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“Piestany” – Encyclopaedia
of Jewish communities, Slovakia
(Piešťany, Slovakia)

48°36' / 17°50'

Translation of the
“Piestany” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Slovakia

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 2003


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Acknowledgments

Project Coordinator

Francine Shapiro

 

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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(Pages 443-447)

Piešťany, Slovakia

Translated by Shlomo Sné

Edited by Francine Shapiro

(Pöstény in Hungarian, Pistyan in German, a famous spa town
in the Nitra district, west Slovakia 45 mi NE of Bratislava.)

 

Year Number of
Inhabitants
Number
of
Jews
By
Percent
1727 --- 11 ---
1768 --- 12 families ---
1828 3,360 105 individuals 3.1
1869 3,468 140 4.0
1900 5,654 732 13.0
1921 9,321 1,254 13.5
1930 12,080 1,344 11.1
1940 13,305 1,559 11.7
1948 14,819 201 1.3

Piestany is first mentioned in a document from 1113 as a settlement in the Hlohovitz estate. Later it was the property of a Benedictine monastery. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it suffered recurrent Turkish attacks, but recovered and became a town with market days and fairs. The majority of its population was Catholic Slovakians who made a living in agriculture and artisanship. It became known as a spa in the eighteenth century, and by the beginning of the nineteenth century it was famous as a health and vacation town. Baths, pensions, and hotels were built there, and vacationers came there from all over the country, and other countries. Its economic prosperity was accompanied by quick increase in population. During the Czechoslovakian Republic era, Piestany was a flourishing spa and vacation town, and there was much lively cultural activity. After the Second World War broke out, it was included in the area of the Slovakian state, established under Nazi German rule.

During the Slovakian rebellion, which began on August 29, 1944, partisans were active in the nearby forests. Airmen from the Slovakian Air Force based nearby attached themselves to the partisans in their war against the Germans. A few days later when the rebellion was suppressed, Piestany was occupied by the Germans, but on April 4, 1945, was liberated by the Soviet Army.

 

The History of the Jewish Community

Jewish citizens of Piestany were first mentioned in the second quarter of the eighteenth century. Two Jewish families (11 people), were mentioned in a census of the town in 1728, and soon were followed by Jewish refugees from Moravia. Twelve Jewish families (71 people) under the protection of Count Forgatch lived in a suburb of the city in 1736. According to a 1767 tax list from the Nitra District, there were 12 Jewish families who belonged to the Vrbové community. Their number grew to 22 in 1774, and at the end of the eighteenth century the Jews of Piestany numbered about 50 families.

During the Spring of Nations (the Revolution of 1848), in Easter Week of 1848, there were anti-Jewish riots, which included mobs of farmers from local villages rioting at Jewish shops and houses. They looted and destroyed property, causing damage and destruction.

The number of Jews in the town quickly grew because of the development of health tourism during the second half of the nineteenth century. At the eve of the end of the century, they numbered about 730 people. There was once a separate Jewish bathhouse, nicknamed by the population “The Jewish Bath” (Judenbad). Its activities had various restrictions, abolished only in 1867, when equal rights were given to the Jews of the kingdom.

The Jews had a large share in developing the bath and pension (i.e. a hotel-FS) business. The wealthy Winter family was the owner of some health and vacation spots.
settlement in the eighteenth century. In the 1860's the local Jews consecrated a cemetery. At first the local Jews had public prayers in a private house, and by 1774 they had a synagogue of their own. An independent Jewish community was established in Piestany in 1795. It belonged to the Vrbové rabbinate which was then led by Rabbi Yakov Kopel Altkunshtadt (Rabbi Kopel Harif). A synagogue was dedicated in Piestany at the beginning of the nineteenth century, following the growing numbers of Jews. Community institutions also served the many Jews who visited the baths in Piestany. At the middle of the nineteenth century the local religious judge (Dayan and More Tzedek- was Rabbi David Sardaly, the acting rabbi of the town and its vicinity. In the 1860's there was already a local rabbi, Rabbi David Fischer. At the time the community opened a German-language school. In 1869 during the split among Hungarian Jews, Piestany attached itself to the Orthodox. At this time the leader of the community was M. Eisler.

