ZEMUN (Ger. Semlin ), town on the Sava river, opposite Belgrade; part of Yugoslavia from 1918. Under Austrian rule Zemun was part of the so-called military area and subject to special regulations. It was therefore difficult for Jews to gain a foothold there, but once they succeeded in settling, they enjoyed relative safety in this "protected doorway to the Balkans."
After the Austrian conquest of *Belgrade in 1717, some Jews from Austria and Germany settled there, but when Belgrade fell to the Ottoman Turks again in 1739, a group of 20 Jewish families fled to Zemun. A small but lively community was thus created inside Croatia, which was exclusively administered by Austrians in view of frequent wars and bargaining with the Turks. In 1746 the Judengemeinde was officially recognized, but Maria Theresa granted the first known written privilege to a Jew (Raphael Salomon) to live permanently in Zemun only in 1753. A few years later there was a Judengasse (Jewish street, quarter), synagogue, and Jewish school. Jews paid a contribution of 150 florins to the authorities and were goldsmiths, barrel makers, glassworkers, ironmongers, etc. They also traded with Austria; as merchants, they were in an unfavorable position compared with the Austro-Germans, Serbs, and Wallachians (they were forbidden to sell hides or spirits, and the Serbian merchants' guild submitted a petition to the authorities to limit Jewish trade to scrap iron only). In view of their protected situation and due to the commercial importance of Zemun – despite restrictions – the community enjoyed a rare opportunity in being within "military areas," which were generally inaccessible to Jews. In 1772 a decree was issued permitting unlimited Jewish settlement –a striking proof of their usefulness. By 1773, however, the decree was revoked and residence was restricted for a long time to the descendants of the original Jewish settlers. Although checked in its growth, this first Croatian-based community – with its semiautonomous status – played an important role among Yugoslav Jewry.
After the Austrian occupation of Belgrade (1789), some Jews fled first to Zemun, where they found temporary asylum, and later went to Hungary. During an earlier siege of nearby Belgrade, many Jews were robbed and left homeless. On this occasion an aid committee was organized in Zemun and help was received from Hungary (Szeged, Budapest, Sombor, Baja), Croatia (Osijek, Varaždin), Transylvania (Temesvar), Austria (Vienna), and Germany (Leipzig). At the end of the 18th century there were 157 Jews in Zemun. In 1804 Jews manufactured ammunition for Serbian rebels ("first uprising" under Karageorge), and in 1806 Jewish craftsmen also did the same for the Turks, though under duress and surveillance. Almoslino, a Jew, was the Austrian diplomatic agent to the victorious knyaz (prince) Karageorge. During the first half of the 19th century 30 new families were granted rights to settle in Zemun, but others migrated to Bosnia. In 1862 the Zemun magistrate asked the military authorities to permit more Jews to settle within the city walls in order to promote trade and replace the war-torn city of Belgrade as a main trading center. Jews were still subjected to a special tax until the abolition of "military zone status" in 1871; in 1881 the "free city of Zemun" abolished all restrictions on Jewish settlers and was attached to the kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia. In 1918 Zemun became part of Yugoslavia
From 1825 to 1843 Judah Ḥai *Alkalai, the famous rabbi and precursor of Zionism, was community leader (ḥakham) of Zemun. Among the first group of "privileged Jews" were the ancestors of Theodor *Herzl; his grandfather, Simon Loew Herzl, was a follower of Rabbi Alkalai. He was imprisoned in 1849 for alleged Hungarian sympathies, but (according to the Belgrade City Archives, document no. 552) was released at the community's request in order to celebrate the Jewish holidays. Herzl's grandfather and grandmother (Rebecca, née Billitz) were buried at the Zemun cemetery, while his father Jacob, who was also born in Zemun, moved to Budapest.
In 1941 the community's 500 Jews and its institutions were quickly annihilated. Most of them perished in the barracks of the saymishte (fairground), which were prepared for an international exhibition. This was also used as a detention camp for Croatian Jews and others (see *Yugoslavia). Among those who were murdered was the writer and composer Erich (Elisha) Samlaić.
azdj, 23 (1859), 276–7; 26 (1862), 585–6; H. Urbah, in: Jevrejski Glas, 13:30 (1940), 4–59; G. Schwarz, in: Ommanut, 4:10 (1940); G. Diamant, A zsidók története Horvátországban (1942); L. Ćelap, in: Jevrejski almanah (1957/58), 59–71.