On July 28th 1942, 36 year old Strahinja Janjić was taken to the infamous Banjica camp, on the charge of planning to assassinate Milan Nedić, the head of the puppet government that was helping the Germans control “German occupied territory of Serbia”. Banjica, ran in tandem by the Gestapo and Nedić’s government, claimed more than 3,800 lives and was the place where anti-fascist Serbs, Jews and Roma were held – many who were later executed in Jajinci, as well as many Serbian luminaries who did not support the occupation, such as the great Aleksandar Deroko, who drew the horrors of the this horror camp/prison.
Unlike other Banjica’s inmates – Janjić was there because he thought he could serve the Germans better than Nedić. Indeed, as the head of “Serbian Gestapo” he was probably responsible for putting quite a few people into Banjica.
Janjić’s story and name are insufficiently known in Serbia, and despite his villainy, he is far less infamous than the other WWII quislings, like Nedić and Ljotić. This is quite odd given that, not only did he manage to survive Banjica, but he actually outlived his allies and rivals, moving the USA after the war.
Born in 1906 close to Šabac, Janjić had a strange career, which was shaped by his, manipulative, psychopathic personality.
He initially tried his luck in the Military, graduating from Belgrade’s Military Academy in 1927, but according to the Gestapo records (relayed in “Noć I Magla: Gestapo u Jugoslaviji” by Slavko Odić and Slavko Komarica) his military career was cut short in1932. after witnessing and exposing a homosexual ring among the top echelons of the Yugoslav Military (maybe involving Petar Živković?). Probably sufficiently skilled in using other people’s secrets for leverage, he continued his social ascent until he became an advisor to the Yugoslav Prime Minister Cvetković, and at some point, of course, a German spy.
Janjić’s love of National-socialism and attested by his membership in the crackpot Zbor party, organised by Dimitrije Ljotić, as well as the cordial relationship he enjoyed with the German forces, who frequently interceeded on his behalf, when even Nedić thought his behaviour was too much.
Nedić’s concerns maybe stemmed from the fact that, in a true self-starting fashion, Janjić organised a small militia around Kragujevac to suppress anti-occupational (and especially communist) forces, even when he was rejected by the puppet government in 1941, but were bolstered by many allegations of Janjić’s cruelty towards the Serbs.
Indeed, Janjić was temporarily installed as the mayor of Kragujevac, just after the October 1941 massacre, but was removed and briefly arrested for a series of crimes including rape, theft and extortion. After being let go on the intercession of the Germans (who applauded his radical anti-communism and work in suppressing “brigands”), he continued pursuing his depraved crimes as a mayor of Leskovac, but was again removed as he was overly unpopular.
This time, however, Nedić decided to keep his furture rival close, and appointed him to his personal guard. Around the same time, the head of the German secret police in Serbia, the supervisor of the killing of Belgrade’s Jews in “Judenlager Semlin”, and Hayndrich’s protégé – Emanuel Schäfer decided he would have a better use of Janjić, as part of the native seceret police. The force, which liked calling itself the Serbian Getsapo, would not only be in charge of monitoring the opponents of the regime, but would also keep tabs on the collaborators.
This Nazi application of the timeless „divide at impera“ on their lapdogs, would mean that they had not one, but two competing factions wiching to carry out their dues.
Janjić was in charge of organising the force, however with little success, despite his ties within ZBOR-affiliated „Serbian voluntee corps“ and other collaborators. By mid-1942, he only managed to get 13 recruits, but this did not stop him from writing to a Geman diplomat in charge of occupied Serbia, Benzler and a local SS-agent Meyszner, and suggesting that he could recruit two Serbian SS-divisions, on top of the SS-Prinz Eugen which was staffed with ethnic Germans from Serbia.
This boastful letter got Janjić into Banjica, as he also used it to ask for Nedić’s removal (he deemed him to ineffective).
Janjić’s case was put In front of another SS official for evaluation, who dismissed the concerns about Janjić’s past behaviour as unproven, and actually saw his failings as chance to be better used by the Germans. In his opinion, which got Janjić out of Banjica he wrote:
“It should be assumed that Janjic is brutal and that uses that to get ahead. But one cannot discount the possibility that he is not morally solid… It is precisely because Janjić’s comportment which allows him to get ahead, that he can be used. Serbian government are surely afraid on Janjic because his activity is yet unknown to them and he is under our aegis. That is why they feel threatened and want him removed.“
After a new lease on life, Janjić continued forming „Serbian Gestapo“ in a school building on Starine Novaka street (which still stands today). By the end of 1942. the organisation had about 100 members, mostly ethnic Serbs, but also a few Croats and Slovenes, who were, however, required to adopt Orthox faith (probably following Ljotić’s ideas about religion).
The gang was going around Serbia in various guises, and tried to fight any local resistance (whether communist or royalist), but was also using its German protection to terrorise.
Janjić continued with his tirades against Nedić, and Nedić continued imploring the Germans to rid him of Janjić, explaining that he is a crook and that his behaviour only harms the reputation of his puppet government and causes them trouble.
Eventually, Schäfer also thought that Serbian Gestapo could be of better use in Germany, and notified Janjić of the move, who saw it as a result of a set-up on behalf of Tanasije Dinić, who served as a police minister under Nedić. In his desparate atempt to stay in Serbia, Janjić wrote to the SS claiming that Dinić was freeing Aromanians „who known to be Greek Gypsies“ and that Dinić’s „heritage should be throughly inspected, as it will turn out that he is Gypsy, as implied by his name“.
This was to no avail, and Janjić was sent packing to Berlin in mid-1943 along with about 20 of his collaborators, to spy of the Yugoslavs working there. His brutal, conniving techinques remianed unchanged, as he and his team were luring workers from Yugoslavia (many of them forced labourers) to break rules for which they would snitch on them to the Gestapo (and prove their relevance).
Still, Janjić continued to dream big and even told his one-time collaborator in the Serbian Gestapo, that he will be parachuted back into Serbia to depose Nedić and will expand his rule to (the independently run) Croatia and Montenegro. In the meanwhile, Janjić continued to harass Serbs in Berlin, many of whom escaped the city in order not to be targeted by his schemes. A German report from 1944, states that he used his rank to extort food and sex from those he managed to get hold of – which they called “Serbian methods”.
Although his SS friends in Belgrade tried to save his career stating that he is an “absolute Germanophile”, Janjić was proving as too much of a liability for his handlers, who saw him as a brute and ineffective fantasist, so in April 1944, his official career as a traitor was brought to a halt. Parts of “Serbian Gestapo” continued to operate in his absence, but were ineffective and later subsumed into the German security structures.
According to unverified sources, there were about 2000 individuals affiliated in some form with the Serbian Gestapo many of whom, including Janjić, managed to find refuge in the USA and the UK after the war. According to those sources, some of them continued working in the US and British security services during the Cold War.
This article is part of my series on WWII in Belgrade: Occupation in 2-6 Pictures
The Nutshell Times is an independent project and a work of love – but it still requires money to run. If you like the content you can support it on Paypal or Patreon.