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   Kežmarok, Slovakia


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Jewish Religious Life in Kezmarok

The following material was adapted, with kind permission, from the historian Dr. Nora BARATHOVA, who has published several books. She conducted extensive research by reading issues of old newspapers dating as far back as 1865, to glean information about the life and times of Jewish people in Kezmarok, and some distinct personalities. Mikulas LIPTAK performed an initial rough translation into English and Madeleine ISENBERG, together with Miki, edited the material. The following is an extract from some of that research combined with information from additional sources, such as the manuscripts of Nathan VENETZIANER.

In the early part of the 19th Century, Jews were not originally allowed to even live in Kezmarok. Jews did live in Huncovce, a town that was only five kilometers away, and were able to ply their trades by traveling to Kezmarok during the day time. But they were required to leave the town by nightfall to return home to sleep.

However, when Kezmarok became a "royal free town" in the mid 1850s then they could actually live there. At this beginning of settlement, there were so few Jews, that they did not even have their own religious organization; they still belonged to the community in Huncovce. The Jewish religious community (Kehillah) came into existence in Kezmarok only in 1852, with 19 members. At its head was the merchant Salomon Wolf ROTH (1819 – 1884), descended probably from a merchant family in Huncovce /7/.

The Jewish registry district of Kezmarok belonged to Huncovce, where recording of the vital records began in 1833; but recording of information from Kezmarok began only in 1852/8/.

The community was so small community that at first they built a small structure on a piece of purchased land that was behind the town walls and not far from the wooden Protestant church. It was sufficient for the Jewish worshippers to gather there on Saturdays and the Jewish holidays. They did not have their own local rabbi, so they shared the rabbi who commuted from Huncovce. Even though it was considered only a small prayer room, in 1865 the newspaper Zipser Anzeiger referred to it as a synagogue.

Nathan VENETZIANER, who was among the first residents, held many positions in the town: He was a shochet (ritual slaughterer), a mohel (circumciser), a scribe, an historian, and a deputy rabbi. He was probably the first person to enter information into registry records for the life events that took place in Kezmarok, starting in 1858.
His manuscript (Manuscript number, MS9617 /15/) written in Hebrew, detailing the history of Jewish Kezmarok and the construction of its first synagogue, "Adas Yeshurun," resides in the Special Collections Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, in New York City.  This manuscript provided invaluable information regarding how the Jewish community came to be established and the building of its first place of worship (1854-1858).  A copy of the manuscript was purchased, transcribed into a digital format by Hagit TSAFRIRI and translated by Madeleine ISENBERG and Hagit, over a period of months in 2009-2010 /9/

front page MS9617

First Page of MS91617
"These are the Names.."

The copy purchased from the library was in black and white (as shown at left). Information was requested on the colors in the original.  This provided the opportunity to simulate the decorations in both Hebrew and English versions. Click on the little icons to see and read the H1stPagetranscribed version in Hebrew, and/or the E1stPageEnglish translation

The people whose names are mentioned in the document, aside from King Ferdinand I of Austro-Hungary (aka Ferdinand V of Bohemia), are (at right):

  • Yonatan KIRCZ
  • Ber LOEWENSTEIN
  • Salomon PERLSTEIN (Rabbi of Huncovce)
  • Aharon POLLATSCHEK
  • Chaim RICHTMAN
  • Yehuda ROSENBERG
  • Yonatan ROSENTHAL
  • Franz ROTH
  • Salomon Wolf (S. W.) ROTH
  • Nathan (Netel) VENETZIANER


With the Jewish community growing fast, in 1874 the Jews from Kezmarok invited their first rabbi, Abraham GRÜNBURG (1839 – 1918) from Miskolc, to become their rabbi.

 
Signature of Rabbi Abraham GrÜnburg
No known image exists of Rabbi Abraham GRÜNBURG

 
Rabbi Simcha Noson Grünburg
His son, Rabbi Simcha Noson (or Nathan) GRÜNBURG

 
Rabbi Meir GrÜnberg
and his grandson, Rabbi Meir GRÜNBERG

His son, Rabbi Noson Simcha and grandson, Rabbi Meir, stayed in Kezmarok as well, becoming a small rabbinic dynasty there until World War II. (Rabbi Meir Grünberg survived the war and eventually emigrated to the USA.)/14/

Rabbi Abraham GRÜNBURG seems to have been very involved and actively oversaw the construction of all Jewish related facilities in Kežmarok, including the synagogue, ritual baths, and cemetery. In 1881, the Jews of Kežmarok laid the foundation stone there for a new synagogue that replaced the earlier structure and stood as a solid and distinctive one.

