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The Last Rabbis

 

Chief Rabbi Abraham Eliezer Weiss

The last rabbi of the community of Topoltchany was born in 1871 in the small town of Kralovsky Chlumoc (Kiraly-Halmec) east Slovakia. He received his early education in him home town, then went on from there to the city of Bratislava to gain a master of the sacred study in the renowned Yeshiva of Pressburg.

He spent years there in the company of outstanding rabbis of the generation, principally the great Talmudic scholar, R. Simcha Bunim Sofer, and they set his path for the future. He was a learned scholar who studied assiduously and in addition to his education in Torah, he gained a wide range of secular, worldly knowledge. The title of Rabbi was bestowed on him when he was ordained by his master instructor and mentor, the noted R. Simcha Bunim Sofer.

The first road he took after his formal schooling ended, led to the capital city of Austria, Vienna. There, he served as private tutor to the Leitner family and as instructor in the religious school of the famed Schiff Synagogue. It was in the town of Kostel, Moravia that he afterwards held his first rabbinic position and, after a number of years, when his name was already known, he was appointed the rabbinic head of the community of Janoszhaza, Hungary.

When the chief rabbi of our community, R. Nahum Schlesinger passed away, the heads of the community sought a rabbi of stature to take his place. A furious debate arose about a suitable candidate and the names of several rabbis were brought up – prominent Torah scholars such as Rabbi Austerlitz and Rabbi Duschinsky. After considerable argumentation and thought, it was decided that Rabbi Abraham Eliezer Weiss should receive the rabbinic position in which he was destined to serve for almost twenty years. Only the nightmare of the Holocaust cut off his Heaven-blessed activity.

The first years of his rabbinic ministry were not easy ones for him. He not only had to contend with problems connected with the rabbinate and the leadership of a large and established community, heir to a resplendent tradition,

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where outstanding rabbis of their times had served as spiritual heads but had to gain the confidence of all circles and sectors of the Jewish populace. He passed this test with honour. Hardly had a few years passed by when everyone accorded him the esteem due his position – thanks to his erudition, his dedication to his task, his noble distinguished appearance and his amiable temperament that made him receptive to all.

R. Abraham Eliezer Weiss continued in the tradition of his predecessors; and above all, he preserved the solidarity of the community. Despite his great and uncompromising adherence to authentic Judaism, he knew how to establish ties of mutual respect with all circles in the local Jewry and took interest in the affairs of the community and even with people with the freest and most radical viewpoints on matters of religion. Rabbi Weiss was able to take into account the changes and upheavals of the period and was able also to conduct the affairs of the community accordingly.

His every appearance was impressive. A striking figure, he would speak with a Divine grace. His sermons in the synagogue were the fruit of careful thought and had a far-reaching effect. In his own home, this chief rabbi conducted a yeshiva, a Torah academy for older more advance students. He took an active part in various areas of Jewish life and in Jewish institutions, enriching the scene with his participation. He also gained great esteem in the eyes of non-Jews as well. Apart from his expert knowledge of Hebrew, he had a complete mastery of German, Hungarian and French. He did not know, however, the local language.

During his years in the rabbinate, he remained in close touch with renowned and outstanding Talmudic scholars and authorities. He was active in the organization of Orthodox rabbis and ranked among the active members of Agudath Israel.

Yet, it was his bitter fortune to stand at the head of the flock during the most difficult and trying days, when the dark power of the Nazis gained ascendency. He fulfilled with honour this cruel task until 1942. When deportations were in progress, he decided to cross the boundary into Hungary where his daughters lived. For two years, he lived in hiding in the city of Budapest until he fell into the hands of the murderous Nazis. With his wife, Livia-Yente, née Leitner, he was deported n 1944 to the death-camp of Auschwitz. He was 71 when he died.

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Rabbi Shimon Zvi Haberfeld

He was born in 1879 in the village of Tura-Luka, west Slovakia. He studied in a number of yeshivoth (Torah schools) in Slovakia until he transferred to the Pressburg Yeshiva of Slovakia, where he studied under the great scholar, R. Simcha Bunim Sofer. His noted instructor spoke high praise of him and he was indeed unmistakably a fine young scholar. After a number of years of learning in Bratislava, he was ordained and invested with the title of Rabbi by his renowned instructor. He accepted a rabbinic position in the community of Velky-Kevesd and there he began raising a family. It was after the death of Rabbi Isaac Schweiger that he moved to Topoltchany in order to take his place as dayan of the community – the judge of the religious court with the authority to decide questions of Torah law.

In our community, he immediately gained great esteem on account of his immense knowledge in matters of halacha (definitive religious law). His main activities were connected with problems of halacha, kashruth (kosher food) and matters of law. But, he also served as rabbi of Shomrey Torah Synagogue. His vast store of knowledge, notwithstanding however, Rabbi Shimon Zvi Haberfeld was modest in his ways. He was generous at heart and was beloved by the people generally.

He gained renown as a learned man and carried on a wide correspondence with great rabbis among them, his master instructor, R. Simcha Bunim Sofer and the latter's son, R. Akiva Sofer. His views and legal decisions became widely known as they appeared in various printed works.

For over twenty years, he maintained with honour the community's religious standards of law; he did not leave his post until the final and bitter end. After the chief rabbi left, Rabbi Haberfeld accepted the responsibility of the city's rabbinic leadership and, until the last day, regulated Jewish life in Topoltchany – even during the time that the bestial Nazis were in the city. On 8th September, 1944, he was deported with the last of the Jews to Camp Sered and from there, at the end of September, to Auschwitz. He was about 65 when he died.

 

Personalities and their functions

At the end of this chapter on the Jewish community, its institutions and organizations, we would like to mention the names of those who served in various functions. Part of these have

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already been mentioned as rabbis, teachers, etc. The following list does not intend to evaluate or to compare achievements. It is just an enumeration of those who were deleted and served in one of the capacities just now described. It is also possible that the list compiled is incomplete, and we beg forgiveness of our readers. People
were elected according to their personal abilities yet, we see that a number of families had a very big influence in the management of affairs and their members occupied some posts as presidents, gabbaim and members of the “Repräsentanz” (council). In this respect, our community was much like others and old customs were kept to the end. The following list covers the period from end of World War I to the end of World War II.

 

Heads of Community

Moshe Bernfeld, Salamon Gelly, Josef Bernfeld, David Löw-Beer, Hermann Linkenberg, Max Bernfeld. After the Holocaust, the survivors elected Mr. Philip Nagel.

The Council: “Repräsentanz”.
Josef, Samuel, Max Bernfeld, Isidor, Philip, Hermann Linkenberg, David, Samuel, Dr. Aladar Low-Beer, Schayah, Salamon, Hermann, Heinrich Friedman, Max Hartenstein, Moses Graus, Salman Graus, Josef Felsenburg, Karl ollak, Max Weiss, Dr. Friedrich Taus, Tobias Braun, Alfred Braun, Isidor Simko, Philip Krojnik, Moritz Hochberger, Josef Porges, Salamon, Emmanuel and Ignatz Gelley, Simon Reif, Philip, Josef and Emmanuel Link, Bernat Schlesinger sen., Schalom Katzburg, Adolf Lowy, Dr. Wilhelm Welwart, Emmanuel Zarkower, Bernat Löw-Beert.

Gabbaim of the Great Synagogue.
Josef Link, Josef Felsenburg, Hermann Schenk, Emmanuel Zarkower, Max Bernfeld, Emmanuel Nay.

Kantors and Schoctim.
Benjamin-Zeev Abrahamson, Abraham Klein, Isser Schwarts, Ludwig Tobovic.

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Janitors of the Synagogue

Old Synagogue: “Shomre Torah”: Mr. Schmiedel.
Great Synagogue: Messrs. Bohm and Mandelbaum.
Secretary of the Jewish Community: Wolf Abrahamson and Eliezer Lieberman.


 

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Organizations and Movements

Agudath Israel

The Agudath Israel was founded in 1912 and now became a world-wide organization of Orthodox Jewry.
In the community of Topoltchany, it played a decisive part. One of its aims was to solve all problems that arose in Jewish life in the spirit of Torah. Within a short time, the Agudath Israel acquired preponderance in the orthodox communities and its members filled key positions. Activities were focused on both spiritual-educational and social matters, and applied to Jews in the Diaspora as well as in Eretz Israel.

The Topoltchany branch of the Agudath Israel was founded before World War I among the first in Hungary and immediately became the most influential factor in Jewish public life. It had hundreds of members who occupied the most important posts, and their activities were manifold and continued down to the end.

The Agudath Israel was organized in 3age groups: 1) the children (Pirchei Agudath Israel) from 8-15yrs: 2) Agudath Israel Youth (Jugendgruppe) for boys from the age of 16 to marriage; and 3) adults.

  1. The activities for children, mostly on Sabbath and holidays, were largely educational and social. There would be talks on Jewish history, on customs, on the Mishnah and the weekly Bible portion. Activities were open to all and children of parents not organized in the Agudath Israel and also from non-Orthodox homes also participated. The gatherings took place on the premises of the Agudath Israel and members of the youth group served as leaders. Among the youths most active as leaders, we remember J. Kutscher, Katzburgs, David Haberfeld, the Bernfelds, etc. On average, 50 children belonged to this group.
  2. The Youth Group was the most active part of the Agudath Israel in Topoltchany. Among the youth organizations in town, it was the strongest and over the years, it educated hundreds and hundreds of youngsters in the spirit of Jewish tradition.
At its head, there was an elected leadership including a chairman, secretary,

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and assistants. The supreme organ - the general assembly of all registered members (there were several hundreds) - convened on fixed dates, announced in advance in “Prayer Times”, a bulletin edited and published

by the youth group. In the general assembly, the executive organs were elected; only those who had paid their membership fees were entitled to vote. The movement was ruled according to a statute. Other topics such as funds, drives, etc., would be discussed at the general assembly.

