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“Levoca” – Encyclopaedia
of Jewish communities, Slovakia
(Levoča, Slovakia)

49°01' / 20°36'

Translation of the
“Levoca” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Slovakia

Edited by Yehoshua Robert Buchler and Ruth Shashak

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 2003


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Acknowledgments

Project Coordinator

Madeleine Isenberg

 

Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
for permission to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Slovakia: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Slovakia,
Edited by Yehoshua Robert Buchler and Ruth Shashak, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.


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[Page 288]

Levoča

Translated by Madeleine Isenberg

With thanks to Hagit Tsafriri for editing this translation

(Hungarian: Löcse, German: Leutschau)

Subdistrict capital in the Spiš Region in northern Slovakia.

 

Year Number of
Residents
Jews By
Percent
1848 5,412 45 0.8
1869 6,887 365 5.3
1890 6,318 416 6.6
1910 7,528 718 9.5
1919 7,400 645 8.7
1930 8,906 579 6.5
1940 9,170 484 5.3
1948 7,584 37 0.5

 

Levoča was first mentioned in 1245 as an urban settlement, an administrative and cultural center for German settlers in the Spiš Region. In the 13th century it was a free royal town and an important center for trade at the crossroads between Poland and Hungary. The Kaiser granted the city extraordinary rights including exemptions for the merchants from paying customs duties within the whole Hungarian kingdom. In time, the town became the capital of the Spiš Region, beautiful buildings were built there, many workshops were opened, and schools and cultural institutions were established. In the 18th century Levoča lost its importance as a cultural and administrative center, but in the 19th century the cultural growth was renewed there and a sawmill, an alcohol distillery, a beer brewery, a factory for strong liquors, and several banks were established. Most of its inhabitants at that time were Germans and Slovaks and a few Hungarians and Jews.

At the time of the Czechoslovak Republic, a slowdown in economic activities began in Levoča. Among its inhabitants was a significant German minority that was active in city life and very faithful to its ethnicity. Many Germans joined the pro-Nazi German Party (Deutsche Partei).

During the Second World War, the city was within the boundaries of the Slovak state that was established under the auspices of Nazi Germany. Many of its German inhabitants were drafted into the German army or units of the SS. In the Slovak rebellion at the end of August 1944 the Slovak garrison joined the rebels and held Levoča until the rebellion was suppressed and the city conquered by the Germans. Several groups of partisans in the area continued to fight against the Germans. On January 27, 1945, the Soviet and Czechoslovak Armies liberated Levoča.

 

About the History of the Community

The settlement of Jews in Levoča was relatively late. In the census records of 1768 and 1828 the city's authorities reported that there were no Jews (non habet judaeos), and thereafter until 1840 it appears their settlement was prohibited. In the 1840s some Jews settled there who had come from Huncovce (q.v.) and one of them bought a house. In 1845 about 10 Jewish families lived there, and at the same time it appears a Jewish community (kehila) began headed by Samuel the son of Abraham WINTER. Among its founders were Jews from Huncovce and eastern Slovakia. In 1850, Jews in Levoča had a prayer room in a private home and some other communal institutions. The kehila supported a ritual slaughterer (shochet) who also served at the prayer leader and religion teacher. The first Jews of Levoča made their living from small business, peddling, and leasing taverns. In Levoča there was also an office for population registry (matrika) for Jews in six towns in the area.

In 1869, with the split of Hungarian Jews, the Jews of Levoča, decided to define themselves as a “status quo” kehila. In the 1870s the kehila steadily grew, and in the 1880s already had additional communal institutions including a cemetery that was two kilometers away from the center of town and employed two teachers. In 1890, the kehila's rules were renewed. The Chevra Kadisha (ritual burial society), and the societies of Bikur Cholim (Visiting the Sick) and the “Jewish Women's Organization” were active in charity and mutual aid. The town also had an orphanage that was supported by the kehila's funds. In 1899, Levoča dedicated a grand, spacious synagogue built in the Oriental style, outside of the city's wall. Adjoining it a school and ritual bath (mikveh) were also built. The Jewish school had a five year syllabus and instruction was in German. That same year, Levoča had a rabbinical seat, with the election of Rabbi Dr. Gustav LEVI as rabbi over the kehila and the surrounding district. At the head of the kehila for long period stood Dr. Bartolomei ROZSNYAI, a well-known member of the community who donated a great deal to the prosperity of the kehila.

