JEWISH CULTURAL CENTER WITH SYNAGOGUE
WILL WE MANAGE TO PASS ON THE PRESERVED REMEMBRANCE WITHOUT HATRED TO THE FUTURE GENERATIONS
On the occasion of the new-old initiative of Safet Oručević, director of The Center for Peace and Multiethnic Cooperation Mostar, for the construction of yet another city mark and symbol of the Jewish people
By: Šemsudin Serdarević
When Mr. Safet Oručević, the former mayor of Mostar, launched the initiative, in February of 2000, for the construction of the Jewish Cultural Center with synagogue, which would include mikva – a cult spot for the ritual bathing, was not just a sign of respect for Mostar Jews, it was a sign of special reverence to Jewish fellow townsmen killed in the World War II.
The developments related to special concern for Mostar Jews and Jewish civilian casualties of war began in 1996. when the European Union Administration for Mostar (EUAM) with ardent support and understanding of city government then, allocated the funds for the reconstruction of more than two centuries old, but devastated Jewish cemetry.
It was then the devastated fence wall was reconstructed and the cemetry was thoroughly cleaned.
Under the Star of David
There is an inscription engraved on one of the pillars of the cemetry gates, under the Star of David, which reads:
Under the rule of HRH King Peter II, ˝Hevra Kedoša˝ Association has erected this fence in year 5696. – 1936. administered by Leon Altarac, the chairman
members of the committee: Atijas Jozef, Danon Avram, Fromer Jozef, Kabiljo Albert, eng. Levi Jakob, Papo Alber, Perera Albert. The charter is buried under this memorial plate.
While this memorial plate represents an evidence of the construction of the fence wall, the new memorial plate – erected in 1996. – is evidence of its reconstruction imprinted by EUAM, City of Mostar, JP Komos, JP Vodovod Mostar.
Although over one hundred Mostar Jews, mainly civilians, were victims of the fascist terror and quislings during the Second World War, the memorial was never built.
During the period of the recovery from the recent war cataclysm, mayor of Mostar then, Mr. Safet Oručević decides to carry out the plan of the construction of the memorial at the Jewish cemetry located at the north city entrance. The construction work started in 1997, was completed in less than two years. This was a way of expressing due reverence to the innocent civilian victims of Nazism – a monument stands as an eternal proof of remembrance, awareness of the sacrifice magnitude, and an expression of sympathy for the Jewish people. The opening ceremony on December, 2nd 1999., was attended by the OHR representatives, the ambassadors of the Federal Republic of Germany and Republic of Hungary, consuls of the Republic of Turkey and Republic of Croatia, representatives of the American Jewish distribution Committee New York, Mr. Mihajlo Kon Vili and Swiss chief rabbi Ph. D. Moriz Levi. That day will certainly become a part of the city history, considering that this was the first time the representatives of the Serb Orthodox Church, Islamic community of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Jewish community of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Catholic Church gathered on such an occasion.
A Historical Lesson
At the opening ceremony, Mr. Oručević said, “The monument which we inaugurate today raises many questions. That is why today we must ask ourselves if we have learnt the historical lesson that the dark forces of evil will always surround us. Have we done enough to remember the horrors we suffered in recent years? Will we manage to pass on preserved remembrance without hatred to the future generations? Unfortunately, even today, we bear witness to completely accidental or completely intentional attempts to find c o m p r o m i s e s between fascism and antifascism. There are also day-to-day attempts to abolish distinctions between the evil and fight against the evil. That is why the monument we inaugurate here is a small monument dedicated to Jews killed in the Second World War, but we dedicate this ceremony to all good people fighting against evil, to all innocent victims, now and then, in Mostar, a city that became a great monument of antifascism. I feel the need, here and today, to remind you of the significant involvement of Bosnian Jews, and through them, the involvement of Jews from all over the world, who are helping Bosnia and Herzegovina and its people to overcome their enemies.”
Zoran Mandelbaum, the chairman of the Jewish community of Mostar then, emphasized that Mostar Jews are getting involved in general Jewish projects under slogan: Each victim has a name, initiated by the Memorial Museum Yad Vasham in Jerusalem.
