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“Spisske Podhradie” – Encyclopaedia
of Jewish communities, Slovakia
(Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia)

49°00' / 20°45'

Translation of the
“Spisske Podhradie” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Slovakia

Edited by Yehoshua Robert Buchler and Ruth Shashak

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 2003


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


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(Pages 412-414)

Spišské Podhradie, Slovakia

Translated by Shlomo Sné

(Szepesvaralja in Hungarian, Kirchdorf in German. Town in the Spišska Nova Ves area, Spiš region, Northern Slovakia)

 

Year Number of Residents Jews By Percentage
18693,3632196.5
18803,2592196.5
18903,1322518.0
19003,0242949.7
19192,90338513.2
19303,08441913.6
19403,12045814.7
19482,831451.6

Spiš was established in the twelfth century. At first it belonged to nearby Spis Castle, and in the thirteenth century it became an independent settlement. The majority of its inhabitants were Germans, and it belonged to a union of German settlements of the Spis district.

In the fourteenth century Spis received the status of a city, and from that time it developed and flourished. It had great market days, and many shops and schools were opened. During the nineteenth century Spis became the capital of a sub- district. In the second half of the century it was connected to the railway network, and the industrialization process began in the town. The majority of the population was still German, but there were also Catholic Slovakians, Hungarians, and Jews. Townspeople made their living through artisanship, trade, and farming. In the era of the Czechoslovakian Republic, Spis kept its status as an administrative and economic center for the local area.

The seat of the district bishop of Spis was located in the village of Spisska Kapitula, close to Spis. There was a large monastery and a theological seminary for training priests.

The History of the Community

The German inhabitants of the city prevented Jewish settlement in it until the 1840's. Only after the abolition of limitations on Jewish settlement at this time did a Jewish settlement flourish. The first Jewish settlers came from Huncovce, a place nearby. They searched for new sources of income. In a few years the number of Jews grew, in the 1860's there were more than 200, and at the end of the nineteenth century their number increased to about 300. The majority of them were in large or small businesses and a minority worked at all kinds of artisanship. Most made a reasonable living.

In the 1840's (apparently in 1844) the Jews of Spis established a Hevra Kadisha, and sanctified a cemetery (the oldest tombstones in it were from the years 1844-1846), and after a few years organized themselves into a community. In a few decades they prayed publicly in a private house. It seems that in 1848 the community already owned the first public institutions there, and it already had a rabbi. But only in 1868 was it recognized as an independent community. Its rabbinate also served the communities of Spisske Vlachy, Krompchy, Gelnica, Smolnik, Marcoshovtza, and Margetzne, and Jews from other settlements in the district. In the first years the rabbi Chaim Shaoul Eizenshtater, who was the Dayan and More Tzedek, substituted for the rabbi of the town and area. The community and provincial rabbi, Rabbi Pesach Feivel Zinger, was nicknamed “Tzadok,” thanks to his scholarship and his religious education.

After the split among Hungarian Jews in 1869, the Spis community defined itself as status quo, but after a short time it joined the Orthodox communities' organization under the influence of Rabbi Zinger. During the first years of the 1870's the community built a mikva tahara, and opened a Talmud Torah, in which there were about 40 children. In 1872 the first synagogue, built in Moorish style, was inaugurated in Spis, but destroyed in a fire a few years after. From the 1880's the community owned a four-class elementary school, which instructed the pupils in German. The number of pupils was about 60. In 1905 a new synagogue in classic style was built in Spis, replacing the former synagogue, which had been destroyed in a fire. In 1898 Rabbi Zinger died, and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schick was elected in his place, who established a yeshiva in Spis. Rabbi Schick moved to the Sikszo community in 1907, which was the biggest in Hungary. Rabbi Asher Lemel Spitzer, one of the leaders of Agudat Yisroel, and founder of the Aguda branch in the city, succeeded him after 1908.

The head of the community during the years 1885-1900 was N. Nierenstein, followed in this office by Shmuel Eichner. Other institutions active in the town were the Jewish Women's association, Bikur Holim, Gmilut Hasidim, and some other charitable associations.

The Jews between the Two World Wars

356 of the 397 Spis Jews register themselves as Jews, according to nationality in the census of 1921. In 1922 there were about 400 people in the community, (58 family heads who paid the community tax). The Rabbi, Asher Lemel Spitzer, continued in his office, and was also the head of the local yeshiva, containing about 40 students. Rabbi Spitzer was also busy with various public activities: among them he was the member of the Orthodox Chamber and Presidium of Agudat Yisroel in Czechoslovakia. The veteran community head, Shmuel Eichner, also continued in office. There were five classes in the Jewish elementary school in this area. Its director was the teacher, Marcus Forman, and Rabbi Spitzer was the head of the school board. The community also owned a synagogue, a Beit Midrash, a cemetery, mikve, and some other public institutions.

