Of the Jewish Community
Translated from the Hebrew:
The flood came and devoured that wonderful tribe of people who had constantly struggled to improve their communities. A bastion of the Diaspora disappeared and the sands of time began to bury it as they had buried other people and civilizations. The shadow of forgetfulness is already eroding the brain cells that store the memory of thousands of Košice Jews who died in the Holocaust. Those of us who witnessed the destruction and survived cannot permit this.
The purpose of this book is to immortalize the gallery of devoted people who headed the Jewish communities of Košice, who participated in the work of religious charitable and social institutions, as well as the countless ordinary members who worked incessantly to support and educate their families. All glorified the name of Israel and the majority were finally destroyed in the terrible furnace. The book covers some 500 years of history of the Jews of Košice.
The focus, however, is on the past 150 years a mere six generations from the time the Jews were allowed to settle in the town. The end was tragic. But we, the survivors, are also witnesses to the national rebirth of Israel in its land. Many former residents of Košice participated with no small effort and self-sacrifice in the building of the country. Their sons have served the state in many and varied fields. Now, the grandsons are following in their footsteps. They are still young, most of them still at school, but it is our hope that they will not disappoint their grandsires. As they browse through these pages, let them remember and take pride in their heritage.
We are grateful to the late Mr. Arthur Görög for his magnificent work in compiling the original Hungarian version of this book. For three years, with endless love, patience and obstinacy,
He meticulously researched bibliographical material as well as records of the Hevra Kadisha (Burial Society) of Košice and the surrounding communities. In his work, he revived persons and historical events we had almost forgotten or even known. He wrote in Hungarian and the book is permeated with his unending yearning for the old homeland, as well as with the love of his only daughter. It is through her generous assistance that the publication of this book for the people of Košice and their descendants, both in Israel and abroad, was made possible.
Görög passed away before he could realize his dream of publishing what he had written. His daughter sent the manuscript to the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, and after much effort on our part, the Institute and Görög's daughter agreed to hand over the manuscript for publication. Some years ago, our friend, the late Israel Ehrlich, wrote about the Jews of Košice and the days of the Holocaust. The present book complements the former, since it includes previously, as well as the story of the post-war period when most of the survivors had already left the field of slaughter.
The present, somewhat abbreviated, English version of the book is for the younger and future generations who may wish to know about their past. Thanks is extended to all those former Košice inhabitants who did not spare efforts to help us accomplish the task of preparing this book in memory of the Jewish community of Košice and its outstanding son, Mr. Arthur Görög.
Some words about me, the author of the Hebrew version of the book, which served as the basis for the English translation. I used the Hungarian version written by Arthur Görög. I collected material from the Hebrew Encyclopaedia and from the almost documentary book of William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and also took into account my personal memories of events that occurred when, as a youth, I grew up in Košice.
I did not mention the many names that appear in the Hungarian version in order not to discriminate against those
who perished in the Holocaust and whose names were not reported. Assuredly, all of us had fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers worthy of being included in this chronicle, yet the pages of this book would not suffice to list all of these wonderful people. For that reason, only a very few individuals are mentioned. The book is dedicated to all of those who did not survive to live with us.
I wrote the book to the best of my ability. If by word or sentence, I have offended, I beg the reader's pardon.
The story of the Jews of Košice begins at a time when the town was a bustling and important commercial centre, housing the Royal Mint. In a picturesque manner, the author describe how, in the month of Heshvan (November) 1492, the first Jew, Jaacov Mendel, arrived in town escorted by a company of soldiers to protect him against marauders that infested the countryside, and a Minyan (10) Jews for prayers. Yaacov Mendel was an expert coin minter, a resident of Buda where he was also in charge of the Jews and their representative at the court of King Mathias the First. During his reign, the lot of the Hungarians improved considerably.
Mendel was sent to improve the kingdom's finances that were suffering from a liquidity shortage, apparently because of the wars of King Mathias against Ladislav. In addition to his expertise in minting coins, Mendel was also an experienced tax collector. In this capacity he visited several of the surrounding townships and obviously was not especially popular among his clients on whom he occasionally exerted undue pressure to fulfil his task. According to the town archives, on March 24, 1524, King Louis II, son of King Mathias I, appointed a Jew named Isaac to the position of Mendel. The great historian Dubnov also mentions Isaac as the Jew of Kashua who was an expert in coin minting and served in that capacity for a long time despite the jealousy of the lords that reigned in the city.
Some sixty years later, the town records again mention a Jew named Alazarus. He was a physician, an expert diagnostician, who, in 1606 was sent by King Siegmund to treat is sick favourite, Duke Bocskay. Alazarus diagnosed correctly the Duke was afflicted with an incurable malady. However, other physicians intervened and had Alazarus removed, apparently because he was a Jew and he returned to the king's court in Krakow.
Less than ten years later, Duke Betlen Gabor became the ruler of Kassa (the Hungarian name of the town). Betlen was an enlightened
ruler, free of prejudice against Jews and granted extensive privileges to the Jewish merchants that came to the city despite the overt opposition of the town's board of trade. The records of that time indicate that Betlen's personal physician was also a Jew. Despite Betlen's humane attitude towards the Jews, they were not granted the privilege of residing within the city limit. Yet, it must be assumed that on holidays and feast days several Jews remained and by special licence, they apparently congregated for prayers at the house of the physician.
During 1650, the spiritual leaders, rabbis and kabbalists of most European countries assembled in Nagy Ida to deliberate on the coming of the Messiah. Nagy Ida lies some 20km southwest of Kassa and at that time, it was an important Jewish centre. The background to the deliberations was a series of events, such as severe epidemics, pogroms and endless wars that preoccupied most of European Jewish communities. Apparently they had come to the conclusion that the End of Days was approaching and therefore the subject of the Messiah was deemed worthy of discussion. The place was chosen because of its ruler's reputed tolerance of Jews. All the delegations came to Kassa for a short rest and then continued through the South Gate towards Nagy Ida. The deliberations ended in a draw and the congregation dispersed without accomplishing anything.
No record remains of the hundred years that followed that assembly. On March 1, 1765, the town council published a proclamation more or less worded as follows: Jews are forbidden to remain within the town limits after sunset. Any citizen of the town who permits a Jew to remain in his house overnight is breaking the law and will be fined 12 gulden. Nevertheless, with time, the harsh rigidity of the economic organizations who jealously guarded their own vested interests was somewhat softened. In 1784 there is a record of a Jew named Meir Israel, a transporter by profession, who was granted permission to reside in the city suburbs. He was an admirable and industrious man, and despite his Christian competitors, was awarded the licence to transport mail as well as persons on official business to neighbouring towns.
In 1814 the records indicate that on Bell Street, near the city walls, a Mrs. Roth was managing a kosher restaurant for Jews employed within the city limits. She had leased the business from the municipal authorities, although up to that time, no real estate within the city was owned by Jews. As the years passed, she employed two Jewish helpers who were also granted permission to reside within the city. Apparently, all these exemptions resulted from the 1791 proclamation of Emperor Joseph II. The liberal regulations contained in it also affected the Jews who began to enjoy certain rights which became manifest in their every-day life. Within a few years, they struck roots in the city. Their economic improvement and the prevailing liberalism led some of them to transfer their sons from traditional to state schools and even to universities. Thus, from the mid-19th century, there was a considerable number of Jews with higher education.
In 1817, Kassa had 11,963 inhabitants of which six were Jews. In 1833, there were 24 Jews. The liberal spirit that swept over most of Europe in 1840 did not miss the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. In that year, the liberal delegates to parliament passed a law abolishing the restriction on Jews to reside permanently within the cities of the Empire. This also applied to Kassa and despite stubborn objection the mayor was forced to yield to the spirit of the times. From that date onwards, Jews started to flow into the city from the surrounding town lets, at first in a trickle and then in an ever growing stream. In 1944, the number of Jews in Kassa was 12,000.
One of the results of the migration was the decline of Jewish communities in the surrounding settlements. A victim of this movement towards urbanization was the town let of Rozgony that had a large Jewish community. Almost to a man, they decided to move to Kassa led by their rabbi Kohn Marton. With the help of Rozgony Jews, he was elected the first rabbi of the Kassa community which had meanwhile grown sufficiently to justify the office of a rabbi. Within several years, the Jews integrated in all aspects of national life. In the 1848 Hungarian War of Independence they enlisted in the army a fact which furthered their recognition as full citizens with equal rights.
In 1852, every Jew who could prove his skill in trade or manufacture was granted a business or licence from the trade board which only a few years before had vigorously restricted the integration of Jews in the economic life of the city. Yet, there was a sting in the honey of emancipation. Among some of the Jews, the traditional way of life was weakened they turned their backs to Jewish faith and converted to Christianity.
In 1842, the community began to organize its institutions. On August 29 they submitted a request to the town authorities to open a house of prayer. Their petition was approved and the first synagogue was inaugurated on Bell Street in a building that had formerly served as a grain storehouse. In 1844, the first cemetery in Tatra Street was sanctified and the first Hevra Kadisha established. Among the first to be buried in the new cemetery were the Jewish soldiers killed in the 1848 revolt in which they had fought together with their Hungarian comrades against the Austrian rule. Although at that time there was no compulsory conscription, many Jewish youth enlisted to fight for freedom and for a better future and several fell in battle. The war ended in failure and its repercussion was also felt among the Jews. The victor imposed a payment of 5,000 gulden as war compensation and the impoverished community had to bear this burden for several years.
With the years, several large dry-goods stores opened that contributed to the town's economy and strengthened community life. The free professions also began to flourish as teachers, doctors, artists, lawyers, rabbis, scholars and artisan joined the community. Some of them began to take office in the trade and manufacturing boards. The railway to the southwest opened in 1860 and the citizens of Kassa, including the Jews, were delighted with their new proximity to the capital. The commercial and cultural relations with Budapest were already strong. At the beginning of 1870 the first train from Oderberg arrived in Kassa and a new era in the city's life began. In 1866 the Jewish community already numbered several thousands.
Most of them were emancipated and belonged to the Neology and Status Quo movements (comparable but not identical to the contemporary Reform and Conservative movements). They began
construction of a magnificent two-steeple synagogue in Rakcozi Street which was inaugurated in 1866. The first Jewish school opened in 1868.
In that year a national congress of Jewish congregations opened in Budapest. In line with the liberal spirit of the times, most of the members of the Jewish communities inclined towards the modern movement. This included the Kassa community that was represented by its leader, the physician Dr. Kain who annexed his congregation to the progressive factia action. This constituted the establishment of the mother community of Kassa. The step obviously aroused the wrath of the orthodox group. Not even the authorities succeeded in reconciling the hawks of two groups and the matter ended in total rupture between the two. The orthodox seceded from the mother community and founded a separate congregation with all its institutions. In 1871 they inaugurated their own synagogue on Bell Street (which we called the old synagogue) and the autonomous orthodox congregation became a fact. In 1874, Rabbi Moshe Jungreiss was elected chief rabbi of that congregation.
In later years, one of the leaders of the orthodox community acquired a large plot of land on Bell Street near the walls of the old city, and on it built all its institutions such as Beit Midrash (religious school), Talmud Tora (religious high school), Yeshive, Mikveh (ritual bath), kosher slaughter house and various offices. In 1880 they founded their own Hevra Kadisha. Until that time, burials were carried out by the mother community.
The Jew, the first Jewish weekly was published in German in the mid-1860. It was edited by Kassa's Chief Rabbi, Mr. Aharon Bettelheim, a tireless fighter for the modernisation of the ancient Jewish faith. To counter it, the orthodox published a weekly journal in Yiddish the Yiddishe Volkszeitung. Its first editor was Hirsch Scheinman who, after a short while, was replaced by Aharon Weiss. Both declared war against the liberal spirit and fought stubbornly for the Jewish faith according to the Halacha.
Under Bettelheim's influence, the community joined the Neology movement. His fiery speeches and articles caused almost total rupture
between the orthodox and neology movements and it did not want much for the orthodox to declare a ban on Bettelheim. However, the moderates on both sides endeavoured to pacify the parties and the outcome was that Bettleheim was forced to resign. He was extremely talented and his passionate spirit drove him to the United States, where he studied and became a physician. He exercised his profession for a while but later returned to his former occupation and officiated as rabbi first in Richmond and later in San Francisco. He returned to his hometown in 1899 to visit the graves of his father and died at sea on his way back to the U.S.A. His tempestuous soul found eternal rest in the stormy seas of the great ocean. Meanwhile, the rabbis of the liberal congregation changed constantly until 1894 when the young and brilliant rabbi, Dr. Shimeon Hevesi arrived in town to serve as assistant to Rabbi Liebermann who health was failing. Dr. Hevesi officiated as rabbi for three years and later acquired world-wide reputation, especially when he became Chief Rabbi of Budapest.
The ranks of 19th century rabbis closed with rabbi Dr. Joseph Klein who was courteously welcomed by the neology congregation according to the spirit of that tranquil period. He had an easy-going temperament and was popular among the community to which he gave serene spiritual leadership.
