The Holocaust in Yugoslavia
The Invasion of Yugoslavia
- Germany added northern and eastern Slovenia, occupied the Serb Banat, which had a significant ethnic German minority, and established a military occupation administration in Serbia proper, based in Belgrade.
- Italy annexed southern and eastern Slovenia, occupied the Yugoslav coastline along the Adriatic Sea (including Montenegro) and attached Kosovo-Metohija to Albania, which Italy had annexed in April 1939.
- Under Ante Pavelic as Poglavnik (Leader), the Ustase proclaimed an “Independent State of Croatia,” which Germany and Italy supported.
- Hungary was awarded the Backa and Baranja regions in northeastern Yugoslavia.
- Bulgarian forces occupied the region of Macedonia and a tiny Serb province, called Pirot.
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 other Jews living in communities in Banja Luka; Bihać; Bijeljina; Brčko; Derventa; Doboj; Mostar; Sanski Most; Rogatica; Travnik; Tuzla; Višegrad; Vlasenica; Zavidovići; Zenica; Zvornik; and Žepča. Although the aforementioned cities are the only ones with official Jewish communities, there were a few Jews in nearly every town and city in the Yugoslav nation.
Bosnia and Herzegovina came under the control of the Independent State of Croatia, and the Jews suffered the same fate as their Croatian coreligionists. The majority of Jews from Bosnia and Herzegovina that perished did so in Auschwitz or in the camps of Croatia. 10,000 Bosnian Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, out of a pre-war population total of 14,000 persons. The Jews suffered unspeakable cruelty at notable concentration camps such as Pag and Jasenovac, where Croatian fascists tortured and murdered them. The 4,000 who survived did so by escaping to the Italian occupation zone, or by fighting with the partisans.
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.
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.