Activities were held each evening. On weekdays, there were lessons in two groups including the daily page of the Bible, (Gemarah) and Rashi's commentary. On Friday nights, there would be a lecture on the weekly portion and it was the customs that the Chief Rabbi would speak on the first portion (Bereshith), the Dayan on the second (Noah) and so on.

On Sabbath days, activities were most intensive and lectures were mostly given by one of the members. On Saturday nights, there would be social gatherings which attracted many young people.

For years, lectures were regularly given by Hone Friedman, Hermann Trutzer, Hirsch Kornfein and others and, in addition, occasionally the rabbis, teachers and others were invited. The level of the lectures was high and participation was widespread and lively.

The Agudath Israel Youth Group showed initiative in other respects too. We did already mention the bulletin “Prayer Times” distributed on Fridays to every Jewish home in town which enjoyed great popularity. Apart from the times for prayer and for Sabbath candle lighting, it published views about social events and about going on in the community, notices from Agudath Israel and also advertisements. Among the editors of this publication were Jeno Bernfeld, Richard Schwartz, Julius Kornfein, Ruben Rosenbaum, etc.

Great efforts were devoted to the preparations and all talents of Topoltchany were enlisted, not only members of the Agudath Israel. The performance used to be held in the “Sokol” or “Tatra” cinemas and later on, in the hall of the “Maccabi” and the “Koruna Hotel”.

Most successful were the Purim balls given by the Youth Group every year. The Purim-spiel became a popular event in Topoltchany and attracted big crowds including non-Jews.

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The Agudath Israel Youth Group also helped fund-raising campaigns for the Torah fund, the Yeshivah and also for Eretz Israel. In 1925, the Youth Group of Topoltchany purchased 20 dunams in the Holy Land.

There was a rich library at the service of the Jewish youth which contained both sacred and secular literature in Hebrew, German and Slovakian. Among social activities, there was the Third meal held each Sabbath by one of the members of the entire group.

When the situation of Jews deteriorated, a training centre was founded in Topoltchany for the Agudath Israel Youth Group. Premises were hired near the railway station and about 20 youngsters from various towns prepared themselves for Aliyah to Eretz Israel. This training centre was administered by the Agudath Israel that also secured employment for the youngsters. The trainees integrated well with Jewish life in town and helped the Agudath Israel Youth Group with its activities. There was also friendly contact with the training group (Hakhsharah) of Hashomer Hatzair, mutual visits and lively talks were frequent. A short time before the disaster, a number of Agudath Israel youths from Topoltchany organized and managed to escape and reach Eretz Israel. This widespread and useful activity was borne by a number of devoted people. The following served over the years as Chairmen of the Agudath Israel Youth Group: Pinhas Link, Lajos Weil, Mordehai Gelis, Abraham Friedman, Jeno Katzburg, Alexander Bernfeld and finally, Ruben Rosenbaum. The secretaries were: Jacob Margulius, Julius Kornfein and Richard Schwartz.

The Agudath Israel had a spacious club with large rooms in the house of Rabbi Schlesinger. Every day, there would be several prayer meetings and on Sabbath and holidays, the premises were full of worshippers.

Activities of adult circles of the Agudath Israel were limited as these people were busy running community affairs; yet, occasionally, meetings of members were held and there was participation in the central institutions

of Agudath Israel in the CSR and also in the world-congress. In 1923, Chief Rabbi Abraham Weiss represented the Slovakian Aguda at the Congress of Vienna. In 1929, a 3-man delegation from Topoltchany went to the congress: Rabbi Weiss, Pinhas Link and David Löw-Beer and, when the congress convened at Marienbad (CSR) in 1937, Rabbi Weiss, Eliezer Breuer, Israel

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Bernfeld, Richard Schwartz, Jeno Katzburg and Ruben Rosenblaum attended.

The Jewish Women's League (Frauenverein) had a tradition of long standing in the life of the community. It was founded sometime in the last century and all its activities were on a strictly voluntary basis. Women in all walks of life did their share of social work extending material aid and moral support to those who were in need of it; orphans, widows and the aged. Gift packages and clothes were sent for the holidays, mainly for children. The women also ran the soup kitchen, taking turns in the cooking and in serving the food. The Women's League counted hundreds of members of Topoltchany. For many years, it was headed by a lady of noble spirit, Mrs. Galandauer and, later, by Mrs. Linkerberg.

The Jewish Girls' League “Emunah” organized young girls under the auspices of the community. They were active in Jewish religious and general education and also in mutual help and social work. Members of Emunah who had no more than their general school education were given the opportunity to acquire a wider knowledge of Jewish life on both practical and philosophical sides. Instruction was given by special teachers invited and paid by the community from Vienna, Frankfurt and Bratislava. Emunah was run on strictly Orthodox lines, but it had girls from non-Orthodox homes among its members as the level of instruction was high and the (women) teachers enjoyed great popularity. On Thursday evenings the girls would visit the homes of old and needy people bring them food and help them with preparations for the Sabbath. For many years, the girls' league provided a haven for dozens of young girls and prepared them for life in the spirit of Jewish tradition. Ella Linkenberg served as president and Seren (Sarah) Weil as treasurer.

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The Zionist Organization, Origins and Ways

“Hibbat Zion” – the love of Zion – was not an empty word in Topoltchany. It had been inculcated in former generations by the great rabbis and many of the younger men were Hovevei Zion long before Herzel. As would be expected, the motivation behind this longing for the Holy Land was religious.

In 1897, the Zionist organization was founded and the bulk of the Hovevei Zion joined it. The new ideas spread also mong Hungarian Jews, firstly among the educated.

Jewish youths in Topoltchany brought up on Jewish spiritual values and steeped in tradition were naturally prepared for both Hibbat Zion and political Zionism. Young men from Topoltchany who were studying in the great urban centres were attracted by Zionist circles. Ignatz Friedman, Eliezer Schweiger, Hermann Abrahamson in Vienna and Budapest and Wilhelm Reichenthal at the Pressburg yeshivah were among the first. When they came back to the parents' homes for the holidays, they spoke with enthusiasm of the new movement and spread this enthusiasm widely among the public. No more than a year after the first Zionist congress in 1898, Ignatz Friedman took the initiative to set up a local Zionist branch organization in Topoltchany; it was one of the first 5 to be founded in Hungary. Ignatz (Isaak) Friedman was the driving force not only in his home town but also in the country as a whole. Immediately after the first congress, he translated the book: “Zion Will Be Redeemed by Justice”, “Zion Bemishpat Tipadeh”.

In keeping with the tradition of the Jewish community in Topoltchany, the new Zionist local branch acted as a united body without factions. Its spirit was outspokenly religious and rabbis and scholars took part alongside people of worldly education and more liberal views. In spite of the reservations of certain Orthodox circles who

even went to lengths inciting hostility, this mixed social setup remained typical of the local Zionist branch throughout.

Moritz-Moses Graus was elected to be its first chairman, a learned man and

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a proud Jew who headed the Topoltchany branch for dozens of years. He went to visit Eretz Israel, saw Zionism being realized came back to Topoltchany and began to lecture with enthusiasm in many meetings where he explained the principles of the return to Zion. His name is connected with all Zionist activities in town and he was persona grata with both Orthodox and liberals.

From the very outset, the Topoltchany branch began to collect money for the Jews of Eretz Israel and for settlement. It convened propaganda meetings and helped to sell Ethrogim (citrons) from Eretz Israel – over 100 in 1902. Dozens of members were buying the Zionist Shekel every year.

In 1902, in the Zionist paper “Die Welt”, we find a report on a big meeting organized by the Topoltchany branch of the Zionist organization during the Sukkoth half-holidays.

The meeting was opened by the chairman of the local branch, Mr Moses Graus, who made a short speech and invited Mr Wilhelm Reichental from the village of Krushovce. Mr Reichental spoke in Hebrew on the ways of Zionism. Followed by Mr Paul Witman, teacher at the Jewish school in Topoltchany, he spoke in Hungarian. He attacked the Neologue assimilates and their Hungarian “Patriotism”. Dr. Hermann Abrahamson, who spoke in German, answered arguments against Zionism brought forward by some of the Orthodox. The guest speaker, Mr Moritz Zobel, editor of “Die Welt” reported on the world Zionist organization and its activities. In an enthusiastic speech, Mr Adolf Reichental, director of the Jewish school at Trnava, called upon the public to be active in the Zionist organisation. It should be mentioned that the rabbis, the Chief Rabbi R. Feivel Kaleb Schlesinger, and the dayan, R. Isaak Schweiger were present at the meeting.

This report bears witness to the widespread Zionistic activities in Topoltchany from the beginning and the measure of public support that they enjoyed. No doubt the attitude of the rabbis played an important part. Above all, the local branch found a warm supporter in R. Isaak Schweiger. He was one of the first Orthodox rabbis in Hungary to join the Zion movement. He devoted to it his great abilities and defended it against sudden attacks from various quarters. In 1902, he announced publicly his adherence to the Topoltchany branch, and from then on, he bought the Shekel regularly. The Chief Rabbi,

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too, - the G.R. Feivel Kaleb Schlesinger – expressed himself in favour of the return to Zion and encouraged activities of the local branch. This sympathetic attitude of the rabbis had a great influence within wide circles of Jews in Topoltchany. In general atmosphere of Hungarian Orthodox Jewry, it was an exception.

The local branch maintained a close connection with the centres of Zionism. This was largely the merit of two young men: Eliezer Schweiger and Hermann Abrahamson who became personally attached to R. Herzl and used to report on their talks with him to the public at Topoltchany.

