There is a saying about Bosnia and Hercegovina today: One state, two entities, three constituent peoples, four traditional religions and thousands of problems. Beside Muslims, Roman Catholic and Serbian Orthodox Christians, Jews are among Sarajevo's native citizens. The first Sephardic Jews arrived in the 16th century, expelled from Spain, and were granted certain rights within the Ottoman Empire. The Jews of Sarajevo lived among other inhabitants, as traders and craftsmen. Throughout the centuries, the Sephardic Jews maintained their traditions - as well as their language, Ladino, still understood by older community members today.
Once, the Jews of Sarajevo constituted one fifth of the population. Before WWII there were five public synagogues. Today the community in Sarajevo is counting 700 members, out of a total of around 1100 in all of the country.
Elma Softic-Kaunitz, secretary general of the community: "Things are... OK, we are trying to do our best to organize community life, which means to organize different social activities but also religious activities. We have La Benevolencija, which is a Jewish cultural, educational and humanitarian organization."
La Benevolencija not only promotes the Sephardic heritage of Sarajevo, it also played an important role during the siege of Sarajevo 1992-1995. Evacuation convoys and mail services were negotiated, and food and medical help were distributed throughout the war to those in need, not only community members. Today, a decade after the peace treaty, La Benevolencija visits the elderly, organizes education and micro-loans to help start small businesses, and gather cross-ethnic women's and children's groups. Making the young take part in community life is also of great importance.
Jakob Finci: The Jewish problem here is that we are an ageing community. In the last three years there were over forty funerals, but only one new born baby. That's our problem.
Beside the problems, Jakob Finci stresses the good relations to the other religious groups, and the fact that there is no problem with antisemitism. The Sarajevo Synagogue, housing the community center, is greeting its visitors with an open door.
"We think it is the best way to preserve this normality, because otherwise, as soon as you put two policemen, surveillance, checkups and so on, everyone will be suspicious. No we are not afraid, we are living with open doors, with our neighbours. That's the best way to defend ourselves, we think now. Let's hope that we are not wrong."
So, well incorporated but not assimilated, the Jewish Community in Sarajevo takes part in the efforts to make their capital, and their country, develop, for those who have stayed - and for those who may come back.Listen to the report:
With between half a million and six hundred thousand Jews, France is home to Europe’s largest Jewish community. A majority live in Marseille in the South East of the country, in Strasbourg in the North East, and in Paris. For Network Europe, Radio France International’s Nick Champeaux went to several Jewish neighborhoods in the French capital, and filed this report.
The Nazi regime and the atrocities of World War II almost wiped out Jewish life in Germany. But, the number of Jews has been steadily increasing since the early 1990s, mainly a result of many Jews from the former Soviet Union moving to Germany. Comprehensive education for rabbis is once again available in Germany. This year, for the first time since the war, three Rabbis were ordained in Dresden. Germany's Jewish communities are awakening to new life. Kirsten Rulf visited one of them as he settled into his new job.
The jewish community in Sweden dates back to several hundreds years ago and the Jewish migration has had several huge waves. Gaby Katz from Radio Sweden has visited the Jewish Museum in Stockholm and they special exhibitions portraying Jews. She investigated the place of the Jewish minority in Sweden.
Romania belatedly acknowledged its role in the Holocaust. It was only in 2004, that a committee for the investigation of the Holocaust crimes published an official report according to which between 280,000 and 380,000 Jews were exterminated by the Romanian army in the war zones of Bassarabia, Bukovina and Transnistria. These are the highest numbers in a country other than Germany. Before 2004, there was very little talk of the scale of Romania’s contribution to the Holocaust. But the last 3 years has seen a lot of campaigning aimed at making Romanians aware of those crimes.
Berte is a Jewish holocaust survivor. In 1943, in Nazi occupied Holland, Berte was rounded up with her parents by the Nazis and sent to Camp Westerbok in the netherlands and then on to Bergen Belsen, the notorious concentration camp in Germany, where she spent the rest of the war. When she was freed by the Russian army in 1945 she was 7 years old. Last month she and 69 other Dutch survivors returned to the site of the camp to finally inaugurate a Dutch memorial. Radio Netherlands' Jonathan Groubert went with her...
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