The second half of the 19th century was noted for its favourable economic conditions. A large number of Jews founded commercial, industrial and manufacturing enterprises, established themselves economically and developed far-flung connections. In parallel with the flourishing social life, several charitable institutions were opened such as the women's club which assisted in all kinds of social activities. They held appeals for schools and charitable institutions, supported the newly opened orphanage, projects to succour needy families, the society for visiting the sick, a poor house, etc.
At dawn of the 20th century, Kassa became a centre for the liberal professions doctors, lawyers, authors, artists and teachers as well as for rabbis and religious courts and judges who faithfully served all the surrounding districts. In that age, millions of oppressed people were liberated from the restrictions that had formerly curtailed
their rights and their honour as men were restored. Creakingly the rusty gates of Kassa opened to its Jewish inhabitants. From afar, the drums of the Boer War echoed dully. Yet despite the heavy bloodshed, peace and freedom seemed to prevail throughout the planet, and people went about serenely without fear of apocalyptic events.
The size of the Jewish community of Kassa increased and now numbered some 7,000 members. They enjoyed full freedom as a matter of course and former limitations were forgotten as though they had never existed. The various congregations flourished and their dues enabled them to manage the necessary institutions without too much difficulty. They were able to pay the salaries of the rabbis, teachers, ritual butchers, kashrut supervisors, cantors and various functionaries. There was even a budget to fence in the new cemetery on Barcs Street. Baron Hirsch opened a branch in Kassa to assist the persecuted Jews of Eastern Europe especially the victims of Kishinev pogrom and help them find a new life in Palestine or Argentina.
In 1911, the synagogue of the liberal congregation on Rakoczi Street was expanded. The synagogue was inaugurated in a solemn ceremony led by Rabbi Joseph Klein and for the first time, organ music was heard within the precincts of the prayer house. The members of the orthodox community were horrified and strongly protested against the disgusting deed. All that day they prayed and chanted psalms and regarded the event as announcing the end of the world and the coming of the Messiah.
The orthodox community also flourished although to a lesser degree and they also developed their institutions. Despite the liberal concepts prevailing at the time, faith continued to be deeply ingrained in the community. The office of the rabbi was held by people belonging to the Jungreiss faction, yet, the other community leadership changed frequently due to a lack of decisive and strong personalities.
The orthodox women's' club began its activities only at the start of the 20th century and most achievements were attained only after World War I. A general school with four classes was opened but its standard was lower than that of the neology congregation. The
Orthodox activities did not stress the development of general studies but, on the other hand, religious studies received maximum attention. They opened a religious secondary school Talmud Tora with several classes and excellent teachers (Melameds) and this proved a very good basis for those continuing to study in the Heshivot. Few towns in the state could boast of so many scholars as Kassa.
One of the clubs that opened at that time was the Casino society club on Bercsenyi street which served as a meeting place for all the Jews of the city no matter to which congregation they belonged. They met to exchange views, for social occasions and sometimes Purim and Chanuka parties were held there. Although the general economic situation in the town had improved, not everything was wonderful. Some community members had to struggle hard to earn their livelihood. Nevertheless, their condition was relatively good because of the assistance extended by the various social institutions and these had their work cut out. The Jews from Galicia, the eastern part of the state and from the Carpathian Mountains suffered severe economic hardship despite the abolishment of discrimination and legal restrictions. From time to time, a wandering Jew, a small backpack on his shoulders, would appear on the road, marching westward in the hope of improving his lot. In village after village, he would search for the Jewish home that would provide him with a meal or perhaps a bed to sleep in and the following morning, he would continue with a modest contribution from his host. Sometimes whole families would make their way until they found a corner where they could support themselves. Kassa was one of their way-stations and they found a helping hand among the community. From these Jews who arrived from the east, some of Kassa's streets such as Srobar Zrinyi Street and Bell Street acquired their Jewish character.
During the first years of the 20th century, the Jewish society of Kassa crystallized each congregation and movement in its own way. The orthodox enclosed themselves in the Halachic frame and preserved their traditional character. The trend of neology, on the other hand, was modernization in all fields. Occasionally, and luckily only in a few cases, the traditional values were totally abandoned
and ended with denial of the faith and conversion to Christianity. Many of the members of the neology congregation excelled in the liberal professions and entered into activities which had been closed to them in the not so recent past. Some became editors of Kassa's daily newspapers, others opened pharmacies; playwrights gave wing to their intellectual capacity and with time became famous throughout Europe.
Many doctors contributed with their experience to general welfare of the city. Several lawyer's offices were established and faithfully represented those who required their services in court. Several painters succeeded so well that their fame became known outside the territory. Jews (including the orthodox) became active in banking and other economic institutions and were appointed as their directors.
Jewish-owned factories opened and wholesalers of textiles, dry-goods, chemicals, hides, clothes, lumber, furniture, liquor, etc., flourished. Nor did the retailers lag far behind. The tranquil times and freedom contributed to the successful advancement of some of the community members.
Unfortunately, the carefree years did not last. Events took an unexpected turn when, on June 28, 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Crown Prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was assassinated by a Bosnian student, member of the Serbian terrorist organization The Black Hand. The murder was the fuse that lit World War I.
All the heads of states seemed to lose their power of logical judgement during those eventful days. The list was headed by the old and broken Emperor, Franz Joseph, his decadent Foreign Minister who lacked any kind of conception, as well as the Chief of Staff of the monarchy who was appallingly unimaginative. They found an excellent partner for their intrigues in the arrogant German Kaiser. The other side, with Czar Nicolas and the sinister and cruel Rasputin tyrannizing the backward and oppressed Russian people, was not much better. The French were motivated by their vengeful feelings against the Germans while the British, at the height of their power, ruling over large portions of the planet, were influenced by a hesitant
Foreign Minister who lacked all talent and gift of statesmanship. The very name of that man, Sir Grey, symbolized his personality. These then were the men who held the fate of the world in their hands and on whom millions of people throughout Europe, including, of course, the Jews of Kassa, depended for their peace and security.
The general mobilization shattered the tranquillity. Thousands of young conscripts recklessly and even gaily enlisted and filled the crowded trains that rolled towards the different fronts. Worried mothers accompanied their sons, fearing the unknown and ill-boding future. The farewell scenes were heart-breaking. Fathers considered the events in a fatalistic mood. Families with numerous children were anxious about the future as the head of the family left for war. The problem of supporting the family now fell on the frail shoulders of the wife and mother.
The brigades and divisions deployed at the frontiers of the country. The military commanders were confident that within a few weeks, at most several months, they would return as victors covered in glory. The streets emptied and became especially deserted during the nights when blackout was imposed. Many shops, offices and workshops closed because their owners or employees were buffeted by the stormy events on the far away plains of Galicia. Many families, who before the war had enjoyed a reasonable income, now required the assistance of the community because the government stipends were not sufficient to maintain them. The communities' aid societies now proved their efficiency and devotion as they gave a hand to help those in need.
After a while, movement returned to the city. The enthusiasm about the war waned as the first wounded and typhus-ridden soldiers arrived with bitter news from the front. The Jewish physicians proved their skill and devotion in their heroic, self-sacrificing work to save the afflicted. At first news arrived about heroic deeds at the front in which the Jews also participated. Later came the news about defeats and heavy losses. These notices darkened the mood of the community. Even the rosy army postcards ceased to arrive for several weeks and in their stead came official army notifications informing the families that
one of their members had fallen in battle. The number of mourning women walking the streets increased; more and more young men recently discharged from army hospitals where one of their legs had been amputated, hobbled about on crutches in the streets where only a few months before they had proudly walked with their sweethearts. These were everyday sights.
Despite the bloody harvest which had cost so many victims, Jewish society gradually returned to normal. Life had to go on. The social organizations attained unprecedented achievements in aiding those in need and succeeded because all the community spared no financial effort to help where they could.
In 1914, Rabbi Eckstein was elected rabbi of the Status Quo congregation and in 1915, the neology congregation elected rabbi Enten Mano. Both rabbis officiated until the Holocaust. They were very popular in their congregations. Rabbi Eckstein was a graduate of the Pressburg Yeshiva and his sermons were always interesting. He was killed in one of the extermination camps.
Dr. Enten came to Kassa from the town of Merzel. He was broadly educated, an excellent and very persuasive speaker. His proliferous literary activities must also be mentioned. His writings include a study on the history of Kassa which was published in a German journal. Without doubt, he was an outstanding figure in the community. His article appeared in the journal of Joseph Patai a publication of the Zionist Movement in the entire Hungarian speaking region. During the period of the expulsions he asked for an interview with the Catholic bishop of the city. With passionate words, he asked that his oppressed and humiliated co-religionists be granted the most elementary rights such as those granted even to the organizations for prevention of cruelty towards animals. He was unsuccessful. He as well died in one of the camps.
During the war years, the women's' organizations of the orthodox congregation were active in blessed deeds. They did not spare efforts and tirelessly gave help with food, clothing and shelter to the refugees from Galicia and the Carpathians whose numbers in town increased. There were also many local families who stood in need of spiritual
and material assistance. Families who had lost fathers or sons, or where a member had been seriously wounded, all required individual treatment and help arrived given by those women who willingly gave their time, energy and money for that purpose.
The war did not seem to want to end. It was already in its fourth year, collecting its bloody due. Everyone was sick of it, perhaps even those who had initiated it. It had begun with a thunderclap and ended with a tremendous explosion. The heroism, the blood shed by countless millions, the pain all seemed in vain.
Throughout Europe, the deed caused revolt. First the Russian Revolution, a short while later in the monarchy and finally in the countries of the axis. The fronts weakened; soldiers went into captivity or came home and no longer obeyed their commanders. The Empire collapsed and in its stead, there emerged new states and with them, a new era for Europe.
Thousands of Kassa's citizens returned with mixed feelings that everything had been in vain. The Jewish community felt it had paid a special heavy sacrifice. Approximately one hundred of its members died on the frontiers of the monarchy; on the plains of Poland and Volin; on the cliffs of Doberdo in the Italian Dolomites; in the Balkan towns and the miserable prisoner's camps of far-away Siberia. Only a few of the fallen were brought to Jewish burial in the cemetery on Berza Street after tremendous efforts on the part of their families. The number of invalids who bore their wounds throughout their lifetime was also quite large.
The war left scars even on those who had returned safe and sound from battle. They found it hard to integrate. The Jews of Kassa now Kosice, the Slovakian name for the town were anxious about the future. The hundred-year old empire had collapsed and in its stead, the new republic of Czechoslovakia was founded in October 1918, with a new flag and boundaries that had become more limited. The boundary separated parts that had previously belonged administratively and economically to Kosice. The new government was accepted with mixed feelings. There was general chaos in transport and economic
life and the government bureaucracy were distrustful of the Jewish community.
Events continued to roll. After several months, the soldiers of the Hungarian revolution conquered Kosice and its surroundings. The new rulers were commissars of the Popular Republic of Hungary and again, the flag was changed but only for a short while: another few months and the new Czechoslovakian government conquered the area, this time finally. The consolidation of the state began. The communities relaxed a bit and so did feelings. The state of war was abolished. Joyfully the discharged soldiers exchanged their uniforms for civilian attire. The streets resumed their normal character; youth again went out to have a good time as if to compensate for the past days of misery. Women's fashion also changed. The puritan dress long skirts and buttoned-up blouses gave way to audacious short skirts and light tops with generous decoltés that excited the town streets.
Some of the community members profited from fictitious deals and from inflation. Yet, the charitable institutions continued to work actively because underneath the wealth and gaiety, were quite a number of cases where poverty and misery prevailed. Also, the money that came so easily melted away. There was need for immediate rehabilitation. Businesses were rebuilt. The clerks of the new regime showed their organizational talents. The economic life took off anew. A new chapter began for the communities of Kosice who started to take their first steps towards their share of wealth that characterized the first two decades of the century.
Several years later, the neology congregation built a magnificent new dome-roofed synagogue topped by a huge bronze Magen David a monumental and impressive building which seated 1200 people. At the same time, they also built a large and modern Jewish elementary school in which the majority of the Jews received their education, taught by the most excellent teachers.
About the same time, the orthodox congregation also began building its new synagogue on Kazinczy Street. It was designed in the modern style with a magnificent façade topped by a copula.
It seated 800 people. Adjoining it, there was the new, twostory Talmud Tora building with a fiveclass elementary school for general studies on its ground floor. That school was a branch of the state school and employed nonJewish teachers.
The inauguration of the two synagogues was held with great pomp and solemnity, with representatives of the state authorities among the guests. Rabbis, public figures and guests made speeches; famous cantors led the prayers with accompanying choirs and in the neology synagogue, the sound of the organ added to the festive atmosphere. The end of the festivities also proved to be the end of the gay days of Košice's Jewry. The building had far outstripped the budget allocated for that purpose and the leaders were forced to increase the membership fees. Elation changed to severe criticism which caused much bitterness among the congregation leadership. For that reason, the Gabbais (treasurers) of the congregations changed frequently. The financial difficulties were especially great among the orthodox congregation. They barely managed to pay the salaries of the persons employed by the congregation. I (the author of these lines) remember that I paid the teacher's fee (not a large amount) directly to the Melamed because only thus was he able to get part of his salary. This occurred at least ten years after the inauguration.
