A WWII spomenik site in Skopje dedicated to the Illegal Munitions Workshop
A WWII spomenik site in Skopje, North Macedonia dedicated to Women Fighters.
This spomenik is dedicated to the people who lost their lives in the Skopje earthquake of 1963.
A WWII spomenik site in Skopje dedicated to the Illegal Munitions Workshop
This article explores the World War II (WWII) history of Skopje, located in the present-day country of North Macedonia, from the beginning of the war until its end in 1944. In addition, this article also examines the WWII monuments of Skopje that were built during the Yugoslav-era, as well as other commemorative works and spomenik sites created during that time period.
World War II
Just as had been the situation during WWI, as the aggression from Axis forces began against Yugoslavia in April of 1941, Bulgarian forces occupied Skopje. On the morning of April 22nd, 1941, the Bulgarian 5th Army marched into the city and took control, at gunpoint, of every aspect of daily life for its citizens (Photo 1). While many citizens of Skopje were horrified by this occupation, there were also many anti-Serb, anti-royalist and pro-Bulgarian citizens that welcomed the takeover. By August of 1941, communist Partisan resistance efforts began to materialize in Skopje. This first resistance unit was called the 1st Skopje People's Liberation Partisan Detachment, being composed of members of roughly 13 members of sabotage groups that had been operating since the early days of the war. It quickly grew into a force of nearly 50, being comprised of fighters with a wide range of backgrounds, from Macedonian, to Serb, to Turkish, to Albanian, etc. During this time, they established in the Skopje city center an illegal munitions factory in a house along the Vardar River. However, the pressure from the Bulgarian Army was so intense and oppressive that the detachment made the decision to disband on November 2nd, 1941.
As the occupation of Skopje pushed on into 1942, the Bulgarian forces there were instructed by the Nazi leadership to begin rounding up the Jewish population of the city for deportation. These orders were followed without objection and, by 1943, nearly all of Skopje’s Jews (which were somewhere between 4,000 and 7,000) were put on trains and sent to internment facilities, predominately the Treblinka Concentration Camp in German-occupied Poland. The vast majority of these Jews were subsequently liquidated by the Nazi forces.
Through 1943 and early/mid-1944, Bulgarian Axis forces kept a tight and unrelenting control over Skopje, largely as a result of them using the city as their main base of operation for the region. As a result of this pervasive presence, the Partisan units were not able to establish any significant foothold in the city during these years. Yet, despite this adversity, Partisans had many partners and informants embedded throughout the city feeding them information and supplies.
Photo 1: An occupying Bulgarian officer looking over Skopje, 1941 [source]
Photo 2: The 42nd Partisan Division entering Skopje on Nov. 13th, 1944 [source]
However, in September of 1944, Bulgaria experienced a coup by pro-Soviet forces and subsequently switched sides to join forces with the USSR. As such, Axis-aligned Bulgarian occupiers fled Skopje, but were soon replaced with German occupiers, primarily members of the 22nd Wehrmacht Infantry Division. However, just two months later in November of 1944, the 42nd and 50th Partisan Divisions were already executing maneuvers towards an attack on Skopje from the direction of Veles (fighting alongside pro-Soviet Bulgarian forces). By November 12th, street fighting between Partisans and Germans began on the south side of the city and by the following day, they were raging at the center of the city. Fighting was most fierce at the Officers House, the Teachers’ School, the Post Office and the old railway station. Young Partisan informants embedded within the city were integral in aiding the advancing divisions. By the evening of the 13th of November, the liberation of Skopje from the German Army by the Partisans was complete (Photo 2), with the Germans fleeing westward in the direction of Tetovo towards Albania. The level to which Bulgarian troops lent support to the Yugoslav Partisans in the capture of Skopje is debated among historians even to this day.
During the course of the war, many thousands of residents from Skopje perished, with nearly all of its Jewish population deported and liquidated. In the liberation of Skopje alone, over 1,200 fighters participated and over 400 were killed.
