Skip to content

Aleksandar Ajzinberg

Aleksandar Ajzinberg was born in Belgrade in a Jewish family just before the start of World War II. His life story is a testimony to the life and survival methods of Jews in occupied Serbia. He shared his thrilling life story with us.

Aleksandar Ajzinberg, a regular professor at the University of Arts in Belgrade, was born on May 13, 1930, in Belgrade. During the German occupation in 1941, he, along with his parents, was arrested by the quisling authorities. In early 1942, just before deportation to the camp at Sajmište, he escaped from prison with his mother. He spent the war hiding his Jewish identity in the Homolje Mountains alongside his mother. His father was killed in the Sajmište camp. After the end of World War II, he was twice imprisoned (in 1945 and 1947) on suspicion by the new authorities of collaboration with the occupiers.

He graduated from the Architecture Department of the Academy of Applied Arts in Belgrade in 1955. He worked in the design and interior design of residential and public buildings. From 1982 until his retirement in 1995, he was a professor in the interior design department of the Faculty of Applied Arts in Belgrade. From 2001 to 2006, he taught at the Interior Design Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade. He is the author of several art books, including "Stilska unutrašnja arhitektura — od praistorije do Baroka" (Stylistic Interior Architecture — from Prehistory to the Baroque, University of Arts in Belgrade, 1994), "Terminoloski recnik STILOVI" (Terminological Dictionary STYLES, Prosveta, Belgrade, 2007), and "STILOVI — od praistorije do Secesije" (STYLES — from Prehistory to Art Nouveau, Građevinska Knjiga, Belgrade, 2010).

He has received several awards from the Literary Competitions of the Union of Jewish Municipalities of Yugoslavia (SCG):

  • 1995 – "13 Pisma" (13 Letters) - 1st prize,
  • 1999 – "Najzad sloboda!" (Finally Freedom!) - 2nd prize,
  • 2004 – "Poslednji let" (The Last Flight) - 3rd prize,
  • 2005 – "Čekanja" (Awaitings) - 3rd prize.

He is married and has a son, a grandson, and two granddaughters who live in Israel. He currently lives and works in Belgrade.


Aleksandar Ajzinberg sa prof. Majom Keskinov i učenicima na promociji knjige 2014. godine

Aleksandar Ajzinberg

When the war started, I was very young. I wasn't aware of how long it would last and what evils it would bring. I remember the initial months of the occupation as if I were watching a movie that would end soon.

The war certainly influenced the development of my personality. I learned that life requires a struggle, that success doesn't come on its own, and that one should trust people because there are many good ones, but we can always encounter someone whose behavior threatens our personality and life. I realized that we shouldn't expect others to do important things for us and that successes are achieved through hard work and fighting.

When the war ended, I became aware that I was treated differently due to belonging to another religious community. I wasn't religious, but the war confronted me with persecution and differential treatment, especially by the Nazi occupiers and their collaborators in Serbia.

My memory is fading now, but I remember some moments from my childhood, such as school, vacations, family, visits to the zoo, ice skating on Kalemegdan, and playing chess with a schoolmate. All those moments have become precious parts of my childhood memories.

Aleksandar sa majkom Gretom na ulici, oko 1937.


Aleksandar sa majkom Gretom na ulici, oko 1947.

Your father was imprisoned in a camp while you and your mother were trying to escape. What gave you the strength to fight?

I remember the priest's offer, and I know my father rejected it simply because he didn't want to do something that would seem like surrendering to the occupiers. Today, I am aware that even if we were baptized, there would always be someone willing to inform the authorities that, under a Serbian surname and the baptism of the Orthodox Church, Jews were hiding, and we would all be arrested and killed.

What was the most challenging aspect for you to face during that time?

I wasn't aware that it was difficult for me during that entire time. On the contrary, every event where my mother and I managed to avoid danger, find some food or clothing, made me happy. Hunger, dangers, cold, lack of clothes and shoes, although constantly present, didn't seem like hardships to me.

In one letter, you mention that an Orthodox priest offered your father to convert to Christianity to avoid the troubles that Jews were facing at the time, and he refused. Do you believe that could have changed the outcome of your situation?

I remember the priest's offer, and I know my father rejected it simply because he didn't want to do something that would seem like surrendering to the occupiers. Today, I am aware that even if we were baptized, there would always be someone willing to inform the authorities that, under a Serbian surname and the baptism of the Orthodox Church, Jews were hiding, and we would all be arrested and killed.

How did the loss of your father at such a young age and in such a cruel manner affect your later life?

Certainly, there were effects, but when and how it affected me, I don't know... I deeply regret my father's loss, but I am not aware of how his death influenced my later life.

You mentioned many people and families in your book who tried to help you during the war. Has the war brought you closer to some people, and to whom are you most grateful?

There are many people who tried to help my mother and me. I wrote about their assistance before escaping from Sopot and during hiding in Belgrade in the book "Letters to Matvej." I haven't written enough about the help of Draža Mihailović's Chetniks and the wonderful people from Homolje, nor can I write enough. After the war, I had no connection with the Chetniks, and I didn't dare to meet or correspond with people from Homolje for a long time because UDBA or OZNA would find out and accuse me of some anti-people activity. It took thirty-five years for the times to change, and I decided to go to those areas and see the people who helped my mother and me survive. I described this visit in the story "After Thirty-Five Years." Now, I occasionally meet with the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who hosted us, and I'm also in contact with Slavijanka, the baby I cut the umbilical cord for. I am in electronic contact with some of them.

You grew up in Belgrade, and by profession, you are an architect. How much does Belgrade differ from the time you grew up, and do you prefer the way it was then or the way it is today?

As you could see from the book, we couldn't return to our house on Gundulićev Venac 53 (90 m2). During the occupation, other people moved in, and after the war, the communists definitively prevented us from returning. We lived with my grandmother, Aunt Erna, and Mihajlo on Pašino Brdo, which, at that time, was at the other end of the world. As a child, I remember Dorćol, where we lived, and I "met" Vračar only after the war. I find it difficult to say how much that part of the city has changed, but I think the numerous new large buildings, as in other parts of Belgrade, have made beautiful neighborly relations disappear and led to a certain alienation among people. I couldn't say anything about the difference in appearance because, as an architect, it would require a comparison of space, many details, and a series of things that are not accessible to me.

You still live in Belgrade today. Is there a particular reason you stayed here even after all the unfortunate events that happened to you here?

I was happy to return to Belgrade for many reasons, even though returning to the new communist environment was not pleasant at all. A few years later, my mother and I thought about going somewhere where it could be "normal to live" and work without the pressure of the new authorities. At that time, it was not possible. Authorities did not allow leaving the country. Later, when it was easier to go abroad, I studied, graduated, got a job, and worked, so the desire to leave diminished. I got married, I'm in a happy marriage with my wife for 60 years, we get along well, we have a son, a grandson, and two granddaughters who live abroad, and we have no reason to leave this city, regardless of everything happening in our country.

How important is it for you that all memories of events from the war are preserved and not forgotten? Was that one of the reasons you published these initially private letters?

The publication of my private letters in the book "Letters to Matvej" happened at the insistence of several friends who had read those letter.

Written by Ana Serafijanović