The goal of this paper is to illustrate the suffering of Jews in the Yugoslav territory during World War Two, based on a few pieces of information about each person killed.
Of the 75,000 Jews living in the country before the war, about 60,000 perished in the Holocaust. Excluding Germany and Russia, the relatively largest number of Jews was killed in Yugoslavia (80%), right after Poland (89.6%) and Slovakia (80.3%).
In April 1941, Yugoslavia was occupied and dismembered. The Independent State of Croatia (NDH) was created with the support from its allies Germany and Italy; Serbia and Slovenia were dismembered, and Germany, Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria annexed parts of the Yugoslav territory.
In terms of chances of survival, the fate of Jews varied depending on the part of the territory of occupied Yugoslavia in which they lived.
The paper relied on data from the Museum of Genocide Victims, Belgrade, the database of victims. When composing the database, a process which took almost two years, the author had an opportunity to pay close attention to each individual victim several times.
Data on each victim include one sentence stating the following: name, father’s name and surname, year of death, who the killer was (not always), where the victim was killed, place and manner of death (not always).
When examining the data on certain victims, the author realised that entries on some of the victims were duplicated when the entries were made due to one data that differed: the year of birth or death, the cause of death, the letters in the surname… We can label such errors as unintentional, occurring during the automatic approach to data processing. At the level of all data on victims, this was the case with around 10,000 entries, which is slightly more than 1% of the total number of victims.
When it comes to Jews, we may presume that the intention was to reduce the number of Jewish victims, given that the number of incorrect entries – where the nationality was incorrectly stated to be other than Jewish – was far above 1%, namely almost 10%.
These were mostly Jews in Zagreb (Croats), Belgrade (Serbs) and other major cities (Table 1).
Table 1: Jews in other nationalities
It is possible (as suggested by the data on a much higher number of Jews killed than the number of Jews listed in the 1931 population census) that some of these are persons who converted from Judaism to either Catholicism or Orthodoxy. However, common liquidation sites in camps and by year suggest that this is very unlikely.
Data on the holocaust, based on the victims being classified under one of the possible criteria, are listed below.
Table 2 presents data on the total number of murdered Jews born in the territory of Yugoslavia. The dynamics of their suffering was dictated by the fate of Jews in occupied territories: most of the Jews from Serbia were liquidated in 1941, from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1942 (in Jasenovac and other NDH camps), from Macedonia in 1943, while Jews who were taken from Yugoslavia to Auschwitz and other German camps were killed in 1944 and 1945.
Jews also lost their lives during bombings, as well as in mass or individual shootings and in other manners for the entire duration of World War Two in Yugoslavia, as presented in Table 6.
Table 2: Statistics of Jews killed, presented by year, sex and age
|0 to 10||2756||2.507||5.263|
|11 to 20||3831||3.517||7.348|
|21 to 30||3701||3.406||7.107|
|31 to 40||4826||4.459||9.285|
|41 to 50||6663||6.713||13.376|
|51 to 60||3604||3.509||7.113|
|61 and over||3573||3.744||7.317|
Data by age include an overestimated number of victims aged 41 to 50 and, consequently, an underestimated number of victims in all other age groups. For a large number of victims the year of birth was listed as 9999, which the author changed into 1900.
A certain number of children was rescued from Yugoslavia and sent to Israel either before the occupation or during the early period of occupation, via countries through which this could be organised. In this sense, it would be interesting to see the age composition of the 15,000 Jews from Yugoslavia who survived the war.
Table 3 shows the number of Jews killed by each occupied territory, but not by the perpetrator of the killings. Most of the murdered Jews were born in Croatia, followed by the ones born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bačka and Macedonia.
Table 3: Killed Jews by occupied territory
|Killed by teritory of occupation|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||11.452||Croats|
|Istra and Dalmatia||650||Italians|
|Baranja and Prekomurje||477||Hungarians|
|Kosovo and Metohia||89||Italians|
The next table (4) shows the number of Jews registered in the 1931 census and the number of those liquidated in World War Two. Relative to the number in the census, a complete annihilation of Jews would have meant 10–15% more killed persons. The table lists several towns where this percentage is significantly higher.
Based on Table 4 we may conclude that the largest number of liquidated Jews was in Croatia (and Bosnia), but that almost 100% of Jews born in Macedonia were taken to Treblinka from the territory under Bulgarian occupation.
Table 4: Number of Jews according to the 1931 census, and the number of those killed in World War Two
|Num.1931||Ocupation||Killed||% of 1931|
|Novi Sad, grad||3.135||Hungarians||3.012||96,1|
Table 5 shows how many Jews were killed in Yugoslavia during World War Two and by whom. By far the largest number of Jews was killed by Germans (48.8%) and Croats (38,2%). For 10.4% of the killed the executors could not be determined, though it is likely that this number should be added to the percentage of Jews killed by Germans and Croats given that these were liquidations in unspecified camps, or during combat or bombings, but without specifying who the combat was fought against or who performed the bombings.
Table 5: Who killed the Jews?
Table 6 presents information about the cause of death, as well as the sex and age of the murdered persons, and is the most detailed information about the manner of the suffering of Jews in the then Yugoslavia.
