split peacefully into the Czech Republic and Slovakia
on January 1, 1993. Israel established formal diplomatic
relations with both new countries.
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,
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.
In the western part of Czechoslovakia
Jewish life was mainly regulated by Austrian legislation
(of 1890) and in the eastern areas by Hungarian (of
The communal leadership was initially predominantly
assimilationist-oriented to German, Hungarian, or
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)).
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
The occupational structure of the Jewish
population was similar to that for the rest of West
During the century before World War
I the number of Jews in Carpatho-Russia had increased
almost fivefold because of the influx from Galicia,
Rumania, 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.
The initiative to organize Jewry
within the new state came from Zionists.
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 (Narodne Rada Cidovske) 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
By November the federations of the
communities of Moravia and Silesia had accepted the
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.
decided to found the Cidovske Strana (Jewish party)
as its instrument for electoral activities.
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.
influence predominated in the council, non-Zionists
such as Alois Hilf and Salomon Hugo Lieben collaborated.
The Czech assimilationist movement 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.
The 354,342 Jews by religion (Israelites)
enumerated in 1921, and 356,830 in 1930, declared
Adherents of the Jewish religion
in 1930 represented 2.4% of the total population,
and Jews by nationality 1.3% of the total.
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 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.
Slovakia and Carpatho-Russia, as in Hungary, three
trends of community affiliation existed.
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 due payers.
The neologist and status-quo-ante
communities amalgamated into the Jeshurun federation
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 Czech Social
Democrats (Goldstein and Hayyim Kugel).
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,
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
Julius Schulz in the Hungarian, Bruno Kafka in the
Deutsche Arbeits-und Wirtschaftsgemeinschaft, and
Rudolf Sifnski and Viktor Stern in the Communist party.
Jews were also active in political journalism.
were several Jewish weeklies, the Zionist Cidovski
zprfvy, Selbstwehr, and Medinah Ivrith
in Prague, Max Hickl's Juedische Volksstimme
in Brno, and the Juedische Volkszeitung in
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.
Carpatho-Russia, Jewish education was substantially
based on the traditional heder and yeshivah.
Government records of 1931 listed five yeshivot as
institutions of higher education, in Bratislava, Komarno,
Pre?ov, Ko?ice, and Muka?evo ; but there were
others, as in Galanta 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 Muka"evo (1925) and Uzhgorod (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
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
(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, insurance, and private banking.
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 192930
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 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
Prominent in social welfare work in the 1930s
were Joseph Popper, and the Wizo leaders Marie Schmolka,
Hanna Steiner, and Gisi Fleischmann.
Jews contributed to all spheres of
cultural activity, whether Czech, German, or Hungarian
Many were outstanding authors in the Czech
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,
Authors who wrote in German did not
necessarily consider themselves German nationals,
and some, like Max Brod, were active Zionists.
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 Ji1i 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.
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.
Anti-Semitism among all the nationalities
of the republic was of old standing.
At the time of
the establishment of the republic in 1918 there were
anti-Semitic riots in Prague and Moravia.
serious anti-Semitic violence continued until summer
Among the Czech elements it was less noticeable,
mainly because of the personal example of Thomas Masaryk
and Eduard Bene, and the democratic political philosophy
as expounded by them and other leaders of public opinion.
However, right-wing groups National Union, founded
by Jere Stribrnl in 1927, the Czech Fascist Community,
headed by the former general of the Czech army Radola
Gajda, and the Vlajka (Flag) group explicitly supported
anti-Semitism in their platforms.
Slovenske L'udove strana (Slovak People's Party) adopted
an increasingly aggressive anti-Semitic policy.
Sudeten, where most of the Germans lived, was already
a stronghold of racial anti-Semitism under the Hapsburg
monarchy, and anti-Semitism 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).
Anti-Semitism 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.
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.
most of them failed to see the dangers threatening
them even inside the country.
However, the subdued
popular anti-Semitism was soon to be rekindled.
the beginning of 1938 anti-Semitism gained in strength
when in Rumania 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.
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 anti-Semitism 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.
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.
Anti-Semitism gained virulence in the truncated
"Second Republic" mainly in Slovakia.
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.
Emigration and Exile (193845)
The emigration and escape of Jews
from Czechoslovakia started immediately after the
Munich conference (Sept. 29, 1938) and increased considerably
after the German occupation (March 15, 1939).
a million pounds sterling, part of a grant made by
the British government to the Czechoslovak government,
were earmarked for the financing of the emigration
of 2,500 Jews to Palestine.
In addition, about 12,000
Jews left with "illegal" transports for
Many others emigrated to the United States
and South America or escaped to neighboring Poland,
from where a number succeeded in reaching Great Britain,
France, and other countries.
He-Halutz and Youth Aliyah
transferred hundreds of children and youth to England,
Denmark, and the Netherlands for agricultural training.
The Anglican Church and missionary institutions succeeded
in removing children. When after the outbreak of World
War II the Czechoslovak National Council in London,
later recognized as the government-in-exile and an
ally, called upon army reservists in allied and neutral
countries to enlist, many Jews responded.
