Holocaust Memorial Inaugerated in Belgrade Following Efforts of Serbian Jewish Community
A Holocaust memorial was inaugurated on the site of a former deportation camp located in the center of Belgrade on January 27th, following the efforts of the Serbian Jewish community to memorialize the thousands of Jews and Roma imprisoned and murdered there.
Taking place on the UN-designated Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica joined local Jewish community leaders to unveil a memorial plague at “Topovske Supe,” the first transit camp set up in Serbia by Nazis in August 1941. Also present at the opening ceremony were leaders from the Roma community, the Serbian Orthodox church and various public officials.
The Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia and Montenegro, the representative organization for the country’s Jews, had worked intensely to obtain this memorial, in close co-operation with the Israeli ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro, the Serbian ambassador to Israel and the President of the Belgrade City Council. The memorial takes the form of a bronze Torah scroll, designed by Aleksandar Necak, a member of the Executive Board of the Federation of Jewish communities.
Inscribed on the scroll is a brief history of the camp, in Serbian, Hebrew and English.
At the ceremony, Prime Minister Kostunica begged his citizens to remember those slaughtered and deported at the site, and spoke of the lessons of the Holocaust in fighting against all forms of discrimination based on race, creed or religion. The Chief Rabbi of Serbia and Montenegro Isak Asijev and the Archpriest of the Serbian Orthodox Church Dragan Terzic both conducted religious services.
The former camp, which had been unmarked for sixty years, served as a transit center for Belgrade’s Jewish and Roma citizens from August to December 1941, after the occupation of the country by Nazi forces. During initial roundups, many of the city’s Jewish community were forced into this camp, a former weapons depot – in one day almost 2,200 Jewish men were murdered there.
After Topovske Supe’s closing, the remaining prisoners were transferred to various camps in the country, including the infamous Sajmiste camp, where a gas van was used to murder thousands of Jewish women and children.
In May 1942 the Nazi military commander of Belgrade declared the city to be “free of Jews.” By the end of the war, 90 percent of Serbian Jews had been murdered.
The Jewish community is now working with the Ministry of Education to better Holocaust education, and the history of Serbian Jews in schools around the country. The community is also pushing the government to assure other unmarked sites related to the Holocaust in Serbia and Montenegro are similarly memorialized.