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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

8/29: Last Hours in Belgrade: The Beauty of Icons & the Horrors of War

We only had the morning to see a little more of Belgrade before we left to catch the afternoon bus for Sarajevo. Since the Serbian Orthodox Icon Museum wasn’t open yesterday when we visited the Cathedral opposite it, we went back first thing as Steven and I really enjoy seeing religious art of a bygone age.

The restoration of the Pec (pronounced Paich) Patriarch in 1557 marked the transformation of spiritual life of Serbs within its boundaries. I learned that the work of Serbian icon painters is characterized by a significant independence in program and style compared to the rest of post-Byzantine painting.
Z. Longin, the best Serbian icon painter of the second half of the 16th century, also was celebrated for his miniatures. 

The Longin Room:
While we toured the Museum all by oursleves, beautiful choral music played in the background. How absolutely serene and peaceful was that!

All the painters of icons were monks associated with various monasteries. 
The Raising of Lazarus:
It was interesting to note that the inscriptions actually labeled the stunning icons as authors and not painters. I had noticed the same error in translation yesterday at the Ethnoculutural Museum too.

Printed by H. Macarius in 1493/4:

The curtains created for the Royal Doors by Nun Agnia in the 16th century:
I marveled at the incredible detail in each of these miniatures:
I have never seen a cross this shape before. It was a blessing cross from the 17th century.
It was very surprising to see these very large sculptures hanging from the ceiling in the hallway. I just hoped they wouldn't fall as we passed by underneath!
Steven and I were so glad we had made a point of going back to this fabulous museum as viewing those icons was a treat.

We walked quickly over to the Jewish History Museum which also had been closed before. Fortunately, it, too, was very close to both the Icon Museum and our hostel where we had checked out earlier but left our bags. We had to be buzzed into the museum entranceway downstairs via remote camera by a guard wearing a bullet proof vest, a first for us. A sign of the times, I guess, but sad to say. Steven even had to leave his passport as a guarantee we’d come back.

Once upstairs and we opened these doors and crossed the threshold, an alarm went off automatically announcing our presence in the museum itself.
The map showed in yellow where the Jews lived in the province of the huge Holy Roman Empire according to historians. Jewish settlements in this part of the Balkans were mostly established in Macedonia and along the Adriatic coast.
As we had discovered on our walking tour previously, the Jewish quarter in Belgrade was in Dorcol although Jews also lived in other parts of the city. There are no documents preserved but indirect data indicates there was a Jewish community established in the 1520s. 

The synagogue in Dorcol was built in the first half of the 18th century. The old synagogue was reconstructed several times and it existed as late as 1952 until it was finally pulled down. Now only one synagogue remains in Belgrade, Sukat, the one we had also tried to visit previously. Having just one synagogue left where there had once been a thriving Jewish community has come to be an all too familair refrain in so many of the cities we have visited.
A sculpture of Moses:
19th and 20th century Jewish religious items from the Austro- Hungarian Empire: An opened Torah with bookmarks (akin to a Bible in Christianity), menorah (candelabra), shofar (a ritual horn used to announce religious holidays), etc.
The Museum had fantastic free booklets for visitors describing all the artifacts and the historyof the area as it pertained to Jews. They were extremely useful and very informative.
Yeshiva Bocher: A student who learns in a school for Orthodox Jews.
Articles of clothing used by Sephardic Jews: The embroidery was done by gilded copper threads.
Copies of manuscripts showing one Jewish woman's travel as she fled Portugal via Dubrovnik, Croatia (where I am writing this post from now) to go to Turkey.
Interesting reading about archeological findings on the history of Jews:
The Jewish Pioneer sculpted by Slavko Brill, a famous Yugoslav sculptor who died in a concentration camp in 1943.
Map of Yugoslavia with occupation areas, prisons, collection sites, concentration camps and other mass murder sites. Serbia, where Belgrade is located, was the only occupied country in Europe where the Nazis put into place the rule '100 for 1.' That meant, for every German killed, 100 civilians were executed. However, the ones who were to face total extinction were the Jews. 

This specific, total genocide against the Jews - the Holocaust - was carried out so systematically that the German military commanders in Belgrade were able to tell their commanding officers in Berlin, after only a few months of occupation, that Belgrade was "free of Jews." And truly, about 10,000 Jews in Belgrade perished and about 85% of Jews in the entire country were slaughtered by the Nazis.
Even after Steven and I have visited a significant number of Jewish history museums throughout Eastern Europe and even in Israel, reading about the Germans' atrocities in Belgrade reminded us again of man's inhumanity to man in that dark period of  pretty recent history.

Copies and originals of German, Italian and Bulgarian anti-Jewish orders, yellow stripes and Jewish IDs used to identify the Jewish popualtion:
Photographs of Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps: the bodily remains of victims in mass graves, inmates' original clothing, soap made of human corpses and cans of poisionous Cyclone B gas.

Jewish Yugoslavs who were national heroes during the war:
As we left the Museum, we saw a light fixture in the shape of a menorah. I wish I could say it represented a beacon of hope for the future.
We left the Museum just before noon so we could pick up our bags from the hostel and then lug them a couple of blocks to a bus stop and from there to the bus station. We always make sure to leave ourselves plenty of time to do that when traveling overseas because of not knowing the language, where to get on and off the bus and from there to the station and then finding the right platform. It's always gone off without a hitch in the end but we have had some anxious moments along the way!

I really enjoyed Belgrade far more than what I expected based on my foggy memories of my visit to the city from over 40 years ago. The walking tour had been excellent, the museums of great interest, the mammoth Kalmedgan Fortress a treat and the city was far livelier than I remembered - altogether a highlight of our trip so far for me.

We had a six hour bus ride in front of us, to Sarajevo in Bosnia i Herzegovona (Yes, that is the correct spelling with the lower case 'i' in the middle to indicate 'and'.), which meant that it was mostly shut eye and chess time on his ipad for Steven and typing time for me to transcribe some of my notes from some other day's adventures to a Word document on our laptop.

Posted from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 8, 2016.


  1. Great to hear from you! I am enjoying learning with you. Safe travels

  2. Kayle,

    Also glad hearing from you and that you're following along as we see some more places in this amazing world.

    Love to you and Steve.


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