Name: Monument to the Fallen Soldiers of the Battle of Kozara
Location: Gornji Jelovac, Republic of Srpska, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Year completed: (unknown)
Coordinates: N45°03'49.1", E16°42'26.3" (click for map)
Dimensions: ~5m tall triple monolith
Materials used: Poured concrete and rebar
Condition: Poor, abandoned and neglected
Click on slideshow photos for description
This spomenik complex near the village of Gornji Jelovac, Bosnia is dedicated to the ethnic-Serbs of this area who died in the bloody Axis-orchestrated Kozara Offensive during the spring of 1942.
World War II
In the spring of 1942, Axis German and Ustaše leadership in Banja Luka learned that Partisan resistance forces had liberated several towns in the central and west Bosnian regions, most notably Prijedor and Bosanski Petrovac. With this Partisan push, Axis forces came to recognize that their regional headquarters of Banja Luka, along with their critical iron mines in Ljubija, were now potentially vulnerable to attack and invasion. In response, Germans mobilized 15,000 soldiers along with 22,000 Ustaše soldiers, 2,000 Chetniks and 5 Hungarian monitor ships for what would come to be known as the Kozara Offensive (which is also sometimes referred to as Operation West-Bosnien). Not only did these Axis forces plan to suppress the Partisan threat, but also, they intended to eliminate any and all citizen support for the Partisans from villages in the Kozara region. Meanwhile, the anti-fascist Partisan opposition forces were only made up of roughly 3,000 soldiers, while aided by 60,000 recruited untrained civilians from the freed land who volunteered to aid in the fight. The fighting at Kozara began on June 10th, 1942, with the Axis coalition of forces, under the command of German General Friedrich Stahl, descending upon the region of Kozara from all directions.
Photo 1: Ustaše soldiers standing over a pile of killed Partisan fighters, 1942
Photo 2: Yugoslav poster for the 1962 film 'Kozara'
Over the first 10 days Partisans were met with some success defending their positions, however, they began to tire and lose their fighting momentum. By July 3rd, German forces began to break through Partisan defenses, which led to a subsequent Partisan defeat at the hands of the Axis coalition. During the final throes of battle, Tito and a small handful of Partisans were able to retreat as the enemy closed in, escaping towards Grmeč Mountain. He moved on to west Bosnia to reorganize his remaining forces after this loss. Of the original 3,000 actual Partisan soldiers who engaged in the battle, roughly 900 fighters survived, leaving the vast majority killed in action (Photo 1). In the aftermath of the battle, some surviving Kozara Partisans banded together in September of 1942 to create the 5th Krajina Assault Brigade.
Meanwhile, of the peasant civilians who aided in the fight against the Axis offensive at Kozara, it is estimated that a upwards of 10,000 were killed during the battle itself (with some estimates ranging even higher), while an even greater number perished after the battle after being sent to the nearby death camps at Jasenovac. The Battle of Kozara was by far the largest and most significant battle in the region of the NDH during the course of WWII. A Yugoslav film about the events which took place during the 'Battle of Kozara' was released in 1962, which was titled 'Kozara' (Photo 2) and directed by Veljko Bulajić. The film was submitted as Yugoslavia's entry for the 'Best Foreign Language Film' in the 1963 US Academy Awards, however, it was not selected for consideration. If you are interested in watching this film, it can be watched in full and for free at Spomenik Database's Video Archive section.
During the Yugoslav era, a memorial complex was built roughly 2km west of Gorni Jelovac to commemorate the struggles of the ethnic-Serb citizens of this area who had suffered at Kozara. In addition to commemoration the killings of ethnic-Serbs during the Battle of Kozara, it also honors the many ethnic-Serbs across the region who were killed during the Ustaše reign of terror. For example, in the village of Veliko Palančište, about 5km southeast of this monument, about 500 ethnic-Serb civilians were executed and buried in mass graves. Of that number killed, roughly half were children and babies. Unfortunately, due to the neglect, degradation and dilapidation of the site, my research was not able to determine when this spomenik complex at Gornji Jelovac was created, who instigated its creation or even who it was that created it in the first place.
Currently, the Gornji Jelovac spomenik complex seems to have fallen into complete disrepair and abandonment -- yet, there is some evidence that maintenance and removal of overgrown vegetation is still going on here. Yet, while I found all overgrown vegetation around the complex cleared upon my most recent visit to the site in the spring of 2016, as of 2018, the complex has completely overgrown yet again with trees and brush, leaving it nearly invisible from the roadside. Meanwhile, along with the central monument, the few remaining ruins of the original memorial complex which once existed here are a few hollowed out remnants of a small visitors center and other scattered pieces of unidentifiable concrete and rubble. I have seen no indications that authorities are putting forward effort to restore this site.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
The first engraved image visible at this spomenik is the large horse-and-rider carving on the front side of the monument (Slide 1). The bare-chested man is holding a rifle and flag in hand as gallops on his horse. It is not immediately clear what specific relevance or significance this depiction holds.
