Pope Francis spent September 13 in Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital, as part of the 34th apostolic journey of his pontificate, where he met, among other groups, with members of the Jewish community in a square associated the city’s historic Jewish quarter.
“This Square is a highly meaningful place for your community,” the pope told his hosts. “It keeps alive the memory of a rich history. For centuries it was part of the Jewish quarter. Here the celebrated rabbi Chatam Sofer labored. Here a synagogue stood alongside the Cathedral of the Coronation. The architectural setting, as we heard, was an expression of the peaceful coexistence of the two communities, an unusual and evocative symbol, and a striking sign of unity in the name of the God of our fathers. Here, like so many of them, I too feel the desire to ‘remove my sandals’ in a place blessed by human fraternity in the name of the Most High.”
The pope then continued: “In a frenzy of hatred, during the Second World War more than a hundred thousand Slovak Jews were killed. In an effort to eradicate every trace of the community, the synagogue was demolished. . . . I repeat: let us unite in condemning all violence and every form of anti-Semitism, and in working to ensure that God’s image, present in the humanity he created, will never be profaned.”
According to Yad Vashem, (The Story of the Jewish Community in Bratislava) on the eve of the Holocaust the Jewish community in Bratislava was the largest Jewish community in Slovakia; it was a Jewish religious and political center, and home to the renowned Pressburg Yeshiva as well as the Zionist Organization of Slovakia. In 1930 some 15,000 Jews lived in the city, constituting some 12 percent of the population.
Following the creation of an independent Slovak State in March 1939, the Jews of Bratislava were subjected to discriminatory practices and persecution. By the 1st of March 1942, nearly half of the city’s Jews had been evicted, and dispersed in smaller towns across the country. During 1942 many of the Jews of Bratislava were deported to the death camps in Poland.
During the war the city was home to the Bratislava Working Group, which was devoted to rescuing Jews. The group’s efforts, however, came to naught and most Slovakian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.