Pinkas HaKehillot Yugoslavia: Travnik
“Travnik”
Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities: Yugoslavia

(Bosnia and Herzegovina Republic)

44°14' / 17°40'

Translation of “Travnik” chapter
from Pinkas ha-kehilot Yugoslavia

Edited by Zvi Loker

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1988




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This is a translation from: Pinkas ha-kehilot; entsiklopediya shel ha-yishuvim
le-min hivasdam ve-ad le-aher shoat milhemet ha-olam ha-sheniya: Yugoslavia

Encyclopaedia of Jewish Communities: Yugoslavia,
Edited by Zvi Loker, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1988. (Pages 162-165)


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[Pages 162-165]

Travnik, Bosnia

Bosnia and Herzegovina Republic

Translated by Osnat Hazan

Edited by Sandra Krisch

Year Total population Jewish families Number
of Jews
1806   25  
1879   50 380
1910   100 472
1921 6,334   383
1931 6,810   344
1940     261
1968 14,000   17

A town located in the Lasva river valley, at the foot of Mount Vlasic, in central Bosnia. An important transportation junction connecting Bosnia with Dalmatia and enabling the flow of goods through Adriatic seaports.

The town was under the rule of the Ottoman Turks until 1878, when it was conquered by Austria. Since 1918 the town has been part of Yugoslavia. Most of the residents are Croats, with Muslim and Serb minorities. From the middle of the 17th century until the middle of the 19th century, the town was an administrative center of the Bosnian wilayet (provinces) and housed the residence of the Turkish vazir (governor).

Sephardic Jews arrived in Travnik at the end of the 17th century. These Jews had escaped from Sarajevo, which was mostly burned during the military campaign of Prince Eugene of Savoy.

The first Jews did not settle immediately. Jewish money-changers resided temporarily in the town before that, making money deals with the ruler and his dignitaries. From the middle of the 18th century there was a continuous Jewish community in the town. In his book Travnik's Chronicle, The Yugoslav writer and Nobel Prize winner, Ivo Andric, cites Davil, the French consul, who served in town at the beginning of the 19th century. In his opinion, the Jews were the most enlightened people among the local population. It is interesting to note that the consul established his residence in the house of the Jewish merchant Joseph Baruch.

Community Institutions

The first synagogue was built at the end of the 1860s, but it burned in one of the large fires that plagued the town and it was subsequently rebuilt. It should be noted that it was constructed by the Jews themselves, who built it between Mincha (the afternoon prayer) and Ma'ariv (the evening prayer). Construction of the esnoga or kal santo took three years. The women's gallery was called znogita, meaning “the small synagogue,” a name derived from the Portuguese esnoga.

Jews actually settled in Travnik before 1762, as indicated by old tombstones from that time at the Jewish cemetery at the Bojna site.

The first families that settled there, according to memory, were: Atias, Maestro, Altarac, Shalom, Gaon and Konforti.

At the beginning of the 19th century a serious blow occurred. A Jew who converted to Islam and became influential urged the authorities to destroy his people. That decree was retracted, thanks to the intervention of a Jew from Sarajevo, Raphael Levy, and the active help of Muslim notables, who released Rabbi Moshe Danon and ten other community leaders from their arrest. Also, a memorandum (mahzar) was written to the sultan in Kusta, which was published in our time. The informer himself was executed and the ruler, Rushdi Peha, was deposed. This happened in 1819, and many years later the event was still cited in prayers of thanksgiving.

Jewish Economy during Ottoman Rule

Travnik was a trade junction by the 18th century. Trade convoys passed through the town on their way south to the port town of Split. Another important trade route went to Trieste, to the northwest. The roads were paved and commerce was very active. There was a customs station in the town and, as was usual in those days, one could lease customs receipts in exchange for an annual fee. Indeed, most of the customs officers and appraisers were Jews.

Jewish merchants dealt with centers of commerce in Sarajevo, Split, Ragoza (Dubrovnik), Venice and Trieste. Imported goods included, among others: cotton and cotton fabrics, coffee, pepper and dried fruit. The Jews also dealt in the export of the area's agricultural products, such as wheat and barley, cheese (which was famous) and irrigated growth [?], and they sent their goods in convoys to Sarajevo and to Adriatic ports.

Until the arrival of the Ashkenazim, following the Austrian occupation, only Sephardic people lived in Travnik, most of them craftsmen, tinkers, shoemakers, carpenters, locksmiths, tailors, barbers, and goldsmiths; some were small merchants, such as brewers. Among the shoemakers, some specialized in sewing strong shoes for farmers, while Jewish tailors specialized in sewing special clothes for the rural population. The Jews excelled in two other typical local professions: ironing of the taboosh (also fez in the local dialect), also worn by Jews, and trading in and healing with medicinal herbs. The latter group specialized in collecting, processing, and selling medicinal herbs.

Until the arrival of modern medicine, those merchants—“pharmacists”—were considered popular doctors and were recognized by the authorities. Among those healers (hecimi) were mentioned the names of Mordechai and Isaac Atias and Shlomo and David Abinun.

