Kragujevac, 21 October 1941: Start of the largest German mass murder in former Yugoslavia

Today is 21 October. For most of us, it should be a day like many others. In the Serbian city of Kragujevac it is different. Today, the entire city is once again commemorating the darkest chapter of German-Serbian history, which caused horrific suffering to literally every family there.

We are talking about the largest mass shooting of civilians by the German Wehrmacht on the territory of the former Yugoslavia during the Second World War, which is hardly known in Germany.

At that time, German troops had occupied Serbia in the course of the Balkan campaign, where they encountered considerable resistance. For this reason, they announced that in future they would shoot one hundred civilians for every German Wehrmacht soldier killed and fifty for every wounded German soldier. Since this did not break the resistance, after a partisan attack in Gornji Milanovic, in which ten German soldiers were killed and 26 others wounded, the German occupation administration not only put this threat into practice, but went far beyond it.

For three consecutive days, German and Austrian Wehrmacht units, supported by Serbian volunteer corps, shot between 3,000 and 4,000 people, including schoolchildren who had been led directly from class to the execution site outside the city

The more one as a German learns about the events of that time, the more speechless and ashamed one is left. This mass murder was not a spontaneous excess, but was meticulously prepared. Among other things, those responsible in the Wehrmacht thought beforehand about what – from the German point of view – detrimental effects such a massacre could have. The aim was to achieve the greatest deterrence, but prevent the creation of martyrs and places of pilgrimage. Therefore, orders were given in advance to bury the murdered as inaccessibly as possible and without grave crosses or similar indications.

Many of the German and Austrian soldiers involved in the execution were aging men, most of whom probably had children of the same age at home themselves. What did not stop them from shooting, however …

The memory of the dead is preserved in a memorial where one also encounters the hopes and fears of death of the later victims of this soulless killing machine.

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There are copies of notes written by the prisoners while the execution was being prepared. Farewell greetings can be found there as well as instructions about business still to be done. Some, unaware of the circumstances, also expressed the hope that they would soon be released. As far as it was possible to assign names to these notes, and as far as pictures of those killed were available, they can be found next to the notes. Many murdered people also look at you from their identity cards.

In this way, victims are given a face, which makes you shudder at the cruelty of the perpetrators even more than 80 years after their violent deaths.

Discreet, but all the more impressive is the acoustic background music in this memorial. Throughout the day, the names of the known victims are read out to minimalist music.

One every five seconds. So it takes almost an hour and a half to read out the names of a thousand victims. If you allow yourself to become involved and listen consciously, even a fraction of this time is unbearable. Even more unbearable is the thought that there are only five seconds left to honour a life that was cruelly ended too soon.

What a contrast to this is the killing bureaucracy of the Wehrmacht:



In their documents you can find tabular lists of actions and reactions, in which thousands of civilians shot are evidenced in one column as proof of their own loyalty to orders.

We will remember this tragedy in some of the next articles, but also present the city of Kragujevac in general.

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