Croatia’s sites of Jewish heritage range from archeological relics to medieval ghetto areas to synagogues and Jewish cemeteries whose design reflects both Sephardic and Ashkenazic traditions. In addition, there are Holocaust memorials and major sites related to the Shoah. Over the course of history, sites of Jewish heritage existed in more than 80 cities, towns and villages. These included about 70 synagogues or prayer rooms. Most of the synagogue buildings have been destroyed. At least 67 Jewish cemeteries are believed to exist in Croatia. Most date from the mid-19th to early 20th century. Some are well maintained, but others – probably the majority — are neglected and overgrown.
Probably the most complete listing of Jewish heritage sites in Croatia, compiled in large part by Ivan Ceresnjes of the Center for Jewish Art in Jerusalem, the foremost researcher on Jewish heritage in the former Yugoslavia — downloadable as a PDF file.
Web site dedicated to Jews, Jewish history, and Jewish heritage in the former Yugoslavia. There are links to photo galleries and much other material.
The synagogue built in 1912-14 (at Ivana Mazuranica 6) was designed in a stripped-back Secessionist style by Otto Goldscheider. It is now a cultural center, the Dom Kulture Bjelovar. (See PHOTO). There are about 200 tombstones and a Ceremoial Hall in the Jewish section of the well-maintained municipal cemetery, established in 1876. Inscriptions are in various combinations of Hebrew, German, Hungarian, Croatian and other languages.
A Jewish ghetto was set up in Dubrovnik during the 16th century, when the city was under Venetian rule. Comprising 11 houses and a synagogue, and gated at each end, the ghetto occupied a steep, narrow alley — Zudioska Ulica – just off the Placa, or Stradun, the wide promenade that forms the heart of the Old Town. The houses were connected with the synagogue and each other by interior passageways, making it possible to move throughout the ghetto without setting foot outdoors.
The Synagogue located in Zudioska Ulica, is believed to be the second oldest synagogue (after Prague) still in use in Europe. It occupies the upper floor of a narrow, stone house dating from around 1300; Dubrovnik is recorded as having a synagogue in 1408. Later, valuable 13th- and 14th-century Torah scrolls were brought here by refugees from the Iberian expulsion. The present sanctuary was redesigned in the baroque style in the mid-17th century. The synagogue survived both a major earthquake in 1667 and World War II. During the war, its treasures – including silver, objects, precious textiles and a set of Torah scrolls – were smuggled to safety using the internal passages that linked the synagogue to neighboring houses. When Dubrovnik was attacked in 1991 and 1992 during the Yugoslav wars, two shells hit the roof of the synagogue, causing serious damage. Restoration, completed in 1997, was overseen by the non-profit Dubrovnik Rebuilding Fund and spearheaded by a donation from a non-Jewish American couple.
In the 1990s, the Dubrovnik Jewish community was engaged in a legal battle over more than 50 of the synagogue’s treasures. These ritual objects were in 1993 sent to the USA for an exhibition at Yeshiva University Museum. It was then argued that the objects would not be safe in Dubrovnik, given the continuing conflict in the Balkans. Backed by the Croatian government, the Dubrovnik Jewish community took the case to court in Zagreb and New York and the objects were eventually returned in late 1998.
The synagogue’s collection of ritual objects are now kept in secure exhibition rooms beneath the building, which functions as a museum when it is not in use for worship.
Dubrovnik’s original Jewish cemetery was established in 1652 in the Ploce district, outside the northern ramparts of the old city. The community sold this at the end of the 19th century and in 1911 exhumed the remains for reburial at a new site in the Boninovo district. Only 30 of the original tombstones remain. Many were used in construction of the northern side of the city walls, either following the earthquake of 1667 or during the First World War: some are still visible embedded in the walls. In 2011, during archeological work at the imposing Pile Gates of Dubrovnik, researchers discovered several old grave markers and fragments used to line a drainage canal.
The present cemetery contains about 200 gravestones, is well-maintained and surrounded by a high wall with a gate. There are several different types of grave marker, and epitaphs in Hebrew, Ladino and Croatian. There is also a small Ceremonial Hall.
Osijek stands on the Drava river, near the Serbian border. Divided into lower and upper towns, it is the biggest city in the eastern region of Croatia known as Slavonia. Jews lived here in antiquity; there may have been a synagogue in the 3rd century. In the late 19th century, Jews formed nearly nine per cent of the entire population, the largest such community in the country. There is a Holocaust Memorial in a city park near the Jewish community office, a representation of a Mother and Child, designed by the Osijek-born Jewish sculptor Oscar Nemon (1906-1985). (Nemon was influenced by Ivan Mestrovic, who supported him in his work. He moved to Vienna and then fled to England in 1938, where he became well-known for his portraits of Winston Churchill and other figures.)
