan rebels on one hand engaging the Axis forces, while also at the same time protecting villagers at the same time.
Photo 9: A 2015 remembrance event at the Dražgoše monument
Status and Condition:
The Dražgoše Battle Monument (Spomenik dražgoški bitki) is in excellent condition. It is well maintained in every respect, from the condition of the monument and its elements to the landscaping around it. While there are not a great deal of signs directing visitors to this site, it is relatively easy to find, situated just off the side of the main road between Dražgoše and Rudno. Many tourists and locals stopped to visit the monument during the time I spent here, so it is clear that it is quite a popular destination, especially as it has stunning views of the valley below. Furthermore, there were a significant amount of honorific wreaths, candles and flowers left as a tribute at the memorial, so it is obvious that this place is a significant location for remembrance within the local community. Well attended commemoration ceremonies are held here each year on January 9th to mark the anniversary of the battle, which can often draw upwards of 10,000 people (Photo 9).
Additional Sites in the Dražgoše Area:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era memorial sculptures and historic sites that are in close proximity to the Dražgoše monument. Such sites which will explored here are the Cankarjev Battalion House, the Monument to Viktor Kejžar at Podblica, the Monument to the Battle at Mali Rovt near the village of Planica, and finally the Monument to Lozje Kebe near Jamnik.
Cankar Battalion House:
Just about 100m west down the road from the monument is located the Cankar Battalion House (Dom Cankarjevega Bataljona) (Slides 1 & 2). Built by local initiatives in June of 1978 (roughly a year after the monument's construction), the structure was created to provide a rest and relaxation facility for those visiting the memorial complex. The ground floor of the house currently contains a bar and restaurant while the upstairs contains a small museum related to the history of the Battle of Dražgoše and other cultural events around the region. While the restaurant is in good shape and serves good food and drinks, the museum is a bit cluttered and not in an optimal state at the moment. Yet, many good exhibits and photo/artifact displays are still accessible and able to be seen here. You may have to ask the restaurant staff if you wish to go upstairs to see the museum rooms. The coordinates for this site are N46°15'09.6", E14°09'50.4".
Slideshow - Cankarjev Battalion House
Monument to Viktor Kejžar:
Roughly 4km east of Dražgoše (near the village of Podblica), there is situated along Road 635 on the slopes of the Jelovica Plateau a small roadside monument which is dedicated to Partisan fighter and politician Viktor Kejžar. Born in the nearby town of Jesenice, Kejžar was an early organizer and proponent in this area of Slovenia for the uprising against Axis occupation and aggression. This monument acts as a marker for the site in which Kejžar was killed during which his Partisan unit engaged with a skirmish with Axis forces on August 28th, 1942. Created by local Slovene sculptor Vinko Tušek (who was from the nearby town of Kranj) in 1980, this memorial sculpture is of a white metal abstract form resembling a dancing fire (Photo 10). A plaque here reads as: "Viktor Kejžar... a white flame above Podblica & member of the Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of Slovenia for the Gorenjska region. Glory to the fallen". The monument site is in relatively good condition and appears to be well maintained. The exact coordinates for this monument are N46°15'33.8", E14°12'17.9".
Photo 10: Monument to Viktor Kejžar
Monument to the Battle at Mali Rovt:
Located approximately 6km east of Dražgoše as the crow flies (19km driving) in the village of Planica is a monument to the 1942 Battle at Mali Rovt (Photo 11). This site was built in 1982 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the conflict where on March 27th, 1942, along the slopes of nearby mountain Mali Rovt, 14 Slovene Partisans of the Selška Company died while fighting against German soldiers. Among those Partisans killed during this skirmish was a fighter known as Stane Žagar, who would later go on to be designated as a Yugoslav National Hero in 1951. The work was created by Slovene architect Nande Jocif, and the project was commissioned by the worker's collective of the textile factor 'Tekstilindus' in the nearby town of Kranj. This monument at Planica consists of a series of various sized concrete pillars jutting out of the ground at sharp angles. The exact coordinates for this monument complex are N46°12'50.7", E14°16'55.7".
Photo 11: Monument to the Battle at Mali Rovt
Also, across the street from this monument is a smaller memorial of three inscribed stone blocks which was built in 1951 honoring Stane Žagar and 32 other Partisans killed in the area during WWII. Of these three stones, the middle standing stone bears an inscription that translates into English as: "In this area during the fight with the occupier, 32 Partisan fighters fell, including Stane Žagar." On the left stone is inscribed a poetic verse which reads roughly in English as: "Our freedom, now a necessity, manifest, people are born only in the night. Its growth and power are sacrificed, weeping, more so than life, death is fertile."
Monument to Lojze Kebe:
Upon driving roughly 5km northwest from Dražgoše along Road 635 (just past the village of Jamnik) you will find a small concrete monument which honors a Yugoslav National Hero named Lozje "Štefan" Kebe (Photo 12). Having participated in the Slovene Partisan uprising since the beginning of WWII, Kebe took part in many local conflicts against the German occupiers, including the Battle of Dražgoše in January of 1942. However, he was killed on October 20th, 1942 during an ambush by German soldiers not far from Dražgoše, just north of the village of Jamnik. This monument, created in 1962 by local Kranj sculptor Ferdinand Jocif, was made at the site of Kebe's death and consists of a inscribed panel next to a broken-off pillar, which possibly symbolized youth cut off before its prime. The site is still regularly commemorated. The exact coordinates for the site are N46°16'26.7", E14°12'28.8", just across the road from the Church of Saints Primus & Felician (Photo 13), which is often described as the most scenic and beautiful church in all of Slovenia.