The orthodox congregation had, meanwhile, increased its numbers, apparently because the large number of migrants who came to Košice because of its flourishing economy. That seems to have been the reason for the construction of the new synagogue and the Talmud Tora. That institution was almost permanently crowded. It had nine levels, or classes, for study and about 400 students aged from five to grownups.
It was the largest institution of its kind in the state and its many teachers were directed by the Rabbi Shaul Brach, may he rest in peace. He was a great scholar of the Torah and the Talmud, an honest and gentle man. After a dynasty of rabbis of the Jungreiss family, he was elected rabbi of the orthodox congregation and devoted his whole soul and heart to the matters of his congregation and sternly managed the Talmud Torah. He would not compromise about matters of the
Halacha despite the innovations and modernization of the era. The strain caused by his spiritual work undermined his physical health and he died at an early age.
Košice became the economic and cultural centre of eastern Czechoslovakia and attracted many who desired to improve their social and economic status. During the war, hundreds of people from the southern and northern slopes of the Carpathians had migrated to the city. They strengthened the Sephardic congregation. Led by two excellent men, Avrum Hersch Klein and Wolf Reichman, they organized as a faction within the orthodox congregation and wore capote (long coats) and streimlejs (special fur hats). As a result of their power of organization and their devotion, they managed to purchase a plot on Kremen Street and established there a study and prayer house (Klause) which also served them as a Talmud Tora day and night. In order to avoid coming into contact with Gentiles who mocked and humiliated them on seeing their curious traditional attire, they strove to reside close to their Beit Midrash, but most of them disregarded the humiliating behaviour of their surrounding and proudly wore their special clothes.
Famous rabbis and their courts also arrived in the town. The most famous among them was Rabbi Shmuel Engel (may he rest in peace), the great lord, teacher and rabbi of Radomishl. He was head of the rabbinical court for the whole of Europe and was very much respected by all the Jewish community of Košice. He was buried in a special vault in Košice cemetery and to this day people suffering from illness or need come to kneel at his grave.
Another deeply respected man was the teacher and rabbi, Avraham Shalom Halberstam from Stropkov. His disciples built him a house and a Beit Midrash in a corner of his backyard. The modest house of the great rabbi was built at cost price by the engineer Kaboss who had also constructed the new orthodox synagogue. Numerous people came to visit the Rabbi, ask for his counsel in all kinds of matters and submit to him their innermost desires.
The most ingenuous of all the great rabbis was Rabbi Yaakov Yekev Frankfurter, an upright and righteous man. His door was kept
open to everyone. He was respected and admired by many and became the chief spokesman for the weak and simple.
Two institutions deserve special mention. One was the Hevra Kadisha (Burial Society) which had been active since the establishment of Košice's community. The society performed its task tirelessly under all conditions and extended the last grace to members of the congregations. Although the Nazi barbarians robbed all the Tora scrolls and all the holy utensils and destroyed all the community's archives, it was found that after the Holocaust, the records of the orthodox Hevra Kadisha had miraculously remained intact. Thus, the names of the congregation founder and active m embers who had been buried during the course of many years by the Hevra Kadisha were preserved.
The second institution was the society for visiting the sick. Many people worked devotedly to give a helping hand to those who needed it. Some members took care to provide sick Jews who had been hospitalized in Košice state hospital with daily rations of Kosher food. Others supplied administrative help and even financial assistance when needed or approached the hospital offices when special treatment was required. All this was done without remuneration and may their memories be blessed.
The Neology congregation grew more rapidly than the orthodox one. The elementary school of five classes which the congregation had established, expanded, maintained and reflected the respect with which it was regarded. Its teachers were the best to be had and they devoted their hearts and souls to their blessed task. Witness to their success in education was a whole generation of excellent citizens, loyal to the Jewish faith and imbued with the Zionist spirit. The teachers also paid attention to physical education and the spiritual health of their pupils. Maintenance of the school constituted a central goal of the community and, therefore, it elected a governing committee composed of people of the highest intellectual level to direct it to the best of their ability, to ensure high standards of study and also to take care that the necessary financial resources be available. Several children of the orthodox congregation also studied at the school. The
Parents committee which operated since the school's establishment devoted themselves to the welfare of the pupils, especially those that came from needy families. The committee tried to reduce the gap between pupils as far as possible and helped needy students with clothing, food and learning material. A special kitchen for warm meals for such pupils was established and a nurse was employed to look after their health. The school was not reopened after the Holocaust.
Several problems emerged after World War I. War refugees from the north and from the south came to Košice, among them war orphans who needed rehabilitation. Yet, the resources of the community were too meagre to give effective assistance, so help came from abroad when American Jewry joined the enterprise. In 1921, the philanthropic organization Joint founded an orphanage on Florian Street. At first it served solely as an orphanage for boys and girls. As additional resources became available, a vocational study unit for inmates as well as for outsiders was founded. Joint's beneficial operations expanded to include loans to small artisans to help them establish workshops and find a livelihood. A year later, Joint founded a vocational boarding school in the town of Michlovce, 75km east of Košice and many Jewish youth found in it the opportunity to study a profession. They also established a sewing shop, Alba where many of the women found a job for their livelihood. During the hot summer months, Joint maintained a summer camp for needy children of Košice and its surroundings and every year, many children enjoyed several unforgettable weeks of vacation and recuperation. A whole gallery of people worked for the Joint, headed the almost legendary figure of Irene Matzner who devoted all her efforts to its management. Her heart failed her when she was only fifty. In her memory and to honour her devotion to the institution, the orphanage is named the Irene Matzner Orphanage. The administration of the orphanage was put into the hands of the educator, Shmuel Eros, who fulfilled his function faithfully until the days of the Holocaust, when, like his Warsaw colleague, Janos Korczak, he led his orphans with a bent head to the camp of the angel of Death.
The Jewish Girls 'Club is also worth mentioning. It was founded for the purpose of social work and with youthful enthusiasm; its members participated in the various beneficial activities. They organized artistic performances where all income was devoted to various charitable goals. They initiated appeals at all kinds of festive occasions. In short, a group of lovely girls, noble in soul and body who devoted themselves unreservedly to succeed in the tasks they had set themselves.
Thus, in spite of the enormous task facing the community after the war, the social organization were materially strengthened and in 1930 were able to repair the poorhouse, equip the kitchen with modern appliances and provide the needy with meals. In the same place, a parents' home Beit Hiba (House of Affection) was founded to provide the needy elderly with a decent place to live. None of the social organizations stinted efforts or money to maintain these charitable institutions.
As already mentioned, the orthodox congregation was unable to maintain the same standards in their institutions. The exception was the women's social organization which had been founded at the beginning of the century but which started active operation during the war years. This resulted mainly from enthusiasm of the younger generation of women who were dissatisfied with the passivity of the past and were willing to contribute their part to further the social needs of the community. The activists of the orthodox congregation were very much strengthened by the work of these wonderful women.
The new political ideas that developed in the years following World War I did not leave the Jewish community of Košice indifferent. The Jewish National Renewal Movement became increasingly popular and attracted congregation members who enthusiastically joined in order to rebuild the ancientnew homeland. The World Zionist movements were founded in order to realize the yearning aspirations of generations of Jewish people. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 which, meanwhile, had acquired international recognition, strengthened political activism.
Among the Zionist movements that established themselves in Košice was a branch of Women's Zionist Organization, WIZO, which was founded in the mid1920s. Its main purpose was to educate the younger generation according to the ideological guidelines that would prepare it for the realization of Jewish national revival. The Zionist idea united the divided splinters of the community. For the first time, women of the orthodox and of the neology congregations worked together amicably and without prejudices. Branches of all the Zionist movements were established in Košice: Brit Trumpeldor HaTzohar, Beni Akiva, HaShomer Hatzair, and Maccabee Sports Club. Their representatives were members of almost all congregations and the fences between them fell as all worked together to further the ideal of the national revival of the Jewish people.
Alongside these Zionist activities, the social life of the community continued. There were numerous parties where the income was often devoted to charitable purposes, or among those who could afford it, dances and balls without any special purpose. The young people found ways of expressing their joy of living. The organizers were people whose talents contributed to the success of these events. The dance school of Revesz initiated the young girls and boys into all the new and sophisticated dances and steps and the parties in which the cream of society participated, became even livelier. In addition to teas and dances, there were concerts and recitals. Bronislaw Huberman who, in 1936, founded the Palestine Philharmonic orchestra appeared in Košice and captivated the audience with his magic violin. Lectures on current affairs were invited. Thus, for example, Dr. Oscar Neumann gave an uplifting lecture. There was no lack of local talent to enliven the occasions with singing and instrumental performances and even with the new jazz melodies. The cultural life of the community was rich and varied and neither care nor anxiety preoccupied the community who had no inkling of the approaching shadow of destruction. Business was going well there was time for leisure, entertainment and social activities and the community generously assisted all kinds of charitable and Zionist enterprises. These young people later enlisted in a variety of community works and activities.
The Jewish cultural institutions in Europe attained no mean achievements during the 1930s. Due to improved communications, the Habima theatre group from Poland appeared in Košice. Every summer, they gave performances in Yiddish at the Municipal Theatre. The Dybbuk was dramatically and successfully performed and although they usually appeared during the summer vacation, they nevertheless managed to fill the theatre hall several times. The group of Sevilla Pastor from Bessarabia in Rumania enchanted the Jewish audience of Košice.
Although Europe had changed with the establishment of new nations following the revolutions that had overthrown monarchic regimes, nevertheless, those who had put their faith in ideals of absolute equality were disappointed. In Poland, nationalism and antiSemitism prevailed, nor did these phenomena disappear in other countries. Perhaps to the contrary. Postwar upheavals and economic problems caused antiSemitism among all the classes of the new states. The communist idea had not solved the Jewish problem of equality. Nor did the socialist ideas fulfil their promises of salvation, neither economically or socially. Jewish youth were no longer prepared to continue on trodden paths. Even assimilation did not change the overall situation. The Jewish street was conquered by the Zionist idea. Increasingly, the best of Jewish youth were captivated by the new spirit of time and enthusiastically joined seemingly diverging ideologies such as political Zionism or more activists Zionism. But basically, their aspirations were identical. Zionism prevented assimilation and upheld national pride. In Košice as well, Jewish youth participated in these activities. Single people as well as families immigrated to Palestine despite the fact that the economic and political situation there was not very good; with all their hearts and souls, they worked to build the country and establish its industrial foundations. Although some sections of the orthodox communities, because of their religious worldview, were hostile to the Zionist ideals, there were not a few traditional Jews who adopted the Zionist idea. Their road was not easy yet despite opposition from certain groups, the ideal was absorbed and the Zionist clubs and associations in the town flourished.
A short description on Košice seems necessary especially for those who will never know what it was like when it was a centre of Jewish life. At the entrance of the city near the bustling railway station, broad steps led down to the heart of a magnificent park with hundreds of chestnuts, wellkept lawns dotted with colourful flower beds, comfortable benches and greenpainted chairs everything beautifully laid out by the garden architects. Every Shabbat and holiday, the park served as a meeting place for community members and their children. From the park, Mlynska Street led to the town centre. In its broad main street were wellkept gardens and at its centre, the cathedral which was built in Gothic style in the 13th century. There was the bell tower and the municipal theatre, a monumental building constructed in the classical style of the 17th century. On both sides of the street ran the tram rails that led northwards to the beautiful nature spots of the town and southwards to residential neighbourhoods and the cemetery. Košice lies on the western banks of the river Homad and is encircled by hills and forests. In the summer light, the city hills are enchanting as if they had dressed up especially to captivate the beholder. Pine groves cover the slopes of the mountains and raise their heads in pride to the blue skies. In one of the forest clearings, one could occasionally observe on Shabbat or on Sundays, groups of youngsters from one of the Zionist clubs sitting together to talk or to sing Hebrew songs. From the centre of town the groups of joyful young people arrived by tram or on foot to these delightful spots.
It will be remembered that Košice was a commercial, industrial and administrative centre for a wide region. The main streets were lined with elegant shops with their tasteful windows decorated by experts. Most of them were owned by Jews, not a few of whom were traditional and closed on Shabbat. On Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur, even the Neology Jews closed their business and the Jewish character of the town made itself felt because then everything came to a standstill as it did on Sundays according to municipal regulations. The secondary streets of the town, which were considered trade streets and in which Jews generally resided, were of similar character. On Friday nights the houses reverberated with Shabbat songs in which all
the family joined in a chorus that was heard in all the town streets. The smell of Shabbat food aroused the appetite of passersby. The main street served as a promenade for the people especially for the younger, more beautiful members of the Jewish community. On Shabbat and holidays, Jewish youth used the opportunity to walk and talk together and sometimes to go to one of the area's superb coffee shops.
