“Lest we forget…” by Minja Pješčić

In the brilliant artist mind, what the fallen represented, their sacrifice and what they meant to the living, was timeless and universal, and such had to be the monument built in their honour. Bogdan Bogdanović did not delve into symbols and signs of the times…


When I think of Esad
I wonder
what was it like 
to die
just shy of eighteen
one dewy September morning
in Zagreb, in 1944
an execution squad
arms of death
at yourself
at the abyss
what was it like
to give your own life
for justice
for friends
for Mostar
the city it would become
(albeit for a short time…)
when you felt 
like living 
did your knees tremble
eyes flinched
your thoughts
wander away
for a moment
fly away
to your home
the depths of the Neretva
your school
favourite lane
or rag ball 
did your soul
catch a glimpse of
the pain that was going to
consume your parents
I keep wondering
what it was like
to take
your last breath
and whether 
at that very moment
one thinks of life
or death
I keep wondering
if your eyes
stayed open
what else they saw
or the inevitable
did you pity
frail like a bird
or the
one life
we are given to live
gone in a blink
I keep wondering
what it was like
to lie
shirt bloodied
dead bodies piled up
in the pits of Dotrščina
your dignity
… I keep wondering


Illustration by Maja Rubinić

Esad Čerkić was a teen from Mostar who, like many of his contemporaries, had joined the anti-fascist movement. He was captured and executed without trial alongside ten other young men in 1944. Esad's name was commemorated on the Partisan Cemetery in Mostar, carved for decades into a tree trunk shaped stone until it was shattered into pieces over one night in May 2022.

The poem Keep wondering was written in 2021 by Esad's great-niece and published by Abraš Radio for the project Mostovi Hercegovine 2.0. The poem was translated by the author in 2023 and published with her permission.

Esad’s commemorative plaque is in the middle row, second from the left (picture taken in 2021). The shape of the stones reminds us of cut trees, a symbol of youth and young lives cut short. 

Source: https://abrasradio.info/prije-natpisa-bio-je-covjek-esad-cerkic-minja-pjescic-mostovi-hercegovine-2-0/ 

This is what Esad’s and all other plaques look like today – the hammers of destructions did this in vain hope the names will be forgotten and plaques never pieced together again. 

Source: https://www.pcnen.com/portal/2022/06/15/unisteno-partizansko-spomen-groblje-u-mostaru/ 

It was September 1944, Zagreb. A group of eleven young men was taken to a nearby park called Dotrščina – what could have been a lovely place, if it wasn't for regular executions since the early days of war. It may not have been dawn yet, or it might have been a warm night or a windy one. Those who were going to die might have taken a last look at the skies, or they might have stared at their executioners in search of signs of humanness or to show their own lack of fear. We will never know. As much as we will never know where their bodies are today. The group was summarily executed and their bodies dumped in a mass grave, so that we may never uncover their identity. They were dismissed as traitors to a nazi state, deemed not worth living, having a future, even having a grave for that matter. 

Among them was Esad Čerkić from Mostar, just days shy of his 18th birthday, a young member of the Yugoslavian Résistance. Months earlier, appalled by executions and suffering inflicted on the population of Mostar, he had volunteered to infiltrate the enemy ranks in an attempt to switch people and equipment to the anti-fascist cause. 

The fact is, I don’t know where Esad lies today. His body may still be in Dotrščina, or it may have been moved to a special place in Mostar, a couple of decades later, when local authorities hired a renowned architect to design a monument that would dignify and commemorate the fallen youth like Esad. 

In the brilliant artist mind, what the fallen represented, their sacrifice and what they meant to the living, was timeless and universal, and such had to be the monument built in their honour. Bogdan Bogdanović did not delve into symbols and signs of the times. He was interested in continuity, inspired by legends and places hidden in prehistoric Balkans references,  medieval monuments called stećci, and inescapably, Stari most, which he called “the most beautiful and the bravest of all the bridges in the world, a godly creation”. In vision of this master of all things monumental, there were going to be two Mostars – the city of the living and the city of the dead antifascist youth, the latter having perished so the former could live. In any case, he wanted to create something that would last longer than our times, an inviting place where one could come to honour, ponder, admire, and where families could gather and take walks. 

