History of the Jews in Serbia

History of the Jews in Serbia

Jews first arrived in what is now the Republic of Serbia in Roman times. The Jewish communities of the Balkans remained small until the late fifteenth century, when Jews fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions found refuge in Ottoman-ruled areas, including Serbia. Jewish communities flourished in the Balkans until the turmoil of World War I. The surviving communities, including that of Serbia, were almost completely destroyed in the Holocaust during World War II. The Jewish community of Serbia now numbers fewer than 800.

History of the community

Ancient communities

Jews first arrived in the region now known as Serbia in Roman times, although there is little documentation prior to the tenth century AD. For the next five hundred years, documentation on the Jews of the Balkans is sketchy.

panish refugees

The Jewish communities of the Balkans were boosted in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by the arrival of Jewish refugees fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire welcomed the Jewish refugees into his Empire. Jews became involved in trade between the various provinces in the Ottoman Empire, becoming especially important in the salt trade [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/serbia.html Virtual Jewish History Tour - Serbia and Montenegro ] ] .

Ottoman rule

With generally good relations between the Jews and Serbs, the Jewish communities prospered, and by the nineteenth century Jewish merchants were largely responsible for the trade routes between the Ottoman Empire's northern and southern territories [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/serbia.html Virtual Jewish History Tour - Serbia and Montenegro ] ] .

Beginning in 1804, the Serbs began to fight the Ottoman Turks for independence. Many Jews were involved in the struggle by supplying arms to the local Serbs, and the Jewish communities faced brutal reprisal attacks from the Ottoman Turks [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/serbia.html Virtual Jewish History Tour - Serbia and Montenegro ] ] . The independence struggle lasted until 1830, when Serbia gained its independence.

The new Serbian government was not friendly toward the Jewish community, and by 1831, there were prohibitions against Jews entering some professions. Under rule of Milos Obrenovic, the Belgrade Jewish community had its own money issue. The situation of the Jews briefly improved under the rule of Prince Mihailo Obrenović (ruled 1839-1842). The Jews were a very respected minority in Serbia after theObrenovic dynasty ended. The very first act of Serbian King Petar I was royal support for building a new synagogue in Belgrade.

With the reclamation of the Serbian throne by the Royal House of Obrenović under Miloš Obrenović in 1858, restrictions on Jewish merchants were again relaxed, but three years later, in 1861 Mihailo III inherited the throne and reinstated anti-Jewish restrictions. [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/serbia.html Virtual Jewish History Tour - Serbia and Montenegro ] ] .

The waxing and waning of the fortunes of the Jewish community according to the ruler continued to the end of the 19th Century, when the Serbian parliament lifted all anti-Jewish restrictions in 1889. [ [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/serbia.html Virtual Jewish History Tour - Serbia and Montenegro ] ]

By 1912, the Jewish community of Serbia stood at 5,000. [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/serbia.html Virtual Jewish History Tour - Serbia and Montenegro ] ] .

In the aftermath of World War I, Serbia merged with Montenegro, and then united with State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which was soon renamed Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Serbia's relatively small Jewish community of 13,000 (including 500 in Kosovo) ["Jews of Yugoslavia 1941 – 1945", by Jasa Romano, Federation of Jewish Communities of Yugoslavia, 1980; pp. 573-590.] , combined with the large Jewish communities of the other Yugoslav territories, numbering some 51,700. In the inter-war years (1919-1939), the Jewish communities of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia flourished.

Prior to World War II, 10,000 Jews lived in Belgrade, 80% being Ladino-speaking Sephardi Jews, and 20% being Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews [Belgrade Synagogue] .

The Holocaust

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia had had a pro-German government since 1935 with Milan Stojadinović and had enacted anti-Jewish legislation as early as 1937.A group of nationalist generals overthrew the government of Dragiša Cvetković and the regent Paul on March 27, 1941 under the pretense of opposing the Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany [Marko Attila Hoare, [http://www.henryjacksonsociety.org/stories.asp?id=297 "Adding Insult to Injury: Washington Decorates a Nazi Collaborator"] , Henry Jackson Society, 11th June 2005] , and on April 6, 1941 German, Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian troops invaded Yugoslavia.

The Nazi genocide against Serbian (and Yugoslav) Jews began in September 1941, the Jews of Banat and Belgrade being the first to be persecuted by the German army and police with the help of the Serbian police under the orders of the Serbian Government of National Salvation. The Nazis set up two concentration camps in Belgrade with Serbian guards --Banjica and Sajmište-- in order to process and eliminate the Jews captured. As a consequence Emanuel Schäfer, Chief of the German police and Gestapo in Serbia, could boast as soon as 1942 that:

:"Belgrade - the only larger European city which has been cleansed of Jews, has become "judenfrei"."