The synagogue, which as mentioned above was constructed by the Jews themselves, was in use until the Holocaust (it still stands today, abandoned and unused). Torah lessons were held beside the synagogue. All males studied from the age of four or five in the maldar (cheder). The object of the lessons was to impart knowledge in reading the sidur (prayer book) and machzor (holiday prayer book), understanding the portion of the week, and translating it to Ladino. Thanks to all this, the Sephardic Jews of Travnik managed, in spite of their small numbers, to fulfill the commandments and retain their uniqueness. They had a strong sense of belonging to the community and of mutual support. Hence this small community left its mark on the history of the Jews of Bosnia, even during the Ottoman era.

The Ezrat Dalim association (help for the poor) was established in 1902. At first, the association helped poor young women get married; later it also engaged in cultural activities, such as performing shows (Bar-Kochva, King Solomon, Shulamit, and others).

Austro-Hungarian Rule (1878-1918)

The occupation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Habsburg monarchy in 1878 brought far-reaching political, economic and social changes. The Jews of Travnik immediately perceived advantages implicit in those changes and thus succeeded in integrating themselves in the new situation: merchants and craftsmen who until then had functioned within a primitive economy found a wider arena for their skills and initiatives. Wholesalers broadened the scope of their activities, especially in the food products industry, exporting agricultural products and importing cotton and a wide range of manufactured goods. However, most merchants were limited to retail trade in a variety of goods, mostly industrial products, which started to appear in the market. Craftsmen also added newer and more efficient working methods, such as printing in color; one even invented a special padlock. When his patent application was refused, he immigrated to the United States and had great success there.

The Ashkenazim in Travnik

Until 1878 Ashkenazic Jews did not live in Travnik. With the establishment of the new regime, Ashkenazic Jews arrived from all over the empire. They occupied various positions in the government structure, such as judges, engineers, veterinarians and officers at high and middle levels. They had a substantial influence over the lifestyles of the veteran Jewish community. The new lifestyle, the desire for modernization, the German language, new social ideas—these all charmed the Sepharadim, especially the younger ones; within a short time relationships were established between the two communities, which were reflected in joint activity.

Lawyers and innkeepers were also among the first Ashkenazic Jews. Especially outstanding among the doctors were Dr. Leopold Glück and Dr. Bernard Zauderer, who came from Galicia and received honorary citizenship in the town in recognition of their work. It is also important to mention the hospital's directors, Dr. Zigmond Schweiger and Dr. Fischel Rosenzweig. Dr. Zauderer was also among the first Zionists in the area. He bought the “shekel ha-zahav” in exchange for half his wealth and collected donations on behalf of the Jewish National Fund.

The Jews dealt in most fields of commerce, especially in the commerce of wheat, leather, textiles, and jewels. According to one statistic, 20 of the 68 shops in town were owned by Jews.

During this period, a few Ashkenazic families settled in small settlements in the area of Travnik. They were experts in the management of industrial plants, especially sawmills, which were established then in a major wave. These Jews, who settled in Turbe, Vitez, Gornji Vakuf and Fojnice, belonged to the community of Travnik.

However, the Ashkenazic Jews were a temporary—if impressive—phenomenon in the life of the community. After the collapse of the Austrian monarchy most of them left, and only Sephardic Jews remained in Travnik under the Yugoslavian monarchy.

Education and Zionism

As mentioned earlier, the education of Jewish children was limited to prayers and the Torah during the Ottoman period. With the opening of public schools during the Habsburg rule, Jewish children also started attending them. A few students completed their studies at the first gymnasium (secondary school) and continued in Europe's universities. Others made do with primary education and joined their parents in the shop or in the workshop.

For the first time, girls also started to attend school and some of them were even sent to boarding schools in Zagreb, Vienna, and Budapest.

In the field of religious studies, a turn for the better occurred with the arrival of the teacher and scholar Shabtai Jain. The new teacher, who came from Bulgaria, emphasized the study of the Hebrew language and the history of the Jewish people (see: Bitula).

Zionist activity also began during those days. With the arrival of William Nathan Rosenzweig in 1908, Ezrat Dalim (help for the poor) became a focus of social and Zionist activities. Jewish students who studied in Vienna and were organized there in the Bar Giora and Esperanza student associations established a youth association called Bar Giora. Adolf Banau (later a doctor at Kupat Holim in the district of Tel-Aviv, Israel) and Chaim Altaraz were among the founders of the new association. Those two groups worked in coordination: Ezrat Dalim developed a variety of social activities (a drama class, an orchestra of stringed instruments, a chorus) and Bar Giora, Zionist activities (Jewish National Fund, Shekel, etc.). The local Zionist branch was established in 1919 under the leadership of Abraham Solomon. In 1920, an association of Zionist girls named after Sara Aharonson was established. The chairwoman was Palomba Kalderon. During the 1920s there was a youth association named Degel Yehuda (flag of Judah), headed by Shlomo Abinun, Mordu and Danku Shalom. Klemi Altaraz and Tilda Konforti were also active in the association.

