Territories of Slovakia can boast of over seven centuries of Jewish culture development. Cities, villages, shtetls scattered over this region sometimes were predominantly Jewish, preserving for centuries religion and tradition in all aspects of life. During the dramatic chapter of Holocaust, when majority of Slovakian Jews were deported for extermination to Auschwitz-Birkenau or the Lublin district, the German and Slovak Nazis were very active in removing also the physical traces of Jewish culture from the occupied territories. Synagogues were burnt, cemeteries were destroyed within a systematic plan to annihilate everything Jewish.
In spite of those barbarian acts, nowadays Slovakia is still rich in many synagogues, prying houses, cemeteries and monuments. They are the silent witnesses of what Slovak Jewry used to be for centuries and some of them still serve as places of worship. By visiting those places you will get to know the history of its inhabitants as they were the ones who for centuries were actively forging and keeping up the flame of Jewish heritage. Only by understanding what this flame was and preserving its memory, can you approach the topic of the Holocaust in Slovakia and contemporary Jewish life in this country.
Bardejov is located near the Slovak - Polish border, about 140 km from Cracow. The first synagogue outside the city was completed in the early XIX century, the larger one in Neo-Gothic style was consecrated in 1830. Bardejov was a center of Hasidism and a community maintained a heder, Talmud Torah, and yeshiva. Before World War II, more than 4,000 Jews lived in Bardejov. Nearly the entire community was exterminated during the Holocaust in Auschwitz-Birkenau or Lublin district.
Nowadays there is a very precious complex of Old Synagogue, Beit Midrash, Mikveh and rabbi house preserved. Synagogue, although used as metalware storage, still holds very rich wall paintings.
Close to the city center there are Chevra Bikur Cholim synagogue and Chevra Mishnayot Synagogue. The first one is still used as a prayer hall, the second was changed into a school of commerce.
Bratislava is located near the Austrian and Hungarian border on the Danube River. Jews first settled in the city in the late XII century. Over the years, the Jewish community was expelled from the city on several occasions, specifically in 1360 and 1526 with the raise of Christian anti-Semitism. After the second expulsion, many Jewish families settled around Schlossberg (Castle-Hill). In this period Jews were forced to wear a special dress.
By the XVIII century, 120 families resided in Bratislava. During this period, the Jewish population continued to thrive, especially with Jews arriving from Moravia. The city became a centre of European Jewish religious life with the arrival of Rabbi Moses Schreiber. Prior to the Holocaust, 15,000 Jews lived in Bratislava, which also had numerous magnificent Jewish synagogues and buildings, including the Grand Orthodox Synagogue built in 1863.
One synagogue, built between 1923 and 1926 for the Orthodox community, remains in Bratislava and is the active synagogue, serving the needs of local Jewish community, numbering about 1100 members. This is Heydukova Street synagogue. There is also kosher canteen and the Museum of Jewish Culture.
Jews from Galicia settled here around mid XVIII century. A wooden synagogue was erected in 1828 when the community numbered 148 people. In 1940 there were less then 100 Jews remaining in Brezovica. They were deported to Lublin district in 1942 through Zilina nad Sabinov.
Brezovica nad Torysu
Village close to Lipany. Jewish cemetery remaining. Up to 50 matzevots are still standing on the bush overgrown territory over the village. School is built on the plot of land where the synagogue used to be standing.
Bytca / Velka Bytca
Few Jews were present in the early XVIII century establishing a community. Count Esterhazy gave the community land for a synagogue and cemetery against a yearly payment and extended his protection over the Jews.
Nowadays there is an impressive dilapidated synagogue's building from 1886, still standing in Bytca. Despite damage, the remnants of the wooden paling, cassette ceiling, and stained glass windows are rare and worth attention.
Jews first settled in Giraltovce in 1750 coming to those territories from Poland. The community was satellite of Hanusovce. By 1786, 21 Jews lived in Giraltovce. The first Jewish cemetery of the community was sanctified in 1800. In 1890, the first Jewish school was established and a decade later the first synagogue was consecrated. Synagogue was located close to the cemetery due to the lack of other construction plot.
Prior to the world wars most of the Jews were involved in trading and commerce; following World War I, many Jews became tailors and carpenters. Many men from this community fought in World War I, with only a few recorded deaths. In April 1920, 475 of the Jews from Giraltovce voted for the Jewish parties. By 1930, the Jewish population declined to only 220 people. In between the Wars the Zionist movements began to thrive in Giraltovce through the local activity of Bnei Akiba , Betar and Hashomer Hatzair.
Before the Holocaust, 345 Jews (58 families) lived in Giraltovce. About 80% of Jews, 452 Jews from Giraltovce and the surrounding area were deported in 1942 to Auschwitz or Majdanek and Lublin district.
Humenne is located in eastern Slovakia, close to the border with Ukraine. It was not until 1780 that the Jewish community was officially recognized on that territory. A fine synagogue was erected in 1793 as the community began to expand, chevra Kadisha was established. The city prospered from farming. Rabbi Spira Jakab was the first rabbi of the congregation, followed by Rabbi Fischel Horovitz. In 1835, a Talmud Torah was established to aid in the education of poor children. In 1919 the Jewish population was 1692 with 28 settlements under the jurisdiction of rabbinate. R.Hayyim Yehuda Ehrenreich published the important Orthodox periodical Otzar Hayyim until 1938.
