In my search for World War II sites in Slovenia to check out on my upcoming visit, Ljubelj Concentration Camp stood out among the many others. Not only was this the only concentration camp in Slovenian territory, but it also has an interesting origin story I knew nothing about.
If you find yourself lucky enough to visit this beautiful country, be sure to set aside some time to visit this important remembrance site on your trip. This page has everything you need to know about visiting Ljubelj Concentration Camp in Slovenia (and Austria).
Ljubelj is pronounced like LOO-BELL. (The j’s are silent.)
What is Ljubelj Concentration Camp?
Ljubelj Concentration Camp operated from July 1943 until the war ended in May 1945. It was a forced labor camp and one of the 48 subcamps of Mauthausen, one of the largest and most brutal camps in the Nazi camp system.
Throughout most of the war, the only way to get from Austria to modern-day Slovenia (and back) was to go up and over the Karawank mountains. This route was vitally important, but was also long, treacherous, and closed most of the year due to weather/snow conditions. Seeking a shorter route, Hitler and other Nazi officials demanded a tunnel be constructed through the mountains instead.
They recruited slave labor from the Mauthausen Concentration Camp outside Linz, Austria for this purpose. To house these prisoners, they built two subcamps—one on the Slovenian side (Ljubelj, also known as Loibl-Sud) and another on the Austrian side (Loibl-Nord)—with the intention of prisoners tunneling through and meeting in the middle.
During the two years of Ljubelj’s operation, the Nazi regime interned around 1,800 prisoners in its slave labor force as well as 600 civilians. They subjected them to inhumane living and working conditions, borderline starvation, and brutality of all kinds. Around 40 of these prisoners died in the forced construction of the tunnel.
The Ljubelj Tunnel (Loibl Tunnel) was completed but not opened to civilian traffic until 1964. Today, it is a major road connecting Slovenia and Austria and used by thousands of drivers who likely don’t know its origin.
Where is Ljubelj Concentration Camp?
Ljubelj Concentration Camp is located just south of the border between the towns of Ferlach, Austria and Tržič, Slovenia in the Upper Carniola region. If none of that makes sense to you, you can find all of the sites mentioned in this post on the map below. Basically, upper mid-western border of Slovenia.
- 30-minute drive northeast of Bled
- 40 minutes north of Ljubljana
- Just over 2 hours southwest of Graz
- 3 hours south of Salzburg
- And a 4-hour drive south of Linz where Mauthausen is located
Also read: Complete Guide to Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp (Munich, Germany)
What to see at Ljubelj Concentration Camp today
As they fled the camp at the end of the war, the Germans destroyed the camp in an attempt to cover up the atrocities they committed (as is so often the case). Despite this, there is still a good deal to see when visiting Ljubelj Concentration Camp.
1. Museum of Ljubelj Concentration Camp
Before you visit the ruins of the former camp, you should start your day at the Ljubelj Concentration Camp Museum. This museum is small but is actually one of the most well put together WWII museums I’ve visited anywhere. (Largely because it’s fairly new.)
The Ljubelj museum has sections on World War II and the Holocaust in general, but focuses mainly on the events of Ljubelj Concentration Camp and the construction of the tunnel. It has a handful of authentic artifacts from the camp (as well as other camps), firsthand accounts of life in the camp, and more.
But before you check out any of that, be sure to watch the short 10-minute film that covers everything you need to know about the camp and how events unfolded. This film is very well done and is the perfect introduction to all the sites. (And it’s in English, though I’m sure there are other versions available too.)
How to visit the museum
The Ljubelj Concentration Camp museum is located underneath a large restaurant just off the main road before you cross the border. Though the museum might be open when you get there, chances are that it won’t be (as I don’t think it’s visited often).
If it’s closed, let someone inside the restaurant know you’d like to visit the museum. They will gladly go down to open it, explain it all, and get the film started for you. Really, they could not be nicer there! I was greatly impressed with this museum all around.
- Museum hours: Daily from 10am – 6pm (though it wouldn’t hurt to let them know you’re coming – you can email them here: [email protected])
- Admission: €4
- Time to visit: 30-40 minutes (including the film)
2. The Ljubelj Memorial
When you pull off the main road to park for your visit to the museum, you’ll immediately see the Ljubelj Memorial / Monument to International Camp Victims. It was created by architect Boris Kobe and constructed between 1950 -1954. (More info on the memorial’s construction here.)