The preparations for Shabbat or Holidays were felt in the majority of Jewish homes. Throughout the week, the town squares served as markets for agricultural produce. On Wednesday, the weekly market day, it was especially noisy and crowded. Women carried large baskets heavily laden with all kinds of fruit and vegetables provided by the farmers of the surrounding country who came to sell their wares.
Each season had its special character. In spring, with the warm sunshine melting the street snow into rivulets of water, a peasant woman would offer circlets of the delicate snowflower. This was usually a sign that spring had arrived and Passover was approaching. The big seasonal cleaning commenced and no family member was allowed to remain idle everyone had to participate in the clearing out of drawers and dusting of books. This sometimes gave the opportunity of looking at books that had remained hidden throughout the year. The Matzos factory had begun its activity at the beginning of the year and now, before Passover, increased production to provide all the Jews in the town and its surroundings with the necessary unleavened bread. Occasional visitors who came to the synagogue were invited for the meal, especially Jewish soldiers who were doing their military service nearby and were unable to hold the Seder in their own homes. The orthodox congregation was reputed for its hospitality to strangers on Friday evenings and its members competed, sometimes not too politely, among themselves for guests. Some members of the orthodox congregation regularly invited single young men who were not residents of the city once or twice a week for lunch and occasionally helped them out with some money or clothing. These were youngsters who were studying in a Yeshiva or a vocational
school and although the congregation financed their studies, they barely had enough money to maintain themselves.
After the long and cold winter, the Maccabee sports clubs renewed and intensified their activities. Many Jewish youth were active in sports. Soccer was popular, as everywhere else. The Košice Maccabee football group participated in the middle league with no small achievements. Again, boys from all the classes and congregations orthodox alongside neology participated in the fun. In pingpong, they achieved national standards and there were even some champions.
Tennis and swimming were also popular and Košice Jewish youth participated in several competitions. In winter, they participated in ski competitions and also gained recognition in other fields. The gymnasts became known throughout Slovakia and brought no little honour to Jewish sport. Several Jewish clubs organized hikes to more distant places, going part of the way by train and then on foot. These outings bound the group socially. During the summer, the Maccabee clubs held the BlueWhite day during which local and guest athletes from various towns in Czechoslovakia competed in different sport events.
During the summer, the elder members of the congregation also went to the holiday spots in the town. The closes were the Gajdae mineral springs, not far from city centre, where mineral water was sold to the public for a few pennies. The Homad River bisects the spot and served as a swimming facility for all. Access was easy by tram or on foot and picnics were held on the river banks.
The other nearby place was Csermelyforest, ideal for vacationing. It was a favourite of families who arrived to settle down for the day on the broad grass clearings. The children played about and the grownups as well participated in some athletic activity. A cool brook flowed nearby and refreshed aching feet. The distance from the city centre was about 2km. One could go there either by public transport or on foot.
Not far away from there, in the hills, was Banko a place of lush grass and plants that invited pleasurable activities. At its centre was a restaurant and coffee shop. On Saturdays and Sundays, young people
held dances and parties there and found in it a good background for their romances. The hardy arrived by foot, the lazy and spoilt by taxi.
Summer was relatively short. Already in August, the days became shorter and the nights cooler. The time of Selihot (prayers of pardon) arrived. Walking quickly in the early dawn, members of the congregation hurried to the synagogues and the school houses. They thrust their hands in the sleeves of their overcoats to protect them against the morning cold. The streets were empty. Only here and there a lonely policeman, wrapped in his overcoat, stood on a street corner waiting for his replacement. Within the synagogues, the lights glowed and in weeping chants, the Selihot were said asking for forgiveness as the Day of Atonement approached. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the synagogues and Beit Midrash filled with worshippers. Sometimes a famous cantor was invited to delight the congregation with his voice.
The streets in front of the synagogues were filled with usually elegantly dressed people as they came out from prayers to walk solemnly home to the festive meals. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, after the Mincha (afternoon) prayer, congregation members made their way towards the river. Standing in long lines on the banks of the Homad, they said the Tashlih prayer, reciting the three last verses of the Book of Micah that includes: and Thou will cast all their sins into the depth of the sea and then shook out the pockets of their clothes as a symbol of purification from sins and of complete repentance. At the end of Yom Kippur, the sounds of hammers were heard as people fulfilled the commandment of erecting the Sukkah.
The walls of the Sukkahs were kept from year to year and were now taken out of storage. The Sukkah was erected; the foliage put up and the inner walls were covered with white paper. Youngsters prepared the decorations and the Guest picture was nailed to the wall. The Guests Ushpizin are Israel forefathers and according to tradition, they visit the Sukkahs of Jews during the festival. On the foliage roof were hung the seven species of the Land of Israel, a symbol of the link between the land and the people of Israel, of the
feast of the farmer and of the continuity between the past and the hope for renewed independence.
After Succot, the weather turned chilly. Autumn rains fell and the wind blew down the leaves that decorated the parks and garden with the burnishing colours of fall. It was time to gather wood and coal for heating. In the streets, groups of wood choppers making an earsplitting noise chopped the logs and sawed them into sticks which were then stored in orderly piles in the storehouses of the inhabitants. Enormous quantities of potatoes were put into boxes in the cellars; vegetables were stored in sandboxes and cabbage was pickled in barrels. Again, all the family was recruited to pick the leaves, chop them up in the special shape for pickling and then stuffing them into the barrels. Apples were put between the cabbage and in the pickling process, acquired a unique and delightful flavour. The preparations for winter already began in the summer when the mothers cooked and bottled tomato sauce, pickled cucumbers in big jars and concocted all kinds of jams and preserves to fill the larders.
On October 28, Czechoslovakia's Day of Independence, the sports clubs of Košice, not a few of which were Jewish, organized an international marathon race, the only one of its kind in the country. Each year, the world's top runners arrived to participate in the event which created quite a lot of interest among the international athletes and of course, also among the local Jewish sport fans.
After a while and without further warning, winter arrived often accompanied by fierce winds and freezing cold. The town became covered in snow and people kept to their warm homes as far as possible. The youth clubs began their preparations for the Hannuka festivities which were generally held parallel with Christmas. The shops were crowded and the Jewish merchants also did quite well. The beautifully decorated shop windows, especially toy and gift shops, winked at passersby. Private and public Hanukah parties and dances were held everywhere, often with a social and charitable purpose. More modest children parties were held in almost every home. The schools were on a twoweek vacation which was used by many for winter sports, especially iceskating on the tennis courts that were
turned into icerinks. To the sound of music, the youngsters skated in circles and rounds. Occasionally there were icehockey games, a sport that was very developed throughout Czechoslovakia.
The theatre season was in full swing; the cinemas crowded, the fashionable coffee shops did a satisfying business and the bars were noisy with drunkards. Jewish and nonJewish enterprises flourished. The Jewish Casino was generally full of people on Sundays and Gentile holidays. Its library attracted diligent readers and other people of their neighbourhoods. The parks and gardens were deserted in winter. Towards its end, the Feast of Purim came with its happy and lively parties and dances which the Zionist youth organized everywhere. Orthodox youth held Purim plays foremost among them, the traditional Purim Spiel. Quite a few talents were discovered at these occasions. Throughout the town streets, the children carried the traditional Mishloah Manot (Food Gift Parcels) white napkins covering the best products of their mothers' baking art to friends and relatives. The day ended with the traditional Purim Feast.
Among the many voluntary organizations, those belonging to the World Bnei Brit association worked quietly wherever a helping hand was needed to solve financial and other problems. They did not limit themselves to Košice but spread their activities to part of Slovakia and Karpatorus. Their fields of action encompassed social, financial and cultural works in all the communities. For example: the Hebrew high schools of Ozhord and Mukacevo received permanent financial aid from the Bnei Brit. The Košice Bnei Brit lodge bore the name of Cassovia the ancient Roman name of the town. The lodge was a branch of the Prague lodge which was the central lodge of Czechoslovakia. Meetings were held every second week of the month.
Lodge members were elected according to very severe criteria. The lodge on Massaiarska Street had a golden plate on its doors inscribed with the Hebrew Yivarchcha (May God bless you). Members coordinated their activities and acted for the good of the matter under discussion, usually problems of financial assistance. Occasionally the mood turned sombre. Despite the enlightened regime,
not everything was perfect in Czechoslovakia. The world economic crisis of the1930s wads also felt by the Košice community. Although the liberal regime could not be accused of antiSemitic inclinations, the authorities occasionally applied the tax instrument to community members with a degree of severity that was definitely suspicious.
Especially matters of confiscation were often carried out to the extent of robbing the socalled debtor of his livelihood. This affected all Jews and among them also some of the generous members of Bnei Brit. The pressure on the lodges to bear some of the burden of its members increased. When the reign of terror began in Germany in 1933, and the first refugees began to arrive in Prague, the Košice Bnei Brit branch, despite its own difficulties, sent sums of money to the mother lodge in Prague.
Events in Germany sent heavy clouds over the Jewish world including the town of Košice. The following lines give a brief description of this sad story.
Before the establishment of the Third Reich, the Weimar Republic of Germany was already in a state of dissolution. On January 30, 1933 Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany. That evening, the Nazi commandos, drunk with victory, marched with their metaltipped boots on to the streets, tapping the pavements with military rhythm. In their hands they held burning torches to celebrate their victory. From the start they directed their hatred against the Jews accusing them of causing all the difficulties that afflicted the German economy. The malaise was of course not specifically German. The world was suffering from the economic depression and the Jews no less than the Christians. Yet, it was German militarism that had suffered defeat in World War I and it was German national pride that had been affected.
The Jews became the scapegoats for everything while the great powers sat by with folded arms, indifferent to the developing calamity. The Nuremberg Laws were promulgated in 1935 denying the Jews their livelihood and the most elementary rights. The hate against Jews was broadcast to spread among the German people: humiliate, insult, ostracize the people of Israel; confiscate their property, injure them
bodily. All literature and arts connected to Judaism was destroyed and burnt. Every cultural and intellectual creation of Jews became forbidden followed by expulsion and accompanied by every form of violence and madness that reached its peak with the Chrystal Night when synagogues, Jewish schools and institutions, shops and homes were smashed and looted. The following day, the victims were forced to pay compensation for the damages incurred. Then came the murder and rape of young and old, men, women and children. Those who did not succeed in escaping were sent to concentration camps. The murderers grew stronger and threatened the whole world. They found allies among neighbours and antiSemitic gentiles. At the beginning of 1938, Germany invaded Austria and immediately began to persecute the Jews. The socalled enlightened nations wrapped themselves in silence. While the Nazi victory parade echoed through Vienna's streets, the hunt for Jews went on, their beards were torn off. The Jewish communities of countries bordering on Germany and Austria began to take refugees who were fleeing the massacre. Germany continued giving pacifying declarations to the world; soft words, false promises and lies. They gladly signed agreements. Thus, in 1938, they signed the most infamous of accords: The Munich Pact with Lord Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of Great Britain who returned to the island happily waving the piece of paper and declaring: I have saved the world from war. Actually, the result was the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. First the Sudetten district was annexed to Germany. The Slovaks detached themselves and established independent Slovakia in which, like their northern German neighbours, they began looting and killing Jews already at the start of 1939.
A few months later, they spread their protection over Bohemia and Moravia where they began to persecute the Jewish inhabitants whose numbers had increased because of German refugees. The southern part of Slovakia was taken over by Hungary. The principle was the same throughout the area. Wherever the Germans or their allies took over, the Jews became the first victims, communities were destroyed, institutions closed and libraries burnt. Events
followed the saying of the great German poet: Wherever books are burnt, human beings are also put to flames. In all the countries where the German terror and its allies ruled, Jews were persecuted, deprived of their elementary rights and antiSemitic regulations imposed
On September 1, 1939 the German loudspeakers blared forth that a state of war with Poland had been declared. To ensure themselves against Russian attack, the leaders of Germany came to an agreement with the Soviet Union and signed the infamous RibbentropMolotov Pact. The guns began to roar, the Russians advanced from the east, the Germans from the west, and in a few days Poland had lost its independence. The Western powers were surprised and, because they had accepted previous insults, now found themselves involved in a most cruel war. Throughout Europe, the guns boomed, aeroplanes bombed innocent people in towns and villages and, together with the military activities, the Germans sent special units to deal with the Jewish people. In most countries, the leaders of the Jewish communities remained helpless, not knowing what to do. Only the Zionist youth movements began to organize the people to escape. Already in 1938, they had leased cargo ships to carry the youth towards Palestine. There they met the British White Paper policy which forbade free immigration of Jews. Nevertheless they managed by various indirect ways to overcome those restrictions and, in spite of dangers, many succeeded in reaching the shores to safety.
The special Nazi units were extremely active in conquered Poland. Special quarters were established in towns and villages and the Jews within them were deprived of all their freedom. The Germans overran Europe. Holland, Belgium, France and Denmark fell to their armies and the evil rule mercilessly persecuted the frightened and terrified Jewish inhabitants. At first they were expelled but it very quickly became apparent that no nation was prepared to accept them.
The persecution continued often assisted by collaborators of the Nazi regime in the occupied territories. The GermanRussian Pact did not last long. In June 1941, the Nazi invaded Russia with an enormous army that had conquered vast areas in just a few months. Again, the Jews were the first to be murdered by the special units.
31, 1941 the order was given for the total annihilation of the Jews in the occupied regions. A vast machinery of extermination was put into gear: concentration camps and gas chambers in the death camps of Auschwitz, Maidenek, Belsen, Sovibor and Treblinka were built. The grisly trains rolled unceasingly into the camps and death was everywhere. Sick and old people from oldage homes, children from orphanages, whole families from Greece and Italy in the south from France, Belgium, Holland and Norway in the west and from Poland and Russia in the east were loaded on trains and sent to their deaths in the camps.
When Slovakia was occupied by the Hungarians in autumn 1938, the German Nurnberg laws were imposed. Deprivation of elementary rights and restriction of business licenses were the first steps and left many without a livelihood. They were thrown upon the mercy of the community. When the Germans invaded Russia, Hungary joined the war. All foreign Jews and those lacking Hungarian citizenship were immediately expelled into the conquered territories and never saw their families again. They were murdered on the banks of the rivers Bug and Prut in the Ukraine. The ablebodied Jewish youth were recruited into forced labour gangs. Many were killed by the guards or died as a result of cold, hunger and deprivation.
The turn came towards the beginning of 1943 when the Nazis were defeated by the Russian army near Stalingrad. There were quite a few Jewish heroes who fought there. On other fronts as well, in the east, south and north, people of many nations including Palestine, fought the German evil. In the forests and hills, and in the underground, Jewish partisans fought to destroy the army of villains. Meanwhile, the Germans continued with their hunt for Jews in the countries they had occupied in order to send them to the death camps. Yet the world did not lift a finger to help or to prevent the massacre. In despair, and with its last strength, the Jewish youth of Warsaw organized to fight the Germans who had come to kill them. They fought mightily to square the account and avenge the blood that had been spilt. For a few days, they heroically and courageously withstood the vicious enemy who had sent in tanks and the air force to subdue them. Fire and blood
swept the streets and still they continued to struggle from amidst the ruins that had been houses. The majority of these heroic fighters with Mordechai Anilevitch at their head were killed. The few survivors fled to the forests and mountains and continued their fight against those servants of the kingdom of evil, the likes of which mankind had never known before.
The Red Army began to advance westwards, from town to town and from village to village while on the African and Italian front, the armies of the West fought to reconquer Europe. The Russian armies reached the Carpathian Mountains and the Hungarian frontier. The Jews of the area breathed a sigh of relief: they thought that this signalled the end of the war. But, as a thunder on a summer day, Heaven help us the special German death units entered Hungary on March 19, 1944 and also came to Košice to annihilate the Jews.
This is perhaps the right place to return to autumn 1938.
Following the Munich pact, the Hungarians invaded our district and also conquered Košice. The twenty years of relative peace came to an end. AntiSemitism and racism took the place of the democratic and liberal rule that had guaranteed equal rights for everyone. The name of the town was again changed from Košice to Kassa. By order of the invaders, the activities of all the cultural, social and Zionist organizations excepting the community leadership were stopped and all their properties confiscated. The situation of the Jews in nearby Slovakia was even worse. The Slovaks were faithful allies to the German criminals. The theocratic regime there was basically antiSemitic and gleefully carried out the German purpose. At night, Slovakian Jewish refugees crept fearfully through forests and hills towards Košice.
The social and Zionist organizations that had already gone underground went into action. The refugees were first given temporary shelter and then sent on to the capital where conditions were somewhat better, to await the passing of the storm.
Among those who devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the salvation operation of Slovakian Jews was Kalman Lorber, the owner of Click Brothers Enterprises near the central railway station at Košice. When
News of the mass expulsion of Slovakian Jews began to arrive, salvation committees on both sides of the border were organized. Lorber was the committee's representative in Košice. By paying large amounts of money, the Slovakian committee managed to enlist Slovakian collaborators who helped smuggle the unhappy victims of persecution to Košice. At prearranged spots, whole families boarded a Slovakian train that was to take them to Hungary via Košice.
The train conductor was a member of the conspiracy (well paid, of course) and his task was to slow down the train near the Glick Enterprises to enable the refugees to jump off. At the risk of his life and the life of his family, Lorber awaited them there and sped them on to the shelter of the committee which had made the suitable arrangements. Of course, everything was done in the middle of the night. There are many families who owe their lives to the courage of Lorber and his family.
Conditions in Hungary were better in relation to the surrounding countries and therefore the stream of refugees increased daily. The resources available were meagre and the communities were unable to cope with the situation by themselves. The community leaders approached the central offices in the capital and a roof organization for mutual help to all the communities was established in order to solve the refugee problem. Yet, even this organization was unable to bear the fearsome burden. They then established the Omzsa organization which, in addition to contributions, imposed fees and dues throughout the country. The Joint also came to the rescue and together they extended material assistance to the refugees, the widows and orphans as well as all those who needed help, and there were many.
On January 1, 1940 the majority of Jewish businesses were closed down and their licences revoked. This meant that many families, owners and employees were suddenly left without means of livelihood. The youth and all those of military age were conscripted into forced labour gangs for an unlimited time. The streets emptied of men and families became helpless and prone to misery. When Hungary joined the war following the German invasion of Russia in 1941, the labour gangs were sent to the Russian front to dig ditches for the
Germans, build their fortifications and do all kinds of heavy work. Every recruit had to provide himself with clothing (civilian), blankets and equipment. Many did not have the necessary means to do so and arrived in worn out shoes and lacking all basic necessities. They were also sent to the copper mines in the town of Bor in Yugoslavia and lay railroad tracks in the mountainous area of Transylvania.
Many expired there because of exhaustion, cold and brutality. Heavy penalties were imposed on the smallest or imagined infringement of rules. The cream of Jewish youth, their loved ones, and hope for the future all found their death in the wastelands of Russia. The worst time was the winter of 194243. The Germans and Hungarians suffered a resounding defeat and vent all their frustration on those unhappy young men. During the long retreat along the banks of the Don River, they trudged in their ragged coats, lacking food and minimal medical attention. One by one they fell in those freezing snowcovered wastes, a long line of youngsters buried without having fulfilled their lives. Due to the terrible sanitary conditions, many of them sickened with typhoid fever. In the town of Doroshice in the Ukraine, they were put in quarantine into huge barracks that had previously served as storehouses. They lay there on straw, crowded one upon the other without any medical attention. The Hungarians closed all the openings of the building, poured gasoline on its walls and set it on fire. Those who were not burnt immediately and tried to escape were shot. Miraculously a few survived to tell the terrible story to the world. In several other cases, the labour gangs were chased on to mined fields and exploded as they ran, thus clearing the area. Altogether, only a handful returned from the eastern front.
Tragic stories continued to come from Slovakia.
During 1941, Slovakian guards kidnapped Jewish girls and sent them to the Russian front to amuse the German thugs. None returned. Those that managed to evade the kidnappers were also smuggled to Kassa. The women of the community again proved nobility. They opened a girl's home and took care of all refugees. The stories of each and every girl were horrifying. One of them, a small 4 or 5 yearold child had an especially sad story to tell. She arrived with her parents
At a small forest near the Hungarian border with Slovakia. Apparently, the parents sensed that their persecutors were very near their hiding place and were sure that the little girl would be unable to continue. They hid her in an old ruin covered by a bush. The little girl remained there for two days without food or drink. Peasant women who passed by found the frightened child who weepingly told them that she was being chased by people. They took pity on the child and brought her to the community offices. Her name was Sheindele. She was lucky and survived the horrors of the war and today lives comfortably in Budapest.
The lot of Košice Jews during the war and especially in 1941 was a heavy one. The Jews that had arrived as refugees following World War I had, meanwhile, received their Czechoslovakian citizenship. Now they were ordered to present themselves to the police and on the spot were deprived of their citizens' papers which were simply abolished. A few days later, 300 of these unhappy people were gathered in the neology synagogue and sent away to the conquered territories in Ukraine. There they were welcome by the savage Ukrainian S.S. ruffians whose cruelty exceeded that of their German masters. The long years of the communist era had not changed the brutal character they had inherited from the days of Chelminitzky, the Tartar. Men, women and children were murdered in cold blood near Kamenec Podolsk.
Tragic news also arrived from the south. As noted, the Hungarians helped by the German ruffians had invaded parts of Yugoslavia. But, the Serbian people, wellknown as freedomfighters, did not submit to the cruel rule of the HungarianGerman invaders. Even in World War I, they had fought as partisans against the AustroHungarian armies. Now, again, they organized for guerrilla warfare. In one operation they caught several gendarmes who had been especially cruel to the local population and simply exterminated them. In revenge, the local commander arrested the elders of the Serbian town of Ujvidek, together with many innocent Jews, and murdered them on the banks of the Danube.
The general in charge of that criminal operation was later appointed commander of our town and the surrounding areas and during the Holocaust, proved his murderous industry.
Compared to other countries in the east and west, the Jews in Hungary had suffered less from pogroms or expulsions throughout their thousand years of history; at most, they experienced the blood calumny which generally had not led to any serious consequences. President Horty and his government were not precisely sympathetic to Jews but while the surrounding countries of Slovakia, Croatia, Austria, Poland, the Ukraine and Czechoslovakia were burning and Jews were being sent to death camps, the Jews of Hungary managed to accommodate themselves somehow to the oppressive regulations. They lived in the hope that the wrath would pass and that the majority would survive. The surprise was, therefore, very great. Good news continued to reach them. Rommel's defeat in El Alamein brought a sigh of relief that Palestine was no longer in danger of being invaded by the Germans. The downfall of the German armies near Stalingrad caused rejoicing as did the news of the American invasion of Casablanca and the liberation of North Africa from the GermanItalian conquerors.
There was no end to the joy expressed at the invasion of the Island Pantaleria and we eagerly searched for the spot on the map. We prayed for the Allie's success and not much later came the news of the invasion of Sicily and then of Italy. Impatiently we followed the progress of the Allied armies, noted with satisfaction that the Russians had crossed the Dniester and that the Red Army had reached the Carpathian Mountains. The Hungarian Jews stood up with home and their hope was dashed.
Many questions remain unanswered especially since several of the community leaders knew about the annihilation of the Jews in Poland and in other parts of Europe. In order to substantiate my statement, I shall refer to a book by Thomas Keneally entitled: Schindler's Ark. Schindler, one of the prominent just of the world, succeeded through a variety of stratagems and at the risk of his own life, to save 1200 Jews of Krakow and its neighbourhood.
He was born in the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia, and early on became aware of the dangers with which mankind was threatened by the atrocities of the monster from Berlin. He arrived in occupied Krakow as a business man and opened a factory for kitchen equipment in which he employed many Jews. His attitude towards the Jews was sympathetic and he tried in many ways to improve the lot of his persecuted employees, manifesting a warm and human relationship and procuring food for them during those harsh years when the Jews were on their way to extermination camps.
In the autumn of 1942, Dr. Sedlacek, a nonJewish Viennese dentist, arrived in Krakow. He had been sent by the Rescue Committee of Budapest with a list of people known for their trustworthiness to the committee. Until that time, neither the National Committee of Palestine nor the Worlds' Zionist Federation knew about what was really happening in Germany and in the occupied territories.
Dr. Sedlacek was sent to Krakow with a large amount of money hidden in the false bottom of his suitcase which had been donated by the American Joint for the purpose of rescue operations. The esteemed doctor arrived in Krakow ostensibly for business purposes. Schindler's name was known to the rescue committee and therefore included in the list.
Sedlacek met Schindler, introduced himself and after both persons had sized each other up, Schindler told him about the atrocities, the brutal expulsions and the executions in the nearby deserted Austrian fortress that he himself had witnessed. Sedlacek remained silent for a few minutes and then asked Schindler whether he would be prepared to come to Budapest to testify personally about the horrors he had seen so that the matter might be brought to the attention of the Jewish communities throughout the world and in order to arouse the conscience of the enlightened nations. At first Schindler was amazed at the request but after reflecting for a short while, he agreed to go to Budapest. Meanwhile, he transferred the money to the Jewish community leaders in Krakow to use at their discretion.
Equipped with a Hungarian visa, Schindler arrived in Budapest towards the end of 1942 and registered at the Panonia Hotel in a
room that had been reserved for him by Kastner and Springman. The two met Schindler in his room to hear his report. Schindler paced up and down, extremely agitated and with difficulty began telling his tale, almost in a whisper. He warned his listeners: Gentlemen, the Nazi beast will be merciless towards any Jew it can lay its hand on.
Don't be deluded. The Germans plan to exterminate and totally uproot the Jewish people. Begin by alarming the local leadership. Warn everyone! Time is running out! In Poland and in other occupied countries, genocide unknown in the annals of human history is being carried out. You as well are in danger of death. The Nazi monster that knows no boundaries will also come here. Save what can still be saved…
Exhausted and rained by the terrifying report and by his warnings and tragic prophecies, Schindler sank into his armchair unable to say another word. Kastner and Springman, stunned and greatly perturbed by Schindler's cries, took their leave mumbling a few courtesies.