Palestine, where many Jews from Czechoslovakia had
already put themselves at the disposal of the Yishuv's
war effort, about 2,000 Czech Jews enlisted in Czechoslovak
army units within the Allied Middle East Forces, where
Jews constituted the great majority in these units.
After the recognition of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet
Union in 1941, a Czechoslovak division was established
in the U.S.S.R.
Up to 70% of the members of some of
its units were Jews.
The high percentage of Jews in
these units created some tension and anti-Semitic
The Czechoslovak government-in-exile in
London, with Eduard Benes as president and Jan Masaryk
as foreign minister, maintained good relations with
Jewish organizations and supported the Zionist cause.
In the State Council, Arnolt Frischer represented
the Cidovske strana (Jewish party).
Other Jews on
the Council were Julius Friedmann, Julius Fuerth,
and Gustav Kleinberg.
According to the 1930 census, 135,918
Jews (4.5% of the total population) lived in Slovakia.
The plight of Slovak Jewry actually began with the
establishment of autonomous Slovakia (Oct. 6, 1938),
when the one-party totalitarian system of the clerical
Slovak People's Party of Hlinka (HSL'SHlinkova
Slovenske L'udove Strana) came to power.
14, 1939, Hitler made an independent state by causing
the breakup of Czechoslovakia.
A few days later Slovak
leaders and the German Foreign Minister, von Ribbentrop,
signed the Treaty of Protection (Schutzvertrag), thus
making Slovakia in effect a satellite of Germany.
In the first months of Slovakia's "independence"
anti-Jewish restrictions were sporadically introduced ;
however, fundamental changes in anti-Jewish policy
occurred only after the Salzburg Conference (July
28, 1940), attended by Hitler, the Slovak leaders
(Father Josef Tiso, Vojtech Tuka, Sa-o Mach) and the
leader of the local German minority, the so-called
Karpaten-Deutsche, Franz Karmasin.
At this conference
the Slovaks agreed to set up a national-socialist
regime in their country.
At the end of August 1940, Dieter
Wisliceny, Eichmann's emissary, arrived in Slovakia
to act as "adviser for Jewish affairs,"
and with him came a score of advisers to assist the
The Slovaks set up two institutes
with the objective of "solving the Jewish problem" :
Central Office for Economy whose task was to oust
the Jews from economic and social life and "aryanize"
Jewish property ; the second was Center of Jews.
Slovak equivalent of the Judenrat, was headed by the starosta ("Jewish Elder"), Heinrich
Schwartz, chairman of the Orthodox-Jewish community.
When Schwartz was arrested for non-cooperation, a
more obedient starosta was appointed by the
authorities in April 1941. The "aryanization"
process was carried out within one year : 10,025 Jewish
enterprises and businesses were liquidated and 2,223
transferred to "Aryan" ownership.
to solve the problem of employment of Jews, who were
removed from economic life, the Slovak authorities
ordered the erection of a number of labor centers
and three large labor camps : Sered, Vyhne, and Novsky.
In the fall of 1941, in an effort to clear the capital
of Jews, a special ministerial order issued by Mach
removed a greater part of the Bratislava Jews ; some
were sent to the labor camps and others to the towns
of Trnava, Nitra, and to the region of Aari-Zemplen
in eastern Slovakia, where the majority of Slovak
Concurrently, during a visit to Hitler's
headquarters, Tuka requested the assistance of the
Reich in the removal of the Jews from Slovakia.
the beginning of February 1942, the German Foreign
Ministry formally requested the Slovak government
to furnish 20,000 "strong and able-bodied Jews."
It was decided that the first transports would be
composed of young men and women aged 1635.
on the suggestion of the Slovaks that in the "spirit
of Christianity" families should not be separated,
Eichmann gave his consent to deport families together.
The Slovaks had to pay 500 Reichmarks "as charges
for vocational training" for every deported Jew,
receiving in return a guarantee that the Jews would
not come back to Slovakia and that no further claims
would be laid to their property.
of transports was performed by the Ministry of Interior,
Department 14, headed by Gejsa Kanka and afterward
by Anton Valek, in collaboration with the Hlinka Guard
and the Freiwillige Schutzstaffel (Voluntary Defense
Squad of local Germans).
The Jewish leadership, alarmed
by rumors of the impending deportations, launched
two appeals in the name of the Jewish communities
(March 5, 1942) and in the name of the rabbis of Slovakia
(March 6, 1942) warning the authorities that "the
deportations mean physical extermination."
March 14, 1942, the Vatican sent a note of protest,
and a few days later an oral warning was communicated
on the direct instruction of Pope Pius XII by Slovakia's
ambassador to Rome, Karol Sidor.
Between March 26 and October 20,
1942, about 60,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz
and to the Lublin area to be killed.
By the end of
April the earliest evidence on the fate of deportees
was received in Bratislava, when the first escapees
from General Gouvernment of Poland arrived.
eye-witness accounts were immediately forwarded to
Jewish organizations in the free world.
of Jews found refuge in neighboring Hungary (in 1944
some of them returned to Slovakia when the Hungarian
Jewish community was in peril).
