Name: Maribor Liberation Monument (Spomenik NOB), aka: 'Kodžak'
Location: At 'Trg Svobode' (Freedom Square) in Maribor, Slovenia
Year completed: 1975
Designer: Slavko Tihec (profile page) & Branko Kocmut
Coordinates: N46°33'37.8", E15°38'56.7" (click for map)
Dimensions: ~7m tall stucture
Materials used: Bronze
Condition: Very good, well maintained
Click on slideshow photos for description
This spomenik at Maribor commemorates the nearly 700 hostages and rebels who were killed by German forces during the National Liberation War (WWII) for attempting to resist occupation.
World War II
Just before the Axis invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1941, the city of Maribor (then known as its German name 'Marburg'), situated right on the Kingdom's northern border, was directly adjacent to the border of the expanding Greater German territory. In addition, during this time, there was also a remnant ethnic-German population in Maribor (roughly 25%), who remained in the city after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, even despite Slovene efforts of mandatory cultural assimilation. After the Axis invasion in April of 1941, Germany annexed Maribor and the surrounding Lower Styrian region into the Greater German Reich. Upon this annexation, immediate plans were made by Nazi Germany to re-Germanize the city, which included not only pushing out and marginalizing the Slovene population and culture, but also the mass arrests of local Slovenes and importation of ethnic Germans to the city. In fact, portraying Maribor as a Germanized city was so important for Germany that it was the only city in the occupied Kingdom of Yugoslavia that was personally visited by Hitler himself during the war (Photo 1). This oppression and ethnic-cleansing of Maribor were naturally met with intense anger and hostility from Slovenes around the region. As a result, many Slovenes began to organize and coordinate uprising groups to fight against these aggressions, most notably the Liberation Front and the communist Partisan resistance movement. The Maribor Partisan's first act of uprising was on April 29th, 1941, when they destroyed two German military vehicles with explosives in a city center alleyway. This symbolically occurred just three days after Hilter's visit to the city. These movements were both particularly strong in Slovenia as the Slovene culture and identity itself was being threatened with elimination in all parts of the country by not only the Germans, but also by the Italians in the west and the Hungarians in the eastern parts of Slovenia (see Figure 1).
Photo 1: Hitler visiting Maribor in his only trip to the Yugoslav region during the war, April 26th, 1941.
Figure 1: Map of the Slovenia partition during WWII
The Slovene Partisans generally utilized the only methods available to them, which was crude but effective guerilla tactics, sabotage and unconventional warfare. However, the Nazis found these rebels to be a surprisingly difficult group to deal with, even despite their being vastly under-equipped and having much smaller numbers compared to the German Army. In order to prevent more Slovenes from joining these uprising groups, the Nazis began to take as hostages many prominent local Slovenes in Maribor, at which point the Nazis would then declare that these hostages would be executed upon any further Partisan attacks or incursions against German troops. The first executions began on August 24th, 1941 and continued through the war. However, despite these brutal warnings, attacks by Partisan units against the Germans continued unabated. Thus, in retaliation, these innocent hostages were subsequently executed by the Germans, generally either by mass public hangings or by large groups being placed in front of firing squads. Often, the executions were made intentionally macabre in order to impart maximum impact on those observing. By the end of the war, roughly 700 Slovene hostages were executed in retaliation for Partisan actions.
The city of Maribor was finally liberated from German control on May 9th of 1945, however, it was left in great ruin. As the city was host to German munitions plants and factories, it was heavily bombed by the Allies during the war with over two dozen raids, which killed hundreds of civilians and left nearly half the city completely leveled. In all, over 2,600 Maribor residents were killed during the course of the war. Meanwhile, after the war, all remaining ethnic-German civilians were expelled from Slovenia, while many Partisans groups set about executing hundreds of Slovenes who collaborated with the Nazis, most notably the anti-communist Slovene Home Guard. These post-war extra-judicial executions of anti-communist Slovenes by Partisans were not discussed or debated in the Yugoslav public sphere until 1975.
Plans for the construction of a monument dedicated to the National Liberation War were initiated from the early 1960s. In 1961 the Maribor Memorial Committee approved a draft of a commemorative sculpture by Slovenian artist Slavko Tihec. However, this first initiative was bogged down in bureaucratic wrangling and was never realized. A second initiative in 1966, also won by Tihec, also met the same fate. The project was re-initiated in 1971, with the Memorial Committee overtly inviting a wider range artists to submit proposals to the selection competition, almost as if they were attempting to avoid Tihec winning the competition again. However, it was only two artists who ended up actually following through to submit completed proposals, Tihec and Drago Tršar. For this competition, Tihec submitted a proposal (created in partnership with architect Branko Kocmut) that was similar to an artistic concept that he submitted for the design competition for the monument at Kozara, Bosnia, but which had also been rejected (Photo 2). It was this modified concept model that Tihec again won the competition (Photo 3). He officially signed a contract with the municipality of Maribor in January of 1974 to create his proposed monument sculpture.
