Summary

THE GERMAN CAMP AT THE BELGRADE FAIR (SAJMIŠTE) 1941—1944.

Summary

After the defeat in the shortlasting war in April 1941, the major part of the disintegrated Yugoslavia was included into the »New European Order« created by the Third Reich. That svstem was based on the total terror embodied in the repressive network of police apparatus, prisons and concentrarion camps. At the same time, together with the whole European Southeast, Yugoslavia became the supplementarv economic area of the Third Reich, especiallv as the source of raw material and labour.

On the Yugoslav territory under the direct German occupational rule there was only Serbia the position of which vvas not clearly defined during the whole occupation. All actions of the German occupational administration in Serbia were aimed to perform the principle of »punishing the Serbs«. That fact was more evident after the German attack on the Soviet Union and the organisation of the nationwide rising the core of which consisting of the members of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY). The Serbian people had to be punished and its determination for the resistance suppiessed by the unprecedented cruel measures. In orderto suppress the uprising in Serbia culminating in October 1941, the Germann occupational authoriities planned to depopulate the rebellious regions and to intern tens thousands of the inhabitants into a great concentration camp in accorđanće wrth »the tvpe of the German concentration camps«. In the course of October 1941 such a camp started to be constructed on the boundary of the rebellious area, near the village Zasavica in Mačva. Due to the high vvaterlevel of the river Sava and the flood that location was abandonned and at the end of the month was deciddd to situate the camp on the other place — the Belgrade Fair (today known as the Old Fair = Staro Sajmište). Although partly demolished in the April war, with smaller repairs its pavilions, with the surface area of 14 029 m2, were sufficient for the internment of several thousands of people. That location was also propitious for its extraordinary geostrategic position, on the left side of the rivers Sava—Danube confluence and in the close vicinity to Belgrade and Zemun, juxta posed to the main road and waterborne communications.

As well as in other countries occupied by the Third Reich the Jews in Serbia were exposed to the brutal repressive measures: enrolment, marking by the yellow star, various kind of discrimination, hard labour, plunder of property, and very soon to the internment. Those measures were also partaally apphed to the Gipsies (Roms). After the beginning of diversions in cities and towns and the outspread of the uprising the Jews vvere accused by the occupier as the spiritual inspiring and partly the leaders of the rebellion. In the course of summer and autumn 1941 together with the Serbs and Gipsies the Jewish men were executed by shooting in the mass reprisals in a horrible proportion of 100 to one dead and 50 to one wounded occupational soldier. It means that in occupied Serbia Jews, Gipsies and Serbs were exposed to the genocide terror.

As regards the acute necessitv of suppressing the growing uprising the problem of the comparatively small Jewish community in Serbia was of the second — rate significance for the occupier. In the course of October 1941 the top occupational administrative authorities with the assistance of Berhn decided the rest of the Jewish men to be executed by shooting in the reprisals and all the reminder, mostly women, children and old persons to be interned into the camp the construction of wnich had started near Zasavica.

Only at the end of November 1941 when the occupier crushed the uprising and postponed the plans of depopulating the rising areas, it was able to start carrving out the conclusion on »the Jewish question« in occupied Serbia. Since the 8lh of December 1941 all remaining Jews had started to be interned in the newly prepared camp at the Belgrade Fair. Its official name was »The Jewish Camp Zemun« (Judenlager Semlin). Its commanding staff was directly subordinated to the German police (Gestapo) in Serbia, although, as a matter of fact, the camp was situated on the territory of the Independent State of Croatia (ISC). The total of about 6 400 Jews and 600 Gipsies, mostly women and children as well, were interned in the camp. Until the end of March 1942 the major part of the interned Gipsies was released. Due to the serious living conditions, first of all, starvation, diseases and coldness, about 10% of internees lost their lives in the camp.

At the end of the year 1941 the German occupier had already expected that in the spriing of the following year the uprising in Serbia would be renewed. At the same time the repressive policy towards the rebellious areas was mitigated because of the growing needs of the Third Reich for the labour. In the second half of March 1942 it was decided that in the future only the captives found with the arms should be shot or hanged but the other rebels or suspect persons from the uprising area had to be transported for hard labour to the Reich or the occupied countrtes. The camps in occupied Serbia and among them the camp at the Belgrade Fair should serve for the gathering of prisoners. As the spring of the year 1942 was getting near and the struggle against the rebels in Eastern Bosnia was expanding and with the expected renewal of the uprising in Serbia itself, the problem of the Jewish internees in the camp at the Belgrade Fair became acute for the occupier. Anticipating the increased problem of how to find place for the new thousands of prisoners in the first half of March 1942 the top occupational administration instigated Berlin to decide on the »Final Solution« for the Jewish internees of the Belgrade Fair camp. It was decided to »remove« respectively to exterminate all Jewish internees, mostly women and children. That is why a speeial ti"uck — a moving gaschamber — with two trained SSmen was directed to Belgrade. Since the beginning of April till the 10lh of May 1942 the internees of the Jewish Camp Zemun were asphyxiated by gas on the route from the camp to the prepared graves at Jajinci, 10 kilometers far from Belgrade. Out of about 17800 Jews who used to live in the occupied territory of Serbia about 14800 (83,l°/o) lost their lives and among them about 6320 (42,5%) in the Jewish Camp Zemun.

During the first days of May 1942, when the extermination of the Jewish internees was closer to the end, the camp at the Belgrade Fair achieved the new function and the new name — Anhaltelager Semlin (the Reeeption Camp Zemun). Since the 4* of May 1942 larger or smaller groups of prisoners started to arrive. They vvere provided for the escort to the hardIabour and the concentration camps in the Third Reich or in the occupied countries. Due to its geostrategic position and large accommodation capacity the Reception Camp Zemun became the central German camp on the Yugoslav ground for gathering the prisoners planned to be sent for hardlabour. They were escorted from the occupied Serbian territory but more and more from the areas of the fascist ISC in which the German forces supported by the Croatian ones performed more and more encompassive military operations against the increasing forces of the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia (NLAY). The captured partisans and their supporters, tchetniks of Dragoljub-Draža Mihailović, the socalled »legal tchetniks« from Šerbia, as well as any other real or potential opponents were transported to the camp. Nevertheless the majoritv of the prisoners were working capable men and later women, whose only guilt was the fact that the military operations had taken place in their villages and towns or because they were of Serbian nationality. A part of the prisoners was escorted out of the Croatian concentration camps Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška.

The main role of the Reception Camp Zemun was to serve as the place for collection and distribution of the prisoners to the other German camps or the source of hostages for reprisals. But it was very similar to the German concentration camps as regards its characteristics, above all the organisational method, hard labour, mass tortures and everydav deaths. The camp was still subordinated to the German pohce (Gestapo) in the occupied Serbia, but at the same time it was more and more linked with the ISC area where from the majority of the prisoners originated.

During the autumn of 1942 the German military and political presence ,Ln ISC was strenghtening incessantly. Until the beginning of the year 1943 thei German forces in ISC did not have their own camps except the temporary gathering places in the zones of military operations. At the beginning of 1943 in the eve of large operations against the NLAY and then Draža Mihailović's forces the German forces in ISC established their own network of camps for putting in the newthousands of prospective captives. On the top of that netvvork there was the camp at the Belgrade Fair. Since the summer of 1943 especially after the Italian capitulation in September when the German military engagement on the Balkans reached its peak, that camp became not only the German camp for the prisoners from the Yugoslav territorv but for the imprisoned Greeks and Albanians providekl to be sent to the German concentration camps as well.

In the spring of the year 1944 the camp at the Belgrade Fair lost its previous significance. Due to the Allies' prevailance in the air the outstanding geostrategic position of the camp appeared to be a great failure. On the 17 th of April 1944 the Allies' bombardment of Beograd and Zemun caused large destructions and bloodshed. The camp also suffered great loss. About 200 prisoners were killed and some pavilions were unfit for use. In the course of the following weeks the prisoners were hastily escorted to the other camps. May, 17, 1944, the Reception Camp Zemun was assigned to the Croatian police administration. The influx of new prisoners was gradually diminuating but they were mostly deported to the German camps as before. The German police representative was left in the camp in order to take care of deportations. In the second half of Julv 1944 the camp was finally dismissed.

According to the preserved historical sources the Reception Camp Zemun received the total of 31.972 prisoners out of which the total of 10.636 lost their lives in the camp or vvere hanged or shot out of it. It means every third one, approximately 13 victims a dav. These figures should be considered as the approximately low level of the number of received and the number of died or killed prisoners. As the historical sources are mostlv devastated or incomplete or onesided there is a real supposition that the number of received prisoners and the number of dead ones is significantly higher. Meanwhile the relationship between the received and the dead ones is approximatelv exact.

Translated Štefica Serdar Sabolić

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