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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.

Demographic Structure

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.

Table 1. Distribution of Czechoslovakian Jewry

1921 Absolute no. % of Total pop. 1930 Absolute no. % of Total pop. % of Czech Jewry
Bohemia 79,777 1.19 76,301 1.07 21.4
Moravia 37,989 1.09 41,250 1.16 11.5
Silesia 7,317 1.09
Slovakia 135,918 4.53 136,737 4.11 38.4
Carpatho Russia 93,341 15.39 102,542 14.14 28.7
Total 354,342 2.6 356,830 2.42 100.0 %

Major Jewish communities in Czechoslovakia from World War I to the 1980s (including involuntary settlement-ghettos as of October 1941).
Major Jewish communities in Czechoslovakia from World War I to the 1980s (including involuntary settlement-ghettos as of October 1941).

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.

Communal Structure

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.

Political Affiliation

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% of the total. While in general mother tongue served as the criterion for nationality, Jews could declare Jewish nationality irrespective of it: 156 persons who were not Jewish by religion declared their nationality to be Jewish in 1921, and 317 in 1930. After 1918 five regional federations of communities existed in Bohemia-Moravia; in 1926 they established the Nejvyšší rada židovských náboženských obcí (Supreme Council of the Jewish Religious Communities). It was first headed by the Czech-Jewish leader Augustin Stein and then by Joseph *Popper. The chief rabbi of Prague (then Hayyim Heinrich *Brody) was an ex officio member. In Slovakia and Carpatho-Russia, as in Hungary, three trends of community affiliation existed. The orthodox communities of Slovakia had an autonomous organization (confirmed in 1920) which from 1923 also included those of Carpatho-Russia. Its statute limited the franchise to dues payers. The *neologist and *status-quoante communities amalgamated into the Jeshurun federation in 1928. There was no supreme communal organization or chief rabbinate. From 1926 the salary of rabbis was augmented by the Kongrua, a government fund for the upkeep of religious life.

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

Table 2. Declared Nationality of Jews in Czechoslovakia

Nationality 1921 (%) 1930 (%)
Jewish 53.62 57.20
Czechoslovak 21.84 24.52
German 14.26 12.28
Hungarian 8.45 4.71
Others 1.83 1.29
100.00% 100.00%


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.

Economic Life

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 and work. Prominent in social welfare work in the 1930s were Joseph Popper, and the *WIZO leaders Marie Schmolka, Hanna Steiner, and Gisi *Fleischmann.

Cultural Sphere

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.


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.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.