Kočevski rog - Baza 20
From April 1943 to December 1944, Baza 20 (“Base 20”, originally called “Point 20”) was home to the political leadership of the Slovene national liberation movement. An important monument of Slovene statehood, it is the only still preserved secret headquarters of any European resistance movement built in such a manner. Due to the extraordinary safeguard measures and general secrecy, Baza 20 was never discovered. Preserved in its entirety, it has been protected as a monument of national significance.
Members of the Executive Committee of the Liberation Front, the Supreme Plenum of the Liberation Front, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Slovenia, the Anti-Fascist Council of the National Liberation (AVNOJ), the Agitation and Propaganda Commission, newspaper editors and others lived and worked in Baza 20. The 26 buildings were inhabited by 180 people.
Today, Building no. 16 (“Propaganda Building”) houses a permanent exhibition on the role and significance of Baza 20. The exhibition presents the military and political leadership of the resistance and describes the events and activities most influenced by the leadership in Baza 20. Among these, the session of the Assembly of the Delegates of the Slovene Nation in Kočevje, and the session of the Slovene National Liberation Council (SNOS) in Črnomelj were the two most significant events of the wartime building of Slovene statehood. On display are some newspapers of that time, presented are mass organizations, cooperation with the Allies …
Building no. 22 (“New Building of the Executive Committee of the Liberation Front”) houses a presentation of the scope and diversity of the partisan activity in the Kočevski rog area. A special emphasis is put on hospitals and workshops, the beginnings of which date back to the spring of 1942.
Among European World War II resistance movements, the Slovene Central War Partisan Hospital is the pinnacle of organized care for the wounded. Secret hospitals were built in hidden locations, and were, considering the war circumstances, fairly well equipped and supplied. Under medical supervision and away from the constant exertions of fighting units, the wounded recovered faster. While there were as many as 24 hospitals in the wider area of Kočevje, only the hospitals of Jelendol and Zgornji Hrastnik have been preserved to this day.
The workshops in Kočevski rog were a great asset to partisan units, who had to rely on themselves for weapon repairs and the supply of clothing, footwear, and other necessary equipment. After the capitulation of Italy, vehicle repair, precision mechanics, and radio workshops were established in Stare Žage, in addition to the already existing gunsmith, tailor, shoemaker, and carpenter workshops. None of these have been preserved to our day.
The exhibition also presents the activities of the Scientific Institute, Monetary Institute, Religious Commission, Commission for the Establishment of the Crimes Perpetrated by the Occupying Forces and their Collaborators, Education Department and Cultural Department. These institutions were founded after the Slovene National Liberation Committee session in Črnomelj, and they worked under the presidency of the Slovene National Liberation Committee.
Partisan Hospitals in Kočevski Rog
The Partisan medical facilities in Kočevski Rog were the greatest achievement in terms of organised care for the wounded in Second World War resistance movements throughout Europe. The hospitals were built in secluded places and, bearing the wartime conditions in mind, were well equipped and supplied, which meant that the wounded who were treated by the doctors recovered much quicker because they were not exposed to the everyday hardships endured by the combat units.
Guidelines for this type of care for the wounded in the resistance movement were outlined at a meeting attended by Partisan doctors in early June 1942 in Tisovec. The organisation and construction of hospitals was overseen by Dr Pavel Lunaček (Partisan name “Igor”).The first hospital opened in early June 1942 in a forester’s cabin at Daleč Hrib. It was called Central Hospital. It was burned down during the Italian offensive of 1942, and so construction commenced in September on what were called conspiratorial hospitals. Usually they were constructed at the bottom of deep, overgrown sinkholes. The huts and other structures in the hospitals were built by permanent teams composed of trusted joiners and carpenters.
The first huts for the wounded were built of roughly hewn logs and materials found in the nearby deserted Gottschee villages. The huts were low, with communal dormitories and only small windows, but later were better illuminated, with more windows, ceramic stoves and other necessary features. Soon after, separate huts were built for personnel, plus an operating hut, kitchen and storage space, a bread oven and a bunker. In order to cover their tracks and avoid giving away the route to a hospital, they used extendible ladders, planks or felled tree trunks to leave the trail and arrive at the station. Covering up tracks was especially difficult in winter, so some hospitals would be “snowed in” intentionally.
