Belgrade

Landscapes, Hidden Away

 Workshop  

4 - 8 April 2019

PROGRAMME

The workshop was organised thanks to the kind dedication of:

Marko Šuica and his students Emilija Cvetković, Ana Radaković, and Vukašin Zorić

Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade

NGO „Education for 21st Century“

Sanja Petrović Todosijević

Institute for Recent History of Serbia

Aleksandar Todosijević

Primary School “Branko Radičević”

EUROCLIO-Serbia

Biljana Milanović and Pavle Pavlović with their students Filip Hreljac, Andrej Jelovac, Raško Radovanov, Ines RadovanovićNina Stamenković and Filip Stevanović

X Belgrade Gymnasium

 

The first phase of the project in Belgrade was set up in a form known as research-based learning where NGO activists, artists, teachers, school and university students, and academic researchers jointly designed and conducted research. Together, they carried out participatory historical readings while walking past the memory sites dedicated to the Holocaust and the partisan resistance in the Second World War. The historian, Sanja Petrović Todosijević, designed the walk as an intervention in line with the actions of the Quangel couple, as a quest to break down the everyday and intrude into the public space by reading aloud passages from archival and literary testimonies (prisoners' letters, official announcements, reports, schedules). 

Postcards with slogans against the Führer and the Party, against the war, for the information of his fellow men, that was all. And these cards he wasn’t going to send to particular individuals, or stick on walls like placards, no, he wanted to leave them lying in the stairwells of widely visited buildings, leave them to their fate, without any control over who picked them up, where they might be trampled underfoot, torn up… Everything in her rebelled against this obscure and ignoble form of warfare. She wanted to be active, to do something with results she could see!

Hans Fallada, Every Man Dies Alone 

Pictures by Linda Paganelli and Florian Grundmüller

Dear Mirjana, there are now 2,000 women and children here, including nearly a hundred babies for whom we can't boil any milk as there's no fuel and you can imagine what the temperature is towards the top of the pavilion with the Kosheva wind blowing as hard as it does. I'm reading Heine and that does me good, even though the latrine is half a kilometer away and fifteen of us go at the same time, and even though by four o'clock we've only been given a bit of cabbage which has obviously been boiled in water, and even though I have only a little straw to lie on, and there are children everywhere and the light is on all night, and even though they shout 'idiotische Saubande' [stupid bunch of pigs] and so on all the time, and even though they keep on having roll calls and anyone missing these is 'severely punished'. There are walls everywhere. Today I started to work in the surgery, which consists of a table with a few bottles and some gauze, behind which there is just one doctor, one pharmacist and me. There's a lot to do, believe me - with women fainting and goodness knows what else. But in most cases, they put up with it all more than heroically. There are very rarely any tears. Especially among young people. The only thing I really miss is the possibility of washing myself adequately. Another 2,500 people are due to arrive and we only have two wash-basins, meaning two taps. Things will gradually sort themselves out - I have no doubt about that.[1]    

The second letter of Hilda Dajč  

Sajmište, 9.12.1941  

Mirjana draga, ovde sada ima 2 000 žena i dece, skoro 100 odojčadi za koje ne može ni mleko da se kuva jer nema ogreva a prema visini paviljona i jačini košave možeš već da izračunaš stupanj toplote. Čitam Hajnea i on mi prija, mada imamo klozet udaljen pola kilometra i to za petnaest osoba najedanput, mada smo do četiri sata dobili samo dva puta malo kupusa za koji se vidi da je u vodi kuvan, mada ležim na malo slame, a deca sa sviju strana i svetlost gori cele noći, mada viču na nas „Idiotische Saubande” [idiotska svinjska bando] itd, mada nas zovu svaki čas na zbor i sve prestupe "strogo kažnjavaju". Zidova ima dosta. Ja sam počela danas sa radom u ambulanti, tj. jednom stolu sa nekoliko flaša i gaze, za kojim je samo jedan lekar, jedna apotekarka i ja. Posla ima dosta, ljudi, to jest žene padaju u nesvest itd. Ali se u većini slučajeva drže više nego junački. Retke su suze. Naročito kod omladine. Jedino što mi nedostaje jeste pristojna mogućnost za umivanje. Nama će doći još 2 500 osoba, a ima svega 2 lavaboa, tj. česme. Postepeno će sve doći u red i u to nimalo ne sumnjam.

