Participation of Jews From Split in People’s Liberation War

Almost all Jews from Split capable to fight joined People’s Liberation Army, in total 114 of them. Among them, 29 were killed in combat units
Of total number of 284 Split Jews, 121 of them were killed in death camps, among them 22 children, 52 men and 47 women
Two thirds of Split Jewish Community members were killed during war, both in combat and camps

Piše: VeDRA
  09. studenog 2020.

Jakov Altaras (in center) with refugee jewish children before escaping to refugee camps in Italy.

In days of fascists’ attack on Dalmatia in April 1941 Split was pre-destined to be a centre of people’s antifascist rise. Jews from Split, as well as Jews who arrived to Split as refugees, played important role in this process. Central Committee of Communist Party of Croatia (CPC), which organized rise, counted at large number of industrial and harbour workers who lived in the city and its vicinity. Important pre-war revolutionary, Zagreb lawyer of Jewish origins Dr Leon Geršković was sent to Split in May 1941. He was appointed as a member of local CPC Committee, with an assignment to prepare Party’s member and sympathizers for armed fight. Geršković immediately started resistance bulletin “Naš izvještaj” (“Our Report”), and during 1942 he lead all actions as Split CPC Committee’s secretary. After joining partisans on mountain Dinara, he became editor of war-time newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija. After the war, he became university professor, and respectable political figure, first in ZAVNOH (war-time Croatian antifascists’ political body of representatives), and then in Croatian parliament Sabor and Yugoslavia’s federal political institutions.

Right after Yugoslavia’s royal army surrender to occupation forces, Party also deployed well-known Sarajevo-born writer and revolutionary Eli Finci to Split. He took over Party’s Agitprop (Agitation and propaganda committee) in Dalmatia, and the then illegal newspaper “Naš glasnik” (“Our Messenger”). Besides that, Finci was also in charge of ideological and political work with local Party organizations.

During founding of first partisans’ units in Central Dalmatia, especially important moment was arrival of Pavle Pap in early August 1941. At the time, Pap was already member of higher Party’s bodies. When decision of general people’s rise was made, his task was to found as many as possible partisan units in area of Central Dalmatia. Along with regional committee, he managed to found as many as seven partisans units. In late August 1941 he was an interim commander of Vodice-Zaton partisans squad. During the battle with Italian fascist forces he was captured, taken to Skradin and executed.

Resistance Hideout in Split Synagogue

In the meantime, Split turned into a centre of antifascist resistance. In June 1941, among other things, Action Intellectuals’ Committee to Help People’s Liberation Fight was founded. Besides local people, many of those who took a refuge in Split were included, particularly Jewish intellectuals. Especially important was Sub-committee of Medical Workers, where Split Party organization appointed Dr Silvio Altaras. All Jewish medical workers, both Split-natives and refugees, took part in that committee, to contribute to partisans’ units with expertize and material aid, as well as to assist in joining doctors and other medical workers with combat units. During 1942 and 1943 some thirty Jewish doctors joined People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

During fascist occupation, a group of Jewish youth was active as part of the resistance. They held their meetings in a room beneath the Jewish temple, which also served as a hideout for illegal members of the resistance, and to stash collected weaponry. Leon Altarac, who maintained the temple at the time, played important role in that group. As soon as the antifascist struggle began, two members of the group, typographer Aron M. Danon and engineer Mile Kac Ljubičić joined partisans. They were decorated with one of the most distinguished honour, Commemorative Medal of the Partisans of 1941, awarded to those who joined combat in the first year of the war. Others proceeded with underground resistance, among them was lawyer from Travnik, Bosnia-Herzegovina Albert J. Altarac. Party sent him to Split, where he became a secretary of one of Party’s local branches, and took part in many sabotages and diversions. When he was caught in April 1942, he was sentenced to 12 years in prison. After Italy surrender he joined People’s Liberation Army. In late September 1943 he was killed in combat on Mosor mountain, near Split.

