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Požarevac (Пожаревац)

Brief Details:

Name: "The Star (Zvezda / звезда)" at the Memorial Park Čačalica (Спомен парк Чачалица)

Location: Čačalica Hill in Požarevac, Serbia

Year completed: 1985

Designer: Milorad Tepavac (profile page)

Coordinates: N44°36'49.2", E21°12'13.6" (click for map)

Dimensions: ~20m tall metal tube monolith, on 28ha memorial park

Materials used: Carved stone and steel piping

Condition: Fair to poor, degraded

(POH-zhar-eh-vats)

Click on slideshow photos for description

History:

This spomenik at Požarevac commemorates the several thousand Partisan and resistance supporters executed at this site in during WWII, while also memorializing the Red Army members killed liberating the city in 1944.

World War II

German occupational forces marched into the city of Požarevac on April 18th, 1941. As the occupation wore on, German soldiers began executing captured Partisans and any Partisan collaborators they found with the city's civilian population. The occupation of Požarevac during WWII was uninterpreted, lasting more than 1000 days. The civilian citizens of the town were under complete control of occupation forces and were made to endure strict rules such as mandatory curfew and the forced handing over of any and all weapons, which, if violated or not followed, were punishable by death. In addition, all workers, especially factory employees, were made to continue their jobs uncompensated for the benefit of the Germany Army. One reason that the control of Požarevac was so highly controlled and restrictive was that the German's Nazi commanders used the town as a regional headquarters for operation.

Photo 1: Executed Partisans in the village of Žabari near Požarevac, 1941

Photo 2: One of the local Partisan units from Požarevac, 1943

As a result of this heavy handed occupation by the Germans, many citizens of Požarevac began to clandestinely join local branches of the growing anti-Axis resistance movements, such as the loyalist Chetniks and the communist Partisans. Starting in the summer of 1941, these groups would gather in the forests on the edge of Požarevac where they would, in the beginning, engage in mostly acts of sabotage against German efforts, such as robbing German convoys, destroying train lines and demolishing strategic bridges. However, the Partisan fighters, who were more extreme in their efforts against the German troops, began committing assassinations against local Nazi-collaborating officials and German soldiers. As a result, in September of 1941, the occupying Germans in Požarevac began carrying out retaliatory executions against local civilians for Partisan attacks. In addition, anyone suspected of being a Partisan fighter was executed on the spot (Photo 1), at which point their dead bodies were often strung up on utility poles around Požarevac in order to act as deterrents against more citizens joining these rebel groups. Often, those accused of being communists or supporters of them were taken to the Čačalica Hill on the east side of Požarevac, shot in the head and buried in a mass grave. It is estimated that over 3000 civilians were buried there by the end of the war.

However, despite these attacks and retribution attacks by the Germans, the Partisans around Požarevac commanded by Jovan Šerbanović and Živojin Popović (Photo 2), continued their attacks against the occupation forces through 1942 and 1943 (as did Chetnik units as well). The spring of 1943 was especially brutal for civilians around Požarevac as poor crops meant mass starvation and malnutrition were serious problems. As a result, rebel resistance efforts against the occupation of Požarevac was drastically scaled back during this year. Then, on September 5th, 1944, Chetnik forces of the Mlava Corps attempted an assault on the town, which was readily rejected by the Germans. However, roughly one month later in early October, the Soviet Red Army descended on Požarevac during their long march west in their Belgrade Offensive operation (Photo 3). The Red Army focused their attack on Požarevac with aerial bombing and artillery over several days and by the morning of October 15th, 1944, it was found that the Germans had fled the city in retreat. At this point, the Red Army marched into Požarevac as liberators. During this attack, the Red Army lost roughly 441 fighters.

Photo 3: A Soviet Red Army tank on its way to Belgrade, 1944

Spomenik Construction

Directly after the Požarevac's liberation, several crosses (one large & eight small) were temporarily erected at the site of the mass graves on Čačalica Hill to memorialize the killings. However, in 1962, an official, more permanent, memorial was created at this location in the form of a marble and concrete wall depicting scenes from the occupation, the execution of civilians and the liberation of the city (Photo 4). This memorial wall to executed victims was created by Belgrade architect Bratislav Stojanović and Zagreb sculptor Stanislav Mišić. At the same time this memorial wall was built the area around Čačalica Hill was formally developed into a manicured city park complex roughly 24ha in size.

