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“Secovce” – Encyclopaedia
of Jewish communities, Slovakia
(Sečovce, Slovakia)

48°42' / 21°39'

Translation of the
“Secovce” 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 414]

Secovce; Sečovce, Slovakia

Translated by Madeleine Isenberg

(Hungarian: Galszecs, Yiddish: Chechevitz; Secovce is a town
in the District of Trebišov, in the Zemplin Region in eastern Slovakia.)

 

Year Number of
Residents
Jews By
Percentage
1736   6  
1745   3  
1828 1,504 246 16.4
1880 3,134 1,019 32.5
1900 3,173 794 25.2
1919 3,380 1,026 30.3
1930 3,993 1,055 26.8
1940 4,724 1,138 26.7
1948 4,843 98 2.0

 

Secovce is first mentioned in a document from 1225. In the 15th century, it was a town where market days and fairs were held. In the 17th century, it was included in the area of Trebišov (q.v.). Its inhabitants were Slovaks, of the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox Catholic religions, and they made their living primarily by farming and producing handicrafts. In 1876, Secovce became the capital of the district, and governmental institutions were established there. Little by little, commerce developed and it became a commercial center serving many agricultural settlements in the vicinity.

Also during the Czechoslovak Republic, the local economy was based mainly on goods and products derived from agriculture. During the years 1939-1949, Secovce was incorporated within the Slovakian state that was established under the

[Page 415]

German protectorate. After the Slovakian rebellion that broke out on August 29, 1944, the Germans ruled over Secovce; for seven weeks in autumn, skirmishes continued between them and Soviet army forces and some quarters of the city were completely destroyed. On December 2, 1944, the Soviet army liberated Secovce.

 

About the History of the Community

In Secovce's neighboring settlements Jews had been living there since the beginning of the 18th century. In the cemetery in the area a tombstone dated from 1711 was found. Even in a census of 1736 the first Jewish family, SALAMONOVICZ, was counted. And in 1746, another Jewish family settled there, the SCHMUELEVICZ family. In the 1770s several dozen Jews were living there who had moved from some of the surrounding towns. In 1820, about 60 Jewish families were living in Secovce. In 1831 a cholera plague broke out with a high mortality rate, however after it stopped, the rise in the number of Jews was renewed. In the second half of the 19th century many Jews from Galicia settled there, and in 1880 the number of Jews there reached about 1,020 souls and their fraction of the population was about a third. Jews contributed decidedly to the commercial development in Secovce and they also pioneered industrialization. Members of the WIRTSCHAFTER and HERSHKOVICZ families were big grain merchants; the SCHWARCZ family dealt with lumber and its manufacture; the NEUMAN family dealt with the production of wine and its sales; the BIRNBAUM family made a living from liquor production; and members of the GROSZMAN family were merchant-agents in flour and agricultural products.

In 1810 Jews of Secovce already had a house of prayer, in 1811 they opened a cemetery, and in 1816 they town already had an independent kehila, (Jewish community) that employed a rabbi and Jews from neighboring villages belonged to it. In 1828, the kehila had a synagogue and some additional community institutions. The first rabbi in Secovce, Rabbi Meir KAHANA, led the kehila for 40 years (1816-1856) and contributed much to its development. During his time, the first synagogue and other communal institutions were built. The “Great Synagogue” and Bet Midrash (religious study place) were established at the beginning of the 1870s. After him, during the years 1857-1858, Rabbi Nathan SPIRA was the leader. The inheritor of his position was Rabbi Josef GRÜNWALD (who died in 1870). In his time (in 1869), with the split within the Hungarian Jewish communities, the Secovce kehila joined with the Orthodox communities.