Others sought protection
through conversion to Christianity. From the end of
July to the middle of September the transports were
suspended due to various technical difficulties and
perhaps also to intercessions, mainly from religious
During the interim, the underground
"Working Group" (Pracovne Skupina) arose
on the initiative of Rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandel
with the objective of saving the remaining Jews of
Led by Gisi Fleischmann, the Group was composed
of Zionists, assimilated Jews, and rabbis.
underground succeeded in temporarily diverting the
peril of deportation in the spring of 1943 as a result
of negotiations with Wisliceny and bribes to Slovak
Another achievement in 1943 was the rescue
of fugitives from the ghettos of Poland, who were
smuggled through Slovakia to Hungary with the help
of the Ha-Halutz underground.
By that time about 25,000
Jews were left in Slovakia, some of them "submerged,"
so that only part of them were officially registered,
mostly "economically vital" Jews who were
granted "certificates of exemption."
34,000 persons were engaged in productive work
in the Slovak labor camps, and others lived on false
"Aryan" papers or in hiding.
On April 21,
1944, the first two escapees from Auschwitz reached
Slovakia after a miraculous flight.
of the annihilation process was sent on to the head
of the Orthodox Jewish community in Budapest, Rabbi
Von Freudiger, to alert the world and forwarded through
Switzerland to Jewish organizations in the free world
with an appeal by Rabbi Weissmandel demanding the
immediate bombing of the murder installations in Auschwitz.
The Allies rejected the appeal.
In the fall of 1944, during the Slovak
national uprising, four parachutists from Erez Israel
reached Slovakia to extend help to the Jewish remnant
and to organize resistance.
killed thousands of Jews during the Slovak revolt,
and after its suppression (Oct. 28, 1944), about 13,500
of the remaining Jews of Slovakia were deported to
concentration camps (including Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen,
and Theresienstadt), under the pretext of reprisal
for their participation in the revolt (October 1944March
On the eve of the liberation (April 30, 1945),
there remained about 4,0005,000 Jews in Slovakia
hiding with non-Jews or living clandestinely with
The losses of Slovak Jewry
amount to over 100,000, including the Jews deported
in the spring of 1944 from the territory annexed to
Only about 25,000 persons of the prewar community
survived the Holocaust and the majority of them left
Slovakia after the war, most of them for Israel.
PROTECTORATE OF BOHEMIA-MORAVIA
According to the 1930 census, Czechoslovakia
had a Jewish population of 356,830 out of total of
Of these, 117,551 lived in Bohemia and
Moravia and 102,542 in Carpatho-Russia.
At the time
of the Munich Agreement (September, 1938), the arrival
of Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria increased
the Jewish population in Bohemia and Moravia to approximately
In October 1938, when the German-speaking
Bohemian-Moravian border areas were occupied by the
Nazis, approximately 25,000 Jews fled their homes
there to the unoccupied part of Czechoslovakia.
the basis of the Vienna arbitration decision of Nov.
2, 1938, the predominantly Hungarian parts of Slovakia
and Carpatho-Russia were ceded to Hungary ; these areas
were inhabited by approximately 80,000 Jews.
regions of Slovakia and Carpatho-Russia were granted
autonomous status in the now federated Czecho-Slovakia.
German pressure and a growing local anti-Jewish movement
brought about increasing discrimination against Jews
In March 1939, when Slovakia seceded
from the Republic, and the Protectorate of Bohemia
and Moravia was established, the fate of the Jews
in each of the two separate parts began to run its
In the Protectorate, the first synagogue,
in Vsetin, was burned down on the day of the German occupation (March 15, 1939).
At that time 118,310
persons in the Protectorate were designated as Jews
according to the Nuremberg Laws ; only 86,715, however,
were members of the local Jewish communities.
initial stage, the "Final Solution of the Jewish
problem" proceeded, in part, on the basis of
decrees issued by the Protectorate regime ; in the
course of time, Bohemia and Moravia came to be regarded
more and more as part of the Reich, and the fate of
the Jews in the two provinces was decided on directly
by the RSHA (Reich Security Main Office) in Berlin.
The immediate consequences were the plunder of Jewish
property, pogroms, and the burning of synagogues.
Many Jews who were active in the general resistance
movement were caught while a few Jews survived as
On July 27, 1939, Adolf Eichmann,
the RSHA representative, established a branch of the
Zentralstelle fuer juedische Auswanderung (Central
Office for Jewish Emigration) in Prague.
were forced to register for emigration, and divested
of most of their property by a compulsory "Jewish
Jewish books and periodicals
were banned and the Juedisches Nachrichtenblatt
was published in their place, controlled by the Zentralstelle.
Jews were excluded from economic, cultural, and political
life, and denied civil rights ; an estimated 12,000,000,000
K"s (about $343,000,000) in Jewish property were
confiscated and, finally, an order issued on Sept.
1, 1941, forcing Jews to wear the yellow badge, resulted
in their complete isolation.
The Jewish communities
reacted to the planned elimination of the Jews by
stepping up their activities in Jewish and general
education of the youth, giving foreign language instruction ;
retraining; and providing medical care, consulting
agencies, and social welfare.
