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The Holocaust in Yugoslavia

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Letter from David Alkalaj to Miloje Popadić

Letter from David Alkalaj to Miloje Popadić
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade

Several hundred Serbian Jews managed to survive the Holocaust because they had been captured as prisoners of war while fighting against the German invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941. The German military mostly respected international laws when it came to the treatment of Yugoslav prisoners of war, including Jews. Yugoslav Jewish officers were kept with other captured soldiers and officers of the Yugoslav army in prisoner-of-war camps in the German Reich

David Alkalaj was a lawyer and a Zionist activist from Belgrade before the war. In the spring of 1942, Alkalaj served as a representative of the Jewish prisoners of the prisoner-of-war camp for officers at Eversheide, in Osnabrück in Germany. On May 26, 1942, he wrote to the head of the Yugoslav prisoners of war in the camp, Division General Miloje Popadić. Alkalaj informed him of the emotional turmoil that Jewish prisoners were experiencing. Jewish prisoners of war had heard no news from their loved ones for half a year. 

In December 1941, German authorities had deported Serbian Jewish women and children to a camp established on the site of the Belgrade fairgrounds called Sajmište.1 By the time Alkalaj addressed his superior on that day, most of the Jews of Serbia had already been murdered. The women and children had been killed in a gas van over the course of a few months. Reading Alkalaj's letter gives us a glimpse of the despair of Serbian Jewish officers in German captivity.

The brief typewritten text at the end of the document dated a month later indicates that there had already been similar inquiries. It also hints that this letter would be filed with the previous ones—possibly without a response. 

To learn more about Sajmište, see the related Experiencing History items, Letter from Hilda Dajč to Nada Novak and Diary of Đura Rajs. For more information on the camp, see Christopher R. Browning, "The Semlin Gas Van and the Final Solution in Serbia," Fateful Months: Essays on the Emergence of the Final Solution (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1985): 68–85.

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Noncommissioned lieutenant David A. Alkalaj
Inmate number 2189/34


To the head of the prisoner camp Oflag VIc,
Division General Miloje Popadić


As a head of barrack 34, I take the liberty of addressing you with the following plea, in the name of my comrades, Yugoslav officer inmates of Mosaic faith resident in this camp:

In accordance with the order of the German police in Belgrade, on December 12, 1941, all Jews in Belgrade, regardless of age, sex, and health condition, were interned in the camp at Sajmište, by the Zemun bridge. This horrific measure affected many of us, inmates in this camp, who left our women and children, brothers and sisters, and elderly parents in Belgrade, since with this development any connection we had with them has been severed. Since December 12 last year, only twice have any news reached us from Sajmište, and the majority of us have had no information whatsoever for almost six months about our loved ones in Sajmište, even though we are sending mail regularly to that camp.

Desperate because of uncertainty about the fate of our loved ones in the said camp, after a difficult winter without firewood and anyone's protection, I have, on two occasions, as an elder of the barrack and in the name of my comrades, addressed the Serbian Red Cross, and on one occasion the Department for Prisoners of War, asking them to 1) allow for the reestablishment of postal connection between us and our loved ones at Sajmište, and 2) that aid that we get as officers be delivered to our families, that is, be given as food by the Red Cross, because they are certainly starving at the camp. Unfortunately, neither of these two institutions had any sympathy for us officers who, like other Serbian comrades, remained faithful to the King and the Fatherland, and they did not reply to my appeals, leaving us in despair and uncertainty.

For these reasons, General, I kindly ask you to intervene on our behalf with the Serbian Red Cross in Belgrade: to make sure that our letters and postcards are delivered to our families at the camp, as well as allow them to reply to them; that the Red Cross deliver to our families, against our officer aid, which [our loved ones] have not received since December of last year, aid in goods—food, to the extent possible.

Certainly the Red Cross should inform us whether our loved ones in the camp are alive and well.

In case, however, that the camp at Sajmište has been relocated, we ask that the above be considered in that case as well, so that we can reestablish contact with our hapless families forgotten by everyone—the elementary right of prisoners of war, according to the [Geneva] Convention.

Reminding you of your verbal promise that you would help us in this matter, I am imploring you, General, to have sympathy for us, suffering unspeakably for our families, and I am also conveying to you, in the name of my comrades, our deepest gratitude.


Eversheide, May 26, 1942

David A. Alkalaj
Noncommissioned lieutenant
Prisoner no. 2189/34
Inmate administration of Of. Lag. VIII
Number . . . . . . 
June 25, 1942


Attach to the copy of the letters sent with respect to the above inquiry to the International Red Cross and the Red Cross in Belgrade. Division General

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade
RG Number 49.007M
Date Created
May 26, 1942
Author / Creator
David Alkalaj
Osnabrück, Germany
Reference Location
Belgrade, Serbia
Belgrade, Yugoslavia (historical)
Document Type Letter
How to Cite Museum Materials

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