WWII Memorial Sites of Skopje:
This section explores the major WWII spomenik sites located across the city of Skopje. Such sites examined here are the Partisan Illegal Munitions Workshop, the Partisan Memorial Cemetery at Butel, the Monument to the Liberators of Skopje, as well as the Monument to Victims of Fascism and the Monument to the 1st Skopje Partisan Detachment.
Partisan Illegal Munitions Workshop:
Commonly referred to as the "Bomb Monument", this monument currently resides within a park in front of the National Radio Television in the center of Skopje (Photo 3). However, this is not its original location. Originally, this monument was situated at the present-day location of the Constitutional Court building (roughly 650m to the west along the north bank of the Vardar River). It was at this location that a Partisan illegal weapons and munitions workshop operated during WWII. This workshop, which was hidden within the home of local Skopje mechanic and secret Partisan collaborator Seraphim Videvski at 2 Pajkova St, created huge amounts of weaponry for the Partisan resistance movement across Macedonia. This modest workshop, which had been established in the autumn of 1941, grew into the local epicenter for arming local Partisans and became a symbol in Macedonia for the resistance against the occupiers. It went through the whole of WWII without being discovered.
Photo 3: Recent photo of the Bomb Monument. Credit: personal photo
Videvski's house, where the secret munitions plant was located in its basement, not only survived the war, but lasted well into the Yugoslav-era. However, after the 1963 earthquake that hit Skopje, a major redevelopment plan for the city center began which included the construction of a new building for the Stopanska Banka adjacent to the location of Videvski's old house. As such, the above-ground portion of the house was demolished in the early 1970s as work began on the new bank building (designed by the Slovene firm Biro 71). Yet, through this construction, the basement of Videvski's house where the illegal munitions factory existed was preserved and protected. Thus, when the Stopanska Banka building was opened in 1981, the basement of Videvski's house was opened as a museum dedicated to the illegal munitions workshop and Skopje's Partisan uprising movement (officially unveiled on September 28th). To coincide with this museum opening, a new monument was created next to the museum's entrance. This new monument, created by Skopje architects Aleksandar Nikoljski & Vladimir Pota, was a roughly 6m tall sculptural work crafted to look like a stylized stick grenade (one of the types of weapons produced in this illegal factory during the war). The stick grenade monument that Nikoljski & Pota designed had a raw concrete handle and a dynamic head composed of patterned bright orange tiles. At the base of the monument is a small nondescript locked door that enters the structure, seemingly going nowhere. In a 2020 interview with the architect Nikoljski, he remarks on the symbolism of this door (as well as the monument as a whole), saying:
"I made a stylized project upon the remains of a low-rise, unremarkable townhouse, with a walled fence, a gate and a well in a small yard. The home had a tiny, windowless basement entrance, as described by the fighters. As such, I made a modest structure with a purposely emphasized door into a space without light, an entrance into the unknown, in search of a better world. The form represents a motion towards the desire for anti-fascist resistance, the bomb, with its explosive nature, located in an exposed opening, completes the stylized architectural composition and, thus, imbues the form with memory."
Photo 4: Munitions Workshop Monument [source]
Also, in addition to this location being an illegal munitions workshop, it was also where the Partisan leadership of Macedonia, overseen by regional committee secretary Lazar Koliševski, made the decision to instigate an armed uprising against Axis forces. Originally, a plaque was installed alongside this monument that read, translated into English: "In this place in September of 1941, the Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of Macedonia for Macedonia adopted a decision to start an armed uprising against fascist occupiers". As an interesting aside, after Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito passed away in 1980, Koliševski was the first politician to take over and serve in the position of the president of the presidency of Yugoslavia.
Meanwhile, it is important to note that next to the entrance of the Illegal Munitions Workshop Museum was a second monument also dedicated to the workshop, dating from 1961 by artist Boro Krstevinski (Photo 4). This work, which stands only 2m tall, is composed of a relief in white stone showing a an active scene of Partisans toiling in the workshop producing munitions. Atop the relief is a flat triangular stone plate inscribed with the message, translated into English: "At this place (in the house existing in 1941) was produced landmines, "hell machines", bombs and other war materials during August, September and October 1941 for the needs of the Partisan organization of Skopje and Skopje's first partisan division." The monument, while in poor condition, still stands at its original location up to the present day.
The Bomb Monument stood at the spomenik site here along the Vardar River next to the Illegal Munitions Workshop Museum for many years until the early 2010s, when the Skopje 2014 development project called for the construction of a new Constitutional Court at the site where the monument was situated. As such, it was subsequently relocated to its present location within a park in front of the National Radio Television building. The monument has no signage, plaques, inscriptions or interpretive information accompanying it, making it impossible for anyone who stumbles upon this monument to have any idea what it is or what it commemorates. Meanwhile, the Illegal Munitions Workshop Museum, which was closed in the early 2000s, finally reopened to the public in 2018 (Photo 5). The exact coordinates for the Illegal Munitions Workshop Museum are N41°59'47.8", E21°26'05.8", while the exact coordinates for the Bomb Monument are N41°59'49.1", E21°26'33.0".
Photo 5: Recent image of Illegal Munitions Workshop Museum [source]
Women Fighters Monument:
At the center of the city of Skopje in front of the GTC Shopping Center within "Women Fighters" Park is the Women Fighters Monument (Photo 6). Created by Prilep sculptor Boro Mitrikeski and unveiled on March 8th, 1970 (International Women's Day), the work celebrates the contribution of women fighters within the Partisan revolutionary movement during WWII/People's Liberation Struggle. Unlike most other armies and resistance movements during the war, the Partisans were keen on including women within the military detachments not only in roles such as nurses and caregivers, but also as soldiers as well. In Macedonia alone, thousands of women took part in the uprising, with roughly 1,700 perishing through the course of the war. As such, this monument here in Women's Park is dedicated to all of those women who took part in the war, as well as the many innocent women who were victims of violence and oppression.
Photo 6: Recent photo of the Women Fighters Monument [source]
The monument here in the park that Mitrikeski created is composed of an abstract white stone sculptural work standing roughly 2m tall that is composed of a horizontal mass sitting upon a wide pedestal. The north-facing side of the horizontal mass shows a glowing flame at its center (most certainly representing the eternal flame of memory), while the south face shows a collection of highly stylized abstract female forms engaging in various activities. The monument continues to operate as a significant part of the Skopje historical heritage (with annual commemorative events being held here) and it remains in a good state of repair. However, there is no interpretive signage here and no cultural/historical information presented to visitors. The exact coordinates for this monument are N41°59'37.1", E21°26'02.7".
Partisan Memorial Cemetery at Butel:
Just north of the city center of Skopje (roughly 4.5km) is the vast and expansive Butel Cemetery. At over 45,000 sq m in size and containing over 75,000 graves, this is the largest cemetery in Skopje. It was established in 1952 in an effort to consolidate smaller cemeteries around the city for the purposes of making room for urban expansion and growth. As part of the construction of the new cemetery, a large space was set aside at its center for creating a Partisan Memorial Cemetery for the veterans and fallen fighters of WWII (Photo 7). Unveiled in 1961 and created by Prilep sculptor Jordan Grabul [profile page], along with architect Dušan Pecevski, the central memorial space of the Partisan cemetery consists of four main elements, a stone obelisk, an alley of sculptural busts of National Heroes, a memorial wall containing a sculptural relief and inscription and, finally, the gravestones marking the Partisans' burial sites.
Photo 7: The Partisan Memorial Cemetery at Butel in Skopje [source]
Firstly, the alley of bronze busts depict the six Partisan fighters of Skopje that were designated as National Heroes of the city of Yugoslavia. This includes Jordan Nikolov-Orce, Cvetan Dimov, Kuzman Josifovski-Pitu, Rade Jovčevski-Korčagin, Vera Jocik, and Aleksandar Urdarevski-Stanko. Meanwhile, at the end of the alley of National Heroes is a tall thin obelisk positioned next to the stairs up to the memorial plaza. Standing roughly 12m tall, it is adorned with polished granite panels and contains a small bronze plaque near its base that simply says "1941-1945", the years of WWII. In front of the pillar, a set of stairs lead up to a wide stone paved plaza (about 50m x 18m in size) where commemoration events routinely take place. Meanwhile, just east of the plaza, across the pathway, is a small staging courtyard shaped in the form of a red star [photo]. Next, in the open space laid out in front of and below the plaza are the gravestones which mark the site where the Partisans' remains are interred. Each gravestone is a smooth stone marker crafted in a wedge shape scattered around the cemetery space, with a photo of them available HERE.
Photo 8: A view of Grabul's relief sculpture on the memorial wall. Credit: Boris Cheshlarov
At the far north end of the plaza sits the memorial wall that stands roughly 3.5m tall and is covered in a series of polished white stone panels. The primary feature of the wall is an impressive bronze sculptural relief about 16m long (Photo 8). The relief depicts a dramatic and dynamic scene of roughly 30 figures engaged in battle, struggling in bloody hand-to-hand combat, dead bodies tied in knots littering the ground, fighters being attacked from all sides, and the Partisans being shown giving their lives to fight against fascist oppression. The tallest figure at the center raises his arms high into the sky, waving what looks to be a flag behind him (most certainly the Partisan banner). To the left of the sculptural relief is a raised-letter inscription occupying the left one-third of the wall. This inscription is a stanza by famous Macedonian poet and writer Slavko Janevski (who is often credited as being the father of Macedonian literature). The stanza reads, when translated into English, as:
"We are in the grave because we hate the grave. We died on our feet so we would not have to kneel in life, so we are alive, the word 'slave' is dead".
Today, the Partisan Memorial Cemetery at Butel is in moderate condition, though, many elements of the site are in need of repair and refurbishment. There is no signage directing visitors here and no interpretive information explaining its meaning or history. Yet, it is still a very cherished and valuable memorial space for the city of Skopje, with regular annual commemorative ceremonies being held here. The exact coordinates for this location are N42°02'15.8", E21°26'07.4".
The Liberators of Skopje Monument:
In an area just west of the city center of Skopje along the south bank of the Vardar River known as the "Ilinden Quay", there is a large plaza at the center of which is a memorial sculpture that is titled "Monument to the Liberators of Skopje" (Photo 9). Unveiled in 1955 (though some sources say 1949) and created by Croatian sculptor Ivan Mirković, this large bronze work is composed of five figures depicting the struggle of rising up against the Axis occupiers of Skopje. At the front, a Partisan fighter reaches out grasping at victory and leading the charge. He is flanked by a woman with a rifle and another man grabbing for a gun in his belt. Behind them is a man laid out, fallen in battle, holding up the Partisan flag with his last bit of strength, while an armed child is poking out from behind the woman's skirt. In the rear, a grenade-thrower readies his toss as he pulls a mortally wounded comrade behind him. The scene is rife with pathos and drama, allowing the viewer the sense that he witnessing the battle in action.
Photo 9: Monument to the Liberators of Skopje. [source]
Installed upon the front end of the monument's plinth is a small polished stone plate that is engraved with a short inscription. Translated into English, this inscription reads as:
November 13th, 1944
The Liberators of Skopje
The City Council of the SBM (Union of Fighters of Macedonia)
Photo 10: A vintage image of the monument in front of the old high school
Originally, when this monument was erected, the plaza on which it sits was part of the “Josip Broz Tito/Orce Nikolov" High School, built in 1939 in the early modernist style (Photo 10). However, this building was destroyed in the 1963 Skopje Earthquake. After the quake, the old high school ruin was cleared and in its place was built the Central Committee Headquarters Building for the League of Communists of Macedonia, which was completed in 1971. After the end of the Yugoslav-era, this complex began to operate as the Building of the Government of the Republic of Macedonia.
The Monument to the Liberators of Skopje continues to exist in excellent condition up to the present day, serving as one of the most important historical and cultural monuments in the city. Annual commemorative events are still regularly held here. The exact coordinates for this site are N41°59'59.5", E21°25'45.4".
