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Jajinci (Јајинци)

Brief Details:

Name: Memorial Park Jajinci (Спомен парк Јајинци)

Location: Jajinci, Serbia, just south of Belgrade

Year completed: 1988

Designer: Vojin Stojić (profile page)

Coordinates: N44°43'52.3", E20°29'20.2" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~12m tall pillar & sculpture

Materials used: Poured concrete, rebar and stainless steel

Condition: Good

(yah-YEEN-tsee)

History:

This monument at the spomenik complex in Jajinci, Serbia commemorates the tens of thousands of victims who were executed here by German soldiers during WWII from 1941 to 1943.

World War II

As units of the German Army invaded the city of Belgrade in April of 1941 during the first weeks of WWII, the city was put under an intense and oppressive military occupation. Within a few weeks of being occupied, Serbian citizens from the Belgrade area began to resist and rise up against these imposing forces. However, the German reprisals to such resistance was swift and brutal. Early on, rebels were simply thrown into one of Belgrade's detention facilities, such as the Sajmište (Photo 1) or Banjica concentration camps, with most of those arrested consisting of Serbs, Jews, Roma and other anti-fascist dissidents. Tactics changed on July 15th of 1941, when members of the German 64th Police Battalion began to regularly take groups of these rebel prisoners from Sajmište and Banjica, among other places, to a rifle range just south of the camp in forests of Jajinci. From here, the soldiers would then force the prisoners to dig holes in the open field, after which point the prisoners would be executed (usually by a firing squad) and deposited into the holes they had just dug (Photo 2). Often, local Serbian Nazi-collaborators from the Serbian State Guard were made to carry out the executions, which were conducted generally during the early-dawn hours.

Photo 1: Sajmište Concentration Camp in Belgrade, 1941

Photo 2: Prisoners being executed at Jajinci, 1942

These executions went on in a daily fashion until November of 1943, when the German Army's ability to succeed in the wider war across Europe began to come into question. Fearing their actions at Jajinci would be declared war-crimes in the instance of an Axis defeat, the German Gestapo commanders in Belgrade ordered that all executed victims at Jajinci be exhumed and incinerated in order to conceal all evidence of the executions. This burning of corpses, along with further executions, went on until April of 1944. However, even despite these concealment efforts, word of the executions was widespread and evidence left at Jajinci indicating what had happened was plentiful. When Belgrade was freed from occupation on October of 1944, the two generals of the liberation forces, Partisan leader Peko Dapčević and Red Army leader Vladimir Ždanov, visited Jajinci to lay wreaths and honor those who had been executed there. This is reportedly the first instance of tribute and remembrance paid to the victims of Nazi war-crimes. Early estimates for the numbers killed at Jajinci ranged as high as 80,000, but more recent research has suggested it may be closer to 65,000 men, women and children. The vast majority of those killed were Serbs, along with a significant number of Jews, in addition to an assortment of several thousand other victims, including Roma, Partisan fighters, anti-fascists and any persons deemed 'undesirable' by the German occupiers.

Spomenik Construction

The history of creating a commemorative space at Jajinci is characterized by a decades long process of numerous design competitions and much debate over what the most appropriate form the selected memorial should take. The first efforts to create a monument began as early as 1948, where a design competition was held, but did not yield a proposal which satisfied the selection committee. Then, in July of 1951, a modest memorial wall with a bronze sculpture relief was created at the entrance to the Jajinci site, designed by sculptor Stevan Bodnarov. However, many Belgrade critics and political elite found this modest work insufficient given the large scale of this tragedy. Researcher Nina Stevanović describes how these critics felt that Bodnarov's work: "did not express the notion of massiveness, greatness and profundity of sufferings and sacrifice in a satisfactory manner", and they continued to advocate for the construction a memorial work of “exceptional significance which talks about the tragedy of human misfortunes, the intransigence of human resistance against the violence, about the value of human sacrifice with eternal and clear language".

Photo 3: Unrealized Jajinci memorial concepts from the 1978 competition. Kolacio & Radovani's is in the upper left

As a result of such critques, in 1956, a second attempt to hold a design competition for a major memorial work was held by the Belgrade. First prize in this 1956 competition went to the design by Croatian architect Zdenko Kolacio and sculptor Kosta Angeli Radovani, however, for various logistical, cost and aesthetic reasons, this design was never constructed. Interestingly, while plans for monuments were still being negotiated, the Jajinci shooting range was developed into a an organized park setting by landscape architects Branko Bonn & Branka Mirković in October of 1964 in order to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the liberation of Belgrade.

