Search
Print
Share
Your Selected Item:
1 \ 5
Removed
Added
Would you like to help us improving the content? Send us your suggestions

The Jewish Community of Monastir, Bitola

Monastir

Serbo-Croatian Bitolj; Macedonian Bitola

A town near the Greek border, Macedonia. Formerly in Yugoslavia.

Monastir was situated on one of the ancient and main trade routes of the Balkans (the Roman "Via Egnatia") which went from the Albanian port of Durazzo to Salonika and Constantinople. It is therefore not surprising that Jews lived there already in Roman times. Direct evidence of Jewish settlement in this region was discovered in 1930 by a Yugoslavian archaeologist, Joso Petrovic, who found at nearby Stobi a column from a third century c.e. synagogue donated by one Claudius Tiberius Polycharmos, Pater Synagogae ("father of the synagogue") - the chief Parnas. Marmorstein presumes that the ancestors of Polycharmos were freemen of the Emperor Claudius who had left Rome for Macedonia around the middle of the first century.

Nothing is known about Jewish settlement in Monastir in the Byzantine period. In the 12th century there were Greek-speaking (Romaniot) Jewish artisans and traders in the town. More Jews arrived after the expulsion from Hungary in the 14th century. At the end of the 15th century refugees from Asia Minor and during the first half of the 16th century many Spanish exiles who came by the coast or through Salonika settled in Monastir. Throughout the Ottoman period (1382-1913) Monastir was a lively commercial center. Trade was mainly in Jewish hands (export of liquor, olive oil, salt and salted fish, and import of wool, silk and woven cloth, copper, etc.); many Jews were tanners, silversmiths, cheesemakers, etc. In the 16th century rabbi Joseph ben Lev was head of the Yeshivah. In the 18th century Abraham ben Judah Di Buton was a rabbi of Monastir. A fire which swept through the town in 1863 destroyed over 1,000 Jewish homes and shops. A blood libel accusation was leveled against the Jews in 1900.

In 1884 there were 4,000 Jews in Monastir, and in 1910, 7,000. After World War I the economic situation deteriorated considerably and many Jews left the town, mainly for the United States and Chile, while others settled in Jerusalem. The remaining Jews were impoverished and there were many unemployed and poor people who were workers, porters, and peddlers. Between the two World Wars community activity was manifold and intense with growing Zionist conscience and endeavor; the leader was Leon Kamhi. In the 1930's the central Jewish bodies became aware of the acute social problems in this community and introduced vocational training courses, encouraged Chalutz youth movements and other activities, but the time was too short. This old community with its several synagogues, diverse social and cultural institutions, as well as a rich and original Judeo-Spanish folklore with some Turkish admixture, was wiped out during the Holocaust; the approximately 3,500 Jews were deported by the Bulgarian occupation authorities, for the most part to Treblinka on April 5, 1943. In 1952 there were only one or two Jews in the town.

Place Type:
Town
ID Number:
146790
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Nearby places:

Related items:
Members of the Zionist Organization 'Hatehiya".
Monastir (Bitola), Yugoslavia, 1926.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade)
Group of Hebrew students of with their teacher
Lea Ben-David (sitting in the center), who was
brought from Eretz Israel by the local Rabbi.
Bitolja (Macedonia), Yugoslavia, c.1925.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Jenny Lebel, Tel Aviv)

Kindergarten children with their teacher Lea Ben-David, Bitola, Macedonia, c.1925
Lea Ben-David was also called 'La Geveret". She was brought to Bitola from Eretz Israel to teach Hebrew and run the Jewish kindergarten
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Jenny Lebel, Tel Aviv)

Members of 'Hashomer Hatzair' with their instructor Moshe Ashkenazi (1st row, 3rd on the left), Bitola, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, 1933-1934
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Jenny Lebel, Tel Aviv)

Adela Faragi with her Parents.
Bitola, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, 1930.
In 1940 Adela Fought with the Yugoslavia partisans.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
Courtesy of Jenny Lebel, Tel Aviv)

Estreja Ovadija Mara (1922-1944), partisan, National Hero of Yugoslavia, born in Bitola (Monastir), North Macedonia (then part of Yugoslavia). She was active in the WIZO organization and then in the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia. A textile worked, she worked in Belgrade after 1938 until March 1941, when she returned to Bitola.

After the invasion of Yugoslavia by Germany and its allies in April 1941 she joined the anti-fascist movement that immediately started preparing the armed resistance. Bitola, as part of Yugoslav Macedonia, was occupied by Bulgaria, a German ally. The Bulgarian occupation forces started persecuting the Jews and limiting their movement. In 1942 Ovadija became a member of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. She lived illegally under the assumed name of Mara. Her missions included encouraging Jews to join the partisan units. In March 1943, she managed to escape the deportation of about 3,000 Jews from Bitola to Treblinka Nazi death camp. Along with another seven Jewish girls, including her friend Jamila Angela Isaac Colonomus, she found shelter in the house of Stojan-Bogoja Siljanovski, a tobacconist of Bitola, who hid them during the raid against the Jews conducted by the Bulgarian and German forces. On November 28, 1989, Yad Vashem recognized Stojan-Bogoja Siljanovski as Righteous Among the Nations.  