These activities, which
prevented the outbreak of panic and the community's
dissolution, were later continued at the Theresienstadt
Efforts were made to promote legal
and illegal Jewish emigration and, by the time emigration
was totally banned (October 1941), 26,629 persons
had succeeded in escaping from the country.
1939, the first group comprising 1,291 Jewish men
from Ostrava were deported for the "settlement
area of Nisko on the San."
The Germans decided
on the establishment of the Theresienstadt Ghetto
on Oct. 10, 1941, in a secret meeting at the Prague
Castle, chaired by Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich.
The minutes of the meeting contain the following passage :
"From this transit camp [Theresienstadt] the
Jews, after a substantial reduction in their numbers,
are to be deported to the East...."
communities were ordered to concentrate all the Jews
living in their respective areas into a number of
citiesPrague, Budweis (Budjovice), Kolen, Klatovy,
Pardubice, Hradec, Mlada Boleslav, Brno, Olomouc,
Ostrava, and Uherskl Brod.
In October and November
1941, 6,000 Jews from Prague and Brno were deported
directly to Lodz and Minsk.
In the period Nov. 24,
1941March 16, 1945, 73,614 Jews were dispatched
to Theresienstadt in 121 transports.
In this period,
also 621 Jews were sent to Theresienstadt from towns
in the Sudeten areas ceded to Germany.
One of the
leaders of Czechoslovak Jewry, Jacob Edelstein, appointed
the "elder" of Theresienstadt.
9, 1942, to Oct. 28, 1944, 60,399 Czech Jews were
deported onward from Theresienstadt to the extermination
camps in the EastAuschwitz, Majdanek, Minsk,
Riga, Sobibor, Treblinka, and Zamosc.
Only 3,227 of
the Jews deported from Theresienstadt survived the
Following the assassination of Heydrich on Feb.
19, 1942, a "penal transport" of 1,000 Jews
was deported from Prague to Poland, none of whom survived.
In 1945, 10,090 Jews registered with
the Jewish communities as returning deportees, out
of a total of 80,614 who had been deported ; 6,392
had died in Theresienstadt, 64,172 had been murdered
in the extermination camps, and of the Jews who had
not been deported, 5,201 had either been executed,
committed suicide, or died a natural death.
day of the restoration of national sovereignty in
Prague, May 5, 1945, there were 2,803 Jews alive in
Bohemia and Moravia, who had not been deported, most
of them partners of mixed marriages.
Various estimates of the number of
Jews living in Czechoslovakia in 1945 have been given,
as postwar statistics do not classify the population
according to religion.
Many of the surviving Jews
in Sub-Carpathian Ruthenia decided to leave in the
brief period between its annexation to the Soviet
Union (June 29, 1945) and the closing of its frontiers
(September 30, 1945).
They succeeded in fleeing to
Bohemia, while only a few hundred moved to Slovakia.
Most of the newcomers registered with the Jewish communities
In 1948, 19,123 Jews were registered with
the communities in Bohemia and Moravia.
of Jews in Slovakia in 1947 was estimated at about
This brings to 44,000 the number of Jews living
in the whole of Czechoslovakia in early 1948, when
the Communists came to power.
However, this figure
has to be augmented to include those who were in no
way affiliated with organized Jewish communities,
but in the past were classed as Jews by German authorities
and registered after World War II as victims of racial
In this category there were 5,292 persons
living in Bohemia and Moravia in 1948.
their number is not known ; on the other hand, about
5,500 Slovak Jews, in an effort to save their lives,
agreed to pro forma baptism during the war.
It can therefore be estimated that out of the 356,830
Jews living in Czechoslovakia (including Sub-Carpathian
Ruthenia) in 1939, less than a sixth remained in the
country in 1948.
The Communist coup of February 1948,
and the establishment of the State of Israel in May
of that year, led to a mass migration of Jews from
Between 1948 and 1950, 18,879 Jews
went from Czechoslovakia to Israel, while more than
7,000 emigrated to other countries.
was barred by the Communist authorities, in 1950,
the number of Jews still remaining had dropped to
some 18,000, while some 5,500 of them were still registered
for migration to Israel.
There were sporadic instances
of Jewish emigration after 1954 but only from 1965
were 2,0003,000 Jews allowed to leave Czechoslovakia.
After the Soviet invasion in August 1968, 3,400 Jews
left the country, according to a spokesman of the
American Joint Distribution Committee in Vienna.
may therefore be assumed that at the end of 1968 there
were less than 12,000 Jews left in Czechoslovakia.
In June 1968, Rudolf Iltis of the Council of Jewish
Communities in Bohemia and Moravia gave their average
age as 60, while in the 1520 age group there
were only 1,000 Jews left.
He also added that "with
the exception of a few communities in Slovakia, the
demographic situation of Czechoslovak Jewry does not
necessitate religious instruction, because there are
not enough children of school age."
The renewed Council of Jewish Communities
in Bohemia and Moravia held its first conference after
World War II, under the chairmanship of Ernst Frischer,
in September 1945.
