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“Spisska Bela” – Encyclopaedia
of Jewish communities, Slovakia
(Spišská Belá, Slovakia)

49°11' / 20°28'

Translation of the
“Spisska Bela” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Slovakia

Edited by Yehoshua Robert Buchler and Ruth Shashak

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 2003


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Acknowledgments

Project Coordinator

Madeleine Isenberg

 

Our sincere appreciation to Yad Vashem
for permission to put this material on the JewishGen web site.

This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Slovakia: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Slovakia,
Edited by Yehoshua Robert Buchler and Ruth Shashak, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.


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(Pages 402-403)

Spišská Belá, Slovakia

Translated by Madeleine Isenberg

(In Hungarian: Szepesbéla, in German: Waltensdorf)
A town in the Kežmarok District in the Spiš Region in northern Slovakia.

 

Year Number of
Residents
Jews By Percent
1869 2,428 29 1.1
1880 2,589 111 4.5
1900 2,225 141 6.5
1919 3,041 185 6.0
1930 3,690 157 4.3
1940 3,706 52 1.5
1948 3,159 15 0.5

Spišská Belá was first mentioned in documents dating from 1263 and was at that time inhabited by Germans. In the 15th century it received rights to become a city and permission to establish market days and yearly fairs. In the 18th century leather tanning, leather crafts and shoemaking, and eventually manufacturing of shoes and boots developed there. In the 19th century factories for tobacco and starch products were established as well as a large sawmill. During that time most of the inhabitants of Spišská Belá were German and a few were Slovaks; Catholic and Evangelical by religion. Their main income came from handcrafts and a few were factory workers.

During the period of the Czech Republic, business developed in the town and its economy flourished. During World War II, Spišská Belá was included within the boundary of the Slovak state that was established under the aegis of Nazi Germany, and toward the end of the conflict was heavily damaged and partially destroyed. On the 29th of January 1945, some months after the German conquest, Spišská Belá was liberated by the Soviet Army.

 

About the History of the Community

For many years, the German inhabitants of Spišská Belá prevented Jews from settling amongst them and in all the census recorders in the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, they specified that no Jews were there (non habet judeaos). In 1801 the town council renewed the decision regarding the prohibition of Jews from settling in their domain. In 1840, the authorities began to nullify the restrictions on the Jewish settlement in most of the Kaiser's empire, and in 1850 one Jewish family comprising three people had already settled in Spišská Belá. Shortly thereafter more families came to Spišská Belá and the Jewish settlement grew and developed there.

In 1870 the Jews of Spišská Belá organized themselves into a Kehila (community) that described itself as a “status quo” community. For many years it was headed by members of the affluent Klein and Kleinberger families, who were among the founding families. Communal prayer took place at first in a prayer room in a private home and burials took place in the cemetery in nearby Slovenska Ves. At the beginning of the 20th century a Jewish cemetery opened adjacent to Spišská Belá.

In the 1920s, right after the first World War, the number of Jews in Spišská Belá rose to about 200 souls (155 of them registered their nationality as Jewish in 1921), but thereafter their number decreased continually. In 1922, the Jews of Spišská Belá erected a small synagogue in the classic architectural style. For the Kehila there was a community center, a mikveh (ritual bath), a cemetery, and a butcher shop. The head of the Kehila at that time was Anton Kleinberger and Aron Lazar served as cantor, religious teacher, and shochet (ritual slaughterer). In 1928, the Kehila of Spišská Belá joined Yeshurun -- the organization of liberal kehillot. In the 1920s and 1930s there were Zionistic activities that mainly gathered donations for Zionist funds, social activities, study of Hebrew and the dissemination of the Zionist ideal.

Jews were active also in the town in general. In the local council elections of 1928, the national Jewish party received 65 votes, and as a result the head of the Kehila, Anton Kleinberger, was chosen to manage the council. Most of the Jews of Spišská Belá made a living from diverse means, and despite their small number they were greatly involved in the town's businesses. In 1921, they owned three grocery stores, three pubs, three stores for shoes and leather goods, two haberdasheries, two butcher shops, two insurance agencies, a liquor store, a pharmacy, some workshops and some factories, among them a saw mill that employed about 100 workers, a factory (that belonged to the Kleinberger family) producing alcohol and strong drinks, and a large carpentry workshop. Many Jews filled positions in public institutions and administration, including a physician who served the county.

Immediately after the establishment of the Slovakian state on 14 March 1939, anti-Semitism began to grow. Most of the German population were members of Nazi organizations and began to pursue the Jews mercilessly. Many of the Jews left the town because of the increasing persecution and in 1940, only 50 Jews remained. The head of the Kehila in that year was Aladar Kleinberger and the shochet/ cantor Aron Lazar was responsible for maintaining the religion there. Jews of Spišská Belá became members of the “Jewish Center” in Kezmarok (q.v.). On 7 May 1941, local German youths broke into Jewish apartments and stores, hit and killed them and stole their possessions. The shochet, Aron Lazar was wounded and his apartment destroyed. During the year 1941, the authorities cancelled the business permits of the Jews. Most of the businesses that they owned were closed; many shops and large factories were Aryanized.

On the eve of deportation in the spring of 1942, there were still close to 20 Jewish families. At the beginning of April 1942, some of them were taken to a collection site in Kezmarok and from there via the concentration camp in Žilina (q.v.) to Auschwitz. On May 16th, most of the Jews who still remained were taken to Žilina and were added to the transport to extermination camps and ghettoes in and around Lublin, Poland. At the end of the deportations in the fall of 1942, two Jewish families remained who had exemption certificates. Their fate is not known with certainty, but it is assumed they found refuge with the farmers in the area and survived the war.

After the liberation of the town by the Soviet Army, five Jewish families returned there, among them the last Jewish head of the Kehila, Aladar Kleinberger. Under his initiative, the Kehila's cemetery was rebuilt after its desecration during the war. In 1947, they collected 5000 Crowns as a donation to Israel's Keren Kayemet Fund to plant the “Martyrs of Czechoslovakia Forest” in the hills of Jerusalem. In 1948, 15 Jews lived in the town. Most of them immigrated to Israel in 1949. Aladar Kleinberger remained in Spišská Belá and cared for the cemetery. The synagogue became an apartment house. The mikveh and community center became local community institutions.

References:

Yad Vashem Archives, M5/117; M48/602-609; JM/11017-11019.
Shmuel David Gvaryahu-Gottesman, History of the Jews of Kezmarok and the Surroundings, Jerusalem 1992.
Bárkány-Dojè, pp. 323-325.
Židovská roèenka (1940) p. 27.

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