Name: Necropolis for the Victims of Fascism (Nekropola žrtvama fašizma) or Monument on Smrike (Spomenik na Smrika)
Location: Čamića Brdo, a hill just NE of Novi Travnik, FBiH, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Year completed: 1975 (3 years to create)
Designer: Bogdan Bogdanović (profile page)
Coordinates: N44°11'47.6", E17°41'28.3" (click for map)
Dimensions: 12 monoliths, 3-4m tall
Materials used: Bihacite stone blocks
Condition: Very poor, neglected (read red travel alert below)
Click on slideshow photos for description
This monument was built to commemorate the roughly 700 civilians who died at this site in a brutal massacre committed by occupying Ustaše forces in August of 1941.
World War II
After the Axis takeover of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in April of 1941, the present-day region of Bosnia was integrated into Axis puppet-state which was known as the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). The NDH state was under the military control of ultra-nationalist Croat militia called the Ustaše. From the very beginning of the creation of the NDH, the Ustaše carried out an ethnic cleansing terror campaign against any ethnic-Serbs living within the NDH territory. During the course of WWII, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of ethnic-Serbs living in the NDH, along with Jews and Roma, were arrested, deported, imprisoned and even executed. A notable instance of the mass killings of ethnic-Serbs occurred in 1941 in the Travnik region of the NDH (Photo 1). Starting on August 1st of 1941, the Ustaše leadership within the administrative region of Travnik issued a directive designated #105/41, which authorized the mass arrest and elimination of any known or suspected communists in the municipality, as well as any suspected communist sympathizers or collaborators. In addition, the directive noted that if the suspected communists were Jews or ethnic-Serbs, no evidence was necessary to make an arrest.
Photo 1: A black and white view of the town of Travnik at the start of the war in 1941
These draconian Ustaše offensives against communists were initiated by the recently arrived regional Ustaše commissioner Victor Gutić as an effort to prevent any communist uprisings in Travnik against Ustaše control, which had already begun across much of the NDH territory. Gutić had arrived in Travnik in June of 1941, just a few weeks after he had also overseen the grisly massacre of civilians in the nearby region of Sanski Most.
Photo 2: Cover for 1969 book 'Travnik u-NOR'
The day after the directive was issued, August 2nd, the arrests began, with the Ustaše conducting these arrest raids under the cover of darkness. The vast majority of those arrested during these Ustaše communist raids across Travnik were ethnic-Serb civilians, along with some Jews and Roma citizens as well. The following day after being arrested, August 3rd, the prisoners were taken by truck to an open field near Novi Travnik on Čamića Hill in an area called Smrike. Here, the prisoners were made to dig a large dirt pit, after which point the prisoners were lined up in groups of eight and shot via a firing squad. From here, the bodies were deposited in the pit and buried. At Smrike, over the course of the summer of 1941, sources estimate that roughly 700 civilians were arrested and subsequently executed (but exact numbers are unknown). In the 1969 book 'Travnik u-NOR' (Travnik in the National Liberation War) by Ćamil Kazazović (Photo 2), eyewitness accounts are given by survivors who managed to escape these executions. I will relate here excepts of an account by one survivor named Nedeljko Gudalo, translated from Serbo-Croatian into English for the first time:
"[The Ustaše] beat us so much that people were killed and disfigured. The ones who moaned would get even more beatings... They kept cursing at us and telling us that we betrayed Austria. Those who survived these beatings were marched out, tied in a rope, and taken to Smrike in a truck. They took us in one group. There were eight of us.... We walked out of the truck 50 meters to the place where the shootings were being conducted at Smrike. We found several other groups here, and there were eight people in each group. We heard the shootings and the hooting from those who had done the killing. At the sign of a whistle, each group went out to the pit. And the order came to us... Three Ustaše motioned us towards the pit. They held guns in their hands and shouted to hurry. Before we reached them - it was only a few steps away from the pit... so we managed to break the rope and started running. The Ustaše opened fire on us. I saw [my friends] fall from the machine gun fire. I jumped into the potato bushes. In the morning I arrived in the village of... Bijelo Bučje and sheltered in the house of Bogdan Jogat."
