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“Dunajska Streda” – Encyclopaedia
of Jewish communities, Slovakia
(Dunajská Streda, Slovakia)

47°59' / 17°37'

Translation of the
“Dunajska Streda” 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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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 143]

Dunajska Streda

Translated by Ariela Levia Zucker

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

Dunajska Streda (in Hungarian Dunaszerdahely, in Jewish sources Serdaheli)
is the capital town of a county in the Bratislava region, in South-West Slovakia.

 

Year No. of people Of which Jews In %
1727 * * 47 * *
1746 * * 65 * *
1767 * * 28 families * *
1828 1,709 982 57.0
1840 * * 1,239 * *
1880 4,182 1,874 44.8
1900 4,814 2,151 44.7
1921 5,171 2,501 48.3
1930 6,280 2,654 42.3
1940 6,484 2,645 40.0
1948 5,293 658 12.4

 

Dunajska Streda is mentioned for the first time in documents from 1254 as the estate that belonged to the owner of the Bratislava castle. During the 15th century it became a town. This standing gave it the right to run market days and fairs. Over the years the town developed and became the commercial center for the surrounding agriculture area that was labeled “the wheat island” (Zitny ostrov). It was famous for its cattle market that attracted buyers from all around Hungary. Most of the residents were Hungarians, and Catholic, and made their living from agriculture and craftsmanship.

During the days of the Czechoslovakian republic lively trade developed in town and it supplied a large variety of goods to a wide agricultural region. In the census of 1930 less than half of the people identified themselves (2,914 out of 6,280) as Hungarians, 2,186 as Jewish, and 505 as Slovaks.

On November of 1938 Dunajska Streda was taken over by Hungary and on the 1st of April 1945 was liberated by the Soviet Army.

 

The History of the Jewish Congregation

Testimonies of a Jewish settlement in Dunajska Streda exist from the beginning of the 18th century, and perhaps Jews were residing there even before. In documents from 1709 one Jew from Dunajska Streda was mentioned. According to other testimonies there were 12 Jewish families at the beginning of the 18th century. In the first Jewish census at 1727, 17 Jewish families were counted, some of which resided in the town for over twenty years.

At that time the small Jewish community in Dunajska Streda employed a butcher and a Melamed [teacher]. In 1735 61 Jews (16 families) resided in town, some of them were born in Slovakia (Hungary) and some emigrated from Moravia. The head of the congregation was Wolf Mendel, and the Rabbi, Rav Shimon David was, apparently, the first Rabbi of the congregation.

In 1739 the Count Janus Palffy granted the towns' Jews privileges similar to those his family granted the Jews of Bratislava and Stupova earlier. In the document the autonomic status of the community was established by defining the privileges and obligations of the Jews in relation to the authorities. The Jews of Dunajska Streda were allowed to conduct trade and engage in craftsmanship and the head of the congregation was titled “The Jews judge” (Judenrichter) and was given the responsibility of collecting taxes and other fees. The count gave the community land to build a synagogue and a cemetery. In 1740, 16 additional families moved from Moravia to town. Beside the Rabbi the congregation employed a butcher who was also the cantor in the synagogue and served the nearby villages as well.

During the year 1774, 121 families, 56 of which were residents of the town and the remaining 65 from nearby villages were part of the congregation. The earliest gravestones in the Jewish cemetery are from the first half of the 18th century. From about 1880 there was a constant growth of the congregation. In 1787 a new synagogue was dedicated.

Most of the Jews in town were small business owners, few of them were farmers, growing chickens and other farm animals and trading in agriculture products. The relationship with the non-Jewish population was usually good and this helped the congregation to grow and flourish. From the beginning of the 19th century the relative number of Jews in the general population grew and in 1828 they were more than half. Their influence on the local economy succeeded beyond their part in the population and they had an important part in turning Dunajska Streda into the commercial center of the “Wheat Island”. On Saturdays and Holidays, when the Jewish businesses were closed so was the local trade.

