JEWISH MONUMENTS IN SLOVENIA
by Ruth Ellen Gruber and Samuel D. Gruber
The following report was compiled for the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad and the government of the Republic of Slovenia. Fieldwork was carried out by Ruth Ellen Gruber in the fall of 1996.
Slovenia formed part of the former Yugoslavia from 1918 until it seceded from the Yugoslav Federation in 1991 and won its independence in a 10-day war. Bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, and with a brief stretch of coast along the Adriatic Sea, Slovenia is roughly the size of Israel, encompassing 20,000 square km. The Slovenes, a Slavic people, first appeared in the region in the latter part of the 6th century.
Most of present-day Slovenia was ruled by the Habsburgs until the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Slovenia's present borders encompass territory that historically formed parts of Habsburg-dominated Carniola (central Slovenia), Styria, and Carinthia, as well as Hungary and Italy. Under the Habsburgs, all Jews were expelled from the region between the late 15th and early 18th centuries. Only a few Jews moved back in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, fewer than 100 Jews are known to live in Slovenia. Throughout the territory of present-day Slovenia, Jewish communities existed in many towns from the 12th or 13th century.
It is also likely that there was a Jewish presence in the region in
antiquity, when several Roman towns, such as Emona (Ljubljana), flourished.
Chance archeological finds, such as an oil lamp inscribed with a menorah
found in a graveyard in Skocjan, which probably dates from the 5th century,
confirm that Jews were present in the region at that time. There
is no evidence, however, for continuity between this 5th century relic
and the 12th century, when new Jewish settlers are known to have arrived
in the region -- some coming from Central Europe, and others from Italy.
Documents indicate that many Jews owned property in Styria, including vineyards and mills. This prosperity ended in 1496, when the Emperor Maximilian ordered the expulsion of Jews from Styria and Carinthia. In 1515, the Jews were also expelled from Ljubljana. Many urban Jews then settled in Slovenian villages, until in 1718, during the reign of Charles VI, all Jews were expelled from the region. In 1808, the Napoleonic conquests and the creation of the Illyrian Provinces of the French Empire made it possible for Jews to settle in Slovenia, but few did, and in 1817 the emperor Francis forbade Jews from settling in Carniola.
In the late 18th century, a small number of Jews moved to what is now
the Slovenian region of Prekmurje, then a part of Hungary, settling in
the towns of Murska Sobota, Beltinci and Lendava. Jews settled again
in Carniola and the census of 1880 lists 96 Jews, with the number increasing
to 146 in 1910. Widespread anti-Semitism stopped further growth of
the Jewish community.
In medieval times, Jewish communities are known to have existed in the present-day Slovene towns of Piran, Koper, Ljubljana, Maribor, Radgona, Slovenj-Gradec, Olmos, Celje and Ptuj. Most of these ghettos had well organized communal and religious organizations. The Jews were expelled from all of these towns and regions at the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century.
Unlike other places in Central Europe where Jews were periodically expelled
and then readmitted, Jews did not return to the Slovenia settlements and
the ghettoes were not renewed. Hence, there are few identifiable
Jewish monuments in Slovenia today, though doubtless some older structures
survive which once served the medieval Jewish population.
In a few towns, such as Piran, Maribor and Ljubljana, street names still give an indication of the area of Jewish settlement. In Maribor, remains of a medieval synagogue have been identified, and are now being excavated in the course of a building restoration. In addition, the later, 18th and 19th century Jewish communities in Prekmurje have left more modern traces. Communities in Lendava and Murska Sobota flourished until the Holocaust.
Much of what remains of Jewish heritage in present-day Slovenia is memory etched in stone -- or in names. In Ljubljana, Slovenia's charming capital on the Ljubljanica River, two narrow streets in the town center -- Zidovska ulica (Jewish street) and Zidovska steza (Jewish Path) -- mark where the medieval ghetto stood. Jews were expelled from Ljubljana in 1515, but the streets have always been known by the Jewish names even though few Jews ever returned to settle in Ljubljana.
