BELGRADE FAIR EXHIBITION GROUNDS 1937-1938
The first phase of construction on the site of the Belgrade Fair Exhibition Grounds started in 1937. The five Yugoslav pavilions were the first to be built, followed by the Central Tower, Italian, Romanian, Czechoslovakian and Spasic’s pavilions.
The first Belgrade Fair was opened on September 11th, 1937.
In 1938 the opening of the Turkish and German pavilions marks the end of the second phase of construction.
JEWISH CAMP ZEMUN – JUDENLAGER SEMLIN
8 December, 1941 the camp on the Belgrade Fair Grounds is established. It was run by the Gestapo in Serbia and under the command of SS officers (despite that it was formally on the ground occupied by the Ustaše-led Independent State of Croatia). It was known as Judenlager Semlin, or the Fair Grounds (Sajmište) camp.
After executing their men, the first Jewish and Roma families, mainly women, children and the elderly were taken to Jewish Camp in Zemun. A total of 6,400 Jewish and around 600 Roma women were interned. In late March 1942, a custom-made vehicle, a Saurer gas van, designed in Germany as a tool for mass killings, arrives in Belgrade carrying two officers, Wilhelm Goetz and Erwin Meyer.
On March 18th, the German police arrested all doctors and patients in the Jewish hospital in Visokog Stevana street (today, the building houses the Faculty for Special Education and Rehabilitation, while before the occupation it belonged to Jewish Women’s Society). The hospital staff and patients from the hospital’s section at the Oneg Shabbat Jewish Culture Society at 16 Jevrejska Street were arrested too.
From 19 to 22 March, 1942, between 700 and 800 Jews from this group were driven away and killed in the gas van known as “dušegupka”. Their bodies were buried in the graves in Jajinci that had already been prepared.
From early April – 10 May, 1942, Jewish women and their families held in the Sajmište camp were told they would be transferred to another camp in Romania or Poland. They were told to pack their things in boxes and write their names and addresses on them. They were all suffocated in the “dušegupka” while crossing the pontoon bridge on their way from Belgrade to Jajinci. Their bodies were buried there together with those of other inmates.
Throughout 1943 – 1944 the corpses were being exhumed and burned, so as to hide all evidence of the crimes.
FUTURE OF SAJMIŠTE AS A PLACE OF REMEMBRANCE
No memorial centres or museums have ever been built on the former campgrounds. For a long time the area where the camp was located was in a very poor condition as a result of disuse and neglect.
In spite of the important place that it occupies in the history of the Holocaust, in the post war era, Sajmiste was rarely recognised as a site of Holocaust remembrance. In socialist Yugoslavia, the suffering of Jews tended to be interpreted as a manifestation of the broader ‘reign of terror’ instituted by the Nazis against the civilian population.
Recently, the Belgrade City Council announced the plans of building a permanent Memorial Center at the site. The Museum of Genocide Victims in Belgrade and the newly established Memorial Center Committee are now making plans for the Memorial Center and Museum, with aim to start the project in 2017.