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

49°07' / 20°23'

Translation of the
“Huncovce” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Slovakia

Edited by Yehoshua Robert Buchler and Ruth Shashak

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 2003


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Acknowledgments

Project Coordinator

Madeleine Isenberg

 

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

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


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[Pages 161-163]

Huncovce, Slovakia

Translated by Madeleine Isenberg

(Hungarian: Hunfalu, German: Hunsdorf, in Jewish sources, Unsdorf.)

A town in the Kežmarok District in the Spiš Region in northern Slovakia.

 

Year Number of
Residents
Jews By Percent
1728   14 ..
1768   139  
1787 1,661 563 34.0
1828 2,148 939 43.7
1880 1,315 364 27.8
1910 1,247 429 34.4
1919 1,330 275 20.7
1930 1,606 194 12.1
1940 1,202 75 6.3

Huncovce was first mentioned in 1257 as a farming settlement, property of Hungarian noblemen. In time, Germans settled there who worked as craftsmen and lumberjacks, and it received rights to become a city. At the beginning of the 19th century, about half of the inhabitants of Huncovce were Jews and the rest Germans and Slovaks, Evangelical and Catholic by religion. Most of them made a living from small businesses, craftsmanship, and the lumber business. An important branch of making a living was from spinning and weaving fabric. In the middle of the 19th century an alcohol refinery was established.

During the period of the Czechoslovak republic, the city continued to be agricultural in its character. Between the years 1939 – 1945, Huncovce was within the Slovak borders as a German satellite. In January 1945, Huncovce was liberated by the Soviet and Czechoslovak armies.

 

About the History of the Community

It is estimated that the first Jews who were from Moravia settled in Huncovce in the second half of the 16th century. In the middle of the 17th century, some additional Polish refugees arrived who were survivors of the Khmelnitsky pogroms of 1648-1649. In 1662 there was already a small Jewish Kehila (community) whose presence was approved in that year, but it was not continuously established. For many years, Huncovce was the only Jewish settlement in northern Slovakia, a sort of Jewish ghetto in the whole Spis Region, since Jewish settlement was prohibited by laws of the kingdom. In the 1728 census, three Jewish families were listed (14 people), but according to other testimonies their numbers were much higher. In the 1730s the Jewish population paid taxes amounting to 35 Florins; in 1746, 13 heads of households were counted, mostly shopkeepers and vendors, and according to the tax registry of the area in 1768 there were then 30 Jewish heads of families (139 people, 71 of whom were children), mostly small shopkeepers, vendors, and tradesmen (two tailors and two glaziers).

In the beginning of the 18th century, Huncovce already had a Jewish kehila (community) that was presided over by a rabbi, Rabbi Benjamin SINAI (who died in 1706). All the Jews in the Spis Region at that time belonged to the Huncovce kehila and its rabbinate and buried their dead in its Jewish cemetery (its oldest gravestone (matzevah) was from 1706, and was that of Rabbi Benjamin Sinai). In the middle of the 18th century, the head of the community was the Parnass Mordechai MAJER, and Rabbi Meir ben Yitzchak of Huncovce served as the rabbi for the whole district (including the Jews of the region) and was its representative to the authorities. Communal prayer at first took place in the home of a local Jew who dedicated a room for use as a prayer hall. In 1787 the community established also a Talmud Torah. In the 1820s a synagogue, spacious and splendid in the style of the Polish synagogues, was consecrated. A few years later the kehila opened a four-year basic school, using German as the language, and in which its curriculum included Judaic as well as general subjects. The Huncovce community reached the peak of its greatness in 1828 when it had 939 members (43.7% of the total local population), and Jews from 17 other settlements in the area belonged to it as well. With the growth of the community the first cemetery was filled, and the community sanctified a second cemetery. At some unknown date, the level of Poprad River rose and in the flood, some of the ancient gravestones drifted from their places in the old cemetery.

