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Circular Letter from the Jewish Community of Zagreb to the Jewish Communities of the Independent State of Croatia

Kon, Hugo, Jewish community of Zagreb letter 1941
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade
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tags: bureaucracy food & hunger money

type: Letter

Immediately upon seizing power in Zagreb in early April 1941, the ustaše started persecuting Serbs and Jews. That spring, many Serb and Jewish notables and intellectuals were arrested and dragged to several camps hastily founded in the central and western part of the new Independent State of Croatia, where many of them were murdered. Parallel with this initial wave of terror, and several other bursts of mass violence against Serb peasants in the countryside, the ustaše sought to codify their racial ideology. On April 30, Pavelić announced three laws (Citizenship Law; Law on Racial Belonging; and Law on Protection of Aryan Blood and Honor of the Croat Nation) that construed Jews and Roma as racially different from "Aryan" Croats.1

The letter featured here was sent by the leaders of the Jewish Community of Zagreb to all Jewish communities of the Independent State of Croatia in the early summer of 1941. It illustrates the precarious position in which the Jews found themselves at the outset of ustaša rule. Importantly, it also sheds light on the challenges of Jewish leadership in this period. Arrests of numerous Serbs and Jews, as well as disappearances and rumors, all worked to undermine the well-defined legal and political landscape to which the leaders of the community were accustomed.

On July 8, 1941, Hugo Kon, the president of the Jewish Community in Zagreb, sent a circular letter to Jewish communities across the country. Jews were being taken to camps, but the process was arbitrary at this point, and did not encompass all Jews or all Jewish communities. The tone of the letter bespeaks the uncertainty and alarm that Jewish leaders in Zagreb must have felt at the time, and the pleas in the letter betray their de facto helplessness.

Hugo Kon was the president of the Jewish Community of Zagreb until the spring of 1943, when he was deported to Auschwitz and murdered, along with the Zagreb chief rabbi, Miroslav Šalom Freiberger. Aleksandar Klein managed to survive the war.

 

For a history of the Holocaust in the Independent State of Croatia, see Ivo Goldstein and Slavko Goldstein, The Holocaust in Croatia (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016); see also Rory Yeomans, Visions of Annihilations: The Ustasha Regime and the Cultural Politics of Fascism, 1941-1945 (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013).

The phrase used here for concentration camps is "skupna boravišta," literally "mass accommodations." The turn of phrase indicates unfamiliarity with the institution. Later in 1941, the term became solidified as "camps" ("logori" or "lageri" in Croatian).

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Zagreb, July 8, 1941

 

URGENT!

  

To Jewish Religious Communities

  

As you know, Jews have been evacuated from several towns in the Independent State of Croatia for the purpose of joint deportation to concentration camps.1

People are mostly passing through Zagreb, where they stay for several days, and our community is obligated to feed them during their stay in Zagreb, and it increasingly looks like it will have to provide support for them in concentration camps themselves. 

Naturally, our community would eagerly perform this Jewish and human duty, if only the material circumstances allowed for it; however, the cost of providing food and support is so high that the community will not be able to meet it from its allocations in the future.

We are therefore calling on all religious communities to immediately undertake, in the area of their operation, the drive among all Jews (that is, all persons defined as such by the legal act of April 30 this year—that is, including converts) for raising the funds for this operation, and to transfer those funds, together with their own—communal—funds to us via the enclosed forms, with the note "for the camps support," because only in this way will we be able to fulfill the obligation of providing support for Jews from certain communities.

We will not be able to accept any funds, things or objects from individuals: we can only process collectively raised funds transferred to us.

We are calling on communities to understand, for their own sake, the seriousness of the situation, and do their utmost to fulfill this request. We are also calling on communities to fulfill their duties towards refugees, since this will also be monitored.

This appeal is also directed at communities that have already been evacuated, but in which a certain number of Jews has been allowed to return, so they are in a position to collect something and send to this community in order to support the members of their community.

Finally, please note that we are sending you this act with the knowledge and approval of the authorities.

We are awaiting your urgent report.

 

President Secretary

[signed Hugo Kon] [signed Aleksandar Klein]

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade
RG Number 61-011M
Date Created
July 8, 1941
Author / Creator
Kon, Hugo
Klein, Aleksandar
Publisher
Jewish Community of Zagreb
Language(s)
Bosnian
Croatian
Serbian
Location
Zagreb, Croatia
Zagreb, Independent State of Croatia (historical)
Document Type Letter
How to Cite Museum Materials