In April 1943 she joined the Goce Delcev partisan unit taking part in all the battles fought by this unit at Fuštan, Tušin and Kožuf against Bulgarian and German military. Ovadija served as deputy political commissar of her company within the Third Macedonian Brigade of partisans and on August 22, 1944, she was appointed political commissar of a battalion of the Seventh Macedonian Brigade. Four days later, on August 26, 1944, she was killed in action during a battle with Bulgarian border guards on Kajmakcalan summit.

On October 11, 1953, by order of the President of the Yugoslavia, Iosip Broz Tito, Estreja Ovadija Mara was proclaimed a National Hero of Yugoslavia – the highest medal for wartime bravery in Yugoslavia. She was the only Jewish woman ever to receive this designation.  

Florina

Alternate spelling: Phlorina; in Greek: Φλώρινα

A town in the region of Macedonia, northern Greece.

Under control of the Ottoman Empire until it became part of Greece after the Balkan Wars (1912-13).

 

History

Jews settled in Florina after the expulsion from Spain in 1492.

In the 17th and 18th centuries Florina was the site of an established Jewish community. Most of its members were Sephardi Jews from Turkey. The community maintained economic relations with Thessaloniki, Kastoria, and Karditsa.

At some point in the 19th century the Jews abandoned the town probably due to the municipal authority’s decree to hold the weekly market day on Saturday.

The Jewish community was reestablished in 1912, when Jews from Monastir (today Bitola in Macedonia) moved to the town, in search of better economic conditions.

 In 1914 there were 100 Jewish families living in Florina. Additional Jews arrived during World War I. A Jewish school was established in 1917. Baruch Kamchi, a butcher from Monastir served as president of the community.

In 1922 the Jews of Florina were recognized by the Greek authorities as an autonomous community and the government took part in financing the community budget.

Most of the Jews of Florina derived their livelihood from trade and small commerce. Jews were merchants, dealers in old clothes, greengrocers, carpenters, and cobblers.  There were also those who were itinerant sellers of eggs.

The Jewish quarter was located along the banks of the Saculeba River. There was a small synagogue building on Aberos Street, with a rabbi who doubled as mohel, shochet, and Hebrew teacher. The cemetery was located outside the town in the foothills. There were a number of communal aid societies and a local Zionist organization, Achdut B’nai Zion.

At the beginning of the 1920s the chief rabbi of Thessaloniki, Ben Zion Meir Hai Ouziel, together with other influential Jews of his community influenced the Ministry of National Economy to change the market day from Saturday to Wednesday. The Greek Orthodox population of Florina ignored this ruling and in 1921 along with local Muslims, they attacked the Jews over this issue. While many Jewish merchants began working on the Sabbath, others left the town. In 1924-25 the Greek government banned work on Sunday, making it even more difficult for Sabbath observant Jews to make a living, and prompting more to move elsewhere.

From 1925 to 1927 there were annual blood libels around Easter time. In one incident a Florina town official accused the Jews of having kidnapped a Christian child in order to use his blood for Passover matzos. Once the child was found near the town the official was fired by the authorities.

In September 1939 there were 370 Jews living in Florina, and in 1940 there were 400.
 

The Holocaust

Four members of the Jewish community were killed in the war against the fascist Italian army which invaded from Albania on October 28, 1940.  Their names Menahem Aharon, Menashe Iosif, Isaak Rajamin, and Testa Bension are inscribed on Florina’s war memorial.

The Germans occupied the area in May 1941 and annexed Florina to the German military government in Thessaloniki. Nazi racial laws were applied to the Jews, and they were forced to live in a ghetto and to wear a yellow badge.

In mid-1941 Jews were taken for forced labor and told to hand over to the Germans all their properties and valuables. The community`s leaders asked for help from Rabbi Koretz, the chief rabbi of Thessaloniki and the heads of his community.

On April 30, 1943 the Germans stormed into Jewish houses in Florina and arrested the inhabitants. All personal belongings were confiscated by the Nazis and homes and businesses looted, with the participation of some of the local inhabitants. The Jews were transported to the Hirsch camp, a transit camp near Thessaloniki. Some Jews succeeded in fleeing to neighboring villages. The rest were sent to their death at the Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp.

 

Postwar

Only 64 of the Jews of Florina survived the war. Most settled in other towns or emigrated to different countries including Israel, the United States, Brazil, and Chile. In 1958 only seven Jews remained.

Buildings belonging to former Jewish residents were turned over to the Jewish Community of Greece and sold at auction.

In 1970 the Jewish community of Florina was dissolved, and there is no longer a Jewish presence in the town.

North Macedonia

Republic of North Macedonia
Република Северна Македонија

A country in the Balkan peninsula in southeastern Europe.  It became an independent state in 1991 after the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. 

Sarajevo

In Jewish sources: Sarai de Bosnia

The capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo has been called the "Jerusalem of the Balkans," a testament to the city's multiculturalism and the cooperation that historically took place between Muslim, Orthodox Christian, Catholic, and Jewish residents. Until the end of World War I (1918) Sarajevo was part of the Austrian Empire. From the interwar period until 1992 it was part of Yugoslavia. Sarajevo became part of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992.

