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“Lucenec” – Encyclopaedia
of Jewish communities, Slovakia
(Lucenec, Slovakia)

48°20' / 19°40'

Translation of the
“Lucenec” 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

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Francine Shapiro

 

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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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[Pages 295-300]

Lucenec, Slovakia

Translated by Shlomo Sné

(In Hungarian Losonc, capital of the subdistrict in the Novohrad district, in south-central Slovakia.)

 

Year Number of
Residents
Jews By
Percent
1825 3,000 47 1.6
1848 6,390 335 5.2
1869 5,781 821 15.8
1880 6,290 1,139 18.1
1900 8,952 1,990 22.2
1921 12,417 2,168 17.4
1930 15,459 2,279 14.7
1940 14,998 2,103 14.0
1944 --- 2,034 ---
1948 13,769 299 2.2

Lucenec is first mentioned in a document dated 1262. During the Turkish invasion, it was heavily damaged, and only in the second half of the eighteenth century, after the Turks were repelled, did Lucenec gradually make progress. The majority of the population worked as leather and shoe craftsmen, but there was some trading in farm products. In the middle of the nineteenth century some factories were established there, mainly for processing agricultural products. At the end of the century a large ironworks was established, which employed 1,600 workers.

During the period of the Czechoslovakian Republic, Lucenec was depressed. Some of the factories closed, and there was widespread unemployment. In the census of 1930, about a third of the residents registered themselves as Hungarians, and the rest as Slovakians and Jews. On Nov. 2, 1938, Lucenec was annexed to Hungary, and in March 1944 the Nazis occupied the town. On January 14, 1945 it was liberated by the Soviet Army.

 

The History of the community

A 1725 document mentions the first Jews, a father and son who had come there two years previously from Moravia. In 1727 the city authorities cancelled an earlier ban on Jews settling there, by the order of the Novohrad administration. It seems that there were no Jews for many years afterwards, as we learn from details of the 1768 Jewish district census. Some Jewish families who lived in the suburb of Tuhar, in the area of the estate of the aristocrat, Josef Silashy, are first mentioned in 1804.

Israel Wohl, apparently the leader of the Jewish community, asked the nobleman to permit more Jews to settle on his property. Apparently he received a positive answer, for in 1822 Jewish families were already settled in a suburb of Tuhar. Wohl established a Hevra Kadisha and a Jewish community. It employed a slaughterer who was also a melamed.

In the early years Jews prayed in a private house. In the 1830's the community established a small synagogue. More Jews settled in Lucenec in the 1840's, and in 1843 there were 47 families (133 people), and 53 lived in the area of Lucenec.

Jews from 12 settlements in the area belonged to the community. The number of Jews in Lucenec and surrounding areas grew. In 1848 there were 73 families in Lucenec: 14 of them from Moravia and Czechoslovakia, and the rest from various places in Hungary.

With the rapid growth of the number of Jews, the community developed too. In 1847 a cheder opened, with 13 children. In 1851 a private Jewish elementary school was established, and its curriculum included general subjects. After it closed in 1863, the community opened its own elementary school, with about 130 pupils. The first rabbi of the community was Rabbi Moshe Hoegyes. The majority of the Jews of the suburb gradually moved into the city, and the two Jewish groups merged into one community, whose leader was Moshe Shneck.

That year the rabbi was Chaim (Heinrich) Moshe Goldzier, an enlightened man, and a proponent of reforms in the service and the communal prayer book. The Dayan at this time was Rabbi Avraham Brown.

Rabbi Goldzier's position was a source of contention in the community. He was forced to leave the rabbinate of Lucenec, and left the city in 1858. His successor, (during the years 1859-1868) was Rabbi Yakov Koppel Zinger

The Jews of Lucenec established some welfare and mutual aid societies, including Bikur Holim, Gmilut Hesed, and a Jewish Women's Union. (When it was established in 1877, it had about 300 members). There was also a Jewish girls' society (established in 1906), a Godfathers' Society (established in 1910), and some other societies.

In 1849, under the rabbinate of Hoegyes, there was a fire in the synagogue that burned up everything inside, including the Torah scrolls and the archives. In 1867, when Albert Schmiedel headed the community, a Moorish -style synagogue in was opened in Lucenec. Its interior furnishings reflected the taste of the Reform Movement. Some Lucenec Jews who had opposed prayer and worship reforms left the community and conducted separate prayers. In 1868 the community had Albert Schmiedel represent the Jews of the district in the Hungarian Jewish Congress in Budapest. During the Hungarian Jewish split in 1869 the community of Lucenec defined itself as Status Quo, and in 1870 it joined the Neolog Movement. On the other side, those who left organized an independent community, and in 1880 it gained the recognition of the authorities in their community.

