Short history of Jewish presence in Serbia




Jewish presence in Serbia can be traced back thousands of years ago to Roman times. By the 12th century, Jews were quite influential in the region as traders and were generally treated well. Under Ottoman rule, Jewish merchants became influential in trade between the northern and southern portion of the Ottoman Empire and accordingly prospered. Later in the 16th century, Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula during the Inquisition arrived in the region

Synagogue in Subotica

and Jews slowly began to settle in. Austria also ruled over part of the region, so Jews from various parts of the Austrian Empire began to settle in Vojvodina and establish communities in villages and cities across the region.


After Serbia obtained its independence in the 1830s, the newly formed Serbian government began persecuting Jews, barring Jews from certain professions. It was The Treaty of Berlin in 1878 that gave Serbian Jews full civil rights, but it was not until 1889 that the Serbian Parliament declared equal rights for all Serbian citizens and officially lifted restrictions on Jews.


In the early portion of the 20th century, Jews fought in the Balkan War from 1912 to 1913 and later fought in World War I. After the war, Serbia became a part of the state of Yugoslavia, and the Jewish community in Serbia was linked to Jews in other parts of the kingdom. 


The interwar years saw Jewish life in Serbia maintain a relative sense of stability. Antisemitism generally was not an issue, and Serbian Jews were able to participate equally in Serbian society. However, the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust saw Serbian Jewry devastated. A majority of Holocaust survivors in Yugoslavia emigrated for Israel following its establishment in 1948, and many Serbian Jews assimilated.


With the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991 and the outbreak of the civil war, Yugoslavian Jews were thrown into the middle of the violence. Throughout the war, the organized Jewish body in Serbia provided food aid, clothing, medicine, and organizing accommodation for refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the NATO campaign on Yugoslavia in 1999, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Serbia evacuated around 600 of its members to Hungary from bombed cities, and then to Israel and other countries.


Though many Jews left Serbia during the violence that engulfed the region throughout the 1990s, the Jewish community in Serbia remains stable today and experiences support from the Serbian government, which recognizes Judaism as one of the seven “traditional” religious communities in the country.


Useful links:

Jewish Virtual Library

European Jewish Congress: Serbia

World Jewish Congress: Serbia

The Times of Israel: In impoverished: Serbia Jewish community is isolated – and rapidly shrinking

The Jerusalem Post: Zionisms. Was the Jewish state born in Serbia?