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Diary of Đura Rajs

Rajs, Đura Diary 1941
US Holocaust Memorial Museum; Gift of Jovan Rajs

When Axis forces occupied Yugoslavia in 1941, Đorđe Rajs—known as Đura—was an eleven-year-old Jewish boy living with his family in Petrovgrad, a town now called Zrenjanin. On April 6, 1941, German and Italian forces—along with those of their allies Hungary and Bulgaria—invaded Yugoslavia and Greece. Axis forces occupied both countries within weeks and partitioned Yugoslavia into a patchwork of occupied regions, collaborationist regimes, and annexed territories.1 German and Italian authorities established the Independent State of Croatia as a fascist state ruled by the Ustaše—pro-Nazi Croatian fascists. 

Đura Rajs and his family lived in present-day Serbia, which was occupied by the German army and run directly by a German military administration. In the days following the occupation, a number of anti-Jewish and anti-Serbian measures were introduced. Jews in the Banat region—including the Rajs family—were forced to leave their homes and gather in specially designated concentration camps.

The featured diary entries describe how eleven-year-old Đura experienced his family’s deportation into one of these camps. After being deported to Belgrade, the men were immediately transferred to a camp at Topovske šupe, while the women and children were supported by the struggling Belgrade Jewish community.

By the end of 1941, most of the Jewish men had been murdered by German forces in reprisal shootings. The women and children were soon transported to a camp established at the Belgrade fairgrounds, known as Sajmište.2 They were murdered in gas vans by the end of the spring of 1942.3 Đura's family shared the fate of so many other Serbian Jews. His father disappeared at Topovske šupe, while he and his mother were killed at Sajmište. Only Đura's brother Jovan survived.

The country of Yugoslavia was formed after World War I, after the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires. Today the countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Kosovo are the successor states of Yugoslavia. To learn more about World War II in Yugoslavia, see Jozo Tomasevich, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: Occupation and Collaboration (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).


To learn more about the Sajmište concentration camp, see the related Experiencing History item, Letter from Hilda Dajč to Nada Novak.

German occupation authorities introduced harsh retaliatory measures to armed resistance, executing a hundred civilians for one dead German soldier and fifty for a wounded one. Serbian Jewish men had already been rounded up and registered, and German forces targeted them for these reprisal shootings. As a result, practically all Jewish men in Serbia had been executed by the end of 1941. To learn more, see Christopher Browning, Fateful Months: Essays on the Emergence of the Final Solution (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1985).

"Serbo-Croatian" was the name of the language spoken in Yugoslavia. Today it is spoken in the countries of Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. For political reasons, after the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the languages of the successor states were named after the countries themselves: "Croatian" in Croatia, "Bosnian" in Bosnia, etc. Nevertheless, these languages are mutually intelligible and display less variation in terms of grammar, cognate nouns and spelling than British and American English.

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I have dedicated this book to the "Lager." Readers will be surprised and will wonder what a "Lager" is, and what kind of word that is. It's a German word, which, translated into Serbo-Croatian, means camp.1 All Jews of Petrovgrad were resettled into that camp. Earlier the camp was an army barracks, which had been totally neglected and thus full of lice and bedbugs. Before the Jews were moved into the barracks, it was a breeding place for infectious diseases. The courtyard was full of various military things which the retreating Yugoslav army left in great disorder. In the rooms, soldiers unloaded their things from suitcases, trunks, etc. Bedbugs promenaded among those things just like people taking an evening stroll in town. In a word, there was a big mess in this building, and the only inhabitants were lice and bedbugs. We, the children, still lived relatively well because we were together and we were able to play to our hearts' content all day long. But the adults could not boast anything like that. They worked and sweated very hard, and when they returned, the commissar would harass them. And so it went. This book cannot be written in the form of a novel, because it wouldn't have any content, and therefore I am writing in the form of short stories. The stories in this book are not fabrications but rather the plain truth which I lived through. Readers will see how a young boy of 11 feels and imagines the "Lager." Because I am writing this book when I am only 11 years old.

So, let's begin...


Petrovgrad, August 11, 1941 Đura Rajs

Moving to the "Lager"

After the entry of German troops into Petrovgrad, all Jewish males between the ages of 18-60 were taken to a former elementary school and locked up there. They were escorted by guards every day to work at various places. My father was also among them. So it went for about a month. On May 2, 1941, a fateful day for the Jews, an order was issued that all Jews must resettle to the former Hungarian army barracks. The resettlement began... Just to be safe we moved to the house of my grandmother who was also alone because grandpa was also in the school, to await the day when we, too, would have to be resettled. That day soon arrived. On May 8 a police vehicle pulled over with two auxiliary policemen armed to the teeth. They showed us an announcement that said that we must immediately resettle to the barracks. Dad and grandpa then came to help with the move. My uncle Franja, a medical student in Zagreb, who went to the school and voluntarily signed up for labor immediately upon arriving in Petrovgrad, came along with them.

The policemen allowed us to bring along two beds, a sofa, and an armoire. Also a table with four chairs, a wash basin, some food stuffs, and so on and so on. Then we loaded all of that on a cart, bid farewell to our acquaintances, friends, and relatives, and we took off in a carriage to our future apartment, actually to our future jail.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Gift of Jovan Rajs
Accession Number 2012.35.1
Date Created
August 11, 1941
Page(s) 13
Author / Creator
Đorđe Rajs
Zrenjanin, Serbia
Petrovgrad, Yugoslavia (historical)
Document Type Diary
How to Cite Museum Materials

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