This large memorial consists of five stone walls (if that’s the right word) that form a circle around a sculpture of a skeleton standing on a block that reads, “J’Accuse.” Each of the blocks contains a plaque that says the same thing in five different languages:
Here from 1943-1945 stood the section of the Nazi extermination camp Mauthausen-Ljubelj in which political internees from France, Poland, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, Norway, and Yugoslavia suffered and died during the excavation of the Ljubelj Tunnel.
Also check out: How to Visit Terezín Concentration Camp from Prague and What to See There
3. Remains of the camp
Across the main road from the memorial and the parking lot is the Ljubelj Concentration Camp “memorial park”—the remains of the former camp.
Tall tree surround the entire area but you’ll easily see the one designated area where you enter. There are signs detailing the history of the camp along with photos of what it used to look like. (This is all a repeat of what you saw in the video and in the museum.)
Inside the park grounds are the remains of the camp’s foundations—everything from prisoner barracks to guard watchtowers to kitchens and even the crematorium. Each of the ruins has a sign next to it that tells you what used to be there.
The largest piece here used to be a kitchen and storage room that has since been turned into the central memorial space. Inside hang numerous smaller memorials that each feature the name of another Nazi concentration camp in which prisoners from Slovenia were held.
The memorial and former camp site are always open and always free.
4. The Ljubelj Tunnel
After you visit the museum, the memorial, and the former camp, consider taking a drive through the Ljubelj Tunnel. You will be astounded by this mile-long tunnel now knowing it was dug by prisoners who made do with only coffee substitute for breakfast, watery soup for lunch, and a slice of bread for dinner each day.
Just before entering the tunnel, look to the right and you’ll see a memorial plaque on the outside commemorating those who suffered and died for its construction. Think of them as you drive through.
Don’t forget your passport if you plan to drive through the tunnel! Even though Slovenia and Austria are both part of the Schengen Area (supposedly eliminating the need for formal border crossings), this particular border is different. You will have to go through a border crossing here and they will (quite aggressively) demand to see your passport.
5. KZ Gedenkstätte Loibl (Nord) – the Austrian side
Though Slovenia has put a great deal of effort into remembering the past, honoring its victims, and educating the public about the atrocities that took place in pursuit of the tunnel, Austria can’t say the same. There are two simple memorials right there at the border, but that’s as far as it goes.
Like on the Slovenian side, the remains of the former Loibl-Nord camp on the Austrian border still exist. But, access to the road you need to take to get there is prohibited.
Maybe it’s an issue of national security… or maybe it has something to do with Austria’s regrettable position during World War II, followed by its post-war ambivalence towards memorializing (i.e. drawing attention to its role in) the Holocaust. Who’s to say. I’ll let you be the judge here.
But if you want to read more about that, definitely pick up a copy of The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning by James E. Young (Chapter 4).
Regardless, you unfortunately cannot visit the former Austrian camp at this time. But instead of just turning around and going back through the tunnel, pull off and check out the small memorials right there at the border. (see location on the map)
One sign is a map of the former camp (only in German). The other sign, in German and French, gives a very brief (and mostly benign) explanation of why the camps existed.
Before passing back through the tunnel, this side likewise has a few memorial plaques to the right of the tunnel entrance. (To check these out safely, just walk here from where you parked next to the memorials. Don’t try to read memorials and drive.)
Why visit Ljubelj Concentration Camp?
So why should you visit Ljubelj Concentration Camp? Besides the easy answer that you should always want to visit all WWII sites when you travel (I’m kidding obviously; I know “vacation” works.), there are a few specific reasons why you should visit this one.
1. For starters, Ljubelj is the only concentration camp on Slovenian soil. This makes it extraordinary on its own, given the number of camps and subcamps in Europe within the Nazi system. (Estimated to be around 44,000!)
2. Secondly, the Ljubelj Tunnel is a major roadway that connects two countries and is driven by tons of people every single day. How many of those people do you think actually know the story of the tunnel’s construction? My guess would be… very, very few.
This tunnel is a direct connection to the past and those who suffered and died in its construction need to be remembered. Every time someone drives through that tunnel and thinks about what they sacrificed to build it keeps those memories alive.
3. And lastly, because they do such a great job of memorializing this site. As both a World War II historian and a museum exhibit designer, the small Ljubelj Concentration Camp museum really impressed me. Equally impressive were the kindness of the people here, the maintenance of the former site, and just the overall exhibition of history.
