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By Carl Savich
Vojvodina was annexed to a Greater Hungary during the Holocaust where 4,620 Vojvodina Serbs and 3,310 Jews were killed from 1941 to 1945. During the Great Raid of 1942, up to 3,928 civilians were killed, consisting of 2,662 Serbs and 1,103 Jews. Beginning on January 20, 1942, Hungarian occupation forces in Novi Sad killed up to 1,800 civilians, made up of 813 Jews and 380 Serbs. The victims were executed and thrown onto the frozen Danube River. 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. These killings were by the Hungarian Army, known as the Honvedseg or Hungarian Armed Forces, Hungarian police force known as the Magyar Kiralyi Csendorseg, or the Royal Hungarian Gendarmes, and home guards or nemzetorsegek, consisting of local Hungarians and Germans. The Banat region of Vojvodina was placed under direct German military control. Local ethnic Germans, volksdeutsche, were conscripted into the Waffen SS by the Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler.
The Holocaust in Vojvodina is rarely covered in the so-called West. Thus, the Holocaust in Vojvodina remains largely unknown and the story untold.
The Roots of Anti-Semitism in Hungary
The pre-World War II Jewish population of Hungary was 725,005. There were an additional 100,000 converts to Christianity who would be classified as Jews under the anti-Jewish Laws passed in the 1938-42 period. In 1910, the Jewish population of the Hungarian regions of Austria-Hungary numbered 911,227, when it was at its peak.
After the defeat in World War I, a new Hungarian government was formed on October 31, 1918 by Count Mihaly Karolyi. Karolyi sought to maintain a tenuous democratic-socialist coalition government. The Allies undermined the stability of the Karolyi government by allowing Yugoslavia (then “The Serb-Croat-Slovene State”), Czechoslovakia, and Romania, to send occupation troops into formerly Hungarian territory that they claimed. The provisions of the Belgrade Armistice of November 13, 1918 were constantly altered to their advantage. Hungary was treated as a defeated and enemy state. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, were allowed by the Allies to send civil administrators and to establish a civil administration in the formerly Hungarian territory they claimed. The demarcation lines were constantly altered to the disadvantage of Hungary. Moreover, the Allies placed an economic blockade on Hungary to force Hungary to accept the territorial changes. French Lieutenant-Colonel Ferdinand Vyx, who represented the Allied occupation of Hungary in Budapest, submitted a memorandum on March 20, 1919 in which he requested that Hungary cede more territory to Romania. These measures led to the collapse of the Karolyi government and the emergence of the Bela Kun dictatorship.
The Karolyi government was overthrown and a Hungarian Soviet government resulted. From March 21 to August 1, 1919, a Communist/Bolshevik dictatorship was established by Bela Kun, who proclaimed Hungary a Soviet Republic on June 25. Kun was a Jewish-Hungarian Marxist/Bolshevik. Revolutionary Tribunals were established and a Red Scare was launched. This Terror was organized by Tibor Szamuelly, the Commissar for Military Affairs, who proclaimed: “Terror is the principal weapon of our regime.” There were 590 executions for “crimes against the revolution”. Kun himself stated: “We must inspire the revolution with the blood of the bourgeois exploiters.” “People’s Commissars” were established made up of Josef Pogany and Tibor Szamuelly. The Bolshevik/Soviet/Communist Red Terror under the Kun dictatorship did a lot to stir up anti-Jewish sentiment in Hungary.
Kun had been a POW in 1915 in Russia during World War I, was indoctrinated in Russia, and sent back to Hungary. The perception at that time was that Communism/Bolshevism/Marxism were primarily Jewish ideologies meant to create a single, world government or state. Winston Churchill analyzed this wide-spread perception in a 1920 article. Winston Churchill, in a February 8, 1920 article in the Illustrated Sunday Herald, “Zionism versus Bolshevism: A Struggle for the Soul of the Jewish people”, placed Jews in three categories, “’National’ Jews”, “International Jews”, and “Terrorist Jews”. Churchill maintained that the Russian revolutionaries were primarily Jewish and that the Red Terror in Russia was mostly organized by Jews. Churchill accused Leon Trostsky, who he classified a “Terrorist Jew”, of wanting to create “a world-wide Communist State under Jewish domination.”
The Kun regime was brutal against enemies of the proletariat, attacking members of the nobility, the Hungarian Roman Catholic hierarchy, and the Hungarian peasants. Grain was forcefully expropriated from the peasants. These violent actions lead to the collapse of the Kun dictatorship as it lost any popular support. The Bela Kun Bolshevik/Communist dictatorship, however, created a backlash against Hungarian Jews. The majority of Hungarian Jews, however, did not support Kun. Moreover, the majority of Hungarian Jews also were victimized under the Kun dictatorship. Randolph Braham noted: “[P]opular opinion tended----because of the role of a small number of Bolsheviks of Jewish origin---to place the burden of the abortive Communist dictatorship on the Jews as a whole, even though the overwhelming majority of the Hungarian jews had suffered from and opposed the adventure of Bela Kun.”
Former Austro-Hungarian Admiral Miklos Horthy overthrew the Kun dictatorship and established his own right-wing regime and instituted a “White Terror”. The Kun dictatorship was instrumental in generating anti-Semitism in Hungary. Jews were increasingly associated with Marxism, Soviet “Bolshevism”, Communism, anarchism-syndicalism. For the Hungarian people, the fact that struck out in the Kun dictatorship was that Bela Kun was a Jew. That Bela Kun, a Jewish Marxist, could seize power in Hungary and establish a Soviet Bolshevist Government in Hungary only aggravated anti-Jewish sentiment in Hungary. All of the Jews in Hungary were viewed with suspicion and dread after the Bela Kun dictatorship.
There was not only the perceived threat from movements that were increasingly seen as Jewish in nature, Marxism/Bolshevism/Stalinism/Trotskyism/Communism, but also from a growing Zionist movement. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 was a pledge by Britain that it would establish a Jewish Homeland in Palestine. Before the start of World War II, there were several Zionist organizations in Hungary. The perception that Zionism created was that Jews were “a nation within a nation”, a transient people on their way to Palestine. Moreover, Jews in Hungary were disproportionately represented in industry, commerce, the media, higher education, the professions, such as medicine and law. On September, 1920, the Numerus Clausus Act, Law No. XXV, was promulgated, limiting the number of Jews who could be admitted to schools of higher learning. This was the first anti-Jewish law after World War I in Europe.
There was a perceived Jewish economic and cultural “domination” in Hungary.
In an October 14, 1940 letter to Pal Teleki, Miklos Horthy wrote: “As regards
the Jewish problem, I have been an anti-Semite throughout my life. I have
never had contact with Jews. I have considered it intolerable that here
in Hungary everything, every factory, bank, large fortune, business, theater,
press, commerce, etc., should be in Jewish hands, and that the Jews should
be the image reflected of Hungary, especially abroad. … [I]t is impossible,
in a year or two, to eliminate the Jews who have everything in their hands…”
On August 2, 1941, a Race Law, No. XV, based on the Nuremberg Race Laws, was passed. In Part IV of the law, “The Prohibition of Marriage between Jews and Non-Jews”, the racial definition of what constituted a Jew was adopted as in the German Nuremberg Race Laws of 1935. The third anti-Jewish law in Hungary resulted because Germany had awarded the Serbian province of Vojvodina or Delvidek to Hungary and Northern Transylvania from Romania. A result of the annexation was that Hungary adopted the Nuremberg Race Laws, which was the quid pro quo for being awarded Serbian territory by Germany.
From August 27 to 28, 1941, the first executions of Hungarian Jews began when 16,000-18,000 “alien” Jews who had been deported from Hungary were killed in Kamanets-Podolsk in the occupied region of the USSR.
These were the events that lead to the massacres in Vojvodina in January, 1942, when over 3,000 people were killed by Hungarian military forces in the Novi Sad, or Ujvidek, area, most of whom were Serbs, but including nearly 1,000 Jews.
Delvidek and Greater Hungary
Hungarian foreign policy in 1940 consisted of reacquiring the territories lost to Yugoslavia after World War I under the Trianon Treaty. Hungary, however, did not want to go to war with Yugoslavia, but preferred a diplomatic settlement. Moreover, German foreign policy sought to induce Yugoslavia to join the Tripartite Pact by ensuring the territorial integrity of Yugoslavia. German and Hungarian policies were thus at cross purposes. In December, 1941, Hungary and Yugoslavia signed a “treaty of peace and eternal friendship” and agreed “to consult together on all questions which, in their opinion, affect their mutual relationship”. An oral agreement was reached under which Yugoslavia would provide “cultural facilities” for the Hungarian minority in Vojvodina. One objective of this agreement was to clear the way for Yugoslavia joining the Tripartite Pact. On March 25, 1941, Yugoslav Prime Minister Dragisa Cvetkovic and Foreign Minister Dimitrije Cincar-Markovic signed the Tripartite Pact in Vienna. General Dusan Simic lead a coup that overthrew this government two days later.
Hitler then launched Operation Punishment against Yugoslavia from bases in Hungary. Hitler pledged to give to Hungary the Bacska and the Banat regions lost after World War I, and access to the Mediterranean by use of the port at Fiume, which Hungary had likewise lost under the Trianon Treaty. Under the March 28 agreement with Hitler, Hungarian troops invaded Yugoslavia on April 11, occupying the Bacska, the Baranya Triangle, Prekomurje or Muravidek, and Medjumurje or Murakos. This territory was formally annexed to Hungary on December 27, 1941.
The population of the newly-annexed territory from Yugoslavia consisted of approximately one million people, 14,202 of which were Jews. The largest Jewish population lived in the four largest cities of the Bacs-Bodrog County, Subotica/Szabadka, 3,549, Novi Sad/Ujvidek, 3,621, Senta/Zenta, 1,432, and Sombor/Zombor, 1,011. The rest of the Jewish population was as follows: Ada, 326, Topolya, 319, Ujverbasz, 302, Obecse, 234, Palanka, 269. In Muravidek, the largest Jewish settlement was in Csaktornya, with a population of 482. Most of the Jews of Delvidek spoke Hungarian.
Serbia proper and the Banat were placed under direct German military occupation. On April 13, 1941, a day after the occupation of Belgrade by German troops, German forces and Volksdeutsche looted and ransacked Jewish businesses and stores. German occupation forces ordered Jews to register with the police. Out of a population of 12,000, 9,145 Jews were so registered. 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.
The pre-war Jewish population of Vojvodina was 19,200, with 14,800 in Bachka, and 4,400 in Banat. In August, 1941, German occupation forces began incarcerating Jewish males from Vojvodina, who were subsequently sent to the Topovske Supe concentration camp outside of Belgrade. They were then transported in groups for execution. In December, 1941, Jewish women and children from Vojvodina were taken to the Sajmiste camp outside of Belgrade where most of them were gassed to death in mobile gas vans between March and May, 1942.
In the Vojvodina city of Zrenjanin in Banat, Jews were rounded up by German forces. The Jewish deportees, up to 2,500, were photographed being marched out of the city carrying their suitcases and other belongings.
In Senta, Hungarian gendarmes were photographed overseeing forced Jewish laborers in May, 1941. In 1942, forced labor battalions, consisting of 4,000 men, were formed by Hungarian occupation forces made up of Jews and Serbs between the ages of 21-48.
Synagogues were attacked. The interior of the Senta synagogue was destroyed. In Irig, outside of Srem, a prison was established. Jews were ordered to wear the “Judenstern”, or Jewish star, in Delvidek. Jewish laborers also had identification documents or zsoldkonyv and pay books stamped with the letters “Zs” for Zsido, Hungarian for Jew.
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.
Jewish Settlement in Vojvodina
Vojvodina had a total Jewish population of approximately 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.
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.
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.
In the interwar years, Hungary sought to destabilize Yugoslavia so that there could be a territorial revision of the Trianon Treaty. Hungary sought to regain the territory lost to Yugoslavia following World War I. 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 regime of Admiral Miklos Horthy 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.
Regent Admiral Miklos Horthy also joined with fascist Italy under Benito Mussolini and Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler in attacking Versailles and seeking a territorial reorganization or revision that would restore lost lands to Hungary. Ferenc Szalasi, an ex-army major, founded the fascist anti-Semitic Arrow Cross Party (Nyilas Keresztes) in the 1930s. By 1939, there were 500,000 members in the party and 31 members were elected to the Hungarian parliament.
The first Jewish Law was promulgated in 1938 under Prime Minister Kalman Daranyi, which put a quota of 20% for Jews in the professions and restricted Jewish civil rights. Bela Imredy, the Prime Minister in 1938-39, drafted a second, harsher anti-Semitic Jewish Law but was forced to resign in February, 1939. In August, 1941, a third anti-Jewish law was passed in Hungary when racial laws were adopted in Hungary modeled on the Nuremberg Race Laws which forbade sexual relations between Jews and non-Jews.
