Remembering the Victims: The Memorial to the Victims in the Novi Sad Jewish Cemetery

On the eve of World War II, Novi Sad had approximately 61,000 residents. Its population was heterogeneous – with Serbs, Hungarians, and Germans being the main ethnic groups. Jews numbered about 4,400. The community was Neolog and middle-class. The Zionist Association held the majority in the Jewish Community Board. The Jewish Political Party had representatives in the city council. The appearance of the Jews as a national group in the city council strengthened the sense of Jewish identity and belonging to both Jewish community and to their city.

Fig. 1 Jewish elementary school pupils, 1930s, Jewish Community Novi Sad Archives

In April 1941, Yugoslavia was invaded, and its northern parts, including Novi Sad, were annexed by Hungary. Occupation forces immediately began with individual arrests, torture, and murders. Soon after Jewish men of draft age were mobilized in forced labor brigades. Between January 21 and 23, 1942, Hungarian soldiers, gendarmes, and local civil authorities conducted the raid during which they rounded up about 20,000 civilians – almost entire Jewish and Serbian population of the city. Under the pretext of destroying the remains of the rebel units, people were murdered in their homes, on the streets, and on the banks of Danube, shot to death and thrown into the river. Identified number of victims is about 1,400 – out of which 874 were Jews. This means that in three days Novi Sad Jewish community lost one-fifth of its members.

The German occupation of Hungary marked a new phase of terror against the Jews. On April 26, 1944, 1,900 Jews were rounded up in the synagogue from where they were deported to concentration camps, mainly to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where most of them were murdered.

Some 750 Jews survived the Holocaust, from which more than a half left for Israel. The small community continued to exist until the present day.

The monument entitled “The Monument to the Victims of Fascist Terror” was unveiled in 1952 at the Jewish cemetery, dedicated to all Novi Sad Jewish victims of World War II.

Fig. 2 Sculptor Dejan Bešlin, Monument to the Victims of Fascist Terror, Jewish Cemetery, unveiled 1 September 1952, 67 Dózsa György Street, Jewish Community Novi Sad Archives

The memorial by sculptor Dejan Bešlin, made of white marble, includes a vertical marker topped by an urn. The marker is inscribed with years “1941–1945” and decorated with a bas-relief of the Menorah depicted as on the emblem of Israel. The marker is surrounded by four pillars covered by a roof that features Magen David. A path filled with pebbles leads to the memorial.  

The plaque with the inscriptions in Serbo-Croatian and in Hebrew commemorating “4,000 Jews of Novi Sad who perished as victims of fascism 1941–1945” is at the foot of the marker. The inscriptions in two languages are identical apart from the closing sentence in Hebrew – omitted in Serbo-Croatian: “Remember God with all the righteous of the world,” followed by the traditional Jewish blessing for the deceased “May their souls be bound in the bundle of life.”

Fig. 3 Monument to the Victims of Fascist Terror, Jewish Cemetery, detail with the inscription, Jewish Community Novi Sad Archives


The history of the monument can be traced back to 1947, when the Jewish Community Novi Sad organized a competition for the design of a memorial to the Jewish victims of World War II. From the minutes of the community’s board, we know that five works were submitted, and the committee decided to grant three prizes – the first to the renowned architect and painter Đorđe Tabaković, the second to the engineer Leo Goldner, and the third to the sculptor Dejan Bešlin, whose proposal was chosen in the end for construction.

Fig. 4 The minutes of the Jewish community’s board dated 17 December 1947, Jewish Community Novi Sad Archives

Based on a letter in which the memorial is described in detail, and on an unsigned sketch (probably Bešlin’s), we know that the memorial was supposed to look slightly different. The column that features the menorah and the urn was supposed to feature a woman, with, according to the description “a sad expression on her face” standing by the eternal flame.

Fig. 5 A sketch for the memorial, probably by sculptor Dejan Bešlin, Jewish Community Novi Sad Archives

There is no documentation as to why the original design was altered, however if could be related to the general trend of moving away from the figurative commemorative sculpture (less probably to Judaism’s prohibition of making graven images), or perhaps the community leaders found it appropriate to incorporporate in the memorial the national symbols of the state of Israel, established in the meantime. We have also the final sketch for the memorial held in the Jewish Community Novi Sad Archives.

Fig. 6 The final sketch for the memorial with the stamp of the stonemason Franjo Olah, Jewish Community Novi Sad Archives

Due to various technical obstacles along with the lack of fonds, the monument planned to be unveiled in April 1951 on the anniversary of the deportation, was unveiled on September 1, 1952, as part of a larger action by the Federation of Jewish Communities of Yugoslavia to unveil central monuments to the victims in five larger Jewish centers.

The unveiling ceremony was attended by Yugoslav state and Communist Party officials and Israeli and U. S. Jewish delegates. The event was fully covered by the mass media and well-documented in a series of photographs taken during the inauguration ceremony. The official support for the commemoration and the invitation of representatives from abroad were related to Tito’s attempt to establish a place for the country within a broader international context that included western countries.

Fig. 7 The unveiling ceremony, 1 September 1952, Jewish Community Novi Sad Archives

Interestingly, later ceremonies were not held on any of the important dates for the Jewish community, but on July 4 – Fighter’s Day, a public holiday marking the uprising of the people of Yugoslavia. The answer lies in the fact that the remains of eight members of the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia, of Jewish descent, who fell as victims of the occupation forces in the fall of 1941, were buried in the cemetery. The commemorations were organized jointly by the Jewish community and the Federation of Veterans’ Associations of the People’s Liberation War until 1984 when the remains were removed to a new memorial-cemetery to the fallen fighters unveiled in the Novi Sad New Cemetery. The Fighter’s Day commemorations continued to be organized at the new memorial, while at the Jewish cemetery, the commemoration day was moved to July 7 – the Day of the Uprising of the People of Serbia, ranking lower in the hierarchy of public holidays. Since 2005, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day – January 27, has been marked by the memorial.


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