The Lost Jews of Europe: Part 1

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Please note that this written account is not identical to the audio recording

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Poland, Czech Republic, Germany and Croatia are four European countries that I have visited in the past ten years and each has a story to tell of the tragic destruction of their Jewish communities. They were betrayed and destroyed by both the Nazis and their collaborators.

My intention is to explore the twin themes of hope and peace in the face of loss. Doom and gloom is never my objective, for like the Phoenix that rises out of the ashes, as with that legendary bird Jewish hope will arise and be reborn!

Doc1 (3)

The Star of David like the Phoenix has arisen out of the ashes of the Shoah 

Am Yisrael Chai – The People of Isreal live! Is not only a Jewish declaration of national survival, but also the acclamation that despite all those who have sought to destroy us we live and reserve the right to self-determination, both in Israel and the diaspora.

The Jews of Dubrovnik, Croatia

 

In this programme I focus upon the Jewish community of Dubrovnik, past and present.

 

Death Camps 

Stand with me in Auschwitz or Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camps and cast your mind back to the absolute horror of the Nazi killing machine that took place in the Holocaust during WWII.

I have stood in a gas chamber and walked through a crematorium – though I had a momentary sense of what those who died there must have experienced in their last moments in the land of the living, it is impossible to truly know what they went through.

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Dubrovnik, Croatia 

In terms of the chronology of my visits, I begin with my last visit. It was some reservations that Elisheva and I decided to visit Croatia due to its history of Nazi sympathies leading up to and during WWII. However, on further reflection it occurred to me that this current generation can’t be held responsible for the sins of their fathers.

To my delight I discovered the synagogue in the Old City of Dubrovnik. On duty was a young woman who I will call Star (I have changed her name to protect her identity)

I asked Star how many Jews were killed in Croatia?

According to what was recorded:

Slavko Goldstein estimates that approximately 30,000 Jews were killed from the Independent State of Croatia, with approximately 12,790 of those killed in Croatia.

The Holocaust in the Independent State of Croatia – Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › The_Ho…protect her identity.

Star explained that there are only 47 Jewish people living in Dubrovnik currently and prior to WWII there were about 90 Jewish people in that city which is a comparatively small population in this predominantly Catholic country.

I enquired as to what happened to the Jews of not only Dubrovnik, but Croatia as a whole?

Star explained that there were different groups in Croatia – those who collaborated with the Nazis and those partisans who defended the Jewish people and resisted fascism.

She then drew the Facist Ustaše symbol on a piece of paper and she explained that this symbol of hate still occasionally appears on subways walls and aother places and then she quickly scribbled it over.

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Symbol of Hate

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History of the Jews in Croatia

The Jewish community of Croatia dates back to at least the 3rd century, although little is known of the community until the 10th and 15th centuries. By the outbreak of World War II, the community numbered about 20,000[4] members, most of whom were killed during the Holocaust that took place on the territory of the Nazi puppet state called Independent State of Croatia. After World War II, half of the survivors chose to settle in Israel, while an estimated 2,500 members continued to live in Croatia.[2] According to the 2011 census, there were 509 Jews living in Croatia, but that number is believed to exclude those born of mixed marriages or those married to non-Jews. More than 80 percent of the Zagreb Jewish Community were thought to fall in those two categories.

World War II.

The Holocaust in the Independent State of Croatia refers primarily to the genocide of Jews, but sometimes also include that of Serbs (the “Serbian Genocide“) and Romani (Porajmos), during World War II within the Independent State of Croatia, a fascist puppet state ruled by the Ustashe regime, that included most of the territory of modern-day Croatia, the whole of modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina and the eastern part of Syrmia (Serbia). 90% of Croatian Jews were exterminated in Ustashe-run concentration camps like Jasenovac and others, while a considerable number of Jews were rounded up and turned over by the Ustashe for extermination in Nazi Germany.

How many Jews were killed in Croatia?

Slavko Goldstein estimates that approximately 30,000 Jews were killed from the Independent State of Croatia, with approximately 12,790 of those killed in Croatia.

