Banjica concentration camp
A German soldier points his rifle at a prisoner in Jajinci, which served as an execution-site for Banjica inmates.
|Location||Banjica neighbourhood, Belgrade, Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia|
|Operated by||The Gestapo, Belgrade Special Police and the Serbian State Guard under the control of Nazi Germany|
|Operational||July 5, 1941 – October 3/4, 1944|
|Inmates||Primarily Serbs, Jews, Roma and anti-fascists|
|Number of inmates||23,697|
|Killed||At least 3,849|
The Banjica concentration camp (German: Anhalteleger Dedinje; Serbian: Бањички Концентрациони логор) was a Nazi German concentration camp in the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia during World War II. Located in the Banjica neighborhood of Dedinje—a suburb of Belgrade—it was originally used by the Germans as a center for holding hostages. The camp was later used to hold Serbs, Jews, Roma, captured Partisans, Chetniks and other opponents of Nazi Germany. By 1942, most executions occurred at the firing ranges at Jajinci, Marinkova Bara and the Jewish cemetery.
Banjica was operational from July 1941 to October 1944. It was jointly run by German occupying forces—under the command of Gestapo official Willy Friedrich—and the Serbian State Guard. The Serbian administrator of the camp was Svetozar Vujković, a pre-war policeman who enthusiastically collaborated with the Germans. Later, both he and Friedrich were tried, found guilty and executed for war crimes by Yugoslavia's post-war Communist authorities. 23,697 individuals—3,849 of whom perished—were detained in Banjica throughout the war. After the war, a small monument dedicated to the victims of the camp was constructed. In 1969, the Museum of the Banjica Concentration Camp, containing more than four hundred items relating to the camp and its operation, was opened.
On April 6, 1941, Axis forces invaded the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Poorly equipped and poorly trained, the Royal Yugoslav Army was quickly defeated. Afterwards, Yugoslavia was dismembered; Serbia was reduced to its pre-1912 borders and placed under a government of German military occupation. Milan Nedić, a pre-war politician who was known to have pro-Axis leanings, was then selected by the Germans to lead the collaborationist Government of National Salvation in the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia. Upon capturing Belgrade, the Germans ordered the city's 12,000 Jews to report themselves to the occupational authorities; 9,145 of them did so. On May 14, Jews were removed from all official posts and a series of anti-Jewish laws were passed prohibiting Jews from activities ranging from going to restaurants to riding streetcars. Ethnic Serbs were also targeted; in July 1941, after an anti-German uprising earlier that month, the Germans announced that they would murder a hundred Serbs for every German soldier killed and fifty for every German soldier wounded.
The Germans set up numerous concentration camps in Serbia to incarcerate, torture and execute Jews, anti-fascists and those deemed "unworthy of life". One of these camps was the Banjica concentration camp. After German occupational authorities gave orders for its establishment in Belgrade, the city's mayor, Dragomir Jovanović, had the former 18th Infantry army barracks of the Royal Yugoslav Army converted into a concentration camp.
The Banjica concentration camp (German: Anhalteleger Dedinje) was established on June 22, 1941, and opened on July 5 in the Dedinje section of Belgrade. It was run by the German Gestapo and commanded by Gestapo official Willy Friedrich, in cooperation with members of the Special Police in Belgrade. Members of the Serbian State Guard acted as prison staff. The camp itself was used mainly to intern anti-fascists, most of whom were ethnic Serbs. It housed both men and women of all ages, and children. It is estimated that half of the Jewish inmates had been dispatched by the Schutzstaffel (SS), while one-third were sent to the camp by various Serbian collaborators. The camp also housed Jews from Belgrade, Banat, Central Serbia, and various European countries.
Before arriving at the camp, inmates would spend several days in the custody of the Gestapo and in Special Police prisons, where they would be tortured and beaten. By the time they were transferred from these detention centers to Banjica, some of the prisoners would already have displayed signs of serious mutilation. Throughout the operation of the camp, guards would regularly beat and mistreat prisoners. The camp was notorious for its brutality and executions were frequent and random. Inmates were expected to follow the standard rules of conduct that were also implemented in other Nazi concentration camps. These rules prohibited singing, speaking loudly, having conversations on political subjects, possessing writing utensils and paper, and all other personal belongings. Infraction of any of these rules could have meant execution. Despite this, imprisoned anti-fascists defied the Germans by singing Partisan songs, shouting their support for Tito and Stalin, and by holding lectures, discussions, one-act plays, recitals, and even folk song and dance performances on the campgrounds.
