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The Jewish Community of Zagreb


In German: Agram; in Hungarian: Zágráb 

The capital of Croatia

Zagreb was part of Yugoslavia after World War I (1914-1918). Since 1995 it has been part of independent Croatia. Until the end of WW I it was part of Austria-Hungary.



Zagreb’s Jewish community center is located at Palmoticeva 16, and includes a synagogue, an art gallery, a Holocaust research and documentation center, and a library. A second community, Bet Israel, is located at Mazuranicev Trg 6, and includes a synagogue and library.

The Mirogoj Cemetery includes a number of Jewish graves.

The Jewish Museum opened in Zagreb on September 4, 2016. It has exhibitions about the Jewish community of Zagreb.



The first Jews known to have lived in Croatia, who probably lived in Zagreb, were Mar Saul and Mar Joseph, the emissaries of King Kresimir to Abd al-Rachman III, the Caliph of Cordoba, during the 10th century.

During the 13th century Jews began arriving in Zagreb from France, Malta, and Albania, and by the end of the 14th century there were a number of Jews who had permanently settled in the city. Zagreb’s city chronicles from 1444 mention a community house or synagogue (domus judaeorum). Most worked as merchants and moneylenders.

In 1526 the Jews were expelled from Croatia. For more than two centuries there was no Jewish presence in Zagreb.

New Jewish settlers arrived in Croatia in the mid-18th century from Bohemia, Moravia, and Hungary. A Jewish community was officially founded in 1806, and by the 1840s Zagreb was home to about 50 Jewish families.

A smaller Orthodox community was founded in Zagreb in 1841. Community institutions that were established during the second half of the 19th century included a chevra kaddisha (1859), and a synagogue (1867). The synagogue was constructed by Franjo (Francis) Klein, one of Zagreb’s most important architects in Croatia, and functioned until 1941, when it was destroyed by the pro-Nazi Ustashe. A cemetery was consecrated in 1876. The philanthropist Ljudevit Schwarz was a major figure in the establishment of a Jewish home for the aged; it still functioned in 1970 as the central Jewish home for the aged in Yugoslavia. Jacques Epstein founded the Association for Humanism, the first public assistance organization in Croatia. 1898 saw the establishment of a union of Jewish high school students, which became a training ground for future community and Zionist leaders.

Zagreb’s first rabbi was Aaron Palota (1809-1849). Rabbi Hosea Jacoby later served the community for 50 years; Jacoby organized religious life in the city, and established a school and a Talmud Torah.

The Jews of Zagreb, and throughout Croatia, dealt with no small amount of antisemitism. In 1858 there was a blood libel in Zagreb, and the merchant and artisan guilds incited the local population against the Jews. Croatian representatives were opposed to the official recognition of Jewish civil rights, which were not established until 1873.

In spite of the hardships, Zagreb’s Jewish community became the largest in Yugoslavia, and the community was active culturally and politically. Between the two World Wars Zionism became increasingly popular in Croatia, and Zagreb was chosen as the headquarters of the Zionist Federation, led by Alexander Licht. Organizations that were active in Zagreb included a branch of the Maccabi sports club, a choir, women's and youth organizations, and a union of Jewish employees. The leading Jewish newspapers in Yugoslavia, such as the Zionist weekly “Zidov” ("Jew"), were published in the city.

The Jews of Zagreb also contributed significantly to the city’s development. Jews were among the pioneers in the export business, as well as in local industry. Lavoslav (Leopold) Hartmann, Croatia’s first librarian, organized lending libraries, and also founded a printing press. The chairman of the community, Dr. Mavro (Maurice) Sachs, was among the founders of forensic medicine in Croatia; David Schwartz invented the first rigid airship in Zagreb. Rabbis Gavro Schwarz and Shalom Freiberger were major figures in the field of Jewish historical studies.

Other prominent artists included the painter Oscar Hermann; the sculptor Slavko Bril; the pianist Julius Epstein; and the bandmaster Anton Schwarz. A Jewish art monthly magazine, “Ommanut,” was published in Zagreb between 1937 and 1941, ceasing in the wake of the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia.



About 12,000 Jews lived in Zagreb in 1941. The vast majority of Croatian Jews were killed during the war.



Between 1948 and 1952 almost half of the survivors from Zagreb’s Jewish community left the country, and by 1970 the Jewish population of the city was 1,200. Yugoslavia’s community government nationalized nearly all of the property owned by the Jewish Community of Zagreb, including the land where the synagogue once stood.

In 1997 there were 2,000 Jews living in Croatia, most of whom lived in Zagreb.