The Holocaust in the Independent State of Croatia – Wikipedia

https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › The_Ho…

History of the Jews in Croatia

The Jewish community of Croatia dates back to at least the 3rd century, although little is known of the community until the 10th and 15th centuries[when?]. By the outbreak of World War II, the community numbered approximately 20,000[4] members, most of whom were killed during the Holocaust that took place on the territory of the Nazi puppet state called Independent State of Croatia. After World War II, half of the survivors chose to settle in Israel, while an estimated 2,500 members continued to live in Croatia.[2] According to the 2011 census, there were 509 Jews living in Croatia, but that number is believed to exclude those born of mixed marriages or those married to non-Jews. More than 80 percent of the Zagreb Jewish Community were thought to fall in those two categories.

World War II.

The Holocaust in the Independent State of Croatia refers primarily to the genocide of Jews, but sometimes also include that of Serbs (the “Serbian Genocide“) and Romani (Porajmos), during World War II within the Independent State of Croatia, a fascist puppet state ruled by the Ustashe regime, that included most of the territory of modern-day Croatia, the whole of modern-day Bosnia and Herzegovina and the eastern part of Syrmia (Serbia). 90% of Croatian Jews were exterminated in Ustashe-run concentration camps like Jasenovac and others, while a considerable number of Jews were rounded up and turned over by the Ustashe for extermination in Nazi Germany.

Shoah

The fate of the Jews of Dubrovnik (Ragusan) during WWII deteriorated in April 1941 with the capitulation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia when it became part of the ‘First Italian Zone,’ with the military forces under the Italians and the civil administration under Ustase a Facist ultranationalistic regime that in acted anti-Jewish measures.

 

We should note how the Facist Ustaše began to enact the Nazi dehumanising policy of isolating and restricting the Jewish population of not only Dubrovnik, but the whole of Croatia. They willing complied with the Nuremberg anti-Jewish laws, marking out Jewish enterprises.

Jews were-forbidden entry into restaurants and beaches and the were forced to display signs on their business firms and shops: ‘Jewish firms;’ and ‘Jewish shops.’

These measures grew in hostility and severity with Jews having to surrender their personal possessions – cars, lorries, motorcycles, radio sets, cameras, typewriters and general tools of their trade.

Curfews were imposed upon them that stipulated that they were not allowed to be outdoors beyond 8.00 p.m. This was followed by the first transport to concentration camps. Among the first victims were prominent Jews of Dubrovnik that included Joseph Berber a photographer, Joseph Fuch a shopkeeper, and merchant Klein. Of these three men only Fuchs survived. Jasenovac concentration camp was their destination.

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Jewish families of Dubrovnik prior to 1941

Church Collaberated with Facists and Nazis 

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Catholic clergy involvement with the Ustaše covers the role of the Croatian Catholic Church in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), a Nazi puppet state created on the territory of Axisoccupied Yugoslavia in 1941. The NDH was controlled by the Ustaše movement, which was not recognized by the Holy See, although the Holy See, more specifically Pope Pius XII, was criticized for not condemning the movement more timely and forcefully.

Mark Biondich notes that “[T]he younger generation of radical Catholics, particularly those of the crusader organisation, supported the Ustaša with considerable enthusiasm, while the older generation of Croat Populists [HSS] was more reserved and in some cases overtly hostile”.[9] This generational gap between conservative and radical Catholic priests was further reflected by region (urban vs rural), the geographical location of churches and bishoprics, and an individual priest’s relative place within the Church hierarchy. More senior clerics generally disassociated themselves from the NDH.[9] They were also divided by religious order. The Fransciscans, who had resisted for over fifty years Vatican efforts to turn over parishes to secular clergy,[10] were far more prominently associated with the Ustaša than were the Salesians.[9]Mass murder occurred through the summer and autumn of 1941. The first Croatian concentration camp was opened at the end of April 1941, and in June a law was passed to establish a network across the country, in order to exterminate ethnic and religious minorities.[11] According to writer Richard Evans, atrocities at the notorious Jasenovac concentration camp were “egged on by some Franciscan friars”.[11]Phayer wrote that it is well known that many Catholic clerics participated directly or indirectly in Ustaša campaigns of violence, as is attested in the work of Corrado Zoli (Italian) and Evelyn Waugh (British), both Catholics themselves.[12]A particularly notorious example was the Franciscan friar Tomislav Filipović, also known as Miroslav Filipović-Majstorović, known as “Fra Sotona” (“Friar Satan”), “the devil of Jasenovac”, for running the Jasenovac concentration camp, where estimates of the number killed range between 49,600 and 600,000.[13][14][15] According to Evans, Filipović led murder squads at Jasenovac. According to the Jasenovac Memorial Site, “Because of his participation in the mass murders in February 1942 the church authorities excommunicated him from the Franciscan order, which was confirmed by the Holy See in July 1942.”[16]He was also required to relinquish the right to his religious name, Tomislav. When he was hanged for war crimes, however, he wore his clerical garb.[17]Ivan Šarić, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vrhbosna in Sarajevo, supported the Ustaša, in particular the forcible conversion of Orthodox Serbs to Roman Catholicism. His diocesan newspaper wrote: “[T]here is a limit to love. The movement of liberation of the world from the Jews is a movement for the renewal of human dignity. Omniscient and omnipotent God stands behind this movement.”[18] Šarić appropriated Jewish property for his own use, but was never legally charged. Some priests served in the personal bodyguard of Pavelić, including Ivan Guberina, a leader of the Croatian Catholic movement, a form of Catholic Action. Another priest, Bozidas Bralo, served as chief of the security police in Sarajevo, who initiated many anti-Semitic actions.[13]To consolidate Ustaša party power, much of the party work in Bosnia and Herzegovina was put in the hands of Catholic priests by Jure Francetić, an Ustaše Commissioner of this province.[19] One priest, Mate Mugos, wrote that clergy should put down the prayer book and take up the revolver. Another, Dionysius Juričev, wrote in the Novi list that to kill children at least seven years of age was not a sin.[13] Phayer argues that “establishing the fact of genocide in Croatia prior to the Holocaust carries great historical weight for our study because Catholics were the perpetrators and not, as in Poland, the victims.”[20]1920px-Ustaše_militia_execute_prisoners_near_the_Jasenovac_concentration_camp

