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Letter from Bukić Pijade to Đ.

Pijade, Bukić letter 1943
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade
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tags: bureaucracy depression health & hygiene

type: Letter

Unlike Hilda Dajč, who had found herself in a camp specifically for Jews, Bukić Pijade lived in a different kind of camp. After the Germans "solved the Jewish question" in Serbia by murdering all Jews by the end of the spring of 1942, only "illegal Jews"—those in hiding or those in the ranks of Tito's communist resistance army—remained alive. The collaborationist government of Milan Nedić was merciless in hunting down and executing Jews and communists; many of those "illegals" (and like the Nazis themselves, Serbian collaborationists usually did not distinguish between "communist" and "Jew") that fell into the hands of the Nedić regime passed through the Banjica camp in Belgrade.1

The camp at Banjica was founded by the Germans, and run by the Gestapo, with the help of a Serbian collaborationist administration, including the director of the camp. Tens of thousands of people were incarcerated at Banjica at one point or another—communists, Jews, various political opponents of the regime and anti-fascists—and thousands were killed. Jews especially did not stand a chance of survival; any Jews caught hiding were brought to Banjica for processing (and habitual torture that usually lasted a few days), after which they were murdered.2

Bukić Pijade, a well-known Belgrade doctor, was perhaps the only known Jew in the hands of the Gestapo to be kept alive beyond the spring of 1942. An inmate of the camp at Banjica, he was aware of his precarious legal position, and hoped to "legalize" his life as a Jew. It is unclear why Pijade was spared, but he seemed to have worked in the camp as an inmate doctor. He was in daily personal contact with his German tormentors, and was able to reflect on the utter uncertainty of his legal position and the Gestapo tactics of deceit and mental torture. Throughout the period of his incarceration, he managed to smuggle, probably through trusted couriers, letters to an anonymous non-Jewish friend outside the camp, referred to only as "Đ." In one of these letters, dating to early January 1943 and translated here, Pijade described his vulnerable position, but the letter also testifies poignantly to the persistence of hope that Pijade clung to regarding the fate of his family. Although they were probably no longer alive—most likely murdered, as inmates at Sajmište (also called Judenlager Semlin), in the gas van by the end of the previous spring—he hoped that they were still alive, deported to a far-away place, Smolensk, that sounded so fantastic its mention in the letter demanded three exclamation marks.

Pijade died at Banjica in September 1943; it is not clear how he died, and it is possible that he committed suicide.

For a history of collaboration during World War II in Yugoslavia, see Jozo Tomasevich, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: Occupation and Collaboration (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).

For an overview of the Holocaust in Serbia, see Christopher Browning, Fateful Months: Essays on the Emergence of the Final Solution (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1985).

Dr. Jung was the chief of the sanitary service in the camp. "Friedrich," mentioned in the following sentence, is Wilhelm Friedrich, a Gestapo officer and camp commander.

German, "your colossal work." "Leistung" can also mean "service" or "effort."

A reference to the Allied landing in North Africa in November 1942 (Operation Torch). For a history of the war operations in North Africa during this period, see Rick Atkinson, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2002).

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January 12, 1943

Tuesday

My dear Đ.

I have been distressed about Žakl. I'm not concerned about the package, I just didn't know if something had happened!! And about 1 o'clock, I had just contacted ours, worried, when the explanation came. You can imagine how I felt. I feel sorry for her like for someone from my closest family. I will include several words for her here, so please be kind and relate them to her.

I also have to explain something to you, because you should know, so it's clearer why I am insisting so much that my case, if there is hope, is resolved. Three months ago, on an occasion when Dr. Jung was a little more accessible, we discussed my fate.1 The day before, they almost dragged me into the car, and that was the occasion. I told him that a man can bear uncertainty for days, but for months—I am not made of reinforced concrete! He told me, in front of Friedrich, not to worry, and that I have been exempted (pardoned) by the chief of the Gestapo, and that there is a paper document about it. "That [paper] is with you, right?" he said to Friedrich. The latter stuttered, yes, yes—but you could see the game of masquerade. I later found out that it’s only a fairytale, Friedrich said as much himself. That is their manner, to lie, to conceal, etc. Dr. J. is good sometimes, is willing to do something, but you have to [illegible], otherwise he is real Gestapo, and keeps a distance. You can't rely on him. Didn't he tell you that he didn't know me? The other day, Friedrich himself, spontaneously, told me that my case should be finally resolved in writing as well. He or Jung could be on leave, and something could happen to me. I wrote a petition again, which Friedrich liked very much. I laid out briefly who I was, participation in wars, and sketched my work here. Since the Germans are making an exception, I asked for nothing more but to take care about my fate. Friedr. promised that he would put in a good word, and that he would win over Jung to provide his opinion as well, as soon as the latter returns. Jung returned the other day. Yesterday, Friedr. told me that Jung refused. He said that the chief of Gestapo ordered, orally, that I should be a "lifelong physician" in prison and that this is enough. I thought that ["]lifelong["] is an ambiguous word and that anything can happen ("lebenslänglich," he said), but Fr. became more cold as well. I saw that they are still playing the Devil's game and that I should give up and wait for whatever God decides (and we know what he will decide). True, Fr. was full of praise for my work, and repeated several times: your immense work here alone is enough (["]Ihre colossale Leistung["])2 for your petition to be approved. I wanted to tell you all this, so that you know where things stand, despite best opinion of myself by Dr. J. and the Gestapo office.

Please do not tell anyone a word about this, as well as about what Đorđe did and what you are doing. I have patience! But can you put yourself, even for a moment, in my shoes? It is all a long shot. It will all take a long time. Whatever the grand constellation beyond, they are still strong, and will last a long, long time. We can all see: titanic struggle, but, for now, the results are meager. They are more or less holding up everywhere (except for what happened in Africa) and Rommel is still alive.3 But enough about that. My [family], if they are alive, are somewhere in Poland. Now we are told (I heard) that Jews from here are now in Smolensk!!! One is astounded, and I am worried about L. etc. Exile is a terrible thing! I will listen to your advice. I will try to keep calm. But we need to hurry up, my dear Đ. I was comforted by what you told me about what you are doing with Aca. Maybe something will come out of it, and maybe what Đorđe did will bear some fruit, although it seems to me that it won't—but what do I know.

Lalić went home. Everyone was cautious. He did not behave badly. He promised me a lot!!! They all promise, I've had enough of that. While they are here and they need me, they are full of kind words, but this is understandable and it should not be held against anyone.

Finally, dear Đ, I would like to ask you to help me with the following. I know that I am bothering you, and that we need to put an end to this, but I can't ask another, I have no family, I have no one but you, Tamara, and Žakl. May you live in health!

1) We are all interested to hear whether professor Kostić visited you.

2) I am suffering from constipation. I fear the results, so please do not take offense that I am repeating my request [asks for specific brands of medication]

3) Please give the letter to Žaklina. She will procure the things mentioned in it.

(I have to finish.)

Please, dear Đ, do not take offense at me for bothering you.

Warm greetings to you and Tamara, full of hope, despite everything, with hopefulness that good days will come. Always yours, dedicated and thankful,

B.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade
RG Number 49.007M
Date Created
January 12, 1943
Author / Creator
Pijade, Bukić
Language(s)
Bosnian
Croatian
Serbian
Location
Belgrade, Serbia
Belgrade, Yugoslavia (historical)
Reference Location
Smolensk, Soviet Union (historical)
Document Type Letter
Description Letter from Bukić Pijade, a well-known Belgrade doctor, to his anonymous friend referred to as "Đ," about his situation as an inmate in the camp of Banjica in Belgrade.
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