Concentration camp at Staro Sajmište

Introduction to Ester

Table of Contents:

1. Why Do We Remember the Holocaust and Learn About It?

The Holocaust
The Destruction of the Jews Being the First Priority of the Nazi Ideology
The Disastrous Consequences of the Holocaust
We Learn about Our Past – and Future

1. Why Do We Remember the Holocaust and Learn About It?

The Holocaust represents the genocide against the Jews, which was systematically planned and carried out by the German Nazis and their collaborators throughout the occupied Europe during the World War II.

During the World War II the mass killings and crimes were committed against other groups of people, too, such as: the genocide against the Serbs in the Independent State of Croatia 1, the genocide against the Roma, a mass murder of the people with disabilities in Germany, Soviet prisoners of war, the murders of the handicapped, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, political dissidents, mass atrocities that resulted in an immense number of victims among the Soviet and the Polish civilians, to mention just some. We must remember all victims with dignity and respect, while all crimes must be researched objectively and scientifically all the time so that we can understand their particularities, historical context and social processes which led to them, recognize who the perpetrators and victims were, who else participated and what their roles were, as well as the scope of these crimes and their consequences, which are often felt to this day.

As for the sufferings of the Serbs, Yugoslav Jews and Roma during the World War II in Yugoslavia, in Serbia and the Independent State of Croatia in particular, all three groups were targeted by the Germans, German allies that attacked and occupied Yugoslavia, and their local collaborators. At many killing sites Serbs, Yugoslav Jews and Roma were executed together and many fought together in the Yugoslav resistance movement. Yugoslav Jews, Serbs and Roma share this common historical experience. All these victims of persecution should be commemorated and remembered, and the memory of the joint resistance should be cherished with pride.

The Destruction of the Jews Being the First Priority of the Nazi Ideology

Driven by their ideology based on pseudoscientific biological racism and an idea that the “Aryan race” is superior to the other “races”, Nazis defined their strategic aims, which they considered to be crucial for the future of German nation: It is necessary to obtain “Living space” (Lebensraum), that is to say, new territories for the Germans, while “racially inferior” people (Untermenschen) should be either completely destroyed or enslaved.

Nazis regarded several groups as “racially inferior” including the Slavs 2 and the Roma, but in the core of Nazi ideology the principal and the most “dangerous” “enemy of the German people” were the Jews. The fact that it is Jews that are presented as the principal enemy of the Germans is the result of a long tradition of antisemitism, i.e. hatred against the Jews. The Nazis exploited antisemitism in their populist political ideology to arouse animosity of the majority population against one minority, namely Jews, blaming them for all world evils. Riding the wave of that hatred, the Nazis tried to create a feeling of national unity and identity, preparing the nation for an “inevitable and just” war for the “defence and survival” of the German people.

During the World War II, adhering to their first priority strategic aims, the German Nazis were carrying out two plans simultaneously: military conquest of the new territories and the destruction of the Jews, both these processes being adjusted to the local circumstances and conditions in different conquered countries and territories all the time.

The destruction of the Jews was being carried out by the German Nazis systematically and in a synchronized manner throughout the occupied Europe, local collaborators taking part actively in it to a greater or lesser extent. This process escalated from depriving the Jews of their civil rights, and appropriation of their assets and property, followed by deportations, ghettoizations, to the mass murders, culminating in “death factories” of extermination camps. Most of the European Jews lived in the Eastern Europe. Virtually two thirds of all European Jews used to live on the territories of Poland, the USSR (comprising Baltic States, Ukraine, Russia, Belorussia and Moldavia) and Romania. The attack of Germany on the USSR was a decisive moment in the destruction of the Jews, for in a short time period Germany managed to conquer a large part of this territory. In the months to follow some of the worst mass murders in the history of mankind were committed there: Lviv, Babi Yar, Kamianets-Podilskyi, Iași … More than two million Jews who were living on the territories of the USSR were shot dead and thrown into mass graves within the wave of crimes now also referred as “Holocaust by Bullets”. More than 40% of total Jewish Holocaust victims were killed in this manner. Next terrible chapter of carrying out the plan of the destruction of the European Jews was yet to take place in death camps, some of the most notorious being Chelmno, Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz. Most of the 3 million Polish Jews were killed in these camps, as well as the Jewish population from the countries of the West, Central and South-East Europe. Besides the death camps run by the German Nazis, there were some camps run by others, such one being Jasenovac in the Independent State of Croatia run by the Ustasha. In addition to the Jews, in many of these camps the Poles, Soviet POWs, the Roma and others were killed, too, and in the death camps in the Independent State of Croatia the majority of the victims were Serbs.