How to get to Ljubelj Concentration Camp
The easiest and fastest way to get to Ljubelj Concentration Camp is by car. (Some would say it’s the only way. In fact, I am saying that.)
There are regular buses from Ljubljana to Tržič (the town where the camp is technically located), but the camp and museum sites are still an 11-minute drive from the nearest bus stop. If you’d like to take a look for yourself, here’s the Tržič bus information.
The closest you can get to Ljubelj by train are the towns of Kranj and Rodovljica, from which you would still need to take a bus from there to Tržič. And then a car to the sites. For more on how to get to the town of Tržič, head here.
Otherwise, you will need a car to get to Ljubelj Concentration Camp. And if you have that, this trip is going to be easy as
pie Bled cream cake. From Bled, the trip is just 27 minutes. From Ljubljana, just 38 minutes. The drive itself is beautiful but winding (so stay alert) and there’s plenty of free parking once you get there.
Need a car? Check out the best Slovenia rental car deals here. I rented mine from here and it was a pleasant experience all around.
Important GPS hint
Pro tip: Do not simply put “Ljubelj Concentration Camp” into your GPS. You will end up taking a gravel road through the woods to the front door of a farmer’s house. He doesn’t seem to mind, but still, this is not where you should be.
Instead, put in the “Museum of Ljubelj/Mauthausen” or “Gostišče Karavla 297” (the restaurant above it), or even just the address for both: Podljubelj 297, 4290 Tržič, Slovenia. Before turning down the road to the restaurant, you’ll see the memorial ahead on your right and the parking lot in front of it.
Continue down that road to reach the tunnel. Once through the tunnel, make a sharp left (slight U-turn) after border control and you’ll see the small parking area in front of the memorial signs.
Tips for visiting Ljubelj Concentration Camp
A visit to all the Ljubelj Concentration Camp sites is pretty straightforward, but here’s a reminder of the few things you need to keep in mind!
1. Don’t forget your passport.
If you’re planning to drive through the tunnel and/or visit the Austrian memorials (which I highly recommend), don’t forget to bring your passport. Even though there shouldn’t be border control here, there is. (It’s complicated.) And they will demand to see your passport. Yes, even if you’re only going 3 feet into Austria.
2. You may need to get someone to open the museum for you.
If you get to the museum and the door is closed/locked, don’t leave! From what I gathered, the museum isn’t visited regularly enough to warrant it be open and staffed at all times. Simply go into the restaurant and let anyone know you’re looking to visit the museum and they’ll set you up nicely.
3. Stay for lunch.
After you visit the museum, the memorial, the former camp site, the tunnel, and the Austrian memorials, come back to the restaurant and have lunch.
The staff at Gostišče Karavla 297 is incredibly kind and welcoming. The food is delicious and local. And you’ll see this is actually a popular lunch spot despite feeling pretty remote. (Closed Mondays.)
4. Check out the German bunker.
According to Google Maps (so proceed with caution), there is a German WW2 bunker just a 5-minute walk from the parking area that’s located at the entrance to the Ljubelj Tunnel on the Slovenian side.
I didn’t have enough time to check it out for myself, but if you get to, let me know how it is! (I’ve included it on the map so you can find it.)
Where to stay during your trip
If you’re looking to stay close to the sites in this post, there are many options in the town of Tržič. See them all here.
If you’re planning to visit from Ljubljana, check out the two places I stayed on my visit in June 2023:
- Hotel Slamič – Great location, really nice rooms, excellent breakfast included.
- NEU Residences – Another perfect location, big apartment-style rooms, rooftop pool, highly recommend!
If you’ll be visiting Ljubelj from Lake Bled, check out:
- Hotel Lovec – Excellent location, free parking, huge breakfast buffet, pool/hot tub, just great all around.
What to pack for your trip to Slovenia
When prepping for your trip to Slovenia/Ljubelj Concentration Camp, don’t forget these few essential items:
1. The book Slovenia 1945 by John Corsellis. If you want to learn more about what happened in Slovenia both during and after World War II, this book comes highly recommended.
2. European plug adaptors. Necessary to charge your devices here and something many travelers forget to bring.
4. This must-have Slovenia customs and culture guide (I bring these on every trip I take). This gives such good insight into the nuances of traveling in Slovenia.
Enjoy your time in Slovenia. Be sure to follow Destination: WWII on Instagram!
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