One part of the above account that is worth clarifying is where Gudalo says that the Ustaše soldiers were screaming at the prisoners about how they 'betrayed Austria'. It was a common line of thinking of the Axis forces during WWII that the Serbs were personally responsible for the First World War, as it was Gavrilo Princip, an ethnic-Serb, who had assassinated the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, an action which is widely thought to have instigated a war that was subsequently lost by the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary (which modern-day Croatia was a part of). As a result, the brutality committed against the Serbs during WWII was felt by the Axis powers to be a justified retaliatory punishment for the perceived 'Serb crime' of having started the brutal and bloody First World War.
Photo 3: Partisans entering Travnik after liberation, Oct, 1944
During 1943, Partisan forces tried multiple times to take the town of Travnik from Axis control (held by both German Wehrmacht & Ustaše forces). Unsuccessful in their offensives, the Partisans then created a blockade around the town in order to weaken it. An Allied aerial bombing campaign was attempted against Travnik in January of 1944 and as Travnik began to show signs of vulnerability by the fall of 1944, the Partisans planned a final offensive to take the town. Travnik was ultimately liberated from the control of Axis forces on October 22nd, 1944. During the days proceeding the liberation of Travnik, a number of sources indicate that Partisans retaliated against civilians in the town who they felt collaborated with and aided German and Ustaše forces.
In September of 1972, the Travnik municipality began to outline plans for the creation of a spomenik complex to commemorate the executions which occurred atop Čamića Brdo hill, in the area referred to a Smrike, during WWII. The mayor of the Travnik municiality, Abdulah Maglić, personally called famed Serbian designer Bogdan Bogdanović and directly petitioned him to create a memorial for the town. Bogdanović accepted the commission, beginning work on the project in October of 1972. The complex was officially unveiled to the public during a ceremony on Feburary 19th, 1975, a date which commemorated 30 years since the Partisan liberation of Novi Travnik. The central elements of this memorial are 12 sandstone monoliths (roughly 2-3m in height) situated on pedestals, arranged in pairs around the apex of the hill. Local stonemasons did most of the stone carving and shaping of the sculptures, which was not unusual, as Bogdanović often employed local tradesmen to aid in the creation of his sculptures, as opposed to classically skilled or trained artists. All 12 of the monoliths are similar, depicting what resembles a strange coiled serpent with very large emotive eyes. Yet, despite the similarities, each sculpture is slightly different and unique. Underneath these monoliths a crypt was set where the remains of the massacre's victims are now interred.
From Yugoslav Wars to Present-Day
During the Yugoslav-era, this monument at Smrike was a vibrant and well visited memorial. However, with the onset of the Yugoslav Wars and the dismantling of the Yugoslav state in the early 1990s, this area became a contentious front line for many brutal and vicious ethnic conflicts, especially during the Bosnian War. Sources recount that Čamić Hill, the location where Smrike Necropolis resides, was the dividing line between HVO & ARBiH forces during the conflict. During this fighting, many of the monoliths were significantly damaged, with one being completely obliterated and most others sustaining marks from gunfire. In addition, many land-mines were planted in the area. After the end of the wars, no effort was made to rehabilitate or repair the monument complex. Furthermore, the vast majority of the original grounds of this complex has been overtaken and re-purposed into cropland by local farmers. However, in the late 2010s, the first efforts began to be put forward by the local community to rehabilitate the site. These efforts included cleaning overgrowth from the site, holding commemorative events once again, and adding signage pointing to the necropolis along the main road. Yet, as of 2019, the destroyed monoliths at the site have not been repaired or replaced.
As the monuments of the former Yugoslavia have increased in popularity outside of Yugoslav-region during the 2010s, the Smrike Necropolis here at Novi Travnik has been among those which has been the focus of particular attention. This interest has not only applied to visitation, which has greatly increased in recent years by foriegn tourists, but artists and designers have also been inspired by the monument's imaginative forms. This has resulted in many global artists incorporating the shape and forms of this monument into their works. In addition, interest in these monuments has also increased among tourists and artists from within the former Yugoslav region as well. For example, in March of 2018, the Swiss-based band "Šuma Čovjek", whose members are originally from the Bosnian region, filmed a music video for their song 'Odakle' at the Smrike monument site (Photo 4).
