The World War I, or the so-called Great War, is known as one of the greatest tragedies in human history. It has not befallen only countries or areas where the battles were taking place, but also the hinterland. This also includes the Kočevska region. When mobilisation was ordered on 26 July 2014, the Gottscheers like other inhabitants also were not conscious of the gravity of the situation. The Gottscheer Kalender states that boys and men from the Mozelj parish were leaving for battlefields “with fervour, humour and devil-may-care attitude as though they were going to military exercises in peacetime. They were expecting to return before Christmas; however, the reality was that many of them never again saw their threshold.
Approximately 1600 men left their homes. Most were assigned to the 3rd Corpus, the 17th Infantry Regiment. They mainly fought on the so-called Eastern or Russian Front (in Galicia) as well as on the Isonzo and Italian fronts. During the first year of the war until the autumn of 1915, every 14th Gottscheer soldier was decorated or praised for the courage they have shown. However, we have no accurate information about how many Gottscheer men lost their lives in the war. Most of the fallen were buried abroad in the vicinity of battlefields.
The memorial plaque in Borovec (Morobitz)
After the war, monuments, chapels and memorials were put up throughout Europe, in Slovenia as well, in memory of fallen soldiers or honouring their happy homecoming. The first World War I monument or memorial plaque for the fallen in the Kočevska region was set up in the church of St. Michael in Borovec (Morobitz) on 1 September 1922. The 1 meter high and 80 cm wide grey Carrara marble plaque which bears names of fallen soldiers that were inscribed in golden letters was mounted on the right-side church wall under the pulpit. It was made by the company Venchiarutti und Stander from Štalcerji.
The memorial plaque in Stara Cerkev (Mitterdorf)
Four years later, the commemoration of casualties from Borovec was followed by Stara Cerkev (Mitterdorf). The 2.46 m high and 1.50 wide plaque made of karst and Belgian black marble that was crafted by the stonecutter Alojz Vodnik from Ljubljana, was built on the belfry of the Assumption of Mary Church. The midsection of the plaque bears 60 names of the fallen soldiers from the Stara Cerkev parish. At the top, there is an engraved image of a fully armed fallen soldier lying in an idyllic landscape. Under the plaque, there is an epitaph in German that reads: “Let the monument proclaim glory to heroes and gratefulness towards homeland for generations to come!” The rail made by a master locksmith Eppich gives an impression that it is a memorial place or symbolic common grave of soldiers whose bodies have never been transported to the homeland. The plaque was blessed on the Nativity of Our Lady on 8 September 1926. The monument was consecrated by the Dean Ferdinand Erker from Kočevje. The celebration that lasted all day was attended by inhabitants en masse, and two brass bands played at the festive ceremony. In 2009, the monument was renovated. The renovation was paid by the Gottscheer Landsmannschaft Klagenfurt.
The memorial plaque in Stara Cerkev is the only World War I memorial for the fallen that has been preserved to this day in the Kočevska region. The plaque from the church of St. Michael in Borovec was destroyed together with the church. In 1943, Italian troops burnt down the church, and the ruins were removed in 1952. We can conclude that in wider Kočevska area existed several chapels or crosses in memory of the World War I, which were however destroyed after the World War II.
The chapel of the Mother of God
Among them is also the chapel of the Mother of God that was solemnly consecrated on 2 October 1921. It was situated on the way from Kočevje towards Stara Cerkev and Mala Gora (Malgern). Its construction was paid by Maria Tscherne and Josefa Eppich from Mahovnik (Mosswald) for sake of the happy homecoming of their husbands. This chapel was also consecrated by the Dean Erker. The Pastor Josef Eppich reported that town-dwelling passers-by as well as visitors of Kočevje and coalminers who were returning from the coal mine, liked to make a stop before this splendourous image that was even fitted with electrical lighting. He announced that the linden tree that was planted next to the chapel will further improve the surrounding area, but unfortunately he was mistaken. No trace of the chapel nor the linden tree can be found today.
Other WW1 monuments in wider Kočevska (Gottschee) area
In the wider Kočevska region, there are still (at least) two World War I monuments. A stone cross in honour of the happy return from the war was erected in Mirtoviči by Anton Štimec from Mirtoviči. The locals call it Mihejl’s cross (Mihejlov križ) which still stands by the Mirtoviči – Petrina road. The chapel honouring the return of soldiers is still standing in the White Carniolan part of the former Gottscheer settlement area in the village Seč (Setch).
– Gottscheer Kalender (1925, 1929).
– Gottscheer Zeitung (1921-1927).
– Vanda Trdan: Zabrisane sledi 1996: (zgodovina Kočevarjev od 1900 do 1918). Diploma thesis.
– Makarovič, Marija, Kordiš, Ivan idr. 2002: Dva bregova, eno srce: življenjske pripovedi iz doline Kolpe in Čabranke. Kočevje: Pokrajinski muzej.
– Zupan, Gojko, Ferenc, Mitja, Dolinar, France M. 1993: Cerkve na Kočevskem nekoč in danes = Die Gottscheer Kirchen einst und heute. Kočevje: Župnija, Muzej.
– Zupan, Gojko, Ferenc, Mitja 2011-2013: Izgubljene kočevske vasi: nekoč so z nami živeli kočevski Nemci. Ljubljana: Znanstvena založba Filozofske fakultete.