As of 2016 there are approximately 1,000 Jews living in Bosnia, 700 of whom live in Sarajevo; five older members of the community still speak Ladino, the language of the community before World War II. The community center is one of the few Jewish community buildings in Europe that is not protected by security, evidence of the sense of safety felt by Sarajevo's Jewish community within the city. The community center includes an active synagogue, a Sunday school for children ages 3-12, a volunteer-run Jewish newspaper that prints 4-5 issues a year, as well as youth and student groups. Jakob Finci, the former Bosnian ambassador to Switzerland, serves as the president of the Jewish community in Bosnia. Igor Kozemjakin, who returned to Sarajevo after the Bosnian War, helps lead synagogue services. He and his wife, Anna Petruchek, translated a siddur (prayerbook) into Bosnian.

In October, 2015 the Jewish community of Sarajevo marked the 450th anniversary of Jewish life in Bosnia. Events included exhibitions, a two-day international conference, and tours to see the Sarajevo Haggadah.

SARAJEVO HAGGADAH

The Sarajevo Haggadah is perhaps one of the most famous Jewish manuscripts in the world, not only because it is one of the oldest Sephardic Haggadahs in the world, but also for its unlikely survival through some of the worst and most tragic events in Jewish and general history.

The Haggadah is handwritten, and its first 34 pages contain illustrations of major Biblical scenes, from creation through the death of Moses. Historians generally believe that the Sarajevo Haggadah was originally written in Spain, and left the country with Spanish Jews fleeing the Inquisition of 1492. Marginalia indicate that it was in Italy at some point during the 16th century. The Haggadah only reached Sarajevo at the end of the 19th century, when it was sold by Josef Kohen in 1894 to the National Museum of Sarajevo (it is unclear how Kohen came to be in possession of the Haggadah).

During World War II the museum's director, Dr. Jozo Petrovic, and the chief librarian, Dervis Korkut, hid the Sarajevo Haggadah from the Nazis; Korkut, who also saved a Jewish woman during the Holocaust, smuggled the Haggadah out of Sarajevo and gave it to a Muslim cleric in Zenica, who hid it in a mosque.

During the Bosnian War (1992-1995) thieves broke into the museum; the Haggadah was found on the floor, the thieves having discarded it because they believed it was not valuable. During the Siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996) it was stored in an underground vault, though in 1995 the president of Bosnia displayed the Haggadah during the community seder, in order to quell rumors that the Haggadah had been sold in exchange for weapons.

In 2001 the United Nations and the Bosnian Jewish community financed the restoration of the Haggadah and beginning in 2002 it went on permanent display at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina went bankrupt in 2012, and closed its doors after not being able to pay its employees for over a year. The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art attempted to arrange for the Haggadah to be loaned to them, but due to the complicated politics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the request was denied. The museum was reopened in September 2015 and the Sarajevo Haggadah was put back on display.

HISTORY

The first Jews came to Sarajevo in the middle of the 16th century (the first documented evidence of a Jewish presence dates to 1565). A significant number of Jews who arrived were Spanish refugees from Salonika. In spite of the fact that these new Spanish arrivals spoke a different language (Ladino) and had distinct customs, they were quickly accepted and worked mostly as artisans and merchants. Jews were known as the region's early pharmacists and hatchims (from the Arabic-Turkish word for physician, Hakim). With few exceptions, the Jewish community enjoyed good relations with their Muslim neighbors.

A Jewish Quarter was established in 1577 near the main market of Sarajevo and included a synagogue. Though the general population referred to the Jewish Quarter as the "tchifut-khan," the Jews themselves called it the "mahalla judia" (Jewish quarters) or the "cortijo" (communal yard). As the community grew the Jews began to branch out of the Jewish Quarter, since there were no legal restrictions placed on where Jews could live. Many worked as blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, butchers, joiners, and later as metalworkers; they also operated Sarajevo's first sawmill and traded in iron, wood, chemicals, textiles, firs, glass, and dyes.

During the Ottoman period the Jewish community of Sarajevo enjoyed a relatively high standard of living. It had religious and judicial independence and broad autonomy when it came to community affairs. The Ottoman authorities even enforced the sentences imposed by the rabbinical court when they were requested to do so. In exchange, the Jews paid a special tax (kharaj).

The Jewish Quarter, along with the synagogue, was destroyed in 1679 during the Great Turkish War. One of the notable rabbis to serve the community during this period was Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi from Ofen (Buda) and known as the Khakham Tzvi. Rabbi Ashkenazi lived in Sarajevo from 1686 until 1697. It was also during this period that new Jewish settlers began arriving from Rumelia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Padua, and Venice. This new wave of immigrants contributed to the community's evolution and growth during the 18th century.

In 1800 there were 1,000 Jews living in Sarajevo.

The community was officially recognized by the Ottoman sultan in the 19th century. Moses Perera was appointed as the rabbi of Sarajevo and as the hakham bashi for Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1840. The Jewish community lived largely in peace and was able to maintain its cultural and religious life. Members expanded their artisan and trade activities, and added copper, zinc, glass, and dyes to their export work. Additionally, by the middle of the 19th century all of Sarajevo and Bosnia's physicians were Jews.

