Dubrovnik Old Jewish Cemetery
The Old Jewish cemetery in Dubrovnik was built in 1652 in the Ploce district. The land for the cemetery was purchased outside the Old City near the northern ramparts. At the end of the 19th century the land of the cemetery was sold, and the graves were transferred to the new Boninovo cemetery in 1911. The original cemetery site is now a parking lot and a fire station. Only 30 of the original tombstones remain. Today, some of the tombstones which are embedded in the walls are still visible. In 2011, during archeological work, researchers discovered several old tombstones and fragments used to line a drainage canal.
Dubrovnik (historically Ragusa) is a seaport city on the Adriatic Sea and the centre of Dubrovnik-Neretva County. This city was known also in the 7th century AD as a trade harbor of Dalmatia and was then called Ragusa. The city received the Slavik name “Dubrovnik” in the 11th century when most of its inhabitants were Croatian. For its first 150 years, when it was established as Dubrovnik, the city was under the rule of Venetian Republic, though it maintained some form of autonomy. In the 14th century the city became a part of Hungary and remained as such for 168 years. However, as an aristocratic republic, it maintained a significant amount autonomy. In this period, it was one of the most important seaports in the Adriatic region. It had more than 180 merchant ships and maintained traded relations with the Ottoman Empire and other countries in the region. Dubrovnik’s economy relied on the exportation of minerals, agricultural and livestock products, and industrial goods. In the 16th century, Dubrovnik had significant financial resources, though the situation changed dramatically after a large earthquake in 1667. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Dubrovnik lost its power as world trade shifted to the Atlantic Ocean. In 1815, the Dubrovnik Republic ceased to exist and became a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
The first Jews came to Dubrovnik in the 14th century. They were mostly tradesmen and doctors from Italy. At that time, it was officially forbidden for Jews to live in the city. In the 15th and 16th centuries there were 30-40 Jewish families in the city and the Jewish ghetto was established in 1546. The ghetto was located in the centre of the city, just off the Stradun, the heart of the Old City. There were 11 houses in the ghetto and a synagogue (built in 1547) closed with gates on both ends. The houses and synagogue were connected by interior passageways making it possible to move through the ghetto without going outdoors. The Jews of Dubrovnik did not receive the status of citizens. The head of the community at the time was “Consul Haebreorum.” The 16th century was the most successful time for the Jews of Dubrovnik. They were involved in international trade and banking, and some Jews were doctors and notable Torah scholars. At that time, the Jewish population was approximately 250, the majority of whom were Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal. There were a few synagogues and a yeshiva in ghetto. The community had its own cemetery (the first one established in 1400) and a Chevra Kadisha (burial society). One of the most famous rabbis of Dubrovnik was Rabbi Aaron ben David (1610-1656), the author of a few religious books. After this period of prosperity for the Jewish community, things changed, and the 17th century was very hard for the Jews of Dubrovnik. The Jews’ rights were once again limited and there were a few attempts to deport them from the city, especially by the Catholic Church, who constantly antagonized the Jewish community. In 1724, under pressure from the Church, the Senate of the city ordered to burn books of the Talmud in the main square of Dubrovnik.
According to the 1745 census, there were 78 Jews living in the ghetto’s 19 houses, while 103 others were permitted to live outside the ghetto. From the end of the 19th century, increasingly more Jewish families lived outside the walls of the ghetto and were people of free professions. Only at the end of the 19th century did the Jews of the city receive equal rights under the rule of the Austrian Empire. The status of the ghetto was abolished only in 1808. In 1857 there were 121 Jews in Dubrovnik. The community was not rich, and many Jews moved away from the city. The situation remained the same at the beginning of the 20th century. There were only 120 Jews among 30,000 inhabitants in the city in the 1930s. During World War II, Dubrovnik was occupied by fascist Italy. At that time, the Jewish population accounted for 87 people and 1,600 refugees from Croatia. After the capitulation of Italy in 1943, Croatian nationalists began to deport the Jews to the concentration camps. Only 23 Jews from Dubrovnik survived the Holocaust. The synagogue was rebuilt in 1956 and was transformed into a museum in the 1980s. Today there are about 30 Jews in Dubrovnik. The community has a cemetery, a synagogue, and a Jewish Museum.