To what extent the destruction of the Jews was their first priority can be clearly seen from the fact that even when the Nazis were completely aware that they were going to lose the war, they actually accelerated the destruction of the Jews by intensifying deportations and train transports of the Jews from all parts of occupied Europe to the monstrous complexes of death camps to be exterminated immediately upon arrival.

Thus the suffering of the Jews in Serbia must be viewed in a context of the European Holocaust, as a part of a large scale plan of the destruction of the Jews in Europe. Killing of the Jews in Serbia was combined with the suppression of a strong resistance movement which was intensified particularly during the summer in 1941 culminating in the liberation of a part of the territory by the Partisan resistance and a creation of the Republic of Užice (Užička Republika) by the end of September 1941 being the first liberated territory in World War II in Europe. German occupiers were trying to suppress the uprising by radical measures: thousands of civilians were executed in reprisal shootings. The majority of the Jewish men from the Territory of the Military Commander in Serbia (German: Gebiet des Militärbefehlshabers in Serbien) – Serbian territory occupied by Germany (see more about the division of the occupied Serbia later in this text) were executed in these reprisal shootings already in the autumn of 1941. The rest of the Jews, mostly women and children were killed in the gas van (“dušegupka”) in the Jewish camp Semlin at the former Fairgrounds – Sajmište.

Serbian collaborators

Although the Holocaust in Serbia was planned and carried out by the German Nazis, it is important to point out that they were also helped by Serbian collaborators, particularly the Serbi­an quisling administration headed by Milan Aćimović, and later by Milan Nedić who took active part not only in oppressing Serbian citizens, arresting and killing members of the resistance movement and antifascist patriots, but also in looting and destroying the Jewish population on the territory of Serbia occupied by the Germans. In order to promote antisemitic ideas and spread hatred against Jews, “The Grand Anti-Masonic Exhibition” was organized on 22nd of October 1941 in Belgrade by Lazar Prokić, chief of the Section of State propaganda in the Nedić’s Government, sponsored and financially supported by Germans. During the occupation Dimitrije Ljotić was a leader of Serbian Volunteer Corps whose members, also known as “Ljotićevci”, assisted Germans in detaining Jews and arresting supporters of National Liberation Fight, actively taking part in gathering of civilians and Ger­man reprisal executions of them. Dragomir Dragi Jovanonović was the chief of Belgrade Police and the head of Belgrade City Administration who actively persecuted patriots and occupation op­ponents during the German occupation.
(more info: 6-panel PDF in English “Some Words about the Holocaust in Serbia”)

The Disastrous Consequences of the Holocaust

The ideology that justified and incited it, the way it was prepared and carried out, the scale and the very quantity of the crimes against the Jews in Europe, all of it make the Holocaust an unprecedented crime in the history of mankind. Consequently, the Jewish population in Europe was almost completely annihilated. Unfortunately, the same goes for Serbia, where almost all Jews perished in the Holocaust.

In many places of Europe the few surviving groups of Jews failed to revive the way of life of the pre-war Jewish communities. Many of the few surviving Jews moved to Israel after the war. In the subsequent decades the memory of the victims and the pre-war life of the Jews started fading into oblivion and the process continued incessantly and relentlessly. A famous writer Elie Wiesel once said: “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.” As a matter of fact, it would mean that the Nazis succeeded in their aims to completely destroy Jews and erase all traces of their existence.

We Learn about Our Past – and Future

Taking all this in consideration, it is very important to research, teach and learn about and remember the Holocaust, not only because it is a civilizational, moral and human duty, but also because by learning about the life and history we share with Jews we also learn about ourselves and our own history which helps us to understand it better. A process of adopting modern values of tolerance, non-discrimination, and respect of human and civil rights as basic civilizational values has started after the World War II, when the world faced the scale and atrocities of the crimes committed by the Nazis and their collaborators, the very unique one being the Holocaust.

Being aware of a strong antifascist tradition in Serbia, and especially of the fact that the Serbs themselves were victims of terror and genocide 3 and a huge number of lives lost during their fight against the Nazism 4, too, to research, teach and learn about and remember the Holocaust should come as a natural constituent of the memory and the historical narrative of Serbia.

By learning about our past and understanding it through education about the Holocaust, we contribute to preserving the memory of not only Jewish but all other victims of the Nazi crimes, too, as well as to preserving and improving civilizational and democratic values of the society we live in. This way we learn how to do everything we can to prevent such crimes from happening ever again.


Misko Stanisic

Director of Terraforming

Expert advisors:

Milan Koljanin
PhD Historian, Belgrade Serbia

Sanela Schmid
PhD Historian, Nuremberg Germany