Our cover story this week tells of the last Jews of Kosovo.
Kosovo was never a great center of Jewish life; with an area half that of the State of Israel, it was never big enough to be much of a center for anything. For most of the past half millennium, it was a border territory of the Muslim Ottoman empire. The 20th century brought the rise of nationalism and degrees of regional independence; what is now Kosovo was part of larger but non-imperial countries whose precise borders changed with the outcomes of the world wars. When Yugoslavia broke up, it became a battleground in the Balkan wars. This period left an outsized and surprising imprint on the relationship between Kosovars and Jews; some of the details are spelled out in the story.
In 2008 Kosovo, led by ethnic Albanians, seceded from Serbia. As our story reports, it has gradually been recognized by nations around the world, but not yet by Israel.
In Jewish historical memory, the lines between European nation-states are much less fixed than they have been in the past half century. In the stories we hear of our Old World ancestors, Jews live in places whose flag frequently changes, whether the results of armies in war or diplomats in peace. As residents yet outsiders, that rarely mattered much to them. Perhaps it was this outsider nature that led them to gravitate to the borderlands.
The world is different now. What once were reasonable places for Jews to live have become marginal as we have clustered in Israel and the United States. Nowhere is that more true than in Poland; there, the passive tense – “have become” – is wrong. It was not that Poland became marginal to Jewish life; almost all of Poland’s 3 million Jews were murdered.
It is the silence of the murdered Jews that makes the March of the Living so emotional. The Jews of Poland were slaughtered, as were the Jews of Hungary and Germany and the rest of Europe who were transported like cattle to the killing chambers the Nazis built in the Polish countryside. But Hitler wanted to do more than just murder millions of Jews. He wanted to kill us all.
And in that he failed.
So to gather by the thousands and tens of thousands and march across a death camp complex is a strong statement of outlasting wars and diplomats and even countries. It is an incredible experience of transnational Jewish peoplehood.
And it is an experience, as our story on page 11 points out, available to women who sign up for the From Remembrance to Renewal mission to Poland and Israel that the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey has scheduled for April. Check it out.