4 Exceptional Memorial Parks in Serbia

photography by: Omri Westmark

The Second World War was the most devastating military conflict in modern history, claiming the lives of tens of millions of people, yet despite its global scale, some nations were affected far more than others. Occupied by the Axis forces, the then Yugoslavia was the fierce battleground between Nazi soldiers aided by their local puppet regimes and Serbian partisans who bravely defended their homeland and dignity. Following the end of the war, Yugoslavia and later independent Serbia made a large effort in paying tribute to the partisans’ heroic bravery and sacrifice, reflected in the myriad of memorial parks all across the country, four of which are particularly interesting to visit.

Bubanj Memorial Park, Niš

Shortly after the Nazi invasion to Serbia in 1941, a concentration camp named the “Red Cross” was erected for the purpose of detaining dissidents and “unwanted” people like Jews and Roma. A year later over 100 prisoners managed to escape the camp, providing the occupying forces a pretext to conduct mass executions, resulting in the death of 10,000 prisoners, albeit some figures put the number at twelve thousand and beyond. The horrific bloodbath took place in a forested hill on the outskirts of Niš known as Bubanj, chosen as a measure to conceal the carnage by the dense woodland around.
Two decades afterwards, the current Bubanj memorial park was created at the same location where the gruesome events of WW2 took place, commemorating both the victims and partisans who fought against the Nazi occupation.


Bubanj Memorial Park is about 3 Km from downtown Niš, next to the highway bound for Skoje, the capital of North Macedonia.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Built on 1961, the memorial park is divided into two main parts, a thick woodland and the memorial itself, consisting of several sculptures, most notably a large marble relief slab and 3 clenched fist shaped concrete figures, whereas the former is comprised of five panels, each depicting a different stage of the massacre and its aftermath, where the partisans ultimately had the upper hand.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The most recognizable feature of the park is undoubtedly the three concrete clutched hands, each having a different size, representing the men, women and children who were murdered during the mass-shootings.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Additionally, the clenched fist shape stands for the defiance and resistance exhibited by some of the prisoners when brought to the execution site, as well as an honor for the partisans who ran a guerilla war against the Nazi forces.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Prior to its construction, three separate design contests were held as part of an ongoing effort to memorialize the loss of lives and the ensuing fortitude.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Eventually the committee selected the Croat sculptor Ivan Sabolić, and then instructed him to prepare three proposals, of which the current one was chosen.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Kadinjača Memorial Complex, Užice

During the autumn of 1941 when Serbia was completely under German occupation, a group of partisans in southwest Serbia managed to liberate the city of Užice and its surrounding area, calling it the “Republic of Užice”. The partisan-controlled autonomy was led by the future Yugoslav president Joseph Tito, who made his way there shortly after its liberation from his hiding place in Belgrade.
Regardless of the unprecedented military achievement, the self-proclaimed independence was short-lived, as Nazi forces were preparing for a counter-attack, aim to retake the city and completely annihilate the resistance movement. In November the same year German troops advanced towards the city, when at the mountains near the village of Kadinjača, roughly 14 kilometers from Užice, they were encountered by a partisan brigade known as the worker’s battalion, resulting in a bloody and heavy exchange of fire. Despite being overwhelmingly outnumbered by Nazi soldiers, the partisans succeeded to hold up the Germans long enough, allowing Tito and its led partisan units to escape Užice just before Nazi forces reconquered the city, consequently saving the local resistance movement from a total decimation.
11 years later, the Yugoslav government commissioned the construction of a memorial on the same site where the main battle took place, commemorating the hundreds of partisans who sacrificed their lives for the greater cause of keeping the partisan resistance alive.


Completed in 1952, Kadinjača Memorial Complex was built in segments until 1979, undergoing several expansions and upgrading. After decades of decay and neglect, the memorial site was face-lifted 8 years ago.
The current site is comprised of a museum, dozens of sculptures in different sizes and shapes, staircases, a network of stone paths and 88 trees planted in memory of the 88 years old late former Yugoslav president, Joseph Tito.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The first object to be built on the site is a marble rectangular structure topped by a pyramid shaped spire, standing on an underground burial place where partisans from the workers battalion are buried.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Perhaps the site’s most prominent feature are its white slanted concrete slabs, some of which are detailed while others are featureless.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The two main clusters of slab can be divided into blank and smooth ones, while the second type has abstract facial features.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Some argue that the human-like slabs represent the Serbian partisans while the blank ones stand for the German soldiers.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Each cluster of slabs is centered around a small plaza, while a glance of the breathtaking rural vista is visible through the gap between every two columns.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The featureless concrete slabs are arranged gradually so the tallest ones of each column are facing each other.

photography by: Omri Westmark


All of the non-organic shaped slabs have quadrangular front with sharper angles the taller they get.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Some of the plazas have adorable patch of flowers at their center.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The humanoid slabs on the backdrop of the featureless ones, reinforcing the most popular interpretation regarding the intent of the sculptor, namely the depiction of the battle’s opposing sides.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The wavy stone paved walkway correlates with the arrangement of the slabs.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The most renowned part of the site is a set of slabs, slowly ascending and culminating at a 14 meter high concrete monolith, symbolically reflecting the 14 kilometers between the site and the city of Užice, which is also visible through its large void, further indicating the conceptual link.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The monolith is pierced at its center as if it was punctured by a large bullet, representing the partisans’ great suffering and the loss of lives. If you look closely enough, you’ll notice the intricate details of facial features, resembling screaming people, probably referring to the terrifying moments when the partisans stood bravely against much larger and well-equipped German forces.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Given its hodgepodge of shapes, sizes and textures, the memorial site looks completely different from virtually any angle, thereby photographers would find this place exceedingly intriguing.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Strolling throughout the memorial complex is not only an opportunity to awe at its numerous sculptures, but also to gaze at the surrounding rural landscape, especially charming during sunset.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Šumarice Memorial Park, Kragujevac