The fight against fascism took the lives of 468 Jews, which is 0.7% of the number in the 1931 census. This data is not comparable with other nationalities in Yugoslavia, because, while young members of other nationalities were for the most part conscripted and died at the end of the war (not counting Serbs in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia), most of the Jews were killed at the beginning of the war, therefore this is a much larger percentage if compared to the number of survivors (around 3% of the survivors).
Data on the number of Jews killed in combat or during bombings can be a helpful tool when attempting to imagine Jews hiding in towns. The largest number of Jews killed during the bombing was recorded in 1941 (the attack of Germany on Yugoslavia), and the smallest in 1942 (7), while between 1943 and 1945 Jews were killed during the Allied bombings of large towns in Yugoslavia and the fight for the liberation from Germans.
A total of Jews killed in direct executions – 2,141 of them – were often liquidated together with Serbs. Along with Serbs, Germans killed Jews in mass shootings in Kragujevac and Kraljevo, Hungarians performed a mass execution in Novi Sad, while Croats did mass liquidations of Serbs together with Jews (and the Roma).
Liquidations of Jews in churches, pits, rivers and camps for children indicate that they shared the fate of Serbs who were killed in mass liquidations outside camps. The number of Jews liquidated in pits (4) and rivers (2) is significantly higher than the recorded numbers given that 636 Jews were liquidated in the Jadovno camp by being thrown in the pit, while Hungarians in Novi Sad killed hundreds of Jews by throwing them in the Danube.
Of the total number of Jews killed in World War Two, as many as 92.7% were killed or died in concentration camps.
Table 6: How Jews were killed
|When the fighting and bombing||1941||21||13||34|
|in direct terror||1941||397||240||637|
|Camps for prisoners of war||1941||10||1||11|
|Thrown into a pit||4||0||4|
|Thrown into a river||3||1||4|
|Camp for kids||8||5||13|
|on forced labor||1941||13||6||19|
More Jews from the Yugoslav territory were liquidated in Jasenovac, including a number of camps in its vicinity, than in Auschwitz. The exact number and the difference between the number of liquidated in these two camps cannot be accurately determined due to the large number of persons liquidated without specifying the camp where this occurred (4,972 in Yugoslavia).
According to “The Holocaust in Zagreb of Ivo and Slavko Goldstein”, by protosingel Jovan (Ćulibrk), “50% of the Zagreb Jews were found killed in Jasenovac, 30% in Auschwitz or in some other camp outside of Yugoslavia and 20% in the NDH or somewhere else”.
According to data on killed persons, “only” 2,436 of those born in Zagreb were registered in Jasenovac and 341 in Stara Gradiška, meaning that around 2,000 persons registered under “unknown” (2,799) or “camp” (768) were in fact killed in Jasenovac. This increases the number of people killed in Jasenovac and the neighbouring camps (14,916) by around 17,000. If we include Đakovo (because surviving women from this camp were taken to Jasenovac for liquidation), the number of murdered Jews amounts to 21.700.
The stories of Jasenovac and Auschwitz should not take the focus away from other camps where monstrous crimes were also committed, including Jadovno, Pag, Zagreb, Loborgrad and other liquidation sites.
Jews born in Yugoslavia had one of the relatively highest rates of annihilation in the European territory. This was the consequence of (1) the occupation of Serbia and Slovenia, (2) territorial expansion of German allies (Hungary, Bulgaria, Italy and Albania) and (3) formation of the Croatian state which liquidated Jews (together with Serbs and the Roma) on its own initiative at its territory.
This paper aims to present almost all available statistics on the suffering of Jews based on only one sentence recorded about each victim.
- Croatian state commission for establishing crimes of occupying forces and their assistants “Crimes in the Jasenovac camp”
- Israeli – Serbian academic exchange in Holocaust research. Collection of papers from academic conference, Jerusalem – Yad Vashem, 15-20 June 2006, Museum of genocide victims.
- Jazbec S. “Koričan”, Topola, Donja Gradina 2017, pp 95-108.
- Miletić Antun “The assassinated in the Jasenovac concentration camp 1941–1945”, Gambit, Jagodina
- Museum of genocide victims, Belgrade, database of victims
- Resultats definitifs du recensement de la population du 31 mars 1931
- Tuleković T, Motl D. “Concentration camp Jasenovac 1941”, Memorial zone Donja Gradina
- Vukliš V. “Završni izveštaj dr Dušana Nedeljkovića o radu Državne komisije za utvrđivanje zločina okupatora i njihovih pomagača“, Topola, Donja Gradina 2016, book 2, pp 164-247
- Yitzhak Arad, Edit. “The pictorial history of the Holocaust”, Yad Vashem
Appendix table: Places with more than 10 Jews killed
|Place||Num.of Jews||Killed by:||Male||Female||Place||Num.of Jews||Killed by:||Male||Female|
|Stara gradiška||2.005||Croats||490||1.515||Topovske šupe||1.657||Germans||1.655||2|
|Gradina kod jasenovca||42||Croats||36||6||Šabac||43||Germans||28||15|
 Yitzhak Arad, Edit. The Pictorial History of the Holocaust, Yad Vashem, page 241.