ZAGREB, Croatia, March 2 (JTA) — Croatia’s government has signaled its willingness to support the construction of a Jewish center and synagogue here. The project will rise from the ashes of a synagogue that was destroyed during World War II. Backing up its words with deeds, the government is providing some $42,000 for the preliminary stage of the project, in which construction bids will be sought. In an effort to boost interest in the project, Zagreb’s Jewish community recently began a series of concerts and exhibitions. As the project moves forward, those involved expect that funding will be provided by sources including international Jewish groups, the city of Zagreb and Croatia’s Culture Ministry. Among those vowing to support the project is the mufti of Zagreb’s Islamic community, who said he is certain Croatian Muslims will provide financial help once the project gets off the ground. The original synagogue was built in central Zagreb in 1867 in the Moorish style, which is known for its use of colors, geometric patterns and distinctive arches. One of the most beautiful buildings in Zagreb, the synagogue had symbolized Jewish emancipation and the community’s cultural and social ascent in the second half of the 19th century. When demolition of the synagogue began on Oct. 12, 1941, the local Zagreb newspaper reported that it was taking place because “the synagogue does not harmonize with the general city plan of Zagreb.” During World War II, Croatia was a Nazi puppet state. Croatia had 25,000 Jews before the war, most of them prosperous and largely assimilated. Some 20,000 were killed by the Nazis or the puppet Ustashe regime. There are now some 2,000 registered members of Croatia’s nine organized Jewish communities. Fewer than 1,500 Jews live in Zagreb. After the war ended, a prefabricated department store was erected on the site of the synagogue, but it burned down in 1980. Since that time, a municipal parking lot has been located there. More than a decade after Zagreb’s Jewish community began seeking its return, the Croatian government of then-President Franjo Tudjman returned the site of the Zagreb synagogue in 1999. Discussions are still under way about what the new building should house. Along with the synagogue and Jewish center, there are plans for a Jewish heritage museum, a documentation center about the Holocaust in Croatia, an art gallery, a memorial to Holocaust victims, commercial enterprises and a Jewish elementary school. The look of the future building is also being debated, with some calling for a completely modern building and others backing a design that would incorporate the Moorish design of the original synagogue.
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