Jews settled in Ljubljana in the 12th or 13th century. The 17th century Slovenian historian I.V. Valvasor wrote that Jews in the town renovated their synagogue in 1213 after a fire destroyed the previous building. The medieval Jewish quarter had about 30 houses, probably two stories with the upper part constructed of wood, which were consolidated over time into the present 13 or 14. The entrance to the ghetto was probably at the site of present-day Jurcicev trg (Jurcicev Square), and the bridge opposite the ghetto was the oldest connection between the two parts of Ljubljana on the opposite sides of the river. In medieval times, the river, to which Zidovska ulica runs parallel, did not have an embankment (it was built in 1913) and thus the level of the houses was one story lower.
Judging from architectural evidence, the peak Jewish population in medieval times may have been 300 people. They were mainly bankers, merchants, artisans and farmers, and the community had a Jewish school and Beth Din (court). Zidovska ulica and Zidovska steza meet in an intersection in the middle of what today is one of Ljubljana's most picturesque and fashionable downtown areas, just off the river, an area of boutiques and cafes.
Nothing is left of the original aspect of the quarter except the placement of the streets. No one has excavated to see what is left from the Medieval period. There are no maps of the area before the 16th century. Most of the buildings today are Baroque (17th century) structures on medieval foundations, with many of the facades from the 19th century.
Number 4 on Zidovska steza is believed to have been the site of the synagogue. After 1515, there was a Christian chapel on the site until the end of the 16th century. Today the building is a normal house with a late 19th century façade, set back from the curb, which dates from after damage in an earthquake in 1895.
A few Jews settled in Ljubljana in the 19th century, but the community never grew to any appreciable size. Before the first World War, there was a strong anti-Semitic element, which expressed itself in the local media with calls for all Jews to be expelled.
There is a small Jewish section in Ljubljana's municipal cemetery, Zale. It is a small rectangular plot, set off from the rest of the cemetery by a yew hedge about 1.5 meters high on three sides and a wall on the fourth. One 3-4 meter section of hedge is down, following an accidental fire in 1995 that sprang up in dry leaves. There are unlocked iron gates marked with Stars of David and Hebrew and Slovenian designation that it is the Jewish cemetery. The Jewish cemetery is the only individual cemetery separated from the main one by religion. (Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Muslims are all buried together in the main part.)
A Jewish cemetery was established in 1926, but it (and its graves) were forced to move to the present location in 1964, because the authorities wanted to build a monument on the original plot of land.
The layout of the present cemetery is the same as the original.
The size and simplicity is testimony to the small size of Slovenian Jewry.
There are only 24 tombs (some for more than one person), arranged around
the perimeter of the cemetery on a white gravel base which surrounds a
grassy lawn with trees. Almost all the tombs are very simple, a headstone
and then a lower horizontal part (a slab or a stone curb-high enclosure).
Each marks only the name and date of death. Many Jews who married
inter-religiously are buried in the main part of the cemetery with their
In the center of the cemetery is a small Holocaust monument erected in 1964. It is a horizonal, rectagular slab. The inscription reads: "Remember the Jews, fallen soldiers and victims of Fascism 1941-1945." It also includes the Menorah shield of Israel, with the word ‘Israel’ in Hebrew - something that was very daring in 1964.
In all, there are about 80 Jews registered with the community in Slovenia. About half live in Ljubljana and half live in other towns and cities. It is estimated that there are at least another 100 or more Jews who are not registered with the community. There is no rabbi, no prayer facilities and few or no possibilities for Jewish life. Children do, however, go to the JDC/Lauder Foundation Jewish camp at Szarvas in Hungary.
Slovenia has a narrow, 47 kilometer (30 mile), strip of Adriatic coastline at the northwestern part of the Istrian peninsula, just south of the Italian city of Trieste. The main towns on the Slovene coast are Koper, Izola, Piran and Portoroz.
Except for the Napolenic period, when it formed part of the short-lived
Illyrian Provinces from 1809-1814, Istria was ruled by the Habsburgs from
the 14th century until the end of World War I, when it was granted to Italy
over the protests of the newly formed Yugoslav state, "The Kingdom of Serbs,
Croats and Slovenes". Yugoslavia was awarded most of Istria and other
Italian-held territories (including what is now western Slovenia) after
the second World War, and in 1954 it received almost all the rest of the
peninsula, except for the city of Trieste and a strip of coast immediately
to the north of that city. It was this settlement that incorporated
the part of Istria which now forms part of Slovenia. (Most of Istria
today forms part of Croatia.)
Jews from Germany and elsewhere settled in the Istrian peninsula in the 14th and 15th centuries, and Istria is where a mysterious false Messiah, Asher Lemlein, made a sudden -- and brief -- appearance in 1500-1502.
Protected by local rulers, Jews in Istria were mainly traders, bankers and money-lenders. Many settled there in the 15th century to take the place of Tuscan money-lenders, who were expelled from the region in 1451. Jews generally flourished in this role until the mid-17th century, when the institution of Church-run "monti di pieta" (pawn shops) drove them out of the money-lending business.
Trieste, now in Italy, is the only town in Istria where there was a Jewish community after the middle of the 18th century. But traces -- memories -- of Jewish history still remain in some smaller settlements.
The ancient seaside town of Piran conserves its old medieval ghetto square -- Zidovski trg -- entered through a low archway and surrounded by evocative, multistory buildings, similar to the ghetto architecture in Venice. The buildings on Zidovski trg are mainly Baroque on top of medieval foundations.
Piran is a charming little medieval town on a triangle-shaped spit of land poking into the Gulf of Trieste at the southern end of Slovenia's coast. English travel writer J.A. Cuddon called it "one of the most beautiful small towns on the whole coastline."
Conquered by Venice in the late 13th century, it retains a Venetian air, with fine examples of Venetian-gothic architecture and an early 17th century church tower above the main square and port, which is a copy of the bell tower of St. Mark's in Venice. Zidovski trg is the heart of the old town. In the 1980s, the area underwent considerable renovation, and the entire quarter surrounding the square was renamed "The Jewish Square Quarter". The Church of St. Stephen adjoins Zidovski trg (forming part of its north side), and some historical sources say it was built on the site of the medieval synagogue.
Koper (known in Italian as Capodistria), just south of Trieste and the Italian border, is a very beautiful port that was ruled by Venice from 1278 to 1797. The town has a distinctly Venetian air seen in a number of fine buildings such as the 13th/14th century governor's palace, the 15th century Cathedral and a 15th century loggia on the main square.
Ruled by Austria until 1918, Koper passed to Italy after the first World War and became part of Yugoslavia after the second World War. Jews were known to live in Koper in the late 14th century. The first Jewish money lending bank was opened there in the 1380s, and a ghetto was established in 1516.
The former Zidovska ulica (Jewish street), is a short narrow, slightly curving street of five houses perpendicular to Cevljarska ulica. The street today is known as Triglavska ulica; earlier it was called via Formi, and before that was Zidovska ulica. The second house on the right on Cevljarska ulica from the intersection with Triglavska is believed to be the former site of the synagogue.
NOVA GORICA (ROZNA DOLINA)
When new borders were drawn after the second World War, the town of Gorizia, north of Trieste, was awarded to Italy while its suburbs went to Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav part -- now in Slovenia -- was developed as a new administrative center called Nova Gorica (New Gorizia).
The first mention of Jews in Gorizia was in the mid-14th century.
Most were bankers and money lenders. Jews were barred from living
in Gorizia (and all of Austrian Friuli) from 1561-1565. In 1624,
the Holy Roman Emperor declared the Pincherle family of Gorizia to have
the rank of Court Jews. A ghetto was established in the town in 1648.
In 1777, "in the name of order and good governance," Jews were expelled
from small towns ruled by Venice which did not have their own ghettos.
The Jews moved to Gorizia, and in 1788 the Jewish community comprised 270
Most of the Jewish sites of Gorizia-Nova Gorica, including a synagogue, are located in the Italian section, but a historic cemetery dating as far back as to the 14th century is on the Slovenian side in the suburb of Rozna Dolina (Rose Valley) a few hundred yards from the main border crossing point.
The cemetery is a roughly triangular site encompassing 5652 square meters, enclosed by a thick masonry wall, one part of which has a red-tiled upper surface.
It is set in a beautiful location, a low-lying spot with gentle green wooded hills in the background. The site is separated from the Ceremonial Hall by a little stream. The main entrance is an iron gate with a menorah motif, which is unlocked, in the "base" of the triangle, near the Ceremonial Hall. A secondary entrance is near the "point" of the triangle via a gate in the wall which is reached by a footbridge over the little stream. There is no plaque on either gate to identify the cemetery or to give historical information.
