• Arhiv Vojvodine
  • Arhiv Vojvodine

ORIGINAL GERMAN DOCUMENTS RELATED TO WAR CRIMES IN THE INDEPENDENT STATE OF CROATIA (ISC) STORED AT THE ARCHIVES OF VOJVODINA

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ORIGINAL GERMAN DOCUMENTS  RELATED TO WAR CRIMES IN THE INDEPENDENT STATE OF CROATIA (ISC)  STORED AT THE ARCHIVES OF VOJVODINA

One of the archival fonds kept in the Archives of Vojvodina recently raised huge public attention in Serbia. The fonds is F.562 or personal fonds of Slavko Odić (1915–2006). Actually, it is one dossier of that fonds in particular that received close attention. It is the dossier with archival signature F.562.3.1.1.2. While these numbers do not mean much to someone not affiliated with the archival science, it might be expected that those interested in the topic of war crimes in ISC will certainly very well remember the said signature.

Slavko Odić, born in Bihać, Bosnia and Herzegovina, was member of Partisan movement, awarded by Commemorative Medal of the Partisans of 1941. After the war, Odić, a reserve colonel, worked in the ministries of internal and external affairs and in diplomacy as the consul general in Toronto. At the same time, Odić wrote several notable historiographical books, focused mainly, but not exclusively, on subjects related to the activities of secret services in occupied Yugoslavia. His interest in secret services might be explained by the fact that during a part of his military career he was a member of the Department for People's Protection or OZNA, the Yugoslavian intelligence agency at the time. With the background and status of a member of Yugoslavian communist elite, Odić gained access to an archive unavailable to general public.

Not long after Odić’s death, seven boxes of his personal archive found their way to the Archives of Vojvodina. Due to limited staff and resources, the archive was not arranged and processed immediately. But after one archivist had started working on it, he became amazed – archive contained a lot of interesting and valuable documents. Some of them were even originals created by the occupation authorities, among which was the dossier later marked by the archival signature F.562.3.1.1.2.

This dossier is consisted of huge quantity of documents - more than 600 sheets of paper. It was titled in Serbian “Ustashe Atrocities in ISC”. By closer examination, the archivist determined that almost all of the documents in the dossier were in fact in German, dated 1941/1942: they were either made by German intelligence institutions in Croatia and Serbia, or by Serbian collaborationist government departments, mainly Commission for refugees. Some of the documents were letters or reports of individuals, prominent citizens or commanders of paramilitary units, which were translated into German. Significant portion of the documents are related to atrocities committed in the Jasenovac concentration camp. In addition to that, there were 63 photographs of inmates of ISC death camps and victims of the first massacre of Serbs in ISC, committed in the village of Gudovac near Bjelovar in April 1941. All photographs, along with brief descriptions, were attached to the paper sheets with memo and sign of the head of the Nazi security police in Serbia (Befehlshaber der Sicherheitspolizei und des Sicherheitsdienstes in Belgrad, abbr. BdS). Since there were a lot of documents with sign of or directed to BdS, the archivists assumed that the dossier was perhaps made by the institution of BdS, who might had been interested in what was happening in ISC for intelligence reasons. However, further proofs for that assumption need yet to be provided.

After the potential significance of the dossier was realized, the Archives of Vojvodina immediately applied for a grant from the Ministry of Culture. Granted funds will be used for publication of the dossier, which will be translated into Serbian. Apart from general introduction, the book will also contain articles about the documents in the dossier, written by prominent experts in the field of war crimes committed in the occupied Yugoslavia. The original documents in digital form will also be attached to the book. Regarding culture of remembrance, publication of this dossier will be of great importance for several reasons: it has already been mentioned it contains huge number of original documents made by occupation authorities and secret services; those documents are related to the same subject – atrocities in ISC; it is most likely that the majority of those documents have not been published previously, have been unknown or incomplete.

The dossier is currently unavailable to the public, in order to avoid the risk of potential damage of its valuable documents. However, digital copy has already been made and it can be browsed on the Archives’ premises.

 

ARCHIVAL FONDS F.183 OF THE ARCHIVES OF VOJVODINA: INTRODUCTION

However, there are much more documents related to atrocities in ISC which are stored at the Archives of Vojvodina. While F.562.3.1.1.2. dossier contains original German and collaborationist documents, another archival fonds of the Archives holds documents made and collected at the end or just after the war, with significant portion of occupiers’ documents as well. These records are direct evidences of crimes committed by Ustashe regime in one part of the Serbian northern province of Vojvodina – Srem.