During September 1941 when Serbia was militarily occupied by the Axis forces, a Nazi general devised a formula in which for every German soldier who is killed by partisan rebels, 100 Serbs, Jews, Roma people and others will be executed while the number for a wounded soldier will be 50.
Few weeks later in the town of Gornji Milanovac, roughly 40 kilometer from Kragujevac, a group of partisans launched an attack on German soldiers, killing ten of them and injuring couple more, subsequently prompting a retaliation by the Nazi forces according to the gruesome equation conceived earlier that month.
Following the incident, the Germans arrested thousands of Kragujevac residents including hundreds of school children, lining them in front of pits at the cemetery on outskirts of town and then shot them to death, killing approximately 2,800 people in what’s known as Kragujevac massacre.
More than two decades after the infamous carnage, the Yugoslav government initiated a plan to commemorate the fallen victims by constructing a memorial park on the site where the executions took place, dedicated solely to the events of October 1941, ultimately completed in 1963 as Šumarice Memorial Park.


The 21st of October Museum functions as a gateway to the memorial park, while paying tribute to thousands of Kragujevac residents who were killed in the massacre. The museum has a medley of objects, photographs and documents associated with the Kragujevac massacre, complemented by intriguing info plaques and a library. The building itself consists of 33 rectangular boxes, representing the thirty three mass graves found on the site, while also reflecting the Serbian medieval fortress architecture.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Among the massacre’s victims were 144 high-school students, executed alongside their teachers. The Monument of the Interrupted Flight doesn’t only serve as a memorial for their innocent souls, but also as a symbol of Kragujevac itself, evident by the sculpture depiction in stamps, art pieces etc.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The V shaped sculpture with its triangular parts represents a white bird unsuccessfully attempting to take off the ground due a broken wing, embodied by a small cuneate jut on one of the slabs, ultimately symbolizing the children lives who were cut short before they had the chance to reach adulthood.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The park itself is crossed by a pedestrian walkway, a bicycle lane and a road, surrounded by forests and lawns on both sides.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The Shoe-shiners Monument, also known as the crystal flower sculpture, commemorates a 15 years old Romani boy who was killed by the German army during the massacre. The flower reflects the child’s life, whereas the split into half represent his premature and tragic death.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The walkway linking the main road to the monument is decorated by several elements embedded into the ground and a dilapidated epitaph stone carved with an inscription of a poem dedicated to children.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The church of the Holy New Martyrs of Kragujevac, located just in front the crystal flower sculpture.

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The church backyard features a symbolic gate topped by a cross and outfitted with a bell for ceremonial purposes.

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A sign with religious text in highly stylized Cyrillic referring to the people who lost their lives in the massacre.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Nestled at the middle of the forest area in the park is the old cemetery where soldiers who died in World War I are buried. The lion sculpture at the entrance pays a tribute to their bravery and sacrifice.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The graveyard is serving as the final home for hundreds of soldiers who lost their lives during WW1.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Another statue dedicated to the fallen soldiers.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Popina Monument Park, Štulac

Following the aforementioned liberation of Užice by the partisans in September 1941, and the subsequent formation of the short lived “Republic of Užice”, the Nazi occupation forces of Serbia under general Franz Böhme launched a counter attack in order to retake the city and deter any future uprisings.
One German infantry unit was making its way into the battlefront when it encountered a group of 300 partisan fighters on an elevated terrain near the village of Štulac known as Nebrak Hill, resulting in what is remembered as the first frontal confrontation between the Axis forces and the anti-fascist rebels. Outnumbered by a ratio of three to one and ill-equipped, the partisans had no actual chance of prevailing, eventually retreating after suffering dozens of casualties, yet their spirit of heroism is revered by many to these days.
In the late 1970’s the regional authority undertook the task of memorializing the fallen partisan combatants and their bravery while also encouraging large scale tourism, consequently commissioned the construction of a monumental park at the site where the battle occurred.


The entrance to Popina memorial park is through a parking space along the E-761 road, next to a sign in Serbian indicating about the site and briefly informing about its history.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The pathway leading to the memorial is partly reclaimed by nature, but still visible enough to keep track.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The way upwards is bestowed with astonishing views of the nearby rural landscape.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The hillside trail entails a bit of intense physical effort, as it ascends quite sharply in some parts.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The Popina monument park at its entirety as seen from the pathway. Completed in 1981, the park was designed by the nationally renowned artist and sculptor Bogdan Bogdanović, who was inspired by burial sites and ceremonial architecture around the world.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The memorial itself consists of four elements, a single circular portal, a 6 meter wide and 20 meter high cylindrically pierced triangle, a triple circular portal and lastly a square polished stone chock full of inscriptions.
While there isn’t any official and definitive answer to why the memorial took this specific form, it’s has been postulated that the triangle shaped monolith represents a prism which reflects the souls of the fallen partisans into a tunnel towards the afterlife.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The single portal, like all the elements in the park, is built from gabbro rock, offering a circular framed vista of the surrounding villages to gaze at.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Interestingly, the cylindrical tunnel is symmetrically aligned relative to the other circular voids, creating a seamless visible link between all sculptures.

photography by: Omri Westmark


The elongated cylindrical shape of the tunnel forms a cool echo effect every time you scream or strongly stamp on its sides, though it’s unclear whether it was intended or not, some argue that it symbolizes the souls of those who died.

photography by: Omri Westmark


Slightly tucked away in relation to the rest of the site, a cube-shaped stone is engraved with Cyrillic text praising the partisans who fought during the battle of Popina.

photography by: Omri Westmark