Slovak Jewish Heritage Database

Jewish Community Museum, Bratislava


Jewish Community Museum, Bratislava


The Jewish Community Museum focuses on the history and culture of the Jewish community of Bratislava and its surrounding region. The museum’s permanent exhibition, The Jews of Bratislava and Their Heritage, is installed on the upper floor of the synagogue, which is still used as an active house of Jewish worship.

Collection Items

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    Built in 1937 as a Kosher canteen, this building played an important role in preserving Jewish life in Bratislava. The canteen was an important meeting place for young Jewish people in the late 1960s; Professor Pavel Traubner hosted regular meetings of the “Jewish Forum” here in the 1990s. After 1968, when the last Slovak rabbi, Elias Katz, emigrated to Israel, it remained the only Kosher venue thanks to the supervision of Mrs. Edita Katzová. She was the widow of Izidor Katz, a shochet (ritual slaughterer) from Galanta, who served as the highest Jewish religious authority in the country in 1968-1977. In May 1984, the young Anglo-Jewish photographer Judy Goldhill accompanied the delegation of the Central British Fund (CBF) for World Jewish Relief to Czechoslovakia. She recollects: “Our visit to Bratislava was a definite highlight. The sense of community, camaraderie and care that emanated from the community kitchens was palpable. Aware that I was witnessing the end of an era, the sadness was somewhat dispelled by the vitality and energy of Mrs. Katzová and her helpers, whose generosity and enthusiasm kept the community alive, both physically and literally, creating a warm, and inviting place to visit, socialize and have precious contact.”
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    This large bound volume containing 420 folios out of an original 454, constitutes one of the oldest preserved communal books (so-called pinkas) of the Jewish community from the Castlemount area of Bratislava. The book records the incomes and expenses of individual community members between the years 1764 and 1792, including over 540 heads of households. A special sheet is asigned to every taxpayer; in the case of higher fees, additional sheets are also reserved for these. The records are divided into two parts, debits and credits, and in the event of death the required fees were deducted from the bequest and payment duties transferred automatically to the widow of the deceased. Fees were collected four times a year at intervals of two or three months (in the months of Cheshvan, Shevat, Iyar and Tammuz); later, this practice of collecting fees was fixed for every half-year (in Cheshvan and Iyar) and over the last few years the fees were collected only once a year. There was a compulsory tax to pay for the protection of the Jewish quarter by municipal guards and a regular, annual religious tax. In some exceptional cases, we come across communal fees linked to the Jewish life cycle (wedding, burial, etc.). The oldest records often have an entry of the last fee from an older communal book appended to them in order to allow for the smooth transfer of fees from the original registry. The community offices probably kept several communal books at once, listing further tax duties for managing business affairs, direct and indirect taxes for the feudal landlord, and other Jewish fees.
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    This modest plaque from Bratislava’s Neolog synagogue features evocative patriotic lines from the Hungarian poet Mihály Vörösmarty’s 1836 Szózat (Appeal), followed by a listing in golden letters of local Jewish soldiers who fell on the battlefields of the First World War. Its design and message place it among other similar, simple pieces arising from a painful dilemma of commemoration. The sons and husbands of Jews in Slovakia had fought and died for the Monarchy as Hungarian Jews. Yet the state in which their community now lived depended on the collapse of the Monarchy, and its continued existence depended on securing its borders against the revisionist ambitions of the interwar Hungarian government. When the Jewish community in Budapest initiated a memorial project to create a Heroes’ Temple (Hősök Temploma) memorial to honor all fallen Jewish soldiers from the entire territory of the former Kingdom of Hungary, the Czechoslovak administration closely followed potential Slovak Jewish participation in the project, deeply suspicious of a project extending beyond Hungary’s Trianon borders. As Budapest Jewry sought to engage Neolog Jewish communities in Slovakia with the project, Slovak Jews pulled away. Rather than participate in the Budapest-based memorial, Jews in Slovakia chose to commemorate their dead locally: in their towns, and in their synagogues and cemeteries. Plaques such as this one allowed Jews in Slovakia to honor their war dead without incurring political stigma.
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    A yeshiva is a Jewish school of higher education focusing particularly on study of the Talmud and religious law (Halacha). The head of the yeshiva (rosh yeshiva) was usually the chief rabbi; in some cases, yeshivas were headed by local rabbis as well as private scholars. The operation of the yeshiva and care for students was mostly provided by the Jewish community and sometimes by communal and educational foundations or charitable societies. Yeshiva graduates often performed the functions of the rabbi in Jewish communities. The beginnings of the Bratislava yeshiva go back to the end of the 17th century, yet the first credible reports date from the 1720s, when the school was headed by Chief Rabbi Moshe Lemberger. After his death (in 1758), the institution was enhanced by his successors, Rabbis Akiva Eger, Meir Barby and Meshulam Eger. The yeshiva reached its peak under Rabbi Moses Schreiber (the Chatam Sofer) who reorganized the school’s management from scratch, introduced a fixed structure for the educational curriculum, developed a system of social and financial support for the yeshiva and its students (including a dormitory and canteen) and took part in the creation of educational and supportive societies for the further advancement of the institution. The yeshiva consisted of educational subsections (yeshiva gedola, yeshiva ketana, kollel) for different levels of study. In the following years, his sons and their descendants continued to head the yeshiva without interruption until 1938; in fact, the pedagogical activity of the yeshiva was carried out to a limited extent until 1940. Ten years later, the Pressburg yeshiva was reopened in Israel, in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Kiriyat Moshe. Ateret Bachurim, the debating club of yeshiva students, was also among the yeshiva’s educational societies and the photograph of this club dates from 1899/1900.
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    According to a detailed census, some 15,102 Jews lived in Bratislava in December 1940. The Slovak state that existed during World War II was a loyal ally of Nazi Germany and adopted harsh anti-Jewish legislation that effectively stripped Jews of their basic civil and human rights, excluded them from jobs, Aryanized their businesses, and stole their homes and properties. In 1942, after looting them of everything, the Slovak authorities deported most of the country’s Jews to death camps. The Jews of Bratislava and its surrounding region were first sent to the Patrónka compound, which served as one of seven Slovak assembly camps for transports. The first transport from Bratislava left on March 27, 1942 – it consisted of one thousand single women, who were deported to Auschwitz. By October 1942, around fifty-nine thousand Slovak Jews had been deported from Slovakia. The deportations were suspended in 1943, but were resumed again in October 1944 after the Germans suppressed the Slovak National Uprising against the Nazis. Many Bratislava Jews were rounded up for deportation during the “big catch” night, September 28, 1944. 11,719 Slovak Jews were concentrated in the Sereď camp, and most of them were deported. One of these was the artist Adolf Frankl (1903-1983). He survived the Auschwitz camp and after the war used his memories of the Holocaust as the basis for his cycle of paintings called Visions from the Inferno – Art against Oblivion. Frankl settled in Vienna after the war, but he often returned to the Czechoslovak border to observe the silhouette of Bratislava with its Castle and Cathedral that appear in his artworks as symbols of pain and tragic memories.