Military Wiki
Marija Bursać
Native name Марија Бурсаћ
Born (1920-08-02)2 August 1920
Died 23 September 1943(1943-09-23) (aged 23)
Place of birth Kamenica, Drvar, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes
Place of death Vidovo Selo, Drvar, Independent State of Croatia
Years of service 1943
Battles/wars World War II in Yugoslavia  (DOW)
Awards Order of the People's Hero

Marija Bursać (Serbian Cyrillic language: Марија Бурсаћ

2 August 1920 – 23 September 1943) was a Bosnian Serb member of the Yugoslav Partisans during World War II in Yugoslavia and the first woman proclaimed a People's Hero of Yugoslavia.

Bursać was born and raised in an agricultural family in the village of Kamenica, near Drvar. After the invasion of Yugoslavia by the Axis powers and their creation of the Independent State of Croatia in April 1941, Bursać actively supported the Partisan resistance movement led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ). Bursać, like other women of her village, joined organisations which performed various tasks in support of the Partisan war efforts, such as collecting food, clothing, and other supplies. She became a member of the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia in September 1941. In August 1942, she was appointed as the political commissar of a company of the 1st Krajina Agricultural Shock Brigade, which reaped crops in the Sanica River valley. She was admitted into the KPJ at the end of summer of 1942.

Bursać became a Partisan in February 1943, when she joined the newly formed 10th Krajina Brigade. She fought with the brigade in the areas of Grahovo, Knin, Vrlika, and Livno; she also served as a nurse. In September 1943, Bursać participated as a hand-grenade thrower in an attack on the German base at Prkosi in north-western Bosnia and sustained a serious injury to one of her legs. While being transported to a field hospital at Vidovo Selo, she sang Partisan songs. Her wound soon gangrened, and she died at the hospital. Bursać was proclaimed a People's Hero of Yugoslavia in October 1943. After the war, her service to the Partisan cause was commemorated by the naming of schools, kindergartens, streets, and various organisations after her.

Early life[]

Marija Bursać was born on 2 August 1920 in the village of Kamenica near Drvar in the region of Bosanska Krajina,[1] then part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (today in Bosnia and Herzegovina). The area of Drvar was predominantly inhabited by ethnic Serbs, with Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats forming less than four percent of the local population.[2] Marija was the oldest of five children of stonemason Nikola Bursać and his wife Joka. Their family farm was primarily devoted to sheep and cattle raising, but they also grew crops. Like other girls in the village, Marija did not go to school, while the boys attended an elementary school in Drvar. Marija served as a shepherdess until she was fourteen-years-old; she later helped her mother in housekeeping and agricultural works. She became skilled at weaving, spinning, knitting, and embroidering before completing a six-month tailoring course in Drvar.[3]

In 1938, an elementary school was opened in Kamenica, employing trainee teacher Velimir Stojnić. Stojnić was a member of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (Serbo-Croatian language: Komunistička partija Jugoslavije, KPJ), which had been outlawed since 1921. At the school, Stojnić organised a public library and readers' club, a cultural-artistic group, and a sports club.[3] He established a secret KPJ cell in Kamenica in 1939, which was the first communist organisation in the Drvar area.[4] His ideological convictions gained him followers from among the village's youth, including Marija's brother Dušan.[3] Authorities soon became aware of Stojnić's activities, and he was removed from Kamenica in February 1940.[5]

World War II[]

On 6 April 1941, Yugoslavia was invaded from all sides by the Axis powers, led by Nazi Germany. The Royal Yugoslav Army (Serbo-Croatian: Vojska Kraljevine Jugoslavije; VKJ) capitulated on 17 April, and the Germans, Italians and Hungarians proceeded to dismember the country.[6] A fascist puppet state known as the Independent State of Croatia (Serbo-Croatian: Nezavisna Država Hrvatska; NDH) was proclaimed on 10 April and included almost all of modern-day Croatia, all of modern-day Bosnia-Herzegovina, and parts of modern-day Serbia. The NDH was an "Italian-German quasi-protectorate", controlled by the fascist, Croatian nationalist Ustaše movement under the leadership of Ante Pavelić.[7] One of the NDH's policies was to eliminate the ethnic Serb population of the state through mass killings, expulsions and forced assimilation.[8] The first killings of Drvar Serbs were carried out on 18 June 1941.[9] Such atrocities prompted the formation of two large resistance movements throughout occupied Yugoslavia; royalists and Serbian nationalists led by VKJ Colonel Draža Mihailović founded the Ravna Gora Movement, whose members were called Chetniks.[10] The KPJ, headed by Josip Broz Tito, decided on 4 July in Belgrade to launch a nationwide armed uprising, and the members of the KPJ-led forces came to be known as Partisans.[11]

