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“Spišská Stará Ves” – Encyclopaedia
of Jewish communities, Slovakia
(Slovakia)

49°23' / 20°22'

Translation of the
“Spišská Stará Ves” 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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(Page 410)

“Spišská Stará Ves, Slovakia

Translated by Madeleine Isenberg

(Hungarian: Ofalu, German: Altendorf)

A district capital in the Spiš Region, northern Slovakia.

 

Year Number of
Residents
Jews By Percent
1830 1,156 90 7.8
1869 1,033 138 13.5
1880 952 189 20
1910 1,244 303 24.5
1919 1,238 270 21.8
1930 1,220 218 18
1940 1,308 217 16.8
1948 1,275 4 0.3

 

Spišská Stará Ves is first mentioned in documents dating 1272. At that time it belonged to the Baron Wilhem DRUGETH and afterward ownership went to the monastery in Červený Kláštor. In the Middle Ages, it adjoined the Polish border and served as a transit station for goods traveling on land between Hungary and Poland and also had a depot for the collection of taxes. In the 15th century Spišská Stará Ves gained the rights of a town and a peace treaty was signed there between the kings of Hungary and Poland. Most of the population at the time were German and the sources of their livelihood was through crafts and forestry. The big market days in Spišská Stará Ves drew traders from near and far and in the 16th century Spišská Stará Ves became a member in the association of German towns in the Spiš Region; big shops, new workshops, schools and public institutions in the area were opened. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Spišská Stará Ves was pledged to the Kingdom of Poland. In the 19th century it was returned back to the hands of the Hungarian kings and became a district capital. However, the great fire of 1877 destroyed large sections of the town and brought an end to hundreds of years of prosperity. Spišská Stará Ves's impoverished inhabitants struggled to rebuild from the huge destruction and the town lost its status as an economic and cultural center of the district.

During the period of the Czechoslovak Republic Spišská Stará Ves was an unemployed–ridden backwater town. Its economy was based on agriculture, forestry, and crafts – weaving in particular. The majority of the population then were Slovaks and there were large minorities of Germans and Jews.

During the Second World War, Spišská Stará Ves bordered the Slovakian State that came into being on 14 March 1939 under the auspices of the Nazi Germany, and at the end of 1944 it was conquered by the Germans. On 27 January 1945, it was liberated by the Soviet and Czechoslovak armies.

 

About the History of the Community

In the 17th and 18th centuries, when Spišská Stará Ves was pledged to the Kingdom of Poland, sometimes Polish Jews came there for business purposes, and at the beginning of the 18th century some Jewish families lived there, but not for too long. In 1710, a plague broke out that led to a high death rate and inhabitants abandoning the town. It appears that Jews left there at that time; in any case in the population censuses of the 18th century no indication of Jews living in Spišská Stará Ves. Later in the 18th century settlement of Jews from Galicia was renewed and in the beginning of the 19th century their numbers grew gradually until reaching its peak of 300 people in 1910. Most of the Jews made their living from commerce, small business, and crafts. In the second half of the 19th century with the spread of the enlightenment, some doctors appeared among them and the rest in the free professions.

The kehila (Jewish community) in Spišská Stará Ves was founded by Galician Jews and followed with the Hasidic traditions. At the end of the 18th century the founders set up a small house of prayer and sanctified a cemetery (some old tombstones in the style that was common in Poland at the time, were preserved until the 20th century). In the 1920s, there was an organized Jewish kehila and after some decades it had a traditional–style synagogue, with a few hundred seats, a community house with an apartment for the rabbi and other holy implements, a mikveh (ritual bath), a slaughterhouse for chickens and two butcher shops, a Talmud Torah and Cheder [1]. Along with the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) additional charitable institutions, “Jewish Women's Association” among them. From the middle of the 19th century rabbis led the community in Spišská Stará Ves, and Jews from 12 small villages in the district also belonged as part of the local rabbinate. The first rabbi was, Rabbi Joel BLOCH, and from among those who led after him we know of Rabbi Lipman BILLITZER (who died in 1899), a great scholar who was famous as a great Tzaddik (righteous person) and who established a yeshiva in Spišská Stará Ves; Rabbi Mordechai the Cohen STRASSER (for the years 1907–1926). In 1869, with the split within the Hungarian Jewish communities Spišská Stará Ves joined with the Orthodox communities. In 1894, the kehila updated its regulations.

