Kadinjaca Memorial Park Uzice

Kadinjaca Memorial Park Uzice

The Memorial complex on Kadinjača Mountain near Uzice /14 km/ is Monument of Culture of extraordinary importance, protected by Republic of Serbia which commemorates fallen Partisan fighters from Posavina and Orasje and all the fighters from the Uzice Worker’s Battalion who perished at this spot fighting against German forces during the Battle of Kadinjača on November 29th, 1941. Visitors and experts say it is one of the most beautiful monuments in the world !

The series of events that led to the Battle of Kadinjača began in the autumn of 1941, when Partisans liberated the region around the city of Užice, which was formerly under the control of German-occupied Serbia. Partisans called this liberated area the ‘Republic of Užice’ and it stood as the first liberated territory within Axis occupied-Europe. The Partisans set up their command HQs within the town’s central bank in Uzice, using the facility’s underground vaults for a munitions manufacturing. With his Partisan troops liberating the expelling German forces from the region and establishing this new Partisan-controlled Republic, Commander Josip Tito traveled from hiding in Belgrade to join his forces at Užice. In response to this action by the Partisans, the Germans put into action “Operation Užice”, which was the first German led anti-Partisan effort of WWII. The aim of this operation was to not only take back this Partisan-held territory, but furthermore, it was the first in a long series of offensives through the WWII by the Germans to decapitate and eliminate the entire Partisan resistance movement. In late November of 1941, Partisan intelligence informed Marshal Josip Broz Tito, commander of the Partisans, that an attack by German soldiers was imminent. German planes began bombing the city on November 22nd, with one bomb striking the bank building the Partisans were using as their HQ, an event which caused an explosion in the underground vault where munitions were being manufactured, killing +120 people. Then, on November 28th, Užice’s Worker’s Battalion, along with two Partisan units from Posavina and Orasje, were ordered to intercept the German Wehrmacht 342nd Infantry Division who had been spotted advancing up towards Kadinjača mountain, only 14km away from Užice. Before the Germans troops were able to reach the ridge of Kadinjača they were intercepted by the Partisan forces at 8am on the morning of November 29th. The German 342nd Infantry Division, made up of well over 3,000 soldiers, far outnumbered the roughly 400 fighters of the Partisan Worker’s Battalion, yet, the Partisan unit fought on regardless. As a consequence, nearly all of members of the Worker’s Battalion were killed in combat yet they stood their ground against the Wehrmacht for nearly 6 hours, giving ample time for a retreat of civilians and Partisan leadership at the Supreme Headquarters out of Užice and to safety. By the end of that same day, the city of Užice fell to the advancement of these German units. However, while Užice fell back under Axis control, the German’s overall mission to capture Tito and destroy the Partisan resistance was a failure as the Partisan leadership was able flee the city and escape to the sanctuary of the Sandžak region. During the Partisan’s engagement on Kadinjača Mountain, even despite all the Partisan’s efforts and mass loss of life they incurred, only two German soldiers were killed during the combat.

After the end of WWII and the establishment of Yugoslavia, the town of Užice changed its name to ‘Titovo Užice’ in honor of Tito and his Partisan’s ambitious establishment of one of the first breakaway territories of WWII. In 1952, a modest 11m tall marble pyramid-spire memorial, designed by Stevan Živanović, was built near the summit of Kadinjača Mountain, under which was built a crypt where the remains of the Worker’s Battalion soldiers who died during the 1941 battle were interred. The marble for the pyramid was sourced from the nearby village of Karan. The Užice Municipal Assembly chose the concept submitted by sculptor Miodrag Živković and architect Aleksandar Đokić in 1977 for the creation of Kadinjača Memorial. One reason that the proposal of Živković & Đokić was chosen was that it successfully incorporated the original 1952 pyramid into their design. The monument solution that Živković & Đokić proposed was highly ambitious and would not only expand the memorial complex, but also bring a new modernist aesthetic/sculptural tone to the site. Construction on the Kadinjaca monument began on July 1st, 1977, with the project being significantly funded by local organizations and private donations, with other money coming from the government of the SR of Serbia. Newspaper sources from the era quote the cost of the project around 30 million Yugoslav dinars, which would convert into roughly 1.6 million USD in 1979 dollars or roughly 5.5 million USD in 2020 dollars. Additional assistance on creating the many sculptural elements needed for this project was provided by two of Živković’s close sculpting colleagues: Ladislav Fekete and Puteš Ajdin. Interestingly, the initial concept that Živković proposed for the central monolith of his monument complex was originally of a much different design and configuration, arranged instead more like a large fracture rather than the star -burst/bullet-hole motif that was finally settled upon. It is unclear why (or when) this element was so drastically changed between concept and completion. Construction on the new Kadinjača memorial project was conducted from 1977 to 1979. It is interesting to point out that during the construction of this monument, work was accomplished by not only professional tradesmen, but also by Youth Work Action (ORA) volunteer groups comprised of diverse young people who gave their time as part of a patriotic service to their country. The Kadinjaca complex was formally opened during a grand ceremony at the site on September 23rd, 1979, which was personally presided over by Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito himself and reportedly attended by nearly 100,000 people. The new addition of Živković’s sculptural elements to the spomenik complex consisted of several segments… firstly, a museum complex (designed by Aleksandar Đokić) which is called Spomen-Dom Kadinjača. Following this was a sprawling and undulating series of white painted concrete pylons emanating from the earth at different angles and sizes which was named ‘Alley of the Worker’s Battalion’, with this ‘alley’ following the ridge of the hill. The focal point of these undulating white concrete pylons makes a pair together which are tallest among the rest (~14m). This tall flat pair, arranged side-by-side like a wide wall, have their upper-half pierced with what resembles a bullet-hole like opening (within which face like forms can be seen). In addition, a large amphitheater was built in the center of the Kadinjaca complex, named the ‘Plateau of Freedom’, which hosted educational presentations, ‘Young Pioneer’ meetings and school gatherings. Interestingly, in the final form of the redevelopment of the old memorial by Miodrag Živković, the original stone pyramid element was not removed or minimized… in fact, Živković’s new sculptural elements are often credited for enhancing and highlighting the original memorial element, especially in the way in which it emphasizes rather than over-takes it.

During the Yugoslav-era, the Kadinjača memorial complex was an intensely popular site (a mandatory stop for most Yugoslav school children), with sources indicating that over 2.3 million domestic and foreign tourists visited it during that time period. This continued up until the 1990s, a time which brought about the dismantling of Yugoslavia and the onset of the Yugoslav Wars. Firstly, as a result, in 1992, the town of Titovo Užice changed its name back to simply ‘Užice’, perhaps to distance itself from its Partisan heritage during the wave of Serbian nationalism that swept across the country during the early 1990s. Secondly, sources relate that during this same period, the Kadinjača memorial complex began to fall into a state of disuse and neglect. It was not until 2012 that the site was fully rehabilitated. As of present-say, the spomenik complex at Kadinjača continues to be well maintained, with many thousands of visitors a year still come to visit this site (though not as many as during the height of the Yugoslav era), while many annual commemorative events are still regularly held here. In addition, there are future plans to include further memorial elements, as well as plans to renovate the museum and the monument’s lighting systems. Some of this work may be carried out at some point during 2020-2025, during the time which a new motorway tunnel will be built underneath Kadinjača Mountain. During the 2010s, as the imagery of the Yugoslav memorial sites reached a wider international audience, the dramatic aesthetics of Živković’s central monument here at Kadinjača has resulted in it consistently being among the most widely recognized Yugoslav monuments-spomeniks. The central element of the Kadinjača memorial is still the original stone pyramid monument built back in 1952.

The primary element of the 1979 addition to the Kadinjača memorial complex created by Miodrag Živković, was the expansive undulating series of white concrete pylons built around the original memorial. The most prominent of these pylons is a matching set of two which are taller than all the rest. This tallest set of the Kadinjaca Memorial complex is characterized by a large bullet-hole-like opening piercing its center. This bullet-hole motif most certainly symbolizes the violence met upon the Worker’s Battalion fighters as they battled against German soldiers in 1941 to make time for the evacuation of civilians from the Kadinjača and Užice areas… a fight that most of them would lose their lives during. Visible within many of these pylons you can see vaguely present stylized human forms and faces emerging, almost appearing as writhing tortured souls. It can be assumed that these forms are a depiction of the soldiers of the Worker’s Battalion themselves, screaming out during their final moments. Even within the shards of the 14m tall ‘bullet-hole’ sculpture, the same horror-stricken faces can be seen gazing out, forever trapped within the circle of violence. An additional symbolic element of the ‘bullet-hole’ sculptural monolith is its height of 14m. This number ’14’ is meant to be a reference to the 14km that exists between the battle site here at Kadinjača and the town of Užice in the valley below… a distance that was traversed by the Worker’s Battalion in the winter of 1941, who subsequently gave their lives in order to protect the Tito and the rest of the Partisan Army from being captured and defeated the advancing German Army. This monolith’s connection to Užice is further emphasized with its circular opening pointing down the valley exactly in the direction of the town. Furthermore, perhaps the two types of sculptural forms found here represent the battle’s two opposing sides, where the rounded organic shapes (often adorned with heads and faces) represent the Partisans, while the sharp featureless angular forms (which bear no faces) represent the descending German forces. This symbolism is reinforced by seeing that as the sharp angular forms ascend to their highest point with 14m tall monolith pinnacle (perhaps symbolizing the tragic climax of the battle), the monolith is then dramatically pierced, as if with a bullet, with a circle of round organic faces (perhaps symbolizing Tito and his army’s elusive escape from the grasp of the descending German forces, gained at the great loss of Partisan lives). As such, the monument could be viewed as a symbol of freedom which comes at a great cost.

In one of the exposition halls of the Kadinjaca Memorial complex there is the exibition of the “Uzicki kraj u NATO agresiji na Socialisticku Republiku Jugoslaviju” /The Uzice area in the NATO agression on Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia/  Source  Spomenik Database

My beloved country, did you know the whole battalion died here? The blood blooms through the fallen snow, cold and white. During the night, wind swept away the traces, but still in the south, the army walks. The 14th kilometer fell, but Kadinjača never will!