Nazi camp Banjica in Belgrade - www.zlocininadsrbima.com

Period: Second World War


Region: Sumadia


Nazi camp Banjica in Belgrade


Banjica camp was the largest concentration camp on the territory of occupied Serbia during WW2. More than 3,800 people were killed there. Banjica camp acquired the status of being heritage and cultural monument only in 1984. This camp was in function from July 1941 until October 1944 and was situated within army quarters of the defeated Yugoslavian royal army. Camp Banjica had two sections- one under the jurisdiction of the Special Belgrade’s Police and another under German Gestapo.

The first prisoners, which were Jews and Roma people, were brought already on May 9th, 1941, but when Belgrade was proclaimed “Judenfrei”, prisoners were mainly dissidents of general Milan Nedic’s regime and captured partisans and Serbian communists. Lots of prisoners from Banjica were transported to other concentration and working camps that the Germans had under their control within occupied Europe.

During the occupation, 30.000 people went through this camp and 8,800 of them were shot by fire squad in the extermination camp of Jajinci.

The exact number of victims will never be exact as the documentary evidence was destroyed in 1943 and many bodies transferred to other places or destroyed during the occupation force’s retreat.

Today, Banjica camp is a Museum of Banjica camp. The death room has been transformed into a room dedicated to the memory of victims and contains an exhibition of their personal possessions.

 

 

BACKGROUND

The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenians, the first South Slavic state, later renamed into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, was created after the First World War, with its promulgation on December 1, 1918, in Belgrade. The territory of the Yugoslav Kingdom was divided into banates in 1929 and the structure of its government was a parliamentary monarchy.


Proclamation of the first South Slavic state

The royal title was held by the Serbian Karadjordjević dynasty. It consisted of Southern Serbia, Šumadija, Raška, Kosovo and Metohija, Eastern Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Vojvodina, Slavonija, a small part of Dalmatia, the Dubrovnik Republic, Lika, Kordun, Banija, Zagorje, Gorski Kotar, and Slovenia.

After the assassination of King Alexander I Karadjordjević in Marseilles on October 9, 1934, the country was ruled by regents: Prince Paul Karadjordjević, Dr. Radenko Stanković, and Dr. Ivo Perović, and the government was formed by Dragiša Cvetković and Vlatko Maček.


Belgrade's demonstration on March, 1941.

In the mid-1930s, Europe witnessed the rise of Nazism and Fascism, especially in Germany, Italy, and Spain. This led to the formation of the Tripartite Pact, on September 27, 1940, between Germany, Italy, and Japan. In the next months, this alliance was joined by the following countries: Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, etc. Thus, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia found itself surrounded by Axis Powers.

In Vienna, on March 25, 1941, the signing of the protocol between the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and Nazi Germany took place regarding the passage of German and Italian troops through Yugoslav territory. Among the patriotic forces of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, this was interpreted as treason, and the British and Soviet intelligence officers organized a military coup and demonstrations on March 27, 1941 in Belgrade resulting in the overthrow of the governorship led by Prince Paul and putting on the throne a minor king Petar II Karadjordjević.

Hitler changed the plans and the armed forces' plans to attack Greece, were diverted to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

 

FOUNDING OF THE CAMP

The idea to found the camp arose in May 1941. It was necessary to create large prison settings to hold opponents of German Raich as well as everyone who did not support the rule of local Comessar Milan Acimovic.

After the Soviet Union joined the anti-fascist coalition and first diversion partisan actions happened, the founding and opening of a camp was only a matter of days. Officially, the camp was formed on July 5, 1941. Formal decisions about the creation of a camp lied with German Commander for Belgrade and Head of Gestapo in occupied Serbia and were executed by Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Dragomir Jovanovic.

Germans choose “Queen Maria” ex-army quarters of the 18th infantry at Banjica. The first prisoners from central Serbia arrived at the camp on the July 9, 1941.

Banjica camp was developed and made larger. In the beginning, all ammunition storage rooms from the first floor were emptied and transformed into prison rooms. A large watchtower was erected in the yard and new foundations were dug out as well as basements room adapted.

Banjica was, in the beginning, the only camp for Belgrade’s citizens but Commander for Serbia Heinrich Dinkleman on the 21.08.1941 ordered that all troops in Serbia sent their prisoners to Banjica. Banjica was transformed into “ Concentration Camp Serbia Belgrade” under the rule of Military Commander headquarters and Wehrmacht.

