When night fell on the Nazi Concentration Camp at Niš on February 12, 1942, things seemed as normal as any other night. By dawn, 105 prisoners had escaped in the dark, leaving 11 German guards dead in their wake.
It was a seminal moment, and a rare defeat of the otherwise crushing control concentration camp guards had over their prisoners.
In Nazi fashion, this daring prison break – unprecedented before or since in World War II-era Europe – was met with a cruel response. The German troops in charge of the camp executed more than 1,100 prisoners to punish and scare the population after the breakout.
It was the only breakout over the four years the camp was in operation. Throughout that time, more than 35,000 Serbs and other prisoners passed through the gates of the camp. Like so many, the camp at Niš was positioned near a railway station, making for easy transport of prisoners and the fruits of their forced labor.
Today, the Red Cross operates a memorial museum on the grounds of the camp. Its name, the “12. februar” Memorial Museum, commemorates the day fearless prisoners struck back at their captors, at once honoring and avenging the thousands of other prisoners who weren’t so lucky.