A symbol of a youthful sense of justice, Lepa Radic died at the hands of the Nazis. Despite taking her life, they did not take away her spirit. But, who was Lepa Radic, and what made this 17-year-old girl a symbol of resistance against aggression?
During WWII, Yugoslavia suffered a tremendous loss, as nearly 2 million people were tortured and killed by the Nazis and their cooperators. It wasn't just the Germans: the people of Yugoslavia faced fascism from Italy, Bulgaria, and even from internal paramilitary formations.
There is no such thing as Yugoslavia anymore. But, the legend of a brave teenager Lepa Radic continues to live on.
Lepa Radic Grew Up In Poverty, But She Was Always Vivacious And Lively
Lepa Radic (Lepa Radić) was born on December 19, 1925, in the village of Gašnica near Bosanska Gradiška. She finished elementary school in neighboring Bistrica and continued her education in Bosanska Gradiska with her older sister Dara.
Lepa's family was torn due to poverty. She lived with her sister and grandfather, an orthodox priest. She had a younger brother, who was with their parents.
Lepa Radic did well at school, and her classmates and teachers remembered her as a funny, carefree, content girl despite the circumstances.
She would raise money for those in need without complaining about her circumstances. Lepa enjoyed reading poetry, and apart from opposing injustice, she was a happy child.
WWII took over Yugoslavia two years after it started in 1939. The king fled the country, and the communist party organized people, all in order not to fall under the Nazi's hands.
Partisans were warriors, defenders of their country, homes, and everyone who opposed Nazi politics and oppression. Lepa Radic's uncle was among partisans, and she embraced all that the communist party stood for at the time.
In April 1941, Belgrade, the Yugoslavian capital, was bombarded mercilessly. It was time for partisans to seek revenge and protect the innocent.
Lepa Radic In The Middle Of War-torn Yugoslavia
As she was sitting outside her home, reading, Lepa would notice German soldiers, shouting, pointing at them. Clueless, they thought she was greeting them.
But, no, it was a sign for her to join Serbian resistance and the Partisans.
Understanding how WWII unraveled in Yugoslavia is quite complex. On one side were the Partisans, led by the communist party. On the other were the Chetniks, also opposing the Nazi forces but working for the exiled king.
On top of that was the Ustasha regime. They were made of Croatian fascists and ultranationalist organizations, though not all fascists were Croatian.
Again, to understand this division, you would have to dive into the history of Yugoslavia. The Ottoman Empire dominated the Serbs for 500 years. The Croats lived mostly under Hungarian Empire. Creating a united front, one country, was, in hindsight, a disaster. But, back in 1941, the only thing anyone living in Yugoslavia had in mind was survival.
Lepa Radic joined the Partisans, and in July, they organized one of many uprisings against the Nazis. The whole Radic family was part of the movement, and Ustashe jailed them in November 1941.
Lepa was in a cell with her sister, Dara, who was 17 at the time, her mom, young brother, aunt, and her aunt's 3-year-old daughter, Milica.
The Partisans helped them get out of the jail in December, but Lepa and Dara did not go home. Instead, they were preparing for a battle.
The Kozara Battle
It was not the biggest battle of the second world war. But, it was significant because, despite being outnumbered, and outgunned, the resistance movement saw it as a fuel to push even more.
Kozara is a mountain in northwestern Bosnia. On one side were the Serbian Partisans. On the other, the Nazis, Ustashe, and Hungary.
Axis powers lost 7000 people, while the Partisans lost 25,000 souls, most of them volunteers, and among them were many children, women, and people who never held a gun in their hands.
Lepa Radic did not die in this battle. She would continue to work for the Communist party and the Partisans during 1942, and due to her caring nature, she was beloved by her peers.
Lepa lost her father and uncle to Kozara. Her younger brother Milan was captured and placed in Jasenovac concentration camp, a horrific Nazi camp "specialized in one-on-one violence of a particularly brutal kind."
Her young brother would die in Jasenovac three years after he was captured in 1942, during the time when it was clear that the Nazis and their allies lost to the Partisans and resistance movement.
Lepa Radic And Her Attempt To Save Refugees
Despite the losses, Lepa and other members of her family continued their fight.
She would travel, organize people, connect them with other Partisans, who would then help them get to safe places.
Thousands of volunteers were gathered to help each other, and despite what you might see today, it was not about belonging to a party. Instead, it was about liberty, resisting occupation, and not giving in to the Nazi's demands.
Women, who used to be nothing but wives and moms, would carry guns, knowing that they might become victims at any moment. But, this fight was more significant than their lives, and Lepa Radic knew that.
In January 1943, this brave teenager tried to help 150 refugees, mostly elderly and children, find shelter from the Axis.
She was their leader, their savior, and as others later testified, her bravery knew no limits. As the bombs were pouring from the skies, she did not care about her safety. Instead, Lepa was working on ensuring that the others felt strong enough to continue their journey.
Some would die from enemy bullets. Others from bombs, but some weren't able to stand the cold. Chilling winters in Bosnia took many lives, yet Lepa Radid did everything to maintain morale.
The group got smaller, and they settled in Grmec. From there on, Lepa Radic would guide 150 women and children further to safety.
In February 1943, the Axis caught her, and instead of pleading for her life, she was shouting not to kill the refugees and kill her instead.
The Hanging Of Lepa Radic
After she was caught, Lepa Radis was tortured for three days. The Germans wanted information, but Lepa was not saying anything.
To understand her state of mind, it is helpful to know that just hours before she was captured, she would fight the Nazis with her bare hands. She knew that was a suicidal mission, but so many lives depended on her, so she did what a teenager should never be forced to do.
Finally, in the bargeman between the tunnel and the railway station in Bosanska Krupa, Lepa Radic was standing in front of the public. She was offered a pardon if she revealed the names of her Partisan comrades.
Her words were:
"I am not a traitor of my people. Those whom you are asking about will reveal themselves when they have succeeded in wiping out all you evildoers to the last man."
"I will be killed, but there are those who will avenge me!"
And so, on February 8, 1943, Lepa Svetozara Radic died by hanging.
Radic was declared a national hero in 1951. The photo of her dying moments was found in the bag of the Nazi who hung her after he died in Zagreb. The video was found on a Nazi soldier, though it is unclear whether it was the same one who held the photos.
Lepa Radic In Popular Culture
In 2020, Ice Cube tweeted a photo of Lepa Radic with the rope against her neck. People were confused, but soon, others explained who the girl was and what was going on.
Lepa Radic was only 17 when she died fighting not for the country, but its people, against the Nazis and their wicked ways.
Yugoslavia was free in 1945. Lepa Radic was not the only young woman whose life ended because of someone's brutality, desire to invade and destroy.
Lepa actually means beautiful in Serbian, and it suits this teen perfectly, as her unbreakable spirit and fights for freedom were precisely that - beautiful, inspiring, courageous.
Her story inspired numerous books and was included in several movies. Despite being killed nearly eight decades ago, Lepa Radic is a name that must not be forgotten or overlooked. With people looking up to Lepa Radic, the evil forces will never prevail.