The 1878 annexation of Sarajevo to Austria brought a new wave of Ashkenazi immigrants to the city, who worked as government officials, specialists, and entrepreneurs. They contributed to the country's development and modernization and were pioneers in the fields of optics, watchmaking, fine mechanics, and printing.

A number of Jews were politically active. The first European-educated physician in Bosnia, Isaac Shalom, better known as Isaac effendi, was the first Jewish member to be appointed to the provincial majlis idaret (assembly); he was succeeded by his son Salomon "effendi" Shalom. Javer (Xaver) "effendi" Baruch was elected as a deputy to the Ottoman Parliament in 1876.

By the end of the 19th century there were 10,000 Jews living in Sarajevo.

After World War I, when Sarajevo became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Jews of Bosnia enjoyed an unprecedented level of freedom and equality. At that point the Jewish population was 14,000, less than 1% of the general population of Bosnia.

Between 1927 and 1931 the Sephardic synagogue, the largest in the Balkans, was built; it would be desecrated and torn down by Croatian fascists and Germans less than ten years later. A theological seminary was opened in 1928 by the Federation of Jewish Communities, and offered a high school education for Jewish students. The seminary's first principal was Rabbi Moritz Levi, who wrote the first history of the Sephardim in Bosnia; he would eventually be killed during the Holocaust.

The Jews of Sarajevo enjoyed a wide range of social and cultural organizations, as well as a thriving Jewish press. La Benevolencia which was founded in 1894, was a major organization that served as a mutual aid society; two of its branches, Melacha and Geula, helped artisans and economic activities. A choir, Lyra-Sociedad de Cantar de los Judios-Espanoles, was established in 1901. La Matatja was the Jewish workers' union. The first Jewish newspaper published in Sarajevo was La Alborada, a literary weekly that appeared from 1898 until 1902. The weekly periodicals Zidovska Svijest, Jevrejska Tribuna, Narodna Tzodovska Svijest, and Jevrejski Glas, the last of which had a Ladino section, were published between 1928 and 1941.

Zionism was also active between the two World Wars. The youth movement Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza'ir was particularly popular; during the Holocaust a relatively high number of its participants, along with participants from the Matatja movement, became partisans, fighters, and leaders of the resistance movement. A Sephardic movement with separatist leanings, associated with the World Sephardi Union, was also active during the interwar period. A number of Jews became involved with the (illegal) Communist Party during the 1930s.

During the interwar period Sarajevo was the third largest Jewish center of Yugoslavia (after Zagreb and Belgrade). In 1935 there were 8,318 Jews living in the city.

Prominent figures from Sarajevo include the writer Isak Samokovlija (d. 1955). Samokovlija vividly described Bosnian Jewish life, particularly the struggles of the porters, peddlers, beggars, and artisans. The artists Daniel Ozmo, who did mostly woodcuts, Daniel Kabiljo-Danilus, and Yosif Levi-Monsino lived in Sarajevo.

THE HOLOCAUST

Sarajevo was captured and occupied by the German Army on April 15, 1941. It was subsequently included in the Independent State of Croatia, an Axis-created Nazi puppet state. That year Sarajevo's Jewish population was 10,500.

On April 16, 1941 the Sephardic synagogue, which was the largest synagogue in the Balkans, was desecrated. This was followed by repeated outbreaks of violence against Sarajevo's Jews, culminating in mass deportations. Between September and November 1941 the majority of the Jewish community of Sarajevo was deported to Croatian concentration camps, including Jasenovac, Loborgrad, and Djakovo, where most were killed. A small number of Jews survived by joining partisan groups or fleeing to Italy.

POSTWAR

A small community was revived after World War II, though most of the survivors immigrated to Israel or other countries between 1948 and 1949. The Ashkenazi synagogue, which had remained relatively intact, became the community center where services were held, and where cultural and social activities were hosted. Rabbi Menahem Romani served as the community's religious leader. A monument dedicated to the fighters and martyrs of the Second World War was erected in the Jewish cemetery in Kosovo.

In 1970 a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina was held in 1970. The community published a memorial book to mark the occasion.

In 1971 there were 1,000 Jews living in Sarajevo.

BOSNIAN WAR

During the Bosnian War (1992-1995), Sarajevo was under siege from April 5, 1992 until February 29, 1996. During the siege 900 Jews were evacuated and taken by bus to Pirovac, near Split, and 150 were flown to Belgrade. Others, including many children, were sent to Israel. Those who remained in Sarajevo were considered neutral in the conflict, allowing them the freedom to organize humanitarian relief through La Benevolencija, which had been reestablished in 1991. La Benevolencija provided food and medicine to the people of Sarajevo, regardless of religion or ethnicity, and operated out of the community center. It also arranged for more than 2,000 people to be evacuated from the besieged city. Because the Jewish cemetery was located on a hill overlooking Sarajevo, it was used by Serbian snipers during the siege and badly damaged.

In 1997 there were 600 Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina, about half of whom lived in Sarajevo.

our Open Databases
Jewish Genealogy
Family Names
Jewish Communities
Visual Documentation
Jewish Music Center
Place
אA
אA
אA
Would you like to help us improving the content? Send us your suggestions
The Jewish Community of Monastir, Bitola

Monastir

Serbo-Croatian Bitolj; Macedonian Bitola

A town near the Greek border, Macedonia. Formerly in Yugoslavia.

