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Jabuka (Јабука)

Brief Details:

Name: Brazde Monument at the Stratište Memorial Complex (Спомен-комплекс Стратиште)

Location: Jabuka, Serbia (renamed 'Apfeldorf' by Germans during WWII)

Year completed: 1981

Designer: Nebojša Delja

Coordinates: N44°55'43.6", E20°38'01.8" (click for map)

Dimensions: Monument complex on 2ha grounds

Materials used: Poured concrete, rebar and bronze

Condition: Good, recently restored

(YAH-boo-kah)

History:

The monument here at the Jabuka spomenik complex (named "Stratište"), situated along the Tamiš River, commemorates the roughly 10,000 Serb, Jewish and Roma victims who were executed at this spot during World War II, between 1941 and 1945.

World War II

After the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded by Axis forces in April of 1941, a German puppet government was set up in Serbia, which was administered by former Royal Yugoslav Army general Milan Nedić (Милан Недић). Within this area, the village of Jabuka was included within a special region called the Banat, which the Germans controlled with heightened military occupation force due to the mining and transportation resource they wished to exploit there. This occupational force in the Banat, operating from the nearby town of Pančevo, was extremely oppressive against local communities, most specifically any anti-fascist dissidents, Jews and Roma civilians. Even as early as April 22nd, 1941, dissidents were being executed via hanging and firings squads by Waffen-SS soldiers in Pančevo (Photo 1). Rare color video footage of these executions can be found by following this YouTube link. Tactics of oppression against the local population reached even greater heights of severity as a popular armed resistance movement (made up mostly of communist Partisans and royalist Chetniks) began to rebel and rise up against this occupation starting in July of 1941. These uprisings across Serbia resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Axis occupational soldier and their collaborators.

Photo 1: People executed by Waffen-SS in Pančevo, April 1941

Photo 2: Walther Wenck

Hitler's designated German commander of Serbia, Wehrmacht Plenipotentiary General Franz Böhme, was furious at these rebel attacks against German forces. In a retaliatory move, Böhme enacted a sweeping directive to his officers across Serbia that for every one wounded German soldier, 50 civilians should be executed, while for every one dead German soldier, 100 civilians should be executed. Furthermore, Böhme's order stated that any civilians Jews, Communists or suspected rebels should be rounded up as 'hostages' and then be executed if any further German soldiers were killed or even attacked. In the area of Pančevo, Serbia during the autumn of 1941, the Böhme directive resulted in Chief of the Pančevo Police force to order the rounding up and arrest of thousands of male civilians in the surrounding region. As subsequent Germans were killed around the Serbian Banat by rebel forces, these 'hostages' were then ordered to be executed. Hostage execution began in October of 1941, while the spot chosen for this mass execution to be carried out was a sandy embankment on the edge of the Tamiš River wetlands, along the road between the village of Jabuka and the town of Pančevo. I will reproduce here segments of a unique November 1941 report from the 1st Panzer Division Nazi Operations Chief, Walther Wenck, detailing the specifics of the early days of these executions at Jabuka. The full report can be found in the Hannes Heer & Klaus Naumann book "War of Extermination: The German Military in World War II, 1941-1944" (2000):

Oberleutnant Walther

Chef 9,/I.R. 433.

OU, November 1st, 1941

Report on the shooting of Jews and Gypsies

   After consulting with the SS section, I collected the Jews and Gypsies from the Belgrade Prison Camp. The trucks of Field Command 599, which had been placed at my disposal, proved unserviceable for two reasons:

1. They were driven by civilians. Thus secrecy was not assured.

2. They had neither a roof nor a tarpaulin, which meant the city's population could see whom we had in the vehicles and where we were taking them. Some wives of the Jews had gathered in front of the camp. They howled and screamed when we drove off. The place at which the shootings took place is very favorable. It lies north of Pančevo, right on the road connecting Pančevo and Jabuka, which has an embankment that is so high that it can be climbed only with difficulty. Facing this embankment is a swamp, behind that a river... Only a few men are required from preventing the prisoners from escaping. Equally favorable is the sandy soil, which makes digging the graves easier and thus cuts down the work time.

   The place of execution was secured by one light machine gun and twelve riflemen:

1. to prevent escape by the prisoners.

2. to guard against attacks by Serbian gangs.

   Digging the graves takes most of the time, the shooting itself goes quickly (100 men in forty minutes).

   Luggage and valuables were collected earlier and transported in my truck for turning over to the NSV.

   Shooting Jews is simpler than shooting Gypsies. One has to admit that the Jews die stoically, standing quietly, while the Gypsies howl, scream, and are in constant motion even when they are already standing in place to be shot. Some even jumped in the grave before the salvo and played dead.

   Initially, my soldiers were not impressed. On the second day, it was becoming apparent that some did not have the nerves required for carrying out extended shootings. My personal impression is that one does not experience inhibitions during the shootings. These first manifest themselves after several days, when one thinks about things quietly in the evening.

Walther, Oberleutnant

Executions at the Jabuka site were overseen by German Army general (then corporal) Eugen Wurster, who commanded a special SS-unit whose sole task was to carry out firing-squad responsibilities. In addition, Pančevo police chief Rudolf Kremling oversaw the burial and concealment of the executed victims in mass pits which was done via forced labor by local Roma civilians. After the bodies had been buried, the Roma laborers were also executed in an effort to further restrict the spread of information about the execution site.

As the war and Germany occupation of the Banat continued, the site was used for additional executions, most notably the Jewish prisoners of the Belgrade-based Topovske šupe, Banjica and Sajmište concentration camps (Photo 3). By August of 1942, the German Army officially announced that the Banat region had been 'cleaned of Jews' (judenrein), who had all either been either deported to camps or executed, with the vast majority of those executions occurring there at the Jabuka massacre site. Yet, by April of 1944, German commanders in the Banat began to recognize the war might be lost for them -- as a result, the next three months were spent at the Jabuka site digging up the mass graves and burning the bodies (as part of Special Action 1005), in order to destroy the evidence of the crimes which had been committed. Even despite these concealment efforts, executions here continued all the way up to September 1944, when Jews were brought in to the site as far away as Hungary to face execution. The areas of Pančevo and Jabuka were liberated from Axis control in early October of 1944 during the push by Partisans and the Red Army during the Belgrade Offensive. On October 16th, 1944, Partisans arrested 21 Germans, among who were a local judge and mayor) who were taken to the same massacre site at Jabuka and executed. There are numerous reports of Partisans continuing to use this site for post-war reprisal killings through 1945, but the extent to which this occurred is not yet fully established. Some sources assert well over a hundred post-war reprisal killings were carried out at this site by Partisans.

Photo 3: Sajmište concentration camp in Belgrade, 1941

Reports from the Nazi regime examined after the war estimate that potentially over 10,000 people were executed here at Jabuka on the banks of the Tamiš River, a event which is sometimes referred to at the "Pančevo Holocaust". However, some lower estimates of the number killed here range to just over 2,000 -- but research into the exact number of people killed here is ongoing. Of those killed, the vast majority were Jewish Serbs, along with a significant number of communists, suspected communists, Serb nationalists, Roma and other dissidents. A list of some known Jewish families who were executed at the Jabuka site can be found at this PDF link. Walther Wenck, author of the above quoted report, was arrested by US Army forces after the war, however, he was never prosecuted for his actions and was released in 1947, despite him having achieved the rank of 'general' by the end of the war. This may have resulted because of asserted humanitarian actions to save civilians he is said to have engaged in during the final weeks of the war. On the other hand, General Eugen Wurster, the German officer who had overseen the executions at Jabuka, was captured by Yugoslavian authorities after the war and tried for war crimes. He was hung in Belgrade in 1948.

Spomenik Construction

Immediately after the war, the local community came together construct a modest pyramid monument at the site of the mass executions occurred in order to commemorate the location. In the 1970s, the local government groups and regional veterans associations made plans for the construction of a much more substantial spomenik complex to commemorate the site. After a open design competition, Niš artist Nebojša Delja was commissioned to create this new memorial. The complex, officially named "Stratište"(Стратиште), was unveiled to the public during a remembrance ceremony held in November 22nd of 1981, marking 40 years since the onset of the executions. The primary sculptural element of the complex is a large pair of abstract concrete wings (representing furrows in the soil) topped with four bronze adornments sitting at the center of an asphalt courtyard. The official name of the sculpture itself is "Brazde" (Бразде), which, not surprisingly, translates into English as 'Furrows'. In front of this monument is a concrete altar affixed with a bronze plaque. Behind the sculpture is a sizable amphitheatre overlooking the marshland of the Tamiš River. A small memorial museum was included at the site just a few dozen meters north of the central monument. It included many exhibits and artifacts related to the massacres here at Jabuka and Pančevo.

Present-Day

This memorial site at Jabuka was a well visited and patronized location during the Yugoslav-era. However, after the conflicts of the 1990s, which resulted in the dismantling of Yugoslavia, interest and attendance to this site fell dramatically. Throughout the 2000s, the complex began to fall into neglect and fell prey to vandals and thieves. Firstly, at some point during the 2000s, the small museum was completely abandoned and destroyed. Meanwhile, during the mid-2010s, two of the four large bronze cast adornments on the primary memorial sculpture were stolen. A number of groups continue to hold annual commemorative events and ceremonies here at Stratište. In early 2019 restoration efforts were completed at the site which replaced damaged and stolen elements of the memorial sculpture. This restoration was at the cost of 14 million dinar and was funded by the Serbian Ministry of Labor, Social and Veterans Affairs and the Pančevo Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments.

