During World War II, the economic prominent and organised Jewish community was also annihilated within today’s Slovenian territory.
World War II was one of the darkest chapters in the history of Judaism in Slovenia. At that time the most powerful Jewish community lived in Prekmurje, particularly in the area of Lendava (Hungarian Lendva, German Unter-Limbach) and Murska Sobota (Hungarian Muraszombat, German Olsnitz). In 1944 they suffered a fatal blow by mass destruction in Nazi concentration camps; most Jews died in the notorious Auschwitz.
Slovenian Jews suffered the same as all those others in Europe who were terribly treated by the Nazis, from the Nazis coming to power in 1933 until the collapse of Nazi Germany in 1945.
Microcosm of history
Despite the small size of the Slovenian territory where Jews before and after World War II were relatively few in number, the Slovenian Holocaust history can be, and it actually must be described as a microcosmos of Holocaust history within Central Europe.
On 6th April 1941 Slovenia was occupied and divided between the German, Italian, and Hungarian invaders. By mid April, the German and Italian armies had occupied most of the former Drava Province. The German army also occupied Prekmurje (the region of North-Eastern Slovenia) and handed it over to the Hungarian army on April 16th. After the capitulation of Yugoslavia, Slovenian Styria and Carinthia (Mežica valley), the northern part of Lower Carniola, and Upper Carniola were also annexed by Germany. Italy received the greater part of Lower Carniola, Inner Carniola, and Ljubljana. The Hungarians occupied Prekmurje (with the exception of four municipalities in the North-Western part which were annexed by Germany). The boundaries between these occupied territories became the new state borders. The German occupiers immediately commenced the Nazi racial and purification policies. Those Jews who had stayed within this area after the occupation were amongst the first to be arrested.
The racial policy was most distinctive in Styria and Upper Carniola, but less within the Italian occupation zone. In Prekmurje, Hungarian regulations were in force that did not contain more radical racial elements and the persecution of Jews.
The situation in Prekmurje became more strained as the Nazis occupied Hungary in Spring 1944. They started a mass persecution of all Hungarian Jews, including the Jewish community in Prekmurje. After the capitulation of Italy in September 1943, the Italian territory was occupied by Nazi Germany, instigating racial measures and the persecution of the few remaining Jewish inhabitants after 1941.
On the Slovenian territory Jews were the biggest sufferers because of the Holocaust, thus contributing towards decimating them. It is probably due to the consequences of the terrible genocide during World War II that there is hardly any trace of Jews within today’s Slovenia, and in Slovenian contemporary history.
Righteous Among the Nations
Despite severe repression you could find individuals among Slovenians who were ready to help save their Jewish population. They were in that minority who managed to maintain human values at a time of complete moral collapse, and believed that the persecuted Jews should be protected and saved. These were the ‘righteous among the nations’, who were later given special international recognition for their unselfish help during the persecution of Jews, and their names are recorded on memorial plaques and engraved on walls in the Yad Vashem Garden of the ‘Righteous Among the Nations ‘, in Israel.
Among the Slovenian righteous are Uroš Žun, Andrej Tumpej, Zora Pičulin, