The city beginnings
Bratislava is the capital of the Slovak Republic and one of the youngest capital cities in Europe. It spans both banks of the River Danube, the second largest river in Europe, and lies at the foot of the Little Carpathian range. Bratislava is located on the border with three countries: Hungary and Austria to the south and the Czech Republic to the west.
According to the archaeological searches, the first colonies settled here in the Paleolithic era, 5000 years B.C. Later on, the medieval city was built, by the Celts with the fortified center. The Romans also took advantage of the strategic location of the area, building up military camps on the site of today's Bratislava. Slavic tribes started to settle down here around VI century. They established several unions or principalities in the territory of Slovakia, the best known of which was the Great Moravia Empire. The first written document about the city existence is dated back to X century.
The location of the city in the heart of Europe on the banks of the River Danube predestined Bratislava, similarly to Cracow and Prague, to become a crossroad of various trade routes and a melting pot of various cultures, enriching those cities culturally, politically and economically.
During the X and XI century the territory of Pressburg (Bratislava) became a part of the Hungarian state. In the 1291 Hungarian king Andrew III granted city rights for Pressburg (Bratislava). This fact stimulated city development by setting different privileges. Pressburg (Bratislava) received the title of an independent city, the autonomy in the choice of own "mayor" and administration, possibility to develop free economy and right for fairs and free market.
Jews first settled in the city in the late XII century. Over the years, the Jewish community was expelled from the city on several occasions, specifically in 1360 and 1526 with the raise of Christian anti-Semitism. 1526 was also the year when Turks defeated Hungarians in the Mohacs Battle. After the second expulsion, many Jewish families settled on Austrian territory just across the Danube river and some around Schlossberg (Castle-Hill) outside the city limits. In this period Jews were forced to wear a special dress.
In the 1465 the king Matthias Corvinius founded the first Hungarian university (Accademia Istropolitana). After the Turkish occupation of Buda (part of nowadays Budapest), in 1536 Pressburg (Bratislava) became the capital city of Hungary. This was thanks to its relative security and proximity to Vienna, where King Ferdinand Habsburg was seated. Bratislava became the meeting place of the Hungarian Diet, the seat of the king, the archbishop and other most important institutions in the kingdom. The Gothic St. Martin's Cathedral in Pressburg (Bratislava) was used for over two centuries as a coronation place for Hungarian kings and queens, including Maria Theresa the Empress of Habsburg Empire.
After the Austerlitz (Slawkow) battle, the peace treaty was signed in Pressburg (Bratislava) between Napoleon Bonaparte and Austrian Emperor Francis I.
The name of Bratislava first appeared on the map of Europe in March 1919, and has been its official name ever since. It was previously known also by the names of Pressburg, Pozsony or Prešpork.
Jewish community of Bratislava from XVIII to XX century
By the XVIII century, 120 Jewish families resided in Bratislava. During the first half of the XVIII century Pressburg (Bratislava) became an important religious centre, maintaining a large yeshiva. However, from the mid XVIII century a debilitating "tolerance tax", the highest in Hungary, sowed economic distress. The situation improved at the turn of XVIII century, as the Jewish population reached 2000 people and more and more of them moved within the city walls. Under the leadership of Rabbi Moshe Sofer (Schreiber), known as Hatam Sofer from 1806 to 1839, Bratislava again became a great religious centre. His descendants served the community's rabbis, shaping spiritual life until World War II. A Great synagogue was consecrated in 1864. In 1872, 60 families formed Neologist congregation. The Neologists took over the Jewish elementary school founded in 1820 under Haskalah influence and built their own synagogue in 1895.
The yeshiva, which had flourished under Rabbi Sofer, reached an enrolment of over 500 in the late XIX century. In the early XX century Jews became more active in the city?s public and economic life. A fire in 1913 destroyed many houses in the Jewish district and forced many families to move into the city center. Most Jews identified with German culture while the educated class inclined more to Hungarian culture. The first Zionist society was Mizrachi in 1897, latter Po'alej Zion, Agudat Israel and others followed. Community status was endangered in the turbulent times just after World War I, later under the new Czechoslovak state, situation got stabilized for some time. In 1921 there were 10.973 Jews in Bratislava and 18.102 in 1940. The dominant Orthodox congregation maintained 15 prayer houses, 11 batei midrash, two cemeteries, a big community centre with a library, hospital, an old age home and an orphanage.
Bratislava Jews during Holocaust
Prosecution of Jews was intensified after the Slovakia Nazi State was established in October 1938. Synagogues and community facilities were vandalized, Jewish businesses were boycotted and ultimately closed down. The Jews without Slovak citizenship were expelled from the city. Hundreds of Jews were forced to slave labour. In late 1941 almost 7000 Jews from Bratislava were moved to different ghettos in Slovakia. In early 1942, 8380 Jews remained. In late March hundreds of Jews were deported to Majdanek and 380 young women were deported to transitory camp in Patronka and later sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Deportations of Jewish families to Auschwitz, Lublin District, Majdanek and Sobibor Death Camp started in mid April 1942.
Nowadays Jewish Bratislava
After the war, a community of 7000 Jews was re-established in Bratislava. After the Czechoslovakia communist regime was set up, Jews were gradually emigrating to the United States and Israel. In mid 90's there were less then 1000 Jews left in the city, struggling the revive of Jewish life.
At present only one synagogue, built from 1923 to 1926 for the Orthodox community, remains in Bratislava and is the active synagogue, serving the needs of local Jewish community, numbering about 1100 members. This is Heydukova Street synagogue. There is also a kosher canteen and a Museum of Jewish Culture.