Jewish History of Bardejov
The presence of Jews in Bardejov dates from the early Middle Ages. Expelled from Bardejov in 1631, Jews from Galicia resettled there in the mid-18th century. These descendants of the Galician Hasidic dynasty founded by Rabbi Chaim Halberstam lived northeast of the marketplace and worked initially as farmers in nearby villages. By 1806 they began to establish community buildings. Eventually they built a thriving, self-contained complex north of the town center, which was planned according to Talmudic regulation and which included a large synagogue (consecrated in 1830), a congregational building, a slaughterhouse, and a ritual bath. In 1869 some restrictions against the Jews were lifted and the Jewish population grew to 1,011 (out of a total population of 5, 307). Most were store owners, businessmen, and artisans. The Jewish community contributed to the overall economy of the town—including the development of Bardejov as a health resort—and to its distinguished printing history.
By 1900, Bardejov’s Jews had established a Hebrew printing press, becoming one of the last centers of Hebrew printing to be established in Europe before the Holocaust. From 1900 to 1938, two Hebrew presses at Bardejov printed over 100 volumes. Nearly all were rabbinic or Hasidic texts, reflecting the town’s cultural and religious distinction as the seat of one branch of the Halberstam Hasidic dynasty.
By 1919, the Jewish population in Bardejov had reached 2,119, with 40 settlements surrounding the Jewish quarter and united under the local rabbinate. Although by the 1940s Jewish children attended public schools and there were a large number of Jewish municipal council members, most of Bardejov’s Jews maintained an Orthodox way of life, praying in numerous synagogues established in the town.
By 1940, many of the town’s 2,441 Jews had been pushed out of their businesses by the Slovakian state; 200 were sent to labor camps. As World War II escalated, refugees arrived from nearby Polish ghettos. On April 18, 1942, approximately 400 Jews in Bardejov were deported to Auschwitz via Zilina. Jews from the surrounding areas were brought to Bardejov. From May 15 to May 24 they were deported with Bardejov Jews to Lublin. Of the 3,280 Jews deported from the region in 1942, 2,100 were from Bardejov. Although the lives of a few hundred Jews were spared to become workers, many of them were killed or deported in 1944.
After liberation by the Soviet army in January 1945, seven Jews emerged from their hiding place in a wine cellar of a store in the main square. Some Jews returned from the Polish forests. The town became a center for refugees and for immigration to Palestine. By 1949, Bardejov’s Jews had re-established a small community of 200.
After more than two hundred and sixty years of continuous Jewish presence in Bardejov, there are no Jews living in the town.