Photo 2: Tihec's rejected model from the Kozara monument competition
Photo 3: A concept model for the Maribor monument
Photo 4: The Maribor monument under construction
The location chosen for the monument to reside was a central location in the city's 'Trg Svobode' or 'Freedom Square'. After roughly a year of construction (Photo 4), the memorial was officially unveiled to the public during a ceremony on November 27th, 1975 and was attended by thousands of people. The date chosen to coincide with Yugoslavia's 'Republic Day' two days later on the 29th. The monument reportedly weighed 25 tons and its construction required the assistance of 250 of Tihec's students and assistants, created at a cost at the time of roughly 8 million dinars (what would today be roughly 2.2 million euros). The final product which Tihec created for this memorial space was a large 7m tall knob-shaped bronze sculpture.
Through large strips cut through two sides of the sculpture's smooth bronze facade, an inner sphere shape, engraved with the faces of many Partisan and Yugoslav heroes, can be seen. The sculpture sits on a circular bronze platform which itself is also engraved with a number of inscriptions, one of which is a depiction of a handwritten letter penned by Maribor resident Jože Fluks to his family right before being executed by German forces in 1942.
During the break-up and dismantling of Yugoslavia during the 1990s, the Liberation Monument complex at Maribor did not experience the turmoil, damage and vandalism that many other memorials across the Balkans underwent during that time period. As such, it remains in excellent condition and still stands as one of the central symbols of the city of Maribor. The monument has even been renovated in recent years, while local discussions are currently being instigated in Maribor on how to better popularize and promote the sculptural work of Slavko Tihec, who is often referred to as the most important Maribor-born sculptor of the 20th century.
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
On the base of the monument there is a engraving in large letters from Slovenian historian Janez Švajncer (Slides 1 & 2). It roughly translates, when translated from Slovenian to English, as:
"Resistance Liberation War Victory
On the reverse side of the bronze base, there are three additional sets of engravings. In the middle, there is an engraving which depicts a handwritten letter by a local Maribor resident Jože Fluks to his family just before being executed (Slides 3 & 4). Translated from Slovenian to English, it reads as:
My dear family,
I have been sentenced to death today. Don't mourn me, but be brave, just as I am brave. I kiss you all in spirit, mother, father, Majda, Jelko, Tone, my girl Ančka, all my friends and comrades. Keep me in good memory, and until my last moment I'll be thinking of you all. Many kisses, the last in spirit sent from your Jo!
March 30th, 1942
Mehllirügestrasse 12/1 (address)
The above letter, in which I received translation help from Reddit user 'grim_asdf', is one of hundreds of examples of farewell letters which the hostages under Nazi detention were allowed to write to loved ones before their execution, which would then be passed (or not) on to relatives by the German soldiers. As the letters were most certainly examined and censored by the Gestapo, these farewells may not always have been communicating all sentiments which the condemned wanted to express. In some cases, farewell letters which were smuggled out from prisons were able to tell more detailed and specific accounts of detainment conditions, which often included information on Nazi tactics, beatings and torture of hostages.
Meanwhile, the left-most engraving on the bronze base depicts a poster of the WWII-era announcing executions which occurred here in Maribor of 13 Slovene dissidents for crimes they were accused of committing against German soldiers and infrastructure (Slides 5 & 6). This inscription reads, when translated from Slovenian to English, as:
Due to their participation in the bandit attack carried out on August 11, 1941 at Ribnica, and due to their participation in the August 9, 1941 attack on the officer and guard company in Zagorje, and ultimately due to their participation in the communist intrigues and the illegal possession of weapons, as well the preparation of sabotage campaigns...
...[they] were shot on August 24th and August 25th, 1941:
Eduard Grubelnik, auxiliary worker, born on November 3rd, 1911 in Ribnica, residing in Ribnica.
Franz Eckardt, auxiliary worker, born on November 14th, 1919 in Rogoza, residing in Rogoza near Koča.
Branko Babič, miner, born on July 29th, 1922 in Kisovec, residing in Zagorje, Kisovec 61.
Leopold Grahek, miner, born on October 22nd, 1920, in Loki, residing in Zagorje, Toplice 112.
