The Holocaust in Vojvodina, 1941-1944
By Carl K. Savich
Genocide and War Crimes in Serbia
Nazi Germany began the invasion of Yugoslavia, known as Operation Punishment, on April 6, 1941, without a declaration of war. This was a violation of the rules of conventional warfare. The German Luftwaffe sent 600 bombers and fighter aircraft in sorties over Belgrade using incendiary and fragmentation bombs. Belgrade was an open city and had no air-defense or anti-aircraft systems. Large residential areas of Belgrade were destroyed. An estimated 17,000 Serbian civilians were killed in the Luftwaffe air sorties over Belgrade. More civilians were killed in Belgrade than in all the earlier Luftwaffe bombings of Warsaw, Coventry, and Rotterdam combined. This barbarous act would constitute a war crime and act of genocide because Serbian civilians and Serbian civilian structures were targets of attack. Adolf Hitler sought to destroy the Serbian state and people. It was an act of genocide. The Nazi attack on Belgrade was an unprecedented attack on civilians at that time.
Vojvodina was annexed to a Greater Hungary where 4,620 Vojvodina Serbs and 3,310 Jews were killed from 1941 to 1944. On January 23, 1942, Hungarian occupation forces in Novi Sad, Ujvidek in Hungarian, Neusatz in German, drove 292 Serbs and 550 Jews to the Danube River, which was frozen, and forced them onto the ice. The Hungarian forces then shot into the ice to break it up. Most of the Serbs and Jews drowned. The Hungarian forces shot at those who were still afloat. The Hungarian forces murdered 2,550 Vojvodina Serbs and Jews by April 1, 1942. Many of these killings were by the Hungarian police force known as the Magyar Kiralyi Csendorseg, or the Royal Hungarian Gendarmes.
Following the occupation and dismemberment of Yugoslavia, the Banat and Bachka regions of northern Serbia, known as Vojvodina, were annexed to a Greater Hungary created by Adolf Hitler. The Banat region was administered by the local German population, the Volksdeutsche.
On April 11-14, 1941, Hungarian troops occupied Bachka, Baranja, Medjimurje, Prekomurje. On April 11, German forces occupied Srem and Banat. Srem was annexed to Greater Croatia, the NDH. The Banat was under local German administration.
All Serbs who settled in Vojvodina after October 31, 1918 were deported by Hungarian occupation forces. Hungarians from Bukovina in Romania and from Moldavia were settled in their place. From May 11 to June 20, 1941, 13,200 Hungarians, consisting of 3,279 families from Bukovina, were settled. An additional 161 Hungarians making up 53 families from Moldavia were settled in Vojvodina, while 3, 325 Hungarians, consisting of 481 families, were settled in houses of deported Serbs. A comparison of the 1931 and 1941 census figures showed that there was an increase in 80,000 Hungarians or an increase from 34.2% to 45.4% in the Hungarian population of Vojvodina: Hungarians were 74.7% of the total population of northern Bachka, which included Subotica (Szabadka in Hungarian), Novi Sad or Ujvidek, Sombor, and Kula. Hungarians were 50.4% of the population of Novi Sad.
Jewish Settlement in Vojvodina
Vojvodina had a total Jewish population of 20,000 before World War II. After the war, 4,000 Vojvodina Jews remained. In the 1918-1941 period, Sombor was the headquarters of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Religious Communities in Yugoslavia, Vojvodina containing 10 out of the 13 located in pre-World War II Yugoslavia. Vojvodina contained 30 Neologue Ashkenazi Communities.
Jewish exiles and traders and merchants from Hungary and Eastern Europe first settled in Vojvodina during the 14th and 15th centuries. In the 16th and 17th centuries Jewish merchants from Belgrade settled in Vojvodina when Ottoman Turkish forces invaded and occupied Hungarian territory. Jewish merchants supplied the Turkish garrisons. When Turkish troops were driven out, Jews were not allowed to settle in Vojvodina towns under a ban on Jewish settlement by Ferdinand III in 1647.
A distinctive feature of the Jewish community in Vojvodina was that it was rural until the Ausgleich of 1867. It was only after 1867 that Jews began moving to towns and cities. Jews were farmers, merchants, doctors, and veterinarians. Jewish settled increased during the 18th century when Ashkenazim from Slovakia, Moravia, Bohemia, and other regions in Austria and Hungary settled there. In 1769, following the partition of Poland, Jews from Poland moved to Vojvodina.
The Austrian government under Maria Theresa enforced a restrictive Jewish policy. In the Letter Patent of 1743, Jews could settle only if they paid a tolerance tax. Jews were eventually allowed to settle in newly-founded towns in Vojvodina such as Subotica where economic expansion was occurring.
Joseph II promulgated an Edict on Tolerance in 1782 for Hungary which markedly lessened the restrictions on Jews in Vojvodina. Jews were no longer required to wear badges and display signs denoting that they were Jews. Jews were allowed into previously excluded economic enterprises. Jewish schools were allowed. Nevertheless, Jews did not yet enjoy full equality with non-Jews and Jews were restricted on where they could settle.
During the Revolution of 1848-1849, Vojvodina Jews participated in the anti-Austrian insurgency of Lajos Kossuth which resulted in retaliation against Jews by the Austrian Army. Jewish property in Vojvodina was destroyed. In 1851, the synagogue in Novi Sad was rebuilt. In 1901, a larger synagogue would be constructed in Novi Sad.
Vojvodina Jews obtained full and equal civil rights in Vojvodina only following the 1867 Ausgleich that created Austria-Hungary. There were forty major Jewish communities in Vojvodina.
“Atonement measures” against the Serbian Population
Adolf Hitler ordered his commanders to be ruthless and merciless towards the Serbian population. Hitler wanted to destroy the Serbian nation and the Serbian people. The Serbian people had disdainfully rejected his offers to join the New Order in Europe. Now there was punishment: Total and complete annihilation of Serbia and the Serbian people. Now the Serbs would witness Hitler’s wrath. There was a price to be paid for not joining the New Order.