As WWII was coming to its end, newly established authorities in Yugoslavia, which Serbia was part of at the time, expressed strong will to identify and sentence perpetrators of numerous war crimes. For that purpose, the State Commission for Investigation of Crimes Committed by the Occupiers and their Collaborators was formed. Since post-war Yugoslavia was constituted as federation, the State Commission was operating on federal level. Commissions were also formed for each one of six federal units. These commissions were subordinated to the State Commission. Although part of Serbia, Vojvodina had its own commission; its name was the Commission for Investigation of Crimes Committed by the Occupiers and their Collaborators in Vojvodina (in further text: The Commission). It was formed in 1944 and placed in the capital of the province, Novi Sad.

Vojvodina was the only part of Serbia and former Yugoslavia which was partitioned among three occupation forces. North-west part of province, Bačka, was annexed by Hungary. East part, Banat, was formally part of occupied Serbia, but effectively it was autonomous region which was controlled by local German population. Finally, south-west part of Vojvodina, Srem, was annexed by ISC. Each occupation force established its own authorities and brought their own troops and paramilitary units. Since Vojvodina is ethnically very diverse region – today on its territory live more than 26 ethnic groups, which is the main reason of its autonomous status –  some parts of its population greeted the occupiers as liberators, whilst others, if not being neutral, greatly contributed to communist-led Partisan resistance movement, which had the most persistent strongholds in Srem. Political and ethnic confrontations, combined with different styles of occupation governance, resulted in great variety of war crimes committed against parts of local population, but principally against Serbs, Jews and Roma. Subsequently, that variety was reflected in organizational structure and method of work of the Commission.

The Commission collected information and evidences of war crimes through its branches on the level of districts, municipalities and local communities. All information were categorized according to occupation zone and according to type of war crime. Additionally, the Commission formed special, subordinated survey commissions, which purpose was to actively search for information related to typical, the most prominent and the most representative crimes committed in specific areas of Vojvodina or by or on certain ethnic groups. One of these survey commissions was Survey commission for Srem.

After formation, the Survey commission for Srem started with series of hearings of victims and witnesses of war crimes, together with collecting evidences, mostly in form of documents of occupation authorities. Collected information was aggregated with those gathered by other branches and survey commissions of the Commission. The final result was detailed, book-shaped reports. Eight books were published in total, one for each type of crime committed in Srem:[1]

  1. Introduction
  2. Beginning of the occupation and creation of ISC
  3. Devastation and robbery of cultural and artistic artifacts, as well as churches and monasteries
  4. Crimes of great župan Jakob Eliker and his associates
  5. Mobile kangaroo courts in Srem and Viktor Tomić’s action
  6. Crimes of Anton Bauer and his associates
  7. Camps
  8. Retreat

Raw data, records, documents and other evidences of crimes committed in Srem were put in the Commission’s archive after the books were published.

 

HOLOCAUST RELATED RECORDS IN ARCHIVAL FONDS F.183     

F.183 is not just great source of documents related to crimes committed by the Ustashe and other occupiers in Vojvodina, but also a very valuable depository of numerous Holocaust related records. Part of the Commission was also Survey commission for crimes committed against Jews. Reasons for that are obvious. As of 70.000 Jews who lived in pre-war Yugoslavia, 24.750, or 35 percent, according to the Commission, lived in Vojvodina. Of all of them, only 3.532 survived, which means that near 86 percent of Jewish population in Vojvodina perished in the Holocaust. This was unpreceded mass-crime in Vojvodina, where none of the previous wars or ethnic conflicts ended in almost total annihilation of one of its ethnic communities.

Survey commission for crimes committed against Jews operated in the same manner as Survey commission for Srem and other survey commissions. Its final result was also a book, titled Crimes of the Occupiers and their Collaborators against Jews.

 

AVAILABILITY OF DOCUMENTS RELATED TO HOLOCAUST AND ISC-CRIMES

After fulfilling its mission, the Commission for Investigation of Crimes Committed by the Occupiers and their Collaborators in Vojvodina terminated its work in 1947, while its competences were taken over by the Public Prosecution of Vojvodina. After two decades, the Archives of Vojvodina started to receive parts of the archive of the Commission. Received archival records were grouped together in archival fonds (or record group), according to the archival principle of provenance, which says that all records created or received by one record keeping unit should not be intermixed with those of any other. Fonds got its archival signature, F.183,[2] and after most of records were received, process of arrangement started. As result, we have fonds F.183 in current form. All records of which fonds is consisted are divided in series of documents (or subgroups). Within the series, documents are arranged either by inventory numbers of the Commission and its branches and survey commissions, or alphabetically by personal or geographical names, depending of type of document. For the purpose of this text, we’ll focus only on series which contains ISC-crimes and Holocaust related records.