Activities in the local branch intensified as the world conference of “Mizrahi” in Bratislava approached. As most members were Orthodox, this conference aroused keen interest. Benjamin Zeev Reichenthal was elected to the committee that made the preparations and contributed greatly to the success. Dr. Herman Abrahamson was elected to the presidium and in his speech, called upon the Orthodox Jewry of Hungary to join the “Mizrahi”. Mortiz Grauss too was among the participants. Before the conference, R. Isaak Schweiger published a declaration which we quote here: “I was pleased with what I read on Zionism chiefly in “Tel Talpioth” and for a number of years, I have been buying the Zionist “Shekel” in order to assist with the good work to rescue our people from the hands of the strangers”.

“Yet, in the declaration, the most important fact was missing; namely that the “Mizrahi” in Russia is a gathering of Godly and God-fearing people who extol His name and love the Torah, so that everybody is obliged to join them. This is a good deed to strengthen the flock of the truly God-fearing and their influence in the councils of the organization. We need not be afraid of the worldly as the Mizrahi keeps them down. And here is proof: The Koloniabank (Jewish Colonial Trust) is closed on the Sabbath and on holidays, and it transactions are done according to the rules of “Heter Isska” (the dispensation from the ban on interest); the influence of the Mizrahi is paramount and everything is done as they decide.

Therefore, we must support them and help them in the great Mitzvah of settling in Eretz Israel and of rescuing our brethren from those who oppress them. I say God bless them – they have done well and in time, rouse our brethren of Israel to kindle their enthusiasm and to strengthen brotherly love in Israel”.

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The Mizrahi world conference in Bratislava strengthened the influence of the Zionist movement in Hungary as a whole and in Topoltchany as well.

In those years, before World War I, Mr. Benjamin Ze'ev Reichnthal distinguished himself by activity for Zionism in Topoltchany and the vicinity.

He used every opportunity to win over more people for the movement – at weddings, in the Jewish school and in the synagogue.

His activity was not limited to the town of Topoltchany. He used to travel all over the countryside and reached even outlying villages where Jews lived in order to carry to them the call of the new movement.

This period in the development of the local branch came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the war. Throughout the war years, there was practically no activity and its end with the ensuing period of upheavals did not help the Zionist cause.

Zionist activities in Topoltchany were at a low ebb and revived only when youth group began to organize. The reasons for this were not so much external but rather sought from within the community itself. The chief rabbi Schlesinger and the dayan Schweiger who, as related, had been sympathetic to the Zionist cause, were no longer there and their place had been taken by new men – men of stature no doubt, and no fanatics – but basically opposed to Zionism. This change was exploited by the Anti-Zionists for a sudden campaign against the members and supporters of the local Zionist branch. The public became indifferent to Jewish national issued and apart from private business matters that were thriving, gave attention to community affairs only. A mere handful of people, the original nucleus of the movement, remained faithful to their convictions. They were mostly Orthodox, leaning towards the “Mizrahi” who, in spite of adverse conditions, never abandoned the Zionist idea. At the head of the local branch there still was Moses Graus and with him the old fighter, Benjamin Ze'ev Reichenthal and the treasurer Victor Linkenberg. Other active members in those years were: Max Kutscher, Josef Porges, Isidor Linkenberg, Dov Weinberger, David Friedman, Josef Felsenburg, Philip Hilwer, the Graus brothers – all these belonging to the Orthodox wing and of the general Zionists were: Dr. Wilhelm Welwart, Dr. Ignatz Vero, Alfred Braun, Simon Reif, Ing. Arthur Stasny and Messrs Laufer and Muller from Tovarniky .

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The local Zionist branch became more active again in the 1930's, when it was reinforced by young men who had been in the Zionist Youth movement. At that time, parties began to appear; first of all the Mizrahi whose leaders had a tradition of long standing in the movement. For the first time, the leaders were elected on the basis of party affiliation and youth movements were also represented in the secretariat.

The scope of activity among adults was not very wide. From time to time, there were meetings and lectures by local people and also guests, e.g. emissaries from Eretz Israel. These aroused great interest among the Jewish public and on such occasions, the great hall of the Koruna Hotel was brim-full. Reports by Moses Graus on his visits to Eretz Israel also attracted a large public among them many young people. Drivers for the J.N.F. and the Keren Hayesod were successful – owing mainly to the work done by the youth and the central Zionist organs of the CSR appreciated the fact. Rafi Goldstein was at the head of the drives. There was a rather sharp controversy between the Zionists and the heads of the community on the right to earmark Torah donations (in the Synagogue on Sabbath days) for Zionist purposes. At the head of this struggle on the Zionist side was David Friedman of the Mizrahi party. The issue aroused great interest all over Slovakia and its echo reached the Jewish press of the CSR. The members of the local branch supported the Zionist youth movements and helped them to function regularly and vigorously. Again, when training centres (Hakhsharah) of Bnei Akiba and Hashomer Hatzair were opened in Topoltchany, the local branch lent them a helping hand. At the end of the 1930's, younger men took over the leadership such as: Schmuel Schwartz, Eng. Arthur Stasny, Imrich Kasriel and Rafi Goldstein, and the change made itself felt.

When the house of trial came, the Zionist organization again occupied its due place in Jewish public life.

Among the women the Zionist movement found a wide field of action. Apart from the “Wizo”, who leading member was Mrs. Laura Feher, the movement of Orthodox Zionist women, “Miriam” distinguished itself. In 1939, it had 120 members in Topoltchany, and at its head was Mrs. M. Graus.

With the establishment of the fascist Slovakian state, persecutions began and following Zionist initiative, a central Jewish organization was created to in-

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clude all local Jewish organized bodies apart from the community itself. This new body dealt with retraining courses, language studies and advice and aid to emigration. It is a pity that only a few availed themselves of the facilities that still existed while the majority stayed and fell victim to the Nazi beasts of prey.

A number of active Zionists of Topoltchany were also elected to central organs and took part in the Zionist Congresses.

Dr. Ignatz Friedman, one of the first to join the Zionist movement in Hungary, served for many years as head of the Keren Hayesod in that country. He was a member of the council of the Jewish Agency and among the founders of “Pro-Palestina” organization and its chairman. At the 17th Hungarian Zionist conference in 1929, Dr. Friedman was elected as one of the heads of the Zionist organizations there. At the 17th Zionist Congress he appeared as representative of the “Pro-Palestina” organization, with a seat in the council of the Jewish Agency, and he took part in a number of congresses.

Rabbi Dr. Herman Abrahamson, one of the leaders of religious Zionism was, in 1902, among the founders of the Hungarian Zionist committee and one of its active members. He was among the founding members of the Mizrahi and participated in its world conference in Pressburg in 1904. He was active in propagating the Hebrew language and culture and was a delegate for Hungary to the 5th and 6th Zionist congresses.

Benjamin-Ze'ev (Wilhelm) Reichenthal joined the Zionist movement at its inception when he was a student at the Pressburg Yeshivah. For many years actively propagating the idea of the return to Zion among the Orthodox, he was a famous orator at numerous meetings. He belonged to the leaders of the Mizrahi in Hungary and later in the CSR. He died in Naharia in Israel in 1970 aged 98. Rabbi Dr. Eliezer Schweiger was active in the Zionist movement while still a student in Switzerland and served as official interpreter at the Zionist Congresses. He was in close relations with Dr. Herzl. He had a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew language and his original writings and translations were well known. In the Zionist organization in the CSR, he was a member of the central committee. His wife, Mrs. Sophie Schweiger, was head of the Slovakizn Wizo.

Moses Graus was one of the founders of the Mizrahi in Hungary and a member of its highest organization. He participated in a number of congresses as delegate for the Mizrahi.

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The younger generation too bore its share and served the movement in various capacities. Rafi Goldstein was one of the leaders of Hashomer Hatzair and a delegate at the Zionist Congress in 1939. Imrich Kasriel was elected to the secretariat of the Z.O. in Slovakia.

Dr. Frantisek Muller became secretary of the Association of Jewish University Graduates “Gordonia”.

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Hashomer-Kadimah

In the post-war period, Zionist activities concentrated above all in the Youth movements. The horrors of the war and the turmoil that followed it were over. Political events of great portent were taking place all around and the young people were looking for guidelines on how to approach national questions that were troubling them, beyond the narrow circle of family and friends. On this background, the younger generation of Zionists began to organize and create a movement named “Hashomer-Kadimah”, at the head of which were Aladar Rosenberg and the brothers Ludwig and Shmuel Schwartz. They were encouraged by Mr. Josef Felsenburg, one of the heads of the Jewish community, an old Zionist who allowed them the use of rooms in his house where their meetings were held.

The movement did not have any elaborate ideology; it was rather a scouting association that set great store to uniform clothing and parades in the streets or exercises. Yet, this was something new for Jewish youth. There were excursions, physical training and sports but also study of the Jewish people's national problem. All these had never been offered to the youngsters of Topoltchany. The movement also stressed the study of the Hebrew language, of Hebrew songs, etc. It was no doubt influenced by the great Czech National Sports organization, the “Sokol” that began to develop widespread activities at about this time.

It should be stressed that all the members came from orthodox homes and in Topoltchany, it was but natural for them, after morning exercises on Jarmocisko grounds, to go straight to the synagogue for morning prayers. It was a heartening sight to see such a group of Jewish youths in the early morning hours with their blue and white banner, in uniform with broad-brimmed hats, marching through the streets. The beginnings were by no means easy. Suspicion and aloofness had to be overcome and only a handful dared to join the new venture. To name the first

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boys and girls: Rafi Goldstein, Tzvi Bachner, Josef Felsenburg, Jakob Buchler, Sandor Nagel, Silly Golstein, Armin Benau, Imrich Kasriel, and before long, they were 50-60. When they became a movement, they also set themselves a goal: Aliyah. A number of training centres sprung up in Slovakia in the early 20's where candidates prepared themselves for work in Eretz Israel. The first to leave home for training from Topoltchany was Tzvi Bachner. The same year, the first pioneers from Topoltchany went to Eretz Israel and this continued for a number of years; members of Hashomer Kadimha went for training and also reached Eretz Israel. By then, most of those who had been active had either left for Eretz Israel or were now grownup. The tempo slackened and in 1926-27 the movement ceased to exist. Some of the remaining activists decided to create new forms and in the late 20's we find in Topoltchany a number of Jewish Youth movements in which former members of Hashomer Kadimah were the driving force.

