August 1, 2012

Mostar on the Map

The Stari - Most Bridge in historic Mostar. Photo: Ramirez HUN
As part of the JDC Ambassadors Expedition to Sarajevo and the Croatian Coast, which takes place on September 28-30 and October 1-3, there will be a visit to the gorgeous city of Mostar. A city rich with 
history and a story behind every step, Mostar is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most mesmerizing cities.

Mostar’s roots stem all the way back to the 15th century as part of the passage between the Adriatic Sea and important parts of Bosnia. As Jewish refugees escaped to Mostar during the Spanish Inquisition, a small Jewish community grew over time into a thriving one, with many members finding successful livelihoods as doctors and merchants. A small hamlet of Jews continuously existed in Mostar, numbering up to 100 people at the dawn of WWII. A synagogue was built in 1902, serving the city’s Jewish population until anti-Semitism erupted in 1942. Only two years later Nazi and Ustasha soldiers burnt the Mostar synagogue to the ground.

Sadly, only a few Jews returned to Mostar after the war; most of them either survivors of the Holocaust or escapees from other parts of Eastern Europe. Although they had found their homes ravaged by tragedy and destruction, they stayed and worked hard at re-building their once-thriving Jewish community.

The Jews lived in relative peace until the Bosnian War, where, this time, they were not on the receiving end of discrimination. However, as victims themselves of ethnic violence and intolerance, many of Mostar’s Jews became activists and even heroes during the turbulent Bosnian conflict. Mostar’s Jewish community president, Zoran Mandlbaum, came to be known as the “Bosnian Schindler” for his valiant efforts. Mandlbaum risked his personal safety to care for the citizens of his beloved city, bringing them food and medicine, access to shelter, and even personally safeguarding the marriage of a couple on opposite sides of the war. One such recipient, Ramiz Pandur, said “Zoran never turned down anyone who asked him for a favor.” He was representative of the Mostar community at large, knowing all too well the horror that springs from cultural warfare.

Progress has since advanced, and Mostar is now among one of the top tour destinations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Today it is a city where Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and Jews live together peacefully. In fact, there is a plan for a new synagogue to be built. Jewish life in Mostar is also visible at its Jewish cemetery, established around the early twentieth century, and still in use today. There is also a Holocaust memorial that was completed in 1999, containing the names of 137 Mostar Jews who died in the war.

Perhaps what is most famous about Mostar, however, is its famed Stari-Most bridge that connects the two banks of the Neretva River. Built in 1556 and destroyed in 1993 during the war, it was re-built in 2004, a symbol of Mostar’s rebirth. Like the Jewish people, it has gone through destruction and renewal, and only has a promising future ahead of it.

The visit to Mostar during the JDC Ambassadors Expedition will be a memorable and enriching experience. For more information please contact Rebecca Neuwirth at or Rachel Rosenthal at

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