views updated May 29 2018



Belgrade, in the early twenty-first century the capital city of Serbia and Montenegro, is situated at the confluence of the Danube and Sava Rivers. Through the course of the twentieth century Belgrade served as the capital of Serbia (until 1918), of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (1918–1929), of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (1929–1941), of Nazi-occupied Serbia (1941–1944), of socialist Yugoslavia (1945–1991), and of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1992–2003).


The first shots of the First World War were fired on Belgrade, which lay on the border of Austria-Hungary and the Kingdom of Serbia, when Austro-Hungarian troops began their fifteen-month battle against the city on 28 July 1914, a battle marked by incessant bombardment. The city fell and was occupied by Austro-Hungarian forces twice during the war—first between 2 and 15 December 1914 and the second time between 9 October 1915 and 1 November 1918. The war had wreaked extensive damage on the city center, including the destruction of government ministry buildings and important cultural institutions, such as Belgrade University, the National Museum, and the National Theater, as well as private homes and businesses. Belgrade's industries, such as the tobacco and sugar factories and the Weifert brewery, suffered severe damage and significant loss of materials, machines, and tools as a result of the bombardment and pillage of the occupying forces. Belgrade's transportation and communication networks also suffered extensive damage. The prewar population of ninety thousand dwindled to between seven and twelve thousand in October 1915, and was reported by occupying authorities to have risen to forty-eight thousand in 1916. During the war, Belgrade was the urban center in Serbia that suffered the most damage.

At the end of the First World War, Belgrade became the political, administrative, economic, and cultural center of the newly proclaimed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. Its administrative government faced substantial economic and social challenges and a humanitarian crisis as it entered the postwar period, especially the problem of supplying the city with provisions and dealing with a severe housing shortage. The city not only had to contend with fact that the destruction of the war had deprived former inhabitants of their homes, but also had to accommodate an influx of members of government administration, military and economic, as well as an influx of people from the countryside.

The interwar period was one of expansion for Belgrade. Already by 1921 the population of the city had risen to 112,000 and reached 226,000 by 1929. The area of the city extended to formerly Austro-Hungarian territory across the Sava River, to include the twin city of Zemun and nearby Pančevo. In 1923 a general plan was proposed for the renovation of the city center, which was ultimately thwarted because of excessive costs, bureaucratic delay, and the inability of the municipal and federal governments to cooperate, leading only to the completion of the Parliament (Skupština) and some government buildings. German reparations and the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment provided funds for the construction of a library. Belgrade's commercial class grew, and immigrants from across the new state and Europe swelled its ranks. Immigrants, including around thirty thousand Russians, were also key in stimulating cultural and educational development. Belgrade's rapidly growing artistic life was evident in the flourishing of publishing houses, such as Geca Kon, as well as newspapers and periodicals, the appearance of new movie theaters and the Cvijeta Zuzorić Pavilion, a free performance center for exhibits and concerts, and the emergence of a vibrant café culture where authors and artists gathered in Belgrade's seven hundred cafés, especially in the bohemian Skadarlija neighborhood.

In the Second World War, Belgrade once again found itself to be the object of enemy bombs and occupation. The Nazi Luftwaffe bombing of the Yugoslav capital on 6 and 7 April 1941 inflicted extensive physical damage, again destroying the National Library and many government facilities and cutting off all essential services. The bombing also inflicted around twenty-three hundred deaths, wounded many more, and induced a still greater number to flee the city. The invading Nazi troops conducted authorized looting of the city before taking direct control of Belgrade and essentially imposed martial law. The occupying forces imposed anti-Jewish measures and established concentration camps around the city, most notably Banjica and Sajmište, located in the western suburbs of Belgrade, which according to the new boundaries of wartime Yugoslavia was located in the Independent State of Croatia. Toward the end of the war, Belgrade was bombed by Anglo-American planes for several months. It was liberated finally by communist partisan forces and the Red Army on 20 October 1944.