Hashomer Hatzair was the natural heir to Hashomer-Kadimah. Young people with progressive ideas, who were not satisfied with the old loose, informal setup, created Hashomer Hatzair as an ideologically determined movement in 1927. For years, the initiator and the driving force in the local “nest” of Topoltchany was Rafi Goldstein. Other devoted and experienced members from the early days were Kartchi Klein, Tzvi Bachner, Baruch Gross, Mantzi, Jeno Freund, Yona Deutsch and others. They new movement had its “nest” in the house of the locksmith Bocek, near the synagogue, and began to educate members towards realization of the pioneering Zionist ideal. Before long, the number of adherents grew and the “nest” had to move to the house of Adolf S. Weiss on the corner of Krusovska and Hviezdoslavova Streets, opposite the Eckstein house. When part of the first members had gone to training centres, younger people filled their place such as: Jozko Rosenzweig, Yaffa and Willi Immergut, Zerah Scher, Rosenthal sisters, Izo Frank, etc. At this time, in the early 30's, over 50 boys and girls took part in the educational work. The “nest” moved again to the house of Kainay and now schoolchildren were also included who, until now, had been outside the sweep of any Zionist activity. Hashomer Hatzair was the first Zionist movement to undertake the spreading of Zionist ideas among all the various circles of Jewish youth in Topoltchany. Throughout the 30's, the movement expanded steadily and, counting the school children, there

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were now over 100 boys and girls. Meetings were held twice a week and at the head of the “nest” were experienced members such as: Havivah Low-Beer, Zehavah Rosenthal, Baruch Gross, Emil Kaufmann, Shmuel Kreiner, etc., who knew how to lead such a big and vigorous group, full of vitality. Old members of Hashomer Kadimah, now in their late 30's, and who still cherished the movement, gave it important help both moral and material. These adults were organized in “Ha'oved”, which in its ideology was close to Hashomer Hatzair. Rafi Goldstein, Imrich Kasriel, Dr. Ignatz Vero, Sigmund Kohn and others, instinctively supported Hashomer Hatzair with their time and money. The movement postulated personal realization and every year, part of the activists left for training and eventually for Eretz Israel – yet, this did not impair the activities, as all the time, new forces were growing up who undertook to shoulder the work and continue it. There was study of the Hebrew language and of the problems of Zionism alongside scouting and sportive events as well as social and cultural goings-on, adapted to the various groups. On Friday nights there used to be “Oneg-Shabat” for the entire nest” and in the summer, one used to go for outings in the green. Cultural activities were at their peak during Hanukkah and Purim festivities which always attracted a large public. Hayomer Hatzair shared in activities organized by the local branch of the Z.O., drives for the J.N.F., etc.

On national holidays of the CSR, such as the 1st of May or Mother's Day, members of the “nest” would march in the general procession in special uniform under the blue-white banner making a great impression.

The apogee was reached with the foundation of the training centre at n°10 Polna Street. The members of the group, who had undergone training in farm work towards Aliyah to Eretz Israel, were a living example for the younger people in Hash-Hatz and for the Jewish youth in town at large. A number of those in the Hachsharah group undertook to lead the “nest”, which had by now expanded considerably, when many students joined it so that in 1939, the number of members of all age groups reached 300.

In order to absorb so many youngsters, premises were transferred to the old “Sokol” cinema, which was very suitable for large scale activities. All this came to an end with the deportations. Activities were resumed temporarily after liberation when, among the survivors, a few young people had come back.

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Bnei Akiba

With the dissolution of Hashomer Kadimah, its religious elements found shelter in the “Zerei Mizrahi” organization which had been in existence for a couple of years and had developed a rather widespread activity in the towns of western Slovakia.

The Topoltchany branch of Zerei-Mizrahi came into being due to the initiative of Shmuel Schwartz and other former members of Hashomer Kadimah. Samuel Schwartz was for many years, the driving force behind the Z.M. and the Zionist activities among Orthodox youth in Topoltchany. Members were adolescents only and the Z.M. worked in close contact with the local branch of Mizrahi that had a tradition of long standing in town.

Activities of Zeirei Mizrahi were rather sporadic and limited to the narrow circle of its members. There was no continuity, no younger generation to take the place of the original members who were growing older and dropped out of the picture.

The change came in 1929 with the foundation of the religious Zionist youth organization: “Bnei Akiba”. In the beginning, its path was thorny and it took a number of years before the new movement could become finally established among the younger generation in the Orthodox communities in Slovakia. Bnei Akiba came to fill a void which had hitherto existed; it organized those aged 10-16 and educated them toward realizing pioneering Zionism while remaining faithful to religious traditions. The movement had to wage an incessant struggle, mainly with the extreme Orthodox, who would not allow Bnei Akiba to take root in Topoltchany. The first local branch was opened only in 1932 and then solely owing to the stubborn insistence of the Zerei Mizrahi who went from house to house trying to persuade parents to let their children join the new organization. The reluctance of Orthodox parents is understandable but, in the end, the efforts made by people like Shmuel Schwartz, Ruben Friedman, the brother Porges, etc., were successful and Bnei Akiba became part of the human landscape of Topoltchany. With time, they secured a very important position; their numbers grew and they contributed greatly to Zionist activities in town.

Towards the end of the 1930's, when Bnei Akiba had acquired a footing in the Jewish elementary school, numbers swelled and they became the strongest

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Zionist Youth movement in Topoltchany. Bnei Akiba applied themselves to the organization and education of children who until then, had never been reached by anybody else, and the work they did in educating them in the spirit of Zionist pioneering and of the Torah, was invaluable. In 1936, a Hachshara (training) group was founded in Topol. Its members were employed on the farm of Mr. Schwartz and elsewhere. The trainees contributed largely to the work done in the movement and the Zionist Orthodox public began to sponsor the training centre and to aid in all possible ways. There was close and fruitful cooperation between Bnei Akiba and other youth movements and all took part in current Zionist activities in Topoltchany.

On Sabbath day, the “Heim” was humming with youngsters of all ages, activities being staged by age groups: for children in the morning hours and for adolescents in the afternoons and evenings. Every year there used to be public performances that were widely advertised and attracted a large public. In addition to activities of the mind, there were outings in the vicinity and during the vacation; children and youngsters participated in summer camps which were organized by the movement's headquarters.

When the CSR broke up, its Jews were facing severe trials as at that time, a new leadership took over the management of affairs in the Bnei Akiba movement in Topoltchany. They were young men who had grown with it. The number of members reached 300 and the leaders were Richard Bröder, Simha Friedman, the Schlesinger brothers, Steckauer, Trauer and others. Later, when the government dissolved all Zionist youth organizations, Bnei Akiba continued to operate illegally; meetings were held in the restaurant of Mrs. Holz. Thus the movement was able to function down to the deportations in 1942. Just before matters came to a head, a group of youngsters from the Topoltchany Bnei Akiba went to a training centre in Israel. They were saved in time and managed to arrive in the ancient homeland.

 

The Maccabi Sports Organization

In Topoltchany as in other Orthodox communities, there was no attention at all given to physical training or sports before World War I. Interest in sportive activities among the Jews made itself felt at the time when the great sports associations in the CSR – the Czech Sokol and the Slovak Orol – established local branches in Topoltchany.

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First came a group of Jewish boys who organized a football club named “Maccabbeah”, after the great Jewish football club of Bratislava that dated back to 1912. The team was all-Jewish and took part in district and provincial games with considerable success. Activities were, however, short-lived and ceased after a few seasons.

1924 witnessed the foundation in Topoltchany of the “Maccabi Association for Physical Culture”, and this marked a turning point in the attitude of many Jews towards sport activities. Here was an actively new phenomenon and in praise of the founders, it should be said that they did not limit themselves to physical culture but stressed Jewish national values as well and developed a widespread cultural and social activity. Within a short time, “Maccabi” had established its fame and took part in various events in town. Membership was not limited to those interested in sports and included young people and adults with a wide range of views. Many children and youngsters from traditional homes took part in the physical training lessons that were the mainstay of activities. This, too, was something particular in Topoltchany. From the very outset, Maccabi became a representative organ of the Jews of Topoltchany on national celebrations or other public events, when Maccabi members would march in parades with the Star of David embroidered on their uniform and on the blue-white banner. In every respect, Maccabi played a most important role in strengthening Jewish national consciousness, both in the eyes of the gentiles and of the Jews themselves.

There were hundreds of Maccabi members in Topoltchany and their variegated activities centred around the “Maccabi” house on Sokolska Street – a former cinema whose auditorium had been turned into a physical training hall, while the adjoining rooms were used for cultural activities. The big hall also served other Jewish movements and organizations for their performances.

Members were devoted to their association; membership fees were considerable and were paid regularly so that the financial position of Maccabi was satisfactory.

Among the founders, we should name first of all, Eng. Arthur Stasny, who was president of the association as long as it existed. Other members who devoted much time to Maccabi were: Andor Schonhauser, who was in charge of

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physical training, David Buchler as treasurer, Silly Goldstein, Mrs. Angela Doman, Armin Benau, Blanka Kreiner, Imrich Kasriel – all these were members of the presidium.