A big highway overpass parallels the gated "base" of the cemetery, affording a good view of the site from above. There are approximately 900 tombstones, some of which were found outside the current walls of the cemetery during road construction some 15 years ago. A census of stones was made in 1876, at which time 692 were noted. A later census in 1932 counted 878 stones. The cemetery has been mapped in detail, to show topography and also the position of each tombstone and monument, and each of the grave markers has been photographed.
According to Italian sources, the earliest burial is from 1371. They say the cemetery was used until the end of the 19th century by all the communities in the vicinity, especially Gradisca, which did not have its own place for burials.
According to Darij Humar from the Institute for Conservation of Natural and Cultural Heritage at Nova Gorica, the oldest legible inscriptions are on two stones dating from 1406 and 1456. Two stones are identified as from 1617 and 1652. There are 16 inscriptions from 1732 to 1829, and the remaining stones are from 1829 to the mid-20th century. The last burials are from during the Second World War, and there is at least one inscription in memory of an Auschwitz victim.
Most of the stones are low -- some of them knee-high or lower -- grey mazzevot of local sandstone with flat rectangular or square faces and rounded tops. Some of them are very thick, presenting a massive three dimensional form. (In this, they reminded me of the older tombstone in the cemetery in Sarajevo.) For most, the only decoration is the epitaph and date of death, framed within a border. A few of the older stones have slightly more elaborate shapes (scalloped curves). Erosion is taking its toll, and many are scarcely legible. Many of the stones have numbers carved on them -- probably from the 1876 or 1932 census.
One of the older stones, near the "point" of the triangle at the back of the cemetery, has an unusual form, a round ball on a low cylindrical base, vaguely resembling a turban. The epitaph is on the round base. In a 1972 article in a Yugoslav magazine, Dusan Ogrin said that this stone resembled the gravestones of men in Muslim cemeteries.
There are a few later, more elaborate but still simple monuments, along with simple mazzevot from later times. Among the few tombstones with decorative carving are tombs of several members of the important Morpurgo family (which originated in Maribor), which show the emblem of (apparently) Jonah in the mouth of the whale, which seems to be the family crest. There are a few Levite pitchers, too, and one fragment of stone lying on the ground near the main entrance bearing a winged head, like an angel, as seen in some Sephardic tombs.
The most famous person buried in the cemetery is Alberto Michelstaedter, a philosopher and painter who lived from 1850 to 1929. His simple mazzevah bears the carving of a Levite pitcher, and a lengthy epitaph in Italian with a briefer Hebrew text underneath.
The Ceremonial Hall was originally built in 1928 and was in ruinous
condition after the second World War. The Jewish community of Gorizia
(Italy) gave it to the municipality of Nova Gorica in 1977 in return for
guarantees that the Nova Gorica municipality would maintain and care for
the cemetery. The Hall, which was basically a shell, was restored
in the late 1980s. A simple structure with a small side part attached
to a larger main building, yellowish walls and a red tile roof, it is still
owned by the municipality, which rents it out to the cafe. There
is no plaque indicating what it was.
The cemetery is well cared for, with grass cut five to six times a year. Only one section of a couple stones (including that of the Holocaust victim) is covered with vines. (It was unclear why this little section was not cleared.) The main threat appears to be from erosion. There apparently is no threat from vandalism. About a decade ago the whole area was flooded when the stream separating the ceremonial hall from the cemetery overflowed its banks, but the stream is canalized now and this threat is believed no longer to exist.
Situated on the Drava River near today's border with Austria, Maribor, known as Marburg in German, gradually grew up around a fortress castle built probably in the 11th century. Today Maribor is a lively university town and regional center which retains a wealth of striking medieval and Baroque architecture dramatically situated on the river.
Its medieval synagogue, currently undergoing restoration, is one of the few synagogues from that era in central Europe and is one of Slovenia's most important Jewish relics.
The town, in Styria, was the stronghold of Slovenia's medieval Jewish
population. A Jewish community is first mentioned in Maribor in 1277,
but Jews probably settled in Maribor a century before that. Jews
in Maribor prospered as artisans, bankers, moneylenders and merchants trading
mainly in cheese, wine, wood and textiles. Their commercial interests
extended to Italy, Hungary and Moravia, and they also owned fields, vineyards
and houses as security on loans. The success of the Jewish community
of Maribor in the 15th century is attested to by the fact that several
Catholic families requested conversion to Judaism, something unheard of
in most parts of Europe.
