The German occupation army entered Zemun on April 12, 1941. Although Zemun was part of the Independent state of Croatia up to October 1941, the Germans took complete charge of the town. The German troops and the Gestapo (GeheimeStaatspolizei) made a binding relationship with the local Germans (Volksdeutscher), mainly living in the part of Zemun known as the Franztal. The majority of local Germans, some 10.000 of them in Zemun had actively and systematically prepared themselves for the arrival of the German army, and when they finally came saluted them as their saviors.

The majority of the Zemun population, specially the Serbs, but other nationalities too, including the Jews watched the German soldiers march through their town with grave apprehension.  

This was the beginning of the ordeal and destruction of the Jewish community.

By the notorious Nazi “Bekanntmachung” (proclamations) the law practically ceased to apply to the Zemun Jews. They were outlawed. Proclamations in the form of bans and obligations regarding Jews followed one upon another.

Already on April 14, 1941 notices were placed ordering Jews (men from 15 to 60 years old, women from 15 to 40 years) under the threat of death penalty, to report to Police headquarters (Polizeiamt) by April 16, for the purpose of determining their ability for physical labour.

Simultaneously, a Proclamation (Bekanntmachung) stating the bans and obligations imposed on Jews in Zemun, point by point was plastered in public places all over the town.

Based on the recollections of surviving Jews the measures proscribed were as follows:

-         Jews must wear a yellow band on their sleeves with the word “Jude” stamped on it;

-         Jews are banned from approaching and entering all public places (parks, cinema, public baths, restaurants, public transportation, etc.);

-         attending school is prohibited;

-         they are banned from the streets on Sundays;

-         they are forbidden to leave their houses from 8 o’clock p.m. to 5 o’clock a.m.;

-         they are forbidden to gather in groups larger than 5 persons (meaning that a minjan for payer could not be legally gathered since religious norms required the presence of ten men of age);

-         mandatory forced labour is instituted for Jews;

-         all economic activities are proscribed to Jews.

Although no public proclamation was made the systematic eviction of Jews from their houses and apartments was in process.

All the above measures were implemented swiftly and efficiently owing to the keenness of the local Germans to be cooperative. They had prepared in advance records containing all necessary details for every Jew in Zemun. As part of Zemun’s population they were well acquainted with the town and readily served as town guides. Their police in black uniforms together with the German police and troops evicted Jews from their houses and flats, made arrests and did whatever was required of them.

Very soon factories, trade shops, craftsmen workshops, bureaus and offices owned by Zemun Jews were confiscated.

In Zemun Jews were not crammed and fenced-in in one particular part of the town but nevertheless they practically lived in ghetto conditions. Their financial standing was completely undermined and each day presented a struggle to survive and preserve elementary biological survival.

The daily exertion of forced or better said slave labour made it practically impossible to earn elsewhere any money that could be used to feed one’s family. As a rule forced labour work lasted 12 hours a day. Food had to be provided for by the labourer’s themselves. Jews worked in a number of locations, mostly for the German army (Deutsche Wehrmacht). According to accounts disclosed by survivors, driven to forced labour the sites were:

The Danube embankment, the site where cargo was loaded into barges. Barrels with oil were first unloaded from trucks and then loaded into barge hulls using steel rope. Since there was no mention of any means of protection, like gloves, all Jews forced to work here suffered from blisters which broke over and over again leaving their hands bloodied and constantly sore. They were relentlessly spurred on by German soldiers who ordered them to work faster, brutally striking random blows as they passed by. The soldiers cursed them persistently shouting profanities such as: “Du Saujude!” or “Stinkende Saujuden!” and so on.

The Zemun Magistrate was taken over by the Command of one of the divisions of the German army. A group of Jews delegated to work in this building had to carry furniture from one office to another, from one floor to another. It was strenuous work since the German guards would allow only two Jews to carry an item of furniture. There was an abundance of bulky pieces of furniture made of solid oak wood which would test the strength of even four men. This work was also hurried on and accompanied by curses. However, the toughest duty was scrubbing floors. The wooden floors of the Magistrate had for decades been coated with machine oil and were as black as coal. A group of Jews was ordered by the German sentries to scrub them clean to their natural yellow floorboard colour. The boards were first scrubbed with water and a kind of soapy solution, but with little result. The next step was to force the workers to scrub them again with pure caustic soda. The colour of the floors turned to a shade of grey while the hand and knees of those employed were raw to the bone.

The picture was taken at the time the Jews were rounded up for forced labour in June 1941. It is evident from the expression on the faces that this was taken in the early days of persecution when it seemed that the situation would pass quickly. Nobody thought that tragedy could ensue from forced labour. At first regular German soldiers guarded the Jews during forced labour shifts. There were even some among them who had sympathy for the Jews.

The building of the Agricultural faculty was taken by German engineer troops for their barracks. This army unit was engaged in the repair of the railway bridge over the river Sava. The group of Jews sent to the site had to clean the building, scrub the floors in the corridors and rooms. Here again the brutality of the German sentries was apparent. In order to clean the clogged toilet bowls they made the group dig up feces with bare hands yelling degrading remarks at the expense of Jews.

