Did you know that Serbia was the first country to be declared Judenfrei (free of Jews) during the Second World War? This was in early May of 1942. Belgrade was also the only capital city with a few concentration camps. This guide to Jewish sites in Belgrade will point some of the most important landmarks in the city that are related to Jewish history and Holocaust.
Jewish Sites in Belgrade, Serbia
The Jewish Street (Jevrejska ulica in Serbian) is a place you cannot miss when exploring the Jewish heritage in Belgrade. Jews lived here until the beginning of the First World War, and this region of Dorcol was a famous Jewish settlement.
Before the Second World War, about 80% of the Jewish population of Belgrade belonged to the Sephardic group. After the Second World War, the Jewish community was almost completely destroyed and this region of Belgrade, which was home to one of the oldest synagogues was badly damaged.
The Jewish street is home to the Oneg Shabat building, which was built by the same association in 1923.
Sukkat Shalom Synagogue
The Belgrade Synagogue, better known as the Sukkat Shalom Synagogue, was completed in 1925. This was the sixth synagogue built by the Jewish community in the capital of Serbia.
It was desecrated during the Nazi occupation of Belgrade and turned into a brothel. From the street, you will be able to see just the upper part of the synagogue which is the only active synagogue in the country. It has a nice and spacious courtyard.
Jewish Historical Museum
Located in one of Belgrade’s most notable streets – Kralja Petra Street, this museum showcases the Jewish heritage and history at the territories of former Yugoslavia.
The exhibition is small but well presented – from the arrival of Jews to the Balkans to the Holocaust and their rehabilitation after the Second World War. The entrance is free and the museum is part of a Jewish Cultural Centre.
The information in English is a little bit scarce, but a visit to the museum is more than worthy.
There are two Jewish cemeteries in Belgrade. The bigger and most famous one is a Sephardic cemetery in Mije Kovacevica street. The other one – Ashkenazi cemetery – is part of Belgrade New Cemetery.
Both are visible from the main street. The Sephardic cemetery has more than 4,000 tombstones and a number of important monuments such as the Monument dedicated to Jewish victims of fascism.
In winter months the cemetery is open from 8 am – 7 pm and in summer months from 8 am – 7 pm, Monday – Friday.
Sajmiste used to be a Nazi concentration camp on the left side of the Sava river, also known as the Semlin Judenlager – the Jewish camp in Zemun. At that time Sajmiste was part of the Independent State of Croatia.
Besides Jews, the camp also held captured Yugoslav Partisans and Chetniks. The estimated number of deaths at Sajmiste ranges between 20,000-23,000 people.
Originally planned as an exhibition center, with several architectural pieces of industrial design already in place, it turned out to be one of the most horrific places.
Croatian ustashe who were in charge of this area persecuted more than half of Zemun’s population – including Jews, Serbs, and Romani citizens.
The camp was officially closed in July of 1944. Before that, it was bombed by the Allies in April of the same year, killing more than 100 prisoners.
According to the Serbian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, the camp had around 50,000 prisoners and 20,000 of them were killed.
Unfortunately, there is no museum or a memorial center in the area of Sajmiste, and many visitors don’t even know of the existence of this place or its history. However, a several plaques are located along the banks of Sava river and a monument which commemorates those detained and killed in the camp.
Jajinci Memorial Park
Jajinci is a neighborhood that belongs to the Belgrade municipality of Vozdovac. It’s known for one of the worst reprisals in the Second World War, where more than 80,000 people were killed. Majority of them were the prisoners of the Banjica and Sajmiste concentration camps.
A monument to the victims was erected in the park in 1964. A trip to Jajinci Memorial Park can be combined with a visit to Avala as they are relatively close.
Rabina Alkalaj Street 5, Zemun and Jewish Community of Zemun at Dubrovacka street
Belgrade’s municipality of Zemun is home to a Rabina Alkalaja street. At the time of Austro-Hungarian rule, the street was called Jewish street. Rabin Alkalaj was born in Sarajevo, but he moved to Belgrade when he was 25 where he became a teacher and then Rabin. An Ashkenazi synagogue which was built in 1850 is still presently located here.
Another street in Zemun – Dubrovacka street – is home to the Jewish Community of Zemun.
Topovske Supe, Autokomanda
A little-known fact, even among the citizens of Belgrade, is that one of the busiest traffic points in the city, called Autokomanda, was a concentration camp too. The site was known by the name “Topovske supe” and it mostly held Roma and Jewish men.
The site is a little bit difficult to reach. You’d have to pass by several ruined industrial buildings in order to reach this place, which used to be an artillery depot during the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
No monument dedicated to the victims exists here, and if rumors are true, the largest shopping center in the Balkans will be built on the place of this site.
Banjica Concentration Camp
The Banjica concentration camp used to hold captured Serbs, Jews, Roma and other opponents of Nazis. More than 20,000 people were detained here, and 12,000 of them were detained by the Gestapo. The camp was known for its brutality and inhuman conditions. It was closed in 1944.
The museum was officially opened in 1969 and it houses more than 400 items. Most of them include photographs, personal belongings, documents and a scale model of the camp. There’s also a reconstruction of the prisoner’s room.