The following history of the Jewish community in Dubrovnik, Croatia, is from the pamphlet Jews in Dubrovnik, published by Dubrovnik Jew Community, Zudioska 3, Dubrovnik:
“Historical documents from the Dubrovnik State Archives confirm the fact that a large number of Jews passed through the city harbour at the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century, from where they continued their journey inland towards the Ottoman Empire. During that huge wave of migration, caused by the expulsion from the Iberian peninsula in 1492, some Sephardic Jewish families decided to stay on in Dubrovnik, and we have been witnessing their life and work since the beginning of the 16th century to this day
“Although there were previously some Jews from Italy, France, Cataluna and Albania living temporarily in Dubrovnik in the 14th and 15th centur[ies], it was not until the beginning of the 16th century that a unified Jewish community was formed in Dubrovnik. At that time Dubrovnik was already known as a strong and free maritime state and an important commercial centre connecting western countries with the interior of the Balkan peninsula and the Ottoman Empire. Jews fitted very quickly into this well developed and complex commercial network, becoming one of the most important links in the economic development of the city. Together with Dubrovnik merchants, they brought raw materials such as skins, wool, wax and spices from the East and imported manufactured products such as textiles, paper, etc. from the West. Jews were also involved in maritime commerce as well. There was also a large number of registered Jewish physicians… Being connoisseurs of several languages, Dubrovnik Jews distinguished themselves as excellent interpreters, writers and poets, thus enriching the cultural life of the city… It is also worth mentioning that the Dubrovnik government appointed several Jews as their representatives abroad.
“As the number of Jews increased, the Dubrovnik government decided in 1546 to allocate a street with four houses to the Jews, permitting them to live within the city walls.
“This was formally the beginning of the Dubrovnik Ghetto and the establishment of the synagogue. Initially the Ghetto consisted of four housed and six warehouses which were on lease. The [third] floor of one of the houses was converted into a synagogue in the Italian Baroque style in 1652.
“The central part of the room was divided by three arches from the rest of the room. The podium (Bimah) was located under the central arch while Aaron Hakodesh, framed by two massive wooden baroque arches, was on the eastern wall. On the southern and northern walls you can still see screens behind which the women’s section used to be. It was replaced in the 19th century by the gallery on the western wall.
“The Ghetto gates were regularly closed at nightfall and opened in the early morning hours.
“It is worth mentioning that Central European Jews, the Askenazim, migrated to Dubrovnik in the 19th century when the city was under the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Mixed Sephardic Askenazim religious rituals have been held in the synagogue ever since. During their centuries long presence in the city and in spite of their economic and social success, the Dubrovnik Jews faced several judicial trials and expulsions.
“The first persecutions started after a trial in 1502 when four Jews were accused of murder and consequently executed. More persecutions followed in 1515 and in 1571 but the largest trial that took place in 1622 caused such a wave of migration that almost all the Jews left Dubrovnik. The case was noted down in Jewish and Christian literature alike….
“It should be noted that the life of Dubrovnik Jews radically changed at the beginning of the 19th century. Upon the arrival of the French in 1808 the Republic of Ragusa [Dubrovnik] was abolished. [See our previous blog post.] Although Jews had full citizenship, their economic activities, as those of all other Dubrovnik citizens, began to wane rapidly. Ever since that period and due to numerous changes of governments (Austro-Hungarian Empire; the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes; and Yugoslavia) the previous great economic achievements have never been reached again.
“At the very beginning of the Second World War racial laws were immediately introduced and anti-Semite antagonism broke out all around. The Italian fascists took over the city in the Autumn of 1941, and in 1942 they established several concentration camps in the Dubrovnik harbour, Gruz, on the nearby island of Lopud and in Kupari, where they interned all the Jews. Besides Dubrovnik Jewish families there were also many other Jews that came to Dubrovnik escaping the Nazi regime in the northern parts of the country. Later the Italians took all of them, about 1,700 Jews, to the island of Rab, where in 1943 there were 3,600 interned Jews registered. Of 87 Dubrovnik Jews, twenty-four participated in the National Liberation War and six of them were killed in battle. Twenty-seven members died as Holocaust victims and their names have been engraved on the memorial plaque in the Dubrovnik Jewish Museum.
“During the recent shellings of Dubrovnik in 1991 [See our previous blog post with the photograph Dubrovnik Burning.], the synagogue was hit directly twice and the roof was seriously damaged. Its restoration was completed in 1997 and in 2003 the Jewish Community of Dubrovnik opened the first Jewish Museum in Croatia.
“Today the Jewish Community of Dubrovnik has 45 members and continues with its activities thus ensuring better future conditions for young Jewish generations in Dubrovnik and in Croatia in general.”