Three quarters of Croatia’s 2,000 Jews live in the capital of Zagreb. There are small communities in Osijek, Rijeka, Split, and Dubrovnik. Although intermarriage has been widespread, most offspring of such unions have a strong sense of Jewish identity.
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. That community ceased to exist in 641, when Solin was destroyed.
The Croats, who entered the region in the 7th century and created a kingdom in the 10th century, found well-established Jewish communities there. Jews lived in Zagreb in the 13th and 14th centuries. Jewish communities in Split and Dubrovnik prospered, particularly during the Middle Ages, when they played an important role in the commerce with Italy and the countries of the Danube basin.
However, Jews were expelled from Croatia proper and from Slavonia in 1456 and did not return until the end of the 18th century, by which time the territory was ruled by the Hapsburgs. During the reign of Emperor Joseph II, Jewish settlement was allowed, and Jews arrived from Burgenland, Bohemia, Moravia, Hungary and elsewhere in the empire. Jews still had to contend with a number of restrictions until their full emancipation in 1870. The community was strongly influenced by Austro-German and Hungarian culture, 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.
After the German invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, Croatia was reorganized as a semi-independent state allied with Germany. 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 Ustashe (Croat Fascists).
After the war, some of the survivors returned; the Jewish community was reconstituted and Jewish life resumed.
The Federation of Jewish Communities is responsible for Jewish religious and cultural life in Croatia. The Community building in Zagreb contains a synagogue, an art gallery, a Holocaust research and documentation center and a Jewish library named after Rabbi Lavoslav Sik of Zagreb, who perished in Auschwitz.
There are a number of Jewish organizations active in Croatia including the Croatian Union of Jewish Youth, the Union of Jewish Women, and Maccabi. The community 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. The Federation maintains an old-age home in Zagreb.
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.
There are functioning synagogues in Zagreb (two), Dubrovnik, Split and Rijeka. The Great Synagogue in Zagreb was demolished during the war. At present, a new synagogue and community center is being erected on the site. Dubrovnik is home to the second-oldest functioning synagogue in Europe (Prague has the oldest), established in 1352. That building is located in a house on Jews’ Street in what was the city’s ancient Jewish quarter and has Torah scrolls that were brought from Spain by Jews fleeing the Inquisition. The synagogue of Split dates back to the early 16th century, while that of Rijeka was consecrated in 1928.
In addition to several noteworthy synagogues (described above) there are a number of other Jewish landmarks. The Jewish cemetery in Split on the slope of Mt. Marjan, contains about 700 tombstones, some dating back to the 18th century. Among the notables buried there is Vid (Haj) Morpourgo, who played a leading role in the struggle for national renaissance in Dalmatia, as well as the cultural life and industrial development of the region.
The site of the Jasenovac camp is mute testimony to the suffering of Yugoslav Jewry at the hands of the Ustashe. It is believed that up to 100,000 people perished in the camp, including some 20,000 Jews, as well as Serbs, Roma and political and religious opponents of the regime.
There are no kosher restaurants in Croatia but the Bet Israel Community annually publishes a list of available kosher products.
For up to date information on Kosher restaurants and locations please see the Shamash Kosher Database
Jewish Community of Zagreb
Palmoticeva 16, 41000 Zagreb
Tel. 385 142 5517
Fax 385 143 4638
The LauderHugo Kon Elementary Schoolis the only Jewish day schoolin Croatia. The Jewish community sponsors a kindergarten, Sunday school and Hebrew language courses.