“Skopje is not a film, not a thriller where we guess the chief event. It is a concentration of man’s struggle for freedom, with a result which inspires further struggles and no acceptance of defeat.” – Jean-Paul Sartre, French existentialist novelist and activist
Today, 55 years later, UMD marks the memory of the victims of the 1963 Skopje Earthquake, which destroyed 80% of the city. The earthquake was one of the most destructive natural disasters in Macedonia and the region, leaving over 1,070 people dead, approximately 4,000 injured, and over 200,000 people homeless. The Macedonian diaspora played a significant role in arranging aid to be delivered to most needed.
The 6.1 magnitude earthquake destroyed much of the city and several journalists (upon landing into the city) described it as looking like a “bomb site”. It took many years to rebuild the city and a lot of historic buildings are often referred to as being “pre-“ or “post-“ earthquake era. A monument was erected at the old railroad station featuring a clock, which is stopped at 5:17, the time of the earthquake.
The United Nations and 87 countries responded with immediate help to the city including the United States and the then-Soviet Union. In fact, American and Russian soldiers shook hands in Skopje for the first time since the Elbe Day in 1944. Many other countries like France, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Sweden, Finland and Mexico (and the rest of the Yugoslav Republics) responded with civilian aid and materials for rebuilding the city. Several world-renowned artists, including Pablo Picasso, donated their art for the newly constructed museums after the earthquake.