[Page 289]

In 1902, a libel suit befell the Jews of Levoča, because of a Jewish butcher who was presumed to have killed a Christian boy. The judgment that took place in Levoča aroused great interest in the Jewish community and the non-Jewish community in the whole country. The defense attorney, Dr. FRIED, who later on became the deputy mayor and during the First World War elected as mayor, debunked the accusation and the Jewish butcher went free.

During the First World War, about 50 Jews from Levoča were drafted to the Austro-Hungarian Army and a few fell in battle.

 

The Jews between the Two World Wars

At the end of the war Vojtech BERGER was the head of the kehila and Dr. Gustav LEVY served as rabbi of the kehila. Jews from four small adjoining villages belonged to the Levoča kehila. After the rabbi's death in 1927, Rabbi Julius KLEIN was elected as rabbi of the kehila and the district. In 1922, Levoča's kehila counted 120 heads of household (about 650 people) and in Levoča's whole district, 1,213 were registered as Jews. The budget for the kehila that same year was 80,000 Kronen, mostly covered by membership dues. The main portion of expenses went for the salaries of seven full-time employees. The kehila had a synagogue, cemetery, purification mikveh, community center and additional institutions. The Jewish school was managed by Jacob KLEIN, and 60-70 students attended classes in the five year school. The language of instruction was German at first, and from the 1930s also in Slovak. Most of the school's graduates continued their studies in the local gymnasium (high school) and their portion among the students was 50%. (The portion of Jews in the local population at that time was 6.5%).

In 1922 a few Jewish families separated from the kehila and set up separate community prayer, and within a short time organized into an independent orthodox kehila. In the beginning they aligned themselves with the Huncovce rabbinate and later with the rabbinate of Spišské Podhradie (q.v.). The head of the orthodox kehila was Philip BRAUN. The two kehilot in Levoča existed separately one next to the other until the deportations in 1942, but the cemetery and school were shared between them.

In 1928, the larger of the two kehilot, the “status quo” kehila, joined with the Organization of Liberal Kehilot, “Yeshurun.” The Burial Society (Chevra Kadisha) supported the orphanage and its 20 children. The established “Jewish Women's Organization” and the Bikur Cholim (Visiting the Sick) society continued to deal with the welfare and some new charitable societies were added to them.

During the Czechoslovak Republic, Jews were also involved in the general public life and some served in the administration of community affairs, among them the notary public and the manager of the local income tax office. Dr. Bartolomei ROZSNYAI was a member

slo289.jpg
Levoca, Memorial to the Holocaust Victims

of the city and district councils, head doctor of the Spiš Region, and administrator of the district hospital until his death. His sons were also known doctors. Dr. Geza SZENDE served as a district doctor. The Jewish doctors had a central part in the development of the health system in the Spiš Region.

In the 1920s Zionist activities began in Levoča and a Zionist organization was started and a branch of the National Jewish Party. In the 1921 census, 55% of Levoča's Jews registered their nationality as Jewish; the rest described themselves as Slovak or German. During the Czechoslovak Republic, the National Jewish Party won great support in elections and an honorable representation in the city council. The head of the Party, Dr. HÖFFLICH, was a member of the council for several consecutive terms. Dr. Josef ABRANYI and Dr. Julius MUNK served as judicial advisors for the town.

