The Holocaust in Serbia

Concentration camps in Yugoslavia in World War II.
Jews in Belgrade in 1941.
A Jewish prisoner in Belgrade

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. Serbia today includes areas outside the Military Commander of Serbia's Territory in 1941 to 1945: especially the Vojvodina then made up of the Hungarian Delvidek with its major city of Novi Sad or Ujvidek and Serbian Banat, and today it also includes an area then part of Croatia, called Srem or Syrmia.


Yugoslav Foreign Secretary Anton Korošec, who was Roman Catholic priest and leader of Slovenian conservatives, 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.[3]

The Holocaust

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.[4] Shortly after, Field Commander Colonel von Keisenberg, issued a decree which limited their freedom of movement.[5] 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 prescribed the wearing of yellow armbands, introduced forced labor and curfew, limited access to food and other provisions and banned the use of public transport.[6] 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.[7] 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.[7]

The second genocidal attempt between December 1941 and May 1942 involved the incarceration of the women and children at the Semlin concentration camp and former fairgrounds in Belgrade and their gassing in a mobile gas van called a Sauer. The Nazi concentration camp, the old fairgrounds or Stare Sajmište, near Zemun/Semlin 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, Roma, 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 genocide 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.[8]

While the Nazis were exclusively responsible for attempted extermination 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.[9] 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,[10] famously cabled Berlin after last Jews were killed in May 1942:

"Serbien ist judenfrei."[11]

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."[12]

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.[13] Of the Serbian Jewish population of 16,000, the Nazis murdered approximately 14,500.[14][15][16]

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.
Christopher Browning, his conference statement[17]

The Holocaust in Vojvodina

Unlike Serbia proper, which was under Nazi control, control of the Serbian province of Vojvodina was divided between Hungary (Bačka/Batschka), local ethnic German Danube Swabian or Shwovish authorities ( in Banat), and the Independent State of Croatia authorities in Srem/Syrmia, all of whom helped carry out the Jewish genocide in those areas.

In January 1942 Hungarian military units under Shwovish leadership conducted a Razzia/police raid nominally against a communist insurgency. This occurred in several villages of the Vojvodina and the literature is replete with varying estimates of the number of victims. In Novi Sad alone one estimate offers a total of 600 Jews and 2,500 Sevrbs, ostensibly in retaliation for an act of sabotage.[18] One expert of the Holocaust in Hungary, Ralph L. Braham estimates 3,309 victims ( 2,550 Serbs and 700 Jews). After the Germans occupied Hungary in March 1944, and then the Hungarian Arrow Cross fascists overthrew the Horthy government in October, Hungarian gendarmerie units rounded up some 16,000 Jews from the Bačka area of Vojvodina and nearby Baranja (then a part of Hungary), deported them into the custody of German police, who transported them to Auschwitz, where the majority died in the gas chambers.[18] and to the Austrian concentration and work camp of Strasshof where 70% or so survived.[19]

Approximately 4,000 to 10,000 Jews from the Serbian Banat were deported to the German military authorities in Serbia by the local ethnic German authorities under Sepp Janko 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, such as Jasenovac where approximately 17,000 of a total population of 20,000 in Croatia were likewise killed.

Number of victims

Of the Jewish population of 16,000 in Serbia Proper, the Nazis murdered approximately 14,500.[14]

In the Hungarian, ethnic German (Danube Swabian and Shwovish) and Ustasha-controlled province of Vojvodina, an additional 17,000 Jews were murdered (see Axis occupation of Vojvodina)

Serbian response

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."[20] Currently, Yad Vashem recognizes 131 Serbians as Righteous Among Nations, the highest of any Balkan country.[21]

See also

Nazi German and Ustasha Croatian Concentration camps during WWII



  1. Official name of the occupied territory[1][2]


  1. Hehn (1971), pp. 344–373
  2. Pavlowitch (2002), p. 141
  3. Raphael Israeli (4 March 2013). The Death Camps of Croatia: Visions and Revisions, 1941–1945. Transaction Publishers. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-4128-4930-2. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
  4. "Semlin Judenlager". Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  5. Manoschek, Walter (2000). National Socialist extermination policies: contemporary German perspectives and controversies,. Oxford: Berghan Books. p. 164.
  6. Božović, Branislav (2004). Stradanje Jevreja u okupiranom Beogradu. Beograd: Srpska Školska Knjiga. pp. 282–283.
  7. 1 2 "Semlin Judenlager".
  8. Visualizing Otherness II, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota.
  9. Philip J. Cohen,David Riesman. Serbia's Secret War: Propaganda and the Deceit of History
  10. "Axis History Forum".
  11. Barry M. Lituchy (2006). Jasenovac and the Holocaust in Yugoslavia: analyses and survivor testimonies. Jasenovac Research Institute. p. xxxiii.
  12. Dwork, Debórah; Robert Jan Pelt, Robert Jan Van Pelt (2003), Holocaust: a history, New York, N.Y.: W. W. Norton & Company, p. 184, ISBN 0-393-32524-5 Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  13. Virtual Jewish History Tour – Serbia and Montenegro
  14. 1 2 Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Macmillan Publishing Company New York 1990
  15. Ristović, Milan (2010), "Jews in Serbia during World War Two", Serbia. Righteous among Nations (PDF), Jewish Community of Zemun
  16. Ljubica Stefan (1993). "FROM FAIRY TALE TO HOLOCAUST". HIC. Zagreb: Knjige HIC. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  17. Christopher Browning; Rachel Hirshfeld (May 29, 2012). "Serbia WWII Death Camp to 'Multicultural' Development?". Arutz Sheva – Israel National News. Retrieved May 12, 2013.
  18. 1 2 "Axis Invasion of Yugolsavia". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  19. Braham, R. L. (2000)The Politics of Genocide: the Holocaust of Hungary. Detroit: Wayne State University Press p. 145
  20. Why is Israel waffling on Kosovo?, by LARRY DERFNER, and GIL SEDAN
  21. The Righteous Among The Nations Names and Numbers of Righteous Among the Nations – per Country & Ethnic Origin, as of January 1, 2014, Yad Vashem


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