  1. Inventar dokumenata Anketne komisije, shortened AK INV, which could be

 translated as ’’Inventory of documents of the Survey commission’’. This series mostly contains records of hearings of victims, witnesses and, to lesser extent, perpetrators of war crimes, then occupiers’ documents and printed materials and, finally, all other archival records which were used to reconstruct major war crimes and to provide evidence against people who were suspected to be perpetrators. Whole series contains more than 30.000 files with total amount of 94 archival boxes or 11,28 linear meters. The easiest way to find ISC-crimes and Holocaust related documents in this series is via books made by survey commissions, since almost all assertions and accusations in books are connected with inventory numbers of documents which were sources for said assertions. Some books have even inventories of cited documents (not the book made by Survey commission for crimes committed against Jews, though).

As of amount of Holocaust related documents, there is very loose estimation of at least six to seven hundred those in AK INV, although their total amount could exceed one or perhaps even two thousand. There must be at least eight to ten times more ISC-crimes related records in this series.

  1. b) Prijave or ’’Reports’’. This series contains reports of war crimes, which were collected by branches of the Commission placed in local communities. All reports were submitted in printed forms and by victims or their family members, relatives, friends or neighbors. Each report contains information about perpetrator (name, names of parents, age, nationality, place of origin, last known address, occupation, rank in service, role in execution of crime), victim (name, names of parents, occupation, age, place of origin, religion, nationality, marital status, address, names of persons dependent of victim and their family relationship with victim), crime (where it is committed, type of crime, date and place of execution, way and means of execution, evidence, description of material damage and amount of it in currency) and names of persons who submitted and received report. Great value of this series, specifically regarding the Holocaust, is that for whole families who disappeared other persons submitted reports; therefore, it could be the last trace of them and of crucial significance for their identification. Prijave is very large series, with total amount of 284 archival boxes or 34,08 linear meters. Exact number of reports of crimes committed against Jewish victims is not easy to determine, since the reports were grouped by geographical places (i.e. names of towns and villages where they were submitted). Although the Commission made lists of reports by names of victims, that is still very unreliable way to identify Jewish victims, because a lot of Jewish names were modified to sound more like names of their non-Jewish neighbors, especially in Bačka region. So, estimation could be given only indirectly, considering total amount of Jewish victims, which was, like it was mentioned before, above 20.000 persons. If we assume that reports for just ten percent of them were submitted, we’ll get the number of 2000 reports. Still, that’s very modest estimation, considering that there was possibility to submit several reports for one person if that person was victim of several crimes (which happened) and that there was strong pressure from authorities to identify as much crimes and victims as possible. More accurate, but still very speculative estimation would be more than ten thousand reports of crimes committed against Jews.
  2. c) Series containing correspondence of the Commission, its branches and survey commissions: Prepiska (Correspondence) and a couple of others with more complex structure, which will for purpose of this text be designated simply as Povereništva (District branches) and Anketne komisije (Survey commissions). Most of documents in these series are technical, regarding the providing means for unhindered functioning of the Commission and its branches, but periodically some interesting documents appear, like in series which holds records of the Sajmište concentration camp survey commission. Total amount of this series is 80 boxes or 9,6 linear meters.
  3. d) Žrtve i oštećenici (Victims and injured parties). This series contain lists of victims grouped geographically, and then by type of crime.
  4. e) Analitički obrađeni predmeti or literally ‘’Analytically processed files’’. This series contains records that couldn’t be put in other series for various reasons. Hence, they’re placed at the end of archival fonds and each of them was shortly described. Those descriptions are in digital form, so series is easy to search.
  5. f) This series is consisted of five boxes of photographs of different provenance. Part of them are originals, while others are copies. Two boxes contain photographs of Lepoglava and Stara Gradiška camps victims (later was part of the Jasenovac camp system). Photographs depict different atrocities committed by the Ustashe and have very graphic and gruesome content, in sense that some crimes are pictured in all their phases, step by step. The origin of this photographs is yet to be revealed. Still, they might represent archival materials of huge value, especially because it is unknown if the originals are preserved.

Other series of documents of F.183, not mentioned here, contain valuable records as well, but mostly regarding the perpetrators. Also, huge parts of those records were created on information collected from documents that are held in series already described here.

[1] Researchers and archivists usually call these reports elaborati, which is plural of Serbian word ‘’elaborat’’, meaning study, report or survey.

[2] Full name of archival fonds F.183 is: AV, F.183, Komisija za utvrđivanje zločina okupatora i njihovih pomagača u Vojvodini – Novi Sad (1944 – 1948), 1941 – 1950. It is consisted of 81 books and 593 boxes of archival records. Its total size is 73,7 linear metres.

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