The premises of the former Yugoslav army for storing cannon grenades ware also taken over by the Germans. The group of Jews sent to labour in the site was to some extent exposed to less degradation than Jews at the other sites. However the physical labour was exceedingly strenuous. The stocking area was situated in the large field near the Laudon trench. Lying in the field was a large quantity of crates each containing three grenades. One crate weighed over 50 kilos. Three meter high crate piles had to be erected. Apart from the enormous physical strain, a further disadvantage was that this storage space was on open ground, so that in rainy weather work was carried out in muddy terrain and wet clothes. Once the long and high lines of crate stacks were in place, German army truck arrived at the site. The entire quantity of grenades was loaded on to them and driven away.

At the railway station Zemun-Novi Grad a group of Jews was ordered to unload bales of hay and straw from wagons and to reload the bales into German trucks which then transported the cargo to a certain division stationed in Dedinje, Belgrade. Supervision of the site was given to soldiers from the Suddeten and this was probably the reason why there was no manhandling, derisive talk or any form of humiliation. When the Jews working in the site of the railway station Zemun-Novi Grad spoke of the decent treatment of German soldiers, Jews working at other sites could not believe that such conditions existed in those hard, war ridden days.

The Main Sanitary warehouse of the Royal Yugoslav army with its complete sanitary material and medical apparatus and equipment was taken over by the German army. Here again as at all other locations where forced labour was induced the daily work shift lasted 12 hours. A larger group of Jews worked here since the stockpile was enormous, and a way had to be found to sort out the material. Once sorted it was loaded into trucks and as far as the workers could make out was transported to Greece and later on to Cyprus. In the aftermath of the plot carried out in Smederevo, an exception was made. From then on the loading of trucks was carried out by night as well since large quantities went to Smederevo. The work was supervised by German soldiers. There were a number of civilized individuals among them who tried to slow down the strenuous pace of work. The survivors remember that among them was a German soldier named Jager who stood out from the others. He told them himself that he was from Frankfurt. However there were a number of sadists among the guards who made good of every opportunity to abuse the Jews or hit them with rifle-butts at random. Making ample use of degrading names the majority of the guards just hastened the workers to work harder.

Loading operations in the Zemun railway station were considered as less strenuous work assigned to Jews working under forced labour conditions. German soldiers were known for their disposition to buy everything they could get hold of and send the goods back to Germany. Among other things one time large wicker baskets containing horse hair (Rosshaar) were loaded into trains. However, on certain days this group also tackled difficult jobs. At one time airplane engines weighing over one hundred kilos were brought in German trucks from the “Ikarus” motor factory. Since the circumference of the engine was relatively small only a few persons could be engaged in lifting this heavy load, as there was no lifting equipment at disposal. The German guards took no heed of the situation and remorselessly urged the workers to carry on with the work shouting humiliating remarks at them. It took great physical and mental exertion to load the motors in place.

One day a group of six Jews was selected and ordered to get on a German military truck, and lower the canopy. The location to which they were sent was a secret and they were forbidden to look outside. However, some of them dared to look outside and to their horror saw that they were heading for the concentration camp “Staro sajmiste”. When the truck drove past the camp gate a few of the older Jews started to pray aloud from sheer horror. But the truck only drove through the camp and continued down the road to Belgrade. Once there they loaded on some goods, and the group returned to the Zemun railway station. For days they could not recover from the sights they had seen on their short journey through the “Staro sajmiste” camp and the fear that they could have been left there.

The Army bakery in the former police school was also a storage space for various kinds of food stuff for the troops. A group of Jews worked here loading food into army trucks. Tense relations, cursing and derisive remarks were ever present during the strenuous forced labour. The hardest task was carrying big sacks of flour weighing up to 85 kilos. The guards insisted that each sack was carried by one person. Almost everybody carrying the sacks was lighter in weight than the load they carried. A specialty of the guards was to hurry on a labourer climbing up the stairs with a sack on his back fully aware that the person in question was strained to the limits. At one time a group of labourers was selected to clean frozen cabbage, which came in wagon loads. Each one of the group had frost bitten hands and suffered wounds for weeks on end.

The petrol warehouse of the former Yugoslav air force buried deep under ground near the Laudon trench in Zemun was also taken by the German army. A daily 12 hour forced labour shift was also allotted to the group of Jews assigned to the site. Their daily task was to take petrol drums and drums containing similar fuels and load them on to German military trucks. Here again the toil of the workers was accompanied by derogative remarks. The workers were subjected to meticulous stripping checks. Considering the nature of goods stored in this warehouse it was normal that cigarette lighters and matchboxes were prohibited. The disrobing was a sign of the soldier’s anxiety that this group of Jews could stir up a commotion. However, the same German soldiers took little heed of safety precautions as they stood smoking with ease at the very entrance to the warehouse.