Monastir was situated on one of the ancient and main trade routes of the Balkans (the Roman "Via Egnatia") which went from the Albanian port of Durazzo to Salonika and Constantinople. It is therefore not surprising that Jews lived there already in Roman times. Direct evidence of Jewish settlement in this region was discovered in 1930 by a Yugoslavian archaeologist, Joso Petrovic, who found at nearby Stobi a column from a third century c.e. synagogue donated by one Claudius Tiberius Polycharmos, Pater Synagogae ("father of the synagogue") - the chief Parnas. Marmorstein presumes that the ancestors of Polycharmos were freemen of the Emperor Claudius who had left Rome for Macedonia around the middle of the first century.

Nothing is known about Jewish settlement in Monastir in the Byzantine period. In the 12th century there were Greek-speaking (Romaniot) Jewish artisans and traders in the town. More Jews arrived after the expulsion from Hungary in the 14th century. At the end of the 15th century refugees from Asia Minor and during the first half of the 16th century many Spanish exiles who came by the coast or through Salonika settled in Monastir. Throughout the Ottoman period (1382-1913) Monastir was a lively commercial center. Trade was mainly in Jewish hands (export of liquor, olive oil, salt and salted fish, and import of wool, silk and woven cloth, copper, etc.); many Jews were tanners, silversmiths, cheesemakers, etc. In the 16th century rabbi Joseph ben Lev was head of the Yeshivah. In the 18th century Abraham ben Judah Di Buton was a rabbi of Monastir. A fire which swept through the town in 1863 destroyed over 1,000 Jewish homes and shops. A blood libel accusation was leveled against the Jews in 1900.

In 1884 there were 4,000 Jews in Monastir, and in 1910, 7,000. After World War I the economic situation deteriorated considerably and many Jews left the town, mainly for the United States and Chile, while others settled in Jerusalem. The remaining Jews were impoverished and there were many unemployed and poor people who were workers, porters, and peddlers. Between the two World Wars community activity was manifold and intense with growing Zionist conscience and endeavor; the leader was Leon Kamhi. In the 1930's the central Jewish bodies became aware of the acute social problems in this community and introduced vocational training courses, encouraged Chalutz youth movements and other activities, but the time was too short. This old community with its several synagogues, diverse social and cultural institutions, as well as a rich and original Judeo-Spanish folklore with some Turkish admixture, was wiped out during the Holocaust; the approximately 3,500 Jews were deported by the Bulgarian occupation authorities, for the most part to Treblinka on April 5, 1943. In 1952 there were only one or two Jews in the town.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People

Sarajevo
North Macedonia
Florina

Sarajevo

In Jewish sources: Sarai de Bosnia

The capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Sarajevo has been called the "Jerusalem of the Balkans," a testament to the city's multiculturalism and the cooperation that historically took place between Muslim, Orthodox Christian, Catholic, and Jewish residents. Until the end of World War I (1918) Sarajevo was part of the Austrian Empire. From the interwar period until 1992 it was part of Yugoslavia. Sarajevo became part of Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992.

As of 2016 there are approximately 1,000 Jews living in Bosnia, 700 of whom live in Sarajevo; five older members of the community still speak Ladino, the language of the community before World War II. The community center is one of the few Jewish community buildings in Europe that is not protected by security, evidence of the sense of safety felt by Sarajevo's Jewish community within the city. The community center includes an active synagogue, a Sunday school for children ages 3-12, a volunteer-run Jewish newspaper that prints 4-5 issues a year, as well as youth and student groups. Jakob Finci, the former Bosnian ambassador to Switzerland, serves as the president of the Jewish community in Bosnia. Igor Kozemjakin, who returned to Sarajevo after the Bosnian War, helps lead synagogue services. He and his wife, Anna Petruchek, translated a siddur (prayerbook) into Bosnian.

In October, 2015 the Jewish community of Sarajevo marked the 450th anniversary of Jewish life in Bosnia. Events included exhibitions, a two-day international conference, and tours to see the Sarajevo Haggadah.

SARAJEVO HAGGADAH

The Sarajevo Haggadah is perhaps one of the most famous Jewish manuscripts in the world, not only because it is one of the oldest Sephardic Haggadahs in the world, but also for its unlikely survival through some of the worst and most tragic events in Jewish and general history.

The Haggadah is handwritten, and its first 34 pages contain illustrations of major Biblical scenes, from creation through the death of Moses. Historians generally believe that the Sarajevo Haggadah was originally written in Spain, and left the country with Spanish Jews fleeing the Inquisition of 1492. Marginalia indicate that it was in Italy at some point during the 16th century. The Haggadah only reached Sarajevo at the end of the 19th century, when it was sold by Josef Kohen in 1894 to the National Museum of Sarajevo (it is unclear how Kohen came to be in possession of the Haggadah).

During World War II the museum's director, Dr. Jozo Petrovic, and the chief librarian, Dervis Korkut, hid the Sarajevo Haggadah from the Nazis; Korkut, who also saved a Jewish woman during the Holocaust, smuggled the Haggadah out of Sarajevo and gave it to a Muslim cleric in Zenica, who hid it in a mosque.

