In the monthly Jewish cultural edition of “Omanut”, issue No.9; dated September 1940, Dr. Gavro Schwartz states in his editorial his assertion that “the Jewish Community in Zemun is one of the oldest in Croatia”. The deduction made by Dr. Schwartz was based on the documents extracted by Dr. Urbach from the archives of the Zemun Jewish Community which he never returned. Based on Dr. Gavrilovic’s research work it transpired that the Jewish Community was founded in the year 1739. This information became general knowledge to the Zemun Jews only toward the end of 1940, or early in 1941, since access to the Community archives had been a privilege of a few. This gave rise to public censure of certain prominent personages of the Jewish Community. At the same time a general feeling of regret that the bicentenary of the existence of the Community had not been celebrated in 1939 was expressed.

Regardless of the actual year of the establishment of the Jewish Community in this town, the fact remains that it functioned continually, from it’s founding, except for the years under occupation from 1941 to the fall of 1944. During this period its work was sporadic.


Zemun (Semlin) is one of the oldest towns in the Balkans. During the reign of the Roman Empire it was called Taurunum, while it is recorded under the name of Zemlen in the XII century. During the period from 1521 to 1717 it was held by the Turks upon which followed the accession to Austria when it became a border town. Up to 1728 Zemun was governed by the Slavonic Chamber Inspection; from then it fell under private feudal rule, with little sympathy for Jews, both where their religion and national entity was concerned.

Considering the geographical position and the commercial importance of Zemun, it can be safely concluded that there were individual Jewish families already settled in this town during the middle ages, possibly even earlier than that. However, research of archive material published up to now, has shown that in the year 1726, Josif Isak and Isak Moses, both Jews, were definitely citizens of Zemun.

Once the Austrians took over the government of Zemun, the ethnic structure of Zemun inhabitants changed under the influence of Eugenie of Savoy and the Empress Maria Theresa. Into the then majority of Serbian inhabitants, first came Greek settlers, soon to be followed by Germans.

When Belgrade fell under Austrian authority in 1717, together with a large number of German settlers came a certain number of Ashkenazi Jews mostly tradesmen and craftsmen. When in 1739 the Turks once again established their rule in Belgrade, a group of some twenty, mainly, Ashkenazi families stayed on and finally settled in Zemun. Thus the year 1739 represents the date of the first settlement of Jews in Zemun as a group. From then on Jews have continually been deemed as citizens of Zemun.

Up to 1746, the status of Jews in Zemun as well as their living conditions hardly differed from those of Jews in other parts of Austria. They were equally treated as second rate citizens faced with numerous impediments. One of the major restrictions was the choice of employment which lay open to them. Essentially, Jews were permitted to be craftsmen and tradesmen but only to the extent Christian craftsmen and tradesmen felt comfortable with.

At the time Zemun came within the bounds of the military frontier in the year 1746 the position of the Jews worsened by the imposition of new restrictions. Namely, Jews were forbidden to settle inside the area of military frontiers and were threatened with the prospect of being evicted from Zemun. However, they remained in Zemun following a decree issued on October 8, 1753 by Maria Theresa which granted the privilege to Jews already living in Zemun to remain in Zemun. On the same day the Empress granted to Rafael Salamon a “Turk” Jew and to his family and to the entire household permission to stay in the area of the military frontier for life.

According to the census of 1755 the following Jewish families lived in 15 houses in Zemun:

Rafael Salamon, Mayer Rechnitz, Elias Soret with his son in law Benjamin, Abraham Mayer with his son in law, Koloman Brandeis, Henoh Levi, Moses Koloman, Feischl the Jew (Judt), Moses Jew (Judt), Mandl Kleis, Lazar Keis, the widow of Abraham Lebl, Simon the glazier (Glaser), Salamon the Jew (Jude), Wolf the water carrier: the first four were marked as Turkish, and the remaining as German Jews. The cantor, the ritual slaughterer (shochet) and the school attendant resided in the sixteenth, so called, Jewish house. The records stated that they had all come from Belgrade in 1739

The census dating from 1756 is more accurate and lists the following Jewish families living in their own houses:

