The Holocaust in Yugoslavia
Bosnia and Herzegovina
At its peak the Bosnian Jewish community numbered around 14,000 persons, of which 10,000 lived in the capital city of Sarajevo (20% of population of the city.) These Jews were sephardim and they spoke Ladino, a Judeo-Spanish language that was the mother tongue of 10,000 of the 70,000 residents of Sarajevo according to a census from 1921. Apart from the Jews in Sarajevo there were about 2,000 Jews living in Banja Luka, Bihać, Bijeljina,
Brčko, Derventa, Doboj, Mostar, Sanski Most, Rogatica, Travnik, Tuzla, Višegrad, Vlasenica, Zavidovići,
Zenica, Zvornik and Žepča. Although those above cities are the only ones with official Jewish communities, there were a few Jews in nearly every town and city in the Yugoslav nation. The discrimination in the zones that were not occupied by Italians, who were retreating further and further towards the coast as it was, followed the same pattern as Czechoslovakia. It started in March 1942 when Jewish escapees from other occupied countries were deported and left in the hands of the Gestapo. In July a concentration camp was set up on the island of Rab where Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Jews settled in camps in Dalmatia and the Croatian coast were taken and incarcerated soon after. All in all, most of the Jews that perished from Bosnia and Herzegovina did so in the camps of The Independent State of Croatia.
The Jewish community in Slovenia was already very small before the beginning of the war, but afterwards it was nearly non-existent. Because Yugoslavia was partitioned between so many Axis countries, the fate of each region’s Jewish population depended on their occupiers. The Jewish community in Slovenia, a majority of which was concentrated in the geographical region known as Prekmurje, suffered the same fate as the Hungarian Jewish population (because they were occupied by Hungary.) This means that in 1944, the Germans came in and they were deported to Auschwitz. After the capitulation of Italy in September 1943, the Italian territory was occupied by Nazi Germany and all of its policies went into effect there as well. Essentially, after the Italians left and the Hungarian territory was occupied, Slovenian Jewry was no more. There was once a thriving population of Jews in the town of Maribor, where a synagogue still stands as a museum today.
Serbia had initially signed the Tripartite Pact and joined the Axis forces, despite protests from the citizens of Serbia. Shortly thereafter Prince Paul of Yugoslavia was deposed and Serbia was ruled by Serb military guards who were on the side of the Allies. Their power was usurped again shortly thereafter as they were overthrown by the Germans in 1941. The murder of Serbian Jewry took place in two phases in the German-occupied zone. After the initial occupation in July 1941, all Serbian Jewish men were murdered as a retaliation for German deaths in battle – they would kill between 50 and 100 Jews and Communists in reparation for each dead German. By November 1941, it was only women and children left. They were subsequently interned in Banjica concentration camp on the old fairgrounds in Zemun, near Belgrade. The camp was called Sajmište and over 10,000 Jewish women and children were murdered there in the coming months, up through May, 1942. In a telegram sent around that time, one of Hitler’s cronies in the Serbian government wrote that Serbia was the only place truly free of Jews and Romanis.
Of the 82,500 Jews living in Yugoslavia (including Croatia; Bosnia and Herzegovina; Serbia and Montenegro; Slovenia; and the regions of Kosovo and Vojvodina) only 14,500 (17%) would survive the war.