A Brief Timeline of Staro Sajmište 1937-1944
The transcript of a lecture delivered by Milan Koljanin Ph.D. that gives a more comprehensive overview of the Sajmište camp can be downloaded in Serbian language. For more information see also bibliography.
Belgrade Fair Exhibition Grounds 1937-1938
The first phase of construction on the site of the Belgrade Fair Exhibition Grounds. The five Yugoslav pavilions were the first to be built, followed by the Central Tower, Italian, Romanian, Czechoslovakian and Spasić’s pavilions. The first Belgrade Fair was opened on September 11th, 1937.
The opening of the Turkish and German pavilions marks the end of the second phase of construction.
Follow the link to watch the footage of the opening of the Belgrade Fair.
Beginning of Occupation of Yugoslavia
In April 1941, Germany and its allies attack Yugoslavia.
In the bombing raid on Belgrade launched on April 6th, 1941, King Aleksandar's Bridge (most kralja Aleksandra) today Branko's Bridge (Brankov most) was destroyed. Belgrade Fair pavilions did not sustain considerable damage.
16 April, 1941
The Gestapo issues a decree ordering all Jews to report to the German police under pain of death, in order to be registered and given yellow armbands.
The decree can be downloaded here:
>> document: decree 16.04.1941
31 May, 1941
A decree regarding Jews and Gypsies is issued. It defined who was to be regarded a Jew or a Gypsy. The decree excluded Jews and Gypsies from public life and economic activities. Their property is effectively confiscated, they were made to have their names entered in special registers (Judenregister and Zigeunerlisten) and were subjected to forced labour. Moreover, the decree imposed mandatory wearing of yellow armbands for Jews and Roma, forbade them to work in public institutions and in the professions of law, medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or pharmacy. They were also forbidden to go to cinemas, theatres, places of entertainment, public bathrooms, sports grounds and open-air markets.
The original text of the decree is available here:
July – December, 1941
The German Wehrmacht starts carrying out mass executions of Jewish and Roma men mostly interned in the Topovske šupe camp in Autokomanda. They were hostages destined for a firing squad, to be killed in reprisal for the uprising in Serbia. The remaining members of their families, women, children and the elderly were interned in the Sajmište concentration camp that was called Judenlager Semlin (Jewish Camp Zemun) at the time.
Jewish Camp Zemun - Judenlager Semlin
8 December, 1941
The camp on the Belgrade Fair Grounds is established. It was run by the Gestapo in Serbia and under the command of SS officers. After executing their men, the first Jewish and Roma families, mainly women, children and the elderly were taken to Jewish Camp in Zemun. A total of 6,400 Jewish and around 600 Roma women were interned. One of the first inmates is nurse Hilda Dajč whose four letters have survived and can be read here:
January – March 1942
From January until late March, the majority of Roma were released from the camp. The follow-up instruction to the Decree on Jews and Roma specified that that measure applied only to Roma without a permanent residence. After submitting a proof of permanent residence, interned Roma families were allowed to apply for release from the camp. Jewish nurse Matilda, who was appointed guardian of the Roma camp, organized the drawing up of applications and submitted them to the command of the camp. The fate of the group who could not produce a proof of permanent residence has not been fully investigated.
In late March, a custom-made vehicle, a Saurer gas van, designed in Germany as a tool for mass killings, arrives in Belgrade carrying two officers, Wilhelm Goetz and Erwin Meyer. On March 18th, the German police arrested all doctors and patients in the Jewish hospital in Visokog Stevana street (today, the building houses the Faculty for Special Education and Rehabilitation, while before the occupation it belonged to Jewish Women's Society). The hospital staff and patients from the hospital's section at the Oneg Shabbat Jewish Culture Society at 16 Jevrejska Street were arrested too. From 19 to 22 March, 1942, between 700 and 800 Jews from this group were driven away and killed in the gas van known as “dušegupka”. Their bodies were buried in the graves in Jajinci that had already been prepared.
Early April – 10 May, 1942
Jewish women and their families held in the Sajmište camp were told they would be transferred to another camp in Romania or Poland. They were told to pack their things in boxes and write their names and addresses on them. They were all suffocated in the “dušegupka” while crossing the pontoon bridge on their way from Belgrade to Jajinci. Their bodies were buried there together with those of other inmates. Throughout 1943 – 1944 the corpses were being exhumed and burned, so as to hide all evidence of the crimes.
The officials responsible for the extermination of Jews were Emanuel Schäfer, Chief of the German police in Serbia, Gestapo chief, Bruno Sattler and Herbert Andorfer, the commander of Jewish Camp Zemun with his deputy, Edgar Enge.
Detention Camp Zemun - Anhaltelager Semlin
The Sajmište concentration camp becomes a detention camp where prisoners from other camps were transferred before being sent to Germany and other countries where they were subjected to forced labour. 32,000 inmates passed through this camp, 10,636 of whom were confirmed dead.
Many prisoners from Kozara from Eastern Bosnia and Bosanska krajina region were brought to the camp. Part of the inmates were transferred from Ustasha camps in Jasenovac and Stara Gradiška. Around 3,000 people were taken back to Jasenovac where they were immediately killed.
Able bodied and healthy inmates are singled out and put in a special camp situated at the very confluence of the rivers Sava and Danube.
The Sajmište camp is given the central role in the network of German camps. Prisoners from Italy, Greece and Albania were brought there.
16 – 17 April, 1944
Many inmates are killed in the allied bombing of Belgrade. Only a small number of them managed to run away.
17 May, 1944
The responsibility of running the camp is transferred to the Ustasha police, although the camp itself continued to be run in the interest of the Germans and was commanded by a German officer.
The camp is disbanded. The last inmates were transferred to other camps or released.
This brief timeline was compiled using the data published in:
Milan Koljanin, Nemački logor na Beogradskom sajmištu 1941–1944. Institut za savremenu istoriju. Belgrade, 1992.
Dragoljub Acković, Romi u Beogradu – Istorija, kultura i tradicija Roma u Beogradu od naseljavanja do kraja XX veka, Rominterpress, Beograd, 2009