Monastir (Bitola), Yugoslavia (today Macedonia)
Jews expelled from Spain who settled in Monastir in the 15th century found an established Jewish community there. Throughout the years, Monastir's Jews maintained ties with other Jewish communities across the Ottoman Empire, with the town’s rabbis gaining particular prominence. The community grew steadily, comprising over 10,000 souls by the beginning of the 20th century. Despite the grueling conditions and internal strife, the Jews of Monastir were diligent in their charitable support of one another. Between the two World Wars, the Zionist movement flourished in the town, and a considerable percentage of the community emigrated from Monastir prior to World War II.
On 11 March 1943 (4 Adar Bet, 5703) the Jews of Monastir, together with the entire Jewish population of Macedonia (some 7,350 people in total), were taken by soldiers, police and Bulgarian officials to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, where they were held at the local “Monopol” tobacco factory under deplorable conditions.
A few days later, on Shushan Purim, 22 March 1943 (15 Adar Bet), the first transport of Macedonian Jews was deported in sealed cattle cars bound for Poland. In the days that followed, on 25 and 29 March, additional transports departed, all for the same destination – Treblinka.
From the 3,276 Jews of Monastir incarcerated at “Monopol,” all of them Yugoslav citizens, only five managed to escape. An additional three Jews were released by the Bulgarians. A number of Jews had fled before 11 March to Greece in the hope of being rescued, but almost all of them were murdered at Auschwitz. A few dozen young Jewish men and women from Monastir joined the partisans and fought in the different units; some of them were killed in battle, few survived.
This is the history of a community that once was, and is no longer. These are the stories of the Jews of Monastir.