Hand in hand with the German conquests during World War II, the intention of systematically destroying Jews in the occupied territories began to take its shape more and more, as well as the specific methods for the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. With the establishment of an administrative and military apparatus in the territory of the German occupation zone in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, as early as April 1941, the new authorities began registering the Jewish population and issuing orders in accordance with the anti-Semitic laws.
Representatives of the local administration and the Belgrade special police provided considerable support in their implementation. The system of internment of culprits designated according to various criteria into concentration camps had already largely been established in the Third Reich.
Following the April bombing, as part of compulsory forced labor, many Belgrade Jews were engaged in the rehabilitation of the complex at the Autokomanda quarter of the Voždovac municipality in Belgrade, which housed barracks, a garage and a warehouse of the army of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Briefly, until July 1941, the existing infrastructure served to accommodate the Serbian refugees from the Independent State of Croatia. Although the exact date is not known, in August 1941, this space, used as military grounds, was given a new purpose and, like Banjica, was transformed into a concentration camp for Jews and Roma – Topovske Šupe.
The location of the camp, which was situated next to a tram line, a stadium and a school, was very busy, and while the citizens of Belgrade went on with their daily lives, the Topovske Šupe camp started receiving its first detainees. Following the arrest, at the end of August 1941, between 2000 and 4000 male Banat Jews, previously deported to Belgrade were taken to the camp. In the months that followed, all adult male Jews from Belgrade and from other parts of the German occupation zone were captured and imprisoned during raids. Relative to the number of people in the Belgrade Jewish community, the Belgrade Jews were the most numerous group in the camp. In addition to Jews who were discriminated against on the basis of the Racial Laws, Roma were also detained in the Topovske Šupe camp following arrests in Belgrade’s Roma settlements. The prisoners were leaving the camp to engage in forced labor in the city itself, while any attempt to escape from such a strictly controlled system would be punished by death. The daily return to the camp meant facing the harsh conditions of life: the torture by the guards was very common, a person had little space to himself, people slept on the cold plank floor and
the food which the Union of Jewish Municipalities managed to provide was very scarce. At the beginning of the camp’s existence, if there were partisan sabotages, a certain number of prisoners would be taken to hostage shootings. With the introduction of rigorous German measures involving the retaliation of over 100 civilians for one German soldier killed and 50 for one wounded, beginning in September 1941, the Topovske Šupe camp became the central place from which hostages were taken for such purpose. Under the pretext of being transferred to another camp or going to forced labor, by November 1941, when the camp was disbanded, most of the prisoners were taken to mass shootings that took place at the Jabuka execution site near Pančevo, in Jajinci, Deliblatska Peščara and other places. During the period of its existence, about 5,000 male Jews from Banat, Belgrade, and other parts of the occupied territory were interned in the Topovske Šupe camp, as well as about 1,500 Roma. In December 1941, between 200 and 300 of the remaining male Jews were transferred from the Topovske Šupe camp to the newly established camp at the Staro Sajmište (the Old Belgrade Fairground), as the last refuge for Jewish women, children and Roma before being transported in gas vans to their certain death.
After the liberation of Belgrade, the area of the former Topovske Šupe camp regained its military purpose and served the needs of the Yugoslav National Army. The first memorial plaque on the Topovske Šupe building, dating back to 1951, was dedicated to “comrades who fell for the victory of the people’s revolution and independence of the fatherland” and did not suggest
that it was put up on the grounds of a former camp. In the period that followed, there were various initiatives to transform the site, while plans to establish a shopping mall at the site are still in place. The first marking and naming of Jews and Roma as the victims of the Topovske Šupe camp dates back to 2005, when a memorial plaque was put up on the wall of the building.
This memorial of the victims of the Holocaust in Serbia has meanwhile been taken down, and, on 2 May 2019, on the occasion of the Day of Remembrance and Courage, representatives of the Jewish Community of Belgrade unveiled a new memorial plaque for the victims of the first camp for the Jews and the Roma in Serbia.
Literature: Nenad Žarković, Prolazni logor Topovske šupe“ (The Topovske Šupe Transit Camp). In Nasleđe (The Heritage), No. 10 (2009), p. 103-112 ; Logori Topovske šupe i Sajmište kao centralna mesta holokausta u okupiranoj Srbiji – numeričko određenje i kvantitativna analiza” (The Topovske šupe and Sajmište Camps as Central Sites of the Holocaust in the Occupied Serbia – numeric Determination and Quantitative Analysis), (The History of the 20th
Century), No. 1 (2018), p. 69-92, Milovan Pisarri, Beleške o istoriji logora Topovske šupe u Beogradu: avgust-novembar 1941 (Notes on the History of the Topovske Šupe camp in Belgrade: August-November 1941), www.topovskesupe.rs