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Translation of the
Kezmarok chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Slovakia
Translation of the
Edited by Yehoshua Robert Buchler and Ruth Shashak
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 2003
Published by Yad Vashem
Published in Jerusalem, 2003
Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Slovakia: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Slovakia,
Edited by Yehoshua Robert Buchler and Ruth Shashak, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.
JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of
the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material
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IN MEMORY OF DR. DAVID MATZNER
BORN TESCHIN 1909 - DIED RAVENSBRUCK 1945
HIS WIFE GISELA GOLDMANN MATZNER
BORN IN KEZMAROK 1916 DIED SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA 2002
AND IN HONOR OF HIS DAUGHTER
SONJA MATZNER ROBINSON Born in Kezmarok
AND HIS GRANDDAUGHTER
DR. SHARON ROBINSON WHO ON 8 TAMMUZ 5765
MARRIED OUR SON YISRAEL
Kezmarok was founded in the 13th century by German settlers. It received city rights with self-rule in 1269 and after 1380 when it became a free royal city its growth accelerated. During the revolt of the Hungarian nobles in the 16th and 17th centuries when it changed hands several times, Kezmarok suffered severe damage and its development ceased. In the 18th century, after the rebellion was quelled and the government stabilized, economic and demographic progress was restored, with local and foreign trade, light industry along with educational and cultural institutions, transforming Kezmarok to the commercial, industrial and cultural center of the Spis District. Its rapid development continued in the 19th century with the construction of textile factories and new cultural and educational institutions, including high schools, commercial schools and technical schools along with public institutions.
During the pre-war Czechoslovakian republic, more than one half of the residents of Kezmarok registered as Germans according to nationality. During the 1930s, most of the Germans joined the pro-Nazi Deutsche Partie.
During World War II, Kezmarok was included in the territory of the pro-Nazi Slovak puppet regime set up in March 1939. After the rising in Slovakia was crushed in the fall of 1944 it was captured by a unit of the German security police. Immediately upon their entry into the city, the Nazis with the help of local Germans began an intensive hunt for Jews, partisans and underground fighters. Hundreds were caught and executed. The Soviet and Czechoslovakian armies liberated Kezmarok on 28 January 1945.
A History of the Community
Due to the opposition of the German burghers Jews were not permitted to live in Kezmarok for hundreds of years. No Jews are listed in the 1727 census and city authorities report that only on market and fair days were they permitted to enter the city. In the 18th century, when Kezmarok was an important commercial center, it was frequented by Jewish merchants from throughout Slovakia, Poland and Moravia but none of them settled there as can be seen from the 1768 census of Jews of the Spis District and the national census of 1787. Only in the first half of the 19th century did the first Jews settle in Kezmarok. They came from nearby Huncovce (cf.) [Hungarian: Hunfalu, German: Hunsdorf, in Jewish sources, Unsdorf]. In the first decades of the century, they continued to be part of that community and under the jurisdiction of its rabbinate.
From the middle of the 19th century, the number of the Jews in the city grew rapidly and Jewish community life developed. In the early 1860s Kezmarok's Jews established a Hevra Kadisha, consecrated a cemetery, constructed a mikveh and established themselves as an autonomous Jewish community. In the 1870s a modest synagogue was dedicated that was renovated and enlarged to five hundred seats with the increased growth of the community towards the end of the century. After the Hungarian Jewish Congress in 1869, the Kezmarok community joined the Organization of Orthodox Communities and from 1874 was served by rabbis. Rabbi Abraham Grünberg, its first rabbi served for forty-four years until his death in 1918, leaving his mark on Kezmarok's style of life. Israel Meir Glück served along side of him as the rabbinic judge. Rabbi Abraham Grünberg established a Yeshiva in the 1880s where at various times some fifty youngsters studied. In the early 20th century a community building containing both a Beit Midrash and Talmud Torah was constructed. A place for slaughtering chickens, butcher shops and a matzah factory were located nearby. Along with the long established Hevra Kadisha over time other charitable groups such as Bikur Holim (visiting the sick), Poalei Zedek (righteous workers), Organization of Jewish Women, Visitor's Shelter, plus study groups such as Hevra Shas (for the study of Talmud) that was headed by the judge R' Glück, Tiferet Bahurim and other social aid societies were created. In 1903 the community's articles of association was updated.
