12 September 2012
The president of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, has paid a visit to the Republic of Macedonia, where he held talks with the country's president, Gjorge Ivanov (picture left), and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski (picture below).
Lauder also conferred with the leadership of the Jewish community of Macedonia and paid a visit to the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia in the capital Skopje. The museum, which was inaugurated in 2011, is located in the so-called Jewish Quarter of Skopje which once was the center of Jewish life until the deportation and murder of the most Macedonian Jews.
Prior to World War II, the Jewish community of Macedonia was centered on the cities of Bitola (approximately 8,000 Jews), Skopje (approximately 3,000) and Štip (approximately 500). In April 1941, Macedonia - then a part of Yugoslavia - was occupied by Bulgarian troops. In contrast to its policy back home, Sofia instituted a regime of terror and plunder against Macedonian Jews. That policy culminated in the deportation in March 1943 of some 7,200 Jews to the German death camp at Treblinka, from which not a single one returned.
Some 98 percent of the Macedonian Jews were killed. The only survivors were those who had managed to evade deportation, many of whom fought with the partisans.
"Nothing prepared me for what I have seen in this museum. The Jewish community of Macedonia were a very important and successful people. This museum is truly a very special place," Lauder wrote in the visitor's book of the Holocaust museum.
Today, the Jewish community in Macedonia numbers around 200. A few years ago, Avi Kozma became the first native Macedonian to be ordained as chief rabbi.
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