The book of statutes of the main community was promulgated in 1878, and updated in 1896. The cemetery in Lucenec was a joint venture, but every community had its own section. In 1871 the cemetery was enlarged and in 1909 it was closed for burial, when a new cemetery was opened nearby.

In 1881 the Neolog community opened a new elementary school with five classes. Its director was Josef Dumbar, and 242 children studied in mixed classes of girls and boys in 1884. The Orthodox community also opened an elementary school of its own in 1875. In the local Gymnasium (i.e. high school) the Jews were 40% of the total (although the Jewish part of the local population was less than 20%), and some of the Gymnasium teachers were Jews.

The Neolog community was headed by Rabbi Dr. Moritz (Moshe) Diamant, who had published some very important writing, when Rabbi Yakov Kopel Zinger came to serve the Orthodox community of Lucenec. In 1883 he moved to the Trencin community, and Rabbi Tuvia Rosenthal, the author of Shoshan Emek (1884-1891) replaced him.

Dr. Shlomo Shapiro, born in Humna, rabbi of the Neolog community, who followed Diamant, wrote some important books. His successor was Rabbi Dr. Bela (Voytech) Weide, who was in Lucenec from 1902 until his death in 1926. After Rabbi Zinger, the Orthodox community was headed by Rabbi Moshe Asher Eckshtein (from 1919 was the rabbi of Cered. The Dayan and More Tzedek was Rabbi Chaim Ginsberg, the author of Yismach Lev, who was elected rabbi of the Torat Haim Society in Budapest in 1910.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the Jews of Lucenec were very active participants in the local economy, and their contribution to its financial system was far above their percentage in the local population. In 1849 the Jews included: 19 merchants, 16 artisans, six saloon owners, plus three physicians, three teachers, a rabbi, and a shochet. In the second half of the nineteenth century, in accordance with the spread of the Jewish Enlightenment, the number of free professionals grew continuously, and played an important part in the industrialization of Lucenec. In 1854 a Jew named Scheller established a large metal processing factory, one of the first of its kind in the Empire. In 1884 Shmuel Shternlicht and Philip Shtein established a kitchenware and home oven factory. During the 1890's the Schlessinger family sawmill operated in Lucenec. In later years, Jews established more factories, among them a textile factory in a nearby town called Opatova, one of the biggest in Slovakia. Jews owned most of the local businesses. They owned 78% of the hundreds of businesses in the city, and they paid about 70% of the taxes of its population, but were only 22% of the inhabitants).

Jewish involvement in the public and social life of the city became stronger when their economic involvement increased, and the spirit of the Enlightenment spread among them. They were active in cultural institutions and in sports, public, and cultural associations, as the social gap between the Jews and the non-Jews in the city gradually diminished. Already by the end of the nineteenth century, nine Jews were members of the City Council, and Jews were also nominated to posts in economic institutions and public administration. Some held senior positions.

Some Jews who were very famous in their professions were born in Lucenec: Max Greenwald, who was later known as Mikshe Gedo (1905-1945), a mathematics professor; his contemporary, the doctor and researcher, Zoltan Brill (1905-1945); the composer William Bukovy (1932-1968); and opera singer Kato Kovach (1902-1991).

Many of the Jews of Lucenec were conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War, and 19 of them were killed in battle.

 

The Jews between the Two World Wars

In November 1918 there were anti-Jewish riots in Lucenec. There were massive assaults on Jewish homes and shops, and property was looted and destroyed. The rioters were repelled by a group of Jewish youths, headed by soldiers who had returned from the front. At the beginning of 1919, the Czechoslovakian army entered Lucenec. The army authorities arrested some of the Jewish self-defense leaders, and brought them to trial using live ammunition during the riots.

In the 1921 census there were 2,168 Jews (17.4 % of the city population). Only 524 of them defined themselves as Jewish, and the others considered themselves Slovakian or Hungarian.

The Neolog community included 480 family heads that paid the community levy in 1920. The head of the community was Karol Schneller. The annual budget was 123,000 crowns. Its regulations were updated in 1926. In 1929 the community joined the liberal community organization, Yeshurun. Its institutions included: a synagogue, cemetery, community building with apartments for the rabbi and community workers, an old age home, and a five-class elementary school that taught in Hungarian. The schoolmaster was Ignatz Barker. In the academic year 1927-1928 the number of pupils was 159, including some Orthodox children.

In 1925 a new Neolog synagogue was inaugurated in Byzantine style, seating more than 1,000. The new synagogue was one of the biggest in Slovakia, and soared above the roof line of the city.