Execution of prisoners at the Jasenovac concentration camp, which was briefly run by a Franciscan military chaplain, Miroslav Filipović, who was stripped of his status by the church but was hanged for his war crimes wearing his clerical garb.[1]Pavelić told Nazi Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop that while the lower clergy supported the Ustaše, the bishops, and particularly Archbishop Stepinac, were opposed to the movement because of “Vatican international policy”.[6]Along with Archbishop Stepinac, bishops Mišić and Rožman objected to the Ustaša violence.[18] Hebblethwaite wrote that to oppose the violence of the new Ustaše state, the “Vatican’s policy was to strengthen the hand of [Archbishop Stepinac] in his rejection of forcible conversions and brutalities.”[6]Phayer wrote that Stepinac came to be considered as jeudenfreundlich (Jew friendly) by the Nazi-linked Ustaše authorities. He suspended a number of priest collaborators in his diocese.[21] Thirty-one priests were arrested following Stepinac’s July and October 1943 explicit condemnations of race murders being read from pulpits across Croatia.[22] Historian Martin Gilbert wrote that Stepinac, “who in 1941 had welcomed Croat independence, subsequently condemned Croat atrocities against both Serbs and Jews, and himself saved a group of Jews”.[23] Aloysius MišićBishop of Mostar, was a prominent resister.[18]Gregorij Rožman, the bishop of Ljubljana in Slovenia allowed some Jews who had converted to Catholicism and fled from Croatia into his diocese to remain there, with assistance from the Jesuit Pietro Tacchi Venturi in obtaining the permission of the Italian civil authorities.[24]In Italian-occupied Croatia, Nazi envoy Siegfried Kasche advised Berlin that Italian forces were not willing to hand over Jews and had “apparently been influenced” by Vatican opposition to German anti-Semitism. The intervention of Giuseppe Marcone, Pius XII’s Apostolic Visitor to Zagreb, saved a thousand Croatian Jews married to non-Jews.[4] The Apostolic delegate to Turkey, Angelo Roncalli, saved a number of Croatian Jews by assisting their migration to Palestine. Roncalli succeeded Pius XII as Pope, and always said that he had been acting on the orders of Pius XII in his actions to rescue Jews.[21]Yad Vashem has recognised 109 Croatians as Righteous among the Nations for rescuing Jews from the Holocaust, including Catholic nuns, Jožica Jurin (Sister Cecilija), Marija Pirović (Sister Karitas), and Sister Amadeja Pavlović, and a priest, Father Dragutin Jesih, who was murdered.[25][26][27]Archbishop Stepinac denounced the atrocities against the Serbs.[4] Phayer wrote that in July 1941, Stepinac wrote to Pavelić objecting to the condition of deportation of Jews and Serbs and then, realizing that conversion could save Serbs he instructed clergy to baptise people upon demand without the normal waiting time for instruction.[13] As Pavelić’s government cracked down on Serbs, along with the Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant Germanic minorities, the Catholic clergy took steps to encourage Orthodox Serbs to convert to Roman Catholicism.[28]

Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac of Zagreb initially welcomed the Independent State of Croatia granted by Nazi Germany, but subsequently condemned the regime.

Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac of Zagreb was, at the time of his appointment in 1934 at the age of 39, the youngest Catholic bishop in the world. He initially received very little guidance from the Vatican and was given great leeway in how to deal with the rise of the Ustaše. His control over the lower bishops and clergy was not uniform.[13] Historian of the Holocaust Martin Gilbert wrote that, “Stepinac, who in 1941 had welcomed Croat independence, subsequently condemned Croat atrocities against both Serbs and Jews, and himself saved a group of Jews in an old age home”.[4]Stepinac shared the hope for a Catholic Croatia and viewed the Yugoslav state as “the jail of the Croatian nation”. The Vatican was not as enthusiastic as Stepinac and did not formally recognize the Ustaša, instead sending Giuseppe Ramiro Marcone as an apostolic visitor. Stepinac, who arranged the meeting between Pius XII and Pavelić, was satisfied with this step, viewing it as de facto recognition and Marcone as a nuncio in all but name.[5] Stepinac began attempting to publicly distance himself from the Ustaša in May 1941.[18]As the Ustaše murders “increased exponentially” in the summer and fall of 1941, Stepinac fell under “heavy criticism” for the church’s collaboration, but he was not yet prepared to break completely with the Ustaše. Phayer wrote that Stepinac gave the Ustaše the “benefit of the doubt …[and] decided on a limited response”.[34]Stepinac called a synod of Croatian bishops in November 1941. The synod appealed to Pavelić to treat Jews “as humanely as possible, considering that there were German troops in the country”.[34] The Vatican replied with praise to Marcone for what the synod had done for “citizens of Jewish origin”, although Israeli historian Menachem Shelah states that the synod concerned itself only with converted Jews.[34] Pius XII personally praised the synod for “courage and decisiveness”.[35] Shelach has written that:

According to scholar Ronald J. Rychlak:

Rychlak writes that the “Associated Press reported that ‘by 1942 Stepinac had become a harsh critic’ of the Nazi puppet regime, condemning its ‘genocidal policies, which killed tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and Croats.’ He thereby earned the enmity of the Croatian dictator, Ante Pavelić … [When] Pavelić traveled to Rome, he was greatly angered because he was denied the diplomatic audience he had wanted”, although he enjoyed at least two “devotional” audiences with the pontiff, under whom the Vatican granted Pavelić “de facto recognition” as a “bastion against communism”. Phayer wrote that Stepinac came to be known as jeudenfreundlich (Jew friendly) to the Nazis and the Ustaše regime. He suspended a number of priest collaborators in his diocese.[21]Stepinac declared publicly in mid-1942 that it was “forbidden to exterminate Gypsies and Jews because they are said to belong to an inferior race”. When Himmler visited Zagreb a year later, indicating the impending roundup of remaining Jews, Stepinac wrote Pavelić that if this occurred, he would protest for “the Catholic Church is not afraid of any secular power, whatever it may be, when it has to protect basic human values”. When the deportations began, Stepinac and papal envoy Giuseppe Marcone protested to Andrija Artuković. According to Phayer, the Vatican ordered Stepinac to save as many Jews as possible during the upcoming roundup.[21] Although Stepinac reportedly personally saved many potential victims, his protests had little effect on Pavelić.[37]

A Dilema 

The role of the church in the face of oppressive regeims is a very crucial and often not as staight forward as it first appears. Nationalism of itself is not a bad thing, but it depends on how that develops and what are its attitude towards diversity and particularly other groups of people living within the nation-state.

Brexit in the UK or Trump’s America both show how there are those who use nationalism to give expression to their own racist xenophobic attitudes. This is also true of Labour’s attitude to Israel and Jewish people in the UK under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

There are some who use Brexit to futher their racist agenda, just as in America under Trump, White Supremisits have been given licence to give expression to their hatred of African-Amerians and Hispanics in particular. Corbyn’s hatred of Israel equally has openned the door for those of the hard-left to not only express their opposition to Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, but also target Jews in Britain and Corbyn while claiming not to be an anti-Semite is hopelessly failing to protect Jewish people  against all kinds of anti-Semitic attacks and this includes Jewish MPs in Labour and anyone who actively supports Israel or speaks out against his attitue towards Israel and Jews in general.

