Ivo Goldstein. East European Jewish Affairs. Volume 34, Issue 1. Summer 2004.
A key element of Communist Yugoslavia was its multinational character; balance was sought through the expression, and suppression, of national and religious identity. In Zagreb in 1945, for instance, the statue of Croatian national hero Josip Jelačić was removed and streets and squares named after him throughout Croatia renamed. At the same time, the names of Ante Starčević (1823-96), the father of modern Croatian nationalism, and Stjepan Radić (1871-1928), the outstanding Croatian political leader, were permitted to remain (or at any rate tolerated) in public places, but were served to the public in strictly measured quantities. Equally, amnesia with regard to almost its entire imperial glory was imposed on Serbia. To curb the Greater Serbian spirit, military commanders and legendary generals from the nineteenth-early twentieth centuries were slowly relegated to the background. In return, the Serbian nomenklatura were bribed with ambassadorships, top military promotions and senior positions in the civil service.
Jews in the War Effort
Before 1941 there were 75,000 Jews in Yugoslavia. Of these only about 16,000 survived the war. Of the 16,000, approximately 5,000 had participated in the national liberation movement. Thus, almost one third of Yugoslav Jews survived due to the existence of the Partisan movement. Ten Jews became ‘national heroes’ and 14 became generals in the Yugoslav People’s Army.
In a survey conducted in 1971 the 674 members of the Jewish community in Zagreb born before 1930 reported that during the war they had been in: a camp (239); in the national liberation war (238); in hiding (147); in prison (143); refugees (97); confined (86); sent to forced labour camps or ‘elsewhere’ (58); prisoners‐of‐war (38); and in liberation movements in other countries and allied armies (10). Clearly some respondents gave more than one answer.
In 1941, at the onset of the war, more than 1,300 Jews joined the national liberation movement, more than 550 joined combat units, and 757 joined underground committees in cities and towns under the control of the Ustaša, Germans or Italians. Those who joined the underground committees were mostly veteran members, associates or sympathisers of the Communist Party and the Alliance of Communist Youth of Yugoslavia or of left‐wing trade unions, societies and groups. They joined the national liberation movement in the first days of the uprising through these organisations – that is by virtue of their political convictions and not primarily because they were Jews. A total of 918 (70.6 per cent) Jews were killed. An even higher number of the underground activists and members of task‐force groups in towns and cities were killed (almost 80 per cent) as they ran the additional risk of being under special surveillance as Jews.
Another group were the 3,600 Jews who joined the national liberation movement in subsequent years (mostly in 1943). Most of these Jews had not been Communists or members of any other revolutionary organisation or had any links with such organisations, and it took them longer to establish a connection with the movement. Convinced it was better to fight than to await their fate doing nothing, they joined the national liberation movement in an attempt to escape from the Nazis and their collaborators.
Unlike the situation in other countries of the future Soviet bloc, Communism in Yugoslavia was indigenous. Tito’s Partisans liberated most of the country with the support of a large proportion of the population, including the Jews. For the Jews, joining the Partisans was not only a means of escaping the Holocaust, but also a way to restore their human dignity. There was a mutual understanding which has lasted to the present day: the Yugoslav Partisans saw their Jewish fellow‐fighters as loyal and courageous, while the Jewish Partisans saw their Yugoslav fellow‐fighters as proof that a significant part of their nation opposed persecution of the Jews. In so far as the Ustaša massacred Jews while the Croatian Partisans rescued them, it was the Partisans who were identified with the Croatian people in the minds of the Jewish survivors.
Most Jews in the National Liberation Army were medical staff. For instance, in 1942 the Partisan medical corps had 73 doctors, of whom 40 were Jews. During the war as a whole 308 Jewish doctors and 714 other medical staff (including pharmacists, medical students and dentists) joined the National Liberation Army. Of these 167 died. General Dr Gojko Nikoliš, a military commander, principal organiser of the Partisan medical corps and head of the Medical Corps of the Supreme Command of the National Liberation Army, stressed the importance of Jews in the medical field:
Friends of mine criticised me for being too ready to appoint Jewish doctors. As far as Jews are concerned, I am certain I made no mistake. To put it simply, we had a lot of them in our ranks and, with very few exceptions, they were very capable people and good organisers and they fought against negligence. I appointed them to responsible duties with a clear conscience. If only we had had more people like them.
