The Holocaust in Serbia
The Holocaust in Serbia refers to the genocide against Jews and Romani during World War II in the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia[Note 1] supported by the puppet government led by Milan Nedić.
Yugoslav Foreign Secretary Anton Korosec stated in September 1938, that "Jewish issue did not exist in Yugoslavia…. Jewish refugees from the Nazi Germany are not welcome here." In December 1938 Rabbi Isaac Alkalai, the only Jewish member of government was dismissed from the government.
On 25 March 1941, Prince Paul of Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact, allying the Kingdom of Yugoslavia with the Axis powers. Prince Paul was overthrown, and a new anti-German government under Peter II and Dušan Simović took power. The new government withdrew its support for the Axis, but did not repudiate the Tripartite Pact. Nevertheless, Axis forces, led by Nazi Germany invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941.
The puppet government of Milan Nedic, put in place by the Nazi occupational forces in August 1941, was given responsibility for many Holocaust-related activities, including the registration and arrest of Jews and joint control over the Banjica concentration camp in Belgrade.
On April 13, 1941, before the Yugoslav Army formally capitulated, Wilhelm Fuchs – Chief of the Einsatzgruppen based in Belgrade – ordered the registration of the city's Jews. Shortly after, Field Commander Colonel von Keisenberg, issued a decree which limited their freedom of movement. On 29 April 1941, the Chief of the German Military Administration in Serbia, Harald Turner issued the order to register all Jews and Gypsies throughout Serbia. The order proscribed the wearing of yellow armbands, introduced forced labor and curfew, limited access to food and other provisions and banned the use of public transport. The main race laws in the State of Serbia were adopted on 30 April 1941: the Legal Decree on Racial Origins (Zakonska odredba o rasnoj pripadnosti)
The destruction of Serbian Jews by the Nazis was carried out in 2 distinct phases. The first, which lasted between July and November 1941 involved the murder of Jewish men, who were shot as part of retaliatory executions carried out by German forces in response to the rising anti-Nazi, partisan insurgency in Serbia. In October 1941. the German general, Franz Böhme, ordered the execution of 100 civilians for every German soldier killed and 50 for every wounded. Böhme's order stated that hostages are to be drawn from 'all Communists, people suspected of being Communists, all Jews, and a given number of nationalist and democratically minded inhabitants'. Altogether some 30.000 people were executed by the Nazi's during the first 2 months of this policy, including nearly all Serbian Jewish males, as well as tens of thousands of Serbs.
The second extermination phase between December 1941 and May 1942 involved the incarceration of the women and children at the Semlin Judenlager in Belgrade and their gassing in a mobile gas van. The Nazi concentration camp, Semlin-Judenlager or Sajmište, was established across the Sava river from Belgrade, on the territory of the Independent State of Croatia, to process and eliminate the captured Jews, Serbs, Romanis, and others. Some 7,000 to 10,000 Jews are estimated to have been exterminated by the Nazis in the Semlin concentration camp alone, along with more than 10,600 Serbs and uncounted Romani (see Sajmište concentration camp)
The SS-commander Harald Turner, Chief of the German military administration in Serbia described how the Nazis carried out the extermination of Serbian Jews:
Already some months ago, I shot dead all the Jews I could get my hands on in this area, concentrated all the Jewish women and children in a camp and with the help of the SD (i.e. Sicherheitsdienst – Nazi Security Services) got my hands on a "delousing van," that in about 14 days to 4 weeks will have brought about the definitive clearing out of the camp..." Dr. Harold Turner's letter to Karl Wolff, dated April 11, 1942.
While the Nazis were exclusively responsible for exterminating the Jews of Serbia proper, they were assisted by local quislings in the Nedic government and others, who helped round up the Jews, Romani and Serbs who opposed the Nazi occupation. Dimitrije Ljotić, who was a leading Serbian Nazi ideologist founded a pan-Serbian, pro-Nazi and Fascist party Zbor. It was very active organization that published a large number extreme anti-Semitic literature. The military part of Zbor renowned as the Serbian Voluntary Guard acted as a reliable ally of Gestapo in elimination of Jews.
As a result Serbia was in August 1942. the first state that was declared as judenfrei. Emanuel Schäfer, commander of the Security Police and Gestapo in Serbia, convicted in Germany in 1953 for the death van killings of 6.000 Serbian Jews at Sajmiste, famously cabled Berlin after last Jews were killed in May 1942:
Similarly Harald Turner of the SS, later executed in Belgrade for his war crimes, stated in 1942 that:
- "Serbia is the only country in which the Jewish question and the Gypsy question has been solved."
By the time Serbia and Yugoslavia were liberated in 1944, most of the Serbian Jewry had been murdered. Of the 82,500 Jews of Yugoslavia alive in 1941, only 14,000 (17%) survived the Holocaust. Of the Serbian Jewish population of 16,000, the Nazis murdered approximately 14,500.
Historian Christopher Browning who attended the conference on the subject of Holocaust and Serbian involvement stated:
|“||Serbia was the only country outside Poland and the Soviet Union where all Jewish victims were killed on the spot without deportation, and was the first country after Estonia to be declared ‘Judenfrei,’” a term used by the Nazis during the Holocaust to denote an area free of all Jews.||”|
The Holocaust in Vojvodina
Unlike Serbia proper, which was under Nazi control, control of the Serbian province of Vojvodina was divided between Hungary (Bačka), local German Volksdeutcher authorities (Banat), and the Independent State of Croatia (Syrmia), all of whom helped carry out the genocide in those areas.
In January 1942 Hungarian military units shot 600 Jews and 2,500 Serbs in Novi Sad, ostensibly in retaliation for an act of sabotage. After the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944, Hungarian gendarmerie units rounded up some 16,000 Jews from Bačka (Vojvodina) and nearby Baranja (Croatia, Hungary), deported them into the custody of German police, who transported them to Auschwitz, where the majority died in the gas chambers.
Approximately 3,800 Jews from Banat were sent by the local Volksdeutcher authorities to be killed in Nazi concentration camps (Semlin and others – see Axis occupation of Vojvodina). Jews in Ustasha-controlled Syrmia, were sent to concentration camps in the Independent State of Croatia, where most of them were likewise killed)
Number of victims
Of the Jewish population of 16,000 in Serbia Proper, the Nazis murdered approximately 14,500.
Serbian civilians were involved in saving thousands of Yugoslavian Jews during this period. Miriam Steiner-Aviezer, a researcher into Yugoslavian Jewry and a member of Yad Vashem's Righteous Gentiles committee states: "The Serbs saved many Jews. Contrary to their present image in the world, the Serbs are a friendly, loyal people who will not abandon their neighbors." Currently, Yad Vashem recognizes 131 Serbians as Righteous Among Nations, the highest of any Balkan country.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Holocaust in Serbia.|
- Holokaust u Srbiji
- Against serbian chetnik revisionism
- Browning, Christopher R. (1983). «The Final Solution in Serbia; The Semlin Judenlager — A Case study». Yad Vashem Studies 15: pp. 55–90.