CZECHOSLOVAKIA, republic in Central Europe. Founded in 1918, it united within its political framework the Jewries of the "historic countries" (*Bohemia, *Moravia, and part of *Silesia), connected with the *Hapsburg Empire from 1526 and under its direct control from 1620, and of *Slovakia and Carpatho-Russia (see *Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia), both an integral part of *Hungary, from the tenth century. As of January 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia ceased to exist as a separate entity and its territory became two independent nations, the *Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Jewish communities of the various regions hence differed substantially in their demographic, economic, and cultural aspects, with influences of assimilation to the Czech and German cultures prevailing in the west, and the Hungarian in conjunction with the traditional Orthodox Jewish way of life in the east.
In the western part of Czechoslovakia Jewish life was mainly regulated by Austrian legislation (of 1890) and in the eastern areas by Hungarian (of 1870). The communal leadership was initially predominantly assimilationist-oriented to German, Hungarian, or Czech culture. Czechoslovakian Jewry was distributed as shown in Table: Czechoslovakian Jewry.
By 1930, over 80% of the Jews of Bohemia and Moravia-Silesia lived in towns with over 5,000 inhabitants (60% of these in towns with over 50,000 inhabitants, i.e., *Prague, *Brno (Bruenn)). Between 1918 and 1938 the number of Jews in the small towns decreased by 20% to 50%, while the Jewish population of Prague, Brno, *Ostrava, and several industrial centers in the Sudeten area increased. In 1930, the proportion of children up to the age of 14 was 13.04% among Bohemian Jews and 14.25% among Moravian-Silesian Jews, compared with 22.63% and 26.13% respectively among the general population. The occupational structure of the Jewish population was similar to that for the rest of West European Jewry.
During the century before World War I the number of Jews in Carpatho-Russia had increased almost fivefold because of the influx from Galicia, Romania, and Russia. In 1930, 65% were living in villages, constituting the highest proportion of rural dwellers among European Jewry. The communities in western Slovakia were closer to the way of life of the Moravian communities whose members had originally founded them. *Bratislava (Pressburg) had an individual character and was closely related to *Burgenland Jewry.
The initiative to organize Czech Jewry within the new state came from Zionists. Ludwig *Singer had already suggested in November 1917 that the communities should be reorganized to provide a framework both for religious activities and toward achieving Jewish national and cultural *autonomy. On the initiative of Rudolph Kohn of the Prague *Po'alei Zion, the Jewish National Council (Národní rada Židovská) was established on Oct. 23, 1918, headed by Ludwig Singer, with the writer Max Brod and Karl Fischel as his deputies. On Oct. 28, at the proclamation of the republic, the council declared Jewish loyalty to the provisional government and put forward its principal claims: recognition of and the right to declare Jewish nationality, full civic and legal rights, democratization of the Jewish communities and expansion of their competences, establishment of a central supreme representation of the communities, cultural autonomy in Jewish education, promotion and use of Hebrew, and contact with the "center in Palestine." By November the federations of the communities of Moravia and Silesia had accepted the council's authority. On Jan. 4, 1919, a Prague conference of adherents to Jewish nationality adopted a program to convert the communities, as the "living cells of Jewish society," into the bearers of Jewish autonomy, but the program was not realized; nor could a unified communal organization be created. The conference decided to found the *Židovská Strana (Jewish party) as its instrument for electoral activities. Many communities reorganized themselves on democratic lines, granting franchise to women and to Jews from Eastern Europe who had settled there. Besides the demands urged on the authorities, as contained in the National Jewish Council's proclamation, the council also made demands on Jewish society itself, calling for a modern social policy to replace old-style philanthropy, establishment of Jewish secular schools, and provision of facilities for religious worship according to the wishes of the members of the community. The council dispatched a delegation to the peace conference in Versailles (Singer, Samuel Hugo *Bergmann, and Norbert Adler), which became part of the Jewish delegation there. Though Zionist influence predominated in the council, non-Zionists such as Alois Hilf and Salomon Hugo Lieben collaborated. The Czech assimilationist movement (see *Čechů-židů, *Svaz) and the extremist orthodox group contested the council's right to represent the whole of Czechoslovakian Jewry. The state under President Thomas Garrigue *Masaryk agreed to the council's basic claims, and the 1920 constitution expressly recognized Jewish nationality, corresponding to the conceptions of the *minority rights granted to all minorities in Czechoslovakia.
The 354,342 Jews by religion (Israelites) enumerated in 1921, and 356,830 in 1930, declared their nationality as shown in Table 2:
Adherents of the Jewish religion in 1930 represented 2.4% of the total population, and Jews by nationality 1.3%
The Jewish party succeeded in achieving representation on a number of municipal councils. However, as it did not attain the minimum quota required for the parliamentary elections in any single electoral district, it succeeded in returning two representatives only in 1929, as a result of an agreement with the Polish minority (Ludwig Singer, succeeded after his death in 1931 by Angelo *Goldstein, and Julius Reisz) and in 1935, after an arrangement with the Czechoslovak Social Democrats (Goldstein and Ḥayyim *Kugel). The party was opposed by Czech, Slovak, German, and Hungarian assimilationists, as well as by the extreme Orthodox, who gave their votes to the strongest Czech party, the Agrarians. Jews, however, also attained leading positions in other political parties: Alfred Meissner and Lev Winter in the Czechoslovak Social Democrats, Ludwig *Czech and Siegfried Taub in the German, and Gabor Streiner in the Hungarian, Bruno Kafka in the Deutsche Arbeits-und Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft, and Rudolf Slánský and Viktor Stern in the Communist party. Jews were also active in political journalism. There were several Jewish weeklies, the Zionist Židovské zprávy, *Selbstwehr, and Medinah Ivrith in Prague, Max *Hickl's Juedische Volksstimme in Brno, the Juedische Volkszeitung in Bratislava, and the Juedische Stimme in Mukačevo
In Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia Jewish children attended general schools on all levels: Prague and Ostrava both had a Jewish elementary school, while the only Jewish secondary school was in Brno. In most towns of Slovakia there were Jewish elementary schools where the language of instruction was Hungarian, most adopting the Slovak language subsequently. In Carpatho-Russia, Jewish education was substantially based on the traditional ḥeder and yeshivah. Government records of 1931 listed five yeshivot as institutions of higher education, in Bratislava, *Komarno, *Prešov, *Košice, and *Mukačevo; but there were others, as in *Galanta, *Dunajska Streda, and *Huncovce. A network of Hebrew schools developed; the first school was opened in Torun, and then, supported by the *Tarbut organization, expanded to nine elementary schools and two secondary, in Mukačevo (1925) and *Uzhgorod (1934). In 1934 the Supreme Council of the Jewish Religious Communities established a course for cantors and teachers of religion. A large number of Jewish children in Carpatho-Russia attended the Czech schools established for the children of civil servants and police officers. Many Jews attended universities and technical colleges, which also attracted numbers of students from countries where there was a numerus clausus. A number of Jews were appointed to professorships in Prague at the Czech and the German universities.
