History of the Jews in Kosovo
The history of the Jewish community in Kosovo largely mirrors that of Serbia, except during the Second World War, when Kosovo, as part of Kingdom of Albania, was under Italian control and later under German control. The other exception is following the Kosovo War of 1999, when the province began its political separation from Serbia.
Prior to the Ottoman Turkish conquest of the region, documentation on the Jews of the Balkans was sketchy. The Jewish communities of the Balkans were boosted in the 15th and 16th centuries by the arrival of Jewish refugees fleeing the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire welcomed the Jewish refugees into his empire. Jews became involved in trade between the various provinces in the Ottoman Empire, becoming especially important in the salt trade.
In the aftermath of World War I, Serbia merged with Montenegro, and then united with the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs to form the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, which was soon renamed Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The largely Albanian-populated Kosovo was included within Serbia. At the time, some 500 Jews resided in Kosovo.
The 1921 population census for the territories comprising modern-day Kosovo listed 439,010 inhabitants:
World War II
In 1941, Kosovo was incorporated into the Italian-ruled Greater Albania, and the local Jewish population was protected from the Nazi-led Holocaust. In July 1943, when Italy left the war, the Germans took control of Kosovo and recruited the Skanderbeg Division of Albanian collaborators to defeat Yugoslav partisans and exterminate the Jews. In 1944, communist partisans recaptured Kosovo from Albania and made it part of the Democratic Federal Yugoslavia.
The Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia was formed in the aftermath of World War II to coordinate the Jewish communities of post-war Yugoslavia and to lobby for the right of Jews to immigrate to Israel. The Federation was headquartered in Belgrade, the capital of the post-war Yugoslavia.
More than half of the surviving Yugoslav Jews chose to immigrate to Israel after World War II. The Jewish community of Serbia, and indeed of all constituent republics in Yugoslavia, was maintained by the unifying power of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Yugoslavia. However, this power ended with the dissolution of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
The Jews of Serbia lived relatively peacefully in Yugoslavia between World War II and the 1990s. According to the 1991 census, there were 112 Jews in Kosovo, though it is possible that there have been more. However, the end of the Cold War saw the breakup of Yugoslavia, and wars in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The war for Kosovo began in the 1990s, when Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević began consolidating power in Kosovo and the Kosovo Liberation Army waged a separatist insurgency. In 1999, international forces expelled Serb forces from Kosovo. During the conflict, the 50 remaining Jews in the capital city of Pristina fled to Serbia, with which they had close cultural and linguistic ties.
Currently there are very few Jews in Kosovo, according to Čeda Prlinčević, the leader of Pristina's small Jewish community.
The lone Jewish community in Prizren speaks Albanian and Turkish, and has remained for the time being. This community numbers around 50 members, divided among three families. There are no Jewish schools. Unemployment is prevalent, and support for the community comes from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. There has been some amount of intermarriage with the surrounding Albanian community. The father of Votim Demiri, Prizren's Jewish community leader, is Albanian. Israel has good relations with the Kosovars, with the Israeli government sending massive humanitarian aid during and after the 1998-99 war with Slobodan Milošević's regime.
Notes and references
|a.||^ The original Turkish-language copy of the census is stored in Istanbul's archives. However, in 1972 the Sarajevo Institute of Middle Eastern Studies translated the census and published an analysis of it Kovačević Mr. Ešref, Handžić A., Hadžibegović H. Oblast Brankovića - Opširni katastarski popis iz 1455., Orijentalni institut, Sarajevo 1972. Subsequently others have covered the subject as well such as Vukanović Tatomir, Srbi na Kosovu, Vranje, 1986.|
- Virtual Jewish History Tour - Serbia and Montenegro
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- Jews of the Former Yugoslavia After the Holocaust
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