Hungary initiated not only anti-Jewish policies, but anti-Serbian policies as well, 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:
Serbian resistance and guerrilla groups emerged immediately after the German/Hungarian/Axis invasion and occupation of Yugoslavia. After the German and Axis invasion of the USSR on June 22, 1941, there was an intensification of Serbian guerrilla activity in Yugoslavia. Serbian guerrillas were active in the German-occupied Banat, from where they launched attacks into the Bachka. An area that was targeted was the Sajkaska or Sajkas, a Serbian-majority region, the triangular area formed by the confluence of the Danube and Tisza Rivers. Hungarian officials decided to go after the Serbian resistance groups in a campaign meant to “smoke out the nest”. Hungarian gendarmerie forces conducted house-to-house searches near the village of Zhabalj or Zsablya. During this action, six Hungarian gendarmes were reportedly killed by Serbian guerrillas.
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. Insurgents were killed in the assault, while six others were captured and later executed. The local commander of the Hungarian gendarmerie, Colonel Ferenc Fothy, contacted the Prefect of Bacs-Bodrog County, Peter Fernbach, to address the issue of the Serbian resistance. Fernbach contacted the Hungarian Minister of the Interior, Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer, requesting reinforcements. Keresztes-Fischer then obtained the assent of the Council of Ministers and Regent Horthy to send in the Honvedseg or Hungarian Army into the Delvidek or Vojvodina region.
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.
At a meeting held in Budapest, Hungary on January 12, Ferenc Keresztes-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 the Banat
The Banat was under German military and civil administration. The Germans instituted anti-Jewish measures immediately after the German invasion and occupation of Yugoslavia. The Jewish population of the city of Zrenjanin was rounded up and sent to the Tasmajdan concentration camp near Belgrade where they were executed. In August, 1942, German officials announced that the area was judenrein, or cleansed of Jews. In September, 1941, there was a mass hanging of Serbian and Jewish civilians. In Senta, the interior of the Jewish synagogue was destroyed. German forces also photographed themselves forcing a Jewish rabbi to wash their Mercedes Benz automobile. Jews were also forced into labor battalions to do forced work for the German occupation authorities.
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.
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. On the third day of the Hungarian occupation in 1941, 500 residents were reportedly killed. The Jewish community was threatened with deportation to the Independent State of Croatia unless a 5 million dinar ransom was paid. Eventually, 34 million dinars were raised. There is a Jewish cemetery at the end of Egon Stark and a memorial to the Vojvodina Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The “Cold Days”: The Great Raid in Novi Sad
The raid on Novi Sad, Ujvidek in Hungarian, Neusatz in German, began on January 20, 1942 when Hungarian Army troops or Honvedseg under Hungarian Major-General Jozsef Grassy surrounded and sealed off the city with gendarmes from Szekszard under the command of Captain Marton Zoldi. Feketehalmy-Czeydner met with Colonel Lajos Gal, who commanded the local gendarmerie. They were told that the military would take control of the city for three days to “clean up”. Novi Sad was divided into eight sectors. Suspects were rounded up and assembled at the central headquarters where they were examined and interrogated by “screening committees” or igazolo bizottsagok, established in the Levente headquarters, the paramilitary Hungarian youth organization. Zolti charged that his troops had been fired on. The pretext for the raid was a small rebellion that occurred outside the city.
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. The first murders occurred on Miletic Street, where 30 to 40 men, women, and children were executed by being shot with rifles after being forced to lie down on the snowy street. Another group of Serbs and Jews was executed at the intersection of Miletic and Grckoskolska streets. At the Belgrade Pier in Novi Sad, 60 people were executed.
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. At the Uspensko Serbian Orthodox Cemetery, 250 people were executed. At the NAK sport stadium, the naked victims were told that those who ran the fastest would be spared. Hungarian forces machine-gunned everyone.
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 stripped of their clothes and lined up in four rows. Many of the victims pleaded to be killed because the “cold was unbearable”. A Hungarian execution squad under Gusztav Korompay 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.
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.
In Subotica, the largest city in Bachka, 250 residents were killed in the first days of the occupation. A concentration camp was set up in Subotica, as well as in Stari Bechej, and Bachka Topola, where 2,000 Jews passed through. In May, 1944, the Jews interned at the Subotica camp were transported to Baja in Hungary proper, from where they were sent to Auschwitz. Approximately 2,250 Subotica Jews survived the Holocaust when Vojvodina was part of the Nazi-created Greater Hungary.