Strength, Glory and Victory Monument:
Situated on the ramparts of Kale Fortress overlooking the city of Skopje is a stone-carved memorial sculpture that is officially titled "Strength, Glory and Victory" (Photo 11). This work (created in 1954 by Prilep sculptor Jordan Grabul [profile page]) commemorates the region's victory over fascism and is composed of two central figures, as well as a third faint secondary figure. The first most prominent element is a woman standing tall roughly 5m who is wearing a traditional folk costume and holding a branch of laurel leaves above her head as she stares hopefully into the distance. To her right side, crouched down beside her, sits a male Partisan soldier on eternal guard, symbolizing the protection of peace and virtue. Lastly, the faint impression of a small child can be seen tugging at the woman's skirt, itself symbolizing the innocence of youth and the role that both peace and uprising play in their protection.
Photo 11: The Strength, Glory and Victory Monument at Kale Fortress
Photo 12: The monument before the 1963 earthquake
In analyzing the relationship depicted here between the woman and the Partisan, local Skopje journalist Ognen Janeski explains that the soldier "would not survive in difficult conditions without the constant hiding, nurturing of wounds and nourishment by the pillars of the house - the woman and the girls who played a key role in not only their support, but also in the very struggle on the ground within the trenches." So, in this sculptural depiction by Grabul, it is the woman here who is seen standing tall, carrying the weight of freedom as she looks out over the city. As an aside, it is interesting to point out that the ruins behind the monument in the above photo are from part of the old fortress that was destroyed in the 1963 Skopje earthquake. The monument stood right at the entrance to the military museum inside the fortress (Photo 12). While the fortress around the monument fell, the monument remained standing. In the 2010s, a tower next to the spomenik site was reconstructed, but in a different style than it was before. The monument exists in good condition, while annual commemorative events continue to be held here. The exact coordinates for this site are N42°00'01.5", E21°25'56.4".
Monument to the Victims of Fascism:
At the far east end of the long residential building complex commonly known as the "City Wall" that surrounds the city center (at the corner of 11th October Street & Dame Gruev), there is a bronze sculptural relief installed upon the building's concrete facade that is dedicated to the city's victims of fascism who perished during WWII (Photo 13). Unveiled in 1977 and created by Prilep sculptor Boro Mitrikeski, the bronze relief is roughly 3.5m wide and is composed of faces and naked bodies in various contorted positions looking out in anguish at the viewer. The knot of bodies and faces speak of the horror suffered during the war, with some in chains, some reaching out for help, with stylized shackles dividing the scene.
On the wall just below the sculptural relief, there can be found a raised letter inscription that reads, when translated into English, as:
Photo 13: Photo of the Monument to the Victims of Fascism in Skopje [source]
"To the heroes brutally killed by the Bulgarian fascist occupiers, to their sons and daughters who listened to the voice of their ancestors and who, dying for their homeland, defended freedom."
The monument exists in good condition up to the present day, however, I was not able to find any information about commemorative events being held here. Other than the inscription, there is no other interpretive signage. Situated on the wall next to the shop named "Butik Soja", the exact coordinates are N41°59'33.0", E21°26'00.4".
Monument to 1st Skopje Detachment:
West of the Skopje city center (roughly 3km), next to the Lokomotiv Football Club field in district #3 of Karpoš, is the monument dedicated to the formation of the 1st Skopje Partisan Detachment, which assembled at this location (within the residence of Ivan Zatenko) on August 22nd, 1941. This spomenik complex was established for the 40th anniversary of its formation on August 22nd, 1981 (Photo 14), with the memorial sculpture honoring it created by sculptor Maksim Dimanovski. This Partisan detachment was the first organized armed unit of fighters who were dedicated to rising up against Axis occupation and oppression. Commanded by Čedomir Milenković, the detachment of 42 fighters clashed against Bulgarian forces around the region and in the city of Skopje, however, they were force to disband by November of 1941 due to immense pressure from the occupiers. Despite their short lived foray, they are significant and notable for being the first in Macedonia to raise arms against Axis fascism.