Photo 4: A still frame from the music video 'Odakle' by the band Šuma Čovjek
Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:
There is only one single carved/inscribed element here at the Novi Travnik memorial site. It is located on the way up the hill from the dirt road heading towards the spomenik, there is a small crudely engraved stone slab upright in the ground (Slide 1). Situated to the right of the abandoned stairway up the hill, it is extremely weathered and in very poor shape. Roughly translated from Bosnian to English, the slab reads:
"On Smrike between Bukovice and Vilenice, in 1941 ≠≠≠≠≠≠ criminals brutally killed around 700 innocent and defenseless citizens from the region of central Bosnia."
There is a word chipped out from the carving (marked with the '≠≠'s), that more than likely is referring to the Ustaše soldiers who committed these crimes. Whether this defacement was done by vandals, apologists or those attempting to re-write history is not clear. (Thanks for Andrew Lawler for the above translation). Meanwhile, the inscription text contains a strange mix of both Latin and Cyrillic letters, which, along with the crude slanted way it in inscribed, is clearly meant to invoke a representation of ancient stećak gravestones from the Middle Ages.
Meanwhile, on each of the monoliths, there is an unusual sideways stylized horseshoe-shaped design carved into its base (Slide 2) -- it appears on both faces of each monolith. It is not immediately clear what this symbol means or what it might represent.
While there are some scattered carvings and spraypaint on a few of the elements of this spomenik, there is really no significant graffiti or markings to speak of, even despite the destruction.
The 12 monoliths at this spomenik site are of the same stylistic design, yet subtle differences make each unqiue. But what exactly this spomenik's creator, Bogdan Bogdanović, meant to communicate with his design is somewhat subjective. Firstly, the most dominating feature of the monoliths are their exaggeratedly large emotional eyes. One potential interpretation that of Bogdanović may have intended for these monoliths is for them to be a depiction of the 'amphisbaena' (Figure 1), which was the mythical serpent from Greek mythology with a head at each end of its body -- a symbol meant to communicate ambiguity, but also continuity. The concept of 'continuity' is an idea that permeates through a significant amount of the sculptural work of Bogdanović.
Others have interpreted them to be 'wide-awake' military look-outs eternally guarding the countryside, watching out for and protecting innocence. Furthermore, the uniqueness of each monolith, and the fact they stand in pairs, could also support the idea of them being 'military guards', as it could indicate each monolith is not only representative of an individual soldier who has suffered and been witness to tragedy, but who also stand together against it. During the construction process of the memorial complex, Bogdanović relates an interesting anecdote that one day a group of Italian hill hikers happened upon the site and upon seeing his sculptures, one of the Italians remarked, "Oh, we didn’t know there had been Etruscans here." Bogdanović slyly answered, “Of course there were” and later admitted that this was one of the most flattering compliments he had ever received. This, along with the stećak-like inscribed stone at the memorial's entrance, are prime examples of the mythological atmosphere and ancient ambiance that Bogdanović was attempting to imbue into the site.
Figure 1: Amphisbaena
Figure 2: Omega symbol
Bogdanović himself says that within the sculptures at this spomenik complex, he employed the “universal symbols of the sun, planets and moon, the monument speaks to everyone, and succeeds in becoming an authentic component of the space.” When creating this work, even despite the horrors which occurred here, Bogdanović opted to not dwell in the symbology of death (which he felt often wrongly results in its glorification), but instead, he uses the unmistakable emotion embodied within the eyes of these monoliths to convey every bit of dismay, sadness and tragedy the viewer would need to understand what happened here. Finally, it is also important to note that each face of each monolith is engraved with a horseshoe-like shape near the base of the serpent's form. The horseshoe shape here seems to be depicting the omega symbol (Figure 2), which generally refers to an end of things (death) or the renewal of a cycle. As these stone monoliths mark the site of a mass grave, the 'omega' interpretation also would seem to be sensible, especially as the idea of the 'omega' being part of a cycle very directly relates it to the other major symbol at this site, the amphisbaena. But at the end, such symbolism can only be guessed at, as Bogdanović rarely ever revealed his personal symbolic intent.
