Stjepan Filipvić was only 26 years old when the Nazis hanged him. On May 27, 1942, the Yugoslav communist stood on the gallows in Valjevo, rope around his neck, and threw his fists in the air and shouted out his last words to the onlookers: “Smrt fašizmu, sloboda narodu!” (“Death to fascism, freedom to the people!”).
Filipvić joined the laborer’s movement in 1937. He spent a year in jail for his association with the anti-fascist group, but his conviction remained. He joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in 1940, and by ‘41 he’d been made commander of the Partisans’ Tamnavsko-Kolubarski unit in Valjevo. He was captured by the Axis forces in 1942 and sentenced to death. But even in the moments leading to his death, he resisted the Nazi occupation, urging the Yugoslav people to fight for their freedom.
Slobodanka Vasić, a 17-year-old girl who worked in a local photography studio, took photos of the hanging. As news of the photo spread and large numbers came to see it, Nazi occupiers became suspicious of her intentions. Vasić was jailed and her images of the execution were confiscated. They may have been lost if it weren’t for the quick thinking of Branko Kesler, a local doctor who worked for the partisan resistance. He was trusted by the Nazis, who allowed him to see the photos. When no one was looking he slipped Vasić’s now-iconic image under a rug.
Stjepan Filipović was declared a National Hero of Yugoslavia in 1949, and in 1960, a 52-foot statue was erected in his honor. Sculptor Vojin Bakic’s monument to the young communist stands in the same defiant pose in the same city where he was killed. The symbol of freedom stands on Vidrak Hill.