World War II in Film: Night Over Belgrade (1942)

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In 1942, a Soviet film short was released on the German occupation of Belgrade in 1941. The film was entitled Night Over Belgrade, Noc nad Belgradom in Russian, Noc nad Beogradom in Serbo-Croatian. The film was pro-Peter II and the new Yugoslav regime that had emerged after the overthrow of the pro-German Regent Prince Paul government. The Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were allies during the war. Like Greece, Yugoslavia was resisting the German expansion into southeastern Europe. After the German occupation and dismemberment, Serbia and Montenegro remained as centers of resistance. The Soviet film highlighted this resistance to the Axis.

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The film presented an anti-German perspective, showing the Germans as aggressive and brutal occupiers while emphasizing the Yugoslav guerrilla resistance. The film short was part of a Soviet film series that featured short films for the Armed Forces of the USSR, Boyevoy kinosbornik No. 8 in Russian. The director was Leonid Lukov. The writer was Iosif Sklyut. The film starred Tatyana Okunevskaya, Osip Abdulov, Pyotr Aleynikov, Ivan Novoseltsev, and Boris Andreyev. The second segment was entitled Three Tankmen featuring a trapped Soviet tank crew that is able to hold out until they are rescued.

The film was made at the Tashkent film studio in the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan in September, 1941 as German troops were advancing across the USSR and two resistance movements had emerged in German-occupied Serbia. It was released on February 7, 1942.

The first scene is of a Soviet foxhole with Soviet armored troops. They are huddled during a lull in the fighting with advancing German troops. A soldier is eating from a can on his knees with a spoon. A Soviet soldier asks that he be given bread. He announces that he is a Serb named Kotic. Another Soviet soldier is talking over the phone. “I’m listening. So. So. Yes.” The Serbian soldier was forcibly conscripted into the German Army as a “Serbian volunteer”. He has defected. He recounts to the Soviet tank crews the story of the underground resistance in Belgrade.

Billows of white smoke drift across the screen in the foreground. Belgrade appears in the background. Buildings can be seen in the distance. A song is sung in Russian over the opening credits. “For pity, Belgrade is destroyed.”

In the first scene in Belgrade, a German staff car stops at the top of stairs on a Belgrade street. A German occupation soldier opens the back door as a civilian exits the automobile and starts walking down the stairs. As he does so, he is shot dead in the back by the German officer who comes out of the car and fires a revolver. The car drives off. The prisoner dies on the steps.

In the next scene, two German soldiers are shown on patrol on a Belgrade street at night while it is raining with rifles over their shoulders with bayonets. Then three German Wehrmacht soldiers are shown walking behind two prisoners down a Belgrade street with their rifles pointed at them. The third soldier has a revolver. They then stop and execute the two prisoners by shooting them in the back of the head at point blank range. The scenes are at night. These scenes show the nature of the German occupation of Belgrade, emphasizing the brutality and the elimination of all resistance and opposition.

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The three German soldiers run into two other soldiers. The first three depart while the camera follows the two as they walk down a deserted street in Belgrade.

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They enter a Belgrade restaurant or cafe. They try to intimidate the proprietor Mirko. One soldier breaks off the ends of wine classes. One goes to the wine rack but the bottles are empty. Mirko brings out a wine bottle. They drink the wine. One tells Mirko that the Serbian people are swine and that the Germans are a superior race. They say that the Fuehrer has explained this. One draws his rifle and points it at Mirko threatening to shoot him. Mirko tells him that Oberleutnant Fischer, the German commanding officer in Belgrade, is a patron of the restaurant. The two German soldiers leave.

A resistance fighter enters the cafe through an opening in the cabinet bringing a message. The second resistance fighter that emerges is Kotic. They read from a proclamation. German fascism seeks the physical destruction and extermination of the Slavic peoples. This is the goal of the German war. The Germans have set up concentration camps.

