CROATIA - THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
[January 2009] Located in SE Europe, bordering the Adriatic Sea, between Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia.
Regions and history. Slightly smaller than West Virginia, current population is 4.7 million. Due to location, Croatia controls most land routes from western Europe to the Aegean Sea and the Turkish Straits. More details about the country.
Administrative Divisions - 21 Counties (Zupanijas, Zupanija - Singular): Bjelovar-Bilogora, City of Zagreb, Dubrovnik-Beretta, Sitar, Carload, Koprivnica-Krizevci, Krapina-Zagorje, Lika-Senj, Medimurje, Osijek-Baranja, Pozega-Slavonia, Primorje-Gorski Kotar, Sibenik, Sisak-Moslavina, Slavonski, Brod-Posavina, Split-Dalmatia, Varazdin, Virovitica-Podravina, Vukovar-Srijem, Zadar-Knin, Zagreb. Photos throughout Croatia. [January 2009]
Jews along the Dalmatian Coast in ancient Roman times also had ancient settlements inland as witnessed by archaeological finds from the second through fourth centuries in Istria, Dalmatia and inland Slavonia with evidence of permanent ancient settlements found at Salona (Split) and Mursa (Osijek). A few Jewish settlements in what is now Croatia during the Middle Ages were mainly on the coast. As a result, major sea related commerce Jewish communities developed. Jewish presence is known in Dubrovnik (1326), Split (1397), Sibenik (1432), Rijeka (1436), and (inland) Zagreb in 1355. Inland Croatia, under Hapsburg rule in 1526, expelled the Jews until Emperor Joseph II issued an Edict of Tolerance in 1783 that allowed Jews freedom of movement and other civil rights. Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and Austria founded most inland Croatia Jewish communities. Full emancipation came only in 1873.Small coastal medieval Jewish communities in the late 15th and early 16th centuries received waves of Sephardic Jewish refugees fleeing Spain, Portugal, and parts of Italy. (except that Istria's port of Rijeka) ever reached more than a few hundred people although they were economically prominent.
In April 1941, about 25,000 Jews lived in Croatia. Croatia was a supposedly independent country, but really ruled as a Nazi puppet by the ultra-nationalist, fascist Ustasa, who implemented harsh anti-Semitic legislation and committed horrific atrocities against Jews, Serbs, and Gypsies. Transit and concentration camps established included Jasenovac death camp south of Zagreb, sometimes called the "Auschwitz of the Balkans."
After WWII, communist Yugoslavia (six federated republics: Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro under Marshal Josip Broz Tito) came into being. Jewish life began to return to the Balkans even though approximately 14,500 out of a pre-war population of 16,000 Serbian Jews were killed. Many survivors emigrated to Israel, abandoning ruined synagogues and cemeteries: Former synagogues either were demolished or put to new uses. Many abandoned cemeteries' gravestones were used for construction. Others became neglected and forgotten. The Yugoslavian Jewish community of about 6,000 people was recognized as an ethnic and a religious community. Communist Yugoslavia, not a part of the Soviet bloc, left local Jews in peace until they were very assimilated into society and irreligious. With only one rabbi in the country, the Federation of Yugoslav Jewish Communities cared for Jewish cemeteries, synagogues, and other structure where Jewish communities no longer exist. Some cemeteries were moved, some maintained. They erected about thirty Holocaust memorials. With the secession of Slovenia, then Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1991, the series of bloody Balkan wars tore apart the country, killed hundreds of thousands, displaced millions, and destroyed thousands of religious, cultural, and historic heritage sites. Government collapse disorganized Jewish institutions. Gradually the small Jewish communities of the former Yugoslavia have recreated themselves on a much smaller scale. See pdf for United States Commission for the Preservation of American's Heritage Abroad for more information and photos.
"The Croats, who penetrated into the N.W. Balkans in the seventh century and established a kingdom in the tenth, found there several Jewish communities. In the letter of Hisdai ibn Shaprut (5:10) to Joseph the king of the Khazars, there is a mention of the "king of the Gebalim" who sent a deputation, which included Mar Saul and Mar Joseph, to Caliph Abdurrahman III of Cordoba. The "king of the Gebalim, the Slavs," whose country bordered that of the Hungarians, was Kre2imir, king of Croatia. The messengers informed Hisdai that Mar Amram of the court of the Khazar king had come to the land of the "Gebalim." There is little information on the Jews of Croatia from the 10th to 15th centuries. Some Jews lived in the Croatian capital Zagreb in the 13th and 14th centuries, when they had a chief entitled "magistratus Judaeorum," and a synagogue. Others settled between the Sava and Drava (Drau) and Danube rivers during the 15th century. As long as the economy of the country required the presence of the Jews, they lived there without hindrance. As soon as they were superfluous, they were persecuted and driven out. The Jews were expelled from Croatia and Slavonia in 1456. Croatia together with Hungary passed to the Hapsburgs in 1526, and no Jews lived there for the next 200 years.
Toward the end of the 18th century, Jews from Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, and especially Burgenland (east Austria) resettled there. In 1776 Jews came to Osijek and in 1777 to Varaydin and a limited number to Zagreb. At that time there was also a Jewish community in Zemun. R. Judah b. Solomon Hai Alkalai (1798-1878), who lived there from 1825 to 1874, also propagated the ideals of the movement for the settlement of Erez Israel in Aabac and Belgrade. A census of the Jews in 1773, during the reign of Maria Theresa, revealed only 25 families. It was only after the publication of the Toleranzpatent in 1782 by Emperor Joseph II that the situation improved and more Jews arrived from the north and the south. The right of residence was granted in 1791. Further rights were granted in 1840, but the "tolerance tax" remained in force. The Jews of Croatia and Dalmatia only received their full emancipation in 1873. Until 1890 the community of Osijek was the most prominent, but from that year the community of Zagreb, founded in 1806, became the leading one. In 1841 an Orthodox congregation was founded in Zagreb. The Jews of Croatia were mostly merchants and some were artisans.
Jews arrived in Dalmatia with the Roman armies. In Solin (Salona), in the vicinity of Split (Spalato), there are remains of a Jewish cemetery of the third century. There was a Jewish community in Solin until 641, when Solin was destroyed by the Avars. During the Middle Ages, the Jews of Split and Ragusa (Dubrovnik) engaged in commerce and especially in the brokerage of the trade between Dalmatia and Italy and the Danubian countries. Under the autonomous republic which was established in Dubrovnik during the 15th century, the Jews lived in relative tranquillity. The Christian clergy, however, attempted to oppress them and succeeded in spreading blood libels in Dubrovnik in 1502, 1622, and 1662. During the 16th century, refugees from Spain and Portugal settled in Dalmatia. When Pope Paul IV expelled the Jews from Ancona in 1556, a considerable number of them requested asylum in Dubrovnik. These included the physician Amatus Lusitanus and his friend the poet Didacus Pyrrhus, both Marranos. In 1738 the condition of the Jews in Dalmatia deteriorated. The Jews of Split lived in a ghetto until the arrival of the French in 1806. In 1906 the Austro-Hungarian government passed a law which defined the status of the Jewish communities of Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia. In 1870 there were already 10,000 Jews in Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia; 13,488 in 1880; and 17,261 in 1890. After World War I there were 20,000 Jews in Croatia, Slavonia, and Dalmatia." Source [February 2009]
Jewish Encyclopedia artice about Croatia [February 2009]
Synagogues Without Jews [February 2009]