Crossroads of Jewish Bratislava

An Ethnological Examination of the Jewish Community between the 19th and 21st Centuries

by Peter Salner (Author)
©2021 Monographs 162 Pages
Series: Spectrum Slovakia, Volume 37


In Crossroads of Jewish Bratislava, the author identifi es several key junctures that determined the history of Jews in Bratislava between the 19th and 21st centuries, especially in terms of their culture and way of life. The fi rst part of the book (History) provides an overview of historical milestones, with a particular emphasis on the two totalitarian regimes (the Wartime Slovak State and Communist Czechoslovakia 1948–1989). The second part, entitled Dilemmas, examines the current situation of Jewish cemeteries, the consequences of the Holocaust, and the ongoing transformations of Jewish holidays. The author’s research leads to the conclusion that traditional manifestations of Jewish culture are being reshaped by factors of selectiveness, streamlining, and individualisation.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part One: Research and Literature
  • Part Two: History
  • The Very Long 19th Century
  • The Patents of Emperor Joseph II (1781–1783)
  • The Sofer rabbinical dynasty (1806–1943)
  • Rabbi Chatam Sofer (1762 Frankfurt on the Main – 1839 Bratislava)
  • Primärschule – the secular Jewish school (1820)
  • The legislative changes of the 19th century
  • The revolutionary year of 1848
  • The Budapest Convention (16 December 1868 – 24 February 1869)
  • The creation of the Neolog community (1872)
  • The convention of the Mizrachi Zionist organisation (1904)
  • The Death of the Monarchy, the Birth of the Republic
  • Jews in the Czechoslovak Republic
  • Central organisations of Jewish religious communities
  • The changing societal atmosphere during the late 1930s
  • The Community During the Two Non-Democratic Regimes
  • Slovak autonomy (6 October 1938 – 13 March 1939)
  • The Slovak Republic (14 March 1939 – 30 April 1945)
  • The Holocaust After the Holocaust (1945–2065)
  • The liberation of Bratislava by the Red Army (4 April 1945)
  • The demographic structure of the Bratislava community
  • Strategies for the future
  • The family after the Holocaust
  • Regulation 231/1945 Concerning the Arrangement of the Conditions of the Jewish Faith Members in Slovakia (10 September 1945)
  • The early activities of the CUJRC
  • Jewish religious communities
  • The property of extinguished and disbanded communities
  • Zionist organisations
  • Association of the Victims of Racial Persecution
  • The reign of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (25 February 1848 – 17 November 1989)
  • The emergence of the State of Israel (14 May 1948)
  • The trial of the anti-state conspiracy centre (20–27 November 1952)
  • The Jewish religious community in Bratislava
  • The ‘Prague Spring’ of 1968
  • The era of ‘Normalisation’ (1970–1989)
  • Democratic Changes in Slovak Society
  • November 1989
  • The founding of the independent Slovak Republic (January 1993)
  • The building of the community centre (1999–2013)
  • The Chatam Sofer Memorial (1999–2002)
  • Memorial Day for Victims of the Holocaust and Racial Violence (2000)
  • Partial compensation of Holocaust victims (9 October 2002)
  • Slovakia’s accession to the European Union (1 May 2004)
  • Questions of the Third Millenium
  • Part Three: Dilemmas
  • The Dilemma of Cemetery
  • The fates of Jewish cemeteries
  • The current condition and future perspectives of Jewish cemeteries in Slovakia
  • Traditional and contemporary forms of Jewish burial
  • The dilemma of Jewish cemeteries in Bratislava
  • The Chatam Sofer Memorial
  • a) The burial era (1695–1847)
  • b) The interim period (1847–1943)
  • c) The destruction of the old cemetery
  • d) Renovation attempts
  • e) Renovation of the old cemetery
  • Tension and tolerance
  • The mass grave in Petržalka
  • The columbarium
  • Interchapter: The Direct and Indirect Consequences of the Holocaust
  • The people and their synagogues
  • The Dilemma of Traditions
  • Transformations of Jewish holidays
  • Hanukkah
  • Pesach
  • The memory of Holocaust victims
  • The situation after 1989
  • Cremation
  • Conclusion
  • References

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My aim in this part of the book is not to give an exhaustive overview of the history of Jews in Slovakia or of the Bratislava community. From the broad array of historical events and legislative changes that have taken place since the 1700s, I have selected (and briefly characterised) certain milestones that seem most important from the perspective of the Jewish community. I give ampler space to some, while in the case of others, I content myself with simply pointing out their existence.