 

Pavel Wavrek's painting of synagogue

Painting by Pavel Wavrek of the Great Synagogue, Adas Yeshurun, based on a black and white photograph.

 

Barkany's architectural plan

Rendering of the Synagogue plan, as found in the book by E. Barkany-L. Dojc, Zidovské nábozenské obce na Slovensku (1991),
p. 322.

Presov Synagogue Interior

Similar to Interior of the
Presov Synagogue,
credit: Project Synagoga Slovaca

A year later, in 1882 the synagogue was consecrated. (Surprisingly, there was no mention of this event in the local weekly newspaper Karpathen-Post.) The synagogue was built in the Moorish style, like the ones still existent in Prešov (shown here) and Michalovce, with dimensions of 22m x 15m. Just behind the main door was an anteroom. On both sides, there were doors to stairways leading to the women’s balcony. The women were separated from men, who entered and sat on the ground floor level. The women could watch the services through the decorative railing from above. Jews are supposed to face eastward, as if facing Jerusalem. So the Aron Hakodesh (the Holy Ark that housed the Torah scrolls) was situated at the eastern end of the synagogue, on the ground floor. The Ark was covered with a decorative curtain, and on either side there were seats for the rabbi, cantor and the head of the Jewish congregation. In the center of the synagogue was an elevated platform (a bima) with a reader’s table for the reading/chanting the Torah portions. or for the person delivering the sermon /10/. The choir was led by the cantor SCHREIBER, who led services beginning in the 1890s /11/.

After World War II the synagogue was used as a storehouse until 1961, when under the Communist regime, it was demolished to construct the road to Levoca. In addition to the synagogue, other facilities were necessary for routine Jewish life and practices. The Jewish bakery where bread the matzoth (unleavened bread for the holiday of Passover) were prepared was near the synagogue. The Bet-Hamidrash (the room of prayers and also the social and administrative center) was built next door to the synagogue or the bakery as well. Unfortunately, neither of these buildings exists today.

The mikvah, or ritual bath, was opened on the 15th of December 1890. The director of the autonomous Orthodox Jewish religious community posted a competition for the construction of the mikvah. The baths were accessible to the general public as well. It was supposed to be one of the most modern ones in the country. Of course, the public steam and tub baths were strictly separated from the ritual one. It is interesting to note that at the time of its opening the renter was not a Jew, but rather the Christian, Samuel HORVAY. In 1898 the baths were renovated to form three distinct sections: changing rooms in one part; a swimming pool and showers in the second; and tub baths in the third /12/. Today (2007), a laundry exists at this site.

At the location of Kamenná bana (Stone mine) there was once a ritual slaughterhouse where a professional ritual slaughterer (a shochet) slaughtered the meat with a special large, razor-sharp knife, according to strict kashruth (i.e., the kosher guidelines). The most important aspect of the actual slaughter was to prevent the animal from suffering, by causing the instantaneous loss of blood flow to the brain leading to immediate death. For a fee, the shochet slaughtered the cattle and the poultry for the customers, who brought their own animals.

The first site for the Jewish cemetery was also chosen to be in Kamenná bana, near the slaughterhouse. However after the cholera epidemic in 1873 another location near the brick factory was chosen instead (on Tehelna street – perhaps for health reasons). The cemetery covers an area of the about 70m x 55m and was renovated in the years 2004 – 2005 by the Astra Fellowship.

Kezmarok Cemetery Cleanup, Panoramic View
View of the Kezmarok Cemetery at time of Cleanup by Astra Fellowship

It was said that during the time of deportations, the Jews buried about 100 holy books at the right of the entrance to the cemetery but at the time of the renovation, nothing was found there.

The cemetery provided the equalizing place of eternal rest for Jews of all degrees of religiosity. The layout of the cemetery with men being buried on one side and women on the other is representative of the manner of the Orthodox Jews. The Reform Jews tended to have engraved inscriptions written in both Hebrew and Latin letters on the tombstones.

