Staro Sajmište (Serbian Cyrillic: Старо Сајмиште) is an urban neighborhood of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. It is located in Belgrade's municipality of Novi Beograd and it was the site of the World War II Sajmište concentration camp (1941–1944).
Staro Sajmište is located in the Novi Beograd's Block 17, between the street of Zemunski put (extension of the Savski most bridge), the Mihajlo Pupin boulevard (extension of the Branko's bridge) and the Sava river. It extends into the non-residential neighborhood of Ušće on the north and into the newly developed Savograd on the west. Sajmište street curves within the settlement.
Although this is what is usually considered as the Staro Sajmište, local community of the same name also includes the entire Block 18 to the south, which is located between the streets of Vladimira Popovića and Zemunski put, Gazela Bridge and the left bank of the Sava.
In the period between the World Wars, settlements began to form on the left bank of the Sava river, closer to Belgrade, as the only existing settlement on the marshy territory of today's Novi Beograd at that time was the village of Bežanija, quite far away from Belgrade. Settlements were known as the Novo Naselje (new settlement) and Sajmište (fair ground). Settlements developed without any urbanistic plans.
A complex of buildings was built in Sajmište in 1938. It was the site of the new Belgrade fair (hence the name), spreading over an area of 15,000 m² with modern and artistic buildings and constructions, including high metal spike construction, which became known as the Central Tower. Designed by the architects Milivoje Tričković, Rajko Tatić and Đorđe Lukić, it was envisioned as the monumental modern complex, with the Central Tower as the domineering motif. Around it, pavilions for the exhibitions were built: five Yugoslav, one for the “Nikola Spasić Foundation” and national pavilions of Italy, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary and the Dutch company Philips. It hosted international fairs, with task of promoting the economy of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as well. In September 1938 one of the exhibitions on the fair was the first presentation of television in this part of Europe (it will be 18 years before first television station in communist Yugoslavia will appear), by Philips.
After the April war of 1941 when Germany and its allies occupied and partitioned the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, entire Syrmia region (including the left bank of the Sava) became part of the Independent State of Croatia where they set the Ustaše regime. Nazi secret police, Gestapo, took over Sajmište. They encircled it with several rings of barbed wire turning it into what they referred to as "collection center" - a euphemism for a prison. It eventually became a concentration camp. Until May 1942 Germans used Sajmište concentration camp to mostly kill off Jews from Belgrade and other parts of Serbia. From April 1942 onwards, Serbian prisoners were transported in from Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška concentration camps run by ISC Croatian Ustaše. Partisans captured throughout Serbia were also sent to Sajmište. Detainees were also sent in from other parts of Yugoslavia, especially Serbs after major German offensives on briefly liberated territories. Executions of captured prisoners lasted as long as the camp existed. During their heavy “Easter bombing” of Belgrade, Allied aircraft bombed Sajmište on 17 April 1944, killing some 100 inmates and inflicting heavy damage on the camp itself, destroying all the buildings except for the Spasić pavilion and the Central tower..
Among others, prisoners included Serbian women, children and the elderly from Kozara region, entire Jewish families from Belgrade and other cities, Romani families, as well as entire Serbian populations of different Syrmian villages. November 1946 report released by Yugoslav State Commission for Crimes of Occupiers and their Collaborators claims that close to 100,000 prisoners came through Sajmište's gates. It is estimated that around 48,000 people perished inside the camp.
After the war the settlement was totally neglected for years and gradually started falling apart. Former fair buildings were awarded to some prominent artists (painters and sculptors) as their ateliers. Finally on 9 July 1987, Belgrade City Assembly decided to make Staro Sajmište a cultural site, thereby protecting it from real-estate expansion development. In 1992 city administration adopted a plan for the area covering 20.5 hectares of land and 1.4 hectares of the Sava river’s aquatoria. On 21 April 1995, a monument in remembrance of Sajmište victims was unveiled along Sava, one day ahead of the 50-year anniversary of Hitler admitting defeat on 22 April 1945.
However, almost nothing was done to conserve the area and today Staro Sajmište is in a very bad shape. Few remaining old artists have no resources to renovate the complex themselves and the area became the gathering site for vagrants and criminals, so the ateliers are often looted. The population of the neighborhood was 2,250 in 2002 and 1,862 in 2011.
After the new site of the Belgrade Fair was constructed on the right bank of the Sava, Sajmište became known as Staro Sajmište (old fair ground). Old sandy beach on the Sava bank in Staro Sajmište used to be called "Nica" (Nice), after kafana where the modern restaurant Ušće is located.
- Dimitrije Bukvić, "Muke žitelja Starog sajmišta", Politika (in Serbian)
- Daliborka Mučibabić (5 Jul 2013), "Centralna kula – stožer memorijalnog kompleksa", Politika (in Serbian), p. 19
- J. Gajić (15–16 April 2017). "Na praznik padale bombe" (in Serbian). Politika. p. 27.
- Daliborka Mučibabić (13 June 2010). "Oronuli svedok stvaranja i stradanja" (in Serbian). Politika.
- Popis stanovništva po mesnim zajednicama, Saopštenje 40/2002, page 4. Zavod za informatiku i statistiku grada Beograda. 26 July 2002.
- Stanovništvo po opštinama i mesnim zajednicama, Popis 2011. Grad Beograd – Sektor statistike (xls file). 23 April 2015.
- Daliborka Mučibabić & Nikola Belić (11 April 2013), "Ponos socijalističke gradnje – centar biznisa i trgovine", Politika (in Serbian), p. 19
- Beograd - plan grada; M@gic M@p, 2006; ISBN 86-83501-53-1
- "Jevrejski logor na Sajmištu: istorija I sećanje".