Both Archbishop Justin Welby of the Church of England and former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks have spoken out against Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to both condemn anti-Semitism in the Labour party and also distance himself from those who use the cloak of anti-Zionism as a guise to continue to attack British Jews and even question the loyalty of those who support Israel.

Theresa May has said she has been “sickened” by the fact that Jewish people are “fearful of the future” and warned that “you cannot claim to be tackling racism, if you are not tackling anti-Semitism.”

The Prime Minister said there were “no excuses for any kind of hatred towards the Jewish people” in her first comments after the row about anti-Semitism which has dogged Labour all summer.

You’re not tackling racism if you’re not tackling anti-Semitism, Theresa May warns Jeremy Corbyn

Mrs May told the United Jewish Israel Appeal dinner in London last night that “in the face of any kind of hatred against the Jewish people … I say with that same defiance: ‘Je suis juif’.”

Mrs May said she will stand “with our Jewish community by rooting out the scourge of antisemitism here in our own country…

In our present study, this dilema is clearly seen in the way that there were those in the Catholic church who collaborated with Ustaše and those who stood against the atrocities committed by the facist regime. 

In a news update on the web the other day I noticed that the Russian Orthodox Archbishops have broken ties with the Ukrainian Orthodox leadership, this is due to the worsening of the political relationship between Russia and the Ukraine. Once more we witness the fact that the Church has lost its prophetic voice and has bowed the knee to the political order of the day. The German Christians in Nazi Germany is the classic case where the Church became part of the Nazi regime giving it a theological justification for its devilish ideology in creating an Aryan Jesus who hated the Jews and became their enemy. Only the Confessing Church resited and stood against Nazism and its murder of the Jews.

Apartheid South Africa equally saw many Christian denominations develop a theology that supported Apartheid. Thankfully, this was not universal and particularly the Anglican Church (CPAS) and Roman Catholic Church spoke out against the racist ideology. There were also dissenting voices among Afrikaans Reform Churches as well as Methodist and Presbyterians who also spoke out against Apartheid. There were individual clergy who took a bold stand at great personal cost, these included Archbishops Joost de Blank and Desmond Tutu, Beyers Naudé, Ds. Ben Marais, Dr John W. de Gruchy,  and Rev David Russell to mention some of the more pominant anti-Apartheid clegry. People like Dietrich Bonhoeffer were an inspiration in the struggle against apartheid.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has become a modern classic.[1]

Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasiaprogram and genocidal persecution of the Jews.[2] He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later, he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being accused of being associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing.

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Righteous Among the Nations of Dubrovnik

In addition to people like Archbishop Aloysius Stepinac there were a number of outstanding people who went to great lengths to save the Jews of Dubrovnik  and this includes Miho Ercegovic and his son Velimar, who worked in their photographic business – this included Elvira Kohn, Paula Rosenberger and her sister Eugenia. When they were exposed as Jews, the Ustase soldiers forced their way into the bookshop Jardan and photographic business and despite Miho brave effort, he was unable to prevent their arrest.

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While being taken away Miho handed Elvira a Leica camera, and she enquired, “How shall I give it back to you?” Moho replied, “May the camera share your fate!” (p 106).

Leica camera

Evira was at first taken to the camp Kupari, and then to Rab. She managed to hide the camera and take photographs. When she escaped from the camp to the free territory and began to work as the first war photographer and reporter for the Vjesnikdaily news paper. Her photos proved a most valuable record (died 2003).

The concentration camps in the Independent State of Croatia are marked 1 through 40 on this map of concentration camps in Yugoslavia in World War II. The two camps in annexed territories are marked 54 and 55.

