Soukupová Blanka

“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
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
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

Vydání: 10, 2008, 2