NIŠ (Lat. Naissus ), town and important communications center in Serbia. Jews lived in Niš apparently from Roman times but there are no documents to confirm their presence before the 17th century. The disappearance of Jacob, a wool trader, was noted in 1651. Visits by shadarim (emissaries from Palestine) are on record for the second half of the 18th century. The rabbis who served in Niš were Levi Jitzhak Yerushalmi, Jacob de Mayo, Rahamim Naftali Gedalya, Moshe Shaban, and Abraham Daniti. In 1900 the town's Jewish population numbered 800, their number gradually diminishing through emigration. A Zionist group called Zion joined the world movement in 1902.
The Jews were engaged mainly in the textile trade and in moneychanging; some were artisans, while a few were manual laborers. A prayer house was built in 1695 and a synagogue in 1909. Local spiritual leaders consulted the rabbis of Belgrade on halakhic matters. The Jews of Niš participated in Serbia's wars and suffered casualties in them. In 1921 there were 547 Jews in the town. In the 1930s there was a good deal of communal activity, including a choir and Zionist youth groups like Ha-Shomer ha-Tza'ir and, later, also Betar.
In 1939 Yugoslav Prime Minister Cvetkovic, a native of the town, offered to arrange exit visas to Turkey for the Jews of Niš, but the Jews chose to remain despite the danger signs. In 1940 they numbered 430, increasing to 970 in 1941 with the arrival of refugees from Germany, Austria, and Poland. The Germans arrived in April 1941. In October 1941 the Jewish men were imprisoned in the "Red Cross" camp at Bubanj. In February 1942 several inmates escaped from the camp after attacking the guards, and in retaliation several prisoners, most of them Jews, were shot. Two days later, more Jews were shot. In the spring of 1942 all women and children were arrested and after a few days in the "Red Cross" camp they were sent to the Sajmiste (Semlin Judenlager) death camp. In 1952 there were 25 Jews in the city. The community was not renewed. The synagogue was used as a concert hall.
Bulletin de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle, 28 (1963), 147–8; Zločini fašističkih okupatora … u Jugoslaviji (1952), 38–40. add. bibliography: Z. Loker (ed.), Pinkas ha-Kehillot – Yugoslavia (1988); Ž. Lebl, Do "konačnog rešenja" – Jevreji u Srbiji, Belgrade, 2003, 65–119; Dva stoljeća židovske povijesti i kulture u Zagrebu i Hrvatskoj (1998), issued by Zagreb Jewish community.
[Simon Marcus /
Zvi Loker (2nd ed.)]