A former concentration camp in Belgrade – the scene of the murders of thousands of Jews during the Second World War – is set to dismantled and transformed into a shopping centre, in a move that has led to consternation among Jewish groups.
The Jewish community in Serbia has condemned the construction project at Topovske Supe, arguing it is “morally not right” to build a shopping centre on a site “from where people have been taken to death”.
“It should be preserved in its authenticity, as a place of remembrance,” Ruben Fuks, the president of the Federation of Jewish communities in Serbia, told The Independent.
He said that Delta, the company that now owns the land and plans to convert it into the shopping centre, has tried to obtain “moral approval” from the federation, which has instead repeatedly expressed its “moral opposition” to the project. It has no legal power to block it.
However, some of the impetus in the campaign against the shopping centre development has been lost after it emerged that one of the main contractors behind the project is Israeli architectural group MYS. Its managing director, Ami Moore, expressed his “disbelief” in the face of the controversy, and denied any wrongdoing.
He said his firm had personally offered to design and contribute €10,000 (£8,540) to the building of a memorial near the shopping centre’s entrance, and argued that his firm and Delta had been discussing the future memorial with the leaders of the Jewish community from the early stages of the construction project.
He condemned the “hypocrisy” of the project’s opponents, saying that the current site is a “disgrace as a memorial”, “full of rats,” and never visited. A memorial should be “visible and accessible” to as many people as possible in order to “educate the next generations,” he said. Under the Nazi occupation of Serbia, an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Jews were detained in the Topovske Supe camp, before being taken to execution sites and killed.
Aleksandra Fulgozi, the deputy director of Serbia’s Agency for Protection for Cultural Monuments, told Reuters that her agency hadn’t received an application for permission to build from Delta, and “would like to save and conserve all the buildings of Topovske Supe, and represent the Holocaust that happened there to the public.”
According to Jovan Byford, a professor at the Open University who has written extensively about Holocaust memorials in Serbia, there is not much the agency can do, as the site was never registered as part of the country’s cultural heritage.
Serbia was one of the first Nazi-occupied territories to be declared “Judenrein” – cleansed of Jews – and an estimated 85 per cent of its then 16,000 Jewish population perished.