Numerous documents indicate that Partisan commanders and Party committees included Jews in the national liberation struggle wherever possible. According to a 1942 proclamation by the Regional Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia in Macedonia:
The Jews of Macedonia have two options. One is the route of obedience and hope of mercy. This is a route of suicide, of delusion, because the enemy knows no mercy. The other is the route of fighting and vengeance, leading to victory and freedom. Raise your heads proudly. The Macedonian people offer you a brotherly hand and call on you to fight. Jewish Partisans will strengthen our militant Partisan ranks.
Nonetheless, the roots of post‐war misunderstandings were already present during the war. The attitude of the Partisans to the Jews was on occasion benevolent (out of respect for the persecuted), on occasion distrustful (given that the proportion among the Jews of professionals was much higher then that of other national groups), but, in most cases, neutral, as towards other religions and nationalities.
Only one particularly negative incident is recorded. In June 1941 a group of 30 young Jews managed to break out of Sarajevo to join the Kalinovik Partisan Detachment, at the time based close by. The detachment was to leave immediately, but the command on Mt Igman decided against taking the Jews with them, saying they should return to Sarajevo; the justification was that they were kaputaši (‘city slickers’) and thus not welcome in the Partisan army. Romano claims that Chetniks who had infiltrated the detachment influenced this decision, but it was more probably due to the so‐called ‘left deviation’.
In another, more important development, after 1944 members of the Partisan movement and the new authorities felt they had the moral right to square accounts with ‘class enemies’, an approach which continued after the war. Among those branded in this manner were some 20 Jews suspected, without evidence, of being British spies or Italian collaborators. All were executed. In situations of this kind the Jews received no privileges on account of the Holocaust, but there are no indications of anti‐Semitism either.
At the beginning of the war Leo Wilf, a dentist in the employment of the Jewish Religious Community in Zagreb in 1941-42, joined the Partisans in late 1943), reached Drvar (a town in western Bosnia where the Supreme Command of the Partisan Army was stationed), and remained there, carrying out dental work on Tito and members of the Supreme Command. His wife Irena (née Neufeld) was an English interpreter for the Supreme Command and, by nature of her duties, in daily contact with the British officers there. The Wilfs also socialised with the British, who, for their part, delivered correspondence to and from Irena’s parents, who had sought refuge in Bari. The Partisan security services found this suspicious and, without any real investigation, pronounced Wilf and his wife British spies and shot them. It seems that someone denounced the Wilfs and that the decision to execute them was made at the highest level, probably by Aleksandar Ranković, Tito’s right‐hand man. According to Gojko Nikoliš, Milovan Đilas and Koča Popović, high‐ranking officials in the Partisan movement, Ranković requested Tito’s agreement in all sensitive matters.
In July and August 1944 the Partisan secret police claimed that the distinguished neuro‐psychiatrist Dezider Julius (1895-1953), head of the hospital in the Banija Military District in Otočac (province of Lika), had shielded a number of Jewish women who had committed various petty offences only because they were Jewish: ‘This seems to be a case of Jews helping Jews, that is they are helping one another to the disadvantage of others’, the investigator concluded. Julius was reprimanded for allegedly forming a Jewish circle in the hospital: ‘They are always hatching plans and whispering together and were seen to show great enthusiasm when they heard Churchill say that “King Peter is the lawful King of Yugoslavia”.’ The investigator advised that ‘the above Jews be transferred elsewhere so that they cannot provide organised help to one another at the cost of the national liberation struggle’.
