We have just returned from a great tour of Croatia and Slovenia that was arranged by Ophir tours for AACI. The tour guide was Michael Tuchfeld and the AACI representative accompanying the tour was Miriam Green (who just happens to be our daughter, what a coincidence). All of the tour participants were English-speaking Israelis and a few visitors to Israel. Most of the participants were religious and kosher food was supplied, including delicious local fish, trout, cooked in silver foil.
We flew to Zagreb and immediately went into tour mode, travelling south by coach, stopping for lunch at a beauty spot Slunj where there was a plethora of waterfalls. Then on to the beautiful Plitvice Lakes, which are a series of lakes that are connected by small waterfalls. Very well worth a visit but quite strenuous. We climbed up for about an hour through stairs and slopes until we took a boat across the largest lake and then rejoined our coach for the trip further south. Overnight we stayed at a luxurious hotel in Solin, then in the morning we drove to the nearby old town of Trogir, that has a beautiful small square.
It was here that I went to change a 100 Euro traveller’s check in a Bank. The clerk asked for my passport and checked the photo and then asked me to sign the traveller’s check. She compared my signature to that already on the traveller’s check and it was the same, but then she compared it to the signature in the passport and she said that they were different. She then took the items to her manager and came back and said they could not cash the check because my signature on the traveller’s check did not match that in the passport. I protested, I said that I had signed that several years ago and because it had to be signed inside a small rectangle I had evidently made my signature smaller. But, she would not change the check, so I said I wanted to complain to the manager, but then she started copying my passport, so I said “forget it” and I tore up the copy and left. A few minutes later I went into a different bank, and lo and behold no problem, they changed it for me with a smile. So I used the Israeli solution, if you don’t like what a clerk tells you, go to another clerk. Also, it taught me that traveller’s checks are not worth the amount printed on them.
We drove on to the port city of Split that was originally founded around the huge palace built by the Roman Emperor Diocletian when he retired in 305 ce, yes that’s right, he actually retired from being Emperor, but made sure that he built his palace in a remote and defendable location. After he died the palace fell into ruins and hundreds of years later people built their houses inside the walls. There are still some original features standing, including a magnificent archway, the hexagonal mausoleum where he was buried (now a church) and the extensive basement that he had built as the foundation of the palace. In the basement there are several menorot carved into the stone, giving evidence of the presence of Jews. We visited the synagogue, that is the third oldest in Europe and met the President of the Jewish community, although there are very few Jews left there (perhaps a dozen).
In the coastal region of Dalmatia we then drove to the Krka National Park (note the absence of vowels, a characteristic of the Croatian language) in a large valley with a series of waterfalls. We embarked on a boat through the river to a lake and visited the island of Visovac and the Monastery there amid very beautiful scenery, not bad being a monk. On the way north we stopped at the port city of Zadar, where we saw the Roman wall and forum and had a tea-toilet stop. Michael took us along the coast to the sea organ, a place where the lapping of the waves causes musical sounds in pipes. From there we drove back several hours to Zagreb and stayed in the Best Western Astoria Hotel. We visited the synagogue in Zagreb and ate a kosher meal there prepared by the volunteers. There are about 100 Jews living in Zagreb.
The next morning we visited the main cemetary in Zagreb at Mirogoj, that has a large arcade built in 1876. Notably in this cemetary there are Jewish and Catholic family graves side by side, an unusual feature showing tolerance. Also there were memorials to the dead of WWI and WWII. We then drove east towards the Bosnian border to Jasenovac, which was the main concentration camp built in 1941 by the Ustashe Regime that ruled Croatia in alliance with the German Nazis during WWII. In the camp they rounded up Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Croats who opposed them and worked them to death and murdered them in the most primitive and grisly ways. They also built crematoria according to German specifications. But, nothing remains of the actual camp since the Ustashe destroyed it in 1945 before it could be captured. It is now a green and peaceful area dominated by a huge concrete memorial flower. We lit a memorial candle there and said a prayer (el moleh rahamim). Then we visited the small museum with exhibits regarding the camp.
It should be noted that Croatia is predominantly Catholic and uses the Roman alphabet, while Serbia is predominantly Orthodox and uses the Cyrillic alphabet. At this camp ca. 90,000 people are known to have been murdered, maybe many more, approximately half of them were Serbians and the rest divided between Jews, Gypsies and Croats. Before the war there were about 12,000 Jews in Zagreb, of whom ca. 8,000 were murdered in Jasenovac, 2,000 fought in the partisans and another 2,000 escaped. Jasenovac had several subsidiary camps, Gradiska now in Bosnia was for women and children, and thousands of children were murdered there. This camp was reused by the Serbians to house Croation prisoners during the Croatian-Serbian war of 1991-5 that led to the breakup of Yugoslavia into the separate states of Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia. (to be continued)