Drugo pismo Hilda Dajč

Sajmište, 9.12.1941 

 Picture by Linda Paganelli/ Florian Grundmüller

Jewish Sephardic cemetery in Belgrade

Staro Sajmište

A disparate site of memory in Belgrade´s city centre

Magdalena Saiger

There are very different ways, motivations, and therefore: expectations that make people enter the space of the Old Belgrade Fairground („Staro Sajmište“). But whatever you might expect – the place is most likely to make any expectations burst:

- If, for example, you come here following the announcements in some city maps naming a „Memorijalni Centar“ (Memorial Center) or a „Spomen Park“ (Memorial Park), if you´ve heard the president Aleksandar Vučić talking to Reuven Rivlin about plans for a „Serbian Yad Vashem“, you will be surprised to find not a single exhibition room, not even a small open-air panel explaining the place´s history as a concentration camp between late 1941 and summer 1944 under German occupation. Instead of the imagined museums, archives, and monuments you wonder to find nothing more than a modest stone monument, dating from the socialist times and vaguely telling, in one sentence on a stone plaque, about „almost 40.000 people from all parts of our country brutally tortured and killed“ here – but not explaining that, before the camp‘s function as a transit camp for war prisoners, the first inmates had to experience a specifically cruel fate: More than 7.000 Jewish women, children and elderly were murdered in a gas van on the way from the fairground to the mass graves on the outskirts of Belgrade. So the location does not only stand for occupation terror and forced labour in general but is one of the sites where genocide against the Jews – and also of Roma – was committed.

Image Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade

Deportation to Sajmište 1941 - the newly founded concentration camp

- If you come here, having heard rumours about some „neglected space“ and having prepared yourself for the atmosphere of a grim, deserted area, you will be struck by its village-like liveliness: clotheslines with drying laundry, children cheering on a swing next to the central building, chicken and dogs moving about, neighbours chatting under a tree, youngsters training on a football field; „Living Death Camps“ is how a film project in 2012 has named this paradox situation. [1]

- From another perspective, those who were born here – like, e. g., the children of Stana´s, a Roma woman who found shelter in an abandoned building nine years ago –, eye with astonishment little groups arriving from time to time with cameras, microphones and sophisticated academic vocabulary to grasp the history of their everyday surrounding; however, the elderly, living here for decades, might, lowering their voices, eventually start telling stories about the bones someone found when constructing the fundament of his private house.

- You might also end up here as guest of some family celebration at the restaurant „So i biber“ („Salt and Pepper“); then you would be shocked to realize that the building, the former Turkish Pavillon, used to be the place where the corpses of those concentration camp inmates who didn´t survive hunger, diseases, and torture were stored before being buried in mass graves. But sitting on the restaurant terrace you will probably rather not realize – just as little as those who come to the fitness centre or bring their children to a recently established day-care centre in the neighbouring building will become aware of their entering the former camp „hospital“ situated in the Spasić Foundation´s Pavillon. Instead, some might recall concerts and parties from the time when Boy George and others played in the night club „Poseydon“.

Picture by Linda Paganelli/ Florian Grundmüller

Restaurant "Salt and Pepper" 

- But if you´re taking part in one of the state-directed Holocaust commemoration ceremonies next to a monumental sculpture on the dam towards the Sava river (this could be January 27th, April 22nd or May 10th), you will, until today, probably hear speeches about Serbs, Jews and Roma suffering in Jasenovac, the concentration camp run by the Croatian fascists (Ustaše) during the Second World War in the NDH (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, Independent State of Croatia); so you will enter into a memoryscape developed with the nationalistic turn of Serbian politics in the late 1980s and early 1990s; and looking towards Jasenovac as a benchmark of Serbian nationalistic memory politics you will not even guess that just a few meters next to the monument one of Belgrade´s concentration camps is falling into ruins. (Regarding its specific history would bring to light that for the German Gestapo the position on NDH territory was much less important for the running of the camp than the collaboration of the City of Belgrade administration and police.)

- If, in another scenario, your daily work travel leads from New-Belgrade (Novi-Beograd) to the old town, you will be stunned to be indicated the skeleton of the Old fairground´s central tower that is actually visible from afar throughout the city – but is actually passed unremarked by the majority of Belgrade´s population.

- If you´re from the neighbourhood and have, from childhood on, got to know the space between the two Sava bridges as shady „no go area“, almost a slum, that you learned to avoid if not for having your car washed or for retrieving it when it was hauled for wrong parking – then an attentive eye might be puzzled by the elaborate architecture of some surrounding buildings; that is because in 1937 the fairground was designed following trends of modernist architectural concepts and promoted as a symbol of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia´s participation in central European industrialization, urbanization, modernization.

