The Jewish Community Pančevo is a religious community of Jews and non-Jews living in the city of Pančevo and in the territory of Southern Banat region, organized on voluntary basis.
SETTLEMENT OF JEWS IN PANČEVO AND IN THE SOUTHERN BANAT REGION
The history of settlement of Jews in Pančevo and in the Southern Banat region is described in the book by Pavle Šosberger „Jews in Vojvodina“. The author states that Jews lived in Pančevo already in Turkish times, from 1494-1734, and that it was the oldest Jewish community in Banat. The book „Review of Colonization of Vojvodina in the XVIII and XIX Centuries“, by Borislav Jankulov, mentions that in 1729 the family of a David Levi moved from Hungary to Pančevo. There is data of a Jew recorded in Vršac already in 1766, and in Bela Crkva in 1790. It was only after the defeat of the Turks in the war against Austria in 1791 that Jews, with great difficulties, settled in Pančevo in more significant numbers. In smaller settlements, there were individual Jews, or one or two Jewish families. The Jews lived there under constant pressure, and they were often forced to leave. Thus, in 1825, permanent residence for Jews in Southern Banat was limited only to Pančevo and Bela Crkva. The “tolerance tax” for Jews, introduced by Maria Teresia in 1743, within the military borders, remained in effect until the demilitarization of the borders during the 1780. Two hundred Jewish families fled Belgrade and Pančevo in 1862. Most of the new-comers remained in Pančevo, as Jewish population there had in the meantime increased. In 1867, the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I promulgated the law on civil equality of Jews. Soon afterwards, in 1870, the Jewish Community of Pančevo was founded as a political-administrative organization. The first synagogue was built in 1876, and prior to that the school and the synagogue operated in leased premises. The second synagogue was built between 1907-1909, designed by the Budapest architect Karol Fenjvesh, and constructed by an entrepreneur from Pančevo Ferdinand Šec. It was sanctified and came into use on 16 May 1910. The synagogue had an organ. This, once magnificent, building was a mixture of several architectural styles, with dominant features of secession. In WWII it was used by the occupiera as a warehouse. In 1951, under the threats of nationalization, it was sold, and pulled down in 1953, after which only the auxiliary building remained, to be almost completely destroyed in a fire in 2007. What still remains today is just the front wall and the big courtyard. The Jewish Synagogue Singing Society was founded in 1886 and was active until the occupation in 1941.
In 1922 Dr. Nikola Milutinović in his book „Across Our Land“ mentioned the existence of a Jewish Women’s Cooperative established in order to support the poor; the Talmud Tora association was established in 1881 and assisted pupils „in money and clothing“; the Jewish Religious Singing Society with „25 performing and 100 supporting members“, and the popular association Zion.
The Jewish cemetery was opened in 1840. It seems that the same location was also used before that time for burial purposes by the Jews, because there are monuments dated much earlier than the cemetery was opened. Since 1881 Pančevo had a “Hevra Kadiša” society, although such a society is mentioned also in 1747.
According to the above book by Pavle Šosberger, and according to the data of a museum in Istanbul, there was a Jew living in Vršac as early as 1635. During the Austrian Empire, the Jews are first mentioned in 1753. At that time a private home was used for prayer services. The first synagogue in Vršac was built in 1798, and the Jewish population at that time was 45 Jews. The second synagogue was built in the same location in 1828. At that time there was already a Jewish school and a religious school Talmud Tora. The synagogue was reconstructed and enlarged in 1886, an organ was installed, and a Synagogue singing society was founded, which was active until 1941. During WWII, the synagogue was used as a prison, and after WWII as a gymnastics hall. It was pulled down in 1966. The Jewish Community Vršac in 1867 had 756 members, and in 1900 the number grew to 878. The Jews of Vršac were buried in Bela Crkva until 1798, and after this was banned, a Jewish cemetery was established in Vršac.
The first synagogue in Bela Crkva was built in 1835, in the yard of a tolerated Jew, and the second in 1865 in the same location. The third synagogue in Bela Crkva was built in 1899 closer to the city centre. It was bigger and more beautiful. It was pulled down in 1950. There was a cemetery already in the second half of the XVIII century, and in 1828 a new city cemetery was opened in which the Jews were allotted their own section.
There was another synagogue in the Southern Banat region, in Debeljača. Jews settled in Debeljača at the beginning of the XIX century. There is data indicating that there was a synagogue there already in 1880, maybe earlier. The new synagogue was built in 1895. At that time, about eighty Jews lived in Debeljača. The synagogue with Testament plates and the Magen David on the front is still there, but is used for commercial purposes. Since 1886, Debeljača had a Jewish cemetery and a religious school Talmud Tora.