Jews played an important role in the economy and were among the pioneers of its development, notably in the textile, foodstuffs, and wood and paper industries. (It was estimated that 30%–40% of the total capital invested in Czechoslovakian industry in the 1930s was Jewish-owned.) The firm of *Petschek and Weimann was instrumental in the development of mining in north Bohemia, and Jewish enterprise was prominent in the steel industry and mining of the Ostrava area (see Wilhelm *Guttmann), insurance, and private banking. Jews were also instrumental in the Slovak wood industry. Later the concentration of capital in the national banks, agrarian reform, the development of agricultural and consumers' cooperatives, and the preference given to enterprises set up by veterans of the Czechoslovakian army tended to limit the extent and importance of Jewish economic activity, and the number of Jews in industry and commerce declined. The slump of 1929–30 affected many Jewish businessmen. After this crisis many Jews emigrated from Slovakia and Carpatho-Russia to the West; on the other hand, after 1918 Czechoslovakia received several thousand refugees from Eastern Europe, most of them in transit. They were supported through the Židovská ústředna socialní péče (Juedische Fuersorge-Zentrale), founded in 1921. After the Nazi advent to power in Germany in 1933, several thousand Jewish refugees, of whom 4,000 held Czechoslovakian citizenship, entered Czechoslovakia. A special committee was founded for their support. A particular problem was the provision of legal aid for the many Jewish stateless persons, who were permanently in danger of losing their permits of domicile
Jews contributed to all spheres of cultural activity, whether Czech, German, or Hungarian oriented. Many were outstanding authors in the Czech language (see *Czechoslovak literature). Gifted German-language authors were Adolf Donath, Friedrich Adler, and Hugo *Salus of the elder generation, and Franz *Kafka, Max *Brod, Franz *Werfel, Ludwig Winder, F.C. Weisskopf, and Egon Erwin *Kisch, among others (see *German Literature). Authors who wrote in German did not necessarily consider themselves German nationals, and some, like Max Brod, were active Zionists. Many Jews were intermediaries between the cultures, such as Otakar *Fischer in translating from German to Czech, and Kamil *Hoffmann, Max Brod, and Pavel Eisner in presenting Czech culture to the German-reading public. Jews prominent in music included the composer Jaromir *Weinberger and on the Czech stage the actors Hugo *Haas and Jiři Voskovec. Jewish journalists were on the staff of many newspapers, excepting those of the extreme right, and in all languages. Jews were active in all types of sports, within Jewish organizations as well as clubs of the other nationalities, notably the swimmers and water-ball teams of the Hagibor association in Prague and Bar Kochba in Bratislava. The refusal of the Jewish champions to represent Czechoslovakia at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936 was a subject of heated public discussion. Jewish youth was organized in the numerous Zionist youth and student organizations, as well as in many organizations of the other nationalities.
Antisemitism among all the nationalities of the republic was of old standing. At the time of the establishment of the republic in 1918 there were antisemitic riots in Prague and *Holešov (Moravia). In Slovakia, serious antisemitic violence continued until summer 1919. Among the Czech elements it was less noticeable, mainly because of the personal example of Thomas Masaryk and Eduard Beneš, and the democratic political philosophy as expounded by them, the author Karel Čapek, and other leaders of public opinion, including the head of the Czechoslovak Church Hromádka, and the writers Milena Jesenská, Emanuel Rada, and Pavla Moudrá. However, right-wing groups such as the Národni sjednoceni (National Union, founded by Jíří Stribrný in 1927), the Česká obec fašistická (Czech Fascist Community), headed by the former general of the Czech army Radola Gajda, and the Vlajka (Flag) group explicitly supported antisemitism in their platforms. Andrej Hlinka's Slovenská L'udová strana (Slovak People's Party) adopted an increasingly aggressive antisemitic policy. The Sudeten, where most of the Germans lived, was already a stronghold of racial antisemitism under the Hapsburg monarchy, and antisemitism grew even more violent, influenced by the rise of Nazism in Germany, the advent of Hitler to power, and the founding of Konrad Henlein's Sudetendeutsche Partei (1935). Antisemitism in Czechoslovakia was strongly associated with the general conflicts among the nationalities there: the Czechs would not forgive the adherence of many Jews to German language and culture and their support of the German liberal parties, and regarded them as a Germanizing factor. In Slovakia and Carpatho-Russia they were considered the bearers of Magyarization, and later, supporters of the Czech establishment. All groups alleged that the Jews were supporters of Communism, while the Communists claimed that they supported reaction. After Hitler's rise to power, his growing support for German extreme nationalist demands, and the enmity he manifested to the Czechoslovak establishment, the Jews drew increasingly closer to the state, which all Jewish groups supported in its stand against Nazism. Post-World War I Czechoslovakia, which was relatively progressive and stable, was a congenial milieu for Czechoslovakian Jewry. Hence, most of them failed to see the dangers threatening them even inside the country. However, the subdued popular antisemitism was soon to be rekindled. At the beginning of 1938 antisemitism gained in strength when in Romania the Goga government came to power and Jewish refugees tried to enter Czechoslovakia. Ferdinand Peroutka, the editor of a respected liberal weekly, published a series of articles in which he called for restriction of Jewish rights. A project for a rabbinical seminary, connected with the Prague Czech University, which was to begin functioning in 1938, was not realized. The problem of Jewish refugees became even more acute with the Nazi Anschluss with Austria, when many Jewish refugees, a large number holding Czechoslovakian passports, entered the country. Manifestations of antisemitism in Slovakia and the Sudeten area increased. At the time of the Munich conference (Sept. 29, 1938) the Jews from the Sudetenland (more than 20,000), which was handed over to Germany, fled to the remaining territory of the state. Parts of Slovakia and Carpatho-Russia, with a Jewish population of about 80,000, were ceded to Hungary by decree of Hitler and Mussolini as "arbiters" on Nov. 2, 1938. Antisemitism gained virulence in the truncated "Second Republic" mainly in Slovakia. The Second Republic did not last long. On March 14, 1939, Slovakia declared its independence and became a vassal of Nazi Germany; the next day the remaining parts of Bohemia and Moravia were occupied by the Germans and transformed into a German "Protectorate," while Hungary occupied Carpatho-Russia.
