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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Yugoslavia 02: 1918-1941

Jewish professions - politics - little anti-Semitism - Jewish cultural life in Yugoslavia

from: Yugoslavia; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 16

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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<After 1918. [Jewish professions - Jews in politics - little anti-Semitism]

With the establishment of the Yugoslav kingdom, about 100 Jewish communities (with 70,000 Jews) were included in the new state. the Jews generally belonged to the middle class, but there were also impoverished communities, such as that of Bitolj. The Jews were well represented in industry, commerce, and artisanal activity. They also held an important place in the banking business.

There were some professions, such as the army's officers' cadres, the upper government services, and journalism, from which the Jews were almost totally absent. The Jews of Croatia and Slavonia were under the cultural influence of Germany and Hungary and surpassed their coreligionists of the other Yugoslav provinces in the economic and cultural spheres. The Jews of Macedonia maintained their oriental character and their economic and cultural standards were somewhat backward in comparison to the remainder of Yugoslav Jewry.

There was a marked Hungarian influence among the Jews of Vojvodina. The Jews did not hold a prominent place in political life, although there were some influential members in the parties. De Majo, an advocate of Belgrade, was elected in 1927 for one term to the parliament (Skupshtina).

Anti-Semitism as an organized movement was non-existent. After World War I, some signs of it appeared, but the situation improved again. The Karageorgevich dynasty and the Orthodox Church evinced a favorable attitude toward the Jews. The anti-Semitic sentiments really originated in Croatia and Slavonia. In Vojvodina, there was some hostility toward the Jews who had been Austro-Hungarians before the war and thus were considered to be the representatives of the alien Hungarian culture.


The unification of the variegated Yugoslav Jewish population was not easy. Yugoslav Jewry did not form a single unit. In the southern districts, from the Sava and Danube rivers and further, there were essentially Sephardim, while the other provinces were mainly inhabited by Ashkenazim. The Sephardim generally adhered to their oriental manner of life and the Ladino language, while some others were influenced by the speech and culture of the southern Slavs.

In 1939 there were about 43,000 Ashkenazim [[Jews with European descent]] and 29,000 Sephardim [[Jews with African descent]] in Yugoslavia. They lived in 121 communities.

At a meeting of the communities which was convened in Osijek in 1919, the "Federation of Jewish (Religious) Communities" was founded. It received government recognition and its activities extended to the fields of religion, culture, and education.

In 1923 the chief rabbinate was founded and an association of rabbis was formed. The final status of the communities was confirmed in 1929.

The separate union of Orthodox communities, which had refused to join the federation of the communities, also received legal recognition at that time. The Orthodox union consisted of 12 communities and numbered 3,426 in 1935. The spiritual head of the Jewish population was the chief rabbi, Dr. Isaak *Alkalay (he held office from 1924 to 1941), who was appointed by the king and resided in Belgrade. The chief rabbi was equal in status to the Orthodox patriarch, the Catholic archbishop, and the Muslim reis ul-Ulema [[chief scholar]]. He was also a member of the Yugoslav senate.


There were Jewish elementary schools, which had existed before the Yugoslav kingdom, in the towns of *Zrenjanin, Osijek, *Sarajevo, Senta, *Zagreb, and *Zemun. The government prohibited the opening of new elementary schools. In Vojvodina there were yeshivot [[religious Torah schools]] in Senta, Subotica, Kanjiza (Kanji¸a), and Ilok. Jewish (col. 873)

children attended the general schools, in which two hours weekly were allocated for Jewish religious studies. From 1928 to 1938 there was a seminary in Sarajevo for the training of hakhamim [[spiritual leaders]] and teachers on a secondary school level. Among the scholars and authors mention should be made of Lavoslav Sik (¦ik), a historian of Yugoslav Jewry, the poet Hinko *Gottlieb, and Siegfried Kapper. An important place in Yugoslav literature was held by Isaac *Samakovilija, a Bosnian novelist who died in 1955. The headquarters of the [[racist]] Zionist Organization were in Zagreb, where newspapers and periodicals were published.


In 1926 there was a Jewish population of 73,267 and in 1935, 70,000. According to the census of 1939, there were 71,000 Jews. The decrease in the number of Jews in Yugoslavia can be explained by the increase of *anti-Semitism in Europe.

[S.MAR. / ED.]> (col. 874)

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Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Yugoslavia, vol.
                    16, col. 873-874
Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971): Yugoslavia, vol. 16, col. 873-874

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