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Published Date

January 1, 2004

This resource was developed as part of Linking Family History and World History by Linda Pomerantz.

In Clara Pomerantz‘s oral interview she recalled that Monastir was “three days by donkey from Salonika [Greece].” Monastir is located in Macedonia, now named Bitolj in Serbo-Croatian or Bitola in Macedonian.

Map of Yugoslavia and its former republics.

At the time the Sarfaty family lived there, Monastir was considered part of Serbia, which in turn was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1913 under the terms of the Treaty of Bucharest, Macedonia was split among Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria.

The following information about Monastir was provided by Beth Hatefutsoth, the Nathan Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora (now Anu – Museum of the Jewish People), upon request by the Sarfaty family. (At its on-line site, the Museum will process similar requests for information about surnames and communities. Go to

Monastir was situated on one of the ancient and main trade routes of the Balkans (the Roman “Via Egnatia”) which went from the Albanian port of Durazzo to Salonika and Constantinople. It is therefore not surprising that Jews lived there already in Roman times. Direct evidence of Jewish settlement in this region was discovered in 1930 by a Yugoslavian archaeologist, Joso Petrovic, who found at nearby Stobi a column from a third century C.E. synagogue donated by one Claudius Tiberius Polycharmos, pater Synagogae (“Father of the Synagogue”) – the Chief Parnas. Marmorstein presumes that the ancestors of Polycharmos were freemen of the Emperor Claudius who had left Rome for Macedonia around the middle of the First century.

Nothing is known about Jewish settlement in Monastir in the Byzantine Period. In the 12th century there were Greek-speaking (Romaniot) Jewish artisans and traders in the town. More Jews arrived after the expulsion from Hungary in the 14th century. At the end of the 15th century refugees from Asia Minor and during the first half of the 16th century many Spanish exiles who came by the coast or through Salonika settled in Monastir.

Throughout the Ottoman period (1382-1913) Monastir was a lively commercial center. Trade was mainly in Jewish hands (export of liquor, olive oil, salt and salted fish, and import of wool, silk and woven cloth, copper, etc.); many Jews were tanners, silversmiths, cheesemakers, etc.  In the 16th century R. Joseph B. Lev was head of the Yeshiva. In the 18th century Abraham B. Judah de Buton was a rabbi of Monastir. A fire which swept through the town in 1863 destroyed over 1,000 Jewish homes and shops. A blood libel accusation was leveled against the Jews in 1900.

In 1884 there were 4,000 Jews in Monastir, and in 1910, 7,000. After World War I the economic situation deteriorated considerably and many Jews left the town, mainly for the United States and Chile, while others settled in Jerusalem. The remaining Jews were impoverished and there were many unemployed and poor people who were workers, porters, and peddlers. Between the two world wars community activity was manifold and intense with growing Zionist conscience and endeavor; the leader was Leon Kamhi. In the 1930s the central Jewish bodies became aware of the acute social problems in this community and introduced vocational training courses, encouraged chalutz youth movements and other activities. But the time was too short. This old community with its several synagogues, diverse social and cultural institutions, as well as a rich and original Judeo-Spanish folklore with some Turkish admixture, was wiped out during the Holocaust; the approximately 3,500 Jews were deported by the Bulgarian occupation authorities, for the most part to Treblinka on April 5, 1943. In 1952 there were only one or two Jews in the town.

Note: Boldfaced terms in the text above represent terms the student may need to investigate further in order to completely understand the town’s history.

Another source of information about Monastir is: A Town Called Monastir, by Yuri Oren (Tel Aviv, IMUD 1971). Mr. Oren wrote this book at the request of émigrés from Monastir who wished to record its history and the destruction of the Jewish community during the Holocaust. In particular they wished to memorialize the life of Leon Kamhi, a Zionist leader of the community who was killed at Treblinka with the rest of the 3.013 Monastir Jews in 1943.


Reflective Questions

  1. Can you locate Bitola on the map? Can you locate the home town for the ancestors of the family you are researching?
  2. Can you locate Salonika in relation to Bitola? What are the important geographic linkages from the home town for the family you are researching?
  3. What can you learn about the history of the place the family you are studying  came from? How does it compare with Monastir’s history?
  4. What books can you find about the history of the town the family you are studying came from?
  5. Where would you go to find the meaning of the terms you don’t understand in an historical narrative, such as that above about Monastir?


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