History of the Jews in the Republic of Macedonia


History of the Jews in the Republic of Macedonia

The history of Jews in the territory of the present-day Republic of Macedonia began in Roman times, when Jews first arrived in the region in the first century BC. Today, no more than 200 Jews reside in the Republic of Macedonia, almost all in the capital, Skopje.

History of the community

Ancient Roman times

The first Jews arrived in the area now known as Republic of Macedonia during Roman times, when Jews fled persecution in other Roman territories, with some settling in Macedonia [ [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Macedonia.html Jewish Virtual Library - Macedonia] ] . The first evidence of Jews in the region is an ancient synagogue dating from the 3rd or 4th century BC, in the ancient town of Stobi, in the southeast of the Republic of Macedonia [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5968&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part II] ] .

ephardic migrations

The area's Jewish community remained small well into Ottoman times, with the next major influx of Jews to the area coming with the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions.

As tens of thousands of Jews fled persecution Spain and Portugal, Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire welcomed Jews who were able to reach his territories. They were granted significant autonomy, with various rights including the right to buy real estate, to build synagogues and to conduct trade throughout the Ottoman Empire ["Macedonia and the Jewish people", A. Assa, Skopje, 1992, p.36.] . Wealthy merchant cities in the present-day Republic of Macedonia such as Skopje, Bitola and Štip attracted many Jews. Jews in this area prospered in the fields of trade, banking, medicine, and law, with some even reaching positions of power.

Relations between the Jews and the local non-Jewish population were generally good. [ [http://www.ce-review.org/00/4/daskalovski4.html Remembering the Past - Jewish culture battling for survival in Macedonia, Zhidas Daskalovski] ] Confirmation of good conditions for Jews in Macedonia and Ottoman Europe in general comes from a fifteenth century letter from the Macedonian Jew, Isaac Jarfati, sent to German and Hungarian Jews advising them of the favorable conditions in the Ottoman Empire, and encouraging them to immigrate to the Balkans. ["Macedonia and the Jewish people", A. Assa, Skopje, 1992, p.40.]

The Jewish community was almost entirely Sephardic, and most spoke Ladino at home as opposed to Hebrew.

Distribution

Prior to World War II, the area's Jewish community was centered on Bitola (approximately 8,000 Jews), Skopje (approximately 3,000 Jews) [ [http://www.ce-review.org/00/4/daskalovski4.html Remembering the Past - Jewish culture battling for survival in Macedonia, Zhidas Daskalovski] ] and Štip (approximately 500 Jews) [ [http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10006804 The Holocaust in Macedonia: Deportation of Monastir Jewry, Mark Cohen, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum] ] .

Most of these Jews, and almost the entire Jewish community of Bitola, were Ladino-speaking Sephardim.

The Holocaust

Two and a half thousand years of Jewish history in Vardar Macedonia (the area roughly corresponding to the borders of the Republic of Macedonia) effectively came to an end with the Holocaust and World War II.

In April 1941, the Bulgarian army entered Vardar Macedonia, then part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Bulgaria had initially been neutral in World War II, but was forced to become an ally of Nazi Germany in 1941. Bulgaria internal reasons to invade Vardar Macedonia because of the pressure put on the government by the great amount of immigrants from Macedonia who wanted to come back to their home places and rejoin their families . Slavic Macedonians were considered ethnic Bulgarians up to the Balkan wars, and the Macedonian language is still regarded by the Sofia government a Bulgarian dialect.

On October 4, 1941, the Bulgarian authorities enacted a law prohibited Jews from engaging in any form of commerce, and forcing them to sell their businesses to non-Jews. The Bulgarians then ghettoized the Jews of Bitola, forcing them to move from the Jewish areas of the town, which were relatively affluent, to poorer areas of the town. [ [http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10006804 The Holocaust in Macedonia: Deportation of Monastir Jewry, Mark Cohen, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum] ] Over the course of 1942, the Bulgarian authorities enacted increasingly harsh measures against the Jews under their control in Vardar Macedonia, Thrace and northern Greece, culminating in 1943 with the deportation of Macedonian, Greek and Thracian Jewry to the Nazi extermination camps of Poland.

The Bulgarians rounded up the entire Jewish population of Skopje, Bitola and Štip. Although Bulgaria defended Jews with Bulgarian citizenship from Nazi deportation orders, it nevertheless transported non-Bulgarian Jews to their deaths. The Jewish communities of Macedonia, Thrace, northern Greece and areas of Bulgarian-controlled Yugoslavia were almost completely wiped out. There was much harsh treatment before being transported in cattle-cars to Treblinka. A few dozen Bitola Jews managed to avoid deportation, and four escaped from the transit camp; none of the 3,276 Jews of Bitola deported to Treblinka survived [ [http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/article.php?lang=en&ModuleId=10006803 The Jewish Community of Monastir: A Community in Flux, Mark Cohen, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum] ] . In 2003, one Jew remained in the city that had been home to a Sephardic community for more than 400 years. Štip's ancient Jewish community was also completely destroyed.

