History of the Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina

History of the Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Jewish community of Bosnia and Herzegovina has a rich and varied history, surviving World War II and the Yugoslav Wars, after having been been born as a result of the Spanish Inquisition, and having been almost destroyed by the Holocaust.

The Jewish Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina now numbers some 500 people, spread in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Mostar, Tuzla, Doboj, and Zenica [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/bosnia.html Jewish Virtual Library - Bosnia-Herzegovina] ] .

History of the community

Ottoman rule

The first Jews arrived in the regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1500s.

As tens of thousands of Jews fled the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire welcomed Jews who were able to reach his territories. Jews fleeing Spain and Portugal were welcomed inndash and found their way tondash Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Thrace and other areas of Europe under Ottoman control. Jews began to arrive in Bosnia and Herzegovina in numbers in the 16th century, with Jews arriving from the Ottoman Empire, and settling mainly in Sarajevo. The first Ashkenazi Jews arrived from Hungary in 1686, when the Ottoman Turks were expelled from Hungary [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5960&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part I] ] , [Buda] .

Jews in the Ottoman Empire were generally well-treated and were recognized under the law as non-Muslims. Despite some restrictions, the Jewish communities of the Empire prospered. They were granted significant autonomy, with various rights including the right to buy real estate, to build synagogues and to conduct trade throughout the Ottoman Empire ["Macedonia and the Jewish people", A. Assa, Skopje, 1992, p.36] . Jews, along with the other non-Muslim subjects of the Empire, were granted full equality under Ottoman law by 1856.

Habsburg rule

The Austro-Hungarian Empire conquered Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878, and brought with them an injection of European capital, companies and methods. Many professional, educated Ashkenazi Jews arrived with the Austro-Hungarians. The Sephardi Jews continued to engage in their traditional areas, mainly foreign trade and crafts.

World War I saw the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and after the war Bosnia and Herzegovina was incorporated into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.In the census of 1921, Judeo-Spanish was the mother language of 10,000 out of 70,000 inhabitants of Sarajevo"El español en el mundo. Anuario 2004. El español en Bosnia-Herzegovina. [http://cvc.cervantes.es/obref/anuario/anuario_04/torres/p07.htm Situación de los estudios de español fuera de la Universidad de Sarajevo] ", Sonia Torres Rubio.] .By 1926, there were 13,000 Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Holocaust

Local support for the Nazis

In 1940, there were approximately 14,000 Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with 10,000 in Sarajevo [http://www.serbianna.com/columns/savich/006.shtml"The Holocaust in Bosnia-Hercegovina, 1941-1945", Carl K. Savich] ] .

With the invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941 by the Nazis and their Allies, Bosnia and Herzegovina came under the control of the Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi puppet-state. The Independent State of Croatia was headed by the notoriously anti-Semitic Ustaše, and they wasted little time in persecuting non-Croats such as Serbs, Jews and Gypsies.

Deportation and murder

On July 22 , 1941, Mile Budakndash a senior Minister in the Croatian government and one of the chief ideologists of the Ustaše movement [Mile Budak] ndash declared that the goal of the Ustaše was the extermination of "foreign elements" from the Independent State of Croatia. His message was simple: "The basis for the Ustasha movement is religion. For minorities such as Serbs, Jews, and Gypsies, we have three million bullets." In 1941, Ante Pavelićndash leader of the Ustaše movementndash declared that "the Jews will be liquidated in a very short time".

In September 1941 deportations of Jews began, with most Bosnian Jews being deported to Auschwitz or to concentration camps in Croatia. The Ustaše set up concentration camps at Kerestinac, Jadovna, Metajna and Slana. The most notorious, where cruelty of unimaginable proportions was perpetrated against Jewish and Serbian prisoners were at Pag and Jasenovac. At Jasenovac alone, thousands of people were murdered (mostly Serbs), including 20,000 Jews [Jews of Yugoslavia 1941-1945 Victims of Genocide and Freedom Fighters, Jasa Romano, p7] .

By War's end, the Ustaše had murdered 100,000 Serbs, approximately 40,000 Roma (Gypsies) and 32,000 Jews [Ustashe] . Among Bosnian Jews, 10,000 of the pre-War Jewish population of 14,000 had been murdered. Most of the 4,000 who had survived did so by fighting with the Yugoslav, Jewish or Soviet Partisans [ [http://www.ce-review.org/00/4/daskalovski4.html Remembering the Past - Jewish culture battling for survival in Macedonia, Zhidas Daskalovski] ] or by escaping to the Italian controlled zone (approximately 1,600 had escaped to the Italian controlled zone on the Dalmatian coast [http://www.jdc.org/p_ee_bos_history.html American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee - Bosnia-Herzegovina] ] ).

