El Otro Camino: 1492

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The same week that Columbus sailed west in 1492, the last Jews of Spain were being expelled. Even though they had lived there for a thousand years, religious intolerance threw them out. Where did they go? Who took them in?

The answer will surprise you: while most found refuge in Portugal (briefly), Antwerp and in Amsterdam, and then in the western hemisphere, most of these Spanish Jews, or the Sephardim, settled in lands ruled by the Ottoman sultans. Around 180,000 lived in the Balkans, and they lived alongside their Christian and Muslim neighbors. Until 1941 and 1942, when the Germans invaded the region and--with some local collaborators--murdered most of them. But then came the 500th anniversary of the expulsion in 1992, and the very last of the Sephardic Jews in the embattled, war torn city of Sarajevo said: We remember what intolerance did to us. We know what hate does. It is not our way. We travel another path.

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The precise origins of the Jewish communities of the Iberian peninsula are unclear. There is inconclusive evidence of a Jewish presence dating from pre-Roman times. More substantial references date from the Roman period, when substantial Jewish immigration probably first occurred. 


While Jews certainly lived in an unusually prosperous period in which they got along with their Christian and Muslim neighbors, and some rose to high positions of power, this article by reknowned scholar Howard Sachar explains

how life for Jews in Muslim Spain was not the same under the Umayyads and the Almohades, where life was much harsher: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/history/Ancient_and_Medieval_History/632-1650/Islamic_World/Spain.shtml?p=1


The BBC provides a quick overview of Christopher Columbus and his famous voyage. Click on the tab to the left under “Columbus sets sail” for information about this first voyage and the other tabs to learn more about the various lands Spain ruled (that now speak Spanish) as a result of his trips: http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/primaryhistory/famouspeople/christopher_columbus/


The Edict of Expulsion from Spain was published the week of April 29, 1492, and Jews were informed they had three months to leave Spain.  What was the expulsion like?  Read this detailed description of the expulsion and its consequences from an Italian Jew in April or May 1495, posted on Fordham University’s site: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/jewish/1492-jews-spain1.asp


In February 2014, the Spanish government offered Spanish citizenship to the descendants of the Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain. They are able to stay where they live currently and keep their current citizenship.


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Many of the expelled Jews re-settled in the Ottoman Empire, to which the area of Bosnia and Herzegovina belonged, and where they were welcomed by Sultan Bajazet II. The descendants of Jews from Spain (and Portugal) are referred as Sephardim, as “Sepharad” means Spain in Hebrew.


Jews settled throughout the Ottoman Empire. Here are brief articles about the history of the cities where Jews settled in the Ottoman Empire mentioned in the film:

·      Instanbul - http://www.greatistanbul.com/history.htm

·      Sarajevo - http://www.sarajevo-guide.com/history.htm

·      Thessaloniki - http://www.greeka.com/macedonia/thessaloniki/thessaloniki-history.htm

·      Bitola - http://www.macedoniancities.com/history/bitola.asp

·      Sofia - http://www.lonelyplanet.com/bulgaria/sofia/history

·      Belgrade - http://www.jobeograd.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=78&Itemid=101

·      Dubrovnik - http://www.dubrovnik-online.com/english/history.php


Sarajevo became the centre of flourishing Jewish life in the Balkans. 

In 1577, the Jewish community was allowed by the Ottoman rulers to build their own quarter - El Cortijo (“the courtyard”). Some years later, in 1581, the city’s first synagogue, the Old Synagogue, or Velika Avlija, was built with the help of a Muslim benefactor. 

Until today, most of the Jews who live in the area are Sephardim. When Sarajevo became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1878, however, Ashkenazi Jews also migrated to Sarajevo. The Jewish Virtual Library provides information on the Ashkenazim.


Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, is the language of Sephardic Jews. It only became a specifically Jewish language after their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the 15th century. Cut off from the further developments in the language, the Sephardim continued to speak it in the communities and countries to which they emigrated. Ladino therefore reflects the grammar and vocabulary of 14th and 15th century Spanish. In the Sephardic communities of the Ottoman Empire, the language not only retained older forms of Spanish, but borrowed so many words from Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Turkish, and even French, that it became more and more distorted.