An old Jewish cemetery is located in Humenne with 500-5000 tombstones in the gravesite, dating back to the early XIX century. During World War II, more than 2,200 Jews from Humenne were murdered.
Košice is considered the capital of eastern Slovakia. Jews were present here in the XV century. The fast development of the community started in mid XIX century after the residence restrictions were lifted. A progressive synagogue was built in 1866 and the majority of the congregation joined the Nelogists after the 1869 split. Orthodox worshipers consecrated a new synagogue in 1882. The new cemetery consecrated in 1888 had separate sections for the two congregations. The Orthodox community maintained its own yeshiva, Talmud torah, beit midrash, mikveh and poultry slaughter house. Galician and other Hasidim including R. Shemuel Angel of Radomysl and R. Avraham Shalom Halberstam of Stropkov, also established their courts in the city. During the Holocaust, the majority of the Jewish community was deported to concentration or extermination camps and annihilated.
Today, approximately 800 Jews live in Košice. Close to the city centre there is an interesting complex of Jewish district preserved with:
Orthodox prayer hall at Zvonarska street (presently used synagogue) premises of shochetim and sukkah attached to it.
Orthodox synagogue at Zvonarska street. Built in 1899 in Roundbogenstil. The interior still holds very rich Moorish like decorations.
Hassidic Prayer hall at Krmanova street built in 1920 - good example of rural architecture incorporated in the city
Orthodox synagogue at Puskinova street. Built in 1927 by Ludovit Oelschlager in historicist style merging some elements of Renaissance attic and Neo-Classical monumental elements.
Neolog synagogue at Moyzesova street built in 1927.
Jews first arrived in Lipany in the early XVIII century. By 1848, 130 Jews lived in the town and, in 1859, the community built its first synagogue. In the early XX century, a Beit Midrash and a Talmud Torah were established. After World War I, Zionist activities and organizations began to thrive in the town. In 1929 a new, larger synagogue was consecrated. In March 1942,nearly 400 Jews from Lipany were transported to various ghettos and concentration camps in occupied Poland.
There exists a cemetery from the XIX-XX century, incorporating 100-500 tombstones. The former synagogue's building was changed into a regular house and a shop on the ground floor.
Jews settled here under protection of Count Pongrac in the early XVIII century. Local markets and fairs attracted many Jews to establish community here. The first synagogue was built in 1731. The first Rabbi was Moshe Kohen, who founded a talmud torah. He was followed by Rabbi Loeb Kunitz in 172-1813, who opened one of the first yeshivot in Slovakia in 1776. This yeshiva under Rabbi Elizar Loew became one of the most important centres of learning in Hungary. In late XIX century Zionism became very strong in Mikulas. WIZO, Hashomer Hatzair, Bnei Akiva and the Maccabi sports club all had branches here.
Nowadays the building of synagogue from 1846 still remains in town, used as an exhibition and a concert hall.
Jews first arrived in the early XIX century in Nove Zamky and formed a religious community, establishing a synagogue and with time other Jewish institutions. Due to their knowledge and trade relations they managed to stimulate local trade market relations. From 1849 to 1895, Rabbi Ignac Kramer directed the services and communal life. In 1860's the first synagogue was established in Nove Zamky, following the neolog-congressional style of a synagogue in Budapest. The local Orthodox community, not accepting the Neolog practices, established another congregation in 1870. This congregation came under the leadership of Chief Rabbi Josef Richter and Rabbi Samuel Klein from 1913. The first elected rabbi of the Orthodox congregation was Benjamin Zeev Wolf, followed in 1882 by his son in law, Henrik Sonnenklar.
In 1859, the Orthodox congregation built a separate synagogue. It was reconstructed in 1931 and still exists today. The synagogue is one of the best preserved in Slovakia.
The first Jew to settle was the wealthy Galician-born merchant Mordekhai Hollaender in 1785. The community's first rabbi Dr. Shelomo Manahem Schiller-Szinessy, was appointed in 1844 but forced to flee to England after supporting the Hungarian revolution in 1849. The first synagogue was established in 1849 and a Neologist congregation was formed, in 1887 it was burnt down. The next one was already erected in Moorish style. In 1971 the Orthodox congregation was established and in 1898 they built a separate synagogue. In 1912, 26 Hassidic families in the Orthodox community organized the third congregation. The Jewish population rose to 1010 in 1869 and 2106 in 1900. Zionist activity commenced in the late XIX century, mainly under the leadership of Dr. Hayyim Farbstein.
A new Orthodox synagogue was opened in 1930 and the Hasidim opened a shtibl in 1935 with a beit midrash and Talmud torah alongside it. In 1928 R. Moshe Hayyim Lau opened the Torat Ahim yeshiva, attracting students from many countries and reaching peak attendance of 150.
