History of the Jews in Slovakia

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Historical Slovak Jewish population
Synagogue in Malacky

The History of the Jews in Slovakia goes back to the 11th century, when the first Jews settled in the area. In the 14th century, about 800 Jews lived in Bratislava, the majority of them engaged in commerce and money lending. In the early 15th century, a Jewish cemetery was established at Tisinec (and was in use until 1892).

In 1494, a blood libel caused a number of Jews to be burned at the stake, and in 1526, after the Battle of Mohács, Jews were expelled from all major towns. In 1529, 30 Jews were burned at the stake in Pezinok.

In the late 17th century and early 18th century, Jews began to return to their original cities and establish organized communities, though they were barred from many trading industries and often in conflict with non-Jews. In 1683, hundreds of Jews from Moravia fled to Slovakia, seeking refuge from Kuruc riots, and living restrictions imposed in Moravia. In 1700, a leading yeshiva was established in Bratislava, and was recognized by the government. Under Joseph II, Jews received many additional civil liberties.

In 1867, Slovakia became part of Austria-Hungary, and was classified as "Northern Hungary". The Hungarian parliament subsequently passed legislation promoting assimilation among minorities, including Jews, the government supported Jewish cooperation in industry and finance. The Jewish population grew, especially in small, secluded towns in the east. However, widespread antisemitism, prevented Jews from assimilating. In 1882 and 1883, antisemitic rioting occurred in several towns.

In 1896, the "Reception Law" was introduced. Under this law, Judaism and Christianity were placed on an equal level. Shortly afterward, the Slovak Clerical People's Party was formed. Its main interests were anti-liberalism and limiting Jewish influence.

During the 19th century and early 20th century, the Zionist movement also reached Slovakia, and eight local Zionist groups were formed. In 1903, Bratislava hosted the First Hungarian Zionist Convention, and the following year, the First World Mizrahi Congress was held there.

After World War I and the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Jews earned the right to declare themselves a separate nationality, and prospered in industry and cultural life, holding more than one-third of all industrial investments. In 1919, the National Federation of Slovak Jews and the Jewish Party were established. In the 1929 elections, the Jewish Party earned two seats in parliament. In addition, a Jewish newspaper, the "Jewish People's Paper", was first published in Bratislava on August 2, 1919. In the first national census in Czechoslovakia, carried out on February 15, 1921, 135,918 people registered as practicing Jews, and 70,522 declared themselves of Jewish nationality. In addition, there were 165 Orthodox and 52 Reform congregations in the country.

In the 1930s, antisemitic rioting and demonstrations broke out, as many Slovaks had been incited by the Slovak People's Party. During the rioting, professional Jewish boxers and wrestlers took to the streets to defend their neighborhoods from antisemitic gangs, and one of them, Imi Lichtenfeld, would later use his experiences to develop Krav Maga.

Some 5,000 Jews emigrated before the outbreak of World War II, but most were killed in the Holocaust. After the Slovak Republic proclaimed its independence in March 1939 under the protection of Nazi Germany, Slovakia began a series of measures aimed against the Jews in the country, first excluding them from the military and government positions. The Hlinka's Guard began to attack Jews, and the "Jewish Code" was passed in September 1941. Resembling the Nuremberg Laws, the Code required that Jews wear a yellow armband, and were banned from intermarriage and many jobs. By 1940, more than 6,000 Jews had emigrated.

The pro-Nazi regime of President Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest, agreed to deport its Jews as part of the Nazi Final Solution.[4][5]

Interior of the Jewish memorial in Bratislava, Slovakia (with the grave of the rabbi Chatam Sofer at the left).

By October 1941, 15,000 Jews were expelled from Bratislava; many were sent to labor camps. Originally, the Slovak government tried to make a deal with Germany in October 1941 to deport its Jews as a substitute for providing Slovak workers to help the war effort. After the Wannsee Conference, the Germans agreed to the Slovak proposal, and a deal was reached where the Slovak Republic would pay for each Jew deported, and, in return, Germany promised that the Jews would never return to the republic. The initial terms were for "20,000 young, strong Jews", but the Slovak government quickly agreed to a German proposal to deport the entire population for "evacuation to territories in the east".

The deportations of Jews from Slovakia started on 25 March 1942 (made up solely of 999 young women; it was also the first mass transport of Jews to Auschwitz [6]), but halted on 20 October 1942 after a group of Jewish citizens, led by Gisi Fleischmann and Rabbi Michael Ber Weissmandl, built a coalition of concerned officials from the Vatican and the government, and, through a mix of bribery and negotiation, was able to stop the process. By then, however, some 58,000 Jews had already been deported, mostly to Auschwitz, as forced labourers for German armament factories, at least this was what Tiso and the Slovak government presumed it to be. Slovak government officials filed complaints against Germany, when it became clear that many of the previously deported Slovak Jews had been shot in mass executions.

Jewish deportations resumed on 30 September 1944, when the Soviet army reached the Slovak border, and the Slovak National Uprising took place. As a result of these events, Germany decided to occupy all of Slovakia and the country lost its independence. During the German occupation, another 13,500 Jews were deported and 5,000 were imprisoned. Deportations continued until 31 March 1945. In all, German and Slovak authorities deported about 70,000 Jews from Slovakia; about 65,000 of them were murdered or died in concentration camps. The overall figures are inexact, partly because many Jews did not identify themselves, but one 2006 estimate is that approximately 105,000 Slovak Jews, or 77% of their prewar population, died during the war.[7]

Synagogue in Trenčín

After the war, the number of Jews in Slovakia was estimated to 25,000. Most of them decided to emigrate. In 1948, Communist rule was established, lasting until 1989, and little or no Jewish life existed. Many Jews emigrated to Israel or the United States to regain their freedom of religion. In 1992, with the peaceful breakup of Czechoslovakia and Slovak independence in 1993, there was some resurgence in Jewish life. However, most Jews were elderly, and younger ones largely assimilated through intermarriage.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "YIVO | Czechoslovakia". Yivoencyclopedia.org. Retrieved 2013-04-16. 
  2. ^ "YIVO | Population and Migration: Population since World War I". Yivoencyclopedia.org. Retrieved 2013-04-16. 
  3. ^ "Google Drive Viewer". Docs.google.com. Retrieved 2013-04-16. 
  4. ^ Cameron, Rob (4 January 2007). "Slovak bishop praises Nazi regime - BBC News". Retrieved 5 January 2010. 
  5. ^ "Antisemitism and Xenophobia Today - Slovakia". 
  6. ^ Gelissen, Rena. Rena's Promise. Beacon Press 1995. www.renaspromise.com
  7. ^ Rebekah Klein-Pejšová (2006). "An overview of the history of Jews in Slovakia". Slovak Jewish Heritage. Synagoga Slovaca. Retrieved 2007-08-02. 

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