The German military occupation of Serbia by the Wehrmacht was ruthless. Unlike other occupied areas of Europe, Serbia was unique in that Serbia was under direct German military occupation or rule. This was unprecedented in occupied Europe. The Germans usually found willing collaborators. But this was not the case in Serbia.
In Serbia, there was resistance and defiance. This is why Hitler was determined to violate all international laws and norms in destroying Serbia and the Serbian people. This is why Hitler detested and feared the Serbs. Serbian defiance undermined the New Order which Hitler sought to create.
From the outset of the German Wehrmacht occupation of Serbia, Hitler was determined to take all measures necessary to force Serbia into the New Order. All repressive measures were permitted against the Serbian civilian population. These measures constituted war crimes and acts of genocide. The German military was instructed to suppress and repress all acts of resistance and defiance. The Germans engaged in state terrorism, acts meant to terrorize the Serbian population into submission. These reprisals against resistance were termed “atonement measures”.
One of the first major war crimes and acts of genocide committed by the German Army occurred in Vojvodina. Serbian resistance forces shot and killed one German Wehrmacht soldier and seriously wounded another in the Vojvodina city of Pancevo, north of Belgrade. Pursuant to Hitler’s instructions, the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS took immediate action. The “atonement measures” or reprisals consisted of rounding up 100 Serbian civilians at random from Vojvodina. They were to be killed as retaliation for the acts of resistance by the Serbian insurgents.
Wehrmacht Lieutenant Colonel Fritz Bandelow began conducting trials of the civilians before military courts in violation of the customs and norms of military law. This was a blatant war crime by the German Army. The presiding judge of the courts martial was SS Sturmbannfuehrer Rudolf Hofmann, who sentenced 36 of the randomly chosen Serbian civilians to death. The death penalty was carried out on April 21, 1941, when four of the arrested Serbian civilians were shot.
On April; 22, fourteen Vojvodina Serbian civilians were lined up against the cemetery wall in Pancevo an summarily shot by an execution squad of the German Army’s Grossdeutschland Regiment (Greater Germany Regiment). The German military took photographs of this brazen war crime in a series of famous photographs. In one photograph, a German soldier is shown finishing off a Serbian victim who was still alive by a gunshot to the head. The bodies of the Serbian victims lie sprawled against the cemetery wall as blood oozes from their heads due to the gunshot wounds.
On the same day in Pancevo, the German army hanged eighteen Serbian civilians, including one woman, were hanged at the cemetery. These victims were civilians wearing civilian clothing, suits, ties, hats, randomly apprehended off the streets. They were just taken off the streets by the German army and sent to the gallows. The bodies of these Vojvodina Serbian victims were left hanging on the gallows by the German army for several days to terrorize the Serbian population. It was rationalized as a deterrent.
How is this barbaric and mindless war crime to be explained as a deterrent? The Germans were very myopic in their understanding of the so-called subhuman peoples. They failed to see that not everyone was inculcated with a mentality of obedience and servility. The Serbs had been waging insurgencies against foreign military occupations for over half a millennium, against Muslim Ottoman Turks, Austria-Hungary, and the Second Reich of Kaiser Wilhelm in World War I. So the upshot was that what was meant as a deterrent only increased resistance. The insurgents killed even more German troops and the ranks of the insurgents swelled.
Vojvodina and Greater Hungary
From 1941 to 1944, 4,620 Serbs and 3,310 Jews were killed in Vojvodina, or Dukedom, Delvidek in Hungarian, the South Land. Southeastern Bachka, known as Sajkaska, was a Serbian majority area where many of the atrocities occurred.
Vojvodina, consisting of southern Bachka, eastern Srem, or Szeremseg, and western Banat, or Bansag, was made a part of Serbia and Yugoslavia following the Treaty of Trianon of June 4, 1920 negotiated at Versailles following World War I. Hungary lost two-thirds of her territory. There is no question this resulted from the military defeat of Germany and German allies such as Hungary. It was a punitive and harsh victor’s settlement at the expense of Hungary. But all territorial settlements are made the same way. Which border in the world wasn’t achieved by force of arms? Nevertheless, the injustice of the Versailles settlement created the illusion of a Greater Hungary that could be achieved if Delvidek was only incorporated into Hungary. Is the ideology of Greater Hungary valid and legitimate? What is the history of Vojvodina?
Vojvodina has been settled since the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras. It was settled by Thracians, Dacians, Illyrians, and Romans. Sirmium or Sremska Mitrovica was a key Roman settlement and outpost. Slavic tribes settled the Pannonian Plain, where the three rivers, the Danube, the Tisza or Tisa, and Sava, flow, during the 6th century during the Slavic migrations from eastern Europe. Magyars or Hungarian tribes settled in the Vojvodina region only in the 9th century. Vojvodina became a part of Hungary during the medieval period. Following the Ottoman Turkish invasion of Europe, Serbs began migrating into Vojvodina. Vojvodina became a part of the Ottoman Empire following the Battle of Mohacs in 1526 where the Hungarian forces were defeated. Banat, or Bansag in Hungarian, became a part of Turkey after 1552. Vojvodina became a part of the Austrian Hapsburg Empire following the Treaties of Sremski Karlovac or Karlowitz in German in 1699 and Pozarevac or Passarowitz in 1718.
From May 13 to 15, 1848, the Serbian leaders of Vojvodina declared the constitution of the Serbian Vojvodina or Dukedom (from Serbian vojvode, “duke”) at the May Assembly held at Sremski Karlovci. Stevan Supljikac was elected the first Duke or Vojvode, while Josif Rajacic was elected Patriarch. The Dukedom consisted of Srem, Bachka, Baranja, and Banat. Following the failure of the 1948 Revolution, the Austrian Emperor established an administrative region called the Serbian Vojvodina and the Tamis Banat in November, 1849. This province existed until 1860. Novi Sad was founded in 1694 and was the largest Serbian city in the 19th century and was the center of Serbian culture and literature, called “the Serbian Athens”. It became the second largest city in Serbia in the 20th century, second only to Belgrade.
