History of the Jews in Serbia
Memorial plaque dedicated to 4,000 Jews of Subotica died in the Holocaust. The tombstone states: "In memory of the 4000 Jews with whom we lived and built Subotica together who perished in fascist death camps in World War II."
|787 (2011 census)|
|Serbian, Hebrew, Ladino, and Yiddish|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Sephardi Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, Montenegrin Jews, Serbs|
The history of the Jewish community in what is today Serbia is some two thousand years old, and predates the arrival of the Serbs. The Jews first arrived in the region during Roman times. The Jewish communities of the Balkans remained small until the late 15th century, when Jews fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions found refuge in the Ottoman-ruled areas, including Serbia.
The community flourished and reached a peak of 33,000 before World War II (of which almost 90% were living in Belgrade and Vojvodina). About two-thirds of Serbian Jews perished in the Holocaust, having been particularly targetted as Hitler sought to punish both ethnic Serbs and Jews for German defeat in World War I. After the war, a great part of the remaining Jewish Serbian population emigrated, chiefly into Israel. In the 2011 census only 787 people declared themselves as Jewish. Today, the Belgrade Synagogue and the Subotica Synagogue, once the fourth largest synagogue building in Europe, are the two in-service synagogues, while the Novi Sad Synagogue has been converted into a cultural art space. The very name of the City of Subotica gives away its Jewish heritage - "Shabbat" is "Subota" in the Serbo-Croatian language.
The Jewish communities of the Balkans were boosted in the 15th and 16th 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. In 1663, the Jewish population of Belgrade was 800.
Independent Serbia and Habsburg Vojvodina
Many Jews were involved in the struggle of Serbs for independence from the Ottoman Empire, by supplying arms to the local Serbs, and the Jewish communities faced brutal reprisal attacks from the Ottoman Turks. 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. The situation for the Jews briefly improved under the rule of Prince Mihailo Obrenović III (1839–1842), but anti-Jewish provisions were reinstated under Prince Alexander Karađorđević (1842–1858).
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. In 1877 a Jewish candidate was elected to the National Assembly for the first time, after receiving the backing of all parties.
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.
In 1879, the "Serbian-Jewish Singer Society" was founded in Belgrade as a part of the Serbian-Jewish friendship. During World War I and World War II the choir was not allowed to perform. It renamed "Baruch Brothers Choir" in 1950 and is one of the oldest Jewish choirs in the world still in existence. The choir remains a symbol of community unification, although only 20% of the choir members are actually Jewish due to the dwindling Jewish population in the country (in World War II, half of the Jewish population of Serbia was killed). By 1912, the Jewish community of Kingdom of Serbia stood at 5,000. Serbian-Jewish relations reached a high degree of cooperation during World War I, when Jews and Serbs fought side by side against the Central Powers.
While the rest of Serbia was still ruled by the Ottoman Empire, territory of present-day Vojvodina was part of the Habsburg Monarchy. 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 Monarchy. The Jewish communities of Vojvodina flourished, and by the end of the 19th century the region had nearly 40 Jewish communities.
Synagogue of Ada, Serbia, 1900
Synagogue of Kikinda
House of Winterstein family in Šid, 1910 (included a temple)
Jewish synagogue in Šabac, today acting as a museum of Jewish history in the area
Kingdom of Yugoslavia
In the aftermath of World War I, Montenegro, Banat, Bačka, Syrmia, and Baranja joined Serbia through popular vote in those regions, and this Greater Serbia then united with State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (from which Syrmia had seceded to join Serbia) 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), 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, some 31,000 Jews lived in Vojvodina. In Belgrade, Jewish community was 10,000-strong, 80% being Ladino-speaking Sephardi Jews, and 20% being Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews.
World War II
The Kingdom of Yugoslavia attempted to maintain neutrality during the period preceding World War II. Milan Stojadinović, the prime minister, tried to actively woo Adolf Hitler while maintaining the alliance with former Entente Powers, UK and France. Nonwithstanding overtures to Germany, Yugoslav policy was not anti-Semitic: for instance, Yugoslavia opened its borders to Austrian Jews following the Anschluss. Under increasing pressure to yield to German demands for safe passage of its troops to Greece, Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, like Bulgaria and Hungary. Unlike the other two, however, the signatory government of Maček and Cvetković was overthrown three days later in a British-supported coup of patriotic, anti-German generals. The new government immediately rescinded the Yugoslav signature on the Pact and called for strict neutrality. German response was swift and brutal: Belgrade was bombed without the declaration of war on 6 April 1941 and German, Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian troops invaded Yugoslavia.
