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The Holocaust in Yugoslavia


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Letter of Hinko Gottlieb to the Jewish Community of Zagreb

Gottlieb, Hinko letter 1943
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade

Kraljevica was, like Kupari near Dubrovnik, another camp for Jews interned after November 1942 in the Italian zone of occupation in the Independent State of Croatia. Like in the letter from Kupari, written two months previously, the letter that Hinko Gottlieb sent the Jewish Community in Zagreb in March 1943 addressed the leaders of the central Jewish community in the Independent State of Croatia.1 In February 1943 the Zagreb Community had managed to negotiate with the ustaše the emigration of twelve Jewish children (six boys and six girls; originally, the plan was to include 50 children in the transport) from the Independent State of Croatia. Eleven of them made it to Palestine and survived the war; one boy stayed with his relatives in Hungary, and was eventually deported to Auschwitz in 1944, where he was murdered. Gottlieb hoped that the Zagreb leaders could perhaps help with the children in the Kraljevica camp as well.2

The letter featured here provides important insight into the realities of life in Jewish camps in the Italian zone. On the one hand, Gottlieb himself knew that his situation was better than that of most Jews in the German part of the Independent State of Croatia; yet he was by no means certain that the trajectory he was on would lead to survival, and he was hoping that the Zagreb Community could help with rescuing the children from Kraljevica. In fact, the transport with twelve Jewish children leaving the Independent State of Croatia in February 1943 was the only one of its kind, and nothing similar happened ever again. Another interesting aspect of Gottlieb's letter is his belief that the Zagreb leaders were still in the position to help. In reality, whether financially or in terms of negotiating with the ustaše, the Jews in Zagreb were powerless and at the non-existent mercy of their ustaša fascist overlords. In May 1943, barely two months after receiving Gottlieb's letter, the leadership of the community was deported to Auschwitz and murdered. We know these things, however, only in retrospect. In March 1943, it seemed to Gottlieb plausible to expect help from Zagreb.

Hinko Gottlieb (1886-1948) was a Zagreb-based Jewish lawyer and a somewhat well-known author and poet in interwar Yugoslavia. He survived the Holocaust in Kraljevica and Rab. After the war, he emigrated to Israel in 1948, where he died soon thereafter.

For a history of the Holocaust in Croatia, including a discussion of the episode of the rescue of children, see Ivo Goldstein and Slavko Goldstein, The Holocaust in Croatia (Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh University Press, 2016).

"Eretz" is short for "Eretz Israel," the terms by which political Zionists used to refer to Palestine before the proclamation of the independence of Israel in 1948.

"Aliyah" is the Zionist term for emigration to, and colonization of, Palestine (and, since 1948, Israel).

Delegation for the Assistance of Jewish Emigrants, or DELASEM (Italian, Delegazione per l'Assistenza degli Emigranti Ebrei) was an Italian organization that assisted Jewish refugees.

Hans Hochsinger was a prominent Zagreb convert to Catholicism, who was murdered in Jasenovac.

HICEM was another organization that helped Jewish refugees. It was established in 1927 by a joint effort of three organizations: Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (New York), Jewish Colonization Association (Paris), and Emigdirect (Berlin).

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Kraljevica, March 6, 1943

 

Dear friends!

I have written to you before, and one time since we were imprisoned [here]. I do not know if you have received my letters, since I have received no answer. Our Viktor Kohn will send this letter [at the first] opportunity, and I believe it will reach you.

We heard here that eleven children left Zagreb for the Eretz, and that the children have already arrived there.1 To us here, this has been the first good news in a long time; now everyone here would like to know if this is only a beginning and if this action will continue. If there are prospects for its continuation, then we plead that you think of us here as well. In our camp there are about 100 children, who would be appropriate for the aliyah in terms of age, but of course a selection would have to be made.2 I think that neither Croatian nor Italian authorities would make any obstacles, and so if you think that there is a slightest chance for success in this cause, we could raise this question with the Italian authorities here, perhaps through Delasem.3 In any case, inform us of the procedure by which you succeeded in the first aliyah, so that we can formulate our suggestions appropriately here.

Concerning our life here, it is relatively good. Once—should luck remain with us—when we gaze retrospectively on our life here in the camp, we will have to admit, that Italians treated us well, even chivalrously [kavalirski], and especially if we ever find out the real background of our internment here. Now, however, everything looks difficult: lodging, sleeping, food, primitive hygienic conditions. We know that many things, some with some truth, could be said in defense of this situation. But that does not alleviate our situation. Still, we are not complaining, as we keep thinking of those whose situation is incomparably more difficult than ours.

You will be interested to learn that our camp community here, although with difficulty, is slowly fortifying and strengthening its structure. Several of us started, not long after imprisonment, to establish Jewish life in the camp by organizing worship, sermons, short lectures and shows, and one could say that we managed to gather around us the entire Jewish core of the camp. Being a Jew is coming back to fashion, and our numbers keep growing. Apart from regular services, we staged several shows for Hanukkah and Hamiša asar bišvat [i.e., Tu Bishvat, a Jewish holiday], which were very successful. Now we are rehearsing the Purim show, which, given today’s times, will have completely serious significance.

What we are lacking doing all this are books and musical scores. Could you not come to aid in this respect? With the scores at the very least. I seem to remember that Mr. Adolf Blau stored some with you, of the edition Omanut. Since we have a music group here, we could cultivate Jewish music as well, if we had the scores.

Next week we will start with middle school courses. Here too we are struggling with enormously large difficulties, since we have no adequate rooms or teaching equipment, and we are especially lacking books. Please, send urgently whatever you have.

As far as I personally am concerned, I try to do some literary work, but work in this environment and under the burden of all misfortunes is difficult and unsuccessful.

One of the most distressing pieces of news that reached us here in the camp was the news of the death of Hans Hochsinger. Whatever will remain of Yugoslav Jewry?4

Otherwise, if you can raise somewhere abroad the issue of support for us, do so, since the majority [of the Jews in the camp] is going through the last of their savings. Despite being in the camp, we need to pay between 1,500 and 2,000 kuna per person in order to have decent nutrition. And since things are becoming ever more expensive, we do not know what things will look like in a month or two. We should get in touch with Hicem by mail, but you know this certainly much better than us here.5 Nevertheless, please understand this as an urgent plea, since otherwise things will not be good for us here.

Many greetings to all from your H[inko] [G]ottlieb

 

[STAMP: Jewish Religious Community in Zagreb, received March 16, 1943]

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Courtesy of the Jewish Historical Museum, Belgrade
RG Number 49.007M
Date Created
March 6, 1943
Author / Creator
Gottlieb, Hinko
Language(s)
Bosnian
Croatian
Serbian
Location
Kraljevica, Croatia
Kraljevica, Independent State of Croatia (historical)
Porto Re, Italy (historical)
Document Type Letter
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