In some instances, the Jews were subject to persecution even after the liberation, although this was not a deliberate policy. On 11 May 1945 and only three days after the Partisans had liberated the city, Richard Löwenherz, a 64‐year‐old refugee from Koburg (Germany), was found to be an inmate of a concentration camp in Zagreb (in the Kanal district, near today’s Marin Držić Avenue or ‘Držićeva’). The principal reason for his incarceration was apparently his German‐sounding surname. Löwenherz was, however, Jewish and he survived the war in Zagreb together with his wife Dagmar, who was not Jewish.
For reasons which are not entirely clear the new authorities were suspicious even of Jews who had returned to the country after the war. Julijo Stern and Grga Mautner, who returned by train from Italy in September 1945, were immediately imprisoned. The Jewish community demanded their release. A number of Jews were convicted of having collaborated with the Nazis. In late 1945 Hilda Weiss‐Kukulić was sent to the Krndija concentration camp near Akovo (in Slavonia) ‘being the only Jew in the concentration camp […] alone among Germans’. The Jewish community of Zagreb ‘did everything it could’ to free her. It is possible that both Löwenherz and Weiss were formally or informally registered as Germans during the war.
The State Commission for Investigating War Crimes especially interrogated members of the Committee for Contributions by Jews to State Needs of the Zagreb Jewish Religious Community which in the spring of 1941 had collected objects to the value of 1,000 kg in gold. According to some reports to the Ustaša authorities, ‘the Committee members consider this work their duty’ and are ‘ready in future to accept further tasks to prove their loyalty to the state, which they consider their homeland’. Formulations of this kind could have caused the new authorities to suspect that the community representatives had collaborated with the Ustaša regime. This charge was substantiated by the unusual phrasing in a summons the State Commission sent to Robert Glücksthal, the president of the Jewish Community of Zagreb, following the deportation of the community’s leadership to Auschwitz in May 1943, to appear before the investigating official ‘under threat of consequences in the case of unjustified absence’. Although suspicions of this kind were not publicly stated, it is possible they were prompted by community members who had just returned from Partisan units – some because they had become convinced Communists, others because they wished to demonstrate to the new authorities that their way of thinking was politically correct. However, Glücksthal stated that the committee members ‘had not done anything other than simply carry out the orders of those who had power over all things Jewish, including their lives’ and that all the committee members wanted was to ‘save the Jews, not serve an enemy state’. No one could deny Glücksthal’s contention, especially not publicly. However, the fact that both he and Oskar‐Ašer Kišicky, co‐leader with Glücksthal of the Jewish Community, emigrated to Israel several years later although their wives were not Jewish shows that the post‐war atmosphere was not easy for those in intensive contacts with the Ustaša authorities.
Suspicion that community members had collaborated with the Ustaša authorities continued right up to 1949. In the autumn of that year David Levi, a prominent community activist arrested on the basis of an anonymous denunciation, spent 80 days in detention. Apparently he was denounced because he had a pass to move about freely while he and some ten other persons aided Jewish women and children in the Loborgrad concentration camp, 90 km north of Zagreb (in August 1942 all 1,300 prisoners were deported to Auschwitz). Following Levi’s release, the investigator told him: ‘I’m sorry, it is not our fault. If you intend to sue the person who denounced you, I advise you to do it through us.’ That accusations against Levi were regarded as preposterous in Jewish circles can be seen from the fact that he was appointed editor‐in‐chief of the Jewish journal Jevrejski pregled in the late 1950s. He was the only editor‐in‐chief of that periodical in the half‐century it existed who did not live in Belgrade.
The new government in Yugoslavia was certainly more popular among the Jews than was any other government in Eastern Europe. Many gave the Communists credit for having ended the war and ethnic carnage and for having driven out the Nazis and their collaborators. This accorded the Communists great prestige among the Jews. However, they used this credit up rather quickly because the post‐1946 sweeping nationalisation left only small‐scale crafts and trades in private hands and many Jews were made bereft of their professions.
Many who had joined the Partisans during the war also joined the Communist Party and became fervent Communists after the war. When new Jewish leaders were elected they had no need to claim that they had co‐operated with the authorities: they had become Party members during the war.
