Jews arrived in Croatia with the Roman armies, and there are remains of a Jewish cemetery in Solin (near Split) dating back to the 3rd century of the Common Era. The community in Solin ceased to exist in 641 C.E. when the town was destroyed, but there are records indicating the existence of Jewish communities in the area during that period. When the Croats arrived in the region in the 7th century and created their kingdom in the 10th century, they found well-established Jewish communities there.
During the 13th and 14th centuries, Jews lived in Zagreb and enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy with a leader called a “magistratus Jedaeorum.” During this period, Jewish communities throughout the region, including in Split and Dubrovnik, prospered. This was particularly the case during the Middle Ages, when they played a significant role in commerce with Italy and the countries of the Danube basin. The Jewish population in Croatia continued to increase for the next century, but in 1456 the tide turned with the Jewish community eventually expelled from the region. For the next 200 years, there are no records of any Jewish presence in Croatia proper.
It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century that Jews returned to Croatia, by which time the territory was ruled by the Hapsburgs. This was largely facilitated by the influence of Emperor Joseph II’s publication of the “Toleranzpatent” in 1782, which called for full and equal rights for all citizens. During his reign, Jewish settlement was allowed, and Jews arrived from Burgenland, Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary and elsewhere in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Jews still had to contend with several restrictions until their full emancipation in 1870. The community was strongly influenced by the Austro-German and Hungarian cultures, and in many respects communal and religious life followed the pattern established in those countries.
After World War I, upon the establishment of an independent Yugoslavia incorporating Croatia, the Jewish community was integrated into the new state's Federation of Jewish Communities. In the interwar period, some 20,000 Jews lived in Croatia. During the Holocaust, the Croatian Jewish community was nearly annihilated by the genocidal actions of Ustasha, the Croat fascist movement that headed the Nazi collaborationist Independent State of Croatia.
In the years following the second world war, Jewish life in Croatia saw large levels of assimilation into broader Croatian society. The breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 saw the Croatian Jewish community thrown into the middle of the turmoil, with independence and an eventual cease-fire bringing some semblance of stability to the Jewish community in the country. Today, the Jewish community in Croatia has faced some difficulties combating anti-Semitism, but Croatian Jews are able to practice their religion openly and freely.