Press announcement:

The Center for Public History held a press conference on October 28, 2019, to launch an initiative to preserve the former Topovske Šupe concentration camp. Speakers on the conference were: Director of the Center for Public History – Milovan Pisarri, representative of the Jewish Community of Belgrade – Brana Popovic and representative of the National Council of the Roma Minority – Zlatomir Jovanovic. The conference was moderated by journalist Gordana Nesovic.

The Topovske Šupe was one of the first concentration camps for Jews and Roma in Europe, located close to the very centre of Belgrade. According to the available estimates from August to November 1941, about 5,000 male Jews and 1,500 male Roma passed through it only to be killed in the killing sites around Belgrade. Today, the site of the former Topovske Šupe concentration camp is abandoned, unknown to the general public, with its demolition imminent due to the announced construction of a shopping mall.

Initiative for protection of the Topovske šupe is part of the the project “Mapping the Holocaust – preservation of the Topovske šupe camp”, led by a team from the Center for Public History, in collaboration with partners from Germany – Culture and more, and is supported by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the Claims Conference and the Federation of Jewish Communities of Serbia.

Milovan Pisarri, historian and director of the Center for Public History, spoke about the importance of the initiative precisely because of the importance of the location where was before one of the first concentration camps in Europe for Jews and Roma that is currently threatened with destruction. The initiative will strive to protect the buildings of the former camp – “Through this initiative, we want to gather as much material as possible about the history of this place. We invite all citizens to contact the Center for Public History if they know anything, because very little is known about this camp. In addition to the research, it is important to raise awareness of this place for the citizens of Belgrade, and through a series of activities, such as guided tours to the Topovske šupe, we will educate public about its history and importance. Things are happening in Europe today that we thought would never happen again, I think above all about the rise of the right wing and the attitude towards migrants, which are terrible politics. Preserving the memory of what happened 80 years ago is a key thing in education. We need to be aware that there have been certain politics that have caused the deaths of millions of people. One way to prevent this from happening again is through a culture of memory and education about what happened, “Pisarri said. The director of the Center for Public History also pointed out that a public campaign will be launched to preserve Topovske šupe and to collect signatures for its preservation internationally. Pisarri said the main goal of the initiative is to prevent the demolition of the buildings and the next step is a memorial proposal – “The Topovske šupe are under the protection of the City Bureau of Urbanism, and they have been drafted into the law on the Sajmište, which is very important message for us.”

Brana Popovic, a representative of the Jewish Community of Belgrade, said that almost everyone from the Jewish community have someone who was killed there. “Today, we are rightly dismayed when authorities throw a family out on the street. This happened to 5000 people here, who were taken from their apartments and became hostages. What is terrible is that nobody cares about this any more. If you stop anyone on the street and ask what what was going on here, no one will know. The culture of memory does not exist. If you don’t remember what happened, it will happen again. The buildings are in terrible condition, I’m not even sure they can be renovated. But those buildings should be monuments. I do not understand why this is the spot where the shopping mall has to be built. It’s a huge space, why exactly where those two buildings are it needs to be built. My grandfather was in that camp as well, that’s my personal story. If we let that memory to fail, there is a danger of it all happening again. ” Popovic concluded that the draft law on Sajmište should take into account the protection of Topovske šupe in more detail and that its protection should be better defined.

Zlatomir Jovanovic, a representative of the National Roma Council, stressed that the importance of memories is to remind us of what once happened just to never happen again. “Topovske šupe are very important for the Roma community. For 24 years, the Roma did not speak the Romani language because they lived in fear, and when you kill a language, you also destroy the people. It is important to preserve this place, it is important for the Roma community. The Topovske šupe are a landmark of the suffering of the Roma people and serve as a warning that this will never happen again. We all have to agree on the idea of preserving the Topovske šupe. That is the landmark of human suffering. ”Jovanovic agreed that the draft law on the Sajmište should take into account the protection of Topovske šupe and that protection should be better defined.

Daily newspaper Danas about the initiative: https://www.danas.rs/drustvo/pisarri-zastititi-nekadasnji-logor-topovske-supe-od-propadanja/

Video from the conference: https://youtu.be/Ttt85yagdzU

Photo by Vladimir Opsenica