Bratislava Before the Holocaust
The Interwar Period
Following the end of the First World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, and Bratislava was included within the borders of the Czechoslovakian Republic. The political instability of the newly formed republic was accompanied by acts of violence towards Jews. At the beginning of 1919 the Hungarian administrators and military left the city; as the Czechoslovakian regime established itself, the acts of violence against Jews ceased. Cut off from the traditional centers of Judaism in Hungary, the Jews of Bratislava began to cooperate with the Czech Jews, in an attempt to adapt to their new reality. Bratislava became a vibrant Jewish center, home to the administrative offices of the Slovakian Jewish organizations and the administrative offices of the Jewish communities on a national level.
In the years following the end of the First World War, Jews increasingly began moving out of the old Jewish quarter and into the center of the city. During the period of the Czechoslovakian republic, the Jews’ social status improved and their involvement in civic and national life increased. Most Jews spoke Hungarian and German, and many of the younger generation also spoke Slovak.
During the interwar period most of the Jews in Bratislava continued earning their living from commerce. There were 630 Jewish owned businesses in the city, many of them in the textile trade, as well as pharmacies, banks, insurance companies, large factories, international shipping and transport companies. The presence of Jews in the economic life of the city exceeded their proportion in the population at large. Jews fulfilled administrative roles in various economic organizations, and figured prominently among the liberal professions; many trained as doctors, lawyers, engineers and university lecturers. Jews also took part in the cultural life of the city, establishing themselves as authors, journalists, artists and more. At the same time, many Jews earned their living as peddlers, merchants, artisans, agents, sales clerks and administrative staff.
In the early 1920s there were some 11,000 Jews in Bratislava, most of who belonged to the Orthodox community. The Neolog community numbered about 3,000 Jews. Rabbi Akiva Sofer (the great-grandson of the Chatam Sofer) was the city’s rabbi. The Orthodox community ran charitable foundations providing social welfare, a hospital, an old age home, an orphanage and more. The Chevra Kadisha (Jewish burial society) ran two cemeteries in the city. In 1931 a modern Jewish hospital, with 180 beds, was opened; it employed some of the most prominent Jewish doctors in Slovakia.
The Neolog community operated a separate Chevra Kadisha, as well as its own support system of charitable foundations and mutual aid funds. In 1928 the Neolog and Status Quo communities merged to form Yeshurun, the organization of liberal communities, whose offices were located in Bratislava.
By 1930 the Jewish community in the city had grown to some 15,000 – amounting to twelve percent of the city’s total population. In 1938 Dr. Kraus, of the Jewish National Party, was elected deputy mayor, and another three Jews were elected to the city council. Between the two World Wars four public organizations held a place of prominence among Slovakian Jews: The Jewish Party, the national offices of the Orthodox community, Yeshurun - the liberal community, and the Histadrut.
Government of the Federal Republic of Germany