Emigration and Exile (1938–45)
The emigration and escape of Jews from Czechoslovakia started immediately after the Munich conference (Sept. 29, 1938) and increased considerably after the German occupation (March 15, 1939). Half a million pounds sterling, part of a grant made by the British government to the Czechoslovak government, were earmarked for the financing of the emigration of 2,500 Jews to Palestine. In addition, about 12,000 Jews left with "illegal" transports for Palestine. Many others
According to the 1930 census, 135,918 Jews (4.5% of the total population) lived in Slovakia. The plight of Slovak Jewry actually began with the establishment of autonomous Slovakia (Oct. 6, 1938), when the one-party authoritarian system of the clerical Slovak People's Party of Hlinka (HSL'S – Hlinkova Slovenská L'udová Strana) came to power. On March 14, 1939, Hitler made an independent state by causing the breakup of Czechoslovakia. A few days later Slovak leaders and the German Foreign Minister, von *Ribbentrop, signed the Treaty of Protection (Schutzvertrag), thus making Slovakia in effect a satellite of Germany. In the first months of Slovakia's "independence" anti-Jewish restrictions were sporadically introduced; however, fundamental changes in anti-Jewish policy occurred only after the Salzburg Conference (July 28, 1940), attended by Hitler, the Slovak leaders (Father Josef *Tiso, Vojtech Bela *Tuka, Saňo Mach) and the leader of the local German minority, the so-called Karpaten-Deutsche, Franz Karmasin. At this conference the Slovaks agreed to set up a national-socialist regime in their country.
At the end of August 1940, Dieter *Wisliceny, *Eichmann's emissary, arrived in Slovakia to act as "adviser for Jewish affairs," and with him came a score of advisers to assist the Slovak ministries. The Slovaks set up two institutes with the objective of "solving the Jewish problem": ÚHÚ – Ústredný Hospodárský Úrad (Central Office for Economy) whose task was to oust the Jews from economic and social life and "aryanize" Jewish property; the second was ÚŽ – Ústredňa Židov (Center of Jews). The úž, the Slovak equivalent of the Judenrat, was headed by the starosta ("Jewish Elder"), Heinrich Schwartz, chairman of the Orthodox-Jewish community. When Schwartz was arrested for non-cooperation, a more obedient starosta, Árpád Sebestyén, a former school director, was appointed by the authorities in April 1941. The Zionist leader Oskar Neumann replaced Sebestyén in fall 1943. The "aryanization" process was carried out by the ÚHÚ within one year: 10,025 Jewish enterprises and businesses were liquidated and 2,223 transferred to "Aryan" ownership. In order to solve the problem of employment of Jews, who were removed from economic life, the Slovak authorities ordered the erection of a number of labor centers and three large labor camps: Sered, Vyhne, and Nováky. In the fall of 1941, in an effort to clear the capital of Jews, a special ministerial order issued by Mach removed a greater part of the Bratislava Jews; some were sent to the labor camps and others to the towns of Trnava, Nitra, and to the region of Šariš-Zemplín in eastern Slovakia, where the majority of Slovak Jewry lived. Concurrently, during a visit to Hitler's headquarters, Tuka requested the assistance of the Reich in the removal of the Jews from Slovakia. News of the terrible fate of Jews in German hands filtered into Slovakia after fall 1941. At the beginning of February 1942, the German Foreign Ministry formally requested the Slovak government to furnish 20,000 "strong and able-bodied Jews." It was decided that the first transports would be composed of young men and women aged 16–35. However, on the suggestion of the Slovaks that in the "spirit of Christianity" families should not be separated, Eichmann gave his consent to deport families together. The Slovaks had to pay 500 Reichmarks "as charges for vocational training" for every deported Jew, receiving in return a guarantee that the Jews would not come back to Slovakia and that no further claims would be laid to their property. The organization of transports was performed by the Ministry of Interior, Department 14, headed by Gejza Kionka and afterward by Anton *Vašek, in collaboration with the Hlinka Guard and the Freiwillige Schutzstaffel (Voluntary Defense Squad of local Germans). The Jewish leadership, alarmed by rumors of the impending deportations, launched two appeals in the name of the Jewish communities (March 5, 1942) and in the name of the rabbis of Slovakia (March 6, 1942) warning the authorities that "the deportations mean physical extermination." On March 14, 1942, the Vatican sent a note of protest, and a few days later an oral warning was communicated on the direct instruction of Pope Pius XII by Slovakia's ambassador to Rome, Karol Sidor.
