Karel Destovnik Kajuh

Karel Destovnik – Kajuh

Karel Destovnik, known under the partisan name Kajuh, was Slovenian poet, translator and national hero, who was born on December 19th, 1922 in Šoštanj, he died on February 22nd, 1944 on Žlebnik’s homestead in Šentvid nad Zavodnjami. He was born as an illegitimate child to mother Marija Vasle from a wealthy Šoštanj bourgeois family. Karel’s father was Jože Destovnik from the peasant-proletarian family. Marija and Jože got married on August 14th, 1923 in Ljubljana, they temporarily move to Destovnik’s parents in Šoštanj, later they move to Vasle home, in hotel Yugoslavia. On October 18th, 1924 another son is born, Joži.

Karel started elementary school at the age of five, where without any problems finishes all five classes and in the year 1933 passes preliminary for Celje gymnasium. Because of his rich extra-curricular cultural and political activities in Celje and Šoštanj, the school suffered. His literary beginnings and cooperations in various bulletins date back to the year 1938. He published in Mladi Prekmurec (en. Young Prekmurian), Srednješolec (en. High school student), Novi Srednješkolec (en. New high school student), Mlada Slovenija (en. Young Slovenia), Slovenski poročevalec (en. Slovenian reporter), Slovenska mladina (en. Slovenian youth), Sodobnost (en. Modernity), Naša žena (en. Our wife) and more.

As a young writer, he was hiding behind many names, like Drago Jeran, Peter Kalin, Blaž Burjevestnik, Matevž Pečnik, Jernej Puntar, Kajhov Tonč (en. Kajuh’s Tonč). Through the cultural activity, he meets Marija Medved, who was his first love. This is how his social poetry, for which he draws his inspiration from the capitalist-non-German environment of his birthplace, got a love dimension.

When he was finishing six grade of general high school, a letter containing illegal content was found at him while on his way from Žalec to Šoštanja, and because of that, on April 29th, 1940, he was permanently expelled from Celje general high school, for collaboration at spreading communist ideas. Later he managed to enroll in Maribor general high school, where he finished six grade and enrolled to seventh, which he successfully pursued until a half year until the fateful year 1941 comes.

Because of his advanced orientation, he has long been recognized as a state enemy, that is why he was in the context of prosecution of political opponents, under the pretense of appeal for weapon exercises, on January 20th, 1941 sent to a concentration camp in Medjurećje in Serbia. Around a thousand Slovenians, Bosnians and Macedonians were sent into this concentration camp, where he spent fourteen days.

On April 6th, 1941 an attack on Yugoslavia occurs, at that time, Karel and the group of like-minded people went to Zasavje hills, to join the rebellion of Yugoslav army, but the group was in police action shattered. Kajuh then returns back home to Šoštanj with pneumonia and with a rib injury. Despite that, he was hiding, he was arrested by Gestapo on April 28th and taken to prison in Šmartno pri Slovenj Gradcu. After numerous hearings and torture, he was released after a few weeks. As Šoštanj was no longer safe, he goes to Ljubljana, where he joins the illegal movement, becomes a member of SIS (Secure Intelligence Service), for which he was doing intelligence tasks. At the same time, he participated in the cultural life of the occupied city. At the end of the year 1941, he meets Silva Ponikvar, his new big love.

1943 Stari trg (en. Old square) – Karel Destovnik Kajuh recites at a rally

In the cycle of love poems (Bosa pojdiva – en. Barefoot let’s go, Samo en cvet – en. Only one flower), he combined love to his homeland and love to Silva, which he was sending her and their never born child in prison in many sentients, passionate and gentle letters, where she was sent by Italian occupier. He believed that love, be it as passionate and deep, would come true only in the liberated and renewed homeland. In that time, his best and most beautiful poetry is created, which was secretly transcribed and spread in Ljubljana, other occupied territories and in partisan units and with it encouraged the struggle against the occupier. With pseudonym Kajuh’s Tonč, which is supposed to originate from the name of the farm of his ancestors in Skorno pri Šoštanju – Kajuh, also kanjuh, kanja, he signs for the first time in the year 1942 in magazine Naša žena (en. Our wife).

