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Lest we forget

An excerpt from book by: Ms. Ruth Mitchell,

The Serbs choose war

Published by: Garden City; New York; 1943

pp 260-264

Document IV


Source: Letter written by a Jewish physician, professor in the Department of Medicine in the University of Belgrade, to a friend in London on his escape from Yugoslavia in 1942. As the writer is a Jew, for the sake of relatives who remain in Yugoslavia his name cannot be used:

"In Yugoslavia there were 85,000 Jews, induding Jewish emigrees from Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Thanks to the Serbs, the Yugoslav Jews had succeeded in saving and rescuing many of their compatriots from Germany and German-occupied countries. Service rendered and assistance given to Jews by Yugoslav consular officials in Austria and Czechoslovakia has specially to be recognized. Of the total number of Jews in Yugoslavia about 7,500 were refugees.

"The Jews in Yugoslavia were divided into Sephards, and Eskenasis [Ashkenazis]. The Sephards lived principally in Belgrade and Serbia, also in south Serbia, Bosnia, and Herzegovina. The Eskenasis principaly settled in Croatia, Slavonia, and the Voivodina. After the partition of Yugoslavia the Jews came under the rule of various regimes, including Pavelich's `Independent Croatian State'.

The `solution' of the Jeiwish question in the Independent Croatia devolved upon the Croatian Ustashis. In Serbia, however, the Jewish problem was not dealt with by the Serbs themselves. This the Germans reserved for themselves. There are special reasons for this. When they occupied Serbia, the Germans did not find any anti-Semitic feeling in the country. They could not persude either the local population or the local autorities to take any anti-Semitic measures.

"The fact that Nedich twice demanded from the Gernan commanding officer in Serbia and the Banat that he and his government should be given the right to settle the Jewish problem, against whom no drastic measures should and could be taken in Serbia, shows the feeling of the Serbian people toward the Jews. The following reasons were given by Nedich to the Germans for this demand. If the Germans wanted the Serbs to calm down, it would be of first importance to stop the terrible persecution of the Serbian Jews. The Serbian people could not and would not accept such treatement `of their compatriots of the Jewish religion.' The Serbs consider Jews as their brothers, only of a different religion. The answer which Nedich reccieved from the Germans reg arding this demand was 'that the Serbs have not attained a culture to the degree necessary to enable them to deal with the Jews. We ourselves shall settle the Jewish question in Serbia.'

"With regard to anti-Semitism, Yugoslavia can be divided into two parts, i.e., districts where this feeling was latent, and Serbia, where, it can be said without any exaggeration, anti-Semitic feeling has never had any root.

"During Yugoslavia's twenty-three years of existence, Serbia has always professed the free democratic tradition existing in the former Kingdom of Serbia. There in the nineteenth century, and later in the twelfth, the Jews alwalys had full civic rights and complete equality with their Serbian compatriots. This equality was not only granted in various constitutions of the Kingdom of Serbia and later of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but it was also a true expression of the relationship between the Orthodox Serbs and the Jews in their everyday contact. This friendly and amicable relationship also existed in the economic, financial, and political life in Serbia. The small group of Jews living in Serbia gave their contribution towards the cultural and politicall life in Serbia's struggle for the formation of a state of South Slavs. The Jews had in Serbia members of Parliament. In Serbia's struggle for liberation, the Jews gave their contribution. Several were awarded the Karadgeorge Star for bravery in the battlefield - equivalent to the British V.C.

"About a year before Yugoslavia was attacked by Germany, by pressure from the Reich and in their attempt to suit their policy to the dictators, the Tsvetkovich-Machek Government passed the first anti-Semitic measure in Yugoslavia. The Government was not unanonimous on this point. Dr. Koroshets, leader of the Slovenes, upheld the measure as Minister of Education. Serbian cabinet ministers, however, induding the Minister of War, refused to apply the act. The application of it was confined to the Ministry of Education, under the Slovene Dr. Koroshets, and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, under the Croat Dr. Andres.

"In all the schools and universities, numerous restrictions were applied by circular, but in Serbia Serb teachers and professors succeeded in avoiding or sabotaging the regulations.

"In this regard Serbia completely differed from Croatia under Dr. Machek and the district governor or Ban, Shubashich. In Croatia anti-Semitism was inherited from Austria-Hungary. Antisemitic centers had always existed. Dr. Shubashitch's Croatia had even prepared elaborate laws and regulatios just before the war broke out in Yugoslavia in 1941. A large part of the industries in Jewish hands in Croatia was to be confiscated and nationalized. Anti-Semitism was particularly stressed in Croatia by the right wing of Dr. Machek's Croatian Peasant Party.

