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Spanish Jewish expellees in Croatia


אירנה רוזנברג

The first settlement of Spanish Jewish expellees in Croatia was a near-failure. On their arrival in Croatia, the Jewish refugees suffered from anti-Semitic rulers and a hostile local population. However, the Spanish Jews maintained ties to their brethren in Italy, which provided them with trading connections which, along with their wealth, enabled them to restore the Jewish communities in Croatia. They eventually even attained high social status with the rulers and gained a reputation as pillars of society.

Anyone who is a descendant of Croatian Jews is a descendant of Spanish expellees and eligible for European citizenship. Some 3.5 million Israelis are eligible to receive a Portuguese passport. Check to see whether your surname appears in the list of eligible names!

Spanish Jewish expellee communities in Croatia:

Spanish Jewish expellees in CroatiaIn 1492, the Spanish kingdoms of Castile and Aragon decided to expel all Jewish subjects from their lands. This move led to the expulsion of Jews from the neighboring Navarra and Portuguese kingdoms as well, so that Jews were ultimately forced out of the entire Iberian Peninsula. Since the gates of eastern Europe were closed to the Jewish refugees, they chose to emigrate to Morocco, the Ottoman Empire, and Italy.

In those days Italy was a war-torn collection of local principalities such as Napoli, Genoa, Venice, some under control of foreign kingdoms such as Spain, Austria, etc. When the Spanish expellees arrived in the regions of Tuscany, Puglia, and other Italian settlements, hundreds of them continued on towards Croatia, where they settled in Dubrovnik and Split. At that time Croatia was divided among three powers: the Venetian Republic, the Hungarian Kingdom, and the Ottoman Empire. Dubrovnik (or Ragusa) and Split were under Venetian control, so Jews there enjoyed excellent trade ties with the Italian kingdoms.

Persecution of Spanish Jewish expellees in Croatia

The first Spanish Jewish settlers in Croatia arrived some 150 years before the great expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula. They even built a synagogue in Dubrovnik in 1352. That synagogue still exists today and serves as the oldest Sephardic synagogue in the world, and the second oldest synagogue in Europe after the “Altneuschul” in Prague.

Now we turn to the Spanish Jewish expellees who arrived in Croatia in the early 16th century, after the Spanish expulsion. At the beginning of their settlement among the uneducated Christian Croatian population, they faced great difficulties. As early as 1502, Jews already faced a blood libel. Upon hearing of an old woman who was murdered in the streets of Dubrovnik, the authorities decided to arrest several dozen Jews. Of these, two died under torture; four were burned alive at the stake; the doctor Moses Marali was strangled to death in prison; and three others were expelled from the city.

The Ottoman governor in Bosnia caused a stir among Croatians when he reacted to this incident by angrily protesting the injustice done to the poor Jews. Fear of the Ottoman governor’s reaction and his sanctions caused the Dubrovnik authorities to close their gates in 1510 to additional Jewish refugees coming from southern Italy. These Jews had been expelled from Italy, just as they had been expelled earlier from Spain, because southern Italy was controlled by the Spanish Empire. In 1515, even the Turkish governor could not prevent the Croatian authorities from deciding to banish Jews from the city of Dubrovnik. As a result, trade suffered in the city, and for that reason, some 17 years later, the authorities allowed Jews to return to Dubrovnik. They came from all corners of the Ottoman Empire to engage in trade.

Flourishing of the Jewish community in Croatia

When the Spanish Jews resettled in Dubrovnik in 1532, the authorities decided to concentrate the Jews together in a ghetto. Even so, this period saw a flourishing of the Sephardic Jewish community, which included doctors who worked for the authorities. Among them was the most famous Jewish doctor of the time, a trailblazer in medieval medicine – Amatus Lusitanus. Likewise, famous writers were active there, including: Didacus Pirus and Yeshiyahu Cohen, who wrote poems in Latin, Torah exegists such as Aharon Hacohen and Shlomo Ohev, who was the rabbi of the community and a businessman, the adjudicator Rabbi Shabtai Ventura, on whom the Chofetz Chaim relied in his halachic work Mishnah Brura, and other rabbis, merchants, and craftsmen.

Additional informative articles on Jewish expellee communities in the Diaspora

  1. The Sephardic communities in Damascus and Aleppo
  2. The famous Sephardic community in Romania
  3. Sephardic communities in Sarajevo
  4. Egypt – survival of the Jewish settlement thanks to the Spanish expellees
  5. All the information you need to obtain a Portuguese passport

Thank you to Mr. Jonathan Gavrielov for his help in writing this article on Spanish Jewish expellees in Croatia and other articles.

Contact attorneys who specialize in emigration to Portugal

The law offices of Cohen, Decker, Pex, Brosh assist descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews to obtain Portuguese citizenship and a passport. If you have documents or other proof of an historical family connection to Spanish expellees, you have the possibility to obtain a Portuguese passport, which grants you European citizenship.

We will be happy to carry out an immediate eligibility check. Contact us at:

Spanish Jewish expellees in Croatia

ייעוץ משפטי (+972)3-3724722


רחוב עמל 37 פתח תקווה 4951337 ישראל,

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