After the war, the reconstruction of the now capital of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia (renamed the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1963) proceeded apace. In 1947 the Belgrade municipal government instituted a five-year plan for the improvement of the city, and a general plan was developed in 1950. The city expanded both physically and demographically. Between 1944 and 1971 the city's population grew from 270,000 to 780,000, and reached 1.6 million by 1985. New neighborhoods and municipalities rapidly developed, most notably Novi Beograd (New Belgrade) in 1952. This municipality was the result of a massive construction project undertaken on the left bank of the Sava River in 1948, which employed work brigades composed primarily of rural workers and student volunteers in constructing large government buildings, residence halls for students of Belgrade University called Studentski grad (Student City), and complexes of urban housing known as "blocks."

By the 1980s, economic crisis had overtaken the Yugoslav capital. It had not received necessary federal funds for the development of urban infrastructure, and its population growth leveled off because of emigration. Conditions worsened after the United Nations imposed sanctions on now the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in May 1992 during the wars of Yugoslav succession, which led to severe hyperinflation in 1993 and 1994.

Throughout the 1990s, Belgrade was the site of many political demonstrations. On 9 March 1991, estimated tens of thousands of citizens flooded the city's central Republic Square to protest against the regime of Slobodan Milošević. Once again, in winter 1996–1997 tens of thousands of people took to the streets when Milošević's regime annulled the results of local elections, which had resulted in the victory of the opposition coalition, Zajedno (Together). Among the leaders of the coalition was Zoran Djindjić, who consequently became the first democratically elected mayor of Belgrade for a brief period, and ultimately premier of Serbia in 2001, an office he held until his assassination in March 2003. In 1999 Belgrade was targeted by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bombs during the Kosovo War, and several government ministries, the presidential residency, the Socialist Party of Serbia headquarters, and several television and radio broadcasting stations, especially Radio Television of Serbia, were damaged or destroyed. After the presidential elections of 2000, there were once again mass demonstrations, which succeeded this time in ousting Milošević from power on 5 October 2000.

Following the fall of Milošević, Belgrade, still a city of 1.6 million, underwent renovation and revitalization, both physically and spiritually as it aimed toward rejoining the European and international communities from which it was isolated forn early a decade. In 2005 it hosted the Euro-Basket championship of the International Basketball Federation, for which it erected a new sports center. Belgrade's vibrant café culture and nightlife especially have attracted an increasing number of foreign visitors, and the Serbian capital has been featured repeatedly in the Western press.

See alsoMilošević, Slobodan; Serbia; Yugoslavia.


Blagojević, Ljiljana. Modernism in Serbia: The Elusive Margins of Belgrade Architecture, 1919–1941. Cambridge, Mass., 2003.

Djurić, Dubravka, and Miško Suvaković, eds. Impossible Histories: Historic Avant-Gardes, Neo-Avant-Gardes, and Post-Avant-Gardes in Yugoslavia, 1918–1991. Cambridge, Mass., 2003.

Howell, Anthony. Serbian Sturgeon: Journal of a Visit to Belgrade. Amsterdam, 2000.

Lampe, John. Yugoslavia as History: Twice There Was a Country. New York, 1996.

Milojković-Djurić, Jelena. Tradition and Avant-Garde: The Arts in Serbian Culture between the Two World Wars. Boulder, Colo., 1984.

Jovana L. KneŽeviĆ


views updated May 09 2018


BELGRADE (Serb. Beograd ), capital of Serbia. Several Jews from Italy and Hungary settled in Belgrade in the 13th and 14th centuries. They were joined by Sephardi Jews after the Turkish conquest in 1521. They lived mostly in the Jewish mahala ("quarter") near the citadel, and were physicians, weapon-smiths, tanners, and merchants. The Jews lived in comfortable circumstances and were allowed to own land. The community enjoyed a degree of judicial autonomy. It numbered 800 in 1663. Between 1642 and 1688, the Belgrade yeshivah became widely known under the rabbis Judah *Lerma, Simḥah b. Gershon Kohen, and Joseph *Almosnino.

With the start of the decline of the Turkish Empire in the late 17th century, a long series of catastrophes befell the Jews of Belgrade. In 1688, at the approach of the Austrians, Turkish janissaries plundered and burned the Jewish quarter. After the capture of the city, Austrian soldiers burned, looted, and killed the Turkish and Jewish population. The community was totally destroyed; some Jews managed to flee to Bulgaria, but the majority were taken prisoner and deported to Austria to be sold as slaves or offered to Jewish communities for ransom.

