Rijeka Jewish section on Kozala municipal cemetery
The first Jewish cemetery in Rijeka was built in 1840 in the Zagrad area. It was established on private property surrounding a wine yard. Very soon after construction, locals demanded the relocation of the Jewish cemetery to a new place. According to City Government documents from 1875, the Jewish community had to then use the new Kozala general cemetery of two specified grave fields. The first construction plans of the Jewish cemetery date back to 1856 and in 1875 the first burial occurred. In reality, however, the Jewish cemetery did not start operating until 1904. The Ceremonial Hall, designed by Francesco Placsek in 1893 and inaugurated in 1904, was built with three rooms and a gabled roof. The cemetery is surrounded by a low stone wall and formed a special spatial and design. Twenty-two tombstones transferred from the first Jewish cemetery were incorporated into the wall of the in the southern fence in the cemetery wall. The land of the cemetery was later nationalized in 1976. In 2009, the cemetery had about 550 tombstones remaining and a historical landmark. The oldest tombstone dates back to 1905 and the latest to 2019. The local Jewish community erected a Holocaust memorial designed by the architect Zdenko Sila in 1981. It was built of white Istrian stone and the memorial bears the names of 278 Holocaust victims from Rijeka. A three-year project to renovate and partially reconstruct the Ceremonial Hall was completed in 2021. The restoration was co-financed by the municipality of Rijeka and the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County.
Rijeka is a seaport located in the Primorje-Gorski Kotar County on the Kvarner Bay, an inlet of the Adriatic Sea. Rijeka was first mentioned in the 1st century AD as the town of Tarsatica, but during the rule of Augustus, the Romans rebuilt the settlement as a “municipium Flumen.” In the 7th century, Croatian tribes came to the region and built a feudal town surrounded by a wall. From about 1300 to 1466, Rijeka was ruled by a number of Croatian or Hungarian noble families. In 1509, the Venetian army ruined the town but very soon after it was rebuilt under the Austrian rule. On November 28, 1750, Rijeka was hit by a large earthquake. During its recovery, it transformed from a small medieval town into a larger commercial city and an important seaport. In the 19th century, Rijeka developed quickly as a main industrial and cultural center and naval base of the Empire. In 1873, a railway station was constructed and the population of the city numbered 21,000 in 1880. The largest industries of Rijeka were rice husking, wood and furniture production, shipbuilding industries, cocoa and chocolate production and other branches. During those years, the majority of the population was Italian and Croatian. In 1910, there were 49,806 inhabitants. The 20th century was very difficult period for the Rijeka as it became the spot of a battle between Italy and Yugoslavia that both wanted to own its seaport.
Jews presence in the city was first mentioned in 1436, but officially the Jewish community was established there in 1781. The Rijeka Jewish community was very heterogenous unlike other Jewish communities of Croatia. The Jews of Rijeka were from Austria, Italy, Greece, Hungary and Poland. In the middle of the 19th century, the majority were Sephardic Jews from Split and Dubrovnik, who followed the “minhag Ispalatto”. The first synagogue was built in 1832 and the community center was also established that year. The “Hevra Kadisha” was established in 1885. Most of the local Jews were tolerant and liberal. In 1902 and 1928 the community built two more synagogues, a large and a small one. The small synagogue was Orthodox and descendants from Poland and Galicia prayed there. The big Neologue synagogue was erected by the architect Lipót Baumhorn in an Art Nouveau style. The Jewish population of the city numbered 2,000 people in 1900. Rijeka Jews worked in trading and banking and there were many lawyers, doctors and engineers in the community. Before the Second World War, the city was under Italian rule, yet the fascist regime was not oppressive to the Jewish population. After the occupation of Rijeka by German troops and its annexation of Croatia in 1943, the repression began. The Jews were deported to death camps, the big synagogue was burned and ruined in 1944 and the community archive was also destroyed. 260 Jews of the city perished in the Holocaust. After the war, the Jewish community was reestablished. In 1947, there were 147 Jews in Rijeka.