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Uri Givon (1912-1974), composer., born in Zagreb, Croatia (then part of Austria-Hungary). He studied clarinet and saxophone at the Zagreb Conservatory. After his father’s death, when Givon was 16 years old, he supported himself by playing music. In 1938 he joined the Ha-Shomer Ha-tzair movement and came to Eretz Israel, to Kibbutz Sarid. In 1940 he joined kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim. After doing odd jobs he began to teach music and write incidental music for school plays. Between 1942-1944 he taught music in kibbutz Mishmar Ha’emek. He became known as an accordionist of classical repertoire, as well as of Israeli songs. Givon furthered his studies with Mordecai Seter and Paul Ben-Haim (composition), Ilona Vincze-Kraus (piano) and Michael Taube (conducting). In 1959 he spent six months in London attending a conducting course. On his return to his kibbutz, he founded the Kibbutz Artzi Choir, for which he arranged numerous Jewish and Israeli songs. He died in kibbutz Sha’ar Ha’amakim.

The Jewish community center building at 16, Palmotica Str. Zagreb, Yugoslavia, 1980

Photo: Dr. Theodore Cohen, USA
The Oster Visual Documentation Center, ANU – Museum of the Jewish People, courtesy of Dr. Theodore Cohen, USA

The Jewish Women's Section Coordinating Committee.
Zagreb, Yugoslavia, 1960
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
courtesy of the Federation of the Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia)
Old Age Home of the Jewish community in Zagreb.
Yugoslavia, 1960's.
Photo: Zusia Efron.
(Beit Hatfutsot PHoto Archive,
courtesy of Zusia Efron, Jerusalem)

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.

David Schwarz (1845-1897), inventor in the field of aviation, born in Keszthely, Hungary (then part of the Austrian Empire). He lived in Zagreb, Croatia, and was by profession a lumber merchant. He began the study of aviation in his later years by himself and became the actual inventor of the rigid airship. The Austrian war ministry disapproved of his technical project, whereupon he went to Russia, became a Russian government engineer in St. Petersburg, and there built his first airship in 1892. It had an aluminum framework and a balloon covering. Unfortunately, the materials provided by the Russian government were so inferior that it was impossible to fill the balloon with gas.

Schwarz then turned to the German government, which was in favor of his project to build an aluminum balloon eighty meters in length and twelve in diameter. He was promised 300,000 marks for the undertaking in the event that he succeeded. On January 13, 1897, a telegram summoned him to Berlin to be present at the test flight, but just as the telegram was handed to him on the street in Vienna he died of a heart attack. His widow, Melanie Schwarz, took charge of the preparations for the ascent which made on November 3, 1897, from Tempelhof Field, near Berlin, in the presence of a number of spectators, including Count Zeppelin. The flight of the airship was successful, but its unskilled pilot brought it to the ground with such violence that it was smashed to pieces. Although Zeppelin, in applying for his patent in 1894 to 1895, did not mention the work of Schwarz, experts regarded it obvious that in the rigid airship which Zeppelin built used, for the most part, of the methods which Schwarz had previously developed and adopted.

On February 19, 1898, a contract was drawn up between Schwartz' widow, Councilor Berg, of Stuttgart, and Count Zeppelin. This contract gave Berg the right to exploit in Germany "those inventions, whether patented or not, which belonged to Schwarz and his heirs", and Zeppelin received the right to Schwartz' "inventions and experiments", in return for compensating the heirs of the inventor. Although Zeppelin, in a letter to Maximilian Harden (editor of "Die Zukunft") in 1911, denied that he had used the discoveries of Schwarz in building his own airship, it is clearly established that priority in the discovery of the rigid airship belongs to David Schwartz.

Spiller, Ljerko (1908-2008), violinist born in Crikvenica, Croatia. After World War I the family moved to Zagreb, Croatia (then part of Yugoslavia), where he studied violin at the National Music School. He then went to Paris, France, in 1928 and studied at the École Normale de Musique de Paris. Spiller graduated in 1930 and was offered a position as lecturer in the same institution. In 1935 he was awarded a prize at the Warsaw Violin Competition, one of the world's top competitions. Before World War II broke out he succeeded in escaping from Europe and went to Argentina where he settled in Buenos Aires as a violinist, teacher and conductor. He became concertmaster for the LRA Radio del Mundo symphony orchestra and the Buenos Aires Amigos de la Musica. He was made an associate professor emeritus at the University of La Plata and conductor and violinist of festival in Córdoba.

Spiller was frequent guest at master classes in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Croatia and for some years was a lecturer at Altensteig castle near Stuttgart. Spiller was in 1971 named as the best Argentine professor of instruments, he was awarded OEA and CIDEM honorary diplomas in Washington DC as well as two Argentinian Konex Awards as a teacher for classical music. He was appointed musical adviser to the governments of Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria. On the occasion of the Vaclav Huml sixth international violin competition in 1997, Ljerko Spiller received the Croatian Order of Danica Hrvatska.