Shortly after, a number of Jews returned to the city and rebuilt the synagogue. However, since Belgrade became the key fortress against the Turks, under Austrian rule (1717–39) Jewish residence was restricted. The town was captured again by Turks in 1739 and by 1777 the number of Jews had increased to 800. In 1795 irregular troops of Pazvan Oglu, pasha of *Vidin, attacked Belgrade, burning the synagogue and many Jewish houses in the mahala Nevertheless, the Jews remained prosperous: in 1798 all the Belgrade guilds together paid 1,600 grush in taxes, while the Jewish community alone paid 10,000 grush.

A series of rebellions and wars by the Serbs against the local Turkish despots, who had made themselves semi-independent of Constantinople, began in 1803, continuing intermittently for nearly 30 years. Belgrade changed hands many times, the Jews suffering each time. In 1807 the Serbs expelled the Jews from Belgrade. The anti-Jewish measures were revoked at Russian intervention. Some Jews had been allowed to stay, and more returned between 1811 and 1813, but were forced to leave once more when an abortive rebellion broke out in 1813. When in 1815 Milosh Obrenovich was recognized ruler of Serbia the situation of the Jews improved. There were some 1,300 Jews (200 Ashkenazim) in 1831. Prince Milosh's Serbian State Press, founded in 1837, had Hebrew type too. The works, mostly liturgical or ritual, were printed in Ladino, or in Hebrew with a Ladino translation. The Ladino periodical El Amigo del Pueblo was established in 1888 and appeared in Belgrade throughout the 1890s. Milosh's successor, Alexander Karageorgevich (1842–58), introduced a series of restrictions on Jewish residence, professions, and acquisition of property.

After obtaining full rights following the Congress of Berlin in 1878, the wealthier Jews gradually became absorbed into Serbian society. They spoke Serbian, their children went to state schools and universities, and became physicians, civil servants, etc. In 1907 they built the new Sephardi synagogue, Bet Yisrael, in the upper town. There was a Hebrew school from the 1850s. Most Jews lived in the mahala until World War i when it was partly destroyed. After World War i, when Belgrade became the capital of independent Yugoslavia, the younger generation gradually left the mahala to enter the professions, banking, the stock exchange, and the garment industry.

Holocaust Period

When the Germans entered Belgrade in April 1941, 12,000 Jews were living there. The 20,000 Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans) of Belgrade led the Germans to Jewish shops and homes, looting all that the Germans left. Jews were evicted and their property confiscated. The Ashkenazi synagogue was turned into a brothel; the Bet Yisrael synagogue became a storehouse for looted Jewish property and was blown up before the German retreat. All communal activities were forbidden, but the Vertretung ("Representation"), nominated by the Germans, contrived to organize public kitchens, medical services, etc. for the local Jews and for the 2,500 Jews from the Banat region who were expelled to Belgrade. All men between the ages of 14 and 60 and all women between the ages of 14 and 40 were forced to work in the town, not only without payment but also providing their own food.

With the beginning of armed resistance in Serbia, the Germans began executing hostages, mostly Jews. The first mass execution took place on July 29, when 122 "Communists and Jews" were shot. The "final solution" began with the mass arrest of some 5,000 Jewish men in July and August. After being imprisoned in two camps in Belgrade, the men were then taken in groups of 150 to 400 "to work in Austria" and shot in nearby forests by regular German army units. The remaining 6,000 Jewish women and children were arrested in December 1941 and transported to the Saymishte camp, a former commercial fairground on the left bank of the Sava. Food was scarce, and many froze to death in the winter of 1941–42. Between February and May 1942, the remainder were killed in gas vans and buried in the village of Jaintsi. Patients of the Jewish hospital in the mahala were also liquidated in 1942.


Immediately after the German occupation Jewish youth, mainly from Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, joined the resistance movement, sabotaging enemy installations, disseminating propaganda, and collecting funds and medical supplies. In August 1941 they joined partisan units in the forests, but not before considerable numbers of them had been arrested and shot. A monument to fallen Jewish fighters and victims of Fascism was set up after the war in the central cemetery of Belgrade.

