Holocaust Memorial Centre of Macedonia
A relatively new memorial museum commemorating the deportation and extermination of the Jews of Macedonia
in the Holocaust
. Opened in the country's capital Skopje
in March 2011, it is one of the most recent institutions of its type.
>More background info
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
More background info:
Jewish history in Macedonia
goes back to Roman times, but in WWII
it was all but obliterated when the country was occupied by Bulgaria
in 1941. Bulgaria, then an ally of Nazi Germany
, had saved its own Jews from the Holocaust, but it did not have the same qualms about deporting the Jews of Macedonia. In 1943, the entire Jewish communities of the country, including that of Skopje
, were rounded up by the Bulgarian authorities, under the supervision of the SS
, and subsequently deported to Poland
, where virtually all of them were murdered.
In total over 7000 Macedonian Jews (the Holocaust Centre's press release put the figure at exactly 7144) were killed, almost exclusively in the gas chambers of the Treblinka death camp
. Thus Macedonia came to share the questionable accolade of having become "judenfrei" (cf. Estonia
). Only about 150 Macedonian Jews survived the Holocaust
, mainly by going into hiding in good time.
Today, only a very small Jewish community has re-formed in Skopje (about 200 members). Still, Macedonia can boast the first full restitution laws of illegally appropriated Jewish property, which gained plenty of praise at the new Holocaust Centre's opening.
It was in mid March 2011, when I had already planned and booked my trip to the Balkans for April/May, that I hit upon a press release about the opening of the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Skopje. It was complete news to me, so I immediately started looking for more information – but the only other references to the place that I was able to find were just (parts of) the same text copied (plagiarized?) on a dozen or so other websites. But no real information as to the nature of the exhibition, nor any practical information (opening times, etc.) were given anywhere. And when I went there in person I missed the opening times. So I can only go by what I gathered indirectly, as it were.
One thing that struck me as odd in the press release/reports about the Centre was the mentioning of urns of ashes of Macedonian victims killed at Treblinka
that were transferred from the City Museum to the new Centre as part of the opening ceremony. But how did they obtain these ashes in the first place? After all, the victims at Treblinka were first buried and then cremated indiscriminately. How could anyone possibly have been able to discern which of the ashes belonged to which victims? Or did they just take a random sample? Then why not say so? Just "ashes from Treblinka". That would have been sufficient.
This is plainly wrong!
Firstly, several other countries have also set up their own equivalent institutions, e.g. Hungary
) or even countries as far away as South Africa
(Cape Town Holocaust Center
). Secondly, the museum in Germany mentioned as one of the alleged only four Holocaust memorial centres, the Jewish Museum in Berlin
, is not actually a Holocaust centre – only a small section in it is about that dark period in history; the rest is about Jewish culture at large, in all its facets and expressions.
What there is to see:
unfortunately, I can only report indirectly, as it were. I had only just heard about the opening of this new museum when I set off on an extensive tour of the Balkans
in April 2011.
I did some last minute tweaking of my original plans so that I could incorporate a two-day stopover in Skopje
and went to see this new museum … however, it was shut. I wasn't surprised that it was shut on a Saturday (Sabbath), when most Jewish-related places are closed, but unfortunately it also stayed shut on Sunday – and I had to move on that day.
The guards at the entrance could not be persuaded into letting me have a quick peek inside, nor were they able to provide any information, let alone any brochures or other info material. However, I was lucky in that the April edition of the local "free time guide Macedonia" that I picked up in town ran a feature on the new centre. The short text only echoed the press release (see above under background), but it was accompanied by a number of photos that provided a better impression.
Going by these, the exhibition appears to be one that is more visual and emotion-oriented rather than one relying on masses on sober historical information. The latter is often a feature that makes some memorial museums "hard work", though most Holocaust exhibitions I've seen try to strike a certain balance between factual information and multimedia, artefacts and design installations to accompany the topic (the US Holocaust Museum is a good example). Here the balance seems to be shifted more towards the installations and design side of things.
Photos of victims are a main component, partly clustered together and arranged as large installations. Panels with text labels visible in the photos are bilingual, in Macedonian and English. One large exhibit is a railway carriage of the type used in the deportations, called here "The Train of Death". Reading between the lines of some reports, it could also be that the centre/exhibition isn't actually finished yet and that more areas will be opened over the coming years.
In any case I will have to go back to Skopje
and take a look at the exhibition for myself at some point, and of course I will immediately report back when I've done so. But for the time being, this short preliminary text will have to do.
a mere hundred yards or so to the north-west from the northern head of the famous Stone Bridge, right in the centre of Skopje
. The entrance is located on a street called 11-ti Mart.
Access and costs: easy, free.
the location of the new memorial centre could hardly be more central, so it's very easy to find. From the administrative, shopping and business centre of the city first make your way to Skopje
's main tourist sight, the old Stone Bridge. Cross it to the northern bank and immediately turn left and you cannot miss the new silver/mirrored facade of the Holocaust Memorial Centre.
Opening times: Mondays to Fridays 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. – closed all weekend, not just Saturday!
Admission free as far as I could tell – there was no indication of any charges by the door; I can't guarantee that there isn't an admission fee to get to the exhibition, but I would reckon that's unlikely.
Time required: I can't really say, not having seen the exhibition(s) myself yet, but I would guess – going by the descriptions and photos I've seen – that something between 45 minutes and an hour and a half should be good estimate.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see Skopje
– on Bulvar 11-ti Oktomvri at No. 125 there is supposed to be a small memorial at the site of an old tobacco warehouse which had served as an impromptu transit camp during the Macedonian Holocaust
in March 1943. I was unable to locate the site, though, for lack of time mainly, so I can't say anything else about it. The Skopje "In Your Pocket" guide claims there are plans to build a Jewish museum on the site – but given the fact that meanwhile the shiny new Holocaust Memorial Centre has opened I have my doubts about that …
Combinations with non-dark destinations: