THE FATE OF JEWS IN WARTIME YUGOSLAVIA
Recently concerted attacks upon Serbs have appeared in various
publications concerning the persecution of Jews within Serbia during
World War II. In this connection we reprint here two letters published in The Times Literary Supplement of October 8, 1993., and the London Review of Books of November 18,1993., respectively both written by Jasa Almuli, past President of the Jewish Community of Belgrade and past Vice-President of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia.
Times Literary Supplement,
OUT OF YUGOSLAVIA
Sir, As one of the very few Serbian Jews who survived the Holocaust, I am deeply hurt by Ante Knezevic’s letter (September 24), in which he shows a lack of respect, both for the historical truth and for the Jewish victims of genocide in Serbia, by implying that they were not exclusive destroyed by the Germans. The fact that over 90 per cent of Serbian Jews were exterminated, he presents “as a result of widespread (Serbian) collaboration with the Nazis “.
The very early destruction of Jews in Serbia - in large numbers - was not the result of Serbian
collaboration with the Germans, but to a large extent the result of the Serbian resistance
to them. The Germans invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941., dismembered the country, created
a puppet state in Croatia with the help of the local fascist Ustasa and put occupied Serbia
under direct German military rule. In July of 1941., the Serbs followed Tito’s call for
partisan war and, after inflicting many losses on the German Army the Serbs suffered
cruel reprisals. For each German soldier killed, 100 Serbian hostages were executed by
the Wehrmacht, and for each wounded soldier fifty hostages were taken. The Germans
rounded up all Jewish civilian males between the ages of sixteen and seventy and
executed them, along with gipsies, captured Serbian patriots and imprisoned leftists.
After the execution of all Jewish males, the Germans put their widows and orphans in a
concentration camp near Belgrade and gassed them all in a mobile gas van. The concentration
camp was run exclusively by the Germans, whose SS did the killing without any participation
by the Serbs.
In the Study XV published by the Israell Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem, in 1983., Christopher R. Browning summarised his findings in an article, ”The Final Solution in Serbia”:
|“In Serbia the executioners were primarily German army personnel, not SS units… The firing squads operated under the pretext of carrying out reprisals for casualties inflicted by partisans, not with the avowed aim of exterminating the entire Jewish population. Uncertainty over the ultimate goal and scope of Nazi Jewish policy was not prolonged, however. The survivors of the fall massacre, mostly women and children, were placed in a concentration camp at Semlin just across the Sava River from Belgrade and, regardles of age and sex, were murdered in a gas van in the spring of 1942.”
The American Jewish historian Raul Hilberg, in his book The Destruction of the European Jews (revised edition, 1985.), states:
|”The Serbs abhorred the foreign yoke under practically all forms and for that treason occupied Serbia was the theatre of an uninterrupted partisan war. As in Russia, the German army was punishing the manifestations of rebellion by executing the hostages , above all the Jewish hostages”.
As for the Jewish women and children in Serbia, Hilberg writes:
|“ In December… the military units undertook the transfer of the
families of the executed hostages to Semlin where the
commander of the Security police and of the SD , Schafer ,
was awaiting his victims…In the beginning of March 1942., a
special vehicle arrived from Berlin, a gas van. Every day
except Sundays and holidays the women and children were put
into the van…
The operation ended on 10. May. Satisfied, Dr Shafer
reported that the problem of Jews in Serbia did not exist any
The role of the Germans in the destruction of the Jews in Serbia is also described in detail in the so - called “Black Book”, by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia (1957) and in Jasa Roman’s “Jews of Yugoslavia: Victims of genocide and participants in the liberation war” (1980), neither of which points the finger at the Serbs as the culprits.
London Review of Books,
18. 11. 1993:
Sir, In the present propaganda battle among the warring factions in former Yugoslavia the history of the Holocaust is insistently revised with the aim of making the opposing faction guilty of the killing of Jews. This mudthrowing at the local enemy belittles the role of the Germans on the destruction of Jews in Yugoslavia. Thus Attila Hoare ( Letters, 9. September) alleged: “Equal numbers of Jews were killed in wartime Croatia and wartime Serbia - 24,000 and 23,000 respectively - and the Serbian Nazi quisling regime of Milan Nedic participated enthusiastically in the Holocaust and indeed built its own death camps, such as the Banjica camp in Belgrade, which was staffed by Serbs.”
These allegations contain two incorrect statements and one half - truth. According to research by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia, published in 1952. in The Crimes of the Fascist Occupants and their Collaborators Against Jews in Yugoslavia, there was a great difference in both the number and the way Jews perished in Croatia and Serbia.
In the fascist Independent State of Croatia, which was Hitler’s ally during the Second World War, not 24,000 but over 33,000 Jews lost their lives, about 21,000 from Croatia proper and 12,000 from Bosnia - Herzegovina, which was annexed to Croatia with Germany’s blessing. The great majority of the 33,000 Jewish victims were killed or starved and tortured to death in concentration camps in Croatia proper run by Croatia Ustashe guards. About five thousand were handed to the Germans to be deported to Auschwitz.
In Serbia which was under German military occupation, not 23,000 but about 14,000 Jews lost their lives, almost exclusively at the hands of the Germans. About five thousand Jewish males were shot by the German Army in reprisals for losses inflicted on them by Serbian Partisans. About seven and a half thousand widows and orphans of executed males were gassed in a German concentration camp near Belgrade; about eight hundred were taken from the Jewish hospital in Belgrade and also gassed; and several hundred were killed by the Germans in small towns.
The allegation that the regime of Milan Nedic, installed by the Germans in Serbia in August 1941., enthusiastically participated in the Holocaust, is the second incorrect statement in Mr. Hoare’s letter. No anti - Jewish legislation was passed by this regime, no death camp for Jews was established or run by it and virtually no killing perpetrated. All that was done by the German Army, police and SS which had almost entirely destroyed the Serbian Jewish population by May 1942., although several hundred Jews were still hiding with Serbian friends. The German police were hunting them and many were caught with the help of police loyal to Nedic’s regime, attracted by the financial reward the Germans were paying. This is all that can be found about Nedic in the published research of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia. The Germans themselves dealt with the Jews in Serbia; the duty of Nedic‘s regime was to carry out internal administration.
The half - truth in Mr. Hoare’s letter refers to the concentration camp Banjica in Belgrade. It was indeed a death camp and staffed by Serbian policemen, but it was not destined for Jews. This camp was established by German order and the Serbian personnel were subject to the control of the Gestapo. The camp was intended for Serbs who opposed the German occupation, for Partisans, Communists and liberal patriots. Out of 23,697 persons who were imprisoned in this camp only 455 were Jews.
As the former president of the Jewish Community in Belgrade and former vice-president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia, I plead with the warring factions in former Yugoslavia, and with their respective friends abroad, to stop using Jews in their propaganda warfare.
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Last revised: February 23, 2003