Among the distinguished sportsmen of Topoltchany was Feri Feher, who represented Jewish sports on national as well as international scenes. His branch was javelin and disc throwing and for many years, he was the Maccabi champion in this field. He also took part in a number of Maccabean games and national championships. He was a member of the famous Maccabean Bratislava Club.

Andor Schonhauser was famous as a gymnastics teacher and as a practioner on the bars. Later on, he was chosen to direct all physical training activities in the Maccabi of Slovakia.

It is worth mentioning that the S.K. Topoltchany football team, one of the best in Slovakia, was in fact Jewish, all the important posts on the management including its chairman, being filled by Jews. The team was financed by Jews and among the players there too were a number of Jews from Topoltchany, such as: Miso Nagel, Vojtech Hochberger, Micki Wiesner, Josef Kohn, Paul Hertschki, etc.

To sum up this chapter on Jewish Youth Movements in Topoltchany, we may state that, following World War I, there were far reaching developments. The 1920's and 30's witnessed increasingly intensive organization of Jewish youth in many directions – Zionist and non-Zionist life was pulsating to the very last.

This process of organization finally reached the great majority of Jewish youth, boys and girls alike. To understand it, we must consider the special demographic circumstances prevailing in Topoltchany where Jews made up one third of the total population and Jewish consciousness was highly developed. The 2/3 majority were Roman Catholics with ingrained prejudices. Thus, the two parts of the population kept aloof of each other and contacts were limited to the sphere of economics. Jews and Slovaks in Topoltchany lived separate lives. Under these circumstances, this question of assimilation did not arise except in a few isolated cases.

The same conditions prevailed with the Jewish boys and girls. They

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lived within their own sphere. The attitude towards the Slovakian youth was always one of estrangement and suspicion, inculcated by education until every Jewish boy and girl was imbued with it.

On the Slovakian side, the situation was the same and, in addition, Slovakian boys and girls were steeped in anti-Semitism which they absorbed at home, in school and elsewhere. When the fascists came to power, they found enthusiastic supporters in the Slovakian Catholic population. Thus, for the Jewish youngsters, there was nothing left but to organize in their own separate power.

As the bulk of the youth came from traditional homes, the community being largely Orthodox, it was only natural that they adhered to religious youth movements such as Agudath Israel, the strongest in town, or to “Beni Akiba” which appeared a little later. For Orthodox girls, there was the “Beth Ja'acob” association and the progressive Zionists had a number of movements such as Hashomer Kadimah and its sequel, Hashomer Hatzair. In the 1930's, “Betar” and “Maccabi Hatzair” appeared. There were also so-called “general” movements where young people of different circles could meet and the girl's association “Emunah”, which occupied itself with social and education work, as well as the Maccabi, in which a great number of boys and girls took part, without regard to political affiliation, if any.

Each movement had rooms of its own which, on Sabbath days, would be humming with activity that made itself felt outside in the street as well. In those days, life in Topoltchany was highly intensive – each of the movements tried to attract any boy or girl as yet unaffiliated with any organization.

On beautiful summer Sabbaths and holidays, the youngsters would go for hikes out of town, each movement preferring its traditional place: The Wild Park, the Tovarniky forest, the woods alongside the River Nitra or the Chocina. On Saturdays, all these places would be occupied by Jewish youths and also by adults who went out for a walk.

This atmosphere was characteristic of our younger generation to the very end.

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The Tragedy of the Jews of Topolchany

We are now coming to the saddest part of the history of our community and its tragic end. It must be said at once that the fate which overcame the Jews of Topoltchany was one with that of Slovakian Jewry as a whole. What happened in Topoltchany was in no way different from what had been done elsewhere, only that here nothing happened to alleviate the fate, as was the case here and in other places. There is a bloody account to be held against the inhabitants of our home town and it is our duty-bound to remember and to remind those who would like to forget what has been done to us after nearly 300 years of residency next to the Slovakian population and how things reached this pass.

Jews never lacked enemies in our town neither in distant nor recent past. There have always been parts of the population who hated Jews as something foreign to have to be rid of. Yet, over nearly 300 years, there never was any real pogrom and no Jews were ever murdered. True, both in 1848 and 1918, there were riots and Jews suffered material damage and were also beaten, but what happened here bears no comparison with a full-fledged pogrom. The motives were not outspokenly racial and anti-Jewish but rather social. Not only Jews suffered on those occasions but also gentiles. This is not said to exculpate the non-Jewish inhabitants, it is just a statement of facts to be borne in mind so much the more as in our part of the world, pogroms were by no means infrequent.

Throughout the ages, hatred of Jews was persistent in the middle classes as to these people; the Jews were competitors, real or potential. We have seen how, in the 18th century, traders and craftsmen tried, though unsuccessfully, to have the Jews expelled from Topoltchany. In our days, it was again the traders, artisans and officials, together with the peasants who came pouring into the town in order to share in the loot, which attacked the Jews and, in the end, achieved their wholesale deportation to the death camps.

The simple folks, the “Zochar”as they were called, were tools in the hands of the “honourable citizens” who were hiding behind them. The peasants

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did the job and helped the citizens to dissemble and feign innocence if need be. The middle class were the real cause of our tragedy as they were the mainstay of the clerical, fascist, anti-Jewish regime in Slovakia.

In the days of the Czechoslovakian republic, equality of rights was assured to all and there was no room for anti-Jewish incidents, let alone persecution. True, even then, there were elements that spread clandestine anti-Jewish propaganda, but this was kept within tolerable limits. Only when fascism came to power in Europe could Slovakian nationalism, which used anti-Semitism in its struggle, raise its head. With the dissolution of the CSR and the establishment of the “independent” Slovakian state, outspoken or latent anti-Semitism elements in the population and above all in the Catholic leadership, came out into the open. It needed no great effort to make the Slovakians take measure which, in the end, led to the annihilation of Slovakian Jewry.

No drastic changes were felt in Topoltchany when the political situation deteriorated in the winter of 1938-9. Apart from the Jews, the population consisted of devoted Catholic Slovaks, adherents of the priest Hlinka's popular party. This party was known for its nationalistic and anti-Jewish ideology. The bulk of its supporters were middle class people and its representatives had been dominating the municipality for years. The watchmaker, Zsak, member of Hlinka's party, was mayor. The leaders of this party knew how to harness the nationalistic and religious feelings of the Slovak populace for their own ends and to gain sympathies in wide circles.

On 14th March, 1939, Slovakia was declared an independent state and there was general rejoicing in Topoltchany, yet life went on as usual.

The Jewish community followed the events that were happening around them with some concern. The writing on the wall was there, but in those fateful days, Jews did not really worry. The community seemed well consolidated economically and felt secure. 80% of the trade was in Jewish hands. They enjoyed prosperity and did not react to events as they should have done. In Topoltchany, people had known each other well for generations. The Jew knew the gentile and vice-versa. Relations had always been cautious rather than cordial. Jews did not duly appreciate the impending danger. This attitude was in a way encouraged by the behaviour of the Slovak population, who, in those days,

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Were intoxicated with their political achievements and did not turn against the Jews. Only after the outbreak of war in September 1939, did the leaders feel that the time had come to deal with the Jews and firstly, in the field of economics. Now the first steps were taken to eliminate them from their economic positions and also to raise difficulties for them in the liberal professions.

Two central figures of the fascist regime – Mach and Durvansky – visited Topoltchany in those days and addressed a large public from the balcony of the town hall. Pointing at the Jewish shops in the town square, they declared: “The days it not far off when all these shall be in Slovakian hands”.

 

“Aryanization”

In 1940, after an internal struggle in the ranks of the Hlinka party, radical forces of extreme Nazi and anti-Semitic views came to power. The government then began to take very severe measures and published a number of anti-Jewish laws and ordinances (1940). Venomous propaganda was let loose in preparation of what was called “the final solution of the Jewish question in Slovakia”.

A central economic office (U.H.U.) was created and a “Jewish Centre U.Z.” was set up. The law was enacted and with that, the authorities now had the tools with which to implement their anti-Jewish policy and in fact, to rob Jews of the most elementary rights. Their liberty of movement was severely curtailed; Jews were forbidden access to public places and some were already expelled from their apartments. Jews had to hand in securities, valuables and jewellery. Under the “Aryanization” Law, 2250 businesses were transferred to “Aryan” hands within one year and many more were wound-up and closed. (In the whole of Slovakia).

Those who benefited were, first of all, the supporters of the regime, the party bosses in the towns and vicinity, friends and relations of the new rulers. The Aryanization gave them the opportunity overnight to lay their hands on Jewish property and consolidate their economic and political positions. Their greed knew no limits and the number of dispossessed and destitute Jews increased daily. According to an estimate by the Jewish Centre, property that was taken away in 1940 amounted to 120million Ks in Topoltchany alone. The real value must have been still higher. According to this estimate, the Topoltchany district ranked fourth among the districts of Slovakia with regards to the value of confiscated Jewish property. The income from business enterprises sequestered in Topoltchany alone amounted to 92million Ks in 1940.


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The Jewish Centre at Topoltchany

The Jewish Centre was created on 28th Sept.1940 to replace all of Jewish organizations and movements, except for the community, whose authority was limited to matters of religion only. The central office was in Bratislava and it had a number of departments. The branch offices in the provincial and district towns had a similar setup.