In 1926 after the death of Rabbi Dr. Bela (Voytech) Weide, Rabbi Dr. Ludwig Kuhn was elected Neolog rabbi of Lucenec. The authorities did not ratify his nomination because he was not a Czechoslovakian citizen. For a short time Rabbi Dr. Ernst Waldman held the office. After him came Rabbi Arthur Rashovsky, author of some books of Jewish studies. (He was killed in the Holocaust in 1944.)

There were about 70 Orthodox heads of families (about 250 people) in Lucenec in the 1920's. In 1929, with the increase in Jews in the city, membership grew to 351. The community was headed by Shmuel Klein and employed two others during those years. The Rabbi was Hillel Onsdorfer, one of the Mizrachi leaders in Slovakia. Its institutions included a Bet Midrash, Talmud Torah, and a Beis Yakov school for girls. Both communities shared the cemetery and Jewish elementary school. In 1930 an orthodox synagogue, (13x 24 meters) in opened in the city. The Orthodox community also had some charitable and mutual-assistance organizations.

The 1920's were the start of the Zionist awakening in Lucenec. By 1919 branches of the General Zionists and Poalei Zion were established in the city through the initiative of Dr. Isidore Klein. A leftist group composed of members of Poalei Zion under the leadership of Dr. Alexander Hertz merged with the Communist Party in 1921. Also active was Mizrachi, the Revisionists, Maccabi Sport Association (from 1934 it was headed by Dr. Ladislav Zinger, and it had hundreds of members), and a large WIZO branch. The youth movements were: HaShomer Kadima (established in 1924, later called HaShomer HaZair), Maccabi HaZair, Betar, (established in 1929), and Bnai Akiva (from the 1930's). HaShomer HaZair established a pioneering training farm in 1928 for its older alumni as preparation for making aliyah. Some young people made aliyah before the beginning of World War II. (The Jews of Lucenec bought 250 Shekels before the Fifteenth Zionist Congress in 1927, and 136 Shekels before the Seventeenth Congress in 1931). Local Jews collected 7,600 crowns, donations to the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet), for planting a grove in Eretz Yisroel. It was named for the President of Czechoslovakia, T.G. Masaryk. The members of the Orthodox community established a branch of Agudat Yisroel in Lucenec.

Headed by Dr. Oppenheimer, the Jewish national party took part in the elections to the City Council. In 1927 it was the third party in size in the city, and three of its members were elected to the city administration. In the 1938 elections, two of its representatives were elected to the city council, and the third, Gage, an engineer, was elected part of the city administration. Thanks to the influence of the Jewish members of the council, streets in the city were named for Dr. Theodore Herzl, and Rabbi Dr. V. Weide.

In these years the Jewish involvement in general public life was at its height. Generally there were ten Jewish members of the city council, and there was also a good Jewish representation in other public bodies. In the 1920's Dr. Leopold Kessler was the deputy mayor, and afterwards legal advisor to the municipality. The rabbi, Dr. Bela (Voytech) Weide, and another three Jews, were members of the municipal educational committee. The majority of doctors and lawyers were Jewish. In 1921 there were 18 Jewish lawyers, 9 doctors, a veterinarian, two pharmacists, 5 engineers, three owners of estates, and many building contractors. Among the heads of the health services, were the district physician, Dr. Giza Vildman, and the municipal veterinarian, Dr. Oygen Lantard. Head of the local sport association was Dr. Alexander David. Oygen Hertzog was the head of the Merchants Association in Lucenec. The dentist, Dr. Alexander Hertz, was one of the founders of the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia, and head of the Communist Branch in Lucenec. He was elected Deputy Head of the district, and during the 1930's represented his party in the Senate in Prague.

As in the past, at this time trade was the main source of income of the Jews, and the second most important was artisanship. In 1921 there were 147 shops and businesses, 48 workshops, and four factories that belonged to Jews. (According to the data of the local Chamber of Commerce about business licenses issued this year.)

Type of Business Number
of
Businesses
Under
Jewish
Ownership
Groceries 72 47
Textiles 41 26
Restaurants and Taverns 32 17
Agencies 11 5
Watches and Jewelry 10 5
Butcher Shops 10 5
Wood and Heating Materials 9 7
Delicatessen 8 4
Transport 7 3
Kitchen Utensils and Glassware 7 6
Agricultural products 7 6
Horses and Farm Animals 7 5
Iron Materials and Hardware 7 5
Books and Paper products 7 5
Factories 6 4
Hotels 5 3
Leather and Shoes 5 4
Haberdashery 5 4
Alcohol and Spirits 4 3
Furniture 3 2
Miscellaneous 10 6

 

During the Holocaust

About 2,100 Jews (17% of the population of the city) lived in Lucenec on the eve of the Second World War. The Neolog community had about 1,400 members (388 families). Dr. Adolph Kameny headed it, and it employed eight workers. The Orthodox community was smaller. Then it had 59 families, employed four workers, and possessed a synagogue, Beis Midrash, community house, and old age home. Its head was Adolph Bak. The Jewish school remained jointly operated, and had 83 pupils. Rabbis Rashovsky and Unsdorfer continued in their offices.

