The Jewish Community of Dubrovnik
After the Spanish expulsion in 1492 many refugees passed through on their way to the Balkan cities under Turkish rule. They settled in Dubrovnik and others joined them from the southern Italy expulsions in 1514-15. Their success in commerce caused repeated expulsion orders, which were revoked on the intervention of the Sultan. The Jews dealt mainly in fabrics, silk, wool, leather, and spices. In 1546, a ghetto was established which was enlarged 40 years later when there were 50 Jews, some with their families. Among them were doctors in state service who needed special permission from Rome to treat Christians.
The most important Jewish family in the 16th and 17th centuries was that of Rabbi Aaron b. David Ha-Kohen from Florence, Italy, who established trade connections with Jews throughout Europe. In 1614, the Senate gave concessions to the Jewish merchants to entice them to settle in the city. Due to a blood libel against Isaac Yeshurun in 1622, most Jews left for Turkey or Venice and only four families remained in Dubrovnik. The church increased its pressure, directing local hatred against the Jews, but the Turkish sultan stood by them and refused to pass anti-Jewish measures.
In the 18th century the Jewish population increased; there were 218 Jews out of a total population of around 6,000. The archives mention Jewish schools, teachers, weddings, and a Jewish book seller. Jews played a part in international commerce and were pioneers in marine insurance. With the economic decline of Dubrovnik restrictions were imposed on all foreigners, and because of this the Jews were forbidden, in 1755, to deal in commerce, and had to live within the ghetto. Under French rule (1808- 15) all the restrictions against the Jews were annulled.
When Dubrovnik passed to Austria in 1815, laws applied to Jews in Austria became valid in Dubrovnik too, for example, Jews had to obtain permission from Vienna to get married. Full emancipation was only granted in 1873.
When after World War I Dubrovnik became part of Yugoslavia, the Jewish population had decreased.
There were 308 Jews living in the city in 1815, and 250 in 1939.
The Holocaust Period
Dubrovnik was occupied by the Italian army in April 1941 and administered by the independent Croat State of Croatia under the Quisling Pavelic. Jewish property was confiscated. The Italians, however, did not allow mass deportations, so many refugees from other parts of Yugoslavia went to Dubrovnik. In November 1942, under German instructions, the Italians interned 750 Jews on the nearby island of Lopud; from there they were moved in June 1943 to the camp at Rab in north Dalmatia with most Jews from Italian-occupied territories in Yugoslavia. During the brief interregnum between the fall of Italy and German occupation, many Jews were transported by the partisans to the liberated territory on the mainland. The rest were sent by the Germans to concentration camps.
After the war, 28 refugees from Dubrovnik settled in Israel. In 1969, 31 Jews lived in Dubrovnik, their rabbi serving as chief rabbi for South Dalmatia, Herzegovina, and Montenegro. From time to time, prayer services are held at the old synagogue.
During the war between Bosnia and Croatia at the beginning of the 1990’s the synagogue was damaged in a bombardment. The building was repaired and renovated after the war by the community.
In 1998, 30 Jews lived in the community of Dubrovnik. Dr. Bruno Horowitz, a native of Stanislavov, Ukraine (formerly Poland), served as head of the community.