During the 19th century Dunajska Streda was also an important religious center, thanks to several well known Rabbis who resided there. Jews from more than 50 smaller congregations belonged to the congregation. The first Rabbi was Rav Shimon David who presided over the congregation close to 30 years, from 1734 to 1762. His heir was Alexander Meislish from Fritzek, in the Ukraine, during the years 1784-1800. He was well known and had contacts with some of the known scholars of his time. After him it was Rav David

[Page 144]

Deutch, the author of Ohel David [David's Tent] and one of the known Rabbis in Hungary (during the years 1800-1810). He was followed by Rav Aharon Bichler, known as a dedicated leader and as the one who established the well known Yeshiva in Dunajska Streda. In his days the congregation grew and more Dayanim [Judges] and teachers were added. He was followed by Rav Eliezer Lipman Stein (1840-1851) who wrote Ir Shushan [Town of Shushan] and Ohel Moshe [Moshe's Tent] and was one of the most known students of the Chatam Sofer. During his time, probably in 1848, the congregation opened an elementary school, its curriculum including both religious and secular studies. In 1892 the school had 6 classes for boys and girls.

During the years 1852-1866 the Rabbi was Rav Yehuda Aszad who wrote Yehuda Naale. He was one of the most appreciated spiritual leaders of the Hungarian Jewry and was admired by both Jews and non-Jews. During his time the congregation prospered. Rabbi Yehuda Aszad established the by-laws for the congregation and crystallized its special character, the way it will remain for generations later. During his time the synagogue became too small and in 1865 a new, elegant synagogue was build in the market square. It had about 800 seats and was named by members of the community The Big Synagogue. Next to it a Mikveh [ritual bath] was set up, and a public bath that served the non-Jewish population as well. After him, his son Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Aszad took over for 40 years, until 1905. During his time the congregation of Dunajska Streda was one of the centers of the orthodox Hungarian Jewry, and during the split of 1869 was notorious for its uncompromising attitude towards any changes and revisions.

On the night of June 18th 1887, during the time of Rabbi Aharon Shmuel Aszad, the Jewish quarter, in the center of the village, was set on fire. The fire was preceded by Anti-Semitic defamations headed by the church and the members of the middle-class, who tempted the town's riffraff with promises of money and possessions. The damage was heavy and about 80 Jewish families were left without a roof over their heads. Many Jewish congregations came to their help with donations.

In the years 1906-1925 the Rabbi was Shmuel Halevi Weinberg, also a great scholar and the author of several known books. During his time (1910) the congregation built a new building for the school and an old age home with 40 rooms. Next to the existing Chevra Kadisha [burial society] few other Chevrot Tzedakah [charity societies] were active, like “Jewish Women Association,” Bikur Cholim [helping the sick], help for orphans and so on. The congregation itself had a budget for welfare and kept a soup kitchen, a Talmud Torah for needy children, lodging for guests and later a home for the aged. In addition there were study groups, like Tiferet Bachurim and several Hevrot Shas [Talmud study-groups].

The congregation of Dunajska Streda was famous for its Yeshiva. According to the local tradition the first biggest and most known Yeshiva was established in the beginning of the 19th century, during the days of Rabbi David Deutch, but according to written documents it was founded by Rabbi Aharon Bichler, in 1825. During that time there were many students. The days of Rabbi Aszad were its best times. It had 150-200 students and the congregation helped with the expenses.

In 1912 David Silberstein started an Agudat Israel group that in time became one of the biggest in the country. Also the Hovevei Zion organization was established.

Dunajska Streda is the birth town of Armin Wamberger-Vamberi (1832-1913) a world renowned geographer and author of many books.

During the First World War many of the members of the congregation were drafted to the Austro-Hungarian army; 6 fell in battles. By the end of the war residents of the town and farmers from nearby villages tried to organize and attack the Jews. But the Jews led by the soldiers organized themselves and pushed them back.