On November 2, 1938 Lucenec and towns around it were annexed to Hungary. On November 10 the Hungarian army occupied the city. The Jews were targets of agitation, and as the time passed they lost their fundamental rights. They were accused in inflammatory articles in newspapers, especially from 1940, of circulating Bolshevik propaganda, and supporting the Czechoslovakian republic. Some Jews were arrested and tortured, and Hungarian policemen murdered one of them, Voytech Cohen, during his interrogation. The Neolog rabbi, Rabbi Rashovsky and the head of the Hevra Kadisha, Dr. Bichler, were brought to trial in 1941, accused of desecrating the flag of Czechoslovakia on the old age home. In 1941 many Jewish youths were impressed into forced labor battalions. The majority, especially those who were sent to the eastern front, lost their life.

In March 1944, when the Germans occupied Hungary, other harsh laws, both economic and general decrees were levied on the Jews. The aim was to isolate them from the rest of the population, and pull them out of the economy. Hungarian authorities ordered the closing of the Jewish school in April and all Jewish organizations except the community itself, although some institutions were abolished. A Judenrat was established in Lucenec at the beginning of May 1944. On May 2 there was an order to concentrate all the area's Jews in a ghetto, and in some streets in a poor southern neighborhood, Flour Mill Valley, whose buildings were emptied of their non-Jewish tenants. The concentration of the Jews in the ghetto was completed by the middle of May. The population density was enormous, about 5 people per room, and the health situation was horrible. Only a few Jewish families who were defined as distinguished were permitted to stay in their homes outside the ghetto. The Jews suffered from poverty and hunger. The head of the district, Shandor Horovat, visited Lucenec on May 19. He checked the concentration processes, and set the dates of expulsion from Lucenec to the camps in 1941 together with the German S.S. Commander At the end of May 1944, some 80 youths from the ghetto were recruited into forced labor under the auspices of the Hungarian Army.

The expulsion of Jews in the sub -district began on June 12, 1944. The Jews were concentrated into a local brick factory, and from there they were expelled in two transports to Auschwitz. Among those who were expelled were the two community rabbis, Rabbi Arthur Rashovsky, and Rabbi Hillel Unsdorfer.

 

After the War

Immediately after the war about 400 Jewish survivors from the town and vicinity were gathered in Lucenec immediately after the liberation. They revived Jewish communal life, and Samuel Rosenberg headed it. Alexander Sved was his substitute rabbi. The renewed community had a soup kitchen for the needy, and some other public institutions. Public prayer was renewed in the Orthodox synagogue, which was the first to be reconstructed. In May 1948 the reconstructed Neolog synagogue was inaugurated, and a big crowd from all over Slovakia came to the ceremony. There was also a ceremony unveiling the memorial tablets for Lucenec and the vicinity, in memory of Jews who lost their lives in the Holocaust. Since then, until the 1960's, there was public prayer in the Neolog synagogue.

Zionist activity was also renewed after the war. The local Zionist leaders were Dr. Hyash and Z. Klein. Young people participated in the Bnai Akiva and Zionist youth, which had pioneering training groups. 100,000 crowns were collected in 1947 as donations to the Jewish National Fund to plant the Czechoslovakian Martyrs Forest in the hills of Jerusalem. About 1,000,000 crowns were collected in 1948 for the fund for the Haganah.

About 300 Jews lived in Lucenec at the end of 1948. Around half of them made aliyah in 1949. During the stoppage of aliyah at the end of the year, 156 Jews remained in the city. Powel Yonash was head of the renewed community for many years, and Rabbi Mikholsh Gross was a deputy rabbi. The city authorities converted the Neolog synagogue into a storeroom during the 1960's. The Orthodox synagogue was destroyed in 1969, and since then public prayer continued in an improvised prayer hall. Part of the Neolog synagogue was also destroyed during that time, but a few years ago the municipal authorities began to reconstruct it. The Jewish cemetery of Lucenec serves local Jews until now, and it is in good repair. The mortuary in the old cemetery in the suburb of Tuhar was declared a historical place. There is still a little Jewish community in Lucenec, with about 50 members.

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