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

Along the entrance pathway to the spomenik, there is a roughly 1m tall concrete circular pylon. Originally, this had a large bronze circular plaque with raised lettering attached to the top of it (Slides 1 & 2). On it was contained a poetic verse which read, roughly translated from Serbian to English as:

"The stars were in the beginning, the stars will be there at the end, red will the furrow be."

This verse was written by the famous Serbian poet Vasko Popa, who himself was a Partisan fighter during WWII who was for a time imprisoned at a concentration camp roughly 70km north of this site near Zrenjanin. The 'furrow' mentioned in the poem is in reference to the shape of the monument, which is meant to represent a furrow created after a plow has cut deep into the earth.

Slideshow

In addition, above and below the raised-letter inscription on the circular plaque were installed two Yugoslav stars, more than likely as a reference to the poem. However, sometime around the early 2010s, this plaque started to become the focus of theft. Firstly the bronze letters were all removed from the plaque, as seen in Slide 3, then by 2013 even the plaque itself was removed from its pedestal, as seen in Slide 4. The exact fate of this plaque was never established, but it was more than likely stolen for the purposes of scrapping it for its valuable bronze. In early 2019 the plaque was re-created and replaced (Slide 5) on the podium as a result of restoration efforts put forward by regional and national governments. The plaque remains exactly the same except that the top star was replaced with three religious symbols: a Jewish Star of David, a Christian cross, and what appears to be a Wheel of Dharma.

Photo 4: Furrows left behind in the earth after plowing

Symbolism:

The shape of this memorial sculpture at the Jabuka massacre site is meant to be reminiscent of a deep furrow into the earth made by a farm plow (Photo 4). As a representation of the rich farming tradition and history in the common working people of this region (who were its ultimate defenders during the Liberation War), the monument's creator, Nebojša Delja, intended that the four large bronze cast adornments to dominate the shape of the sculpture, and that they would over time become rusty, gaining a patine with age, eventually appearing to resemble the color of the earth. Meanwhile, the monument's themes of farming and harvest are also meant to evoke the fact that the majority of the killings at Stratište occurred in the autumn of 1941. Finally, it is important to note that numerous monuments built to honor the People's Liberation Struggle evoke themes and topics of labor, farming and the working class, not only because it fit into the narratives of the socialist policies and ideologies of communist Yugoslavia, but also because, as I stated above, the war of resistance against Axis occupation was a popular uprising comprised mostly of common everyday people (farmers, laborers, etc) --  as such, symbols such as farming and harvest were themes that local people could relate to and identify with.

Status and Condition:

The overall state of the spomenik complex at Jabuka, Serbia is very poor. Firstly, overgrown vegetation and weeds dominate much of the memorial. It seems minimal effort is made to abate the weeds to maintain the landscaping. Meanwhile, the condition of the central "Brazde" sculpture is also very poor. Since 2013, the monument has been subject to over ten instance of theft and vandalism, to the extent where two of the massive bronze adornments (which weighed roughly 3 tons each) have been stolen completely, while all wiring and electrical components at the site have been dismantled or taken. The criminals who committed these acts are still unknown. Meanwhile, the small museum attached to this site has now reached a state of total destruction and abandonment. All exhibits, displays and artifacts once present in the museum are now gone. Even the wiring of the building has been stripped and stolen. Furthermore, there is no directional or promotional signage leading visitors or tourists to the site, nor are there any interpretive or informational signs at the memorial itself informing visitors to its cultural or historic significance.

Photo 5: A 2017 ceremony at the monument at Jabuka

Photo 6: A view of the Brazde monument after being restored in early 2019

While overt tourism at the site seems negligible, the site does still host a several groups who utilize the complex for annual commemorative and remembrance events, which often host many officials and dignitaries (Photo 5). These events are generally held on November 22nd, the anniversary of the site's opening, and also on January 27th, World Holocaust Remembrance Day. In addition, the site is often found decorated with honorific wreaths, candles and flowers from those in the local community, while also occasionally being visited by educational and research groups. In the last few years efforts have been put forward by advocacy groups and government bodies to restore and rehabilitate the Stratište complex. In late 2016, a contract was agreed upon between the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments in Pančevo and the Serbian Ministry of Labor, Employment, Veterans' Affairs and Social Affairs to commit roughly 14 million Serbian dinar (116k Euro) to the reconstruction of this monument.

Work revitalizing, rebuilding and restoring the Stratište site began in September of 2018 and was completed in early 2019. The completed construction replaced the stolen plaque while also replaced and repairing the damaged and stolen bronze relief sculptures attached to the central monument (Photo 6). The monument was also completely cleaned and washed of graffiti during this process. Additional security cameras were installed at the site as well. Sources indicate more rehabilitation efforts may be planned for the future.

