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The Jewish Community of Belgrade


Serbian: Beograd / Београд

The capital of Serbia.

Belgrade is the largest city in Serbia. It is located where the Sava and Danube Rivers meet, as well as where the Pannonian Plain meets the Balkans. Belgrade was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1521 an often changed hands between the Ottomans and the Habsburgs. After World War I (1918) Belgrade became the capital of Yugoslavia until the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. Belgrade has been the capital of Serbia since the establishment of the independent Republic of Serbia in 2006.

The Belgrade Jewish community has an active community center, located in the Ashkenazi synagogue that was originally consecrated in 1925, and used as a brothel by the Nazis during World War II. The community center houses the Federation of Jewish Communities of Serbia, the Jewish Historical Museum, and the Sukkat Shalom Synagogue, the only active synagogue remaining in Belgrade. Services are held regularly on Friday nights and Jewish holidays and are led by Rabbi Isak Asiel, the Chief Rabbi of Serbia. The Belgrade Jewish community offers a number of programs and services for Serbian Jews of all ages. Activities and programs have included Hebrew classes, youth groups, a choir, a theater troupe, and a kosher kitchen (established in 2005). Communal organizations include a Women's League, and a chevra kaddisha.

Belgrade's two Jewish cemeteries are located across the street from each other, at 1 Mije Kovacevica Street. The Sephardic cemetery, which has remained active, is the larger cemetery. It includes a Holocaust memorial, which was erected in 1952, as well as memorials to the Jewish victims of the Balkan Wars and World War I. Another monument marks the location where sacred books and texts are buried (shemos). The Ashkenazi cemetery includes approximately 200 tombstones.

The Fresco Gallery has a memorial plaque commemorating Belgrade's Jewish community. It stands where the Moorish-style synagogue once stood, from when it was built in 1908 until it was destroyed in 1941. The building that once housed the Oneg Shabbat organization has remained standing in what was once the Jewish Quarter, and Stars of David can still be seen on the building's exterior. The building currently houses the Cinema Rex.


Several Jews from Italy and Hungary settled in Belgrade during the 13th and 14th centuries. They were joined by Sephardi Jews, who arrived after the Turkish conquest in 1521. Most lived in the Jewish mahala ("quarter") near the citadel, and worked as physicians, blacksmiths, tanners, and merchants. Additionally, the community enjoyed a degree of judicial autonomy.

In 1663 there were 800 Jews living in Belgrade. Between 1642 and 1688, the yeshiva of Belgrade became more widely known, and operated under the tutelage of Rabbis Judah Lerma, Simchah b. Gershon Kohen, and Joseph Almosnino.

With the decline of the Turkish Empire beginning in the late 17th century, a series of tragedies befell the Jews of Belgrade. In 1688, as the Austrians approached the city, Turkish troops plundered and burned the Jewish Quarter. Once the Austrians captured the city, soldiers burned, looted, and killed both the Turkish and Jewish population. The community was totally destroyed; some Jews managed to flee to Bulgaria but the majority were taken prisoner and deported to Austria to be sold as slaves or offered to Jewish communities to be ransomed.

A number of Jews returned to the city shortly thereafter and rebuilt the synagogue. However, because Belgrade was the key fortress against the Turks, there were restrictions placed on the number of Jews permitted to live in the city. Belgrade was retaken by the Turks in 1739. A series of rebellions by the Serbs against the local Ottoman authorities began in 1803, continuing intermittently for nearly 30 years. Belgrade changed hands many times. In 1807 the Serbs expelled the Jews from Belgrade; it was only after Russian intervention that the anti-Jewish measures were revoked. Some returned between 1811 and 1813 but were forced to leave yet again when a failed rebellion broke out in 1813.

The situation of Belgrade's Jews improved in 1815, when Milosh Obrenovich became the ruler of Serbia. The Serbian state press that he founded in 1837 was also published in Hebrew. However, the freedoms that the Jews of Belgrade enjoyed under Obrenovich would not last. Milosh's successor Alexander Karageorgevich (1842-1858) introduced a series of economic and residence restrictions on Belgrade's Jews. Nonetheless, the Jewish community managed to establish a number of cultural and religious institutions, including a Hebrew school, which was founded during the 1850s.

In 1777 there were 800 Jews living in Belgrade. By 1831 there were approximately 1,300 Jews (200 of whom were Ashkenazim) in the city.

The Jews of Belgrade, as well as those throughout Serbia were granted full civil rights by the Serbian parliament in 1889. Subsequently, the community's wealthier Jews began to integrate into Serbian society. They spoke Serbian, their children went to state schools and universities, and many were able to study and work as physicians and civil servants, among other professions previously barred to them. Nonetheless, most Jews lived in the mahala until World War I, when it was partially destroyed. The community had its own press; the Ladino journal El Amigo del Pueblo began publishing in 1888 and appeared in Belgrade throughout the 1890s. In 1907 they built a new Sephardi synagogue, Bet Yisrael, in the upper town.

After World War I, when Belgrade became the capital of the independent Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the younger generation gradually left the mahala to take advantage of a wider range of economic opportunities. Many worked as physicians, bankers, and in the stock exchange and garment industry.