This petrol warehouse, the Zemun airport and a few other facilities were taken over by the local Germans even before the Eighth German Tank Division entered Zemun. Under the leadership of Fritz Runicki some two hundred Zemun Germans organized themselves to prevent units of the former Yugoslav army to place mines and blow up the airport and other adjoining facilities. The group dressed in black uniforms with the insignia of the Nazi cross on their sleeves when setting out on such exploits. Among other things they managed to save some 750 tanks of petrol for the Wehrmacht.

The Cavalry school of the Royal Yugoslav army was adapted and became the German army sickbay for horses (Pferdelazarett). A larger group of Jews was assigned to forced labour in this facility. Supervision was carried out solely by German soldiers.

Constant shipments of requisitioned horses were brought to the former school and barracks. The horses were mainly separated into three groups: horses selected in the first group met the needs of the German army, the second group of horses were used for agricultural purposes while horses in the third group were destined for the slaughterhouse. There were also sick horses, with wounds embedded with pus. The group working in this stable had to see to the infected wounds and wash off the filth from the horses with bare hands.

The cleaning of the stables was another abominable job. The German guards forbid the use of shovels and hay-forks for scooping up horse dung and wet straw. This work was also carried out with bare hands. Persistent in their demand that no tools or protection was used the soldiers supervising the work vastly enjoyed the sight before them; people wearing yellow bands and the Star of David piling up dung and horse piss saturated straw.

Conditions were equally difficult at the smithy .The forging was done by German workers who took pleasure in harassing the Jews assigned to them. A scene endlessly repeated was that of a Jewish worker holding up a horse’s leg ready for shoeing while the blacksmith approached him tossing and waving the red hot horseshoe malevolently in his face shouting: “Wie gefällt dir das? Du verfluchtes Schwein!” (How do you like this? You damned swine?) Frequently used was also “Du Saujude!” (You Jewish sow!”) as well as other derogatory words.

The German blacksmiths particularly favoured a certain prank which they performed with each newcomer to this group of forced labour workers. The worker would be ordered to lift a mule’s leg which apparently was to be shoed. But the moment the worker lifted the mule’s leg the mule would kick so hard that the worker was thrown right up against the wall. The smiths would then order the worker to repeat the process which once again ended in the same way. After a number of unsuccessful attempts the smiths would request that the mule’s leg be tied with rope and the rope thrown over a boulder. The mule was then lowered to the ground and the rope tightened so that the shoe could be placed. The smiths knew that there was no other way to shoe a mule, but by the time they got to it the new worker-Jew was doomed to spend the next days in bruises, sometimes even with a few broken ribs. The entire hoax was accompanied by German soldiers laughing their heads off as if a good joke had just been told.

A group of workers in which Imre Weiss worked had to tend to the pigs. The sties were some distance from the stables but they too were within the boundary of the former Cavalry school. The group had to keep the pigsties clean and to feed and water the pigs. Apart from this strenuous and filthy job, fleas presented their gravest problem. They thrived inside and all around the pigsties. Each night the workers left the site in blisters. Naturally their homes were also flea infested. At the time there were no chemical products they could apply to protect themselves from flea bite.

Very soon after the German army entered Zemun the arrests of Jews began. According to Josip Beherano who spent some time in prison the conditions in the prison cells were abominable. More than 40 individuals were packed in a relatively small room. It was impossible to move in any way; one had barely enough room to breathe. The foul evaporations coming from the bucket for excretions made it all the more harder to breathe. One day one of the prisoners (as far as Beherano can recall he thinks his name was Nahmijas) died sitting on this bucket. The behaviour of the sentries was cruel; the culmination of sadistic indulgence came when the “Hitlerjugend” youths from  Frenztal were brought in. These boys, the eldest barely fifteen years old were let inside the cells to beat the prisoners. One cannot begin to describe the ensuing commotion, as the prisoners tried to back away from the front rows, which bore the full intensity of the blows. As far as it is known the majority of these Jews were released and sent home after spending more than a month in prison.


In October 1941 the Ustashi took over the administration of Zemun from the Germans. This inevitably led to far worse conditions for the Jews. From then on the Ustashi troops, the NDH police, the Gestapo, Feldzandarmerija (local Germans in black uniforms), the German army and the Croatian fifth column were all present and active. Zemun was literally infested with Fascist of all colours. Bearing in mind the fact that Jews were literally placed beyond the law, one can only imagine how they must have felt inside their homes and in the streets.

In April 1941 when part of the Zemun Jews were imprisoned and the remaining assigned to forced labour, when their stores had been expropriated and many of them evicted from their homes and apartments, the activity of the Jewish Community was officially prohibited.

At the time the Germans handed over the administration to the Ustashi i.e. the NDH (the so called Independent State of Croatia) in October 1941, meetings of the Board of the Jewish Community were allowed but only for the purpose of raising funds to buy furniture and flats for the Ustashi, particularly the police force.