Additional Sites in the Jabuka Area:

This section explores additional Yugoslav era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater area of Jabuka that would be of interest to people studying the monuments of the former Yugoslavia. We will examine the derelict Memorial Museum next to the Brazde monument at the Stratište complex, as well as the memorial sculpture at the nearby village of Sefkerin.

Stratište Memorial Museum:

Several dozen meters north of the main Brazde monument at the Stratište complex there is situated a the ruins of a small memorial museum. When this museum was first opened to the public in 1981, it contained an array of exhibits, displays and artifacts related to the "Pančevo Holocaust". However, after the fall of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the museum fell into disarray and abandonment. Presently, all of the exhibits and artifacts once contained within this museum have been either stolen or destroyed. Even the wiring and electric infrastructure of the building has now all been stolen. Presently, the structure is open to the elements, which will likely only hasten its degradation. Visitors to this site are warned to enter at their own risk. It is unclear if future restoration efforts to the memorial will include the rehabilitation or reconstruction of this museum.

Memorial Museum - Slideshow

Monument to Fallen Fighters at Sefkerin:

Roughly 17km northwest of Stratište complex you will find the small village of Sefkerin. At a park in the center of the village, right across from the Cultural Center, is situated a modest memorial sculpture dedicated to the local fighters & civilian victims of the Sefkerin area who perished during WWII (Slides 1 - 3). Many sources refer to this memorial as the "Wings Monument" (Spomenik krila). This concrete sculpture is roughly 8m tall and is characterized by a thin base stem which spreads out into an arrangement of angular fins, almost akin to a geometrically styled wings of flower petals. The work was created in the 1970s by artist Boža Marković. When approaching the park from the direction of the post office, there is a large circular planter which has six engraved stone panels surrounding its exterior (Slide 4). The northeast facing inscribed panel (which faces towards the post-office) contains a poetic verse (Slide 5), while the other five panels contain names of fallen fighters. The poetic verse translates roughly into English as:

Monument to Fallen Fighters at Sefkerin - Slideshow

"The sons grew up in the land of the plains. Fields were planted with life, combined with the spirit of resistance in their heart. These fighters will rest in peace and freedom. The flower develops into the wings of a new life."

After the Yugoslav era, the sculpture began to fall into disrepair, taking on a very degraded and stained appearance. Also, one of the stone panels inscribed with the names of fallen fighters is shattered. However, an effort by local children in 2014 to enhance the site resulted in the sculpture being repainted and restored to a more presentable appearance. Modest memorial events continue to be held at the site. The exact coordinates for this site are N45°00'12.5", 20°28'55.1". A historical image of this monument can be seen in Slide 6.

Victims of Fascism of Pančevo:

Roughly 8km south of the Stratište complex you will find the town of Pančevo. At the southern end of Pančevo on the west banks of the Tamiš River, right near where it flows into the Danube, is a monument which commemorates the civilian victims of Pančevo who were killed during WWII. Sources recount that after the Pančevo Partisan Detachment was formed and began to operate offensive maneuvers in the Deliblato Sands area, the German occupying forces of Pančevo retaliated by rounding up a 150 local communist dissidents and executing. This monument is said to mark the location of those executions. Created in the ~1950s by artist Božidar Jovanović, the central element of the site is a bronze sculpture of a man writhing over in pain, presumably being executed in a similar way as the people who were killed at this site (Slides 1 - 3). While the monument itself is current in a reasonable shape, the complex around the monument is in a very poor condition and is very overgrown in certain parts (Slides 4 & 5).

Monument to the Victims of Fascist Terror at Pančevo - Slideshow

There are currently no inscribed or engraved elements at this site, but presumably some existed before the complex fell into decay. I was unable to find any articles or reports on whether commemorative events are still held at this location. The exact coordinates for this site are N44°52'10.3", E20°37'15.2". A historical image of this monument can be seen in Slide 6.

And Additional Sites of Interest:

  • National Museum of Pančevo: located roughly 6km south of the Stratište Memorial Complex within the town of Pančevo (sitting right on the Square of King Peter I) is a museum which explores the region's ethnology, archeology, history and art history. Housed in an ornate neo-classical building from 1833, the museum contains many hundreds of exhibits, along with many on the Pančevo region's WWII history. The official website for the museum can be found HERE. The exact coordinates for the museum are N44°52'17.0", E20°38'25.4".

Directions:

Finding the Brazde Monument at the Stratište Memorial Complex near Jabuka is a relatively easy endeavor. Firstly, from the city center of Pančevo, head north out of town and get on Road 131 heading towards the small village of Jabuka. Follow this road about 7km and you will see an old disused parking area on your right with the spomenik complex visible just across the road from it on your left. Park on the right hand side and you can easily walk across the street to the monument area. The old museum is located just north of the monument area. The exact coordinates for parking at this location are N44°55'42.5", E20°38'05.9".

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