Noted Rabbi Israel Isserlein (1390-1460), one of the foremost rabbis in Germany in the 15th century, lived in Maribor for about 20 years and held the title "Chief Rabbi of Styria, Carinthia and Carniola" between 1427 and 1435.
The Regional Museum in Maribor displays the medieval tombstone of Maribor's first known rabbi, Abraham, who died in November 1379. The 109 centimeter-high tombstone was made from a much older Roman tombstone, which can be seen by the Latin lettering on the back and one side. The stone consists of three major fragments, and there is much repair work on one side. It also looks to me, from the different caligraphy styles, as if the main fragments come from at least two different stones.
Jews were expelled from Maribor by Emperor Maximilian I's 1496 decree
expelling the Jews from all of Styria. Most Jews from Maribor made
their way to Venice and Hungary. Some, like the Morpurgo family --
who took their name from the German name of Maribor, Marburg -- went to
Split, and more importantly, to Trieste (and, as we have seen, to Gorizia),
where they prospered.
The Jewish quarter in Maribor lay in the old town near the south-west corner of the town walls, above the Drava River. The area is still known as Zidovska ulica (Jewish Street), and remains of a synagogue have been excavated here.
This building, thought by the excavators to have measured 16.50 x 12.80 meters, post-dates 1190, since it abuts a wall of that date. (Excavations into the foundations of the building have uncovered foundations of river stones possibly dating from Roman times. These will be covered by a cement floor when the synagogue is rebuilt, but will be accessible.) The synagogue's earliest appearance and date are unknown, and the structure was remodeled on several occasions -- at least twice before the year 1450 (once perhaps following an earthquake that severely damaged the town walls in 1348). Something of its late Gothic appearance can be surmised, however, and it may have resembled the Altneushul of Prague in overall appearance.
In 1501, the synagogue was converted into a church dedicated to All Saints (it was common for synagogues to be converted into churches with this name, and for Jewish streets to be renamed All Saints St.). The building functioned as a church until the late 18th century, when many churches and monasteries were closed when Joseph II nationalized the Catholic church.
In the early 19th century, it was sold and turned into a storehouse by the local merchant Anton Altman. The building was divided horizontally into two parts. Eventually, the upper part was used as a dwelling. Pictures from the 1970s show it with a chimney and what looks like a television antenna.
The original structure was rectangular in plan, and on the basement
level it was divided into two aisles by two square piers. Whether
this arrangement was originally repeated above is unclear. An upper
story was entered from the west, and against the east wall, set between
two tall lancet windows with Gothic tracery, was built the Ark. Above
the Ark, a small round window let in further illumination. The large
niche of Ark is the only physical evidence of the Jewish use of the building,
along with numerous fragments of stone with carved Hebrew inscriptions
found during excavations.
When used as a church, this upper room was an open hall, apparently vaulted with multi-rib vaults, which sprang from the side walls. The entire building was probably surmounted by a steep wooden roof. An annex was built against the north side of the building, possibly for women.
The so-called "Jewish Tower", a tower built in 1465 as part of the town fortifications (and now a photographic gallery), is near the synagogue across an empty space where the medieval Jewish cemetery is believed perhaps to have been. Its only relation to Jews is believed to be that it was next to the ghetto and thus used for the defense of that part of town.
In the empty space between the synagogue and the Jewish Tower, which is bordered by a wall overlooking the river on one side and a modern building with a gallery, cafe, etc, on the other, grows a large tree. Mladen Svarc, a leader of the tiny Slovenian Jewish community, has suggested that a fitting memorial to the Jews would be simply to fence the tree and place a plaque. The surrounding neighborhood of the medieval ghetto, Zidovska ulica, is an area now becoming the site of fashionable shops, boutiques, cafes and galleries. It is a neighborhood of quaint, pastel-colored Baroque houses on medieval foundations.
Town authorities in Maribor intend to reconstruct the synagogue.
It will be a Jewish museum and heritage center telling the story of Slovenian
Jewry, similar to, but perhaps more ambitious and broader in scope than
the Jewish museum in the medieval synagogue in Sopron, Hungary. They
would like to reconstruct the building according to what they believe was
its original appearance, but numerous architectural and technical problems
must still be resolved, and the interior design and final form and function
of the building must still be worked out. Funds are needed.