Josef Tovornik, student, born on January 2nd, 1920 in Trbovlje, residing in Rimske Toplice.
Salva Klavora, student, born on May 11th, 1921 in Maribor, residing in Maribor.
Svetozar Koćevar, locksmith assistant, born on December 31st, 1922 in Maribor, residing in Maribor.
Franz Weber, forest ranger, born on March 17th, 1909 in Škofja Vas, residing in Škofja Vas near Celje.
Franz Vrunc, teacher, born on February 12th, 1910 in Slovenj Gradec, residing in Slovenj Gradec.
Josef Kowatsch, auxiliary worker, born on March 3rd, 1919 in Lovrenc na Pohorju, residing in Trbovlje, Heiligenuhr.
Franz Kolaric, weaver, born on November 20th, 1921 in Slovenska Bistrica, residing in Lovrenc na Pohorju, Koter Inn.
Stanislaus Bresovnik, salesman, born on June 13th, 1920 in Ruše, residing in Lovrenc na Pohorju, number 30.
Antonia Wresnig, born June 18th, 1914 in Puščava, residing in Lovrenc na Pohorju, number 151.
Head of Civil Administration in Lower Styria
It is important to note that in the engraved inscription in Slides 5 & 6, translated above, the Germanified versions of place names are used in the inscription when describing the places of birth and residence of the executed individuals. In my above translation, I have changed those German versions to their present-day Slovenian versions, as detailed in the notes on page 103 of this document.
Finally, Slides 7 - 9 show a view of the another engraved depiction of a Nazi propaganda poster which would have been hung around Maribor during WWII, alerting and warning residents of the city about what happens to Partisan and rebel collaborators.
Communist bandits, theives, and murderers have, again, committed a series of unconscionable killings and several robbery attacks. They murdered peaceful people in a sneaky and cowardly manner. The son of a farmer in the vicinity of Schönstein [Šoštanj] was thrown by these bandits into the flames of his burning house, which they had set alight. The following persons are also guilty of the crimes committed by these gangs. They have supported the bandits in a variety of ways. On October 2, 1942, they were shot in Maribor:
[list of roughly 150 names of Slovene residents of the Maribor region]
The members were arrested and their assets were confiscated. Furthermore, during the last few weeks, the following communist bandits were shot dead in the vicinity of their hiding-places, in total, 30 bandits:
[list of 30 names of Slovene residents and dates they were killed]
Maribor, October 2nd, 1942
Signed, the High SS and Police Officer
The Nazi SS officer who penned the above notice, General Erwin Rösener (Photo 5) of the German 18th Army, was stationed in Germany's annexed Slovene lands, acting as head of anti-Partisan operations in the region. In order to achieve his mission, as his above declaration describes, he went to any and all lengths in rooting out Partisans and their collaborators, while doing whatever he felt necessary in dissuading other Slovenes from joining the Partisans. During the final weeks of the war, Rösener, fearing capture by the Partisans, abandoned his command and fled into Austria. However, he was captured only a few months after the end of the war by British troops and returned to Yugoslavia. He went to trial in Ljubljana on August 23rd, 1946, charged with committing mass executions of civilians. By August 29th, he was convicted guilty and sentenced to death by hanging. Six days later that sentence was carried out. Rösener's remains are interred in an unmarked grave in Ljubljana's Žale cemetery.
Meanwhile, there is a small inscription on the sculpture's base (Slide 10), which essentially is the artist's signature, Slavko Tihec, while also communicating the year the work was completed, 1975, and that this is a bronze version of the work. In addition, it also includes the name of the contractor who built it, Torzo Zagreb, and the metal fabricators who assembled the pieces, Samobormetal and Metalgrad.
Photo 5: General Erwin Rösener
Photo 6: Template-strips of photos to be turned into the grooved reliefs
Finally, the surface of the inner sphere of the memorial sculpture depicts roughly 200 faces of a great many Yugoslav heroes from the National Liberation War (Slide 11), with many specifically of Slovenian (and even local Maribor) significance. Among the faces easily visible in this collage of faces are President Josip Tito, Slovene-born Yugoslav National Hero Alfonz Šarh, Slovene Partisan commander Franc Rozman and local Maribor-born Yugoslav National Hero Slava Klavora, among many others. Interestingly, the artistic depictions are extremely photo-realistic, made by crafting a series of precisely shaped horizontal grooves in bronze which, when observed from a distance, reveal a myriad of life-like faces. This result was achieved by Tihec and his team experimenting over months arranging hundreds of various photo portraits in order to create a template-strip for each required alcove (Photo 6), then from these photo templates the final groove relief sculptures were meticulously crafted. This stylistically-unique process of Tihec's is very rare among other memorial complexes across the former-Yugoslavia.