Photo 14: Monument to the 1st Skopje Partisan Detachment. Photo credit: Nikola Kostovski
The monument created by Dimanovski is crafted of red sandstone (roughly 3m tall), styled in an abstract shape similar to that of an upward pointing spiked fork. It is not immediately clear what symbolic reference this shape might be suggesting. At the base of the monument is a circular inscribed stone plate. This plate reads, when translated into English, as:
"Upon the call of the KPJ to raise an uprising against the German and Bulgarian occupiers, the Skopje Partisan Detachment was formed at this place on August 22nd, 1941"
The spomenik complex continues to exist in good condition up to the present day, while regularly hosting annual commemorative events. The exact coordinates for this site are N42°00'29.9", E21°23'58.9".
Additional Yugoslav-era Monuments in Skopje:
This section examines spomenik sites across Skopje that were built during the Yugoslav-era that include not only sites dedicated to WWI events and figures, but also sites that are related to other aspects of the city's history and heritage.
Child Refugee Monument: Situated within Women Fighters Park in the center of Skopje, right next to the GTC shopping center, is the monument to child refugees (Photo 15) Created by Macedonian sculptor Naso Bekarovski (along with architect Danica Pavlovska) and unveiled on June, 30th 1988 during the First World Meeting of Refugee Children held in Skopje, the memorial is dedicated to the tens of thousands of young child victims in Greece who fled north into Yugoslavia during the violence of the Greek Civil War, which lasted from 1943 to 1949. The monument consists of an upward-standing concrete slab with a bronze relief sculpture mounted upon it depicting a mother and her children fleeing the violence of war. On the back side of the monument is an inscribed black stone relating the story (in Macedonian and English) of the expelled and fleeing child refugees. Over the years, the monument has been the subject of violent attacks. The exact coordinates for this site are N41°59'38.5", E21°25'59.9".
Photo 15: Child Refugee Mon. [source]
Photo 16: Skopje earthquake mon.
1963 Earthquake Monument: On July 26th, 1963, a massive earthquake struck the city of Skopje in the SR of Macedonia. Through this tragedy, roughly 80% of the city was destroyed and 1,070 people were killed. In the aftermath of this incident, a memorial graveyard for these victims was established at Butel Cemetery that was created by Zagreb architect Dimitrije Mladenović and Zrenjanin architect Tibor Bence. The entire project was completed between 1966 and 1973. The central element of the memorial cemetery is a monument that stands in the northwest corner of the space and consists of a 6 meter tall sculptural composition made of raw concrete (Photo 16). Its form is characterized by a delta shape created by two symmetrical triangular masses elevated by horizontal cylinders, with this arrangement resting within the V-shaped cradle of two sloping pedestal boxes. The complex remains in good condition up to the present day and hosts regular annual remembrance events. Its coordinates are N42°02'25.5", E21°26'12.0".
St. Clement of Ohrid Statue: Situated in front of the St. Clement of Ohrid University Library, just north of the city center, is a full-size bronze statue of St. Clement of Ohrid himself (Photo 17). In the cultural heritage of Macedonia, Clement is decidedly the most significant saint, acting as not only the patron saint for the country but also for the Macedonian Orthodox Church as a whole. He is widely associated with education and literature, hence his placement in front of the library. Unveiled in 1972, just a year after the library's opening, this 5m tall granite stone statue was created by Skopje sculptor Petar Hadži Boškov and is unique in that it depicts a sacred religious figure in the style of sculptural modernism, something rarely seen during this era in Orthodox Christian art (either in Yugoslavia or elsewhere). It is in good condition and hosts regular commemorative events. The exact location of this statue is N41°59'54.2", E21°26'20.0".
