Jewish Heritage Expeditions


Jewish Slovakia

Synagogue architecture, nature and improving your photography skills

During this tour we will study synagogue architecture, make walking tours in the amazing nature and improve our photography skills. We'll be joined by an architect expert, who will show us to look at a different way to synagogues as vehicles for conveying Jewish identity. In addition, this tour offers you several photograhy workshops to work on your photo skills.

Jews have lived in the Slovakian region since the 11th century. In the 14th century nearly 800 Jews resided in Bratislava. The majority of Jews engaged in commerce and money lending. Two notorious blood libels occurred in Slovakia; in 1494, Jews were burned at the stake in Trnava, and in 1529, 30 Jews were accused of wrongdoings and burnt at the stake in Pezinok. After the battle of Mohács in 1526, Jews were expelled from all major towns in Slovakia.

During the late 17th century and early 18th century, Jews began to return to their original cities in Slovakia, and established well defined communities. Jews were in constant conflict with locals and barred from many trade industries. The first Jewish cemetery in Slovakia was set aside in the early 15th century in Tisinec (the cemetery was utilized until 1892). Under the rule of Joseph II, Jews received many civil liberties and many more livelihoods were open to the Jews.

In 1683, hundreds of Moravian Jews fled to Slovakia seeking refuge from the Kurucz riots and the living restrictions of Moravia. In 1700, the leading yeshiva in Slovakia was established in Bratislava. This institution was recognized by the government for the education of rabbis.

The significant growth and improvement of the social and economic position of the Jewish population during the 19th century was to a great extent the result of the reforms of religious tolerance enacted by Emperor Joseph II in 1783.

Bratislava became the seat of Hungarian Jewish Orthodoxy under the leadership of the renowned Rabbi Moshe Schreiber, known as the Chatam Sofer (1762-1839), who served as the Rabbi of Bratislava from 1806 until his death. He founded the influential Yeshiva of Bratislava, and led the traditionalist struggle against rapidly spreading religious reform. In 1868, one year after the constitutional compromise (Ausgliech), Hungarian Jewry split into Neolog (Hungarian reform), Orthodox, and Status Quo factions following unresolved conflicts stemming from the kingdom-wide Jewish congress in Budapest organized by the government. The majority of Jewish communities in northern Hungary were Orthodox, though there were important Neolog Jewish communities in Bratislava and Košice (Kaschau, Kassa).

In 1867, the dual monarch of Austria-Hungary was established and Slovakia became a part of Hungary, often considered “Northern Hungary.” For more than a millennium, Slovakian Jewry was closely linked with that of Hungarian Jewry. The Hungarian parliament passed the Emancipation Law to promote assimilation among minorities, especially Jews. Government officials supported Jewish cooperation in industry and finance. The Jewish population grew exponentially, especially in small, secluded towns in Eastern Slovakia. Nevertheless, anti-Semitism existed in Slovakia and nationalists refused to allow Jews to assimilate into their culture.

The 19th century also gave rise to the Zionist movement in Slovakia. After World War I and the creation of Czechoslovakia (1918), Jews were given the right to be considered a separate nationality in the country. Jews prospered not only in industry but cultural life. Jews held more than one-third of all industrial investments in the country. In 1919, the Jewish Party was created. The Juedische Volkszeitung (“Jewish People’s Paper”) was first published in Bratislava. This paper played a crucial role in advancing the rights of the Jews in Czechoslovakia. In the first national census in February 1921, 135,918 people registered as practicing Jews (4.5 percent of the population); 70,522 of them declared themselves of Jewish nationality.

Before World War II, 135,000 Jews lived in Slovakia; 5,000 of whom immigrated before the war. Under the protection of Nazi Germany, Slovakia proclaimed its independence in March 1939. The country came under the control of an extremely religious and right-wing party, the Hlinka (Slovak) Peoples’ party and in April 1939 Jews were excluded from all government positions and service.

On September 9, 1941, Jews were met with a proclamation of 270 articles, which included the wearing of a Yellow Star of David and forced labor. Soon after, Hungary and the Slovakian government began deporting the Jews to concentration camps, specifically Auschwitz. By 1942, nearly three-fourths of the Slovakian Jewry had been exterminated.  Only 25,000 Jews survived and many survivors decided to emigrate.

The Communist Party controlled the politics of Czechoslovakia from February 1948 to 1989. During that time, little or no organized Jewish life existed in Slovakia. Many Jews left for Israel or the United States to retain their freedom of religion. After the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia in 1992, Slovakia gained its independence on January 1, 1993. Since Slovakia’s independence, such organizations as Maccabi and B’nai B’rith have become active in the communities. Today, 6,000 Jews live in Slovakia, predominately in Bratislava.