Contemporary Period

Immediately after the liberation of Belgrade in October 1944 the Jewish community resumed its activities by opening a soup kitchen, a center for returnees, and medical services. The Ashkenazi synagogue was reconsecrated in December 1944, with the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi communities merging. In 1947 the community had 2,271 members, half of whom emigrated to Israel shortly after. In 1969 there were 1,602 Jews in Belgrade and in 2000 around 1,500. The community center ran an internationally known choir, a youth club, and a kindergarten. It also housed the Federation of Jewish Communities of Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav Jewish Historical Museum founded in 1948 and officially opened in 1952, contains material on all Jewish communities in Yugoslavia. and their artistic creativity. The J. community remained stable demographically with natural increase and returning émigrés offsetting those leaving for Israel and other countries. Jewish holidays were celebrated and J. events noted in a regularly appearing monthly publication. In 1995 an impressive sculpture cast in brass, the work of Nandor Glied, entitled "Menorah in Flames," was erected near the Danube at the site of the ancient Jewish quarter.


A. Hananel and E. Eškenazi, Fontes Hebraici… 1 (1958), 219, 468–71, and index; 2 (1960), 177–8, 258–60, and index; D. Djurić-Zamolo, in: Jevrejski Almanah 196567, 41–76; A. Alkalay, in: Jevrejski Almanah 196162, 82–97; Moses Kohen, Et Sofer (Fuerth, 1691). holocaust period: Savez Jevrejskih Opština, Zločini fašističkih okupatora… (1952), 1–9 (Eng. summary); G. Reitlinger, Final Solution (1961), 385–92; R. Hilberg, Destruction of European Jewry (1961), 435–42. add. bibliography: Z. Loker (ed.), Pinkas ha-Kehillott Yugoslavia (1988); Ž. Lebl, Do "konačnog rešenja"Jevreji u Beogradu 15211942 (2001).

[Daniel Furman /

Zvi Loker (2nd ed.)]


views updated Jun 11 2018


Geography and national and international politics determined the history of the city of Belgrade. Placed at the confluence of two major rivers—the Danube and the Sava, which connected central and southeastern Europe with the eastern Mediterranean—the city played a significant role in the wars waged by European powers against the Ottomans for the heritage of their empire.

From the end of the seventeenth century, when the Ottomans were defeated at the siege of Vienna by the Christian coalition in 1683 until the end of the eighteenth century, Serbia was a constant battleground. The country was devastated and depopulated; the few travelers visiting the area described it as a desert, invaded by warring armies, outlaws, and brigands. During four wars (1683–1699, 1716–1718, 1737–1739, and 1788–1791), Belgrade changed hands between both Ottoman and Austrian masters and was besieged and bombarded by both sides. The captured Serbian population was enslaved and sold in the slave market in Istanbul. Finally after the peace treaty of 1791 signed in Svishtov between the Austrians and the Turks, Belgrade became a border city in the hands of the Ottomans. The frontier nature of Belgrade had a dual effect on the role that the city was to play in history. Externally it introduced Serbia into European diplomacy and the Eastern Question. Domestically it offered a political and economic leader to the nation, the role of administrative and cultural center of the nascent Serbian statehood, first a principality, later a kingdom, the autonomy of which was granted in 1830 by the sultan's hatti-sherif (decree). After a brawl between Serbs and Turks, and the bombardment of the city, the Turkish garrison had to withdraw from the Belgrade fortress and all Serbian cities (1867). Independence was granted to Serbia by the European Great Powers at the Berlin Conference in 1878. The price to accomplish this was high: war after war, conflict and strife, as well as two Serbian uprisings in 1804 and 1815.

The Serbian Orthodox Church, seated in Belgrade, became independent from the Greek patriarch in 1879. A concordat with the Vatican, concluded in 1914, confirmed the rights of Catholics in Serbia.

All European powers played an important role in Serbian politics. The most influential was Russia, until the turn of the twentieth century, when France and western Europe took the lead. Of the two rival Serbian dynasties, the Obrenovićes were Austrophiles, the Karadjordjevićes Russophiles. The public in Belgrade considered Russia a protector of its Slavic brother, while Austria-Hungary was suspected as an opponent of the Slavic cause. The first Russo-Serbian Convention of military and political alliance was concluded in 1807, and the Russian diplomatic representative arrived in Belgrade. The Austrian consulate in Belgrade was opened in 1836, the British in 1837, and the French in 1839. When studying abroad, Belgrade's young intelligentsia chose France for law and the political sciences, Germany for economy and finance, and Russia for military studies.

