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.