Photo 4: Historic photo of the 1962 memorial wall to honor executed victims

Photo 5: Historic photo of the 1962 memorial complex to Red Army fighters

Also in 1962, the Russian town of Povarovo gifted to the Čačalica Memorial Park a small monument and crypt complex for the fallen Red Army soldiers who died during the liberation of Požarevac, from the areas between Rudna Glava to Mladenovac (Photo 5). The creation of this monument was also overseen by architect Bratislav Stojanović. In addition, in 1967, 441 Russian birch trees were shipped directly from Russia to Požarevac to be planted around the crypt in order to symbolize the life of each Red Army soldier who had perished in the 1944 battle. Such plantings as these outside of Russia are rare. In the lead up to the October 15th, 1967 ceremony to inaugurate the tree planting, it took three days for students, workers and other volunteers to place all 441 trees.  Later, in 1985, another memorial sculpture was added to the park, created by Serbian designer Milorad Tepavac -- this element was located at the top of Čačalica Hill where many of the executions are said to have been carried out. The monument, a large 20m steel pipe web called 'Zevzda' (звезда) or 'The Star', is meant to the memorialize those executed at this site and acts as a symbol of victory of the Yugoslavian people over the crimes of fascism.

Yugoslav Wars to Present-Day

For many years, the Čačalica Spomen-Park in Požarevac was a popular attraction, with many ceremonies and festivities being held here. However, with the fall of Yugoslavia and the onset of the Yugoslav Wars, the site began to face neglect and adversity, leading to slow decline. However, despite this decline, in 1997 the city of Požarevac was able to construct a expansive Ecological Center (Ekološki dom) at the heart of the park complex (Photo 6). Yet, the park's prospects worsened during the NATO bombings of Serbia in 1999, as reports suggest that the destruction of a petro-chemical complex in Požarevac not far from Čačalica lead to the death of a significant section of the memorial Russian birch forest. However, on the 40th anniversary of the tree planting on October 15th, 2007, over 300 birch trees were planted to replace the ones which had been killed in the 1999 event. In addition, while further restorations and rehab efforts were made in 2011, many aspects of some elements of this complex are still is poor condition. Yet, the park overall is well maintained and well visited by locals, with some commemorative events still being held.

Photo 6: A view of the Ecological Center at Čačalica Park

On an unrelated interesting side note, the city of Požarevac is notable in Serbia for being the hometown and burial place of Slobodan Milošević, the first President of the Republic of Serbia. Even despite his notorious and controversial legacy, the anniversary of his death is still marked by some with small annual ceremonies on March 11th at his grave site.

"This is the memorial crypt of members of the Russian Red Army who lost their lives in battle to liberate Požarevac in 1944."

Plaques, Engravings and Graffiti:

No engravings or plaques exist at the central "The Star" monument at Čačalica Hill Memorial Park. Some plaques (or other sorts of inscribed panels) may have existed there at one time, but, as of now, none are present. However, the memorial crypt to the Red Army soldiers within Čačalica has a number of plaques and engravings. The first thing visible when approaching the crypt along the stone paved pathway is a large bronze plaque attached to the wall, (Slide 1). This plaque reads as, when translated from Serbian to English, as:

Slideshow

On the main wall of the monument along the stairs going up to the crypt (Slide 2), there is raised writing that roughly translates to, when translated from Serbian to English as:

"To the fighters and officers of the heroic Red Army, who died in collaborative battle against fascist occupation, Oct., 1944."

At the top of the stairs, there is a gravestone marker (Slide 3). It is emblazoned with the red star and hammer & sickle at its top. In addition, below those symbols there is an engraving in Russian which roughly translates to English as:

"To the heroes of the Russian Red Army who lost their lives for homeland and freedom, for the brother country of Yugoslavia."

The final monument inscription can be found on the 1962 memorial wall in the middle of the park (Slide 4). At the upper left-hand corner of the wall can be found an short inscription made of raised metal lettering written in Serbian (Slide 5). This inscription reads in English as simply "Executed Patriots, 1941-1944".

