Belgrade – Jewish historical sites

Jewish Historical Museum

The Jewish Historical Museum in Belgrade was founded in 1948. This unique Museum is part of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Serbia.

From its establishment museum has introduced the concept that included various fields of work and activities: exhibition (permanent and temporary), archives, research work and publishing.

The permanent exhibition was opened in 1969 and it presents the region of the former Yugoslavia, exploring the history of Jews from their first arrival to the Balkan Peninsula in the II – III century, until the World War II, including Holocaust, and period after the liberation.

Permanent exhibition is presented on 200 m2, and enabling visitors to learn about Jewish history, tradition, religion, architecture, culture and art.

Apart from museum collections, it also has a significant archive.

The activity of the Jewish Historical Museum is versatile and dynamic – it stages exhibitions continually, it has a dynamic publishing activity, and as the only museum of its type, it provides daily assistance and information to scholars, scientists, students and artists, and other interested individuals.

For genealogists, the museum also has a database of birth, marriage and death records of Belgrade's Jews from the middle of the 19 century until 1941.

Jewish Historical Museum cooperates closely with other similar national and international institutions. There are frequent individual and small group visits to the permanent exhibition of the Museum, and over the recent years there is an increasing number of group visits, especially foreign.

For more information please visit: www.jimbeograd.org/eng.

Dorcol (Jewish quarter)

From the Belgrade community center, a short walk downhill toward the Danube River leads right into what once was the Jewish quarter in Dorcol.

Dorcol is an old neighborhood, occupying the sloping ground between Kalemegdan fortress and the Danube river. It was a centre of Jewish life for many centuries.

Its nucleus, Jevrejska (Jewish) Street, still exists as does the building that once housed the Jewish societies Oneg Shabat and Gemilut Hasadim.

Constructed in 1928 the building served as community centre for the largely Sephardi Jewish community.

After the Second World War, the building was nationalized and used for various purposes. Today it houses the Cinema Rex Theater.

The building, designed by architect Samuel Sumbul, is a rare example, possibly the only example, of Sephardic pseudo-Moorish architecture in the city holds inscription on the main entrance Psalm 71 in both Hebrew and Serbian above two large Stars of David.

Dorcol Holocaust Memorial

A Holocaust memorial in the shape of a burning menorah, sculpted by Nandor Glid and dedicated in 1990, stands on the bank of the Danube at the edge of the site of the former Jewish quarter.

Nandor Glid was born in Subotica, Yugoslavia, in 1924. After the Nazi invasion he was taken to Szeged (now Hungary) for forced labour.  His family was killed at Auschwitz in 1944. He managed to escape from Szeged concentration camp, fighting with the partisans until he was wounded in March 1945.

In 1972 he was awarded the Yugoslav Order of National Merit. He became a professor at the Academy of Applied Arts in Belgrade in 1975 and elected chairman, and then rector of Belgrade University of Arts in 1979 and 1985 respectively.

Among his notable Holocaust and war monuments are those at Mauthausen, Austria (Yugoslav Memorial, 1957); Zavala, Bosnia (1958); Subotica, Serbia (The Ballad of the Hanged, 1967); Dachau, Germany (1968); the Yad Vashem monument, Jerusalem (1979); and Salonika, Greece (1997).

Synagogue Sukkat Shalom (Marshala Birjuzova 19)

About a 15-minute walk from the community center is Belgrade’s only functioning synagogue, at Marsala Birjuzova 19. Known as the "Sukkat Shalom", this imposing synagogue, with its late neo-classical design, was built in 1926 for the Ashkenazi community.

On June 15, 1924 there was a solemn ceremony for the laying of the cornerstone, within which a charter containing texts in Hebrew and Serbian was sealed. The charter was signed by King Alexander and Queen Maria of Yugoslavia. The general construction was finished by 1 November 1925, and once the interior had been completed, the building was finally opened in the summer of 1926, and consecrated by rabbi Shlang.

The Synagogue was built on land bought from the city by the Society of Ashkenazi Jews of Belgrade.