There was a representative from Kezmarok at the First Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, Zoltan Arieh, and in 1899 a Zionist organization was founded in the city. In 1903 the Ahei Zion Society (Brothers of Zion), headed by Julius Greenwald was established.
One the eve of World War I, Kezmarok had more than one thousand Jewish residents. They were integrated in city-life, their economic situation was very good and among them were entrepreneurs and numerous professionals. With the outbreak of the war, many were drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army and some fell in battle. During the war, Kezmarok and its surrounding area were inundated with Jewish refugees from Galicia, many of them Hasidim. A community of Sancz Hasidim was established in the city. Their leader was R' Arieh Leib Halberstam, the great-grandson of the founder of the Sancz dynasty, R' Haim. The Hasidim had their own Kloiz (small synagogue) that had some two hundred seats.
The Jews in the Inter-War Period
Immediately after the war Kezmarok had 1,150 Jewish residents. In the 1921 census, 956 of them registered as Jews by nationality. The local community in 1922 numbered 1,650, including 320 tax paying heads of households from Kezmarok and vicinity. David Arieh served as its head and its annual budget was 170,000 Kronen. The community employed eight workers, had two synagogues, a cemetery, two Batei Midrash [study halls], a mikveh that was renovated to include a modern bathhouse, a Talmud Torah [elementary school] consisting of three classes plus additional community service institutions. Among the local charitable organizations, the Organization of Jewish Women stands out. It had hundreds of members who were involved in a wide range of community activities. There were also several study groups functioning in the city. From 1918 the city's rabbi was the son of Rabbi Abraham Grünberg, Rabbi Simha Natan. He also headed the local Yeshiva, which during his time had a first-rate reputation with students coming to study there from near and far. He founded the Hevrat Talmidim [Society for Students] that provided for the material needs of the Yeshiva students. The rabbinic judge R' Israel Meir Glick continued in his position and remained the head of the Hevrat Shas [Talmud study group]. Kezmarok did not have a Jewish school and for the most part the children of the community studied in the German public schools. Religious studies were conducted in the Talmud Torah.
A branch of Agudat Israel was opened in 1920 and Abraham Brody stood at its head. Within a short time, the Agudah was the largest Jewish party in the city. It operated two youth groups, Youngsters of Agudat Israel, for boys, and Beit Ya'akov for girls.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Zionist activity in Kezmarok reached its peak. Isaac Altmann headed the Zionist movement in the city. The largest Zionist party was Mizrahi with other parties functioning alongside, a large and active branch of WIZO, the sporting organization, Hagibor (from 1920), the youth movement Tz'irei Mizrahi [Young Mizrahi] and Hashomer Kadima [the Forward Guard] later known as Hashomer Hatzair, followed by B'nai Akiva, Betar, Maccabi Hatzair, the sporting organization Maccabi (from 1934) and others. In the 1930s, the group Tz'irei Mizrahi conducted a pioneering preparation camp in the city and up to the outbreak of World War II, a steady flow of young Jews made Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. The growing strength of Zionist sentiment in Kezmarok can be seen by the statistics on the sale of Shekels before the Zionist Congresses: on the eve of the 17th Congress in 1931, 69 Shekels were sold and before the 21st Congress in 1939, 215 Shekels were sold.
The Jewish National Party was large and influential in Kezmarok. In the 1923 elections for city council it won six seats giving it the second largest representation. In the 1928 elections it came in third with 380 votes (15% of all votes cast) and with several seats on the council and its representative, Isidor Hartmann, was chosen for the District Council. The General-Jewish Party, under the sponsorship of Agudat Israel also participated in the city elections. In 1935 it received 408 votes and some of its representatives were appointed to important committees four to the financial committee and three to the legal committee.
Jews played a major role in the local economy, especially in commerce but also in industry, skilled-crafts and professions. In 1921, Jews owned some one hundred stores and shops, 25 workshops, four small factories and two large ones. Among the professions three of the city's five physicians were Jews, five of the eight lawyers as well as six agents and several engineers and clerks. The role of Jews in the area of commerce in Kezmarok can be clearly seen from the permits issued by the city's office of commerce in 1921:
|Type of Business
|General Grocery Stores
|Textiles, Cloth, Clothing
|Wood, Building Supplies
|Metal Products and Tools
After Southern Slovakia was annexed to Hungary on 2 November 1938 the Jews of Kezmarok were persecuted both by the government and the local German population. On 5 November 1938 some 30 families whose citizenship was in doubt were expelled to the no man's land on the Hungarian-Slovakian border. They remained there for about two weeks with no protection under the open sky in terrible conditions with no food until they were permitted to return to their homes. After the Slovak puppet state was set up on 14 March 1938 new anti-Jewish laws greeted them. In 1939 medical licenses of Jewish physicians were voided and they were forced to close their private clinics. Only one physician, Dr. Lichtig was permitted to keep his license and to treat only Jewish patients. In 1940, the former regional physician, Dr. Dezider Kornhauser was appointed to head the 'Jewish Center' of the region. Jewish students were expelled from public schools in the 1940/41 school year. The community opened a school with six grades with instruction in the Slovak language. The Yeshiva and the Talmud Torah continued operating. In May 1941 the city authorities began the liquidation of Jewish enterprises and by the end of the year dozens of stores and workshops with estimated annual earnings of some twenty million Kronen were shut down. They appointed administrators (aryanizors) for twenty-eight large businesses and factories with annual earnings of eleven and a half million Kronen. Hundreds of Jewish men who were left with no work or earnings were drafted that year for forced labor, a portion of them in Kezmarok with the rest sent to work camps.
Local Germans, members of pro-Nazi organizations also participated in the persecution of Jews, conducting a campaign of anti-Semitic incitement, from time to time robbing, beating and tormenting Jews. In the beginning of May 1941, organized groups of young Germans broke into Jewish public buildings and private homes, looting and causing a great deal of damage. The plundering continued for six days from the 3rd to the 8th of May. On the eve of 18 May a large group of Germans broke into the Great Synagogue, smashed the windows, destroying furnishings, accouterments and sacred items. In the fall of the same year, after the synagogue was repaired and restored, they broke into it a second time, desecrating the Torah scrolls and other religious accessories causing tremendous damage to the building and its contents.
There were some 1,200 Jews in Kezmarok in 1940. In 1942 Moshe Vogelmann was chosen to head the community. From 1940 on, Kezmarok served as a major station on the escape route of Jews from Polish Ghettos to Hungary; approximately 2,200 Jewish refugees passed through and received assistance from a special agency the Jews of the city set up to help the refugees in transit.
Edward Laufer of Nitra (cf.), a Jew with forged documents and passing as a Slovak Christian settled in Kezmarok in 1942. Although his life was constantly in great danger, with extraordinary selflessness he endeavored to save Jews, assisted in smuggling Polish Jews into Hungary and hid Jews in his factories taking care of all of their needs. In order to find out details on future dates of expulsions and to warn the Jews in advance, he joined the government's political party. It was from him that the Jews found out about the pending expulsion of young Jewish women in March 1942. Their families then searched for hiding places for their daughters. Twice a hunt for Jewish young women took place in the city on 21 March 1942, 127 women were caught, held in the cellar of the district offices and after a few days were sent via the assembly camp at Poprad (cf.) to the Auschwitz death camp; in the second search carried out on 28 March the 102 young women caught were transferred to the Poprad camp on April 1 and on the following day deported to Auschwitz. Immediately afterwards, the deportation of young men began. On 31 March 80 young Jewish men were held in the Thokoly castle; on April 2 they were sent via the assembly camps at Zilina and Novaky (cf.) to concentration camps in the Lublin district. On 30 April 1942 the general deportation began: 158 local Jews along with dozens of Jewish families from Huncovce, Spisska Bela (cf.) and smaller towns in the district were assembled in Kezmarok in preparation for their deportation to ghettos and death camps in the Lublin district. On May 30 the large deportation took place some 800 Jews were assembled in the Tokoly castle and sent on June 1, 1942, via Poprad to the Lublin district. Men fit for work were transferred to Majdanek while the women, children and elderly were sent to the Sobibor death camp. On Yom Kippur 5703, 21 September 1942, dozens more Jews were deported to Auschwitz via the Zilina camp.
During the course of 1942 some 75% of the Jews of Kezmarok and its area were deported to death camps and ghettos in Poland. When the deportations ceased in the fall there were still about 420 Jews from some 60 families who had documents giving them protected status. Among them were Rabbi Simha Natan Grünberg and his family. The community organization (Kehillah) continued functioning on a reduced basis prayer services took place in the Hasidic Kloiz and some Yeshiva students still continued their studies in Rabbi Grünberg's house. Classes in the Jewish school continued until it closed in July 1944.