While the Red Army monument and the 1962 wall are clean and free of degradation or graffiti, 'The Star' memorial sculpture at the top of the hill is in very bad shape and covered in graffiti (Slide 6). However, none of this graffiti seems to be notable or significant.

Symbolism:

Being that the primary memorial element at Čačalica Spomen-Park is call 'The Star', with its shape being very evocative of a interpretive star shape, paired with the fact that the Red Army was responsible for the liberation of Požarevac (whose symbol was the star), it can easily be assumed that this monument is meant to be a symbolic homage to their struggle to liberate the city. In addition, the 'star' was one of the most significant symbols for the Republic of Yugoslavia, existing not just as a symbol of communism, but also as a symbol for the country's struggle and resistance against German occupation and ethnic aggression. In addition, when standing directly underneath 'The Star' monument and looking straight up through its lattice of metal tubes, an additional star shape can be seen (Photo 6).

Photo 6: A hidden star shape within the lattice of 'The Star' memorial sculpture [photo credit: Marija In Wonderland]

Status and Condition:

The several memorial elements that exist here at the Čačalica Spomen-Park currently exist in variety of conditions. Firstly, 'The Star' monument is in degrading state, with all of its stone ground anchors crumbling and covered in graffiti. It does not appear as though much effort has been put into restoring this structure nor does it immediately appear as though there are any plans to (at least from reports and documentation currently available). However, the Memorial Wall to Executed Patriots and the Red Army Crypt are both in very good shape and have clearly been restored and rehabilitated over the years. Meanwhile, the park grounds themselves at Čačalica are in very good shape, with the complex being well maintained and regularly used by locals as a community and recreation space. Directional and promotional signage to the park and within the park is abundant -- there is even a multi-lingual interpretive sign at the entrance to the park giving information about the historical significance of the site. Furthermore, 'The Star' memorial sculpture, despite its neglect, stands as one of the primary symbols for the city of Požarevac. In fact, even the official touristic website for the city of Požarevac promotes the complex and its monuments as touristic attractions for visitors.

Photo 7: A 2017 memorial event at Red Army Crypt at Čačalica

 Finally, large annual remembrance ceremonies are annually held here at the Memorial Wall and at the Red Army crypt on October 15th, Požarevac Liberation Day (Photo 7), which are often attended by dignitaries of the Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian embassies all the way from Belgrade.  

Additional Historical Sites in the Požarevac Area:

This section will explore what other additional Yugoslav-era historical, cultural, architectural or memorial sites are in the area around Požarevac, Serbia that might be relevant to those who are already interested in Yugoslav monuments. The primary site that will be examined in this section is the Youth Center (Dom Omladine) in Požarevac or what is today called the Požarevac Cultural Center.

Požarevac Cutural Center:

Directly in the city center of Požarevac is a massive modernist complex that today is referred to as the town's 'Cultural Center' (Centar za kulturu) (Slides 1 - 3). This sprawling facility, built in 1982 by architect Miloš Bojović, was originally called the 'Dom Omladine' or 'Youth Center' and was built to serve as a hub for not only young people's entertainment, but also as a location for political speeches and gatherings as well during the Yugoslav era. This building's prominent appearance is characterized by a tall central brick core, off of which is a series of cascading low-pitched roof sections. At over 4,500 square meters of space, the complex contains three theatres, a ballet hall and several conference rooms. The facility continues to be widely used, but the facade of the structure is defaced with graffiti in many places. However, then central theatre is in excellent condition. The exact location of the Cultural Center are N44°37'08.6", E21°11'15.8".

Požarevac Cultural Center - Slideshow

Directions:

From the city center of Požarevac, follow Moša Pijade (Моше Пијаде) road southeast. After about 1km you will see Čačalica Spomen-Park on the left (there are signs indicating where it is in both English and Serbian). You can park in the dirt parking area across the street from the complex. The exact coordinates for parking are N44°36'48.2", E21°11'29.2". You can see the entrance to the park at the Google StreetView here. Once you walk through the main entrance to the park, walk east into the park. You will first encounter the memorial wall, then the Red Army crypt, then at the far east end of the park on top of the hill, you will find the 'Star' monument.

Pozaravec Map2.jpg

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Slideshow

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