"This report could be divided into two parts - the first beginning with the entry of German troops into Belgrade in April 1941 to the beginning of August 1941; the second from the middle of August 1941 until the closing down of the office of the 'Jewish section' late in 1942. The section was closed because there were no longer any Jews in occupied Serbia. During the first stage the Jews were tortured, persecuted, maltreated, taken for forced labor. Well-known Jews and Serbs were taken to German concentration camps. Women of the intelligentsia class were forced to clean latrines in the German barracks, to clean floors and sweep streets under the supervision of the S.S. troops. They were made to clean the windows of high houses from the outside, and severall of them lost their lives through falling down. Jewish girls were violated and taken to `Militar-Medi'. Already during the first stage the Jews were deprived of all their property and most of them were evicted from their homes.

"In the second period male Jews were sent to concentration camps. But quite a number of men and young Jews succeeded in escaping to the villages, where they lived with Serbian peasant families. A number later joined the guerrillas. A considerable number of youths from the Jewish Zionist organization, which co-operated with the Serbian organizations for the preparation of resistance, actively helped the guerrilla fighters. Many collected hospital materiall for the guerrillas or posted anti-German posters in Belgrade streets. The name of Almozmo, a schoolboy of ten, the son of a well-known Belgrade dispensing chemist in ing. Peter Street, should be mentioned. He threw bombs at two armored German cars and a tank in Grobljanska Street in Belgrade and blew them up. His elder brother, a medical student, is still fighting in Bosnia, in spite of the order that the mayor and members of the rural councils would be shot if such cases were discovered in their villages.

"Some forty of my relatives were shot in Belgrade by the Germans. I am, however, very proud to say that today two small relatives of mine, one of five and one of seven years of age, whose parents were shot by the Gestapo, are being hidden by two Serbian mothers.

No German measures in Belgrade were able to upset the friendly relations between the Serbs and Jews. During the forced-labor period Serbs talked to their Jewish friends in the streets even in front of the German soldlers and police. During the period well over 300,000 Serbs were massacred by the Croat Ustashi in Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Lika and some 60,000 shot by the Germans in Serbia, during the period when Serbian students and peasants were hung in the main square in Belgrade, the Serbs of the capital had sufficient courage to protest publicly their indignation at the treatment of the Jews.

"When Jewish women were transported in lorries to the concentration camps, Serb shopkeepers in the streets through which these processions passed closed their shops and their houses, thus expressing not only their protest, but also emphasizing the fact that the entire population of Serbia, yesterday and today, does not and cannot participate in the extermination of their Jewish neighbors.

"The example of the Serbian people with regard to the Jews is unique in Europe, particularly in the southern part of the continent. In spite of intensive German propaganda in writing and through the wireless, the Serbs remained unafected. When we consider what happened to the Jews in neighboring countries, in the "Independent State of Croatia," Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria, the Serbian example shines out.

"Today there are no more Jews left in Serbia, except some children hidden by the Serbs and those fighting along with the Serbs in the forests. I saved my own life thanks to my Serbian friends. I was saved from certain death. Serbian peasants and my other friends also saved from death my only son, who was on several occasions sought by the Gestapo in Belgrade.

"It is my desire as a Jew and as a Serb that in free democratic countries where Jews are still enjoying full freedom and equality they should show gratitude to the Serbian people, pointing out their noble acts, their humane feelings, and their high civic consciousness and culture....

"I cannot conclude this report without mentioning how the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Patriarch Gavrilo, and his clergy tried to save Serbian Jews and Gypsies. Up to the present day the Germans have massacred I70,000 Gypsies, men, women, and children, in Serbia and the Banat. Serbian Orthodox priests and the Serbian peasantry riskied their lives not only to save ordinary Jews and their children but also to save those Gypsies and their children. Today the chief rabbi of Yugoslav Jews lives in America. He was saved from the Gestapo, being smuggled out from Serbia from monastery to monastery by the Serbian clergy. He was handed over by one Serbian church to another, by one Serbian priest to another until he was passed on to Bulgarian territory. There, with the assistance of the Orthodox Bulgarian clergy, some of whom were his personal friends, he arrived at the Turkish frontier."

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Last revised: Nov. 26, 1997