Belgrade police commissioner Svetozar Vujković, who collaborated enthusiastically with the Gestapo, was the Special Police commander of the camp. His role included ordering murders and devising torture techniques. Execution lists written in Cyrillic were drawn up by him beginning in 1942. Vujković often selected victims, including children, at random, and had murders carried out by members of the Belgrade Special Police and the Serbian State Guard, as well as the Gestapo, which played the main role of executioners. Vujković had been a high-ranking official in the pre-war Belgrade police. He was involved in the persecution of Communists in Yugoslavia even before the outbreak of World War II. He is said to have participated in interrogations and devised numerous humiliating torture techniques. Executions occurred frequently at Vujković's whim and he rarely asked for approval from German or Serbian authorities to carry out murders and ordered prisoners killed even in cases where the Ministry of Interior decided against execution. Vujković is reported to have begged to "personally shoot twenty young girls who were ordered for shooting" on one occasion. Despite this, neither he nor any other Serbs holding positions of power in the camp were reprimanded or removed from their posts by the Serbian collaborationist government. When prisoners complained of lack of food, Vujković and his associates replied by saying: "[You] didn't come here for spa therapy and food, but to be executed. To eat more or less will not save your lives."
The first mass execution in Banjica occurred on December 17, 1941, when 170 prisoners were shot. By the end of 1941, the camp interned approximately 2,000–3,000 people. By 1942, most Jews discovered in occupied Serbia were taken to Banjica and shot at Jajinci, Marinkova Bara and the Jewish cemetery. That year, execution lists started being written by the Gestapo and the Belgrade Special Police. In the spring of 1942, the Germans used a gas van brought from the Sajmište concentration camp to murder Jewish inmates on two separate occasions. That autumn, the camp was used to detain many Chetnik guerillas. Executions continued throughout the war, and many inmates were shot as hostages.
In late 1944, the Germans forced a chain gang of Yugoslav prisoners to incinerate the remains of those killed in Banjica. A surviving member of the chain gang, Momčilo Damjanović, testified that the incineration of the corpses was organized by a unit of the Kommando 1005, headed by SS-Standartenführer [Colonel] Paul Blobel, the man responsible for erasing traces of German atrocities throughout German-occupied Europe. According to the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust:
In November 1943 SS-Standartenführer Paul Blobel, the officer in charge of Aktion 1005, came to Belgrade in order to set up a unit that would disinter the bodies of the murder victims and burn them. The unit, consisting of fifty members of the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) and German military police, as well as 100 Jewish and Serbian prisoners was engaged in its gruesome task of obliterating the traces of the murders up to the fall of 1944.
Throughout the war, 23,697 individuals—including 455–688 Jews—were detained in Banjica. At least 3,849 inmates—including a minimum of 382 Jews—died at the camp. Of these, 3,420 were men and 429 were women. Most were killed by the Germans, but also by members of the Serbian State Guard. 186 Jewish inmates were transferred to the German–run Sajmište concentration camp in Zemun, 103 were taken from the camp by the Gestapo, and a small number of those who survived were either sent to forced labor, were transferred to another camp, or were unaccounted for. After the war, Banjica's German commander, Willy Friedrich, was tried by a Yugoslav military court in Belgrade on March 27, 1947, and was sentenced to death. Police Commissioner Vujković survived the war; he was captured and tried for war crimes by Yugoslavia's new Communist government. He was eventually found guilty, sentenced to death, and shot.
Historian Jozo Tomasevich has called Banjica the most notorious concentration camp in Serbia during World War II. A small monument dedicated to the victims of the camp exists in Belgrade. The Museum of the Banjica Concentration Camp, first opened in 1969, is dedicated to the memory of those who were detained in the camp and the victims of other Nazi concentration camps. It contains an exhibition of over four hundred items relating to the camp and its operation.
Prominent intellectuals and artists who were imprisoned or killed in Jajinci or Banjica:
- Aleksandar Belić, linguist
- Josip "Bepo" Benković, painter (killed 1943)
- Vaso Čubrilović, politician and historian
- Aleksandar Deroko, architect
- Jovan Erdeljanović, ethnologist
- Ivan Đaja, biologist
- Tihomir Đorđević, ethnologist
- Miloš Đurić, philologist and philosopher
- Mihailo Ilić, politicologist (killed 1944)
- Petar Kolendić, literature historian
- Aleksandar Leko, chemist
- Tina Morpurgo, painter (killed 1944)
- Viktor Novak, author
- Vlastimir Pavlović Carevac, composer
- Veljko Petrović, writer
- Milunka Savić, World War I heroine
- Risto Stijović, painter
- Šime Spitzer, Zionist (killed 1941)
- Nikola Vulić, historian and philologist
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