Interestingly, also in Photo 6, you will see that in the left-hand panel set of photo strips marked #2 there is a small image of a person towards the top of the right photo strip located directly to the right of the #2 marker (three heads above that of Josip Tito). This image unquestionably depicts an image of the sulptor of this memorial, Slavko Tihec. Photo 7 shows an enlarged version of this photo segment highlighting the portrait in a red square. As this particular section of the completed monument is quite high up and angled as it exists currently, it makes closer scrutiny difficult so it is not clear whether this image of Tihec made it into the final form of the sculpture. If it did, it would be the only Yugoslav monument that I am aware of where an image of the work's sculptor or artist made it into the final product.
Photo 7: A close up of Photo 4 showing Slavko Tihec
Sources indicate that various levels of symbolism were employed by Slavko Tihec in the creation of this monument. The wife of Tihec, Vlasta Zorko, relates that this sculpture was intended to be a symbol for a nation that "has risen from the ground" after defeating an oppressive and brutal occupier. In addition, the shape of the sculpture is very reminiscent of an upside-down view of an escaping water-droplet, as if Tihec is saying that the revolutionary struggle (and philosophy) of the Partisan movement could never simply be contained within the ground where its dead martyrs are interred. Meanwhile, this abstract form is further used as a medium in which to display the images of the Yugoslav war heroes shown within the sliced inner segments of the sculpture. There are roughly 200 faces depicted within the monument, with the photos themselves sourced from the archives of the Museum of the National Liberation in Maribor. This method of depicting photo-realistic human faces through metal lines of varying thickness within sculptures is a trademark of Tihec's personal style, as it can be seen in many of his works, most notably seen in the sculpture depicting Ivan Cankar located in front of the Cultural and Congress Centre in Ljubljana. Furthermore, the general abstract form of the monument is of a very similar style employed in other Tihec sculptures, such as his 1986 sculpture titled "Big Stratified Shape" in front of the Ljubljana World Trade Center (Photo 8).
Photo 8: "Big Stratified Shape" by Tihec, Ljubljana, 1986
Status and Condition:
This spomenik complex at Maribor is in excellent condition. It is extremely well maintained and landscaped, while also being visited by tens of thousands of people a year, simply by virtue of it being in the center of Maribor, but also because it is a very well honored memorial by the local community. In the short of amount of time I spent there upon my most recent visit to the site in the spring of 2017, I witnessed significant numbers of tourists and city folk admiring it, discussing it together and thoughtfully reading its inscriptions. In fact, the monument has even developed the locally used nickname of 'Kodžak', in reference to the similarities the sculpture has to the bald head of TV character 'Kojak', played by actor Telly Savalas in the American crime drama of the same name. Yet interestingly, despite the monument's popularity, in 2005 plans were put forward by the city to move the structure to the nearby Square of Generala Rudolfa Maistra in order so an underground parking lot could be built beneath Freedom Square. However, these plans were soon abandoned due to public backlash.
Photo 9: A view of the Maribor Uprisings at Freedom Square, 2012
The monument is well publicized and advertised by the city as a cultural and historic attraction, while many regard the sculpture as one of the most recognizable symbols of the city. There is ample signage advertising and pointing people in the direction of the complex, while the monument itself contains a number of informative engravings which relate many historical aspects of the events which occurred in the city during WWII. However, the site lacks any multi-lingual informational or interpretive signs which might inform non-Slovenian speaking tourists the significance of the memorial. Yet, while the spomenik complex is, by all measures, well patronized, in a very good state and well taken care of by the city. In addition, the site is still used as a commemorative space, but interestingly, in recent times it has been used a space to conduct protests and popularly organized social events, such as the Maribor Uprisings (Photo 9) of 2012 and 2013.
Additional Sites in the Maribor Area:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historic, cultural and memorial sites around the vicinity of the city of Maribor, Slovenia that might be relevant to people already interested in Yugoslav monuments. Such sites that will be examined here are the the Monument to Boris Kidrič in Maribor, as well as the Monument at Volkmer's Crossing.