Meanwhile, on the panel to the right of the horse carving, there are two engraved marble panels (which are in surprisingly good condition compared to the rest of the complex), that bear the names of the many dozens of local Serbian citizens who died during the battle at Kozara (Slide 2). Next to each name is engraved the year in which the person was born. From looking at the dates, it is saddening to see that many of those who died were no older than 9 or 10 years old.
Finally, there is an additional engraved marble plaque (Slide 3), to the left side of the horse-and-rider carving, which bears a poem (by an unknown author) related to the events which occurred at the Battle of Kozara. the engraved inscription on the plaque roughly translates to English as:
"They were fathers and caring mothers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, grandfathers and grandmothers... They were great and they were peasants and they were sharecroppers, they were shepherds, they were pupils, they were children. They had grey hair, they had brown hair, they had mustaches, old people and youngsters that couldn't even grow a beard. They were first children, they were modest, virtuous girls and wild boys. They knew each others names and they gave each other nicknames. They spoke sweet to each other and now they have only one name... the dead of the People's Liberation Battle. In the attack of Kozara in 1942, they died by the hands of the occupier and their Ustaše servants."
As far as graffiti goes, I was able to find little to none at this spomenik, which is particularly surprising considering the dilapidated and ruined condition this complex is in.
It is not apparent what, if any, symbolic significance this concrete monument might have. However, from all indications, it is more than likely completely abstract creations and non-representational. In addition, it is not completely clear what the monument's creator meant to convey by including the horse-and-rider carving as the centerpiece element of the sculpture. To venture a guess, I would theorize that the horse-and-rider are meant to depict a generic symbol for the concepts of 'bravery' and 'patriotism', as the rider is carrying a rifle in one hand, a weapon of war, and a Partisan flag in the other, a representation of the anti-fascist cause.
Status and Condition:
The condition of this spomenik is that of complete abandonment and degradation. All elements at this memorial site are in a state of disuse and neglect, while the grounds and landscape do not seem to be regularly maintained. However, a significant amount of tree and brush overgrowth was removed and cleaned out around the monument in 2015 (which had grown higher than the monument itself), but it is not clear what group was responsible for this maintenance or if it was part of a regular vegetation removal effort. By 2018, the vegetation had returned (Photo 3). The concrete facade of the primary memorial sculpture is crumbling into pieces (especially at the higher tips), while the former visitor's center structure adjacent to the monument is completely destroyed and hollowed out. There are no directional or promotional signs which mark to direct visitors to this monument, while it does not appear that any members of the local community come to honor this site, as I found no honorific wreaths, flowers or candles left here. There is no indication that this site is either protected by any level of government or that any plans are underway with the intention of restoring or rehabilitating this complex.
Photo 3: Recent overgrowth at the site, 2018 [photo via Kathmandu & Beyond]
Additional Sites in the Gornji Jelovac Area:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Gornji Jelovac region that might be relevant to those interested in the monumental art, architecture and heritage of the former Yugoslavia. Here we will examine the Monument to Fallen Fighters on Patrija Hill, as well as the Monument to Mladen Stojanović.
Monument on Patrija Hill:
In the hills just north of the village of Gornji Jelovac, roughly 2km from the monument, is situated a Monument to Fallen Fighters on top of Patrija Hill (Photo 4). This monument marks the exact location where, in July of 1942, Partisan forces where able to break through the offensive lines and out of the containment ring that German-Ustaše forces had formed around them during the Battle of Kozara. The monument here on Patrija Hill composed of a roughly 11m tall textured concrete wall. On the front of the wall are two large metal relief sculptures abstractly depicting the two opposing military forces, while there is a Yugoslav star relief at the top of the structure. Two large plaques are installed on the rear of the monument. The work was created in 1967 to honor the 25th anniversary of the breakthrough. Annual commemorative events continue to be held at this site. The exact coordinates for the monument site here on Patrija Hill are N45°04'45.5", E16°43'46.1".
Photo 4: A photo of the monument on Patrija Hill near Gornji Jelovac
Monument to Mladen Stojanović:
Roughly 10km south of the monument here at Gornji Jelovac is the town of Prijedor. At the town center on Freedom Square is a figurative memorial sculpture of famous folk hero and Partisan fighter Mladen Stojanović (Photo 5). While Stojanović is widely known for his leadership within the Partisan movement in Bosnia, but he is most often remembered for his efforts orchestrating the people's uprising in the areas of Kozara, Grmeč and other places across the Krajina. Stojanović was killed on March 5th, 1942 while recovering at a field hospital in Jošavka after it was ambushed by a Chetnik unit. He continues to be one of the most celebrated WWII Partisan folk heroes in Bosnia. On either side of the monument's pedestal are two bronze plaques inscribed with verses from the Branko Ćopić poem 'Dr. Mladen Stojanović, People's Hero' which roughly translate into English as: "There goes Mladen, leading the Partisans, strengthening them on all four sides. Oh, Mladen, my dear friend, you were a good hero."