The various symbolic interpretations mentioned in this section can all be tied together by a quote from Bogdanović in which he is remarking on the symbolic qualities of this monument. This quote that he made, recently published in the 2018 Vladimir Kulić book "Bogdanović by Bogdanović" (after being translated into English), is related as follows:
"I've always thought that Travnik was my best and most interesting memorial. It is entirely Surreal in form. But if I were to explain it to an archeologist, I would say that it is Orphean, that there is something oracular about it, including the omega, the funerary sign of antiquity... I was already famous by the time I built it, so I didn't have to explain myself. It is a story of mythical creatures: the ambisbaena is a two-headed serpent that goes by day in one direction and by night in another. It symbolizes the end of time."
Status and Condition:
This spomenik at Novi Travnik is in very poor and degrading condition. For the most part, it is completely abandoned, overgrown with weeds and grass, with no signs or designations leading to it from the main road. It is not maintained by any groups or municipalities and it has not been repaired or renovated since it was built in 1975; all this despite it technically being a declared a National Monument by the Bosnian Commission to Preserve National Monuments in 2012. Not only has this monument seen damage from neglect and vandalism, many of the monoliths are riddled with gun shots, as this area experienced heavy fighting during the Yugoslav Wars. In fact, one of the monoliths is completely obliterated into small pieces, presumably from shelling or dynamite. Interestingly, during the 1990s, upon seeing the devastation and neglect visited upon his monument, Bogdanović surprisingly advocated against their restoration, as he was fascinated by decaying and ancient-looking condition they had descended into.
When this monument was first built, the complex was said to have spanned over 2 square kilometers. However, with it being virtually abandoned and ushered into neglect after the Yugoslav Wars, the vast majority of the original complex has been swallowed up by impinging farmland, with the current area of the spomenik that is left only making up a few hundred square meters. As was stated, one of the twelve monoliths is completely obliterated, with a few others being severely damaged, but overall, they are mostly surprisingly intact, considering this site's history. A set of stairs that once led from the dirt road up to the monoliths have been nearly consumed by the earth, with very little of it left exposed. It is clear that very few people outside this community visit here, much less are even aware of its existence. A modest ceremonial wreath laying continues to be held every May 9th by a select few who still honor the site (Photo 5), yet, it has been many many years since any significant celebrations or remembrance ceremonies were held here. However, as of November 2017, notable efforts have been put forward towards cleaning up the site and removing overgrown vegetation from around the monument. In addition, a directional sign pointing towards the monument's access road was installed in the summer of 2019, while there are also future plans to install informational and interpretational signage.
Photo 5: A wreath laying at the Smrike Necropolis at Novi Travnik, BiH
It is important to recognize that around Smrike and Čamića Brdo, the hill this monument resides on, some areas may still contain active land mines. Land mine warning signs may or may not exist in affected areas. It is strongly advisable not to visit here without a local guide. If you to travel here alone without a guide, do not stray far from the trafficked area of the monument and do NOT go venturing off into the surrounding hillsides.
Additional Sites in the Novi Travnik Area:
This section explores additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural and memorial sites in and around the greater Novi Travnik area that could possibly be of interest to anyone interested in the monumental heritage and history of the former Yugoslavia. We will examine the 'Mother' Memorial Ossuary in Travnik, as well as the Josip Mažar-Šoša Monument, also in Travnik.
"Mother" Memorial Ossuary in Travnik:
About a 9km drive north of the Smrike Necropolis site is the town of Travnik. In a park right across the street from Travnik's Municipal Court Building is the "Mother" Memorial Ossuary/Crypt. The crypt portion of the memorial contains the remains of 94 fallen Partisan fighters who participated in the liberation of Travnik, while the site's primary memorial element is a carved white stone figurative sculpture of a kneeling woman laying flowers (Slides 1 & 2). Created in 1961 by the Sarajevo-based design team of architect Juraj Neidhart and sculptor Zdenko Grgić. There is currently an engraved plaque (Slide 3) on the monument with an inscription which translates into English as: "In this memorial place we remember, with due respect, the Partisan fighters who won the People's Liberation Struggle in the fight against fascism from 1941 to 1945, giving their lives for the freedom of the Travnik region. DEATH TO FASCISM, FREEDOM TO THE PEOPLE".