An extremely beautiful town dramatically situated above the Drava River just 25 kilometers from Maribor, Ptuj occupies a site that has been inhabited since prehistoric times. During the ancient Roman era it was a strategic outpost and fortress at a ford across the Drava. Known as Poetovium, it became a prosperous Roman city extending on both sides of the river. Invading Huns destroyed it in the 5th century, and the site was then settled by Slavs who migrated into the region.
The more modern history of the town stems from the first part of the 12th century, when Archbishop Conrad I rebuilt it. Ptuj became a center of the wine trade -- the surrounding region is still one of Slovenia's most famous wine-growing regions -- and a mint was established there in 1225. A little less than a century later, a bridge was built across the Drava.
Today, along with its wines, Ptuj is famous for its spectacular KURENTI processions in late February. In these ancient rituals aimed at banishing winter, men in shaggy sheepkin costumes and grotesque masks, jangling bells, banging clappers and shaking rattles, dance around the town and lead a huge procession of other costumed revellers.
Jews were first mentioned in Ptuj in 1286 and were expelled in 1494. The Provincial archives include several documents testifying to the medieval Jewish presence in the town, and the Provincial Museum displays the well-preserved medieval Jewish tombstone of Asher David Bar Moshe, a massive rectagular block on a pedestal-like base, with the epitaph framed by a raised border, dating from 1103 (maybe 1303??). An iron ring is on the top of the stone.
Also displayed are fragments of half a dozen other old tombstones, with
vigorous inscriptions. The Institute for Conservation of Natural
and Cultural Heritage also currently has a fragment of a Jewish tombstone
that was found in 1994 during rescue archeology excavations of the foundation
of a 17th century Capuchin monastery outside town (now the site of a parking
lot). The stone, about 16"x 10"x 6", had been used as building material.
According to Dr. Ada Yardini of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the
fragmentary inscription reads:
"here was/were bu[ried]
A Judengasse was first mentioned in Ptuj in 1344. The site where it was located is today a rather wide but angled street called Jadranska, which leads down toward the river from the main square, where a 15-foot-high Roman funeral monolith from the 2nd century, beautifully carved with a scene of Orpheus and his lute, stands in front of a graceful bell tower.
The buildings on Jadranska St. are mainly 2-story dwellings with 17th, 18th and 19th century facades in pastel colors. The synagogue -- sited at what today is a dwelling at Jadranska 9 -- was already turned into All Saints Church in 1441. This church can be seen in a painting of the town by Franz Josef Fellner done in 1766, but by 1786 the church also was gone and by 1840 the site was occupied by a normal house.
Slovenia's Prekmurje region comprises the northeast corner of the country, bordering on Austria to the northwest, Hungary to the northeast and Croatia to southeast, with the Mura River forming a natural boundary with the rest of Slovenia to the southwest. (Prekmurje means "across the Mura.") The landscape is flat or slightly rolling farmland at the edge of the Pannonian plain, bordered by low hills. The region is noted for its vineyards, wetlands, and ceramics.
Prekmurje formed part of Hungary until the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire in 1918, and it was occupied again by Hungary during the second World War. This history of its Jews therefore fits the pattern of that of Hungarian Jews.
Jews settled here in the late 18th century from Hungary, many of them
from around the town of Zalaegerszeg, not far across today's border.
They went first to Lendava, close to what is today's border, then to Beltinci,
a town 20 kilometers away, and then to Murska Sobota, about 10 km from
Beltinci. Their numbers were swelled to some extent by Jews fleeing
to Prekmurje after a decree in 1817 by Emperor Francis II which barred
Jews from settling or living in Carniola (central Slovenia).
By 1793, 60 Jews lived in Prekmurje; 207 lived in the region in 1831, most of them in Murska Sobota. In 1853, some 383 Jews lived in the region, 180 in Murska Sobota and 120 in Lendava. The peak Jewish population of Prekmurje was in 1889, when 1107 Jews lived in the region. By and large, Jews were merchants, innkeepers, bankers, etc.
The area was occupied by the Hungarians in the second World War, and more than 460 Jews, most of them from Murska Sobota, were deported to Auschwitz in 1944. The main deportation was of 328 Jews in April 1944. About 65 survived.