In Senta/Zenta, the interior of the synagogue was destroyed during the May 1941 to 1942 period. Before World War II, there were Jewish elementary schools in Senta and Zrenjanin. There were yeshivot or Jewish religious schools in Senta, Subotica, Kanjiza, and Ilok. There is also “Eugene Island”, a memorial to Eugene de Savoye who defeated an Ottoman Turkish invasion there on September 11, 1697. There is a Jewish cemetery in Senta at Dubrovacka Street 18 with a memorial to the thousands of Jews killed during World War II.
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, while 110 were Serbs.
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.
Prinz Eugen Nazi SS Division
The German government sought to use the German minority in Serbia and the Balkans as part of the Waffen SS. There was an ethnic German population in Yugoslavia before World War II that numbered up to 700,000, most of whom lived in the Banat region of Vojvodina. This German population was known as the Donau Schwaben, who initially settled the region in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries to areas that were conquered by Prince Eugene of Savoy for Austria-Hungary. The German settlers were from the Suebi or Swabian and Alemannic regions around Stuttgart and settled the regions of the Banat when the Muslim Ottoman Turks had been expelled. The German immigrants came from Baden-Wurtemberg, Alsace-Lorraine, the Rhineland-Palatinate, Switzerland, and other regions of Austria. Many were forced or coerced to join the SS.
The plan to incorporate the Schwaben volksdeutsche into the SS 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 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, a Siebenburger Sachsen, was born in 1881 in Birthalm, a city in Transylvania, known as Siebenburgen or Erdely, when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was a decorated officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army during World War I. He became an officer in the Romanian Army in 1919. He had distinguished himself with the 5th SS Panzer Division “Wiking” on the Eastern Front in Russia in 1941. Phleps was killed on September 21, 1944 near Arad during the Soviet offensive in Transylvania.
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.
Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler, “the architect of genocide”, visited the Prinz Eugen SS Division and inspected the troops along with Phleps. Himmler was photographed with Phleps and the chief of his personal staff SS Gruppenfuehrer Karl Wolff talking to troops in the Prinz Eugen SS Division. Wehrmacht Oberleutnant Kurt Waldheim also was photographed reviewing a company of honor of the Prinz Eugen SS Division in 1943 with SS Gruppenfuehrer Artur Phleps in the airport outside Podgorica, Montenegro on May 23, 1943. Waldheim was photographed with Generalleutnant Rudolf Lueters, the commander of German forces in Croatia and Italian General Escola Roncaglia. Waldheim received a medal from the Ustasha regime during the Kozara operation in the NDH. He was an interpreter and intelligence officer at that time.
The Prinz Eugen SS Division was deployed throughout the former Yugoslavia to combat guerrilla forces. The division was accused of committing the worst atrocities against POWs and civilians during World War II at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials.
On April 25-26, 1944, Jews from Bachka and Baranja were deported. Up to 4,000 Jews from the Novi Sad area were interned at Subotica. Jews from eastern Bachka were sent to the Baja concentration camp in Hungary proper. From here, they were transported to Auschwitz, were most were killed. In 1952, the Jewish population of Vojvodina was a s follows: Novi Sad, 275, Subotica, 403, Sombor, 46, Senta, 28, and Pancevo, 34. This was the population after the emigration to Israel of Holocaust survivors.
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. Marton Zoldi 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 the Delvidek region, the total number murdered consisted of 3,309, including 141 children and 299 elderly men and women based on the data of Randolph Braham. Of this number, Serbs made up 2,550 victims while Jews made up about 700 victims. Zvonimir Golubovic determined that there were 3,928 victims during the Great Raid, 2,662 of whom were Serbs, and 1,103 of whom were Jews. In Novi Sad, 879 people were killed, including 53 women and children and 90 elderly men. In the Novi Sad massacres, Jews made up 550 of the victims, 292 consisted of Serbs, 13 Russians, and 11 Hungarians according to the data and research of Randolph Braham. Zvonimir Golubovic found that the number of victims in the Novi Sad raid consisted of 1,800, consisting of 813 Jews and 380 Serbs. The massacres and executions in Vojvodina were part of the larger Holocaust that occurred in Hungary proper.
Braham, Randolph. Politics of Genocide: The Holocaust in Hungary. NY: Columbia University Press, 1981.
---Eichmann and the Destruction of Hungarian Jewry. NY: World Federation of Hungarian Jews, distributed by Twayne, 1961.
---The Destruction of Hungarian Jewry: A Documentary Account. NY: Pro
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.