So far at least there is no proof that Jewish organisations were under the surveillance of the secret police. Nevertheless, it is clear that a certain degree of self‐censorship was present in Jewish circles, if for no other reason than that self‐censorship is a characteristic of authoritarian regimes. On the other hand, many Jews were expressing their traditionally undoubted loyalty to the government. After the war most of the Jewish Communists returned to their old professions with only a minority remaining professional politicians.
The Case of Moša Pijade
Moša Pijade (1890-1957), a painter, journalist and brilliant intellectual, was one of the leading figures of the pre‐war Communist Party. In 1925 he was arrested for illegally publishing the journal Komunist and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Owing to his courageous conduct in court and in prison, he became one of the most popular and distinguished figures of the Yugoslav Communist movement, both at home and abroad. It is no coincidence that after the war he was the most prominent Jew in the Party‐state hierarchy. But he was more of an ideologist than a political activist; his most important activity, given his knowledge of foreign languages, was international politics, particularly the Peace Conference in Paris, where he was deputy head of the Yugoslav delegation. When the delegation head, the Slovene Edvard Kardelj, returned to Yugoslavia, he was replaced by Pijade. Until the early 1960s Yugoslav Communism was anational: many Communists were stricter with their own nation in order to show their Communist credentials.
While regarding himself first and foremost as a Serb, Pijade was not ashamed of his Jewish origins. According to the Jewish writer Menachem Shelah, Pijade said he sympathised with Zionist revolutionary activities. This may be partly true since before the Second World War Yugoslav Communists had intensive contacts with a number of left‐wing Zionist organisations.
Pijade attended the ceremony for the restoration of the synagogue in Belgrade. His family, particularly his sister, cherished Jewish tradition and customs. He was never in the top circle of policy‐makers but he was one of perhaps ten second‐ranking Party-state activists. When Đilas was accused of liberalism in 1954, thrown out of the Communist Party and sentenced to prison, Pijade was one of his strongest critics.
Pijade’s Jewish extraction was by no means a secret. For example, when, following the liberation of the city in autumn 1944, the Party Central Committee directed him to attend the thanksgiving service in the Orthodox church in Belgrade, ‘it was recalled, with laughter, that Pijade was Jewish, but that did not matter, since he was not representing a religion but the state’.
In a recently published book Ari Kerkkänen describes Pijade as one who ‘played the role of intermediary between the Jewish leadership and the Yugoslav authorities’, adding that he was ‘the mainstay of the Jewish leadership’. It is very likely that Albert Vajs, the President of the Jewish Communities, did approach Pijade if he required some service, but one should not forget that other Jews, apart from those who were in the leadership, had all kinds of opportunities to approach the highest‐ranking officials. For example, General Stjepan Steiner was Tito’s personal doctor from 1943 to 1946. Had there been any need, he could easily have asked Tito to intercede in a certain matter if necessary. But Steiner says there was never any need to do so.
According to Kerkkänen, it was due to Pijade that the Yugoslav authorities permitted all Jews who wished to do so to emigrate to Israel in 1948-49. This is not so: this decision resulted from a foreign policy which had become increasingly independent at a time when Yugoslavia had grown politically distant from the USSR. It was Tito’s personal decision to let the Jews go after the foundation of the state of Israel; the emigration of the Jews to Israel was a strategic decision that Pijade could not have influenced. Finally, only those who were employed in the army or in the state services were prohibited from emigrating. The first group of Yugoslav Jews left for Israel in late 1948, while most emigrated in 1949.
