LUCENEC (Slovak Lučenec ; Hung. Losonc ), town in S. Slovakia, until 1992 Czechoslovak Republic, since then Slovak Republic. The first appearance of Jews in the area was at the end of the 18th century. Under the patronage of Hungarian nobleman Szilassy, they settled in the Lucenec suburb of Tugar. The community was established in 1808 or 1814. The majority of the Jews lived on the Szilassy estate in Tuborg. Soon Jews could also be seen in Lucenec proper. In 1845, there were 45 Jewish families living in Tugar. In 1825 they established a ḥevra kaddisha, and in 1830 Rabbi Moses Hoegyes began to officiate. Since there was no synagogue, prayers were held in a private home. The first local Jews were rather poor and could hardly support a congregation. Moreover, the lives of the community members were constantly marred by frequent quarrels. Only a threat by local authorities to put the community under gentile supervision established some order. It was formally incorporated in 1852.
The proclamation of the Magyar Commonwealth in 1848 had rather unfortunate effects on the Jewish community. Fierce battles between the Magyars and the Imperial army in the Lucenec vicinity destroyed much property, including that of the Jews. Local Jews displayed marked Magyar patriotism, and when the Magyar army was defeated, the zealously patriotic Rabbi Hoegyes had to leave. This was followed by an extended search for a new rabbi. Also intense fighting between the Orthodox and the Reform had an impact on community life. After the Jewish Congress in 1868, the community chose a *Neolog path, while the Orthodox left this organization. A new round of quarrels started in the community. An Orthodox congregation gained formal recognition in 1930 by the Czechoslovak government.
In 1862 the congregation built the first synagogue, which was replaced in 1925 with an imposing new edifice. In 1878 a school was organized, with Magyar as the language of instruction. In 1885 a mikveh was built, and in 1890 a house for the rabbi. Both congregations became affluent. They kept separate cemeteries. The Orthodox had a talmud torah and a small yeshivah under Hillel Unsdoffer (1891–1944), an ardent Zionist. The Orthodox consecrated their synagogue in 1927. In 1937 a hasidic group following nusaḥ sefarad asked for formal recognition.
In 1840 no Jews were officially registered in Lucenec. In 1880 there were 1,193 registered Jews; in 1910 they numbered 2,135. The second Czechoslovak census (1930) recorded 2,278 Jews. In 1941 there were 2,103 Jews living in Lucenec.
The invasion of the Magyar Polshevics in the spring of 1919 caused disturbances, but there are no reports of anti-Jewish riots such as there were in many other parts of Slovakia.
During the war, Lucenec Jews participated in political activities. Some supported Magyar nationalist parties; only when these parties displayed open antisemitism did the Jews leave. Zionist organizations were active, and a large proportion of the local Jews identified itself as Jewish by nationality. The Jewish party clashed with Jewish Magyar assimilationists.
In November 1938 Lucenec, together with the rest of south Slovakia, was annexed by the Hungarian kingdom, and the anti-Jewish laws of that state were applied immediately to local Jewry. In 1941 Jewish men aged 18 to 45 were recruited for forced labor in the Hungarian army; many died in service. In March 1944, the German army occupied Hungary and immediately started to persecute the Jews, in cooperation with Magyar Fascists. At the beginning of June 1944, the Jews of Lucenec were ghettoized; on June 16 they were sent to Auschwitz, where most perished.
Some 80 Jews returned from the deportation; they organized a new community and reinstituted Jewish life. In 1945, the Joint Distribution Committee organized a kosher kitchen for the returned survivors. In 1947 there were 271 Jews in Lucenec. In 1948 the Neolog synagogue was reestablished. During 1948–1949, most of the Jews emigrated, a larger proportion to Israel. Nevertheless, Lucenec remained one of the few active congregations in Slovakia, and a minyan was kept until the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The cemetery was cleaned up and the Neolog synagogue rebuilt. In the 1990s there were 50 Jews. The local community was still active in 2005.
Magyar Zsidó Lexikon (1929), s.v.Losonc; M. Lányi and H. Proppern Békefi, A szlovenszkói zsidó hitkózségek története (1933), 229–34. add. bibliography: E. Bàrkàny and L. Dojč, Židovské náboženské obce na Slovensku (1991), 297–99.
[Meir Lamed /
Yeshayahu Jelinek (2nd ed.)]