An internationally recognised independent state since 1878, Serbia joined the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918, which then became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929. In April 1941, when Germany’s twelve-day campaign against Yugoslavia 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 rest of the territory was annexed by neighbouring countries: northern Bačka by Hungary; some south-east areas by Bulgaria, the south-west areas by Italian-controlled Albania; and the north-west Syrmia region by the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska), which had been formed on 10 April 1941. The German occupiers were driven out of the Yugoslav capital Belgrade by the Red 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, about 33,500 Jews lived in Serbia, among them some 16,000 lived in the German occupied areas of Serbia, out of a population of about 3,810,000. Soon, the new authorities issued anti-Jewish laws. Those considered Jews were forced to wear the Jewish badge, expelled from certain professions and restricted to living in certain areas. By the summer of 1941, 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. Notably, the German military authorities threatened to retaliate by executing 50 Serbian hostages for every German injured 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, the majority of 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 elderly people were sent to a fairground which had been 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 a very few Jews were left in Serbia, surviving either by hiding or by joining the Partisans. In total, about 14,500 Jews were murdered in the German-controlled part of Serbia during the war.
In the Bulgarian-occupied zone of Serbia—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 Hungarian killings at Novi Sad in January 1942. In the Albanian-occupied area of Serbia, the Germans, supported by 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. In the entirety of present-day Serbia, some 27,000 Jews out of about 33,500 (over 80%) perished.
Their legal framework for the state archives is provided by the Cultural Heritage Protection Law. With the exception of the Military Archives, which operate under the Ministry of Defence (and hold, among other things, the closed collection of the NDH Foreign Ministry), and the Diplomatic Archive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, all other archival institutions that have been investigated by EHRI are financed by the Ministry of Culture. The main institutions are the Archives of Serbia, which are responsible for 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.
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 Ministry 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 Film 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).
Of the regional archives, Niš, Kragujevac, Šabac, Kraljevo, Zaječar, Požarevac, Bor, Užice, Loznica, Zrenjanin, Pančevo, Vršac, Sremska Mitrovica, Sombor and Subotica are the most significant for Holocaust research.
At this point, there is no remembrance institution in Serbia exclusively dedicated to the Holocaust, but EHRI has identified other institutions that are likely to hold Holocaust-related material, namely: the Serbian National Library; the Library of the Serbian Academy of Arts and Sciences; the Matica srpska Library in Novi Sad; the Museum of Yugoslav History; the Military Museum; the Museum of the City of Belgrade; the Memorial Park Kragujevački oktobar; and the memorial museum at Red Cross Camp in Niš (Logor Crveni krst).
Outside of Serbia, sources relevant to Holocaust research on Serbia can be found at the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem and the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies. Archival institutions in other successor states of former Yugoslavia are also likely to hold relevant collections.
A. EHRI approach to Serbia: Pre-existing research, third-party surveys and available archival guides
In the case of Serbia, EHRI could rely on a number of pre-existing works on the Holocaust in Serbia. Some important websites that are also very useful for locating the historical sources include:
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 archival documents available.
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: a website for the Mapping the Holocaust – The Topovske Šupe Camp project, which aims to present a digitized history of the Topovske Šupe camp to the public. It contains various archival material related to the camp and its victims.
B. Characteristics of Serbia’s archival situation and specific challenges
The most relevant Holocaust repositories and collections in Serbia are:
1) The Serbian Military Archives
- Collection of Microfilms relating to the German occupation from 1941 to 1945
This fond contains documentation concerning German military units and authorities in Yugoslavia. The material is arranged and processed following geographical and thematic sets. Many documents are copies from the Freiburg Military Archives.
- Serbian Government of Milan Nedic 1941-1945 fond
Access to the military archive is very limited for non-Serbian citizens and they have to follow a particular procedure for obtaining the permission to conduct research in the Military Archives.
2) Archives of Yugoslavia
- The State Commission for the Investigation of the Crimes of Occupiers and their Supporters fond
The fond contains strictly classified, original documents of the Nazi occupiers and 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 committed against civilians in Yugoslavia and seek out and prosecute those responsible.
- The Royal Yugoslav Government-in-exile
Documents on the Holocaust can also be found in this fond. Many of these documents are reports which were sent from occupied Yugoslavia to the Royal Yugoslav Government in London.
3) The Historical Archives of Belgrade
- Commander of Security Police and Security Services BdS/Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des Sicherheitsdienstes fond
In this fond, there is a focus on Gestapo documents, particularly personal dossiers, and it is considered one of the few intact Gestapo document collections in all of Europe.
- Belgrade City Administration fond
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 fond
The Municipality of Belgrade was in charge of administering the city. For this reason, this fond contains materials concerning daily life in Belgrade during the Second World War.
4) 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 several Holocaust repositories in Serbia and focused on four of the most relevant: the Archive of Yugoslavia, the Military Archive, the Historical Archive of Belgrade and the Jewish Historical Museum. During the research survey 10 fonds were selected and hundreds of documents were consulted and described as fond collections, groups of documents (items), files or as single documents. Approximately, these fonds represent more than 80% of the available documents in Serbia covering the Holocaust in German-occupied Serbia. They cover other topics as well, including the flight of Jews from Serbia and the Independent State of Croatia to the Italian controlled territories, the killing of the Jews from Bačka under Hungarian occupation in the Bor copper mines, and the crimes in the Independent State of Croatia.
Local archives preserve information about the small Jewish communities in other cities (Niš, Kragujevac, Sabac and others), while the Archives of Vojvodina preserve documents that are primarily concerned with the killing of the Jews from Novi Sad and the Bačka region under Hungarian, and later Nazi, control.
C. II. In other countries
Even though a detailed survey of archives outside of Serbia has not yet been conducted, we note that documents related to the Holocaust in Serbia are preserved in German repositories, such as the Bundesarchiv and the Arolsen Archives. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has also collected many relevant documents, while the Russian State Military Archive should hold the records of the Serbian Jewish communities before and during WWII.