Serbian Jews
A plaque dedicated to the Jews of Subotica murdered in the Holocaust says: "In memory of the 4000 Jews with whom we lived and built Subotica together who perished in fascist death camps in World War II."
Total population
787 (2011 census)[1]
Serbian, Hebrew, Ladino, and Yiddish
Related ethnic groups
Sephardi Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, Montenegrin Jews
The location of Serbia including Kosovo (dark and light green) in Europe

The history of the Jews in Serbia is some two thousand years old. The Jews first arrived in the region during Roman times. The Jewish communities of the Balkans remained small until the late 15th century, when Jews fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions found refuge in the Ottoman-ruled areas, including Serbia.

The community flourished and reached a peak of 33,000, of whom almost 90% were living in Belgrade and Vojvodina, before World War II. About two-thirds of Serbian Jews were murdered in The Holocaust, having been particularly targeted as Hitler sought to punish both ethnic Serbs and Jews for German defeat in World War I. After the war, most of the remaining Jewish Serbian population emigrated, chiefly to Israel.

In the 2011 census only 787 people declared themselves as Jewish. The Belgrade Synagogue continues to function as a synagogue. The renovated Subotica Synagogue, once the fourth largest synagogue building in Europe, is now mainly a cultural space, but is available for services and other religious purposes.[2] The Novi Sad Synagogue has been converted into a cultural art space.


Jews first arrived on the territory of present-day Serbia in Roman times,[citation needed] although there is little documentation prior to the 10th century.

Ottoman Empire

See also: History of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire

The Jewish communities of the Balkans were boosted in the 15th and 16th centuries by the arrival of Jewish refugees fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire welcomed the Jewish refugees into his Empire. Jews became involved in trade between the various provinces in the Ottoman Empire, becoming especially important in the salt trade.[3] In 1663, the Jewish population of Belgrade was 800.[4]

While the rest of modern-day Serbia was still ruled by the Ottoman Empire, territory of present-day Vojvodina was part of the Habsburg monarchy. In 1782, Emperor Joseph II issued the Edict of Tolerance, giving Jews some measure of religious freedom. The Edict attracted Jews to many parts of the Monarchy. The Jewish communities of Vojvodina flourished, and by the end of the 19th century the region had nearly 40 Jewish communities.[5]

Independent Serbia and Habsburg Vojvodina

Many Jews were involved in the struggle of Serbs for independence from the Ottoman Empire, by supplying arms to the local Serbs, and the Jewish communities faced brutal reprisal attacks from the Ottoman Turks.[3] In 1804, when Karađorđe's forces invaded the Ottoman Fortress of Smederevo, the Jews were expelled from Šabac and Požarevac. The independence struggle lasted until 1830, when Serbia gained its independence.

After Belgrade was liberated, the Jews fell victim to decades of discriminatory taxation and residential restrictions. [6] During the liberation of Belgrade, contrary to the strict orders issued by Serb leader Karađorđe, some of the rebels destroyed Jewish shops and synagogues. Some Jews were killed and a part of them was forcibly baptised. At the same time in the interior of Serbia rebels expelled Jews from towns and small places.[7]

House of Obrenović

With the reclamation of the Serbian throne by the Royal House of Obrenović under Miloš Obrenović in 1858, restrictions on Jewish merchants were again relaxed for some time, but only three years later they faced isolation and humiliation.[8] In 1861 Mihailo III inherited the throne and reinstated anti-Jewish restrictions.[3] In 1839, Jews were forbidden to open shops on Sundays and during Serbian holidays, causing them great damage because their shops were closed on Saturdays and all Jewish holidays.[9] In 1877 a Jewish candidate was elected to the National Assembly for the first time, after receiving the backing of all parties.[10][11]

In the 1860s–70s, a part of Serbian newspaper began publishing anti-Jewish articles resulting in threats being raised against the Jews.[12] In 1862, a fight broke out between the Austrians and Serbians and Jews in Belgrade had their rights revoked, similar to local uprisings in the 1840s.[13]

Sephardi Jews fleeing from Belgrade to Zemun in 1862

During the final stages of the 1877–1878 Serbo-Turkish wars thousands of Jews emigrated or were expelled by the advancing Serbian Army along with Turkish and Albanian families.

In 1879, the "Serbian-Jewish Singer Society" was founded in Belgrade to encourage Serbian-Jewish interaction and friendship. During World War I and World War II the choir was not allowed to perform. It was renamed "Baruch Brothers Choir" in 1950 and is one of the oldest Jewish choirs in the world still in existence.[14] The choir remains a symbol of community unification, although only 20% of the choir members are actually Jewish due to the dwindling Jewish population in the country (in World War II, half of the Jewish population of Serbia was killed).[15] By 1912, the Jewish community of Kingdom of Serbia stood at 5,000.[3] Serbian-Jewish relations reached a high degree of cooperation during World War I, when Jews and Serbs fought side by side against the Central Powers.[16] 132 Jews died in the Balkan Wars and World War I and in their honour a monument to them was erected in Belgrade at the Jewish Sephardic cemetery.[17]

The waxing and waning of the fortunes of the Jewish community according to the ruler continued to the end of the 19th century, when the Serbian parliament lifted all anti-Jewish restrictions in 1889.[3]

Jews in modern-day North Macedonia got their full citizen rights for the first time when the region became a part of Kingdom of Serbia.[18]

Kingdom of Yugoslavia

In the aftermath of World War I, Montenegro, Banat, Bačka, Syrmia, and Baranja joined Serbia through popular vote in those regions, and this Greater Serbia then united with State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs (from which Syrmia had seceded to join Serbia) to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which was soon renamed Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Serbia's relatively small Jewish community of 13,000 (including 500 in Kosovo),[20] combined with the large Jewish communities of the other Yugoslav territories, numbering some 51,700. In the inter-war years (1919–1939), the Jewish communities of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia flourished.

Prior to World War II, some 31,000 Jews lived in Vojvodina. In Belgrade, Jewish community was 10,000-strong, 80% being Ladino-speaking Sephardi Jews, and 20% being Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews.[citation needed]

The Vidovdan Constitution guaranteed equality to Jews, and the law regulated their status as a religious community.[21]

World War II

Monument in Novi Sad dedicated to killed Jewish and Serb civilians in 1942 raid

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia attempted to maintain neutrality during the period preceding World War II. Milan Stojadinović, the prime minister, tried to actively woo Adolf Hitler while maintaining the alliance with former Entente Powers, UK and France. Nonwithstanding overtures to Germany, Yugoslav policy was not anti-Semitic: for instance, Yugoslavia opened its borders to Austrian Jews following the Anschluss.[22] Under increasing pressure to yield to German demands for safe passage of its troops to Greece, Yugoslavia signed the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, like Bulgaria and Hungary. Unlike the other two, the signatory government of Maček and Cvetković was overthrown three days later in a British-supported coup of patriotic, anti-German generals. The new government immediately rescinded the Yugoslav signature on the Pact and called for strict neutrality. German response was swift and brutal: Belgrade was bombed without the declaration of war on 6 April 1941 and German, Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian troops invaded Yugoslavia.


See also: The Holocaust in Serbia

Concentration camps in Yugoslavia in World War II

In Serbia, German occupiers established concentration camps and extermination policies with the assistance of the puppet government of Milan Nedić.[23]

The Nazi genocide against Yugoslav Jews began in April 1941.[24] The state of Serbia was completely occupied by the Nazis. The main race laws in the State of Serbia were adopted on 30 April 1941: the Legal Decree on Racial Origins (Zakonska odredba o rasnoj pripadnosti). Jews from Srem were sent to Croatian camps, as were many Jews from other parts of Serbia. In rump Serbia, Germans proceeded to round up Jews of Banat and Belgrade, setting up a concentration camp across the river Sava, in the Syrmian part of Belgrade, then given to Independent State of Croatia. The Sajmište concentration camp was established to process and eliminate the captured Jews and Serbs. As a result, Emanuel Schäfer, commander of the Security Police and Gestapo in Serbia, famously cabled Berlin after last Jews were killed in May 1942:

"Serbien ist judenfrei."[25]

Similarly. Harald Turner of the SS stated in 1942 that:

"Serbia is the only country in which the Jewish question and the Gypsy question has been solved."[26]

By the time Serbia and Yugoslavia were liberated in 1944, most of the Serbian Jewry had been murdered. Of the 82,500 Jews of Yugoslavia alive in 1941, only 14,000 (17%) survived the Holocaust.[3] Of the Jewish population of 16,000 in the territory controlled by Nazi puppet government of Milan Nedić, police and secret services murdered approximately 14,500.[27][28]

There was a similar persecution of Jews in the territory of present-day Vojvodina, which was annexed by Hungary. In the 1942 raid in Novi Sad, the Hungarian troops killed many Jewish and non-Jewish Serb civilians in Bačka.

