The fever (numismatic value)
Commemorative plaques have a special function in history, they should ensure that famous people and events are permanently remembered in an aesthetically pleasant way. In Yugoslavian socialism, remembrance was closely tied to the hierarchy of state and party, medals were awarded for active resistance. Civilian victims were only remembered in exceptional cases. Nowadays, in the times of historical revisionism and fascist movements regaining strength, victims are intentionally left to oblivion in order to avoid remembrance leading to uneasy revelations and insights.
The commemorative plaque for providing a false testimony should transcend the obliteration of memory by connecting the living testimony with the atrocity at the location where the crime was committed. The commemorative plaque should simultaneously overcome the possibility of censorship by being mobile and installable in interior spaces in which the testimony can be guarded and preserved. Commemorative plaques are not artworks. The discovery of a historical site of an event of the Holocaust in present-day Serbia has a different meaning today and other consequences than if such an event had occurred twenty years ago.
In the age of revisionism and the new social norm of appeasement through mutual recognition, it is a call to review the established framework of the political order that still determined hierarchies of victims, in which the testimony, based on forensic findings, is brought to the fore of a new political discourse again. This demand will not necessarily lead to a return to the ethic category of responsibility in contemporary consciousness as long as the other concept, which has the same roots, namely respect, cannot be called upon either.
The permanent marking of the event at the site where it occurred would only serve to make the event a part of the media landscape of a postwar and post-genocide state with its socio-economic and ethnic majorities that still advocate ideologies that are perfectly suitable to stabilise the injustice of the past wars. At the same time, it is not possible not to enter into the discourse and not offer the crime and the testimony of it to the sacrificial altar as long as there is the slightest chance to make the gold in the eye of the “innocent present” sparkle, if not to speak their language, only for a moment, so that the “bearer of the higher meaning”1 which is in no way influenced by the silence of the past, can hear the words of the witness.”
1 Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, Zone Books: New York, 1999.
Photography: Author, Archive of Yugoslavia
- Each attempt of accessing the topic of motivation for producing artworks based on the research of primary historical sources is leading me back toward the similarities among the outcomes of the empathic detachment from the victims of the past, and their actual human condition, as projected by the normalized, recycled cultures onto the liberalized post-transition society. The discrepancy in the interpretation of the unsuccessfully accessed pool of historical collective memory, is what powers the continual cycle of comparison, approximation and compensation, realized through the limiting field of various deterministic cultural theories. Their inherent insufficiencies and presence in the founding myths of totalitarian and nationalist ideologies have prepared the culture for the “day after the witness”, by erasing the basic channels that were enabling empathic relation to victim as the autonomous subject, replacing them with the interpretative field of liberated narratives and their symbols. The byproduct was liberating the methodologies of the past, as well as their ethical consequences. In my work, I try to use my work as a language of historical research to give the voice back to the censored primary historical subject. – The civilian victim.
Deposition of testimony
AJ 110-615-336, AJ 110-615-335
Stamp 1(green, abbreviated): State commission for establishing the crimes of the occupiers and their aides, Inv. No. 16.636, Stamp 2: Archive of Yugoslavia Belgrade
on the hearing of the witness Nešić Branivoje, engineer, performed on 9th of June 1945 at the municipal trustees of the land commission of Serbia for establishing of crimes of the occupiers and their aides in Belgrade.
Member of trusteeship: Ranko Aleksić
Referring clerk: Dr. Mirko Besarović
Witness: Branivoje Nešić
Approached Eng. Branivoje Nešić, presently serving with the Command of River Navigation, settled in Belgrade,Brankova st. No. 5, born in Smederevo, 45 years old, single, Serbian, orthodox.
Continuing, after the witness was warned to speak only the truth under the caution of penal culpability, (he) stated:
Even before the war, as during the occupation, I have been working as an engineer with the Danish group on their barge “Sindhaven” on Sava and Danube.
