Belgrade (Aug. 15)
(By Our Belgrade Correspondent)
If Jugo-Slavia, a “synthetic” state produced by the world war, still remains a puzzle to the average person, the present condition of the Jews in this newly created state is perhaps even less known.
To understand the situation properly, it is necessary to distinguish at the outset between the position of the Jews in Serbia and those in Croatia, entirely different socially, politically and economically.
In the ancient confines of Serbia the Jews are relatively few in number, about 18,000, of whom the great majority are Sephardim and almost all of them make their homes in Belgrade. More completely assimilated than the Croatian Jews, they observe strictly. however, the old Jewish traditions and rites. They have erected in Belgrade several synagogues, one of which is distinguished by its architectural beauty and magnificence.
Although few in number, the Jews of Serbia have contributed largely to the commercial and industrial development of the country. Their preponderance in the commercial field is especially noticeable on the day of Yom Kippur, when almost half the total number of the shops in Belgrade are closed, thus giving the impresion of a national Juge Slav holiday In science and the arts, the Serbian Jews, like those of Croatia, occupy a place no less important. There are men of letters and scholars among the Jews who evoke both respect and admiration. Anti-Semitic feeling appears as little in Serbia as, for example, in Italy. The people of Serbia, who by their traditions and national character are essentially democratic and liberal-minded, esteem the Jews, for their energy and industry. A few groups of nationalists, however, have tried to waken an anti-Semitic movement among the people, by repeated attacks in the press which they control, but their attempts have always been doomed to failure, and they have never passed “from words to acts.”
In Croatia conditions appear otherwise. The Jews number approximately 65,000 and the great majority are Ashkenazim. In this part of the Kingdom anti-Semitism is highly developed and has taken root firmly among the people. The dominating position of the Jews in the realm of finance and commerce is regarded in Croatia with malevolence. Hostility against the Jews is openly shown. They are attacked by the press, insulted in the speeches of political orators, ostracized from Christian society, and at times even subjected to physical violence.
The “Hanaos” (members of the Croatian nationalist organization, on the occasion of the festival of Passover, invaded the synagogue at Zagreb, and maltreated the worshippers.
The head of the peasant party, M. Stjepan Raditch, noted for his anti-Semitic sentiments, once declared in a speech: “Righteousness is foreign to the Jews. Their very character and nature is wicked!” Propaganda against the Jews has often been employed for political purposes, and not without success. The anti-Semitic movement, however, has never taken the proportions of a popular uprising, and acts of violence have never assumed the character of a pogrom.
The difference between the position of the Jews in Serbia and in Croatia is especially explained by the fact that this last-named country is still under the influence of the old Austro-Hungary, aristocratic and feudal, where anti-Semitism was always pronounced. In addition, the Croatians are Catholics, and unlike the Serbians, very devout.
The Jews resent bitterly the hostility to which they are subjected. In all Jugo-Slavia they are united in a Zionist organization, whose president, Dr. David Alcalay, enjoys extreme popularity. Hundreds of Jews have departed for Palestine as colonists.
There are in Jugo-Slavia three Jewish publications: two political weeklies–“Zidor,” and “Zidovska Svijest”–and one literary monthly–“The Gideon.”