Photo 4: Unrealized Jajinci memorial concepts from the 1980 competition. Marko Mušič's proposal is in the upper left

Then in April of 1978, a second design competition was held, organized by the Belgrade City Assembly, in order to again attempt to select a memorial design solution for Jajinci. The selection committee in charge of this competition was presided over by Belgrade League of Communists leader Dušan Gligorijević. Many of some of the most prominent designers, sculptors and architects of Yugoslavia submitted proposals for the competition, including Bogdan Bogdanović, Dušan Džamonja and Mihajlo Mitrović (Photo 3) In this second round, the winning design in this competition was again the entry put forward by Kolacio & Radovani, who re-submitted their proposal from 1956. However, yet again, logistical and financial complications prevented this winning proposal from being constructed. A third round of the competition was held just a few years later in 1980, also presided over by Gligorijević. Not surprisingly, Kolacio & Radovani did not participate in this third competition. Of the submitted proposals for the 1980 round (Photo 4), the grand prize was awarded to Slovenian architect Marko Mušić. But just as in previous competitions, this design was again never physically conceived or constructed for reasons similar to those that Kolacio & Radovani encountered.

Yet, in the mid-1980s, the monument selection committee made the decision to, despite all previous competitions and submitted proposals, to do a commission a sculptural solution for the project from Serbian designer Vojin Stojić. The reason that all previous competition winners were disregarded and a commission for the work was made directly with Stojić is not exactly clear. Assisting Stojić with engineering and architectural details for this concept were Zorin Obradović, Dr. Sava Vukelić and Miroslav Mijušković. It is thought that the entry by Stojić was given final approval because it employed much more conventional symbolism and than some of the other past proposals, and was more minimal in construction scope.

This new Stojić memorial sculpture at the Jajinci spomenik complex was officially unveiled to the public on October 1st, 1988, a date marking 44 years since the liberation of Belgrade. The primary element of the complex is a large bird-like stainless-steel sculpture perched on top of a roughly 12m tall concrete pedestal, while the area around the sculpture (where the executions occurred) is left as an open grassy meadow. The monument was placed in the vicinity of the largest collection of mass graves. An additional memorial element included at this site is a long row of wooden fence posts which are actual physical artifacts left over from the scene of the executions which occurred here.  The complex here at Jajinci was one of the last major spomenik projects built during the Yugoslav-era before the nation's dismantling in the 1990s.

Present-Day

Currently, the spomenik complex and memorial park at Jajinci are in very good condition, with the majority of the sculptural elements in adequate shape and the grounds and landscaping in a well kept order. Neither the monument nor the complex itself seem to have been victimized by the violence, neglect or damage visited upon many other memorial sites across the Balkans during the Yugoslav Wars. The site still sees many thousands of visitors a year, while large commemorative and remembrance ceremonies are still held here annually. There has been some controversy in recent years, as an Orthodox church is currently in the process of being constructed along the park's north entrance access road (see HERE on Google StreetView). Many feel that as the spomenik complex is a site of crimes against various ethnicities and religion, it should be kept as a place of non-denominational peace and mourning, rather than one marked by overtly religious symbols and structures.

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

Near the entrance to the memorial area, at the west base of the long burial mound, there is a small concrete wall with a engraved granite plaque set within it (Slides 1). The engraved inscription on the plaque is from a poem by Serbian poet Desanka Maksimović, one of the most famous Serbian poets of the modern era. It reads, roughly translated from Serbian to English, as:

"If my hands are broken, I have wings and with them, like a bird, I embrace the horizon."

Meanwhile, on the north side of the concrete stairs that lead up to the spomenik, there is a small engraved metal plaque (Slide 2). This plaque reads, when translated from Serbian to English, as:

Slideshow

Sculpture author: Vojin Stojić

Assistant architect: Zorin Obradović

Professional engineer: Dr. Sava Vukelić

Engineer: Miroslav Mijušković

Professor: Stjepan Fileni

Made by: "First Iskra Engineering" company, Barić

"Ratko Mitrovič" company, Belgrade

Then, at the south edge of the main paved plaza in front of the monument, there is a modest marble bench (Slide 3) which has a brief engraved inscription on the front of it. Translated from Serbian to English, it reads as:

"Grave field"

More than likely, this inscription is referring to the large mass burial mound that is located just behind the engraved bench.

