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2017-2021 ARCHIVED CONTENT

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Overview

Prior to World War II (WWII), the Jewish community in the territory comprising present-day Republic of North Macedonia enjoyed significant levels of autonomy and religious freedom and prospered in commerce, medicine, and government.  According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, there were nearly 8,000 Jews living in the area in 1941, most of whom were Sephardic Jews living in Skopje, Bitola, and Shtip.  Much of the area was administered by Bulgaria from 1941 to 1944, and Bulgarian police and military units deported the territory’s Jews to Nazi German-held territories.  The vast majority, approximately 7,000, were murdered at the Treblinka death camp in 1943.

The current Jewish population in North Macedonia is estimated at 200 individuals.  The majority are Sephardic Jews concentrated in Skopje; there is also a small Ashkenazi Jewish population in Tetovo.

The country has taken concrete steps toward the restitution of communal and private immovable property that was seized, confiscated, or sold under duress during WWII.  In addition, North Macedonia’s Holocaust Fund and Holocaust Memorial Center support research, education, and training programs to advance Holocaust awareness, combat anti-Semitism, and promote inter‑faith cooperation.

Immovable Private, Communal/Religious, and Heirless Property

The government took a step toward reaching its restitution goals when it enacted the 2000 Denationalization Law.  For a five-year period following its adoption, the law afforded former owners and their successors the right to claim properties that had been confiscated after August 1944, when the first meeting of the Anti-fascist Assembly for the National Liberation of Macedonia was held.  The law required claimants to provide proof of Macedonian citizenship and evidence of ownership or legal successor status of private or communal property.

Additionally, in April 2002, the government approved the formation of the “Holocaust Fund of the Jews of Macedonia,” establishing the Jewish-community directed Fund as the recipient of heirless and unclaimed Jewish property in the country.  The government and the Fund signed an agreement in December 2007 under which the government would make payments to the Fund between 2009 and 2018 as restitution for confiscated Jewish property.  These payments totaled approximately $25.6 million, including the final installment of $6.7 million disbursed in June 2018.

Under the Denationalization Law, if a former owner or heir later claimed property for which compensation had already been paid to the Fund, the Fund would not be required to compensate the claimant.  The Fund considers that all Holocaust-era immovable property restitution claims have been resolved.  The Jewish community reported no outstanding claims for immovable property in North Macedonia, although they added that foreign citizens can still seek compensation in civil proceedings.  (Only one person is known to have sought property restitution outside of the criteria set forth in the Denationalization Law through such civil proceedings.)

Representatives of the World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO), however, expressed concern that the 2000 Denationalization Law excluded claimants and heirs who were no longer citizens, including Holocaust survivors and their families who now live in the United States or other countries.  The WJRO reported that during a March 2019 meeting with representatives from Prime Minister Zaev’s office, it was agreed that the WJRO would assist the government in determining whether there were outstanding claims for individuals who were not citizens.  The government additionally expressed willingness to establish a working group to look into the matter.  The WJRO subsequently estimated that there were approximately 100 outstanding claims and committed to provide an advisor to the working group to work with the country’s Jewish community to identify individual claimants.

Movable Property: Nazi-Confiscated and Looted Art, Judaica, and Jewish Cultural Property

A 1998 commission established by the National Bank estimated the value of the possessions belonging to Jews from Skopje that were looted and sold by the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs of Bulgaria during WWII to be $16.5 million.  According to government officials and a representative of the country’s Holocaust Memorial Center, no documentation for specific seized movable property exists.  Jewish organizations believe additional research is needed.

There are also no estimates regarding the amount of cultural property that was confiscated.  The Beth Yaakov Synagogue in Skopje, consecrated in 2000, is the only functioning Jewish house of worship in the country.  Research on plundered cultural objects has not yet been completed.

Access to Archival Documents

In accordance with the country’s 2012 Law on Archival Documents, access to all archival documents, including those related to the Jewish community, is free and unrestricted.  The State Archives maintain these documents and make them accessible upon written request.  Furthermore, North Macedonia is cooperating with its neighbors to expand open access to archives and to assist with the identification of movable property and claims to heirless assets.

Education, Remembrance, Research, and Memorial Sites

North Macedonia became a liaison country to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) on December 5, 2019.  The principal goal of the country’s Holocaust Fund is to commemorate the Holocaust and provide Holocaust education.  As part of these efforts, the Fund financed the Holocaust Memorial Center in Skopje, which opened in 2011, to commemorate, research, and share the story of North Macedonia’s Jews.  The Center plays an instrumental role in a variety of educational and research activities and works with the Ministry of Education to implement Holocaust and Jewish history programs and promote interfaith cooperation.  Since 2012, the Ministry of Education has also promoted school visits to the Holocaust Memorial Center.  The Holocaust is included in the history curriculum, as well as in the curricula of religion, languages (Macedonian, Albanian, and English), and the arts.  The Holocaust Memorial Center organizes four teacher training seminars each year on Holocaust education and implements a school project titled “Holocaust through the prism of children’s eyes.”  The Center also organizes various regional and international educational seminars, including with history teachers from Bulgaria and Greece, and recently sponsored the first seminar for teachers from North Macedonia, Albania, and Serbia.

The Holocaust Fund, the IHRA, the country’s Jewish community, and the Institute for the Cultural and Spiritual Heritage of the Albanians opened a Holocaust Education and Research Department in Skopje in March 2019, believed to be the first of its kind in the region.  The government of North Macedonia also adopted the IHRA’s working definition of anti-Semitism in March 2018.  The Jewish community and the government regularly hold commemorations on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The tobacco factory in Skopje, which was the gathering site for the deportation of Jews to Treblinka in March 1943, is the only Holocaust memorial site in North Macedonia.  “March of the Living” events also mark the March 1943 deportation.

The Welfare of Holocaust (Shoah) Survivors and Other Victims of Nazi Persecution

Some survivors of Treblinka emigrated to Israel after WWII, with a small number eventually returning to North Macedonia.  Three survivors still living in the country today receive a government pension.

Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report: North Macedonia
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