We will mention two more prominent persons during this period: one was the scholar Rabbi Abraham Abinun, a person of religious knowledge, who was subsequently chosen to be chief rabbi of Sarajevo. The other person, the teacher and writer Moshe D. Gaon, immigrated to Israel even before WWI and settled in Jerusalem, where he published his important book, The Jews of the East in Israel, as well as other texts.

During the Austrian rule, the Jews maintained normal relations both with the authorities and with the population.

The community was represented in the directorate of the town council by one representative among 11 council members, and it also sent a representative to the sabor (parliament). During the 1930s this representative was the merchant Shlomo Altarac. In Yugoslavian politics local Jews voted for the ruling parties, headed by the Serbian radical party, to the dissatisfaction of the Croats.

During WWI, which caused a paralysis in Zionist, cultural and social activities within the community of Travnik, many (Jews) were recruited, commerce was reduced, and an abrupt deterioration occurred in the material well-being of community members. The number of Jews declined and by the end of the war, at the end of Austro-Hungarian rule, when the Ashkenazim started to leave, Travnik's community was significantly reduced.

The Yugoslavian Monarchy (1918-1941)

The civil rights of the Jews were not harmed with the establishment of the new country, Yugoslavia, the kingdom of the Serbs, the Croats and the Slavs. However, Travnik's community gradually declined under the new economic and social circumstances. Young people who did not find jobs left the town and went to large urban centers (Sarajevo, Zagreb). Most of those with academic educations found no place to practice their skills in their hometown, and this hurt the work and level of the community.

The life of the community continued in the Sephardic tradition. At the end of the 19th century the scholar Abraham Avitan held the leadership position in the community and, during the 20th century, Isaac Baruch, nicknamed Dudu, Daniel Danon, Samuel Abinun, Shlomo Montiljo and finally (from 1929 until the Holocaust) the physician Dr. Joseph Konforti, who was the last chairman. The cantors were David Elkalay and Moshe Romano. At the head of the hevra kadisha (Jewish burial society) was Leon Y. Konforti; the gabbai (manager) of the synagogue was Ezra. Between the two world wars there was also bikur holim, (visiting the sick) managed by Meyer Schniterpel. Religiously, the Jews of Bogojno and Yajze were related to this community.

From the 1920s there was also an association of Jewish women, mostly for welfare purposes.Ashkenazic Jews integrated into the life of the community and there was neither difference nor conflict between them and the Sepharadim, as occurred in other mixed communities in Bosnia.

The position of the Jews in town was respectable. With the rise of Nazism in Europe, the Jews of Travnik, like others, experienced anti-semitism, perhaps for the first time. Internal changes in Yugoslavia in the 1930s and the open organization of nationalist Croats against the Yugoslavian monarchy manifested themselves in anti-semitic uprisings. Nevertheless during those years, the last before the Holocaust, from 1936 to 1941, Travnik's Jews built the Jewish Club (Jevrejski Klub), which became the center of social and Zionist activity in town. Despite a decline in numbers, activity in the Jewish Club increased.

The cultural life of the community was varied. It was rooted in Sephardic folklore, its heritage and customs. The righteous Y. Konforti and Moshe D.Gaon wrote sketches and plays, for example, La Hermoza Rahel (Beautiful Rachel), which were presented on holidays. At Purim it was customary to send a Purim gift and, in Ladino, platikos de Purim. These are but a few examples.

The Period of the Holocaust (April 1941-1945)

With the collapse of Yugoslavia in April 1941 and the establishment of the independent state of Croatia, the Croat Nazis – Ustasha – terrorized the Jews of Travnik with their well-known methods. The process of final extermination was rapid: forced labor, confiscations, the yellow patch, restrictions on movement, humiliations, and then began the physical annihilation. Within ten months, the community was wiped out. On October 20th, 1941, the first transport was sent to the concentration camps of Krushchicha*, Stara Gradishka, Jasenovac and Okucani. The second transport took place on January 25th, 1942 and the third on March 24th, 1942.

Only a few dozen of the Jews of Travnik survived: those who succeeded in escaping the area to reach the Italian occupation or to join the Partizans. Most of the Jewish fighters, Travnik natives, died in action. Outstanding among these was the revolutionary physician, Dr. Moni Levy, who achieved the rank of general in the army and was released.

The Jewish community of Travnik no longer exists. The property of the community, the synagogue, the building of the Jewish Club, as well as possessions and real estate belonging to murdered Jews, were nationalized by the new government established in Yugoslavia after the liberation in 1945. Torah scrolls and ritual objects ravaged by the Ustasha and deposited in the Jesuit seminar in Travnik were returned. These are situated in the community of Belgrade. Only the Jewish cemetery in Bojna survived as a memorial and testament to this community, which existed for more than 250 years. In 1979, a special monument was established by the citizens of the town. On the monument they wrote: “For the Jews of Travnik, 1941–1945—the citizens of Travnik.”


*A village, 17 km from town, which belonged to the Gutmann family. In this village, a terrible detention camp was established by the end of August and beginning of September 1941. Jews and Serbs were transported there and left without food. Intervention attempts made on behalf of the town council with the authorities, including the Italians, were to no avail and at least 3,000 people, among them 2,000 Jews, met their deaths there.


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