From 1875 the rabbinate in Secovce was headed by Rabbi Yehoshua Baruch REINITZ, a very educated Talmudic scholar who combined Ashkenazi education with the flame of Hasidism. In 1884, a conflict broke out in the community that threatened …

 

Secovce's Synagogue

[Page 416]

its unity. The Galician Jews, most of whom were Hassidic, prayed and would study Torah in the Beth Midrash, and not in the Synagogue with the rest of the community. The president of the kehila, Ignatz WIRTSCHAFTER, who had liberal tendencies, influenced the authorities to close the Beth Midrash of the Hasidim. But eventually Rabbi REINITZ got involved to straighten things out and the Beth Midrash was reopened. Rabbi REINITZ also established a yeshiva gedola (seminary of higher learning). Twice during his years the Great Synagogue and Beth Midrash were destroyed in fires. Each time, they were rebuilt with donations from the community. In 1904 the synagogue was built in the Classic Moorish style (measuring 15 x 22 meters), and below and around it, a mikveh and a building for a Jewish school that had been opened a year earlier were built. Hungarian was the language of instruction. In 1909 a Talmud Torah was also opened, in which the melamed (the teacher) Rabbi Chaim WEINBERGER, taught religious studies to the children of the community. That same year, in which he died, Rabbi REINITZ updated the community's regulations. After his death, his temporary replacement was the dayan (judge), Rabbi Zalman Leib ADELIS. In the years 1913-1922 Rabbi Aharon KRAUS was the leader according to the Ashkenazi traditions and delivered speeches in fluent German and also Slovak – languages that were not so common for most of the rabbis of his time. Because of these abilities and his broad general knowledge, Rabbi KRAUS was closely associated with several high ranking people, and these connections enabled him to work for the city's Jewish community and Slovakia as a whole. Dayan Rabbi ADELIS who supported him, greatly influenced what took place in the community.

Until the end of the 19th century, the Secovce kehila served also the surrounding kehilot in 28 settlements in the region. At the beginning of the 20th century, they broke away from Secovce and its rabbinate and established the Secovce district kehila. Their rabbi was Rabbi Menachem Gershon MOSHKOVIC and they also employed a shochet (ritual slaughterer).

With the outbreak of World War I, about 250 Jews from Secovce and surrounding were drafted into the Austro-Hungarian Army; seven fell in battle. During the war hundreds of Galician Jews surged into Secovce and the kehila helped support them. Most remained in the city and strengthened the local Hasidic group.

 

The Jews between the Two World Wars

At the end of the war, before the new Czechoslovakian Republic stabilized, anti-semitic riots broke out in Secovce such that in the process homes and businesses were looted.

In 1921, 59% of Secovce's Jews identified themselves as Jews for their nationality and the rest as Slovaks or Hungarians. In 1922 the kehila counted more than 1000 souls (185 heads of families

 

Girls in Secovce's Jewish School

[Page 417]

who were dues-payers), and its annual budget was 95,000 Kronen. The kehila's committee had 15 members and at their head was Ignatz SCHWARTZ. The kehila had a synagogue, Beth Midrash (study hall), mikveh (ritual bath), two cemeteries (old and new), a basic school, yeshiva, Talmud Torah and abbatoir. Rabbi KRAUS led the kehila until 1922, and in 1924 Rabbi Shmuel Menachem KLEIN, formerly of Sarisske Luky (q.v.) took his place and also became the head of the local yeshiva. Rabbi KLEIN who combined Torah and broad general knowledge, was among the religious Zionist leaders and recruited others toward this. His leadership was short-lived, since he died young in 1925. After him, no one took over to serve as rabbi in Secovce, and the righteous judge, Rabbi Zalman ADELIS served as a rabbi-substitute. Rabbi Menachem Gershon MOSKOVIC continued in his position as the rabbi for the region. At the end of the 1920s the kehila had 247 families; 205 of them paid dues to the kehila. At the head of the kehila stood Josef ROTTENBERG and after him, Jozef NEUMAN. Aside from the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) several charitable and study institutions were active: “Poalei Tzedek,” “Jewish Women's Organization,” "Hostel for the Poor,” “Good Deed Fund,” Talmud and Mishna Study Groups, the “Talmud Torah” Club, and the Sponsors Club. In 1928, 156 Jewish children studied in a five-year school. Instruction was in Slovak and Hungarian and the school principal for more than 20 years was Jozef BLAU. After his retirement, Emanuel FRIED was the principal, and following him, Arnost HOFSTADTER. The older Talmud Torah had three classes and the melamdim (teachers) were: Rabbi ADLER, Rabbi Chaim WEINBERGER, and Rabbi Baruch MARMELSTEIN. The yeshiva, headed by Rabbi Zalman ADELIS, closed in1932.