In the beginning of 1944, 118 Jews remained in Kezmarok and in the entire district there were 365 Jews with protected status. This excludes a few families who had outwardly converted to Christianity and those passing as Aryans.
With the outbreak of the Slovakian uprising in the beginning of September 1944, SS forces with the help of local Germans, gained control of Kezmarok and there based the staff headquarters for the battle against the partisans in Northeast Slovakia. On 2 September, local Nazis seized some 30 Jews and turned them over to the Nazis who brutally murdered all of them that day. On Rosh Hashanah 5705 (1944) the Germans discovered a group of about 40 Jews hiding in the city, they took them to the border and on 22 September shot them all. Among those murdered on that day was the last Rabbi of the community, Rabbi Simha Grünberg and his family and Dr. Küchl who was one of those who smuggled Jews from Poland to Hungary. In the fall of 1944 the German security police with the help of local Germans arrested hundreds of Jews, partisans and opponents of the government and confined them in a local school. After a few days, most of them were executed and those remaining were deported to the Plaszow camp in Poland.
|Rabbi Simcha Nosson Grünberg, Kezmarok
In February 1945, a few days after the liberation of the city, the first Jews who survived in hiding places and in the forests returned to Kezmarok. Within a short time, community life was restored and the Kloiz (small synagogue) was refurbished, cleaned and made ready for community prayer. Not long after additional Jews were attracted to the city, not all of them were pre-war residents and their number reached about 200. Immediately after the war ended, Menahem Berger headed the community. Rabbi Meir Grünberg, the son of Rabbi Simha Natan Grünberg, and formerly the rabbi of Liptovsky Svaty Mikulas (cf.), served the Jews as both religious and community leader, overseeing the renovations, working selflessly for the Jews and the community. In a brief span the community building was also renovated and its Beit Midrash was made ready for public prayer and the mikveh was restored and returned to use. A public kitchen for the survivors was opened in the renovated synagogue. Zionist activity in Kezmarok was also renewed. In 1947, 47,000 Kronen was contributed in Kezmarok to the Jewish National Fund to plant the Forest of the Martyrs of Czechoslovakia in the Jerusalem hills. Of the 256 Jewish residents of the city in 1948 more than 100 made Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael and a segment of the 142 remaining settled in other countries. Until the 1970s the community continued to function and religious services were held on the Sabbath and holidays. After Rabbi Meir Grünberg emigrated the Jews of Kezmarok came under the jurisdiction of the Kosice (cf.) rabbinate.
A few Jews still reside in Kezmarok. The synagogue was torn down but the Jewish cemetery is well kept and is still functioning.
Allgemeine Judische Zeitung, no. 22 (1935) [German]
Barkany, Eugen & L'udovit Dojc. Zidovske Nabozenske Obce Na Slovensku . Bratislava, 1991. 321-322. [Slovak]
Cohen, Yitzhak Yosef. Hakhmei Hungaria [Hungarian Scholars]. Jerusalem, 1997. 273, 380, 398, 455 [Hebrew]
Fuchs, Abraham. Hungarian Yeshivot, from Grandeur to Holocaust, II. Jerusalem, 1978. 61-67. [Hebrew]
Gevaryahu-Gottesman, Shmuel. History of the Jews of Kezmarok and Vicinity . Jerusalem, 1992 [Hebrew]
Janiglosova, K. Zidia v okresoch Poprad a Kezmarok. Poprad, 1997. [Slovak]
Judische Nachricthen, no. 14 (1933) [German]
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Laufer, A. Rescue Operations in a Borrowed Aryan Identity Yalkut Moreshet, 58, 97-117. [Hebrew]
Meiri-Minerbi, Haya. The Jews of Kaesmark and the Vicinity in the Holocaust Period. Jerusalem, no date (1999?) MHJ , vol. XVII [Unable to locate reference]
Moreshet Archives, Givat Haviva A/1169, 1599
Serbashi (Herbst), Elizabeth-Miriam. Ima Sheli [My Mother]. Kiryat Shmoneh, 1994. [Hebrew]
Yad Vashem Archives M5/4, 57, 82, 104, 03/2676, 2699, 2765, 2870, 3032, M48/590, 602-609, 1451, 1497, JM/11011-11016, 11019, 11025-11026, 11030, JM/10/991-992
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