An internationally recognised independent state since 1878, Serbia joined the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918, thus becoming a part of Yugoslavia in 1929. In April 1941, when Germany’s twelve-day campaign against the South Slavic state led to its partition between the Axis powers and their allies, the Yugoslav government was evacuated to London. Following the capitulation, most of Serbia’s present day territory was administered by the German military under the “Militärbefehlshaber Serbien” in Belgrade. The northern Bačka region was annexed by Hungary, some south-easterly areas by Bulgaria, the north-westerly Syrmia region by the newly created (on 10 April 1941) Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, NDH), and south-westerly areas by Italian-controlled Albania. The German occupiers were driven out of the Yugoslav capital Belgrade by the Soviet Army and local Communist partisan units in October 1944. Serbia then became one of six republics within the post-war Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. When Yugoslavia dissolved during the 1990s, Serbia became an independent state again.
In 1941 some 16,000 Jews lived in the German occupied part of Serbia, out of a population of about 3,810,000. Soon, the new authorities issued anti-Jewish laws. Those considered Jews were made to wear the Jewish badge, expelled from certain professions and restricted to living in certain areas. By the summer of 1941, some 900 Jewish businesses had been taken away from their owners. While Jewish bank accounts were blocked, the Jewish community was forced to pay three substantial fines, and all Jewish men between the ages of 16 and 60 were rounded up for forced labour. Jews also fell victim to German reprisals against the local resistance movement: When Hitler ordered the German military authorities to retaliate by executing 50 Serbian hostages for every German injured during the revolt, and 100 for every German soldier killed, the Germans met their quota by executing Jews, hoping to avoid antagonising the gentile local population any further. By early autumn 1941, most of the Jewish men of Serbia had been imprisoned in local concentration camps, and mass executions began. By December, most of the Jewish men, about 5,000 people, had been killed. Exceptions were made for those who were needed for forced labour. At the same time, about 8,000 Jewish women, children and old people were sent to a fairground turned into an internment camp at Sajmište near Belgrade. From March to May 1942, more than 6,000 inmates were killed in gas vans, while another 1,200 died of exposure or starvation. By the summer of 1942, only very few Jews were surviving in Serbia, either in hiding or by joining the Partisans. In total, about 14,500 Jews were murdered in Serbia during the war.
In the Bulgarian-occupied zone of Serbia, i.e. in Macedonia and southeast Serbia, Jews were arrested in 1943, and deported to the Treblinka death camp. In the Hungarian-occupied part of Serbia, Jews were among the victims of the killings at Novi Sad in January 1942. In the Albanian-occupied area of Serbia, the Germans, with support of an Albanian SS-Division, arrested Jews from Kosovo and Jewish refugees from other parts of Yugoslavia. They were sent to the Sajmište camp and one month later to Bergen-Belsen. For the whole of present-day Serbia about 27,000 Jews out of a total of about 33,500 (over eighty percent) perished.
All archives in Serbia are operated by the state. Their legal framework is provided by the Cultural Heritage Protection Law. Except for the Military Archives, which operate under the Minstry of Defence (and hold, among other things, the still-closed collection of the NDH Foreign Ministry), and the Diplomatic Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all other archival institutions investigated by EHRI are financed by the Ministry of Culture. The main institutions are the Archives of Serbia, which head the regional and city archives network throughout Serbia, including the autonomous Vojvodina province. Other important institutions are the Archives of Yugoslavia and the Historical Archives of Belgrade.
Of the super-regional archives outside of Serbia’s capital, the Archives of Vojvodina in Novi Sad are the most important. From the regional archives, those of Niš, Kragujevac, Šabac, Kraljevo, Zaječar, Požarevac, Bor, Užice, Loznica, Zrenjanin, Pančevo, Vršac, Sremska Mitrovica, Sombor and Subotica are the most significant.
Further sources can be found in libraries such as the Serbian National Library, the Library of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Matica srpska Library in Novi Sad.
The Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade also houses its own extensive archives department. Other museum collections include those of the Museum of Yugoslav History, the Military Museum and the Museum of the City of Belgrade, as well as the Memorial Park Kragujevački oktobar in Kragujevac and the memorial museum at Red Cross Camp in Niš (Logor Crveni krst).
EHRI Research (Summary)
In Serbia, EHRI has identified ten Holocaust-relevant repositories, most of which are located in the country’s capital, Belgrade:
- Archives of Yugoslavia (Arhiv Jugoslavije),
- Diplomatic Archive of the Minstry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Serbia (Diplomatski arhiv Ministarstva spoljnih poslova Republike Srbije),
- Federation of the Jewish Communities of Serbia (Savez jevrejskih opština Srbije),
- Historical Archives of Belgrade (Istorijski arhiv Beograda),
- Institute for Contemporary History (Institut za savremenu istoriju)
- Jewish Historical Museum (Jevrejski istorijski muzej) in Belgrad,
- Military Archive (Vojni arhiv) at the Serbian Ministry of Defense,
- Yugoslav Cinemateque Archive (Arhiv Jugoslovenske Kinoteke).
Outside of Belgrade, there are two important archives in Novi Sad:
- Archive of Vojvodina (Arhiv Vojvodine),
- Historical Archive of Novi Sad (Istorijski arhiv Novog Sada).
At this point, there is no remembrance institution in Serbia exclusively dedicated to the Holocaust.
EHRI has yet to determine which archival institutions and collections outside of Serbia are relevant to Holocaust research on Serbia. However, archival institutions in other successor states of former Yugoslavia are like to hold relevant collections.
EHRI Research (Extensive)
A. EHRI approach to Serbia: Pre-existing research (and third-party surveys), available archival guides, expert support
In the case of Serbia, EHRI could rely on a number of pre-existing works on the Holocaust. Scholars wrote mostly about the destruction of the Jewish community of Belgrade, using historical sources from the local archives. Professor Ristovic dealt with the fleeing of Jews from German occupied Serbia, while Pisarri published a book about the Roma genocide, available also in English language. Koljanin published a monograph about the Sajmiste concentration camp; Ćulibrk about the historiography on the Holocaust in Yugoslavia. The most important publications are:
 Pisarri, Milovan, The Suffering of the Roma in Serbia during the Holocaust, (Beograd, FPI, 2014)
 Božović, Branislav, Stradanje Jevreja u okupiranom Beogradu 1941-1944, (Beograd, Muzej žrtava genocida, 2012) (The suffering of Jews in occupied Belgrade 1941-1944)
 Ćulibrk, Jovan, Istoriografija Holokausta u Jugoslaviji, (Beograd, Institut za teološka istraživanja, 2011)
 Ristovic, Milan, U potrazi za utočištem: jugoslovenski Jevreji u bekstvu od Holokausta 1941-1945 (Beograd, Službeni list SRJ, 1998)
 Koljanin, Milan, Nemački logor na beogradskom sajmištu 1941-1944, (Beograd, Institut za savremenu istoriju, 1992)
 Romano, Jaša, Jevreji Jugoslavije 1941-1945. Žrtve genocida i učesnici Narodnooslobodilačkog rata, (Beograd, Jevrejski istorijski muzej, 1980)
 Levental, Zdenko, (ed.), Zločini fašističkih okupatora i njihovih saradnika protiv Jevreja u Jugoslaviji, (Beograd, Savez jevrejskih opština Jugoslavije, 1952)
Some important websites resulted very useful for locating the historical sources:
killingsites.org - a website about the killing sites around Belgrade were the Jews were shot in 1941. The website is the result of an international project and there are several available archival documents.
holokaust.arhiv-beograda.org - a website about the victims of the Sajmiste concentration camp with a list of victims and archival documents from the Historical Archive of Belgrade.
topovskesupe.rs - project about the preservation of the Topovske supe camp with available archival documents.
The experts selected by EHRI for the work in Serbia are the historians dr Milan Koljanin and dr Milovan Pisarri, both internationally recognized experts in the field of the history of the Holocaust in Serbia and Yugoslavia.
