Peter Salner: MOZAIKA ŽIDOVSKEJ BRATISLAVY (Mosaic of Jewish Bratislava)

Blanka Soukupová

“The city is the world,” wrote Marc Augé,

a French urban ethnology classic. In his

new monograph, however, Peter Salner,

a Bratislava ethnologist, presents the

capital of Slovakia in its past appearance:

during the First Republic and the Second

Republic and at the time of the Slovak

State. His main interest, nevertheless,

does not capture the city as a whole, but,

primarily, so-called Jewish Bratislava.

During the first leafing through this

charming book with its numerous historic

photographs from the time of the

Hungarian monarchy, the Austro-Hungarian

Empire, the Czechoslovak Republic

and partly also the Second World War,

the reader is already seized by nostalgia:

that is, we often look at a Bratislava that

Augé, M. (1994). Pour une anthropologie

des mondes contemporains, Paris, Aubier.

disappeared (frequently, too, because of

the insensitive urban renewal of the city

space). And even these places that resisted

the pressure of the most varied of times

are different and somehow less authentic,

beautiful and intimate. Perhaps one

should look for the cause of this effect in

the disappearance not only of the buildings,

but also in the prewar lifestyle of

Bratislava, which the author thoroughly

characterizes as a multi-ethnic and multicultural,

trilingual (Hungarian-German-

Slovak) city with a cultivated capacity

for tolerance. The newly accented trilinguality,

however, is bound to the character

of the time, not to the genius loci of

the city. The Czechs were expelled during

the Second Republic; the majority of the

Bratislava Jews were murdered during

the Shoah or they left in one of the waves

of emigration from Bratislava after the

Second World War. That time also saw

the displacement or forced expulsion of

local Germans and Hungarians.

The Bratislava world – or, perhaps,

Bratislava worlds would be better – thus

developed. The book shows the history

of the city itself in Jaroslav Franek’s literarily

conceived foreword: the retrieval

of the radiating past of the city until the

present. His ambition was also, however,

to sketch the development of Jewish

Bratislava from the end of the 18th to

the beginning of the 20th century (with

intermittent time overlaps). Even if this

preliminary text cancels out occasional

factographic errors (e.g., Franek writes

about the Austro-Hungarian Empire

in 1782 [p. 10]; it is possible to controvert

the minority policies of Joseph II),

above all, one can positively appreciate

his attempt at a comparison of the Slovak

and European development of the relation

of governments to the Jews. Franek

rightly connected the acme of Jewish

Bratislava to the end of the 18th century

(pp. 13-14) and rightly pointed out the

year 1848 – from the viewpoint of the

relation of the majority to the minority

– as a key year. By comparing Bratislava

with Prague at the end of the 19th century,

we ascertain that Bratislava (with

more than 10 % of the Jewish population

[p. 20]) probably had over 5 % more

Jews than Prague. Perhaps thanks to the

proximity to Vienna, the Jewish national

movement (Zionism) came here at about

the same time as to Prague at the end of

the century before last.

Peter Salner mainly organized his pictures

of the Bratislava worlds on the basis

of oral-history interviews (video recordings,

1994-1997) with witnesses of the

Shoah from Bratislava (50 testimonies).

Supplementary sources were archival

material, press of the period, and published

memoirs.

In the first chapter, Salner depicted the

dramatic beginning of the First Republic

and the relation of the Bratislava Jews,

traditionally pro-monarchy oriented, to

it: from mistrust (Salner justifiably adds

“mutual”) and abhorrence, from the first

pogroms to identification with Masaryk’s

Czechoslovakia, which meant – with the

exception of a pogrom in 1936 – an era of

peace and the development of the community

(e.g., in 1930, 14,882 Jews lived in

Bratislava, i.e., 11 % of the population of

the city [p. 43]; the following year 30 Jewish

guilds worked here [p. 43]; the Jewish

People’s Kitchen offered its services. The

Jews had a religious, political, nationally

and linguistically structured community

speaking five main languages (p. 47).