Photo 17: St. Clement of Ohrid
Photo 18: Robert Gajdik Monument. Photo credit: Stevan Tonevski
Monument to Robert Gajdik: In the city center of Skopje, just next to the Assembly of the Republic building along Dame Gruev, is a monument that is dedicated to Czech-born Partisan fighter Robert Gajdik (Photo 18). Unveiled in 1977 (though some sources say 1972) and created by sculptor Petar Hadži Boškov, the monument is situated where his home formerly existed before WWII. Having lived in the city since 1938, Gajdik became a committee member of Skopje's KPJ party and enlisted with the Partisans when the war began in 1941. He was renowned for his guerilla sabotage acts against Axis forces and for being integral to numerous Partisan detachments. However, he was caught on January 14th, 1942 in a village just south of Prishtina and summarily executed. The monument consists of a white stone slab sculpted in a geometric abstract fashion. Its coordinates are N41°59'32.0", E21°25'55.4".
Statue of Rade Jovčevski: Located in the front courtyard of the "Rade Jovčevski-Korčagin" High school is a memorial statue dedicated to famous Partisan fighter Rade Jovčevski-Korčagin (Photo 19). Unveiled in 1974 and created by Macedonian sculptor Branko Koneski, the work is composed of a 2m tall highly stylized bronze sculpture of Jovčevski. Born in Skopje in 1919, Jovčevski joined the KPJ in 1939 and then joined the armed uprising with the Partisans at the start of WWII. Jovčevski's subversive actions against the occupiers were so effective that Bulgarian police put out a bounty on his head. As such, on the evening of Feb. 20th 1943, he was gunned down by police in the streets of the Skopje neighborhood of Madzir Maalo (in front of the present-day Central Registry building). Jovčevski was made a National Hero of Yugoslavia in 1953. The exact coordinates for this monument are N41°59'26.1", E21°26'15.2".
Photo 19: Statue of Rade Jovčevski-Korčagin
Photo 20: Monument to Blagoja Despotovski [source]
Monument to Blagoja Despotovski: Positioned along the western end of the City Wall building, along Dame Gruev, is the monument dedicated to Partisan fighter Blagoja Despotovski (Photo 20). Born in Debar in 1919, Despotovski came to Skopje in 1939 and joined the KPJ and then, when WWII started in 1941, he joined the 1st Skopje Partisan Detachment. In October of 1941, he was handed a mission, along with Aleksandar Smiljkovski-Žuhraj, to assassinate Mane Mačkov, a local traitor feeding the occupiers information about Partisan activities. On Oct. 7th, Despotovski & Smiljkovski attempted to shoot Mačkov on the streets of the city center of Skopje. However, the attempt failed. As police were closing in on Despotovski, he detonated a grenade in his hands, killing himself and several officers. A monument made in 1975 by sculptor Ljupčo Stefanovski marks the spot where Despotovski died. Smiljkovski was captured and sentenced to death, but he later escaped prison and subsequently survived the war. He lived in Skopje, passing away in 2010. The exact coordinates for this site are N41°59'39.9", E21°25'39.9".
And Others of Note:
The Post-Earthquake Architecture of Skopje:
After the devastating earthquake that the city of Skopje experienced in 1963, there was a massive international initiative to rebuild its urban fabric. This momentum resulted in a wildly creative well-spring of modernist architecture to be manifested around the city as designers from around the globe helped contribute to the city's reconstruction. To learn more about the post-earthquake architecture of Skopje, feel free to click the link below toexplore my article dedicated to this fascinating subject:
Skopje's Lost Train Station NOV Mural:
One of the earliest and most significant memorial works created in Skopje that was dedicated to the events of the People's Liberation Struggle was a massive mural that was situated within the lobby of the old train station. This train station, which was completed in 1940 and designed by architect Velimir Gavrilović, was the first such modern depot built in Skopje. The facility was crafted in an early modernist style out of yellow stone blocks. With clean lines and large flat surfaces, its primary embellishment was a row of twelve tall arching windows along the front facade. In the years after WWII during the late 1940s, the walls of the main lobby of this train station (along the wide space above the doors out to the platforms) were chosen as the setting for a new monumental mural that would honor Skopje's Partisan fighters, the struggles of fascist occupation and, ultimately, the city's liberation. The artist selected to create this monumental mural was Prilep-born artist Borko Lazeski [profile page]. Work on the mural begun in 1951 and was comleted after 5 years, bein painted as a fresco upon wet plaster in a Lhote-esque cubist style. It was officially unveiled on November 29th, 1956. When finished, the colossal mural measured 44m x 5m (225 sq m), which would have made it among the largest, if not the THE largest, painted mural(s) in Yugoslavia (Photo 22).