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In the next scene a German officer, Oberleutnant Fischer, the commander in Belgrade, who looks like Adolf Hitler, is in a room where a violinist plays for him. The song is sorrowful. The Hitler-like character complains that the song is about of crying. There is a close-up of the violinist’s face. The Hitler-like character blows smoke into his face from a cigarette to bring real tears to his eyes.

There are continuity issues with the Nazi swastika armband. In the earlier scenes, the Nazi swastika is reversed. In the later scenes, the Nazi swastika is not reversed on his left arm.

The resistance are able to infiltrate the restaurant and to seize Fischer’s gun. They are able to capture Fischer and to use him to gain entrance in the Radio Beograd studio.

The entrance gate to Radio Beograd is shown in an exterior shot with a German sentry at the gate. Mirko and the other resistance fighters are able to get past the German guard at the Radio Beograd studio because they recognizes Fischer. They enter the building and seize the German soldier at the studio wearing headphones and a reversed Nazi swastika armband.

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The Joseph Stalin-like character Mirko makes a speech over the radio exhorting Serbs, Croats, and Montenegrins to resist the German occupation in a radio address. The German fascist plan is the extermination of all the Slavic peoples, Russians, Ukrainians, and White Russians. Hitler and Mussolini seek to destroy the Slavic peoples. The Soviet Union and the Red Army are now fighting Hitler. “Krov za krov, smert za smert.” “Blood for blood, death for death.”

A German truck transporting troops is shown hitting a land mine and being blown up.

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The Tatyana Okunevskaya character sings a song over Beograd Radio exhorting the people to resist. German troops and Fischer hear the message. German troops are sent to take the radio station. Tatyana Okunevskaya is shown next to the studio microphone singing. In the background, German troops can be seen through the glass window as they enter the studio to stop the broadcast. One soldier shoots the Tatyana Okunevskaya character in the back. Her eyes close as she falls back dead. Her corpse is then seen horizontally across the floor. German troops are shown looking on in the back through the glass window.

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A woman carrying a lifeless child in her arms is shown moving towards the camera with billowing black smoke in the background. A girl is shown beside the body of her dead mother.

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In the next scene, Serbian guerrillas are shown with rifles emerging from the debris. A man in civilian clothes is shown with a rifle. A woman is shown joining the resistance carrying a rifle. One woman is shown carrying a child in her left arm and a rifle in her right which she has slung over her shoulder. Serbian guerrillas are shown advancing with rifles over their shoulders.

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Fischer is taken out of a car by Kotic and another resistance fighter. He is told that for the crimes committed by German troops the “people” or “narod” of Yugoslavia have decreed the death penalty. They both shoot him dead. He falls forward.

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In the next scene a guerrilla takes off his hat. He then crosses himself. The Serbian guerrilla makes the sign of the cross by touching his forehead, then the center of his chest, then the right side to the left side. This is a custom of Serbian Orthodox Christianity. This religious imagery is unusual in a Communist or Soviet film.

The last scene shows Serbian guerrillas armed with rifles moving across a ledge as they head into the mountains.

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Then there is a return to the Soviet foxhole in the USSR as Soviet troops are listening to the account by the Serbian soldier Kotic as he finishes the story of the Belgrade resistance in 1941. Then a shell blast is heard. Then the troops leave the foxhole as shells crash all around. The film ends here.

The film was made at a time when Operation Barbarossa was in full swing and the German forces were advancing all across the front towards Moscow. In the earlier Soviet film short on Yugoslavia, A Hundred For One, made in August, 1941, the emphasis was on the guerrilla resistance and German reprisals against civilians in Yugoslavia. In Night Over Belgrade, the theme of resistance is continued. As a Soviet ally, Yugoslavia, particularly Serbia and Montenegro, was supported and shown in the most positive aspect. In turn, Yugoslavia was also shown as an example of resistance and implacable determination. The Soviet Union was not alone and isolated. Yugoslavia, in Serbia and Montenegro, was portrayed as a model. The movie was made to instill solidarity and to encourage resistance in a common struggle.