views updated


KOSICE (Slovak Košice ; Hung. Kassa ; Ger. Kaschau ), city in S.E. Slovakia. Until 1992 Czechoslovak Republic, since 1993 Slovak Republic. Documentation testifies to Jewish appearances in Kosice in 1484 and 1524, but they were not permitted to live in the city or to belong to the guilds. In 1765 Jews doing business in Kosice settled in the nearby village of Rozhanovce (Hung. Roygony, Yiddish Rozdewisz) and Velka Ida (Hung. Nafty Ida). Municipal and professional institutions fought against Jewish activity in the city. In 1840 the Hungarian parliament allowed Jews to settle freely in Hungary, including Kosice. Jewish inhabitants of Rozhanovce moved there in 1840–42. The next year 17 families were permitted to live there; in 1844 some 40 families were registered. In 1851 there were 721 Jews; in 1853 there were 752; and in 1857 about 1,500. In 1865 there were 2,178; in 1880 there were 2, 846; in 1890 they numbered 4,988; in 1910 there were 6,723 Jews. At the first Czechoslovak census of 1921 there were 8,762 Jews in Kosice. In 1938 the community numbered 11,420.

When Rozhanovce Jewry settled in Kosice, they developed community life. The ḥevra kaddisha was founded in 1844, and a cemetery was sanctified. The congregation erected an imposing synagogue, had a mikveh, kosher slaughterhouse, and other Jewish institutions. After the 1868 Congress of Hungarian Jewry, the congregation chose the *Neolog path, and the Orthodox founded its own congregation. Both had their own ḥevra kaddisha, women's clubs, and social institutions.

Poor Jews from Carpathian Ruthenia and Galicia settled in several streets of Kosice, giving them a particular Jewish character. Several ḥasidic admors kept their court in these streets. When World War i started, several hundred Kosice Jews enlisted in the army. In 1918 the war ended, the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed, and the returning soldiers and POWs were fired by revolutionary zeal. Leftist Jewish leaders gained prominence. In 1919, the Magyar commune was created, soon engulfing Kosice. Many leaders of the commune were Jewish. After the retreat of the Bolsheviks and the defeat of the commune, many Jewish Communists remained in Kosice.

The new Czechoslovak republic imposed its rule over Kosice, which augured well for the Jews. The end of the fighting left many Jews impoverished. Kosice became the eastern Slovakian center of the *American Joint Distribution Committee. One of its main undertakings was an orphanage. Vocational schools were added, and a bank providing small loans to rebuild businesses. Irene Matzner, a local resident, was the leading figure in the resurrection effort.

The Zionist movement existed in Kosice before the war. After the war, its influence expanded. The Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir, Bnei Akiva, and Betar youth movements had strong branches in the city, and Kosice served as their temporary Slovakian headquarters.

Jews participated in political life outside of Jewish parties. Assimilationist Jews supported parties for Magyar independence. The Social Democrats and the Communists also found Jewish support. Many members of the community were wealthy industrialists, landowners, and prosperous lawyers and physicians.

In November 1938 Kosice was annexed to Hungary, following the Viennese arbitration of November 2, 1938. Soon the antisemitic laws of Hungary were imposed on the conquered territories. Jews lacking Hungarian citizenship were imprisoned, and some sent to the no man's land on the Slovakian-Hungarian borders. Slovakia proclaimed autonomy in October 1938, and Jews lacking Slovakian citizenship were sent to the Slovakian-Hungarian borders.

Antisemitic legislation hit the Jewish community hard. Jews were deprived of jobs and their property. On January 1, 1940, Jewish males were sent into forced military service. In 1941 the Hungarian authorities deported thousands of Jews for alleged lack of citizenship to the region of Kamenets-Podolski and other places, where they were killed. In 1942 deportation of Jews to Poland started, and hundreds tried to find safety by illegally crossing the Hungarian border. The Kosice community summoned its inner resources to assist the refugees.

Persecution in Hungary and Kosice increased, even against those Jews who had been active in patriotic Magyar organizations. They lost income and property and were denied civil and human rights.

