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Korenica

Brief Details:

Name: Central Monument of the White Streams (Bijeli Potoci) - Kamensko Memorial Area

Location: ~18km SE of Korenica, Croatia (formerly Titova Korenica)

Year completed: 1981

Designer(s): Vladimir Ugrenović and Berislav Radimir

Coordinates: N44°40'26.5", E15°50'54.8" (click for map)

Dimensions: Formerly a ~15m tall structure

Materials used: Poured concrete, rebar and steel

Condition: Completely destroyed (~2008)

(koh-REN-ee-tsa)

Click on slideshow photos for description

History:

This spomenik at Korenica commemorates fallen soldiers and civilian victims of the National Liberation War (WWII) from the Lika region (such as Korenica, Kamensko and the Plitvice Lakes).

World War II

After the Axis invasion and occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April of 1941, this area became part of the Axis-controlled Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and overseen by Ustaše military forces. While Croats made the majority population, the area of Korenica in the Lika region was inhabited by hundreds of ethnic-Serbs. During the war, they were extremely oppressed, having their rights limited, their Orthodox churches destroyed and were often thrown out of their homes or deported. Furthermore, as the war progressed, hundreds of Serbs in this region were liquidated at nearby concentration camps, most notably the one at Gospić. In light of this civilian oppression, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia sent their trusted representative Marko Orešković to the Lika region in attempts to rally locals into a popular uprising against the Ustaše and to organize a coordinated communist revolutionary Partisan army.

Photo 1: The 1st Proletarian Battalion training at Korenica, within the free-territory, 1942

As a result, the ethnic-Serbs of the Lika region instigated a revolt on July 27th, 1941 in the village of Srb, roughly 70km southeast of Korenica. This revolt would come to be known as the the Srb Uprising. This uprising began some of the first active armed opposition (supported by Partisans and Chetniks) to the occupying Axis powers in all of Yugoslavia. While these initial rebel forces mostly targeted Ustaše forces, they sometimes also committed violence and killings against local Croat and Muslim civilians they viewed as collaborators of their Ustaše oppressors, such as at nearby places like Kulen Vakuf. However, through these disorganized civilian uprisings, organized units of trained fighters were created, such as the Lika Partisan Detachment, which formed in October of 1941. Through Partisan resistance efforts, the Korenica region became part of a large liberated territory spanning across much of present-day Dalmatia and western Bosnia (Photo 1). One notable action Partisans took in this region was setting up one of the area's first military hospitals in the western slopes of Plješivica mountains within an old farmhouse (Photo 2), in an area called "Bijeli potoci – Kamensko", roughly 10km southeast of the town of Korenica. In addition to a hospital, the Partisan camp played host to a number of workshops, munitions producers and bakeries. Yet, as the Partisans began to grow in strength through the Lika region during late 1941 and early 1942, the Italian Axis forces began to take notice and engaged them in many skirmished and firefights. Then Italian soldiers themselves began to take retribution upon local citizens of the Lika region for these incursions. As 1942 went along, the Partisans showed themselves more and more to be a problem to Axis occupational forces.

Photo 2: Photo of the hospital complex at Bijeli potoci - Kamensko, 1941

As a result, in late 1942, German Army Command sought to put an end to what it considered 'Partisan meddling' in Axis efforts in Yugoslavia with a plan they called Operation 'Case White'. Learning about this operation in January of 1943, Partisan forces in Korenica scrambled to develop sufficient counter-offensive to ward off the incoming attack. However, within just a few weeks, the first stage of this 'Case White', which went under the code-name 'Weiss 1', began on January 20th, whose aim was to push the Partisans out of the snowy western Bosnian and Dalmatian mountains southeast down towards Mostar, where the Germans had a trap set at the Neretva River.  As the offensive began at Korenica and the surrounding Partisan-liberated Lika region with the Germans attempting to push the Partisans east, the Partisans stood their ground for several weeks. However, German pressure began to mount and by the end of January, the Partisans retreated from their positions in the Korenica. However, despite the Partisan offensive units retreating in wake of German advancement, the staff, patients and refugees at Bijeli potoci – Kamensko hospital complex, hidden high within the slopes of Plješivica, remained through the conflict.