In the 21st Century, Judaism has adherents who practice the religion and follow the guidelines of the Torah and the rabbis in many different ways. In the 18th Century, an offshoot of Orthodox Judaism developed called Chassidism that advocated more emotional aspects of prayer and serving the Lord with joy and songs. Chasidism was practiced by the majority of Jews in the Ukraine, Galicia, and central Poland. Chassidism also spread into the eastern part of Slovakia, with its limiting border in Kežmarok. They were, and still are, recognized by their distinctive dress.

In Kezmarok, a separate place of prayer was built for the Chassidim, specifically for Rabbi Aryeh Leib HALBERSTAMM and his followers. Rabbi Halberstamm was known as the "Mushene Rebbe," having served as the chief rabbi of Muszyna, Poland, prior to coming to Kezmarok. His congregation, smaller than that of Rabbi GRÜNBERG, was known as a kloiz. While the building no longer exists, there is photo of the interior taken by Yitzchak RIMPLER of New York on a visit to Kezamrok, in 1983. It was destroyed by the Communists. Another personality in Kezmarok, was Rabbi Israel Meir GLÜCK, who headed the Talmud Society.

With regard to Reform Judaism, after the French Revolution, Rabbi Abraham GEIGER was responsible for interpreting, or perhaps corrupting, the centuries-old Jewish practices that led to the development of Reform Judaism. Advocates of this form of Judaism were called Neologists. This movement spread especially among the Jews of German origin, in strong opposition to Orthodox Judaism. This form of religious practice negated fundamental Jewish principles: even those of circumcision; using Hebrew in prayer; the laws of kashruth and family purity; permitting men and women to sit together during prayer; changing the Sabbath day to Sunday; and claiming that Germany was the new Zion. The Chatam Sofer was one of the strongest opponents of this movement. While the Orthodox Jews carefully kept all the religious laws, ethics and habits, the Neologists goal was to assimilate into a more modern world and to simplify their religious observance.

In 1868, the Neologists decided to establish a National Jewish Congress, with the goal of developing a means to manage the Austro-Hungarian Jewish communities. This congress convened in Budapest, but there were no delegates from Kezmarok and only two representatives from Huncovce. Eventually, this congress failed, due to opposition from the more observant Jews.

In summary, there were three types of congregations, i.e. the Orthodox, Chassidic and Neologistic.

Later, with the establishment of the 1st Czechoslovak Republic, the latter group would ultimately choose to join the first or second type. The Orthodox Jews were the dominant group in the whole Spiš area but mainly in Huncovce. In other locales, the other groups were in the majority, e.g., the Neologists in Poprad and Kežmarok.

Kežmarok was not significantly different from other Jewish communities – because there were two large groups that sometimes had conflicts. Even though (on November 15,1881) the Neologists and Orthodox Jewish congregations merged into one with a common prayer service in the prayer hall, the conflicts continued for decades, as can be seen in the article in the Karpathen-Post newspaper written by David ZINN, a sergeant in the Emperor’s 38th Honvéd battalion. He complained about the leader of the Orthodox Jewish group: “When I came to the synagogue to pray on the 29th September 1884 on Rosh Hashanah (the New Year), I took a seat which was neither labeled as a designated seat, nor paid for use on the High Holidays. While sitting there, Mr. B. GLÜCKSMANN came up to me and said: “Get out of this place. It is Eduard KOHN’s (GLÜCKSMANN’s nephew) seat and he will be paying for that.” I replied immediately that I would pay as much as is necessary as well. Without saying a word he called two local soldiers who, on behalf of the town's mayor, asked me to leave the synagogue. After obeying these officials and escorted by the soldiers, I went to the mayor where I learned that neither he nor anyone else had given such an order. It was all GLÜCKSMANN’s doing. It is really sad that in the 19th century, in a Jewish congregation such as Kežmarok’s, that such a distinguished person is so mean-spirited on one of the holiest days of the year. I then left for Huncovce to pray there in their synagogue.“ It appears that GLÜCKSMANN belonged to the Orthodox Jews and ZINN was Reform. (The conflicts between the two groups in Kežmarok ended by the definite victory of the Neologists in December 1929 /13/).  The following week, B. GLÜCKSMANN submitted his own version of the events.

Webmaster's addendum: From the second manuscript (MS10387, see endnote 15 below) maintained by scribe Nathan Venetzianer, High Holiday seating charts were found. That for men as originally graphed in 1882, just two years before the above event occurred, is shown, with that of the women just below it.

