After the German bombers of the Fourth Air Fleet under the command of general Alexander Löhr had dropped 440 tons of their deadly cargo above the city, Belgrade had been covered with a cloud of sand and dust for days: ruins, demolished walls, cracked facades and glass emerging through the cloud, beams, roof tiles, newspapers, flowerpots, and bricks lying in the streets. A dull sound of the last explosion seemed to have been still moaning across the streets, while all the words and letters of 350,000 books of the National Library of Serbia had been still falling over the city mixing with ashes, wails of the wounded lying buried under the rubbles of Vaznesenjska Church, roars of the polar bears, lions and deer, screams of royal cranes all dying in the ruins of the Belgrade Zoo below the restaurant “Kalemegdan Terrace”, everything being carried by the whirlwind all the way to Dobračina 18, where Aleksandar was standing at the window watching his street silently through the cracked glass.
Since the first German units had entered Belgrade on the 12th April, German soldiers and Volksdeutsche volunteers from Zemun and Belgrade started looting the property of Belgrade citizens, especially Jewish shops and apartments.
In the following days military occupation administration was established comprising an extended repressive apparatus where the Operative Police Group and the Operative Police Headquarters headed by SS-colonel Wilhelm Fuchs and SS-major Karl Kraus, respectively, played the major role; its centre being the notorious sub department IV of the German Security Police – Gestapo, within which the Police Department for Jewish Affairs, “Judenreferat”, was established immediately, under the command of SS-colonel Fritz Strake.
Aleksandar was not aware of all of it. However, when his mother and father had been reading aloud the announcement issued by the chief of the Operative Police Group on the 16th April, he had heard, that under a death threat Jews were ordered to sign up at the Special Police Headquarters at Tašmajdan on the 19th April. Thereby a process of registration and marking Jews with yellow armbands was started.
The father was discharged from the public service already on the 20th April, and instead of coming to work, from that point on he had to go to a forced labour together with other Jews. First in the aftermath of the bombing they were clearing away the debris from city streets and pulling out the dead under the ruins, and later on at the railway station and at the quay on the River Sava they were loading confiscated arms and equipment of the Yugoslav army, food supplies from the looted food warehouses, equipment from the looted factories, as well as the looted merchandise from the Jewish and Serbian shops. Besides that, Jews were forced to do other hard labour jobs with only one goal to be humiliated as much as possible, the Jewish women not being excluded and spared.
One by one anti-Jewish decrees were coming, published in newspapers or on placards plastered all over the city streets: “All Jews are allowed to buy goods at markets or in shops only after 10.30 a.m! Jews are allowed to supply themselves with water at public fountains only when all other citizens satisfy their needs for it! All retailers are forbidden to sell goods on the black market to Jews under a threat of fines, imprisonment or being sent to a concentration camp! Jews are not allowed to possess cameras! Jews are not allowed to possess refrigerators! Jews are not allowed to use telephones! Jews are not allowed to possess radio receivers! Jews are not allowed to ride on trams!”
Eventually on the 31st May all these decrees, which had been coming sporadically until then, were officially published and codified in the Official Gazette of the Decrees by the Military Command in Serbia under the title “Orders Referring to Jews and Gypsies”, special commissioners being appointed to “manage” Jewish enterprises and shops.
At the end of April the Council of Commissioners was established governed by Milan Aćimović who also headed the Ministry of Internal Affairs. By his order Belgrade City Administration was formed headed by Dragi Jovanović representing the highest Serbian administrative and police authority in Belgrade. Its most important police agency was Department of Special Police within which sub department VII – “Sub Department for Jewish and Gypsy Affairs”, headed by Jovan Nikolić, was in charge of implementation of all measures against Jews and Gypsies. Apart from that, Gendarmerie Command was formed consisting of about 3000 Serbian gendarmes.
– Traitors – the father commented it with disgust, while the mother helped him take off the dusty coat after the whole day’s forced labour. – Oooh, easy, – with a painful grimace he bended slowly pulling his arm out of sleeve. Then he collapsed on the chair at the dining table made of oak wood, bowing his head and breathing deeply and tiredly as the whole dining room filled with the smell of sweat and dust. – They are all nothing but traitors, scum and German servants! –
Since May, June particularly, masses of Serbian refugees started coming to Belgrade from other parts of Yugoslavia, mainly from Ustasha’s Independent State of Croatia, bringing news about terrible persecutions and slaughters.
During summer the paroles appeared on the Belgrade walls, such as: “Down with the occupiers!” ”Death to fascism, freedom for the people!” “Long live the people’s fight!” “Serbia cannot be pacified!” “Long live brotherhood with Russia!” There were rumours about the resistance movement. News were coming about occupiers’ and traitors’ press set on fire, about cut telephone cables, sabotaged railway tracks and later on about occupiers’ cars and trucks set on fire, about German military garage set on fire, too, as well as about attacks on police officers and German soldiers. The occupiers suffered first casualties.
The newspapers kept writing that “these were all crimes committed by communists and Jews”. Soon the mass reprisal shootings by firing squads followed.
SS-General Harald Turner, chief of Serbian Military Administration, issued an order to regional and district military commands all over Serbia to take primarily Jews as hostages for mass reprisal shootings.
A few months later Germans would officially issue and order that 100 hostages should be executed for every German soldier killed and 50 for every wounded.
After the attack of the Nazi Germany on the USSR on the 22nd June 1941, the wave of mass arrest of communists and their supporters was carried out. Consequently a concentration camp was formed at Banjica for the arrestees. Other enemies of the occupiers and the quisling regime were also imprisoned there, and since the middle of September Jewish men, too. Camp inmates at Banjica were main source of hostages for mass executions.
The newspapers kept publishing such news: “That much communists and Jews were shot for a reprisal.” Citizens of Belgrade were being oppressed even harder. The night curfew was extended, and was starting even earlier for the Jews than for the rest of citizens.
On Sunday the 17th August Germans shot and then hung five Serbian partisans and anti-fascists on the electric posts in Terazije Street. On that very day, the Volksdeutsche organizations in Belgrade and Zemun organized a big parade and marched across Terazije Street, under the hanged bodies, through the city.
At the end of August a concentration camp for Jewish men was created in Topovske Šupe in a Belgrade suburb. First inmates were Jews from Banat, and then those from Belgrade, too. In the beginning of October the camp Topovske Šupe was to become the main source of hostages for mass shooting. At the end of that same month, besides Jews, nazis started to imprison Roma men from Belgrade and surrounding settlements.
Belgrade seemed to be disfigured by pain, moaning under the Nazi jackboot, its cruel and terrible thud echoing through the city, being carried by the whirlwind all the way to Dobračina 18, where Aleksandar was standing at the window watching his street silently through the cracked glass.