Jews in localities of the Kvarner Province
Localities on the western coast of the Kvarner Gulf, originally villages inhabited by Istrian fishermen, underwent radical transformation in the mid-19th century when the Austrian administration, which had jurisdiction over the Liburnian Coast, sensed that the area at the feet of the 1,400 m high Mount Maggiore, with its lush vegetation and mild climate, could become the Imperial and Royal Riviera, well-suited to delightful seaside summer resorts as well as winter health resorts for the Hapsburg aristocracy and upper classes. During the second half of the 19th century, this state initiative built the infrastructures needed for developing Abbazia (Opatija), Volosko and Lovran, while, one after the other, farsighted private entrepreneurs started to build large and comfortable hotels for tourists and holidaymakers.
In about 1880, the first Jews began to arrive from Austria and Hungary to settle in these localities and exercise their professions or set up trade businesses. One of the first was Doctor Alberto Szemere, born in Hungary in 1846, who in 1883 changed his surname to Steiner and, in 1884, arrived in Abbazia where he lived in Villa Paola (named after his wife). In the summer he worked as a doctor in Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary) while for the rest of the year he exercised his profession on the Kvarner Riviera. He died in Abbazia in 1922. Other Jewish families arrived in about 1892 (Gelles, Tipograf, Szigeti and Nathan) and by 1898 there were already about seventy Jews in Abbazia.
At the initiative of two doctors, Giuseppe Glück and Giacomo Kurz, the head of gynaecology at the hospital, the Israeli Community of Abbazia was founded in 1922. Its first president was Doctor Martino Szigeti, an ENT specialist and a surgeon born in Hungary, who exercised his profession also in Gleichenberg and initially lived in Villa Stella (Corso Vittorio Emanuele III,183), to then move to the Kovac-Brun Guesthouse and later to the Hotel Bristol and then the Hausner Guesthouse (now the Hotel Millenium).
Doctor Ignazio Schwarz, born in Hungary, also came to Abbazia to work as a doctor and created the first sanatorium for state employees. In 1918 the building was restored and became the Hotel Quisisana.
Doctor Giulio Mahler, son of Desiderio and Rosa Kraus, born in Földes (Hungary) in 1870, set up a heart clinic in Abbazia (now the Hotel Royal).
Religious services were initially held in a room at the Breiner Guesthouse (nowadays the Hotel Kristal) and later also at the Stern Guesthouse (currently a centre for thalassotherapy). In 1926 the first stone was laid for building a synagogue, but, following a serious economic crisis, work was stopped and the funds available for this project were used to buy the centrally-placed Villa Zora. The main synagogue was situated on the first floor while a smaller prayer room was set aside for the Orthodox group. Communities in Ancona and Livorno donated five scrolls of the Torah and furnishings for the Temple, while the Jewish community in Rome donated a splendid silver lamp. In 1940 Villa Zora was requisitioned by the G.I.L. (Gioventù Italiana del Littorio), but luckily the sacred ornaments were hidden in a safe place by the caretaker Mr. Lettis, who, at the end of the war, returned them to the community’s president Bernardo Nathan, who had managed to avoid deportation by going into hiding on the Island of Cherso. The Aron Hakodesc marble was used to build a monument engraved with the names of those deported to Nazi extermination camps in the Jewish cemetery in Abbazia.