Friday, November 18, 2011

Slovenia -- Exhibit in Maribor About Jewish WWI soldiers

World War I Military Cemetery, Stanjel. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

Back in the 1990s, when I was documenting Jewish heritage in Slovenia, the most impressive site visited was the haunting remains of an Austro-Hungarian World War I military cemetery. All that was left were the massive stone pillars of the gates, a huge temple‑like monument, and about five scattered grave markers. Two of these were of Jewish soldiers, each bearing a star of David.

Stanjel gravestone. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Yesterday, Nov. 17, an exhibition dedicated to Jewish World War I soldiers opened in the former synagogue in Maribor, Slovenia. It is called Forgive Us, Forgive Us O You Dead. Jewish Soldiers of the Austria-Hungarian Army On The Isonzo Front.

In Isonzo Front, in northeast Italy and western Slovenia along the Isonzo river, is dotted with battlefields, museums and monuments to the World War I fallen. Some half a million soldiers died between 1915 and 1917. Fighting here was immortalized in Ernest Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms

The  exhibition in Maribor was curated by  Petra Svoljšak, Head of the Milko Kos Historical Institute of the Scientific Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, and Renato Podbersič, senior researcher at the SCNR (Slovenian Center for National Reconciliation).

The theme of the exhibition forms a part of the Podbersic's dissertation research, which is to be concluded in near future. Podbersic visit all  the extant war cemeteries of WWI in Slovenia and added several other tombstones to the list that I had compiled in 1996. He made historical research of the documents and existing literature and also interviewed people who knew about Jews who fought on  the side of the Austrian army in World War I.

 Our friend Ivan Čerešnješ, of the Center for Jewish Art, contributed  photos of his own grandfather and other Jewish soldiers from Bosnia, fighting in the Isonzo front.

Maribor Synagogue Center curator Janez Premk also advised on the exhibit. He said he believe that it will be  "a  major contribution in the contemporary research of the Jewish past in Slovenian lands."

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