In the elections to the Zionist Congress in Levoča, the list included, “Eretz Yisrael Ha'ovedet” (Working Israel), “Hamizrachi” (The Easterners), “Hatsiyonim Haclaliyim” (General Zionists), the Revisionists, and alongside them in the town were the youth movements of “Hashomer Hatsair,” Betar, and ”Maccabi Hatsair”, the sports group “Maccabi” and an active and large branch of WIZO[1], in which women from both kehilot belonged. On the eve of the 17th Zionist Congress (1931)

[Page 290]

73 “Shekels”[2] were sold in Levoča, and toward the 21st Congress (in 1939), 90 “Shekels.”

Between the two wars, most of Levoča's Jews earned their living from commerce. A few were craftsmen, and many practiced the free professions. Jews owned 40 shops, 18 workshops, several agencies and two factories – one for the production of alcohol and liquor of Julius KLEIN and one for beer. Among Jews in the free professions, 12 were clerks, 7 doctors (out of the town's 12), 4 lawyers (out of 8), a veterinarian, and a pharmacist.

The list of business licenses that the local business office awarded in 1921 demonstrates the part that Jews took in the business sector.

 

Type of Business Number
of
Businesses
Jewish-
owned
Businesses
Grocery and General Shops 15 11
Taverns & Restaurants 12 10
Butcher Shops 7 3
Clothing 6 3
General Stores 5 4
Agencies 4 2
Wood and Construction Materials 3 2
Books and Stationary 2 2
Leather and Shoes 2 1
Freight (Portage) 2 2
Haberdashery 1 1
Other 7 4

 

The Holocaust Period

After Slovakia received its autonomy in October 1938, Jews began to be persecuted. On November 4, 1938 55 of Levoča's Jews without citizenship were deported to the no-man's land on the Slovakian-Hungarian border, adjoining Plešivec (q.v.). They were held there several weeks without shelter and in difficult circumstances, and only after the intervention of Jewish organizations most of them were allowed to return home. In January 1939, the authorities halted the activities of the Jewish Nationalist Party and its representatives were dismissed from the city council.

With the establishment of the Slovakian State on March 14, 1939, members of the German minority who belonged to the Nazi Party, raided Jewish homes and businesses within the whole town and caused heavy damage to property. On March 23, 1939 looting and destruction of property recurred. In August 1939, fascist youths attacked the summer camp of Hashomer Hatsair in the outskirts of the city and led to its dissolution. That same year, licenses for several Jewish doctors and lawyers were revoked and several Jewish taverns were shut down. Jews were also dismissed from community service.

In 1940, the lawyer Dr. Artur HÖFLICH was elected as head of the “Jewish Center” for the district of Levoča. That year the riots against the Jews were renewed even more so. In May 1940, young Germans attacked Jewish homes, broke windows and broke into shops. Several Jews were arrested with the accusations of illegal activities and sent to jail. In August 1940, 90 Jewish men were drafted for hard labor and sent to “Labor Centers.” Throughout 1941, the authorities shut down about 70 Jewish businesses (with yearly income of more than 13 million Kronen) and in the whole of Levoča's district 138 businesses were shut down. 10 large businesses and enterprises, with an inclusive yearly income of 4.5 million Kronen, were turned over to arizators[3]. In 1942, Dr. Artur HÖFFLICH headed the “status quo” kehila, the secretary was Armin TENNENBAUM. Rabbi Julius KLEIN continued to lead the rabbinate and also was the head of the Chevra Kadisha.

Deportations of Jews from Levoča began in March 1942. On the 21st of the month, about 40 young women from Levoča and another 43 girls from neighboring villages were taken to the transit camp in Poprad (q.v.), and on the March 25, 1942 they were added to the first transport from Slovakia to the Auschwitz extermination camp. At the time of the roundup, 15 young women escaped, and were labeled as “deserters.” On April 1, 1942, the hunt was renewed for young women. This time also 16 young women escaped and hid. Dozens of young people from Levoča and surroundings were sent via the transit camp in Žilina (q.v.) to Majdanek, in the Lublin area of Poland. Deportation of families began on May 24, 1942. That day, 522 Jews (about 190 from Levoča and the rest from its district) were rounded up in the synagogue and the local gym. Two days later, on May 26, they were taken to the train station and added to the transport that left on May 29, 1942 from Spišská Nová Ves (q.v.) to extermination camps and ghettoes in the Lublin area of Poland. Small additional groups of Jews were sent that summer via the Poprad transit camp to extermination camps in Poland. On September 22, 1942, 75 patients from the district hospital were sent via the Žilina camp to Auschwitz, and on October 19, 1942, 22 patients from the psychiatric hospital in Levoča were sent to Žilina, and the following day to the Auschwitz extermination camp. About 80% of the Jews of Levoča and its surroundings were deported in 1942 to extermination camps.

