Only twenty kilometres from both the stunning resort town of Bled and the towering three-headed travel wonder Mount Triglav, the small village of Cerkno showcases the Yugoslav partisan ingenuity during World War Two. From early 1944 to the end of the war, a secret hospital supported the resistance movement against the occupying Italian, German and Nazi forces.
Named after the remarkable physician Franja Bidovec, the Franj Partisan Hospital is an evocative reminder of the humanity that exists even in the harshness of war. It contains thirteen basic buildings strewn along a rough path including operating theatres, isolation units, an X-ray room, electric power plant, kitchens and general wards (see entry ticket at the end for rough layout of the hospital – unfortunately in Croatian).
Located in semi-permanent dinginess in a deep, remote and spectacular gorge and protected by minefields, drawbridges and nests of machine guns, injured soldiers were blindfolded and taken into this remarkable medical facility at night. Food and medical supplies were airdropped by Allied forces, though many medical instruments were fashioned by the creativity of the local staff. A printing facility churned out a hospital newsletter for the convalescing patients. Despite coming under attack on occasions, the hospital was never discovered during the war.
Over the year and a half, over 1000 soldiers were treated including over 500 severely wounded men and at peak operations, the hospital managed 120 patients.
Though you don’t need to be blindfolded and carted in at night, the original entrance of bridges and narrow pathways over a rapid-running, energetic stream remain. This evocative reminder of people’s ingenuity and compassion in difficult times of battle has been preserved in its form at the end of the war, highlighting the inventiveness, the desperation and pure tragedy of war.
Tragically, in September 2007, heavy rainfall engulfed the narrow gorge and swept away many of the hospital’s buildings. With both government and private support, the hospital is being reconstructed to preserve this valuable historic museum.