Saturday, November 3, 2007

Former Nazi concentration camp, site of 48,000 murders, now site of rock concerts

CANOE -- CNEWS - World: Survivors angered over rock concert at former Nazi concentration camp
Survivors of a former Second World War Nazi death camp have long believed that the facility has been neglected, but the use to which it will be put on Saturday has prompted calls for government intervention.

That night, the site of where some 48,000 Jews, Serbs and Gypsies perished in the 1940s will be throbbing to the rhythms of rock music.

For Serbia's small Jewish community, the weekend concert at the Sajmiste camp near the center of Belgrade is the latest indignity to befall a site they say needs to be saved from decades of neglect and deterioration.

"It's like holding a wedding at a graveyard," said Aleksandar Mosic, a Jewish chairman of the camp's memorial center, ahead of Saturday's concert by British band Kosheen.

Nearly all of Belgrade's 8,000 Jews were killed at Sajmiste soon after it was set up in 1941 at the site of the Belgrade Fair exhibition ground, Mosic said. Thousands of leftists and Serb nationalists also were killed at the camp.

What made Sajmiste unique was its location in clear view of Belgrade's residents, on the western bank of the Sava River.
"It was the only death camp in Europe which was so visible," said Mosic, 88, who wants to build a proper memorial to the victims of what he describes as "the forgotten concentration camp."

"The intention was to intimidate the Serb population by letting them see what was going on inside the camp," he said. "For our small nation, the Sajmiste camp was as horrendous as Dachau or Sachenhosen in Germany."

Most of the inmates were murdered while being transported in "gassing trucks" - vans with their exhaust pipes attached to the sealed cabin - to mass graves on Belgrade's outskirts.
Belgrade authorities said they can do nothing about the rock concerts which are now held inside a circular hall topped with a brick tower that used to be the camp's hospital, because the building has been sold to a private entrepreneur.

"It is awful that such concerts are being held there, but the building was illegally sold" by the capital's previous authorities, said New Belgrade mayor Zeljko Ozegovic. "We have been appealing the legality of the purchase for years."

Poseydon, the company that bought the hall, says the concerts simply make business sense.

"The concerts are the most profitable events we can hold here, and this place has to live off something," said company spokesman Nenad Krsmanovic.

Rare Jewish survivors of the camp are outraged.

"Do those people know what really happened here?" said Mihailo Berberijan, 101.

Mosic said the surviving tower should be returned to the state's ownership, and converted into a Holocaust museum containing photographs and documents of the lost Serbian Jews.

A small cracked marble plaque dedicated to the Yugoslav victims is mounted on a wall surrounded by high weeds and empty beer cans. But it doesn't specifically mention the Jews.

"The only former camp in Europe which doesn't have a monument for the killed Jews," Mosic said. "It's our shame."

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