In the 19th century, Huncovce became one of the important Torah centers in Hungary, presided over by distinguished rabbis, and they built a Yeshiva of great repute. In the middle of the century, Samuel GRAUS presided as the head of the community. Besides the rabbi and the dayan, there were three magidim (story-tellers) who served there so that most of the Jewish men were able to participate in Torah lessons. The first rabbis in Huncovce were Polish, and thanks to them, the spiritual connection with Polish Jewry was maintained for many years, and it left its impression on the character of the community. Among these, we know the names of Rabbi Alexander ZISKIND (“The Magid from Tarnow”), who wrote “Mitznefet Bad” (A Miter of Cloth) (in the years 1756-1773); Rabbi Yosef Moshe Simcha the Cohen RAPPAPORT , author of “Bigdei Kodesh” (Holy Garments), descendent of a dynasty of known rabbis from Mir, Lithuania; Rabbi Yoav son of Yermiah, author of “Shaarei Bina” (Gates of Understanding) (in years 1800-1808); Rabbi Yekutiel Zeev WOLF (d. 1818) author of “Emek Hamelech” (The King's Valley) (who led Huncovce from the beginning of the 19th century until his death). He came from Moravia, and remained in contact via responsa with the Chatam Sofer. After him (until 1824) the community leader was Rabbi Yechzkel Wolf SEGEL, author of “Toras Yechezkel”, who was born in Liptovsky Sveti Mikulas (q.v.). Rabbi Segel established a yeshiva of great renown even beyond the borders of Hungary it contributed greatly to glorification of the Huncovce community as an important center of Torah in Hungary.

slo162.jpg
Synagogue in Huncovce

In the middle of the 19th century about 350 boys studied at the Huncovce Yeshiva, some coming from different countries and even Israel. In the 1860s Rabbi Shlomo Zalman PERLSTEIN from Bialystok, Poland, became the head of the rabbinate (d. 1870). In this period (in 1869) there was a split within the Hungarian Jewish communities resulting with Huncovce joining with the Orthodox communities. In 1883, Rabbi Shmuel ROSENBERG (“The Tzaddik”) the author of Be'er Shmuel (Samuel's Well), was chosen to head the rabbinate and he continued in this position and also managed the yeshiva until his death in 1919. During his term of office, the yeshiva reached its pinnacle and was second in size only to that of the Pressburg Yeshiva (in Bratislava, q.v.). The Hungarian government recognized it as an institution for academic studies. Rabbi Rosenberg dedicated most of his time to running the yeshiva, and for other matters he was aided by Dayan Rabbi Alter STIEGLITZ. Also active were the traditional charitable organizations – the Chevra Kadisha (burial society), the “Jewish Women's Organization,” charitable assistance, a group for the support of the yeshiva and its students, and study groups like the questions/answers (responsa) group, a mishna group, and a few others.

By mid 19th century, Huncovce had about 200 Jewish families. But with the rescission of restrictions for Jewish settlement in the Spis region and other places, in 1848 Jews, especially the young ones, began a process of moving to towns in the north and center of Slovakia and the community gradually began to diminish. On the whole, relations between Jews and non-Jews in Huncovce were good. Toward the end of the 19th century, Jews even took part in the general community and were involved in the local council.

Among the notables born in Huncovce was the artist, Leopold HOROWITZ (1839-1917) who lived and worked in Warsaw and later in Vienna and displayed in his drawings typical Jewish motifs. He even painted the portraits of the Austro-Hungarian Kaiser and his family[1].

 

The Jews between the Two World Wars

Immediately following the war, in 1919, there still remained about 275 Jews, but in the 1921 census, only 90 of the locals reported themselves as Jews by nationality (and it would seem therefore that many described themselves as Slovak and perhaps even as Hungarian). Most of the Jews made a living in commerce and small business (among them two grocers, two leather merchants, some cattle brokers who were also butchers, some were tradesmen (tailors, carpenters, shoemakers). Among them were also two industrialists (Ignatz ROTH, owner of factory producing hard liquors, and Mathias SCHWEITZER, owner of a tanning factory) and two doctors (the only ones in town). By 1930, only 194 Jews remained and their number continued to dwindle at an accelerated rate.

In 1922 the Huncovce community numbered about 450 souls in Huncovce and surrounding settlements (about 60 community tax-paying heads of households). The leader of the community was Michael ROTH, and the yearly community budget was 30,000 Kronen. Aside from a rabbi, the community maintained a chazzan, who served as a shochet and spiritual leader. In the late 1920s, Eduard HOLLANDER served as the head of the community. Within the community's institutions were the synagogue, Bet Midrash (study hall), community center, mikvah, yeshiva, Talmud Torah, slaughterhouse, and more. Charitable institutions that operated before the war continued their work and added some new things. The basic Jewish school was already closed by then and most of the children learned in the local public school or in the Jewish school in nearby Kezmarok (q.v.). After the death of Rabbi Shmuel Rosenberg in 1919, his grandson Rabbi Joseph Yonah Tsvi HaLevi HOROWITZ, became the head of the rabbinate. He excelled in his Torah and secular knowledge and also became the head of the local yeshiva. In his time, about 200 young men learned in the yeshiva. The non-locals among them lived with local Jewish families, but the old custom of “essen teg” (daily food) at the home of the hosts stopped after Rabbi Joseph Yonah Tsvi opened a restaurant for the yeshiva students. He also began construction for a dormitory for them, but it seems it was never finished. Rabbi Joseph Yonah Tsvi was also very active in community affairs, was counted as one of the heads of “Agudas Yisroel” in Czechoslovakia, and sometimes spoke in parliament and government institutions. In 1929 he moved to Frankfurt on Mainz in Germany and served as the orthodox rabbi. His successor Rabbi Shlomo Shneur Zalman HOROWITZ, remained in his post until 1942 and he was Huncovce's last rabbi. He too headed the yeshiva.