According to official plans the building was to house the Synagogue, mikve (ritual baths) a school, community offices and apartments for the community employees. There had been an older Ashkenazi synagogue in the vicinity of the present one since the 19 century, but it was torn down to make way for new urban development.

The synagogue was known in Belgrade as the "Kosmajska Temple", as its address before World WarII was  Kosmajska Street. The name of the street has since been changed to Maršala Birjuzova Street.

Traditionally, this Synagogue had followed the Ashkenazi rite and served a congregation of Belgrade Jews who spoke Yiddish.

Today, however, it serves the small, mostly Sephardic, Jewish community remaining in the city following the Holocaust. There are regular services on Friday evenings and Jewish holidays. The rabbi serving this synagogue is the head rabbi of Serbia, Isak Asiel.

Housed in the same building, there is a community center for Jewish youth as well as rooms for occasional community functions and meetings. A Jewish kindergarten has recently been opened at the building as well. For many years now, the building has also housed several families affiliated in some way with the local Jewish community.

Beit Israel Synagogue 

The old Belgrade Sephardic synagogue Beth Israel was destroyed by fire in the World War II.

It was a Moorish-style structure with two small towers and striped outer decoration. It was designed by Milan Kapetanovic and built in 1908.

King Peter I of Serbia laid the foundation stone, attesting to the importance and good standing of the Jewish community at this time.

Nowadays, the Fresco Gallery, a subsidiary of Belgrade's National Museum, stands on the site.

It bears a memorial plaque commemorating the Jewish community.

Jewish cemeteries

Belgrade's two Jewish cemeteries are located across the street from each other at Mije Kovacevica Street 1, near the city's municipal cemetery.

The Sephardic cemetery is the larger of the two. It is well maintained and has many fine tombs, some of which display photos of the deceased. Gravestones bear inscriptions in several languages - Serbian, German, Hebrew, Ladino, and Hungarian - testimony to the diversity of Serbian Jewry.

The cemetery contains two impressive Holocaust memorials. The first monument, is a menorah in front of two large stone tablets, erected in 1952 and designed by Bogdan Bogdanovic (who also designed the memorial at Jasenovic, Croatia).

The cemetery is also home to an impressive monument dedicated to Jewish soldiers who were killed in the 1912-1913 Balkan Wars and World War I.

There is also a Genizah buried cache of used sacred books marked with a distinctive tombstone in a prominent place in the cemetery and restored through the efforts of Rabbi Yitzhak Asiel and his wife.

The Ashkenazi cemetery, on the other side of the street, is much smaller, with about 200 gravestones. It is minimally maintained but also in fairly good condition.

Sephardi cemetery:

  • Address: Mije Kovacevica Street 1
  • Phone: +381 11 768 250

Topovske Supe (Topovske Šupe) Holocaust Memorial

Topovske Šupe, a former weapons depot, was the first transit camp to be set up after the Nazi occupation of 1941.

From August to December of that year large numbers of Jewish and Roma people were forcibly relocated to the camp, where many were killed. When Topovske Šupe closed at the end of 1941 the remaining prisoners were transferred to various camps in the country, including the infamous Sajmište camp, where a gas van was used to murder thousands of Jewish women and children.

On 27 January 2006, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica [Koštunica] helped inaugurate a Holocaust memorial at the site.

It consists of a bronze relief in the form of an open scroll - recalling a Torah scroll - on which is inscribed a brief history of the camp in Serbian, Hebrew and English. The inscription reads: 'Between August and December 1941, this site served as a Nazi concentration camp for Jews and Roma from Belgrade and Banat. All of them were imprisoned here and several hundred were taken daily for execution by firing squad'.

Address

  • Topovske Šupe Memorial park (Autokomanda neighbourhood)

Banjica Concentration Camp

Banjica concentration camp was a quisling Nazi German concentration camp in Serbia from June 1941 to September 1944 in World War II, located in the eponymous suburb of Belgrade in what was then Yugoslavia.

It started as a center for holding hostages, but later included Jews, Serbs, Roma, captured partisans, and other opponents of the German Reich.

The camp's registers record the names of 23,637 prisoners.

