The first Jews did not immigrate
to Bosnia until the Spanish
Inquisition and expulsion in 1492. Jews
enjoyed a relatively peaceful existence in
the region that is now Bosnia-Herzegovina.
They participated in trade and daily life,
although, like other non-Muslims in the area,
they were treated as second-class citizens.
Jews could not, for example, wear "Muslim" clothing
and they could not ride horses in the town.
They could not carry weapons and were required
to pay a high poll tax.
In the 16th century, anti-Semitic feelings
became more apparent throughout the community
and many Jews had to move from their original
city quarter to Sarajevo.
This continued through the next couple of
centuries and, in 1833, the Jewish population
in Bosnia was threatened with execution.
The Jews escaped death by paying a large
sum of money to high officials. In 1839,
however, new civil rights laws were introduced
into the region. The living situation for
Jews improved as community members participated
again in trade and were even elected to office.
The area of Bosnia-Herzegovina
was taken over by the Austrian-Hungary empire
in 1878. Bosnia had before been occupied
by mostly Sephardim, but with the Austrian-Hungarian
influence came many Ashkenazi Jews.
There were significant differences between
the two cultures. Most of the Sephardim were
involved in craft and trade, while Ashkenazim
took on professions in medicine, law, and
higher education. The Ashkenazim had a large
influence on the pre-existing Jews in the
area, and many of the Sephardim strived for
a university of education.
In 1923, 10,000 Jews lived
in Bosnia, and in 1926, 13,000 resided there.
By 1941, Bosnia-Herzegovina was home to approximately
14,000 Jews. By the end of World War II,
only 4,000 Bosnian Jews were still alive.
Jews were killed both by Nazi Germans
and Bulgarian Muslims who assisted in the
After the Holocaust many
Bosnian Jews returned home. A united Jewish
community was formed in 1945 that included
both Ashkenazim and Sephardim. The Jewish
population was led by the Federation of Jewish
Communities of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
During the Communist Era,
many Jews in Bosnia joined the Socialist
movement. The Federation of Jewish Communities
in Bosnia and Herzegovina was changed into
a socialist organization that focused on
secular causes instead of religious ones.
When civil war broke out
in 1991, Bosnian Jews were left without many
options. The Joint Distribution Committee
(JDC) relieved the Jewish communities with
food and supplies. The most important measure
that the JDC took was to airlift over 2,000
Bosnian Jews out of the area. In this way,
many more Jews were saved who would have
otherwise been trapped in a war. Many of
these Jews were taken to Israel and chose
to remain there after the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Currently, 500 Jews live
in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and they are spread
out among the cities of Sarajevo, Banja Luka,
Mostar, Tuzla, Doboj, and Zenica. The Jewish
community, though small in each city, enjoys
peaceful relations with non-Jewish Bosnians.
In fact, the Jewish community is beginning
to rebuild itself. The community center provides
activities for young adults as well as the
elderly. The Jewish human rights group in
Bosnia gives support to both the Jewish and
non-Jewish poor in the area.
Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Jewish Heritage Report, Vol. II, nos 3-4
The Encylopaedia Judaica