The Treaty of Trianon of June 4, 1920 made the Vojvodina region a part of Yugoslavia. The Vojvodina area was part of the Dunavska Banovina or Danube Region or District during the interwar period. The US, Britain, France, Italy, and Japan, the Principal Allied Powers, negotiated the Trianon Treaty. “The Serb-Croat-Slovene State” was regarded as an Associated Power to the Principal Powers. Hungary was regarded as the successor state to Austria-Hungary and a defeated enemy power. Ultimately, it was the US, Britain, and France that arbitrarily decided the post-World War I borders in Europe. To attack those borders was to attack the entire political and military settlement that resulted after World War I. In other words, the borders between Yugoslavia and Hungary were not disputed or contested but were internationally recognized borders that could only be changed by war. And this is the policy the Horthy regime decided to pursue.
Admiral Miklos Horthy von Nagybanya, who had been a naval officer in the Austro-Hungarian Navy during World War I, became the premier of Hungary on March 1, 1920 and ruled Hungary until 1944 as Regent. He had achieved prominence by overthrowing the Communist-Bolshevik regime set up by Bela Kun in 1919. In 1937, the Hungarian fascist Nyilas or Arrow Cross Party, Nyilas Keresztes Part, was formed by Ferenc Szalas. In 1938, Germany ceded one third of Slovakia and Ruthenia from Czechoslovakia to Hungary. This whetted the appetite of Hungarian ultra-nationalists to achieve a Greater Hungary by annexing territory from Yugoslavia. On November 20, 1940, Hungary formally joined the Axis Powers, consisting of Germany, Italy and Japan.
The foreign policy of the Horthy regime consisted of regaining Hungarian territory lost after World War I, or reconstituting what would be termed a Greater Hungary following the Versailles Treaty and international law. Hungary lost two thirds of her former territory and roughly half the Hungarian population was outside of the borders of Hungary. There is no question that the Versailles Peace treaty was based on the victor’s justice, on the winning side in a conflict imposing or dictating the terms of the settlement. The punitive and unjust nature of the Versailles Treaty resulted in World War II, when the loosing nations of World War I sought to regain lost territory. The Hungarian majority region of Transylvania was annexed to Romania. Under the Treaty of Trianon, the Vojvodina region, called Delvidek or Vajdasag, was annexed to Yugoslavia, then known as “The Serb-Croat-Slovene State”. Delvidek/Vajdasag/Vojvodina was seen as an integral part of Hungary, of Greater Hungary.
But while Trianon was an example of a dictated settlement, of diktat by the military victors, it was meant to settle the border between Hungary and Serbia in a good faith and just manner. Vojvodina had a mixed population with 26 different ethnic groups, the three most dominant of whom were the German, Serbian, and Hungarian populations. They all had territorial claims to parts of Vojvodina. Population statistics were trotted out to justify their respective claims. The problem was that in Vojvodina, all three groups had been settlers and the population demographics had varied and changed over time. There is no question that there were areas of Vojvodina where Serbs were in the majority, where Hungarians were in the majority such as the northern Bachka region, and where Germans were in the majority. No territorial settlement can ever completely satisfy the aspirations of the representative population, especially where there is a mixed population. The dilemma is like that faced by Solomon who had to divide a child between two people. Do you cut it in half? What do you do? There is no solution that will satisfy everyone. This is why war and propaganda are always necessary in border changes. So war and propaganda will not go out of style any time soon.
The Horthy regime sought a “revision of the Trianon Treaty” during the inter-war period. One way to achieve this was to sponsor and to support separatist and secessionist movements in Yugoslavia that would lead to the instability and breakup of the nation. Pursuant to this goal, the Horthy regime provided bases and funding for the Ustasha Movement of Ante Pavelic, who had training camps and terrorist bases in Hungary during the 1930s such as the one at Janko-Pusta from where the Ustasha launched terrorist attacks against Yugoslavia. Horthy also joined with fascist Italy of Benito Mussolini and Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler in attacking Versailles and seeking a territorial reorganization that would restore lost lands to Hungary. The first Jewish Law was passed in Hungary in 1938 restricting the rights of Jews.
Hungary launched an anti-Serbian policy, seeking to annex Delvidek, the southern territory or South land to Hungary. The Serbs were blamed as “ungrateful devils” who “took Hungarian ancestral lands.” The Horthy regime encouraged and spread inflammatory anti-Serbian racism during the interwar period. The regime alleged that Serbs committed atrocities against the Hungarian population of Vojvodina in order to justify war with Yugoslavia. Pal Teleky, the Hungarian prime minister, rejected this anti-Serbian propaganda and the bogus pretext for the invasion of Yugoslavia, that the Serbs were intent on committing genocide against the Hungarian and German populations of Vojvodina:
We took sides with scoundrels—because the news on alleged atrocities does not contain a single word of truth! Neither the Hungarians nor even the Germans are threatened! We’ll become the vultures! The most despicable nation. I failed to prevent that. I feel responsible.
This was written in his letter to Horthy expressing his opposition to the invasion of Yugoslavia. Teleky committed suicide on April 2-3, 1941. Three days later, Hungary invaded Yugoslavia as part of the German Operation punishment, meant to destroy Yugoslavia as a country and Serbians as a people.
The Great Raid in South Bachka
After the Hungarian occupation and annexation of Vojvodina, 2,500 Serbs were killed in the first several days. The Hungarian government instituted an anti-Serbian policy, pan-Magyar policy meant to restore the population of Delvidek as it was before 1918, to achieve an “ethnic re-composition.” The Hungarianization or Magyarization of Delvidek was the goal. About 55,000 to 65,000 Serbs who had settled in Vojvodina after October 31, 1918, were expelled. They were deprived of their human and civil rights and their property was taken. They were sent to 13 Hungarian concentration camps in Bachka and Baranja. These Serbian refugees were later sent to concentration camps in Hungary, the major one being the Sharvar camp.