The Jewish Women’s Humanitarian Society, first established in Pančevo in 1873, was soon established also in Vršac and Debeljača.
At the beginning of the XX century, the Pančevo Jews mostly engaged in trade, but there were also industrialists, craftsmen, doctors, clerks, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and distinguished athletes. Between the two world wars, distinguished Pančevo Jews, businessmen and traders included Markus Dajč (leather plant), Frajnd and Fišer (grains), Fišgrund (manufacture), Ofner and Adler (retail shop), Bah and Porte (wine cellar), Marer (wood plant), Fišer (goldsmith), Maj (accessories), Dajč and Šulc (cargo river transport), Lenart (oil), Zala (artistic woodwork).
Although he was not a Jew from Pančevo, Abraham Kepiš, a Jew from Temisoara, in 1722 established in Pančevo the first industrial company in the Balkans – the Pančevo Brewery.
In other towns there were retail shops, beverages shops, retail shops for cereals, and manufactures.
THE HOLOCAUS AND THE POST-WAR PERIOD
The greatest persecution of Jews from Pančevo and the Southern Banat region during the WWII happened in the night between 14 and 15 of August 1941, when all Banat Jews were arrested. Jews from Pančevo and the surrounding region who were in the collection camp in Pančevo were taken to Belgrade and, together with other Banat Jews who were in Belgrade, were transferred on 8 December to the “Sajmište” camp. Some of them perished in the camp from hunger and cold, others were suffocated by exhaust gases in „dušegupka“ trucks on their way to Jajinci, where they were executed. A number of them were executed by the road near Jabuka, close to Pančevo. After 5 August 1941 there were no remaining Jews in Banat, except for 43 women who lived in mixed marriages.
The Jewish Community Pančevo did not operate during WWII. Right after the German capitulation, returnees from war camps, demobilized veterans of the national liberation war, the surviving camp interns and Jewish refugees had re-established the community by providing support to the returnees from camps and imprisonment. During the two Aliyas fwhich soon followed, most of the members emigrated to Israel. Only a small number of Jews remained in Pančevo. Under such circumstances, there was not a dynamic operation of the community and the members were turning more to the Jewish community Belgrade and the Federation of Jewish Communities of Yugoslavia. It was only after Pančevo started to develop as an industrial centre during the 1960s and 1970s that Jewish families from Belgrade, Vršac and elsewhere started to come to Pančevo and the community became more dynamic. This, the Jewish Community of Pančevo again became the centre bringing together the Jews from Pančevo and the Southern Banat region where there used to be Jewish communities. The membership increased and, thanks to the support by the Federation and the JOINT, the revitalization of the Jewish Community Pančevo followed. The Community opened up to the citizens of Pančevo. There are dynamic cultural and educational programs, holidays are celebrated, and the Jewish tradition is restored. During the disintegration of former Yugoslavia and the economic sanctions of the 1990s, the membership again decreased as some emigrated to Israel.
THE JEWISH COMMUNITY PANČEVO TODAY
The Jewish Community operates as an open organization, in compliance with its Statute, setting out its goals and objectives. The goal of the Community is, after the terrible losses suffered during the Holocaust, to ensure the survival, continued existence, and preservation of the Jewish heritage in Pančevo and the Southern Banat region through the activities of the Community, within its capacities, to:
- Promote and protect the national identity of Jews
- Ensure and organize religious activities
- Mark Jewish holidays and organize commemorations
- Engage in educational programs with children and the youth
- Engage in cultural activities and work in the area of arts, cherishing the values of Judaism
- Engage in historical research and collect documents and other materials regarding the life and work of Jews from Pančevo and the Southern Banat region; in this respect the community cooperates closely with the Jewish Historical Museum and other institutions such as archives and libraries, in the country and abroad
- Engage in social welfare programs providing moral, material and other support to members in need
- Take care of movable and immovable property of the community, manage it and provide current maintenance
- Work toward restitution of seized community property
- Maintain the cemetery and ensure burials in it
- Cooperate with other Jewish communities, organizations and institutions at national and international level
- Cooperate with organizations, institutions and individuals in the country and abroad when it is in line with the goals and objectives of the community, in order to raise awareness and informs the pubic about the Jewish History, tradition and culture
- Promote multi-cultural coexistence of Jews and other nations and ethnic communities in the territory covered by the Community.
Among the property of the Jewish Community Pančevo is the active Jewish cemetery including the house for the cemetery keeper, in Sime Čobraje Street 15 in Pančevo. Also in Pančevo, in Dr. Kasapinovića Street 30, there are the remains of the destroyed synagogue burnt by fire, which are not the property of the community. The stone plates with inscribed Commandments from the Pančevo synagogue are located in the Jewish Historical Museum.