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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

After the German invasion of Serbia in April of 1941, German occupation authorities set out to murder all Jews in the country. By early 1942, only "illegal Jews"—those in hiding or those in Tito's communist resistance army—remained alive. Many of those "illegals"1 captured by German forces or their Serbian collaborators passed through the Banjica camp in Belgrade.2 Tens of thousands of people were murdered by the Gestapo and Serbian collaborators in the camp.

Bukić Pijade, a well-known Belgrade doctor, was perhaps the only known Jewish prisoner to survive in Banjica beyond the spring of 1942. It is unclear exactly why Pijade was spared, but it seems he worked in the camp as a doctor. He was aware of his precarious position and hoped to "legalize" his life as a Jew. 

Throughout his time in Banjica, Pijade managed to smuggle letters to an anonymous non-Jewish friend outside the camp, referred to only as "Đ." In this letter, dating to early January 1943, Pijade described his daily contact with his tormentors in the Gestapo, as well as his struggle to stay exempt from deportation and death. The letter also reflects Pijade's persistent hope that his family had survived. They had most likely already been killed as prisoners at Sajmište (also called Judenlager Semlin).3 However, he speculated that they may have been deported to Smolensk—a place that sounded so far away and fantastic that its mention in the letter warranted three exclamation marks.

Pijade died at Banjica in September 1943 of unknown causes. It is possible that he took his own life.

Much like German authorities, Serbian collaborators usually did not distinguish between "communists" and "Jews." 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).

The camp imprisoned communists, Jews, and various political opponents of the regime. Jews stood little chance of survival in the camp. Those caught in hiding were often brought to Banjica to be tortured and murdered. 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). 

For more on Judenlager Semelin, see the related item "Letter from Hilda Dajč to Nada Novak." Pijade's family had likely been murdered in a gas van used at the camp. 

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
Bukić Pijade
Language(s)
Bosnian
Croatian
Serbian
Location
Belgrade, Serbia
Belgrade, Yugoslavia (historical)
Reference Location
Smolensk, Soviet Union (historical)
Document Type Letter
How to Cite Museum Materials

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