Historical Review of Jewish Life in Slovenia

Slovenia is a small country bordering Austria, Italy, Croatia, and Hungary, enriched by astonishing landscapes and many small towns, each of them with their own special history. Jewish presence in these lands has been documented going back to the 12th century, when many Jewish communities arrived there from Germanic and Italian areas in search of refuge from crusaders. The Jewish community of Maribor was the largest and most developed, and some of the members were also owners of mills and vineyards, which was quite unusual at that time. From this community, we can still see today the Medieval synagogue, one of the oldest existing in Europe.
After the expulsion of Jews in the Middle Ages, the Jews living under the Austrian crown only received complete legal equality through the Law on the general rights of citizens for the kingdoms and countries represented in the Reichsrat under the Austrian constitution of 1867.

Nevertheless, the Slovene lands remained virtually without a consistent Jewish population, with the exception of Gorizia, Trieste, the region of Prekmurje, and some smaller towns in the western part of the County of Gorizia and Gradisca (Gradisca, Cervignano), which were largely inhabited by a Friulian-speaking population. According to the census of 1910, only 146 Jews lived in the territory of present-day Slovenia, excluding the Prekmurje region.

Prekmurje is a geographically, linguistically, culturally, and ethnically deistinct region of Slovenia, settled by Slovenes and a Hungarian minority, lying between the Mur river in Slovenia and the Rába Valley in the westernmost part of Hungary. It maintains certain specific linguistic, cultural, and religious features that differentiate it from other traditional Slovenian regions.

From 1893 to 1919, the Jews of Štajerska and Carniola belonged administratively to the Jewish religious community in Graz, since it was not possible to form an independent community in the entire area due to the relatively small number of members. Reports from the Jewish community in Graz show that even on the High Holidays, it was not possible to gather enough members for prayers in Ljubljana.

According to the 1931 census, there were about 900 Jews in the Drava Banovina region, mostly concentrated in Prekmurje, which prior to 1919 was part of the Kingdom of Hungary. Which is why in the mid-1930s Murska Sobota became the seat of the Jewish Community of Slovenia. During that period, the Jewish population was reinvigorated by many immigrants fleeing from neighboring Austria and Nazi Germany to the more tolerant Kingdom of Yugoslavia.
According to official Yugoslav data, due to the aforementioned immigration of Jews from Nazi Germany and Austria, the number of self-declared Jews (according to religion, not ancestry) in Yugoslav Slovenia rose to 1,533 by 1939. In that year, there were 288 declared Jews in Maribor, 273 in Ljubljana, 270 in Murska Sobota, 210 in Lendava, and 66 in Celje. The other 400 Jews lived scattered around the country, a quarter of them in other parts of the Prekmurje region. Prior to World War Two, there were two active synagogues in Slovenia – one in Murska Sobota and one in Lendava. The total number of Jews prior to the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941 is estimated to be around 2,500, including baptized Jews and refugees from Austria and Germany.
The Jewish community, very small even before World War II, was further reduced by the Nazi occupation between 1941 and 1945. The Jews in northern and eastern Slovenia, which was annexed to the Third Reich, were deported to concentration camps as early as in the late spring of 1941. Very few survived. In Ljubljana and in Carniola, Jews were relatively safe until September 1943. In late 1943, most of them were deported to concentration camps, although some managed to escape, often by fleeing to those zones freed by the Yugoslav partisans.

During World War II, the Prekmurje region was occupied and annexed by the Kingdom of Hungary from 1941 to 1944 and by Nazi Germany between 1944 and 1945. The Jews of Prekmurje, where the majority of Slovenian Jewry lived prior to World War II, therefore initially suffered the same fate as the Jews in Hungary. Following the German occupation of Hungary, almost the entire Jewish population of the Prekmurje region was deported to Auschwitz. Very few survived. Overall, it is estimated that of the 1,500 Jews in Slovenia in 1939, only 200 survived, meaning 87% were exterminated by the Nazis, one of the highest rates in Europe.

Around 3,300 Jews managed to save themselves throughout the former Yugoslav territory by joining partisan groups. In contrast to the Polish resistance, which did not accept Jews into its ranks, the Yugoslav partisans welcomed Jews. After World War II, ten Jewish partisans were also declared Yugoslav national heroes. Fifteen Slovenes have been honored as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial for their support of Jews during the Holocaust.

Post-war Community

Under Communism in Yugoslavia, the Jewish community in Socialist Slovenia numbered fewer than 100 members. In 1953 the synagogue of Murska Sobota was demolished by the local Communist authorities and the Jewish cemetery was turned into a memorial park. Many Jews were expelled from Yugoslavia as “ethnic Germans,” and most Jewish property was confiscated. At the end of the 1940s the “Jevrejska občina Ljubljana” was founded by its first president Artur Kon, followed by Aleksandar Švarc, and by Roza Fertig-Švarc in 1988. In 1969, it numbered only 84 members, and its membership was in decline due to emigration and an aging population. The Jewish section at Žale-cemetery is only partially in its original place. A part of the cemetery was ceded by the Judovska skupnost Slovenije (JSS) in exchange for a replacement area. Only the former synagogue and the cemetery in Lendava and the cemetery in Nova Gorica have survived of the infrastructure of the pre-war communities. In 1999, the renovation of the medieval synagogue in Maribor, dating back to the 13/14th century, was finally completed.

The number of Jews in Slovenia today is estimated at about 400 people, most of them living in the capital Ljubljana and the Prekmurje region.

2003 Ariel Haddad was appointed Chief Rabbi; he now serves as Chief Rabbi of Jewish Association of the Republic of Slovenia – Orthodox Jewish Community.

Od infrastrukture predvojnih skupnosti sta se ohranili le nekdanja sinagoga (na sliki) in pokopališče v Lendavi ter pokopališče v Novi Gorici.