In April of 1941, Macedonia was occupied by Nazi-affiliated Bulgaria, who wasted no time in shipping the country’s Jewish population to the death camp of Treblinka. Almost overnight, the small and tightly-knit Jewish community who had called Macedonia home for hundreds of years, was extinguished. A museum in the heart of Skopje pays solemn tribute to this most horrific episode in the country’s history.
Macedonia has always been blessed with a diverse ethnic tapestry: Macedonian, Albanian, Vlach, Roma, Aromanian and Mijak. And once, there was a strong Jewish population. Once, but no more. The genocide wrought by the Nazis was thorough: a cold-blooded ethnic cleansing which wiped out Jewish Macedonia almost entirely.
I would expect to find prominent Holocaust museums in places with significant Jewish populations, so Skopje’s museum took me by surprise. This two-story building is in the city center, near the Stone Bridge and directly across from the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle. The subject matter is sickening, but the museum does a good job conveying it, with haunting artistic representations of the terror, and just the right amount of anecdotes and information, presented with fluent English translations.
Although allied with Germany, Bulgaria protected its own Jews, refusing to export them to the death camps. But such mercy was not extended to the Jewish populations of other countries. Skopje’s museum takes you through the harrowing narrative: how the small communities scattered across Macedonia were gathered up and shipped to Skopje, herded like cattle into a tobacco factory and then shoved onto trains headed north. The story is heart-breaking and hopeless. These people had no chance; as soon as they reached Treblinka, they were murdered.
The Holocaust is not a thing which anyone likes to dwell upon, but it’s something which must never be forgotten. And perhaps that’s why Skopje’s museum feels like an institute of real importance. The Jews of Macedonia were wiped out, and they can no longer tell their own story. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be told.