After Vardar Macedonia was liberated in 1944, the remnants of the Jewish community re-gathered in Belgrade, Serbia [ [http://www.jewishaz.com/jewishnews/990723/help.shtml "TBI congregants raise funds for synagogue in Macedonia", Tami Bickley, Jewish News of Greater Phoenix] ] -- only about 140 had survived [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=&ID=6759&TypeID=0 "Macedonia's Jews battle the odds of survival", Katka Krosnar, Centropa Reports] ] . Most had survived by going into hiding or fighting with the Yugoslav, Jewish or Soviet Partisans [ [http://www.ce-review.org/00/4/daskalovski4.html Remembering the Past - Jewish culture battling for survival in Macedonia, Zhidas Daskalovski] ] . Of those transported to the death camps, almost none survived. Most survivors chose to immigrate to Israel, with some returning to Macedonia, and others remaining in Serbia.

Today

Today, the Jewish community of the Republic of Macedonia numbers some 200 people. Almost all live in Skopje, with one family in Štip and a single Jew remaining in Bitola [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=&ID=6759&TypeID=0 "Macedonia's Jews battle the odds of survival", Katka Krosnar, Centropa Reports] ] .

There is no anti-Semitism in the country, and intermarriage rates among Jews are high [ [http://www.ourjerusalem.com/history/story/history20030601.html "Jewish Yugoslavia", Ruth E Gruber, Our Jerusalem] ] . The community recently (2003 [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=&ID=6759&TypeID=0 "Macedonia's Jews battle the odds of survival", Katka Krosnar, Centropa Reports] ] ) opened a synagogue, and has a community center in Skopje. The community also maintains ties with Jewish communities in Belgrade and Salonica, while a rabbi travels to Skopje from Belgrade to aid in the conducting of services [ [http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0300/macedonia1.asp "Only 200 strong, Macedonia's Jews celebrate unity and new synagogue", Ruth E Gruber, Jewish World Review] ] . The community also recently sent, for the first time, a representative to the annual bible quiz in Israel celebrated every year on Israel's independence day [http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/851851.html Ha'aretz] .

Macedonian Jewish Community after long period (after 60 years) have new native born here in Macedonia Rabbi Avi M.Kozma (27 years old).Student of the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish Community in Serbia Isak Asiel, how was also Rabbi of Macedonia.Rabbi Avi M.Kozma, born in Macedonia , are graduated student at the Law University in Skopje, Macedonia.He study the Rabbinical studies with his first teacher, mentor and Rabbi, Rabbi Isak Asiel from 2000 - 2007, and after he study at the world famous Yeshiva - Rabbinical College Bet Midrash Sepharadi in Jerusalem - Israel, lead by the world famous Rabbinical figure , Rabbi Shlomo Kassin, where young Rabbi Avi M.Kozma, are still active, studding and progressing.

Rabbi Avi M.Kozma, was inaugurated on the 05.05.2008 at the Macedonian Synagogue "Beth Yaakov".Also there was been held the First Balkan Rabbinical Conference, organized by the Jewish Community in Macedonia, Yeshiva Bet Midrash Sepharadi - Rabbi Shlomo Kassin, World Zionist Organization - Department for Religious Affairs in Diaspora - Jerusalem - Israel, lead by Rabbi Yechiel Wasserman and by the Government of the R.Macedonia (Commission for relations with religious communities and groups).

On this very important event participate around 25 World Rabbis (Chief Rabbi of Moscow, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Strasbourg) Rabbi from Paris, Rabbi from Yeshiva Bet Midrash Sepharadi - Rabbi Ezra Kassin and other Rabbis from Yeshiva how are serving all around the world.Also participate the President of the European Jewish Congress - Mr.Moshe Kantor, Representative of JDC, World Jewish Congress, European Jewish Found and many others.

This very big and important project for training and educating the young Rabbi Avi M.Kozma, to serve in the community where the institution of Rabbi doesn't exist for 60 years, was been supported by the Jewish Community in R.Macedonia and the President of the Community Mr.Zdravko Sami, Yeshiva - Rabbinical College Bet Midrash Sepharadi in Jerusalem - Israel and World Zionist Organization - Department for Religious Affairs in Diaspora - Jerusalem - Israel, lead by Rabbi Yechiel Wasserman and Rabbi Isak Asiel.


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