Jewish Heritage Europe coordinator Ruth Ellen Gruber traveled to Serbia April 8-12 on a fact-finding trip to assess the condition of two key Jewish heritage sites in the southern part of the country: the historic Jewish cemetery in Nis and a ruined mikveh in Pirot.
Both sites are unique in their historical significance, and both face an uncertain future, despite local desire and expressed will to preserve and conserve them. (JHE ran a news item in December about new concern by the Jewish community over the situation in Nis, nearly eight years after a major clean-up operation – the visit this week was a follow-up to that.)
Ruth was invited on the trip by Ivan Ceresjes, of the Center for Jewish Art in Jerusalem. Ceresjes was the president of the Jewish community in Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1990s war, and he is the foremost expert on Jewish material heritage in the former Yugoslavia. The surveys of Bosnia and Croatia published by the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad are largely based on his work.
In Nis, Ruth and Ivan joined Jasna Ciric, president of the 28-member Jewish community there, who herself has conducted widespread documentation of Jewish heritage in the former Yugoslavia, much of which she has posted on her web site, El Mundo Sefarad; and Ruben Fuks, the president of the Union of Jewish Communities in Serbia.
For the Pirot leg of the trip, Ruth and Ivan were met in Nis and driven to Pirot by Dragan Jankovic, a photo-journalist in Pirot who is also an amateur local historian who has become the repository of knowledge about the Jewish history of the town. They were joined by a young architect from Belgrade, Jelica Jovanovic.
Ruth’s brief report on the trip follows, in separate posts on Nis and Pirot.