Serbia rescued more Jews than any other part of the former Yugoslavia during the Holocaust. Yad Vashem , The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority, has awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations, those who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust, to 127 individuals from Serbia, which is the highest number for the former Yugoslavia.
On December 2, 2008, Arthur Koll, the Israeli Ambassador to Serbia, presented to the children and grandchildren of Borivoje Bondzic, Grozdana Bondzic, Ljubica Mandusic-Gazikalovic, and Jelica Rankovic the Righteous Among the Nations award. They are the descendants of Serbs who during the Holocaust risked their own lives and the lives of their family members to save Jews in the Kosovo town of Prizren and in Aleksandrovac in Serbia. Ambassador Koll remembered their rescue: “Their courage and selflessness will forever remain in our memory.”
Israeli Ambassador to Serbia Arthur Koll, left, with Sinisa Rankovic, the son of Jelica Rankovic, and, on right, Aleksandar Levi, the son of Josef Levi, who was saved in Prizren from the Nazis by a Kosovo Serb family
Yad Vashem recognized the Kosovo Serb widow Ljubica Mandusic-Gazikalovic, who risked her life and the lives of her children to save the lives of Jews in Kosovo during the Holocaust. From November, 1941 to March, 1943, she hid the Josef Levi family in her home in Prizren. Josef Levi and his family had fled from Nazi-occupied Belgrade. Ljubica lived in Prizren with her two children. Ljubica and her eighteen-year old daughter constructed a secret hiding place for the Levi family in the garden of their Prizren home.
Prizren would subsequently be a base for the Albanian “Kosovar” Muslim Nazi SS Division Skanderbeg and would be the location for the Nazi-sponsored Second League of Prizren, the Nazi-endorsed plan to make Kosovo a part of a Greater Albania. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini had detached Kosovo from Serbia and had annexed it to Albania in 1941. In 1944, the Albanian “Kosovar” Nazi SS Division Skanderbeg had rounded up Kosovo Jews for transport to the Nazi concentration camps. Over 200 of the Kosovo Jews would die at Bergen-Belsen. Albania sent ten to twelve Jews to Bergen-Belsen. The Albanian role in the Holocaust, however, was censored, suppressed, and covered up. The perpetrators of genocide were changed into victims.
From 1942 to 1943, Borivoje and Grozdana Bondzic hid Julija Dajc in their house in Aleksandrovac in southern Serbia. Julija was pregnant at the time, subsequently giving birth to her son Ilan Doron. Both survived due to the rescue efforts of the Bondzic family.
Serbia and Serbs played a role in attempting to save the Jewish refugees of the Kladovo Transport, who were stranded for sixteen months in limbo after their departure in 1939. The Kladovo Transport was an illegal transport, aliya bet, of 1,300 Jewish refugees from Vienna, Berlin, Danzig, and Czechoslovakia who sought to emigrate to Palestine. Palestine was occupied by Britain which had restricted immigration to Palestine in the White Paper of May, 1939. The refugee transport had been organized by the Hehalutz Zionist youth movement in Vienna in the fall of 1939. The refugees were to be trasported down the Danube River, passing through Bratislava, Slovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Romania, to the Romanian port city of Sulina where they were to board ships for Palestine. In Yugoslavia, the refugees were transferred to three Yugoslav riverboats, the Kraljica Marija, the Czar Dusan, and the Czar Nichola II. The British government intervened, however, to attempt to stop the transport. The Yugoslav government allowed the refugees to stay at Kladovo until the Danube thawed. The Jewish refugees were given food, shelter, and lodging in Kladovo where they moved in with Serbian families. In August, 1940, a refugee camp was set up in the Serbian town of Sabac on the Sava River.
The mayor of Sabac, Miodrag Petrovic, allowed the refugees to disembark in the town and provided housing for them. The refugees were housed in private homes, a flour mill, the Hotel Paris, and a warehouse. Jakov Vukosavljevic, the owner of the mill, ensured that housing and lodging were provided.
In March, 1941, an estimated 200 to 280 of the Kladovo refugees were able to obtain immigration certificates and to emigrate to Palestine.
In Novi Sad in Vojvodina, Dr. Dusan Jovanovic, a Serbian physician, saved twenty Jews by concealing them in the municipal hospital.
Serbia and Serbs played a major role in rescuing Jews during the Holocaust. Yad Vashem has awarded the most Righteous Among the Nation medals to individuals from Serbia, 127, than from any other part of the former Yugoslavia.
By Carl K. Savich