BRATISLAVA (Ger. Pressburg, Hg. Pozsony; former Slovak name Prešporek), capital of *Slovakia ; until 1918 in Hungary; former chartered capital of the kings of Hungary. It was one of the most ancient and important Jewish centers in the Danube region. The first Jews possibly arrived with the Roman legions. The *Memorbuch of the community of Mainz commemorates the "martyrs of Pressburg" who perished in the First Crusade. The first documentary mention of Jews in Bratislava dates from 1251. In 1291 King Andrew III granted a charter to the community, which paid taxes to the royal treasury, and from 1345 also to the municipality. Bratislava Jews mainly engaged in moneylending, but included merchants and artisans, vineyard owners, and vintners. A synagogue is first mentioned in 1335 and was rebuilt in 1339.
In 1360 the Jews were expelled from Hungary, and some of the Jews of Bratislava took refuge in Hainburg (Austria). They returned in 1367 and resumed possession of their homes. In 1371 the municipality introduced the Judenbuch regulating financial dealings between Jews and Christians. Isaac *Tyrnau officiated as rabbi in Bratislava about 1410. In 1392 King Sigismund
exempted Christians for a year from paying the interest on loans borrowed from Jews; in 1441 and 1450 all outstanding debts owed to Jews were canceled; and in 1475 Jews were forbidden to accept real estate as security. An attempt by many Jews to leave Bratislava in 1506 was prevented by Ladislas II who confiscated the property of those who had already left.
The Jews were expelled from Bratislava in the general expulsion from Hungary in 1526, although they apparently continued to live in several places, including the Schlossberg ("Castle Hill"), outside the municipal bounds. The first Jew subsequently to reside within them was Samuel *Oppenheimer , who received permission to settle in a suburb in 1692. He was followed by other Jews and a synagogue was built in 1695, where the first known rabbi to officiate was Yom Tov Lipmann. In 1699 the *Court Jew Simon Michael, who had settled there in 1693, was appointed head of the community; he built a bet midrash and acquired land for a cemetery. By 1709 there were 189 Jews living in Bratislava and 772 by 1736. The Jewish quarter in the Schlossberg remained outside the municipal jurisdiction. It later passed to the jurisdiction of the counts
Palffy, who gave protection to the Jews living there. In 1714 they granted a charter of privileges to the 50 families living in its precincts and in Zuckermandel. The Jews in the Schlossberg resided in a single row of houses, but in 1776 the municipality permitted Jews to settle on land owned by the city opposite these houses and thus to constitute a "Jewish street." The Jews living on the Palffy side, however, enjoyed different rights from those under municipal jurisdiction, the former, for instance, being permitted to engage in crafts and all branches of commerce. They enjoyed freedom of religious worship. After the status of the community improved, the customary provision of geese to the Viennese court on St. Martin's Day, formerly an onerous tax, developed into a ceremony (performed until 1917). The Jews in Bratislava pioneered the textile trade in Hungary in the 18th century. Under the direction of Meir Halberstadt the yeshivah became an important center of Jewish learning, while the authority of Moses *Sofer (d. 1839) made Bratislava a center of Orthodoxy for all parts of the Jewish world. During the reign of Maria Theresa (1740–80) the representatives of Hungarian Jewry used to meet in Bratislava to arrange the tax administration.
During the revolution of 1848, anti-Jewish riots broke out. The Jewish quarter was put under military protection and Jews living elsewhere had to retire within it. Jews volunteered to serve in the National Guard but were opposed by the general public. Further outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence followed the *blood libel case in *Tisza-Eszlar in 1882 and 1883. From 1898 tension mounted between the Orthodox and the pro-Reform members of the community (see *Reform ; *Hungary ). After 1869 the Orthodox, Neolog, and status-quo-ante factions in Bratislava organized separate congregations. The Orthodox provincial office (Landeskanzlei) later became notorious for its opposition to Zionism. The Neolog and status-quo-ante congregations united in 1928 as the Jeshurun Federation. A large part of the Jewish quarter was ravaged by fire in 1913 but was later rebuilt.