The problem was that the leaders of the Zionist Federation in Hungary were not very much liked by the heads of the communities in their countries, especially not by Shmuel Stern, head of the Budapest community. Although Schindler's report was transmitted to him word for word by Kastner and Springman, he did not see fit to use his influence among the Hungarian authorities, and even worse, he did not warn the community leaders of his country nor the world about what was happening in Poland. Instead, he gave a statement as follows:
It is dangerous to think of hurting the culture of the German people and to doubt the goals of the enlightened Hungarian government. (Free translation from original). Actually, he concealed all relevant information from the communities including the community of Košice.
The tragic end came in spring of 1944. On March 19, 1944 hope turned to despair. In the early morning hours rumour flew that the Nazi army had invaded Hungary and had also entered Kassa.The Jews of the town shuddered and the fear of death fell upon them. To this was added the absolute silence of Budapest radio. After a while, the
Announcer screamed the news that the government had been changed and that one of the new government's priorities was the extermination of the Jews. For a whole day, S.S. and Wehrmacht units paraded through the main streets of the town. Some hands were lifted to give the Hitler salute. There were also many Gentiles who impatiently awaited the opportunity to give rein to their murderous and greedy instincts. The more subdued among them accepted the events in silence and with heavy faces. In a kind of swoon, the Jews helplessly looked into a black future already feeling the first shadow of the tragedy. The police announced that henceforth they would give no protection in any matter to the town's Jewish citizens.
The S.S. hurried to proclaim one destructive directive after the other and in less than two and a half months, the flourishing community of 12,000 Jewish souls had been annihilated. The street walls were plastered with notices forbidding Jews to leave their places of residence and to go anywhere in any vehicle. Several days later, 20 community members established a Jewish Council. They insisted that every congregation be represented. Two notables were elected as council heads. The German hangmen established these councils to serve their own malevolent interests. Fairly soon, the council managed to make contact with the congregation centres in Budapest and in parallel with Christian Kassa members of the Hungarian Parliament. They commiserated with their Jewish fellowcitizens and tried to help by sending petitions to the government. However, it rapidly became apparent that these petitions were worthless. Horty himself was a prisoner of the Germans.
Among the cruel directives imposed was the command to wear the yellow star. Everyone was forced to do so heroes of World War I, public servants, community leaders as well as ordinary people and with tears in their eyes, the Jews fastened the sign of shame on their clothes. With hurried steps they moved about to do their business. The beards and side locks disappeared in order not to give the Jewhaters an excuse to harass and beat them.
The number of Jews in town increased as the Germans gathered the Jewish inhabitants of the surrounding town lets of Torna, Szepsi,
Szikszo, Szanto and others as well as 3,000 Jews from surrounding villages. The uncertainty and the common anxiety led to acts of selfsacrifice and devotion. In exchange for those who came into Kassa, the Slovakian Jews who had previously fled to our town, now migrated back to Slovakia where, relatively speaking, conditions were a bit better. There were also some who sought to flee with their families and were robbed and left helpless in the dark forests by those in whom they entrusted their escape. Some died of broken hearts and others committed suicide.
Together with 140 men of the labour gangs, they were buried in the Jewish cemetery. Their common grave lies under the memorial of the four pyramids. These tragedies would have caused great distress in usual times but conditions were so bad that the members of the community accepted the events with indifference. Several days of quiet followed during with the German devils established their headquarters on Horty Street n°9 and began their acts of humiliation. The women were ordered to clean the command offices. The Jews became truly aware what it meant to be without rights and to be persecuted. The following morning, the community was ordered to pay within three days one million Pengo as war compensation and, in order to expedite collection, several hostages from along the community notables were taken. It was a fantastic sum which the community was unable to pay because of the poverty to which it had been driven during the previous years. Nevertheless, collection started and this time also included those Jews who had left their faith and had converted to Christianity. The Germans did not exempt them nor were they granted any special privileges. 150,000 Pengo were still lacking but the Germans were still not satisfied and exerted further pressure by taking more hostages and threatening to deal with them in the S.S. manner. From house to house, the collection continued until the sum was completed and given to the German Moloch.
Outside, everything appeared as usual. Spring came and the warm sun shone on the poor, sad and humiliated people. Sometimes the people asked themselves whether nothing but black nightmares were left in the brutal enslavement, the worst that the German satanic mind could
devise. The order went out that within 48 hours; every Jew or person of Jewish descent was to present himself at the two brick factories on Szepsi Road on the outskirts of the city. Those who had been previously gathered in the synagogue were also brought there. The miserable sight to be seen on Szepsi Road is hard to describe. Singly or in groups, their meagre properties on their backs, the Jews trudged to the concentration spot. Some pushed their belongings on twowheeled carts while horse carriages transported the old, the weak and all those who were unable to make their own way to the accursed place. The children who had been torn from their warm homes were crying as they clung to their mothers' skirts. The Christian inhabitants of the town looked on for the most part appalled at the sight but there were quite a few who barely hid their satisfaction. The street became a road of tears, torture and pain; many older people, some of them former residents of the Old Age Home where they had known loving care, collapsed, unable to go on towards a frightening future. The eyes of the younger ones and of the children darkened as they marched to the meeting place. The river of condemned people flowed on and the clanging noise of the funeral cart's wheels became audible as they went to meet death.
In the two brick factories which together encompassed an area of less than 15 hectares, 14,000 panicstricken and desperate people were herded together; bleak wasteland surrounded them.
Chaos broke out among the Jewish intellectuals who had previously been so wellordered. In an utterly disorderly and undisciplined manner, each one found a corner in which to settle between the drying facilities or in the dusty brick storehouses. The community council went into action and imposed a semblance of order among the populace.
Former army officers put up a command spot and organized a militia of sorts. Thousands of people silently obeyed the council and accepted the authority of the command. After 24 hours, every family had found somewhere to sleep. Out of the bricks that lay scattered about, several walls were erected to create some privacy. The following day, people were put to work. Sometimes what they did
Was completely superfluous and their occupation was intended only to stop them from thinking. The hangmen had had enough experience throughout Europe and apparently were good psychologists for they made the people work unceasingly. One group dug latrines to ensure minimal sanitary services and prevent epidemics so that the murderers would not be cheated out of their victims. The doctors put up a clinic and devoted themselves to those who had been undergoing treatment before and to those who were wounded while working in the camp. On an improvised duplicating machine, the writers put out a twopage camp newsletter that contained essential news and gave advice to camp inmates. Organization of supplies became necessary. Most people had provided themselves with food for, at most, two or three days. By the third day of camp, a rudimentary kitchen had been erected which was able to supply everyone with at least one meal. Silently the people stood in long lines with plates in their hands. Those who had previously enjoyed plenty and had given generously to others were now reduced to these humiliating circumstances. Water was needed and the camp council approached the town council on the matter. Two of the town council members Barcs, deputy mayor and Dobosfi, senior town official, must surely be remembered among the Gentile Just. Their human loyalty to the Jewish citizens of their town and devoted assistance made the supply of water and food possible. On the advice of the camp council, the larders of the abandoned Jewish houses were emptied and the food carted to the camp kitchens. Thus, in one form or another, the problem of supplies was solved and with food apparently available, the crowds calmed down somewhat, despite anxieties for the future which proved to be blacker than the darkest of dreams. The council also contacted the centre in Budapest and transferred many complaints and requests.
One day, a train from the southeast passed by and eyewitnesses reported that they had seen several hands waving from the barred ventilation spots. The two camps were filled with anxiety. The council attempted to find out from the rail workers what kind of train it had been. They only received general and vague explanations. Apparently it was a train from Slovakia carrying heavily guarded Jewish women.
No further clarifications were available because German workers took over the train at the frontier and it was impossible to talk to them.
In the beginning of May, rumours arose that the establishment of a Ghetto was being planned. The news appeared to indicate more moderate treatment. The information was partially true. Several hundreds of Jews, most of them artisans and their families, were transferred under heavy guard to Zriniy and Szerecsen Street. Although they were crowded and shut within the ghetto, they still lived in houses and not in the grimy and dusty camp where S.S. ruffians strode about with murderous looks in their eyes. When meeting them, all the unhappy camp inmates had to stop, turn towards them and take off their hats. This was part of the regulations of the Nazi camp. In the ghetto the inhabitants had to suffer from the S.S. hangmen as well as from thugs of the Hungarian police. Two Hungarian officers who were especially hostile to the Jews did not cease torturing them. They were justly punished after the war: one was executed and the other imprisoned for 20 years. Was that an appropriate punishment for all the atrocities and crimes they had committed during the war years?
The Germans encircled the brick factories with guard towers and forced the prisoners to put up the barbed wire fence to keep them in their prison. There was no escape. The chances of fleeing in that sea of hostile and hating people were nil. Fear of death enveloped every corner. They slept neither by day nor by night. The mothers who had been used to their daily routine now sat about listlessly; the children cried and within days lost their vivacity and became mature anxious people. Only a 1015 minute walk separated them from their homes. The people sat around in that hell and reflected: Where did we err? Where did our forefathers err? Our fathers taught us the faith in one God and to believe in the good of our fellowmen… We always strived for perfection. We were the leaders of progress. Look at King David who wrote one hundred and fifty psalms that are sung in joy and in sorrow by all the nationals of the world... We have contributed to humanity in all fields: in medicine, science, literature, law, art, poetry… A third of the Nobel prize winners belong to our people although we constitute only one thousands of a part
of world population… Yet, despite all this and perhaps because of our Judaism, our fate has been persecution, pogroms, expulsions and murder… Perhaps because we no longer have a land of our own, we are made scapegoats of all the evil and trouble that exist in the world… Perhaps our fathers were wrong in taking Hersl and his Zionist idea too seriously… Possibly none of this would have happened if we had a homeland as other people do… Thus the days crept by until the end came.
The hope that those living in the Ghetto would be saved, vanished. Except for a few artisans which the Nazi singled out for all kind of work, everyone was returned to the camp. On Saturday, May 13, 1944 they were taken together with members of the Jewish Council to the police headquarters. They were brutally searched and everything valuable was taken away. After being beaten, they were led under heavy guard to the camp. In long lines, they passed through the streets blinking dazedly at the people who were continuing their everyday life, laughing and talking in the warm spring sunshine. They were entering hell and the gates of the camp clanged shut behind them.
Monday, May 15 was the blackest day. Like monsters with open jaws, a long line of freight cars entered camp n°1. The trained S.S. ruffians went into action, took down the pitiful cells that had been built and brutally pushed the miserable human beings towards the train. Anyone who lagged was ferociously beaten with sticks and gun butts. The agonized cries rose to the heavens but to no avail. The doors were locked and the train rolled away towards the death chambers.
Grief enveloped those that remained. Tears flowed unceasingly and the sobs rent the air. Prayers and entreaties rose despairingly everywhere. The worlds of the anonymous poet came true:
I have drunk the poisonous cup,
My soul has been filled with sorrow.
The night wind howled and clouds hid the moon. Gun shots were occasionally heard. When dawn broke, the remnants in the camp gazed wordlessly at each other, sometimes breaking the silence with
words of despair. Where were the liberators? So near, yet so far away. Why were they delaying? They had been camped in the Carpathians for several weeks. Why weren't they bombing the accursed rail tracks instead of the cities? Why weren't the bridges being blown to prevent the death trains from reaching their goal? Was there no pity for the hundreds of thousands that were being driven to their deaths? The Allies will have to bear witness in the court of history for not having lifted a finger to prevent the annihilation of our people.
Meanwhile, the sands of time were running out for the unhappy victims.
The days passed, the first, second, third and fourth day after the expulsion. On the fifth day, the bloodthirsty train arrived again, its maw swallowed up the beaten, paralyzed men, women and children and about a fourth of the community disappeared towards extermination. Sometimes, the thought arose about how the S.S. and others of their ilk, who had been children of mothers, could behave in such a manner towards other beings of flesh and blood. The second transport left on May 19, 1944 exactly one month after the city had been conquered by the Nazis. The clock continued to tick, eating up the minutes, hours and days. On Friday, May 25, the nightmare train renewed its operation and another quarter of the camp inmates were led to slaughter. There were no illusions left.
The camp dissolved. Those that still remained were gathered in the right wing and a group of hostages who had been kept elsewhere joined them in the drying cells of the factory. Even the sick and mentally ill were pushed into the crowded space. Shots were heard during the night as the halfnaked victims lay on the straw. The terrifying visions became a reality. On the second of June, 1944, the steel monster came and took the last of the camp inmates to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. An end had come to the flourishing Jewish community of dear KassaKošice.
|In the dark and lightless city
Hushed are the alleys.
|Noiseless the streets.
Deserted the dwellings of Israel.
All sounds are muted.
No voice to be heard.
Sorrow and mourning in every corner.
The boisterous laughter of youth has been silenced.
And with it man.
No longer do temples resound with singing.
The schools are emptied.
Closed are the charities, the stores and the workshops.
As the death trains roll towards the furnaces.
