Prior to World War II, Slovakia had a vibrant Jewish community of more than 130,000 people. But then, on September 9, 1941, the government of Slovakia, then a puppet state to Nazi Germany, ratified the Jewish Codex, a series of laws and regulations that stripped Slovakia’s Jews of their civil rights.
This unleashed a set of merciless anti-Jewish policies, that in fact, were the strictest in all of Europe. Among other horrors, the Jewish Codex legalized the deportation of Jews to concentration camps in German-occupied Poland, and the confiscation of their properties.
As a result, the once vibrant and thriving Jewish community was decimated after the war, some 100,000 Jews never returned, and a deep silence befell on the synagogues, shops and town squares.
80 years later, on September 8, 2021, the current Slovak government issued a historic apology for the tragedy that the Jewish Codex unleashed.
On the next day, a string of poignant events was held across 60 synagogues and community centers in Slovakia that commemorated the victims, the survivors, and those who risked their lives to help their Jewish friends, neighbors and fellow citizens.
Above all, the people of the country came together to commemorate the resilient Jewish spirit.
One such event took place at the Sastin synagogue in Western Slovakia. For decades, the former synagogue crumbled away, ignored and neglected to the point that a few years ago, the building was deemed beyond repair and sentenced to demolition.
That is when local civic leaders united in the name of saving this precious shrine, an invaluable testimony of Jewish inheritance of the country. The Sastin synagogue was indeed saved from demolition, and on September 9, it hosted this historic commemoration event. Just as it will house many more gatherings in the years to come…
Currently, there are some 80 synagogues in Slovakia, but 80 years after the destruction and devastation of the Second World War — only 5 serve their original sacral purpose. The greater majority lay derelict, while some have been re-appropriated as community centers, industrial warehouses and even in one obscure case – a Vietnamese restaurant.
By Dr Gabriela Bereghazyova and Dr Zuzana Palovic, Global Slovakia
Global Slovakia is a Bratislava-based not-for-profit organization that seeks to promote Slovakia on the global stage and foster a constructive discussion about the country’s past history, current events and future perspectives. You can also follow them on Facebook!