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The Holocaust in Yugoslavia

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Letter from Ester Ruben Menahem to the Commissariat for Jewish Questions

Menahem, Ester Ruben letter 1943
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade

After the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, the country was divided into a patchwork of different territories. The Independent State of Croatia and occupied Serbia were the largest areas. Of the remaining regions—what today are the countries of Slovenia, Montenegro, and Macedonia—only Macedonia had a significant Jewish population. There were around 8,000 Jews living in Macedonia on the eve of World War II, but there were hardly any Jews in Montenegro and Slovenia. After the invasion of Yugoslavia, most of Yugoslav Macedonia was annexed by Bulgaria—and the region's Jews fell under Bulgarian control.1

An ally of Nazi Germany, Bulgaria had implemented a number of antisemitic measures during World War II that followed Nazi policies. But the German defeat at the battle of Stalingrad in February 1943 increased the likelihood that Nazi Germany would lose the war. Leaders of several countries allied with Germany—such as Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria—started questioning their alliance and resisting German influence and pressure.

But Bulgarian officials continued the deportation of Jews to German-occupied Poland. On March 11, 1943, Bulgarian police and military units rounded up roughly 7,000 Jews from Yugoslav Macedonia (mostly from Skopje, Bitola, and Štip) and concentrated in tobacco warehouses in Skopje. Over the next several days, virtually all of them were deported to Treblinka, where nearly all of them were murdered. Bulgaria did not deport Jews who lived in the core provinces of Bulgaria, but they did deport Jewish residents of territories occupied by Bulgarian forces in 1941. 

Very few Jews from Yugoslav Macedonia managed to escape the roundup on March 11, 1943. But several people who were held in the tobacco warehouses were released because they held Spanish citizenship. Before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, the Spanish republic had passed a law that granted Spanish citizenship to any applicants who could document their Sephardi origin. In theory, all Sephardi Jews across Europe were eligible, but relatively few applied.

Ester Ruben Menahem was a Jewish woman from Skopje who had been taken to a camp with her family in March 1943, but she was released because she held Spanish citizenship. The featured letter from Menahem was written in April 1943 to file an official appeal for help. She had returned to her home in Skopje only to find that it had been thoroughly looted. During her absence, all of her possessions had been stolen except for two iron bedframes. Bulgarian state agencies—and individual civilians—looted Jewish property after the roundup.2 This was a common occurence throughout Europe during the Holocaust. "Everything was taken away by persons unknown," Menahem wrote. "Nothing is left."

To learn more about the Holocaust in Bulgaria and the occupied territories, see Frederick Chary, The Bulgarian Jews and the Final Solution, 1940-1944 (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972).

To learn more about the theft of Jewish property during the Holocaust, see Martin Dean, Robbing the Jews: The Confiscation of Jewish Property in the Holocaust, 1933–1945 (New York: Cambridge University Press in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2010).

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In[coming] No. 363
April 24, 1943]
To the Honorable
Delegate of the Commissar
for Jewish Questions
Here [Skopje]



by Ester Ruben Menahem, resident of the c[ity of] Skopje, “87” St. no. 18


Honorable Delegate,

On the 11th of this month I was, together with my family, taken to a camp. However, I was later released as a Spanish citizen. I left my entire household wares at the above address, but when I returned [home] I did not find anything. Everything was taken away by persons unknown. Since nothing is left of my holdings at the apartment, except two iron bed frames, I appeal to you to order, if you please, that I be awarded items for my use, such as: mattresses, duvets, sheets and bedding, because I need them urgently, and have nowhere to procure them.

I hope you will pay due attention to my appeal.


C[ity of] Skopje, March 27, 1943



Ester Ruben Menahem

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade
Date Created
March 27, 1943
Author / Creator
Ester Ruben Menahem
Skopje, Macedonia
Skopje, Bulgaria (historical)
Document Type Letter
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