In Belgrade, a concentration camp nearly slips away ~ Julia Gorin Truth

Friday, July 6, 2007

In Belgrade, a concentration camp nearly slips away

KATKA KROSNAR Jewish Telegraphic Agency

BELGRADE Wandering around the vast, neglected site straddling Belgrade's Sava river, Aleksandar Mosic admits his project is ambitious. Mosic, a former board member of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia, wants to recreate the Belgrade Fair exhibition ground and thus build a proper memorial to the victims of what he describes as "the forgotten concentration camp" the Sajmiste camp that the site was turned into during World War II by the occupying Nazis.

Within six months of the camp being set up in December 1941, all 8,000 Jews from Belgrade, as well as from Austria and Czechoslovakia, who had been rounded up and imprisoned there had been transported to gassing trucks and murdered at the site.

Most of these were women and children, as thousands of men had been shot dead earlier.

None of the Jews sent to the camp survived. What made Sajmiste unique was its location in clear view of Belgrade's residents.

"It is the only camp in Europe which was so visible; the inmates were not hidden from the view of the rest of the population and that was the intention; to intimidate other Serbs by showing them what was going on inside " says Mosic, chairman of the newly formed Old Fair Memorial Association and author of the book "The Jews in Belgrade." The first phase of the project would see the surviving tower reconstructed and converted into a Holocaust museum containing documents, testimonies and photographs of lost Jews from Serbia. "We want to rescue the memory of the camp and its victims," he says. "There is no monument to the Jews who died or no real education specifically about the Jewish Holocaust."

A monument was erected on the riverbank eight years ago to all 40,000 Serbs who died in the camp, but Mosic points out that there is no specific monument to the Jewish victims. One item that will definitely be missing from the museum, however, is a list of all those interned in Sajmiste, since all such lists were destroyed by the Nazis.

Before the war there were 10,400 Jews in Belgrade and roughly 16,000 in the whole of Serbia. Almost 90 percent were killed in the Holocaust.

Sajmiste was destroyed by U.S. bombers in raids, which killed 80 people at the camp and injured 170. The bombers' intended target was the nearby railway station. Davor Salom, secretary of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia and Montenegro, renamed following the disintegration of Yugoslavia as a country, says the Sajmiste project will be an important contribution to the memory process.

"We are forgetting the Holocaust too quickly, and this Holocaust Museum and the reminder of what this site was will help fulfill our obligation to the memory of thousands of Serbian Jews and millions of Jews worldwide who were killed during World War II," he says.

About 700,000 killed in the Second World War with about 200, or more precisely 170, thousand killed only on the territory of Serbia are largely the victims of Nedic, Ljotic’s and other armies, chetniks included. It seems that it would now suit us to forget these victims, since they testify against the ideological movements we apparently wish to link ourselves with in the 21st century,” Dr. Dubravka Stojanovic said not long ago in a cult Radio B92 program called “Hourglass”.

Antisemitic activity in Serbia today

Antisemitic activity in Serbia is usually confined to graffiti on walls and buildings, usually belonging to Jewish individuals and organizations, but sometimes on non-Jewish ones because the perpetrators assume that the Jews control everything. Such activity was reported in many Serbian cities in 2005. For example, on 26-27 January, a memorial plate dedicated to Jewish victims of World War II in Novi Knjazevac was coated with oil paint and a swastika and the words “Jews” (Zhidovi), scrawled on it. Central Belgrade and its surroundings were covered with anti-Zionist/antisemitic posters and graffiti on 22 March. Slogans on the wall of the Jewish cemetery read: “Fight the 5 October Zionist occupation of Serbia [fall of Milosevic regime]; “B-92 is Jewish Television!” “Jewish parasites get out of Serbia”; “We want freedom and not Jewish occupation! Serbia belongs to Serbs!” Similar graffiti appeared on buildings of the Rex Cultural Center (which engages in ‘cultural decontamination’ - showing films and lectures about recent Balkan wars and Serbian responsibility for them), formerly, the Jewish Oneg Shabbat Center; the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights and the Foundation for Humanity and Law. The graffiti accused the heads of the last two institutions of being “Jewish puppets.”

In May, several buildings in the city of Zrenjanin, Vojvodina, including a restaurant with a memorial plate to the synagogue that once stood there and to Jewish victims of the Holocaust were covered with fascist and antisemitic messages. In Nish, southern Serbia, the synagogue was desecrated twice – in June and July - with antisemitic slogans such as “Death to servants of Zionism” and “Arbeit macht frei.”

In February 2005 a list of Jews living in Serbia, including their home and office phone numbers and addresses appeared on the white supremacist Stormfront site, Serbian section. Although it was eventually removed, the site continues to regularly explain the damage Jewish people do to the world in general and particularly to Serbia.

An anti-fascist meeting at the University of Novi Sad was interrupted by a group of youths who resembled skinheads. Introducing themselves as ‘the National Line’, they saluted in the Nazi fashion and harassed and insulted the speakers and audience, They were apprehended and arrested a few days later. Literature found by the police on members of the National Line indicated the neo-Nazi orientation of the group.

A brochure containing the tract “Serbs in the Claws of Jews,” by Milorad Mojic, was distributed in Novi Sad, in February. The piece was originally written in 1940/1. The author claims, inter alia, that “Jews can dishonor non-Jewish girls.”