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Skoplje

SKOPLJE

SKOPLJE (Macedonian Skopje ; Turkish Üsküb ; Heb. אישקספיא in Mss.), capital city of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In view of its favorable trade situation and the fact of Jewish settlement at nearby *Monastir, it is likely that Jews already lived in Skoplje during Roman times. Documentary mention of Jews there occurs during the time of the medieval Serbian empire. The first synagogue known to exist dates to 1366. A charter (povelja) of Czar Stephan Dushan speaks of lands leased to Jews, and another one refers to Jews as "possessions of the Empire," granted to a monastery. In the 16th century, Jews expelled from Spain arrived and settled, and were joined in the 17th century by numerous Marranos from Holland and elsewhere. There was possibly a Jewish cemetery in the 15th century, but one is definitely known of in the 16th century, when a cortijo ("communal yard") existed in 1548. In reality it was a small Jewish quarter consisting of two-story houses built around the kortiz (court-patio in local Judeo-Spanish). The private courtyards contained workshops of tanners and smiths and storage rooms for wool which was exported to Ioannina, Greece, and Venice, as well as home-produced goods.

By the end of the 17th century Skoplje had two distinct synagogues: di abasho (downtown), known as Beth Aron, and di ariva (uptown), known as Beth Yaacov. The town and its Jews suffered from many fires, epidemics, and foreign occupations. In 1689 Skoplje had 60,000 inhabitants, 3,000 of them Jews. In the 18th century Jews were cheese manufacturers, miners, spinners, pumpers, dealers in cotton, wax, guts, etc. During the 19th century there was a great influx of Serbians, who pushed the Jews, Walachians, and Armenians out of the commercial trade. The Jewish community stagnated and its members reverted mainly to money lending and changing, brokerage, and sub-proletarian occupations such as fruit-mongering, street peddling, etc. The Yugoslav regime did not bring any notable change in the economic and social situation of Jews, which was rather backward and pitiful, their number reaching 4,000 by 1940. The pre-Holocaust Skoplje kehillah was a traditionalist Sephardi community, with Judeo-Spanish as the common language – which was even used in some prayers – and a lively Judeo-Spanish folklore.

During the Ottoman and earlier Serbian rules, Jews had to pay a special tax, in addition to the haratch (poll tax). Jewish sources mention a mas ha-begadim (clothes tax for the army), and the gabelle was an internal Jewish duty, an impost (excise) paid to the community for kasher meat. The first of the relatively few known rabbis was Aaron Peraḥyah ha-Kohen. R. Joseph b. Leb of Salonika complained in a responsum of 1560 about the ignorance of Skoplje Jews, sending them a teacher, R. Aaron Avuya, who founded a talmud torah. Later rabbis were Ḥayyim Baruch, Ḥayyim Shabbetai, and Samuel Jacob Kalderon. The kabbalist Nehemiah Ḥiyya Ḥayon, author of Moda'ah Rabbah, taught in Skoplje in 1689. According to some sources, there was a Karaite group in the city for a while, but it disappeared rapidly.

Holocaust Period

In April 1941 Skoplje, and the whole of Yugoslav Macedonia, was occupied by the Germans, who later put their Bulgarian satellites in control. Jews were immediately subjected to humiliations, plundering, and individual murders by German and Bulgarian troops, and Jewish businesses were quickly liquidated. Jewish refugees from Serbia – after the capitulation of Yugoslavia – were sent back north and murdered at Jajinci, near Belgrade. Persecutions and expropriations went on throughout 1942. Following an agreement reached between Danecker and Delev (see *Bulgaria), mass arrests were begun. Jews from Skoplje, together with their brethren gathered in from all over Macedonia – 7,215 in all – were brought to the ill-famed tobacco factory. They were left there without food or sanitary arrangements for four days and between March 22 and March 29 transported to Treblinka. None of them survived. A few Skoplje Jews escaped, spending the war years as prisoners of war in Germany. Some of them, like Zionist leader Joseph Bekhar, reached Israel after the Holocaust. After the war a small Jewish community was reconstructed, almost none of whose members belonged to the prewar kehillah.

In the early years of the 21st century around 40 Jewish families were living in the city, with a prayer house installed in the community's former offices. The cemetery was restored.

bibliography:

Rosanes, Togarmah, 1 (19302), 151; 3 (19382), 74, 124–5; 4 (1935), 33, 149, 264–7; 5 (1938), 47; A. Hananel and E. Eškenazi, Fontes hebraici … terrarum balcanicarum, 2 vols. (1958–60), indexes; D. Ginsberg, in: Omanut, 5 (Zagreb, Jan.–Feb. 1941); Caballero, in: Revista de Occidente, 8 (1930), 365f.; Savez Jevrejskih Opština u Jugoslaviji, "Zločini fašističkih okupatora" (1952), 189–95 and 1957 (with English text, pp. 1–43). add. bibliography: Ž. Lebl, Ge'ut va-Shever (1986); idem, Plima I slom (1990.

[Zvi Loker]

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