The Hungarian government feared a mass Serbian uprising and insurgency as occurred in Serbia following the German/Axis invasion of the USSR on June 22, which jeopardized the German military occupation of Serbia. Moreover, following the Ustasha massacres against Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Hercegovina committed by Croats and Bosnian Muslims, the Serbian population launched an insurgency in Croatia and Bosnia that threatened to destroy the Independent State of Croatia. The Horthy regime feared “huge Serbian preparations for an uprising against Hungary.” The regime disseminated “warnings” of the “Serbian danger”; the Serbs were perceived as “the enemy” and saw the Serbian resistance movement and insurgency as “the Serbian nationalistic plot.” Jews were seen as “the Serbian accessories”. Serbian guerrillas did sabotage several Hungarian facilities during the fall 1941 insurgency. These were seen as evidence of the “Serbian danger”.
By the end of 1941, the Hungarian government began a propaganda campaign which alleged that there was an imminent “Serbian uprising” and that “bloody Christmas for Hungarians and Germans” was planned in Bachka. Hungarian government propaganda alleged that a Serbian mutiny or rebellion was planned for January 7, 1942, Serbian Orthodox Christmas, meant to target the Hungarian and German population for murder.
From January 4 to 30, 1942, Hungarian forces killed 3,928 people in Vojvodina, consisting of 2,662 Serbs, 1,103 Jews, and 163 victims from other nationalities during the “Great Raid” or “Grand Raid” or “Razzia”.
The raid was sparked after 40 Serbian insurgents were detected hiding out at the farm of Gavra Pustajic near the village of Zhabalj by a Hungarian patrol on January 4, 1942. Hungarian military patrols and police engaged the insurgents. Many insurgents were killed in the assault, while others were captured and later executed.
Atrocities against Serbian and Jewish civilians started in the town of Zhabalj, which was the base of operations for the raid. The raid began with atrocities in the village of Churug and spread to outlying villages in the Sajkaska region which was predominately Serbian. Serbian and Jewish civilians, men, women, children, and the elderly were targeted for torture, rape, and murder. The massacres and atrocities were orchestrated by Hungarian and German political and civic leaders, and by Roman Catholic clergy. At least 10 Serbian Orthodox priest were murdered. In the village of Moshorin, a Serbian Orthodox protojerej was killed.
Ferenc Feketekhalmy-Czaydner, the commander of the Hungarian 5th Corps in Bachka, was made one of the leaders of the raid. He made a visit to the Serbian Orthodox Episcope of Bachka, Iriney Cirich, on December 28 or 29, 1941 but the Episcope was not there. He made a second visit on January 8, 1942 requesting that the Serbian Episcope write an appeal to the Serbian population of Bachka imploring them to pledge their “loyalty” to the Hungarian government. He was presented a prepared text which “should serve as a framework of the Episcope’s own appeal”. He explained that the raid was taken in response to the activities of Serbian “rebels”. Episcope Iriney was invited to a meeting with Horthy on January 10 or 11, in Budapest. Iriney lodged his protest at the systematic murder of civilians of which Horthy said he had not “received any information about that.” Iriney refused to write the appeal. On January 20, Feketekhalmy had Nikola Dragojlov, the Episcope’s deputy, the protoprezviter, brought to him by the Hungarian police. He then coerced him into writing the appeal: “[T]his appeal must be written immediately, otherwise I’ll have to take the severest measures towards the Serbian people.” He extorted the appeal from Iriney: “[I]f your Episcope writes that appeal and sends it to me, that might be a significant appeasement of your people’s present position.” Iriney finally relented and wrote the appeal.
On January 9, Hungarian officials ordered “special security measures”. Serbian civilians were not allowed to travel, Serbian government employees were dismissed, their personal documents were confiscated; professionals such as lawyers, teachers, professors, and religious leaders in the Serbian community were put under surveillance or imprisoned.
At a meeting held in Budapest, Hungary on January 12, Ferenc Kerestezs Fischer, the Hungarian minister of the interior, Karoly Bartha, the defense minister, and Ferenc Szombathely decided on an “expansion of the raid” to include the largest city in Vojvodina, Novi Sad, which had a pre-war population of 80,000, including 4,000 Jews. The objective was to wipe out any Serbian resistance. On January 15, Hungarian prime minister Laszlo Bardossy explicitly declared the Hungarian government policy was intended to expand the scope of the raid. The policy was anti-Serbian and was meant to focus on eliminating the Serbian population of Vojvodina. The area of the raid was expanded to include the towns and villages of Novi Sad, Pashichevo, Petrovac, Srbobran, Gajdobra, Tovarishevo, Stari Bechej, it was the area between the Danube and Tisza Rivers.
When the raid in Sajkaska ended on January 19, a total of 2,425 civilians were left dead. Of this number, 2,183 were Serbs, 154 were Jews, 64 were Roma, 29 were Ruthenians, 3 were Hungarians, 1 German, and 1 Czech. There were 1,425 men, 450 women, 300 children under the age of 18, over 90 children under the age of 12 were murdered, and 250 elderly. Ten Serbian Orthodox priests were killed and one Jewish rabbi. There were 119 students, 324 tradesmen, and 149 shopkeepers. Serbian civilians were rounded up at random and taken from their homes and businesses during their workday and while they were engaged in activities such as weddings and rounded up for execution.
Jewish Settlement in Novi Sad
The Jewish population of Novi Sad was 4,101 in 1940. After the war, 1,200 survived the Holocaust. Jews from Belgrade settled on the outskirts of the Petrovaradin Fortress in the 16th century. The first written record of Jewish settlement in Novi Sad was in 1699. Petrovaradin was an important frontier garrison or fort dividing the Ottoman Empire from Hapsburg Austria. Jewish traders and merchants supplied both the Austrian and Hungarian as well as the Ottoman Turkish forces. In the 18th century, population data of the Jewish population of Novi Sad and Petrovaradin was recorded.
