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SARAJEVO (Serajevo; Turk. Bosna-Serai; Heb. שראי־בוסנה),city and capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The first Jews came to Sarajevo in the middle of the 16th century, spreading from there to smaller towns of Bosnia, e.g., *Travnik, Bugojno, Zenica, Tuzla, *Banja-Luka, and Mostar, capital of the twin province of Herzegovina. Although some earlier tombstones (in horizontal trunk form) were discovered in the Old Sephardi cemetery at Borak (western periphery of Sarajevo), the first documents attesting Jewish presence date from 1565.

Spanish refugees came from Salonika, but some of them may also have come directly by sea. Despite a different language (Ladino) and divergent customs, the newcomers were quickly accepted as useful city dwellers; they were mostly artisans and some were merchants. Jews were known as the early pharmacists of the region, as well as hatchims (from the Arabic-Turkish Ḥakīm, "doctor"). Muslim fanatics tried at first to prevent the settlement of Jews, forcing a few families to flee to Dubrovnik and Hungary. However, these were isolated cases which did not interfere with the good relations that developed between Muslims and Jews. There is evidence from the end of the 16th century in the so-called sijille (court records) that Jews appeared before the shariʿa (Muslim religious tribunals) in civil cases.

A special Jewish quarter with a synagogue, near the main market of Sarajevo, was erected in 1577, authorization having been obtained from the pasha Siavush. Known to the population as tchifut-khan, the Jews themselves called it either mahalla judia (Jewish quarters) or cortijo (the communal yard). Later, as the community grew, Jews resided elsewhere as there were no legal restrictions. The first synagogue (constructed in 1581) was named, in the Spanish tradition, Il Cal grande, but it was destroyed by fire and restored or rebuilt several times.

Trade Activities

Jewish merchants used both main trade routes: from east to west (Sofia, Serbia, and Sarajevo to Dubrovnik, *Split, Zadar, and/or Venice and Trieste) and from south to north (i.e., Constantinople, Salonika via *Skoplje, Sjenica to Sarajevo, from where a lateral route went to Travnik, Kostajnica, Dalmatia, and Italy). Many Jews worked as blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, butchers, and joiners, and later as metal workers; they also operated the first sawmill and traded in iron, wood, and chemicals, in addition to articles such as textiles, furs, glass, and dyes. In Sarajevo, and in Bosnia as a whole, there were many indigent families and a Jewish proletariat.

The general situation of the Jews during the Ottoman era was good. They had their religious and juridical independence in all personal matters and civil cases, and broad autonomy in community affairs. The Ottoman authorities enforced rabbinical court sentences when they were requested to do so. However, the Jews had to pay the poll tax (kharaj) and were subject to various extortions and briberies. In the 17th century Ashkenazi families came to Sarajevo, fleeing European persecutions. They founded their own community, which had a separate existence until the Holocaust.

Historical Developments

During the siege and the Austrian conquest of Sarajevo by Prince Eugene of Savoy in 1679, Jews suffered along with the general population, the Jewish quarter, with its synagogue, being destroyed. About that time new settlers came from Rumelia, Bulgaria, and Serbia, as well as from Padua and Venice. The evolution of the community during the 18th century was generally undisturbed and was led by rabbis who organized a talmud torah and cared for the spiritual needs of the Jews, whose numbers reached 1,000 by 1800. During the first half of the 19th century further growth occurred, and official recognition of the community was granted by the Ottoman sultan. The rabbi of Sarajevo, Moses Pereira, was named by imperial firman Ḥakham bashi for Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1840. Some acts of ransom and discriminatory orders were decreed, but the various revolts against Ottoman rule and the influence of the European powers in Constantinople helped cause the Tanzimāt (reforms) program of 1840 and 1856, assuring equality for non-Turks before the law. In the face of occasional defamation, Sarajevo Jewry had to make donations in kind or money. Nevertheless, they largely maintained their cultural and religious life without outside interference, taking on new crafts and professions, as well as adding copper, zinc, glass, and dyes to their exports. By the middle of the 19th century all doctors in Sarajevo and Bosnia were Jews.