While the Operation Case White was not a total success, as it did not completely eliminate Partisan resistance operations in the region or capture its leader Josip Tito. However, the western Bosnian and Dalmatian mountains were cleared of rebel fighters, which resulted in over 11,000 Partisan fighters killed, making it a partial Axis success. Yet, despite staying behind during the onslaught of German troops into the Lika region, the Bijeli potoci – Kamensko was never discovered and remained untouched during the war. There are few examples during the whole invasion of Yugoslavia during WWII that Partisan forces were able to protect and keep from harm so many children, wounded, sick and civilian refugees during a time of violence and crisis.

 

In May of 1944, Partisans with the 13th Division were able to liberate Korenica again for a few months, long enough for there to be held a large 1,200 delegate National Liberation Conference in August to decide the Communist Party leadership of Lika, however, the town was soon lost to German troops again the following winter. It was not until March 20th, 1945 that Partisan forces from the 4th Yugoslav Army finally returned in force and drove out all Axis-aligned fighters and collaborators from the Korenica and Lika regions. These liberation battles resulted in much of the town being destroyed, which had already been heavily damaged during the war. At the end of the war, to thank Lika's Partisan forces for liberating them from NDH control, Korenica renamed their city 'Titova Korenica' to commemorate the Partisan Army commander and the new Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito.

Spomenik Construction

Since the end of WWII, the Bijeli potoci – Kamensko area was lauded in this region during the Yugoslav era as being a significant Partisan stronghold, most notably because of the hospital complex it housed there and because the Partisans of the region gave such strong push-back against the eastward march of German soldiers during the 'Case White' offensive. As such, efforts to commemorate the space were taken very early on. In the late 1950s, work began on creating an open air memorial sculpture zone in the area of the former Bijeli potoci – Kamensko Partisan hospital, located roughly 18km southeast of Korenica in the foothills of Plješivica mountain. This memorial sculpture park, opened into 1959, consisted of six life-sized bronze sculptures of dark and traumatic figures by Croatian sculptor Vanja Radauš, which were from a series of his called 'Tifusari' or 'Typhus Victims' in English.

 

Then, during the time period of the late 1970s, the Yugoslav government, along with veteran groups such as SUBNOR, outlined plans for the construction of a large much more substantial memorial at the Bijeli potoci – Kamensko complex. Designers Vladimir Ugrenović and Berislav Radimir were commissioned to create the monument, which would commemorate the fallen fighters and civilian victims of the war from the surrounding region. The completed monument that was unveiled in 1981 and was composed of a pyramidal-shaped steel structure, almost resembling a sailboat, resting on a concrete circular platform (plinth). To what degree this was a popular or well visited monument during the days of Yugoslavia is not known, as it is very remotely located and very little specific information is available about it of its construction or history.

Yugoslav Wars

With the onset of the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s and the formation of an ethnic-Serb breakaway territory within the newly independent Croatia called the Republic of Serbian Krajina (Photo 3), (which this spomenik resided within), the monument began to fall into neglect during the tensions and ethnic fighting which took over the region. Almost as soon as conflicts began, vandals and scavengers stole all of the metal sheathing which covered the spomenik's steel skeleton. While the Serb breakaway territory only lasted until the fall of 1995 after being overrun Croatian military forces and re-integrated back into Croatia, the spomenik continued to sit idle in this ravaged and neglected skinless condition. Also during this time, all six of Radauš's 'Tifusari' sculptures were stolen. What their ultimate fate was has never been discovered. Another important note to add is that during the wave of Croatian post-independence nationalism of the 1990s, the town of Titova Korenica officially changed their name back to simply 'Korenica', presumably to ideologically distance themselves from the heritage, history and politics of recently fallen Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY).