In the 1920s and 1930s many members of the community belonged to “Agudas Yisroel” and alongside it were the Agudas Yisroel youth movement (for boys) and Beis Yakov (for girls). In Huncovce there were also Zionist activities. On the eve of the 15th Zionist Congress (in 1927) Huncovce's Jews acquired 15 “shekalim[2]”.

 

The Holocaust Period

With the establishment of the Slovak Republic on 14 March 1939 many of the German inhabitants joined Nazi organizations and participated with the authorities in persecuting Jews. On 15 March 1939, about 200 Jews were rounded up and driven out to the no-man's land on the Slovakian-Hungarian border, near Roznava (q.v.). The deportees were held without shelter and in cramped and difficult conditions; after two weeks they were allowed to return to their homes.

On the eve of WW II, there were 80 Jews in Huncovce and in 1940, 19 families. They belonged to the “Jewish Center” in Kezmarok. Rabbi Shlomo Shneur Zalman HOROWITZ continued to head the rabbinate and to be the head of the yeshiva until the deportations in 1942. Emanuel SHAPIRA served as shochet and prayer-leader. In the years 1940-1941, Huncovce's Jews were dispossessed from their livelihoods, and their businesses were either closed or aryanized[3]. Many men were sent to perform hard labor in the area.

Deportations of Huncovce's Jews began at the end of March 1942. At the start, the young men for the most part were sent to extermination camps in Poland. At the beginning of April 1942 some families were rounded up and sent to Kezmarok and from there deported via Zilina (q.v.) to Auschwitz. Most of Huncovce's Jews, among them Rabbi HOROWITZ and his family, were sent to the Poprad (q.v.) collection point during the spring of 1942 and from there deported to extermination camps and ghettoes in the Lublin area in Poland When the deportations ended in 1942 only two families remained in Huncovce because of their exemption certificates that deferred their deportation. Their fate is not known.

 

Post-War

After liberation, some survivors who had hidden in the forests or with Slovak inhabitants, returned to Huncovce. The life of the kehila was not reborn and shortly thereafter the Jews left and moved to neighboring towns. Two cemeteries, the synagogue (that had been damaged during the war and served as a warehouse), two additional community buildings, and the Yeshiva building remained. In time the old cemetery that had suffered with the flood in the 19th century was completely destroyed. The newer cemetery was neglected and many of the gravestones were destroyed. Recently, it was declared a protected historical site and the authorities intend to repair and maintain it. The yeshiva building still stands.

References

Yad Vashem Archives, JM/11005,11019; 03/2619; M5/117; M48/602-609, 1784.
Y. Grosberg, Hunsdorf Yeshiva, Shearim 15, 1967.
Greenwald, Toysent Yahr Judisch Leben, pp. 224-227.
_________, Mekorot, pp1-18, 186-189.
Cohen, Khakhmei Hungaria (Hungarian Sages), pp. 380385, 400-403, 474-476.
Fuchs, Hungarian Yeshivas, I, pp. 106-121
Bárkány-Dojč, pp. 316-321
Lanyi, Bekelfy-Popper, Szlovenskoi zsido hitközsegek, pp. 269-270.
MHJ, vols. VII, XIV, XVI
K. Sauter, Rabbiner-Hochschule in Hunsdorf, Münich 1993
A. Schnitzer, Jüdische Kulturbilder, Vienna 1904
Jüdische Nachrichten, 28.2.1935
Židovská ročenka (1940) p. 22.

Footnotes
  1. Apparently not true on several points. He was born in or near Kosice, 2 February 1838. See http://www.invaluable.com/artist/HOROWITZ-leopold-dq069mga9q. Return
  2. A shekel-owner became a partner in the Zionist Organization and had voting rights. See http://www.begedivri.com/ZionistShekel/History.htm for more information. Return
  3. Aryanization meant that businesses were transferred to non-Jewish owners and the proceeds taken by the state. Return

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