- Finally, if you´re into Yugoslav art history, your way might also at some point lead you to Sajmište that after the Second World War appears in the media as „Serbian Montmartre“, referring to a group of visual artists using some of the abandoned pavilions as working studios – a tradition still present today, apart from the central tower which the city administration evacuated years ago for a museum that until today hasn´t taken shape …

 

These are just some of the multiple layers, spaces, living environments and symbolic implications that collide, coexist, collide inside the Old Fairground space. Its intricate history and complex present shape is the starting point of controversial debates about its historical meaning and appropriate function in the future.

Image Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade

Sajmište, a former fairground, before the occupation (1941)

BI KHERESKO, BI LIMORESKO 

 

 

 

 

Ooo, lele mange sajek!
O - joj, dade morejana!
Tu bi limoresko,
Amen bi kheresko.
Te avas e balvalake po phurdipe.
E themeske po khandipe.
 
Kaj maj?
Džikaj maj?
 
O - joj, daje gudlijena!
Pe savo barh te ačhav?
Kotar tut te akharav?
Phandlo si amenge o del,
I phuv bi khanikasko,
(Kerdol pe 'menge)
 
Kaj maj?
Džikaj maj?
 
Kon duravol
Kon pašavol,
Maškar e xasarde droma dživdimaske?!

WITHOUT A HOME, WITHOUT A GRAVE 

 

Ooo, lele, my heart sorrowful forever!
O – joj, my father!
You without a grave,
We without a home,
Bared in turmoil,          
and obsolete to the world.
 
Where shall we go? 

How long? 
 
O – joj, my dear mother!
Which stone shall I step on?
From where shall I call for you?
Our horizon is sealed. 

Wasteland, with no-one there
(so it seems to us).
 
Where shall we go?
How long?

 

Who is the one walking in close

or distant proximity

Through the abyssal being?

Rajko Đurić

Image Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade

After the Allied bombing of Belgrade 1944

(Un-)remarkable sites of everyday life

Imagine you could feel the fear of those persons who have to flee their homes where conflict and violence rage daily. Imagine you could hear the screams or restless whispers of those detained and the steps of those doomed to die and smell the traces of the physical and atmospheric erasures of their lives.

Fates like these are mostly hidden from our sight.  

 Picture by Linda Paganelli/ Florian Grundmüller

Staro Sajmište

A person walking carelessly, a worker at a nearby restaurant, bus passengers looking aimlessly through the window – random passers-by often do not have an inkling that the places they inhabit featured as scenes of detention, torture and mass death in the past. Staro Sajmište, Topovske Šupe [1], Banjica [2] still might evoke some dim knowledge of the concentration camps that once existed in the very heart of Belgrade, the capital of the then Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1918-1941). 

Towards Topovske šupe  

Topovske šupe

Today, modern-day Serbia fulfils its duty to follow the path of memorialisation of the Holocaust. In this spirit, the memorial plaque at the former concentration camp Staro Sajmište commemorates all the prisoners: "a thousand patriots, members of Yugoslav national liberation movement, children, women and elderly" - "mostly Serbs, Jews and Roma". At the same time, this remembrance traverses the space for being also dedicated to "the victims of the notorious Ustashi concentration camp of Jasenovac" and "Hungarian occupation" as well as "the heroic resistance to the Nazi terror".

Staro Sajmište (The old fairground) was developed as a fair exhibition ground in 1937. Originally serving to exhibit and promote the Kingdom's technological and cultural achievements, the pavilions became barracks - places of imprisonment for Jews and Roma, mostly women and children, and later for political and war prisoners. Transfers of prisoners to other camps implied routes of death by the mobile gas chamber - gas vans (dušegubka, Gaswagen) - that employed running engine to discharge fumes killing the transported persons. On 3rd July 2019, the daily newspaper Večernje Novosti [3] reported the new decision concerning the memorial to this place. Instead of three museums dedicated to the Holocaust, "Serbian suffering" and "Porajmos" (the Romani genocide), there is a new plan to establish two museums "Jewish Camp Zemun" (Judenlager Semlin, Jevrejski logor Zemun) and "Detention camp Zemun" (Anhalterlager Semlin, Prolazni logor Zemun). The latter would contain the memorial to the Roma whose remembrance would thereby feature as an internal sub-element of the greater narrative of the camp's past.