Jewish crossroads

When selecting relevant historical events, I mostly followed a phenomenon which, for lack of a better word, I have termed ‘Jewish crossroads’. This is to mean situations and personalities that have had a decisive influence on the development of the Jewish community. Despite the fact that the social conditions gave rise to challenges diverse in both form and content, potential solutions were nearly always located on the spectrum of tradition—assimilation. The relationship between the extremes of this spectrum has fluctuated in space and time, but both have a persisting influence. While the centripetal force of tradition is aimed inwardly at the community, the centrifugal force of assimilation mostly reflects the dynamics of the wider society (Salner 2000: 5). This inner conflict, which often seems ‘invisible’ when viewed from an outside perspective, remains the engine of the Jewish community’s development.

Regardless of the specifics of a given problem, the Jewish model of solution-seeking, whether in crises or in everyday situations, is characterised by the search for affirmative and negative arguments to do with the subject matter. The popular saying ‘two Jews, three opinions’ is more than just a witticism – it reflects a mode of thinking rooted in the traditional system of education, which is itself illustrated by the simile ‘as clamorous as a Jewish school’ (often misunderstood by the majority). The differences between the religious and secular approaches to education are clear from the following testimony of a man who attended both a regular school ←31 | 32→and a yeshiva: ‘At our school, as at every secular school, the teachers would deliver a lecture on a given subject and then we would turn to our coursebooks. We studied Slovak and German literature. We had to take our books and pore over them at home, memorising when Kukučín13 was born, when Goethe was born, what books he had written, and so on. And when you did a good job of memorising it all, that meant you were a good student’. Schooling at the yeshiva was very different: ‘Once a week, all the pupils, younger and older, were summoned by the rabbi, and he would read an excerpt from the Talmud. We would listen to what he had to say, then some of the older students would raise their hands and argue that the given passage […] could be interpreted otherwise or that the Talmudic author whom the rabbi had quoted could be understood differently than he had suggested. When the lecture and discussion were over, we were split into small groups, usually of six or seven students who were younger and one who was older. At that time, I must’ve been about fourteen, fifteen years of age. The older student talked to us about the Talmudic passage and helped us to process it better. He would repeat the interpretation that he had heard from the rabbi and encourage us to share our views – whether we agreed, whether we thought the interpretation was logical, or whether it was correct. If we didn’t agree, we were invited to express our opinions. Of course, because there were six or seven of us, it was quite a challenge. Everyone had the opportunity to apply his intellect, so naturally, we spoke over each other and didn’t raise our hands. We just yelled over one another. There was a lot of yelling. Hence the saying that a place is “as clamorous as a Jewish school”. Because the students don’t just sit there nailed to their chairs, listening to what the teacher has to say. They contribute to the discussion, each with his own view of the subject matter’ (OH, M 1916).

The traditional system of Jewish religious education has been absent from Slovakia for several decades. However, the need to discuss and look for alternative, often surprising solutions, still persists as an integral part of the thinking and communication of the community members.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (October)
Holocaust Communist regime Jewish cemeteries Jewish holidays factors of transformation
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 162 pp., 40 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Peter Salner (Author)

Peter Salner works at the Institute of Ethnology and Social Anthropology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (SASc), currently as a senior researcher. He focuses on urban ethnology and the social culture of the Jewish community. He has published 15 scholarly books and more than 100 studies. He is also President Emeritus of the Jewish Community in Bratislava and holds the degree of Doctor of Sciences (DrSc).


Title: Crossroads of Jewish Bratislava