Macedonia’s tiny Jewish population proudly showed off its new permanent exhibition at the country’s Holocaust Memorial Center this week, on the 75th anniversary of their ancestors’ deportation.
American senators and ambassadors joined dignitaries from across Europe at the opening of the exhibition, which tells the tale of one of the world’s oldest Jewish communities, 98 percent of whom were sent to Treblinka.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov was among those attending the ceremonies commemorating the 75th anniversary of the deportation of Jews from Macedonia, which include a ceremony at the Parliament.
“Telling the Macedonian story is an opportunity to reinforce to the world how quickly enormous populations can be wiped from the face of the earth, with their contributions gone forever,” said principal architect Dr. Michael Berenbaum, of Berenbaum Jacobs Associates.
Although the museum opened in 2011, it has been largely empty until now, and VIPs applauded how the museum – located in the capital, Skopje – tells the story of Macedonian Jewry beginning two millennia ago, including the growth of the community who came as a haven from the Spanish Inquisition.
The story of the deportation of the Jews from Macedonia is unique in that occupying power Bulgaria expelled Jews from their homes, ghettoised them in a tobacco factory in Skopje then deported them to Treblinka, only after hesitating to deport their own Jews from Bulgaria.
Experts say 98 percent of the Macedonian Jews were killed in Treblinka. Those who survived were either hidden by non-Jewish Macedonians, released from the factory because they were physicians and pharmacists or foreign nationals of Axis or neutral countries, or to become partisan fighters.
“Macedonia itself has emerged out of regional conflicts that had developed over many generations,” said Edward Jacobs, principal of BJA.
“The museum will provide Macedonians, Jew and Gentile alike, the opportunity to see themselves in a historical context with all the related moral decisions we are confronted with.”