Novi Sad was proclaimed a free city in 1748 which resulted in greater restrictions on Jewish settlement. Jews were only allowed to settle on the outskirts of the city in an area known as “Jevrejska ulica” or the Jewish street. Jews were allowed to build houses and a synagogue only in this Jewish quarter. Jews had to pay a tolerance tax. Moreover, restrictions were placed on Jews. Jews could not be stamp engravers or goldsmiths, solicitors, import books, or sell Christian books. Jewish artisans could only do work for other Jews or the nobility and were prohibited from doing work for non-Jews.
Under the Ottoman Turks during the 16th and 17th centuries, Jewish merchants and traders were allowed to settle along the Danube River. In the first decades of the 18th century, three Jewish families are known to have lived in Novi Sad, most coming from Nikolsburg in Moravia. In 1717, a synagogue and cemetery are known to have existed. The Jewish Community of Novi Sad was established in 1748. A Hevrah Kaddisha was founded in 1729 as a “Holy Welfare Society”. A synagogue was built in 1829. A Jewish school in Novi Sad was constructed in 1802.
The Jewish community of Novi Sad was initially under the leadership of a rabbi, then by a judge. In the 19th century, a president was appointed. The Jewish community was restricted and rigidly controlled by the municipal government of Novi Sad, which supervised the elections of rabbis, teachers, and other Jewish political and religious leaders. There was also a split between the upper-class, wealthy Jewish merchants and traders, such as the Hirschl family which had dominated the community for over a century, and poorer Jews who sought autonomy for the Community and no government oversight.
It was only after the 1867 Ausgleich that the Jewish Community of Novi Sad was able to elect a leader independently of the municipal government. Novi Sad Jews voted Gerson Reitzer as their president. Three Novi Sad Jews were elected to the City Council.
From 1895 to 1906, Karl Kohn was the president of the Novi Sad Jewish Community. Jews from the surrounding towns and villages of Bachka moved into the city. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Jewish population of Novi Sad was 2,000. A large synagogue was built in Novi Sad in 1901, followed by a housing development, a school, a home for the aged, community offices were built, as well as new residential housing.
During the interwar years from 1918 to 1941 when Vojvodina was part of Yugoslavia, Novi Sad Jews played a prominent role in the economic, political, cultural, and social life of Novi Sad. Novi Sad Jews were prominent in publishing and journalism. In 1935, the Jewish Cultural Center in Novi Sad was constructed, which contained a kosher delicatessen theater and facilities and offices for sports, humanitarian, and cultural societies. There was a Jewish newspaper and Zionist organizations were established.
The “Cold Days”: The Raid in Novi Sad
The raid on Novi Sad began on January 21, 1942 when Hungarian troops surrounded and sealed off the city. The pretext for the raid was a small rebellion that occurred outside the city. A total curfew was imposed on Serbs and Jews. Serbs and Jews were arrested by Hungarian police forces and sent before the Board of Identification. From January 21 to 23, forty-one Serbs and Jews were killed. These murders began the “hladni dani” or “cold days” in Novi Sad, the systematic mass murders of Vojvodina Serbs and Jews.
On January 23, more than 1,300 residents of Novi Sad were murdered by Hungarian forces. It was an unprecedented orgy of anti-Serbian and anti-Jewish racism. Serbs and Jews were murdered in the streets of Novi Sad, Rumenacka, Mileticeva, Dunavska, Streljacka, in the Uspensko Serbian Orthodox cemetery, on Trifkovic Square, at the NAK soccer field, and the Vojvode Bojovica Street barracks.
The most notorious atrocities and murders occurred at The Strand, Novi Sad’s beach on the Danube River. On that day the Danube River was frozen solid with a temperature of -25C. Hungarian forces brought over 1,300 Serbs, Jews, to the frozen Danube River and lined up in four rows. Hungarian forces then shot them in the back, men, women, and children. Holes in the ice were then made by the Hungarian troops with shells. The bodies were then thrown into the broken ice of the Danube River. Many of the bloated corpses washed up on the shore while other corpses flowed down the Danube River to Belgrade. Bodies continued to wash up for two weeks after the atrocity. In all, over 1,300 people were killed that day. Of those killed, 813 were Vojvodina Jews, 380 were Vojvodina Serbs, 18 were Hungarians, 15 were Russians, 13 were Slovaks, 8 were Croats, 3 were Germans, 2 were Ruthenians, 2 were Slovenians, and 1 was a Muslim. There were 492 men, 418 women, 168 children, and 177 elderly. Seven Serbian Orthodox priests were among those killed along with one Jewish rabbi, 126 salesmen and shopkeepers, 100 tradesmen, and 81 pupils.
The Yugoslav novelist Danilo Kis (1935-1989) who was born in Vojvodina and lived in Montenegro, studied literature at Belgrade University, then lived in France, recalled personally witnessing these events:
I was born in Novi Sad (which is not far from Subotica, where much of the novel takes place, or from Belgrade). I lived there with my family until January 1942 when there was a massacre of Jews and Serbs in the part of Yugoslavia and Hungary called Voyvodina. This area was occupied by Hungarian fascists who committed terrible massacres in practically all the Voyvodin towns; Novi Sad was one of the places where there were many, many people killed. My father was one of those waiting in line near the Danube during one of these incidents; many of the cadavers were thrown on the ice. That was the first time in my life I’d ever seen dead bodies: they were lying outside the houses on our street. Some of my friends were among those killed. We were saved thanks to documents like the ones the father (called E.S. in the novel) is looking for in Hourglass. We fled to the Hungarian countryside because my father thought that we would be safer from the fascists there than in a large city. It seems that he was right because we did survive, thanks in part to that. In the country we lived in terrible poverty. I worked with the peasants. We all did farmwork, except my father, who in 1944 was taken to Auschwitz. We had to wait until 1947 to rejoin my mother’s family. At that time we went back to Montenegro, where I went to high school. Then I moved to Belgrade….. [I]t was sometimes possible ion Hungary, in a family of mixed religious heritage—my mother was Christian orthodox, my father Jewish—to use documents to prove that you were not Jewish, something that didn’t work in Germany. I was baptized into the Orthodox church when I was five years old. That was in 1938, and my parents were already aware of the threat to our safety in the region. …My own father died at Auschwitz in 1944.
