Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Serbia: Monument and Book for Jews of Šid

Šid, Serbia. Holocaust Memorial. Photo: Jewish Historical Museum Belgrade.

Monument to Jewish Victims of Holocaust Unveiled in Šid, Serbia
by Samuel D. Gruber

[n.b. this post was revised on June 12, 2015 to include new information]
(ISJM) Summer is season of monuments, but I failed to report the creation of a new memorial in the Serbian town of Šid last winter. No Jews live in Šid now; most of the community was killed in the Holocaust. According to a report from the Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade, local citizens led by Radovan Sremac, curator and archaeologist, recently began an effort to commemorate those victims, and this work culminated in the dedication of a marble monument on December 17, 2014. Financial help for the monument came from Israeli Association of Jews from Former Yugoslavia, and the project was undertaken under the auspices of the Šid National Library, its director Slavica Varničić, and the municipal  authorities of Šid.  

 In March, a new book, Jews of Šid  written by Mr. Sremac and including research by Holocaust survivor Emil Milan Klein, who died in 2004, was published documenting the history and destruction of the community.

The unpretentious white marble monument has a light grey, slightly inclined  marble  memorial board on which a gold-colored Magen David is placed between commemorative text in Serbian and the Hebrew. The monument is located next to the Šid National Library

Serbia, like the rest of the former Soviet Yugoslavia, was known for a series of magnificent modern expressive monuments erected during the years of rule by Josip Broz Tito, commemorating anti-fascist partisans and martyrs. Many of these sites have fallen into disrepair. Few monuments, however, then or now deal specifically with the fate of the Jewish communities of the region. The Burning Menorah sculpture by Nandor Glid was installed in Belgrade in 1990 as a memorial to the approximately 9,000 of the city's Jews who were murdered in Belgrade or deported to their deaths. There is also a monument in Novi Sad near the Danube commemorating
the 1,246 citizens – men, women, and children –  murdered by combined Hungarian gendarmerie and army on January 23, 1942. 

In 2006 a commemorative plaque was installed in Belgrade at the site of the former deportation and death camp "Topovske Supe," the first transit camp set up in Serbia by Nazis and their Serbian collaborators in August 1941, and where thousands of Jews were murdered. That modest memorial is in the form of a bronze Torah scroll, and inscribed on the scroll is a brief history of the camp, in Serbian, Hebrew and English (photos here). Every day Jewish men detained at the camp were taken by their German captors to be shot. Many of these victims were taken to Jabuka, a village near Pancevo, where a large monument to "
fallen fighters and victims of fascism" is dedicated. Jabuka was also the place of execution of many Jews brought from Belgrade's Sajmiste concentration Camp, too.

In 2013 the future of the Topovske Supe site was debated, as plans for a shopping mall by a developer were presented and these received international attention. In the end, widespread opposition to the plan seems to have put an end to this project, but it will be important to keep an eye on this site and others like it in the region to ensure respectful protection, preservation and commemoration.

The Jewish community of Serbia and Montenegro has advocated for many years that more Jewish heritage and Holocaust-related sites be marked. Detailed surveys and planning for Jewish heritage and Holocaust-related sites in Serbia (as has been done in Slovenia and Bosnia) began more than a decade ago, but need updating and promotion. A summary list of sites in Serbia can be found here at

The most important Holocaust Memorial site in the former Yugoslavia is the Jasenovic Concentration Camp in Croatia. That site was established by the Croatian Ustaša regime (the so-called Independent State of Croatia) and is infamous as the place of death of large numbers of ethnic Serbs, Jews, and Roma, as well as Croatian anti-fascists. The site was restored and renovated from 1995 to 2004, following the destructive Balkan Wars. There was talk of strengthening the narrative about and commemoration of the Jewish victims at Jasenovic, most of whom came from Serbia, but critics tell me that the new presentation actually lessens the presentation of the barbarities inflicted on Serbs, Jews, Roma and other victims. (Readers take note - if you have been to Jasenovic and would like to report back, let me know).

A Holocaust Memorial Museum was opened in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia in 2011.

There are still active Jewish communities in many of the larger cities of the former Yugoslavia, and there are Jewish or synagogue museums of various types in Belgrade (Serbia), Sarajevo (Bosnia) and Dubrovnik (Croatia) and elsewhere.

Since the dissolution of Yugoslavia, however, the strength of the Jewish community in the region has been greatly diminished, as the community was forced to splinter and divide its limited financial and human resources. While the Jewish communities of the former Yugoslavia try to maintain a cooperative relationship, each small community is increasingly engaged in its own local affairs. This means, too, that there is no longer a consistent regional program for the protection and preservation of Jewish heritage sites, and the commemoration of Jewish communities.

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