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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

The Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941 carved the country into a patchwork of different occupied territories. The so-called Independent State of Croatia was quickly established, but the newly created state was actually divided and occupied by German and Italian forces. The experiences of Yugoslav Jews during the Holocaust depended greatly on which part of occupied Yugoslavia they were in—and which country's forces controlled that region.

In summer 1941, Italian forces fully occupied the Italian zone of the Independent State of Croatia in order to suppress an uprising against the Croatian fascist Ustaše regime that governed the country with German and Italian support. In parts of occupied Yugoslavia under Italian control, Jews were relatively safe. In November 1942, Italian authorities decided to concentrate Jews from the Italian-occupied "Zone II" of the Independent State of Croatia into four major centers. These included DubrovnikKraljevicaBrač, and Hvar, along with several sub-camps. In December 1942, Italian military sources put the total number of Jewish internees in these camps at 2,661.1

The featured letter was sent to the Jewish Community in Zagreb by Hinko Gottlieb in March 1943, when he was interned at a camp at Kraljevica. Gottlieb was a Zagreb-based Jewish lawyer who had become a fairly well-known author and poet in interwar Yugoslavia. Gottlieb's letter describes the many difficulties faced by Jews held at Kraljevica, but he acknowledged that life under Italian rule could be much worse.2 Jews living in Zagreb—in the German zone of the Independent State of Croatia—faced growing threats of deportation and death.

Gottlieb's letter shows how disconnected the experiences of Jews in different parts of occupied Yugoslavia had become. He still hoped that Jewish leaders in Zagreb could negotiate with the Ustaše and arrange for the emigration of some Jewish children at the Kraljevica camp.3 The previous month, they had managed to negotiate for the emigration of twelve Jewish children from the Independent State of Croatia. Eleven of these children made it to Palestine and survived the war. One boy stayed with his relatives in Hungary, but he was deported to Auschwitz in 1944 and killed. The transport with twelve Jewish children from the Independent State of Croatia was the only one of its kind, and nothing similar happened again. 

Gottlieb's request for help shows that he was not fully aware of the escalating dangers faced by the Jews in Zagreb. It also points to the ways the experiences of Yugoslav Jews during the Holocaust depended greatly on which part of occupied Yugoslavia they were in—and which country's forces controlled that region. In May 1943—barely two months after receiving Gottlieb's letter—the leadership of the community in Zagreb was deported to Auschwitz and murdered. Gottlieb survived the war in camps at Kraljevica and Rab.4 He died shortly after immigrating to Israel in 1948.

To learn more about Italian occupation authorities' policies regarding the Jewish population, see Davide Rodogno, Fascism's European Empire: Italian Occupation During the Second World War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006). For more about the history of World War II in Yugoslavia, see Jozo Tomasevich, War and Revolution in Yugoslavia, 1941-1945: Occupation and Collaboration (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2001).

To learn more about the experiences of Jews living in the Italian-occupied zone of the Independent State of Croatia, see the related Experiencing History item, Letter from Jakob Kajon to the Jewish Community of Zagreb


To learn more about the Holocaust in Croatia and the rescue of these children, see Ivo Goldstein and Slavko Goldstein, The Holocaust in Croatia (Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh University Press, 2016).

In spring 1943, Italian authorities transferred all Jews interned in the Italian zone of occupation in Yugoslav Dalmatia—some 3,000 Yugoslav Jews—to a camp already housing around 6,500 Slovenian prisoners on the island of Rab in the Adriatic Sea. To learn more about the camp at Rab, see the related Experiencing History items, Diary of Elvira Kohn, Report of the Communist Party Committee in the Jewish Camp at Rab, and Letter from Adof Renert to the National Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Croatia.

"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 immigration to 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 Yugoslav Jewish convert to Catholicism from Zagreb, 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
Hinko Gottlieb
Kraljevica, Croatia
Kraljevica, Independent State of Croatia (historical)
Porto Re, Italy (historical)
Document Type Letter
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