Academic journal article Shofar

Building Slovak Jewry: Communal Reorientation in Interwar Czechoslovakia1

Academic journal article Shofar

Building Slovak Jewry: Communal Reorientation in Interwar Czechoslovakia1

Article excerpt

There was no Slovak Jewry before the creation of Slovakia from the former northern counties of the pre-World War One Kingdom of Hungary. The emergence of both is tied to conditions created by the movement from empire to nation-state following the Habsburg Monarchy's collapse. Both are phenomena of interwar state building. Jews in Slovakia remapped their belonging to the territory through postwar self-defense and economic adaptation to the new environment, the development of Jewish national political strategies for negotiating the Jewish relationship to the state and surrounding society, and a transformation of the built Jewish communal landscape. Slovak Jews defined themselves geographically rather than nationally, as belonging to the territory of Slovakia within the liberal Czechoslovak state and the specific set of opportunities and challenges that reality presented.

In October 1928, the Jüdisches Familienblatt, the mainstream German-language Jewish newspaper published in Slovakia's capital Bratislava (Pozsony, Pressburg), issued a special jubilee edition highlighting Jewish communal achievements in Slovakia since the founding of the Czechoslovak state. Following praise that likened the Czechoslovak nation to a "pearl in the diadem of the human race" and exalted President Tomás G. Masaryk for guarding the welfare of the liberated nation with his spirit and soul2-pervasive sentiments expressed in tenth-anniversary publications throughout the state-it went on to feature more particular homage. The retrospective photo spread of newly constructed synagogues across Slovakia, register of all standing Jewish religious, social, educational, philanthropic, political institutions, and territory- wide Jewish organizations based in Bratislava, and article celebrating the establishment of the long-awaited Jewish hospital emphasized the successes of the gradual and often arduous process of economic, social, and political reorientation among Jews in Slovakia that accounted for their well-being in the state.3

Building communal institutions was an important way Jews in the territory of Slovakia accompanied and facilitated their overall reorientation from defeated Hungary to the newly established state of Czechoslovakia after the First World War. The former northern counties of the prewar Kingdom of Hungary officially became Slovakia with the signing of the Treaty of Trianon on June 4, 1920. With it, the revolutionary turmoil and uncertainty that characterized the postwar change of regimes4 came to a close. The military struggle for Slovakia ended. Jews, Slovaks, and the multi-national population of Slovakia as a whole turned toward a capital in Prague, rather than in Budapest.

As Slovakia itself became a bounded territorial unit for the first time, so too did a distinctive "Slovak Jewry" emerge from the radically transformed geo-political environment of postwar east central Europe. This entirely new collective self-understanding as "Slovak Jews" was tied to the conditions created by the movement from empire to national state. Reorientation was a tripartite process. It consisted above all of practical strategies for postwar economic adaptation to the new environment, the development of Jewish national political practices for negotiating the Jewish relationship to the state and surrounding population, and transformations in their understanding of the place of Jewish communities within the Slovak space. Changes in the built Jewish landscape reflected the postwar creation of a Slovak national space.5 By remapping their belonging to that space, Slovak Jews became detached from Hungary and Hungarian Jewry, and affirmed the relocation of their political loyalty as citizens of Czechoslovakia.

Territorial separation from Hungary necessarily catalyzed significant changes in Jewish community infrastructure and demographics. Bratislava replaced Budapest as the seat of territory-wide institutions essential for administering the Slovak Jewish community. …

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