The commandant of the Banjica concentration camp was Gestapo official Willy Friedrich.

The camp was part of the systematic destruction of the Jewish population.

On 30 May 1941 the German military administration defined what a Jew was, demanded the removal of Jews from the professional and public service, started registration of Jewish property, introduced forced labor, forbade the Serbian population form hiding Jews, and ordered all members of the Jewish community to wear the yellow badge.

Communists in German-occupied Serbia orchestrated an uprising there, to which the Germans responded by requiring Jews in Serbia to supply forty hostages weekly.

The first reprisal executions in late June were against "Communists and Jews". The first mass execution at Banjica occurred on 17 December 1941, when 170 prisoners were shot.

Address

  • Pavla Jurišića Šturma 33

Sajmiste (Sajmište) concentration camp site

Sajmište concentration camp, located on the left bank of the Sava river, several kilometers from Zemun, was the scene of more murders of Serbian Jews than any other site.

In 1938, a complex of buildings covering 15,000 square meters was built on this previously marshy site to host trade fairs and exhibitions.

In 1941 the Germans transformed the new fairground into a large concentration camp which operated until 1944.

Between December 1941 and February 1942, all Jewish women and children in Serbia were taken to Sajmište. Conditions there were very bad and the mortality rate was high. In late February a gas van arrived in Belgrade from Berlin, containing a type of poison gas recently used in Poland and in the Soviet Union.

From March to May 1942 those Jews still imprisoned in Sajmište were gassed to death. It is estimated that approximately 8,000 Jews died at Sajmište in 1941 and 1942.

In 1944, Sajmište was hit by US bombers, killing 80 people and injuring 170 more. The bombers' intended target was the nearby railway station.

On 9 July 1987 Belgrade City Assembly designated Sajmište a cultural site, protecting it from development.

On 21 April 1995, a monument in remembrance of Sajmište victims was erected by the Sava river. Local efforts have been underway for several years to better protect the site and to further commemorate the camp and its victims.

Address:

  • on the left bank of Belgrade's Sava river, several kilometers from Zemun, by the railway bridge at the entrance into Belgrade itself.

Zemun

There is a small but active Jewish community at Zemun, in one of Belgrade municipalities.

Zemun was the southern outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire located on the bank of the Danube river at a time when the Turks ruled Belgrade.

Today, it is a charming town of about 250,000 residents with a number of historic buildings, cobblestone streets and spectacular views of Belgrade across the river.

In 1850 an Ashkenazic synagogue (Rabin Alcalaj Street 5) was built in Zemun that still stands, although it is now owned by the city and currently houses a restaurant serving traditional Serbian dishes.

The Jewish Community of Zemun (Dubrovacka 21) located around the corner from the synagogue.

Former Ashkenazi Synagogue

This Neo-Romanesque Synagogue was built in the mid 19th century.

Today it is owned by the city and used as a restaurant.

Address

  • 4 Rabbi Alkalaj Street

Jewish cemetery in Zemun

Dating back to 1747, the cemetery contains the gravestones of some of the family of Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism, who were from Zemun Zionist pioneer.

Theodor Herzl was born in Budapest, but his family originally came from Zemun, and his grandparents are buried in the Jewish cemetery there.

The cemetery has a ceremonial hall and two memorials to Jewish victims of the Holocaust and of the Second World War.

Vandals toppled nine tombstones in the summer of 1997. The cemetery and its buildings were repaired between 2003 and 2005.

Taking care of the cemetery is entrusted to the Hevra Kadisha (Burial Society), established by the Jewish Community of Zemun between 1770 and 1780.

A statute adopted in 1883 named the Hevra Kadisha the 'Israelite brotherhood for the care of the ill and for funerals in Zemun'. The society fulfilled that role until 1941.

The society, among other duties, determined the sizes and positions of graves and inspected inscriptions on gravestones. The society had the right to reject inscriptions if they were not in accordance with Jewish tradition.

Today, the Hevra Kadisha follows funeral regulations adopted by the Assembly of the Jewish Community of Zemun and which harmonies with state burial regulations.

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