Historian Christopher Browning who attended the conference on the subject of Holocaust and Serbian involvement stated:[29]

Serbia was the only country outside Poland and the Soviet Union where all Jewish victims were killed on the spot without deportation, and was the first country after Estonia to be declared "Judenfrei", a term used by the Nazis during the Holocaust to denote an area free of all Jews.

Serbian civilians were involved in saving thousands of Yugoslavian Jews during this period. Miriam Steiner-Aviezer, a researcher into Yugoslavian Jewry and a member of Yad Vashem's Righteous Gentiles committee states: "The Serbs saved many Jews."[30] As of 2022, Yad Vashem recognizes 139 Serbians as Righteous Among Nations, the highest number among Balkan countries.[31][32]


According to Yad Vashem, the Chetniks initially had an ambivalent attitude towards Jews and, given their status early in the war as a resistance movement against Nazi occupation, a number of Jews served among the Chetnik ranks.[33] As the Yugoslav Partisans grew in number and power, the anti-communist Chetniks became increasingly collaborationist and Jewish Chetniks switched to the partisan ranks. Subsequently, after the first half of 1942, Chetnik propaganda with chauvinist and antisemitic themes became a constant.[34] In various places in Serbia in the period from the middle of 1942, several hundred Jews were hiding, mostly women and children. According to the testimonies of surviving Jews, the Chetniks of Draža Mihailović persecuted the Jews in that area, and took part in their killing.[35] On many occasions, the Chetniks also handed them over to the Germans.[36]

Socialist Yugoslavia

The Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia was formed in the aftermath of World War II to coordinate the Jewish communities of post-war Yugoslavia and to lobby for the right of Jews to immigrate to Israel.[37] More than half of Yugoslav survivors chose to immigrate to Israel after World War II.

The Jewish community of Serbia, and indeed of all constituent republics in Yugoslavia, was maintained by the unifying power of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia. This power stopped with the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Yugoslav wars

Prior to the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s, approximately 2,500 Jews lived in Serbia,[3] mostly in Belgrade.

The Jews of Serbia lived relatively peacefully in Yugoslavia between World War II and the 1990s, when the end of the Cold War caused the breakup of Yugoslavia and ensuing civil wars.

During the Yugoslav Wars, and international sanctions many Jews chose to immigrate to Israel and the United States. During the NATO bombing in 1999, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia relocated many of Belgrade's Jewish elderly, women and children to Budapest, Hungary for their safety; many of them emigrated permanently.[5]

David Bruce Macdonald states that Serbian nationalists used Jewish imagery, such as the Legend of Masada, in order to justify claims of Kosovo by comparing anti-semitism and serbophobia.[38] This theory is supported by Jovan Byford who writes that Serbian nationalists used the Jewish question for the martyrdom myth characteristic of Serbian nationalist discourse in the 1980s.[39]


Manifestations of antisemitism in Serbia are relatively rare and isolated. According to the US State Department Report on Human Rights practices in Serbia for 2006: "Jewish leaders in Serbia reported rare incidents of anti-Semitism, including anti-Semitic graffiti, vandalism, small circulation anti-Semitic books, and Internet postings", incidents which must be viewed in the context of small but growing anti-Semitism in Serbia.[40] In 2013, downtown Belgrade was covered by posters, reportedly distributed by the Serbian branch of Blood & Honour, accusing Jews of being responsible for the 1999 bombing of the former Yugoslavia.[41]

The Serbian government recognizes Judaism as one of the seven "traditional" religious communities of Serbia.[42] The only remaining functioning synagogues in Serbia are the Belgrade Synagogue and the Subotica Synagogue.


Ruma's Jewish community's children in 1920
Kladovo transport monument


In the 2011 census 787 people declared themselves as Jewish,[1] while 578 stated their religion as Judaism.[44] About half of them live in Belgrade alone, while almost all the rest are found in Vojvodina (especially in its three largest cities: Novi Sad, Subotica and Pančevo). The results of the 2002 census based on ethnicity and 2011 census based on religion are displayed below:

City/Region Jewish
Belgrade 415 1,576,124
Novi Sad 400 299,294
Subotica 89 148,401
Pančevo 42 127,162
Rest of Serbia 239 5,646,314
Total 1,185 7,498,001
City/Region Judaism[44] Total
Belgrade 286 1,659,440
Novi Sad 84 341,625
Subotica 75 141,554
Pančevo 31 123,414
Rest of Serbia 102 4,920,829
Total 578 7,186,862