Like other historical Jewish languages, Ladino is in danger of language extinction (another prominent example is Yiddish). Most native speakers are elderly, many of them having immigrated to Israel where the language was not transmitted to their children or grandchildren. However, it is experiencing a minor revival among Sephardic communities, for example in music. 


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After the First World War, Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of the newly founded "Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes", which stretched from the Western Balkans to Central Europe. This territory was ethnically very diverse. Tito, who would later lead the region, famously said: "I am the leader of one country which has two alphabets, three languages, four religions, five nationalities, six republics, surrounded by seven neighbours, a country in which live eight ethnic minorities."


Right from the start, problems arose between the different ethnic groups. In 1929, King Alexander I tried to curb nationalist and separatist tendencies by turning the country into a dictatorship and renamed the country "Yugoslavia". He also decided to abolish the country's historic regions and drew new internal boundaries for provinces, or banovinas, that avoided all historical and ethnic lines.


Alexander I's plan failed and when, in April 1941, Axis troops conquered Yugoslavia, many of its citizens didn't mourn its passing. The country was split up: an independent Croatian state (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, or NDH), which also included most of Bosnia and Herzegovina, was created under the rule of the fascist Ustashe movement. They conducted large-scale genocide campaigns against Serbian, Jewish and Roma citizens as well as Croat dissidents.


During the Second World War, a civil war broke out in Yugoslavia between the Croatian Ustashe, Serbian pro-monarchist partisans, or "Chetniks," and communist partisans, led by Josip Brosz Tito. After the war, the communist Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was founded. Tito first became the prime minister and later the longtime president, ruling the country until his death in 1980.


Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980) was the most defining figure of 20th century Yugoslav history.  Here you can watch a documentary about Tito. In 1948, after a conflict between Tito and Stalin, Yugoslavia was expelled from the international association of socialist states Cominform. In the following years Yugoslavia developed its own version of communism - Titoism.


Tito was a popular public figure in Yugoslavia, viewed as a unifying symbol for the Yugoslav federation. He is also named the architect of Yugoslavia's disintegration, however, and remains a controversial figure. Read this Time Magazine article on the life of Tito.

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Today, Sarajevo is the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina and has about 300,000 inhabitants. The city is located in the Sarajevo valley of Bosnia, surrounded by the Dinaric Alps and situated along the Miljacka River. In 2010, the travel guide series Lonely Planet listed Sarajevo as one of the top ten cities to visit.


When the Second World War broke out, about 14,000 Jews lived in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the war, the majority of Bosnian Jews was annihilated. On February 26, 1942, Andrija Artukovic, the interior minister of the fascist "Independent State of Croatia (NDH), which incorporated Bosnia and Herzegovina, gave a speech before the NDH Parliament in Zagreb, in which he claimed the Jewish question "had been settled in the NDH". Only about 4,000 Jews survived, either by joining partisan groups or by fleeing. After 1945 many of the survivors returned and the Jewish community was reconstituted. 

In recent years, the number of Jews emigrating from Bosnia and Herzegovina has decreased. Today approximately 1,000 Jews live in Bosnia and Herzegovina, about two-thirds of them in Sarajevo. About ninety percent of the community has a Sephardic background. However, mostly older people still speak Ladino. Learn more about the Jewish history of Bosnia-Herzegovina in this article provided by the Jewish Virtual Library.


Survival in Sarajevo, Centropa’s 12-minute film about this story of how Sarajevan Jews worked with their Muslim, Catholic, and Orthodox neighbors during the Bosnian war, can be found here: http://www.centropa.org/centropa-cinema/prezivjeti-u-sarajevu-prijateljstvo-za-vrijeme-rata


Centropa’s website, created for our Survival in Sarajevo exhibition, includes the 12-minute film telling the story of the Jewish humanitarian aid agency La Benevolencija; photographs of the members of La Benevolencija in action during the siege of Sarajevo; photos of our traveling exhibition Survival in Sarajevo; and a page explaining and providing online resources for understanding the Bosnian war of the 1990s. 

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    Spain, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia

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