Because staying in Ljubljana becomes too dangerous, in August in the year 1943 he joins partisans in Upper Carniola and becomes the leader of the cultural group of XIV. division, which organizes numerous meetings in the liberated territory of Upper Carniola. As a communist, he believes in victory over the occupier and fairer arrangement, not least, he is one of the rare poets to have set his life for these ideas.

In partisan times he wrote only two or three poems, among them Pesem štirinajste divizije (en. The poem of fourteenth division), however, in impossible conditions, on November 18th, 1943, in half-rotted shack in Stari Ogenci in Inner Carniola, his first poetry collection was published, where twenty-seven poems are collected. The collection is a published in circulation of 38 copies.

XIV. division was at the beginning of January in the year 1944 sent to Suha krajina in Styria, to get new territories, followers and fighters. Military march of XIV. division was due to unusually harsh winter and great enemy superiority changed into the biggest saga of Slovenian national liberation struggle. After days of fighting and breakthroughs, on February 22nd, the members of the cultural group of XIV. divison, tired to death, settled in Žlebnik’s homestead in Zavodnje. In that time, the homestead is attacked by a bigger group of German soldiers and gunmen, in the attack, under the fire of gunman of Slovenian nationality France Černet, Karel Destovnik Kajuh is killed. In July 1953, Karel Destovnik Kajuh is, as only Slovenian culturist, proclaimed for a national hero.

Karel Destovnik Kajuh – Slovenska pesem (en. Slovenian poem)

Karel Destovnik Kajuh is considered as a typical representative of Slovenian literature in the first half of the 20th century, at the same time he breaks the boundary of distinctly lyrical literary interpretive elements and is strongly related to real political actions in Slovenian, European and World environment of 30. and 40. years of the 20th century. In his poems, he substantively relates to the expressionistic orientation of the lyric subject into the inner world, which foundations are represented by distress, internal divisiveness, the anticipation of a catastrophic future, paradoxically connected with youthful optimism of feeling the future. However, Kajuh already had a distinctly real politically engaged lyricism in the pre-war period, impregnated with the poet’s understanding of social realism, Slovenian nationality question, and mainly social and socially engaged topics.

With an attack on Yugoslavia as part of the April war, Kajuh emerges as Slovenia’s most important representative of partisan lyricism, which the main purpose is a call for rebellion. His poems had open agitation in mobilization role, and have successfully interwoven the theme of struggle with the motives of love, family, and death. Poems gain in popularity, because of their straightforwardness, melodiousness, thoroughly formed rhetorical scheme and simpleness. This intertwining is very obviously in poems Pesem talcev (en. The poem of hostages), Materi padlega partizana (en. To the mother of the fallen partisan), Pred smrtjo (en. Before death). This content contrast achieves its peak in the poem Bosa pojdiva, dekle, obsorej (en. Barefoot let’s go, girl, at this hour).

Karel Destovnik Kajuh, in the year 1953, received the Order of the national hero, with that he becomes one of 156 Slovenian recipients of this order, Yugoslav military decoration, which was awarded to participants of National Liberation Struggle, who proved heroically in combat and for heroic posture against the class enemy.

In Šoštanj elementary school Destovnik Kajuh, Kajuh’s home, Kajuh park, and Kajuh street are named after him. His memorial structure stands in Žlebnik at White waters (si. Bele vode), where on February 22nd, 1944 he had fallen. In Ljubljana Kajuh street and elementary school are named after him, in Celje, they named I. general high school, Kajuh hall, and Kajuh street. Also Kajuh street in Izola and in Beograd’s settlement Kotež, also streets, roads, and squares elsewhere in Slovenia, among others in Maribor, Poljčane, Preserje, Mozirje and elsewhere. Kajuh reading badge for elementary school students and Kajuh award.


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Karel Destovnik Kajuh – Slovene poem
The Slovene poem (si. Slovenska pesem) is a homeland, socio-critical, rebellious and accusatory poem. In it, the author notes that we are a small nation. However, suffering will never break us. However, suffering will never break us. It raises the self-esteem of Slovenes. [_Read more_]