Photo 3: Republic of Serbian Krajina, 1991-1995

Present-Day

During some unknown period around 2008, the steel skeleton ruins of the central Bijeli potoci – Kamensko monument was completely destroyed as well, with all of its steel structural elements being dismantled and stolen, presumably for scrap. It is not known what groups committed this crime, as no parties have been identified, held responsible, or prosecuted. All that now remains of the monument is the ruins of its circular concrete base, sitting forgotten and unmarked in an overgrown empty mountain field. The complex receives no visitors, no commemorative events are held here and no signs or signals indicate where it is or that it ever even existed at this location.

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

Being that every element of this spomenik was completely destroyed (except for the sturdy concrete base), no engravings or plaques which once were present at this monument exist any longer. Through all my research, I have not even been able to find any photographic or documented evidence of what the engraved or inscribed elements that once assumedly existed here might have looked like or might have communicated. If any readers know of any photographic or documentary records of any of the engravings or plaques at this site, please contact me.

The Vanja Radauš Sculptures:

In 1956, Croatian sculptor Vanja Radauš began the creation of a cycle of sculptures that related to the horrors of war. Having himself served as a Partisan fighter during the People's Liberation Struggle which occurred across the Yugoslav region during WWII, Radauš was all too familiar with the pain, suffering and most notably disease that soldiers faced during conflict. The grisly victims of typhus, which was one of the most significant non-combat killers of Partisan soldiers during WWII, was something that Radauš was especially haunted by after the war. Completed in 1959, Radauš created a series of six figures depicting the various sad, emaciated and skeletal forms that typhus inflicted upon those who suffered from it.

Photo 4: The 1959 'Tifusari' sculptures by Vanja Radauš as they were situated at Bijeli potoci – Kamensko memorial park

As a significant amount of the patients that were treated at the Partisan hospital here at Bijeli potoci – Kamensko suffered from typhus (one of the biggest non-combat killers during the war), it was only natural that Radauš's 'Tifusari' sculpture series, which means 'Typhus Victims' in English, were considered as suitable memorial works when it was decided the spot should be commemorated in 1959. As records are sparse in relation to this memorial complex, it is not yet clear to me how these sculptures were arranged within the Bijeli potoci – Kamensko Memorial Area, however, from surviving photos of the sculptures in situ (Photo 4), they appear to be installed at various park-setting locations along the pathways of the complex. The Tiifusari sculpture set remained at this location until some point in the early 1990s when they disappeared during conflicts of the Yugoslav Wars, most notably during conflicts between national Croatian forces and ethnic Serbian forces attempting to create a break-away state. To this date it is unknown the fate of the sculptures, even whether they still exist or whether they were simply melted down as scrap metal. INTERPOL has an open investigation related to finding the sculptures. Replicas of the six works can be found at the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts - Glyptotheque Museum. More details about the sculptures can be found at think link from the project "War Damage Against Museums & Museum Holdings in Croatia".

Monument to Marko Orešković

On a related note, an additional Vanja Radauš sculpture was also removed from the central square back in the nearby town of Korenica during the early 1990s. Built in the 1952, this bronze sculpture was created in the likeness of popular Partisan commander Marko 'Krntija' Orešković (Photo 5), who was a notable revolutionary integral in spearheading the Partisan uprising against Axis occupation across the Lika region. Later, Orešković was recognized as a Yugoslav National Hero and became one of the most popular folk heroes of the Yugoslav-era. Many monuments to Orešković existed around Yugoslavia, but the one in Korenica was the most famous by far, mostly because of his uprising activities in this region. The sculpture was situated in front of a 3m tall half circle wall upon which was a long bronze relief depicting scenes from WWII. Next to Orešković's sculpture was originally an inscription of a poetic verse by Vladimir Popović, who was a significant KPJ leader and friend of Tito. When roughly translated into English, this inscription read as:

Photo 5: An old 1970s postcard from Korenica showing the sculpture of Marko Orešković by Radauš

"If it were not for Marko Orešković, there would still be many crying mothers.