In the wider area of Kočevski Rog, a total of 24 Partisan hospitals were built, which formed part of the Slovene Central Military Partisan Hospital (SCVPB). Only the hospitals of Jelendol and Zgornji Hrastnik still remain today and are protected as monuments of national significance.
Jelendol Partisan Hospital
The Jelendol Partisan Hospital (it was temporarily referred to as Department No. 1a) commenced operation in the spring of 1943 in the Adjunktova Valley, which is where the wounded from the first Partisan hospital in Rog, in nearby Daleč Hrib, survived a major Italian offensive in the summer of 1942.
A total of ten structures were erected. A nail shortage encountered when building the first structures meant that wooden pins were used for the remainder. The gaps between the logs were filled with moss, and the best insulation was found to be paper. Heating stoves were either made from petrol tanks lined with brick or were brought from the abandoned houses of Gottschee Germans. Lighting was provided by tallow tails, candles and carbide lamps. The water supply problem was solved by digging a hole in the bottom of a nearby sinkhole. The smoke from the kitchen was run through a pipe to a smoke house, in which it was cooled down and then dispersed through vents into the forest. Access to the hospital was only possible via the trunks of felled trees.
The longest serving head of the hospital was Dr Pavel Lunaček (Partisan name “Igor”), and the other doctors serving there were Lojze Gunde (Partisan name “Rok”), Dr Bogdan Brecelj, Dr Janez Milčinski (Partisan name “Peter”), Dr Ruža Šegedin (Partisan name “Meta”), Dr Pavle Kanc and Dr Božena Sernec. The personnel comprised the political commissar, superintendent, medical assistants, porters for the wounded, a cook, barber, washerwoman, and occasionally a carpenter and tailor. The hospital was also the site of the SCVPB (Slovene Central Military Partisan Hospital) until November 1943, and for several months it also ran a dental surgery.
The hospital operated until the end of the war, and treated a total of 330 wounded. Of these, 21 died and were buried in the nearby cemetery.
The Jelendol Partisan Hospital was declared a national monument in 1952 and is fully preserved today.
Hut for the Wounded
The Hut for the Wounded was built in the spring of 1943 as the hospital’s main structure. It is an example of the kind of huts that were built in Rog based on the experience of the Italian offensive. The large building, made of roughly hewn logs, was constructed without nails. The shingled gable roof reached almost to the ground and was covered with spruce branches.
The walls inside were whitewashed with lime. Raised from the floor and made of wooden boards, each bed accommodated at least two wounded. Small shelves for personal possessions were put up at the heads of the beds. The hut also accommodated cabinets for bedding, instruments and medication, a small table for the doctor and the political commissar and a long, narrow dining table that served as an operating table.
The Personnel Hut was made out of wooden boards and the lower half of the walls was lined with felt paper. This hut was taller than the hut for the wounded because it accommodated bunk beds. Throughout the time the hospital was in operation, there were at least 18 members of staff. They comprised the head of the hospital, his deputy, the political commissar, superintendent, medical assistants, porters for the wounded, a cook, barber, washerwoman, carpenter and sometimes a tailor and a cobbler.
Office Hut of the Slovenian Central Military Partisan Hospital (SCVPB), Dental Hut
This hut is built of roughly hewn spruce logs and covered with a gable roof with a loophole in each gable. A small terrace or a balcony with a small table and a bench stands in front of the entrance.
The hut was the head office for the SCVPB, where the doctors and political commissars of all Rog hospital stations and the chief superintendent of the SCVPB met every two weeks. After the head office had been transferred to Komarna Vas in November 1943, the wounded and the personnel moved into the hut. For a period of time it also was home to the first Partisan dental surgery in Kočevski Rog.
The Operating Hut was built of wooden boards in the autumn of 1944. It is covered with a gable roof, which originally featured a skylight above the operating table, but the skylight was removed after the war to prevent leakage. A large corner window supplied sufficient light for operations.
All the minor and major operations that had previously been carried out on the table in the middle of the hut in the presence of its occupants were now carried out in the Operating Hut.
