Exhibition "October 41"
A story of what happened in 1941 in Serbia, during the month in which crimes against innocent civilians reached the most staggering proportions, now opens before the visitor. The month of October is also a key period for the Holocaust: it marks the end of the first phase - the phase of the killing of Jewish men and the beginning of the second phase - that of internment and murder of Jewish women and children. Namely, the decision to establish the Sajmište concentration camp was made in October 1941.
The October events also mirror the entire war period in Serbia. The antifascist struggle led to the creation of the first liberated territory in Europe; the Milan Nedić quisling government used various methods to gain legitimacy with the general population, while, on the other hand, trying to “normalize” the Nazi ideology; the Roma became the new victims of racial ideology; the Ravna Gora Movement forces tried to engage in opportunistic collaboration with the Germans. Reprisals of the occupying forces against innocent civilians took mass and brutal dimensions: massacres in Draginac, Kraljevo, and Kragujevac are only the most notorious examples.
This exhibition takes the form of a journal; a kind of "newspaper" of the past, as it is trying to make a connection between the Holocaust and everyday life, and thus draw attention to the fact that the mass elimination of Jews was, in a way, just one phenomenon within a set of events constituting “normal” political, economic, social and personal existence: it is a sad realization that the process of disappearance of the Jewish population, initially from public life through the enforcement of anti-Semitic legislation, and then physically, through various killing techniques, did not substantially disrupt the lives of the vast majority of others, either in Serbia or in other parts of Europe.
The idea for an educational exhibition on the Holocaust, Porajmos and genocide in WW2 Serbia, in itself, was not new. Even if rare, there were such projects by state ministries and historical institutes in 2011 and 2015. However, the wide topic and a long timeline could not permit the in-depth, detailed engagement of Nazi occupation and quisling regime, that is so badly needed in the current climate of rehabilitation of wartime quislings in Serbia. Our response was to use our segment of the overall project and contribute the factual basis for the interpretation of the war, by focusing on a single-month of occupation, the very period of escalation of atrocities, which coincided with the rise of the quisling government in Serbia.
CHRE has produced and curated an exhibition in the form of a visual diary, in which each day of the month had its dedicated panel, with 25-30 reproduced documents, photographs, newspaper articles, testimonies, public orders, posters and even advertising. The selected documents (approximately 900), were photo-reproduced, bilingually annotated, placed in mutually contextualizing relations, and accompanied with a text on a chosen topic for each day and its panel.
CHRE approach was to read the existing writing of positivist historiography comparatively, in the context of other types of sources, such as testimonies, location analysis and, in particular, the primary archival sources massed in large analyzed datasets. We have used these large data sets to extract the relevant narratives that either complement or contrast the existing works on the period and to re-frame the narrative from the civilian perspective. These, of course, include the victims, but also, the regular citizens, as well as the collaborationist administration and propaganda, which were until now, considered less relevant.
This re-organizing of narrative through juxtaposition had to rely on showing the documents themselves, and not as was the usual practice, as footnotes and references. In this view, this is the first exhibition on the subject that is prepared for the “time after the witnesses”, and which relies on narrative corroboration using the period documents.
The project relied in no small part on the previous archival research by CHRE, and the use of existing literature, the books on Serbia and Belgrade under the occupation, and extensive research for the monograph “Suffering of Roma in Serbia during the Holocaust” by CHRE co-founder, Dr Pisarri, as well as the literature on Sajmište camp. Also the history of the war itself, as published in military history monographs and periodicals from 1960s onward, However, history did not take place on the battlefields and in the camps alone, and our goal to use this project to tell the civilian history of war, meant that an entirely new research had to be conducted, opening the rarely used archives on non-military factors, the bio-political ministries of health, labour and economy, the municipal services, departments of statistics, propaganda, etc...
The intensive, dedicated research and reproduction phase spanned the period between October 2015 to March 2016, taking us through the archives of the Jewish Museum, Military Archives of Serbia, Archives of Yugoslavia, University Library Svetozar Marković, online archive “Znaci”, and our project partner, the Historical Archives of Belgrade. During the course of our research, we have enjoyed the full support of the management and archivists at all of the institutions involved.
The wide-ranging effort at reproducing and analyzing this new collection of documents has resulted in significant new historical discoveries. The CHRE team has discovered and presented a document proving the existence of a second, refugee camp, alongside the camp for the Jews and Roma at “Topovske šupe” location as late as mid-October 1941, proving the causal link that camp had in the internment of the Roma later that month.
A clear causal connection was established between state-founded trading firm “Obnova” (Renewal) and the trade in clothes taken off the victims of mass executions throughout Serbia, raising the questions of culpability of general Milan Nedić, quisling ruler of Serbia whose rehabilitation trial is currently underway in Belgrade.
The identity of the commander of the concentration camp “Topovske šupe” was established, and is currently under further research for corroboration in German archives. The looting of Roma houses by his brother and collaborationist local partners was established and linked to mass-casualties of Roma civilians released from the Judelnlager Semlin (camp on Sajmište) in winter of 1942.
New cases of missing Roma children were presented, with official correspondence between the family and quisling authorities, along with a group of previously unknown testimonies of Roma women. Parts of the hearing of Dragi Jovanović, the quisling leader of the security services, special police and wartime mayor of Belgrade, were shown for the first time, with possible consequences for the process of rehabilitation of Milan Nedić. Testimony and location photographs of the mass-shooting site in Rakovica, Belgrade, (Dr. Pisarri, CHRE discovery), were shown in an exhibition setting and disseminated for a wide audience. Previously unpublished testimony of Roma witnesses of the Sajmište camp was published in full and used as audio in the exhibition. New testimonies of Jewish witnesses - the children of the inmates of the “Topovske šupe” camp was presented in audio format. Complete lists of victims of the “Kladovo transport” were shown in an exhibition for the first time.
Parts of the database of the Jewish victims of the camp at Sajmište, a project of our partner, Historical archive of Belgrade were presented as video-projection, together with previously unpublished original construction blueprints of the camp pavillions.
Escalating into Holocaust
ESCALATING INTO HOLOCAUST - FROM EXECUTION SQUADS TO THE SAJMIŠTE GAS VAN - TWO DEFINING PHASES OF THE HOLOCAUST IN SERBIA
EU project under the “Europe for Citizens” Programme Strand 1- European Remembrance (REMEM), also supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia.
The Belgrade Historical Archive, Serbia, Terraforming North, Sweden, the Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies NIOD, the Netherlands, the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Rijeka, Croatia.
The partners have been actively disseminating the project through a series of 6 events in Serbia, Sweden, and The Netherlands, comprising the presentation of the database, the exhibition, and the teaching materials. In addition, teacher training and workshops with students were held. These events have taken place at the Belgrade Historical Archive, NIOD in Amsterdam, the Kragujevac Memorial, The Living History Forum in Stockholm, the National Museum and the University of Niš. Events have included a seminar/public debate with participants from Serbia, Croatia, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, and Germany. CHRE had developed and presented the October 1941 exhibition in Belgrade, Niš, Kragujevac and Novi Sad. October 1941 is a form of a retroactive diary, displaying documents, photographs, articles and testimonies for each day of the month that changed the character of the occupation, collaboration, and pushed the Holocaust and Poraimos in Serbia toward their accelerated ends.
Milovan Pisarri, Phd
Nikola Radić Lucati
Exhibition and catalogue printing: