The Old Belgrade Fair didn’t exist for years. The memorial complex is left to a small group of people who are inhabited there. The state power has given the walls and roofs of the remaining pavilions to the endangered population , and certain parts were illegally occupied by today’s residents. Time and war have changed the complex program and appearance. The old fair’s current state is another one in a series of phases in time, that in relation to the history of the place, we hope, will take a short period.
It’s been almost 100 years since the Belgrade Fair was first mentioned. In 1923, when the “Association for Terrestrial Exhibitions” decided to form an international fair. The site selecting moment for the construction of the Fair also represents a historical moment, considering that the Old Fairground is the first facility that has been erected “on the other side of the river”. In 1937, a foundation stone was set up in a sandy land, which began the story of the Fair, with all its plot twists. The complex was developing rapidly, in the next six months, 6 pavilions were built, Central Tower, Italian, Hungarian, Romanian and Czechoslovakian pavilion, as well as Spasić pavilion, which was funded by the bargainer Nikola Spasić. The Fair draft and most of the pavilions were designed by the architects Rajko Tatić, Milivoj Tričković and Đorđe Lukić, while the Central Tower and Spasić Pavilion were designed by the architect Aleksandar Sekulić. The fair was conceived as a new city of trade, with a Central tower located in the cross-section of the main pavilion axes. After the first phase, the Turkish pavilion, Shoresman pavilion, the Dutch producers pavilion “Filips” and the German reich pavilion were built. For some time, the fair fulfilled it’s role completely, it flourished as a symbol of industrial and cultural progress. For example, just a year after its construction, “Filips” broadcasted its first television program in the Balkans from the pavilion on the Belgrade fair, and in the same year the Czech car manufacturer “Škoda” constructed a parachute training tower, 74m high, the highest parachute tower in Europe until then
The political circumstances of world proportions alter the course and the Belgrade fair development, the growing influence of the Third reich and the Italian fascist movement was evident. The German reich Pavilion is decorated with flags with Nazi symbols and the Italian pavilion is managed by the National Fascist Institute. The the Yugoslav pavilion construction for concerts and musical events is interrupted by the beginning of the war.
With the air strike on Belgrade, a new chapter of the Belgrade Fair story begins, the war in Serbia lasted for 11 long days, after which Serbia became one of the occupied German states. In December 1941, the Belgrade Fair pavilions were adapted and turned into a concentration camp for the accommodation of the Jewish and Romani population on the Serbian teritory. As the Sava River represented the eastern border of the newly formed Independent State of Croatia, the camp officially stood on their territory, which meant that the staff of the camp could not be Serbs. Already in mid-December, over 7000 people were detained in demolished facilities without basic living conditions. The fair was located in the territory under the local command control in Zemun and the camp was called Judenlager Semlin – The Jewish ConcentrationCamp Zemun. The camp was conceived as a temporary accommodation for Jewish and Romani population who would later be transferred to a shelter in Poland. However, due to inhumane conditions, many people died of frostbite, hunger, pneumonia and various other diseases. There was also a hospital in the camp, located in the Spasić pavilion, where Hilda Dajč was one of the staff. Four letters sent to her friends are preserved and give us the most accurate insight into the conditions of life in the Zemun prison camp. In 1942, it was decided that transportation to the east will not happen, and Germany offered funds to settle the “Jewish issues in Serbia”. That year, a gas truck was brought to the camp, a very simple device that in Germany was also called “The Tool for Killing the Lice “. The gas truck is, in all likelihood, the most ordinary truck, whose exhaust pipe is turned so that all of its exhaust gases go into a hermetically sealed fabric section, which can accommodate up to 100 people. The camp was very quickly discharged, it can also be said very easily since prisoners volunteered for transport thinking that they will be transferred to a labor camp. The information about the gas truck is left to us by the survivor Hedwig Schoenstein, who was acquitted as a Swiss citizen. On May 29, 1942, the head of the Jewish section in the German Foreign Ministry proclaimed Serbia cleansed of Jews, and Serbia became the second country in Europe where a massive and systematic killing of the Jews was carried out. That same year, the Jewish camp was put out of order. From 1942 to 1944 the Belgrade Fair changed its program, but this time much less drastically. The fair become a private camp for dominantly Serb hostages, and in this period tens of thousands of people are still in the camp. The fair finally loses its worst position at the end of 1944, after a bombing in which a large number of pavilions were completely destroyed. After the liberation the Commission for the Investigation of Crimes in the concentration camp was formed, which summarizes the issues and information about the camp as well as the number of victims in it, followed by the period of renewal of the state and the city itself .
The physical structure of the fairgrounds formation as we know it today begins in 1948, with the beginning the construction plans for New Belgrade, when the Youth brigades were located on the premises of the old Belgrade Fair. Spasic, Czechoslovak, Italian, Hungarian, Turkish and Romanian pavilions, as well as the central tower, were successfully rehabilitated. The German pavilion also survived the war, and during the New Belgrade construction it was used as a hangar, the largest, Spasic pavilion (camp hospital) was turned into the General Directorate for the construction of New Belgrade headquarters, while the other pavilions were converted or replaced by the working youth brigades flats. The New Belgrade construction plan was paused due to economic instability and the pavilion program was changed again until further notice.
Smaller pavilions and youth brigade buildings were adapted to housing units while the Central Tower, Czechoslovakian, Turkish and Italian pavilions were used by the Association of Fine Artists of Serbia. A whole generation of artists, painters, sculptors and writers found their place of work and life in the premises of the former fair and camp. The site then became a haven for artists, and the morbid history of the place slowly started to disappear.
There were various attempts to memorize the old fairgrounds, primarily as the biggest monument of the World War II, and then with all its accompanying roles. As mentioned at the beginning of the text, the authorities left these places, they left them with incredibly kind people who have long forgotten the diference between the private and the public, and they will not have any problem with Your visits. Recollection disappears again, there are polemics surrounding the marking of space and yet nothing has noticeably changed over there for years. However, the small things are changing, the mats on the front doors have changed, the flowers and garden dwarfs are changed, the seventy years old floors are changed and the ashes are emptied in the corridors. Now a cable tv and mailboxes are placed. Stakeholders changed.
1. What: Staro Sajmište, former Belgrade Fair, the Jewish concentration camp Zemun, Private Camp, Headquarters of the General Directorate for the construction of New Belgrade and Art Settlement.
2. Where: Staro Sajmište, New Belgrade
3. How to get there: Tram: 7, 9 Bus: 60, 78, 83, 85, 35, 18 Trolleybus: 29 LINK TO THE MAP
4. Entry: There are only a few buildings that can be accessed. The Central Tower is closed and it is not possible to enter. The facilities of the Youth Brigades are open, currently they are social housing buildings, but it is possible to get inside the hallways. From our experience, the inhabitants did not have a problem with it. Spasic’s pavilion is in function of kindergarten and restaurant, if you come in working hours it is possible to walk through the facility. The Italian pavilion is abandoned, the entrance is open and there is no security. Part of the Turkish pavilion is the restaurant “Biber and So”, which is also the only part of the pavilion that can be visited. The Pavilion of the German Reich is also possible to visit, with the current car mechanic workshops.
5. Accessibility Rating: 5/10
6. Dangers: The dangers of buildings collapsing exist in the Italian Pavilion, there is a minimal risk of stray dogs. The inhabitants we met me did not have any problem with our visit.