The Kragujevac massacre was the murder of Serbs, Jewish and Roma men and boys in Kragujevac, Serbia, by German Wehrmacht soldiers on 20 and 21 October 1941. All males from the town between the ages of sixteen and sixty were assembled by German troops and members of the collaborationist Serbian Volunteer Command (SDK) and Serbian State Guard (SDS), including high school students, and the victims were selected from amongst them. On 29 October 1941, Felix Benzler, the plenipotentiary of the German foreign ministry in Serbia, reported that 2,300 people were executed. Later investigations by the post-war Yugoslavian government came up with between 5,000 and 7,000 people executed, although these figures were never proven reliable. Subsequently, Serbian and German scholars have agreed on the figure of 2,778.
Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel had issued an order on 16 September 1941 (OKW-Befehl Nr. 888/41), applicable to all of occupied Europe, to kill 50 communists for every wounded German soldier and 100 for each German soldier killed. In early October Communist Partisans under Tito, and Serbian Chetniks under Draza Mihajlovic, attacked German forces near Gornji Milanovac, killing 10 and wounding 26. The massacre was a direct reprisal for the German losses in that battle.
A German report stated that: "The executions in Kragujevac occurred although there had been no attacks on members of the Wehrmacht in this city, for the reason that not enough hostages could be found elsewhere."
Arrests and the massacre
On 18 October 1941, all of the Jewish males in Kragujevac were arrested, and along with some alleged communists this group numbered about 70 men. As this number was insufficient to meet the quota, over the period of 18–21 October, the entire city was raided. Around 10,000 male civilians, aged 16–60, were arrested by German troops, members of the 5th Detachment of the Serbian Volunteer Command under the command of Marisav Petrović, and the Serbian State Guard.
The arrested were teachers, students, Jews, and any others who had been captured in the German round-up. A whole generation of high school students was taken directly from their classes. The executions started at 6 pm on the following day. People were shot in groups of 400. The shootings continued into the next day, at a lesser pace.
The remaining prisoners were not released, but held as hostages for further reprisals. On 31 October 1941, Franz Böhme, the Commanding General in Serbia, sent a report to Walter Kuntze of the shootings that took place in Serbia: "Shooting: 405 hostages in Belgrade (total up to now in Belgrade, 4,750). 90 Communists in Camp Sebac. 2,300 hostages in Kragujevac. 1,700 hostages in Kraljevo."
Kuntze issued a directive on 19 March 1942: "The more unequivocal and the harder reprisal measures are applied from the beginning the less it will become necessary to apply them at a later date. No false sentimentalities! It is preferable that 50 suspects are liquidated than one German soldier lose his life... If it is not possible to produce the people who have participated in any way in the insurrection or to seize them, reprisal measures of a general kind may be deemed advisable, for instance, the shooting to death of all male inhabitants from the nearest villages, according to a definite ratio (for instance, one German dead 100 Serbs, one German wounded 50 Serbs)." Franz Böhme went on trial for the Kragujevac massacre among other war crimes. After being captured in Norway, he was brought before the Hostages Trial, a division of the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, and charged with war crimes committed in Serbia, during his 1941 control of the region. When his extradition to Yugoslavia seemed imminent, Böhme committed suicide by jumping from the 4th storey of the prison in which he was being held.
Number of victims
In 1947, at the Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, 7,000 civilians were reported to have been executed according to witness Živojin Jovanović. An investigation in the 1960s placed the number of casualties at 5,000. Staniša Brkić, curator of "The 21 October Museum", published a book in 2007 where he listed names and personal data of 2,794 victims.
Data concerning the number of people shot in Kragujevac are quite often the result of personal impressions which this crime left on contemporaries, and less the result of serious investigation. Data in German sources: announcements and numerous reports of German commanders and commands speak of 2300 people shot. In the war reports of royalist and Partisan sources there is mention of 5000 to 12,000 people shot, while in the documents of the government-in-exile in London the most frequently mentioned number is 6000 victims.
The security chief of the Danube province, Danilo Mihailović, spent a few days in Kragujevac after the shooting and being overwhelmed by the proportions of the tragedy, but lacking the possibility for a more precise insight, he informed Milan Nedić's government that between 7100 to 7300 people had been shot. However, the first serious research into establishing the crime of the occupiers which included the number of people shot in Kragujevac, was carried out after the liberation by the town committee of the regional commission of Serbia for establishing the crimes of the occupiers and their aides. The result of their work is contained in the report issued on 12 July 1945 and it records 2324 persons shot. This number, given by the official state organ, was used by Democratic Federal Yugoslavia in its indictment of a group of German generals before the Nuremberg Trials, and at the Belgrade trial of German generals and other high officers before the military court of the third Yugoslav army in 1947.
When, in 1953, the Kragujevac October Memorial Park was established, which included the "21 October Museum", the process of investigating the shooting and collecting material about the people shot was continued. This process continues to the present day. The results of this work indicate 2794 men shot (415 of them in villages and 2379 in the city of Kragujevac; it is not clear whether all 415 were executed in October or during the entire war) and 61 survivors, between 19–21 October 1941.
Serbian and German scholars have now agreed on the figure of 2,778 killed.
Monument and commemoration
To commemorate the victims of the massacre, the whole of Šumarice, where the killings took place, was designated a memorial park. There are several monuments there; the "Interrupted Flight" monument to the murdered schoolchildren and their teachers, the monument of "Pain and Defiance", the monument "One Hundred for One", and the monument "Resistance and Freedom".
Desanka Maksimović wrote a poem about the massacre titled "Krvava Bajka" ("A Bloody fairy tale"). The Belgian poet Karel Jonckheere (1906-1993) wrote in 1965 the poem Kinderen met krekelstem [Children with cricket voices] about the Kragujevac massacre. An English poet, Richard Berengarten, wrote a book of poetry, The Blue Butterfly, based on his experiences of visiting the commemorative museum at Šumarice in 1985 when a blue butterfly landed on his hand at the entry to the museum. In 2007, the title poem from the book provided the oratorio at the open-air memorial event for the victims at the annual commemoration of the massacre.
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- Number of victims as per the "21 October Memorial Museum" exhibition
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- Pavlowitch, Stevan K. (2008). Hitler's New Disorder: The Second World War in Yugoslavia. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 1-85065-895-1.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kragujevac massacre.|
- 21 October Museum website
- "Case Studies in Serbian Historical Consciousness: The Kragujevac Massacre" by Sarah O'Keeffe
- Krvava srpska jesen 1941. godine (Bloody Spring in Serbia) (Serbian)
- Kragujevac Massacre (quotations overview)
- Book of poetry: The Blue Butterfly by Richard Berengarten