Bratislava Before the Holocaust
Culture and Politics
In 1897 Ahavat Zion, the first Zionist group, was established in Bratislava. It had 25 members and was led by Samuel Bettelheim. By 1899 it had some 180 members. A branch of the Bnei Zion movement was also established in the city. Bnei Zion was a religious Zionist movement; most of its members were students of the local yeshiva and supported settling in Eretz Israel. Bratislava was home to the headquarters of the Histadrut in Hungary, and a branch of Mizrahi with several dozen memberswas founded in 1902. Mizrahi's first World Congress took place in Bratislava in 1904. It was attended by delegates from over ten nations, among them representatives from Eretz Israel and the United States. The Congress sparked fierce opposition from the Orthodox community and 121 Hungarian rabbis signed a petition against it.
In 1912 four Zionist movements and associations were active in the city: Ahavat Zion, Mizrahi, Poale Zion, and Tze'irei Tziyon whose membership was composed primarily of students. During the First World War most of the members of these organizations were drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army and Zionist activity in the city diminished. During the war, the women’s Zionist association Deborah was founded; the association was active in a variety of social welfare activities.
Following the First World War, Zionist activity in Bratislava resumed at full pace. In 1919 the Histadrut of Slovakia was founded in the city, an umbrella organization which brought together fifteen local Zionist organizations. Despite opposition from the rabbinical authorities, interwar Bratislava was home to a wide range of Zionist organizations of all ideological orientations, among them: Poale Zion, Ahavat Zion and Mizrachi, which had been founded at the beginning of the 20th century; WIZO (the Women's International Zionist Organization), which had several hundred women members; the Revisionist Movement; and a number of nonpartisan Zionist associations, including student associations, associations for academics, the athletic clubs Maccabi and Bar Kochba, and the women’s organizations Miriam and Deborah. The city was also home to the offices of the Jewish National Fund and the Slovakian branch of the Histadrut of Czechoslovakia, and was a publishing hub for Zionist newspapers. The Orthodox community supported Agudat Yisrael, which held an influential position in the community, and its several hundred strong youth movement devoted itself to educational and social action inspired by religious values.In the interwar period Bratislava was home to Zionist youth organizations with hundreds of members, each of which was affiliated to a particular political party. In 1921, Czechoslovakia's first branch of the Zionist youth movement Hashomer Kadima (later affiliated with Hashomer Hatzair) was established in Bratislava. In 1924 the youth movement Tze'irei HaMizrahi – later Bnei Akiva – established its first branch in the city. Beitar and Maccabi Hatzair were also active in the city. Many of the graduates of these movements continued on to receive practical training in preparation for emigration to Eretz Israel, though only a small number of them actually went on to emigrate.
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