The opportunity to meet was used for exchanging information, especially for collecting clothes, linen and consumables, sewing machines, fold-up beds and money.  Everything that could be collected was sent to the Jewish Community in Osijek  which had been chosen to supply Jews already interned in Djakovo, Lobograd and elsewhere.

In the spring of 1942, the month of April, the Chief of the Zemun police called in Dr. Brandeis. Present at the meeting were Chief Retl, his deputies Betelhaim and Ivkovic. Brandeis was asked whether the Zemun Jews would agree to moving to barracks which would be built outside the town. In this way a ghetto for all Jews of the town would be set up. Approval was immediately given believing that this could be the least of the miseries that could befall this Jewish community. However, in order to implement the proposal the authorities demanded that the Jews provide the necessary funds themselves. Some 250.000 kuna was raised which at the time was a pretty large sum of money. The money was handed over but had no bearing on the tragic fate that would soon befall almost every Zemun Jew.

Two more or less identical versions of this event have been recorded. In the letter to the Jewish Community of Zemun Dr. Brandeis wrote on November 27,1958:

“- a catastrophe commenced, which as I was later to learn surprised even the authorities of Zemun in office at the time. Tolj, the notorious Chief of the Ustashi Supervising Service in Vinkovci was given universal approval to “solve” the Jewish issue in those towns where Jews still managed to survive somehow, (Osijek, Sremska Mitrovica, Vinkovci, Ruma, Stara Pazova and Zemun).”

In a letter written by Dr. Arnold Schön in Gat (Israel) on March 13,1962 the following was said about the event:

“The issue presented actually had to do with a very important plan – the Chief of police, Rudolf Retl, posted by the Ustashi, and some other leading Ustashi men proposed to save the Zemun Jews from concentration camps, on condition that  barracks were erected outside the town, behind the Cavalry school, where all Zemun Jews would live together. In other words the intention was to form a ghetto. Separated from Arian citizens, Jews would be assigned to forced labour  but would live. To this end the raising of funds began, a substantial amount… However the Chief of police Retl was playing both sides – in appearance to the Ustashi troops and German Gestapo he was a true Fascist, while he discretely issued passes for Dalmatia to certain Jews at the same time… The plan of the ghetto was never realized…Retl had to yield to the higher influence and pressure of the Gestapo, which recognized nothing else but total extermination. After the war Retl was arrested, placed before the National Tribune, sentenced to death and shot. The trial was open to the public, loud speakers were placed in all public places...”

Both accounts suggest that the Chief of Police Retl might have been inclined to make good his promise to build a ghetto in Zemun. However, it must also be recorded here that in fact the Fascist persistently gave false promises to Jews. Not a single promise was ever honoured, either by the German Nazis or their allies throughout Europe. An exception would be the one single promise they meticulously fulfilled and that was that they would find a ”final solution” for the Jewish issue – i.e. they would see to it that all Jews were extinct. However, the following alternative should be accepted as their prime intention: in agreement with his deputies Retl had devised a way to lay hands on that part of Jewish property which the Fascists had not yet managed to plunder. Their plan worked.

As the arrests of Jews became fewer and forced labour grew to be an everyday duty, the Fascists managed to delude the Jews that this was the worst that could happen to them. However, the worst came at dawn on July 27, 1942. An order was proclaimed that all Jews must report to the police. In fact the rounding up of Jews had already begun in the night between July 26 and 27.

A procession of Jews was hastened to the railway station and packed into cattle wagons which quickly left Zemun railway station heading for Stara Gradiska and Jasenovac.

The men were separated to one side and deported to Jasenovac while the women and children were taken to Stara Gradiska. Jasenovac and Stara Gradiska had one management – it was known as the Jasenovac concentration camp.

Much has been written and documented in films about the horrors of the Jasenovac slaughterhouse so that everyone who wanted to learn about the extent of daily pain, torture and slaughter the inmates were exposed had ample opportunity to do so.

In Yad Vashem we found Ervin Rosenberg statement. Of all the Zemun Jews who had been deported from Zemun and interred in Jasenovac Ervin was the only survivor.

This account of his recollections reveals the daily horrific events that took place in Jasenovac. It tells of how with each so called “performance”, when all the inmates were lined up, came the uncertainty of not knowing who would live through it. Very often the Ustashi would fabricate a story that an attempt at escape had been made or something similar and would take out every tenth prisoner from the line and kill each one of them on the spot. In order to heighten the prisoners’ sense of insecurity the counting of prisoners was done randomly, never starting from the same position in the line twice.

At one time a false accusation of an attempt at escape was made and the commander of the camp Dinko Sakic ordered the hanging of five inmates. Among the five was the Zemun Jew Boskovic. Sometime in 1944, another similar event took place when a group of inmates was falsely accused of trying to escape.  Ignjat Semnitz the soap maker from Zemun and a number of other Jews were singled out and executed.

It was a set rule that all inmates in the line had to watch the executions. Those who averted their eyes were shot on the spot.