Comrade Marko is Croatian born, but he is the mother [savior] of the Serbian people."

Photo 6: A recent photo of bronze relief, 2017

As indicated by an additional plaque that still remains at the site right in front of the bronze relief, this monument is also dedicated to the local Partisan fighters Vlado Četković, Staniša Opsenica and Petar Končar, who all perished during WWII. However, the current location of the Orešković sculpture is not known (or even whether it still exists), but some sources assert that it was destroyed in the early 1990s by the RSK Army during their conflicts with Croatian forces. However, an additional version of this destroyed sculpture still exists at a memorial park in the Zagreb suburb of Podsused. The remaining bronze relief wall at the Korenica memorial site is still relatively intact (Photo 6), but it appears often defaced with graffiti and shows some signs of degradation. The exact coordinates for the site are N44°44'45.3", E15°42'19.3", just in front of the Korenica municipal building.

Photo 7: Medical tents during WWII

Symbolism:

From sources I have examined, it is asserted that the symbolic meaning of the series of triangular shapes of this monument, created by Zagreb architect Berislav Radimir, is meant to symbolize the shape of the medical tents which would have existed here while the site operated as a Partisan military hospital during WWII (Photo 7). The construction of this 'tent' allowed access into the interior zone of the sculpture via four entrances. Such an interior space existed as a zone of 'contemplation' for the visitor, especially as this area more than likely was adorned with plaques bearing the names of those who died here. In addition, the final symbolic element of the site to consider is the way in which the highly refined geometric shape of the monument stands in stark contrast to the surrounding mountains and landscape. For that matter, the sculpture could be interpreted as a reduced form of a mountain in itself, almost as if it is meant to be a simplistic reflection of the surrounding world that draws people in with its tempting vision of a more simple, more reduced world.

Status and Condition:

All elements of the Bijeli potoci – Kamensko Memorial Area are completely abandoned and destroyed. At some point around 2008, an organized group of people dismantled the what ruins remained of the destroyed and abandoned monument, which, until that point, had still been reasonably intact, aside from its removed metal sheathing. All of the green steel beams which made up the architecture of the monument were not only dismantled, but also removed from the site, presumably for scrap or re-purposing. No one has ever been held accountable for this actions, as it is not known who the person or persons were that dismantled and stole the pieces of this monument. As far as my research has been able to establish, there are no known plans by either the municipality of Korenica, the region of Lika or ministries of the Croatian governments to rebuild this structure or restore its lost sculptural elements. Destruction has been the fate which many Yugoslav WWII monuments within the inner Dalmatian region have succumb to over the last few decades, such as the sites at Knin and Košute, for example. A comprehensive listing of damage to such memorial works in Croatia during the Yugoslav Wars can be found in a 2002 book called "Destruction of Anti-fascist Monuments in Croatia" [which is available for free viewing in our Digital Library].

Directions:

From the town of Korenica, take Highway 1 about 4km towards Bjelopolje. From there, follow the signs onto the highway leading towards Donji Lapac (Photo 8). Take this road about 15km along the valley and up into the mountains. Just past a "12% Grade" sign, you will see a small unmarked dirt road on the left going into the woods (Photo 9) -- this road can be seen here on Google StreetView. Follow this dirt road for less than 1km and then take your first left onto another dirt road that heads directly south. After following this down a few hundred meters, you will see the ruins of the spomenik in front of you. Parking can be made where it is convenient, optimally around coordinates N44°40'28.0", E15°50'55.2". Road can be muddy, so don't drive road too far in bad conditions. Also, as this monument is located in the high mountains, access here may be partly or fully inhibited by snow during the winter or early spring seasons.

Map to the location of the monument at the spomenik complex at Korenica, Croatia.

Click to open in Google Maps in new window

Photo 8: The left off of Hwy 1 at Bjelopolje towards monument

Photo 9: Dirt access road to spomenik from main road (in snow)

Comments:

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