 

The Jews between the two World Wars

In the beginning of the 1920s the Community had about 2500 members (more than 300 family heads, community tax payers). In 1922, 18 permanent workers were employed and the yearly budget was 350,000 Kronas. Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Weinberger was still residing and by his side the dayanim [judges] Rabbi Yosef Fleischman and Rabbi Anshel Katz. When Rabbi Weinberger died suddenly in 1925, there was a serious disagreement as to who will replace him. This conflict became so serious that the government had to interfere by appointing a lawyer, Roter, from Bratislava to run the congregation. The turmoil did not quiet down even after Rabbi Hillel Weinberger was appointed as chief Rabbi.

Those who did not agree with the choice quit the congregation in 1927 and organized themselves as a separate congregation, Adat Israel. The dayan Rabbi Asher Anshel Katz was chosen as their Rabbi and a separate synagogue was built. Since then there were two yeshivas, each run by one of the Rabbis. In 1929 they built a Beth Midrash, a Talmud Torah and an elementary Jewish school.

[Page 145]

 

slo145.jpg
Grade 2 pupils of the Talmud Torah, Dunajska Streda

 

In the period between the two world wars there were 3 synagogues in Dunajska Streda, several prayer houses, two Beth Midrash, Talmud Torah, home for the elderly, Mikveh, soup kitchen, a butchery and a bakery for matzo. Aside from the Chevra Kadisha there were several other welfare organizations: the Jewish Women organization, Torat Chesed, Malbish Arumim [supplying clothing for the needy], Bikur Cholim [help for the sick] help for orphans, Gemilut Hassadim [charity], Linat Orchim [lodging], Poalei Zedek, and a guardianship association. The leaders of the congregation during the 1920s and 1930s were Yosef Eliezer Bishitz, Meir Wuzner, Yehuda Leib Hibsh and Shlomo Yehuda Weiss.

The Jewish elementary school at that time had 8 classes where boys and girls studied together and the language of instruction was Hungarian. By the end of the 1930s the school had 450 students. In the first yeshiva, led by Rabbi Hillel Weinberger, were by the end of 1920 about 90 students, and in the one established by rabbi Asher Anshel Katz were additional 120 students. During the 1930s there were a total of 350 students in both yeshivas and they were among the biggest ones in Slovakia. Adjacent to the yeshivas were the associations of Shas [Talmud study] and Machzikei Torah, who were active in teaching religious subjects to the community at large.

During these years the involvement of the Jews in the town affairs grew. Half of those elected to the local council were Jews some were representatives of the Jewish parties, others were candidates of the Jewish Orthodox list or the general lists. During the 1920s there were 10 Jews in the local council, one of them Leopold Weiss who was the town treasurer. Among the Jews who occupied important positions were the head of the land registry office, the head of the town collection agency, the head district Judge Hugo Greiner, the town Judge Meir Wuzner,

[Page 146]

the district physician Dr. Samuel Brach and the regional doctor Dr. Leopold Geiringer.

In the Jewish street, Agudat Yisrael was very prominent with its youth movement. The religious girls went to Beth Yaakov. In the 1920s and 1930s a Jewish newsletter, Judischer Herold, which represented Agudat Yisrael views, was published in Dunajska Streda .

At the same time Zionist activity was also growing in town in spite of the Rabbis and congregation leaders' displeasure. The Zionist movement was backed mostly by the younger generation and its members were active in many areas. In Dunajska Streda Zionist organizations of every political inclination were active too, i.e. the Mizrahi and several youth movements. The first Zionist movement in Dunajska Streda was Hashomer Kadima (established in 1921) that in time became Hashomer Hatzair. After that Benei Akiva, Beitar, and Young Maccabi were added. Hundreds of the youth in town, of all the levels of the Jewish population, belonged to the sport organization Maccabi. Also the women organization Wizo was active in Dunajska Streda .

During the census of 1921, 1,369 of the residents of Dunajska Streda identified themselves as Jews and in 1930 this number went up to 2,186. The Jewish-national party was also active. In the municipal elections of 1928 the party received 458 votes (about 20%) and was the second of its size in town. Some of its representatives had seats in the local council and the regional one. The Agudat Yisrael also took part in the municipal elections and had few seats in the local council.

