Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

Jews Shun City Streets As Month-long Terror Reign Continues in Slovakia

August 28, 1939
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Terror stalks through the streets of the Jewish quarters of Bratislava and other Slovakian towns swept by a wave of violence against the Jewish population which began early this month, was climaxed on Friday, Aug. 11, with six hours of systematic destruction in Bratislava and is continuing throughout the “protectorate” in the form of personal assaults on Jewish pedestrians and sporadic attacks on Jewish shops.

The violence, by all accounts, appears to be organized and conducted by the German Slovak Party–the F.S.Men–with little participation by Slovaks. The attacks coincide with the rapid identification of Slovakia with direct German influence.

No Jews venture into the streets outside the Jewish quarters. There, special patrols of Slovakian police are on duty to prevent attacks, which occur most frequently on the eve of the Sabbath. So great has the terror become, that a Jew seeing a man wearing a swastika dodges into a doorway, turns and walks or even runs away.

Though Slovaks have participated in attacks on Jewish property, their general attitude is indicated by the fact that policemen on guard outside the sealed doors of two wrecked synagogues in Bratislava commented briefly and eloquently to this correspondent: “The German Party!–!” A synagogue was saved from destruction on Aug. 19 when Slovaks living nearby climbed out of their beds and ran to inform officials of the congregation that their synagogue was burning.

The wave of violence began the first week in August, with bombing of a synagogue at Nitra. On Friday, Aug. 4, the “normal” amount of insults to Jews on the streets of various cities, spitting on them and pushing them off the sidewalks, suddenly increased. Then there was a lull until the following Friday, Aug. 11. At nine o’clock on that evening, a crowd of 600 or 800 persons appeared in front of the “Progress” Synagogue situated on the corner of Zidovska Ul and Dlha Ul and began chanting in German, “Cut With the Jews,” and shouting anti-Semitic slogans, most of which were in German with a sprinkling Slovakian words. Policemen stationed nearby either could not or would not interfere with the mob which, according to eyewitnesses, included many Germans who had crossed over the Danube bridge from Germany.

Members of the synagogue’s congregation were driven out and chased in the streets while the mob sacked the three-story building for two hours. Doors were torn from their hinges, stones were hurled through all windows and every bit of furniture was smashed into kindling. Lamps were broken and the canopy as well as everything else made of cloth was cut into shreds. Sacred books were torn, including ancient parchment documents and historically valuable archives. The Holy Scrolls of the Law were ripped to shreds and their remnants bung from the chandeliers. Finally, the water rocks were opened and the water pipe smashed. The mob didn’t leave until the synagogue was under several feet of water.

From the synagogue, the mob marched at 11 p.m. into the Jewish quarter of the city, throwing stones into Jewish shops along the way. It paraded almost in military formation to the orthodox synagogue. Zamoka Besta, which is the most important house of worship in the 400-year-old Jewish community of Bratislava.

The large three-story building, erected in 1861 with 2,000 pew-holders and serving a community of 12,500, met an even worse fate than the “Progress” Synagogue. Nothing that could be broken, torn or mistreated was left whole. When there was nothing left to be destroyed, the mob surged across the street to Zidovska Ludova Kuchyna and stormed a two-and-a-half story concrete building erected last year for indigent Jews. Some 800 dishes, plates and other utensils which were used to provide free meals for the poor were broken in the kitchen and everything usable was wrecked.

Similar treatment was given a rabbinical school and a number of shops in the same and adjoining streets. Groups broke into private houses and smashed furniture. At 2:30 a.m. a large motor car suddenly appeared and forced its way slowly through the crowd. A man in the car, standing on the back seat with his arms outstretched in the Nazi salute–which is the normal greeting in Slovakia–again and again repeated in German and Slovak: “That’s enough….Go home.” The crowd immediately obeyed.

A few minutes after the mob broke up, street sweepers appeared and removed the evidence of its work. Then policemen officially sealed the doors of the destroyed synagogues. In the opinion of eyewitnesses, there was no doubt that the entire procedure was planned and organized in advance. During the next few days, groups of Germans again appeared in the Jewish quarter, chasing pedestrians and throwing stones, but reports of a second violent organized outbreak in Bratislava are not true.

However, on the following Friday, Aug. 18, a large crowd of Germans appeared in the Jewish quarter, beat up a number of passersby and late the same night an effort was made to destroy a synagogue at Topolcany by fire. Gasoline-soaked rags were found by members of the congregation, who were summoned in time by non-Jewish neighbors to be able to extinguish the blaze. Similar incidents have taken place and are still taking place in other towns. One of the worst occurred at Sered, from which four Jews whose ribs were broken by attackers have been brought here for treatment.

Recommended from JTA