Toward the end of May 1944 I was with the Danish barge in for the repairs at the Čukarica shipyard, and then one of my officials, Jovanović Velimir have told me that 800m upstream from the shipyard, the people from Čukarica are finding pieces of gold, and that the surroundings are caught in the “gold fever”. I took off at once the aforementioned location with the Danish engineer Per Mouritsen and we have established the following:
On the shore surface about 200sq meters on the clay we have seen metal remains such as: belt buckles, clasps, women’s hairpins, garters for women’s stockings, pins, small knives, shoe-nails, buttons, etc. All these metallic remains were at some high temperature, because on them were visible signs of combustion. Many of these metal parts were tempered in places, deformed, which shows that the cooling process was slow.
We haven’t found teeth, remains of bone, etc. During the tour of this place and those metal remains a lot of people were present and then we have heard that few months before, the Germans were coming at night with trucks and on several occasions dumping trash at that site into Sava. On that occasion, I have asked the people present whether some of them have found any golden teeth, “napoleon” and other golden objects, but I have received from all of them negative answers, out of ear that they would have to return these objects. However, these same citizens have told me that some other residents of Čukarica have found significant numbers of golden teeth, jewelry, napoleons and other golden objects. I remember they have said of a woman who found napoleons in such numbers that for them, she got 200.000 dinars. Furthermore, I heard from those present that some have found napoleons wrapped in tin so skillfully that no one could say that it was anything else but a button.
I have to emphasize especially that in this site I have observed a large number of remains of the buttons from sailor’s suits. Estimating the size and shape of the buttons, I have concluded the buttons were from children’s sailor suits.
Based on all what I have heard and seen, consulting with engineer Mouritsen and other people present we have concluded that these remains as metals have remained from the process of combustion of dressed corpses. By the estimate of engineer Mouritsen and my opinion too, these metallic remains could have been over 5000kgr.
Even as these metallic remains have been burned and were deformed, it could be seen clearly that some of them were of better, more luxurious manufacture, while other were quite simple. From this we have drawn the conclusion that these metallic remains have belonged to people of different social ranks, meaning, economically weaker and economically stronger.
At the time toward end of May, Sava has shallowed considerably, but there was still a significant number of these metallic remains in the water. By the way, these metallic remains were deposited 15-20cm thick in certain places on the clay (partly mixed with the clay and shore pebbles).
All what I have seen was very suspicious to me and have pointed to these metallic remains being left from the destruction of remains of the executed somewhere from the environs of Belgrade, so I have therefore made several photographs. During the photographing we did not collect metal remains, but have conducted the photographing (of the remains) as they were at the site. In order to mark the location accurately (refer) the site where we have found the metallic remains I have made another photograph which I submit. In this photograph I have recorded engineer Mouritsen and clerk Jovanović and some children, while other citizens have run away.
Engineer Mouritsen, Danish, 26 years of age, born in Copenhagen, was forcibly taken away from Belgrade by the Germans as they were leaving Belgrade on 12th of October 1944.
As the Swedish consul in Belgrade Enlund was charge d’ affairs for Danish consul as well, and was acquaintance of mine, so one day engineer Mouritsen, and in connection with the conversation with Swedish consul, went to pick him up on a morcycle and called him to come to the location and see the metallic remains. Whether Swedish consul came or not, isn’t known to me, as I have by that time travelled to Smederevo, and when I came back Swedish consul has already returned to Sweden.
When I asked the citizens about thedate of the dumping of the “trash” by the Germans into the Sava, I couldn’t get the definitive information on when this took place, but based on these metallic remains were dispersed and mudded, it could be concluded that this dumping happened at most 3-4 months prior to our seeing this.
My statement was read to me, I recognize it as my own and If need be, I can swear upon it as well.
Certified by: (hand signature)
Referrer: (hand signature)
Member of the trusteeship: (hand signature)
Stamp 3: City Trusteeship of the Land Commission of Serbia for the establishment of Crimes of the Occupiers and their Abbetors.
In No. 1121
Archive: Archive of Yugoslavia Sig. AJ 110-615-336, AJ 110-615-335, Published in: Milovan Pisarri “Fragments on the Holocaust in Belgrade” in “Zbornik 10” : Studije, arhivska i memoarska građa o Jevrejima Jugoslavije, Jevrejski istorijski muzej – Beograd = Jewish studies 10 : Studies, archival and memorial materials (about Yugoslav Jews), Jewish historical museum – Belgrade, 2015, 10, 393-414.