The atrocities created a stir in Budapest and orders were sent to the Hungarian commanders in Novi Sad to stop the massacres on January 23. The raid ended at 4 p.m. that day. Several hundred survivors were released, half-frozen and in shock. The Hungarian forces planned to kill 450 more people at The Strand when the orders to end the massacres came. About a hundred were taken to The Strand before the order arrived. Endre Bajcsy-Zsilinsky, a member of the Hungarian Parliament, opposed the anti-Serbian policy of Hungarianization/Magyarization in the Delvidek region of Greater Hungary. He sought greater Serbian-Hungarian cooperation and improved relations.
Jewish Settlement in Subotica
The Jewish population of Subotica was 4,900 in 1940. In 1775, Jakov Herschel was the first Jew to be allowed to settle permanently in Subotica. He had permission to sell kosher food and wine and to deal in leather and wine. The Edict of Joseph II of 1782 permitted Jewish settlement in Subotica. In 1797, the Jewish shop-keeper Salamon Hajdudki received a license to establish a shop and to purchase a house in Subotica.
A Jewish Community of Subotica was permitted to be established. In 1799, construction of an Orthodox synagogue was begun after permission was obtained. In 1817 the Subotica synagogue was completed. The Neologue or Reform Community constructed a synagogue in 1902. In 1923, the Dr. Bernard Singer Jewish Hospital was opened in Subotica. During the interwar Yugoslavia period, 1918-1941, Subotica Jews were most active and integrated in the economic, political, and social life of the city. Approximately 2,250 Subotica Jews survived the Holocaust when Vojvodina was part of the Nazi-created Greater Hungary.
The Raid on Bechej
The town of Bechej in South Bachka was the last town to be attacked, where 248 people were killed. The raid began on January 26 and concluded on January 29. Of this number, 135 were Jews, 110 were Serbs, 1 Czech, 1 Slovenian, and 1 Croat. The victims were 128 men, 86 women, 15 children, and 19 elderly persons.
The total number of victims is estimated at 3,928. All those killed in Novi Sad, Sajkaska, and Bechej were thrown into the Danube and Tisza Rivers. Only in the Sajkaska village of Moshorin, where there were approximately 100 killed, were the bodies buried. About 1,300 bodies washed up on the banks of rivers. Only ten corpses were ever identified by name, the rest were buried without any identification. An additional 2,600 corpses floated into Romania.
The Banat and the Volksdeutsche Prinz Eugen SS Division
Before World War II, the ethnic German population of Yugoslavia numbered approximately 700,000, most residing in the Serbian Banat region of Vojvodina. The ethnic German population of Serbia was settled during the reign of Maria Theresa, the archduchess of Austria and the queen of Hungary and Bohemia, who was in power from 1740 to 1780. The Volksdeutsche or Dunau-Schwaben were settlers who had come from the Black Forest area of southwestern Germany, which was known as Swabia, or Schwaben, from the Germanic tribes the Suebi or Suevi. The German settlers in Vojvodina were farmers who cleared and cultivated the land which was made available after the Muslim Ottoman Turks were expelled from the Vojvodina region by Austria under the military commander Prince Eugen of Savoy in France.
The July, 1718 Treaty of Pozarevac, named after the Serbian city known by its German name as Passarowitz, gave the Banat and much of Vojvodina to the Austrian Hapsburg Empire under Charles VI. Prince Eugen captured Belgrade that year from the Ottoman Turks.
During the interwar years, 1918-1941, the German population of Serbia had full civil and cultural rights, as did the Hungarian population, having their own schools and representatives in the federal and local government levels. The Germans had their own national organization since 1920, the Schwabisch-Deutscher Kulturbund, the Swabian-German Cultural Union.
Following the war, the Yugoslav Communist government that emerged accused Germany of organizing the German minority in Yugoslavia. At the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, a branch of the Hitler Youth, or Hitlerjugend, the Hitler Youth on Duty, was accused by the Soviet Prosecutor of organizing the German minority of the Serbian Banat as a Fifth Column. The Nuremberg War Crimes accusation was as follows:
“The Government of the Third Reich and the Hitlerite Party secretly organized the German minority. Settled in Yugoslavia by the Austrian emperors over a century ago…they had their mass organization…And out of this very organization and through it, as well as out of all the Germans in Yugoslavia, the Nazi party created a political and military organ for the destruction of Yugoslavia.”
Baldur von Schirach, the leader of the Hitler Youth, denied that Germany had organized the German minority in Serbia as a Fifth Column. But Schirach did concede: “I know that there were young people among the German minority in Yugoslavia….This German youth felt that it belonged to the Hitler Youth, and…these young people welcomed the German troops on their arrival.” An ethnic German surgeon from Pancevo in Vojvodina, Jacob Awender, was accused of advocating the “fullest and complete Nazification” of the Kulturbund in his Vojvodina newspaper Pantschewoer Post (the Pancevo Post). Awender was also accused of seeking a Greater Germany by forming nationalist German organizations that advocated the incorporation of the Banat in Germany, such as the “Active” Youth, which later became the Erneuerer or Rebuilders. He was alleged to have transformed the Kulturbund into a Nazi organization on orders from Nazi Party officials in Stuttgart, Germany.
Nazi gaus were also alleged to have been formed in Vojvodina and gauleiters appointed. The German minority in Vojvodina was further accused of organizing “para-military Hitlerite organizations”.
The German government sought to use the German minority in Serbia and the Balkans as part of the Waffen SS. The plan was devised by Gottlob Berger, the head of the SS Main Office and the organizer of Waffen SS recruitment. Berger sent his plan to Heinrich Himmler. On March 1, 1942, the plan was approved to form a Volunteer Mountain Division made up of ethnic Germans or Volksdeutsche from Serbia and the Balkans.
