Jews in Belgrade

Jewish colonies existed in Belgrade in the 10th century, but in the 13th century existence became clearly identified with the organized religious community and close connections with Dubrovnik, Venice, Ancona and Hungarian cities.

The first written records of the presence of Jews in Belgrade date back to the 16th century when the city was under Ottoman rule At that time Belgrade witnessed intensive settling of Sephards.

Jalia bank of Danube in the neighborhood called Dorcol became strong Judeo Espanol (Ladino ) speaking community. This community existed for next three centuries. City's Ashkenazi Jews, many of them from Central and East Europe and from nearby Austria – Hungary Empire mostly lived in the part of the city that is today defined as Varoš Kapija, Toplicin Venac and Obilicev venac (central part of town close to the area where today stands the synagogue "Sukkat Shalom" (1924).

The Jewish community in Belgrade flourished most notably in the 17th century when Belgrade had a Jewish religious school (yeshiva) led by rabbis Judah Lerma, Gershon Kohen, and Joseph Almoslino, numerous community and cultural centers, Jewish charitable organizations, societies and shops.

Belgrade Jews were predominantly tradesmen, craftsmen, bankers and manufacturers. The economic progress of individuals and of the whole community was often disturbed by great commotion as was the city itself, which changed rulers many times. In 1663 community numbered 800 members.

With the beginning of decline of the Turkish Empire in the late 17th century a long series of catastrophes befell the Jews of Belgrade. In 1688 Austrians captured and burned the city, looted and killed local population predominately Turkish, Serbian an Jewish. The community was totally destroyed, some Jews managed to flee to Bulgaria, but the majority were taken prisoners and deported to Austria to be sold as slaves or offered to Jewish communities for ransom.

Shortly after, a number of Jews returned to the city and rebuild the synagogue.

Under Austrian occupation from 1717 till 1739 the new Catholic rulers were extremely intolerant and many Sephardic families left. Instead of them Ashkenazim came from Central European cities. Since then, almost uninterrupted there were two Jewish communities in Belgrade: Sephardic and Ashkenazi.

A series of uprisings by the Serbs against the local Turkish despots began in 1804.

The community on Jalija was severely threatened by Karadjordje army in 1806 when Jews were included in the category of non-Christians living in the future capital of Serbia. Till 1813 when the Turks came back to these territories there is a little mention of Jews in Serbian cities.

During the reign of Prince Milosh Obrenovich (1815-1839) the Jewish quarter in Belgrade again became a lively place as settlers from Sophia Bitola and Bucharest came here to live and of course, those who returned from exile.

When in 1815 Milosh Obrenovich was recognized ruler of Serbia the situation of the Jews improved. There were some 1.300 Jews (200 Ashkenazim) in 1831.

Prince Milosh's Serbian State Typography was founded in 1837 had Hebrew type too. The work, mostly liturgical or ritual was printed in Ladino translation. The Ladino periodical El amigo Del Pueblo was established in 1888 and appeared in Belgrade until 1892.

Milosh successors, Alexander Karadjordjevic (1842-1858) introduced a series of restrictions on Jewish residence, barring Jews from certain professions and acquisition of property.

After obtaining full rights following the Congress of Berlin in 1878 the wealthier Jews gradually became part of Serbian society. They spoke Serbian, their children went to state schools and universities and became physicians, civil servants.

Synagogues were built and number of institutions and communal organizations were founded. In 1907 they build the new synagogue Bet Israel in Cara Urosha Street.

Still most of the Jews lived in mahala (Dorchol) until WWI when it was partly destroyed.

In the 20th century, Jews fought alongside Serbs in the 1912 to 1913 Balkan Wars and in World War I.

After the WWI when Belgrade becomes the capital of Kingdom of Serbs Croats and Slovenes and later Kingdom of Yugoslavia the younger generation gradually left the mahala to enter professions.

Holocaust period (1938-1945)

A change of attitude towards Jews was felt by 1938 under the influence of the fascism that flooded Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Numerus Clausus was introduced at universities and Jews were denied to trade with food.

When the Germans occupied Belgrade in April 1941, about 12,000 Jews lived in the city - most of them Sephardim. Only 13 months later, Belgrade suffered the infamy of being the first city in Europe declared Judenfrei. At least 2,000 Jews were killed by firing squads at the Topovske Supe transit camp in central Belgrade; most of the rest were gassed at Sajmiste, camp near the Sava River that had formerly been a fairground. It is estimated that Germans murdered about 90% of Belgrade Jews.

Only about 2,300 of the city's Jews survived the Holocaust.

Immediately after the German occupation Jewish youth, mainly from Ha- Shomer Ha Za'ir, joined the resistance movement, sabotaging enemy installations, disseminating propaganda, and collecting funds and medical supplies. From August 1941 many joined partisans units but not before considerable numbers of them were arrested and shot.

After the war, Jews experienced less anti-Semitism in Yugoslavia than in many other Communist states. Still, many left the country for Israel (1948- 1952) or to the United States.

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