Serbia vows to block plan to turn Nazi death camp sites into shops

Serbia will adopt a law to create a memorial centre in Belgrade for tens of thousands of Jews, Serbs and Roma killed by Nazis in World War II, preventing plans to redevelop two concentration camp sites in the capital city into commercial space.

Draft legislation will be sent to parliament in the coming months with the “active involvement of the Jewish community in Serbia,” Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre told reporters in after meeting with President Aleksandar Vucic. He said he got assurances from the Serb leader that the bill will be adopted and the government will provide funds for the memorial.

Originally a 1937 trade fair complex built in the then capital of Yugoslavia, Staro Sajmiste became a death camp when Nazis invaded the country in 1941. Some 30,000 died there, including 7,000 Jews. After the fall of communism, this and another site of a Nazi-era camp in Belgrade, Topovske Supe, were partly sold off by the state, but have been spared large-scale redevelopment.

After the war, parts of Staro Sajmiste were used as art studios, a kindergarten, a nightclub, and a restaurant. It even housed a local office of Vucic’s ruling Serbian Progressive Party.

The land of Topovske Supe is slated for building a $220 million shopping mall by closely held Delta Holding. That may be prevented through mandatory expropriation, according to the draft bill.

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