The Jewish monuments of Lendava, a small town close to the Hungarian border dominated by a hilltop castle, constitute the most important in Slovenia along with those in Maribor and Nova Gorica. They include a 19th century synagogue building, a 19th or early 20th century building that once housed a Jewish school, and a cemetery, founded in the 19th century, with a ceremonial hall and a monument to local Holocaust victims.
Jews from Hungary settled in Lendava in 1773. Local Jews at the end of the 18th century gathered to pray at the home of the innkeeper Bodog Weisz. In 1837, the community rented a house for use as a prayer hall, which had 50 seats -- 30 for men and 20 for women. In 1843, the community rented and then purchased another building, which was their first real synagogue.
Construction on a new synagogue began in 1866, and this building still stands in the heart of town at Spodnja ul. 5. It is a boxy, rectangular brick structure with a peaked roof. The corners are decorated with slightly raised, flat false pilasters. Heavily damaged by the Germans, the building was sold to the town after the war by the Jewish Federation of Yugoslavia and was used as a warehouse.
Work began in 1994 to renovate the synagogue for use as a culture center which will also have an exhibition on local Jewish history in the women's gallery. The town wants to have the interior look like that of a functioning synagogue, and authorities in charge of the restoration project have appealed to the few remaining Jews in the town (approximately 12) to donate whatever ritual objects or other material they have at home to the museum. They also -- to date unsuccessfully -- asked Jewish communities in the Hungarian towns of Zalaegerszeg and Szombathely to contribute items. Funds for the work are short, but most has come from the municipality, which sees as its two chief preservation priorities the synagogue and the castle. The only original interior decorative elements remaining in the building are six fluted cast iron pillars supporting a rebuilt gallery, plus stairway railings and a small niche in the stairwell.
The one-time circular (rose) window over the Ark has been changed into an arched window, and two of the arched side windows (which exist on the south side only) have been lengthened and enlarged. The third (left hand) window on the south side has been left at apparently its original shape and size. There is also an arched window over the door in the West side.
Near the synagogue is the former Jewish school, which functioned until the 1920s. A fairly nondescript Habsburg looking building, it is under reconstruction as a folk dance center. It is long and low, with just a ground floor and raised roof (attic). The two structures sit amid an open space off the main street of town, with the Hungarian-style Baroque church steeple clearly visible behind.
The immediate area has not yet been fixed up; opposite the synagogue is a weedy vacant lot with plum and other fruit trees on it. Nearby are some very nice early/mid-19th century houses, some of which are in bad condition. The street leading north from the back of the synagogue has a short row of charming low, steep-roofed houses. The area will be a nice cultural center for the town once finished. The one jarring architectural note is an ugly modern shopping center directly opposite the back of the synagogue.
A Chevra Kadisha was formed in Lendava in 1834 and purchased land for a cemetery near the village of Dolga Vas, just outside town. The land was fenced in 1880. Today, the cemetery is on a main road facing a broad vista of farm fields, a few hundred meters from the Hungarian border.
The cemetery is surrounded by a chain link fence, and entry is through a ceremonial hall, which was restored when the cemetery was repaired following an incident of vandalism in 1989 in which 43 tombstones were damaged.
The ceremonial hall has a big arched central door flanked by two arched windows and is painted pale yellow with a red tile roof. Inside is a plaque commemorating the Jewish cemetery in Beltinci, which ceased operation around the turn of the century (some of its stones may have been moved to Lendava), as well as local Lendava community worthies from the early 20th century.
There are some 176 tombstones, about 40 from the second half of the 19th century, most of the rest from the 20th century.
There are several inscriptions to Auschwitz victims, and in the middle of the cemetery there is a Holocaust memorial to Prekmurje Jews erected by four survivors in 1947. It is a simple rectangular horizontal memorial stone with a sculpted tree at the left side.
Many of the newer stones are of black marble and in generally good condition. A number of them, however, have had the laminated photograph of the person removed. There are relatively few tombs with sculptural decoration.
The older stones, of (I guess) sandstone, show very bad erosion, with many faces totally obliterated. The one unusual carving is a winged head, very eroded, on a stone whose epitaph was totally obliterated.
