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The Fate of the Slovak Jews




Rabbi Moshe Schreiber

The history of the Jews in the Slovak regions can be documented back as early as the 11th century. Encouraged by the Hungarian aristocracy, Jews migrating to northern Hungary from Moravia, Galicia and Bukovina, and Lower Austria tended to settle near the borders of the states from which they had come, and also managed to maintain religious, communal, and linguistic ties with Jewish communities across the borders.


As Jewish communities began to spread, Bratislava became the seat of Hungarian Jewish Orthodoxy under the leadership of the renowned Rabbi Moshe Schreiber,  who served as rabbi in Bratislava from 1806 until his death. He founded the influential yeshiva of Bratislava. It was Schreiber who taught that Judaism could never change or evolve and coined the phrase, "Anything new is forbidden by the Torah."


In 1867, the dual monarch of Austro-Hungary was established and Slovakia became a part of Hungary . The Hungarian parliament passed the Emancipation Law to promote assimilation among minorities, especially Jews. Government officials supported Jewish cooperation in industry and finance.


The Jewish population grew exponentially, especially in small, secluded towns in Eastern Slovakia. Nevertheless, much anti-Semitism existed in Slovakia and nationalists refused to allow Jews to assimilate into their culture. In 1918 just after World War I Czechoslovakia, with other central European countries regained independence as a result of Versailles treaty. Jews were given the right to be considered a separate nationality in the country.


In 1919, the National Federation of Slovak Jews was established in Piestany and the Jewish Party  Židovská Strana was created. On February, 15th ,1921 the first national census in Czechoslovakia was held, 135,918 people registered as practicing Jews, approximately 4.5 percent of the population,  70,522 of them declared themselves of Jewish nationality.


Josef Tiso

In 1938 about 135,000 Jews lived in Slovakia, of whom 40,000 lived in the territory ceded to Hungary. Slovakia was poorer and far less industrialized than the historic Czech crown provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, and so were its Jews. They were engaged mostly in retail trade and handicrafts, servicing the peasantry.


On March 15, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded and occupied the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia in the rump Czecho-Slovak state, in flagrant violation of the Munich Pact. The German occupation authorities refashioned the two provinces as a German protectorate, annexed directly to the Reich, but under the leadership of a Reich Protector. Konstantin von Neurath, the former German foreign minister, served as Reich Protector from March 1939 until he was replaced by RSHA chief Reinhard Heydrich.


The parliament in Bratislava proclaimed Slovakia independent on 14 March 1939. The next day, German troops occupied the rest of Bohemia and Moravia, declaring it a Protectorate, and Hungary seized the remnants of sub-Carpathian Ruthenia. Little more than 20 years after its creation, Czechoslovakia had ceased to exist.


Slovakia became an independent state under the leadership of a Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso, whose followers established a fascist, authoritarian, one-party dictatorship, strongly influenced by the separatist Catholic clerical hierarchy in internal policy and closely allied with Nazi Germany.


Catholic clergy were to play a dominant role in future Slovakian politics – 16 of the 63 Members of Parliament were priests. The government immediately aligned itself with Nazi Germany, signing a Treaty of Protection which effectively permitted Germany to interfere in Slovak internal affairs and to dictate Slovak foreign policy.


Anti-Jewish legislation was rapidly introduced. At a conference in Salzburg on 28 July 1940, attended by Hitler, Tiso and Slovak Prime Minister Vojtech Tuka, it was resolved to set up a National Socialist regime in Slovakia, with an increased and more systematic policy of anti-Semitism. In August 1940, Dieter Wisliceny was sent to Slovakia as an adviser on Jewish affairs.


anti-Semitic graffiti in Bratislava

Slovakia was also the first Axis partner to consent to the deportation of its Jewish residents in the framework of the "Final Solution." According to a census of December 15, 1940, there were about 88,951 Jews in Slovakia. The Slovak government enthusiastically embraced the idea of deporting their Jews. They had promised to supply Germany with 120,000 workers.


The National Defense Law 20/1940 exempted Jews from military service in the new Slovak state, but required them instead to do manual labor at military work  camps. Such Jews, who were called "Robotnik Zid" or work Jews, and  wore distinctive blue uniforms and berets.


They were assigned to the Sixth Labor Battalion which consisted of five companies, three of which were exclusively made up of Jews. New Jewish recruits were assembled in Cemerne, in eastern Slovakia, where they underwent basic military training using shovels instead of rifles.


By October 1941 there were actually 80,000 Slovak workers in Germany. At that point, the Slovak government offered to substitute 10,000-20,000 Slovak Jews in place of the missing promised workers. 


At first the Germans did not respond to the offer, but shortly after the Wannsee Conference on 20 January 1942, Slovak leaders negotiated the terms of an agreement whereby the Slovak government would pay Germany 500 Reichsmark for every deported Jew.


For their part, the Germans agreed that the Jews would not be returned to Slovakia and that Germany would make no claims on the property abandoned by the Jews.  The initial agreement had been for 20,000 young, "strong Jews", but before their deportation had even started, Himmler proposed that Slovakia be made free of Jews. 


