Supplement by Milan Koljanin, M.D., historian and research associate of The Institute of Contemporary History, Belgrade


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From December 8, 1941 up to the beginning of May 1942 the concentration camp at the Belgrade fair bore the name of the Zemun Jewish camp (Judenlager Semlin). All the remaining Jews from occupied Serbia, approximately 6.400 were rounded up and interned in this camp. Beside the confined Jews there were also some 600 Roma prisoners in a separate pavilion. These Roma were released by the beginning of April1942. Both groups of prisoners were composed of women, children and the elderly. From the start of April up May 10, 1942 the Jewish camp prisoners were murdered in a monstrous way, in a vehicle gas chamber. Their bodies were buried in the mass graves in Jajinci. Thus camp space at the Belgrade Fair was ready to accept new prisoners which already begun to arrive at the start of May 1942. The purpose and the name of the camp were changed to the Zemun Admission camp (Anhaltelager Semlin). During this period a total of 31.972 prisoners were interned in the camp. Of this number 10.636 prisoners were killed either inside the camp or immediately upon being taken out of it, plainly speaking 13 victims per day.
From May and especially in the course of June, July and August 1942 a few thousand prisoners primarily from regions of occupied Serbia and then from the Ustashi Independent State of Croatia were brought to the camp. By the summer of 1943 inmates were brought from all parts of occupied Yugoslavia as well as from South East Europe mainly Greece and Albania. In the wake of the big German-Croatian joint military operation in the region of the mountain Kozara and Prosara in the summer of 1942 a constant stream of prisoners was brought to the camp. During the German-Croatian military campaign some tens of thousands partisans and Serbs living in this mountainous area were killed or interned in the Ustashi death camps Jasenovac and Stara Gradiska. Thousands of men were sent to the Belgrade Fair camp for further relocation to German concentration and labour camps.

Monument at Staro sajmiste
camp site
(click on image to enlarge)

Since the number of interned prisoners was constantly rising, the matter of feeding them became a major problem. The issue was not an item regulated between the German and Croatian authorities, as one must bear in mind that the camp was situated in the territory of the ISC, (Independent State of Croatia) i.e. the town of Zemun, but was actually under the command of the German occupation administration (police) in Serbia. On arrival prisoners were instantaneously exposed to famine which was followed by epidemics of various contagious diseases. Exposed to hunger and illness, the inmates were forced to spend entire days in the scorching summer sun bared to the waist. These onerous prison conditions were further degraded by the abominable torture executed by members of the German command and camp policemen recruited from the ranks of the inmates.

Such conditions resulted in a large mortality rate of prisoners which can be pinpointed on the basis of recovered evidence lists kept in the improvised camp infirmary. During May only one death was recorded, in June eight with the number of deaths rising to 126 in July, meaning 4 each day. In the following month, August, the mortality of prisoners grew dramatically as the recorded number of deaths rose to 2266, i.e. on average 76 per day. In just one day, August 22, 340 dead were recorded, i.e. 3,5% of the total of 9.500 prisoners that were in the camp at the time. Following the culmination of deaths in August, the number of dead prisoners was gradually reduced although it was still high in the next two months since the total number of inmates had by now substantially decreased. In September there were 1.340 dead, and in October 336. Based on all sources at disposal it can be claimed that from the set up of the Zemun Admission camp in early May 1942 up to the end of the same year 4.263 prisoners perished either within the bounds of the camp or immediately upon deportation from the camp.

The bodies of the prisoners were driven from the camp in ox-carts by labourers of the Gradski fizikat (Town infirmary), a department of the Zemun City Comand Headquarters escorted by German military police and were buried in mass graves already dug up in Zemun graveyards. At the time of the greatest mortality rate, in the summer of 1942, each day up to 8 or 9 carts would be needed to transfer the dead. An orderly of the Town infirmary would collect the bodies from the camp, transport them and hand them over to the gravediggers.

The transport and burial of bodies was carried out late at night and round midnight but the passage of the line of carts with heaped, most frequently uncovered bodies exuding an acrid stench had a disconcerting effect of the town-folk of Zemun. During the first half of 1942 burial was for a short time carried out in the Catholic and Orthodox graveyards but very shortly there was no space left so that the burials had to be continued in the Jewish cemetery. On one occasion, the medical orderly Nikola Poljanski, named “Gusa” who had attended to the taking over/handling and transportation of death carts far longer than others, on noticing that a prisoner who had been driven to the graveyard severely bruised and unconscious among the dead bodies was regaining consciousness, killed him brutally with a rod. Such cases, as well as burials of half dead, unconscious prisoners were not uncommon. Clothes taken of the dead bodies mostly covered in blood were sold by gravediggers and cart attendants for a pittance in the neighbouring taverns.

Shortly upon the liberation of Zemun near the end of 1944, the State commission for determining crimes of occupational forces and their collaborators set up an Assessment commission for investigating crimes that took place at the Fair. This commission ordered the exhumation of camp victims buried in the Zemun Jewish cemetery and in Bezanijska kosa (Belanoviceva rupa). Inside the 23 mass graves at the Jewish cemetery a total of 6.500 victims were found. At the time the press reported on these exhumations (“Politika” No.11.838 dated December 7, 1944, At the Zemun Jewish cemetery six and a half thousand victimised bodies from the camp at the Fair were exhumed), while the completed report stating the total number of deaths was published in Announcement No.87 (Саопштењe број 8) of the State commission for determining crimes of occupational forces and their collaborators (Belgrade 1946, p.800).