By order of the District Commissioner in Topoltchany, Mr. Ignatz Gelley, one of the notables of the community was appointed head of the local office of the Jewish Centre. With him were 4 heads of departments and together, they were the managing team. They were: Hermann Friedman and Isidor SImko as representatives of the community; Dr. Friedrich Taus as lawyer and Dr. Solomon Schonfeld as secretary. The office was housed in Dr. Welwart's apartment. The task of the Jewish Centre was representation of the Jewish public with the authorities, welfare and aid to the needy. Another important feature was retraining of both adults who had been ousted from their businesses following Aryanization, and youngsters who had been expelled from various institutions in education. The Youth department of the Jewish Centre supplied the cover under which the Zionist youth movements, that had been officially suppressed when the Centre was set up, could operate. The head of the Jewish Centre, Dr. Ignatz Gelley, was a highly educated and dynamic man with a standing both among his fellow Jews and among Slovakian circles in town. He had connections with high officials in several ministries, among whom one in the U.H.U where all anti–Jewish measures in the state were coordinated. His connections were useful if only for the Jews of Topoltchany. The Jewish Centre in Bratislava also availed itself of his services. The activities of the Jewish Centre in Topoltchany suffered a severe setback at a most critical moment when a new district commissioner arrived in town. He was Julius Simko – a fanatic and rabid anti–semite who undertook at once to hamper and restrict the work of the Jewish Centre.

 

The District Commissioner

The office of district commissioner was all–important. It was at the head of all administrative organs in the town and the district, and during wartime, its powers were practically unlimited. The former holder of this office, a Mr. Fabian,

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had served for several years. He had been tolerant and could be approached by Jews. His treatment of them had been lenient as far as circumstances permitted. When he left, Jews were anxious to know who would be his successor, as all orders and instructions were passed through him and the implementation of the anti–Jewish policy was his personal responsibility. The text of the ordinances was very often open to various interpretations and there was room for local initiative and for consideration of local conditions and the severity and timing of implementation was in the hands of the district commissioner.

The new appointee had been serving in the same capacity in the district of Giraltovce in Easter Slovakia. When his name was announced, the Jewish Centre decided to try and contact him. It came out that he was a Lutheran, and this fact seemed important as Lutherans too were suffering under the Catholic–fascist rule. There were thus hopes and expectations. By mediation of Mrs. Marko, wife of the commander of the Hlinka Guards, contacts were established with the wife of the new man, and the Jews hoped for access to the district commissioner himself. They undertook to defray the cost of his and his family's transfer to Topoltchany and the furnishing of his apartment, and in this way, tried to gain his favour. They were appalled to find out within a very short time, that their attempts to approach him had failed. The man proved to be a rabid Jew–hater and a sworn adherent of the fascist regime. He was one of the cronies of the Minister of the Interior, Mach, who was at the head of all anti–Jewish measures in Slovakia. Julius Simko carried out all instructions faithfully and with the utmost harshness. He was a fanatic, absolutely impervious to bribery and the Jews had no access whatsoever to him. He refused to negotiate with Jewish representatives, issued far–reaching orders against them, and saw to it that they were carried out in full. The attitude of the district commissioner was disastrous for the community, so much more so as he demanded the same of his sub–ordinates insisted upon full implementation of all anti–Jewish measures and urged everybody on to uncompromising severity.

 

1941

In 1941, the enactment of anti–Jewish laws continued and it culminated in the so–called “Jewish Code” which, as confirmed by the fascist leaders in a

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number of stipulations, went beyond the “Nuremberg Laws”. In this code, all previous laws against the Jews were consolidated and new ones added to a total of 270 paragraphs. The Jews were obliged to wear the yellow rag; they were debarred from any contacts with the non–Jewish population and all Jews between the ages of 16 and 60 were liable to forced labour. In the fall of 194, the Ministry of Interior began to set up labour camps for Jews who had been expelled from economic life. Conditions in these camps were inhuman to say the least. One of them was situated at the village of Novaky, not far from Topoltchany, and many of the men were sent there. The “Jewish Centre” in Bratislava in cooperation with its branch office in Topoltchany, began to support this camp as an opening to the integration of Jews in useful work, while at the same time, conditions would be improved. Jews of Topoltchany did a lot for the inmates from the very onset. Money was collected to erect various workshops and to equip them with machinery. Food was sent, etc. A Catholic priest, Much, from the village of Krushovce who was close to the Catholic leadership in the Slovak state, proved very helpful and the Jewish Centre in Topoltchany found him always ready to listen. He did a lot to make life at the Novaky camp bearable. This camp fully justified the hopes. At the time of the deportations, a couple of hundred Jews from Topoltchany were spared and in addition, another thousand from various places in Slovakia, all owing to the efforts of the Jews in Topoltchany.

In September 1941, the Central Office of Economic Affairs (U.H.U) issued an order by which about 10,000 Jews in Bratislava were to leave the capital and settle in the small towns. They were permitted to take with them only a limited quantity of movables. 365 Jews from Bratislava arrived in Topoltchany on this occasion. The community, the Jewish Centre and the Jewish public at large undertook to help these refugees and establish them in town under more or less normal conditions. They were sent to hotels and to private homes although many Jewish families had already been driven out of their apartments in the centre of town and forced to settle in smaller apartments on the outskirts. The soup kitchen supplied hot meals until the refugees were able to set up their own households. Within a short time they had been settled. About this time, in the fall of 1941, the number of Jews in Topoltchany had reached its peak. 3066 the

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6th highest number of Jews among the towns in Slovakia. Jews were also living in 51 villages in the Topoltchany district.

At the end of 1941, the first stage of persecutions had been completed. Jews were socially isolated, eliminated from economic life, robbed of their property which transferred to Aryans. In most Slovakian towns, they were permitted to live only on certain streets and some of the males had been sent to labour camps. They became victims to incited fascist mobs who would rob them of the remnant of their possessions and leave them entirely destitute.

Everything was ready for the final, decisive stage – their expulsion from the territory of Slovakia.

Preparations for this had already begun before. As far back as May 1941, the head of the Central Bureau of Economic Affairs (U.H.U.) had proposed to the German authorities to expel a number of Slovakian Jews and settle them on the occupied territory of Poland. Other high officials including those of the Slovakian government, mentioned in their negotiations with the Germans, the possibility of handing over Jews instead of Slovakian labourers that the Germans had demanded. Various authorities did whatever they could to hasten the expulsion of the Jews who were regarded as a nuisance to be rid of by any means. Early 1942, agreement with the Germans was reached and practical preparations began to help the Slovakians with the “final solution of the Jewish problem”. On 3rd March, 1942, the expulsion of Jews was on the agenda of a secret session of the Slovak cabinet and practical preparatory steps were discussed. On 13th March, the Minister of Interior who was in charge of the deportation, asked the Ministry of Transport to prepare vehicles (trains) to carry the Jews out of the country.

Rumours of preparations for the impending deportation reached the Jewish leadership and the Jewish centre in spite of the endeavours to conceal these criminal intentions from the public, and especially from the Jews. Suspicion grew when it became known that certain preparations were made on the grounds of the former munitions factory, “Patronka”, at Bratislava for temporary accommodation of great numbers of people. It was then resolved to approach the president of the republic himself and to learn from him directly whether there was any truth in these rumours. The president Tiso was also parish priest in

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the little town of Banovce near Topoltchany and used to celebrate mass there on Sundays. The heads of the Jewish centre were asked to establish contacts with him forthwith and Messrs Gelley and Simko set out immediately for Banovce and the house of a Jewish woman, Mrs. Munk, whose Christian friend was well acquainted with the president. This woman was promised a considerable sum of money if she would approach the president and find out whether it was indeed intended to expel the Slovakian Jews. After a night of anxious expectation, the woman returned and related that she had taken up the matter with the president and that there was no truth at all in the rumours. The president had also told her that Jewish young men would be concentrated at a camp in the district of Orava where they would be employed in development work of various kinds. So were the words of Mr. Tiso, the president, who was also a priest, yet within a few days, wagonloads of Jewish boys and girls were rolling eastwards in the direction of Auschwitz and Lublin.

 

The 1942 Deportations

In spite of the spreading rumours, in spite of warnings from some Slovakian quarters about the impending expulsion and, in spite of the oppressive atmosphere that presaged something terrible – in spite of all these, the manhunt that occurred a few days before “Shabbath Hagodol” (the Sabbath before Passover) fell as lightning from a blue sky upon the Jews – as something incomprehensible. The Jewish public and its leaders were not ready for the danger; unable to grasp the fact, they therefore simply refused to believe that they were not facing mere rumours. The people were like thunderstruck when they heard what was happening, and before they came to their senses, hundreds of boys and girls, the flower of the Jewish youth in Topoltchany, had been loaded on railway cars at the station and from there, the boys were shipped to the camp in Novaky and the girls to the concentration point of “Patronka” in Bratislava.

Preparations for the deportation of the youngsters were soon made. The 14th department of the Interior Ministry that was in charge of the planning gave notice to the district commissioner. A special committee headed by the commissioner himself prepared a list of Jewish young men and women over 16 and their addresses. Hlinka guards in co–operation with the gendarmerie and the German F.S. began to hunt them down and assemble them in the courtyard of

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the Sokol cinema, not far from the railway station. In two transports on March 27th and 31st, our young folks were sent off from the camp at Novaky to Lublin–Maidanek and on 28th March, Shabbath Hagadol, the girls were sent from Patronka to the extermination camp at Auschwitz. Altogether over 220 youngsters, boys and girls, our dear brothers and sisters.

Thereafter, the authorities began to spread rumours in order to calm the commotion among Jews as though deportations from Slovakia were to cease. It was authoritatively said that the Germans were interested in young person's fit for work only while Jewish families were in no danger of being expelled. These lies succeeded in abating fears but the awakening came very soon. The Jewish public and its leaders had not yet adapted themselves to the new situation and here, during the first days of April, came the next manhunt, and this time whole families were taken including women, old people and children. This was a sad month indeed in the history of the Jewish community. All the time trains were waiting at the railway station and many people were sent on their way from which no one returned.