Pro-Partisan activist[]

Between 20 and 26 July 1941, local KPJ leaders organised three Partisan detachments in the immediate vicinity of Drvar, which were armed with around 200 rifles and 7 light machine guns; one of these was the Kamenica Detachment.[12] Men from Kamenica had previously organised a camp in a nearby forest, where they kept weapons and supplies. Marija Bursać was among the most active women in the village, collecting food and clothing for the insurgents, and also serving as a courier for the Kamenica camp.[3] On 27 July, the Partisans liberated Drvar, marking the beginning of the uprising in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Over the following days, other parts of Bosanska Krajina were also liberated, though at this stage the KPJ generally had no control over the Serb villagers who took up arms.[13] The liberated territory centred on Drvar and Grahovo was subjected to constant attacks by the Ustaše, and the Partisans defended it from their positions around the territory. Bursać and other women from Kamenica joined an organisation named Odbor fonda (lit. "funds committee") to collect food, clothing, shoes, and other supplies, which they provided to the Partisans. Bursać also collected wool, yarns, and cloths, and produced articles of clothing from them. She was admitted into the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (Serbo-Croatian: Savez komunističke omladine Jugoslavije; SKOJ) in September 1941.[14]

On 25 September 1941, Italian troops captured Drvar and Grahovo, but the Partisans retained control over most of the villages in the area. By the end of 1941, SKOJ's Kamenica branch had 23 members. The male members served in Partisan units, while the female members, including Bursać, joined labour companies to do any work in support of the Partisan war effort. A literacy course was organised for the female members, which Bursać also attended. Some local villagers gave agricultural products, such as milk, cream, and eggs, to the Italians, and received salt, kerosene, and rice in return. This practice was strongly condemned by the KPJ which organised a conference in the hall of the Kamenica school in January 1942 to dissuade people from trading with the Italians. After several speakers, Bursać began her speech, but she was interrupted by disparaging comments and threats directed at her by a young man in the audience. At that moment, a group of men stormed into the hall wielding wooden poles and pitchforks. In the ensuing mayhem, Bursać irately shouted, "You can do nothing to us, you will not hinder us!" while other women fled out of the hall through the windows.[14] In early 1942, Bursać became a member of the village committee of the Women's Anti-fascist Front (Serbo-Croatian: Antifašistički front žena; AFŽ), a major KPJ-affiliated women's organisation.[15]

Reapers in the Sanica River valley, August 1942

On 13 June 1942, Drvar was retaken by the Partisans. Bursać's labour company was engaged in clearing rubble and repairing houses in the town. The company also helped in working the land of families whose male members were away fighting with the Partisans. In July, Partisan brigades from Serbia and Montenegro came to Drvar, and Bursać helped carry their wounded to field hospitals in the mountains.[15] Bursać was among the most active members of Kamenica's SKOJ organisation, whose meetings were sometimes held at her house.[16] The Partisan-held territory around Drvar grew significantly, and beginning in late July 1942, it had also included the Sanica River valley. The valley's predominantly non-Serb population had mostly fled before the advancing Partisans, whom they feared because of Ustaše propaganda. The Partisan command decided to engage young people from western Bosanska Krajina to reap wheat and other crops from the valley and transport them to storage facilities on Mount Grmeč. The reapers, mostly young women, were organised into military-like units; they were merged in mid-August into the 1st Krajina Agricultural Shock Brigade, composed of four battalions.[17] Bursać was appointed as the political commissar of the 3rd Company of the brigade's 2nd Battalion.[16] Guarded by Partisan units, the brigade accomplished its tasks, despite being attacked by enemy planes.[17] Bursać was admitted into the KPJ at the end of summer 1942, and at the beginning of 1943, she was the president of the village committee of the United Federation of the Anti-fascist Youth of Yugoslavia (Serbo-Croatian: Ujedinjeni savez antifašističke omladine Jugoslavije; USAOJ).[18]


