You are here: Home Eastern Europe Bosnia and Herzegovina SARAJEVO [Szarajevó, Sarajewo, Vrh Bosna, Bosna-Sarai, Saraybosna,
SARAJEVO [Szarajevó, Sarajewo, Vrh Bosna, Bosna-Sarai, Saraybosna, PDF Print E-mail

Official seal of SarajevoAlternate names: Sarajevo [Bosn], Szarajevó [Hun], Sarajewo [Ger], Saraybosna [Turk], Vrh Bosna, Bosna-Sarai. 43°51' N, 18°23' E, Сарајево. Capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. 1900 Jewish population: 4,058.

    • Pinkas HaKehilot, Yugoslavia (1988), p. 201: "Sarajevo"
    • Encyclopedia of Jewish Life (2001), pp. 1137-38: "Sarajevo".


JOWBR: Jewish Cemetery

photo. [January 2001]

Jewish Cemetery [Aug 2015]

Report on the Restoration of the Old Jewish Cemetery in Sarajevo; Based on a site visit to Sarajevo. By Samuel Gruber, Research Director, US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad and photos.  Sarajevo Jewish Cemetery and Pre-burial House at the Sarajevo Jewish Cemetery, Summer 2002 photo.

The restoration of the Jewish cemetery of Sarajevo, Bosnia, which was heavily damaged and subsequently mined during the long siege of Sarajevo, is the goal of an international effort now underway. The first phase of this process consisted of the de-mining of the cemetery site. This was completed in 1998. The second phase of the process is the restoration of the synagogue/pre-burial house, and this is now in process, and on a recent visit to the site I was able to see the extent of the work and better evaluate some aspects of the project. Overall, the condition of the cemetery is good considering the violence that took place on the site for so long. Most graves are undisturbed, or are not, at any rate, more damaged than they were prior to 1992. With the exception of a few rows of graves immediately off the main path, most grave monuments and gravestones are not disturbed, though many have bullet holes or other small breaks due to bullets or shrapnel. Some trenches that had been dug by occupying troops in certain areas of the cemetery do not appear to have disturbed graves. These trenches have already been filled in. Substantial damage, however, has been done to the cement/concrete perimeter wall. This has been damaged throughout, and large sections have been completely destroyed. Rebuilding of this wall is an important aspect of the restoration project. It is of some urgency, since the openness of the cemetery now encourages the theft of gravestones for building material - something in short supply in the worn-torn region (this mirrors the situation of Jewish cemeteries in post World War II Europe, when they were frequently used a stone quarries for local rebuilding efforts.) An additional problem at the cemetery is unrelated to the recent war, but does pose of potential threat to parts of the cemetery and to the synagogue/pre-burial house. Examination of the building's foundations and the adjacent area has revealed some instability in the soil due to pressure built up on the hillside. Redesigning the low retaining wall that separates the synagogue/pre-burial house from the rest of the cemetery might relieve part of this pressure. Allowing better drainage from the cemetery slope and diverting drainage from the building might also sole the problem. Examination of the building foundations showed no weakness not settlement that affects the building's structural integrity. While water handling form the building is being addressed in the first phases of exterior work, the overall drainage of the cemetery will be treated at a later time. Background:
The Sarajevo cemetery, located outside the town on Mount Trebevic, is one of the most famed Sephardic burial grounds in the world. Founded in 1630, when Rabbi Samuel Baruch rented the land, it is the oldest intact burial ground of any religious group in Sarajevo and is known for its age and beauty.
During the siege of Sarajevo, the Jewish cemetery was in the front line of fighting and was used as an important artillery position by Bosnia Serbs. The damage to the cemetery and nearby buildings was mostly caused by returned fire from the city below. The Bosnian Serbs extensively mined the cemetery before their withdrawal. The Bosnia-Herzegovina Mine Action Center which was responsible for prioritizing de-mining tasks, asked the Norwegian People's Aid (NPA), an international group assisting post-war reconstruction in Bosnia, to de-mine the cemetery because of its historic significance, as well as its proximity to inhabited areas. As a result, the NPA began cleared 32,000 square meters of land, removing 60-70 land mines and approximately 100 pieces of unexploded ordinance, mostly artillery shells. The cemetery clearance ended in August, and on September 15, 1998, the cemetery was officially returned to the Jewish community for reopening. The cemetery walls and much the site, however, remain badly damaged.
The cemetery is on a rather steep hill, which rises even more just beyond it. Clusters of what were family houses flank the site, and these houses extend behind as well. Many of these houses are now in ruins. The cemetery occupies a square area approximately 200 x 200 meters in size, surrounded by a masonry wall surmounted in places by a metal fence. This wall is now also heavily damaged. The cemetery is entered through a triple arched gateway that leads into the modern section. A stepped path leads up the hill towards a holocaust monument. To the left of the path is a section of gravestones removed to this site when the city's Ashkenazi cemetery was destroyed in the 1960s. The oldest stones in the cemetery are in the other sections, mostly set away from the walls. In the front area is the large, elaborate ceremonial hall, reportedly built between 1926 and 1930 after designs by architect Franz Scheiding. This building, which had only recently been fully restored, was shelled and burned in 1994. It is the restoration of this structure that is the first phase of renovating the cemetery complex History: Like many centers of the Ottoman Empire, Sarajevo provided a haven for Jewish refugees from Iberia after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, and the subsequent persecutions and forced conversion to Christianity in Spanish and Portuguese lands throughout the world. Spanish-speaking Jews settled in Sarajevo in the 16th century and the ruling pasha built a Jewish quarter for them by the end of the century, including a synagogue, a great courtyard and housing for the poor. This was not a ghetto, as Jews had freedom of movement and also lived elsewhere, but the congregation of Jews into one quarter was in keeping with historic patterns from Spain, and also the custom of segregating "nationalities" in cities of the Byzantine and subsequently Ottoman empires. The Jewish quarter, known as El Cortio, burned down in 1879, but the Old Synagogue was rebuilt and after World War II it became the Jewish Museum.