Currently, this site has no overt graffiti defacing any of its primary elements, at least as of my most recent visit to the site in the spring of 2017. However, in the past there have been instances of fascist and political graffiti made on the original monument at the front entrance to the memorial (Slide 4). Presently, the graffiti depicted in the Slide 4 image has been removed and the surface cleaned.

Photo 5: Row of fence post artifacts at the Jajinci memorial

Symbolism:

The abstract stainless steel form at the top of the pillar at the center of this memorial park here at Jajinci is intended to be a stylized representation of a white dove, itself a symbol of eternal peace and healing for all those thousands of victims who lost their lives at this site. In addition, the artistic representation of a white dove often can be understood as being as a symbol against war and all human suffering. Furthermore, the large open field that this monument sits where the executions occurred is left empty and vacant purposefully -- it was felt that field should be felt empty as a symbolic space to be "filled with the blood of fallen victims", allowing the viewer, through that silent emptiness, to experience the victim's suffering as they walk across every step the surface without even needing to be overtly or directly exposed to any images of horror or death. Finally, it is important to point out the only other major memorial element included at the Jajinci execution site is a long row of wooden fence posts, which are actual physical artifacts left over from the site from when the executions occurred (Photo 5). When visiting the site, realizing that you are observing the actual fence-line that those executed here would have witnessed (or perhaps even died upon) creates within the viewer feeling of unease and tension. The inclusion of these fence posts may have been an attempt to mentally put the viewer in the role of the soon-to-be executed, giving those visiting the site a small hint of the horror and fear that may have existed here during WWII, but without having to directly depict any brutal or grisly imagery.

Status and Condition:

Overall, the condition of the spomenik complex here at Jajinci is very good. Firstly, the grounds, grass and vegetation across the complex are kept in order and are well manicured, while all of the structural condition of all of memorial elements here are properly maintained and cared for. Instances of spray paint and nationalistic/fascist graffiti are sometimes found on various elements of the memorial, but the municipality of Belgrade goes to great efforts to quickly remove it.  There are a few directional and promotional signs along the road and at the main entrance way to the memorial, however, they are not extensive. In addition, there several interpretive signs and plaques at various locations around the park alerting visitors and tourists to the historical and cultural significance of the site. Furthermore, there is a good deal of promotional information and education about Jajinci both on official city of Belgrade webpages, but also on the official national Serbian webpages.

Photo 6: A 2015 memorial celebration at the Jajinci memorial site

This site sees a great number of daily visitors... both the visitors who are coming here for general relaxing and recreation, but also those coming here to honor and pay respects to the site, which is evidenced by the honorific wreaths, flowers and candles I found at the site during my most recent visit in the spring of 2017. Several official commemorative and remembrance events are held here at Jajinci annually (Photo 6), which are always well attended by the public, military representatives and domestic/foreign government officials.

Additional Sites in the Jajinci Area:

This section will explore additional related historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Jajinci area that might be of interest to those studying the history, design and memorial architecture of the former Yugoslavia. In addition, this section will also look at Belgrade concentration camp sites related to the Jajinci massacre location. The sites explored here are the memorial wall relief at the Jajinci site, the new Orthodox church nearby to Jajinci, as well as the concentration camp sites at Banjica and Sajmište.

Memorial Wall Relief at Jajinci:

In 1951, the first official memorial effort intended to commemorate the tragedy here at Jajinci was constructed. It was created by designer Stevan Bodnarov (inspired by a concept by architect Leon Kabiljo) and consists of a bronze relief panel depicting what appears to be a number of victims in the process of being executed, with one central figure in the center standing defiantly while his countrymen behind him prepare themselves to be killed. The memorial was unveiled on July 7th, 1951 in order to honor the 10th anniversary of the start of the Partisan uprising. This memorial was left untouched and in its original orientation during the 1988 construction of the expanded memorial complex. There have been a number of occasions where this memorial has been vandalized with nationalist graffiti, but it is generally quickly cleaned by the Belgrade municipality. The exact coordinates for the memorial are N44°43'44.9", E20°29'06.3".

Memorial wall - Slideshow

St. Cyril & Methodius Church at Jajinci:

Along the north entrance road to the spomenik complex here at Jajinci, there is a Serbian Orthodox church called St. Cyril & Methodius (Светом Кирилу и Методију) that has been under construction since 2002. Its construction has cost over 200k euros thus far, and over 200k more are needed for its completion... funds the church is finding hard to procure. The difficulty in finding funds for the completion of the church is said to be two-fold -- on one hand, the church is controversial because many feel its modernist style is not an acceptable architecture for a Orthodox church, while others in the community feel the placement of the church adjacent to what was intended to be a non-denominational memorial complex is not appropriate. Designed by Boris Podreka and Branislav Mitrović, it is considered by some to be the first modernist Orthodox church constructed in all of Serbia. The exact coordinates for the church are N44°43'54.3", E20°29'06.9".

Orthodox church - Slideshow

Sajmište Camp monument

Located on the banks of the Sava River in Belgrade is a monument which commemorates the horrific events which took place at the Sajmište Concentration Camp, which existed at this location during WWII. Formerly, this site was a sprawling international fairgrounds complex built in the 1930s to host European trade shows, however, in 1941 the occupying German Army converted the complex into a camp to house Belgrade's Jews. As the war continued on, many Serbian dissidents, Communists and others deemed "undesirable" were also included among those interred here. By the end of the war, well over 30k people passed through the camp, with many many thousands of them perishing here. Sources assert as many as half of all Serbian Jews died at Sajmište. In the years after WWII, the remnants of the fairgrounds were used as headquarters for the Youth Action laborers involved in construction New Belgrade, but after that it began to slowly decay.

Slideshow - Sajmište Monument

However, in 1995 an abstract monument, designed by Serbian artist Miodrag Popović, was built near the site of the concentration camp (Slides 1 - 4). This Sajmište monument, situated right on the Sava River promenade, is characterized by an ~10m tall bronze sculpture which appears somewhat floral in design. Arranged in two distinct sections, what appear to be stylized 'wounds' are located across several sections of the sculpture's surface. Popović himself described the sculpture as "split forms of a circle whose two parts symbolizes life and the second death". This design by Popović initally won second-place for the design competition for the Jajinci monument complex and was later re-submitted for the Sajmište design competition, which it won. At the stairs that lead up to the memorial sculpture from the main walkway there is located an large bronze plate which bears an inscription presented in both Serbian and English (Slide 5). This inscription reads as:

"This is the place where the Nazi concentration camp at the old Belgrade Fair used to be during the occupation of Yugoslavia between 1941 and 1944. War crimes and genocide against around one-hundred thousands patriots, members of the Yugoslav National Liberation Movement, children, women and the elderly, were committed here. Nearly half the prisoners were killed either in the concentration camp or at the mass execution sites like Jajinci, Bežanijska kosa, Jabuka and Ostravačka Ada. Many of them were relocated to death camps throughout the German occupied Europe. The victims were mostly Serbs, Jews and Roma. This memorial is dedicated to all of them. It is also dedicated to the victims of the notorious Ustashi concentration camp of Jasenovac, victims of Hungarian occupation who were washed ashore in Belgrade, as well as the heroic resistance to the Nazi terror and all Yugoslav citizens and victims of genocide."

-Belgrade on April 22. 1995, on the occasion of the day of the commemoration of the victims of genocide and 50th anniversary of victory over fascism.

It is significant to point out that this work by Popović is not the first monument to mark the Sajmište site, however, it is the first sizable effort. The first plaque was installed at the Sajmište grounds starting in the 1960s, and several additional incarnations followed. However, the only additional plaque that still exists is one from 1984, installed next to the old Turkish Pavilion of the Fairgrounds complex (Slides 6 & 7). This 1984 plaque was unveiled on July 7th (the 43rd anniversary of the Serbian uprising at Bela Crkva) by then Belgrade mayor Bogdan Bogdanović (who himself was the author of many of the most notable Yugoslav WWII monuments). The inscription on the plaque reads as, when translated from Serbian to English:

"Upon the area of the Old Fairgrounds, the German Gestapo founded the Sajmište camp in 1941, with the help of domestic traitors, more than 40,000 people were tortured and killed from all parts of our country."

