WWI: The Shelling of Monastir
Sephardic Jews of Monastir, 1839-1943. A web companion
to a new history.
vast brutality that enveloped Europe during the First
World War wreaked havoc on Serbia and its southernmost
city, Monastir. After the war a former consul to Macedonia
beautiful was the city of Monastir, with its white houses
displayed along the banks of the cool and clear river
Dragor, and with its markets teeming with diverse crowds
of a half-dozen nations! What a magnificent panorama
formed by Pelister´s snowy summits and green forests
. . . But what she was due to suffer, the city that,
after Salonika, seemed destined to play a major role
Bulgarian and German year-long occupation of Monastir
was ended on November 19, 1916, by British, French, and
Serbian forces. But the Germans and Bulgarians did not
retreat very far, and from November 22, 1916, until September
25, 1918, they shelled Monastir almost every day.
these 22 months they fired incendiary bombs that burned
the city and poison-gas shells that suffocated the inhabitants.
Sometimes more than 10,000 shells were fired on Monastir
in a single day.
is not known exactly when both of the Monastir Jews´
Alliance schools were destroyed, or when the great Kahal
Kadosh Portugal synagogue burned, or at what point thousands
of Jews became refugees and Monastir´s Jewish population
-- which was 6,250 in 1914 -- sank to just 500. During
the 22 months of Bulgarian and German shelling, there
was no shortage of opportunities for Monastir´s
Jews to be killed and Monastir´s Jewish institutions
to be ruined.
March 9 to 11, 1917, poison gas shells fell in Monastir
and 550 people were killed. Perhaps this was when Monastir´s
55 Jewish orphans lost their mothers and fathers. A British
army doctor wrote, "I have several terrible photographs
of rows of little children and their mothers lying dead
among the ruins of their houses, having been asphyxiated
by these shells."
endured an especially massive bombardment on December
31, 1917, when 13,415 shells hammered the city, killed
508 people, and wounded 755. This punishment was more
than sufficient to destroy the 35 stores and 72 houses
that the Jewish community owned in common and rented out
at low rates to the Jewish poor. There were also enough
shells that day to crumble the 350 Jewish homes that were
lost in Monastir.
1925, Isac S. Nahama, president of the Jewish Community
Council, wote the Alliance,
Heroic Monastir!! Once so prosperous and so flourishing,
is now no more than a pile of ruins! She is making a
supreme effort to rise up again from the ashes, but
alas! she is powerless to do so.