The Camp Management

Commander of Banjica camp was German Colonel Villy Friedrich and the manager was Svetozar Vujkovic.
The Camp was officially under the jurisdiction of the Council of  City of Belgrade and management of the camp was largely composed of Serbian civilian staff who had administrative duties.
The Deputy Manager of the camp was Radovan Charapic. Guards and security were initially formed by Serbian police and later by Serbian state guards and Serbian voluntary Corps.
The official  Banjica Doctor was appointed by Gestapo and on duty was SS Mayor dr Fridrich Yung, while ambulance work and inpatients were given to imprisoned doctors.
Besides Yung, there was Dr. Velizar Piade (imprisoned as a Jew), Dr. Zarko Fogaras, a supporter of the People’s liberation movement (NOP), and Dr. Ljubodrag Stefanovic, a supporter of JVUO (Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland). Only Dr. Fogarsh survived the camp.



ORGANISATIONAL SET UP

Prison rooms changed their purpose during different periods. Rooms often changed purpose during the first two years of occupation.

In the beginning, rooms contained people of different levels of offense but later contained mainly people on a death row awaiting execution.

There were female rooms where women were held as political prisoners or hostages. As the camp was filling up more and more, male and female rooms were merging into collective, mixed prison rooms.

Room set up was as follows:

Ground floor

Room no 3-for Partisans and supporters of People’s liberation army(NOP)

Room no 4- death row room for all political prisoners

Room no 6-for Jewish people

Room no 7- for chetniks and supporters of Ravna Gora organization

Room no 8 -for political opponents that were part of NOP

Room no 9- for female hostages that were imprisoned as supporters of Draza Mihailovic, spouses of chetniks commanders or prominent political and military figures within Ravna Gora organization

Room no 10-for supporters of  Ravna Gora

Room no 11-for camp guards

room no 12-common room for supporters of "Ravna Gora" and NOP. From 1943 only for Ravna Gora supporters

Room no 13-female room. From March 1943, room for prisoners of Special Police

Room 14- Office of Camp Manager

Room 16- for Jewish women

Room 17- Gestapo’s prisoners. From 1944 room for "Ravna Gora" prisoners

Room 24- room for prisoners in transition

Room 25- for criminals and offenders

Room 35- room for intellectuals, Doctors of Science, Scientists, and Masters of Science

Room 36- room for intellectuals, Doctors, and Masters of Science and Scientists


First floor
 

Room 37- room for intellectuals, Doctors, and Masters of Science and Scientists

Room 38- female death row room. From 1943, the room was used  for the mixture of detainees- partisan, chetniks and "Ravna Gora" supporters

Room 56- the room was transformed to  Ambulance for camp and sickbay

Room 62-for Ravna gora supporters and JVUO

Room 65- detainees already sentenced

Room 66-second death row room for political and military prisoners sentenced to death by Gestapo or Special Police

Room 67- unsentenced detainees awaiting final sentencing and under investigation

Room 68- detainees  awaiting internment or transport to another concentration camp

Room 85- collective female room

Room 86- detainees waiting for internment

Room 86- detainees that failed to hand over their wheat crops called ‘Dirisovci”

Room 89- for female Jewish prisoners

Room 90- collective female room

 


CATEGORIES OF DETAINEES

There was no categorization of detainees in the beginning. During the time of the uprising in 1941 detainees were from partisans, sympathizers of NOP, communists, Jews, Roma people, nationalists that were with chetniks and hostages.
During the first few years of occupation, special categories within the camp were “criminals” and “ offenders”, people that were already serving sentences in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

They were exterminated by March 1942.
During the last year of occupation, foreigners were also held in the camp and those were captured American, English, or Soviet intelligence officers or captured Italians and Germans who refused to serve The Third Reich. The majority of foreigners were interned from the camp to Germany, France, Austria, and other countries but a small number was killed.
The first official categorization of detainees was in September 1942, when a new category of detainees was introduced-sympathizers of JVuO or Draza Mihailovic, previously called nationalists.
At the same time, the offence grading was introduced. The first category of detainees was the ones most guilty, the second category was less guilty and prisoners with no proven guilty were put within the third category.
Detainees within the first category were shot by firing squad but if there were not “sufficient supplies of hostages” category two and below were taken and shot too. This practice was maintained until the camp’s closure.

Escaping from the camp

Although Banjica camp was one of the most secured and protected concentration camps, 5 detainees managed to find a way to freedom. The first escape was in January 1943 when Milka Minic, the wife of highly-ranking Secretary of Communist Party of Yugoslavia, Milos Minic, managed to find her way out of the camp.

The second escape happened in October 1943 when captain JVuO Nesko Nedic, colonel Ilija Oreljstudent Nikola Pasic junior, and prison officer managed to escape. There were also cases of detainees breaking free during work on river Danube, in Obrenovac and Pancevo.

Relationship between Ravna Gora organization (chetniks) and NOP (partisans) within the Camp

There were many detainees within the camp that belonged both to Ravna Gora and NOP organizations. Sometimes, fights would happen between them within collective detention rooms. They criticized each other and their leaders. Ravna Gora criticized NOP and the latter in return criticized the government and King who emigrated to England and Draza Mihailovic, general and leader of Ravna Gora.

During one fight, Captain Radovan Stojanovic was killed by partisans (NOP) after which Ravna Gora supporters retaliated and caused a bloodbath. The second incident happened after the death of camp’s Dr. Ljubodrag Stefanovic when chetniks accused partisan’s doctors of giving him a fatal injection.

Intellectuals within the camp were trying to suppress and calm the boiling atmosphere between two sides.
Fights stopped in April 1944 at lawyer Stefan Celinea (partisan) and lawyer Alexander Trifunac’s insistence, when all parties realized they were in the same unfortunate position. Chetniks proposed to partisans to organize joint medical services after Germans withdrew but partisans declined the offer. The majority of detainees were interned soon afterward so the whole plan went bust.

On the other hand, there were examples of humanity from both sides. After an initial refusal, partisan accepted to share a meal with the leader of JURAO Bogdan Milutinovic; lawyer Vladimir Radicevic shook hands with everyone before his execution; railway worker Borivoje Radonjic gave his official railway hat to partisan’s political leader to be able to hide from Head of the camp and many more examples of humanity were shown.

During the camp's operation, there were several joint executions of both partisans and chetniks.

 

CLOSURE OF THE CAMP

Banjica Camp was closed in October 1944. Red Army (of Soviet Union) and partisans from NOVJ were approaching Belgrade. The camp’s archive was burned and only thanks to Camp's Deputy Radovan Carapic some register books were saved and now can be accessed at Belgrade Archives.

Carapic let go of Gestapo's detainees first and then announced freedom to all detainees. The last detainee left camp on October 5, 1944, which was the official day of the camp’s closure.

The final quota of the Camp

According to saved documents, there were 23, 288 detainees of which 3,849 were executed but those numbers were quoted from few saved register books while the real numbers were indicated as 250,000 detainees and 30,000 executed.

A large number of detainees were not even registered but taken to Jajinci. A large number of Jews passed on their way from Staro Sajmiste, to fill the numbers required for retaliation and to be interned.

Executions by hanging and firing squad were also performed within Camp itself. At the beginning of 1942, there was a bastion propped up within a yard which was later used for execution. There were executions out of caprice. Detainees were largely supplied by German SS and Police, Belgrade City Council, and local councils.

Jews, Roma, Serbs, partisans, supporters of NOV ( antifascists) chetniks, supporters of Ravna Gora movement, foreigners, criminals, and offenders were detained within the camp.

It is difficult to assess real historical facts as documentation was largely destroyed.

 

 

STATISTICS

According to a few saved register books, the structure of detainees was:

Farmers Craftsman Workers Students Pupils Officials Soldiers Priests
1,414 631 305 71 125 383 125 15
Lawyers Doctors Engineers Professors Businessmen Freethinkers Housewifes the unknown
45 18 33 12 208 202 226 36

 

 

PUBLICATIONS
 

  • “Camp Banjica 1941-1944” by Sima Begovic, published by the Institute of  Modern History in Belgrade 1989
  • “Camp Banjica -detainees” by Evica Mickovic in 2009. The publication contains 1500 pages and describes the camp as “Death factory on outskirts of Belgrade”.

 



Tags:
BELGRADE CITY
SUMADIJA REGION
KINGDOM OF YUGOSLAVIA
SECOND WORLD WAR
CAMP BANJICA
GERMANS CRIMES
NAZI CRIMES
GESTAPO POLICE
OCCUPATION SERBIA


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