With the establishment of Slovak state in March 1939, anti-Jewish riots broke out, marked by looting and vandalism. In January 1941, local rioters burnt down the Orthodox synagogue. The arrival of 826 refugees from Bratislava in December 1942 increased the Jewish population to 5134. In late March and early April 1942 about 1000 young Jewish men and women were deported to Majdanek and Auschwitz concentration camps. Family deportations commenced in mid-April, with hundreds of Jews sent to Auschwitz and Demblin ghetto in Lublin District. In 1942 about 4000 Jews were deported from Presov.
After WW II in 1945 there were 716 Jews left in the city. Due to the politics of the communist Czechoslovakia regime, intolerant for minorities, in the beginning of 90's there were around 100 Jews left in Presov.
Jewish places worth visiting in Presov:
Orthodox synagogue - impressive building built in 1898 The design is Moorish, with colorful patterns and drawings applied to the ceilings and walls. Rich polychromy is covering the column capitols and other architectonical details. The richly decorated aron hakodesh made by Košice sculptor Bacsó matches the interior and repeats some of the polychromy details. Now the building is used as the Museum of Jewish Culture.
Neolog synagogue - built in 1887, now used a shop.
Hassidic Klaus, Beit Midrash - Building constructed by Hassidic congregation in 1935, now used as office space.
Tombstones from the old Orthodox and Reform cemeteries can be found near the Catholic gravesite.
Small Shtetl village in Malacky district. A very picturesque synagogue preserved form XIX century. A good and well preserved example of rural, religious architecture.
Freshly restored synagogue from 1875 used as a concert hall and culture centre.
Jews first settled in Stropkov, located on the Ondava River, in 1648 fleeing the pogroms of Chmielnicki. Jews soon led the economy of Stropkov; although many Jews lived in poverty. Jews owned all the taverns and shops in Stropkov. Possibly because of their economic success, the Jews of Stropkov were expelled to nearby Tisinec in 1700. In early XVIII century few Jewish families from Galicia settled in Stropkov, they were followed by many Galician Hassidim. More arrived in XIX century establishing a community of 1189 members. Under the influence of rabbis, Hasidism spread to other communities in eastern Slovakia and Hungary, with Zanz (Sacz) Hasidism predominating.
Rabbi Moshe Schonfeld was the first rabbi of Stropkov and led the community until 1820. Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Teitelbaum of Drohobycz led the Hasidic congregation from 1833, rabbi Yehezkel Shraga Halberstam from 1870 and rabbi Avraham Shalom Halberstam in 1898-1933. A new synagogue was consecrated in 1894 with the old one becoming a Hasidic shtibl. Agudat Israel with its own youth movement and Beth Jacob school for girls was influential in orthodox circles. The community maintained a synagogue, rabbinical court and mikveh. Many famous rabbis were educated in Stropkov and the town became the centre of Torah study in Greater Hungary.
From 1400 to 1892, Jews were not permitted to bury their dead inside Stropkov and therefore established a cemetery in Tisinec, 6 km away from Stropkov. From 1892 to 1942 the second cemetery on the outskirts of the town was used for burials.
Prior to the Holocaust, approximately 2,000 Jews lived in Stropkov. The Slovak authorities closed down Jewish businesses in 1941 and seized Jews for slave labour. In March and April 1942 young Jewish women were deported to Auschwitz and men to Majdanek and Lublin District On May 24th , 1942 the remaining Jewish families were deported to Rejowiec in Lublin District, where most perished.
There are two devastated Jewish cemeteries in the vicinity of Stropkov remaining until nowadays.
City is the former county centre. First ancient Jewish community was originating from Moravian emigrants.
Prior to World War II, 1,300 Jews lived in Trencín; most of whom were exterminated in Nazi death camps.
An impressive synagogue, which preserved until nowadays, was built in 1913 in Byzantine and Art Nouveau styles.
Trnava / Tyrnau
The Jewish settlements dates back to XII century and is one of the oldest in Slovakia.
Nowadays two synagogues remain:
Status Quo Synagogue build in 1897 - gallery of art
Orthodox Synagogue build in 1892 - dilapidated building
Ziar nad Hronom
The Jewish community of Ziar nad Hronom, located in central Slovakia, was established in the early XIX century, and the rabbinate was founded in 1848. The town synagogue was completed in 1889 and became the focus of the community. In 1919, 36 Jews were recorded living in Ziar nad Hronom. In World War II, the Jews of Ziar nad Hronom survived because they hid in the surrounding mountains.
After War World II the former building of a synagogue was changed into residential building. In the 90's there were some traces of polychromy discovered in the attic.
Jews settled here in the mid XIX century after residence restrictions were lifted, forming a Neologist congregation after the split in 1869. A synagogue was erected in 1895 and the Jewish population reached a peak of 611 people in 1910. Jews became increasingly active in public and economic life, owning 60 business establishments and 23 workshops and factories.
During the Holocaust men were deported to Novaky and women to Patronka in 1942. Subsequently they were deported further to Auschwitz or Lublin district. Jews initially spared were murdered by the Germans in autumn and winter 1944-45 at the local Jewish cemetery.
Nowadays the building of a former synagogue is changed into a shop with textiles and furniture. There is a commemoration plaque marking the building and presenting its former function.
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