JEWS IN CZECHOSLOVAK PUBLIC LIFE
Delegates of 43 communities participated.
In Slovakia a similar body, the Central Union of the
Jewish Communities in Slovakia, was created at the
end of 1945, presided over by Armin Frieder.
Frischer and Frieder were Zionists.
In 1947 the two
organizations set up a coordinating committee.
a Council conference in November 1963 representatives
from only 16 communities took part and in 1968 the
editor of the Council's publications listed only seven
active communities in Bohemia and Moravia (Prague,
Brno, Ostrava, Plze, Karlovy Vary, and Teplice-Sanov).
Ten communities in Slovakia were listed as active
(Bratislava, Kosice, Nitra, Michalovce, Cilina, Galanta,
Trnava, Dunajska Streda, and Ruomberok).
A small number
of Jews were also living in some other places where,
however, Jewish life had no organizational framework.
The strongest communities in June 1968 were Prague,
with 3,500 members (more than 4,000 in 1945), Bratislava,
with 2,000 (8,000 in 1947), and Ko?ice with 1,800
(4,000 in 1947).
Religious life was practically limited
to the High Holidays.
On the Sabbath few places had
One of the main problems was the
lack of rabbis.
Religious education was nonexistent.
The budget of the pauperized communities was covered
entirely by State subsidies.
The State Bakery in Zlata
Moravce supplied mazzot from 1965.
four Jewish old-age homes, in Bratislava, Brno, and
Podbrady ; only in the first two was kosher food prepared.
Of the 800 Jewish cemeteries only those were being
kept in good order where a community was still in
A few, like the old cemetery of Prague,
had become museums.
The same applied to some old synagogues.
In the years preceding the Communist coup of 1948,
there were still signs of Jewish political life and
of contacts with Jewish bodies abroad.
for instance, an Organization of Victims of Racial
Persecution was created under the chairmanship of
Oskar Neumann, a leading Zionist.
The Central Union
of Jewish Communities in Slovakia was affiliated to
the World Jewish Congress from 1946, while the Council
of Jewish Communities in Bohemia and Moravia joined
the WJC only at the beginning of 1948.
organized Zionist activities, and the American Joint
Distribution Committee was permitted to undertake
social work among the Jews of Czechoslovakia.
this was stopped when the Communists came to power
in February 1948.
After the Communist coup an Action
Committee composed of Jewish Communists took over
the Council of Jewish Communities and eliminated noncommunists
from the leadership.
At the beginning of 1949 the
Zionists still succeeded in holding a conference at
Pie?tany; but by the end of 1949 the ties with the
World Jewish Congress were broken, and at the beginning
of 1950 the "Joint" was ordered to stop
all activities and its workers were expelled.
Jewish Agency closed its Prague office voluntarily
the same year, after all Jewish migration from Czechoslovakia
had been stopped.
The organ of the Council and a quarterly
in German, Informationsbulletin, became party
mouthpieces, following the official line, including
the hostile attitude to Israel.
Some changes for the
better could be discerned after 1964.
In that year
the hevra kaddisha of Prague was permitted
to celebrate its 400th anniversary.
The small Jewish
Museum in Prague was enlarged during World War II
by the Germans and later was taken over by the Ministry
of Culture and officially reorganized. (In 1963 it
was visited by 327,000 people.)
In 1966 a more liberal-minded
leadership, led by Frantisek Fuchs, succeeded the
dogmatic Communist group in the Council of Jewish
Communities, headed until then by Frantizek Ehrmann.
The Prague community created a special Committee for
Youth which, for the first time in a quarter of a
century, organized lectures and seminars on Jewish
themes, attended regularly by dozens of Jewish students.
A delegation of the Council was received by the minister
of culture and submitted a detailed plan for the celebrations
of the millennium of Prague Jewry and the 700th anniversary
of the Altneuschul, which were to have taken place
in August 1968.
Contacts with Jewish communities and
organizations outside Czechoslovakia were renewed.
In January 1967, the presidents of the Council and
of the Central Union attended a World Jewish Conference
in Paris and, on their invitation, Nahum Goldmann
visited Czechoslovakia in the spring of that year.
At the time, a series of stamps depicting Jewish subjects
The stamps were taken out of circulation
at the time of the Six-Day War in June 1967, when
Czechoslovakia, like other countries of the Soviet
bloc, broke off diplomatic relations with Israel,
but were reissued after the liberal community leadership
of Alexander Dubcek came into power in January 1968.
Thousands of Jews fought in the Czechoslovak
armies formed both in the West and in the Soviet Union
during World War II and many worked in various capacities
in Benez's government-in-exile.
Many of those who
returned after the war continued their work in the
newly formed administration.
The percentage of Jewish
intellectuals among the Communists was also high,
and after the Communist coup of February 1948, many
of them were entrusted with responsible tasks in the
Thus, in 1948 there were three
Jewish deputy ministers of foreign affairs, of defense,
interior, foreign trade and finance.
The Party's secretary
general, Rudolf Sifnskl, was a Jew, and Jews played
an important role in the party apparatus.
to an increase of the anti-Semitism which was latent
especially in Slovakia.