With the outbreak of World War I, 40 Jews were drafted into the Austro–Hungarian army and six of them fell in battle.

 

The Jews between the Two World Wars

After the war the kehila numbered 400 members from the town and its surroundings and at its head was Dr. Leopold SCHÖNFELD. Despite the depressed economy in the town, the kehila worked normally. Its annual budget in 1922 was 35,000 Kronen and was funded primarily from the membership dues paid by 90 heads of households. The kehila employed two full–time employees and two temporary ones. In 1926, Rabbi Mordechai STRASSER left to become the rabbi in Sala nad Vahom (q.v.) and for two years the role of rabbi was unfilled. In 1928, Rabbi Moshe FISCHER was the rabbi. In 1930, the number of Jews in the town diminished, and the community numbered only about 40 families and the budget was reduced to 28,000 Kronen. There was no longer a Jewish school in Spišská Stará Ves's kehila and the children went to the general state school. The kehila maintained religion classes for them.

Despite Rabbi STRASSER's vehement opposition to Zionism, in the 1920s a Zionist organization and branch, “Mizrachi,” was opened under the leadership of Eugen STRUMPF. Additionally other youth groups were active, “Hashomer Hatzair (the Young Guard),” “Bnei Akiva (Sons of Akiva),” “Maccabi Hatzair (Young Maccabi),” the Maccabi sports club, and a branch of “WIZO” [2]. Many of the graduates

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of the youth groups went on to preparatory farms and some of these went on to emigrate to Israel. On the eve of the 20th Zionist Congress (in 1937), Spišská Stará Ves's Jews acquired 55 shekels [3] and before the 21st Congress (in 1939) –– 65 shekels. In the town, the non–Zionist “Agudas Yisrael” was also active and supported by Rabbis STRASSER and FISCHER.

The Jews were also active in the council for the town and the surroundings and the Jewish–National Party participated with its own slate. In the 1928 elections, it received 70 votes, the second largest in the town, with two seats on the local council. During the period of the Czechoslovak Republic, Jews were involved in the life of the general population and some of them served in community institutions and administration. Dr. Alexander KUCHEL, the head of the kehila in the 1930s was a member of the district council and the head of the fire department; Molek ROSZMAN was the advisor for agricultural issues; Dr. RASO was the district judge, and Jozef STRUMPF was the head of the district merchants' organization for many years. The manager of the post office, district physician, and commander of the police in the town were all Jewish. The local sports association was set up by a Jew and he was its head.

The Jews played a decisive role in the local economy and especially in the branches of commerce and crafts. In 1921, Jews were owners of 11 businesses and shops, three pubs, two butcher shops, a sawmill, an alcohol distillery, bank and agricultural ranch. 11 Jews were craftsmen. Among those Jews in the free professions were a doctor and a lawyer.

 

The Holocaust Period

In the spring of 1939, the number of Jews in Spišská Stará Ves was about 200. Rabbi Moshe FISCHER still led. The president of the kehila was Geza MENGEL; Heinrich GRÜNFELD acted as cantor and shochet (ritual slaughterer); and Jakob APPEL was in charge of the Chevra Kadisha (burial society). In 1940, Geza MENGEL was chosen as the head of the “Jewish Center” of the district.

Immediately after the establishment of the Slovak state in March 1939, anti–Semitic incitement broke out orchestrated by the priest, PODOLSKI – head of the Catholic Church and head of the town's ruling party – and sworn hater of Israel. Many of the residents took part in the incitements and the acts of terror against the Jews. In the school year 1940/41, Jewish children were dismissed from the town's high school and the kehila opened its own basic school for children in the district. Throughout 1941 the authorities closed most of the small and medium sized Jewish–owned shops and businesses (their inclusive yearly revenue came to about 4.5 million Kronen). As for the four large enterprises (with a yearly return around 2 million Kronen) these were confiscated and turned over to the arizators [4]. Following these measures, most of the Jews were deprived of their work and sources of income. Able–bodied men were drafted for hard labor and sent to “work centers.”