Apart from the daily slaughter of inmates under the supervision of Ljuba Milos and Majstorovic, at the end of 1942 and the onset of 1943 a typhoid epidemic killed off a large number of prisoners. There were a few physicians, mostly Jews and among them was doctor Lender. They tried to help their ailing inmates and did as much as could be done without the aid of medicines and sanitary equipment.

The daily slave labour inside the camp started at five thirty in the morning. The inmates were assigned to various strenuous jobs. But this was not enough for the Ustashi. They concocted all sorts of punishments, shackled feet and chains being just one of them. For a time even Ervin Rosenberg had to toil bound in chains. Many could simply not endure it. Later, Ervin worked in the so called “chain house” where arms, mostly rifles were repaired in one part of the plant. Parts for the power supply plant which supplied the camp and the nearby villages with electricity were also made there.

Those who worked in the plant were fully aware of the fact that their days were numbered and that they would be killed the moment they were not needed or were replaced.

According to Ervin Rosenberg’s recollections the inmates were primarily preoccupied with the thought of food and how to obtain it. This fact fully emphasizes the importance of the packages that arrived from the Zagreb Jewish Community as they were crucial for survival.

Thought was also given to finding ways for brief respites and anything else that would help keep them alive. The one thing that was rarely discussed was the daily killing that took place.

In order to better perceive the inferno of Jasenovac where the Jews of Zemun spent the last days of their life, we cite parts of the statement of Ervin Müller from Vinkovci. He spent almost four years in this concentration camp and took part in the final charge from Jasenovac and thus survived. After the war he went to Israel where he died some years ago in the Maabarot kibbutz.

Lying on the table in front of me are the notes I made listening to the audio statement of Ervin Müller. What should be recounted from this statement today, after more than half a century has gone by? Which details should be made known? Why bring into today’s pretence of normal life such horrors, pain and death?

Suddenly, some contemporary events come to my mind.

After the founding of today’s State of Croatia, among the many immigrants returning to the country were a number of war criminals – Ustashi. Some of them even rose to high state functions and all had the right to speak in public. A former Ustashi officer in the Jasenovac concentration camp gave a statement on the radio which in effect amounted to the following: “Everything that we did in the Jasenovac concentration camp was correct. Today I would once again do the same!” And why should the lower ranks of officials refrain from such statements when the head of the state Franjo Tudjman publicly expressed the following

-         the stated number of victims of Jasenovac is out of proportion, insisting that instead of  the seven hundred thousand victims generally cited, there had been no more than thirty thousand;

-         normal conditions prevailed in the concentration camp; strict but fair,  the hygiene was tolerable etc. (he cited the report of the Swiss Red Cross commission, for whose benefit a special scenario had been staged in Jasenovac);

-         if there had been any atrocities then the Jews themselves were responsible for them, as they participated in the management of the camp…

Without any trace of remorse, in today’s State of Croatia names of the most despicable Ustashi have been allocated to certain streets. There was even a request to name one of Zagreb’s main squares after the quisling and war criminal Ante Pavelic.

From the highest ranks of government officials (prior to Tudjman’s death) a monstruous proposal was made to the effect that Jasenovac should be turned into a mutual monument to the Ustashi and their victims.

History is in the process of being rewritten. The new history will portray the Ustashi as patriotic sons of their homeland, Croatia.

The new state of Croatia has reinstated some of the insignia of the Fascist so called Independent State of Croatia seemingly as an expression of nostalgia and regret for the demise of this once “proud” land!

In order to prevent any misconceptions or false interpretation of the above text an explanation must be given at this point.

In the many conversations that I have had during my life I have never said that the Croats had killed my entire family, relatives, friends and acquaintances. I was always precise in my accusations and professed that the Ustashi and Croatian Fascists had been responsible. Not once did I connect the people of Croatia with Fascists of Croatian nationality. I believe that it is the only right thing to do. It is up to the people of Croatia to decide whether they will distinctly distance themselves from Fascists and Neo Fascists present in their midst.

Speaking for myself the final shattering event was the trial of Sakic, the former Commander of Jasenovac concentration camp.

It nearly came to “that due to lack of evidence” he be released! 

Such reflections brought me to the assumption that to speak of the life of prisoners in Jasenovac in general terms would be insufficient. One should not refrain from describing even the most horrific scenes as long as there are those who blatantly deny the existence of such atrocities.

This is the reason why I have decided to describe some of the events that took place in Jasenovac, fully aware of the fact that it is only a small portion of the horrors the Jews of Zemun as well as Jews from other parts of former Yugoslavia went through in this concentration camp.

Prisoners were beaten on the very entrance into Jasenovac in the fall of 1941. One was beaten because he was deaf, another because he was fat, another for having red hair and another because he was a hunchback and so forth. It later emerged that the Ustashi readily beat everyone for no reason whatsoever.