In the local economy the Jews played a very important part, especially in trade and manufacture. In 1921 the Jews owned 184 small businesses, 53 shops and 8 factories, among those Dukas & Herzog for starch, the flour mill of David Neuhauser, an alcohol refinery that belonged to Yosef Tauber, the factory for vinegar and alcohol of Shlomo David and sons, and several others. Also the two banks in town, “The People's Central Bank” and “The Dunajska Streda Savings Bank” were under Jewish ownership. In trade the Jews were prominent in agriculture products and as suppliers of poultry and beef to Bratislava and other locations. Three (out of 5) doctors and 5 (out of 6) lawyers in town were Jewish. Also among the Jews in town 2 were in the construction business and there were few pharmacists, office workers and sales people.

According to the business licenses produced by the local commerce office in 1921 it is possible to learn the part the Jews took in the local economy.

 

Type of business Number of
businesses
In Jewish
ownership
Restaurants and Pubs 46 36
Toiletries 34 33
General stores and groceries 32 29
Materials and Clothing 25 24
Poultry & Beef 13 13
Agricultural Produce 11 11
Wheat & Flour 11 11
Butchers 11 5
Movers 9 9
Leather & Shoes 8 8
Wood & Construction Materials 7 7
Iron & Tools 6 6
Household & Furniture 6 6
Alcohol 5 5
Watches & Jewelry 3 3
Books & Paper goods 2 2
Miscellaneous 6 4

 

During the Holocaust

In November 1938, after the annexation to Hungary uprising, riots, and looting of Jewish stores became prevalent. Even the administration harassed the Jews and the Hungarian army blamed the Jews for supporting the Czechoslovakian Republic. Jewish families who couldn't prove their Hungarian citizenship were arrested and deported to the other side of the new border without any means of survival. The congregation tried to help. At this time the head of the congregation was David Broyer. In 1941 after many of the men were drafted to work squads there were only 2, 645 Jews left in town, about 40% of the general population. In 1942 Chaim Yehuda Engel was elected as the head of the congregation. The two Yeshivas, the one run by Rabbi Weinberger, and the one run by Rabbi Asher Anshel Katz existed until the occupation of Hungary by the Germans, in 19 March 1944.

After the occupation by Germany, Yosef Wetzler was the head of the community. The Rabbis Hillel Weinberger and Asher Anshel Katz continued with their work with the help of the dayanim Rabbi Moshe Katz, Rabbi David Seltzer, Rabbi Yaakov Weinberger and Rabbi Pinhas Weinberger. The congregation employed 15 workers. Many families who lost their means of survival were in need of welfare and the congregation set up aid activity on a large scale.

[Page 147]

 

slo147.jpg
The Great Synagogue, Dunajska Streda

 

In the home for the aged there were 20 residents and in the soup kitchen 150 meals were delivered.

On March 21st 1944 the German SS entered the town and acts of terror that included violence and breaking into houses began. A few days later the community administration was dissolved and all authority was taken from the congregation leaders. Instead a Jewish Council headed by Yosef Wetzler was erected. His title was “The Jewish elder” (Judenaltester). The local residents also became hostile. The town institutions and the Hungarian residents cooperated with the Germans and even initiated restrictions of their own. On March 23rd 1944 an announcement about liquidating Jewish possessions was published and on April 5th all Jews were requested to put the yellow Magen David patch on their clothes.

On the 10th of May 1944, Jewish males under the age of 48 were drafted to work squads in different areas. On that same date the order to establish a ghetto in Dunajska Streda was issued. Three streets on the Eastern side of the synagogue were set aside for the Jewish population. Within 48 hours all the Jews in town had to leave their houses and move into the ghetto that was run by officers of the Hungarian army, Arno Barki and Jano Benko. Immediately upon leaving their houses army personnel and town residents broke into them and looted the possessions that were left behind. In the middle of May 1944 Jews from about 70 towns, including Smorin and Magendorf, were sent to the Ghetto too.