Picture by Linda Paganelli/ Florian Grundmüller

Italian pavilion, Staro Sajmište

The act of commemoration not only crosses the boundaries of the commemorated, as we can see in the mention of Jasenovac within the memory of the former concentration camp Staro Sajmište but, due to its extensiveness, it becomes layered and chooses which layer to reveal or hide. 

 

Such fabric of remembrance functions as a narrative order in nationally shaped histories.

 

Which past do we choose to commemorate? When dealing with genocides against Jews and Roma in the WW2-Serbia, do we confront the simultaneous official efforts to rehabilitate the Nazi collaborators? Jewish - and randomly mentioned Romani - victimhood appears as a rhetoric tool to emphasise national suffering that endures up to the present. This, for example, is how the past of the Jasenovac concentration camp [4] becomes extensive and conflates with the past of the Yugoslav wars during the 1990s. Echoes of the horror persons were enduring remain beyond the horizons of the imaginable, visible only when politicised.

That is why the Romani victim dissolves again. As Milovan Pisarri writes, "In Belgrade, the Serbian city with the most Roma victims, the sole visible trace of genocide is a plaque set up by the Association of Jewish municipalities in Serbia in 2006 at the location of former concentration camp Topovske šupe", replaced by the new one in May 2019. [5]

Topovske šupe

Like Staro Sajmište, Topovske šupe is an unnoticeable part of everyday life. The past events probably do not haunt the present-day inhabitants of the surrounding streets, let alone the official authorities who have already set up a plan to transform the site into a shopping mall, rushing to give the city the look of a metropole capable of capturing the commercial and economic spirit of the modern world. 

There are no longer any Jews in the city, except for a few, sadly caught in the state's political unrest. The members of the Roma minority still prevail on the margin of society.  Consequently, the oblivion of the former concentration camp Topovske šupe or of Sajmište becomes a natural and unavoidable process.

 

Time simply peels off and disregards the layers of the past. 

[1] Topovske šupe is a much-forgotten camp for Jewish and Roma men from the Banat region and Belgrade - all of them sentenced to mass shootings in a nearby village. See the project led by Milovan Pisarri (Centre for Public History in Belgrade) Mapping the Holocaust - the Topovske Šupe camp:

http://topovskesupe.rs/en/frontpage/ and http://www.cpi.rs/en/

[2] The Banjica concentration camp functioned as a killing site from 1941 to 1944 for Jews, Roma, Serbs, partisans and chetniks who resisted the German occupation. Unlike the Sajmište and Topovske Šupe, it has gained more attention in the public remembrance.

[3] "'Novosti' otkrivaju: Dva muzeja na Starom sajmištu" ["The 'Novosti' reveals: Two Museums in Staro sajmište"]:  

http://www.novosti.rs/vesti/naslovna/drustvo/aktuelno.290.html:804082-NOVOSTI-OTKRIVAJU-Dva-muzeja-na-Starom-sajmistu

[4] The Jasenovac concentration camp was run by the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), the WW2 fascist state, consisting of contemporary Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and parts of contemporary Serbia. Today, it is firstly a site of political struggle between Croatia and Serbia since Serbs represented many victims who have fallen therein, along with Jews, Roma and anti-fascists. In this dispute, the given historical moment mostly does not concern lives themselves but statistics of losses and height of cruelties – "measures" that enable to strive for the own victimhood and look for the excuses for the recent past of the Yugoslav wars, on the one side, and strategies of silencing and oblivion of the occurred by transforming it into the revisionist narratives of the fascist past during WW2. Jasenovac is one of the sites with which the second phase of the project Ruptures in Memoryscapes deals.

[5] Pisarri, Milovan. 2014. The Suffering of the Roma in Serbia during the Holocaust. Belgrade: Forum for Applied History (http://www.roma-center.de/the-suffering-of-the-roma-in-serbia-during-the-holocaust-praesentation-einer-neuen-studie-ueber-die-roma-voelkermord-in-serbien/). See also Pisarri, Milovan. Eds. 2018. Džanes ko Sem? (Do you know who I am?) Educational materials about the genocide against the Roma during World War II and antigypsyism in Serbia.  Belgrade: Center for Holocaust Research and Education (http://cieh-chre.org/en/do-you-know-who-i-am-publication/) 

 

[1] Jovan Byford. Semlin Judenlager [Sajmište]. 

Translation by Tymothy Byford. See: http://www.open.ac.uk/socialsciences/semlin/en/