Between March 26 and October 20, 1942, about 60,000 Jews were deported as agreed with Berlin to *Auschwitz and to the *Lublin area, where they were killed. By the end of April the earliest evidence on the fate of deportees was received in Bratislava, when the first escapees from General Gouvernment of Poland arrived. Their eyewitness accounts were immediately
During the interim, the underground "Working Group" (Pracovná Skupina; see also *Europa Plan) arose on the initiative of Rabbi Michael Dov *Weissmandel within the framework of ÚŽ with the objective of saving the remaining Jews of Slovakia. Led by Gisi Fleischmann, the Group was composed of Zionists, assimilated Jews, and rabbis. The Jewish underground succeeded in temporarily diverting the peril of deportation in the spring of 1943 as a result of negotiations with friendly Slovak ministers and bribes to Slovak leaders. Another achievement in 1943 was the rescue of fugitives from the ghettos of Poland, who were smuggled through Slovakia to Hungary with the help of the He-Ḥalutz underground. By that time about 25,000 Jews were left in Slovakia, some of them "submerged," so that only part of them were officially registered, mostly "economically vital" Jews who were granted "certificates of exemption." About 3–4,000 persons were engaged in productive work in the Slovak labor camps, and others lived on false "Aryan" papers or in hiding. On April 21, 1944, the first two escapees from Auschwitz reached Slovakia after a miraculous flight. Their account of the annihilation process was sent on to the head of the Orthodox Jewish community in Budapest, Rabbi Von Freudiger, to alert the world and forwarded through Switzerland to Jewish organizations in the free world with an appeal by Rabbi Weissmandel demanding the immediate bombing of the murder installations in Auschwitz. The Allies rejected the appeal.
In August 1944, an anti-Fascist uprising took place in Slovakia, and subsequently the German army invaded the country. Over 1,500 Jewish men and women enlisted in the Czechoslovak armed forces resisting the Germans. Among the enlisted Jews, a regular Jewish unit of about 250 fighters, under Jewish command and the name "Camp Novaky Unit," was active. Two hundred and sixty-nine Jewish fighters fell in the resistance.
Four parachutists from Ereẓ Israel reached Slovakia to extend help to the Jewish remnants and to organize resistance. However, the Jews had enlisted long before the arrival of the parachutists. Their cell included a woman, Ḥavivah *Reik ("Ada Robinson"). Three of the four, including Reik, were caught by the Germans, and subsequently executed. The Einsatzgruppen killed thousands of Jews during the Slovak revolt, and after its suppression (Oct. 28, 1944), about 13,500 of the remaining Jews of Slovakia were deported to concentration camps (including Auschwitz, *Sachsenhausen, and *Theresienstadt), under the pretext of reprisal for their participation in the revolt (October 1944–March 1945). On the eve of the liberation (April 30, 1945), there remained about 4,000–5,000 Jews in Slovakia hiding in the forests or with non-Jews or living clandestinely with "Aryan" papers. The losses of Slovak Jewry amount to over 100,000. In the part of Slovakia annexed by the Hungarian kingdom, there were about 45,000 Jews. Their fate was the same as the rest of Hungarian Jewry. In spring 1944, after the German occupation of Hungary, the Jews were deported to Auschwitz and most of them perished there. Some of those who eluded the deportations participated in the Slovak National Uprising. Only about 25,000 persons of the prewar community survived the Holocaust and the majority of them left Slovakia after the war, most of them for Israel.
[Livia Rothkirchen /
Yeshayahu Jelinek (2nd ed.)]
PROTECTORATE OF BOHEMIA-MORAVIA
According to the 1930 census, Czechoslovakia had a Jewish population of 356,830 out of total of 14,000,000. Of these, 117,551 lived in Bohemia and Moravia and 102,542 in Carpatho-Russia. At the time of the Munich Agreement (September, 1938), the arrival of Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria increased the Jewish population in Bohemia and Moravia to approximately 122,000. In October 1938, when the German-speaking Bohemian-Moravian border areas were occupied by the Nazis, approximately 25,000 Jews fled their homes there to the unoccupied part of Czechoslovakia. On the basis of the Vienna arbitration decision of Nov. 2, 1938, the predominantly Hungarian parts of Slovakia and Carpatho-Russia were ceded to Hungary; these areas were inhabited by approximately 80,000 Jews. The remaining regions of Slovakia and Carpatho-Russia were granted autonomous status in the now federated Czecho-Slovakia. German pressure and a growing local anti-Jewish movement brought about increasing discrimination against Jews and persecution. In March 1939, when Slovakia seceded from the Republic, and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was established, the fate of the Jews in each of the two separate parts began to run its own course. In the Protectorate, the first synagogue, in Vsetin, was burned down on the day of the German occupation (March 15, 1939). At that time 118,310 persons in the Protectorate were designated as Jews according to the Nuremberg Laws; only 86,715, however, were members of the local Jewish communities. In the initial stage, the "Final Solution of the Jewish problem" proceeded, in part, on the basis of decrees issued by the Protectorate regime; in the course of time, Bohemia and Moravia came to be regarded more and more as part of the Reich, and the fate of the Jews in the two provinces was decided on directly by the *RSHA (Reich Security Main Office) in Berlin. The immediate consequences were the plunder of Jewish property, pogroms, and the burning of synagogues. Many Jews who were active in the general resistance movement were caught while a few Jews survived as "illegals." On July 27, 1939, Adolf Eichmann, the RSHA representative, established a branch of the Zentralstelle fuer juedische Auswanderung (Central Office for Jewish Emigration) in Prague. The Jews were forced to register for emigration, and divested of most of their property by a compulsory "Jewish emigration tax." Jewish books and periodicals
Jews joined the Czech resistance, both the pro-Western and the Communist wings. The sorely oppressed Czech population did not demonstrate exceptional courage in assisting the persecuted Jews. In the last period before liberation of the country, Jewish Mischlinge ("mixed" Jews considered Jewish under German law) were gathered to be shipped to extermination camps. Most of them survived.
In 1945, 10,090 Jews registered with the Jewish communities as returning deportees, out of a total of 80,614 who had been deported; 6,392 had died in Theresienstadt, 64,172 had been murdered in the extermination camps, and of the Jews who had not been deported, 5,201 had either been executed, committed suicide, or died a natural death. On the day of the restoration of national sovereignty in Prague, May 5, 1945, there were 2,803 Jews alive in Bohemia and Moravia, who had not been deported, most of them partners of mixed marriages.