Jewish members of the Yugoslav Army became German prisoners of war and survived the war. They returned to Sarajevo after the war.

arajevo Haggadah

The Sarajevo Haggadah has survived many close calls with destruction. Historians believe that it was taken out of Spain by Spanish Jews who were expelled by the Inquisition in 1492. Notes in the margins of the Haggadah indicate that it surfaced in Italy in the 1500s. It was sold to the national museum in Sarajevo in 1894 by a man named Joseph Kohen.

During World War II, the manuscript was hidden from the Nazis by Dr. Jozo Petrovic [Vlajko Palavestra, [http://www.iis.unsa.ba/posebna/sefarad/sef_23.htm PRIČANJA O SUDBINI SARAJEVSKE HAGGADE] flagicon|Bosnia and Herzegovina] , the director of the city museum [ [http://www.catholic.org/featured/headline.php?ID=4047 Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust] at Catholic Online] and by Derviš Korkut, the chief librarian, who smuggled the Haggadah out to a Muslim cleric in a mountain village near Treskavica — there it was hidden in the mosque among Korans and other Islamic texts. [Geraldine Brooks, Chronicles, [http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/12/03/071203fa_fact_brooks "The Book of Exodus,"] The New Yorker, December 3, 2007, p. 74 ] During the Bosnian War of 1992-1995, when Sarajevo was under constant siege by Bosnian Serb forces, the manuscript survived in an underground bank vault.

Afterwards, the manuscript was restored through a special campaign financed by the United Nations and the Bosnian Jewish community in 2001, and went on permanent display at the museum in December 2002.

Post-war community

The Jewish Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina was reconstituted after the Holocaust, but most survivors chose to emigrate to Israel. The community came under the auspices of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia, based in the capital, Belgrade.

In the early 1990s, before the Yugoslav Wars, the Jewish population of Bosnia and Herzegovina was over 2,000, and relations between Jews and their Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim neighbors were good.

Yugoslav wars

When the Yugoslav Wars broke out in 1991, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee evacuated most Bosnian Jews to Israel, and most chose to remain there after the wars.


Today, there are some 500 Jews living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They enjoy excellent relations with their non-Jewish neighbors and with the Bosnian government.As a result of the ethnic balancing act involved in the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jews and other minorities are forbidden from running for the position of president" [http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=2&cid=1170359882116&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull Jew challenges Bosnia presidency ban] ", Yaniv Salama-Scheer, "Jerusalem Post", February 18, 2007.] .

Prominent Bosnian Jews

* Ivica Ceresnjes, architect-researcher, former president of the Jewish community in Sarajevo [http://www.seean.uni-bonn.de/publications/reviews/posts/051103.html]
* Judah Alkalai, Rabbi, early member of the Zionist movement
* Sven Alkalaj, Minister of foreign affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina
* Kalmi Baruh, writer and philosopher [http://www.benevolencija.eu.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_view&gid=70]
* Emerik Blum, businessman, founder of Energoinvest, former Mayor of Sarajevo [ [www.ceeol.com] ]
* Oskar Danon, composer and conductor [Voices of Yugoslav Jewry By Paul Benjamin Gordiejew, Pg 62]
* Jakob Finci, current spiritual leader of the Bosnian Jewish community.
* David Elazar, Israeli general and Chief of Staff of Israel Defense Forces [ [http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9389289/David-Elazar David Elazar - Britannica Online Encyclopedia ] ]
* Robert Rothbart, basketball player (Jewish father) [ [http://www.safsal.co.il/article.aspx?id=6463 ספסל- הבית של הכדורסל הישראלי - אינפורמציה, סטטיסטיקה וחדשות יומיות על כל השחקנים, הקבוצות והליגות ] ]
* Isak Samokovlija, writer [http://www.serbianstudies.org/home_files/pdf/14_1/Vol14_1_Palavestra.pdf]

Notes and references

* [http://www.serbianna.com/columns/savich/006.shtml"The Holocaust in Bosnia-Hercegovina, 1941-1945", Carl K. Savich]
* [http://www.centropa.org/reports.asp?rep=HR&ID=5960&TypeID=36658 Excerpts from Jews in Yugoslavia - Part I]
* [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/bosnia.html Jewish Virtual Library - Bosnia-Herzegovina, Stephanie Persin]
* [http://www.jdc.org/p_ee_bos_history.html American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee - Bosnia-Herzegovina]
* [http://www.jcpa.org/JCPA/Templates/ShowPage.asp?DRIT=4&DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=111&FID=253&PID=0&IID=1829&TTL=Bosnian_Jewry:_A_Small_Community_Meets_a_Unique_Challenge_During_the_1990s_War Bosnian Jewry: A Small Community Meets a Unique Challenge During the 1990s War - Interview with Ivica Ceresnjes]

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