Slovak Jews detained by German Soldiers

The expulsion of the Jews of Slovakia to the district of Lublin began on 27 March 1942, and ended on 15 June 1942. Nearly 40,000 Jews were deported in 38 ‘transports’ Only a few of the deportees survived.  However, only a small proportion of the Slovak Jews were sent directly to the death camps. Most were sent first to ghettos which served as interim stops before the final deportation to the death camps.


When the mass deportation of Slovak Jewry began in the spring of 1942 the position of the "work Jews" improved vis a vis the civilian Jewish population. The Jewish labor companies fell under the authority of the Ministry of Defense which was often in conflict with the Ministry for Internal Affairs that was responsible for the deportation actions.


As a result, the Defense Ministry sometimes refused to comply with requests from Internal Affairs to discharge "work Jews" from the military labor service. On May 31, 1943 the military labor camps for Jews were formally disbanded and the remaining "work Jews" were moved to civilian concentration camps around the regions of Sered, Novaky, and Vyhne.


By 20 October 1942, 58,645 Jews had been deported in 57 transports from the Patronka’s railroad siding and other places in Slovakia such as transit camps in Zilina, Novaky, Michalovce, Sered, Poprad and Spisska Nova Ves. Of the deportees, 2,482 were children aged four or under, and 4,581 children between the ages of four and ten.


Hlinka Guard at the gate of a Slovak Labor camp

19 trains, containing 18,746 Jews were sent to Auschwitz. 36 transports were officially sent to Naleczow, a station 20 km west of Lublin. Most of the transports arrived in Lublin, where young men were selected for work at Majdanek concentration camp and other people from the transports, mainly women with children and old people, were sent to transit ghettos.

Two transports with 2,052 Jews were directed to the transit camp at Izbica; from there they were sent to to Belzec and gassed. 8,000 of the deportees, mainly younger men, went to Majdanek, from where 1,400 were subsequently transported to Auschwitz.


Contact was established at a very early stage between the deportees and the Jews left behind in Slovakia As a result, the Jews in Slovakia began to learn what was happening to the deportees in the places where they had been sent Steps were taken to help the deportees and there were even rescue attempts.

The information from the deportees was conveyed to Jewish organisations in neutral countries, and from there to the free world There were many attempts by Slovak Jews to escape from the ghettos and the camps, but only a few succeeded in returning to Slovakia One of the aims of the escapees was to warn the Jews of Slovakia and other countries about the deportations, and the fate that awaited them.


As reports, reached the Tiso government that the German authorities were murdering the Slovak Jews in German-occupied Poland, President Tiso first hesitated, and then refused, to deport the remaining 24,000 Jews in Slovakia in the autumn of 1942.


Gottlob Berger

Refusal to permit any further deportations led to a period of relative calm for the Jews of Slovakia, but with the outbreak of the Slovak National Uprising on 28-29 August 1944, a second wave of round-ups and deportations began.


German troops moved led by Einsatzgruppe H of the Security Police and SD, whose duties included rounding up and killing or deporting the remainder of the Slovak Jews. Gottlob Berger, chief of the SS Main Office, was dispatched to Slovakia and  later succeeded by Hermann Höfle, who brought in additional SS reinforcements, including the notorious Dirlewanger Brigade.


The Aktion Reinhard camps had long since ceased operating and Himmler had ordered the killing facilities at Auschwitz-Birkenau to be demolished on 25 November 1944. Because of these factors, an unusually high number of Jews from the second phase of deportations  survived to the end of the war.

Between September 1944 and the end of the year, German units deported approximately 12,600 Slovak Jews, most of them to Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, and other camps in Germany. German and Hlinka Guard units killed a few thousand Jews caught in hiding or fighting with the partisans in Slovakia.


During the deportations, some 6,000 Slovak Jews escaped to Hungary. On August 29, 1944, however, Slovak underground resistance organizations, Communist and non-Communist, rose against the Tiso regime as Soviet troops entered neighboring sub-Carpathian Rus.


With the fall of Bratislava on April 4th 1945 the liberation of Slovakia was completed. Vojtech Tuka and Jozef Tiso were arrested and sentenced to death. Tuka was executed August 20th 1946, followed by Tiso on April 18th 1947.


It is estimated that approximated 75,000 Jews from Slovakia or 83 percent of total Jewish population were annihilated.








The Final Solution by G. Reitlinger – Vallentine Mitchell &Co Ltd 1953. 

The Jews of Czechoslovakia. Avigdor Dagan, Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 1984
Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2003

Holocaust Historical Society.

Encyclopedia of the Holocaust, Israel Gutman, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1990

Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka by Yitzhak Arad – Indiana University Press

The Jewish Museum of Deportation and Resistance

Action Reinhard Camps -The genuine ARC website www.deathcamps.org

OMDA Archives & Website


Copyright   Branik Ceslav & Carmelo Lisciotto  H.E.A.R.T 2008



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