The Balkan Sephardim: Stories from a World Destroyed at the Nick

February 18, 2018

In 1492, when the Jews of Spain-the Sephardim--were expelled from the land they had lived in for a thousand years, they and their descendants sought refuge in many lands - the new world (like in Charleston and Savannah), South America, the Netherlands, and all along the Mediterranean. In the 1500s some 200,000 settled in the Ottoman's recently conquered Balkan territories. In what became modern-day Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia, Jews lived alongside their Muslim and Christian neighbors. For 400 years, they never lived in a ghetto. There was never a pogrom against them. But as the Ottomans withdrew and the ugly 20th century took shape, they were marked for destruction. By 1945 the vast majority of them had been murdered, and only Bulgaria managed to protect its Jews, while deporting, en masse, the Jews of Macedonia and northern Greece.

Then in 1992, 50 years after the massacre of the Balkan Sephardim, and 500 years after they had been expelled from Spain, a band of Holocaust survivors in Sarajevo turned their synagogue into a humanitarian aid agency during the Bosnian-Serb siege of their city. Who worked there? Jews and Muslims, Serbs and Croats.