The “backbone of the division” was made up of ethnic Germans from the Serbian Banat, many of whom had been former officers and NCOs in the Yugoslav Army. The core of the Division was made up of the SS controlled Protection Force or Selbstschutz consisting of Volksdeutsche from Serbia. In 1943, Himmler would introduce compulsory military service for the Volksdeutsche of Serbia. Approximately 21,500 ethnic Germans from Serbia would serve in the Waffen SS.
The staff of the 7th SS Volunteer Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen” was located in the Serbian city of Pancevo in Vojvodina. The division was formed between April and October, 1942. The division was commanded by Romanian Volksdeutsche SS Gruppenfuehrer and Generalleutnant of the Waffen SS, Artur Phleps. Phleps had distinguished himself with the 5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking” on the Eastern Front in Russia in 1941.
By December 31, 1941, the division would be made up of 21,102 men. The officers and NCOs were primarily Reichsdeutsche, Germans from Germany proper, while the enlisted men were Volksdeutsche, ethnic Germans from Serbia and the Balkan countries.
The first large-scale military engagement of the division occurred in October, 1942, when it attacked General Draza Mihailovich’s guerrilla forces in the Kopaonik Mountains.
It was known by the members of the division that they would be fighting primarily Serbian insurgents or guerrillas. A song of the division was as follows:
“Prinz Eugen, the noble troop,
it must scuffle with Serbs,
our trash division!
And many Serbian skulls
And many Serbian maids
Will I soon see fallen…
The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal held that all members of the Waffen SS were war criminals guilty of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes. Laszlo Bardossy, the Hungarian premier from 1941 to 1942, was responsible for the Novi Sad massacres. He was tried on October 29, 1945 in Hungary, found guilty, and hanged on January 10, 1946. Martin Zoldy and Jozsef Grassy, involved in the Novi Sad massacres, were extradited to Yugoslavia where they were tried for war crimes, found guilty, and executed.
In 1944, when the German occupation forces retreated from Serbia, retaliation was taken against German civilians. Vojvodina Germans claim that up to 70,000 ethnic Germans from Vojvodina were killed after the war as collective punishment. The German population of Vojvodina was deported. Camps were set up for Volksdeutsche in Knicanin and Banatski Brestovac. Vojvodina Germans claim that up to 12,500 bodies are buried in the mass grave at Knicanin. While these figures are grossly inflated, hundreds and thousands of Vojvodina Germans were killed after the war. In 1944, the Communist regime under Josip Broz Tito issued a decree that stripped the ethnic Germans in Yugoslavia of citizenship, took away their property, and rescinded their voting rights. This was rationalized as collective punishment for German atrocities and murders committed against Yugoslavs. German property was allocated to migrants from Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro, who settled the region. This was merely a continuation of the cycle of collective punishment, punishing innocent civilians apprehended at random for the alleged crimes of individuals, real and imagined.
Greater Hungary and Greater Albania
Vojvodina mirrors or parallels Kosovo-Metohija. This is not by accident. Vojvodina was created as an autonomous province in Serbia in 1946 by the Communist regime precisely and purposely to amputate Serbian territory, to cut Serbia down to size. Kosovo-Metohija was likewise created as an autonomous province for the same reason. The goal of the Communist dictatorship was the same in both cases: To destroy Serbia dominance. Divide and conquer was the policy. Ever since 1946 there has been the pressure to create a Greater Hungary from Vojvodina and a Greater Albania from Kosovo. The two issues are intertwined. Under the 1974 Yugoslav Communist Constitution, Vojvodina and Kosovo acquired autonomy which was tantamount to republic status, having equal say with Serbia at the federal level.
Every sovereign country has the right to prevent this type of creeping separatism and secession. Indeed, the US fought the Civil War to prevent just this type of secession and “autonomy” by the Southern States of the Confederacy. The US government abolished so-called state’s rights. But these self-same people are the ones who argue that “Balkanization” and secession/separatism are good. If secession and autonomy are so good, why did the US government abolish state’s rights after the Civil War? A fundamental component of national sovereignty is the right to prevent secession and separatism based on ethnicity and religion. This is what the Yugoslav government did in 1989 when it sought to re-integrate Vojvodina and Kosovo into Serbia, of which they are parts. If secession is so good, why didn’t the US allow the Confederacy to secede and create an independent nation? It is blatant and unbridled arrogance and hypocrisy.
In 2004, Vojvodina was swamped with Serbian refugees from Croatia, Krajina, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Slovenia, and Kosovo. Many of those in Vojvodina can trace their origins to refugees escaping massacres in Kosovo by Muslim Albanians and Ottoman Turks. The Vojvodina was settled by Serbian refugees from Kosovo after the first migration of 1690 when Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Arsenije Crnojevich III migrated with 37,000 Serbian families from Kosovo. In the second migration in 1737m Patriarch Arsenije Jovanovich IV left Kosovo with Serbian refugees who settled in Vojvodina to escape the genocide of Muslim Albanian and Turkish forces who then occupied Kosovo-Metohija.
In the 2002 census, Vojvodina had a total population of 2,031,992, which has not changed markedly from the earlier census. In the 1991 census, the population was 2,013,887. The Serbian population of Vojvodina according to the 2002 census is 1,321,807. Serbs make up 65.05% of the population of Vojvodina.
The Hungarian population of Vojvodina is 290,207, or 14.28%. There are 56,637 Slovaks, or 2.79%. There are 56,546 Croats, or 2.78%. Other ethnic groups make up 15.10% of the total population. There are six official languages: Serbian, Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian, Croatian, and Rusyn or Ruthenian. There are 26 ethnic groups in Vojvodina. Novi Sad is the capital and largest city in Vojvodina. Subotica, or Szabadka in Hungarian, is the second largest city.
