Community in Croatia - World Jewish Congress

Croatia

Croatia’s small but extremely active Jewish community numbers 1,700. Although there have been difficulties in combating anti-Semitism and other problematic ideologies in the country – in particular historical revisionism that has sought to rehabilitate the fascist Ustasha movement of the 1930’s and 1940’s and cleanse it of responsibility for the mass killing of Jews and Serbs during World War II – Croatian Jewry enjoys full and equal rights along with support from the government.  The Croatian Jewish community is represented by the Coordinating Committee of the Jewish Communities in Croatia – the Croatian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate

Koordinacija židovskih općina u Republici Hrvatskoj (Coordinating Committee of the Jewish Communities in Croatia)

Telephone: +385 1 4922692
Fax: +385 1 4922694
E-mail: jcz@zg.t-com.hr
Website: www.zoz.hr
www.croatian-jewish-network.com

President: Dr. Ognjen Kraus


Community News


History

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.

The years of Holocaust

After the German invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, Croatia was reorganized as a semi-independent state allied with Germany and governed by the nationalistic and fascist Ustasha. The Ustasha targeted Serbs, Jews, and Roma as well as other ethnic and religious minorities and political opponents.

During the course of the next four years, the Croats stripped the Jews of all their property and eventually killed most of them in local concentration camps. The most notorious of these was the Jasenovac camp, in which thousands of Jews perished at the hands of the Ustasha. It is important to note here that the Ustasha were the main perpetrators of the genocide of Croatian Jewry during the Holocaust. The Ustasha were more than willing to cruelly murder Croatian Jews, or later allow the Germans to transfer Croatia’s surviving Jews to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942 and 1943.

It is difficult to determine the number of victims in Croatia due to the destruction of relevant documents and overt historical revisionism in Croatia that usually coincides with nationalist and ethnic ideologies.  According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, “The Croat authorities murdered between 320,000 and 340,000 ethnic Serb residents of Croatia and Bosnia during the period of Ustasha rule; more than 30,000 Croatian Jews were killed either in Croatia or at Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

Demography

As of 2001, Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated the Jewish population of Croatia to be around 1,700. Three quarters of Croatia's Jews live in the capital of Zagreb, with other small communities in Osijek, Rijeka, Split, and Dubrovnik.

Community Life

At present, the Jews of Croatia are organized into nine active communities throughout the country. These communities are all affiliated with the Coordinating Committee of the Jewish Communities in the Republic of Croatia, which acts as an umbrella group for Croatian Jewry. It ensures that the religious needs of the Croatian Jewish community are met, and that the community has representation nationally and internationally.

The community building in Zagreb contains a synagogue, an art gallery, a Holocaust research and documentation center and a Jewish library. The community sponsors numerous institutions, including a kindergarten, an old-age home, and a holiday resort on the Adriatic coast. The community also has a rich tradition in publishing. Many members of the Jewish community are distinguished members of cultural life and renown scientists.

Other Jewish organizations active in Croatia include the Croatian Union of Jewish Youth, the Union of Jewish Women, and Maccabi.  The community also sponsors the Or Hashemesh Dance Group, and the Jewsers Klezmer Ensemble. It also runs a Jewish Research and Documentary Centre. There is also an active Jewish cultural society as well.

Religious and Cultural life

Despite the small size of the Jewish community in Croatia, Jewish religious life is quite prevalent in the country. There is a strong sense of Jewish identity throughout the community, extending to members who come from intermarried families or even less certain Jewish origins.  

There is a sizeable synagogue in Zagreb that has its own permanent rabbi. The community building in Zagreb contains a synagogue, an art gallery, a Holocaust research and documentation center and a Jewish library. An alternate Orthodox Jewish community in Zagreb called Bet Israel has its own rabbi, prayer room and bet midrash. Chabad also has a presence in Zagreb.

The community also maintains a library and archives, a Judaica collection (textile and metals), a Sunday school, youth, sports women’s and seniors’ clubs, a dance group, Hebrew language courses, a klezmer ensemble, a research and documentation center, and various creative workshops.

Kosher food is not readily available in Croatia.

Jewish Education

The Hugo Kon Elementary School is the only Jewish day school in Croatia. The Jewish community also sponsors a kindergarten, Sunday school and Hebrew language courses. There are currently no Yeshivot or rabbinical studies centers in the country.

Youth

Youth of the Jewish Community in Zagreb can be involved in various programs such as Sunday school, Youth club, Maccabi sports team, Or HaShemes dancing group, summer camps held in Croatia and abroad.

Information for visitors

Croatia has numerous Jewish sites of interest, despite numerous conflicts that have damaged many notable places of Jewish significance. The Old Synagogue in Dubrovnik, Croatia is the oldest Sephardic synagogue still in use today in the world and the second oldest synagogue in Europe – it is said to have been established in 1352, but gained legal status in the city in 1408. In Rijeka, the Orthodox synagogue has been signified as a cultural monument by the city’s authorities and is under protection.

There are also a number of Jewish cemeteries throughout the country, with some still in use. This includes the Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb and one on the eastern slope of Mt. Marjan in Split.

The 'Stolperstein' project is also active in Croatia. The first Croatian Stolperstein was installed in Rijeka in 2013 in the memory of Eugenije and Gianetta Lipschitz. In October 2020, first Stolperstein was installed in Zagreb at 29 Gundulićeva Street in memory of Lea Deutsch, the first of 20 that have been installed in Zagreb. The Stolpersteine project, initiated by the German artist Gunter Demnig in 1992, aims to commemorate individual victims of the Holocaust at their last place of residence.

 

Israel

Israel and Croatia enjoy full diplomatic relations which were established immediately following Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia in 1997.

Embassy of Israel
Ulica grada Vukovra 271
Zagreb, 10000
Croatia

Telephone: +385 1 6169 500
Fax: +385 1 6169 555
E-mail: info@zagreb.mfa.gov.il

 

Updated

 

April 2021

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