Photo 7: Central tower, 1930s

It is interesting to note that comparing the 1984 plaque inscription to that of the 1995 one, the newer version makes several notable changes: the labeling of the perpetrator is changed from 'Gestapo' to 'Nazi', the range of the victim base is broadened, while no mention is made of the 'domestic traitors'. Meanwhile, many of the fairground buildings that were used as part of the Sajmište concentration camp facilities are still standing around the old fairground site, however, they are being used as residential dwelling spaces and are not a part of any preserved or protected museum space. The most conspicuous of these remaining structures is the central circular tower (Slide 8), which now appears to have been split up into several apartments. A historical image of this tower from the 1930s in its fairground days can be seen in Photo 7. Discussions about expanding the former concentration camp area as a protected site, with the inclusion of a museum, have been ongoing for decades, but, as of yet, controversies, contention, delays and disagreements over various approaches to memorialization have resulted in the project failing to be realized as of yet. In fact, it was similar types of complex contestations that resulted in the Sajmište site going so long without a sizable or appreciable memorial marker or monument, a notable dilemma especially when evaluated against the scale and magnitude of the tragedy which had occurred at this site. However, as recently as 2018, media outlets have been examining the topic of a museum complex being built at Sajmište.

The 1995 memorial sculpture, as well as the 1984 memorial plaque, are both in good condition and both continue to host annual commemorative events. The exact location of the 1995 Popović monument is N44°48'45.0", E20°26'44.3", while the coordinates of the 1984 memorial plaque are N44°48'48.2", E20°26'33.6". A comprehensive online project which studies and explores Staro Sajmište (the Old Fairgrounds) and the history surrounding the site can be found at Starosajmiste.info.

Banjica Camp monument

In July of 1941, occupying German forces converted a 1930s era military school in the Belgrade neighborhood of Banjica, in an area known as Dedinje, into a concentration camp. Operated by Gestapo officer Willy Friedrich, the Banjica camp detained not only Jews, but also dissident Serbs, Partisans, Roma, Chetniks and other groups deemed undesirable. Over the course of the war, nearly 24,000 people passed through the camp, while it is estimated that roughly 4,000 of them perished here. Furthermore, people held at this camp were often sent on to be executed at various other massacre sites around Belgrade, such as Jabuka, Jajinci and others. On the 25th anniversary of the Allied liberation of the Banjica camp, the old camp building was converted into a museum and memorial complex. Also during this time, a concrete monument was built in front of the complex created by artist Nikola Kolja Milunović (Slides 1 - 4).

Slideshow - Banjica Camp monument

Photo 8: The entrance to the Banjica concentration camp, 1941

The design of the monument created by Milunović is characterized by a ~2m tall curving concrete wall. At the center of the wall is a sculptural form of four large protruding concrete trapezoids which taper to a flat surface. To the left of this sculpture on the wall is an inscription of bronze relief letters. The inscription is a poetic verse from famous Serbian writer Branko Miljković. This inscribed verse reads as, when translated from Serbian to English:

"They threaten me with death, O prideful bird of rebellion"

The monument complex is in very good condition and still hosts annual commemorative events, generally around October 5th, which was the date the concentration camp was liberated in 1944.

The museum complex is also in very good condition and is open for regular visits.  The official website for the museum can be found HERE. A historical image of the monument can be seen in Slide 5, while a WWII-era image of Bajnica camp can be seen in Photo 8. The exact coordinates for the monument and museum complex are N44°46'15.5", E20°28'00.8".

Directions:

Finding the Jajinci Memorial Complex is a relatively easy endeavor. Firstly, from the Belgrade city center, take Bulevar Oslobođenja south towards the Jajinci suburb. As you enter Jajinci, this turns into Bulevar JHA. Continue following that road through Jajinci until you are on the far south end of town. Just before you pass a big brown sign saying Avala is 5km away, take a left into the north entrance to Jajinci Memorial Park. If coming from the south, turn right from Bulevar JHA onto the park's south entrance at the stone sign with the name of the park on it (see HERE for Google StreetView), right across from the Salon Keramike hardware shop. Follow this entrance roadway to the parking area, at which point you can easily walk to the spomenik complex. The exact coordinates for parking are N44°43'53.8", E20°29'16.4".

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Slideshow

Comments:

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