The effect of the Second World War on Maribor can be seen in a number of ways. Most generally it’s true to say that the development south of the Drava is post war, that part of the city having sustained heavy damage, so there you’ll find more apartment blocks and the newer industrial areas. Sadly Maribor’s old town, the Lent district on the northern side of the Drava is much smaller because that area sustained some damage too. By the end of the war Maribor was the most bombed city in Yugoslavia.
Maribor was occupied by the Germans from 1941 to May 1945. Adolf Hitler famously said when he visited Maribor in 1941 "Make all this German again". Many photographs exist of this visit, and the reception held for him in Maribor Castle, and some can be seen in the National Liberation Museum in the town centre.
When I think of Maribor and the Second World War I think of it in two ways. One is how Slovenia, as part of a greater Yugoslavia, helped defeat the Germans; the other how the partisans, led by Josip Brozs ‘Tito’, paved the way for a socialist Yugoslavia.
Like many eastern bloc (though I maintain, as do most Slovenes I know that this is most definitely central Europe) cities, Maribor has a Freedom Square (in Slovene Trg Svobode). It’s used as a venue for events like fairs and concerts and at its southern edge there’s a curious sculpture known locally as ‘Kodjak’ because it’s domed top resembles a certain television detective. Officially it’s known as the ‘National Liberation Monument’. From a distance the monument looks odd but hardly special; get closer, however, and you will see the faces of some of the heroes of the liberation of Yugoslavia on the panels between the thick iron sections. You can also see copies of documents proclaiming the shooting of hostages (there were over 600 altogether) as well as part of a farewell letter written by one of them, Joze Fluks. (There’s another memorial to these people on the wall at the back of the old prison courtyard on Sodna Ulica on the approach to the Tito Bridge. There the names of those killed are engraved on granite plaques.)
Trg Borisa Kidrica commemorates one of Tito’s right hand men. Boris Kidric became leaser of the Slovenian Communist Party in 1937 and was instrumental in planning the Partisan struggle during the Second World War. After the war he held the post of Yugoslav Finance Minister until 1953. A stark monument on the square depicts a relief of his face, held up on a block by abstract figures.
Our next port of call is in the Melje district, a little further away but walkable if you have fifteen minutes to spare. At the eastern end of Partizanska, cross over and walk under the railway bridge and then the motorway flyover. Keep walking and at Kremplova ulica take a left and keep walking until you come to some warehouse buildings. This was Stalag 306, camp for prisoners during captured in Crete; most of those held here were from Britain or the Commonwealth. At its peak there were 4,500 prisoners. At the eastern end of the first row of buildings there’s a modest memorial to those who died here. Stalag 306 opened in 1941 and was in operation until the end of the war. While it was being built about one thousand prisoners lived in tents at the site.
As we’ve explored Maribor and its outskirts we’ve continued to find these little reminders of the War. While lost (though we wouldn’t admit it) on a cycle ride one day a few miles south of Maribor near Race, we heard the rumble of a train and knew that following the path by the railway track would guide us home. We must have taken a train on this line forty of fifty times over the last few years but only with the more genteel speed of a bicycle did we spot a red star peeking out between the trees. A sign marks the site of a camp where partisan soldiers once hid out in the woods, planning their next moves.
It’s not exactly clear when Jewish people first settled in what is now Slovenia but it is known that there were certainly Jewish villages in the Eastern Alps area in the 11th century. The numbers reached their peak in the nineteenth century but in the early 20th century the Jews of Prekmurje, to the east of Maribor, were the most important and influential of the Jewish communities within Slovenia. Very few Slovenian Jews survived the concentration camps; a few returned immediately after the war but left again, feeling forced out by the policies of the post-war regime. Maribor’s synagogue, on the north bank of the Drava still exists but is now an important arts venue.