The practice was identical everywhere. Deportation began as soon as the district commissioner's office received secret orders from the Ministry of the Interior as to how many Jews he was to “deliver” on a given day. The commissioner, who was also chairman of the committee that compiled the lists, personally directed all phases of the action until the trains left. Therefore, he bears personal responsibility for what happened to the Jews of Topoltchany. A similar responsibility lies upon the other committee members and we shall publish their names and functions in this fiendish deed.

Apart from the district commissioner, they were the chief notary – Kantor; deputy notary Mokry; district secretary of the Hlink party, a teacher named Boda from the village of Krushovce; party secretary in Topoltchany Polansky and the commanders of the Hlinka guards – Ludwig, Pukan, Zeisel and Marko who filled the post one after the other. Mayor Tchap took part occasionally. Here we can state the exception in the case of Bela Marko, commander of the Hlinka guards, who was known for his leniency towards the Jews and who refused to participate actively in the expulsion in spite of his being a convinced nationalist. The meetings of the committee were secret; they were held

[Page 76]

at the district commissions' office on Shpitalska Street, yet sometimes names of Jews included in the list leaked out so that they could go into hiding. It was mainly the chief notary, Kantor, who tried to help but others too did so sometimes.

The actual catching of the Jews was performed by the Hlinka guards or, as they were called, the “Garda”. Their number was relatively small in Topoltchany if we take into account the prevailing political orientation and the size of the town population.

In the beginning, they were only a handful of middle–class people with extreme nationalist and fascist views, including officials. Jew–baiting intensified as the numbers of the Garda swelled and extreme anti–Semitic elements joined its ranks. At the time of the deportation, the number of Hlinka guards was at its height but even then, it did not exceed 50; very few indeed compared to other towns. But, meanwhile, deep changes had occurred in the quality of the human material. In the beginning, the motives for joining had been ideological but in the lapse of time, the “old fighters” dropped out as they had now vastly improved their social and economic positions and the newcomers were such marginal elements as idlers, “Lupenproletarians” and drunkards who were attracted by the lure of easy gains through the loot of Jewish property. The whole organization became a gang of hooligans and criminals, scandals, excesses and drunkenness became daily occurrences especially during their hay–day, the time of deportations when they would rob Jewish homes whose owners they had before arrested and sent to the death camps.

Four men became in turn commanders of the Hlinka guards. They were all officials and belonged to the old guard of the party members. We have already mentioned Bela Marko and his attitude to the deportations. He even warned Jews who were about to be deported, and as far as it is known, he never touched Jewish property. Unfortunately, he was the exception among the supporters of the clerical–fascist regime in town; maybe it was because he was born in Topoltchany and had many Jewish boyhood friends. I repeat that he was a nationalist and a faithful member of the Hlinka party.

The district commander Ludwig was a school–inspector by profession, a typical representative of Slovakian officialdom; he was corrupt and his personal

[Page 77]

enrichment was much more important to him than his functions in the Hlinka guard. He was prepared to do anything for money. He had taken a lot of Jewish property and also accepted bribes from Jews and in a number of cases, he did help. Unlike his predecessor Marko, he was very active during the deportations and he is one of those personally responsible. The two remaining commanders, Pukan and Zeisel, were much younger men and belonged to the most extreme fascist elements in town.

Both were radical anti–Semites who made it their task and duty to make life intolerable for the Jews. To them, the deportations were an ideal become reality – Zeisel was of German parentage, born in the town of Handlova and he served with the local branch of the treasury in Topoltchany. He was most active when the last Jews were deported in September 1944 and took part in the murders near the village of Nemcice. We must name a number of Hlinka guards whose brutality and savage behaviour went beyond anything you might expect, even from such criminals. They were the brothers Capaj, Seles, Gergel, Krist, Zelizka, Schuchman, Cepko, Hajovsky, Paluch; the brothers Nagy, Horvat, Martincek and others.

Additional organs who took part in the deportations were the German F.S. and the gendarmerie. The F.S. organization was created for the German minority in Slovakia. Its structure was similar to that of the Hlinka guards. In Topoltchany, their number was insignificant and they were no more than helpers to the Hlinka guards.

The share of the gendarmerie in the manhunts was also limited and they did it with pronounced ill–will. Their district commander never took part in the actions and was known for his antagonism to the extreme anti–Jewish policy. Among the gendarmes, only the deputy commander Priecinsky was active. He personally hunted Jews down and also ordered his men to participate. Among the gendarmes, there were a few lowest people who tried to help Jews. Two names deserve to be remembered: Zaborsky and Sirocky.

As explained before, arrests were made according to lists which the committee compiled in keeping with the demands of the 14th department. The Hlinka guards who carried out the manhunts, dragged the Jews from their homes to places of concentration, mostly in the courtyard of the Sokol cinema

[Page 78]

or at the Jewish school. On the way, the Jews were subject to vilification and beatings. The deportees were allowed baggage up to 25kg of personal effects, while all the remaining property was confiscated, i.e. officially became state property. In fact, the Hlinka guards used to carry off whatever they pleased the moment the owners had been despatched.

The district commissioner usually directed the actions personally and saw to it that the quotas were filled. He saved neither time nor effort and was always ready to catch a few extra Jews. One time it happened that the Hlinka guards failed to bring the required number of Jews and the district commissioner decided to make up for the deficiency out of the inmates in the home for the aged. He contacted its manager and requested a list of 40 old people to be added to the transport. The man absolutely refused to be a party to this crime and then the district commissioner went to the home accompanied by the district medical officer, Dr. Skultety, and they carried off 40 old people in spite of express orders to spare the inmates – for the time being.

When the required number was completed, the Jews were brought to the railway station and from there via one of the Slovakian concentration camps to death camps in Poland. 2500 of our dearest went this way during those days in the spring and summer of 1942.

Only on 23rd May, when one half of the Jews of Topoltchany had already been deported, did the Slovakian parliament pass the law to expel them. The law was passed unanimously with only one abstention: Count Esterhazy. The deportations continued till August. According to figures published by the Jewish centre, 24,448 Jews were expelled from Topoltchany including 750 children under the age of 16; in all, 79% of the Jewish population. After September 1942, only 618 persons were left. Deemed vital to the economy, these people and their families were temporarily exempted from expulsion by §2 of the law of deportation.

During the autumn months, conditions settled down and there were no more deportations. The remaining Jews anxiously looked forward to what the future had in store for them. The relative quiet was disturbed in February 1943 when extremist elements in the ruling party and in the Hlinka guards raised the question of renewed deportations. The matter was talked about openly and terror and panic seized the Jews who had survived. “Let March, let April come round and

[Page 79]

then we shall continue as last year” was the slogan bandied about and the Minister of the Interior was the driving force behind it.

Yet, nothing happened immediately and the reason is to be sought not so much in basic differences of opinion, which may have existed within the ruling party, but, in the military and political situation of Nazi Germany and her satellites. When 1943, which had been comparatively quiet for Slovakian Jews, drew to an end, a glimmer of hope appeared on the horizon of 1944.

In 1944 political concepts of certain circles in the Slovakian state underwent a significant change. The state was now 5 years old and doubts crept in regarding the victory of Nazism and the political future of Slovakia. These doubts found expression in growing opposition activities. There had been years of prosperity from which many had benefited, not least owing to the Jewish property they had laid hands on. But now, a general deterioration had set in which sharpened social antagonism. The critics of the fascist–clerical regime were joined by some who until recently had been its strongest supporters, members of the apparatus, of the party and the military, even cabinet ministers. These people were concerned not so much with ideology as with their personal alibi and they would have liked, if possible, to loosen their bonds with Nazi Germany and to strike a more flexible, independent policy which could be adapted to changing circumstances. With regard to the Jewish question too, a change made itself felt. The Slovakian government greeted German proposals made in 1944 to bring the Jewish question to a final solution with little enthusiasm and gave an evasive answer. At this time, information on what had been done to the Jews expelled from Slovakia became widespread. To exonerate themselves from the terrible guilt, the same Slovaks who had planned and executed the expulsion of Slovakian Jews to the death camps, now began to spread a version, as if the Germans had demanded the expulsion of the Jews and they, the Slovaks, had had no choice but to do their will.

To the Jews, the Slovak national rebellion that broke out on 29th August, 1944, did not come as a surprise. Tension had been in the air and it was only a matter of time. The Jewish community in Topoltchany received the news with mixed feelings and no immediate dramatic changes occurred. Topoltchany was

[Page 80]

far from the scene where the game was played out and the Jews of Topoltchany took no part in the turbulent events. The new regime was officially proclaimed on September 1st when the Nazi forces had already invaded Slovakian territory on their way to the centres of resistance. The bulk of the population received the rebellion with misgivings or open hostility – because of its ideological motivation. Exceptions were the soldiers in their barracks and a small minority, who joined the revolt. Most of the Slovaks kept back waiting for further developments, the more so as the Germans were said to advance in the direction of Topoltchany. Nothing happened during the 3 days when the town was in rebel hands. There was no time to organize things and as a matter of fact, Topoltchany was abandoned on September 2nd. On Sunday, September 3rd, 1944, in the morning, armoured S.S. attacked, coming from Nitra and Topoltchany was taken at 12:30 after a short skirmish in which the Germans lost 6 dead and 15 wounded against 50 dead on the rebel side, mostly young men from surrounding villages with no fighting experience whatsoever. They had been called up hastily, were poorly armed and could be no serious obstacle to the tanks of the experienced butchers of the S.S. About 1000 Jews were caught in Topoltchany, some remnants of the local community, some who had come back from liberated territories when labour camps were dissolved. In addition, a number of Jewish families had reached Topoltchany from Easter Slovakia. All these Jews who had escaped the slaughter in 1942, found themselves now in the hands of the S.S. murderers who had declared their intention to exterminate all opponents to the fascist regime. In the wake of the military S.S. formation, a special murder band entered town – the so–called Einstazkommando 14 (special purpose commando), which had been formed in Moravia from Gestapo, Security Police and S.D. (Sicherheitsdienst) personnel, when the Slovakian rebellion broke out. They were 150 men under the command of S.S. captain (Hauptsturmfürhrer) Dr. Hauser, whom many of the Jews of Topoltchany knew personally. He set up headquarters in the house of Max Hartenstein. All the men in this unit, which before had been operating for years in the East, had behind them a record of cruel mass murder of Jews by the hundreds of thousands in occupied Russia. The fate of the remnants of the Topoltchany community was now in the hands of these brutes.