Split rabbi Cadik C. Danon also got connected with higher Party’s officials, and one of his special tasks was to work with Jewish youth. His flat was a meeting place for the then illegal Party’s committees, “Our Report” was typed and copied there, and wounded partisans were hidden in that apartment. Under charge of working with the antifascist movement he was arrested by occupying forces in April 1942, and kept him in custody till December. He couldn’t be sentenced due to a lack of evidence, but instead he was sent to a camp. He was decorated with Commemorative Medal of the Partisans of 1941, and three other military medals.

Suzika Bogdanić, Zagreb native acted in deep conspiracy. She worked on counter-intelligence assignments by the Party’s special orders. High school student Bina R. Eskenazi was member of Communist Youth Alliance, and was assigned to include progressive youth in the movement. She was discovered, and fascist authorities sentenced her to 15 years in prison in April 1942.

Izidor Perrera Matić, the First Partisan Doctor

Another student Izidor R. Finci, also member of Communist Youth Alliance (CYA), was very active in underground youth organization. He got caught during one diversion in April 1942. Although he was under age, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. After Italy surrender he joined partisans, and got killed in late September 1943 as fighter with the Mosor partisan unit.

Izidor Perrera

dr. Izidor Perrera Matić

Rabbi Izidor A. Finci joined CYA during his theology education in Sarajevo in 1936, and closely co-operated with Cadik D. Danon. In April 1942 fascist authorities caught him and sentenced to 20 years. Vili Švarc Šimunov, who worked as a civil servant, also participated in organizing antifascist rise as member of Communist party since 1941. After being discovered by authorities, Party sent him out of Split, and he joined partisans in August 1942. For a while he was a political commissioner in 3rd Dalmatian Brigade, and after that he worked in propaganda department of People’s Liberation Army supreme headquarter. He was killed on May 25, 1944 in Drvar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, during German parachute deployment aiming to catch partisan leader Marshall Tito.

Split barber Milko M. Papo, member of Communist Party since 1936, and fighter in international brigades during Spanish Civil War, also got killed as partisan and member of PLA in November 1943. After fascists occupied Split merchant Rikard M. Šulc became one of the most active members of antifascist movement. His entire family got engaged in collecting aid for partisans, and he became head of People’s Relief organization. When caught, Italian fascists turned him to ustaša (Croatian Nazis) forces along with his wife Blanka and sons Boris and Draško.

It’s also worth of naming other Jewish members of antifascist movement, like Jozef M. Levi, member of CYA, as well as others who very early joined PLA; Lili Abinun-Šimunov, Dr Izidor Perrera Matić, Ruža Perrera and Zara Perrera. Particularly important moment was when Izidor Perrera Matić joined partisans. He was the first doctor in partisans movement in area of Central Dalmatia, and started medical organization in 8th Dalmatian Corps. He was highly respected as organizer of medical services. Unfortunately, his work was interrupted after meeting of PLA’s medical services on island Vis, during bombardment of Nadgradine village on January 25, 1944. His merits as medical lieutenant colonel were not forgotten; military hospital in Split was named after him, but it changed name in 1990.

Other Jewish medical workers also made significant contribution: dr Silvio L. Altaras, killed in late May 1945 by unknown assassin, dr Jakov L. Altaras, dr Rudolf Herz, pharmacists Judita A. Abinun and Lasislav E. Varijaš, dentist Aron H. Kabiljo, medical students Salamon E. Elazar and David M. Papo, killed in 1944.

Heroism of Tilda Finci

Jewish youth in Split took part in many CYA actions, ranging from collecting arms and medical supplies, to sabotage and diversions, to rallies like the one on the occasion of German invasion on USSR. Large number of them became official members of CYA in 1942 and 1943. Young woman Tilda J Finci was particularly recognized for her actions. On one occasion she spilled vitriol on fascist officer, and managed to flee and join partisans. She got killed as a fighter in late May 1943 during the epic battle of Sutjeska. Young Jews were also involved in different first aid courses, to prepare for medical duties in partisan units, to which they joined mostly in September 1943. Of total number of 114 Split Jews who joined partisans, more than half were young high school and university students.

