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

Commemoration of the Monastir Community

“Today there isn’t a single Jew in Monastir, where one hears no more the voice of the songs and of the ballads, nor the voices of mothers and of prayers. The synagogues that were left were like mountains of rubble. There remained only the cemetery and the ruins.” Jamila Andjela Kolonomos

Grove of trees commemorating the Martyrs of Monastir, Martyrs’ Forest, JNF (KKL) Grove of trees commemorating the Martyrs of Monastir, Martyrs’ Forest, JNF (KKL)
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After the liberation of Macedonia, the few survivors began to return to the towns and villages of their birth in the hope of finding family members. Some individuals returned to Monastir, but the Jewish community there had been destroyed forever. In December 1944, the Jewish community of Skopje renewed its activities, hoping for the return of those who had been deported. At the time, the scope of the Shoah of Macedonian Jewry was still unknown.

Macedonian immigrants in Israel built new lives for themselves, contributing to all spheres of society, including defense, building new neighborhoods, trade and industry.

Four Macedonian immigrants were killed during Haganah and IDF battles:
Moshe Aroesti, son of Yaakov and Simcha (née Kamhi) Aroesti, was killed at Latrun on 26 May 1946.
Shabtai Kamhi, son of Meir and Simcha Kamhi, was killed near Tel-Aviv on 29 February 1948.
Moshe Kamhi, son of Meir and Simcha Kamhi and brother of Shabtai Kamhi, was killed at Yemin Moshe on 17 July 1948.
Moshe (Moise) Nachmias, son of Yitzhak and Tova Nachmias, was killed near the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in Jerusalem on 16 August 1948.

In addition, Baruch Meshulam, son of David and Sara (née Ben-Yakar) Meshulam, was murdered in the Ma’ale Akravim terrorist attack on 17 March 1954.

The Committee of Immigrants from Monastir and the Association of Next Generation Macedonian Jews worked tirelessly to commemorate the community in Israel.

Commemoration in Israel

Every year, survivors of the Monastir Jewish community in Israel gathered together to unite in the memory of the victims of the Holocaust. A number of hired buses leave from the center of the country, carrying the families of former residents of Monastir, who have gathered together to commemorate their loved ones. On the road to Jerusalem, at the Martyrs’ Forest, 3,013 trees have been planted in memory of the victims of the Monastir community. Here the buses stop, and the passengers stand silently for a few minutes. In Jerusalem, they gather at the “Yagel Yaakov” Synagogue, erected in 1930 by the first immigrants from Monastir. This commemorative day was initiated by Moshe Yishi, who came to Israel in his youth from Monastir, and worked in forestation. He also initiated the planting of 1,000 trees in the Herzl Forest at Ben Shemen in memory of Leon Kamhi, the Zionist leader of the Monastir Community. The trees were planted in 1965 in the presence of hundreds of Kamhi’s friends and acquaintances that owed their very lives to him. That same year, due to the efforts of Aharon Alboher, Yitzhak Alexandroni, Yitzhak Meshulam, Moshe Yishi and Kamhi’s sister Matilda Berman, a municipal garden in Kamhi’s name was erected on Baron Hirsch Street in the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem, with the then Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kolek at its dedication ceremony.

In 1996, the JNF (KKL) dedicated the “Bulgarian Forest,” with memorial plaques to those people who saved Jews from Bulgaria. Nearby is a memorial to the 11,343 Jews of Thrace, Pirot and Macedonia taken from their homes by the Bulgarians to be murdered at death camps in Poland.

From 2005, a yearly memorial for Macedonian Jewry, including the Monastir community, has taken place at the Yad Vashem Synagogue on 11 March, the day that the Jews of Macedonia were assembled and sent to the “Monopol” camp in Skopje, prior to their deportation to Treblinka. The ceremony is attended by many Macedonian immigrants in Israel and members of the next generation, and is conducted in the same format as the one conducted at the “Yagel Yaakov” Synagogue.

Mara Street

The Jerusalem municipality has named one of the streets in Ramat Beit Hakerem “Mara Street,” after the underground nickname of one of the Monastir partisans, Estreja Ovadja. Estreja fell in battle, and after her death her comrades marched and sang a song of praise to Estreja the hero – Mara – that soon became a Macedonian folksong:
“Remember her, my brother
Estreja Mara
Estreja – Mara
She fell for her people
For her people she fell
For Macedonia.” 

Commemoration in Macedonia

In 1953 Estreja was officially declared a “national hero”. In Monastir (Bitola), the town’s community leaders erected a monument to the Yugoslavian national hero Estreja Ovadja - Mara. A statue was erected in her honor in the early fifties.
A kindergarten was also named in her memory.

Another monument was erected in the city in memory of the Jews of Monastir murdered at Treblinka, and of the six million Jews killed in the Shoah. A six-branched monument was erected in 1958, near the Jewish neighborhood of Los Corttijos. The Macedonian authorities, together with Jewish survivors living in Skopje, declared the 11 March, the day the Jews of Macedonia were rounded-up, as the annual Memorial Day for the victims of the Holocaust. On that day, representatives of the Macedonian government and Jewish survivors assemble at the monument and lay a wreath in their memory.

In Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, a memorial plaque was erected by the municipality on the wall of the “Monopol” government tobacco company warehouse in memory of the Jews held there and then sent to their deaths. 

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.