By: Katka Krosnar
March 27, 2003
BELGRADE, March 27 (JTA) — Wandering round the vast, neglected site
straddling Belgrade’s Sava river, Aleksandar Mosic admits his project is
Mosic, a former board member of the Federation of Jewish Communities in
Yugoslavia, wants to recreate the Belgrade Fair exhibition ground and
thus build a proper memorial to the victims of what he describes as “the
forgotten concentration camp” — the Sajmiste camp that the site was
turned into during World War II by the occupying Nazis.
Within six months of the camp being set up in December 1941, all 8,000
Jews from Belgrade, as well as from Austria and Czechoslovakia, who had
been rounded up and imprisoned there had been transported to gassing
trucks and murdered at the site. Most of these were women and children,
as thousands of men had been shot dead earlier. None of the Jews sent to
the camp survived.
What made Sajmiste unique was its location in clear view of Belgrade’s
“It is the only camp in Europe which was so visible; the inmates were
not hidden from the view of the rest of the population and that was the
intention; to intimidate other Serbs by showing them what was going on
inside because Serbs were much more courageous in resisting the Fascists
than other nations,” says Mosic, chairman of the newly formed Old Fair
Memorial Association and author of the book “The Jews in Belgrade.”
The first phase of the project would see the surviving tower
reconstructed and converted into a Holocaust museum containing
documents, testimonies and photographs of lost Jews from Serbia. During
the time the site was used by the Nazis, the three-story building was
used as the commander’s tower.
“We want to rescue the memory of the camp and its victims,” he says.
“There is no monument to the Jews who died or no real education
specifically about the Jewish Holocaust.”
A monument was erected on the riverbank eight years ago to all 40,000
Serbs who died in the camp, but Mosic points out that there is no
specific monument to the Jewish victims. One item that will definitely
be missing from the museum, however, is a list of all those interned in
Sajmiste, since all such lists were destroyed by the Nazis.
The project would also involve rebuilding several exhibition halls in an
effort to revitalize the site. Most of the buildings were flattened by
American aerial bombing in 1945.
The project faces many hurdles. There is a shantytown on the grounds
that is inhabited by approximately 200 people who would have to be
The biggest hurdle of all could be financing. “We have no budget from
the government so we are totally relying on donations,” Mosic says.
Despite the difficulties, Mosic, 84, is determined to at least get the
project off the ground.
“It is a very ambitious project as the site is in very bad shape and the
project will involve a lot of work. We are big in hopes and good will
and small in means,” says Mosic, who escaped internment at concentration
camps because, like many Balkan Jews, he was fighting with the partisans
against the Nazis.
“We want to return the site to the way it looked when it opened in 1935,
with the Holocaust Museum as the central feature as a monument to
Serbian Jews who died in the Holocaust. Just as other former
concentration camps in Europe have been converted into memorials so this
should be too,” says Mosic, one of 30 volunteers, both Jewish and
non-Jewish, in the memorial association.
Slavko Maksimovic, the association’s secretary, estimates that the first
phase of the project would cost at least $2.5 million. “We want to turn
this into a lasting memorial to the people who died and to the suffering
all those kept here endured,” he says. “It will take time but we hope
that the central building, the Holocaust Museum, could open within two
or three years.”
The site could also eventually house a theater, a museum about Belgrade,
a hotel and a school of music and fine arts.
Before the war there were 10,400 Jews in Belgrade and roughly 16,000 in
the whole of Serbia. Almost 90 percent were killed in the Holocaust.
Sajmiste was destroyed by U.S. bombers in raids which killed 80 people
at the camp and injured 170. The bombers’ intended target was the nearby
Davor Salom, secretary of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia
and Montenegro, renamed following the disintegration of Yugoslavia as a
country, says the Sajmiste project will be an important contribution to
the memory process.
“We are forgetting the Holocaust too quickly, and this Holocaust Museum
and the reminder of what this site was will help fulfill our obligation
to the memory of thousands of Serbian Jews and millions of Jews
worldwide who were killed during World War II,” he says.
The local town council is supporting the project in principle, says
Mosic, and he estimates that the whole project could take 30 years to
“I know I won’t be alive to see the whole project completed, but my
sincere hope is to live to see the first phase finished and the opening
of the Holocaust Museum,” he says.