History of the Jews in Croatia

History of the Jews in Croatia

The Jewish community of Croatia dates back to at least the third century AD, although little is known of the community until the tenth and fifteenth centuries. The community, over 20,000 strong on the eve of World War II, was almost entirely destroyed in the Holocaust, and numbers some 2,500 today. [ [http://www.eurojewcong.org/ejc/news.php?id_article=67 European Jewish Congress -Croatia] ] That number is an estimate and it is believed that the number of Croatian Jews is larger because more than 80 percent of the 1,500 members of Zagreb's Jewish community were either born in mixed marriages or are married to a non-Jew.Many grandchildren of Holocaust survivors have just one Jewish grandparent. [ [http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/15640/edition_id/305/format/html/displaystory.html Croatia's census forces Jews to confront identity crisis] ]

History of the community

Ancient community

Jews first arrived in what is now northern Croatia in the first centuries of the Common Era, when Roman law allowed free movement throughout the Roman Empire [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5970&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part III] ] . The Jews arrived as traders and merchants [ [http://www.bh.org.il/swj/country.php?country=2&places=18 Synagogues Without Jews - Serbia and Croatia] ] . Archaeological excavations in Osijek show a synagogue dating from the 3rd century AD, and while there are occasional references to Jews, little is known of the Jewish communities of Croatia until the 13th century [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5970&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part III (Osijek)] ] .

Late Middle Ages

The Jewish communities of Croatia flourished in the 13th and 14th centuries, with the communities enjoying prosperity and peaceful relations with their Croatian neighbors [ [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Croatia.html Jewish Virtual Library (Croatia)] ] .

This ended in 1456, when Jews, along with most non-Catholic Croats, were forced out. There followed 200 years where there are no records of Jews in Croatia [ [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Croatia.html Jewish Virtual Library (Croatia)] ] .

Arrival of the Spanish Refugees

The 15th century saw increasing persecution of Jews in areas of Spain retaken in the Reconquista. From 1492 onward, Jewish refugees fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions arrived in Ottoman territories, including the Balkan provinces of Macedonia and Bosnia. Some of these refugees found their way to Croatia, in particular to Split and Dubrovnik, on the Dalmatian coast [ [http://www.bh.org.il/swj/country.php?country=2&places=18 Synagogues Without Jews - Serbia and Croatia] ] .

Hapsburg rule

In the 17th century, Jews were still not permitted to settle in northern Croatia. Jews traveled to Croatia as travelling merchants, mostly from neighboring Hungary. They were generally permitted to stay only a few days [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5970&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part III] ] . In the early part of the century, the Sabor (parliament) confirmed its ban on permanent settlement when a Jewish family attempted to settle in Durdevac. [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5970&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part III] ]

In 1753, although still officially banned, Jews were allowed to settle in Bjelovar, Koprivnica and Varazdin, by the military commander of the Varazdin region, General Beck. In order to streamline the treatment of Jews in Croatia, Count Franjo Patacic, by order of the Royal Office in Varazdin, wrote a comprehensive report advocating Jewish permanent residence in Croatia on the basis that "most of them are merchants, and trade makes towns flourish" [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5970&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part III] ] .

The prohibition against Jewish settlement in northern Croatia lasted until 1783, when effect was given to the 1782 Edict of Tolerance issued by the Habsburg Monarch Emperor Joseph II. Jews were allowed to settle in Croatia, but were not allowed to own land or engage in any trade protected by a guild, and were not allowed to work in agriculture [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5970&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part III] ] . Despite these measures, Jews settled in Zagreb and Varazdin.

In 1840 the Sabor (parliament) voted to "gradually" allow full equality for the Jews, and over the next 33 years there was gradual progress.

In 1873, Ivan Mažuranić signed the decree allowing for the full legal equality of Jews and, as with other faiths, state funds were made available for community institutions [ [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=893&letter=C&search=croatia Jewish Encyclopedia - Croatia] ] .

By 1880, there were 13,488 Jews in Croatia, rising to 20,032 in 1900. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were 21 Jewish communities in Croatia, the largest being in Zagreb (3,000 people) and Osijek (3,000 people). The Jewish community of Croatia became highly successful and integrated. By 1900, 54% of Zagreb Jews and 35% of all Croatian Jews spoke Croatian as their mother tongue. Despite their small numbers, Jews were disproportionately represented in industrial and wholesale business in Croatia, and in the timber and food industries. Several Jewish families were amongst Croatia's wealthiest families. Despite the apparent wealth, most Jews were middle class, and many second generation Croatian Jews were attracted to the fields of law and medicine.

World War I

World War I brought about the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and upheaval for the Jewish communities of the region. After the war, Croatia joined with Slovenia, Serbia (which included Vardar Macedonia and Montenegro), and Bosnia and Herzegovina to form the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

Prior to World War II, the Croatian, and especially the Zagreb Jewish community, was the pre-eminent community of Yugoslavia. In 1940 there were about 11,000 Jews living in Zagreb: about 76% Ashkenaz, 5% Sephardi, 17% unaffiliated and the remainder being Religious [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5970&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part III] ] .

The Holocaust

At the outbreak of World War II, 23,000 Jews lived in Croatia [ [http://www.bh.org.il/swj/country.php?country=2&places=18 Jews Without Synagogues - Serbia and Croatia] ] .

