Skopje

Jewish Macedonia

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The first Jewish settlers arrived 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 (c.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. Many Jews attained high positions in such areas as banking, medicine and law. The Macedonian Jews, who were almost exclusively Ladino-speaking, lived more or less in harmony with their neighbours, and thanks to the liberal attitude of the Ottomans more Jews from around Europe came to settle in the country. 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 implementing throughout Europe. Property was confiscated, ghettos were created, and finally in 1943 Macedonia’s population of over 7,000 Jewish men, women and children were rounded up and sent to Skopje where they were kept in a tobacco warehouse for several days before being sent to the death camp at Treblinka in Poland. Macedonia lost approximately 98% of its Jewish population during the Holocaust, the highest rate of any country during the conflict. Today there are an estimated 200 Jews living in Macedonia, most of them in Skopje. There are almost no visible signs to remind people of the centuries-long contribution to Macedonian life and culture made by its Jews either in Skopje or anywhere else in the country.
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