Spiller is the author of one of the best violin textbook by which generations of young people study.

Max Geiger (1885-1968), violinist, conductor and composer, born in Jaroslaw, Poland (then in Austria-Hungary). He was a descendant of musicians and continued their fame. Geiger studied violin in Zagreb, Croatia, and then in Vienna, Austria, at the Wiener Musikakademie. He was concertmaster at the Komische Opera of Berlin, Germany, (1907-1917) and also worked at the Carltheatre Wien, and was bandmaster of RAVAG (on his own show). He was also band master of Radio Warsaw and a composer of popular music for silent movies.

Geiger went on exile to India after the Anschluss (1938), where he founded and conductor the symphony orchestra for the Maharaja of Patiala. Max Geifger returned to Vienna after the WWII (1947).

Abel Ehrlich (1915-2003), composer, born in Crantz, East Prussia (today Zelenogradsk, near Kalliningrad, Russia). He studied violin from 1920-1934. In 1926 he wrote his first composition, a comic opera. In 1934 he interrupted his studies in Koenigsberg and fled from the Nazis to Yugoslavia, where he studied, until 1938, at the Zagreb Music Academy. In 1938 he was forced to leave Yugoslavia and went to Albania, where he spent some two months until receiving an immigration certificate to Eretz Israel. On January 1939 he settled in Israel and until 1944 furthered his studies at the Conservatory in Jerusalem (violin with Emil Hauser and Zvi Rothenberg; composition with Shlomo Rosowsky). In 1940 Erlich started to teach there and between 1944-1948 taught also at the Jerusalem Music Academy. He was cofounder of the New Jerusalem Music Academy (now the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem). Ehrlich resumed his intense pedagogical activity between 1948-1953 at the Israel Music Academy, 1952-1954 at the Tel Aviv Music Academy; 1953-1955 at the Teachers College in Tel Aviv; 1953-1967 at the Music Institute of the Oranim Kibbutz Seminary; and from 1964 until his retirement in 1983 at the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv. In 1990 he was awarded the Prime Minister’s Prize for Composition and in 1997 the Israel State Prize.
Ehrlich was a highly prolific composer and composed some 3400 works, including Testimony for two flutes (1961), The Writing of Hezekiah for soprano and chamber ensemble (1962), Be Ye Not As Your Fathers for mixed choir a cappella (1965), Arpmusik, a theater scene (1971), In The Hut Of The Lifeguard for narrator-singer and chamber ensemble (1973), MUSIC for piano and magnetic tape (1974), FOUR MOVEMENTS – THANKS TO PAUL KLEE for five violins (1974), Gnihton And Gnihtemos for “non-speaker” and chamber ensemble (1977), Dead Souls, opera (1978), Longing for Peace for string orchestra (1981), Composition for symphony orchestra (1990) and Job, oratorio (1990). Died in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Oskar Danon (1913-2009), composer and conductor, born in Sarajevo, Bosnia (then part of Austria-Hungary). He studied music in his native Yugoslavia, then in Prague, Czech Republic, earning a PhD in musicology from Charles University. He was a conductor in Sarajevo until Yugoslavia was invaded by Nazi Germany and its allies in 1941.

During the war, Danon joined the partisan forces led by Josip Broz Tito. He served as deputy commander in a number of partisan battalions and reached the rank of major. In 1944 he was transferred to the Cultural Department of the Partisan General Staff and was one of the founders of the partisan theater and choir. He composed several songs, including Uz Maršala Tita ("Together with Marshal Tito"), the Yugoslav partisan anthem which became popular in German occupied Yugoslavia.

After the war he served as the musical director of the Belgrade Opera between 1944-1965. He was director of Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra in Ljubljana from 1970 to 1974, of the Radio Zagreb Symphony Orchestra, and of the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra. Danon conducted the festive concert celebrating 400-year of Sarajevo Jewry held on October 14, 1966 in Sarajevo, attended by representatives of the local government and representatives from Israel.

Danon directed various orchestras in the world, among them the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London (1962-1963), Vienna State Opera (1964), the Verdi Theatre in Trieste, Italy. He recorded a large number of works by Smetana, Enescu, Dvořák, Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev, Stravinsky Saint-Saëns, Wagner, Verdi, Mussorgsky, Puccini, Kalman, Stravinsky, Cesar Franck and others.

Danon was a professor at the Belgrade Music Academy. He was a member and president of the Association of Music Artists of Serbia. Danon was awarded the October Award of the City of Belgrade. He died in Belgrade, Serbia.