Jewish institutions in Bratislava included religious schools, charitable organizations, and a Jewish hospital (founded in 1710; a new building was constructed in 1931). The Hungarian Zionist Organization was founded in Bratislava in 1902 and the World *Mizrachi Organization in 1904, both on the initiative of Samuel *Bettelheim . During the Hungarian Revolution of 1919 anti-Jewish excesses were prevented by a guard formed by Jewish veterans. With the establishment of Czechoslovakia, Bratislava became the center of a number of Jewish national communal institutions and of Jewish national as well as Zionist activities. Bratislava also became the center of *Agudat Israel in Czechoslovakia. During this period, several Jewish newspapers and a Hebrew weekly, Ha-Yehudi, were published there. In 1930 the Jewish population in Bratislava numbered 14,882 (12% of the total population), 5,597 of declared Jewish nationality.
In the titularly independent state of Slovakia set up under Nazi auspices in 1939, Bratislava was the seat of the Jewish central office (Ústredňa židov). Even before the declaration
of the independent state, attacks on the synagogues and yeshivah on Nov. 11, 1938, inaugurated the regime of antisemitic terror. Nearly a thousand Jewish students were expelled from the university. Subsequently, anti-Jewish terrorization, restrictive measures, and pogroms increased. On the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 all Jewish shops were confiscated, and in August 1940 the Jews were forced to surrender their homes. Many transports of the "illegal" immigration to Palestine were organized in Bratislava. Numbers of Jews who had fled from Nazi persecution in Vienna in 1938 were put into camps in the Patronka and Petržalka suburbs. In October 1941, 6,473 Jews were expelled to 16 provincial towns, mostly to Trnava, Nitra, and Nove Mesto. Deportations and flight continued until the arrival of the Germans in September 1944, when the 2,000 or so remaining Jews were sent to Auschwitz via Sered. Only a fraction of the Jewish population survived the Holocaust. The old cemetery was destroyed in a town planning project during the war. A small plot including the tomb of R. Moses Sofer was spared. In 2002 the entire area underwent restoration and reconstruction. The street leading to the tomb was named Ḥatam Sofer. In the ancient Jewish quarter only a few original Jewish houses survived.
Some 340 Hebrew and Yiddish books were printed in Bratislava between 1831 and 1930, the first being Torat ha-Emunah, an ethical treatise in Yiddish. But already in 1789 and 1790 two smaller items had been issued here. In 1833 the well-known Vienna printer Anton Edler von Schmidt bought the press of K. Schniskes, and Schmidt's son printed Hebrew books to 1849. He was succeeded by Heinrich Sieber, and he and his heirs were active to 1872, and their successors F. and S. Nirschi to 1878. O. Ketterisch, later K. Ketterisch and Zimmermann, set up a Hebrew press in 1876. The first Jewish printers were Lewy and Alkalay, later A. Alkalay only, whose firm printed from 1877 to 1920.
On April 15, 1945, a few days after the liberation of the city, the Jewish community of Bratislava was reestablished, and Max Weiss became its chairman. In September, Chief Rabbi Markus Lebovič was installed in his post in a ceremony in the only synagogue that had not suffered damage during the war; the first public prayer services were held there also on the occasion of the High Holidays. In 1946 Bratislava became the headquarters of the 42 reconstituted Jewish communities of Slovakia. Religious functions – ritual slaughter, mikva'ot, a kosher butcher and canteen, and religious instruction in the schools – were reintroduced; the Chief Rabbinate also insured the supply of maẓẓot and kosher wine. In 1947, when the membership of the Jewish community had grown to 7,000, a second synagogue was opened. One synagogue building serves now as a television studio. International charitable organizations (notably *ORT and the *American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee ) played a prominent role in the revival and development of the religious, economic, and social life of the Jewish community. Homes for the aged, youth centers, and a hospital were also established. The *Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓair built training farms (hakhsharot) to prepare Jewish youth for settlement in Palestine under the auspices of *Youth Aliyah . Jewish periodicals, notably Tribuna, Ha-Matḥil, and Ha-Derekh, came into being, and Bratislava became the center of the rapidly developing Jewish life in Slovakia. An archive on the Holocaust period was founded after the war by the Union of Slovakian Jewish Communities and a large section of it was later transferred to *Yad Vashem . Difficulties were encountered, however, in the restitution of Jewish property; the local Slovaks, who had become the "Aryan owners" of such property during the war, did all they could to prevent its return to its rightful owners. Antisemitic hate propaganda, which accused the Jews of having been "the tools of Magyarization and exploiters of the Slovak people," resulted in anti-Jewish riots and the plunder of Jewish property (during the summer of 1946 and in March 1948).
The year 1949 was a turning point in the renewed history of the Jewish community. Under the Communist regime Jewish religious and cultural life was gradually restricted, the property of Jewish organizations was nationalized, and the existing social and economic institutions were deprived of their Jewish character. An agreement between Czechoslovakia and Israel facilitated the emigration of about 4,000 Bratislava Jews. In 1949 a new chief rabbi, Elias Elijah Katz, later of Beer-sheba, and a new community chairman, Benjamin Eichler, were appointed. Any attempts to reactivate Jewish life, however, were nipped in the bud. In January 1952 the Bratislava Pravda warned against "Jewish citizens who are in the service of the American imperialists and are trying to undermine Slovak life." Until the end of the decade, the Jewish community, which had been reduced to about 2,000 persons, lived under the threat of dismissal from employment, compulsory manual work, evacuation to different places of residence, and long prison terms. The political changes which took place in 1963 resulted in the immediate resumption of Jewish activities and contact with world Jewry. Several Jews who had been wrongfully imprisoned were rehabilitated, and Jews found it easier to gain employment. Religious instruction was intensified and Jewish ceremonies, such as bar mitzvahs and religious weddings, became a more frequent occurrence. After the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (August 1968), about 500 Jews left Bratislava. The Jewish population of Bratislava in 1969 was estimated at about 1,500. By the early 21st century it had dropped to around 800.
Following the "Velvet Revolution" of fall 1989, the Jewish community also revived. Many individuals who had hidden their Jewish identity stepped forward, swelling the local congregation. The Union developed relations with Jewish communities elsewhere and started to communicate with Jews in Israel originally from Slovakia. The Joint Distribution Committee assisted in the restoration of Jewish life. A new rabbi, Baruch Mayers, began to officiate in Bratislava's congregation
while serving at the same time as chief rabbi of all of Slovakia. The synagogue on Hajdukova Street was used for the High Holidays, while a small room was utilized for services on regular days, though a minyan was not always present. Bratislava had a kosher restaurant, a Hebrew kindergarten, a Jewish old age home, a ḥevra kaddisha with a well-kept cemetery, and various Jewish associations and circles. As part of the Slovak National Museum, there was a Museum of Jewish Culture, with small exhibition rooms in the Jewish Street. On the site of the former imposing Neolog synagogue a memorial to the Slovakian Jews who perished in the Holocaust was erected. In the office of the Bratislava's congregation a major collection of administrative books of he former famous yeshivah are preserved. A Holocaust Documentation Center is dedicated to research on Slovakian Jewry.
[Erich Kulka /
Yeshayahu Jelinek (2nd ed.)]
S.H. Weingarten, Sefer Bratislava (1960; vol. 7 of Arim ve-Immahot be-Yisrael); H. Gold (ed.), Die Juden und Judengemeinde Bratislava… (1932); O. Neumann, Im Schatten des Todes (1956); M.D. Weissmandl, Min ha-Meẓar (1960); A. Charim, Die toten Gemeinden (1966), 37–42; L. Rotkirchen, Ḥurban Yahadut Slovakyah (1961), index; Y. Toury, Mehumah u-Mevukhah be-Mahpekhat 1848 (1968), index S.V. Pressburg; A. Nir, Shevilim be-Ma'galot ha-Esh (1967); MHJ, 4 (1938), index. HEBREW PRINTING: P.J. Kohn, in: KS, 31 (1955/56), 233ff.; N. Ben-Menahem, ibid., 33 (1957/58), 529ff.; Arim ve-Immahot be-Yisrael, 7 (1960), 171. CONTEMPORARY PERIOD: P. Meyer et al., Jews in the Soviet Satellites (1953), 69–204, and passim; Jewish Studies (Prague, 1955), passim; R. Iltis (ed.), Die aussaeen unter Traenen mit Jubel werden sie ernten (1959), 127–38. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: PK.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.