There were 12,000 Jews living in Belgrade when the Germans invaded in April 1941. The invasion, coupled with the collaboration on the part of the city's Volksdeutsche (ethnic Germans) residents, ushered in a period of discrimination and violence against the city's Jews. Jews were evicted from their homes and their property was confiscated. The Ashkenazi synagogue was turned into a brothel; Bet Yisrael became a storehouse for looted Jewish property and was eventually blown up before the German retreat. All communal activities were forbidden, but the Vertretung (Representation) appointed by the Germans, organized public kitchens, medical services, and other forms of aid for the local Jewish community, as well as for the 2,500 Jews from the Banat region who were expelled to Belgrade.

All men between the ages of 14 and 60 and all women between the ages of 14 and 40 were compelled to work as forced laborers, and were not provided with money or food in exchange for their labor. When the Serbians started a campaign of armed resistance against the Nazis, the Germans began executing hostages, many of whom were Jews. The first mass execution took place on July 29, 1941 when 122 Communists and Jews were shot.

Between August and October, 1941 approximately 5,000 Jewish men were arrested. After being imprisoned they were taken in groups of 150 to 400 to the nearby forests and shot. The remaining 6,000 Jewish women and children were arrested in December 1941 and transported to the Saymishte camp, a former commercial fairground on the left bank of the Sava River. Food was scarce, and many froze to death in the winter of 1941-1942. Those who had remained alive were killed in gas vans between February and May 1942. Patients in the Jewish hospital in the mahala were also killed in 1942. Some Jews, primarily those who had participated in the Zionist youth movement HaShomer HaTzair, joined the resistance movement. They worked as saboteurs, disseminated propaganda, and collected funds and medical supplies.

About 95% of Serbia's Jewish population was killed during the war. Of the 12,000 living in Belgrade before the Nazi occupation, 1,115 survived.


On October 22, 1944, two weeks after the liberation of Belgrade, the Jewish community began to resume its activities. Survivors opened a soup kitchen, a center to serve those who returned after the war, and provided medical services. The Ashkenazi synagogue was reconsecrated on December 2nd 1944 by Rabbi Albert Altarac; the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi communities merged. In 1947 the community had 2,271 members, half of whom emigrated to Israel shortly after. A monument to fallen Jewish fighters and victims of fascism was erected after the war in the central cemetery of Belgrade.

In 1969 there were 1,602 Jews in Belgrade. The community center ran an internationally known choir, a youth club, and a kindergarten. It also housed the Federation of Jewish Communities of Yugoslavia.

In 1995 a sculpture by Nandor Glid, titled "Menorah in Flames," was erected where the Jewish Quarter once stood.

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Karaite scholar and poet

He lived most of his life in a village near Constantinople where he headed the Karaite community but in his later years spent some time in Cetatea Alba (Belgorod-Dnestrovski) and eventually in Belgrade where he died. He had a knowledge of science and philosophy and also several modern languages. Afendopolo wrote at least 24 works as well as liturgical poems, most of them still in manuscript. They often collect citations from other scholars and provide valuable information about works that have been lost. He wrote on religious law, philosophy, scientific books, and poetry.

Albert Vajs (1905-1964), jurist, community leader, born in Zemun, Serbia (then part of Austria-Hungary). He studied philosophy and economics in Berlin and Paris and earned a Ph.D. in law in 1929 from the University of Zagreb, Croatia (then poart of Yugoslavia). During World War II he was a POW in Germany.

After the war, he became a member of the Yugoslav State Commission for the Investigation of the Crimes Committed by the Occupiers and their Collaborators. Vajs was a member of the Yugoslav delegation at the Nuremberg Trials of the Nazi war criminals.

Vajs served as a Professor of Law in Belgrade, Serbia, and lectured on history of law and history of civilization from 1947 to 1964 at the Department of History of the Institute of Social Sciences in Belgrade.

Vajs served as President of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities of Yugoslavia from 1948 to 1964.


Conference of the Federation of Jewish communities, Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1960s.

The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU - Museum of the Jewish People, courtesy of the Federation of the Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia, Belgrade.

Young girls dressed as soldiers in the Serbian army at a Purim Party.
Belgrade, Serbia, early 20th century
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Dr. Rephael Fiazza, Israel)
The Couple Asherovitch on their Wedding Day with
their Families.
Belgrade, Yugoslavia,1937.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
Courtesy of Gavra Mandil, Tel Aviv)
Young woman, relative of the Fiazza family in traditional Jewish-Sephardi costume from the Balkans.
Belgrade, Serbia, 1890.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
Courtesy of Dr. Rephael Fiazza, Israel)
Gabriela-Ela, daughter of Gavra Konfino,
Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1925
Gabriela married Moshe Mandil and their son is Gavra Mandil.
Photo: Gavra Konfino?
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of Gavra Mandil, Tel Aviv)
Alkalai, Judah (1798-1878).
Sephardic Rabbi,
(From the Beit Hatfutsot Photo Exhibition: "A Century of Zionist Immigration to Eretz Israel" 1981)
Rebecca Fiazza in traditional Sephardi festive dress.
Belgrade, Serbia, 1909.
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
Courtesy of Dr. Rephael Fiazza, Israel)