On June 6, 1944 Dday the Allied armies landed on the coast of Normandy. The bells of liberty were already beginning to ring on the shores of the Atlantic. Italy was almost free. On June 21, the Russian army attacked the German and Hungarian posts throughout the eastern front. The Nazi had used the relative pause in the fighting since March in order to carry out their satanic plans to exterminate Hungarian Jewry. How cruel was the hand of fate?
Battles continued on all fronts. Many of the young men who had been taken to the forced labour gangs in the east, managed to escape to the Russians during the German retreat. At first, they were sent to prison camps. In 1943, in coordination with the Russians, the Czechoslovakian army organized to fight the Germans. Many of the soldiers were recruited from the prison camps. The Jewish prisoners volunteered for this army and fought courageously wherever they were sent. They excelled particularly in the Carpathian Ridge. Many of them, including Jewish soldiers from Košice fell in battle, yet they fought ferociously to avenge their brothers whose blood had been spilt by the German and Hungarian barbarians. Several Košice Jews were among the liberators of the city in January, 1945.
As soon as the town was liberated, Košice was declared the temporary capital of Czechoslovakia. Edward Beneš, the President
Of Czechoslovakia, who had been forced to flee his country in 1938, returned to Košice and made a statement there regarding the political future of the liberated nation. During the first days after liberation, the few Jewish survivors crept out, pale and weak from the dark cellars in which they had hidden for more than a year. A trickle of survivors from the death camps, dressed in striped prison clothes, also arrived. Their attempts at recovering their property and houses, which their Christian neighbours had meanwhile confiscated, were mostly unsuccessful. In Beneš' statement regarding the future of his country, no mention was made about the Jewish survivors, no reference on how to treat the unhappy victims that were slowly returning and on how to rehabilitate them.
From the start of the new era, the Slovakian guards began to fill the official posts in the town. The antiSemitic Aristo's and Slovakians military took over the army. Yesterday's guards declared an amnesty for the crimes they themselves had committed. With arrogant confidence, without a prick to their conscience, they gave tongue to their antiSemitic feelings and declared that more Jews had returned than had been expulsed or killed. As Slovakian chauvinism gained hold, the use of any other language but Slovakian was forbidden. The Slovaks behaved as victors and not as senior partners of all the terrible crimes of the leader in Berlin. No wonder that the survivors who returned were treated with contempt. In those countries where the Jews had been expulsed or exterminated, the leaders learned how to exploit the holocaust for their own benefit. Officially, they spoke about their citizens who had been victimized by the Nazi and their helpers without mentioning that most of the victims had been Jews. They insisted on payment of compensation for the evils inflicted on their governments and citizens, despite the fact that many of them participated fully in the mayhem perpetrated by the Germans.
Familiar faces continued to return to town. Gaunt figures in ragged clothes with small blue numbers tattooed on their arms and the eternal little pack on their shoulders. They came from the snowy Carpathian Mountains; from secret bunkers where they had hidden; courageous
partisans who had fought the enemy in Banska Bistrica; from Romania and even a handful of Košice Jews who had fled to Sweden.
The most humane behaviour of the Swedish people is worthy of mention. They did not forget the principles of morality during those harsh times and saved many of our people, giving them shelter and hiding them from the evil demons. One of Sweden's most outstanding sons was Raoul Wallenberg who was sent to Budapest in those dark days of Hungary's history and risked his own life in order to save the Jewish remnants. Thousands owe their lives to that wonderful man. After the liberation of Budapest, he was invited to Debrecen by Russian military authorities and thence, all traces of this devoted and wonderful friend of the Jewish people disappeared. Israel will not forget him and may his name be eternally engraved in history.
As the months passed, occasional refugees arrived, discharged from one or other hospital, some of them without a leg or arm. All found helping hand and a roof among their friends and comrades who had returned a few weeks earlier. Surprisingly few towns and villages had been as heavily afflicted as Košice. Of its 12,000 Jews, perhaps 600 returned, broken in spirit and in body. A few people returned to the surrounding villages but when they could not find their place in the prevailing poisoned antiSemitic atmosphere, they made their way to Košice and joined the pitiful remnant of the Jewish community. In July, 1946, some of Košice's citizens were liberated from Russian captivity and made their way back through Romania and Hungary until they came to Bratislava. There, they were taken to the Russian headquarters and were made to stand in line for identification. The group was composed of Hungarian citizens of Czechoslovakia and Slovaks who had fought in the Hungarian army against the Russians, and a small number of Jewish survivors. The Slovaks, who had fought with the Germans and were no better than them, were immediately discharged and sent home.
The Hungarians and the small group of Jews were sent to a prisoner's camp in Malaki in order to prove to the authorities that they had not been hostile elements during the war. Their explanations that they were Jews, victims of the German atrocities perpetrated against them
were to no avail. The Hungarians wrote home and their families quickly came to their rescue and freed them. On the Jews had nowhere to write to there was no one left to liberate them. By a lucky chance, one of the Hungarians who had been freed took a letter from the Jewish prisoners to the office of Joint in Bratislava who then went into action and liberated them from Czechoslovakian captivity, fifteen months after the end of the war. In Malaki, they had been imprisoned for more than a month. In 1945, a few weeks after liberation of Košice, a refugee bureau was established in the town in order to give financial and other assistance to those that were returning. The office was managed by the refugees themselves and they cooperated with the United Nations Refugees Association (UNRAA) who sent help in the form of food such as rice, coffee, cocoa, tinned food and other provisions that could not be bought even for money. Parcels of new clothing arrived and enabled the survivors to discard the hated prison clothes and other rags which they had been wearing.
A community committee was founded and was officially recognized by the authorities. It was headed by orthodox Jews and officially united all the various Jewish movements that had previously existed in traditional ways and this caused no small amount of bitterness among the neology congregation members. They claimed that a progressive society was unable to accept a way of life full of anachronisms, that orthodoxy was liable to drive away Jewish youth and push them towards assimilation.
The High Holiday prayers in 1945 were held both in the orthodox and neology synagogues. The orthodox congregation was larger. They neology synagogue was in need of repairs, the rubbish that had accumulated had to be disposed of and the furniture renewed. With tears in their eyes, the congregation members rolled up their sleeves and went to work to make the place ready for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers the first and last to be held there. At first, the synagogue served as a storehouse for furniture that had been robbed from Jewish flats. Later, it became grain storage. Hundreds of freight carts filled with wheat had dumped their contents in it. The synagogue
Was well suited to the purpose since the windows, with their beautiful vitrines, had been shattered to bits by stones that had been thrown at them during the war days and the wind that blew through them served to air the grains.
Rabbi Raphael Blum was appointed chief rabbi of the orthodox congregation and served, as mentioned before, as chief rabbi for the whole community. He was a good scholar but held office for only a few years.
The Jewish Agency and the Joint again proved their efficiency in assisting the needy, and they were many. The representatives of both institutions always came at the right time and in the right place. A new Hevra Kadisha was established as well as some of the charity institutions for the united community. There was no lack of problems.
Most of the community members had remained penniless. Many of them were ill as a result of years of deprivation. Two physicians; Dr. Braf and Dr. Michal, who had survived the jaws of death, devoted themselves unreservedly to help the sick and in many cases succeeded in prolonging their lives.
An aid fund established by the Community Committee to grant loans to those who wished to open business, or even only as a means of subsistence. With time, the fund became a granting agency because no one demanded the return of the loans. Money was not all the Committee dealt with. Many approached it with requests for help in getting licenses for their enterprises because no business could be opened without a license and the licensing authorities were not too generous in giving out their documents, especially since the official positions were filled with functionaries not known for their love of Israel. Again, the committee members worked tirelessly to fulfil such requests.
Gradually, the Jews of Košice reintegrated in the commercial life of the city. Life went on. Business began to flourish. The ruins of war had to be rebuilt and the damages repaired. The American Marshall Plan operated actively throughout Czechoslovakia and enormous amounts of money were poured into the national
economy speeding up its rehabilitation. All this was also felt among the Jewish community.
Nature ran its course. The pain for the lost loved ones dulled in spite of the fact that the shadows of the past were not forgotten among those who remained. Documentation of the lives of those who had died became necessary in order to enable the survivors to renew their ordinary lives, marry and raise a family to east the terrible loneliness. Many found suitable partners and began a new life. Efforts were made to return the community to its usual life. The big orthodox synagogue on Pushkin Street was put at the disposal of the whole community and was filled with worshippers on the High Holidays. Perhaps some came to demonstrate, possibly unconsciously: Our souls may be bruised but we are here we live. The soulcommuning atmosphere that prevailed among the friendly faces brought about a spiritual uplift among congregation members now that they were together again among their people. In 1946, the congregation invited Cantor Shalom Katz from Romania. His melodious voice contributed to the solemnity of the occasion. He stayed in Košice for two years and then went on to the U.S.A. where he acquired world fame. Payment of the relatively high fee for the cantor was made possible by contributions from congregation members who had, meanwhile, recovered financially and were happy to give material assistance to the community.
The process of rehabilitation continued. The initiative and ingenuity displayed by those that returned was amazing. With surprising talent, they managed to create from scratch, flourishing enterprises that integrated in the economy. Unemployment was unknown.
Most Jews knew how to disguise their newly found wellbeing, remembering the words of the prophet Jeremiah: let not the rich man glory in his riches, yet their success aroused the envy and anger of the antiSemitic Gentiles. Many also helped and assisted those who were passing through on their way to Palestine.
As a defeated country, Hungary remained under Russian conquest. The regime was communist and the economic conditions were difficult. Like most who had survived the death camps, the Jews of
Hungary distrusted socialist slogans and were seeking the possibility of living in their own country. Many were unable to integrate in the former valley of death and looked to Palestine. Officially, emigration from Hungary was not possible. The road was closed. They, therefore, had to smuggle themselves into Czechoslovakia through the northeastern border. The transfer was made possible with the help of Zionist activists who worked as a secret underground in Hungary. Once over the border, they were taken care of and brought to Košice where members of the Zionist movement and of the congregation assisted them for a while. Then they were sent to Bratislava and hence smuggled into Austria.
The famous Zionist illegitimate immigration operators took over in Austria to bring the refugees to Palestine. Because of its liberal policy of not hindering immigration, Czechoslovakia was the transfer point for all refugees from Eastern Europe, from Russia, the Baltic countries, Poland, Romania and Hungary. Czechoslovakia was then balancing between East and West, and thus was an exception compared to all other neighbouring countries which lived under the firm rule of the Russians.
The road to Palestine was certainly not strewed with roses. Ever since the White Paper of 1939, the British had pursued a stubborn policy against Jewish immigration, using naval forces to hinder the poor refugees from reaching their promised oldnew homeland. Neither the intervention of famous statesmen nor the underground activities in Palestine helped to improve the situation. The ships were captured at sea; if they did manage to reach shore, people were not allowed to disembark and in any case, the ships were conveyed to Cyprus to camps of displaced persons. After obstinate struggle on the part of the Zionist movement and the intervention and influence of world famous statesmen and intellectuals, the representatives of the Jewish Agency managed to bring the case of the partition of Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish State before the General Assembly of the United Nationals on November 29, 1947. The proposal to partition Palestine and establish a Jewish and an Arab state was put to vote and was approved by a majority of 33 (13 nationals voted against and
10 abstained). Wild rejoicing erupted throughout the Jewish world. In Czechoslovakia, festive parties were held wherever Jews resided. Zionist organizations began appeals for money to enable the purchase of arms because the Arab countries did not accept the UN decision and threatened to destroy the Jewish state as soon as the British had left. The Jewish settlements in Palestine were almost weapon less they had very little money and various countries of the world were not willing to sell arms to the emerging state. They were also afraid of the Arab countries who threatened to impose trade embargo on anyone who dared to offer military assistance. Czechoslovakia was perhaps the only country that was prepared to sell arms and even train the young Jewish soldiers on how to use them. In February 1948, a political upheaval occurred in Czechoslovakia.
The Communist Party sponsored by the Russians took over the government. The Jews of Košice knew that with the new radical communist ideology, their future and security would never be safe again. Almost unanimously, all the community members and leaders decided: Let us go. House of Jacob. They began to take steps to realize their dreams of immigrating to Palestine. In contrast to all the other communist countries, Czechoslovakia openly permitted their immigration. There were certain restrictions with regards to the type of goods that the immigrants could take with them: everyone came with their passports and financed the trip by themselves. Those who lacked the necessary means were assisted by other community members.
On May 14, 1948, the Jewish People's Council declared the establishment of the State of Israel. A sunny day dawned on the Jewish world. Members of the United Nations recognized the newly established state. The joy also swept through Košice and all members of the community enthusiastically joined the festivities for Jewish salvation and liberation after two thousand years of dispersion. The ceremony was held in the municipal theatre with the participation of the community leaders and representatives of the local authorities.
All were swept on a tremendous wave of jubilation. The stage was decorated with bluewhite colours and the flags of the host country.
Magnificent speeches were held and the occasion ended with the fullthroated singing of Ha'Tikva which echoed throughout the streets.