During this tour we study synagogue architecture, enjoy walking tours in the amazing nature and improve our photography skills. We are joined by an architect expert, who will show us how synagogues served as vehicles for conveying values, identity and dreams that were at the core of Jewish existence in the Diaspora. We will deconstruct the traditional idea of synagogue style and introduce a new matrix of formal and functional elements that constitute a synagogue. 

During this tour we'll have several photograhy workshops, given by a professional photographer. Through assignments and feedback sessions, you'll have the opportunity to work on your photo skills.

Jewish Slovakia Itinerary

Wednesday - Bratislava

  • Walking tour of the Bratislava city center
  • Visit to the Primatial Palace
  • Visit to the Synagogue and Jewish Museum of Bratislava. This is the only remaining synagogue in Bratislava, constructed in 1923-1926, decades after restrictions on Jewish residence were lifted, enabling Jews to move out of the Judengasse district and settle throughout the city. The interior includes a large sanctuary in which modern steel-and-concrete construction and contemporary Cubist details are combined with historicist elements.
  • Lunch en route
  • The Chatam Sofer Memorial, the burial shrine of the renowned 19th century Rabbi Moshe Schreiber. The origins of this famous cemetery date back to the seventeenth century.
  • Visit to the old synagogue in the nearby city of Samorin. Šamorín’s former synagogue stands at the heart of a traditional architectural setting that also comprises a former Jewish school and other Jewish communal buildings. The synagogue now functions as the ‘At Home Gallery’, a center for contemporary art and cultural dialogue.
  • Welcome dinner at a special location

Overnight: Bratislava

Thursday - Stupava, Malacky, Vienna

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • Photographic workshop at the hotel
  • Visit to the old synagogue of Stupava. The Stupava Jewish community, one of the oldest in Slovakia, was established in the seventeenth century on the estate of the Count Pálffy, an important Hungarian noble family. The oldest documented tombstone in the Jewish cemetery dates from 1642.
  • Lunch en route
  • Visit to the old synagogue of Malacky. The synagogue is one of the most beautiful in Slovakia, a stunning monument to the Jewish community of Malacky. Designed by the Vienna-based architect Wilhelm Stiassny (1842-1910), it was built in 1900 and is a fine example of Moorish style architecture. Its two towers, horseshoe arches, and typical red and yellow striping make it the most elaborate building in town.
  • Dinner in Vienna

Overnight: Bratislava

Friday - Trnava, Sered, Nitra, Nova Zamsky, Komarno, Bratislava

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • Visit to the old synagogue of Trnava, built in 1897 for the Status Quo Jewish community. Today the building is used as a Center for Contemporary Art. It also houses a Judaica exhibition in the women’s gallery.
  • Visit to the Jewish cemetery of Sered, established in the first half of the 19th century. The cemetery is well maintained by a local school. Inside the chapel the school has established a small Holocaust exhibition.
  • Lunch en route
  • Visit to the city of Nitra, historically one of the most important centers of Jewish life in Slovakia. First mentioned in a document from 1113, the Jews maintained a prosperous community throughout the Middle Ages. During the second half of the nineteenth century Nitra had more than 3,000 Jewish residents, one quarter of the total population. There is still a small Jewish community active in the city. The synagogue was built in 1908-1911 for the Neolog Jewish community in a mixture of Moorish, Byzantine and Art Nouveau elements. The building is now used as a center for cultural activities.
  • Visit to the synagogue of Nova Zamsky. The Orthodox synagogue in Nova Zamky survived the World War II and is still in use. The original interior has been preserved, with the bimah placed strictly in the center and the women’s gallery supported by cast-iron columns along three sides of the sanctuary. A small exhibition of local Jewish history may be viewed in a seminar room opposite the synagogue.
  • Visit to the old synagogue of Komarno. Built in 1896, it is the center of Jewish religious and cultural life in Komarno. It is a single-story, L-shaped neo-Gothic synagogue with complex. The synagogue has a charming Gothic interior with its original furniture and highly decorative cast-iron tie bars.
  • Kabbalat Shabbat at the Bratislava Synagogue
  • Shabbat Dinner at the hotel

The program on Shabbat is appropriate for participants with any level of Shabbat observance. Please contact us with any questions.