The Jews in Public Life
Many other Jews became distinguished politicians and professionals too, the Jews being clearly over‐represented in comparison with other nations. Leon Geršković (1910-92) was a member of Ha‐Shomer Ha‐Tsair in the early 1930s then a member of the Communist Party and a Partisan. After the war he held many important posts, both in the central government in Belgrade and in the Croatian government in Zagreb. Aleksandar Goldštajn (born 1912) was President of the Supreme Commercial Court in Belgrade, a university professor in Zagreb and subsequently a member of the Yugoslav (Croatian) Academy of Arts and Sciences. Nisim Albahari was a minister of the Bosnian government and occupied other important positions. Emerik Blum was General Manager of Energoinvest, the biggest company in Bosnia and Herzegovina (with $800 million annual exports in the 1980s) and mayor of Sarajevo – he was often said to be the only mayor of Sarajevo who had been born in the city. General Izidor Papo was a leading cardiologist in Yugoslavia. Lavoslav Singer (1901-80), for many years President of the Jewish Community of Zagreb (1951-78), was President of the Supreme Court of Croatia. Slavko Šajber/Scheiber (1925-2003) was a prominent Party official and President of the Football Association of Yugoslavia. He became widely known when he sought to eradicate corruption in football in the late 1970s. Although never active in the Jewish community, he never concealed his Jewish origins. The publicist and publisher Slavko Goldstein (born 1928) was President of the Jewish Community of Zagreb (1986-90) and the first president (1989-90) of the first non‐Communist party in Croatia, the Croatian Social Liberal Party.
That no official or state‐supported anti‐Semitism existed in socialist Yugoslavia is due to many factors. A crucial factor was, of course, the attitude of Tito himself. In earlier years he had been employed in the workshop of a Jew by the name of Filip Baum. When he moved to the village of Veliko Trojstvo near Bjelovar, 90 km northeast of Zagreb, he was employed by another Jew. While he was working underground in Zagreb he held meetings, and often spent the night in, the flat of Beno Stein (1890-1941), a distinguished doctor and intellectual who ran a well‐known intellectual circle. One of his most important underground contacts was Terka Richtmann, the sister of the prominent leftist intellectual, the physicist Zvonimir Richtmann. Tito remained on good terms with all of these people, not forgetting the survivors of the Holocaust when he became president. Most important of all is that Tito was a sincere partisan of national and religious equality and detested any kind of hate speech and bigotry.
The Yugoslav government also permitted Jews to pass through Croatian ports secretly en route to Palestine. The leaderships of Jewish communities knew of this, and so did possibly some other Jews, but it was not a publicised fact. Many Jews from Central Europe were transferred to Israel through Yugoslav ports.
The break with the Soviet bloc in 1948 did not affect the position of the Jews any more or less than the position of other minorities. Pijade and other Jews (for example, the general and professor of cardiology Dr Stjepan Steiner) sided with Tito and avoided the fate of many so‐called inform‐bureauists (pro‐Stalinists) from all over Yugoslavia who were imprisoned or killed. A number of young Jews were jailed not because they sympathised with Stalin, but because in those difficult times anyone suspected of any kind of political or social misbehaviour was imprisoned. Their Jewish nationality played no role in this.
Ženi Lebl (born 1927) survived in occupied Serbia under a false name, participated in the underground anti‐fascist movement, was deported to a work camp in the Reich, and was released in April 1945. In that same month she was imprisoned for telling a joke about Tito and given one year of ‘socially useful work with imprisonment’. She was released after two and half years of imprisonment in five prisons or concentration camps. The painter Alfred Pal (born 1920), the journalist Eva Grlić-Israel (born 1920), both from Zagreb, Eva Nahir from Čakovec (northern Croatia), who now lives in the Shaar Ha’amakim kibbutz in Israel, and many others were imprisoned or held in camps.
The restoration of Jewish life in Yugoslavia faced numerous obstacles. Most people had been deprived of their property. The beginnings of post‐war Jewish life were facilitated by assistance from international Jewish organisations which provided assistance to the Yugoslav Jewish community from 1944 onwards. Medicines and food were sent, this aid subsequently becoming systematic financial assistance for the old and disabled, war orphans and other needy Jews in Yugoslavia. The most substantial assistance was provided by the JOINT (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), whose first post‐war representative in Yugoslavia, Frederick White, was awarded a high decoration by Tito in 1950. In addition to the JOINT, until the 1960s the Federation of Jewish Communities maintained contact with many Jewish organisations, among others the Claims Conference (Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany) and Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. In 1961 the JOINT and the Claims Conference provided 90 per cent of the funds required for the activities of the Federation of the Jewish Communities of Yugoslavia.