Photo 5: A photo of the monument on Patrija Hill near Gornji Jelovac
This bronze statue at Prijedor was unveiled in 1957 and created by his younger brother Sreten, who went on to become a famous and renowned sculptor of some of the most famous memorial works in Yugoslavia. This monument is in good condition and continues to host commemorative events. The exact coordinates for this monument are N44°58'39.1", E16°42'31.2".
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Partisan Memorial Graveyard at Prijedor: In the Prijedor neighborhood of Urij is a memorial cemetery for fallen Partisans from WWII where the remains of over 120 fighters are interred. Created in 1960 by Croatian sculptor Marijan Kocković [profile page], the central elements of this cemetery are a 11m long wall bearing relief engravings of scenes from the Partisan's daily lives during WWII, while a bronze figurative sculpture in the sitting position is situated on the left side of the wall. Next to these two elements are a ~10m tall pillar (Photo 6). It is here where the remains of Mladen Stojanović are laid to rest. Commemorative events continue to be held at this site. The exact coordinates for this cemetery are N44°59'08.3", E16°44'00.3".
Puharine Cemetery to the Victims of Fascism at Veliko Palančište: Roughly 5km south of the Gornji Jelovac monument is the village of Veliko Palančište. In the village next to the The Church of the Holy Apostles Peter & Paul is the Puharine Cemetery which is the resting place for the remains of the 464 civilians of the village of Veliko Palančište who were massacred during WWII. The central element of this cemetery is a figurative wire sculpture of seven male and female Partisans all holding hands and waving their flag (Photo 7). An inscription on the base of the monument reads in English roughly as: "We are brothers under Kozara, where mothers do not give birth to traitors". To the right of this monument is a small sculpture of a red eternal flame in a geometric concrete base. The site in in good condition and annual commemorative events continue to be held here. The exact coordinates for the Puharine Cemetery are N45°02'11.4", E16°44'13.0".
Photo 6: Partisan Graveyard at Prijedor
Photo 7: Puharine Cemetery
Museum of Kozara: In the center of Prijedor on Freedom Square, roughly 14km south of Gornji Jelovac, is the Museum of Kozara. Founded in 1954, this museum houses thousands of exhibits which explore the history of the 1942 Battle of Kozara, as well as the history of this region during the People's Liberation Struggle. In addition, this museum also examines the cultural history and ethnography of the Kozara region. The official website for the museum can be found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N44°58'37.9", E16°42'33.5".
Memorial House of Mladen Stojanović: Just a few blocks south of the center of the town of Prijedor is the Memorial House of Mladen Stojanović. This modest house is the Partisan revolutionary's childhood home and place of birth. It is open to the public daily for tours. The exact coordinates for this site are N44°58'32.4", E16°42'23.8".
Photo 8: The Patrija building in the 1980s
Photo 9: The Patrija building in 2017
Patrija Department Store: At the center of Prijedor within Major Zoran Karlica Square are the ruins of the Patrija Department Store (Robna kuća Patrija). When constructed in 1979, this unique and distinctive red modernist complex stood as a bold testament to the ambitiousness of 70s era Yugoslav commercial artchitecture and design asthetics (Photo 8). During the Yugoslav-era, Patrija was not only the town's most popular department store, it was also considered to be a landmark of Prijedor and was featured prominately and proudly on the town's postcards. However, after the dismantling of Yugoslavia, the business went into decline and was completely defunct by the early 2000s. It then proceeded to deteriorate, sitting blighted, abandoned and vacant for almost 20 years (Photo 9), with it becoming an embarrassment to the town rather than a point of pride. It sat vacant for so long mostly the result of unclear and disputed property ownership. However, with property rights resolved in 2018, the Patrija building was sold to developers. A 3.5 million euro redevelopment project calls for the building to be torn down completely and rebuilt as a streamlined glass shopping center by 2020. Dismantling of the building began in August of 2019. The exact coordinates for the (former) Patrija complex are N44°58'46.7", E16°42'34.6".
Finding the monument here at Gornji Jelovac is a relatively easy task. From the center of Prijedor, follow highway M-15 north. Take this highway roughly 12km. At this point (after going this far), you should be able to see a long gravel pull-off on the right hand side of the road. Parking can be made here, and the spomenik complex can be easily seen from the road, set back in a grove of trees. The exact coordinates for parking are N45°03'49.0", E16°42'24.5". However, keep in mind that if the site has reach a state of being considerably overgrown, it may be very difficult (or impossible) to identify from the road. As a result, you may need to keep an eye out for reaching the exact coordinates on your navigation device, at which point you will need to hike through the overgrown vegetation to reach the site, as the monument itself is offset from the main road to the east roughly 50 meters or so.
Selected Sources and More Information:
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