Overnight: Bratislava

Shabbat - Bratislava

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • Shabbat service at the Bratislava Synagogue. Optional program for does who prefer an alternative.
  • Lunch with members of the Bratislava Jewish community
  • Walking tour of Bratislava’s center
  • Dinner at the hotel

Overnight: Bratislava

Sunday - Trencin, Banská Štiavnica, Zvolen, Viglas

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • Check out of the hotel
  • Visit to the city and synagogue of Trencin
  • Visit to the city of Banská Štiavnica. Banská Štiavnica was an important silver mining town, and Jews were barred from living here until the ban on Jewish residence in mining towns was lifted in 1859. An organized Jewish community was established in the late 1870s and joined the Neolog movement. The Jews of Banská Štiavnica were prosperous business people and managed to integrate well into the town’s German-speaking middle-class society. We visit the former synagogue and the cemetery.
  • Lunch en route
  • Nature walking tour in the Stiavnicke mountains. The protected landscaped area is the largest of its kind in Slovakia. This was the largest stratovolcano in Slovakia during the Upper Tertiary Era. It still possesses some special features. 
  • Time permitting we will stop at the Park of Generous Souls in Zvolen on our way to the hotel in Viglas. The Park is a modern memorial that honors all Slovak citizens who helped save Jews during the Holocaust. Nearby is the Jewish cemetry.
  • Check in to hotel
  • Photographic workshop
  • Dinner at the hotel
  • Visit to the Spa in Grand Hotel Viglas

Overnight: Grand Hotel Viglas

Monday - Low Tatras Park, Liptovský Mikuláš, Spiš Castle, Spišská Nová Ves

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • checkout
  • Nature walk in the Low Tatras National Park
  • Lunch en route
  • Visit to the synagogue in Liptovský Mikuláš. This synagogue is a blend of various building stages. The original structure was destroyed by fire in 1878. Rebuilt, it was again damaged by fire in 1906. This time it was refurbished according to designs by the most important synagogue architect of the time, Lipót (Leopold) Baumhorn, from Budapest. Baumhorn retained the outer shell and neo-Classical portico with its iconic capitols and tympanum. But the interior, which preserves the original ark, is sheer Baumhornian Art Nouveau.
  • Spiš Castle. High above the surrounding land, located on a dolomite rock, lies one of the most precious cultural monuments – Spiš Castle (Spišský Hrad). It is situated above the town of Spišské Podhradie and the village of Žehra. It is evidence of a huge architectural development from the 12th to 18th century and one of the largest castles in Central Europe.
  • Visit to the Jewish cemetery of Spišská Nová Ves. The oldest grave dates from 1880; the last burial took place in 1955. Toward the end of World War II, the German army rebuilt the cemetery chapel into a pillbox fortification, which still exists today. The cemetery was abandoned after the War, and many tombstones were stolen or broken. In recent years, however, thanks to an initiative of a local history school teacher, the cemetery has been fenced in, cleaned up and the tombstones have been partially restored. We have included this cemetery in our tour because of its successful integration into the local educational framework, a move that will hopefully find followers in other Slovak and European towns.
  • Drive to the hotel in Kosice
  • Farewell dinner at the hotel in Kosice
  • Photographic workshop

Overnight: Kosice

Tuesday - Kosice

  • Breakfast at the hotel
  • Checkout
  • Visit to the Košice’s Orthodox Jewish community compound. The compound includes a historic mikvah (ritual bath), the offices of the Jewish community and rabbinate, and a small synagogue used for regular services. In the middle of the area the old Orthodox synagogue, constructed in 1899, stands empty after decades of use as library storage.
  • Visit to Bardejov, including the two remaining synagogues. Bardejov’s most prominent site of Jewish heritage is the so-called židovské suburbium (Jewish suburb), a compound ofJewish institutional buildings just outside the town center. It includes the Old Synagogue, a beit midrash (study house) and a mikvah (ritual bath). The Old Synagogue (Old Shul), dating from 1836, is the compound’s earliest building. 
  • Visit to the Bikur Cholim synagogue, established 1929 by the Chevra Bikur Cholim, a Jewish charitable association. Located in the historic city center and thus an integral part of a UNESCO site of World Cultural Heritage, it is a simple building whose street façade features two tall, pointed windows and a Hebrew inscription with the name of the association. The sanctuary with its original furnishings and Torah scroll is fully intact, making it one of the best preserved synagogues in Slovakia. 
  • We end our tour at the magnificent synagogue of Prešov, whose size and grandeur recall the prosperity of the community it served. The imposing building was constructed by the Košice-based company Kollacsek & Wirth in 1897-1898. The synagogue is still active as a house of worship, but it also serves as a Jewish museum. 
  • Drive back to Kosice Airport, from where you fly to Prague International Airport for your flight back to the US. The flight from Kosice to Prague is included in the price of this tour.

The above itinerary is an sample program. If you are interested in a custom made Jewish heritage tour to Slovakia for your community, family or other group we can design a special itinerary for you. Contact us for more information.

Price includes:

  • Six nights Deluxe room at  four/ five-star hotel . Free WiFi.
  • Entrance fees for all activities listed in the itinerary (including most optional activities)
  • Comfortable air-conditioned touring coach
  • Kosher full board. Lunch consists of sandwiches on some of the travel days or full sit down lunch meals.
  • Professional, experienced English-speaking guide and expert local guides
  • Air flight from Kosice Airport to Prague International Airport
  • Pre-trip study program

Please send me information about the tour to Slovakia