Various estimates of the number of Jews living in Czechoslovakia in 1945 have been given, as postwar statistics do not classify the population according to religion. Many of the surviving Jews in Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia decided to leave in the brief period between its annexation to the Soviet Union (June 29, 1945) and the closing of its frontiers (September 30, 1945). They succeeded in fleeing to Bohemia, while only a few hundred moved to Slovakia. Most of the newcomers registered with the Jewish communities only later. In 1948, 19,123 Jews were registered with the communities in Bohemia and Moravia. The number of Jews in Slovakia in 1947 was estimated at about 24,500. This brings to 44,000 the number of Jews living in the whole of Czechoslovakia in early 1948, when the Communists came to power. However, this figure has to be augmented to include those who were in no way affiliated with organized Jewish communities, but in the past were classed as Jews by German authorities and registered after World War II as victims of racial persecution. In this category there were 5,292 persons living in Bohemia and Moravia in 1948. In Slovakia their number is not known; on the other hand, about 5,500 Slovak Jews, in an effort to save their lives, agreed to pro forma baptism during the war. It can therefore be estimated that out of the 356,830 Jews living in Czechoslovakia (including Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia) in 1939, less than a sixth remained in the country in 1948. The Communist coup of February 1948, and the establishment of the State of Israel in May of that year, led to a mass migration of Jews from Czechoslovakia. Between 1948 and 1950, 18,879 Jews went from Czechoslovakia to Israel, while more than 7,000 emigrated to other countries. When emigration was barred by the Communist authorities, in 1950, the number of Jews still remaining had dropped to some 18,000, while some 5,500 of them were still registered for migration to Israel. There were sporadic instances of Jewish emigration after 1954 but only from 1965 were 2,000–3,000 Jews allowed to leave Czechoslovakia. After the Soviet invasion in August 1968, 3,400 Jews left the country, according to a spokesman of the American Joint Distribution Committee in Vienna. It may therefore be assumed that at the end of 1968 there were less than 12,000 Jews left in Czechoslovakia. In June 1968, Rudolf Iltis of the Council of Jewish Communities in Bohemia and Moravia gave their average age as 60, while in the 15–20 age group there were only 1,000 Jews left. He also added that "with the exception of a few communities in Slovakia, the demographic situation of Czechoslovak Jewry does not necessitate religious instruction, because there are not enough children of school age."
The renewed Council of Jewish Communities in Bohemia and Moravia held its first conference after World War II, under the chairmanship of Ernst Frischer, in September 1945. Delegates of 43 communities participated. In Slovakia a similar body, the Central Union of the Jewish Communities in Slovakia, was created at the end of 1945, presided over by Armin *Frieder. With the creation of the Union, the Orthodox and the Neolog-Status Quo organizations, separate before the war, were united. Both Frischer and Frieder were Zionists. In 1947 the two organizations set up a coordinating committee. At a Council conference in November 1963 representatives from only 16 communities took part and in 1968 the editor of the Council's publications listed only seven active communities in Bohemia and Moravia (Prague, Brno, Ostrava, Plzeň, Karlovy Vary, Ústí nad Labem, and Teplice-Sanov). Ten communities in Slovakia were listed as active (Bratislava, Košice, Prešov, Nitra, Michalovce, Žilina, Galanta, Trnava, Dunajská Streda, and Ružomberok). A small number of Jews were also living in some other places where, however, Jewish life had no organizational framework. The strongest communities in June 1968 were Prague, with 3,500 members (more than 4,000 in 1945), Bratislava, with 2,000 (8,000 in 1947), and Košice with 1,800 (4,000 in 1947). Religious life was practically limited to the High Holidays. On the Sabbath few places had a minyan. One of the main problems was the lack of rabbis. Religious education was nonexistent. The budget of the pauperized communities was covered entirely by State subsidies. The State Bakery in Zlaté Moravce supplied maẓẓot from 1965. There were four Jewish old-age homes, in Bratislava, Marianské Lázně, Brno, and Poděbrady; only in the first two was kosher food prepared. Of the 800 Jewish cemeteries only those were being kept in good order where a community was still in existence. A few, like the old cemetery of Prague, had become museums. The same applied to some old synagogues. In the years preceding the Communist coup of 1948, there were still signs of Jewish political life and of contacts with Jewish bodies abroad. In Slovakia, for instance, an Organization of Victims of Racial Persecution was created under the chairmanship of Vojtech Winterstein, a leading Zionist. The Central Union of Jewish Communities in Slovakia was affiliated to the World Jewish Congress from 1946, while the Council of Jewish Communities in Bohemia and Moravia joined the WJC only at the beginning of 1948. There were organized Zionist activities, and the American Joint Distribution Committee was permitted to undertake social work among the Jews of Czechoslovakia. All this was stopped when the Communists came to power in February 1948. After the Communist coup, Action Committees composed partially of Jewish Communists took over the leadership of the Jewish communities and eliminated noncommunists from their positions. At the beginning of 1949 the Zionists still succeeded in holding a conference at Pieštany; but by the end of 1949 the ties with the World Jewish Congress were broken, and at the beginning of 1950 the "Joint" was ordered to stop all activities and its workers were expelled. The Jewish Agency closed its Prague office voluntarily the same year, after all Jewish migration from Czechoslovakia had been stopped. The organ of the Council, Věstnik židovských náboženských obcí, and a quarterly in German, Informationsbulletin, became party mouthpieces, following the official line, including the hostile attitude to Israel. Some changes for the better could be discerned after 1964. In that year the ḥevra kaddisha of Prague was permitted to celebrate its 400th anniversary. The small Jewish Museum in Prague was enlarged during World War II by the Germans and later was taken over by the Ministry of Culture and officially reorganized. (In 1963 it was visited by 327,000 people.) In 1966 a more liberal-minded leadership, led by František Fuchs, succeeded the dogmatic Communist group in the Council of Jewish Communities, headed until then by František Ehrmann. The Prague community created a special Committee for Youth which, for the first time in a quarter of a century, organized lectures and seminars on Jewish themes, attended regularly by dozens of Jewish students. A delegation of the Council was received by the minister of culture and submitted a detailed plan for the celebrations of the millennium of Prague Jewry and the 700th anniversary of the Altneuschul, which were to have taken place in August 1968. Contacts with Jewish communities and organizations outside Czechoslovakia were renewed. In January 1967, the presidents of the Council and of the Central Union attended a World Jewish Conference in Paris and, on their invitation, Naḥum *Goldmann visited Czechoslovakia in the spring of that year. At the time, a series of stamps depicting Jewish subjects was issued. The stamps were taken out of circulation at the time of the *Six-Day War in June 1967, when Czechoslovakia, like other countries of the Soviet bloc, broke off diplomatic relations with Israel, but were reissued after the liberal community leadership of Alexander Dubček came into power in January 1968.
JEWS IN CZECHOSLOVAK PUBLIC LIFE
Thousands of Jews fought in the Czechoslovak armies formed both in the West and in the Soviet Union during World War II and many worked in various capacities in Beneš's government-in-exile. Many of those who returned after the war continued their work in the newly formed administration. The percentage of Jewish intellectuals among the Communists was also high, and after the Communist coup of February 1948, many of them were entrusted with responsible tasks in the government machinery. Thus, in 1948 there were three Jewish deputy ministers of foreign affairs, of defense, interior, foreign trade and finance. The Party's secretary general, Rudolf Slánský, was a Jew, and Jews played an important role in the party apparatus. This led to an increase of the antisemitism which was latent especially in Slovakia. Already in 1945, a delegation of the Council of Jewish Communities led by Ernst Frischer complained to President Beneš about anti-Jewish excesses in the Slovak towns of Prešov, Bardějov, and Topolčany. In 1945, in the village of Kolbasov in eastern Slovakia, a band of Ukrainian Bendera nationalists, together with local citizens, attacked Jews
Czechoslovakia and Israel
Czechoslovakia was among the first countries in the world to recognize the State of Israel, though it was already ruled by Gottwald's Communist regime after the February 1948 coup. Moreover, during its *War of Independence, Israel enjoyed active and effective Czechoslovak assistance, including the supply of military equipment. The two countries exchanged diplomatic representatives. These initially promising relations rapidly deteriorated, however, when Moscow reversed her attitude to Israel. This process culminated in the expulsion of the Israel minister from Prague, Aryeh *Kubovy in December 1952. After the Slánský trial diplomatic missions of the two countries remained headed on both sides by a chargé d'affaires only, and all Israel efforts to bring about a political dialogue were frustrated by Prague. Limited trade relations continued until 1956, but after the Sinai Campaign even these were broken off, although Israel's trade with other Soviet bloc countries in the period between 1956 and 1967 showed a remarkable increase. In June 1967, Czechoslovakia, together with the rest of the Warsaw Pact countries (excluding Romania), broke off relations with Israel. The one-sided attitude adopted by Czechoslovakia in the Arab-Israel conflict, and Israel's rapid victory against an overwhelming Arab majority, caused second thoughts first among the Czech and Slovak intelligentsia and then among the whole people, and ultimately became a factor in the growing opposition to the Novotný regime. With Novotný's fall in January 1968 there was hope for an improvement in the relations between Prague and Jerusalem. Writers, students, even some political figures, openly advocated a resumption of diplomatic relations. The request found expression in the press, on television, in public debates with members of the government, and finally in a collection of signatures organized by students in the streets of Prague. New hopes also arose among the remnants of Czechoslovak Jewry. On April 7, 1968, the Council of Jewish Communities in Bohemia and Moravia adopted a resolution, unprecedented in Communist countries, expressing not only their approval of the new liberalization but also their protest against the "vehement anti-Israel campaign" of the previous Novotný regime, which was based on "unobjective, one-sided reporting, often explicable only as intentionally anti-Jewish." The resolution stated: "We cannot agree and never will agree, to the liquidation of the State of Israel and to the murder of its inhabitants. In that country, the cradle of our religion, victims of persecution found a haven. Our brothers and sisters live there, those who together with us spent years in concentratiion
The International Council of Jews from Czechoslovakia in 1978 published its first report on Post-War Jewry in Czechoslovakia. It revealed a steady decline in the number of Jews, estimated to be 15,000, half the number registered in the census of 1950. The number of localities in which Jews resided had also fallen from 193 in 1968 to 174.
The largest number of registered congregants was in Prague, which, however, showed only 644 at the end of 1977, compared with 934 in 1968. Other centers showed similar decline: Brno 237 (from 295), Ostrava 122 (from 154) and Bratislava 88 (from 314).
There were no rabbis and only 8 communities still maintained a nominal existence in Bohemia and Moravia: Prague, Brno, Usti nad Labem, Olomouc, Ostrava, Levice, Pizen, Pribram; while in Slovakia there existed the six communities of Bratislava, Kosice, Presov, Galanta, Nove Zamky, Nitra.
The Council of Jewish communities of Bohemia and Moravia continued to function. Its chairman, engineer Frantisek Fuchs, who was appointed in 1966, was compelled to resign in August 1974, following attacks on him in the Czech press on the grounds that he had refused to sign a condemnation of the State of Israel during the Six-Day War. However, it seems that the real reason for the forced resignation was the fact that his son had left Czechoslovakia for the West. In March 1975 he was succeeded by Dr. Bedrich Bass, who died in 1979.
The Council of Jewish Communities in Bohemia and Moravia and the Central Union of Jewish Communities in Slovakia continued to publish the quarterly Vestnik Zidovskych nabozenskych obci, as well as the German language quarterly Informationsbulletin. The famous Pinkas Synagogue was closed because the rise in the level of sewage water surrounding it covered the monumental slabs bearing the names of 78,000 Czech Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The synagogue itself was in danger of total collapse.
Antisemitic propaganda, in the guise of anti-Zionism, still continued and came prominently to the fore in the struggle of the regime against the "Charter 77 Movement," whose manifesto – it was alleged – was drawn up "under order of the general staffs of anti-Communism and Zionism." But the antisemitism of the Czech Press was not restricted to the struggle against the protest movement; it was evident in purely ideological discussions, and its political hostility towards Israel continued. Commercial ties, however, which were severed in 1953, were re-established, and in 1976 Israeli exports to Czechoslovakia amounted to $4.767 million, while imports from Czechoslovakia were only $541,000. The respective figures for 1977 were $3.8 million and $600,000. In 1981 there was virtually no trade between the two countries.
The situation of Czechoslovakia's 6,000–10,000 Jews changed dramatically following the "Velvet Revolution" of November 1989, which ousted the country's hard-line Communist leaders. Restoration of religious freedom was one of the top priorities of the new, freely elected government headed by former dissident playwright Vaclav Havel.
Under communism, the regime tightly controlled religious observance and maintained a shrill anti-Zionist policy. Participation in Jewish religious, cultural, or educational activities was either discouraged or banned, and community leaders were appointed by the regime.
In some respects, the rigidity began to be eased somewhat in the 1980s. A major event was the traveling "Precious Legacy" exhibit put together by the State Jewish Museum in Prague, which introduced Czech Jewish culture to foreign audiences. In the late 1980s, some younger members of the Prague Jewish community formulated a letter openly criticizing the community leadership. Just one week before the "Velvet Revolution," World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman paid his first official visit to Prague.
Havel's new government in February 1990 reestablished diplomatic relations with lsrael, which had been broken after the Six-Day War in 1967, and in April 1990, Havel became the first leader from former Communist Eastern Europe to visit Israel – he took a planeload of Czechoslovak Jews with him. The trip coincided with the opening of "Where Cultures Meet," a major exhibit on the Jews of Czechoslovakia at Beth Hatefutsoth, the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, in Tel Aviv. The exhibit was later presented in Prague and elsewhere in Czechoslovakia.
Jewish spiritual and cultural life began to blossom in the three major communities: Prague in the Czech Republic and Bratislava and Kosice in Slovakia, each of which has about 1,000 registered members. Community administrations were reorganized to rid them of their Communist-appointed leaders. In December 1989 the well-respected Desider Galsky became president of the Jews in the Czech Republic, and was highly active in restoring numerous contacts between Czech Jews and international Jewish organizations before his death in a car accident 11 months later.
New Jewish organizations, societies, clubs, publications, and study groups ranging from the B'nai B'rith lodge to a Franz Kafka Society sprang up in the three main communities, and legislation was passed that will enable Jewish communities to regain property that had been confiscated by the communists. Numerous new books on Jewish topics were published, ranging from local Jewish guidebooks to fiction by local Jewish writers to examinations of the Holocaust in Czechoslovakia. In 1991 a museum dedicated to Franz Kafka, whose works had been suppressed under the communists, was opened in Prague focusing on Kafka's Jewish identity. In the same year, a memorial museum dedicated to the Jewish Ghetto concentration camp was inaugurated at Terezin (Theresienstadt) north of Prague, and in the summer of 1992 work began to restore the Holocaust memorial in Prague's 500-year-old Pinkas synagogue – a list of every one of the more than 77,000 Bohemian and Moravian Jews who were killed by the Nazis, hand-painted on the walls of the sanctuary. Memorials commemorating Jewish Holocaust victims were erected for the first time in many provincial towns, too.
Prague became a symbol city for the rebirth of freedom. As such, it was chosen as the site of a key meeting between Roman Catholic leaders and the International Council for Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC) in September 1990, in which the Catholic leaders condemned antisemitism as a sin. The meeting issued a landmark joint statement that called for concrete measures to foster interreligious dialogue and spelled out recommendations for combating the upsurge of antisemitism in Central and Eastern Europe. In the spring of 1992, Prague hosted a major symposium on antisemitism in Eastern Europe.
One casualty of these changes was Prague-based Rabbi Daniel Mayer, the only rabbi in Czechoslovakia, who was forced to resign his post in June 1990 after he admitted he had served as a government informant for a decade under the communist regime.
In September 1992, Karol Sidon, a former dissident playwright who had been forced to leave Prague because of his views, became the new rabbi in Prague, and Australian Lazar Kleinman took up the post of rabbi in Kosice, in eastern Slovakia. Both new rabbis expressed the hope they could revive Jewish life and religious practice in the two communities. Kleinmann was later forced to resign his post because of activities which, inter alia, played into the hands of Slovak nationalists. The Jews faced many problems. Most community members were elderly. Young people, many of them just discovering or rediscovering their Jewish roots, knew little about Judaism. In the Czech Republic especially, where Jews traditionally were highly assimilated and intermarriage was common, many of the younger people who considered themselves Jews were not Jews according to halakhah.
Soon after the "Velvet Revolution" a number of antisemitic incidents were recorded in Slovakia, including the desecration of cemeteries, attacks in the Slovak nationalist press, and antisemitic slurs against Fedor Gal, the leader of the Slovak People Against Violence political movement, who was born in the Terezin ghetto concentration camp.
In addition, at one point there was a movement in Slovakia to rehabilitate Father Josef Tiso, the leader of the wartime clerico-fascist Independent Slovakia, which was allied with the Nazis. Nationalistic and antisemitic organizations celebrated a revival. This revival was accompanied by a wave of anti-Jewish publications, including the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." However, the community increased its public and religious activities and renewed ties with Jewish organizations abroad.
[Ruth E. Gruber]
For subsequent events, see *Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Slovakian Jewry was until 1918 an integral part of Magyar Jewry. Therefore, historians never paid particular attention to "Oberland Jewry" (i.e., the Jewry of Upper Hungary, as it was known), although it must have been clear that an ethnic-religious minority living within an alien population would develop special traits akin to the majority. Neither the Magyar masters nor Jews living within the Magyar nation would be willing to admit that the Jews of Upper Hungary were special and had a different life-path from the dominant Jews of Hungary.
Already during the 19th century there were Jewish figures and publicists in Upper Hungary who recognized the particularism of the Slovak nation and protested against its oppression. In several cases, this recognition was instrumental in attempts to close Jewish-Slovak ranks. This was not easy, however, given the Magyar insistence on the Magyarization of Upper Hungarian Jewry. Neither was the hostility of leading Slovak nationalists helpful.