On March 19, 1944, German forces occupied Hungary. Wealthy Jews were imprisoned by the Magyar agencies and tortured to reveal where their property and possessions were. On April 27, 1944, all Jews were ordered to assemble in the three major synagogues; from there they were transferred to two brickwork factories on the outskirts of the city. Jews who escaped from Slovakia made strenuous efforts to return, along with some Hungarian Jews. Kosice was one of the centers of escape. There were 10,590 Jews in the brickworks, and several hundred in a ghetto in the city. On April 30, 1944, there were 13,253 Jews in Kosice; about 3,000 were not inhabitants of Kosice proper. On May 16, 1944, the deportation of the interned Jews to Auschwitz began. Some 15,707 Jews were deported. On October 15, 1944, the Nylas (Arrow Cross) fascist party took over the government in Hungary and established a reign of terror.

Shortly after the liberation, a Jewish committee to assist the returning Jews was organized in Kosice, supported by unraa and later the Joint. A committee to manage the congregation's affairs was also organized. This committee, with a few Orthodox on its staff, was criticized severely. The attempt to stamp the entire congregation Orthodox caused tension. For the High Holydays of 1945, an Orthodox and a Neolog synagogue were restored for prayer. A new ḥevra kaddisha was established and other Jewish institutions resurrected. Communal Jewish life was restored, and Kosice became the center of Jewish life for eastern Slovakia.

In 1947 there were 2,542 Jews in Kosice. Zionist youth movements were revived, and Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓa'ir established a home for future immigrants to Palestine. With the proclamation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, the community began to feverishly collect money for Israel and recruit volunteers for the Israeli army.

Between 1949 and 1950, more than 1,000 Jews left for Israel, and others emigrated overseas; consequently, the congregation was largely depleted. Other waves of emigration took place in 1964, 1968–1970, and after the Velvet Revolution of 1989. Following the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia and the first wave of emigration, the Kosice community had to adjust to the new conditions. The yeshivah, founded in late 1940, was closed. The major tasks of the community were to preserve the prayers in the synagogue, to supply kosher meat, and to provide children with basic Jewish education. A council existed, which had to be approved by the Communist authorities. The municipal authorities tried to stop the ritual slaughter and to interfere with the activity of the kosher restaurant. Jewish informers plagued patrons of the restaurant and participants in the prayers. Occasionally tensions rose between the Federation of Jewish Religious Congregations, located in Bratislava, and the Kosice council. However, schooling continued, Hanukkah and Purim parties for the children were held, and the Kosice congregation supplied at least minimal services for Jews of eastern Slovakia, where congregations no longer existed. For most of 1949–1989, a rabbi or a qualified replacement resided in Kosice.

The Jewish community was revitalized after 1989. It pulsed with social and cultural activity, the Zionist movement returned to the city, and it established close ties with Jewish organizations and with Israel.

In 2005 there were 240 members in the congregation. There was a kosher restaurant. The congregation has published several books devoted to the Holocaust and the story of the congregation. A group of Israeli students study veterinary medicine at the local university.

[Erich Kulka /

Yeshayahu Jelinek (2nd ed.)]


E. Enlen, in: Zeitschrift fuer die Geschichte der Juden in der Tschechoslowakei, 2 (1931/32), 279–91; 3 (1932/33), 47–60; M. Lányi and H. Proppern, Szlovenskoi zsidó hitközssegek története (1933), 11–90; Pinkas ha-Kehillot (1963), 26–30; J. Lévai, Abscheu und Grauen vor dem Genocid in der ganzen Welt (1968), 355–6 and passim; R. Iltis (ed.), Die aussaeen unter Traenen mit Jubel werden sie ernten (1959), 157–61. add. bibliography: E. Bárkány and L. Dojc, Zidovské nábozenské obce na Slovensku (1991), 371–382; Y. Schlanger, The Story of the Jewish Community of Kosice (1991); A. Jurov and P. Salamon, Kosice a deportacie Zidov v roku 1944 (1994).