Before World War II, about 12,000 Jews lived in Sarajevo. Of these, approximately 8,000 perished in the Holocaust. Before the recent war, approximately 1,000 Jews lived in the city. Today, about six hundred Sarajevans identify themselves as Jewish, including Dr. Igor Gaon, former mayor of the Central City of Sarajevo. During the siege of Sarajevo, he was in charge of Benevolencija's medical services. In her guidebook to Jewish sites in Eastern Europe, Jewish Heritage Travel, journalist Ruth Ellen Gruber described the site, this way: "[The] big, slightly rounded blocks with Hebrew inscriptions on one face, thrust out of the ground on the hillside like miniature pillboxes, making an eerie, unforgettable site. This type of tombstone in fact resembles the medieval Christian stecaks, big blocky grave markers shaped like sarcophagi and often featuring vigorous relief carving that are particularly common in Bosnia and Herzegovina." The stones were quarried in a stone-pit near the cemetery and carried to the site. Most are almost identical in size and form, giving the hillside a patterned look. Only the gravestones of prominent rabbis and scholars were larger or more lavish. The older stones are only inscribed in Hebrew. Later stones are in Hebrew and Spanish. Restoration

The synagogue/pre-burial house had been completely restored in the 1980s, with completion in 1990. Traces of this restoration work can still be seen clearly on the exterior - especially in the reworked moldings surround the doorways and windows, and on the interior, where traces of the repainted wall inscriptions still survive. The new restoration is based in large part on the prior work. Some design changes, however, are being incorporated - such as the transformation of the basement level into a caretaker's apartment. The discovery since 1990 of some historic photographs of the building are also allowing some changes in details, such as the reintroduction of the small chimneys on two of the corners of the central roof.

A major change to the building in the present restoration is the use of copper sheathing to cover the exterior of the roof. This replaces an earlier roof cover of zinc, a common roofing material at the time of construction and a less costly alternative to copper. The decision to use copper was based its resistance to corrosion and its long lifetime. In time, the coppery sheen will take on the more typical green patina of copper that has been exposed to the elements.

