The previous century was the most dramatic in the history of humanity. We created an incredible amount of breaking through inventions while having two of the hardest wars of all time. It seems that the greatest people of science and the most charismatic political leaders were born in the same hospitals and slept in neighbor cradles. However, how to feel these times on your own?
Franja Partisan Hospital was the secret hospital in the times of the Second World War. It never was found by soldiers and saved almost 1000 human lives. Thus, it became the symbol of national resistance and cultural monument. After the war, the hospital became a museum visited by more than 1,630,000 visitors nowadays.
History never was boring. School lessons were boring, though. Of course, reading requires a lot of brain energy as well as good imagination. However, what about touching, breathing the air, seeing the cracked wood soaked with the blood of a soldier of WWII, and so on? Right, it connects directly to your senses and makes you experience history.
Franja Partisan Hospital is an example of how history should have been taught.
What is Franja Partisan Hospital?
First of all, it was a secret hospital that was never discovered. Moreover, this place took wounded soldiers from both sides. There was no place for ideology when the point was to save people’s lives. That’s why time stopped there until nowadays.
The hospital was organized by the Slovene partisans, which became a great opposition power on the edge of the Balkans and Central-Eastern Europe. It is located at the Dolenji Novaki village near the Cerkno town in western Slovenia. Today Franja Hospital is a museum. It has been protected as a cultural monument of national significance, and now it is one of the candidates to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
The hospital consists of 16 buildings, each with its own feelings of desperation and hope. In 2007 it was flooded, very unfortunately. In 2010, it was reconstructed and completely rebuilt, but the environment was saved and still working as a time machine to World War II.
The History of Franja Partisan Hospital
Partisans were the biggest power of resistance in the Balkans. When the Fascist Italian and Nazi German threat appeared on the peninsula, the Allied Powers were already busy on the other parts of the front. As Slovenia is a mountainous country at more than two thirds, the tactic of partisan seemed the best option.
Furthermore, even Yugoslavia as a “reincarnated” socialistic country appeared because of the Yugoslav partisans and their leader, Josip Broz Tito, who later became the leader of the future federation. Also, the Soviet Union didn’t help them but didn’t occupy them either. This led to Yugoslavia’s autonomy in terms of external policy direction. This culminated in Tito-Stalin Split, a political decision of Yugoslavia to choose its own way of building socialism. Yugoslavia gave more freedoms to its republics than the USSR did. That’s why Slovenia could build a good economy before even gaining its own independence.
However, let’s return back to the times of the Second World War and partisan resistance. Franja Hospital was created in 1943 in the culmination moments of the war. What is more impressive is the fact it was located a few hours from Austria and the central parts of the Third Reich. Nazi troops were searching around this area quite often, but it has never been found. The hospital was located deep inside the forest, and the only entrance was through one of the bridges. This was quite a wise move, in fact.
However, it was only the first line of protection. Those bridges could be taken away when the enemy was near. The buildings were camouflaged themselves, the hospital lay in a gorge, and even the forests in this part were dark and hard for reconnaissance. Around the hospital, there were put machine gun nests and minefields. All the patients were transported into the location blindfolded in order to prevent information leaks.
It was founded by Viktor Volčjak, however, named in honor of Franja Bojc Bidovec, the Partisan doctor in charge, who started to work here later, in 1944. It became the best equipped partisan hospital in history. There was an operation room, an X-ray apparatus, an individual electric plant, and facilities for invalids.
The hospital could suit 120 patients at once. In total, it saved lives for 578 heavily wounded soldiers, whereas 78 patients died during the operation process. Archives show a total number of 877 patients who got treated in Franja Hospital. Most of them were Slovenes and people from other Yugoslav republics. However, there were cases of people from Italy, France, Poland, the Soviet Union, the USA, two Austrians, and even one German soldier who stayed as a part of hospital staff until the end of the war.
The hospital operated until 5 May 1945. At that time, Slovenia became a republic within the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia. This was the country that fought the enemy without any help from outside. Already mentioned above, Josip Broz Tito once said, “I am the leader of one country which has two alphabets, three languages, four religions, five nationalities, six republics, surrounded by seven neighbors, a country in which live eight ethnic minorities.” This diversity played the uniting role when Slovenes, Croats, Serbians, Bosnians, Montenegrins, and Macedonians opposed the Nazi threat.
Franja Hospital after the War
After the tragic events, Franja became well-known. The hospital became the symbol of heroism, solidarity, and struggle. Already in 1952, the Council of the Government of the People’s Republic of Slovenia for Education and Culture listed it as a protected monument. Thus, nobody could enter it without a permit. In 1967, the hospital became a part of the Cerkno Museum. In 1997, the American Association of Air Force Veterans awarded it and Slovenia for saving an American pilot, Harold Adams.
In 1999, the place became a cultural monument of national importance. Soon after, Slovenia applied for inclusion into the UNESCO World Heritage List. In 2003, issued the special stamp on the honor of the 60th anniversary of Franja Hospital, which won the nomination of the stamp of the year in Slovenia. As we mentioned above, it was flooded and damaged in 2007. However, in three years, in 2010, the hospital was successfully renovated. It was heavily destructed, and local governments even didn’t believe in the rebuilding. However, over 1,100 donations from different people showed that this place is too important for the Slovenian nation to leave it without a fight.
In 2015, it was given the European Heritage Label by the European Union for a symbolic role in the history of European culture. This was the big day for the museum. At that time, 15 significant places from Poland, Germany, Greece, France, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Lithuania received the award. Ivana Leskovec, Director of the Idrija Municipal Museum, and Milojka Magajne, the chief curator of the Franja Partisan Hospital collection, attended the ceremony in Brussels and uncovered the label for three days after, on the official ceremony in the hospital museum.
In 2018, it reached a total number of visitors of 1,630,000, a third of whom were foreigners.
A Symbol of Slovenian Pride
The Second World War became a dark time in human history. However, we learned the lesson and moved further. Of course, we can look at the thing negatively and think that Franja Hospital is an example of how the war is bad. However, in reality, it is about how much those people did. All the doctors who saved lives, all the creators who built this hidden miracle.
Franja Hospital also became a symbol of Slovenian pride. It showed that anything is impossible if you create things for humanity. Furthermore, the idea of a hospital near the enemy’s center was ideal because it is hard to find something too close to your eyes. This created even legends and myths among the German Nazi army. Somebody believed, but somebody didn’t. In the end, it became the truth.
Slovenians, together with other Yugoslav nations, did a great job in creating such a powerful partisan army. In fact, it managed to recapture all the former territories of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. This later transformed into the People’s Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that was a socialistic country.
Partisans were not military people. They had no special knowledge about military warfare. However, they had an incredible will to have their own land in freedom and peace. This factor multiplied on the intelligence of some people like creators of the Franja Hospital, or the dedication of doctors led to expelling the threat from the Balkans.
That’s why studying history is important. Those people are worth remembering. Moreover, in the Franja Hospital Museum, you can do it in quite an interesting way. Frankly speaking, it’s the look from outside, the fresh view on historical events, and just an important place inside the dark forest that is worth visiting if you ever happen to be in Slovenia.