Virovitica New Jewish Cemetery
Virovitica is situated near the Hungarian border on the River Drava in Slavonia. It is the capital of the Virovitica-Podravina County. The earliest record of Virovitica dates back to 1234. During the 13th century, Virovitica was famous for having summer palaces for the royal family. Virovitica also had a castle, but it was destroyed during the Ottoman invasion in 1552. The Ottoman Empire ruled over Virovitica for 120 years and in 1684, the town was liberated from Turkish rule. At the end of the 18th century, Virovitica became the center of the region. In 1910, there were 8140 inhabitants. Virovitica became the big trading and industrial hub in Slavonia and had a very multi-cultural population of Croatians, Germans, Hungarians and Serbs.
The first Jews came to Virovitica in the 18th century from Hungary. The formal Jewish community, however, was established only in the middle of the 19th century. The synagogue was built in 1863, one of the first in Slavonia. The majority of the Jewish community members were businessmen and well-standing individuals. The synagogue members were known to have purchased seats for 300 forints each (a large amount in those days). The Jews in Virovitica were involved in trading operations, industry, and some free professions. In 1875, the Jewish community built a school where there were lessons in both German and Hebrew. At the end of the 19th century, there were 2854 Jews in the whole area.
After the end of the First World War, the Jewish community suffered from the riots of ex-soldiers of the Austrian army. The economic crisis of the 1920s-1930s was also very hard on the Jews of Virovitica. By 1940, there were only 350 Jews living in town. During the Holocaust, more than 160 Jews were killed and many others were deported to concentration camps. In 1942, Croatian nationalists destroyed the synagogue. After the end of the Second World War, only 21 Jews lived in Virovitica. They didn’t renew community activities. In 1969, Virovitica counted about 34 Jews. Only 16 Jews remained in the town in 1996.
The famous Croatian and Jewish writer, Miroslav Feldman (1899-1976), was born in Virovitica. He wrote a psychological drama with elements of grotesque and many works with a strong social critique, in which he satirically spoke of different occurrences in the province and life of the higher society of Virovitica.
The new cemetery of Virovitica was built in 1867 by Hevra Kadisha of the Jewish community. Some of the tombstones from the old cemetery were transferred to the new one. There are about 181 graves in the new cemetery, the oldest dating back to 1872. The tombstones have inscriptions in German (in Gothic characters) and in Hebrew, urging people to care for the graves. Other languages used for tomb inscriptions were Hungarian and Croatian. The latest gravestone is dated to 1942. After the Second World War, the cemetery was not used.
Despite being a recognized historical landmark in Croatia, many monuments are damaged, broken, knocked down, and a couple dozen tombstones are missing. The region suffered from a civil war from 1991-92 and traces of bullet scars are all over the stones. A significant part of the plot between the cemetery chapel and the first line of tombs is used for agricultural purposes by an elderly couple living in the old chapel. At the beginning of the 21st century, the local municipality carried out repair work on the former cemetery. The ruined ceremonial hall can still be seen.