During World War II, there existed numerous Concentration camps in the Independent State of Croatia. Most were operated by the Croatian Ustašaauthorities, and some by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.[1]The first concentration camps established by Ustaše chronologically preceded large German concentration camps like Auschwitz and Treblinka.[2]

Camp Location Operational number of prisoners number of deaths
Jasenovac (I–IV) Jasenovac, Slavonia 23 August 1941–22 April 1945 100,000+ c. 100,000[Note 1]
Stara Gradiška (Jasenovac V) Stara Gradiška, Slavonia 1941–1945 12,790+ 9,586+
Đakovo Đakovo, Slavonia 1 December 1941–7 July 1942 3,000 at least 516 or 650
Tenja  TenjaOsijek, Slavonia March 1942–August 1942 3,000 Jews
Sisak Sisak, Banovina August 1942–January 1943 6,693 children, mostly Serbs
Gospić Gospić, Lika June–August 1941[3] 42,246[4]
Jadovno Gospić, Lika 1941–August 1941[5] 10,000–68,000
Lepoglava Lepoglava, northern Croatia 1941–1945 2,000+ political
Danica Koprivnica, northern Croatia 15 April 1941–July 1941[6] 5,600
Lobor Lobor, northern Croatia 9 August 1941–November 1942 2,000+ women and children, mostly Jews and Serbs 200+
Kerestinec Kerestinec, Zagreb 1941–1945
Jastrebarsko Jastrebarsko, Zagreb 1942– 1,500 children [7]
Slana Pag, Dalmatia June 1941–August 1941[8] 16,000 4–12,000 or 8,500
Metajna Pag, Dalmatia 1941–1945
Kruščica (Vitez) Vitez, central Bosnia 1941–Late September 1941[9] 3000

Miho Ercergovic

He, together with all members of his family showed real selfless care for the imperiled Jewish people that they knew. Here is a record of what his son wrote reflecting on those years:

“My father was called ‘Jewish Mentor’ because he employed Jews. This is the truth, because there were Elvira Cohen, Janka Neumann and Harry Fischer who worked in the bookshop…, it was known as the bookshop ‘Jardan.’ It was shelter for all those who needed help to reach the island of Korcula in order to save their lives. The home of Ercergovic family became a refuge for the persecuted” (p 107).

“During the year 1943 I personally brought from Zagreb to Dubrovnik Sarika and Helga Weiss. We also his the mother and aunt of…(list various others)” (p 1070.

Miho Ercergovic and Velimir Ercergovic were honoured  with the title “Righteous Among the Nations” in 1997. This is part of the effort of Vah V’Shem Holocaust Centre in Jerusalem, Israel

Elisheva and I were invited by a Dutch friend to attend a special ceremony at Yad V’shem, Jerusalem to honour Elizabet’s father Mr Vis (Fish) who was a Dutchman. When he was town clark during WWII in a small village in Holland he removed the names from the Town Hall records of the two hundred Jews who lived there and as a result the Nazis were not able to detect them and they eascaped the death camps.  They placed a small memorial brick in a special wall at the Yad V’shem site, with Mr Vis’ name and dates.

 

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Righteous Among the Nations

Families like that of Miho Ercergovic and Velimir Ercergovic stood out as a beacon of light and hope in a very dark chapter in  the Jewish history of the community in Dubrovnik. They were not alone, as there were others who also endeavoured to save Jews from Facist Ustaše and the Nazis.

Blessed be their memory, for they are truly Righteous Among the Nation of Dubrovnik, Croatia.

The Jewish Community 1946. – 2018

The Dubrovnik Jewish community numbered 36 members who had survived the Holocaust. In 1986 that number fell to as few as 15 people and this followed a devastating short was when a coalition of the Yugoslav National Army, joined by a Montenegrin and Serbian paramilitary troops.

The first shell followed by a salvo of missiles hit Dubrovnik and the surrounding areas, as if to wipe out the memory and identity from living memory. The Dubrovnik synagogue took a hit as well during this vicious assault. As if the fragility of this small Jewish community was not already a further body blow?

However, returning to our theme of hope and peace and thinking of the image of the Star of David arising out of the ashes like the Phoenix, the Jewish presence has been reasserted.

“Yet nothing of the planned destruction of the cultural heritage and the erasure of the memory. After the war, bit by bit, the city was restored. Donators organised the restoration of the synagogue and provided the necessary support” (p 121).

Today the Jewish community is active and vital. In 2003 it opened a museum, in which visitors travel through time – from ancient times to the recent past. Up to 70,000 visitors a year visit the museum and synagogue.

Star explained that there are 47 active Jewish members of the Jewish community in Dubrovnik in 2018, and though they do not have a resident rabbi, they do meet together to celebrate their Jewish heritage,  both  religious and cultural significance.

They maintain a cadelstick of witness in Dubrovnik to Jewish life that continues to bear witness to the enduring love of the G_D of Israel.

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