Tito, the Partisans' supreme commander, came to Drvar at the end of January 1943, during a major Axis offensive against the Partisans (code-named Fall Weiss in German). After consulting with Đuro Pucar, Tito decided to form a new Partisan brigade whose core would be a battalion from Drvar composed of experienced fighters. Additional manpower would consist of wounded and sick Partisans from various units who had recovered and were ready to return to combat, older men who were not previously engaged in combat units, and volunteers from among the physically fit young women and boys. The 10th Krajina Brigade was established on 4 February 1943, composed of four battalions; it was intended to play a primarily defensive role at this stage.[19] Bursać volunteered to join the brigade and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion;[20] in March she was transferred to the 3rd Battalion's 3rd Company.[21] There were around 120 women among the brigade's 800 members.[20] Until September 1943, Bursać fought the Ustaše, Germans, Italians, and anti-communist Chetniks in the areas of Grahovo, Knin, Vrlika, Livno, and Mount Dinara; she also served as a nurse. She was commended for her courage and skill in combat. In February and March 1943, during the Axis offensive, the brigade went through extreme hardships—not only due to constant enemy attacks, but also due to food shortages, freezing cold, deep snow, and typhus outbreaks. Bursać came out of the winter emaciated, and she was transferred to the military kitchen at the brigade's headquarters. After a month, she was returned to her company, as she persistently requested. She fell ill some time later, and was sent home to recover.[21]

Female Partisans in Dinara, July 1943

The Germans had a fortified base near a locality called Podglavica in the village of Prkosi, between Vrtoče and Kulen Vakuf;[22] they called it Stützpunkt Podglavica.[23] The base secured the roads from Petrovac to Bihać and Kulen Vakuf;[22] it contained around 500 soldiers of the 373rd (Croatian) Infantry Division and an artillery battery. In September 1943, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 10th Krajina Brigade and a battalion of the Drvar–Petrovac Partisan Detachment were directed to attack the base. Bursać volunteered to be a hand-grenade thrower, whose role was to come close to enemy pillboxes and machine gun nests to neutralise them with hand grenades. Her company commander proposed that she not participate in the attack, as she looked very pale and apparently was not fully recovered from her illness. Bursać told the commander that she would disobey such an order. The three Partisan battalions attacked the base on 18 September at 11 pm from three directions. Bursać and her group of grenade throwers neutralised several pillboxes, before coming under fire from another. They succeeded in coming close to it and hurtled their grenades through its embrasures. In the process, Bursać sustained a serious injury to one of her legs and was carried off to a less exposed place.[24]

The Partisans managed to overrun parts of the base, but they retreated before daybreak, after the Germans received reinforcements from Vrtoče and Kulen Vakuf.[23][25] The brigade's headquarters reported that they captured 4 howitzers, 2 mortars, a heavy machine gun, 10 light machine guns, 5 rifles, a mobile radio, and 29 enemy soldiers.[24] Stützpunkt Podglavica reported that 31 German soldiers had gone missing during the attack.[23] The Germans also reported that the night attack had an eerie and unfamiliar character due to shrill shouts of female Partisans calling, "Forward!" (Serbo-Croatian: Napred!).[26] The battle at Prkosi was seen as the first major offensive action of the 10th Krajina Brigade.[27] In 1944, the brigade would participate in the liberation of Belgrade.[28]

After the battle, Bursać and other heavily wounded Partisans were placed on stretchers to be carried to the field hospital at the village of Vidovo Selo. It was located some 40 kilometres (25 mi) away, across rugged terrain. The arduous journey took more than three days. While being transported to Vidovo Selo, Bursać sang Partisan songs, such as:[24][29]

Naša borba zahtijeva
Kad se gine da se pjeva...

Our struggle calls on us
To sing when we die...

Bursać lost much blood and her wound gangrened.[29] She was treated at the field hospital, but it was poorly equipped to deal with gangrene.[24][30] She died in Vidovo Selo on 23 September 1943, and was buried with military honours at Kamenica.[31] On behalf of the 10th Krajina Brigade, its deputy commissar Veljko Ražnatović delivered a speech. The last who spoke at Marija's burial was her brother Dušan Bursać, the head of the district committee of the SKOJ for Drvar.[30]


Marija Bursać was proclaimed a People's Hero of Yugoslavia on 15 October 1943, thus becoming the first woman to receive this high military award.[1][24] The proclamation was published in the October 1943 issue of the Bulletin of the Supreme Headquarters of the National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia:[32]

По одлуци Врховног штаба Народноослободилачке војске и партизанских одреда Југославије, a на предлог V корпуса Народноослободилачке војске Југославије, додељује се назив народног хероја другарици Марији Бурсаћ, борцу-бомбашу III батаљона X крајишке бригаде. Другарица Марија била је примјер јунаштва у свим борбама и на крају дала свој живот за слободу свога народа јуришајући на ровове непријатеља код с. Пркоса.

—By decision of the Supreme Headquarters of the National Liberation Army and Partisan Detachments of Yugoslavia, and at the proposal of the 5th Corps of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia, the Order of the People's Hero has been conferred on comrade Marija Bursać, a hand-grenade thrower of the 3rd Battalion of the 10th Krajina Brigade. Comrade Marija was an example of heroism in all fights and ultimately gave her life for the freedom of her people charging enemy trenches at the village of Prkosi.[32]

Yugoslav writer Branko Ćopić wrote a poem about her, titled Marija na Prkosima ("Marija at Prkosi"). The title is a word play, as it can also be interpreted as "Marija defiant". Her name "entered the triptych of history, legend, and poetry in the Yugoslav lands", according to author Jelena Batinić.[33] After the war, kindergartens, schools, streets, and various organisations in Yugoslavia were named after her.[34] An urban neighborhood in Belgrade bears her name.[35]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Zukić 1982, p. 590
  2. Bokan 1988, p. 14
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Beoković 1967, pp. 15–18
  4. Bokan 1988, p. 80
  5. Bokan 1988, p. 83
  6. Roberts 1987, pp. 15–18
  7. Tomasevich 2001, pp. 60–63, 272
  8. Vucinich 1949, pp. 355–358
  9. Bokan 1988, p. 50
  10. Roberts 1987, pp. 20–22
  11. Roberts 1987, pp. 23–24
  12. Bokan 1988, p. 102
  13. Hoare 2006, p. 76
  14. 14.0 14.1 Beoković 1967, pp. 19–22
  15. 15.0 15.1 Beoković 1967, pp. 24–25
  16. 16.0 16.1 Beoković 1967, pp. 27–28
  17. 17.0 17.1 Bokan 1988, pp. 436–37
  18. Beoković 1967, p. 31
  19. Gončin 1990, pp. 5–15
  20. 20.0 20.1 Gončin 1990, pp. 19–23
  21. 21.0 21.1 Beoković 1967, pp. 32–37
  22. 22.0 22.1 Sopić 1974, p. 53
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Schraml 1962, p. 168
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 24.3 24.4 Gončin 1990, pp. 88–100
  25. Sopić 1974, pp. 57–59
  26. Schraml 1962, p. 169
  27. Beoković 1967, p. 38
  28. Gončin 1990, p. 263
  29. 29.0 29.1 Beoković 1967, pp. 44–47
  30. 30.0 30.1 Beoković 1967, pp. 50–52
  31. Beoković 1967, p. 12
  32. 32.0 32.1 "Bilten Vrhovnog štaba Narodnooslobodilačke vojske Jugoslavije" (in Serbian). Bulletin of the Supreme Headquarters of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia. Vojnoistorijski institut Jugoslovenske armije. 1949. p. 357. 
  33. Batinić 2009, p. 161
  34. Beoković 1967, p. 5
  35. Miloje Jovanović. "Naselja u Zemunu" (in Serbian). Association "Zemun moj grad". Archived from the original on 5 March 2014. 


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