Rafael Salamon, tradesman in scrap iron

Mandl Kleis, tradesman in scrap iron

Moses Isaac, wholesaler

Majer Rehnicer, tradesman

Abraham Feischl, distiller of brandy

Koloman Brandeis’ widow

Salamon Mestic’s widow

Markus Izak, glazier

Abraham Lebl, tanner

Wolf Enoh, water carrier

Henoh Levi, tailor

Lazar Keis, tradesman

Hercl Kohen, glazier

Mayer the blind, tradesman

Simon Abraham, tradesman

Living as tenants in houses owned by others the following are listed:

Elias Soret, tradesman

Josef Michel, tradesman

Markus Nathan, distiller of brandy

Isaac, rag-and-bone man, mender

In the sixteenth, so called, Jewish house, the cantor, the teacher, the ritual slaughterer (Schachter) and the school attendant resided.

It had been recorded that all of them came from Belgrade.

In order to maintain the number of families to the granted thirty, only the first born son was allowed to marry, under the condition that he did not leave the family household. Should the second or any other son in line marry he had to leave Zemun, i.e. the area of the military frontier. House ownership was allowed only to those privileged families which at the time of the Empress’ grant had already owned houses.

The military authority kept a keen eye on the disposition and interests of Christians so that measures and decisions passed were, as a rule, detrimental to Jews. In Zemun Jews were not allowed to perform any public function in the municipal government, while, for example, the same right was given to Serbs and ethnic Romanians (Aromanians).

The animosity of the Germans toward the Jews was mainly biased by questions pertinent to religion. The Serbs and Aromanians saw them as their rivals in trade. Consequently various trade bans and restrictions were imposed. Such impositions mainly referred to craftsmen services which basically comprised the business of Jews.

Setting up of trade and craftsmen shops in the Main Street was obstructed, the tendency being to keep Jewish inhabitants grouped round Dubrovacka Street.

Nevertheless, despite all the problems the Zemun Jews were consistently faced with, there were certain decisions brought by authorities in charge which contributed to the preservation of the sense of community, religion and tradition. By the decision of the Slavonian-Srem military frontier in Osijek dated April 22, 1755 all existing and future Jewish judges and men of religion were granted the right to rule in private law-suits between Jews within the Zemun Jewish Community, and the Zemun Magistrate was instructed to extend official support and assistance to Jewish judges in performing their official duty in the above stated cases. Each year election of judges as well as inspection and reckoning was carried out in the presence of one member of the Town Hall council. The necessity for more detailed regulation of law-suits brought before Jewish judges consequently emerged and on May 10, 1799 the Jewish Community proposed the following measures to the Magistrate:

1. In cases where one Jew is suing another he shall primarily address his complaint before the Jewish Community, and only upon finding fault with the decision passed, can he refer his complaint to the Magistrate Court.

2. To extend the right to Jewish judges to sentence Jews to a 48 hour custody, with no interference from the Town Court.

3. No Jew can be entitled to approach the Municipal clerk “with exceptionally trivial matters” without the knowledge and prior consent of a Jewish judge.

4. In cases where two Jewish litigants come to a settlement before the Jewish Community in accordance with Jewish law, the ruling shall remain unaltered.

Regarding the submitted document the Magistrate decided:

1. That no Jew can turn directly to the Magistrate for “trivial matters”, except when he has found fault with the ruling of the Jewish Community.

2. That no Jew and in particular bachelors shall be issued a passport, without the prior knowledge of a Jewish judge.

It is important to note that the degree of self-government of the Jewish Community achieved implied the right to self-regulation of all religious issues, the right to maintain a Jewish school etc. The school was later incorporated in the state education program. As already noted, Jews in Austria were inhabitants without civil rights, tolerated in the countries of the Empire by special favor of the ruler. Although they were permitted to engage in trade and crafts, various bans and restrictions were imposed on them even in these economic activities. Thus, for instance, when Christian traders figured out that the purchase and sale of old rags was a profitable business they lodged a complaint with the Austrian authorities. Following the said complaint Jews were forbidden to engage in this activity in entire regions of the empire. Something very similar happened with the purchase and sale of leeches. There were also various complaints against Jews made by Zemun tradesmen. One of their requests put before the authorities was to forbid the Jews of Zemun to deal in textiles, since their low pricing of goods made it impossible for others to sell their wares. Even innkeepers complained and requested that Jews be allowed to sell drinks only to their compatriots. As a rule the authorities conceded to all such requests, which resulted in a highly unfavorable economic environment for the Jewish population. However, Jewish tradesmen always managed to quickly find their footing, and create new sources of income by inventing new marketable items.

