Institute for Jewish Studies to Open at Slovakia University

A university in Slovakia has announced plans to open an institute for Jewish studies.

The institute, which will be part of the academic program at Comenius University in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava, will hold its first sessions in September.

The Slovakian ambassador to Austria, Jozef Klimko, a professor, recently hosted a meeting at his residence here to discuss the new institute with prominent scholars and Jewish personalities from both Austria and Slovakia.

Slovakia, which left the former federation of Czechoslovakia in January 1993 to become an independent republic, has some 3,000 Jews out of a total population of 5.3 million. About one-third of the country’s Jews live in Bratislava.

In the 1930s, there were some 70,000 Jews in Slovakia. Only 15,000 survived the Holocaust and most of them emigrated between 1948 and 1968.

“Bratislava has been the famous center of Jewish studies in the 19th and beginning of [the] 20th century,” said Peter Volko, chairman of the planning group for the Institute of Jewish Studies. “We have to restore some of that spirit to this country once again.”

Volko, himself a Jewish historian, has been active in establishing international contacts to secure a full faculty for the institute.

“We have very few people in Slovakia who could lecture at the new institute. Therefore, I have been in touch not only with universities in Israel but also with teachers in Jewish studies in Germany, Prague and Budapest,” Volko said.

He added that Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem are prepared to invite students from Bratislava to visit Israel and to offer them some fellowships.

Juraj Svec, a renowned medical scientist who is the rector at Comenius University, said some 80 to 150 students had already expressed interest in pursuing Jewish studies.

Among those attending the meeting was Joel Sher, the Israeli ambassador to Austria, who reminisced how he and Svec had discussed the creation of a Jewish institute some five years ago.

“And now our dream has come true,” Sher said.

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