Remnant of Macedonian Jewry remembers day of destruction

The ceremony was one event during a three-day program commemorating the 60th anniversary of the roundups in three Macedonian cities and towns — Skopje, Bitola and Stip — that had vibrant Jewish communities before World War II.

Macedonia's Jewish population was one of the most devastated in the Holocaust, with 98 percent of the country's Jews murdered. But Viktor Mizrahi, president of Macedonia's Jewish community, urged people to remember Holocaust victims everywhere.

"We must never forget the lost Macedonian Jews," he said, "but when we pay our respects to them we must remember the millions around the world who also died."

Mizrahi also spoke earlier at the opening event, the launch of an exhibition of Jewish culture in the city museum of Skopje, the capital.

"This is a terrible reminder of what the Jewish community once was," he said. "But it is important to ensure that people never forget the Jewish population of Macedonia, which lived in harmony with non-Jews for thousands of years."

Mizrahi is widely credited with keeping the country's Jewish community and culture alive — a difficult task, since the present-day community of just 200 people is scattered in several towns across the country.

The U.S. ambassador to Macedonia, Lawrence Butler, who attended the commemorative events, said the loss of so many Macedonian Jews was relevant to today's standoff with Iraq.

"If we had done to Hitler what we are prepared to do in Iraq, Europe would be a richer place today," he told JTA. "No one will ever know what these men, women and children would have done for humanity if they had lived.

"I can not even begin to imagine what that day was like 60 years ago, or to comprehend how large thriving communities were reduced to almost nothing," he continued. "The consequences of what happened back then are reflected in Macedonia in a big way. The memory of the Jews who lived here and what was allowed to happen to them has to be remembered, as it cannot be repeated."