Bearing in mind the conditions stated it is clearly evident why in the census of 1756 out of the 19 privileged families, 11 Jewish families were listed as tradesmen, 7 craftsmen and one water carrier. The list does not include the cantor, teacher, sahter (ritual slaughterer) and the school attendant living in the so called Jewish house.

From census dating from 1815 we see that out of the 45 Jewish families living at the time in Zemun, 35 were tradesmen, 4 craftsmen and one family each of the rabbi, the teacher, slaughterer, musician, water carrier, and the sexton.

The increased number of families to that of 45 happened during the First Serbian Uprising in 1804 when a great number of Jews fled from Belgrade to Zemun. The problem was put before the Emperor Franz and on January 17, 1816 who resolved that the 30 Jewish families originating from the 19 which in 1753 had been given the privilege of residence in Zemun were granted continued stay and ownership of 30 houses together with one Community house.

The problem of residence for the remaining 15 families remained unresolved right up to the turbulent events of 1848.

Out of 221 Jewish inhabitants there were 187 Ashkenazi and 37 Sephardim.

As a result of the proscription of settlement of Jews in Zemun and the restriction on their families to split physically upon the marriage of their sons and daughters, their number varied very little through the decades. According to censuses made by the Magistrate, the number of Jews listed through the years is as follows:

            1808 – 242

            1831 – 263

            1840 – 285

            1847 – 277

            1863 – 211

As a town on the borderline of Austria and Turkey, Zemun became an important trading point, with a potential for making profit. The fact instigated a wave of relocation of ethnic Romanians (Aromanians) and Jews. Upon pledging an oath of allegiance Aromanians were permitted to remain in Zemun, while there were instances when unprivileged Jews were ordered to sell their houses and property and leave town within a fortnight period. As early as 1781 Emperor Joseph decided that the State would profit by controlling the progress of educating Jews and their management. This measure prevented the Jewish people to spread and settle extensively inside the territory of the Empire. Further Jews could not be relocated to places where their presence had not been tolerated so far. They were to remain in locations where they had already settled and that only to a measure of toleration that was advantageous for the State.

By the same decision the use of the popular language of the Jews (probably Yiddish) was forbidden in public dealings. Upon a two year period of grace Jews had to be obliged to submit all their contracts, regulations, wills, invoices, ledgers and testaments, in short everything related to judical and out-of-court matters in the standard court language of the country in question. The tax imposed for toleration, as well as all other taxes were not to be revoked, thus keeping at bay all Jewish “scum” without personal means of living and board.

Notwithstanding the prohibition of Jew settlement in Zemun, the number of their families rose above the permitted number of the privileged 30. For this reason the Jewish Community lodged an appeal for endorsement of residence for further 14 families, in all 50 individuals. By its decision dated June 16, 1848 the Ministry of War referred the said appeal for settlement to the Superior Municipal Council of Zemun. 

However, the Revolutionary Committee, which in 1848, took over the government of the city paid little heed to the enactment of Imperial orders and for the time being left everything in a state of adjournment.

During 1848/49 rumors spread that with the aid of frontier men the Serbian population was preparing to do away with the Jewish and Catholic population. Although the rumors were unfounded, they generated vast anxiety and fear of pogrom.

The order issued by the Military Command in 1849 forbade Hungarian Jews to reside in the area of the Military frontier since they significantly aided the Hungarian uprising. So it came that the Council of Zemun also punished Simon Herzl (grandfather to Theodore Herzl) with a prison sentence of ten days in chains, but released him on bail paid by the Jewish Community for the duration of the Jewish holidays.

On June 16, 1852 the Jewish Community implored the Emperor Franz Joseph to render the same rights to the Jews of Zemun enjoyed by Jews in other Austrian provinces. The request was that, beside the first born son, the remaining sons could also marry without having to leave town. It was further requested that purchase of real estate be permitted. The request was denied by the Magistrate by its adverse ruling. Acting upon the ruling the Emperor also refuted the same request. Thus the restriction of the number of families to thirty remained in force. In the forthcoming years this number was to rise to 33, by obtaining special privileges.

In 1862 the Command of the Troup Brigade in Zemun requested the Magistrate to declare whether it upheld a restricted or unrestrained settlement of Jews. The Magistrate elected unrestrained settlement. Such a governmental standpoint was influenced by events taking place in Serbia at the time. Mainly the departure of the Turks from Belgrade brought a tide of renewed enthusiasm and trade development. It was assumed that Zemun would become a major trading center instead of Belgrade.

The Austrian-Hungarian treaty of 1876, upheld the constitutional rights of citizens to a life of improved personal liberties, independence and equality of all citizens, Jews included. However, this did not immediately apply to the Jews of Zemun. But soon it became untenable that only in Zemun could a few hundred Jews be denied their citizen rights. On February 27, 1868 the Emperor Franz Joseph acknowledged to the Jews within the Military frontier equal rights to those of other confessions recognized by Austria. This brought to an end all restrictions regarding settlement, purchase of real estate and choice of employment. On March 25, 1868 the Mayor asked the General Command to discontinue any further collection of the protection tax imposed on Jewish families.

The result was that Jews in Austria were given the opportunity to choose professions of interest and personal ability. Despite the protracted transformation of Jewish population organization, Jews eventually penetrated all aspects of social life. Beside the prevailing number of tradesmen and craftsmen, the number of doctors, lawyers, engineers, professors and artists constantly increased. Very soon, certain Jews were acclaimed as leading professionals or widely acclaimed artists.


The settlement of Jews in Zemun was met by the opposition of authorities and resistance and mistrust of the town inhabitants. This must have had a great influence on the organization of Jews into a body struggling more or less, collectively, to remain in this town. A fact supporting this assumption is that a so called Jewish house was built simultaneously with the erection of family homes. The rabbi (cantor), teacher, ritual slaughterer (shochet) and the school attendant lived in this house.

According to data available, a cantor, Rav Jehuda Jeruham, the first rabbi in Zemun, was already a resident of the so called Jewish house as early as 1793. Records state that he was a Turkish citizen, so that it is safe to presume that he was a Sephardim. A characteristic of this Jewish Community is that there was never any segregation between the Ashkenazi, who constituted the majority and the Sephardim. On the contrary, cooperation and mutual understanding were ever present. Among other manifestations of goodwill, marriage unions between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardim were a commonplace affair. The one thing the Jewish community uncompromisingly opposed was the marriage of Jews to gojim (non-Jews, Christians and others).

No record of the actual time when rabbi Jeruham came to Zemun has been found up to now. The only data available is that he died in Zemun in 1763.

The attendance of a rabbi in the mid 18th century documents that religious life of the Zemun Jews was practiced for more than a hundred years before the first synagogue was built.

It must have been very difficult to obtain authorization to erect a Jewish house of prayer. Presenting the entire Jewish Community in existence in 1833, Jacob Isaac Albahari submitted an application to the Zemun Magistrate to approve the construction of a Jewish house of prayer. The application was referred to the Slavonic General Command which on June 10, 1833 refuted the request made by Jacob Isaac Albahari, a Turkish subject. It was stated in the commentary that no aspirations to enhance the Jewish population of Zemun would be favoured.

The Jewish Community of Zemun was not discouraged by this rejection and negative response. Applications for a permit to build a house of prayer were submitted continuously. Such efforts finally brought positive results and the Ashkenazi synagogue was built in the year 1863.

On major Jewish holidays the temple brimmed with parishioners. On these occasions there was talk of the necessity to expand the temple. However, once the holidays were over, all such talk was laid aside.

The Jewish Community generated its revenue from a contribution levied on each household, rated in accordance with its economic wealth. There were also extraordinary revenues from benefaction. However, the construction of the temple required additional funds.
So it transpired that seats in the synagogue were to be leased. In 1863, the same year the temple was completed, a charter to this end was issued. The original appearance of the Ashkenazi temple is portrayed in the “Charter”. In the years to follow no essential alteration was made to its exterior, although the fence to the right was removed because of a substantial enlargement of the synagogue court.

