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

48°13' / 18°36'

Translation of the
“Levice” 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

 

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 293-295]

Levice, Slovakia

Translated by Shaul Sharoni

Edited by Madeleine Isenberg

Levice, (Hungarian: Léva, German: Lewenz),
district town in the Tekov county, Southern Slovakia.

 

Year Number of
Inhabitants
Jewish
Inhabitants
Relative
Percent
1869 5.914 603 10.2
1880 6,491 903 14
1900 8,325 1,259 15.1
1919 10,565 1,389 13.2
1930 12,576 1,448 11.5
1941 12,758 1,271 10.0
1948 13,157 304 2.3

 

Levice is first mentioned in documents dating back to 1156, as a fortress protecting the mining area of Central Slovakia from invaders. Over the years a township developed around the fortress. In the 18th century Levice served as a commercial and trade hub for its surrounding rural region. In the 19th century several factories for processing agricultural produce were established as well. In 1885 Levice was first connected to the rail network, and was among the most important centers of commerce and petty trade in Southern Slovakia.

During the Czechoslovak Republic Levice also served as administrative center. In the 1930 census 40% of its inhabitants reported themselves as Hungarian; 7.6% reported being Jewish and the rest as Slovak or other nationality. In 1938 Levice was annexed to Hungary, and in March 1944 was occupied by German forces. On December 20 it was liberated by the USSR Army.

 

The History of the Community

Historical sources indicate that a few Jews settled in Levice as early as the 18th century. A document dated 1714, mentions a Jewish customs officer resident of Levice, whereas the first Jewish census of 1727, several Jews originating from Levice reported themselves in nearby Čúz[1]. It is assumed they were banished from Levice due to a ban on Jewish settlement in the mining area. During the 18th century no Jews in Levice were recorded, yet in 1818 several Jewish families resettled there.

Many Jews of the Nitra and Komarno districts settled in Levice in the 1840s, thereby establishing a Jewish community with its own institutions. In 1842 a burial society and a cemetery were established. The first head of the community was Gumprich Weiss. In 1848 the community had 100 families, some from nearby settlements. In that year a private Jewish school was founded, offering religious as well as general studies. As of 1851 Levice had its own rabbi: the first was Yehuda Heilborn, followed by Rabbi Mordechai Liebmann, Rabbi Meir Hirsch Meisels, Rabbi Joseph Schlesinger, Rabbi Shlomo Werner and Rabbi Abraham Kohn. In 1857 a first synagogue in a traditional style was dedicated, next to a ritual bath. In 1854 the community established an elementary school acknowledged by the authorities; and thanks to its high level, non–Jewish students studied there as well. Classes were held in Hungarian and German.

In 1869 following the division among Hungarian Jewry, and due to the influence of its leaders, the Levice community joined Neolog Judaism. In 1874 several orthodox families deserted the Neolog movement and established a separate congregation. The rift brought about the impoverishment of both communities, thus its leaders sought a way to reunite. After 10 years the two communities merged and set up a status quo community. During the 19th century the community flourished and grew bigger. The old synagogue became too small to contain all the worshippers, and in 1883 was renovated and expanded. In 1891 a new ritual bath with a bathhouse, school building, and a community center with an apartment for the shamash were built in the synagogue compound. Ca. 1880 the cemetery was expanded and a beit tahara[2] set up at its entrance. Jews of 30 small communities in the surrounding area, as well as other localities which had no community of their own, were under the jurisdiction of Levice's rabbinate. The community rules of procedure were reaffirmed in 1909.

Alongside the local burial society additional benevolent societies operated in Levice: Poalei HaTzedek, Bikur Holim and Agudat Nashim Yehudiot (Association of Jewish Women); the latter was established in 1868. At its own expense the community operated an old–age home, soup kitchen and a lodgings for passersby.

Zionist activity in Levice began at the start of the 20th century. Many Jews of Levice fought in WWI and 23 fell in the line of duty.

 

Jews Between the Two World Wars

During the Czechoslovak Republic Levice saw a dramatic rise in public life and in Zionist activity in particular, which as previously mentioned started even before WWI. Right after the war Isidor Berkovic was head of the community (Dr. Samuel Szilard was his successor), and Jacob Lieberman was rabbi of the community and the entire region. In 1922 the community counted 1600 people (including 314 family heads that paid community dues); employed seven regular as well as temporary employees; and its annual budget was 130,000 Czechoslovak crowns. The community institutions included a synagogue, beit midrash, prayer house, cemetery, ritual bath with bathhouse, slaughterhouse for poultry, old age home, a soup kitchen and an elementary school of five classes. Classes were held in Slovak and Hungarian.

In 1928 the annual budget grew to 217,000 crowns, and the community became a member of Yeshuron–union of liberal Jewish communities. In 1938 Dr. Nandor Nathan was appointed as chief rabbi. In that year a memorial stone was erected for the 23 townsmen who fell in WWI.

Zionist activity in Levice was at its peak in those days, thus leaving an imprint on Jewish culture and community life. Several Zionist and youth movements were active in Levice. The first was HaShomer Kadima (later on HaShomer HaTzair) established in 1923, which in the 1930s operated a Zionist training camp. Up until WWII dozens of youngsters from Levice made aliya; most of them joined the kibbutzim. Additional youth movements were active in Levice: Maccabi HaTzair, Beitar, Maccabi sports organization (with a few hundred members), as well as the local branch of WIZO[3], which was also large and active. In 1929 the Jews of Levice donated 3500 crowns for planting a forest in Eretz Israel in honor of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, president of Czechoslovakia. Toward the 17th Jewish congress in 1931, the Jews of Levice purchased 128 Shkalim[4].

The involvement of Jews in civil as well as cultural life at large rose in those years, and some of them held senior positions in the public administration. In the 1920s six Jews were members of the town council, while Alex Stern was head of the social services, and Dr. Philip Gergely served as chief municipal physician. Jews also held senior positions in government and health institutions. Dr. Arthur Laufer was head of the merchants organization in the Levice district.

In the 1921 census 337 people reported they were of Jewish nationality, whereas in the 1930 census the number rose to 954. The rest reported themselves as Slovak and Hungarian. In the 1928 elections to the town council, the Nationalist Jewish Party won 47 votes and two seats.

Despite that Jews were only a little more than 10% of Levice's total population, they played a key role in the city's economy, especially in trade and commerce. Even the majority of service providers were Jewish. In 1921 Jews in Levice owned 163 stores, 39 workshops, three manufacturing plants and the local commerce bank. 20 Jews were farm owners or estate managers. Levice also had 8 Jewish physicians (out of 11), 10 lawyers (out of 14), 2 midwives, 2 dental technicians, 3 construction contractors, 2 pharmacists and several engineers.

Data published by the local trade bureau in 1921 indicate the relative share of Jews in the business sector, based on the number of business licenses issued:

 

Business
Type
Total
number
In
Jewish
Ownership
Grocery and general supply stores 55 39
Pubs and restaurants 31 15
Textile and clothing 23 22
Agencies 18 16
Vendors 14 9
Leather and shoes 13 12
Cereal and agricultural produce 11 10
Transportation 9 6
Alcoholic beverages 7 6
Wood and construction materials 7 7
Jewelry and watches 5 3
Machinery 4 3
Ironware and work tools 4 4
Furniture and homeware 4 4
Haberdashery 4 4
Hotels 3 2
Books and paper products 3 2
Miscellaneous 12 7

 

During the Holocaust

In November–December 1938, after southern Slovakia was annexed by Hungary, a few dozen families were deported from Levice to Slovakia since they were unable to prove their Hungarian citizenship. In 1940 the authorities implemented measures to oust Jews from commercial life, and in 1941 many men were recruited to labor battalions of the Hungarian army. During the 1942 deportations in Slovakia many Jewish refugees fled to Levice. Hungarian police officers searched for these refugees in Jews' houses, and by doing so abused their Jewish tenants. Many were arrested and tortured for hiding refugees from Slovakia.