Kitchen and woodshed
The kitchen was built of wooden boards and covered with a slanting roof. An annex served as a woodshed. The interior is divided with a wall, behind which the food storage room is located. The stove was built of brick and consists of two fireplaces. The kitchen as it can be seen now was created towards the end of the war.
Laundry and storage
A separate building was constructed for bandage and bedding laundry. Dirty laundry was washed in the hospital, whereas especially dirty laundry was taken to Pahinger Mill in Stare Žage, where the superintendent was based. In the storage room, the dirty laundry of all hospitals of the western sector was collected and then taken to the central laundry.
The canopy was the first of the hospital’s structures to be built, as early as in the summer 1942. Under the canopy and among the rocks in the surrounding landscape, the wounded of the first hospital at Daleč Hrib survived the Rog stage of the Italian offensive. The present-day structure is a reconstruction based on the testimonies and memories of the former hospital personnel.
Smoke caused many problems in all the Partisan posts in Kočevski Rog. If they wanted to cook meals during the day, they had to cool down the smoke. For this purpose, the smoke was conducted through a pipe to the smokehouse, which was built in 1944. There the smoke was cooled down, after which it was allowed to disperse before it reached the tree canopies. The smokehouse was also used to smoke meat and eradicate lice, which responsible for the spread of typhoid.
Because water was scarce, hygiene was a big problem for all the Partisan posts in Kočevski Rog. This was particularly problematic in hospitals where close contact between the wounded, the ill and the staff – mostly indoors –posed the constant threat of the outbreak of a contagious disease. In order to ensure that human waste was disposed of safely, single latrine toilets were built. The only exception is a communal toilet with four latrines that was built and is still preserved in Jelendol.
In order to ensure that human waste was disposed of safely, single latrine toilets were built. The only exception is a communal toilet with four latrines that was built and is still preserved in Jelendol.
The toilets were also important for the concealment of the hospital. If human waste had been found in the vicinity during an enemy’s offensive, it would have betrayed the hospital’s location.
The Bread Oven is a free-standing building. It has greatly contributed to the self-sufficiency of the hospital. From the beginning of the hospital’s operation until the end of the war, bread that was baked in it was the most important staple, both in real and symbolical terms. As there was no mouth hygiene tools, dentists even recommended bread for cleansing teeth and the mouth.
The protective canopy was built after the war had finished.
Zgornji Hrastnik Partisan Hospital
The Zgornji Hrastnik Partisan Hospital was the first medical post to be built in Rog, just below the summit of a hill. At first, in the autumn of 1943, it comprised only two temporary huts with communal dormitories and an outdoor kitchen under a slanting roof, but by the end of the war a total of eight buildings had been erected.
The hospital could be accessed on an old log, which had been left by the side of a trail and then on to a narrow path leading through thick bushes.
In late December 1943, Dr Janez Milčinski (Partisan name "Peter") became head of the hospital. Under his stewardship, it started to expand and gradually became a hospital specialising in dealing with the seriously wounded and major surgical procedures. They first built a new operating hut, called the “aseptic”. It had a new operating table, which became the model for all the hospitals in Rog. The hut featured two large corner windows and a large skylight, providing as much daylight as possible for operations. With the construction of the “aseptic”, aseptic and septic surgery were separated in Partisan hospitals for the first time. In late February 1944 a large new hut was built for the wounded, where minor operations and bacteriological examinations were performed.
In a little less than the year and a half in which it was in operation, more than 400 wounded, most of them seriously, were treated there. Of these, 69 died and were buried in a cemetery nearby.
Today the hospital is preserved in its entirety and is protected as a monument of national importance. Owing to the danger presented by the falling of decayed trees, all the trees in the hospital’s immediate vicinity were felled in 2007.
Hut for the Recovering Wounded - The Kennel
The oldest building in the hospital, The Kennel, was constructed for the purpose of serving as a temporary post for the wounded who were moved there during the German offensive in late October 1943. It was made out of hewn logs and covered with a gable roof that reached almost to the ground. The foundations were built of stone. The hut’s floor was supported with beams. Inside, communal dormitories were arranged along the two long sides of the building, with only a narrow passage separating them. The doctor operated in the light of a candle or a paraffin lamp while kneeling on a bed, whereas later he operated on the dining table.
The hut was named The Kennel after the wounded adopted a dog that had wandered into the hospital.
At first, the only structure at the site was a canopy affixed over the original kitchen, where food was prepared on an open fire, which remained in place until the completion of the new kitchen in late March 1944. The roof was originally covered with old sheet metal. Later a laundry was set up under the canopy. Dirty laundry was washed there, whereas especially dirty items were sent to a laundry in Stare Žage.
The Personnel Hut was built in the autumn of 1943, which is when the hospital opened. The large hut, built of hewn logs, is covered with a gable roof and its only windows are located next to the door. Inside, bunk beds that were originally covered with spruce branches stand along the long sides of the hut.
The hospital personnel comprised the head, his deputy, the political commissar, superintendent, medical assistants, porters for the wounded, the cook, barber, washerwoman, carpenter and sometimes a tailor and a cobbler. The personnel carried out all the tasks at the hospital.
Operating Hut - The Aseptic
The structure was built in late January 1944 with wooden boards and was covered with a slanting roof. It was clad with brick. It featured a large corner window and an additional skylight above an operating table which was designed by the doctor, Janez Milčinski, and made by the hospital’s carpenter. The table became a model for operating rooms in other Partisan hospitals. Next to the operating room, there were four single beds for the after-care of the wounded.
Hut for the Wounded - The Septic
This large log house was built in late February 1944 with a slanting roof and a similarly roofed annex for a septic operating room.
The hut represented a huge step forward in the way the Rog hospitals were built and equipped. One of the walls was glazed, which meant that the interior was well lit. The beds were separated, raised from the floor and covered with straw mattresses. Small shelves were installed at the heads of the beds, where the wounded stored small personal possessions. The handles above the beds made it easier for the wounded to move. All of the interior was whitewashed and the windows were decorated with curtains and wild flowers.
As all bread was baked onsite, the hospital was practically self-sufficient. The free standing bread oven was built in early February 1944 and was primarily used for baking bread but also occasionally for the preparation of other food until the end of the war. Bread was the most important staple, both in real and symbolic terms. As there were no mouth hygiene tools, it was even considered to clean teeth and the mouth.
The protective canopy was built after the war.
The storage room was built in February 1944 at the same time as the bread oven. It is a simple structure made of wooden boards and covered with a slanting roof and was intended for storing joinery, carpentry and other tools, nails, paraffin and other equipment. Occasionally the surplus of food, as well as medical material and medicines were stored there.
The kitchen was built in late March 1944, the last structure in the renovated hospital. The log building was covered with a gable roof. The brick stove had space for three enclosed fireplaces for cauldrons. The top of the chimney extended to just above the kitchen ceiling so that the smoke cooled down in the attic. Because of this it was even possible to cook during the daytime.
Inside, there was also a pantry separated behind a wooden wall. Food was supplied by the supply centre of the Slovene Central Military Partisan Hospital (SCVPB) in Stare Žage. Despite a regular food supply, the hospital needed to keep a two-week supply of food at all times because of the constant threat of the enemy launching an offensive.
Pugled Partisan hospital
Pugled hospital was built approximately 2 km from Žaga Rog sawmill, not far from the former forest railway running towards Travnik.
The SCVPB construction group built a large hut for the wounded, a smaller hut for staff and a hut for a kitchen and storeroom. All the huts were built from spruce logs and covered with shingles. The hut flooring was of hewn logs. Close by the hospital they built an underground bunker in case of danger and two bunkers for food and sanitary materials. The hospital hut had a common ward and could accommodate up to 50 wounded and patients. The hospital was run by Dr Božena Ravnihar (Partisan name "Nataša").
The hospital received its first wounded on 18 March 1943 and operated up until 27 October 1943, when it was discovered by the Germans during an offensive. There were 27 lightly wounded patients who were able to be removed in time together with the staff, but the Germans killed the 21 seriously wounded in their hut, and then burnt them along with the whole hospital. This killing represents the biggest loss of wounded from the Rog hospitals. Besides these, the Germans captured and killed just three more wounded Partisans during the offensive. The majority of the Rog Partisan hospitals survived the offensive without loss.
At the location where the Pugled hospital stood there is now a monument bearing the names of the victims.
A Partisan printing press was set up 1.5 km from the crossroads of Cink Križ and 2.2 km from the Cink forester’s hut, in a very large and deep sinkhole between the Vinska and Cinkarska paths.