Alongside a majority of Orthodox Jews in

Bratislava, there were also Neolog Jews

and a minority of atheists. Besides Orthodox

Jews and Zionists, there were assimilated

Hungarians, Germans and Slovaks.

The second chapter of Jewish Bratislava

approaches Jewish institutions

and life in the city in the interwar period

from the viewpoint of witnesses. Thus

pictures of three Bratislava synagogues,

Bratislava streets and squares, apartment

houses, Jewish quarters, distinctive

shops and enterprises, walks, schools,

etc., parade before us. We feverishly read

about memories of mainly good neighborly

relations, Bratislava shops and

markets, playgrounds and teasing, but

also of household facilities of the time

and, finally, also of the inhabitants of the

city: Jews and non-Jews. No less colorful

is a recollection of the functioning of Jewish

families: their economics and relation

to religiosity; the way they spent their

free time, including sport activities (soccer,

swimming). At the end of this period

reminiscences of the first anti-Semitic

excess connected with projection of the

film Golem (1936) also shine through.

Anti-Semitism penetrated into everyday

life. As in the Czech lands, in Bratislava

the situation also markedly worsened

during the Second Republic.

Salner devoted the third, socially

most interesting, chapter to the so-called

Bratislava Holocaust and subjectively

experienced anti-Jewish measures and

regulations. I fully agree with him that it

is impossible to accept totally the famous

Herberg triad of protagonists of the

Shoah (perpetrators – victims – onlookers)

(pp. 121-122) which, in addition,

I feel ought to be in reverse order in that

Slovak “solidarity” (like that of the Poles,

the Czechs, etc.) with the Jews was often

activated by their money and not by a human

wish to help. Salner, however, offers

the still-existing advocates of the Slovak

State, in reality a satellite of Hitler’s Germany,

not only subjective experiences of

humiliation, but also unambiguous testimonial

documents concerning Slovak

Aryanization and collaboration.

I also consider methodically correct

the fact that Salner begins his own interpretation

of the Holocaust at the end of

1938 and beginning of 1939, i.e., still in

the era of the Second Republic. In Jewish

memories, the Bratislava Holocaust takes

the form of open physical violence in the

streets and the expulsion and humiliation

of the Jews. Its perpetrators were

not only original German inhabitants,

but also members of the feared Hlinka

Guard. Bratislava was “beautified” with

anti-Semitic posters and anti-Semitic

caricatures, bans on entering for the Jewish

population – symbols of the new era

of the city. Witnesses remember forced

migration of their families, Aryanization

of Jewish enterprises, a ban on going

to the majority of the schools and list of

prohibitions contained in the so-called

Jewish Code (November 9, 1941): for not

wearing the Jewish star, deportation, etc.

Some of the Jews chose a life in illegality,

in hiding. In mid-1944 Bratislava was

bombed. On April 4, 1945, it was liberated

by the Red Army. Confused memories

of poor clothing, undisciplined and

evidently anti-Semitic Soviet soldiers

seemed to usher in a continuation of the

fates of the Jews after the Second World

War. This book, however, ends with

a technical description of the road of Jews

returning home (but only fewer than onefifth

of the prewar 15,000 Bratislava Jews

returned).

Salner’s book can be read in one sitting.

Despite its undoubtedly enriching

our knowledge of Jewish Bratislava,

I would have a few suggestions. In view

of the fact that photographs of the time

create one half of the picture of Jewish

Bratislava, the author could have paid

more attention to their sequencing in the

text and their captions (along with new

names of squares and streets, we should

also consistently find the old names and

dates, etc.). Too much intense quotation

of memories can also present a certain

problem. The reader might welcome more

general comments. And finally: I would

welcome the application of the method of

model analysis to the memories.


Blanka Soukupová


Poslední změna: 25. červenec 2018 11:28 
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Fakulta humanitních studií Univerzity Karlovy


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