Notable people

Tommy Lapid reporting from Adolf Eichmann's trial, Jerusalem 1961
Ruben Fuks, President of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Serbia, 2013
Halbrohr Tamás

See also


  1. ^ a b "2011 Census of Population, Households and Dwellings in the Republic of Serbia: Population according to ethnicity – "Others" – ethnic groups with less than 2.000 members and multiple declared ethnicity" (PDF). Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia. 2012. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 April 2016. Retrieved 13 February 2016.
  2. ^ "Serbia: magnificent Subotica synagogue officially reopened". Jewish Heritage Europe. 27 March 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Virtual Jewish History Tour – Serbia and Montenegro". Jewish virtual library.
  4. ^ "The Jewish Community of Belgrade". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.
  5. ^ a b "Synagogues Without Jews – Croatia and Serbia". Beit Hatfutsot. Archived from the original on 29 April 2006.
  6. ^ Sachar, Howard M. (2013). Farewell Espana: The World of the Sephardim Remembered. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 268. ISBN 978-0-8041-5053-8. Retrieved 1 January 2020.
  7. ^ Jovan Byford; (1995) Potiskivanje i poricanje antisemitizma: Secanje na vladiku Nikolaja Velimirovica u savremenoj srpskoj pravoslavnoj kulturi(in Serbian) p. 103-104; Helsinški odbor za ljudska prava u Srbiji, Beograd, ISBN 86-7208-117-X [1]
  8. ^ Rozen, Minna (2002). The last Ottoman century and beyond: the Jews in Turkey and the Balkans 1808–1945 : proceedings of the International Conference on "The Jewish Communities in the Balkans and Turkey in the 19th and 20th Centuries through the End of World War II," the Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center, Tel Aviv University, June 5–8, 1995. Tel Aviv University, The Goldstein-Goren Diaspora Research Center, The Chair for the History and Culture of the Jews of Salonika and Greece. p. 187. ISBN 978-965-338-045-5. Retrieved 1 January 2020.
  9. ^ Lebel, G'eni (2007). Until "the Final Solution": The Jews in Belgrade 1521 – 1942. Avotaynu. p. 81. ISBN 978-1-886223-33-2. Retrieved 1 January 2020.
  10. ^ "News in Brief", The Times, 22 February 1877
  11. ^ "Servia", The Times, 22 February 1877
  12. ^ Hajdarpasic, Edin (2015). Whose Bosnia?: Nationalism and Political Imagination in the Balkans, 1840–1914. Cornell University Press. p. 174. ISBN 978-1-5017-0111-5. Retrieved 1 January 2020.
  13. ^ Vashem, Yad (2001). The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: A-J. NYU Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-8147-9376-3. Retrieved 1 January 2020.
  14. ^ "Choir "Baruch Brothers"". Jewish Community of Belgrade.
  15. ^ "The Baruch Brothers Choir: Serbian Jewry's 136-Year-Old Singing Group". Retrieved 25 November 2018.
  16. ^ "Exhibition "Jews of Serbia in WWI" opens in Belgrade". Tanjug. 5 September 2014.
  17. ^ С, Д. Ј. "Обнова споменика Јеврејима – српским војницима". Politika Online. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
  18. ^ Sekelj, Laslo (1981). "ANTISEMITIZAM U JUGOSLAVIJI (1918—1945)". Rev. Za Soc. XI.
  19. ^ "Veličanstvena sinagoga za molitvu, učenje i okupljanje".
  20. ^ Romano, Jaša (1980). Jews of Yugoslavia 1941–1945. Federation of Jewish Communities of Yugoslavia. pp. 573–590.
  21. ^ Sekelj, Laslo (1981). "ANTISEMITIZAM U JUGOSLAVIJI (1918—1945)". Rev. Za Soc. XI.
  22. ^ Schneider, Gertrude (1995). Exile and Destruction: The Fate of Austrian Jews, 1938–1945. p. 53. ISBN 9780275951399.
  23. ^ Ljubica Stefan (1995). "Anti-semitism in Serbia During the World War II". An International Symposium "SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE 1918–1995". Knjige HIC. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  24. ^ Mitrović, M.; Timofejev, A.; Petaković, J. Holocaust in Serbia 1941–1944.
  25. ^ Lituchy, Barry M. (2006). Jasenovac and the Holocaust in Yugoslavia: analyses and survivor testimonies. Jasenovac Research Institute. p. xxxiii. ISBN 9780975343203.
  26. ^ Dwork, Debórah; Robert Jan Pelt; Robert Jan Van Pelt (2003). Holocaust: a history. New York, N.Y.: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 184. ISBN 0-393-32524-5.
