The Center for Holocaust Research and Education - CHRE calls on the Serbian and international public, professionals, the media, political parties, and civil society organizations to demand an end to the devastation of the German camp pavilion at the Staro Sajmište, as well as the of all sites of historical importance under the protection of the city and the state.
In response to the announcement of the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of the City of Belgrade, which confirmed that almost half of the camp at Staro Sajmište, with its largest preserved building - the German pavilion, was not placed under protection and that the demolition of the German Pavilion is necessary for planned road construction, we state the following:
- That the borders of the places of suffering are defined by their history and not by the urban plans and elaborations of the municipal preservation institute. They are and will always be at the borders of the camp in 1941-1944, at the site where our fellow citizens and compatriots from all over Yugoslavia perished. That the practice of memorializing the victims at the sites where they were held and killed, there is no question of demolition, zoning, and construction over the buildings that are the witnesses of suffering and evidence of history.
- That historians of state institutes, members of the Board of Directors of The Memorial Center of the camp at Staro Sajmište, The Museum of Genocide Victims, the Ministry of Culture and Information, and the Municipal Secretariat for Culture of the City of Belgrade, the Republic and City Institutes for the Protection of Cultural Monuments and consultants of the institutes must be aware that the locations designated for the construction of a road in the demolition zone and the immediate vicinity of the German pavilion were used as a place of torture by forced labor, repeated demolition and the constant moving of the material of the half-built 6th Yugoslav pavilion, exercises, attacks by guard dogs, beatings of (mostly Chetnik) camp policemen and work detail leaders for the slightest slowness or mistake, which in a large number of cases resulted in deaths of inmates. This happened during the operation of both camps, the one for Jews (Dec 1941-May 1942), and the so-called holding camp (Anhaltelager May 1942-July 1944), and the practice is described in the historical monograph1 about the camps by Dr. Koljanin, a member of the Board of Directors of the Memorial Center at Staro Sajmište.
- We consider the demolition of the building that was in 2015 publicly promised to the Jewish community for the memorial center - an unacceptable act that damages what is left of Serbia's reputation in front of domestic and international partners to whom Serbia has publicly pledged to preserve this pavilion and designate it as part of a memorial, cultural institution. We consider this decision to be a continuation of the repressive "Law on Sajmište" which erased the independent minority (Jewish and Roma) memorial institutions and replaced them with a state-run memorial center where the board members are named by the government.
- We remind the public that the importance of Staro Sajmište lies in the fact that it was one of the local Belgrade death camps and concentration camps. Its protection, as well as the earlier Topovske šupe camp, has always had to be absolute and exactly according to the "Auschwitz model", as this rejected model of behavior towards the historical sites was described in the study of the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments of Belgrade in 2010. The German pavilion is an integral part of what the institute calls a "cultural asset" and should have the same valorization and protection status as other parts of the site.
- The protection of the buildings can only be protection/conservation in their existing state. The so-called "controlled construction" that the institute and the city are enabling through Detailed Urbanistic Plan - DUP and the studies, and is now being implemented, is the opposite of protection, as is the demolition of the Sajmište central tower in order to install a panoramic elevator in the copy of the original building and the future memorial center. In its statement, the Institute bases its views on the fact that, by decision of the city and the institute, the "recognized" boundaries of the locality in the Detailed Urbanist Plan were reduced to the Sjmište at the time of its initial opening in 1937, which the institute calls "original". With this, the cultural policy of internal colonization of the places of suffering as promoted by right-wing organizations that have advocated for the restoration of the Sajmište with the idea of its restoration as a place where culture and entertainment are equal to the memory of the victims of the camp was adopted and - made official policy. The importance of the architecture of the 1930s and its pre-history as an expo fair is secondary, and the same applies to the post-war artists. In its statement, the Institute has explained why the German pavilion cannot be saved - simply because there is the will to build something else in its place, which is considered a "strategic priority" - an outdated, inadequate model of an intersection that has not been built for over 30 years.
We call on the public and the government of Serbia not to allow the city administration to form Belgrade's relationship to the common history by bringing civil engineering and illegal bar-sports-entertainment businesses up to the same level with the deaths of at least 17,000 people in this place and thereby creating a precedent by which the places of suffering can be demolished as needed and changed at personal discretion.
We call on the City Assembly of Belgrade to urgently stop the demolition of the German pavilion, repair the damage, find an alternative traffic solution for the camps at Sajmište, as well as for the camp at Topovske šupe, and to put all the camps and sites of suffering under the full protection, and The Institute for the Protection of Monuments to conduct additional research, including the archaeological-forensic ones and update the studies on the protection of places of historical importance.
We remind the city that the residents of Sajmište should enjoy the full protection of their tenancy rights, and that any solution for their status must be voluntary and with respect for the value of housing in the central city area.
In the follow-up, an honest public dialogue must be opened on institutional anti-Semitism and anti-Gypsyism, the application of existing laws on discrimination and the prohibition of neo-Nazi propaganda, but also on the necessary changes of the "Lex Specialis" group of the "memory laws" - those on the Rehabilitation, The removal of the consequences of the Holocaust, Restitution and the Law on Sajmište.
1Milan Koljanin, The German Camp at the Belgrade Fair 1941-1944, (p182, 389, 392, 393).