Jewish Skopje

Jewish Skopje
The first Jewish settlers came in what was then part of the Roman Empire seeking sanctuary from persecution faced in other Roman-occupied areas, and remained a small community right up until the Ottoman period. During the 15th century, large numbers of Jews arrived in Macedonia, again seeking sanctuary, this time in the form of Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal. Invited by Sultan Bayezid II (circa 1447-1512), Jews under the Ottomans were granted a number of rights and privileges including permission to buy property, build synagogues and to trade freely throughout the Ottoman Empire. As in most large cities in Eastern Europe, many of the Jews of Macedonia prospered, notably in the cities of Skopje, Štip and, especially, Bitola and the three main Jewish areas in the region. Many Jews attained high positions in such areas as banking, medicine and law (ie. the three traditional Jewish professions). The Macedonian Jews, who were almost exclusively Ladino-speaking (the now obsolete Ladino was a mixture of old Spanish and Hebrew), lived more or less in harmony with their neighbours, and thanks to the liberal attitude of the Ottomans attracted more Jews from around Europe to settle in the country. Immediately prior to WWII and the Holocaust, Macedonia’s Jewish population numbered some 12,000. In April 1941 the Bulgarians, who always had and who mostly still do consider Macedonia to belong to them, invaded Macedonia. Allied to Nazi Germany, from October that year Bulgaria introduced the same laws and treatment of the Jews as the Nazis were doing throughout Europe. Property was confiscated, ghettos were created, and finally in 1943 the Macedonian Jews were sent to the death camps in Poland. Of the 3,276 Jews from Bitola who were sent to Treblinka, not one survived. Many believe Macedonia lost 98% of its Jewish population during WWII, the highest rate of any country during the conflict. Today there are about 200 Jews living in Macedonia, most of them in Skopje. What little of the Jewish part of Skopje that was left after WWII was finished off by the earthquake and practically nothing remains to be seen. Some efforts are being made to revive at least some of the Jewish past in Skopje. With donations from abroad a Jewish cultural centre is currently being built near the Stone Bridge in the former Jewish part of the city.There are plans to build a Jewish museum in the city. Watch this space.

Skopje » Sightseeing » Jewish Skopje


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