The Jewish Community of Sarajevo has engaged architects Sakib Okivic, Berislav Kutni, and Krvavac Zijo to prepare the conservation and restoration plan for the synagogue/pre-burial house. This plan, in a preliminary English translation is attached. A more complete translation will be sent as soon as it is ready. [written October 2000, entry with the author's permission in March 2001] ....... Gruber, Ruth Ellen. Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to East-Central Europe. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1992. (See pages p253-255) Extracted by Elaine B. Kolinsky. (256: Stolac, Travnik, Visegrad, Visoko, Zenica, Zvornik)

The Jewish Museum lists all the 11,000 Sarajevo Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

Demining the cemetery photo.

An old cemetery with interesting grave markers is on Nevesinjska Street. The Sephardic Jewish cemetery served as a strategic sniper post during the Bosnian War and sustained significant damage. The site was extensively mined. The US Commission for the Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad has been actively determining whether any landmines remain here. Source: US Commission Newsletter, vol. 2, issue 1, Summer 1999.

  • Newsletter article from the Center for Jewish Art, Summer 2000, (has cemetery picture)

"The shape of the tombstones in the Sarajevo cemetery is unusual. The monolithic rounded forms recall to some extent gravestones of the Bogumils, a Nestorian Christian schismatic sect, who lived in the region between the Black Sea and the Adriatic Sea until the arrival of the Ottomans. Most of the stones are inscribed both in Hebrew and Judeo-Spanish, with epigraphs written in poetic form. Directly on the line between Serbs and Bosnians, the entire cemetery endured great damage during the last civil war."

  • "The Sephardi Jewish cemetery in Sarajevo is one of the most important Jewish burial grounds in Europe because of the shape of the tombstones and the ancient Ladino inscriptions on them." [July 2002]
  • I visited the site on September 26. Part of the recent fighting occurred within the cemetery. The site was used to fire on the city and was mined. Stay on the walkways to avoid any unfortunate incidents with landmines. Richard C. SADOVE, MD, Gainesville FL [October 2003]