Huts were constructed in the second half of June and in July 1944. To begin with three log cabins and two huts made of planks brought from the Stare Žage sawmills and Dvor. The shingle roofing was lined with spruce branches and moss, and windows were brought there from houses abandoned by the Gottschee Germans. Later on a generating station was built for lighting and to power the printing press. The generator was driven by a truck engine converted to run on wood gas obtained from charcoal.
Printing was done on a large automatic printing press from Kočevje, which had already been hidden for several months in the forest. The first print run was a Nikolaj Pirnat poster in 3,000 copies. This was followed by leaflets, forms, tables, Gregorčič poems and the newspaper Ljudska pravica (The People’s Right). In December they also started printing the newspapers Slovenski poročevalec (Slovene Reporter) and Naša vojska (Our Army).
In August 1944 there were 43 printers and other workers at the press; by February 1945 this number had risen to 72. The press operated up until 17 April 1945, when a German offensive led to it being moved for safety to Vinica, where it did not actually start operating. In its nine months of operation, it printed 330 different items in a total of more than 1,912,000 copies.
The village of Podstenice lies in the central part of Kočevski Rog, along Roška Road, 8 km from Podturn and just under 5 km from the Rog sawmill.
The village was founded in around 1580 by Countess Blagajska and her son. It was a roadside village. It was inhabited by Gottschee Germans, but after 1880 Slovenes also lived there. For the most part they were involved in forest work, mainly timber and charcoal production. The timber was sold to the Rog sawmill, and the charcoal to forges in the Dolenjska region, the Dvor ironworks and, between the wars, the Soteska estate, which transported it from the railway station at Straža to the Mediterranean. Crop cultivation and animal husbandry in the surrounding area did not even provide for the local people’s own needs. In the 19th century they also produced potash. Up until the Second World War the village had a school, a steam-powered sawmill, a forestry office, a church and an inn.
The villagers moved out in December 1941 and the village was burnt down by the Italians in the summer of 1942. All the major Partisan institutions operated in the area surrounding the village until the end of the war: the military and political leadership of the resistance, the majority of the Rog hospitals, the printing press and the school.
The village was not rebuilt after the war. Out of the ruins emerged only a hunting lodge, a forester’s hut and a building for forest workers, which was inhabited up to the end of the 1970s. Today it houses a beekeeping centre.
The abandoned village of Komarna Vas lies on a plain on the eastern margin of Kočevski Rog, around 3.5 km from Črmošnjice and a kilometre from the Rog Črmošnjice ski resort.
In 1574 the settlement comprised three farms with more than 20 inhabitants. Their number then grew continuously up until 1910. The village had almost no ethnic Slovene inhabitants, and the language spoken in all houses was the Gottscheer dialect. The villagers occupied themselves with forest work, and domestic crafts were also highly developed. They made woodenware – mainly pails, tubs, buckets and small barrels – which they sold in Karlovec. The village had a shoemaker, two tailors and a shop. The school was in the nearby village of Štale.
The villagers moved out in December 1941 and the village was burnt down by the Italians in July 1942. The administration of the Slovene Central Military Partisan Hospital operated out of the only surviving house from December 1943 to April 1945. Close to the village were several Partisan hospitals and a number of hidden stores of sanitary materials.
The village was not rebuilt after the war, and the ruins of the houses were used as construction material for road building. The ruins of the church can still be clearly seen on the hill above the village. Just one building stands in the village today. In a neighbouring sinkhole a burial site has been converted into a cenotaph (a symbolic, empty grave) and a monument to the wounded who died in the Partisan hospital.
The Rog sawmill lies at an altitude of 840 m, at the highest point of Roška Road, at a distance of 13 km from Podturn 13 km, and 15.5 km from Kočevje.
