August 2015: Our Danube River cruise docked in Belgrade Serbia for a day. Our afternoon was free to wander about, and then either shuttle back to the boat or walk. Jim and I with our new friends decided to experience an outdoor café, and then walk to find the synagogue before heading back to the boat.
The Belgrade synagogue is currently the only fully active one in the Serbian capital of Belgrade. Similar to our visit to a synagogue in Sophie, Bulgaria although we found the location, there was a metal gate leading to a courtyard and the building was beyond. We rang the buzzer, continued into the courtyard, followed a sign that lead us to a side door to a caretaker. We were then led through a doorway to a sanctuary. Again- a sense of comfort- the sanctuary was not much different to what we would find in our North American cities. The difference is the history of the 1940’s.
Reading about this building, I learned the construction plans were approved in 1923, the cornerstone laid in 1924, and completed in 1925, with the building dedication in 1926 once the interior was completed. The building functioned as a synagogue, for the Belgrade Ashkenazi Jewish community until 1941. During the war years, the building was desecrated used as a brothel, and re-consecrated as a synagogue only after the war. On the eve of World War II there was said to be 12,000 Jews in Belgrade, claims that by the end of 1941 that the city had been cleared of the Jewish population, only a few returned. Today a Jewish population is about 2,000 people.
As I started my trip along the Danube I never thought the journey would be to find the synagogues of Eastern Europe. Belgrade was our third stop on our trip, and at this point each time we had an afternoon or time to ourselves, Jim helped me in my quest to find the synagogues, and a segment of history.