Photos from archive of
The Museum of Vojvodina;
eshumation at The Jewish Cemetery, Zemun 1944.g.

(click on image to enlarge)

From Danilo Fogel's book Jewish Community in Zemun 1739 – 1945, Zemun, 2007.


Although there were only a few Zemun Jews interred and killed at the old Fair - Sajmiste it is the belief of the author that this book about Zemun Jews should recount some details about this death camp. Among other, the fact that the camp was situated in the territory of the Zemun municipality is justification enough. Although the concentration camp was within the bounds of the Zemun community, the Jews of Zemun had only a vague intimation of what was happening inside the camp. Frequently at night a horse drawn cart passed along the main street heading for the cemetery. At the cemetery large collective graves were already dug up waiting for the cart load of slaughtered camp inmates to be buried inside them. Many similar events point to the fact that the true character of the Sajmiste concentration camp could not have left any doubt as to its true nature.

According to the account written by Zeni Lebl, the Germans abandoned the idea to build a concentration camp on the islet near Zasavica as the river Sava was known to flood it completely at certain times of the year. So on October 23, 1941 it was decided that the transitory concentration camp for Jewish women and children would be in Zemun in the pavilions of the Fair.

It was Dr. Harald Turner, the Chief of the administrative headquarters of the German Commander in Chief for Serbia who issued the order to all feld and kreiss commands regarding the imminent capture of women and children and their imprisonment in the concentration camp.

In the period December 8-12, 1941 it was the gendarmerie of the Nedic government that made a round of Jewish flats handing out summons for registering with the Special police for Jews. It was stated in the text of the summons that they each should take with them only as much hand luggage as one could carry. Apart from this all Jews summoned to the station were obliged to hand over to the police the keys to their apartments with a tag attached stating the address.

The summoned groups of Jews were thrown into open trucks which took them over the pontoon bridge to the Sajmiste.

The Fair pavilions and its central dome were damaged during the German bombardment of 1941 so that snow fell in through the dilapidated roof.

The prisoners were initially brought to pavilion 3 where each one of them searched for a bunk among the three tiered wooden beds. The beds were lined only with wet, rotting straw. The younger children were hungry and cold. The conditions inside the Sajmiste were inhuman. At the very beginning of its operation some 600 Gypsies had been interred inside the camp out of which 10% had died within the first three months of imprisonment. However, the rest had gradually been released from the concentration camp from January to March, 1942.

The commander of the Jewish camp at Sajmiste was SS Unterstrumfuerer Herbet Andofer, born in Linz (Austria) in 1911. His deputy was Edgar Enge who had prior to attaining the post, overseen the executions of Jews at the Topovske barracks in Belgrade on October 9 and 11, 1941.

The number of imprisoned Jews in the Sajmiste concentration camp was never established. Some sources state that on January 31, 1942 there were some 6.500 souls inside the camp. However the number of those killed must be much greater than the stated number. It is a fact that before the April war of 1941 over 12.000 Jews had been living in Belgrade. Out of this number two thirds were women and children. Apart from this statistic, it has also been established that women and children had been brought to the Sajmiste camp from Banat (the total number of Jews living in Banat was approximately 2.500).

Women and children from other towns in SerbiaNis, Kragujevac, Smederevo, Pozarevac etc. were also brought to the Sajmiste camp. Furthermore it is a fact that on January 26, 1942 800 women and children were brought from Sabac, then 50 from Pristina and round 500 from Kosovska Mitrovica and Novi Pazar. To these numbers one must also add the hundreds of refugees from Central Europe who were interred in the health spas of Kursumlija and Nis.

The commander of the intelligence service of the German Reich in Serbia, Dr. Emanuel Schefer received information that under special assignment a specific vehicle had been constructed and was heading for its destination. Later during his interrogation Schefer declared that he had known that the vehicle was relevant to the extermination of Jews in the Sajmiste concentration camp.

In her book “Do konacnog resenja” Zeni Lebl states that the death truck-vehicle had been designed by engineers Becker and Walter Rauf under direct orders from Himmler and that it had been manufactured in the “Sauer” factory.

It was an enormous dark grey vehicle, 6 meters long, 2 wide and 1.70 high. By means of a specific device poisonous gases emitted by the running engine could be lead into the truck cargo compartment. Victims inside the air tight truck compartment would die of suffocation caused by carbon monoxide poisoning within approximately 15 minutes.

This truck was driven by Wilhem Getz and Ervin Meyer, SS non-commissioned officers of the Special command. The fact later became the theme for David Albahari’s book Getz and Meyer.

The first victims of death by suffocation inside this chamber were the patients and medical staff of Jewish hospitals.

The execution of all Jews imprisoned in the Sajmiste concentration camp was carried out in the same way.

In his statement, a grave digger from Jajinci, recounts how he had worked for two full months on the excavation of graves. The graves were actually long trenches. The number of trenches he had dug up was 81 or 82. Inside each trench round 100 Jews who had died from suffocation had been buried. From this fact it can reasonably be deducted that approximately 8.000 Jews, mostly women and children, had been suffocated inside the truck.