Tragic destiny of a beautiful idea

On your Belgrade tour you will probably walk by the site located next to Branko’s bridge at the New Belgrade’s bank of river Sava now called Staro Sajmiste which was once the site of the new Belgrade fair (hence the name).This area has a very rich history that had a tragic ending. In the years before the World War II, this site was designed for exhibitions and cultural exchange and it represented the symbol of economic boom and prosperity of the kingdom of Yugoslavia. The latter events and World War II completely mutilated the idea and this site was turned into the concentration camp for Serbian Jews and later other prisoners of war by Nazi Germany and it was operating from 1941-1944 with indescribable suffering and death of more than 40 000 people. Because of the bloody history written during the war, this place has never regained its original function. Today it is only known as a former location of a horrible place, and even many residents of Belgrade forgot or never heard about how this place looked before the war and what a beautiful idea that was once upon a time.

If you read articles about visiting Belgrade, about this site and its history, you will only find the data about the period of the war and the horrible events that took place in Staro sajmiste. With all due respect for the casualties of the war and the suffering of the people that lost their life at this site, we would like to tell you a story about its original idea, when no one even dreamed about the horror that will take over.

In the period between the World Wars, settlements began to form on the left bank of the Sava river, closer to Belgrade, as the only existing settlement on the marshy territory of today's Novi Beograd. Settlements were known as the Novo Naselje (new settlement) and Sajmiste (fairground). Settlements developed without any urban development plan. Then the complex of buildings was built in Sajmište in 1938 spreading over an area of 15,000 m² with modern and artistic buildings and constructions that hosted international fairs and was a symbol of prosperity.

From 1937 until the beginning of the World War II, this place has hosted many spectacular events in the Serbian capital, and one of them was the TV phenomenon at that time. The first television sets have appeared at the Autumn Fair 1938. The media reports during 1938 brought a slight discomfort and impatience for future visitors of the fair, with a notice that the world wonder television will be shown the first time in the Balkans. It was advertized that the “Philips” stand will show the first special TV sets that will broadcast six shows a day. Before the start of Autumn Fair, the journalists continued to report that next to the Philips pavilion there is a small studio for broadcasting of television shows. The studio was equipped with necessities only: a brown cloth background, apparatus for filming and microphone. Shows for the large pavilion will be broadcasted from this studio, where the audience will be able to monitor various entertainment spots via reception apparatus. Anticipation was gradually increasing until the 10th of September of 1938 when the first television show was broadcasted.

Before that the Sajmiste hosted the Car Show, which was visited by the large number of spectators from all over the world. The car show presented all the important exhibitors from Europe and the world at the time, such as then prestigious models of "Mercedes”, "Opel," “Reno" "Buick” ...

Immediately afterward the Air Force and exhibition followed, for which the organizers had to destroy and expand all entrances to pavilions. Although the aircraft was generally brought in parts, they were still too big for fairly large buildings of the fairground.

In Belgrade, at the Autumn Fair in 1938, there was an amusement park that was open until midnight. The big boat tour along the Sava and Danube rivers was prepared as a surprise. It was decorated with flags and plenty of lighting decorations. Several orchestras entertained the audience; the organizers took care for the great dancers and designed a dancing hall with some great jazz playing.

This idyllic picture vanished with the outburst of The World War II and the horror that followed. Later, after the new site of the Belgrade Fair was constructed on the right bank of the river Sava, Sajmište became known as Staro Sajmište (old fairground).

In 2008 it was decided that the Memorial Museum of Holocaust will be built on this site, along with compatible surrounding structures.