(JHE) — After years of legal wrangling, the synagogue in Zemun, an outlying district of Belgrade, has been restituted back to Jewish community ownership. Built in the mid-19th century, it is currently used as a restaurant.
“Our Synagogue is finally returned,” the Zemun Jewish community told JHE in an email.
“The restaurant will stay in it for the next three years according to law of restitution. After that we plan to make a cultural center.”
Zemun today is part of the Serbian capital Belgrade, but from the 18th century the town was the last outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the Serbian border. It has a small but active Jewish community with a history of its own.
The synagogue was built for the local Ashkenazi community and is the oldest synagogue in the Belgrade area. Belgrade has one active synagogue, the Sukat Shalom, located downtown, that was built in the 1920s. The Moorish-style synagogue built in central Belgrade in 1908 was destroyed during the war. Zemun’s Sephardic synagogue was severely damaged by Allied bombing in 1944 and was demolished after the war.
The Novosti news site reported on November 26 that the Administrative Court, acting on the order of the Supreme Court of Cassation (SCC), had confirmed the 2016 decision of the Agency for Restitution and returned the synagogue to the Zemun Jewish community.
The Agency had ordered the building returned to the community under the Serbian Law on Restitution of Property to Churches and Religious Communities. But the decision got held up in the courts by legal and procedural issues.
The Jewish community had sold the building to the city in 1962. It has housed a restaurant serving Serbian specialities for the past 15 years, and before that was used as a rock and live music club.
According to an article in Balkan Insight in 2017, the agreement to restitute the synagogue to the Jewish community was made on the understanding that the community would not lodge any further property claims on former Jewish buildings that also had been sold to the municipality, including a Jewish school.