In his book “Arhitektonsko nasledje” (Architectural heritage) Zeljko Skalamer writes that the Ashkenazi synagogue was built in the year 1850 on the site of a former synagogue dating from the XVIII century.  The Ashkenazi synagogue became a part of the Jewish cultural center together with the school and community hall. It is possible that the foundation stone was laid in the said year, but the synagogue was consecrated in 1863.

When German troops entered Zemun on April 12, 1941 the occupation authorities banned all gatherings in the synagogue.

The fate of this attractive building, built in the spirit of romanticism, was tragic. During the occupation (1941-1944) it was used as storage space, once it had been thoroughly plundered and all of its religious relics destroyed.

After liberation day the synagogue was reinstated to the Jewish Community, but the necessary funds to restore it to its original appearance were scarce. The house of prayer was not in service up to1962 when it was sold to the Municipality of Zemun for a pittance. From then on it was once again used as storage space, then as a disco club and finally it became a restaurant.

However there are some indications that this temple will eventually receive the cultural recognition it deserves as an urban historical monument existing in the very heart of the old town centre.

The founding stone for the Sephardic synagogue was laid in the year 1871. The event received great notice, since the Vice Consul Demeter Ticio was present in the capacity of emissary of Emperor Franz Joseph. He was the one to place the founding stone. That special attention was given to this event was made obvious by the honoraries present: the president of the Magistrate Georg Bek, together with the staff of the Magistrate, the head rabbi S.D. Tauber, L. Alkalai, the president of the regional Sephardic Community, then Messrs. Samuel Israel Russo, Joseph Abinum Russo, Haim Susin, Jacob Farchy, Moses Elias and Israel Albahari. The Board of the Jewish Community was represented by: Bernhard Herzl, Moses J. Herzl, Markus Mayer, Pinkas F. Wolf and others.

This synagogue was built in a beautiful Moorish style designed by Josif Marks.

During the bombing of the Allied forces in 1944, the Sephardic synagogue was substantially damaged. It was never restored; instead a block of flats was erected on its site.

The Ashkenazi and Sephardic Communities achieved and maintained a lasting amiable co-operation in the management of the Hevra Kadisha, the cemetery and the Jewish school. Following the end of World War I Moric Sasson (Sephardim) was the head of the Hevra Kadisha, and from the early thirties Isidor Grünfeld (Ashkenazi).

The Zemun Jewish Community strove to maintain and develop a collective religious life of lasting quality. To this end, the practice adopted was to engage a suitable clergyman, a rabbi as a rule.

Upon his death the above mentioned first rabbi, R. J. Jeruham was succeeded by rabbi Israel Alexander. We find record of him in official Magistrate documents. In 1794 he was engaged in a lawsuit against his partner Isaac Simon the goldsmith. There is also mention of him in the minutes of the Jewish Community dating from 1803 when he made a request for a higher salary. He died in Zemun in 1808.

Rabbi Josef Fridensberger succeeded Israel upon his death and remained in service until 1823.

From 1823 rabbi Shlomo Hirsh held religious service in Zemun for a short time.

He was succeeded by rabbi Yehuda Ben Shlomo Hai Alkalai in 1825 who was in service up to 1874. He practiced religious service in Zemun for almost half a century.

Rabbi S. D. Tauber was originally established in office in 1874 for a period of three years. However he remained in the post right up to the appointment of Dr. Schwarz in 1895.

As head rabbi Dr. M. Schwarz remained in service in Zemun from 1895 to1909.

As head rabbi Dr. Hinko Urbach remained in service in Zemun from 1909 to1928.

Before the First World War Gerschon Katschka came to Zemun to serve in the Ashkenazi synagogue as cantor. He was married to Elsa, and they had two children: Clara and Alfred. Clara married and left Zemun, not to be heard of again. She had most probably met with a fate similar to that of her father, mother and brother who were killed in the holocaust.

When Urbach left Zemun, Gerschon Katschka held service alone conducting all religious ceremonies.