At the end of the wave of deportations 55 Jews remained in Levoča, who had

[Page 291]

letters of exemption and 30 others, who converted to save themselves, or who were married to non-Jews and because of that their deportations were deferred. Within the whole Levoča district 170 Jews remained. The few remaining Jews in Levoča joined together in one kehila. At the beginning of 1944, there still remained 196 Jews with exemption letters, about 90 of them from Levoča. In May 1944 about 30 Jews who were evacuated from eastern Slovakia arrived in Levoča. The Jewish school under the management of Alexander HANDELSMAN continued to exist until the end of June 1944.

On September 2, 1944, Levoča was conquered by the Germans and immediately with their entrance to the city, they settled a unit of Nazi security police. Jews who were caught were deported to extermination camps or shot on the spot. Several Levoča families found refuge in the remote village Olšavica and were saved by the merit of the priest Michael MAŠLEJ, who was later named a “Righteous Gentile” by Yad Vashem. Members of the security police were aided by local Germans and together they conducted a widespread hunt for Jews and partisans. They captured 269 people and sent 110 of them to concentration camps. The remainder, mostly Jews, was killed on the spot. Rabbi Julius KLEIN and his wife were among the murdered. The Germans destroyed the synagogue, the adjoining mikveh, the school building and desecrated the Jewish cemetery. Several Jews joined with the partisans during the Slovak Rebellion and some fought in the Czechoslovak army. Karol ADLER of Levoča, group commander of the partisans, was wounded in Germany captivity and was killed by hanging.

At the end of the war, several Jews who had hidden in forests or who were deported and survived returned to Levoča. The kehila life was renewed and several public buildings were renovated for use. Even the Zionist activities were renewed and continued until most of the Jews emigrated to Israel in 1949. In the 1960s there remained a small kehila of 60 people. The cemetery that was desecrated during the war and most of its gravestones destroyed, remained desolate and neglected until today. In 1990, a few Jewish families still lived in Levoča.


References

Yad Vashem Archives, M5/4, 57; M48/590, 1513, 1528; JM/11011-11016, 11018, 11036.
Moreshet Archives, A/1055. Cohen, Khakhmei Hungaria (Hungarian Sages), p. 134.
Bárkány-Dojč, pp. 326-328
Chalupecky, J. Suláček, Dejiny Levoče, Košice 1975
Lanyi, Békely-Popper, Szlovenskoi zsidó hitközségek, pp. 270.
MHJ, vol. XVI
J. Škodová, Tri roky bez mena, Bratislava 1962
J. Suláček, Z minulosti Spiša, Levoča 1997
Selbstwehr, no 38 (1929)
Židovská ročenka (1940) p. 21

Translator's Notes:

The transcription of family names from Hebrew into their original spelling was included here, by comparing the names to those on the list of people deported from Levoča during the Holocaust.

Footnotes

  1. WIZO = Women's International Zionist Organization. Established in Great Britain in 1920, it is a non-profit women's organization of volunteers now in over 50 countries working to improve the lives of women, children and the elderly living in Israel. Return
  2. A shekel-owner became a partner in the Zionist Organization and had voting rights. See http://www.begedivri.com/ZionistShekel/History.htm for more information. Return
  3. Non-Jews designated to take over and control formerly Jewish-owned businesses. Return

 

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