  • The following is found at
  • Old (Sephardi) Cemetery:
  • This is one of the most famous Sephardi burial grounds in the world, renowned for its age and beauty. It is also the oldest intact burial ground of any religious group in Sarajevo. It was founded in 1630 by Rabbi Samuel Baruch, who rented the land on Mount Trebevic from the Muslim community; the rabbi’s gravestone is among those standing on the steeply-sloping site.Clusters of abandoned homes flank the site, many ruined during the 1992-6 siege of the city. During the Austro-Hungarian era, a railroad was constructed through the middle of the cemetery, and only the upper half of the site has survived. Even this is still large: about three and a half hectares, containing about 3,800 graves.
  • The cemetery is surrounded by a massive stone wall, surmounted in places by a metal fence. There are five gates made of hammered iron from the village of Kreshevo. The wall and gates were erected between 1926 and 1930 when the cemetery was expanded, especially to the north, where the grand north gate, the cemetery’s main entrance, has a triple-arched gateway. Near to this gate was erected the cemetery’s main architectural attraction, a large Ohel complex.
  • A flight of steps leads up the hill from the main gate towards a Holocaust monument. To the left of the path is an area set aside for gravestones from the Ashkenazi Cemetery, which was closed in 1959. The remains themselves – comprising some 900 individuals – were placed in a common grave under a single monument. There are also memorials to Jews who were killed in the First World War and further Holocaust monuments, one of which is described below. In this area there is also believed to be a ritually buried cache of sacred objects.
  • The oldest stones in the cemetery are in the sections furthest from the enclosing walls. Their form is unique in Europe: large, rounded in shape and lying horizontally, often set into the hillside. The stone for these monuments were quarried nearby. They are almost identical in size and form, giving the hillside a patterned appearance. Only the gravestones of prominent rabbis and scholars were made larger or more lavish. The older stones are only inscribed in Hebrew; later ones have inscriptions in both Hebrew and Ladino, which include poetic epigraphs. Most of the monuments erected after 1878 are modelled on the funerary monuments of other religions.
  • The cemetery was vandalised a number of times before and after 1966, when all the city’s religious cemeteries were closed and a Municipal Cemetery opened, with sections for each religion. During the siege of Sarajevo, the Old Sephardi cemetery was in the front line of fighting; indeed it was the site of one of the Bosnian Serbs’ main artillery positions. Considerable damage occurred as a result of returned fire from the city below. The Ohel, only recently fully restored, was shelled and burned in 1994. The Bosnian Serbs extensively mined the cemetery before their withdrawal.
  • After the end of hostilities, an international effort was made to restore the cemetery. The first phase consisted of the de-mining of the site, completed in 1998. The second phase is the restoration of the Ohel, funded in large part by contributions from the United States Government and matched by grants from the city and region of Sarajevo.
  • Cemetery Ohel:
  • This striking structure, designed by Franz Scheiding and erected between 1926 and 1930, stands in a dominant position with a commanding view of Sarajevo, on a steep east-west slope near the main entrance to the cemetery. It is a cruciform two-storey stone building, with its main door to the east and an apse to the west, over 13 metres wide and topped by a low dome 10.2 metres high.The main door gives access to the upper storey. It is flanked by pilasters decorated with shallow reliefs. A pointed pediment above contains a Magen David and has a Decalogue at its apex. Acroteria on the corners bear carvings of acanthus leaves and mask the building’s gutters.A separate western gate provides burial society officials with access to the lower floor, now an apartment for the cemetery caretaker. The third entrance, on the south side, was used to bring the deceased to an area devoted to its preparation for burial. Here was a table made of artificial stone where the body would be washed. From here, the coffin would be carried directly into the apse of the main hall, where it lay during the funeral service.This main hall itself is octagonal and about six metres high. Short arms emerge on four sides; that to the west, where the coffin lay, has a deep, high apse under a half-dome; the main entrance is opposite. The northern and southern arms are rectangular and have barrel vaults. The central dome is made of oak which has been plastered and painted white. The pendentives which support this dome bear painted medallions, today carrying the [Hebrew] inscription ‘Righteous and upright is He’ (Deuteronomy 32:4).The building has been altered several times. A restoration took place in the early 1990s, only for serious damage to occur in 1994, a casualty of the building’s strategic location during the Bosnian war. A second restoration, which began in 1998 under architects Sakib Okivic, Berislav Kutni and Krvavac Zijo, has made some alterations to the building’s design. The basement level has been converted into a caretaker’s apartment; the zinc roof covering replaced with copper; lost details, such as the small chimneys that occupy two corners of the roof were identified in historic photographs and reinstated. The inscriptions beneath the dome were repainted; only one was legible, and it was decided to repeat this on the other three sides. The interior of the dome itself, once decorated, has been painted white.
  • Sarajevo Holocaust Monument
  • The Holocaust monument is located in the central part of the Old Cemetery, near the edge of the oldest, pre-1878 part of the site. It was designed by Jahiel Finci and built in 1952. Events are held here to mark the anniversaries of events associated with the National Liberation war of 1941-5. It was damaged by artillery fire during the war of 1992-5 and has not been repaired. It bears commemorative inscriptions in Hebrew and Serbo-Croat.
  • Monument to Serbs and Jews killed in the Jewish cemetery
  • In 1941 the Nazis brought a group of Jews and Serbs to the cemetery and killed them there. The monument commemorates this event and is located in the upper part of the cemetery, near the eastern wall. It was built in 1952; its designer remains unknown. Access is via a narrow path from the Holocaust monument.
  • Location:Outside the city, at Kovacici on Mt. Trebevic"
  • Views of Old Cemetery, courtesy This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

  • Bare Cemetery - Jewish section: Bare, Sarajevo’s municipal cemetery, was established on 1 January 1966 and is still in use. The Jewish section of this cemetery serves Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities alike. It is half a hectare in area, and is marked by a sign in Serbo-Croat. It currently contains 354 gravestones, their inscriptions in Hebrew and Serbo-Croat. The cemetery has a regular caretaker and has never been vandalised. Within it there is an Ohel; one of the five chapels in the centre of the cemetery as a whole is designated for Jewish use.
]January 2009]
Views of Bare Cemetery, courtesy Tamira Zidkiahu.
Photo by Cameron Hudson; source:  USHMM

[UPDATE] Old Jewish Cemetery of Sarajevo [September 2016]
Last Updated on Monday, 19 September 2016 20:33
Web site created by Open Sky Web Design based on a template by Red Evolution