Time to live and time to die: Karel Destovnik - Kajuh

22 December 2022–6 May 2023

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The year 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of the poet Karel Destovnik - Kajuh. He was born in Šoštanj, an important industrial centre in that period. He did not belong to poor proletarian but as a sensitive young man he soon recognised huge social disparities within society and plight of the little man. His grammar school papers reveal his great talent. He began to write poetry under the influence of social lyric poetry of Tone Seliškar and Mile Klopčič, his literary role models were also Ivan Cankar and Srečko Kosovel. The influence of Mayakovsky is often reflected in his poetic form.

He was close to the communist movement in his philosophical views, and was expelled from the Celje Grammar School for his political activities. He published his first poems in the Slovenska mladina (Slovenian Youth) newspaper. He wrote regularly for the newspaper until it was banned due to censorship. He also published some of his poems in the periodicals Srednješolec, Mladi prekmurec and Sodobnost. Before the outbreak of the war, he was interned in Serbia for a short time, but at the outbreak of hostilities he wanted to take an active part in the defence of his homeland. After his arrest by the Gestapo, he moved to Ljubljana, where he lived illegally for two years. During this time, he created his best-known and most beautiful poems, including the cycle of love poetry dedicated to his beloved Silva Ponikvar. Their touching correspondence, published under the title Ljubimca z Vošnjakove ulice (Lovers from Vošnjakova Street) became the Book of the Year in 2014 when it was published. During the war, he published his poems in the illegal newsletters Naša žena, Slovenski poročevalec, Ljudska pravica, Mlada Slovenija and Glas svobode. In 1943 he went to the partisans. As a member of a cultural group, he enthralled audiences and encouraged his colleagues with his lively recitations at public meetings. He joined the march of the XIV Division to the Štajerska  region. On 22 February he was gunned down by a German patrol in Zavodnje, near his native Šoštanj. He was twenty-one years and two months old.

Soon after his death, Kajuh established himself as a classic of the Slovenian literature. The popularity of his poetry is also reflected in the numbers: already during the war, nineteen cyclostyled collections of his poems were published in provisional conditions. Along with biographical works, some forty other collections, monographs, literary works... dedicated to his work and life were published after the war.

Kajuh's manuscript legacy is stored in two locations: the NUK Manuscript Collection and the Velenje Library, which also keeps material privately owned by the Mešič family. The exhibition, organised in cooperation between the two libraries, presents Kajuh's life and work through a comprehensive selection of photographs, personal documents and manuscripts of his poems, letters and correspondence. Magazines, publications and books featuring his works will be on display as well.


Authors of the exhibition:
Marijan Rupert MA (NUK), Vlado Vrbič 
Exhibition design:
Maj Blatnik (NUK)
Placement of the materials:
Preservation and Conservation Department NUK
Technical assistance:

Facilities Management and Maintenance NUK


Events and Public Relations Office, NUK

NUK Exhibition Hall

Monday - Saturday from 10 AM to 6 PM

The material presented is held in the collections of:

Velenje Public Library, Celje Museum of Recent History, Velenje Museum, Villa Mayer - Šoštanj and private collections of Rok Cesar, Ivanka Matič, Marijan Rupert, Vlado Vrbič and NUK


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