US lobby groups such as the Hungarian-American Coalition and Center for Hungarian-American Congressional relations (CHACR) have intensified efforts to get the US to create greater “autonomy” for the Hungarian minority in Vojvodina. The autonomy strategy is what they push. In 1999, the Hungarian-American Coalition made the preposterous allegations that the Serbian government was planning to “ethnically cleanse” the Hungarian minority in Vojvodina, which mirrored the phony US propaganda line on Kosovo. To be sure, these lobby groups are inextricably tied to the US government and in many instances function as fronts. The US government is actually pulling all the strings. In 2004, the US sought to test out this policy by alleging that the Hungarian minority was being oppressed/repressed in Vojvodina. It was merely propaganda. Nothing came of it. But these diplomatic exercises are usually dry runs to test out US strategies and tactics.
Is Vojvodina the next Kosovo? To be sure, the US would much prefer that Vojvodina becomes the next Kosovo. US and NATO military bases would be set up in Vojvodina, US economic interests would flood the “independent” Vajdasag or Delvidek, McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, and Kentucky Fried Chicken would open new franchises in Ujvidek, and George Soros and the International Crisis Group (ICG) would bring “democracy” and “economic reforms” to Vojvodina by looting and acquiring the economic assets of the region. Thomas Lantos would not be far behind. But how likely is there a replay of the Kosovo scenario in Vojvodina? The Hungarian population is a minority so the oppressed/repressed majority propaganda of the US government will not work. The population of Vojvodina is 65% Serbian, i.e., Serbian majority. Hungarians also have a declining birth rate so US propagandists and George Soros and the ICG cannot count on demographics a la Kosovo as a pretext for “humanitarian intervention”.
What about human and civil rights violations? Aren’t the Vojvodina Hungarians oppressed/repressed? Why can’t the US “humanitarian interventionism” and “military humanism” rely on that propaganda rationale? The Hungarian minority has full and equal civil and human rights in Vojvodina, they have their own schools, and Hungarian is an official language.
What can the US do to create another bogus Kosovo scenario in Vojvodina? The US strategy will be to create greater “autonomy” for Vojvodina, even establishing a Vojvodina Republic, which will then be induced to secede by the US, much like the US policy on Montenegro. Divide et impera. Divide and rule.
It is a policy of getting one people or nation or religious group to fight another, creating ethnic, racial, and religious enmity where there originally was none. This is the real danger we face. There are persuaders who manipulate us into hating this or that ethnic, religious, or national group so that we can kill them. But it is the persuader and manipulator who benefits, who has a hidden agenda. We are constantly and perpetually fighting bogus and phony wars to impose “democracy” and to prevent “genocide”, to engage in “humanitarian intervention”, to see this or that ethnic and religious group as the enemy. We are manipulated like mindless puppets or cattle. And what is so disgusting is that it is called “freedom”. We have the “freedom” to be cattle and swine. We are appeased by having all the DVD players from China that we can buy, a new SUV, and all the Big Macs we can eat. But we have to ask who is behind the manufacturing of this bogus ethnic and religious enmity? Who stands to benefit from pitting one people against another people, one religion against another?
The US policy has been to dismember the former Yugoslavia into subservient statelets which give the US entrйe into the Balkans. It is all about power. With the breakup of and dismemberment of Serbia, the US gets greater military, political, and economic penetration into the Balkans. More and more McDonald’s restaurants will be popping up with their allure of Big Macs and “freedom fries”. They get “freedom” to buy all the junk food and all the junk they want. They get “freedom” to eat junk food, “freedom” to be overweight, freedom to die of a heart attack before they are 40, “freedom” to be arrogant and mindless. Thus economic self-interest will fuel much of the US strategy in creating a Greater Hungary.
But a bogus genocide and Holocaust propaganda strategy like the US used in Kosovo will not work. Not even US propaganda and infowar technology can conjure that up, not after the genocide hoax of Kosovo in 1999 was exposed. Is anyone going to fall for the “genocide” ploy again? Is anyone that ignorant?
US propaganda will really have to be ingenious to come up with a replay of the Kosovo genocide/Holocaust/ethnic cleansing hoax. But US policy has found a more effective way by employing the Montenegro model. First attain greater “autonomy”, Republic status, and then “independence”, separatism and secession. This is the face of the New World Order today. This is the true nature of American “democracy” and “freedom”.
Braham, Randolph. Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary. NY: Columbia University Press, 1981.
Casagrande, Thomas. Die volksdeutsche SS-Division Prinz Eugen: Die Banater Schwaben und die nationalsozialistischen Kriegsverbrechen. Frankfurt am Main: Campus Verlag, 2003.
Hamburg Institute for Social Research. Translated by Scott Abbott. The German Army and Genocide. NY: The New Press, 1999.
Golubovic, Zvonimir. Translated by Bojan Kozic. The Raid in South Bachka 1942. Novi Sad: History Museum of Vojvodina, 1992.
—Sarvarska Golgota; proterivanje i logorisanje Srba Backa i Baranje 1941-1945. Novi Sad: Matica Srpska, 1995.
Kis, Danilo. “An Interview with Danilo Kis By Brendan Lemon.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction. Spring 1994, 14.1.
Kumm, Otto. Prinz Eugen: The History of the 7. SS-Mountain Division “Prinz Eugen”. Winnipeg, Canada: J.J. Fedorowicz, 1995.
Kramer, Tom D. From Emancipation to Catastrophe. The Rise and Holocaust of Hungarian Jewry. Lanham: University Press of America, 2001.
—–The Occupier’s Crimes in Vojvodina, Book 1. Novi Sad: n.p., 1946.
—–“Centropa Reports. Yugoslavia: Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia—Part II. Jewish Communities in South Slav Lands—Serbia, Vojvodina and Macedonia.” Centropa Quarterly. Volume 5, Summer 2004.
Professor Zvonimir Golubovic’s book The Raid in South Bachka was an invaluable primary source for the material and figures on The Great Raid. I thank him for the research material on this little known and documented period in the Holocaust. I would also like to thank Bojan Kozic for translating the material and for providing the photographs.