Even those Jews from Split who didn’t join PLA were involved in the movement in different ways, ranging from sending financial or material aid to PLA, to work in underground workshops where they produced clothing for partisans. Some older members of the community moved to free territory in September 1943, and served in auxiliary services to PLA. Among them, important is engineer Josip Morpurgo who was later appointed to restart the cement factory in Majdan after Split was liberated.

As we mentioned, a total of 114 Jews from Split took part in People’s Liberation War, or 40 per cent of 284 members of pre-war Jewish community, which means that all capable to fight joined PLA, eleven of them in 1941. During 1942 seven people joined PLA, and six more in first half of 1943. The biggest wave happened in September 1943, after Italian fascist regime surrender, and 90 Jews joined PLA. Twenty nine were killed in combat, or 26 per cent. By year it’s five of those who joined in 1941, two from 1942, and 22 of those who joined PLA in 1943.

Split Accepted 3,000 Jews

However, significance of Split is not just in involvement of Jews in partisans’ struggle. Split also played important role in accepting Jewish refugees from other parts of former Yugoslavia, especially territories of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. During second half of 1941 about 3,000 Jewish refugees gathered in Split, where they were accepted with sympathies and were given all aid Split could offer. Italian fascist authorities couldn’t cope with such a large number of Jewish refugees, and in November 1941 they transferred 380 of them to camps in Italy, and then even larger group to camp on island Korčula. Among Jewish refugees there were several pre-war members of Communist Party who got in touch with Split communists to work together on mobilization of Jews to the antifascist movement, and their transfer to partisan units. Almost all refugees took part in the movement, helping in every way they could, from giving different donations to work in underground workshops, especially women.

According to unofficial sources, several hundreds Jews from Split, and camps in Korčula and Italy joined PLA, mostly after Italy surrender. Those days they disarmed fascist guards in camps, and armed themselves to join PLA as fighters, auxiliary and medical workers. Preserved records show activities done by Jewish refugees, both during their stay in Split and in partisans. Dr Milan Zon belonged to progressive circles before the war organized medical services for refugees in Split, and later continued his work in PLA. Engineer Aleksandar Štajner executed important task in October 1943, deconstruction of electric plant near village of Zadvarje, the one Germans wanted to destroy. Oto Štajner ran partisans’ workshops on Biokovo mountain. Paula Zon, as pre-war communist, was one of founders of Women’s Antifascist Front in Split, and editor of newspaper “Dalmatian Women in Combat”. Drs Žarko Almuli and Elza Jiršl-Karanfilović successfully launched medical services in refugee camps in Italy where many people from coast and islands found salvation from Nazi terror. Those Jewish refugees, both Split native and refugees, who stayed in Split after September 1943, were taken to German death camps and killed.

German Occupation and Tragedy

The hardest days for Jews in Split came with arrival of Germans, after Italy surrender and short period of freedom. Knowing what might happen some of them joined partisans, some rented boats and fled to Italy, and some joined refugees. Still, many of them, especially elder, couldn’t leave their homes and their hometown, and everything they had. They stayed, waiting for the fate to come.

Nazi poster from september 1943 ordering all Jews to report themselves to the facist authorities, with threats to any of their allies.

Germans entered Split on September 27, 1943, followed by ustaša quisling forces. Some Jews hid, but it was hard to live and hide without being noticed, especially because of constant raids. Same day when Germans took over, they displayed fliers with orders by military command that all Jews should report in former Ambasador hotel, where their headquarter was based. Whoever tried to avoid that, or ignore orders was threatened with death by hanging. Same punishment was threatened to all citizens who would hide Jews or help them in any other way. Writings on the wall remained after PLA withdrew from Split were declared as “Judeo-communist”. All Jewish stores in the city were closed, the last one was Morpurgo’s bookstore at main Piazza, the then officially called Ante Pavelić Square (leader of ustaša movement and head of Nazi-puppet Croatian state), which worked till October 6. All closed shops got a notice displayed saying “Closed under order of Minister for liberated zones Edo Bulat”. All Jewish flats were marked as “Juden Wohnung – Beschlagnahme” (Jewish Flat - Seized), and sealed with German commander’s stamp. German occupiers and their ustaša collaborators began anti-Jewish propaganda in local newspapers, to justify their actions and to create ant-Jewish sentiments among population. Only few days before final liberation, just before fleeing the city, Germans released last imprisoned Jews to their homes, and returned them keys of their empty, looted flats.

