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Jewish Families from Michalovce, Slovakia

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This project seeks to collect all of the Jewish families from the town of Michalovce, Slovakia.

MICHALOVCE (Hung. Nagymihály; Ger. Grossmichel), town in N.E. Slovakia. The first Jews settled there during the Ottoman occupation of Greater Hungary (1526–1699) and remained after the Turks left. A 1724 census attests to a Jewish presence. The aim of the census was to prevent Jews from owning real estate. The number of Jews at that time was small. Jews lived in the neighboring villages, such as Stranany and Pozdisovce, where they attended services.

The first synagogue was constructed on the property of the Gueck family. In 1732, the number of Jews rose to 400. They also owned a mikveh. Most of the Jews lived on Silk Street ("Hodvabna ulica"). When it could no longer accommodate all the potential inhabitants, New Street ("Nova ulica") was added.

The cemetery was in Stranany. In 1792 the ḥevra kaddisha was established. In 1865, a convention of Orthodox rabbis of greater Hungary was held in Michalovce, which affirmed the Conservative spirit of Hungarian Jewry. Fearing Jewish assimilation, the conveners codified several regulations to preserve accepted norms. It established the rule of use of only Hebrew and Yiddish in religious activity.

After the Congress of Hungarian Jewry in 1868, the Michalovce congregation confirmed the Orthodox path it had followed in the past. The community was formally founded in 1867; in 1888 they built a large synagogue. A group of hasidim following nusaḥ sefarad split from the congregation. The synagogue was replaced with another edifice in 1905. In 1970 it was torn down.

In 1840 there were 170 Jews in Michalovce (excluding Pozdisovce and Stranany); in 1844 there were 311; in 1857 they increased to 445. In 1880 the community had 1,079 (27.6% of all inhabitants), and in 1910 there were 2,200 Jews. Immigration from Galicia caused rapid expansion of the community. The Jews in neighboring villages moved to the city, and the railway created even further expansion of the Jewish population. The second Czechoslovak census of 1930 recorded 3,386 Jews in Michalovce. On the eve of the deportations in 1940, there were 4,197.

During the last 20 years of the 19th century a bet midrash, a mikveh, and a talmud torah were constructed. In the 1930s a Beth Jacob school for girls and another Jewish school were established. In 1926 the ḥasidim consecrated a synagogue of their own. There was a main yeshivah and there was a ḥasidic yeshivah.

Zionist activity began in Michalovce before World War I, and all shades of political views were represented. The Jewish party was strong and was regularly elected to the municipal council. While the Jews were doing well economically, there was a poor segment among the population. The Po'alei Zion party had some support among them.

On October 6, 1918, autonomy was proclaimed in Slovakia, and on March 15, 1939, Slovakia proclaimed independence, under the aegis of the Third Reich. In Michalovce this latter act was accompanied by antisemitic disturbances. In 1919 Jewish children were expelled from schools, and the Jewish school founded shortly before the crisis took on the responsibility of educating them.

Antisemitism peaked in 1942 with the deportation of Slovakian Jews to Poland. Many tried to escape to Hungary. On May 4, 1942, the first transport of Michalovce Jews was sent to Poland. Four transports followed to the Lublin region ghettos in Lukow, Medzirieczie, and Podleske. Survivors in the community tried to help the deportees by smuggling money and medicine to them. Ultimately, they were all sent to the extermination camps at Sobibor and Treblinka.

In the spring of 1944, all eastern Slovakian survivors were ordered to move westward for fear of the advancing front. Indeed, in November 1944 Soviet troops entered Michalovce. In 1945 the surviving Jews organized a congregation and repaired the synagogue, the mikveh, and the cemetery. In 1947 there were 614 Jews in Michalovce. In 1948–49 most of the Jews emigrated, particularly to Israel. The community continued to function. In 1967 there were 200 to 250 Jews in Michalovce. In 1989, at the time of the Velvet Revolution, only a handful remained and religious life no longer existed. In 1995 there were a few dozen Jews.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

M. Ben-Zeev (ed.), Sefer Michalovce ve-ha-Sevivah (1969), Heb., Eng., and Hung.; R. Iltis (ed.), Die aussaeen unter Traenen… (1959), 165–7; M. Lányi and H. Propperné Békefi, A szlovenszkói zsidó hitkózségek története (1933), 246ff. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: E. Bàrkàny and L. Dojč, Židovské náboženské obce na Slovensku (1991), 405–8.

[Meir Lamed /

Yeshayahu Jelinek (2nd ed.)]