NITRA


NITRA (Hung. Nyitra; Ger. Neutra). Slovak historians believe that Nitra is the location of the oldest Slovakian Jewish community. In 896 Hungarian tribes invaded the Panonian plain; in 906 they destroyed the Slavonic kingdom of Moravia and probably captured Nitra as well. One of these tribes may have been the *Khazars of Jewish faith, which settled in the vicinity of Nitra. In a 1248 description of Nitra, "castrum iudeorum" can be interpreted as a Jewish settlement, in the vicinity of the neighboring village of Parovce. For centuries Parovce served as the Jewish extension of Nitra, where Jews were not admitted. In 1840, when the Budapest parliament allowed Jews to settle anywhere, the Jews of Parovce moved to Nitra. Many poor Jews who could not afford to move to Nitrastayed in Parovce. In 1989, with the collapse of Communism in Czechoslovakia, Parovce was inhabited by gypsies.

The anti-Jewish legislation of Emperor Charles VI (1711–1740) encouraged the migration of Moravian and Bohemian Jews to upper Hungary, where those laws did not apply. Nitra and its environs were included in this migration. The 1840 legislation of the Hungarian Parliament permitted Jews to live wherever they chose, which increased the Jewish population of Nitra dramatically.

The Jewish community was established in 1750, numbering 21 families. They had a small synagogue and a rabbi. In 1778 there were 132 people. The royal census of 1785/87 recorded 449 Jews. In 1840 the number rose to 1,654. A Jewish school was established in 1855, with German as the language of instruction. Subsequently, a talmud torah was opened. Rabbi Ezekiel ben Jacob Peneth (1773–1864) headed the local yeshivah, which at its peak had 200 students from many countries. In 1880 there were 3,541 Jews (22.4% of the entire population). The 1921 Czechoslovak census records the Jewish population as 3,901; the 1930 census records 3,809. In 1940, on the eve of the deportations, there were 4,358 Jews

After the 1868 Hungarian Jewish Congress, the Nitra congregation remained Orthodox. However, in 1907 a split occurred and a *Neolog congregation was established. Each congregation had a synagogue and a cemetery. The monumental Neolog synagogue was erected in 1914. There was a Jewish hospital in the city, a mikveh, an orphanage, a home for the elderly, and a public kosher kitchen. Machzike Hadas, the official organ of Slovak Orthodoxy, was published every two weeks.

Nitra was not involved in the riots and vandalism of 1918 and 1919 which spread over Slovakia because the National Guard, manned by Social Democrats and Jews, guarded the town. In 1930 the Catholic Church and the Slovak Nationalist Party, headed by Father Dr. Josef *Tiso, the future president of the wartime Slovak state, instigated against the Jews. Tiso proposed their expulsion. But the Jews had a strong representation in the Social-Democratic Party, and in 1931 Dr. Vojtech Szilagy (Schlesinger) was elected deputy mayor of Nitra. The Zionist movement prospered in Nitra in the early 1900s, but it faced determined Orthodox competition. Rabbi Samuel David *Unger, the leading figure of Slovak Orthodoxy, moved to Nitra from Trnava in 1931 and brought along the Trnava yeshivah. There was long-standing hostility between the two communities. While the Jewish community was generally affluent, there were many impoverished people among them.

On March 14, 1939, the Slovak state was established under the aegis of the Third Reich. The state persecuted Slovak Jewry, peaking in 1942 when the Jews were deported to Poland. Some 4,400 of Nitra's Jews were sent to extermination camps. By the end of August 1944, German troops, accompanied by the local Slovak garrison, entered Nitra and sent the remaining Jews to Auschwitz.

In 1947 there were 784 Jews in Nitra. The returnees established a single congregation, with Rabbi Eliahu Katz serving as its spiritual leader. The synagogue and mikveh were reestablished, and the cemeteries were cleaned up. In 1948–49, most of the community emigrated; in 1950 there were 150 Jews. In 1957 a kosher restaurant was opened, and a ritual butcher (shoḥet) attended to religious needs. In 1963, the authorities destroyed all Jewish public buildings except the Neolog synagogue. After 1989, the cemeteries were again desecrated and besmirched with swastikas. Local authorities claimed that the Jews were responsible, preparing a provocation.

In 1990 there were 65 Jews in Nitra. A minyan continued to convene almost regularly in the early 21st century.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

R. Iltis (ed.), Die aussaeen unter Traenen… (1959), 169–78; PK Germanyah. E. Bàrkàny and L. Dojč, Židovské náboženské obce na Slovensku (1991), 185–88.

[Yeshayahu Jelinek (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.