Zagreb Mirogoj Jewish Cemetery
The first Jewish cemetery of Zagreb was built in 1811 and was used until 1877. The second Jewish cemetery in Zagreb was opened in 1858 and closed in 1878. From 1878 onwards, Zagreb Jews were buried in the big central Mirogoj cemetery. In 1880, the Jewish population numbered 1,285. The Zagreb Jews were divided into three communities: a large Ashkenazi-Neology congregation, a smaller Ashkenazi-Orthodox group and a small Sephardi population. One of the most famous individuals from the Zagreb Jewish community was Rabbi Dr. Hosea Jacobi (1841–1925), the Chief Rabbi of Zagreb. He was the spiritual and religious leader of the Jewish community of Croatia for 58 years. He was buried in the Jewish section of the Mirogoj cemetery. The Jewish community of the city during the 19th and 20th centuries was one of the strongest Jewish communities in the entire Austro-Hungary Empire. The social, religious, philanthropic and cultural institutions of the Jewish community worked together with non-Jewish population. In 1931, there were approximately 8,700 Jews in Zagreb. After the start of Nazi repressions against the Jewish populations of Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia, waves of the Jewish migrants from these countries came to Croatia. The Jewish population was 12,000 before the Holocaust. The German occupation and the rule of Croatian nationalists in 1941 was a death sentence for the local Jews. The large community faced many anti-Semitic laws, confiscation of their property, and deportation to concentration camps. The Great Synagogue was demolished in 1942. The entire destruction process was photographed for propaganda purposes as an illustration and example to the „solution of the Jewish question in Croatia.” After the war, there were 2,214 Jews in Zagreb. Today, the community is just 1,200 people.
The central Mirogoj Cemetery was established in 1876 to replace the several older Jewish cemeteries. It was a big central cemetery serving all religions. The Jewish section was established in 1878. Some of the monuments from the two older cemeteries were moved to the new Jewish section. The Mirogoj Cemetery is among the most impressive and best-maintained cemetery complexes in Europe. Architect Herman Bollè designed the necropolis with the goal to make it not only a beautiful park and an open-air art gallery, but a place for burial. The Jewish section originally had 13 separate sub-sections: ten for Ashkenazic Neolog, two for Sephardic and one for Orthodox Jews. At its peak, the cemetery had 4,000 to 5,000 tombstones, but in 2009, it had only about 1,500 remaining. The oldest tombstone dates back to 1870 and the latest to 2019.
The Mirogoj Cemetery is the property of the Zagreb municipality. During the Communist period, in 1961, approximately 1,000 Jewish graves were exhumed and moved into a mass grave in the Jewish section of the main cemetery in Zagreb. Some of the old tombstones were replaced by new monuments but in other cases, the name of a newly buried person was added to the tombstone. An imposing statue of Moses by the sculptor Antun Augustincic serves as its Holocaust memorial. A terrorist bomb exploded in the Jewish section of the cemetery in 1991 but the damage was soon repaired. An earthquake in July 2020 damaged some of the old landmark structures.
Zagreb is the capital and largest city of Croatia. During the Roman times, it was the place of the oldest settlement Andautonia from the 1st to 5th centuries AD. The city was first mentioned in 1094 when it was divided into two parts. The smallest part, Kaptol, was inhabited by the clergy and Gradec, the other section, was a town for merchants and craftsmen. Both places were ruined during the Tatar invasion in 1242 but were restored later as fortresses in 1254. During that time, the population of Zagreb numbered about 1000 people, most of them Croat and Hungarian. In 1368, there were 2,810 inhabitants. During the period against the Turkish invasion, the fortress in the city played an important defensive role because of its strategic location near the border. In 1557, the city became the Croatian capital, but in the 17th century the city suffered from several big fires. At the end of the 18th century, the Royal council moved to Zagreb from Varaždin, beginning a period of rapid development for the capital. In those years it was a big trading center and had a population of about 7,000 people. During the 19th century, Zagreb rapidly developed: many magnificent buildings were erected, the railway station was constructed and industry increased. There were 10,8674 inhabitants in the city in 1921.
The first Jews came to Zagreb in the 14th century but were expelled from the city in 1526. Until the end of the 18th century, Jews were only allowed to live in the nearest villages surrounding Zagreb. In 1806 the Jewish community was established and only 75 Jews lived in Zagreb during this time. The Jews came to the city from southern Hungary, Austria and other parts of Croatia. They were craftsmen, merchants and people of the free professions. Being a center of big economic fairs, Zagreb was attractive for Jewish businessmen from all over Croatia. Competition in trade increased hostility between local merchants and the growing Jewish population. In the 19th century, the Jewish community was very financially successful and many Jews played an important role in the local economy. The first Jewish school was built in 1841 and the Great Synagogue was erected in 1867. The synagogue was a grand Moorish Revival temple built by Franjo Klein, a Vienna-born Zagreb architect. It was a Neolog synagogue with an organ and was the first prominent public building in Zagreb’s lower town.