Visiting the Jews of Croatia

ICJW President Robyn Lenn OAM visited the Union of Jewish Women, in Zagreb in November 2017. The Union of Jewish Women is the oldest organization in the Jewish community, established in year 1887, and they were active during World War II, trying to save children in the camps by sending packages of food and medicine. After a long break during the Communist era, the Union of Jewish Women of Croatia, based in the city of Zagreb, reopened in 1991, following the disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Today there are approximately 1,200 people in the whole of Croatia who identify as Jews. Our affiliate operates in four cities: Zagreb, Split, Osijek and Rajieka. In Zagreb they meet in the Jewish community building, which also contains a small synagogue, a Jewish museum and kindergarten, for regular meetings of their literature club.

Around 100 Jews live in Osijek, where the UJWC group runs Passover Seders, Israeli dancing classes and a Cheder for the children. They also organize an annual commemoration at the Dakovo Concentration Camp Cemetery, which is attended by survivors from Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia and Germany.

As President of the Union for many years, Dr. Melita Švob, a retired scientist in her eighties, has taken on the task of supporting the remaining Jews of Croatia, who are largely Holocaust survivors, as her purpose in life. She works to secure financial reparations for them, and to take them on excursions around the country.

Every year since 2007, Melita has organized a winter gathering for Jewish women in Opatija, a resort on the Adriatic coast, as part of the Café Europe program sponsored by the Claims Conference. They enjoy excursions, lectures, concerts, and even dancing. This winter they brought their photos to create an exhibition of the history of Jewish life in Croatia, which was displayed in Zagreb. Melita has also been active in collecting the names of those who perished during the Holocaust and submitting them to the archive in Yad Vashem.

Robyn joined a party of UJWC members from Zagreb and Osijek on a two-day bus tour of the Zagorje region of Croatia, talking to them about their lives and their communities, and visiting various castles and museums on route. She made a presentation to Melita to express the group’s appreciation of her hard work on their behalf.