Nevertheless, those present were also gripped by anxiety and doubt: would the new state be able to cope with an invasion of Arab countries? The following morning the War of Independence broke out. Actually, the war had been going on intermittently since the UN declaration of November, 1947. During the first stage, gangs of Arab ruffians led by representatives of the Arab League and supported with their money, weapons and volunteers began to attack Jewish settlements. To face Arab attacks, the Jews had the Hagana with four divisions of the Palmach 2,100 fighters, a field corps, reserves and Guard Company who were tied to the defence of villages and settlements as well as youth companies. The Etzel and Lehi forces which, at the beginning of the war acted independently were integrated into the Israel Defence Force. Altogether, some 50,000 soldiers fought courageously and forcefully, successfully laying down the structure of the newly emerging state. On May 16, 1948, the Arab armies invaded Israel. The defenders boldly threw back the invaders and heroically stopped the advance of their armies. The aim of the Arabs was to conquer the big cities, cut off the coastal plain from the remainder of the country and then destroy the opposition of the smaller settlements and towns.
Breathlessly and anxiously the Jewish world watched the development of events but they did not remain idle. A large number of young men who had fought with the Allies volunteered to help and joined the land, air and naval forces of the IDF. Zionist organizations throughout the world collected monies to help equip the Jewish army.
Many Czechoslovakians joined the war efforts of the Jewish world. With the approval of the authorities, a training base for IDF volunteers was established in the town of Hranica. Jews of Košice also joined the volunteers. With short truce intervals, the war lasted about 20 months. On July 20, 1949, the Syrians signed an armistice agreement and this brought the War of Independence to an end. It had cost a fearful price in lives: 6000 people including 4000 soldiers were killed.
Following the establishment of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948, most of the Jews of Košice decided that their place was no
longer in foreign lands. Although they had reestablished themselves economically and socially, they found that there was no point in waiting any longer. The new State was winking at them attractively and they set about to realize the centuries old dream of returning to Eretz Israel.
Feverishly they began with the preparation of all the formalities involved. These were not so simple. A list of all the items they wished to take with them had to be submitted for careful examination by a variety of official committees. The process also involved bartering with various government offices. For seemingly unimportant items whose value was mainly sentimental, the authorities demanded special permits and these were not always granted. There were also problems involved in dissolving their business and commercial assets. The income tax authorities imposed all kinds of hindrances, demanded money even in cases where this was not justified, and the Jews paid in order to receive the precious permit. Their residences, flats and houses, were easily given up; this time, they were going home. Then huge crates lifts were packed with all the furniture and belongings and brought for final inspection by the customs authorities. The process was watched nervously by the owners and finally the lifts were sealed and sent to one of the ports for dispatch to Israel. The immigrants breathed a sigh of relief, packed their personal belongings and left for Bratislava. After passport control, they crossed the border on a train to Austria and on their way to the beloved country. The majority arrived almost penniless at the ports where ships waited to take them to Haifa, Israel.
The problems facing Israel during its first steps of statehood were not comparable to those of any other nation throughout history.
Immigrants with different languages, customs, traditions, arrived from all the corners of the world. They differed from each other in mentality, dress, eating habits and way of life. All had to be integrated into a single new nation. At the time, some 600,000 Jews were living in the country. They were recovering from war, their cash box and food stores were empty and they had to cope with a thousand and one social, political and economic problems. Within two years, the flood
of refugees had doubled the size of the population. The thousands of arrivals needed shelter, food, education, employment and health services while at the same time, there were still the problems of security and protection against possible attacks. An austerity programme was introduced to provide for the minimum essentials and share out the little that was available equally among all. On the whole, matters went fairly smoothly and no one remained hungry. Employment was provided as far as possible. Immigrant camps were erected and, although conditions were far from luxurious, no one remained without a roof over his head. The Košice Jews were absorbed under the same difficult conditions, yet, for the first time in their lives, felt really at home. The search for housing and employment began and within a relatively short time, they integrated wholly into the life of the country.
Košice was almost totally empty of Jews. The community leaders were replaced by new people. They began to think of putting up a memorial for those who had been killed in the Holocaust. At first, the plan was to put up a memorial near the brick factory, but in the end, it was decided to erect a memorial plaque on one of the walls of the old and now silent synagogue on Bell Street N°7. The original project of a monumental memorial was abandoned and instead a black marble plaque was put up that cried to heavens at the appalling tragedy that had overtaken Košice's Jews. At the inauguration ceremony, in which all the community participated, Rabbi Steiner and Artur Gvrvg, the author of the Hungarian chronicle of Košice Jews, mourned the victims of the Holocaust. A pyramid of four heavy concrete blocks was erected in the cemetery and the remains of all the victims which had been buried in the various cemeteries of the area were interred in that common grave. A plaque was attached to the pyramid bearing the inscription: In memory of the martyrs that died in sanctification of His Name. A special memorial day was fixed for future generations; the first Sunday of the third or fourth week of May. But the survivors remembered the day when the death transports started from the brick factory and each year, memorial services were held in the synagogue on Pushkin Street. All those that remained assembled there to pray for
the salvation of the souls of the saintly people and sing the psalms. The prayer for the dead: God, full of compassion ended the service.
In spring of 1949, Ehud Avriel, the first Minister of Israel to Czechoslovakia, came to Košice from Prague, his official place of residence. All the community was excited and flattered by the honour of welcoming a representative of the State of Israel. They saw in him a spiritual and possibly political power. During the ceremonies, Avriel gave a speech at the Košice social club. Although only a few were able to follow his speech which was given in Hebrew, everyone listened avidly. The club was only a pale shadow of its former magnificent existence and a short while later, it closed its doors for ever. The number of Jews in Košice dwindled. Most of them immigrated to Israel and many dispersed to various corners of the world. The many social and charitable institutions became empty of content and of people. All the leadership was now concentrated in one building on Bell Street N°57. The Beit Midrash and school were annexed in relatively new buildings compared to the ancient ones. The whole complex became a reflection of Masada.
Nevertheless, some institutions continued their activities. The Mikveh the ritual bath; the ritual slaughterhouse and the Talmud Tora the religious school. A kosher kitchen provided the institutions with meals. Except for the great orthodox synagogue on Pushkin Street, life of the community was directed from this strange complex all that remained of the many properties of the Košice community. Perhaps even the great synagogue will also change its purpose as has been the fate of many other synagogues.
The kosher kitchen became a link between community members. The sorry survivors from outlying regions arrived there to hold weddings, barmitzvahs and other celebrations such as common Seder, Hanukkah and Purim festivities which were renewed to bring some joy to the sad remnants and somehow revive their memories of the sombre past.
There were frequent changes in leadership. In 1950, Dr. Friedrich resigned from his post as community leader and A. Gvrvg took his place. He held the post for six years, serving the community through
difficult times, especially during the trial of Slansky, the Jewish secretary general of the Communist party. It was a harsh period. The newspapers and all the media reported widely on the affair and accompanied the reports with vicious libellous antiSemitic attacks on the Jews and on the State of Israel. The antiSemites of the town, of which there was no lack, lifted their heads and openly declared their hate for Jews. It was not easy during such a time to deal with the frightened congregation, provide the necessary community services, maintain contact with the authorities and cope with the problem of a meagre budget. The community had heavy debts which had to be met and lacking other alternatives, it became necessary to sell the remaining community properties, among them the neology synagogue which had been the symbol of the original Jewish community. For a relatively insignificant sum, the building was sold to the municipality. It had already ceased to operate as a synagogue and was serving as grain storage. The wind howled through its broken windows, the organ was mute and even thieves entered and tried to steal the aluminium pipes of the instrument.
All matters of the Jewish communities of Slovakia were managed by a central religious council in Bratislava. After the death of Rabbi Frieder, Rabbi Eliahu Katz, the Rabbi of Nitra, took his place.
Occasionally he visited Košice. He was a great scholar and represented the Slovakian Jews very well. The Secretary General of the religious council was Joseph Lippa, member of the communist party who was extremely efficient when dealing with official matters. The noble activities of Joint were terminated by the authorities. The care of the old and sick was transferred to a social security association in Zurich. More often than not, the distribution of resources was carried out not according to just and honest criteria but according to the particular interests of the officials.
As the years passed, the children born after the war became old enough to require schooling and it became necessary to ensure a minimal Jewish education. A Jewish scholar arrived from one of the town of southeast Slovakia and with infinite patience, he taught the
The children the basic Jewish values and some Hebrew. Altogether, the results were quite satisfactory.
As already mentioned, collective Seders were held in the dining room attached to the kosher kitchen on Bell Street. There were still lonely men and women who had not succeeded in overcoming their tragic past and bore the unforgettable suffering on their frail shoulders. They looked and searched for some light from the past. Rabbi Shlomo Steiner, the chief rabbi of the community, read the Haggada and gave interpretations to the audience. The traditional dishes and the festive occasion reminded them of their father's home that had been destroyed. The atmosphere was lightened by the redcheeked children who avidly followed the ceremony, fought over who would ask the Four Questions and who would steal the Afikoman. Finally, it was decided that everyone would participate and the evening ended with loud singing of the Had Gadia and Next Year in Jerusalem.
Chief Rabbi Steiner had come to Košice as a temporary rabbi but after a while decided to take permanent office. He fulfilled his task faithfully and acted as chief rabbi for the whole area, receiving his salary as a civil servant of the state. When he saw that he was unable to give his children and the children of the community an adequate Jewish education, he left his post and immigrated from Košice. His follower was Rabbi Gustav Wald from central Slovakia. He was not a resident of Košice and had spent most of his life in trade. Because of lack of housing, he had been forced to live in one of the surrounding villages and was appointed because there was a shortage of rabbi. Despite his past, he fulfilled his function adequately to the satisfaction of all the community. He was the last rabbi to hold office in Košice.
Time took its roll and the remnants of Košice community aged. The old and sick people were increasingly in need of health care. Luckily, Košice had been famous in the past. From everywhere in eastern Slovakia and from Karpatorus, the difficult cases had been sent to be cured in modern and wellequipped hospitals of Košice in the 1920s. Now, fate was relatively kind to the old and crippled. Some thirty Jews worked in the state hospitals and
they took upon themselves to care for those in need of their services. Their loyalty to their people intensified and they did everything they could to help community members in distress. They managed to cure some, prolong the lives of others and in all cases, gave back the sick the joy of life and hope for a better future.
Again, diplomatic representatives of Israel visited Košice, among them, Nahum Lavan, the Secretary of Israel Ministry. His excellent manner left a deep impression on the community who derived hope and encouragement from his words. At the beginning of the SixDay War in 1967, Czechoslovakia cut off its diplomatic relations with Israel and until 1990, there was official contact between Israel and the orphaned community except possibly for a few private visitors from Israel to Košice or viceversa. These occasional meetings provided the community with news about their loved ones who now lived apart.
By now, there were quite a few pensioners among the community. The state pensions were meagre and barely sufficed to support them. Some people now took occasional jobs to make up the difference. The women took in sewing or knitting or worked as babysitters. Others received Tusex checks from relatives abroad to supplement their income. These checks were sold abroad for hard currency by the Czechoslovakian government and enabled purchase of otherwise unavailable goods in special shops put up by the government for the specific purpose. The checks could also be converted into local currency. The distribution centre still exists in Zurich and checks were also sent to Israel where friends and relatives bought them in order to assist their loved ones in Košice to overcome their penury. Today, one regular salary, even among the younger people, is usually insufficient to support a family, so that it is quite common for both partners to work.
Following the fall of the communist regime in Eastern Europe in 198990, Czechoslovakia returned to democratic rule. President Vaclav Havel came to Jerusalem? With his visit, the contact between Israel and the remnants of the Jewish communities in his country, including the community of Košice was renewed.
This book has taken the reader to distant and near past, to the memories of each of us, to the days of childhood and youth in school and Talmud Tora, to the vital social activities of old and young and to the figures that left their indelible mark on our lives.
We have recorded events with which we identified or we opposed. To our great regret, we had to take the reader to the terrible tragedy that afflicted our people in Košice and elsewhere. We have walked through the narrow streets of the old city, in the alleys that led to the buildings to which many of us are sentimentally bound. We have recorded the lives of wonderful people who accompanied Košice throughout its history and visited the magnificent and the small synagogues where Košice Jews said their prayers and which are now in ruins. We have mentioned the Hassidic courts and their charitable activities; the various charity institutions and their many charitable activities; the sports club that instilled pride among youth and brought glory to the community; the Zionist organizations that educated youth to love of their homeland. We have spoken of the brave soldiers who took up arms to fight in the armies of Czechoslovakia, Russian, and Britain and among the partisans to combat the German hangmen and avenge the blood spilt by those monsters. We cannot forget the long list of innocent dead who would have enriched our lives. We have remembered the teachers and rabbis who guided our lives; the physicians who cured and cared; the lawyers who gave their best efforts to seek justice and the rights for the people of Israel; the artists who made our lives beautiful and the many public and community servants who worked unceasingly to serve our people.
May this book be a memorial to the Jewish people of Košice for future generations and for all eternity.
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