The establishing of the sawmill in 1894 is linked to the construction of the Kočevsko and Dolenjska railways, which enabled the faster and cheaper transport of wood from Rog. It was the first modern steam-powered sawmill in Rog. During the boom years before the First World War, around 400 people worked in the settlement. Each year they processed up to 40,000 m³ of timber. The sawmill was the biggest and most modern industrial timber plant in Slovenia. It had its own forge, workshops, a modern drying shed, a generator and its own mains water. Two huge cisterns were built to catch rainwater. In order to reach more remote locations, 32 km of narrow-gauge railway were built. Competition in the Mediterranean, to which the majority of the wood was shipped, and ultimately the economic crisis of the 1930s, brought the sawmill to its knees . The sawmill ceased operating in 1935 and the machinery was sold off. In the summer of 1942 it was burnt down by Italian troops.
After the war the district forester lived here with his family. Today it is a scout centre. The other buildings are in ruins and are becoming increasingly overgrown with forest, but this spot is a popular starting point for climbing up to the summit of Rog.
At the Partisan hospitals, the wounded who died were buried in sinkholes close to the base. The burial was performed according to the regulation issued in August 1943 by the administration of the Slovene Central Military Partisan Hospital (SCVPB).
During the funeral there was at least one comrade from the base leadership present, who would bid farewell to the deceased with the Partisan salute. At least three Partisans had to know of the grave, and their names were known to the administration. The grave had to be at least 1.5 m deep. It was marked by a cross or small stake, which was hidden in the event of danger. Underneath they buried a little bottle with all the data on the deceased, including the date and cause of death. Each hospital base had to make a sketch of the terrain with graves marked and keep this in their archive, so records could be put in order after the war.
The personal effects of the deceased (ID, photographs, notes, money) had to be carefully collected, inventoried and sent to the SCVPB administration. Other equipment and effects were at the disposal of the base leaders, who could use their own judgement to distribute them among the wounded and staff.
After the war, the wounded and patients who had died were disinterred in the 1950s and reburied in their home cemeteries, and eight emptied burial sites were transformed into cenotaphs (symbolic, empty graves).
When the war was over the victorious Yugoslav Army killed several thousand occupation collaborators in the chasms of Rog. They included Slovene Home Guard members and members of other Yugoslav military forces, and also civilians.
Up until 1990, people only spoke about the chasms of Rog and the people killed in them in whispers.
After the Mass for the killed Home Guard members and the reconciliation ceremony on 8 July 1990 near the chasm below Kren, this subject has increasingly become part of Slovenia’s awareness and reality, although neither at the individual level nor at the national level have we yet been able to face up to the now approximately 600 recorded locations of post-war killings in Slovenia. This is of course still very noticeable in Kočevski Rog, where in 20 years not even a signpost has been put up showing the way to eight discovered grave sites. The chasm below Kren was first marked and arranged by individual relatives, who were exasperated at the indifference of the state, then by societies, and finally by the government.
Kočevski Rog was a synonym for post-war killings even before independence, and the chasm below Kren was selected as a symbolic location in memory of those killed, partly because it stands in the Slovene consciousness as the biggest grave site of Home Guard members killed after the war. But field research carried out in recent years negates that belief. All the findings point to the chasm below the nearby hill of Macesnov Gorica as being the biggest grave site of Home Guard members killed in Rog.
Kočevski Rog: the mountain range
Kočevski Rog covers more than five hundred square kilometres of varied karst landscape between the Kočevsko-Ribniško polje (karst plain), Suha Krajina, the Novo Mesto basin and Bela Krajina. The highest peak is the 1099 m Veliki Rog.
The climate is cool and damp, a result of the mixing of Alpine, Mediterranean and continental air currents. Living conditions are harsh, so until recently human influence has been slight. The forests are primarily fir and beech, with the main tree species being fir, beech, spruce, maple, elm, ash, linden and wild cherry. The preserved natural environment offers a habitat in which the three biggest European predators have survived (wolf, bear and lynx), along with biungulates, birds of prey, owls and other wild animals. Three virgin forests have also been preserved in this area.
The former cultural landscape, shaped over the centuries by ethnic Germans known as Gottscheer, is becoming increasingly overgrown with forest, which represents the climax vegetation of this area, known locally simply as “Rog”. With over 90% forest cover, this can be described as a forest landscape.
Today Rog has very few permanent residents. Traditional economic activities include farming, forestry (100 years ago more than half of Slovenia’s charcoal was prepared here), and today also hunting and hunting-related tourism. Kočevski Rog represents one of the rare islands of still high-quality natural environment in Slovenia and Central Europe.