During the Bosnian War (1992-1995) thieves broke into the museum; the Haggadah was found on the floor, the thieves having discarded it because they believed it was not valuable. During the Siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996) it was stored in an underground vault, though in 1995 the president of Bosnia displayed the Haggadah during the community seder, in order to quell rumors that the Haggadah had been sold in exchange for weapons.

In 2001 the United Nations and the Bosnian Jewish community financed the restoration of the Haggadah and beginning in 2002 it went on permanent display at the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina went bankrupt in 2012, and closed its doors after not being able to pay its employees for over a year. The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art attempted to arrange for the Haggadah to be loaned to them, but due to the complicated politics of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the request was denied. The museum was reopened in September 2015 and the Sarajevo Haggadah was put back on display.

HISTORY

The first Jews came to Sarajevo in the middle of the 16th century (the first documented evidence of a Jewish presence dates to 1565). A significant number of Jews who arrived were Spanish refugees from Salonika. In spite of the fact that these new Spanish arrivals spoke a different language (Ladino) and had distinct customs, they were quickly accepted and worked mostly as artisans and merchants. Jews were known as the region's early pharmacists and hatchims (from the Arabic-Turkish word for physician, Hakim). With few exceptions, the Jewish community enjoyed good relations with their Muslim neighbors.

A Jewish Quarter was established in 1577 near the main market of Sarajevo and included a synagogue. Though the general population referred to the Jewish Quarter as the "tchifut-khan," the Jews themselves called it the "mahalla judia" (Jewish quarters) or the "cortijo" (communal yard). As the community grew the Jews began to branch out of the Jewish Quarter, since there were no legal restrictions placed on where Jews could live. Many worked as blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, butchers, joiners, and later as metalworkers; they also operated Sarajevo's first sawmill and traded in iron, wood, chemicals, textiles, firs, glass, and dyes.

During the Ottoman period the Jewish community of Sarajevo enjoyed a relatively high standard of living. It had religious and judicial independence and broad autonomy when it came to community affairs. The Ottoman authorities even enforced the sentences imposed by the rabbinical court when they were requested to do so. In exchange, the Jews paid a special tax (kharaj).

The Jewish Quarter, along with the synagogue, was destroyed in 1679 during the Great Turkish War. One of the notable rabbis to serve the community during this period was Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi from Ofen (Buda) and known as the Khakham Tzvi. Rabbi Ashkenazi lived in Sarajevo from 1686 until 1697. It was also during this period that new Jewish settlers began arriving from Rumelia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Padua, and Venice. This new wave of immigrants contributed to the community's evolution and growth during the 18th century.

In 1800 there were 1,000 Jews living in Sarajevo.

The community was officially recognized by the Ottoman sultan in the 19th century. Moses Perera was appointed as the rabbi of Sarajevo and as the hakham bashi for Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1840. The Jewish community lived largely in peace and was able to maintain its cultural and religious life. Members expanded their artisan and trade activities, and added copper, zinc, glass, and dyes to their export work. Additionally, by the middle of the 19th century all of Sarajevo and Bosnia's physicians were Jews.

The 1878 annexation of Sarajevo to Austria brought a new wave of Ashkenazi immigrants to the city, who worked as government officials, specialists, and entrepreneurs. They contributed to the country's development and modernization and were pioneers in the fields of optics, watchmaking, fine mechanics, and printing.

A number of Jews were politically active. The first European-educated physician in Bosnia, Isaac Shalom, better known as Isaac effendi, was the first Jewish member to be appointed to the provincial majlis idaret (assembly); he was succeeded by his son Salomon "effendi" Shalom. Javer (Xaver) "effendi" Baruch was elected as a deputy to the Ottoman Parliament in 1876.

By the end of the 19th century there were 10,000 Jews living in Sarajevo.

After World War I, when Sarajevo became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the Jews of Bosnia enjoyed an unprecedented level of freedom and equality. At that point the Jewish population was 14,000, less than 1% of the general population of Bosnia.

Between 1927 and 1931 the Sephardic synagogue, the largest in the Balkans, was built; it would be desecrated and torn down by Croatian fascists and Germans less than ten years later. A theological seminary was opened in 1928 by the Federation of Jewish Communities, and offered a high school education for Jewish students. The seminary's first principal was Rabbi Moritz Levi, who wrote the first history of the Sephardim in Bosnia; he would eventually be killed during the Holocaust.

The Jews of Sarajevo enjoyed a wide range of social and cultural organizations, as well as a thriving Jewish press. La Benevolencia which was founded in 1894, was a major organization that served as a mutual aid society; two of its branches, Melacha and Geula, helped artisans and economic activities. A choir, Lyra-Sociedad de Cantar de los Judios-Espanoles, was established in 1901. La Matatja was the Jewish workers' union. The first Jewish newspaper published in Sarajevo was La Alborada, a literary weekly that appeared from 1898 until 1902. The weekly periodicals Zidovska Svijest, Jevrejska Tribuna, Narodna Tzodovska Svijest, and Jevrejski Glas, the last of which had a Ladino section, were published between 1928 and 1941.

Zionism was also active between the two World Wars. The youth movement Ha-Shomer Ha-Tza'ir was particularly popular; during the Holocaust a relatively high number of its participants, along with participants from the Matatja movement, became partisans, fighters, and leaders of the resistance movement. A Sephardic movement with separatist leanings, associated with the World Sephardi Union, was also active during the interwar period. A number of Jews became involved with the (illegal) Communist Party during the 1930s.

During the interwar period Sarajevo was the third largest Jewish center of Yugoslavia (after Zagreb and Belgrade). In 1935 there were 8,318 Jews living in the city.

Prominent figures from Sarajevo include the writer Isak Samokovlija (d. 1955). Samokovlija vividly described Bosnian Jewish life, particularly the struggles of the porters, peddlers, beggars, and artisans. The artists Daniel Ozmo, who did mostly woodcuts, Daniel Kabiljo-Danilus, and Yosif Levi-Monsino lived in Sarajevo.

THE HOLOCAUST

Sarajevo was captured and occupied by the German Army on April 15, 1941. It was subsequently included in the Independent State of Croatia, an Axis-created Nazi puppet state. That year Sarajevo's Jewish population was 10,500.

On April 16, 1941 the Sephardic synagogue, which was the largest synagogue in the Balkans, was desecrated. This was followed by repeated outbreaks of violence against Sarajevo's Jews, culminating in mass deportations. Between September and November 1941 the majority of the Jewish community of Sarajevo was deported to Croatian concentration camps, including Jasenovac, Loborgrad, and Djakovo, where most were killed. A small number of Jews survived by joining partisan groups or fleeing to Italy.

POSTWAR

A small community was revived after World War II, though most of the survivors immigrated to Israel or other countries between 1948 and 1949. The Ashkenazi synagogue, which had remained relatively intact, became the community center where services were held, and where cultural and social activities were hosted. Rabbi Menahem Romani served as the community's religious leader. A monument dedicated to the fighters and martyrs of the Second World War was erected in the Jewish cemetery in Kosovo.

In 1970 a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina was held in 1970. The community published a memorial book to mark the occasion.

In 1971 there were 1,000 Jews living in Sarajevo.

BOSNIAN WAR

During the Bosnian War (1992-1995), Sarajevo was under siege from April 5, 1992 until February 29, 1996. During the siege 900 Jews were evacuated and taken by bus to Pirovac, near Split, and 150 were flown to Belgrade. Others, including many children, were sent to Israel. Those who remained in Sarajevo were considered neutral in the conflict, allowing them the freedom to organize humanitarian relief through La Benevolencija, which had been reestablished in 1991. La Benevolencija provided food and medicine to the people of Sarajevo, regardless of religion or ethnicity, and operated out of the community center. It also arranged for more than 2,000 people to be evacuated from the besieged city. Because the Jewish cemetery was located on a hill overlooking Sarajevo, it was used by Serbian snipers during the siege and badly damaged.

In 1997 there were 600 Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina, about half of whom lived in Sarajevo.

North Macedonia

Republic of North Macedonia
Република Северна Македонија

A country in the Balkan peninsula in southeastern Europe.  It became an independent state in 1991 after the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. 

Florina

Alternate spelling: Phlorina; in Greek: Φλώρινα

A town in the region of Macedonia, northern Greece.

Under control of the Ottoman Empire until it became part of Greece after the Balkan Wars (1912-13).

 

History

Jews settled in Florina after the expulsion from Spain in 1492.

In the 17th and 18th centuries Florina was the site of an established Jewish community. Most of its members were Sephardi Jews from Turkey. The community maintained economic relations with Thessaloniki, Kastoria, and Karditsa.

At some point in the 19th century the Jews abandoned the town probably due to the municipal authority’s decree to hold the weekly market day on Saturday.

The Jewish community was reestablished in 1912, when Jews from Monastir (today Bitola in Macedonia) moved to the town, in search of better economic conditions.

 In 1914 there were 100 Jewish families living in Florina. Additional Jews arrived during World War I. A Jewish school was established in 1917. Baruch Kamchi, a butcher from Monastir served as president of the community.

In 1922 the Jews of Florina were recognized by the Greek authorities as an autonomous community and the government took part in financing the community budget.

Most of the Jews of Florina derived their livelihood from trade and small commerce. Jews were merchants, dealers in old clothes, greengrocers, carpenters, and cobblers.  There were also those who were itinerant sellers of eggs.

The Jewish quarter was located along the banks of the Saculeba River. There was a small synagogue building on Aberos Street, with a rabbi who doubled as mohel, shochet, and Hebrew teacher. The cemetery was located outside the town in the foothills. There were a number of communal aid societies and a local Zionist organization, Achdut B’nai Zion.

At the beginning of the 1920s the chief rabbi of Thessaloniki, Ben Zion Meir Hai Ouziel, together with other influential Jews of his community influenced the Ministry of National Economy to change the market day from Saturday to Wednesday. The Greek Orthodox population of Florina ignored this ruling and in 1921 along with local Muslims, they attacked the Jews over this issue. While many Jewish merchants began working on the Sabbath, others left the town. In 1924-25 the Greek government banned work on Sunday, making it even more difficult for Sabbath observant Jews to make a living, and prompting more to move elsewhere.