In March 1944 right after the German invasion into Hungary, the community numbered 1005 people (310 family heads who paid community dues). Rabbi Dr. Nathan Nandor continued officiating, and the community was headed by Dr. Stefan Fischer. The Jewish school at that time had a total of 80 students. The community had 13 employees and in cooperation with the burial society operated an old–age home. On April 11, 1944, the governor of the Levice district ordered closure of all Zionist organizations and youth movements. On April 28, 1944, the governor issued a decree ordering closure of Jewish–owned businesses. In early May a Jewish council was established; Dr. Fischer, head of the community, was appointed as chairman. On May 4, the governor decreed the establishment of the Levice ghetto. Consequently the authorities cleared several streets, and by May 10, 1944, the Jews of Levice were rounded up and greatly constrained there under poor hygiene conditions. The townsmen looted 190 apartments vacated from their Jewish residents. As of May 8, 1944, the Jews of Vráble, Želiezovce and Tekovske Šarluhy Hronovce (Hungarian : Lekér) as well as of small settlements in that area, were transported to the ghetto; 572 deportees in total. Some were housed at the Jewish school. Many of the ghetto inmates were recruited for slave labor inside town as well as to farm work in that area.

In early June 1944 all the ghetto inmates were concentrated at a government–owned tobacco factory at the outskirts of Levice, as a preliminary step toward their deportation. The Hungarian guards robbed the little money and valuables they had left. On June 14, 1944, 1695 Jews of Levice and the entire district were put on a transport of 2678 Hungarian Jews deported to Auschwitz.

 

Post WWII Era

After liberation 300 Jews who survived the various death camps and labor battalions returned to Levice;140 were residents of Levice before the war. Community life renewed. Dr. Zoltan Banyai was elected as head of the community, and Dr. Andrej Kempner served as religious leader up until his immigration to England in 1947. The synagogue, ritual bath and the rabbi's apartment were renovated and put back into use. The cemetery was also restored and a memorial stone to the community's Holocaust martyrs was erected.

Zionist activity restarted, headed by Dr. Ernst Lieberman, head of the Zionist branch in Levice. In 1947 the Jews of Levice donated 32,000 crowns to the Keren Kayemet L'Israel, as well as for planting of the Martyrs of Slovakia forest in the mountains of Jerusalem. In 1948, 304 Jews were living in Levice; in the immigration wave of 1949 half of them immigrated to Israel. After immigration was banned, 161 Jews continued to maintain community life. In the 1960s Joseph Braun served as head of the community, and T. Vital as religious leader. In 1972 the local authorities demolished the synagogue, and since then community prayers took place at a prayer room which is still in use today. In the 1990s a few dozen Jews were still living in Levice and the community continued to exist. The cemetery has been preserved in good condition, and recently the town has started restoring the synagogue.


Bibliography

Yad Vashem archives, M48/708–715, 725–750, 752, 761–769, 771–776, 789–811; JM/11027.
Moreshet Archives (Givat Haviva), A/717, 1307.
Yad Vashem Research Compilation, Yud Tet, pp.151–153.
Cohen, Hachmei Hungaria, p.397.
Barkany– Dojč, pp.214–216.
MHJ, vols. V(2), VII.
Lanyi, Bekefy–Popper, Szlovenszkói zsidó hitközségek, pp.263–265.
K. Šandor, P. Tešak, Levice, Minulost a sucasnost mesta, Bratislava 1989.
Schweitzer, pp.370–371.
Allgemeine Jüdische Zeitung, No.17 (1935).
Židovske ludové noviny, 30.5.1933.


Translator's Notes:

  1. It was renamed in 1948-the current name is Dubník. Return
  2. Ritual room for washing corpses before burial. Return
  3. WIZO–Women's International Zionist Organization Return
  4. Shekalim, pl. of shekel. The Zionist shekel was first introduced by the World Zionist Organization toward the elections of the 2nd Jewish congress. Purchasing this currency enabled members to vote for their congress representatives. Return

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