For that purpose, he hired skilled stone masons from the island of Korčula which brought with them their artistic know-how with lots of white stone in tow. They turned these stones into a magnificent monumental park-structure, the last home for around 800 named and some 500+ actually buried Herzegovinians. The bard of all-things-architectural and his stone masons worked relentlessly with full support of families and citizens; and the sounds of their diligent efforts could have been heard around for months and years. 

Esad had his final home in this stone city for a while, alongside similar heroic and prematurely lost lives. Lives of those who can’t speak for themselves, for they died silently, without any last words, and whose silent words some want to take away again. Most are like Esad. They barely made it to their adult years, wanting to live, dying nevertheless. Most have no direct descendants, no children, no grandchildren or great grandchildren of their own. Those who died so young that, if they were lucky, stood a chance of post-humously becoming uncles and aunts, at best. 

For all I know, the Partisan Cemetery has always been there, my entire life. I don’t know a Mostar without it. It has always been a part of the hill where it was erected, not too far from my school and the city block where I grew up. We visited it during our school trips, usually bringing flowers, running around and trying to find those that we are part of and that are part of us. 

Fast forward many years. In 2021, I took part in project “Mostovi Hercegovine 2.0” organized by Abraš Radio from Mostar. I wrote a short essay on Esad’s death (something I had researched years earlier), and even found inspiration for a poem. I had visited the monument, found Esad’s plaque and took a picture to accompany the article. My husband and I walked along the same pathways, just like I did as a school girl decades earlier, looking again for Esad’s name. This time the place was deserted, grey and sinister. It had lost the dignity from years before. It reeked of neglect and danger. It still looked beautiful from afar, but when near, it evoked fear. I felt unsafe, like I was supposed to look over my shoulder, but I tried to keep a brave face. I felt like I owed it to the people whose names I could still see carved on stones. 

Little did I know that the beauty can be destroyed even more. It took many hands and many years to build this monument, and it looks like a single dark night of covert wrongdoing (by what could have been just a handful of perpetrators emboldened by hatred) and coupled with years of disregard and neglect – was enough to destroy it. It must have been the most powerful and the lowest of way too many blows the monument has sustained in past decades. But I won’t call it the final blow, because that it can never be. The monument, like life, must go on.

Yes, my great-uncle Esad, who had died just a boy and whom I have never met, today has a shattered commemorative plaque in the Partisan cemetery in Mostar. But even if it wasn’t for him and his story, the act of intended, targeted destruction would have hurt just as much. I, like so many people throughout the region, want to see the memory preserved, the beauty admired, the dead respected – especially those vulnerable and without progeny of their own – all of it protected. The living taking care of its dead, like it has been done since the dawn of time. The citizens of the world taking care of the world artistic heritage, like it should be done in modern times. 


Minja Pješčić was born and raised in Mostar. She has published several multi-language dictionaries and compilations of proverbs and sayings, a chapbook on words and expressions from Mostar, and a book of poetry (“Dobri naš junak i čoek”). Her poems have received recognition in regional poetry contests  (“Najvažniji oprost”, Avlija (2021), “Balada o vezenom vitezu“, Musa Ćazim Ćatić (2021)) and included in poetry collections (Avlija (2021) i Sinđelićeve čegarske vatre (2022)). She has published poems, essays, short story, interview and translations in several literary magazines and portals, and has been included in collection of translations of American texts on topics of migration, refugees and exile “Sve ptice imaju krila” (Fondacija “Publika”, group of translators, 2022). She is currently finishing her latest book – a lexicon of over 5800 medieval names of Bosnia and Hum. 

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