After World War I, Zionist activity prevailed and branches of revisionists, “Mizrachi,” parties of Zionist workers and youth movements: “Hashomer Hatzair,” “Beitar,” and in 1931, even “Bnei Akiva,” that had a preparation farm for pioneers [planning to go to then Palestine], in the village of Parchoviany. On the eve of the 17th Zionist Congress (in 1931) 75 “shekels”[1] were sold in Secovce. In the elections for the 18th Congress (in 1933) the revisionists gained 55% of the votes, the “League of Workers of the Land of Israel” received 40%, and the “General Zionists” – 5%. From this we can learn about the relative strengths of the Zionist camps in the town. In 1934, Zeev JABOTINSKI visited Secovce and spoke before a large crowd. In 1929, Jews of Secovce donated 1,000 Kronen to the Keren Kayemet to plant a forest in the name of the President of Czechoslovakia, T.G. [Tomáš Garrigue] MASARYK.

The Jews were active in the affairs of the general public, and the National Jewish Party participated in the elections for the town council. Generally, five Jews sat on the council. In the same years quite a few of Secovce's Jews were educated and were among those in the free professions. Some of them served in public offices. Dr. Karol BERNHARD served as chief judge for the district court. In the previous 20 years, among Secovce's Jews there were eight lawyers (out of 10), two doctors (the only ones in the town), and some clerks. Most of the Jews were well established, with their main source of income from wholesale and retail trade and businesses. Also among the local industrialists some of them stood out as Jews (four owners of small and medium-sized factories and three were owners of flour mills.), and there were also seven Jewish farmers.

Also the two banks, “Lending Bank of Secovce,” and “Savings Bank of Secovce,” were Jewish –owned. In the 1920s, the Joint established a Jewish cooperative credit society, managed by Paul HERSHKOVICZ.

We can learn about the parts played by Jews within Secovce's businesses from the data according to the licenses that were distributed by the local Business Office in 1921

 

Type of
Business
Number of
Businesses
Owned
by Jews
Groceries and General Store 25 23
Taverns and restaurants 19 17
Clothing and Fabric 14 14
Agricultural Products 13 9
Leather and Shoes 9 9
Cattle and Horses 7 5
Abattoirs 7 4
Agencies 5 4
Iron and Work Tools 5 4
Wine and Strong Liquors 4 4
Wood and Heating Materials 4 4
Housewares and Notions 3 2
Watches and Jewelry 3 2
Other 5 4

 

The Holocaust Period

On the eve of the Second World War, the number of Jews in Secovce reached its peak – about 1,200 souls (about 200 kehila dues-paying heads of families). At the community's head stood Heinrich HECHT and after him Pinchas WINTNER . Rabbi Zalman ADELIS continued to serve as the substitute for the rabbi, and at the same time the teacher-judge was Rabbi Shmuel WEINBERG, and Chaim HECHT and Aharon KOHN served as cantors and shochetim (ritual slaughterers). In 1940, bank manager Max PERLMAN was chosen as head of the local “Jewish Center.” With the beginning of the 1940/41 school year, the school children in the basic and intermediate public school were turned away, and the kehila added

[Page 418]

to its own basic school a middle school. During the years 1940-1941, the authorities liquidated most of the Jewish businesses, at least 40 businesses and large factories were aryanized[2]. At the end of 1941 several expelled Jewish families from Bratislava (q.v.) were brought to Secovce, and the kehila aided these refugees in finding where to live and providing food.