There was also a neutralisation of identity and historical consciousness, at least temporarily. In November 1945 ‘at a meeting of the work committee of the Jewish Youth, it was decided that the Active Committee of Jewish Youth will resign and will no longer exist as an organisation. As Jewish youth have opportunities for active work in other anti‐fascist organisations, they have no need of a separate organisation’. It seems that they quickly changed their mind because the activities of the Jewish youth clubs were renewed in 1946-47. On the other hand, the annual session of the Khevra Kadisha (burial society) of Zagreb took place in February 1947. Changes to the society’s rules were even made, but this did not help. By the end of the year, after exactly 120 years, the Khevra Kadisha had ceased to exist.
The work of other Jewish societies was extinguished too. The Društvo čovječnosti (Charitable Society) originally Humanitaetsverein (which may be considered only partly Jewish), whose founder Jacques Epstein and many distinguished members throughout the decades were Jewish, marked its 100th anniversary quietly in early 1946. Its last pre‐war president, Dr Milan Schwartz, appeared at the celebration and received special acknowledgement. The Public Welfare Department of the Municipal People’s Committee decided that the society was to be abolished and that the department would take over its property. The board of management held its last meeting at the beginning of 1947. The society was abolished in accordance with the then‐current view that the state, or societies under its direct control, must organise welfare and charity work. An even more important reason, which was mentioned by no one at the time, was the desire to nationalise the society’s property.
All these cases describe the attitude of the Communist government towards the Jews. Although these were all obvious injustices, the Jews found it easier to accept them because they were not regarded as differing from other ‘bourgeois’ elements, as they had been four years previously. The survivors were happy to have saved their lives and, by participating in the Partisan movement, they had adopted, or become closer to, Communist ideas. Political conformism too played an important role. Being over‐represented in the Partisan movement and in the national liberation war, they automatically accepted some Communist ideas. Nevertheless, relations were complex because after the war the authorities regarded as ‘bourgeois’ members of the Jewish community who attempted to renew their pre‐war comfortable lifestyle, with the attendant supposition that they were potential enemies of the people.
The new Communist authorities invalidated all Ustaša decisions and members of the Jewish community regained possession of all their movable and unmovable property. At the end of the war the Jews were given back some of the property found after the Nazis and their collaborators left. Many possessions had been plundered, or were lost forever, but some had been preserved. After the war several hundred art works were stored in the Modern Gallery in Zagreb. In March 1947 Štefanija Vinski received 25 paintings from the gallery, including a number by distinguished Croatian artists – one by Ljubo Babić (1890-1974) and two by Fedor Vaić (1910-87). Towards the end of August 1945 a building in the heart of Zagreb (Mesnička 1) was returned to Štefanija Vinski. She and her sons also regained possession of four plots of land in the elite Tuškanac district of Zagreb of a total area of 3,748 m2. She also acquired the property of her mother Ilka Aleksander, who perished in Auschwitz in 1942. Mira Reich‐Vitali (née Weiss) regained possession of two houses in the centre of the town (Maksimirska and Palmotićeva Streets) which had been the property of her mother Ivka Weiss.
But there were exceptions. The District People’s Court in Zagreb took the view that ‘property should be returned only to those who are in Yugoslavia […] The District Attorney’s Office in Zagreb appealed demanding the repeal of all court decisions whereby property was returned to individuals who are not in the country. The stand taken by the Supreme Court is unknown.’
When Marko Weiss returned to the town of Virovitica (110 km northeast of Zagreb) a local tailor offered to make him a suit out of material Weiss had given him prior to his deportation four years earlier. The local authorities told Weiss to inform them if he saw any of his property in the town and in this manner he regained possession of his typewriter.