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The gentile population at first greeted the conquerors with reserve; it was not yet clear how they would behave. However, within hours, the streets were filled with people who showed their joy and fraternized with the Germans. First of all, the Hlinka guards came out and reported for duty as they felt that now their time had come. Within 2 hours, their commander Zeisel assembled 36 of his trustees and put them at the disposal of the S.S. as helpmates to the men of the Einsatzkommando. On the very first night after the occupation, they shared in police duty. Because of his German parentage and his fascist views, Zeisel immediately won the confidence of the S.S. command and he and his Hlinka guards were entrusted with various tasks.

The next day, the German conquerors organized an information meeting in which, apart from the S.S. and security police, representatives of the Slovak population in town took part. One of the major points on the agenda was the Jewish question. The district commissioner spoke for the Slovak population and gave his assent in their name to all the measures proposed by the murder gang of the Einsatzkommando – 14 – in order to achieve the “final solution of the Jewish question in Topoltchany”.

Thus the fate of 1000 Jews, who were left in Topoltchany after the German conquest, was sealed. Before the murderers did their work, they applied their time–honoured recipe: to calm and reassure the Jews, to arouse hopes and illusions and then to murder them. The recipe was applied in Topoltchany too. First of all, Rabbi Haberfeld was summoned to the commander of the Einsatzkommando who told him to reassure the Jews; permitted him to hold prayers in the great synagogue and promised that nothing would happen to them. Representatives of the community, whom he received later, were also surprised when he told them to go back to work and to normal life. Slovaks too let it be known that the Germans had no intentions of touching the Jews.

However, parallel with these reassurances and promises, preparations were under way to liquidate the community. First came the arrest of Karl Pollak and his wife. He was one of the leaders of the community and a former vice–mayor of Topoltchany. Also arrested were the Findels from the village of Krusovce – Slovaks had informed against them saying that their sons had joined the rebels. A few days later they were taken out of the district prison and slain –

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nobody knows to this day where they are buried. On 6th September, Moritz Hochberger, another notable of the community was murdered in the town square. The “Aryan” Josef Latkoczi, who had taken over Hochberger's business, had sent a number of drunken S.S. men to his house and when he tried to escape, they slew him. These cases shook the Jews deeply but it was too late to attempt rescue.

At noon on 8th September, 1944 the “Action” began. Men of the Einsatzkommando, 14 together with the Hlinka guards, broke into the homes of all Jews and dragged them to headquarters in the Hartenstein house. All this was done with utmost speed using ready– made lists of names and addresses supplied by the local authorities. Within hours, all the Jews were caught and brought to the railway station apart from a few families, 30–40 persons who somehow managed to get away and go into hiding. At 4p.m. the train left the station carrying the Jews of Topoltchany to the concentration camp at Sered. And yet, this was not the end of the tragedy. On the same day, Slovakian peasants betrayed a number of Jews who were hiding on the “Novy Svet” estate. A detachment of the Einsatzkommando was sent out and murdered 4 Jews from Topoltchany after enduring cruel torture – they were the Gelley brothers; Hermann Friedman and Pollak, the owner of the estate.

The last Jews of Topoltchany were murdered on 10th September near the village of Nemcice. On that day, 5 Jews mostly from Topoltchany whom the S.S. had caught when local inhabitants had ferreted out their hiding places, were brought to an open field between the town and the village of Nemcice and cruelly slain by the Germans and their Slovak helpers. The corpses were thrown into a pit which the victims themselves had been forced to dig. Among the dead were also 6 children, the smallest a three month old baby of the Linkenberg family. The murder was perpetrated under the orders of S.S. officers, Dr. Gross and Unnselt with the assistance of a detachment of Hlinka guards under Zeisel. After this bloody day, there remained in town only two Jewesses, a Mrs. Simko who was over 90 years old and her daughter, Mrs. Vogel (apart from 2 or 3 Jews who were married to Slovak wives). The fact is hard to explain but it is certain that the Slovaks knew their whereabouts and maybe the Germans as well and yet nobody hurt them.

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The Gentile Population and Expulsion of Jews

This final chapter deals with the behaviour of the gentiles of Topoltchany towards the Jews in the hour of their trial. First of all I have to state 2 basic facts that influenced or rather determined this behaviour.

The first fact was that the bulk of the Slovak population shared in one way or another, directly or indirectly in the property that was taken from the Jews deriving private gains from it. Wide circles among the townspeople had raised their standards materially when the Jews were dispossessed and they had a direct interest in preserving the great economic advantages that had occurred to them for the future as well.

It will be remembered how Aryanization was the first step in dispossessing the Jews. This meant in practice the transfer of Jewish businesses to non–Jewish hands. At this stage it was mainly members of the ruling clique and their friends and relations who benefited while the greater part of the people went empty.

The next stage was reached when orders were issued to strip the Jews of their valuables that had been surrendered to the state. To evade this order, many Jews handed over ready money, gold, jewellery, securities, etc. to their Slovak friends and neighbours for safe–keeping hoping to get their property back if the situation were to change. In many cases, the Slovaks themselves offered their Jewish neighbours this service, promising to give everything back as soon as circumstances would allow.

Property to the tune of millions of Ks was thus transferred to Slovakian hands in Topoltchany alone and this was never returned to its owners as they had been murdered in the extermination camps. It is no more than just to mention the exceptions, the rare cases where Slovaks handed back, in an orderly fashion, everything they had received from Jews for safekeeping.

When the looting of Jewish property was completed, they were deported. On this occasion, it was mainly the lower orders of society that got their satisfaction – those who until now had been left out.

Immediately after the man–hunt, when the Jews had been brought to the places of concentration, their apartments were broken in mainly by the Hlinka guards and their friends. As often as not, they used the keys which the Jews had

[Page 84]

left with neighbours or which they had had taken off them. The Jews had been allowed on 25kg of baggage so that their houses were left full and the population carried off whatever they wanted: clothes, carpets, furniture, household goods, etc. Where the houses were not broken in, the property was sold at caution in the street for a song by officials of the municipality.

The second fact that largely determined the behaviour of the gentiles is only indirectly connected with the looted property. When the Jews were expelled, hundreds of apartments stood empty, mostly well located and in superior condition to average Slovak dwellings. Now that their economic condition had improved and their social standing had risen, the Slovaks also wanted better houses and here were those of the Jews to solve the problem.

Another factor was the opportunities to arise at the various places of employment and in the liberal professions, though in these, the Jews were not so easily replaced.

Taking all these factors together, we can follow the trend of thought that prevailed with the Slovaians and see how the people of Topoltchany were whole heartedly behind the expulsion of the Jews. If no more Jews were left on Slovakian territory, the gentiles would be rid of all moral and economic obligations towards them, so the Slovaks did whatever they could to expedite the deportations caring little for what would happen next. It is harrowing to think how, for the sake of sordid gain, Slovaks applied to the authorities and asked them to expel as soon as possible Jews with whom they had been living together in the same house in good neighbourly relations. “Aryans” whom the Jews had taken into their businesses for the sake of old acquaintance and longstanding trade relations now demanded the expulsion of their Jewish partners and citizens who coveted a Jewish apartment did not rest until its owner had been sent away. This behaviour came to a head at the time of the German occupation.

At this time, what had been done to the Jews in the death camps was common knowledge, and yet, the population fully collaborated with the murderers not only on 8th September, 1944 but after that too – witness the mass grave at Nemcice.

There is nothing to extenuate this base and bastardly behaviour. The argument brought forward by the Slovaks, as if they had not known what would be

[Page 85]

the fate of the expelled Jews does not hold. It might have been partly true with regard to the first wave in the spring of 1942. Later on, they had learnt the facts from Slovak soldiers who had come back from the Eastern front, and had told quite openly of the mass murders they had witnessed in occupied Russia. Even the Catholic Church published a manifesto that related the fate of the Jews who had been expelled from Slovakia.

Without the active assistance of the Slovaks, the German murderers could never have achieved their aim so efficiently and in so short a time when they apprehended a thousand Jews in a few hours. There is a document that sheds light upon this inhuman behaviour. It is written by the commanding officer of the Einsatzkommando 14 and he speaks of the joy and satisfaction which the local people of Topoltchany expressed at the measures taken by the Germans and their Slovak helpers against the Jews of the town.

This document comes to confirm and to support judgment of the townspeople.

In the end, we wish to mention the very few cases of noble minds and humanity at its best that shine out amidst the general murky atmosphere of envy and hatred. The few who kept intact the image of man, dared to swim against the current and to extend a helpful hand. Some of these lived in our town too.

Never Fear:
When bad years come
And darken the world –
Never fear and never tremble!
Remember the spark of hope:
We shall have good days again.
Jews shall be happy
In their ancient homeland;
New life shall bloom
There, in the land of our fathers
And the skies shall again be bright.
 
This poem was written (in Slovakian) by a girl of 11, Esther Kohn, from Topoltchany in 1940.

It was printed on 16th May, 1940 in N°19 of the Jewish paper “Haderech” (The Way).

Esther, daughter of Sigmund Kohn, was sent to a death camp with her parents in 1942 and murdered there.

 

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