Despite the incident of vandalism in 1989, there does not appear to be any current such threat (of course you never know). The cemetery is well maintained, with the grass cut regularly. The main threat appears to be erosion, which has already has taken a high toll on a number of stones.
Murska Sobota is the main town of the Prekmurje region. The site was occupied in prehistoric and Roman times, and the medieval town was destroyed in the mid-17th century during the Turkish advance on the region. Today the town resembles a provincial Hungarian town, with considerable new construction. Murska Sobota was the home of Slovenia's biggest Jewish community between the two world wars. The first synagogue, in a private home, was mentioned in 1860. That building existed, in bad shape, until it was destroyed in 1995. A synagogue designed by Lipot Baumhorn (1860-1932), the Budapest-based architect who was Europe's most prolific synagogue architect, was built in 1907/08 and demolished in 1954.
The Baumhorn synagogue was fairly modest in comparison to some of the architect's other designs. He made use of pointed, almost gothic style windows, as well as architectural ribbing as decoration. Inside, slim columns supported a women's gallery, and the bimah, in Neolog fashion, was at front just before the Ark, which was set in a decorative tabernacle backed by a surmounting arch at the level of the women's gallery, which spanned the entire east wall.
The town's Protestant community tried to secure the synagogue around 1951 for use as a church. Local Jews were amenable to the plan, but no response came from Jewish Federation authorities in Belgrade, and the building was demolished. Today, a modern apartment block stands on the spot.
The Jewish cemetery, at the corner of Malanova and Panonska streets, dates from the 19th century. It was reportedly very overgrown and untended following the second World War (though one xerox of a photo that I saw did not look too bad), and it was demolished in the late 1980s. The muncipality asked the Federation of Jewish communities in Belgrade what to do with the cemetery, and, according to Franc Kuzmic, of the Prekmurje Museum, the Federation said if it was in bad shape and there were no more Jews living in the town, they could demolish it. About a dozen Jews are believed to live in Murska Sobota today.
Kuzmic said some 38 stones were standing at the time, and 30 of them were auctioned off. The town chose eight of the more elaborate stones of differing types and created with them a simple but striking and very dignified memorial to the town's murdered Jews on the site of the cemetery.
The site, a rectangular plot with a housing development on one side that encroaches on some of the former cemetery territory, is a grassy park (the dead are still buried there) dotted with trees. In the middle, seven stones have been arranged in a semi-circle, facing benches. At the street, under a big weeping willow, stands a fine black markble stone, the tombstone of Edmund Furst, who died in 1929 and who was president of the Murska Sobota Jewish community. On the back of the stone is written that this is a Jewish Cemetery and Memorial Park to the victims of Fascism and Nazism. It is a very fine monument -- it might of course have been better to have left the cemetery standing and to have cut the grass and cared for it – but the town must be applauded for having put up the memorial.
Franc Kuzmic of the Prekmurje Museum in Murska Sobota, put together a book (not published but bound and kept at the museum) on the history of Jews in Prekmurje. He is currently organizing a small permanent exhibit on local Jews in the museum, to open in June 1997. This will include portions of Torah scrolls from the Baumhorn synagogue as well as a Hebrew-Hungarian prayer book and few ritual items. He plans to write an 8-page history/catalogue.
WORLD WAR I CEMETERIES WITH JEWISH GRAVES
Stanjel is a pretty little hilltop village about 30 kilometers to the southeast. In the valley below, behind the railway tracks, are the haunting remains of a first World War Austrian military cemetery. The cemetery was once extremely grand, with a broad central alley leading from imposing gates up to a massive Greek-temple style monument bearing the inscription in Latin, "To the best sons, the Homeland gives thanks", with row after row of gravestones/crosses on either side.
Today, all that is left are the massive stone pillars of the gates,
carved art deco-style with the years 1915 and 1917; the huge temple-like
monument, and about five scattered grave monuments, including two twisted
rusty iron crosses. All the rest is empty field.
Two of the grave stones are of Jewish soldiers, one apparently from Hungary and one Russian (possibly a prisoner of war), each marked with a star of David.
At Kidricevo, a few kilometers from Ptuj, is, as in Stanjel, a World War I military cemetery that no longer has gravestones except for three or four. One of these remaining tombs is of a Jew, Isidor Lowy, who died in August 1916. The stone has a star of David and the Ten Commandments on it.
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