The Jews were quickly deprived of most of their real estate; in other words, their property was nationalised sooner or later. In some cases the previous owners were able to retain part of the real estate for their ‘own’ use. This meant that the property was temporarily transferred to the state, with management ceded to the Department of House Management of the State Bank of Croatia. The former owner could become ‘temporary manager’, but his income was limited to 2,000 dinars a month, which was no more than a good monthly salary. Nevertheless, the building in Petrinjska Street 7, in the centre of Zagreb and near the Zagreb Jewish Community, previously the property of the Khevra Kadisha, was not nationalised until January 1959. This was the largest building owned by the Jewish community in Zagreb.
Albert Vajs, President of the Federation of Yugoslav Jewish Communities, said in 1958:
Anti‐Semitism does not exist today. If there are – rarely – statements by some individuals that have a minimal anti‐Semitic character, such cases are always prosecuted by the Yugoslav judicial system in accordance with the law. This is because every manifestation of national and racial hatred is a criminal act. What is more important, public and social life in Yugoslavia is orientated towards the cultivation of brotherhood and unity.
Or, as Lavoslav Kadelburg, Vice‐President of the Federation, said at a plenary session of the Executive Board of the World Jewish Congress: ‘Anti‐Semitism neither exists nor can exist’ because in Yugoslavia ‘the national question has been solved and this is one of the corner‐stones of society’. Although these statements have a ring of propaganda, they do reflect reality. Anti‐Semitic incidents did occur from time to time, but were neither registered nor punished. Anti‐Semitism certainly did not exist in the ranks of the Communist Party.
Similarly the London‐based Jewish Echo wrote: ‘Unlike the sad picture of Jewish life behind the iron curtain, in the brave country of Communist Yugoslavia the Jews enjoy full religious and national freedom. The small Jewish community is very active. It reflects credit on Yugoslavia and her leader Tito, one of the great statesmen of our time.’ These statements too represent reality despite their tinge of propaganda. In fact, from time to time there were anti‐Semitic incidents: Laslo Sekelj states that in northern Serbia, in Vojvodina (near the Hungarian border), there occurred 12 minor verbal assaults against Jews between 1945 and 1967.
The attitude of the Yugoslav Communist authorities towards the Jewish community differed profoundly from that in other socialist (or Communist) countries. There was never any question mark over the civic equality of Jews. Moreover, one could often feel a certain sympathy, which helped in everyday contacts. Some Jews were accused of being a ‘bourgeois element’ or of being ‘capitalists’, but this was never seen as an accusation against the Jewish community as a whole. Many of these ‘bourgeois elements’ left the country in 1948 and later so there was even less opposition to government measures. No Yugoslav Jewish community was never suspected of having anything to do with these elements. In the entire post‐war period contacts with Jewish organisations abroad were stable. The JOINT was awarded a high Yugoslav decoration in 1950. The Yugoslav anti‐Zionist policy began as a reaction to the Suez war of 1956. Outbursts of ‘anti‐Zionism’, which easily evolved into a specific variety of anti‐Semitism, did not occur until after Yugoslavia severed diplomatic relations with Israel in 1967 following the Six‐Day War, due to the strong ties with many Arab countries in the non‐aligned movement. At least half of the highest Yugoslav officials opposed such a drastic step, but nothing could be done given that it was Tito’s personal decision.
Some time after the Six‐Day War Ivan Šibl, a high‐ranking Communist official and hero of the anti‐fascist struggle who never denied his Jewish ancestry, called on some ten distinguished Zagreb Jews who worked in the media to condemn Israeli air attacks on neighbouring Arab countries. They refused, insisting that Arab terrorism be condemned too. In the end no statement was issued. At the same time, those Jews who refused to issue the statement encountered no difficulties. As no opposition to the will of the Communist Party was tolerated, Šibl’s failure to execute its will shows that even after 1967 the Jews in Yugoslavia enjoyed a degree of liberty which was not comparable with the situation obtaining in other Communist countries.