The Dekić family
In 1986, two brothers, Milorad and Pavle Dekić, have given their testimony on the persecution of their family, attempted escape, their arrest and detention in the camp at Sajmšte, which is kept in the Historical Archive of Belgrade. Their testimony is one of the most complete descriptions of the conditions in the camp and the struggle for survival of Roma detainees. In their testimony, they have mentioned persons well known to history, among others the volunteer nurse Hilda Dajč, as well as the events of the large-scale police operation rounding-up the Roma hostages.
Milorad Dekić was living with his family in Mirijevo. At the time, it was a village several kilometers from Belgrade, and today, it is one of its suburban neighborhoods. When the anti-Jewish and Roma laws were introduced, Milorad was fourteen.
In October 1941, gendarmes have blocked Mirijevo intending to take the Roma to the camps. With a group of about 50, Milorad had managed to evade capture. They have wandered for several days, trying to hide. From Mirijevo, the group had moved on to Leštane, but the local authorities did not receive them well. They kept on running toward the village Dražanj near Grocka, finding shelter with fellow Roma friends. But, a few days later, the head of the municipality had ordered them back to Belgrade. The village guards have surrounded the houses with the refugees. Even Milorad's father WWI Solun front medals on his chest were to no avail. Not even a wartime friend was able to persuade the head of the municipality into making an exception.
The guards have marched the Roma on, to Begaljica and Grocka, where they were boarded on a vessel together with other captured Roma. When the transport had reached Belgrade, it docked at the pontoon bridge (just opposite Sajmište camp). The grown-up men were taken to Banjica (or Topovske šupe) camp, while women, children and the elderly were interned to the camp at Sajmište. Many relatives had similar experiences. Many have died in the camp or had succumbed to the consequences of hunger and torture. Still, most Roma and the Dekić brothers had survived the war after being released from Sajmište.
"After five or six days, they blocked Mirijevo. The police, the gendarmerie came, they blocked the area and captured those who remained, men between 14 and 60 years, whoever was able to move, while the women and small children under 12-13 years remained at home. They picked up the men and took them away. When the women asked them where they were taking them, they replied that they were taking them for logging. There were no further answers, nor could anyone explain why they were driven away, we still don’t know it today. When this storm passed, none of them came back, there was misery and crying in every home, in every family.”
They put us in an empty hangar that resembled a shed, you could see the sky as you looked up, everything was smashed up. There were four or five bunk levels, I can’t remember, I just remember that we were on the third level. Wooden planks in a circle and nothing more. Next to us were the Jews in a large pavilion, but it was all open. There was neither a furnace nor a stove. The hangar was filled only with Roma... I think around 700 to 800 of them, with children and women. There were only those from around Belgrade, from Žarkovo, Mirijevo, Resnik and Višnjica, as far as I remember (...) Some came 10 to 20 days before, we spent almost a month on the run (...). They brought food to our pavilion and distributed it. If you happened to be out and could not make it back, they would beat you on the head with a stick, they would hit you, smash your head, you would be bleeding and there were no doctors, nothing ... During the day, we searched the garbage for potato peel (...) After this there we had typhus, lice, 10 to 15 people died every night..."
Milorad got a job in the municipal transport company of Belgrade in 1947. Later, he also worked for "Radio industry". He moved to Austria in 1965. At the time of the testimony, he was retired.
Established in 1815, Orlovsko naselje (Eagles' settlement) is one of the first planned settlements of Roma, the breeders and traders of horses, who were given the plots of land for houses and stables, as well as the fields for grazing and agriculture. Aside from horses, the Roma were traditionally wine-growers, and also had grown orchards. Blacksmiths, coachmen, Teamsters have all followed the horse trade. Women from the poorer families frequently worked as housemaids and cooks for the wealthier Belgrade families, and they were weavers as well. The traditional way of life was abruptly cut ended with WWII, de-legitimization, looting of their land and other property which had followed the brief, but brutal period of genocide. After the war, the Roma community had embarked on the renewal of life in Orlovsko naselje slowly and with great difficulties. Their land was not restituted, so the breeding of horses and agriculture were no longer possible. The Roma had to work as sharecroppers on their neighbors' fields, and later still, had to adapt to the conditions of life in the city which had grown to the edge of their settlement. Today, after the privatization of the property and the land, Orlovsko naselje and its 1000 inhabitants are surrounded by the newly-built buildings, and are frequently considered "an illegal, informal settlement".
Tanasije Mirijevski - Dekić
In conversation with us, Tanasije Mirijevski, nephew of Milorad Dekić, author and chronicler of Orlovsko naselje and Mirijevo, is speaking on the persecution his family and Roma of Orlovsko naselje had endured, on the sacrifices and struggle for survival, and also of the friendships with the Belgrade's Jews through the living memory of his family borne across generations.
Map of the Dekić family escape attempt
War damage reports
The war damage inquiries for the "State Commission for the Establishment of the Crimes of the Occupiers and Their Abbetors" in the Roma communities were often conducted summarily and through commissioners. One such list is the one presented below, with obligatory monetary amounts for compensation payments, given in 1945 to a commission's delegate in Beli Potok, and on behalf of the wartime residents of Mirijevo, in whose vicinity was Orlovo naselje. These "collective records" were used as supporting evidence in the claims of Yugoslavia for war reparations from Germany. Roma testimonies were not used in the Nuremberg trials, and did not affect the outcomes of the war-crime tribunals.
Archive of Yugoslavia, AJ, 110-273-942; AJ, 110-273-943
Testimony of Dekić brothers, transcript
Testimony of Milorad and Pavle Dekić, given to the historian Milena Radojčić in 1986, in the framework of her research on the camp at Sajmište. The testimony was shown for the first time as part of the CHRE exhibition "October 1941", in the Historical Archives of Belgrade, in 2016.
PDF file, 10mb, download at the bottom of the frame. The testimony is kept in the Historical Archive of Belgrade (IAB) on tape, and as transcript published here. Sig: IAB 4827/MG-933.
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