"Mother" Memorial Ossuary in Travnik - Slideshow
After the Yugoslav-era, this monument fell into a state of neglect and was targeted by vandals, resulted in it being nearly completely destroyed, as seen in Slides 4 & 5. However, in 2015 the sculpture was fully restored by city officials to its original appearance. The restoration was carried out by local sculptor Dejan Pranjković. A historical photo of the monument can be seen in Slide 6. The exact coordinates for this monument site are N44°13'33.2", E17°39'35.2".
Josip Mažar-Šoša Monument in Travnik:
About a 9km drive north of the Smrike Necropolis site is the town of Travnik. In a small park next to the Lukačka mosque is a large red-rock sculpture of the head of famous Partisan commander Josip Mažar, who went by the nickname 'Šoša' (Slides 1 & 2). Mažar was one of the most significant Partisan commanders in the NDH region during WWII, organizing numerous Partisan detachments and participating in many offensives, such as those at Lješljani Mines, Kozara, Grmeč, among others. However, Mažar was killed here at Travnik in October of 1944 during the offensives aimed at liberating the town from Axis control. Mažar was declared a Yugoslav national hero in 1949. I was not able to determine when this head sculpture of Mažar was created or by whom, but my guess as far as the time period would be at some point during the 1950s or 60s. Its form and style are unusual compared to most monumental busts of the era.
Josip Mažar-Šoša Monument in Travnik - Slideshow
As the images in Slides 1 & 2 make clear, the face of this sculpture currently exists in a devastated state. This vandalism occurred in May of 1992, just after the start of the Bosnian War. The sculpture's pedestal was repaired in 2010, on which a dedication to the victims of the Bosnian War was added, however, the sculpture itself was left un-restored. A vintage photo showing the original appearance of the Mažar memorial during the Yugoslav-era can be seen in Slide 3. Also worth noting is that next to the Mažar monument is a much smaller more traditional sculptural bust of local Travnik Partisan folk hero Taib Dautović. The exact coordinates for this monument site are N44°13'32.7", E17°39'53.2".
And Additional Sites of Interest:
Travnik Regional Museum: Located in the town center of Travnik, right across from the Municipal Building next to the town's central park, is the Travnik Regioanal Museum (Zavičajni muzej Travnik). Founded in 1950, this institution houses hundres of exhibits which explore the cultural, ethnographic, archeological, and historical heritage of the Travnik region. It also includes exhibits which relate to the region's WWII and Yugoslav history as well. This museum's official website can be found at THIS link, while the site's exact coordinates are N44°13'32.4", E17°39'59.6".
Sculptural Bust of Josip Broz Tito: In front of the Municipal Building of Travnik is a small sculptural bust of the former Yugoslav President Josip Tito. Interestingly, this monument is not from the Yugoslav-era, it was instead erected only in 2009. It exists as one of the rare instances of a Tito monument being erected in the post-1990s time period. A photo of the sculptural bust can be seen at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N44°13'32.1", E17°40'01.2".
Stećci Necropolis at Maculje: Roughly 22km south of the town of Novi Travnik is a stećci necropolis near the village of Maculje (Photo 6). The site consists of over 100 medieval-era tombstones positioned along what was originally a Roman road between Skopljansko Polje and the valley of the Lašva River. The site is in good condition and is well visited. More information about the site can be found at THIS link, while its exact coordinates are N44°03'01.0", E17°40'31.1".
Photo 6: A view of a few of the tombstones at the Stećci Necropolis at Maculje, BiH
When travelling on highway M16.4 east from Novi Travnik, go about 2-3km, then, as you enter the village of Stojkovići, you'll see a sign for Restaurant Matanovi Dvori on your left, which leads onto a dirt road. Take that road and follow it uphill roughly ~350m, then take the sharp left towards to top of the hill. Follow that straight roughly ~200m, then parking for the spomenik can be made in the grass at the foot of the dirt trail going uphill. The exact coordinates for parking are N44°11'44.0", E17°41'27.3". Once you park, walk uphill next to the old over-grown stairs and you will find what is left of the spomenik complex about 100m up on your right. Watch out for farmers working in the fields and be aware not to careless walk around the Čamića Brdo hillside there, because, as I said, land mines are still reported in the wider area. It is advisable to seek a local guide.
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Sign for Restaurant Matanovi Dvori off of highway M16.4
Path up the hillside towards the monument from parking area
Selected Sources and More Information:
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