The Austrian annexation of the city in 1878 brought a new wave of Ashkenazim, who were officials, experts, and entrepreneurs. The new masters immediately demanded 100,000 ducats from the Jewish community, which was paid in several installments. On the other hand, the Austrians introduced new industries and made capital investments which created new employment and trade opportunities, largely directed toward Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. The earlier rivals – Ragusans and Venetians – were replaced by local and foreign Serbs who gradually became dominant in foreign trade, thus limiting the field of Jewish traders or pushing them out. Some Jews consequently changed their vocation, thereby contributing to the developments and modernization of the country as pioneers in optics, watchmaking, fine mechanics, printing (the first printing press belonged to Daniel Kajon), etc. The Jewish community numbered about 10,000 persons by the end of the 19th century.

After World War I the Yugoslav era began, the Jews enjoying freedom and equal treatment; their diverse economic, religious, cultural, and artistic activities continued unhindered, even though the Jewish population of 14,000 represented less than 1% of the general population of Bosnia. In 1927–31 the Sephardi synagogue, the largest in the Balkans, was constructed, only to be desecrated and plundered by the Croatian Fascists and the Germans not more than ten years later, and after the war it became a theater hall. The old Sephardi synagogue became a Jewish museum.

Rabbis and Jewish Learning

The first rabbis known to have led their community in the 17th century were Zebulun, Maẓli'aḥ Muchacho (earlier of Salonika), Samuel Baruch, Ḥayyim Shabbetai, Judah Lerma, and the famous R. Ẓevi *Ashkenazi, who was from Ofen (Buda) and known as "Ḥakham Ẓevi." The latter lived in Sarajevo from 1686 to 1697 and combated Nehemiah Ḥayon's Shabbatean views. The protocols (pinkasim) were kept in Hebrew and a bet din was set up. Very few of the documents are extant. Among later rabbis the most prominent was R. David Pardo "Morenu," author of the rabbinical commentaries: La-Menaẓẓeaḥ le-David, Ḥasdei David, and Mizmor le-David, and responsa. He founded a rabbinical dynasty (an exceptional phenomenon among Yugoslav Jewry), and his son Isaac and grandson Jacob succeeded him in office. Nineteenth century rabbis of note included Moses Danon; Moses Pereira, also known as Musa effendi; Meir Danon; Eliezer Shem Tov Papo; and Isaac Papo, a prolific author who wrote not only in Hebrew but also in Ladino (Bet Tefillah, Tikkun Moda'ah). The last rabbi under the Ottomans was Joseph Finzi, whose work Va-Yelakket Yosef was printed in Belgrade.

In 1928 a theological seminary was opened in Sarajevo by the federation of the Jewish communities, offering a secondary school education. The seminary's first rector, Rabbi Moritz Levi, author of the first historical study on the Sephardim in Bosnia, died in the Holocaust. Another prominent teacher and translator from Hebrew to Serbo-Croat was Jacob Maestro, who was known as "Morenu."

Jewish Life before the Holocaust

Apart from the religious field, Sarajevo Jewry had a wide range of social and cultural organizations and a thriving Jewish press. Among the institutions the senior was La Benevolencia, a mutual aid society founded in 1894; two bodies, Melacha and Geula, helped artisans and economic activities, and in 1901 a choir, Lyra-sociedad de cantar do los judíos-españoles, was established. There was a Jewish worker's union, La Matatja. The first newspaper published in Sarajevo was La Alborada (Aurora), a literary weekly which appeared from 1898 to 1902. The weeklies Židovska Svijest, Jevrejska Tribuna, Narodna židovska svijest, and Jevrejski Glas, with a section printed in Ladino, were published during 1928–41. Several memorial volumes were also published.