Even today, people who are regular attendees of a synagogue, generally keep the seats from year to year that they originally selected and paid for.  By careful examination of the list of member's names (found on another page of the manuscript), I was able to determine just where the "important people," such B.  GLÜCKSMANN and Eduard KOHN sat, and I  have indicated those positions.  Position "7," next to the Aron Hakodesh (Holy Ark) is designated as the Rabbi's seat.

Generally, a visitor at such a time, not having made any previous arrangements, should have taken an empty seat probably toward the back of the synagogue, not right up front.  Note the large "Freier Raum" at the back, where additional seats could have been added.  Looking at this drawing, one might conclude that David ZINN, marched up to the front, probably in front of the rabbi, and deliberately intended to cause a disturbance.

The list on the right is the list with the men's names. There are three columns to the left of the names indicating their seat numbers; then the seat number for their wives; and most probably how much they donated for the yearly membership, possibly with higher amounts for the more desirable seats.

MenSeatingChart_1882
WomenSeatingChart_1882
SynSeatingList_1882


Notes:

  1. Szepesi Híradó – Szepesi Hirlap year 63, Nr. 46, 1925 continue reading
  2. Information from Ing. Mikuláš LIPTAK. continue reading
  3. In transcribing and translating Manuscript number, MS9617, Hagit TSAFRIRI and Madeleine ISENBERG added explanatory footnotes that did not exist in the original. continue reading
  4. Thanks are due to Mrs. Alica FRIEDMANN, former inhabitant of Kežmarok, for the exact description of the interior of the synagogue. She currently resides in Toronto (Canada). continue reading
  5. Karpathen-Post, year 17, Nr. 20, 1896. continue reading
  6. Karpathen-Post, year 10, Nr. 15 a 50, 1889, year 11, Nr. 7, 1890, year 20, Nr. 32, 1889. continue reading
  7. Karpathen-Post, year 5, Nr. 40, 2.10.1884, Karpathen-Post, year 50, Nr. 52, 1929. continue reading
  8. Photographs of the Rabbis GRÜNBERG were provided by their descendent, Isaac RIMPLER of New York continue reading
  9. The two manuscripts written by N. Venetzianer can be viewed to some degree on the JTS website, in the Garfield Special Collections. Clicking on the link, enter the word "Kezmarok" in the "A word or phrase" field field    and two documents will be listed: MS9617 and MS 10387 continue reading

Prenumeranten

Prenum7696
The list of books with
prenumeranten for Kezmarok
(code 7696).
PrenumAltman
The list of names for Kezmarok in
Altman's book.

An interesting source of information are prenumeranten.  These are people who paid early subscriptions to Jewish scholarly texts.  So if you had studied in a yeshiva (Jewish seminary) and knew or recognized the great rabbis and scholars of the day, you would be interested in acquiring and reading what these erudite people had written -- mostly in Hebrew but occasionally in Yiddish.  Hence, these pre-subscriptions to help pay for the publication of such works.
HebrewBooks.org has a wealth of such books that have been digitized and can be searched for titles or names of authors as well as providing the opportunity to download the entire books in PDF format.  Generally at the ends of such books, the author would show his appreciation for the people who had subscribed and would include their names under the heading of the respective towns where they lived.  To help in identifying which books to even check for these in Sefer Prenumeranten, Berel Kagan (or Cohen) compiled a wonderful compendium of 800 towns and the books that have prenumeranten for these towns.  His book is also available for searching or downloading on HebrewBooks.org. The book's title in English is "Hebrew Subscription Lists."  (For more information on prenumeranten, JewishGen has an infofile, prenumeranten)

The book has an introduction and explanation at the rear of the book and an alphabetical listing by town names in English with the corresponding numerical value for the town.  Kezmarok's reference number is 7696 and there is quite a lenghty list. Numbers within parentheses indicate how many names one might expect to find in that particular book for that particular location. I present here a list of the people for the book, "Yam Shel Yehuda" written by Rabbi Yehuda ALTMAN, and printed in 1926. That particular book is also available at Hebrewbooks.org, with the identification number, 5935. Note that among the names listed is the young man and reacher, Zvi Zeev GLÜCK, son of the aforementioned Rabbi Israel Meir GLÜCK, as well as this webmaster's grandfather, Aryeh Leb GOLDSTEIN.The names as extrapolated from the Hebrew are:

  • (Young man) Zvi Zeev GLÜCK
  • Rabbi Simcha Natan GRÜNBERG
  • Chaim SCHÖNFELD
  • Moshe RIEMER
  • Mordechai PAHMER
  • Yitzchak Yehuda KATZ
  • (Young man) David GROSS
  • Aryeh Leib GOLDSTEIN
  • Yermiyah KLEIN
  • Moshe VOGELMAN
  • Salomon GOLDMAN, from Komarno
  • (Young man) Meir Raphael PERLROTH
  • Chaim Elimelech ROTH

The Last Days of the Synagogue

After World War II, and the eventual immagration of those who returned from the concentration camps, the Great Synagogue fell into disuse. In an e-mail of 25 Mar 2010, to Mr. Jack FRIEDMANN of New York, descendant of the distinguished Rabbi Israel Meir GLÜCK, Mr. Lubomir VYVLEK of Kezmarok, wrote

"... The synagogue used to stand near the New Evangelical Church and the Wooden Evangelical Chruch. The Jewish sanctuary was break down in the year 1961. After the WWII in 1945, there was ca. 100 persons of Jewish origin living in Kezmarok the rest of Jewish population (ca 1100 in 1938) was transported to the death camps in nowadays Poland. Many Jews emigrated to the State of Israel after 1948 after the establishment of Isreael and after the Communist coup d'etat in Czechoslovakia.

Thus, in fact the Jewish community was destroyed in Kezmarok and the building of the synagogue was in decay. The atheist regime of the Communist Czechoslovakia did not support the religious symbols and it had actually adversary attitude towards the religions in the state. So, the synagogue was decided to be broken down and it was unfortunately done so in 1961.

The Town of Kezmarok would like to display a honor to all the Jews of Kezmarok and to the victims of the Shoa. Mr. Sajtlava will commit himself in this question. We will search the possibilities and resources to place a monument on the past holy Jewish ground.

Yours truly,
Lubomir Vyvlek
Municipality of Kezmarok, Slovakia
Dep. of Regional Development and Tourism"

Here is a photo, shortly before the synagogue was torn down to make way for a road to Levoca.

Kezmarok's Great Synagogue 1961

The last days of Kezmarok's Great Synagogue.

Thanks are due to Mikulas LIPTAK (of Kezmarok) and Mr. Ze'ev RAPHAEL (of Haifa) for versions of this photo.

Scale Models of the Synagogue

Based on various photographs, Mordechai Wieder (of Petach Tikva, Israel) constructed a wooden model of the synagogue and it is on display in the House of Testimony (Beit Haedut) in Nir Galim, Israel.

 

synagogue model - side view

Side View

synagogue model - front view

Front View

synagogue model - back view

Back View

A very similar model was commissioned by the descendents of Kezmarok families living in Israel and brought as an addition to that part of the Kezmarok Museum dedicated to its Jewish history, by Freddie and Aliska (née GOLDMANN) WEISFEILER in 2008 (photo below).

synagogue model - in Kezmarok Museum 

Slightly different model in Kezmarok's Museum.

Thanks are due to Hagit TSAFRIRI, of Rechovot, ISRAEL, who took the photographs of the models.


Ze'ev RAPHAEL in Haifa sent copies of the Synagogue photos to his sister-in-law, Helen (née BRODY) Grossman, who lives in Canada. She responded to him with her first-hand memories of the synagogue.

From: Helene Grossman
To: Zeev Raphael
Sent: Friday, 11 June, 2010

Dear Zeev,
Thank you for the Kezmarok synagogue. The wooden model from photographs by Mr. Wavrek brought back memories: sitting next to my mother; sometimes near my grandmother.
There were curtains in the women section upstairs. The Chazan SINGER bacsi had a beautiful voice and we visited him often on Shabbes afternoon. He was a distant relative to our grandmother. His wife was best friend of our grandmother. They had no children and adopted 2 boys and one girl from a poor relative and sent them to school and yeshivot. Mr. Singer had a beautiful voice and we enjoyed his singing on our visits to their home. The Rabbi in the synagogue was Rav Grunberg; his sermons were in German.
A son survived, hiding with his wife, as partisans.

It's amazing how strong we can be when we have to.

Love from Leo & Hella


 Compiled by Madeleine Isenberg
Updated 27 February 2019
Copyright © 2010-2019
Madeleine R. Isenberg
All rights reserved.

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