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Yad Vashem Monastir. The Story of a Sephardic Community in Macedonia

Monastir During the Holocaust

Under Bulgarian Rule

Immediately following their initial organization in Monastir, the Bulgarians began to pass anti-Jewish measures. All the Jewish-owned shops and factories were marked, and by the end of 1941 a special registration committee had documented all Jewish-owned property in the city.

In October 1941, a special order was pronounced by the Bulgarian authorities, forbidding the Jews of Skopje and Monastir from all forms of trade and commerce, and forcing them to close down their businesses by the end of the year. A few months later, a new decree compelled the Jews of Macedonia, including the population in Monastir, to pay one-fifth of their property to the Bulgarian government as a “special tax.” This heralded the completion of the looting of Jewish property, begun by the Germans, on the part of the Bulgarians.

In order to receive a complete picture of Jewish assets, the Bulgarian authorities, together with the municipalities, the police and national Bulgarian bank, armed themselves with information. The registration committee checked all the declarations of Jewish properties, confiscating many of them for “not being reported in full.”

Concentration and Isolation of Jews

Under Bulgarian rule, the Jews of Macedonia were stripped of citizenship and all basic rights. As already mentioned, their property was seized and their ability to earn a living severely restricted. The occupation also greatly reduced the area in Monastir in which they were allowed to live, forcing them to crowd together in a narrow region on the left bank of the Dragor River. Those living on the other side of the river were forced to leave their belongings behind. Jews were forbidden to come to market before 10am; all of the foodstuffs had been bought by 9am at the latest.

In May 1941, the Jewish youth were assembled in the municipal building, and then taken to forced labor, hauling rifles and ammunition from army storerooms to the train station. This work continued for many days, during which the young prisoners managed to throw a number of packs of ammunition to the side of the road, which they collected after darkness.

The Commissariat for Jewish Affairs – KEV

On 26 August 1941, the Bulgarian government decided to set up a special Commissariat for Jewish Affairs in the Interior Ministry, to deal with all the “Jewish problems.” Alexandr Belev was appointed head of the Commissariat by the Bulgarian Interior Minister, Peter Gabrovski. Belev, who had strong connections with the German Ambassador in Sofia, Adolf Heinz Beckerle, and the representative of Adolf Eichmann in Bulgaria, Theodor Dannecker, sent representatives to all the cities of Macedonia, including Monastir. The commissariat representative in Monastir was Ivan Zahariev, deputy head of the Skopje municipality.

Arrest and Deportation

In April 1942, following tip-offs by informants, the Bulgarians arrested of a number of communist activists, including many Jewish youths, and sentenced them to up to 15 years in jail. As a result, the heads of the underground movement agreed to unite an exposed small group of young Jews with a partisan unit that was beginning to take shape.

At the beginning of December 1942, most of the community’s leaders were arrested and exiled from the town, among them Leon Kamhi. They were scattered among villages across Bulgarian territory, and held there, in order to leave the Jewish community of Monastir with no leadership or guidance in advance of their upcoming deportation.

The online exhibition was made possible through the generous support of:

Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany works to secure compensation and restitution for survivors of the Holocaust.

Since 1951, the Claims Conference - working in partnership with the State of Israel - has negotiated for and distributed payments from Germany, Austria, other governments, and certain industry; recovered unclaimed German Jewish property; and funded programs to assist the neediest Jewish victims of Nazism.