At the time Ervin Müller was working in the brick making plant some twenty Jews were brought to Jasenovac from some provisional concentration camp. They remained in the plant about half an hour to warm up and were taken by the Ustashi, apparently, to rest from the strain of the journey.

That night together with a group of twenty young prisoners Ervin was assigned to dig a large pit. They worked in silence, tense and full of apprehension. They had no way of knowing whether they were digging up their own grave. When a pit of sufficient depth was dug up, the Ustashi took the group to a large pile of corpses and ordered them to throw the bodies into the pit and cover them up. All the corpses had the back of their heads smashed in. Among them he recognized the men that had warmed themselves in the brick plant that day.

It was winter time with biting frost. The Ustashi needed wood for their fires. A group of prisoners was selected to fall trees. The prisoners picked up axes out of a wooden box. The Ustashi cautiously distanced themselves from the group. A warning was proclaimed; anyone who approached with an axe would be killed.

A small break was given and one of the prisoners carrying his axe moved closer to the fire. When he was some ten meters away from the Ustashi, they opened up a ferocious fire which went on right up to their last bullet. The poor prisoner was dead after the first shots had been fired.

The Ustashi killing sprees were an everyday event. At times the Ustashi would state the reason for killing, but there was much killing just for the fun of it, from arrogance and sheer sadism.

There were a number of work groups in the concentration camp assigned to the “brick plant”, the “chain plant”, the “tannery”, kitchen etc.

During winter the inmates appreciated working in the brick plant or the kitchen because those were the only places where they could they warm up. It was strictly forbidden that any other prisoner should approach or be found near the brick plant. However, a number of inmates could not resist the wish to warm up just a little so they would stop for a minute outside the brick plant.

On one occasion an Ustashi officer caught two inmates near the brick plant. He brought them inside and to punish them he ordered that they be bricked in with the fresh bricks and led into the kiln to be burnt alive with the batch. Their screams were heard for some time and then everything was quiet. It appeared that the Ustashi enjoyed the show very much so that it was played more frequently from that day on.

The Christmas of 1941 was celebrated by the Ustashi in their own special way. Once they had gorged themselves with food and drink they reached the peak of their merriment in the course of the night when in passing through the camp they got down to shooting and slitting throats. The inmates assigned to the duty of digging up a grave and covering up the dead counted 165 corpses.

A large group of inmates worked on the embankment. It was to become a large burial ground for the prisoners. They worked in mud and even for healthier and better fed men the task of extracting mud from morning to night would be a challenge. Naturally, a great number of the famished, frost bitten and physically weak prisoners could not hide their fatigue. Anyone who fell down or couldn’t hold a shovel due to exhaustion was killed by the Ustashi on the spot. The order was that they be immediately buried in the embankment.

Among all the events recounted by Ervin Müller one stands out which I truly cannot leave untold nor wish to do so. The camp was chronically infested with dysentery and diarrhea. The latrine (toilet) could not meet the necessity … but I will not recount Ervin’s statement, rather cite it:

“Passing by the big latrine I went inside to pee. I was sickened to the heart by sight before me. Some might think that I was oversensitive to human suffering, that everything I saw appalled me. However this was too much.

I saw an inmate trying to pull out of the latrine pit another one who had fallen inside. Two other inmates who had just relieved themselves stood by waving their hands in vain. There was simply nothing one could do to help the poor souls. Very soon there was no trace of the two inmates who had struggled for their lives. When I looked into the pit the only thing I could see was a slushy mass. There was nothing else to be seen. A sick and worn out inmate was helpless in such situations and could do nothing on his own. However there was talk that a few of the inmates had been spared from such a destiny with the help of a pole.”

One night, just before Ervin Müller’s eighteenth birthday he was taken out with a group of fifty inmates placed beside the barbed wire and shot. Ervin felt the sting of the bullet in his chest and fell; he was covered up with other bloodied corpses. Ervin woke up. It was night. He could not move. Relying on the last ounces of his strength he managed to pull through the dead mass of bodies all the time pushing upward. Finally he was free and fell on the snow completely exhausted. For a time he lay there. Eventually he managed to go back to his barrack and lie next to his father and brother. He had no recollection of what had happened to him. They took off his blood stained clothes and hid them inside the hay. They managed to collect a few dry garments and before dressing him they detected that he was not wounded but had some sort of red mark on his chest. They presumed that it had been made by a wooden maneuver bullet. Since the execution had not been carried out by a roll call he managed to continue his inmate life and live to give a full account of the truth of Jasenovac.

The events told by Ervin Müller follow one another in a sort of film sequence.

Next to the barrack where he had been placed with a group of Jews stood the barrack of the orthodox inmates. One night a loud racket came from this barrack and lasted over half an hour. The next morning they saw a pile of slaughtered people beside the barrack. The story went that the dead men were Chetniks and had been the subject of negotiations made by the Germans being their collaborators. To avoid releasing them the Ustashi simply butchered them the night before.