After the death of Rabbi David Fischer in 1880, the local rabbi was Yosef Moshe Unger from Buèovice in Moravia. He was followed by Rabbi David Fischer's son, Rabbi Noach Baruch, one of the greatest rabbis of the Hungarian Kingdom. He established new public institutions, including a kosher restaurant for the Jews who came for the baths. In 1900 he opened a yeshiva in Piestany. Rabbi Noach Baruch Fischer was elected in 1902 as head rabbi of the Orthodox community of Prešov. He was followed by Kalonymus Kalman Verber (1872-1932), the rabbi of Piestany. Verber was a gifted preacher, and one of the leaders of Orthodox Jewry in the state. Rabbi Wolf Lieber was a religious judge with him for many years. Jews from four small communities and 23 settlements without an official community belonged to the Piestany rabbinate. After the rapid growth of the number of local Jews, plus Jews who came to the baths, a large and glorious synagogue with 400 seats was dedicated in1904, and a large apartment house for community functionaries was built nearby. A supplementary synagogue for vacationers was constructed in the area of the baths. The old Jewish cemetery was nearly full by this time, and a new cemetery was opened. The community had two synagogues, a Bet Midrash, elementary school, mikva, slaughterhouse, old age home, and a soup kitchen. Along with the Hevra Kadisha, there was a Jewish Women's association, a Bikur Holim, and other charities.

There was Zionist activity in Piestany from the beginning of the twentieth century, and in 1904 S. B. Rosner of Piestany was the delegate to the World Mizrachi conference in Bratislava. Jews were also active in town affairs, and in general society. Piestany was the birthplace of the Slovak Jewish author Geza Vermuth (1901-1956), who advocated Jews becoming strongly involved in their local community. Many Jews fought in the Austro-Hungarian army in the First World War, and some fell in battle.

 

The Jews between the Two World Wars

Anti-Jewish riots and robberies erupted in Piestany and vicinity in October 1919. The Jews were organized for self-defense, and fought the rioters.

In 1922 the Piestany community numbered 1,500 people (191 family heads who paid the community taxes). More than 1,250 of them were local citizens. The annual assessment of the community was 150,000 crowns. The first community leader after the war was Moritz Mannheimer, followed by David Kvitner. The community was well off, well organized, and employed ten permanent functionaries. During this time there was a Jewish elementary school of five classes, taught in Slovakian, directed by Leopold Cohen, and then Alexander Mittelman. There were about 100 pupils in it during the 1930's. The community also had a Talmud Torah. Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Vrba continued in office after the war. In 1919 he was among the founders of the Central Chamber of the Orthodox communities in Slovakia, and president until his death. In the1920's he established a yeshiva in Piestany with approximately 50 students. He was also active in general public life. Jews and non-Jews honored him very much. His varied activities made it difficult for him to fulfill his offices as a rabbi and head of a yeshiva The Dayan, Rabbi Issachar Shlomo Teichtal, the author of Em Habanim Smecha, and other books, was the acting rabbi, and he also directed the yeshiva. After many quarrels about the direction of the community, the central chamber of the Orthodox community in Slovakia nominated a community director of its own in 1928. In 1931 Rabbi Shlomo Teichtal, opened a yeshiva of his own, Moriah, which had more than 50 students, and it existed until 1942. After the death of Rabbi Kalman Vrba in 1932, Rabbi Benzion Yosef, son of Rav Shmuel David Unger (a descendant of a famous rabbinical family), was elected as the new Orthodox rabbi in Piestany. Rabbi Unger, too, opened a yeshiva of his own in Piestany. In 1920 a large branch of Agudat Yisroel was established in Piestany, including the youth movement, Tzeiorei Agudat Yisroel, and the girls' institutions, Bet Yakov and Yehudit.

The uncompromising anti-Zionist position of Rabbi Verba caused a split between the Orthodox and the liberals in the community. About 140 families left the community in 1926, and organized a separate group. In 1928 they attached themselves to Yeshurun, their community's organization. Oygen Feldner was the head of the liberal community in Piestany in its first eight years. In 1928 the liberals established a synagogue of their own, which cost them 300,000 crowns. In 1929 they established a separate Hevra Kadisha and consecrated a cemetery of their own. They also had separate welfare and charitable societies-Jewish Women's Association, Bikur Holim Society, which ran a convalescent home, and a kosher kitchen in the bath area, plus other societies. In 1933 the Yeshurun community opened an elementary school, whose principal was Moshe Leibovits. The local Liberal community was smaller than the Orthodox.

There was intense Zionist activity in the 1920's and '30's. A Zionist association, Ahavat Zion, headed by Pinchas Weinberger, was established by 1919. A branch of the (official) Zionist organization was established in 1920, headed by Zigmund Urban. Then came branches of: Mizrachi, General Zionists, Revisionists, HaOved and HaOved Dati Movements, and the youth movements: HaShomer Kadima (later called HaShomer HaZair), Maccabi Zair, Bnai Akiva, and Betar.

HaShomer HaZair had an agricultural training farm for young people who wanted to live in Eretz Yisroel. There were also branches of WIZO, and the Maccabi Sport Association, (established in 1921, headed by Imrich Plus and Desider Komrosh). The Maccabi Club in Piestany, one of the biggest in Slovakia, was also a social center, mainly for youngsters. In 1929 the Zionists of Piestany collected 9,500 crowns as donations to the Keren Kayemet for planting a forest in Eretz Yisroel, in memory of Czechoslovakia's president, T.G. Masaryk. Just before the Fifteenth Zionist congress in 1927, 25 Shekels were sold in Piestany, 198 shekels before the Seventeenth Congress in 1931, and 370 shekels before the Twenty-First congress in 1939. We can learn about the proportions of the Zionist camp in the city from the results of the elections to the Eighteenth Zionist Congress in 1933: General Zionists: 40%, Mizrachi: 30%, Revisionists: 20%, and Eretz Yisroel Ovedet: 10%. The National Jewish Party was also strong in Piestany.

At the beginning of the 1920's there were five Jewish members on the City Council. In the 1928 elections, the National Jewish Party was the third in the city, with 545 votes (12.5%), which gave it 4 mandates in the Council. In the 1938 elections it got three mandates, and an Orthodox Jewish Party, the Democratic Jewish Party, got two mandates. According to the population census of 1931 there were more than 1,250 (13.5% of the city population) Jews. Only 530 of them listed themselves as Jews according to Jews as nationality. Most listed themselves as Slovakian and German. Jews were active in public life.

Most local Jews made their living through various branches of trade, and some by artisanship and industry. In 1921, Jews were the owners of 112 businesses, 43 workshops, and some pensions and restaurants, as we can learn from local chamber of commerce data recorded for that year.

Type of Business Number
of
Businesses
Under
Jewish
Ownership
Groceries and General Stores 46 33
Hotels and Pensions 28 17
Cloth and clothing 24 21
Taverns 17 10
Agencies 17 15
Agricultural Products 11 9
Restaurants 11 7
Wood and stoves 8 7
Leather and shoes 8 5
Books and paper products 7 5
Furniture and housewares 7 5
Notions 7 4
Iron products and tools 6 4
Small industries 5 3
Others 12 5

In 1921 there also were six factories owned by Jews, among them one for brushes and paintbrushes belonging to the Holtzer and Kempner families, a flour mill belonging to Alexander Winter, a brick factory, and Robert Schreiner's distillery. Alexander Winter, whose family had much property in Piestany and the area, ran the spa and directed it with the help of his sons.

The Jewish percentage among the professionals exceeded their numbers: 11 of the 19 physicians, all five lawyers, four engineers, three pharmacists, three dental technicians, and many clerks were Jewish. Dr.Ludwig Neuvelt was the head of the district hospital.

 

The Period of the Holocaust

As soon as Slovakian autonomy was established, the Jews were persecuted. On November 5, 1938, 88 Jews, inhabitants of the subdistrict (65 of them from Piestany) who lacked Slovakian citizenship were expelled to the No Man's Land of the Slovakia-Hungary border.

The members of the “Hlinka Guards” organized anti-Jewish riots at the beginning of March 1939, including robbery and destruction of property.

Radical elements in the local government insisted on expelling the Jews from the town, so that they would not “make the Slovakian spa unclean by their presence.”

There were more 1,500 Jews in Piestany in 1940. About 140 families were members of the Yeshurun community, led by Ferdinand Komelosch. Ignatz Fierst headed the Orthodox community, followed by Desider Weinberger. Alexander Rubin, a merchant, was nominated in 1940 as head of the other “Jewish Center” in the subdistrict.

Rabbi Benzion Unger still continued in his position. During 1941 the authorities closed about 260 Jewish businesses in Piestany and in the subdistrict. (Their total annual revenue was estimated at 36,000,000 crowns.) Another 45 large businesses with annual revenue of 26,000,000 crowns were given to Arizators. The majority of Jews remained without employment or sources of income. Many of them were restricted in October 1941, and sent to forced labor camps.

The expulsion from Piestany to death camps in Poland began at the end of March 1942. On March 24 the authorities hunted Jewish youths from Piestany and the surrounding area. Those captured were added to a transport to the Maidanek camp in the Lublin district of Poland. On March 27 the Jewish young women were concentrated for expulsion. About 60 of them succeeded in fleeing, but another 40 were captured, and were taken to the transit camp in Patronka. On April 1 they were sent from there on a sealed train to the Auschwitz extermination camp. On April 26, 1942 they began to expel families. About 330 Jews, inhabitants of Piestany and surroundings, were sent to Nové Mesto. On April 27 they were added to a transport from there to the Opole ghetto in the Lublin district. Another 369 Jews from Piestany and the area were sent on May 8, 1942 to the transit camp in Sered, and expelled from there to the extermination camps and ghettos in the Lublin district. In the summer of 1942 some other small Jewish groups were expelled from Piestany from the collection camp in Zilina to various camps in Poland. The Dayan, Rabbi Issachar, and Shlomo Teichtal and his daughters tried to go to Hungary during the expulsions, but they were captured. The rabbi of Nitra, Shmuel David Unger, succeeded in ransoming them at a very high price. About 90% of the Jews of Piestany and the sub district were expelled to Poland or ghettoes in the spring and summer of 1942, more than in the other sub districts of Slovakia.

When the expulsions stopped, 75 Jews remained in the city with protection documents. (28 families received special protection documents from President Tiso.) Another 80 Jews who pretended to be converts were saved from expulsion. The community reorganized, and the rabbis of the two communities remained in Piestany until September 1944. The central synagogue in Piestany was confiscated, and became a depot for the property of those who were expelled. The building of the local Jewish school was also confiscated, and turned into a Roman Catholic school. The Jewish community opened a small school in an improvised structure for the few dozen children who still remained in Piestany and surroundings after the expulsions. The director of the school that existed until the summer of 1944 was Alexander Mittelman. The city authorities reported to the Interior Ministry in May 1943 that 119 Jews remained in Piestany, and they insisted on expelling them, too. 210 Jews with protection documents were living in Piestany and its environs at the beginning of 1944.

After the suppression of the Slovakian revolt in September 1944, Piestany was occupied by a German S.S unit. Some Jews succeeded in fleeing on the eve of the occupation. The majority, among them the Orthodox rabbi, Rabbi Benzion Josef Unger, the liberal rabbi, Rabbi Eleazer Arnold Levi, and the Dayan, Rabbi Issachar Shlomo Teichtel, were captured by the Germans and expelled through the camp at Sered to the camp at Auschwitz, and other camps in Poland. Rabbi Unger was murdered by the Germans in the Sered camp. Those who were lost during the Holocaust totaled about 1,500 of the Jews of Piestany and the subdistrict.

 

After the War

About 250 souls, survivors of the camps and those who hid in villages of the region, returned to Piestany. The majority of them were citizens of Piestany and the subdistrict before the war. They returned and organized a community. On June 19, 1945 they decided to unite the two communities, Orthodox and Liberal, with Max Zonnenshein as its elected head. Public prayer took place in the Yeshurun community synagogue, which had been reconstructed according to the Orthodox tradition. The community also possessed a mikve tahura, some public buildings, among them the slaughterhouse and butcher shop, and a building that had been a soup kitchen for the survivors. The renewed community employed a shohet who was also a cantor. Those who returned cleaned and restored the new Jewish cemetery, and it was again used for burials. In 1946 Rabbi Shmuel David Unger, born in Piestany and one of the senior Orthodox rabbis of Slovakia, was interred there. He died when he hid in the woods of Central Slovakia. His son, Rabbi Benzion Yosef Unger, was also buried there. He was the last rabbi of Piestany, and was murdered in September 1944 in Sered, as was mentioned before. A large crowd from all parts of Slovakia participated in their funerals.

Zionist activity was also renewed in Piestany after the war. The local Zionist leader, Alexander Mittelman, was the head of the community. The youth movement, Maccabi HaZair was also active in the town. Local Jews donated 67,000 crowns in 1967 to the Jewish National Fund to plant a Czechoslovakian Martyrs Forest in the mountains of Jerusalem. The last conference of the Zionist Organization in Czechoslovakia was convened in January 1949, with the participation of hundreds of representatives, and many visitors from abroad. The majority of local Jews made aliyah in 1949, or immigrated to other countries. When aliyah was stopped at the end of the year, about 80 Jews still stayed in the city. The community continued, and it had a synagogue, Bet Midrash, mikva tahara, school, butcher shop, soup kitchen and a few houses. In this period the head of the community was Julius Fogel. During the 1980's the number of Jews in the city dwindled, the community was dissolved, and public prayer was held in an improvised hall. The large synagogue of the Orthodox community was destroyed in 1979, and the Yeshurun synagogue became a storehouse. Julius Weiss continued representing local Jews before the authorities, and took care of their problems after the dissolution of the community. Some Jewish families still lived in the community in the 1990's. The two Jewish cemeteries remained..

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