Zionist organizations were active between the two world wars. The youth movement, Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, was well established and during the Holocaust provided, together with Matatja, a considerable number of partisans, fighters, and leaders of the resistance movement. An organization with Sephardi separatist tendencies was linked to de Picciotto's World Sephardi Union.

Jews in Literature and Arts

Isak (Isaac) Samokovlija (d. 1955), a forceful writer, lived in Sarajevo until his death. He vividly described Bosnian Jewish life, especially the problems of the porters, peddlers, beggars, and artisans. Daniel Ozmo, who did mostly woodcuts, Daniel Kabiljo-Danilus, and Yosif (Joseph) Levi-Monsino, all of whom perished during the Ustashi-Artuković era, were well-known painters. The illuminated Sarajevo Haggadah is kept in the National Museum of Sarajevo; it was acquired by the Museum (then, the Landesmuseum) in 1895 for 100 florins. Its origin, however, was in Spain and has nothing to do with Sarajevo (see *Haggadah).

Jews in Politics

The first European-educated physician in Bosnia, Isaac Shalom, better known as Isaac effendi, was the first (appointed) Jewish member of the provincial Majlis Idaret (assembly). His son Salomon "effendi" Shalom succeeded him. Javer (Xaver) "effendi" Baruch was elected as a deputy to the Ottoman parliament in 1876. During the Austrian and Yugoslav periods Jews generally abstained from active participation in politics. In the 1930s – when the economic situation deteriorated – a number of younger Jews turned to the illegal Communist Party, some of them gaining prominence in the party's ranks during the subsequent struggle against the occupiers and quislings.

Holocaust and After

Between the two world wars Sarajevo was the third-largest Jewish center of Yugoslavia (after Zagreb and Belgrade). In 1935 there were 8,318 Jews; in 1941, 10,500.

The Germans arrived on April 15, 1941, and the following day wrecked the Sephardi synagogue, which was the largest in the Balkans. This was followed by requisitions, expropriations, execution of hostages for acts of sabotage, individual arrests, and mass deportations of Jews. Members of the Jewish community were deported between September and November 1941, mostly to Jasenovac, Loborgrad (women), and Djakovo. Extermination took place in these Ustashi (Croatian) concentration camps. Only a small number of Jews survived the first wave of killings and they were later dispatched to the Auschwitz gas chambers. A limited number of Jews survived either by joining partisan units or by reaching Italy. Several scores of army officers and soldiers mobilized by the Yugoslav army upon the German invasion spent the war years in German POW camps, protected by the Geneva Convention, and thus returned to Sarajevo after the Holocaust. In all, over 9,000 Jews were murdered by the Nazis.

After the Holocaust, the community was reconstituted, but most of the survivors chose to immigrate to Israel in the years 1948–49. Religious services were organized in the Ashkenazi synagogue (which had remained more or less intact) by R. Menahem Romano, and some social and cultural activities were renewed. A monument to "the fighters and martyrs" was erected in the Jewish cemetery at Kovačica, and a celebration of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Jews in Bosnia and Herzegovina was held in 1970, with participation of delegates from abroad, including the U.S. and Israel. On this occasion a memorial volume was published. In 1971 the community numbered 1,000.

During the Bosnian War (1992–1994) the old Jewish cemetery was badly damaged. Nine hundred Jews were evacuated in buses to Pirovac, to the former Yugoslav summer camp near *Split, and 150 by air to *Belgrade. In 2002 the centennial of the Ashkenazi synagogue was commemorated with a stamp issued by the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2004 there were 700 Jews living in Sarajevo, including some refugees who returned home.


M. Levy, Die Sephardim in Bosnien (1911); A. Hananel and E. Eškenazi, Fontes hebraici…, 2 (1960), 87–88, 234–5, 258–66, 334–5, 391–3; Jevrejski Almanah (1954–67), passim; Omanut (Zagreb, 1935–41), passim; Spomenica povodom 400 godina od dolaska Jevreja u Bosnu i Hercegovinu (1970); Savez Jevrejskih Opstina Jugoslavije, Spomenica "50," 19191959 (1969).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.