The Nazi genocide against Yugoslav Jews began in April 1941. The state of Serbia was completely occupied by the Nazis. The main race laws in the State of Serbia were adopted on 30 April 1941: the Legal Decree on Racial Origins (Zakonska odredba o rasnoj pripadnosti). Jews from Srem were sent to Croatian camps, as were many Jews from other parts of Serbia. In rump Serbia, Germans proceeded to round up Jews of Banat and Belgrade, setting up a concentration camp across the river Sava, in the Syrmian part of Belgrade, then given to Independent State of Croatia. The Sajmište concentration camp was established to process and eliminate the captured Jews and Serbs. As a result, Emanuel Schäfer, commander of the Security Police and Gestapo in Serbia, famously cabled Berlin after last Jews were killed in May 1942:
Similarly. Harald Turner of the SS stated in 1942 that:
- "Serbia is the only country in which the Jewish question and the Gypsy question has been solved."
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. Of the Jewish population of 16,000 in the territory controlled by Nazi puppet government of Milan Nedić, police and secret services murdered approximately 14,500.
There was a similar persecution of Jews in the territory of present-day Vojvodina, which was annexed by Hungary. In the 1942 raid in Novi Sad, the Hungarian troops killed many Jewish and non-Jewish Serb civilians in Bačka.
|“||Serbia was the only country outside Poland and the Soviet Union where all Jewish victims were killed on the spot without deportation, and was the first country after Estonia to be declared "Judenfrei", a term used by the Nazis during the Holocaust to denote an area free of all Jews.||”|
Serbian civilians were involved in saving thousands of Yugoslavian Jews during this period. Miriam Steiner-Aviezer, a researcher into Yugoslavian Jewry and a member of Yad Vashem's Righteous Gentiles committee states: "The Serbs saved many Jews." Currently[when?], Yad Vashem recognizes 131 Serbians as Righteous Among Nations, the highest number among Balkan countries.
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. 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 the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
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.
During the Yugoslav Wars, and international sanctions many Jews chose to immigrate to Israel and the United States. During the NATO bombing in 1999, 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.
Manifestations of antisemitism 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 rare incidents of anti-Semitism, including anti-Semitic graffiti, vandalism, small circulation anti-Semitic books, and Internet postings", incidents which must be viewed in the context of small but growing anti-Semitsm in Serbia. In 2013, downtown Belgrade was covered by posters, reportedly distributed by the Serbian branch of Blood & Honour, accusing Jews of being responsible for the 1999 bombing of the former Yugoslavia.
The Serbian government recognizes Judaism as one of the seven "traditional" religious communities of Serbia. The only remaining functioning synagogues in Serbia is the Belgrade Synagogue and Subotica Synagogue.
- 1953: 1,504
- 1961: 1,250
- 1971: 1,128
- 1981: 683
- 1991: 1,107
- 2002: 1,185 (excluding Kosovo)
- 2011: 787 (excluding Kosovo)
In the 2011 census 787 people declared themselves as Jewish, while 578 stated their religion as Judaism. About half of them live in Belgrade alone, while almost all the rest are found in Vojvodina (especially in its three largest cities: Novi Sad, Subotica and Pančevo). The results of the 2002 census based on ethnicity and 2011 census based on religion are displayed below:
|Rest of Serbia||239||5,646,314|
|Rest of Serbia||102||4,920,829|
- David Albahari, writer
- David Albala, military officer, physician, diplomat, and Jewish community leader
- Albert Bogen (Albert Bógathy; 1882-1961), Serbian-born Austrian Olympic silver medalist saber fencer
- Oskar Danon, composer
- Oskar Davičo, poet
- Filip David, playwright and columnist
- Jelena Đurović, writer, politician and journalist
- Predrag Ejdus, actor
- Vanja Ejdus, actress
- Rahela Ferari, actress
- Henrich-Haim Fingerhut, first radio speaker of Radio Belgrade
- Ivan Ivanji, writer
- Enriko Josif, composer
- Danilo Kiš, writer
- Geca Kon, publisher
- Marko Kon, pop singer
- Gordana Kuić, novelist
- Shaul Ladany, Israeli Olympian athlete
- Tommy Lapid, former Israeli politician of Hungarian extraction, born in Novi Sad
- Sonja Licht, political activist
- Lior Narkis, Israeli singer (mother born in Serbia)
- Izidor Papo, cardiac surgeon, general-colonel of the Yugoslav Army medical unit
- Moša Pijade, politician, painter, art critic and publicist
- Dan Reisinger, Israeli graphic artist
- Seka Sablić, actress
- Erich Šlomović, art collector
- Aleksandar Tišma, writer
- Stanislav Vinaver, writer, poet, translator and journalist
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|Jews and Judaism|
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