Already in 1945, a delegation
of the Council of Jewish Communities led by Ernst
Frischer complained to President Benez about anti-Jewish
excesses in the Slovak towns of Precov, Bardjov, and
The same year two Jews were killed in Cilina,
and in 1946 and 1948 there were anti-Jewish riots
Anti-Semitism knew no party barriers,
and Communists were no more immune to it than others.
As soon as the anti-Jewish line became official policy
in the Soviet Union, Communists in Czechoslovakia followed suit.
The Sifnskl Trial of 1952 had a clearly
anti-Jewish character : 11 of 14 accused were Jews,
and eight Jews among them were executed.
trials hundreds of Jews were sentenced to long-term
imprisonment, hundreds were sent to hard labor without
trial, and hundreds were dismissed from their posts.
Jews became in fact, if not in law, second-class citizens.
De-Stalinization was slower in Czechoslovakia than
In April 1956, Prime Minister Airokl admitted
that "certain manifestations of anti-Semitism
had been wrongly introduced in the Sifnski trial,"
but in December 1957 the minister of justice still
informed foreign correspondents that no revision of
the trial was necessary ; a special commission had
checked the sentences and found them justified.
Jewish prisoners were gradually released and some
even rehabilitated, but in 1956 there were still about
300 Jews in jails, and their number increased in 1957,
after the Sinai Campaign, when many Jews, including
27 community leaders, were arrested as "Western
spies" or on charges of "Zionist activities."
It was only at the beginning of the 1960s that the
way was reopened for Jewish participation in Czechoslovak
Not many Jews returned to the State administration
or to politically important positions, though there
were a few exceptions, such as Frantisek Kriegel (d.
1979), who became chairman of the National Front,
and Ota Aik, the chief economic planner.
of Jewish university professors, scientists, writers,
musicians, theater and film artists, journalists,
radio and television commentators to Czechoslovak
cultural life again became considerable.
A Jew, Eduard
Goldstuecker, vice-rector of Prague University, was
elected president of the Czech Writers Union, while
the work of Jewish writers and journalists received
a new impetus and became even more important after
January 1968, when liberal reformers led by Dubcek
put an end to censorship and other fetters on spiritual
This period was, however, short-lived.
Soviet invasion of August 1968 put an end to it, and
a new wave of anti-Semitism, fed by Soviet, Polish,
and East German propaganda, made further Jewish participation
in public life impossible. Kriegel, the only member
of the Czechoslovak delegation who refused to sign
the Moscow "agreement" legalizing Soviet
invasion, was, at Moscow's insistence, dropped from
the Politburo and dismissed from all functions. Goldstuecker,
who for a few days in August was also a member of
the Politburo, and Ota Aik, deputy prime minister
after the fall of Novotnl, sought safety abroad.
did some 3,400 other Jews, many of them intellectuals.
Anti-Semitism became an issue in the struggle between
the liberal Communists and the pro-Moscow faction.
Czechoslovakia and Israel
Czechoslovakia was among the first
countries in the world to recognize the State of Israel,
though it was already ruled by Gottwald's Communist
regime after the February 1948 coup.
its War of Independence, Israel enjoyed active and
effective Czechoslovak assistance, including the supply
of military equipment.
The two countries exchanged
diplomatic representatives. These initially promising
relations rapidly deteriorated, however, when Moscow
reversed her attitude to Israel.
This process culminated
in the expulsion of the Israel minister from Prague,
Aryeh Kubovy in December 1952.
After the Sifnski trial
diplomatic missions of the two countries remained
headed on both sides by a charge d'affaires only,
and all Israel efforts to bring about a political
dialogue were frustrated by Prague.
relations continued until 1956, but after the Sinai
Campaign even these were broken off, although Israel's
trade with other Soviet bloc countries in the period
between 1956 and 1967 showed a remarkable increase.
In June 1967, Czechoslovakia, together with the rest
of the Warsaw Pact countries (excluding Rumania),
broke off relations with Israel.
The one-sided attitude
adopted by Czechoslovakia in the Arab-Israel conflict,
and Israel's rapid victory against an overwhelming
Arab majority, caused second thoughts first among
the Czech and Slovak intelligentsia and then among
the whole people, and ultimately became a factor in
the growing opposition to the Novotni regime.
Novotni's fall in January 1968 there was hope for
an improvement in the relations between Prague and
Writers, students, even some political
figures, openly advocated a resumption of diplomatic
The request found expression in the press,
on television, in public debates with members of the
government, and finally in a collection of signatures
organized by students in the streets of Prague.
hopes also arose among the remnants of Czechoslovak
Jewry. On April 7, 1968, the Council of Jewish Communities
in Bohemia and Moravia adopted a resolution, unprecedented
in Communist countries, expressing not only their
approval of the new liberalization but also their
protest against the "vehement anti-Israel campaign"
of the previous Novotni regime, which was based on
"unobjective, one-sided reporting, often explicable
only as intentionally anti-Jewish."
stated : "We cannot agree and never will agree,
to the liquidation of the State of Israel and to the
murder of its inhabitants.