Volkmer's Crossing Monument:
On the morning of April 29th, 1941 at a small alleyway in the Maribor city center called Volkmer's Crossing (Volkmerjev prehod) between Gosposka Street and Grajski Square, a group of Slovene Partisans blew up two German vehicles with explosives. This action was Maribor's first move towards uprising by the Partisan resistance against occupation and oppression. This act of sabotage by the Partisans symbolically occurred just three days after Hitler's infamous visit to Maribor, which was his only sojourn into Yugoslavia. In 1975, a memorial sculpture was built at the location of the 1941 Partisan bombing (Photo 10). The work was created by native Maribor artist Branko Kocmut and the work is characterized by three carved granite fists pointing towards the sky in a manner of symbolic resistance. There is a gold-colored engraved inscription on the front of the monument which reads in English as: "Maribor communists and the SKOJ burned two German cars on April 29th, 1941, initiating the first rebellious action against Nazi occupiers".
Photo 10: A contemporary view of the monument site at Volkmer's Crossing in Maribor [source]
Boris Kidrič Monument:
Just across from the main train station in Maribor is a memorial sculpture which is dedicated to Slovene Partisan leader and organizer Boris Kidrič (Slides 1 - 3). Raised in a small village east of Maribor, Kidrič was a student of socialism even at a young age. Even at the age of 17 he was sent to prison in Maribor for communist activities. In the 1930s he became involved with the Communist Party of Slovenia and when Nazi occupation began in 1941, Kidrič was one of the primary organizers of Slovenia's resistance forces. After 1945 and the establishment of Yugoslavia, he was appointed as the first president of the government of the Socialist Republic of Slovenia. Upon the death of Kidrič in 1953, the square in front of the train station, which was formerly called Zrinjski Square, was renamed as Boris Kidrič Square (Trg Borisa Kidriča). Then, when the 10 year anniversary of the death of Kidrič arrived in 1963, a memorial sculpture was built in his honor by Slovene sculptor Stojan Batič.
Boris Kidrič Monument - Slideshow
The arrangement of this monument is a set of bronze figures in a circle at the base of the sculpture holding up eight poles, in the middle of which is suspended a huge roughly hewn rectangular stone block with the face of Boris Kidrič carved into the front of it. The whole work stands at a height of roughly 10m tall. Historical photos of the monument can be seen in Slides 4 - 7. The Boris Kidrič Monument (Spomenik Borisu Kidriču) at Boris Kidrič Square is located along Partisan Road (Partizanska cesta), with the exact coordinates for it being N46°33'42.8", E15°39'23.8".
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Maribor National Liberation Museum: Located in the city center of Maribor is the National Liberation Museum, which is housed in a 1890s era villa and was established in May of 1958. The institution contains many exhibits about the 19th and 20th century history of the NE Slovenian region, as well as information about the region's WWII/NOB history and heritage. The official website of the museum can be found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N46°33'45.9", E15°38'52.8".
Photo 11: The Forma Viva work at Mestni Park by Slavko Tihec
Slavko Tihec's Forma Viva sculpture at Mestni Park: Situated within Mestni Park in Maribor, just north of the city center, is a sculptural work by Slavko Tihec (the creator of the Liberation Monument) which is titled "Rolled Up Ball" (Zakotaljena krogla) (Photo 11). This work, which was created in 1973 as part of the Yugoslav-era 'Forma Viva' public art project in Maribor, is composed of a roughly 3m tall concrete sphere with elaborate geometric texturing. For a listing of the dozens of other Forma Viva works in Maribor, see THIS link. The exact coordinates for this sculpture by Tihec are N46°33'50.9", E15°38'55.2".
Maribor Hostages Memorial: On the west wall of the Maribor Higher Court building is a large plaque that bears the names of the 661 people who were killed while being held at this building as hostages by the German Wehrmacht occupiers during WWII. This monument, designed by local Maribor architect Jaroslav Černigoj, is in good condition and is regularly commemorated. A photo of the monument, along with more info about it, can be found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N46°33'30.0", E15°39'05.6".
Finding the Liberation Monument in Maribor is a relatively easy endeavor. The spomenik complex where it is located is set right at Maribor's city center. It lies just north of Slovenksa Ulica, in the center of Freedom Square (Trg Svobode), just in front of Maribor Castle (Grad Maribor). Parking can be made anywhere nearby that is convenient for you, which, depending on current traffic conditions, may be easy or difficult. I would suggest around the perimeter of Memorial Park Josipa Jurčiča, just north of Freedom Square. Coordinates for it are N46°33'42.0", E15°38'57.4". See a good look at the spomenik location with Google StreetView here.
Click to open in Google Maps in new window
Selected Sources and More Information:
Please feel free to leave a message if you have any comments, if you have any questions, if you have corrections or if you have any additional information or insight you feel might be appropriate or pertinent to this spomenik's profile page.