In the Sephardic synagogue the number of men of cloth who practiced religious service was fewer. There is mention of M.B. Aharon, Sabetaj, Moshe Bahar and Isaak Musafija. It should be noted that Musafija was a haham and not a rabbi and that he ended his life with the Jews of Zemun deported to the Jasenovac concentration camp.

Doubtlessly it is to the credit of Jewish priests that Jewish customs have been preserved, that religious norms were observed faithfully during the entire life cycle of the Zemun Jews, from their birth, the brit-mila (circumcision of male children), then with the celebration of bar-micva  (religious coming of age of male children upon their thirteenth birthday), up to marriages ceremonies held in the synagogue under a canopy, with the mandatory breaking of a porcelain dish for luck (marriage in a synagogue was possible only when both spouses were Jews) and finally in the adherence of burying rites and prayers said in memory of the dead. One must not conclude that all Jews of Zemun had an identical approach toward religious norms and customs. The attendance of worshippers at the morning and evening prayer held daily in the synagogue would constitute a fair example. Although more than 300 Jewish males of religiously acknowledged age lived in Zemun, - the daily minjan (ten males of age acknowledged by the church; without the presence of their number the church service cannot be conducted) - could be gathered only by paying three poor Jews to daily attend the morning and evening prayer. However on the erev sabat and the sabat, as well as on all major holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Jom Kipur, Pesah etc.) the number of worshipers attending holy service was such that both synagogues were full.

In warmer weather, prayers were held in the Ashkenazi synagogue on working days, for a mixed congregation of Sephardim and Ashkenazi. In winter time a chosen classroom in the Jewish school was used for prayer.

Jewish families also held different views on the observance of the kosher (kasher) religious norm which proscribed their diet. It must be noted from the start that kosher food involves increased expenses which the poorer families could not sustain. There were also Jews who gradually adapted to the prevailing environment and practiced a way of preparing food incompatible with the kosher diet. A certain number of Jews maintained close social relationships with Christians and befriended them; they even paid visits to them during their religious holidays.

There exist no statistics or records on the number of Jews who observed the kosher diet so we must rely on memory and make a personal estimation. According to the recollections and estimates of the author, an absolute majority of all the Zemun Sephardim Jews observed the kosher diet. In the case of the Ashkenazi, just over 50% of the families observed this religious canon, while the remaining families observed it partially or not at all.

In the documents on Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia archived in the Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, it is recorded that there even existed a Jewish community of orthodox Jews. The records show a list of names of those who led this community. Despite all efforts made to obtain any facts about the existence of such a group of Jews in Zemun, none could be found. Of all the names mentioned in these documents there was not one to be found among those deported and killed in Jasenovac, nor among the Zemun Jews who managed to survive. One thing is absolutely certain, not one of the surviving Zemun Jews has any knowledge of the existence of this orthodox Jewish community. It has already been noted that there was never any disagreement between the Sephardim and Ashkenazi in Zemun. This was obvious from the way the religious service was held. The Sephardic haham Musafija or the Ashkenazi cantor Katschka would alternatively lead the prayers. At the same time the shames (attendant) in the Ashkenazi house of prayer was Arnold Fekete, and Celebi in the Sephardic synagogue.

On state holidays, benediction was held alternatively in the Ashkenazi and the Sephardic temple. At times when the Ashkenazi had a rabbi, he also performed this duty for the Sephardim.

STARA PAZOVA was part of the Zemun Jewish Community. Officially it was called the Israelite bogostovna Community branch of Stara Pazova. It is a definite fact that 53 Jews from Stara Pazova were deported to the concentration camp Jasenovac and that none returned from there. There is no record that a single Jew from this village survived the holocaust.

This small community nurtured the Jewish tradition and observed the customs of the religion. The last cantor was Samuel Herschkowitsch. As a memento of their existence there stands a small synagogue which was sold to the Babinka family upon the war. This family moved from Cacinci in Slavonia to Stara Pazova in 1946. They undertook some masonry work on the synagogue and altered it to meet their needs. The door and windows of the original synagogue were left untouched on the reconstructed building.

All that remains today of the once small Jewish settlement is the cemetery which is looked after and cared for by the Public utilities company of Stara Pazova.

Edition from which documents have been used:

Danilo Fogel: Jewish community in Zemun 1739 – 1945, Zemun, 2007.