Photo 12: Monument to Lozje Kebe
Photo 13: Church of Saints Primus & Felician [photo by Mihael Grmek]
Church of St. Lucy in Dražgoše:
In the village of Dražgoše, roughly 250m NW of the monument, is the Church of St. Lucy (Cerkev sv. Lucije), in an area of the village called Pri Cerkvi. A baroque-style Catholic church was originally existed on this location which was built in 1642 and contained a fantastically ornate set of carved golden altar pieces. St. Lucy's Church was of such importance that it was a religious pilgrimage site up until WWII. As German soldiers occupied the region in 1941 and entered into conflicts with the Slovene Partisans, the church, as well as much of the rest of the village, was subsequently destroyed by the German soldiers as retaliation for the villagers cooperating with the Partisans. Many of the villagers who were killed during the German's retaliatory violence were buried in a mass grave next to the ruins of the church.
Photo 14: Mural by Stane Kregar inside the Church of St. Lucy
Photo 15: A present-day view of the Church of St. Lucy, created by Slovene architect Aton Bitenc [source: geago.si]
After the war, the golden altar pieces were recovered from the church's ruins and are now on display at Loka Museum in Škofja Loka, Slovenia. Interest in rebuilding St. Lucy Church began as early as 1945. However, there was considerable bureaucratic opposition to the reconstruction by the anti-religious Yugoslav communist government, as it was felt rebuilding a church in a place of such importance to the Partisan war heritage was inappropriate. Yet, in the 1960s the Dražgoše villagers won the right to rebuild their church. This new church, completed in 1968 and located a few meters downhill of the original, was designed in a modernist style in concrete and plaster by famous Slovene architect Anton Bitenc (Photo 14). Sources I have seen assert that this was the first new church built in Slovenia post-WWII. At the altar of the church is a massive modernist religious mural painted by renowned Slovene artist Stane Kregar (Photo 15) who was also a priest. Kregar also designed the church's stained glass. In 1976, the remains of the villagers buried here in 1941 were exhumed and reinterred in a new memorial within the footprint of the original 1642 church. As such, this church site operates both as a religious space as well as a monument to the WWII civilian victims of Dražgoše. The coordinates for this site are N46°15'14.3", E14°09'50.3".
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Franja Partisan Hospital: Roughly 16km as the crow flies from Dražgoše (28km driving over mountain roads) you will come across the village of Dolenji Novaki, near which is located the Franja Partisan Hospital museum (Photo 16). Consisting of a series of small cabins nestled deep within a steep mountain ravine, this was a secret hospital used by the Slovene Partisans during WWII which remained in operation from its founding in December of 1943 to the end of the war. The hopsital's clandestine location allowed it to remain hidden all through the war, even despite efforts to find it by occupying German forces. The current museum site is currently a candidate for inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Torrential rains and flooding seriously damaged the site in 2007, but it was restored in 2010. The official website for the museum complex (and more info about it) can be found HERE, while its exact coordinates are N46°09'00.8", E14°01'38.1".
Photo 16: Vintage postcard of the Franja Partisan Hospital
Photo 17: Vintage postcard of the Monument to Fallen Fighters in Kropa
Monument to the Fallen Fighters in Železniki: Roughly 6km south of Dražgoše is the village of Železniki. On the west end of the village is a modest memorial sculpture situated in a small park. The monument consists of a rectangular stone block carved with various figures illustrating struggle and suffering. The monument was unveiled in 1964 and was created by sculptor Milan Batista. More info and images of the monument can be found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N46°13'12.3", E14°09'19.0".
Monument to the Fallen Fighters of Kropa: Roughly 9km north of Dražgoše is the village of Kropa. Next to the bridge at the center of the village is a memorial sculpture which honors the town's fighters who fell during WWII (Photo 17). The monument consists of a 2m tall concrete cube form with alcoves on each of its faces which contain flat metal sculptures depicting workers and soldiers. This work was completed in 1966 and was created by architect Albert Sušnik and sculptors Marija & Stane Keržič. More information and images of the monument here at Kropa can be found at THIS link, which its exact coordinates are N46°17'23.5", E14°12'10.4".
The Monument at Biček's Rock: Roughly 2.5 km east of the Dražgoše monument just above the hamlet of Jelenšče is Biček's Rock, which is a prominent rock outcrop where the Cankar Battalion Partisans of the Biček's Platoon took a stand against advancing German forces during the 1942 Battle of Dražgoše. In 1981 a metal plaque and a large bronze Partisan star monument were erected on top of Biček's Rock. When translated to English, the plaque reads as: "During the Battle of Dražgoše at Bičkov Rock, here the fighters of the Biček's Platoon at this position during combat on January 9th, 10th and 11th, 1942, successfully repelled ememy attacks". The monument can easily be driven to by car along a paved mountain road, with its exact coordinates being N46°15'02.2", E14°11'19.8".
Getting to the Dražgoše monument complex is a relatively easy endeavor. From the town-center of Rudno on Road 911, take the Road 635 (Dražgoše road) uphill as if you were going to the village Dražgoše. This road is very narrow and curvy, so take care and drive slowly, and watch out carefully for oncoming vehicles and as you go around curves. As you are approaching the top of the road, you will pass by a cute little log-cabin style bar called "Dom Cankarjevega Bataljona" at a curve (see Google StreetView scene here). Once you pass this curve, the Dražgoše spomenik area is about 100m up the road on the right (see parking area here). The exact coordinates for parking are N46°15'09.9", E14°09'59.9". Keep in mind that this road may not be optimal when attempting to drive in the winter.
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Selected Sources and More Information:
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