B. Characteristics of Serbia’s archival situation and specific challenges The focus of the research in represented by the most relevant Holocaust repositories in Serbia:
- The Serbian Military Archives The German occupying forces from 1941 to 1945 fund. This fund contains all the documentation concerning German military units and authorities in Yugoslavia. The material is arranged and processed in an archival manner, following geographical and thematic sets. Many documents are copies from the Freiburg Military Archives.
The Milan Nedić fund. The fund contains all classified documents of the government of Milan Nedić (the Serbian puppet state prime minister under German occupation during the Second World War), local administration, police and armed forces.
The access to the military archive is very limited for non-Serbian citizens and they have to follow a particular procedure for obtaining the permission for researching in the Military Archive.
- Archives of Yugoslavia
The State Commission in Charge of Determining the Crimes of the Occupiers and their Supporters fund. The fund contains, strictly classified, original documents of the Nazi occupiers or their local fascist allies, as well as testimonies and inquiries conducted by Yugoslav authorities immediately after the war in order to record all the crimes against civilians in Yugoslavia and seek out and prosecute those responsible.
The Royal Yugoslav Government in exile. Documents on the Holocaust can be found also in this fund. They are represented mostly by reports sent from occupied Yugoslavia to the Royal Yugoslav Government in London.
- The Belgrade Historical Archives
Commander of Security Police and Security Service BdS/Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und Sicherheitdienst fund. In this fund, there is particular focus on the collection of Gestapo documents, particularly on the collection of personal dossiers, that is considered one of the rare intact Gestapo document collections in all of Europe.
The Administration of the City of Belgrade fund. Dragi Jovanović, president of the Administration of the City of Belgrade, was one of the most reliable allies of the Nazi occupiers. The Special Police operated under his command, and in particular, the Police Department for Jews and Gypsies, which played an active role in the Holocaust.
The Municipality of Belgrade fund. The Municipality of Belgrade was in charge of administrating normal life in the city. For this reason, this fund contains materials concerning the life in Belgrade during the Second World War.
- The Jewish Historical Museum of Belgrade
Even though the Jewish Historical Museum does not have a particularly large collection dedicated to the Holocaust (the material mostly consists of copies from other archives), some interesting documents, such as the survivors’ testimonies, are very useful.
C. EHRI identification and description results on Serbia
C.I. In Serbia
EHRI identified in Serbia several Holocaust repositories and focused on the 4 most relevant - The Archive of Yugoslavia, the Military Archive, the Historical Archive of Belgrade and the Jewish Historical Museum. During the research 10 funds have been selected, thousands of documents consulted and descripted as fund collections, groups of documents (items), files or as single documents. Approximately, they represent more than 80% of the available documents in Serbia, about the Holocaust in German occupied Serbia. They cover other topics too, as the fleeing of Jews from Serbia and the Independent State of Croatia to the Italian controlled territories, the killing of the Jews from Backa under Hungarian occupation in the Bor copper mines, and the crimes in the Independent State of Croatia. Local archives preserve information about the small Jewsih communities in other cities (Nis, Kragujevac, Sabac and other), while the Archive of Vojvodina preserve mostly documents on the killing of the Jews from Novi Sad and the region of Backa under Hungarian control (and from 1944 under the Nazi one).
C. II. In other countries
Even though a detailed research in other archives outside of Serbia has not been conducted yet, we can notice that documents about the Holocaust in Serbia are preserved in the most relevant European repositories as the German Bundesarchiv and the ITS Archive in Bad Arolsen. The USHMM has collected from many archives documents too, while the Russian State Military Archive is supposed to keep the records about the Serbian Jewsih communities before and during WWII: after the liberation of Belgrade in October 1944, the Soviets captured the archival material which the Germans were transferring to Berlin while retreating from Yugoslavia, including the archives of the Jewish community of Serbia until its destruction (May 1942). The Soviets brought these materials to Moscow. It is preserved today in the Russian State Military Archives, but it has not yet been consulted by any scholar from Serbia or former Yugoslavia.