From a parking lot to a synagogue


ZAGREB, Croatia, April 24 (JTA) — The Jewish community in Croatia’s capital is planning to build a cultural center on the site of a synagogue that was destroyed during World War II.

Plans for the center include a sanctuary, a memorial to Holocaust victims, a Jewish museum, as well as commercial enterprises.

The Jewish community is collecting information about potential investors in the Jewish world who may be interested in the commercial side of the project.

The community also expects to hold an international competition for the best architectural design for the center.

After more than a decade since the city’s Jewish community sought its return, the Croatian government of President Franjo Tudjman returned the site of the Zagreb Synagogue last year during the nation’s election campaign. Tudjman died late last year. His party, the Croatian Democratic Union, lost the election.

The 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.

After the war ended, a shopping center was built on the site of the synagogue, but it burned down in the late 1960s. Since that time, a municipal parking lot has been located there.

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