The Disappearing Places of Our Jewish Past in the Old Country

Traces of Jewish Life Vanishing in Slovakia

A synagogue in the city of Trencin, located near the western Czech border.
wikicommons
A synagogue in the city of Trencin, located near the western Czech border.

By Emil Fish

Published February 24, 2014, issue of February 28, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

I was born in a city in eastern Slovakia, called Bardejov.

When I was growing up, we Jews made up nearly a third of the city. We had synagogues, schools, a number of communal organizations, even a couple of Hebrew publishing houses. Then came the Holocaust. Only several hundred of us survived. Some of us came back, but in 1948 the Communists took over, and by 1950 only a handful of families remained. I left Bardejov in 1949, after my bar mitzvah, and did not return again until 2005.

I came back just after Meyer Spira died. For a long time, he and his brother-in-law were the last two Jews left in Bardejov. All those years, long after it was clear that there would never again be a minyan, Spira had watched over the Bikur Cholim synagogue, where I had had my bar mitzvah just three years after being liberated from Bergen-Belsen.

Still, despite everything that Spira did, Bikur Cholim was dilapidated. And the other centers of Jewish life in Bardejov — places that date back 200 years — were either in worse condition or had become regular places of business, as if those who hadn’t made it back had never lived there.

The Old Synagogue was being used as a warehouse for a hardware supply company called Unikov. To this day, the company still runs its business out of the mikveh and beit midrash, which, together with the Old Synagogue, form Bardejov’s Jewish Suburbia, as the compound is called in Slovak.

The Jewish Suburbia is not just a holy place, it is also a historic place. The compound was one of the reasons UNESCO picked Bardejov as a World Heritage Site in 2000, turning the city into a tourist destination. It is also one of the few things left in Bardejov that shows that not so long ago — when I was a boy — there used to be hustling, bustling Jewish life there.

Being in Bardejov and seeing that the Jewish Suburbia was being used to sell and store hardware supplies was just too much. I simply could not stand by and let our history disappear. And so I acted.

That, really, is what this story is about. I acted because I felt that a part of Jewish history — my Jewish history — was being destroyed. I acted because I knew that if I did not do something about it, two generations from now there would be nothing Jewish left in Bardejov except the gravestones in the cemeteries, and maybe not even those.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.