History of the Jews in Slovenia

The small Jewish community of Slovenia (Slovene: Judovska skupnost Slovenije) is estimated at 400 to 600 members, with the Jewish community of Slovenia suggesting 500 to 1000 members . Around 130 are officially registered,[1] most of whom live in the capital, Ljubljana. The Jewish community was devastated by the Shoah, and has never fully recovered. Until 2003, Ljubljana was the only European capital city without a Jewish place of worship.[2]

History of the community

Ancient community

The Jewish community of Slovenia pre-dates the 6th century Slavic settlement of the Eastern Alps, when the Slavic ancestors of present-day Slovenes conquered their current territory[3],. The first Jews arrived in present-day Slovenia in Roman times, with archaeological evidence of Jews found in Maribor, and in the village of Škocjan in Lower Carniola. In Škocjan, an engraved menorah dating from the 5th century AD was found in a graveyard.[4]

In the 12th century, Jews arrived to the Slovene Lands fleeing poverty in Italy and central Europe. Even though they were forced to live in ghettos, many Jews prospered. Relations between Jews and the local Christian population were generally peaceful. In Maribor, Jews were successful bankers, winegrowers and millers. Several "Jewish Courts" (Judenhof) existed in Styria, settling disputes between Jews and Christians. Israel Isserlein, who authored several essays on medieval Jewish life in Lower Styria, was the most important rabbi at the time, having lived in Maribor.[5] In 1397, Jewish ghettos in Radgona and Ptuj were set ablaze by anonymous anti-Jewish assailants.[6]

The first synagogue in Ljubljana is mentioned in 1213. Issued with a Privilegium, Jews were able to settle an area of Ljubljana located on the left bank of the Ljubljanica River. The streets Židovska ulica ("Jewish Street") and Židovska steza ("Jewish Lane"), which now occupy the area, are still reminiscent of that period. The wealth of the Jews bred resentment among the Inner Austrian nobility and the burghers, with many refusing to repay Jewish money-lenders. The Estates of the single provinces (Carniola, Styria and Carinthia) began expelling their Jews already in the 16th century, with the last Jews expelled by 1718.[2]

The modern era

The building of a former synagogue in Lendava.

In 1709, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI, ruler of the Habsburg Monarchy, issued a decree allowing Jews to return to Inner Austria. Nevertheless, Jews in that time settled almost exclusively in the commercial city of Trieste and, to a much smaller extent, in the town of Gorizia (now both part of Italy). The decree was overturned in 1817 by Francis I, and Jews were granted full civil and political right only with the Austrian constitution of 1867. Nevertheless, the Slovene Lands remained virtually without a consistent Jewish population, with the exception of Gorizia, Trieste, the region of Prekmurje, and some smaller towns in the western part of the County of Gorizia and Gradisca (Gradisca, Cervignano), which were inhabited mostly by a Friulian-speaking population. According to the census of 1910, only 146 Jews lived in the territory of present-day Slovenia, excluding the Prekmurje region.[2]

Rampant anti-Semitism was among the causes why few Jews decided to settle in the area, maintaining the overall Jewish population at a very low level. In the 1920s, after the formation of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Yugoslavia), the local Jewish community merged with the Jewish community of Zagreb, Croatia.[2]

According to the 1931 census, there were about 900 Jews in the Drava Banovina, mostly concentrated in Prekmurje, which used to be part of the Kingdom of Hungary prior to 1919. This was the reason why in the mid-1930s Murska Sobota became the seat of the Jewish Community of Slovenia. During that period, the Jewish population was reinvigorated by many immigrants fleeing from neighbouring Austria and Nazi Germany to a more tolerant Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Nevertheless, the anti-Jewish legislation, adopted by Milan Stojadinović's pro-German regime, and the anti-semitic discourse of Anton Korošec's conservative Slovene People's Party, made Slovenia a less desirable destination.

According to official Yugoslav data, the number of self-declared Jews (according to religion, not to ancestry) in Yugoslav Slovenia rose to 1,533 by 1939. In that year, there were 288 declared Jews in Maribor, 273 in Ljubljana, 270 in Murska Sobota, 210 in Lendava and 66 in Celje. The other 400 Jews lived scattered around the country, a quarter of them in the Prekmurje region. Prior to World War Two, there were two active synagogues in Slovenia, one in Murska Sobota and one in Lendava. The overall number of Jews prior to the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941 is estimated to around 2,500, including baptised Jews and refugees from Austria and Germany.

The Holocaust

The Jewish community, very small even before World War II and the Shoah, was further reduced by the Nazis occupation between 1941 and 1945. The Jews in northern and eastern Slovenia (the Slovenian Styria, Upper Carniola, Slovenian Carinthia, and Posavje), which was annexed to the Third Reich, were deported to concentration camps as early as in the late spring of 1941. Very few survived. In Ljubljana and in Lower Carniola, which came under Italian occupation, the Jews were relatively safe until September 1943, when most of the zone was occupied by the Nazi German forces. In late 1943, most of them were deported to concentration camps, although some managed to escape, especially by fleeing to the zones freed by the partisan resistance.

The Jews of Prekmurje, where the majority of Slovenian Jewry lived prior to World War Two, suffered the same fate as the Jews of Hungary. Following the German occupation of Hungary, almost the entire Jewish population of the Prekmurje region was deported to Auschwitz. Very few survived.

Post-war community

Jewish cemetery in Lendava, in the eastern Slovenian Prekmurje region.

Under Communism in Yugoslavia, the Jewish community in Socialist Slovenia numbered fewer than 100 members. In 1953, the synagogue of Murska Sobota, the only remaining after the Shoah, was demolished by the local Communist authorities. Many Jews were expelled from Yugoslavia as "ethnic Germans", and most of Jewish property was confiscated. The Judovska občina v Ljubljani (Jewish Community of Ljubljana) was officially reformed following World War II. Its first president was Artur Kon, followed by Aleksandar Švarc, and by Roza Fertig-Švarc in 1988. In 1969, it numbered only 84 members and its membership was declining due to emigration and age.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a revival of Jewish themes in Slovenian literature, almost exclusively by women authors. Berta Bojetu was the most renowned Jewish author who wrote in Slovene. Others included Miriam Steiner and Zlata Medic-Vokač.[7]

After 1990

The Jewish community today is estimated at 400–600 members,[8] although only 130 are members of the Jewish Community of Slovenia organization. The community consists of people of Ashkenazi and Sephardi descent. In 1999, the first Chief Rabbi for Slovenia was appointed since 1941. Before that, religious services were provided with help from the Jewish community of Zagreb. The present chief rabbi for Slovenia, Ariel Haddad, resides in Trieste and is a member of the Lubavitcher Hassidic school.[9] The current president of the Jewish Community of Slovenia is Andrej Kožar Beck.

Since the year 2000, there has been a noticeable revival of Jewish culture in Slovenia. In 2003, a synagogue was opened in Ljubljana.[10] In 2008, the Association Isserlein was founded to promote the legacy of Jewish culture in Slovenia.[11] It has organized several public events that have received positive responses from the media, such as the public lighting of the hanukiah in Ljubljana in 2009.[12] There has also been a growing public interest in the Jewish historical legacy in Slovenia. In 2008, the complex of the Jewish Cemetery in Rožna Dolina near Nova Gorica was restored due to the efforts of the local Democratic Party politicians, pressure from the neighboring Jewish Community of Gorizia, and the American Embassy in Slovenia.[13] In January 2010, the first monument to the victims of the Shoah in Slovenia was unveiled in Murska Sobota.[13]

Famous Jews from Slovenia

See also

Notes and references

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