In the spring of 1942, on the eve of the deportations to extermination camps, about 1,200 Jews were living in Secovce. A the end of March 1942, dozens of young Jewish men were caught and sent via the Žilina (q.v.) transit camp to the Majdanek concentration camp that is near Lublin. On March 28, a different round-up took place for young Jewish women and those who were caught were sent to the transit camp in Poprad (q.v.). On April 2nd, they were added to the transport going to the Auschwitz extermination camp. At the time of that pursuit, 75 young women from Secovce and the surroundings succeeded in escaping and hiding and were saved from the deportation. On May 2nd 1942 the deportations were renewed. About 300 Jews from Secovce and about 250 from adjoining villages were rounded up together in the grain warehouse of Jonah HERSHKOVICZ and the following morning taken to the abandoned barracks in Trebišov (q.v.). They joined the transport that left on May 5, 1942 to the Lublin area in Poland. From among them, men able to work were taken to the Majdanek camp and the elderly men, women and children were taken to the Lubartow ghetto, and shared the fate of the rest in that ghetto. Dr. Izidor FISCHER, one of the active members of kehila, put an end to his life on the deportation day. Until the end of the deportations in the fall of 1942, more Jews were sent in small groups to the extermination camps in Poland. Among the deportees, were also Rabbi Zalman ADELIS, the judge, Rabbi Shmuel KOHN, the district rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Gershon MOSHKOVIC.

During 1942, about 85% of the Jews in Secovce and its surroundings were deported to extermination camps and ghettos in Poland. With the cessation of deportations in the fall of that year, 172 Jews remained in the town because they had exemption papers, and in 1943 only 150 Jews remained there. The kehila still existed with Pinchas WINTNER at its head. He and his sons maintained good relations with the ruling Slovaks for the good of the Jews who remained in the town. Studies in the Jewish school continued until the spring of 1944 with Josef BLAU as the principal. In May 1944, the remaining Jews of Secovce turned toward western Slovakia, and only the WINTNER family was allowed to stay because of their connections. Some of the Jewish families who left Secovce found refuge in Topolcany (q.v.), and the others scattered to different places.

More than 700 of Secovce's Jews perished in the holocaust. About 20 of Secovce's Jews fought with the Slovakian partisans of the Czechoslovak Army. Five of them died in battle. During the war, the old Jewish cemetery was destroyed and the study hall was burned down.

 

Post War

After liberation, about 100 Jews gathered in Secovce, not all of them had been residents from Secovce or the area beforehand. The synagogue was restored and communal prayer was renewed. The survivors returned and restored the kehila in Secovce and Josef NEUMAN, who had been among the kehila leaders before the war, was chosen as its head. After his death in 1948, Eugen SPIEGEL took his place and after him Izodor FRIED. The shochet and cantor was Jakob HELD. The Zionist activities in Secovce were renewed the the local Zionist leader was Ferdinand ROSENFELD. In 1947, Secovce's Jews donated 111,000 Kronen to Keren Kayemet L'yisrael. In 1948, 98 Jews lived there. Many of them emigrated to Israel in 1949 and in1950, 60 Jews remained. The kehila continued to exist until the end of the 1960s. After the Kehila fell apart, the synagogue served as a warehouse. Today a few Jews still remain. The new Jewish cemetery is preserved and cared for.

References:

Yad Vashem Archives, M5/57, 124; M48/590, 848-853, 865-871, 1309, 1597; JM/11011, 11014-11016, 11019, 11027, 11031.
Cohen, Chochmei Hungaria [Sages of Hungary], pp. 267, 340-349, 374-379, 431-440.
E. A. Frieder, The History of the Jewish Community in Secovce, Netanya 1991
M. Sas, History of the Jews in the Zemplen Area, Toronto 1986
Bárkány-Dojč, pp. 421-424
MHJ, vols. VII, XVII
Haderech, no. 19 (1940)
Jüdische Volkszeitung, no. 43 (1923)
Lanyi, Bekelfy-Popper, Szlovenskoi zsido, pp. 239-241


Editor's Notes

  1. 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
  2. Aryanization meant that businesses were transferred to non-Jewish owners and the proceeds taken by the state. Return
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