In the spring of 1942, the deportations began in Spišská Stará Ves and the district. On March 21, 1942, dozens of young Jewish women from the district were taken to the transit camp in Poprad (q.v.) and on March 25th they were sent from there to the extermination camp in Auschwitz. A few days afterward, another round–up took place for young Jewish men, most of them sent to the collection camp in Žilina (q.v.). In the beginning of April they were added to the transport to the camp in Majdanek, near Lublin, Poland. On May 26, 1942, toward the general deportation, Jews from small villages in the area were brought to town, and afterward the town's Jews joined them. On May 28th they were transported to Spišská Nová Ves (q.v.) and attached the following day to the transport to the Izbica ghetto in area of Lublin, Poland. In September 1942, three other families whose exemption certificates were cancelled, including the family of Rabbi Moshe FISCHER, were sent via Žilina to extermination camps in Poland. By the end of 1942, about 80% of Jews of Spišská Stará Ves and the district, had been sent to extermination camps and ghettoes in Poland.

With the halt in deportations, 26 Jews remained in the town, 54 in the whole district, whose deportation had been deferred because they had exemption certificates. In 1943, Priest PODOLSKI, head of the ruling party in Spišská Stará Ves, appealed to the state authorities to deport even these. Apparently this request was not answered; at the beginning of 1944, 30 Jews were living in town and 50 in the entire district. The kehila still functioned but in a modest scale. The Jews in Spišská Stará Ves and the district assisted many Jews who had fled from Polish ghettoes and aided their escape to Hungary via Kezmarok (q.v.).

In the period of the Slovak rebellion, many Jews from Spišská Stará Ves and the district fought within the ranks of the partisans. After the invasion of the Germans into Slovakia at the end of August 1944 many of the Jews escaped to remote villages and found refuge with the farmers.

 

Post–War

After the liberation of Spišská Stará Ves at the end of January 1945, 40 Jewish survivors returned, not all of whom were former residents. Ladislav MENGEL concerned himself with the needs of the Jews and the community, but the kehila was not reestablished and within time, most of the survivors moved to Kezmarok. Spišská Stará Ves's synagogue was converted to a storehouse and in time it burnt down. Some of the Torah scrolls were taken to the synagogue in Kezmarok. In 1948 a few individual Jews still lived in Spišská Stará Ves. They all immigrated to Israel with the wave of immigration in 1949. The local Jewish cemetery was destroyed over the years and today in its place is a football field.

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References

Yad Vashem Archives, M48/220, 4815, 6796; JM/11011–11017, 11018–11019, 11027, 11031.
S.D. Gvaryahu–Gottesman, “Toldot Yehudei Kezmarok Vehasviva,” Jerusalem 1992.
Cohen, Khakhmei Hungaria (Hungarian Sages), pp. 337, 401.
Bárkány–Dojč, pp. 313–314
Lanyi, Bekefy–Popper, Szlovenskoi zsidó, pp. 267–268.
E. Šoltýs, Spomienky na židovskú náboženskú obec Spišská Stará Ves, Zurich 1987
Židovská noviny, no. 4 (1938)
Židovská ročenka (1940) pp. 24


Footnotes

  1. Types of schools for children. Typically a cheder is for the very young children; a Talmud Torah were supplementary classes in Hebrew topics for older children who might have attended public schools. Return
  2. WIZO = Women's International Zionist Organization. Established in Great Britain in 1920, it is a non–profit women's organization of volunteers now in over 50 countries working to improve the lives of women, children and the elderly living in Israel. Return
  3. 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
  4. Businesses were “Aryanized,” i.e, the authorities turned over Jewish–owned businesses to Aryans to run, with no compensation to the owners. Return

 

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