Photo 22: A vintage 1950s image of the mural in the lobby of Skopje's old train station
This mural created by Lazeski was officially titled "NOV" (which stood for "Narodnooslobilačke vojske" or "People's Liberation Army" in English). It existed on an epic scale (easily comparable to the monumental 1937 work "Guernica" by Pablo Picasso), containing hundreds of figures that played out the entire course of the war with copious amounts of drama and pathos. An interactive view of a black & white representation of the mural can be seen in Photo 23, which I stitched together using historical black & white images and photographic records of the mural from various sources. Originally, it was painted in an earth-tone color scheme of dark reds, greens and browns, however, few period color photos of the mural exist. The action of the mural, starting from the left hand side, show fascist occupiers pointing guns at innocent civilians. To the right of this horror, we see a stylized tree, a symbol for life and perseverence. Flames rise from the tree, embodying the "flame of revolution" within the people of Macedonia. As such, in the next scene, you see a man standing tall leading a group of civilians to take part in armed uprising. From there, a large battle takes place at the center of the mural, with Partisans clashing against Axis forces on horseback. One source notes that the "grotesquely deformed horses of the fascists directly convey the crazed and distorted psychology of the enemy". Following the battle to the right, a pair of Partisans can be seen helping a wounded soldier, an important depiction representing the Partisan commitment to not leaving the wounded behind. Next can be seen what appears to be an angel flying upwards taking a group of fallen Partisans up to heaven. In the last segment, the Axis soldiers fly a white flag of surrender, thrusting their hands into the air and hanging their heads low in shame.
Photo 23: An interactive vintage black & white image of the lost mural that was in the lobby of Skopje's old train station
After being completed, the mural became one of the most important WWII memorial works in the city and would be, for many people, the first glimpse of modern art trends and tendencies that they had ever seen. For his work on this mural, Lazeski was awarded the federal July 4th Award of Yugoslavia. Yet, after being finished in 1956, the work only existed for seven years before it was completed destroyed when the train station was toppled in the 1963 earthquake that devastated Skopje (Photo 24). In the recovery and reconstruction process of the city, the majority of the ruins of the old train station were cleared and no part of Lazeski's original 1956 mural was saved nor survives to present day.
Photo 24: Ruins of the mural after earthquake, 1963 [source]
In the years after the earthquake, the standing remains and ruins of the old Skopje Train Station were preserved and turned into the "City Museum of Skopje", which operates today as an exhibition about the city's history and the legacy of the earthquake. Sadly, the museum makes little mention of Lazeski's fresco. In the final years of his life, Lazeski and a team of his assistants made a recreation of this mural at the "Marko Cepenkov" Cultural Center in his hometown of Prilep, MK [profile page]. However, because of the immense size of the fresco, it was not able to be executed in one full section. As a result of this constraint, Lazeski painted the mural in two sections on the upper walls of the two lobbies adjoining the cultural center's performance auditorium. This work was done between 1991 and 1993. It was unveiled on October 11th, 1993, the 50th anniversary of the uprising in Macedonia. Lazeski passed away just three months shy of its final unveiling. This NOV mural reproduction is in good condition and can be easily visited. The exact coordinates for the "Marko Cepenkov" Cultural Center are N41°20'42.7", E21°33'02.6", while the exact coordinates for the Old Skopje Train Station (today's City Museum) are N41°59'27.6", E21°25'45.6".
Selected Sources and More Information:
-Крсто Здравковски: „Да не се заборави“, Архив на Скопје, 1982
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.