Final count was tragic; two thirds of all Jews from Split died during the war, both in combat and in Nazi terror.

Viktor Morpurgo, a soul of Split Jewish Community, the last Jew of old Split which perished in war, was also killed. In his last moments, he managed to hide Community’s registry books, preserving its heritage, and passing a legacy to those who survived not to forget their ancient, turbulent and rich past.

Tragedy unveiling: Jews from Split are being rounded at Gripe fortress before deporting to the extermination camps.

Split Jews in People’s Liberation War

Abinun M. Albert, Abinun A. mr. ph. Judita, Abinun_Šimunov A. Lili, Abinun M. Rifka, Abinun Rudi, Albahari M. Albert, Albahari M. Rifka-Tamara, Altarac J. Albert, Altarac R. Izahar, Altarac I. Rafael, Altarac l. Rikica, Altarac S. Flora, Altarac I. dr. Jakov, Altarac Mihael_Miho, Altaras L. dr. Silvio, Atias J. Avram, Artias M. Avram, Atias A. Klarica, Artias Alkalaj Sara, Bogdanić Suzika, Bronoer J. Debora, Broner J. Jozefina, Cajt B. Adolf, Danon M. Aron, Danon J. Blanka, Danon D. Cadik, Danon M. Jozef, Danon M. Rahela, Danon M. Salamon, Diker D. inž. Andor, Diker D. Erne, Diker D. Jakov, Diker Martin, Diker-Perera D. Regina, Druter P. Albert, Druter H. Ela, Druter Izak (Braco), Elazar F. Artur, Elazar F. David, Elazar S. Josip, Elazar S. Salamon-Silvio, Elazar Salamon, Engl-Anđelković F. Artur, Eskenazi R. Avram, Eskenazi R. Bina, Finci A. Izidor, Finci J. Izidor, Finci Š. Jahiel, Finci J. Matilda-Tilda, Finci J. Mento, Finci Š. inž. Salamon, Finci M. Šalom, Fišer-Levi A. Vilma, Fleš Eugen, Gaon I. Mordo, Gaon I. Rafaelo, Gertner J. Leo, Glajher A. Karlo, Glajher A. Nina, Glajher A. Rudi, Hajron I. Tina, Hartman Renato, Herc dr. Rudolf, Kabiljo H. Aron, Kabiljo Jozef, Kabiljo A. Jozef, Kac-Ljubičić inž. Mile, Kajon Moise-Kajić Duško, Kamhi H. Moise, Katan Salamon, Kraus-Reić Elza, Levi M. Jozef, Levi D. Moric, Macner B. Ervin, Morpurgo Gabriela, Morpurgo inž. Josip, Morpurgo Julijana, Morpurgo-Mladinov Silvana, Musafija M. Josip, Musafija M. Meir, Musafija J. Nina, Papo Š. Albert, Papo M. Aron, Papo M. Blanka, Papo M. Danko, Papo M. David, Papo Angelina, Papo A. Jozef, Papo M. Joža, Papo M. Lea, Papo Š. Leo, Papo M. Mihael, Papo M. Menahem-Miko, Papo M. Srećko, Paškeš E. Bruno, Paškeš E. Dora, Paškeš G. Gastone, Perera D. Mojsije- Boris, Perera Matić dr. Izidor, Perera D. Ruža, Perera D. Zora, Rozenberg-Nikolić P. Dušan, Šenauer J. Geza, Štajn-Papo M. Rozina, Štajn A. Julije, Štajner-Stanić Srećko, Štambuk Estera, Šteg. M. Sigmund, Šulc E. Blanka, Šulc R. Boris, Šulc R. Draško, Šulc M. Rikard, Švarc-Šimunov Š. Vili, Varijaš E. mr.ph.Ladislav, Viler H. Edita

(based on Jaša Roman’s paper published in Duško Kečkemet’s book “Jews in History of Split”, prepared by Marin Kuzmić)

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VeDRA     09. studenog 2020.