In that country, the cradle
of our religion, victims of persecution found a haven.
Our brothers and sisters live there, those who together
with us spent years in concentration camps, who together
with us arose to take up the fight against Nazism."
In conclusion the resolution requested that the government
condemn the anti-Semitic pronouncements in the political
trials of the 1950s and rehabilitate Jews wronged
during that period by judicial or administrative decisions ;
place victims of racial persecution on the same level
as those of political persecution in all welfare legislation ;
not impede contact between the Jews of Czechoslovakia
and Jewish bodies abroad ; not to obstruct the religious
education of Jewish youth with administrative difficulties.
A similar declaration, issued on the same day by the
Central Union of Jewish Communities in Slovakia, contained
an additional request : "It is a minimal human
postulate, that everyone asking to be reunited with
his family should be allowed to do so, wherever his
family may be living."
A few months later, with
the Soviet invasion of August 21, 1968, these hopes
The Period 19731981
The International Council of Jews
from Czechoslovakia in 1978 published its first report
on Post-War Jewry in Czechoslovakia.
It revealed a
steady decline in the number of Jews, estimated to
be 15,000, half the number registered in the census
The number of localities in which Jews resided
had also fallen from 193 in 1968 to 174.
The largest number of registered
congregants was in Prague, which, however, showed
only 644 at the end of 1977, compared with 934 in
Other centers showed similar decline : Brno 237
(from 295), Ostrava 122 (from 154) and Bratislava
88 (from 314).
There were no rabbis and only 8 communities
still maintained a nominal existence in Bohemia and
Moravia : Prague, Brno, Usti nad Labem, Olomouc, Ostrava,
Levice, Pizen, Pribram ; while in Slovakia there existed
the six communities of Bratislava, Kosice, Presov,
Galanta, Nove Zamky, Nitra.
The Council of Jewish communities
of Bohemia and Moravia continued to function.
chairman, engineer Frantisek Fuchs, who was appointed
in 1966, was compelled to resign in August 1974, following
attacks on him in the Czech press on the grounds that
he had refused to sign a condemnation of the State
of Israel during the Six-Day War.
However, it seems
that the real reason for the forced resignation was
the fact that his son had left Czechoslovakia for
the West. In March 1975 he was succeeded by Dr. Bedrich
Bass, who died in 1979.
The Council of Jewish Communities
in Bohemia and Moravia and the Central Union of Jewish
Communities in Slovakia continued to publish the quarterly
Vestnik Zidovskych nabozenskych obci, as well
as the German language quarterly Informationsbulletin.
The famous Pinkas Synagogue was closed because the
rise in the level of sewage water surrounding it covered
the monumental slabs bearing the names of 78,000 Czechoslovak
Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
itself was in danger of total collapse.
Anti-Semitic propaganda, in the guise
of anti-Zionism, still continued and came prominently
to the fore in the struggle of the regime against
the "Charter 77 Movement," whose manifestoit
was allegedwas drawn up "under order of
the general staffs of anti-Communism and Zionism."
[Editorial Staff Encyclopaedia Judaica]
But the anti-Semitism of the Czech Press was not restricted
to the struggle against the protest movement ; it was
evident in purely ideological discussions, and its
political hostility towards Israel continued.
ties, however, which were severed in 1953, were re-established,
and in 1976 Israeli exports to Czechoslovakia amounted
to $4.767 million, while imports from Czechoslovakia
were only $541,000.
The respective figures for 1977
were $3.8 million and $600,000. In 1981 there was
virtually no trade between the two countries.
The situation of Czechoslovakia's
6,00010,000 Jews changed dramatically following
the Velvet Revolution of November 1989,
which ousted the country's hard-line Communist leaders.
Restoration of religious freedom was one of the top
priorities of the new, freely elected government headed
by former dissident playwright Vaclav Havel.
Under communism, the regime tightly
controlled religious observance and maintained a shrill
Participation in Jewish religious,
cultural, or educational activities was either discouraged
or banned, and community leaders were appointed by
In some respects, the rigidity began
to be eased somewhat in the 1980s.
A major event was
the traveling Precious Legacy exhibit
put together by the State Jewish Museum in Prague,
which introduced Czech Jewish culture to foreign audiences.
In the late 1980s, some younger members of the Prague
Jewish community formulated a letter openly criticizing
the community leadership.
Just one week before the
Velvet Revolution, World Jewish Congress
President Edgar Bronfman paid his first official visit
Havel's new government in February
1990 reestablished diplomatic relations with lsrael,
which had been broken after the Six-Day War in 1967,
and in April 1990, Havel became the first leader from
former Communist Eastern Europe to visit Israelhe
took a planeload of Czechoslovak Jews with him.
trip coincided with the opening of Where Cultures
Meet, a major exhibit on the Jews of Czechoslovakia
at Beth Hatefutsoth, the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora,
in Tel Aviv.
The exhibit later was presented in Prague
and elsewhere in Czechoslovakia.