There was Zionist activity between the two world wars, and branches of Mizrachi, Bnai Akiva, Betar, and a large and active branch of WIZO. Before the Fifteenth Zionist Congress of 1926, 55 shekels were sold in Spis. The power of the local Zionists strengthened until 1939, and at the Twenty-first Congress, held in that year, 184 shekels were sold in the city- a huge number in proportional to the size of the Jewish community. The veterans Agudat Yisroel continued its various activities, and under its auspices were: Young Israel and the Bet Yakov girls' movement. During the 1920's and 1930's the national Jewish party was also party was also active in the city. In the 1928 elections it received 13.5 % of votes, and in the local council it was third in members.

Trade continued to be the primary source of income in the twentieth century. Some made their living through artisanship or services, and among them was a large proportion of free professionals- three lawyers (of four), two doctors (among them the sub-district physician, Dr. Samuel Neibaum), a pharmacist, some clerks and teachers.

In the early 1920's, the Jews were more than 13% of the local population, but in the trade section they were 69%, as we can learn from the data of the local manufacturer's association, according to business licenses it issued in 1921:

Type of BusinessNumber of
Businesses
Owned
by Jews
Groceries and general stores1913
Cloth and clothing148
Butchers115
Taverns and restaurants76
Wood and heating materials55
Alcoholic beverages33
Iron and tools33
Leather and shoes32
Others64

There were also seven workshops, small factories, a sawmill and a flour mill that belonged to Jews.

The Holocaust

Spis was included in the area of the Slovakian state established by Nazi Germany. At its height the number of local Jews was about 460 people. The head of the community was Max Wasserman. There were a large number of Germans in Spis. They were busy with anti-Semitic incitement, plotted against Jews and damaged their property. In 1940 Rabbi Gustave Wald, head of the local Hevra Kadisha was nominated as head of the Jewish Center in the sub -district. In the academic year of 1940-1941 Jewish children were expelled from elementary and secondary school in all Slovakia, and the community added a junior high school to its school. During 1941 the authorities closed the majority of Jewish businesses, except eight big department stores and three factories, which were given to Aryan managers and owners. Dozens of Jewish men who remained without employment or sources of income were taken for forced labor, and were sent to work centers outside Spis.

Expulsions to extermination camps began in the spring of 1942. On March 21 there was a hunt for young Jewish women, and 39 of them were caught and sent to the collection camp in Popard. The next day another 25 more women were brought to this camp (on March 22), the majority of them from nearby places. All of them were added on the 25th to the first transport from Slovakia to the Auschwitz extermination camp. A few days afterwards dozens of Jewish young men from Spis and the area were sent to the collection point at Jilina, and at the beginning of April were sent to the Maidanek camp near Lublin. Poland. Dozens of adults sent during April 1942 arrived at the same places. In May 28, 1942 during the general expulsions, more than 200 of Spis Jews, and dozens of Jewish families from nearby places were brought to a concentration point, in Spisska Nova Ves, and on May 29, they were added to a transport to the Lublin district. The men among them who were fit for work were taken to Maidanek camp, and old people, women with children, and those who were unfit for labor, were brought to the Izbica ghetto. During the summer dozens more Jews were sent through the Jilina camp to Auschwitz.

During the expulsions the abbot of the monastery in Spis village saved some Jewish families by employing the head of the family as workers in the monastery. A Greek Orthodox priest from a little village in the area saved a few more Jews.

After the expulsions stopped in the autumn of 1942, 41 Jews who owned protection documents still remained in Spis, among them Rabbi Spitzer, and the head of the Hevra Kadisha, Rabbi Gustave Wald, and their family members.

The local synagogue was closed, and the little community held public prayer in the Bet Midrash. Instruction in the local Jewish school continued until May 1944, and pupils came from the whole sub- district. Zoltan Deutsch was the schoolmaster.

After the Slovakian rebellion was suppressed in September 1944, the Germans occupied Spis. Some of the Jews succeeded in fleeing, and found shelter among farmers. Eleven of them joined the Slovakian partisans. Five of them died in battle. The Jews who remained in the town were caught and expelled to extermination camps. Rabbi Asher Lemel Spitzer and his family were sent to Auschwitz and were killed there. In all 416 Jews from Spis were exterminated during the Holocaust, and among them were 148 children.

After the War

When the war ended, about 60 Jewish survivors came to Spis. Not all of them were locals before the war. They returned to organize in a community, reconstructed the synagogue and mikva and cemetery. The public prayers were not held in the synagogue, but in one of the other public buildings. Rabbi Gustave Wald, who fled into the woods before the end of the war, returned to the city and was the chief rabbi of the Spis district. Jews of the whole area belonged to the community. Beside the rabbi, it also employed a shochet, who was at the same time a cantor and religious teacher. Zionist activity also renewed. In 1947 6,000 crowns were donated to the Jewish national Fund from the town. In 1948 about 50 Jews lived in the city. The majority of them made aliyah to Israel, or immigrated elsewhere in 1949, while others left after a short time. The synagogue became a carpenter's shop and furniture store for dozens of years. In 1991 it was returned to the Jewish communal organization in Slovakia, and in 1995 it was reconstructed and became a museum of the history of Jews in the district with a cultural hall. We don't have information about Jews who live in Spis now. The Jewish cemetery is abandoned and neglected.

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