…the field, and the cave which was therein, and all the trees that were in the field, that were in all the borders round about, (Genesis 23:16)
The work’s title is about the record of testimony of the mass-shootings of Jewish and Roma hostages taken from the camp Topovske Šupe, and is reproduced as part of the work. The title quote (Genesis 23:16) describes the contract on the transfer of ownership in the purchase of the burial plot by patriarch Abraham. The event was witnessed by the descendants of both the seller and the buyer, guaranteeing the safety of the graves in generations to come. Te plot described in the bible also fits the description of the execution site in Rakovica. Opening of the narrative on the significance and role the graves of the patriarchs and victims of the Holocaust and their neglect problematizes the coupled state – church sovereignty, as well as private ownership over the concentration camps and mass executions sites of Belgrade. In 2013, the announced demolition of the camp “Topovske Šupe” will start it’s transformation into a shopping mall. This work is a modest attempt at paying homage to executed hostages, that have never allowed themselves to endanger their families; and also to those that have summoned the courage to disregard the threat of death, cast a look at the suffering of their fellow citizens, and pass on the memory of their dignity.
- Commemorative Plaques occupy a special place in history by ensuring that prominent people and events are permanently recorded in a beautiful and everlasting way. In Yugoslav socialism, the tradition of remembrance was tied to the hierarchy of the party and state, by order of merit earned in resistance. Civilian victims were recalled only in extraordinary cases. Inversely, in times of the historical revisionism and surge of fascism, the victims are forgotten intentionally if remembrance was to lead to uncomfortable revelations. The commemorative plaque of a misplaced record of testimony is meant to transcend the erasure by reconnecting the living testimony of the atrocity back to the site where it happened. It is meant also to overcome the possibility of censure as it is meant to be mobile and installable in indoor conditions, where that testimony can be guarded. It is not a work of art.
The works of artists participating in the exhibition Missing Places deal with the urban areas with changed functions in the conditions of economic and cultural transition. Although originating from two very different environments, Belgrade and Tuscany, they come across familiar experiences and describe similar processes. The photographs that are thus formed deal with diverse processes of vanishing. We observe, in our time, the vanishing of places, ways of life, identities, memories. A “missing place” is a paradigm of a compromised identity and a reflection of a “missing citizen”. Dejan Atanacković, curator.
Record of testimony
The record of testimony of the witness of the execution of a large group of hostages from the “Topovske Šupe” camp on Autokomanda in Belgrade. The witness has testified on the location and the course of the execution.
Testimony of Svetislav Radojcic
In 1941, I was a ticket seller and a dispatcher at the Jajinci train station. The building where my office was located is on the rail line, 200 meters away from the Rakovica Monastery. To the left of the Rakovica monastery, 300 meters from the monastery under the field of Mika Jovanović from Resnik, there is a place called “Zelenjak” in a valley. In the summer of 1941, German soldiers conducted exercises at ” Zelenjak “. I often observed this from my office from a distance of 200 meters by air.
On October 14th, 1941, at 8 o’clock, while on duty, I noticed that under the strong guard of German soldiers, some people were being transported to ” Zelenjak “, and that the Germans were carrying what resembled two wooden ammo crates. The group numbered 80 to 100 people. At the same time, the Germans placed guards around “Zelenjak” site at 400-500 meters, blocking off the entire area. Two German soldiers came to the train station and asked me where the railway is heading to. As soon as this group arrived, one half of them started digging a trench, taking turns. The digging lasted until 11am.
Shortly after 11 o’clock, a German officer came to the station, who was inspecting the guards in the area gave an order, through the soldiers who were guarding the station, that no one should leave the building or stand at the windows.
About quarter to 12 I heard the first volley. I jumped from the bench and through the window I saw that in ” Zelenjak “, the German soldiers were standing, armed. At the same moment, I noticed that a group of 10 to 15 people were approaching the monastery at a running pace, through the gauntlet of Germans toward the grave. When they reached the grave they were lined up on the edge of the trench into a single file, facing the German soldiers, who were facing them 40 meters from the grave in two rows with rifles in “Attention” stance. I saw as they then turned to face the grave and the slope of the hill, and then I noticed that a German standing on the side of a line of German troops had lifted up a wooden flag, upon which, the Germans lifted their rifles to shoulder, he waved the flag and the soldiers fired a volley. People fell into the grave and two German soldiers came over the grave and fired several pistol shots into it. After 5-10 minutes I saw the same scene. The civilians running towards the grave, the Germans lining up, firing, they are falling into the grave, and this continued until 4 pm. I have counted 27 volleys.
As I was not allowed to leave the building or stand at the window itself, and since the distance from my building to the crime scene was 200 meters by line of sight, I could not see exactly the characters of the people who were shot or the Germans who did the shooting. I saw that they were running in groups of about 15 people, that people did not have their coats on, but that they were only in shirts with hats on their heads. As the doors and windows of my office were closed, I did not hear any shouting, yelling, or moaning. I have noticed that in one group at the end of the shooting, one man, when lined up before the grave, was hit with a rifle butt by a German soldier, fell over, but immediately jumped up and stood in line. There were no other incidents and everyone calmly approached the killing site.
At about 4 pm, German soldiers began to cover up the grave and have finished that work by about 6 pm when they withdrew the guard posts. After they left it was almost dark, I went to the site and saw a fresh mound of earth and in some places blood.
Some 20 days after the day of the shooting, I saw that dogs were gathering around the grave and that the gendarmes were firing at the dogs so as they wouldn’t dig up the grave.
In March 1944, I saw that some people under German supervision were enclosing the site with a cane fence about 3 meters tall, and the next day they started burning fires that smoked throughout the day. This continued for the next five days. I could not take closer look at what they were doing, but I went after they finished work and I saw that there was a fire near the grave and that there was burnt ground which is still visible today.
As far as I noticed, about 100 Germans took part in the execution of all of this, some of whom were standing guard in the surrounding area, others formed a gauntlet, from the place where they unloaded people all the way to the grave, while others carried out the shootings. The firing squad numbered about 40 people. Above the railway and in the direction of the killing site, the Germans have set up a machine gun post to secure the route, preventing the escape of those sentenced to shootings.
I have nothing else to say, I will take an oath, as the record has been read to me .
 AJ, 110-384-628.
The existence of the forgotten killing sites was uncovered by researchers working in the Archives of Yugoslavia on unreported testimonies of until now, unknown 1941 mass-executions sites in Belgrade. The find was confirmed through multiple records of testimony given by witness otherwise unrelated to each other.
Archive: Archive of Yugoslavia, Sig. AJ 110-384-628, 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. More at: Center for Holocaust Research and Education, CHRE