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 emerged through the cloud. Beams, roof tiles, newspapers, flowerpots and bricks lay in the streets. A dull sound of the last explosion seemed to still moan across the streets, while all the words and letters of 350,000 books of the National Library of Serbia were still falling over the city–mixing with the ashes and the wails of the wounded, who lay buried under the rubble of Vaznesenjska Church. The roars of the polar bears, lions, deer and the screams of royal cranes dying in the ruins of the Belgrade Zoo, could be heard below Kalemegdan Terrace restaurant. Everything was carried by the whirlwind all the way to Dobračina 18, where Aleksandar was standing at the window, silently watching his street through the cracked glass.
The first German units had entered Belgrade on the 12th of 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, comprised of 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 major roles. The Operative Police’s centre was the notorious sub department IV of the German Security Police-–Gestapo, within which the Police Department for Jewish Affairs, the 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 read the announcement issued by the chief of the Operative Police Group on the 16th of April, he heard that under death threat, Jews were ordered to sign up at the Special Police Headquarters at Tašmajdan park on the 19th of April. Thereby, a process of registering and identifying Jews by yellow armbands had started.
Aleksandar’s father was already discharged from public service on the 20th of April. Instead of going to work, he had to go do forced labour together with other Jews. In the wake of the aftermath of the bombing, they had to clear debris from city streets and pull out the dead from under the ruins. Later on, on the quay of the River Sava or at the rail station they loaded arms and equipment confiscated from the Yugoslav army, food supplies from looted food warehouses, equipment from looted factories and looted merchandise from Jewish and Serbian shops. Besides that, Jews were forced to do other hard labour jobs that were meant to humiliate them as much as possible, Jewish women not being excluded and spared.
One by one anti-Jewish decrees came. 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 first! 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 of May, all of these decrees, which had been announced by the German military occupation administration sporadically, 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 were 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, the Belgrade City Administration was formed and headed by Dragi Jovanović, representing the highest Serbian administrative and police authority in Belgrade. Its most important police agency was the Department of Special Police within which sub department VII for Jewish and Gypsy Affairs, was headed by Jovan Nikolić, who was in charge of the implementation of all measures against Jews and Gypsies. Apart from that, a Gendarmerie Command was formed consisting of about 3,000 Serbian gendarmes.
“Traitors,” the father commented with disgust, while mother helped him take off his dusty coat after a whole day of forced labour. “Oooh, easy,” with a painful grimace he bent down slowly, pulling his arm out of the sleeve. Then he collapsed on the chair at the dining table made of oak wood, bowing his head and breathing deeply. The whole dining room filled with the smell of sweat and dust, “They are all nothing but traitors, scum and German servants!”
Since May, and in June particularly, masses of Serbian refugees started coming to Belgrade from other parts of Yugoslavia, mainly from the Ustasha’s Independent State of Croatia, bringing news of terrible persecutions and slaughters.
During summer, protests appeared on Belgrade walls: 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 a resistance movement. News started coming out about ambushes; German press burned, telephone cables cut, railway tracks sabotaged, a German military garage set on fire and attacks on police officers and German soldiers. The occupiers suffered their 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 under German occupation to take primarily Jews as hostages for mass reprisal shootings.
A few months later, Germans would officially issue the order that 100 hostages should be executed for every German soldier killed and 50 for every wounded.
After the attack of Nazi Germany on the USSR on the 22nd of June, 1941, there was a wave of mass arrests of communists and their supporters. Consequently, a concentration camp was built in Belgrade at Banjica for the arrested. Other enemies of the occupiers and the puppet regime were imprisoned there too. By the middle of September, Jewish men were also brought to the camp. The inmates at Banjica were the main source of hostages for mass executions.
The newspapers kept publishing titles like “This amount of communists and that amount of Jews were shot for reprisal.” Citizens of Belgrade were being oppressed even harder. The night curfew was extended and started even earlier for Jews than for the rest of the citizens.
On Sunday, the 17th of August, Germans shot and then hung five Serbian partisans and anti-fascists on electric posts in the very center of Belgrade at Terazije Street. On that very day, Volksdeutsche in Belgrade and Zemun, organized a mass parade and marched in uniformes across Terazije Street, under the hanged bodies, making their way through the city.
At the end of August, a concentration camp for Jewish men was created in Topovske Šupe in Autokomanda, former Yugoslav military barracks in the Belgrade suburbs. The first inmates were Jews from Banat and then those from Belgrade too. In the beginning of October, the camp at Topovske Šupe was to become the main source of hostages for mass shootings. At the end of that same month, besides Jews, Germans 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 echoed through the city. The echo of moans was carried by the whirlwind all the way to Dobračina 18, where Aleksandar was standing at the window, silently watching his street through the cracked glass.