THE DESTRUCTION OF SEPHARDIC JEWRY IN THE BALKANS DURING WORLD WAR II
Relevant Websites
 

The infamous makeshift concentration camp in Belgrade where thousands of Jewish men were shot and where gas vans were loaded with children and women.

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A comprehensive website with links to videos and testimonies.

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Films to Watch

Shown in six international film festivals. Life in this most Sephardic city in the world, its destruction, and how they rebuilt their lives as best they could.

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Five international film festivals. A wealthy Sephardic family. The German invasion. A Catholic priest who took them in. Used yearly in 74 schools in Serbia.

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Our most popular film—by far. The history of the Balkans Sephardim, narrated in Spanish with English subtitles.

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Books to Read
 
The Great Cauldron: A History of Southeastern Europe, 
by Marie-Janine Calic

A welcome addition to our knowledge base on the region. One of the leading historians on the Balkans, Calic has produced an impressive door-stopper (724 pages) of a book, taking us on a journey through the sweep of history, from the Byzantines through the Ottomans and into the last century. Indeed, Calic worked for the International Criminal Court in The Hague during the Yugoslav trials and teaches Balkan history at Ludwig Maximillian University in Munich. A positive review by Mary Elizabeth Walters in Humanities and Social Sciences Online.

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Sarajevo, 1941-1945: Muslims, Christians and Jews in Hitler’s Europe, by Emily Greble 

An outgrowth of her PhD thesis, Greble’s unique study delves deep into the archives to show us how Serbs, Bosniak Muslims, Jews, and local Croats all got along, and didn’t, during the Second World War. Her book shows us how little regard local Croats held for their fascist leaders in Zagreb, who, at the end of the war, turned their weapons on local citizenry.

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The Use of Man, by Aleksadar Tišma, translated by Bernard Johnson

Aleksandar Tišma’s father was a Serbian peasant, his mother a middle class Jew. He was attending high school during the pogrom carried out by the Hungarian police in January, 1942, escaped and joined the partisans. Later he became an editor and writer and his best known novel is The Use of Man recently republished and translated from the Serbian by Bernard Johnson. The book centers around a group of high school friends on the eve of the war, and what happened to them.

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Drndić, who died in 2018, was a Croatian novelist and playwright. Most of her translated work revolves around memory and Holocaust. Trieste was nominated for several literary prizes, Belladonna is her last novel. The protagonist is Andreas Ban, a psychologist who no longer practices, a writer who no longer writes. But he is visited by what he witnessed in darker times. A difficult but rewarding read. Michael Levy’s review in World Literature Today.

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Serbian Jewish novelist Filip David’s only novel translated into English is The House of Remembering and Forgettingtranslated by Christina Pribichevich Zoric. Born during the Holocaust, David’s novel tells of a father squeezing his son Albert Weisz through a hole in a train headed for the death camps. The boy escapes, finds shelter, grows up, and spends his life haunted by the traces of memory he finds, or thinks he finds. 

 

David, like Tisma, spoke out against the Serbian regime of Slobodan Milošević; Tišma exiled himself to France for a while, David remained at home. An insightful review of the novel by Ellen Battersby can be found in The LA Review of Books.

The House of Remembering and Forgetting

When recommending books on Yugoslavia, we never fail to recommend David Albahari’s Götz and Meyer, translated by Ellen Elias-Bursać. In this slim, stream-of-consciousness, single-paragraph novel, a Belgrade teacher muses about what the two SS men who drove the infamous gas van talked about all day. Harrowing and darkly ironic. Well-praised all around. Here is Nicholas Lezard’s review in The Guardian.

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Salonica: City of Ghosts, by Mark Mazower

One of the leading historians on the Balkans, as well as the Third Reich, Mazower brings his prodigious research talents to his history of this city of Jews, Muslims, Greeks and Bulgarians and how history dealt it one cruel blow after another in the twentieth century. Jan Morris, surely the greatest travel writer of the twentieth century, praises the book in her review in The Guardian.

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Jewish Salonica: Between the Ottoman Empire and Modern Greece, by Devin Naar

A seriously researched and beautifully written study of the last years when the city was, for all intents and purposes, an open port only marginally ruled by the Ottomans, through the time when Salonica became Thessaloniki and was folded into the modern Greek state. Here’s an insightful review we found.

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Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey through the Twentieth Century, by Sarah Abrevaya Stein

Sarah Abrevaya Stein is a prodigious researcher into Balkan Sephardic history and her latest book is Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey through the Twentieth Century. Published in 2019, The Economist called it one of the best books of year. Stein takes us along as she finds thousands of letters written by the Levy family of Salonica and follows their path to Rio, Johannesburg, Manchester, and Bombay. Well-reviewed in Kirkus.

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