  27. ^ Encyclopedia of the Holocaust. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company. 1990.
  28. ^ Ristović, Milan (2010), "Jews in Serbia during World War Two" (PDF), Serbia. Righteous among Nations, Jewish Community of Zemun, archived from the original (PDF) on 1 February 2014
  29. ^ Browning, Christopher (29 May 2012). "Serbia WWII Death Camp to 'Multicultural' Development?". Arutz Sheva – Israel National News. Retrieved 9 April 2013.
  30. ^ Derfner, Larry; Sedan, Gil (9 April 1999). "Why is Israel waffling on Kosovo?". Jweekly.
  31. ^ "Names of Righteous by Country". Jerusalem: Yad Vashem. 1 January 2022. Retrieved 3 May 2024.
  32. ^ "The Righteous Among The Nations: Names and Numbers of Righteous Among the Nations – per Country & Ethnic Origin". Yad Vashem. 1 January 2014. Archived from the original on 13 October 2016. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
  33. ^ "Chetniks" (PDF). Yad Vashem - The World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Retrieved 29 December 2023.
  34. ^ Hoare n.d. {Chauvinist and antisemitic themes in Chetnik propaganda were not confined to the winter and spring of 1941–42, but remained a constant in the months and years that followed – an integral element in a movement whose goal was an ethnically pure Great Serbia inhabited solely by Orthodox Serbs}
  35. ^ Lowenthal, Zdenko; Kovac, Teodor, eds. (1957). The Crimes of the Fascist Occupants and Their Collaborators against Jews in Yugoslavia. Belgrade: Federation of Jewish Communities of the Federative People's Republic of Yugoslavia.
  36. ^ Hoare n.d. {As the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust notes: ‘As the Chetniks increased their cooperation with the Germans, their attitude toward the Jews in the areas under their control deteriorated, and they identified the Jews with the hated Communists. There were many instances of Chetniks murdering Jews or handing them over to the Germans.’}
  37. ^ "Jews of the Former Yugoslavia After the Holocaust". Jewish virtual library.
  38. ^ Macdonald, David Bruce (2002). Balkan Holocausts?: Serbian and Croatian Victim Centered Propaganda and the War in Yugoslavia. Manchester University Press. pp. 74, 174. ISBN 978-0-7190-6467-8. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  39. ^ Byford, Jovan (2008). Denial and Repression of Antisemitism: Post-communist Remembrance of the Serbian Bishop Nikolaj Velimirovi?. Central European University Press. pp. 118, 137. ISBN 978-963-9776-15-9. Retrieved 16 January 2020.
  40. ^ "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, Serbia". 2006.
  41. ^ "Anti-Semitic posters in downtown Belgrade". B92/Tanjug. 30 March 2013. Archived from the original on 1 April 2013.
  42. ^ International Religious Freedom Report 2005, Serbia and Montenegro (includes Kosovo) (released by US Department of State)
  43. ^ "Ethno-confessional and language mosaic of Serbia" (PDF). Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia. 2014.
  44. ^ a b "2011 Census of Population, Households and Dwellings in the Republic of Serbia: Religion, Mother Tongue and Ethnicity" (PDF). Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia. 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 July 2014.
  45. ^ Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, 2002 Census Results, p12 Archived 24 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  46. ^ Vukica Strugar (3 June 2012). "Seka Sablić: Kad porastem, biću bogata" (in Serbian). Večernje Novosti.
  • "Jews of Yugoslavia 1941 – 1945 Victims of Genocide and Freedom Fighters", by Jaša Romano, from the English summary in the book Jevreji Jugoslavije 1941–1945. Žrtve Genocida i učesnici Narodnooslobodilačkog Rata, Belgrade: Federation of Jewish Communities of Yugoslavia, 1980; pp. 573–590.
  • Hoare, Marko (n.d.). "The Chetniks and the Jews" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 15 August 2011. Extract from Genocide and Resistance in Hitler’s Bosnia: The Partisans and the Chetniks, 1941–1943, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006 (pp. 156–162).