Similarly Harald Turner of the SS, stated in 1942 that:

:"Serbia is a nation in which the problem of Jews and Gypsies has been solved." [Ljubica Stefan, [http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dc2m8p62_108hcqzjqc3 "Anti-semitism in Serbia during World war II"] ]

World War II

At the beginning of World War II in Serbia in 1941, some Jews joined Yugoslav resistance forces, which consisted of two factions: the communist-led Yugoslav Partisans (or simply the "Partisans"), and the royalist Chetniks. The Chetniks were founded as a Royalist movement, but increasingly evolved into a Serb nationalist militia. The movement was reactivated under the form of the 'Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland' by Colonel Draža Mihailović in the Serbia's Ravna Gora province after the invasion of Yugoslavia.

Jews were also members of the "Yugoslav Army in the Fatherland" (Jugoslovenska vojska u otadžbini, JVUO)Although an overwhelming majority of its members were Serbs, the movement also included a number of JewsFact|date=September 2008, Croats, [2] Slovenes, [3] and Bosnian Muslims. [4] [5] Most of the non-Serbs were monarchists and/or anti-communists. In the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), Chetniks were under the command of Momčilo Đujić, in the sp called Krajina region of modern-day Croatia, they organized themselves in response to Ustaša attacks on Serbian villages and Jews.Fact|date=September 2008

By the time Serbia and Yugoslavia were liberated in 1944, most of the Serbian Jewry had been murdered. Of the 82,500 Jews of Yugoslavia alive in 1941, only 14,000 (17%) survived the Holocaust [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/serbia.html Virtual Jewish History Tour - Serbia and Montenegro ] ] . Only 4,000 Serbian Jews had survived the Holocaust [ [http://www.bh.org.il/swj/country.php?country=2&places=18 Synagogues Without Jews-Croatia and Serbia ] ] .

Post-war community

The Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia was formed in the aftermath of World War II to coordinate the Jewish communities of post-war Yugoslavia and to lobby for the right of Jews to immigrate to Israel [ [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Yugoslavia2.html Jews of the Former Yugoslavia After the Holocaust ] ] . The Federation was headquartered in Belgrade, the capital of the post-war Yugoslavia.

More than half of Yugoslav survivors chose to immigrate to Israel after World War II.

The Jewish community of Serbia, and indeed of all constituent republics in Yugoslavia, was maintained by the unifying power of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia. However, this power ended with dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Yugoslav wars

The Jews of Serbia lived relatively peacefully in Yugoslavia between World War II and the 1990s. However, the end of the Cold War saw the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the ensuing civil wars.

While there was some anti-Semitism in Serbia during the wars [ [http://www.jewishsf.com/content/2-0-/module/displaystory/story_id/10994/edition_id/211/format/html/displaystory.html Serb backers blame talmudic Zionist Jews] ] , the Jewish community, as with all Serbians, suffered as a result of the wars. Many Jews chose to immigrate to Israel and the United States. During the Kosovo Conflict, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia relocated many of Belgrade's Jewish elderly, women and children to Budapest, Hungary for their safety; many of them emigrated permanently [ [http://www.bh.org.il/swj/country.php?country=2&places=18 Synagogues Without Jews-Croatia and Serbia ] ] .



Prior to the conflicts of the 1990s, approximately 2,500 Jews lived in Serbia [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/serbia.html Virtual Jewish History Tour - Serbia and Montenegro ] ] , most in Belgrade.

According to the 2002 Serbian census, there were 785 Jews in Serbia. Almost all Jews (91%) in Central Serbia live in Belgrade. Forty-percent of Serbian Jews live in Vojvodina. The results of the 2002 census are displayed below [ [http://webrzs.statserb.sr.gov.yu/axd/Zip/VJN3.pdf Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, 2002 Census Results, p12] sr icon] :

The only remaining functioning synagogue in Serbia is the Belgrade Synagogue. There are also small numbers of Jews in Zrenjanin and Sombor, with isolated families scattered throughout the rest of Serbia.

Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in Serbia are relatively rare and isolated. According to the US State Department Report on Human Rights practices in Serbia for 2006,

:"Jewish leaders in Serbia reported continued incidents of anti-Semitism, including anti-Semitic graffiti, vandalism, small circulation anti-Semitic books, and Internet postings",

and that anti-Semitic incidents have been on the rise in Serbia. [ [http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/78837.htm Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Serbia, 2006] ] As nationalism replaced communism as the main ideology in Serbia, there was a resurgence of anti-semitic statements, as well as a simultaneous attempt on the part of the Serbian regime to instrumentalize the supposed influence of the Jewish community abroad. [Laslo Sekelj, [http://sicsa.huji.ac.il/12sekel.html "Antisemitism and Jewish Identity in Serbia After the 1991 Collapse of the Yugoslav State"] , The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, The Hebrew Univversity of Jerusalem, "Analysis of Current Trends in Antisemitism", 1997 acta no. 12]