From 1925 to 1927 there were annual blood libels around Easter time. In one incident a Florina town official accused the Jews of having kidnapped a Christian child in order to use his blood for Passover matzos. Once the child was found near the town the official was fired by the authorities.

In September 1939 there were 370 Jews living in Florina, and in 1940 there were 400.
 

The Holocaust

Four members of the Jewish community were killed in the war against the fascist Italian army which invaded from Albania on October 28, 1940.  Their names Menahem Aharon, Menashe Iosif, Isaak Rajamin, and Testa Bension are inscribed on Florina’s war memorial.

The Germans occupied the area in May 1941 and annexed Florina to the German military government in Thessaloniki. Nazi racial laws were applied to the Jews, and they were forced to live in a ghetto and to wear a yellow badge.

In mid-1941 Jews were taken for forced labor and told to hand over to the Germans all their properties and valuables. The community`s leaders asked for help from Rabbi Koretz, the chief rabbi of Thessaloniki and the heads of his community.

On April 30, 1943 the Germans stormed into Jewish houses in Florina and arrested the inhabitants. All personal belongings were confiscated by the Nazis and homes and businesses looted, with the participation of some of the local inhabitants. The Jews were transported to the Hirsch camp, a transit camp near Thessaloniki. Some Jews succeeded in fleeing to neighboring villages. The rest were sent to their death at the Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp.

 

Postwar

Only 64 of the Jews of Florina survived the war. Most settled in other towns or emigrated to different countries including Israel, the United States, Brazil, and Chile. In 1958 only seven Jews remained.

Buildings belonging to former Jewish residents were turned over to the Jewish Community of Greece and sold at auction.

In 1970 the Jewish community of Florina was dissolved, and there is no longer a Jewish presence in the town.

Estreja Ovadija

Estreja Ovadija Mara (1922-1944), partisan, National Hero of Yugoslavia, born in Bitola (Monastir), North Macedonia (then part of Yugoslavia). She was active in the WIZO organization and then in the League of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia. A textile worked, she worked in Belgrade after 1938 until March 1941, when she returned to Bitola.

After the invasion of Yugoslavia by Germany and its allies in April 1941 she joined the anti-fascist movement that immediately started preparing the armed resistance. Bitola, as part of Yugoslav Macedonia, was occupied by Bulgaria, a German ally. The Bulgarian occupation forces started persecuting the Jews and limiting their movement. In 1942 Ovadija became a member of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. She lived illegally under the assumed name of Mara. Her missions included encouraging Jews to join the partisan units. In March 1943, she managed to escape the deportation of about 3,000 Jews from Bitola to Treblinka Nazi death camp. Along with another seven Jewish girls, including her friend Jamila Angela Isaac Colonomus, she found shelter in the house of Stojan-Bogoja Siljanovski, a tobacconist of Bitola, who hid them during the raid against the Jews conducted by the Bulgarian and German forces. On November 28, 1989, Yad Vashem recognized Stojan-Bogoja Siljanovski as Righteous Among the Nations.  

In April 1943 she joined the Goce Delcev partisan unit taking part in all the battles fought by this unit at Fuštan, Tušin and Kožuf against Bulgarian and German military. Ovadija served as deputy political commissar of her company within the Third Macedonian Brigade of partisans and on August 22, 1944, she was appointed political commissar of a battalion of the Seventh Macedonian Brigade. Four days later, on August 26, 1944, she was killed in action during a battle with Bulgarian border guards on Kajmakcalan summit.

On October 11, 1953, by order of the President of the Yugoslavia, Iosip Broz Tito, Estreja Ovadija Mara was proclaimed a National Hero of Yugoslavia – the highest medal for wartime bravery in Yugoslavia. She was the only Jewish woman ever to receive this designation.  

Adela Faragi with her Parents. Bitola, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, 1930
Members of 'Hashomer Hatzair', Bitola, Yugoslavia, 1933-1934
Jewish Kindergarten children with the teacher, Bitola, Macedonia c.1925
Members of the Hebrew Class, Bitolja, Yugoslavia c.1925
Members of the Zionist Organizatio , Monastir, Yugoslavia, 1926
Adela Faragi with her Parents.
Bitola, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, 1930.
In 1940 Adela Fought with the Yugoslavia partisans.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
Courtesy of Jenny Lebel, Tel Aviv)

Members of 'Hashomer Hatzair' with their instructor Moshe Ashkenazi (1st row, 3rd on the left), Bitola, Macedonia, Yugoslavia, 1933-1934
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Jenny Lebel, Tel Aviv)

Kindergarten children with their teacher Lea Ben-David, Bitola, Macedonia, c.1925
Lea Ben-David was also called 'La Geveret". She was brought to Bitola from Eretz Israel to teach Hebrew and run the Jewish kindergarten
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Jenny Lebel, Tel Aviv)

Group of Hebrew students of with their teacher
Lea Ben-David (sitting in the center), who was
brought from Eretz Israel by the local Rabbi.
Bitolja (Macedonia), Yugoslavia, c.1925.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Jenny Lebel, Tel Aviv)
Members of the Zionist Organization 'Hatehiya".
Monastir (Bitola), Yugoslavia, 1926.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade)