Piestany

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PIESTANY

PIESTANY (Slovak. Piešt'any ; Hung. Pöstyén ; Ger. Pistyan ), town in Slovakia (part of Czechoslovakia, 1918–1991; since then the Slovak Republic). Piestany's hot springs were already known to the Romans. In 1736, there were 12 Jewish families from Moldavia living on the estate of Count Forgacs. In 1774 there were 22 families, and in 1795 about 50. Religiously and administratively, they were part of the Vrbov congregation. In 1840 there were 105 Jews in Piestany; 375 in 1880; and 850 in 1910. In 1930 they numbered 1,344. In 1940, on the eve of the deportations, there were 1,559.

The mineral springs attracted many visitors. Jews were not permitted in the common bath but were relegated to the "Jewish bath house." The first congregation was founded in 1795. There were many visitors and they needed services, hence Jews discovered a source of income. They also rented estates, where they grew fruits and vegetables. Grateful to the Hungarian government, they displayed strong Magyar patriotism. During the Spring of Nations (1848–49), some volunteered for the Magyar army. After the Hungarian Jewish Congress of 1868, the congregation joined the Orthodox. Including the neighboring villages, the congregation numbered 1,800. By 1870 they had their own school, synagogue, mikveh, cemetery, and a shoḥet. In 1895 they built a new synagogue. They also established a talmud torah and a ḥevra kaddisha. After World War i the congregation expanded, adding a yeshivah; a kosher restaurant – mainly for guests of the spa; a home for the aged and a Beth Jacob school for religious girls.

During World War i, Jews were recruited into the army. At the end of the war, Piestany was hit by the wave of disturbances that beset Slovakia. A militia was able to handle the situation. When more violent disturbances erupted in 1910, the congregation appealed to President *Masaryk. In 1889 the Winter family took over management of the springs, turning it into a world-renowned spa. Alexander Winter developed the sleepy town into a first-rate health resort.

But there was no peace in the Jewish community. Rabbi Koloman Weber (1871–1931), who served as the president of the Orthodox Chancellery for Slovakia in Bratislava, encouraged extremist policies. Internal disturbances led to a split in the congregation in 1926. In addition to the Orthodox body, a Yeshurun congregation was established. They built their own synagogue, a ḥevra kaddisha, and other Jewish institutions. Quarrels between the two congregations continued until the deportations of 1942.

Delegates of Slovakian Jewry met in Piestany on March 13, 1919, to discuss their conditions in the new republic. The convention led to political and social reorganization of Jews in Slovakia. The Zionist movement flourished in Piestany in spite of Rabbi Weber's efforts to hinder it. The Zionist organization Ahavat Zion was founded in 1919 and, subsequently, the local branch of the Jewish party. Jews were regularly elected to the municipal board. The Jewish adult and youth movements included all major organizations active in the country. The writer Gieze *Vamos, who wrote in Slovak, gained national fame. His book, The Broken Branch (1934), bitterly criticized Jewish life in Slovakia.

Piestany was one of the centers of the Hlinka Guard, a Slovak form of Fascist storm troopers. When Slovakia's autonomy was proclaimed in September 1938, Jews without valid citizenship were expelled to the harsh wasteland of the Hungarian-Slovak border. Slovakia's proclamation of independence under the aegis of the Third Reich on March 14, 1939, was accompanied by violence in the streets. Anti-Jewish legislation and activities culminated in 1942 with the deportation of Jews to Poland. Some 1,500 Jews from Piestany and its environs were sent to extermination camps.

After the war, 250 returned. In June 1945, they established a single congregation. They elected a committee to conduct community life and reconstruct community buildings, such as the synagogue, mikveh, and kosher restaurant. During the wave of emigration from Slovakia in 1948–49, most of the Jews left Piestany. In 1959 there were 90 Jews in the city. In the late 1970s the synagogue was torn down. One of the three cemeteries was turned into a public park. In 1958 a kosher restaurant was opened for guests of the spa.

bibliography:

R. Iltis (ed.), Die aussaeen unter Traenen … (1959), 180–4; S. Gruenwald, Gedenkbuch der Gemeinden Piestany und Umgebung (1969); E. Bárkány-L. Dojc, Zidovské nábozenské obce na Slovensku, (1991), 202–206.

[Yeshayahu Jelinek (2nd ed.)]