The Big Synagogue was desecrated and served as a place to assemble all the deportees. On June 5th 1944 more drafts began of young people born in 1926-1926, and after that mostly women, children and elderly people remained in the ghetto. On June 8th 1944 came the announcement of the evacuation from the ghetto. The first stage was assembling all the Jews in the synagogue building and courtyard, and several days later the actual deportation began. On June 15th 1944, 2,970 Jews from Dunajska Streda and vicinity were sent on a transport to Auschwitz. Among the deportees were the Rabbis Hillel Weinberger and Asher Anshel Katz and the dayanim R'Shmuel Freidman and R'Moshe Katz.

 

After the war

Following the liberation, about 650 Jews from Dunajska Streda and vicinity, survivors of the working platoons and concentration camps, returned to town, among them Rabbi Yechiel Weinberger and Rabbi Moshe Neuschloss. The community started to work frantically on rehabilitating the congregations' institutions. Until he emigrated to the U.S Rabbi Weinberger was the Rabbi and religious leader of all of the Southern part of Slovakia. As head of the congregation Yosef Weiss was elected. The synagogue was in ruins and the prayers were conducted in the Beith Midrash. In 1946 the synagogue of Adat Yisrael was renovated

[Page 148]

 

slo148.jpg
Deportation of Dunajska Streda Jews, June 1944

 

and used on Saturdays and holidays. The Dunajska Streda congregation set an example for other congregations in Slovakia in the rapid way it reconstructed its religious life. On the 27th of the month of Sivan 5706 (18 June 1946), the date when the Jews of the town were deported, a symbolic funeral was held with many participants from all sections of Slovakia. This day was declared as a day of fast for generations to come. That same year (1946) the yeshiva reopened under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Neuschloss and 30 students attended. The yeshiva, one of two in Slovakia after World War II, operated for the coming two years until the emigration of the Rabbi to the US on 1948. In 1947 Julius Falk was elected as the head of the congregation. After Rabbi Neuschloss left the Rabbinical position was given to Rabbi Yosef Hacohen Steiner. In August 1948 Rabbi Steiner sent a request to all the Slovakian Jewish congregations to help renovate the Big Synagogue in Dunajska Streda.

The Zionist activity was renewed in Dunajska Streda and continued until all the Jews immigrated to Israel in 1949. The local Zionist Chapter was headed by William Steiner. Most young people joined Hashomer Hatzair. Benei Akiva too started its activity in Dunajska Streda. In 1947 135.000 Kronas were donated to the JNF in Israel to plant a forest to commemorate the martyrs of Czechoslovakia in the hills of Jerusalem.

In 1948, 658 Jews resided in Dunajska Streda. During the years 1948-1949 most of them moved to Israel or other countries. At the end of the immigration to Israel, by the end of 1949, only 180 Jews remained. The local congregation headed by A. Feldmer held a praying house, a cemetery and a Mikveh. The two synagogues were demolished during the 50,sup>th. In 1990, 20 families resided in town and the small congregation continued to be active. The praying house and cemetery are still in use. Many of the congregation buildings were converted in time to residential houses.

Bibliography

Yad Vashem Archives, VD/103; JM/11011
A”M, A/1111
Ele Ezkera [Those I will remember] I, pp 130-134.
A. I. Engel, Commemorative book for the congregation of Dunaszerdahely, Israel 1975.
Gruenwald, Toisent Yor Yiddish Leben [Yiddish: One Thousand Years of Jewish Life], pp. 212-214.
Cohen, Chachmei Hungaria [Hebrew: Hungarian Scholars]. pp. 311-317, 321-328,340-348,370-374,442-443,466-467,449-497.
Fuchs, The Hungarian Yeshivos, I, pp.70-87.
S. Buchler, Rabbi Juda Aszad, Dunajska Streda 1933.
MHJ,vols.III, VII,XII,XVI
Schweitzer, pp.183-184
Bulletin ICJC, nos.1-2 (1988)
Vestnik ZNO, no.4 (1988)

 

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