Web pages of the Jewish Community web site providing detailed information, archival material and images of Jewish heritage sites in Osijek
This small freestanding synagogue whose design combines neo-Romanesque and neo-Moorish elements was built in Osijek’s lower town in 1903, designed by W.C. Hofbauer. It has a slightly projecting central façade flanked by two towers and topped by onion domes. Rented and then sold by the Jewish community, it has been used as a Pentacostal church for decades but remains in good condition. The tablets of the Ten Commandments can still be seen – below a cross – at the peak of the main façade. The Ark, also crowned by a Decalogue, is still in place, as are the Stars of David in the circular windows of the former women’s gallery.
This synagogue was designed by Theodor Stern and built in 1869. It stood on the main commercial street of the upper town, opposite the county hall. It was a massive building, richly decorated, with lotus-shaped domes which made it the tallest building in the town. It was damaged by fire in 1941 and its ruins were torn down in 1948-50. A residential building now stands on its site.
Established in 1860, the cemetery has 70-100 gravestones, bearing inscriptions in Hebrew, German and Hungarian, and a small ceremonial hall.
Established in 1850, the Jewish cemetery in the upper town is still in use. It has a neo-Romanesque Ceremonial Hall. Its 500-600 tombs are reminders of the prosperity of Osijek’s pre-war community. Epitaphs are in Hebrew, German, Hungarian and Croatian.
The web site of the 100-member Jewish community includes information in English on the Jewish history of Rijeka, including on the existing orthodox synagogue, built in modernist style the early 1930s and designed by Gyozo Angyal and Pietro Fabbro; the Great Synagogue, built in 1902-1903 and designed by Lipot Baumhorn (destroyed in 1944-1948); and the Jewish cemetery, laid out in 1875 as part of the Kozala municipal cemetery and today listed as a historical monument. The orthodox synagogue, which underwent restoration in 2006, has a three-part facade and a brick tower, with entrances on two level; its ornate ark was brought to Rijeka from Ancona.
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Split developed within the great palace of the third-century Roman emperor Diocletian, which was located not far from the Roman town of Salona, Diocletian’s birthplace. Salona was destroyed by Avar invaders in the early seventh century, and the Jews of Salona are presumed to have sought refuge in the neighboring palace, forming a focus for settlement that survives to this day. The old Jewish quarter occupies the northwestern part of the former palace and is still known as the ghetto. Archeologists have also found inscribed menorot on the limestone blocks of the basement walls of the southwest part of the former palace.
Salona (now a suburb of Split called Solin, where there is an archeological park) was the capital of the Roman province of Dalmatia and one of the most important commercial seaports on the Adriatic. Archaeological finds dating to the second and third centuries CE suggest a well-established Jewish community. Traces of a third-century Jewish cemetery were excavated, and finds included several objects decorated with menorahs, including a pendant, ceramic oil lamps, a fragment of a sarcophagus and the tombstone of a Syrian Jew named Malhos. These are now in the Split Archaeological Museum.
The Split Jewish community web site includes information and pictures about the history of Jews in Dalmatia, the Split synagogue (originally built in the 16th century, renovated many times, with current appearance dating to about 1728) and the Old Jewish cemetery established in 1573 on Marjan Hill above the city.
The synagogue is in a residential building (Zidovki Prilaz 1) in the northwestern corner of the former palace. In 1942 Italian fascists ravaged the tiny sanctuary, throwing most of the ritual objects, archives, Torah scrolls, and books onto a bonfire in the main town square. The synagogue was restored after World War II and again renovated and reopened in 1996. It now shares a building with the Jewish community headquarters. The sanctuary is in a rectangular room with arched windows. The stone Ark is flanked by columns set under a decorative arch.
The oldest remaining gravestone in the Old Cemetery dates from 1717. The rectangular plot includes some 700 tombstones from the 18th to 20th centuries; it remained in use until World War II. The tombstones are of the horizontal Sephardi type; some are shaped like a sarcophagus roof, and the others are flat, slightly inclined slabs. The tombstones have inscriptions in Hebrew, with additional epitaphs in Italian or Croatian on the newer monuments. The cemetery is surrounded by a gated wall. The entrance is beside a house that once functioned as a mikveh, and is now a café. The new Jewish cemetery is a section of the Lovrinac municipal cemetery, where there is also a Holocaust memorial.