The Holy Synod of the Serbian Orthodox Church "canonized" on May 19, 2003, "Vladika" Nikolaj Velimirović [Jovan Byford, [http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dc2m8p62_205g4pr48c8 "Canonizing the 'Prophet' of antisemitism: the apotheosis of bishop Nikolaj Velimirović and the legitimation of religious anti-semitism in contemporary Serbian society] , "RFE/RL Report", 18 February 2004, Volume 6, Number 4] , who had this to say about Adolf Hitler in a public speech --"The nationalism of saint Sava", pronounced in the spring of 1935 and published in 1937:

:"We must regard with esteem the present German Führer who... in the twentieth century... came up with the idea of St. Sava and as a layman took upon himself a task for his people as befits only a holy man, a genius and a hero." [ [http://sanimideg.forumup.com/about86-0.html Николај Велимировић: "Национализам Светога Саве"] ] .

Nikolaj Velimirović also boasted in an interview in 1953 [Jovan Byford, [http://sicsa.huji.ac.il/22byford.pdf "From "Traitor" to "Saint": Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović in Serbian Public Memory"] , The Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem] that he had been the spiritual leader and "éminence grise" of Dimitrije Ljotić, the founder and leader of the Serbian Nazi movement Zbor, whose "Srpski Dobrovoljački Korpus" ("Serb Volunteer Corps") was integrated into the Waffen SS organization in November 1944 [H.L. deZeng IV, [http://www.axishistory.com/index.php?id=90 Srpski Dobrovoljački Korpus (Serbische Freiwilligenkorps)] ] .

The Serbian government recognizes Judaism as one of the seven "traditional" religious communities of Serbia [ [http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51578.htm International Religious Freedom Report 2005, Serbia and Montenegro] (includes Kosovo) (released by US Department of State)] .


Even today, the majority of Serbian Jews are Sephardim (descendants of refuges from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions).


While the rest of Serbia was still ruled by the Ottoman Empire, Vojvodinandash an autonomous province within the Republic of Serbiandash was ruled by the Habsburg Monarchy from the end of the 17th century. Vojvodina too had previously been ruled by the Ottoman Empire, and it was under Ottoman rule that the first Jews settled in the region.

In 1782, Emperor Joseph II issued the Edict of Tolerance, giving Jews some measure of religious freedom. The Edict attracted Jews to many parts of the Habsburg Monarchy, including Vojvodina. The Jewish communities of Vojvodina flourished, and by the end of the 19th Century the region had nearly 40 Jewish communities. [ [http://www.bh.org.il/swj/country.php?country=2&places=18 Synagogues Without Jews-Croatia and Serbia ] ]

The 1931 census counted 21,000 Jews in the province. The Jewish communities of Vojvodina, as in the rest of Serbia, were largely destroyed in the Holocaust, particularly in Banat, which was under direct German occupation, and in Bačka, which was under Hungarian occupation. In 1942 raid, the Hungarian troops killed many Jewish and Serb civilians in Bačka. Synagogues in Zrenjanin and Kikinda were demolished during war, while the synagogue in Pančevo was demolished after war because there were only a few Jews remaining there.

Today, 329 Jewsndash almost half of Serbian Jewryndash live in Vojvodina, most in Subotica, Pančevo, Zrenjanin and Sombor.

Notable people

* Moša Pijade, politician, painter, art critic and publicist
* Oskar Davičo, poet
* Danilo Kiš, writer
* Aleksandar Tišma, writer
* David Albahari, writer
* Sonja Licht
* Erich Šlomović art collector
* David Albahari, writer
* Filip David, Playwright and columnist
* Predrag Ejdus, actor
* Vanja Ejdus, actress

Notes and references

* [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/serbia.html Jewish Virtual Library, Serbia and Montenegro]
* [http://www.bh.org.il/swj/country.php?country=2&places=18 Synagogues Without Jews - Serbia and Croatia]
* [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/Yugoslavia2.html Jews of the Former Yugoslavia After the Holocaust]
* [http://www.jdc.org/p_ee_serbia_history.html American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Serbia-Montenegro]
* Belgrade Synagogue
* "Jews of Yugoslavia 1941 - 1945 Victims of Genocide and Freedom Fighters", by Jasa Romano, from the English summary in the book "Jevreji Jugoslavije 1941-1945. Žrtve Genocida i učesnici Narodnooslobodilačkog Rata", Belgrade: Federation of Jewish Communities of Yugoslavia, 1980; pp. 573-590.

External links

* [http://www.beograd.org.yu/cms/view.php?id=1408 Official city of Belgrade site about Belgrade Jews]
* [http://www.jobeograd.org Jewish community of Belgrade]
* en icon [http://www.joz.org.yu Jewish community of Zemun] ("a district in Belgrade")
* en icon [http://www.jim-bg.org Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade]

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