In July 1942 a large group of Zemun Jews was brought to the camp. They were submitted to the regular procedure of requisitioning of valuables, harassment and terrorizing. One detail deserves to be singled out. An Ustashi ordered a young man with glasses from Zemun to bring a bucket of water. The man answered that he didn’t know how this was done. The Ustashi was furious and after brutally beating up the youth he placed him inside a concentration camp – separate compound surrounded with barbed wire. Another Ustashi ordered the youth to bring fire wood. The youth again replied that he didn’t know how it was done. The Ustashi then asked him what he could do. It is presumed that the answer was “For you nothing!” since the Ustashi drew out his pistol and shot him on the spot.

The young man who had vowed to himself that he would do nothing for the Ustashi was Hinko Gersanovic. He had been one of the leading activists of the “Hashomer hatza’ir”, where he had resolutely trained for his move to the Palestine as a haluc.

One night the Ustashi barged into the barrack requiring twenty strong young men to follow them. The mere mention of the word “strong” always had the same effect on the inmates, it was seen as a sadistic Ustashi remark. Who could ever stay strong on one hundred grams of half baked, unsalted corn bread and some murky water with a few pieces of floating turnips?

Among the group chosen was Ervin Müller. They were taken to the other side of the concentration camp. So far they had never been there. The hole that had to be dug was already marked out. Apprehension and fear simply permeated the night. Always one and the same question: were they digging their own grave?

When the job was nearly done the sound of voices could be heard. The Ustashi ordered them to turn the other way, threatening that anyone who looked back would be shot. Behind them voices could be heard. It sounded both like singing and crying. Still the loudest sound was the blunt thud of the mallet… one heard the beginning of “live”…, someone had just managed to utter “mother”… and then in a moment everything was quiet and the Ustashi ordered them to bury the fifty corpses with bashed in skulls into the unfinished pit saying that the earth would settle and finish the work itself.

The “performance” – i.e. the line-up of the camp inmates always ended with a selection of inmates to be shot, slaughtered, bashed in by the mallet or taken away to be disciplined – meaning killed.

Fear gnawed to the bone of the inmates at the mere mention of the word “performance”. There was no way of knowing whether one would live through the line-up. It was a day out, day in living nightmare for all the inmates.

Of the many “performances” only two shall be recounted here. Facing the line with their rifles drawn stood the Ustashi. Between the two in the middle stood an inmate and one Ustashi officer.

According to Ervin’s memory the officer made a speech:

“Observe well, you sons of dogs, this one here dared to steal a goose and eat it up. It seems like the food he gets here is not enough, so he wants more.” Taking out his gun he went on:  “Anyone caught stealing shall end this way”… he fired off seven bullets into the poor man who tumbled over, but only when he walked up to him and fired a shot directly to the inmate’s head all signs of life were gone.

The youth in question was Isidor Levi from Sarajevo with whom Ervin had enjoyed a couple of  moshavas (camping) organized by the “Hashomer hatzair”.

The goose in question was one of the dead geese that had been thrown out on the garbage heap. Levi was caught because he had tried to roast it. After this execution the inmates went on stealing the dead geese, but they ate them raw.

Ervin recalls that he had cried bitterly in his bunk that night, while others found comfort in praying. His thoughts turned to faith: ”Can I go on believing in divinity? Where is the just and almighty one? Does he not see this infamy of slaughtered innocent women, husbands, children and old people? Is there anyone who can give me an answer to these questions?”

It was the middle of 1943. The notorious “performance” was on! The Ustashi officer strode in front of the line-up of inmate. A retard with an idiotic grin on his face walked beside him. Whoever he pointed to was taken out of the line to be killed. Everyone was filled with fear and apprehension standing there waiting for the death sentence or prolongation of life.

Eyes rolling uncontrollably the retard stopped and the blood froze inside the poor man standing in the line facing him… who would he point his finger to? However bizarre it might have seemed the finger of the poor idiot became the finger of fate!

Finally the finger of the retard pointed at Josip Fogel, nicknamed “Joska”, from Zemun. In the same instant Joska ridden with fear panicked and made a run for it. Shots were fired and a bullet hit him in the head. Although wounded he continued to run. For a time he even managed to hide inside the camp with a cloth pressed to his wounded head. To those he encountered in those days he would say: “I am still young to die…” At the time he was 23 years old.

Eventually the Ustashi found him and slashed his throat instantly.

One could go on with such horrific events and scenes for a long, long time. However the few events told are sufficient to give one a feeling of how the inmates of Jasenovac had lived and died. Among them were all the Zemun Jews transported on to the death camp in cattle waggons in July 1942. (Except for the one Zemun citizen).

According to Ervin Rosenberg’s recollections a visit of Red Cross representatives took place in 1944. It was a grand travesty. For the occasion the prisoners were ordered to scrub clean the barracks so that everything regarding cleanliness and hygiene seemed in order. Prior to the visit the execution of the old and feeble was taken care of. Ostensibly the remaining prisoners left an impression of a labour force capable of work. The prisoners were forbidden to speak in front of Red Cross delegates. The order was that if asked a question their reply should be: “I am prisoner so and so. Ask the person in charge about me.”  As stated by Ervin Rosenberg the general impression was that the representatives were aware of the existence of Gradina and the killings that went on there and in other places too, but refrained from making thorough inquiries.