The oldest Mostar Jewess Solčika Danon and Yachiel Bar Chaim (New York) inaugurated the monument, an artistic creation of sculptor Florijan Mičković, designed by architects Zdravko Gutić, Edo Kadribegović and Zoran Mandelbaum.
In February 2000. the mayor of Mostar, Safet Oručević called upon partners in the reconstruction of the city’s cultural and historical heritage: UNESCO, World Bank, World Monument Fund, Aga Khan Trust and IRCICA to include, among others, four capital buildings of all nationalities: Jews, Bosnians, Croats and Serbs in Mostar 2004 project of the reconstruction of Old Bridge and historical buildings in old town center.
Those buildings are Vakuf palace, Orthodox Bishop’s residence, Bishop’s palace in Vukodol and construction of the Jewish Cultural Centre with synagogue. The request has been accepted and all buildings except the construction of the Jewish Cultural Center have been reconstructed, namely the Catholic Church has decided to reconstruct facilities of the Croatian Cultural Association Napredak in Liska Street instead of the reconstruction of the old Bishop’s Palace.
We should remember that after the end of the Second World War, the Jewish Community Mostar donated the Synagogue to the City of Mostar as a sign of the gratitude for saving Jews during the fascist rampage. The building was donated under condition that it is exclusively used by the Puppet Theatre, so that Oručević’s decision on the construction of the Jewish Cultural Center with synagogue is a sort of compensation for this gesture.
The agreement between the City of Mostar government and the Jewish Community Mostar was signed on February 22nd 2001. on the occasion of Yom Hashoa - Holocaust Day (on Nisan 27, 5761) and the visit of the high-level delegation of JDC New York (American Jews Joint distribution Committee). The corner stone was placed on the construction site of the Jewish Cultural Center with synagogue. The future center will be only a few hundred meters away from Old Bridge, which is marked by UNESCO now. The center has been designed by arch. Šemsudin Omeragić.
A City Mark
The obligation to build the Jewish Cultural Center on the location of the corner stone after reconstruction of the three buildings remains. However – the new city’s leadership has not done anything so far and that is the reason for the latest initiative of Mr. Safet Oručević, director of the Center for Peace and Multiethnic Cooperation Mostar. There is a fair chance of construction of this extremely important structure at last, and a chance for Mostar to get yet another city mark and a symbol of the Jewish people.
The preparatory committee was formed by coordination between the Center for Peace and Jewish Community Mostar, and its members are: Erna Cipra Danon, Jakob Finci, Ljubo Bešlić, Murat Ćorić, Safet Oručević, Igor Gaon, Sven Alkalaj, Zoran Botić, Alija Behram, Alija Vidimlić, Zoran Mandelbaum, Milutin Vujinović, Žarko Markić, Šemsudin Serdarević, Šemsudin Omeragić, Boro Puljić i Sara Romano Vujinović.
This is a new chance to fulfill the obligations to Mostar Jews, and acquire another jewel for the city. It is also a chance for Jews to get their place of worship where they could practice their religion.
The Openness And ˝Priority˝
The Center will represent the affirmation of the traditional multiethnic and multi-religious lifestyle values, a recognizable feature of Mostar over the centuries. This is an opportunity for Mostar to demonstrate once again its cosmopolitanism and openness for all values, in spite of all animosities of the past, victims and weakened trust. Nevertheless, the Islamic community Mostar considers the construction of the Islamic Cultural Center in the central city area, a priority.
The suffering of Mostar Jews during the World War II spread from Mostar to Dalmatia. All Jews were deported on December 17th 1942. to island of Rab, where they lived to see the capitulation of Italy. The following families left the city on the Neretva: Konforti Perera, Altarac, Alkom, Koen, Levi, Kabiljo, Širc, Bergman, Papo, Fižbajn, Kohen, Lajbaber, Laufer, Maestro, Švarc, Gaon… (39 families all together).
In 1941, 956 Jews fled to Mostar from the invasion of fascists from Bosnia and other European countries. The citizens, together with local Jewish community, headed by David Hajon, were hiding them in their homes. Later on, Jewish Community Association of Yugoslavia presented the city with a megila (scroll of honor).