During the nineteenth century, Belgrade went through significant demographic changes. The number of Serbs rose and the number of Turks steadily declined. According to censuses made annually by Serbian authorities, the population of Belgrade rose from 4,500 in 1810 to 89,876 in 1910. Belgrade and Serbia became attractive to immigrants from surrounding regions settled by Serbs, as well as South Slavs in Balkan areas. According to statistics, in 1900 there were 21,105 Belgrade citizens who were born abroad. Among them were educated professionals from Vojvodina (then in Hungary). Most became teachers, civil servants, army officers, and policemen.

Belgrade entered the Industrial Age rather late, having relied on cattle breeding, pig farming, and the export of these livestock for its main source of revenue. The construction of railroads after the Berlin Congress (1878) encouraged the investment of foreign and domestic capital in industry. However, at the end of the nineteenth century, there were only twenty industrial establishments in the city. The Austrian sanctions imposed on Serbia during their Custom War of 1906–1911 removed Austrian industrial competition and facilitated the development of Serbian industry, especially food processing, flour milling, and breweries.

Improved economy, traffic, and communication required a new urban plan for the city. The narrow, winding, little streets in the center of the city were replaced by tree-lined, large, straight avenues. The urban architecture of new Belgrade showed a strong French influence. The city boasted imposing buildings: the new palace, the Serbian National Bank, the National Theatre, the Grand Hotel, and many others. These were designed by young domestic architects trained abroad. Street squares were ornamented with monuments of distinguished Serbs made by domestic sculptors. City traffic was regulated and facilitated. The first telephone was installed in Belgrade in 1882; electricity in the streets was introduced in 1892. The first streetcars, pulled by horses, were replaced by electric versions. In 1884, Belgrade was connected by railways with central Europe and other Balkan cities.

Receptive to western European culture, Belgrade also preserved and further developed Serbian national culture. The Royal Serbian Academy of Sciences, founded in 1887, replaced the former Serbian Learned Society and the previous Great School (Velika Skola) was transformed in 1905 into the University of Belgrade. Among cultural institutions were the National Library, the National Museum, the Ethnographic Museum (1901), the National Theatre (1868), the School of Music, and the Clerical College. Together, they produced internationally and nationally recognized scholars.

Parliamentarism and democracy were introduced in Serbia under King Peter I after the 1903 regicide in Belgrade. During the decade preceding World War I, Belgrade was at the helm of the Serbian and Yugoslav national movement for liberation and unification. It also caused a conflict with Austria-Hungary during and after its 1908 annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The government in Belgrade was one of the main architects of the Balkan Alliance in 1912, which enabled the victory in the Balkan Wars of 1912, but clashed with its Bulgarian ally in 1913. On the eve of World War I the Belgrade government was accused of involvement in the assassination of Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand in Sarajevo, which triggered the started of World War I.

See alsoBalkan Wars; Bosnia-Herzegovina; Cities and Towns; Nationalism; Serbia.


Glumac, Slobodan. Belgrade. Translated by Karin Radovanovic. Belgrade, 1989.

Istorija Beograda. 3 vols. Belgrade, 1974.

Pavlowitch, Stevan K. Serbia: The History of an Idea. New York, 2002.

Petrovich, Michael Boro. A History of Modern Serbia, 1804–1918. 2 vols. New York, 1976.

Dimitrije DjordjeviĆ


views updated May 21 2018

Belgrade (Beograd) Capital of Serbia and Montenegro, and of Serbia, at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. Belgrade became capital of Serbia in the 12th century, but fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1521. Freed from Ottoman rule in 1867, it became capital of the newly created Yugoslavia in 1929. The city suffered much damage under German occupation in World War 2. In 1999 Belgrade was further damaged by Allied air strikes after Milošević sent federal troops into Kosovo. In October 2000, more than 300,000 people marched through the streets of Belgrade, forcing Milošević to step down as president. Industries: chemicals, metals, machine tools, textiles. Pop. (2000 est.) 1,168,454.