In relation to the above mentioned visit a story was construed that Jews managed the affairs of the camp and that consequently they were the ones responsible for their own tragic fate. Ervin Rosenberg was aware of the fact that a few Jews were employed in the administration but only as forced labourers. They were generally disliked by the prisoners but played no part in the atrocities that took place inside the camp. At the end they too were killed by the Ustashi.

The Ustashi became apprehensive and in March 1945 operations on eradicating evidence of transgressions committed inside the camp began. They excavated corpses and burnt them in order to obliterate all evidence of crimes committed.

In April 1945, when tanks and soldiers of the liberation forces were approaching the camp, aircrafts began circling over Jasenovac.

On April 20, 1945 the Ustashi gathered some two thousand people, among them round eight hundred women from Stara Gradiska. All of them were stacked into camp barracks. Mines were set in place and the barracks blown up together with the people inside them.

However, the Ustashi simultaneously continued with the process of obliterating crime related evidence. On April 21, 1945 they brought a group of Romanies to excavate and burn corpses. Once the job was over, they were killed off too.

Ervin Rosenberg recounts how on seeing everything that was happening round them the prisoners decided that their options were limited. Freedom was very close, just over the fence, and yet they were still locked inside the inferno. It was finally resolved that something had to be done if they were to avoid death by knife.

They organized themselves into a group of 1.200 camp prisoners and prepared themselves for a breakthrough. No one expected to live through it but to die from a bullet was better that having one’s throat slit. The organization of the breakthrough was mainly the achievement of Moskovic and a few others.

On checking the gates one of the prisoners found an open gate. Actually, an Ustashi lay in waiting there aiming his sniper at the escapees. For a moment the sniper fire stopped and the group couldn’t tell whether the sniper had been killed or his rifle had broken down. The group ran and at that moment a rain of bullets showered down on them from the watch tower. Those still alive ran on treading over dead bodies sprawled over the ground like a carpet. The only alternative left to the living was to keep on running, opting that at least some of them might actually make it…

Ervin deemed that there must have been some hundred prisoners who managed to survive the breakthrough, while data published in various editions mostly quotes the number of survivors as approximately 70 prisoners.

They ran all the way to a forest and hid there. Very soon the Ustashi stopped looking for them as they were forced to begin their retreat. A man called Mile was among the group of survivors. He came from that part of the country. He led the group on, avoiding pro-Ustashi villages where they would have certainly been killed by the inhabitants. With this statement Ervin concludes his testimonial.

Ervin Rosenberg professed that he had joined the partisans in the hope that he might have some vengeance for the atrocities suffered at hands of the Ustashi. He arrived in Israel in the vessel “Kefalos” in 1948. His decision to get marriage en route to Israel was something of a sensation. He is presently living in Nathania.

It is common knowledge that in April 1945 approximately one thousand and two hundred bare handed inmates ran down the gate of the camp under Ustashi ferocious fire. Out of this vast number only some seventy people survived. Among them was the only Zemun Jew survivor Ervin Rosenberg. In April 1945 the Ustashi slaughtered all the inmates who were still miraculously alive. Among them was also a group of Jews who would not take part in the breakthrough.

The Jewish women and children of Zemun were separated from the men and taken to Stara Gradiska.

One Jasenovac inmate, a textile expert, sent to the camp Stara Gradiska to organize the tearing of old rags was present at the arrival of the Jewish women from Zemun to the camp. On returning to Jasenovac he told a number of inmates what he had witnessed and so the following event was remembered.

Women and children were entering through the open gate. Among the women was Marijana Sason. The people of Zemun remember her as she was a honourable citizen of Zemun and the owner of two tobacco shops: in the marketplace and in the center of the town.

Passing through the gate Marijana  began to cry. A woman Ustashi, Marija Burzan came up to her instantly and slit her throat in front of the stunned women shouting: “Oh, you snivelling old hag.” Seeing her mother slaughtered right in front of her Marijana’s daughter Judita Sason burst into tears. “Well now”, Marija Burzan shouted. “You dare to cry too!” and momentarily slit Judita’s throat.

Unfortunately, this is all that we know of the “welcome” that the Zemun Jewish women and children received on arrival to the camp. One other thing that we know for certain is that not one of these women or children survived the concentration camp.

There are some written recollections about this death house from which one can clearly discern that Dante’s hell was kindergarten to the conditions in Stara Gradiska. However there is no one who could recount the individual fates of our mothers, sisters and relatives, because as already stated not one of them survived.

We can only mourn them and try to pass on the memory of them to our descendants.

Edition from which documents have been used:

Danilo Fogel: Jewish community in Zemun 1739 – 1945, Zemun, 2007.