On March 25, 1941, Prince Paul signed Yugoslavia's alliance with the Axis Powers under the Tripartite Pact. The decision was unpopular among serbian population, and massive demonstrations took place in the Yugoslav capital, Belgrade. Prince Paul was overthrown, and a new anti-German government under Peter II and Dušan Simović took power. The new government withdrew its support for the Axis, but did not repudiate the Tripartite Pact. Nevertheless, Axis forces, led by Nazi Germans, invaded Yugoslavia in April 1941.

The Nazi invasion was the doom of Croatian Jewry.

Under the Germans, Croatian ultra-nationalists, the Croatian Ustaše movement came to power.Croatian fascists established a state called the Independent State of Croatia. The Ustaše were notoriously anti-SemiticFact|date=May 2008, and wasted little time in instituting anti-Jewish legislation and persecuting the Jews under their control. Indeed, the then NDH Croatian Interior Minister Andrija Artuković, a member of the Ustaše, said "The Government of NDH Croatia shall solve the Jewish question in the same way as the German Government did" [Jews of Yugoslavia 1941-1945 Victims of Genocide and Freedom Fighters, Jasa Romano] .

The Ustaše set up concentration camps at Kerestinac, Jadovna, Metajna and Slana, Croatia. The most notorious, where heinous crimes and cruel torture was perpetrated against Jewish and Serbian prisoners, were at Pag and Jasenovac. At Jasenovac alone, tens of thousands of people were murdered (mostly Serbs), including 20,000 Jews [Jews of Yugoslavia 1941-1945 Victims of Genocide and Freedom Fighters, Jasa Romano, p7] .

The first genocide against Croatian (and Yugoslav) Jews began in July 1941. The Ustaše and German Nazis murdered tens of thousands of Serbs, approximately 20,000 Roma (Gypsies) and 32,000 Jews (including 20,000 of the 23,000-25,000 Croatian Jews [ [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Croatia.html Jewish Virtual Library - Croatia] ] ) in the territories they controlled [Ustashe] .

The Croatian Jewish community was all but destroyed in the Holocaust, with only 5,000 Croatian Jews surviving the war, most as either soldiers in Croat Tito's National Liberation Army (Yugoslav Partisans) or as exiles in the Italian-occupied zone. After Italy capitulated to the Axis Powers, the surviving Jews lived in free Partisan territory. [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5968&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part III] ]

When Yugoslavia was liberated in 1945, Croatia became part of the new Yugoslav federation, which eventually became the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Post-War community

After 1945, atheism was the official policy of Yugoslavia and Croatia: there was no rabbi in Croatia until the mid-1990s. Most Croatian Jews identified as Yugoslav, or as Serbs or Croats [ [http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/15640/edition_id/305/format/html/displaystory.html Croatia's census forces Jews to confront identity crisis, Vlasta Kovac] ] .

When Yugoslavia dissolved and Croatia became independent in 1991, Croatian Jews expressed their loyalty to the newly independent Croatian stateFact|date=February 2007. Some Croatian Jews have become the high-ranking officials and influential members of Croatian governments (some of are known as Croatian conservatives some as "hardliners" Andrija Hebrang,Mladen Schwartz,Jakov Sedlar).

The post-war Jewish community of Croatia was highly assimilated, with 80% of Zagreb's 1,500 Jews either born into mixed marriages, or married to a non-Jew. In 1991 there were approximately 2,000 Jews in Croatia.


Today there are approximately 2,500 Jews in Croatia.

The 2001 Croatian census listed only 495 Jews, with 323 in Zagreb. Approximately 20 Jews each live in Primorje-Gorski Kotar county, Osijek and Dubrovnik [ [http://www.dzs.hr/Eng/censuses/Census2001/Popis/E01_02_04/E01_02_04.html Population by Religion, by Towns/Municipalities, Census 2001] ] . The census is, however, unreliable, as most Jews do not disclose their identity.

Regional communities


The Jewish communities of the Croatian coast of Dalmatia date back to the 14th century AD. A letter from 1326 refers to a Jewish doctor in Dubrovnik. The community remained small throughout the years (100-330 members), although the community distinguished itself in trade and medicine. The community was augmented from 1421 by refugees fleeing increasing persecution in Spain, and then from 1492 as Jews fled the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5960&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part I] ]

Anti-Semitism, based on the attitudes of the Catholic Church and on Venetian law (which applied at the time), was a constant issue for the community, which lived in ghettos in Dubrovnik and Split. When Dalmatia was occupied by Napoleonic forces, the Jews attained legal equality for the first time [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5960&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part I] ] . In 1814, when the Austrian Empire annexed Dalmatia, legal equality was again withdrawn. Jews were granted legal equality under Croatian law in the mid 19th century [ [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5970&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part III] ] .

External links

* [http://www.zoz.hr/home.php?content=naslovna&setlang=en Jewish Community of Zagreb]
* [http://www.bet-israel.com/ Jewish Community Bet Israel of Croatia]
* [http://www.croatian-jewish-network.com/?q=en/node/22 Croatian Jewish Network - Chronology (Croatian only)]
* [http://www.lifejacketadventures.com/stories/pdfs/Split_Jews.pdf History of Split´s Jewish Community]

Notes and references

* "Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part III", Centropa Reports [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5970&TypeID=36658]
* "The Virtual Jewish History Tour - Croatia", Stephanie Persin, Jewish Virtual Library [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Croatia.html]

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