Only the creation of the Czechoslovak Republic, and the introduction of the Slovak language into Jewish schools, spurred the development of an independent Slovakian Jewry. It was then that the Jews become cognizant of their independent tradition and existence.
The Bratislava Zionist Samuel Bettelheim was among the first to recognize the existence of an independent Jewish history in Upper Hungary, today Slovakia. He founded a historical journal, Judaica, and encouraged original historical research. Bratislava's archivist and librarian Ovidius Faust, not a Jew, joined hands with Bettelheim to promote Slovak-Jewish historiography. Faust compiled the first work telling the story of Bratislava's Jewry. The work of Jewish historiography was terminated with creation of the Slovak state in 1939. The publisher Hugo Gold also cherished the idea of recording the Jewish past in Slovakia. The manuscript he is said to have prepared has disappeared.
The trauma of the Holocaust created a desire to commemorate the tragic events. Immediately after the end of the war Friedrich Steiner started to gather historical evidence, which he eventually transferred to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
The most significant work on Czechoslovak (and naturally Slovak) Jewry is the American Jews of Czechoslovakia in three volumes (see Bibliography). It was prepared by the leading historians of Czech and Slovak Jewries living outside their native country. The most recent work on Slovakian Jewry is Yad Vashem's Pinkas Kehillot Slovakia (in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities series), edited by Yehoshua Robert Buechler and Gila Fatran (2004). Similar work has been published in Slovakia by Eugen Bárkány and Ludovit Dojč, Židovské náboženské obce na Slovensku ("The Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia"). An older book of similar content is Lanyi Menyhert and Propperné Békefi Hermin's Szlovenszkoi Zsidó Hitközsegek Törtente ("The Story of the Slovak Jewish Communities). Dozens of books devoted to individual communities have been published in Israel, Slovakia, and overseas
The director of the Jewish Museum of Bratislava, Pavol Meštan, publishes the yearly Acta Judaica Slovaca, devoted to Jewish history in Slovakia. Meštan has published several books on the life of the Jewish community in Slovakia since the Velvet Revolution. Works on Slovak Jewry have thus become a frequent occurrence in Israel, the Slovak and Czech republics, Germany, the United States, England, Canada, Hungary, and Austria.
[Yeshayahu Jelinek (2nd ed.)
The Jews of Czechoslovakia: Historical Studies and Surveys, 3 vols. (1968–1984); F. Steiner (ed.), Tragedy of Slovak Jews (1949); O. Muneles, Bibliographical Survey of Jewish Prague (1952); H. Gold (ed.), Zeitschrift fuer die Geschichte der Juden in der Tschechoslowakei 5 vols. (1930–38); V. Paleček, Die israelitische Religionsgesellschaft (1932); F. Friedmann, Einige Zahlen ueber die tschechoslowakischen Juden (1933); R. Iltis (ed.), Die Aussaeen unter Traenen mit Jubel werden sie ernten (1959); idem, in: Le Monde Juif, 24 no. 2 (1968), 37–42; A. Charim, Die toten Gemeinden (c. 1966), 13–42; J. Stanek, Zrada a pád (1958); O. Kraus and E. Kulka, Noc a mlha (1966); Ḥ. Yaḥil (Hoffmann), Devarim al ha-Ẓiyyonut ha-Tshekhoslovakit (1967); idem, in: Juedische Wohlfahrtspflege und Sozialpolitik, 6 (1936), 123–35; F. Weltsch (ed.), Prag vi-Yrushalayim (1954); L. Rothkirchen, Ḥurban Yahadut Slovakyah (1961), includes extensive English summary and bibliography; idem, in: Yad Vashem Studies, 6 (1967), 27–53; O.J. Neumann, Be-Ẓel ha-Mavet (1958); M.D. Weissmandel, Min ha-Meẓar (1960); J. Lettrich, History of Modern Slovakia (1956), ch. 2 and passim; G. Jacoby, Racial State: The German Nationalities Policy in the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia (1944), 201–64; International Military Tribunal, Trial of the Major War Criminals, 23 (1949), index; Institute of Jewish Affairs, New York, European Jewry Ten Years after the War (1956), 82–108; idem, Position of the Jewish Communities in Eastern Europe… (1957), 25–28; idem, The Use of Anti-Semitism against Czechoslovakia (1968); P. Meyer et al., Jews in the Soviet Satellites (1953), 49–204 (incl. bibl.); R.L. Braham, Jews in the Communist World: A Bibliography 1945–1960 (1961), 20–22; Y. Gordon, in: Algemayne Entsiklopedie – Yidn, 4 (1950), 527–52; Moskowitz, in: JSOS, 4 (1942), 17–44; K. Stillschweig, in: HJ, 1 (1938–49), 39–49; 6 (1944), 52–59; G. Kisch, ibid., 8 (1936), 19–32; B. Blau, ibid., 10 (1948), 147–54; Bodensieck, in: Vierteljahrshefte fuer Zeitgegeschichte, 9 no. 3 (1961), 249–61; W. Benda, in: Zeitschrift fuer die Geschichte der Juden, 3 (1966), 85–102; O.D. Kulka, in: Moreshet, 2 no. 3 (1964), 51–78; Gesher, 15 no. 2–3 (1969); B. Blau, in: Yidishe Ekonomik, 3 (1939), 27–54, 175–93; Selbstwehr, 11–31 (1918–38); JGGJČ, 9 vols. (1929–38); Juedische Kultusgemeinde Prag, Wochen-, Monats-, and Vierteljahresberichte, 10 vols. (1939–42); Judenerlasse im Protektorat Boehmen und Maehren (1939–44); Juedisches Nachrichtenblatt (Prague, 1939–44); Věstnik židovských náboženských obcí v československu (1945–68); Rada židovských náboženských obcí v zemi české a moravskoslezské, Informationsbulletin (1961–68); Gesher, 59–60 (1969). For additional works, see "Slovak Historiography" above.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.