Jewish spiritual and cultural life
began to blossom in the three major communities : Prague
in the Czech Republic and Bratislava and Kosice in
Slovakia, each of which has about 1,000 registered
Community administrations were re-organized
to rid them of their Communist-appointed leaders.
In December 1989 the well-respected Desider Galsky
became president of the Jews in the Czech republic,
and was highly active in restoring numerous contacts
between Czech Jews and international Jewish organizations
before his death in a car accident 11 months later.
New Jewish organizations, societies,
clubs, publications, and study groups ranging from
the B'nai B'rith lodge to a Franz Kafka Society sprang
up in the three main communities, and legislation
was passed that will enable Jewish communities to
regain property that had been confiscated by the communists.
Numerous new books on Jewish topics were published,
ranging from local Jewish guidebooks to fiction by
local Jewish writers to examinations of the Holocaust
In 1991 a museum dedicated to Franz
Kafka, whose works had been suppressed under the communists,
was opened in Prague focusing on Kafka's Jewish identity.
In the same year, a memorial museum dedicated to the
Jewish Ghetto concentration camp was inaugurated at
Terezin (Theresienstadt) north of Prague, and in the
summer of 1992 work began to restore the Holocaust
memorial in Prague's 500-year-old Pinkas synagoguea
list of every one of the more than 77,000 Bohemian
and Moravian Jews who were killed by the Nazis, hand-painted
on the walls of the sanctuary.
Jewish Holocaust victims were erected for the first
time in many provincial towns, too.
Prague became a symbol city for the
rebirth of freedom.
As such, it was chosen as the
site of a key meeting between Roman Catholic leaders
and the International Council for Interreligious Consultations
(IJCIC) in September 1990, in which the Catholic leaders
condemned anti-Semitism as a sin.
The meeting issued
a landmark joint statement that called for concrete
measures to foster interreligious dialogue and spelled
out recommendations for combating the upsurge of anti-Semitism
in Central and Eastern Europe.
In the spring of 1992,
Prague hosted a major symposium on anti-Semitism in
One casualty of these changes was
Prague-based Rabbi Daniel Mayer, the only rabbi in
Czechoslovakia, who was forced to resign his post
in June 1990 after he admitted he had served as a
government informant for a decade under the communist
In September 1992, Karol Sidon, a
former dissident playwright who had been forced to
leave Prague because of his views, became the new
rabbi in Prague, and Australian Lazar Kleinman took
up the post of rabbi in Kosice, in eastern Slovakia.
Both new rabbis expressed the hope they could revive
Jewish life and religious practice in the two communities.
They face many problems.
members are older people.
Young people, many of them
just discovering or rediscovering their Jewish roots,
know little about Judaism.
In the Czech Republic especially,
where Jews traditionally were highly assimilated and
intermarriage was common, many of the younger people
who consider themselves Jews are not Jews according
to halakhic law.
Another potential problem, on whose
development the dissolution of Czechoslovakia into
two independent states at the beginning of 1993 may
have an impact, is the anti-Semitism and nationalism
unleashed by the overnight change from communist rule
to freedom which, exacerbated by economic problems,
has infected most of Europe's former communist states.
Soon after the Velvet Revolution
a number of anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in
Slovakia, including the desecration of cemeteries,
attacks in the Slovak nationalist press, and anti-Semitic
slurs against Fedor Gal, the leader of the Slovak
People Against Violence political movement, who was
born in the Terezin ghetto concentration camp.
In addition, at one point there was
a movement in Slovakia to rehabilitate Father Josef
Tiso, the leader of the wartime clerico-fascist Independent
Slovakia, which was allied with the Nazis.
[Ruth E. Gruber]
Jewish life in the Czech Republic
continued the process of revival that began after
the fall of communism in 1989.
As the only rabbi in
the country, Prague Rabbi and Czech Chief Rabbi Karol
Sidon, who took up his post in late 1992, was a major
catalyst in this.
About 3,000 Jews in the Czech Republic,
including 1,300 in Prague, identified with the community.
There were numerous classes, conferences, cultural
and social events.
An old age home was opened in Prague
in late 1993, and a Jewish kindergarten opened in
The ritual orientation of the community was
This alienated some people, particularly
younger people, products of mixed marriages, who felt
a Jewish identity but were not Jewish according to
A number of them gravitated to an alternative
Havurah group, Bet Simcha, that functioned outside
the mainstream of the official Jewish community and
made a point of appealing to people who were not halakhically
Jewish but wanted to take part in Jewish activities.
In 1994 another "liberal" Jewish group,
Bet Praha, was formed, mainly appealing to the hundreds
of American, English, and Canadian Jews in
At the High Holidays in 1994, Reform services,
conducted by a visiting rabbi, were held in Prague's
Restitution of Jewish property remained
A number of properties that had been owned
by the Jewish community in 1938 were returned to the
The most notable was the Prague
Jewish Museum, including its priceless collection
of Judaica and half-dozen synagogue and other buildings
in which the collections were displayed, all of which
was returned to the community in October 1994.
was continuing concern at incidents involving right-wing
and skinhead groups who primarily attacked gypsies
but also shouted anti-Semitic slogans.