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  • The Kragujevac Massacres and the Jewish Persecution of October 1941
  • Kristina Jorgić

Before World War II Kragujevac, a city in central Serbia, had about 40,000 inhabitants.1 Most of them were in the city when the government of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact on 25 March 1941. Two days later, Prince Paul Karadjordjević was deposed in a coup d’état, and his nephew Peter II was proclaimed of age. The new government, headed by General Dušan Simović, assured Germany it would adhere to the Pact. Hitler, nonetheless, ordered the invasion of Yugoslavia. On 6 April 1941 the German armed forces launched the invasion on the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (the April War) and quickly conquered it.2 After the German invasion, the Yugoslav royal government went into exile, and the country was divided amongst Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Bulgaria, with most of Serbia3 being occupied by Germany.

The Nazi regime declared the term the Final Solution, which refers to their plan to annihilate the Jewish people, who were to be annihilated by a combination of forced labor and mass murder.4 On the day after the occupation of [End Page 79] Belgrade (13 April 1941) German troops ransacked Jewish shops. Just one day after the 19 April 1941 capitulation, the “Special Police for Jews” was set up. Within a week, the Jews were ordered to register with the police. They were also removed from public service and identified by yellow armbands. It is very important to note that, because of Kragujevac’s strong industries, members of many ethnic groups lived there: Russians, Czechs, Germans, Croats, Jews, and others. “Among them, harmonious relations were the general rule. It may be fairly stated that relations towards the Jews were respectful, indeed they were much more than that (…). From the point of view of Kragujevac’s citizens, anti-Semitism seemed like something faraway and foreign.”5 It is important to point out that the Jewish population in Kragujevac before the Second World War was very small, at least 126, in comparison to the estimated total number living in the territory of the Nedić’s Serbia (16,000 Jews) by April 1941.6

German soldiers were attacked in early October by the Communist Partisans and by the Chetniks under Draža Mihajlović in the village Ljuljaci, near Gornji Milanovac. The massacre in Kragujevac was a direct reprisal for the German losses in that battle: 10 killed and 26 wounded Germans. A German report stated that: “The executions in Kragujevac occurred although there had been no attacks on members of the Wehrmacht in this city, for the reason that not enough hostages could be found elsewhere.”7 On 18 October 1941, all of the Jewish males in Kragujevac were arrested. Reading their messages we can state with certainty that they did not expect a tragic ending, while others had a clear awareness of the near death.8 The order of execution was forwarded in the evening on the same day. The next day the Germans executed about 420 people.9

As this number was insufficient to meet the quota,10 over the period of 18–21 October, the entire city was raided. The “Obznana,” the German notification [End Page 80] on 21 October 1941, stated: “For that reason (the attack on German soldiers) 100 people were shot for every slain German soldier, and for every wounded 50, mainly communists, bandits, and their supporters, 2300 altogether.”11 On the other hand, in the testimonies of the survivors, historians found a statement of Dr. Noah Snerson. He asked the German soldiers: “Where are you taking us?” They answered: “Do not be afraid; Germans do not kill. It is not allowed by our culture.”12 On 31 October 1941, Franz Böhme, the Commanding General in Serbia, sent a report to Walter Kuntze on the executions that took place in Serbia: “Shooting: 405 hostages in Belgrade (total up to now in Belgrade, 4,750). 90 Communists in Camp Sebac. 2,300 hostages in Kragujevac. 1,700 hostages in Kraljevo.”13 There is still a lot of disagreement in Serbian historiography about the number of people executed in Kragujevac. Staniša Brkić, historian with...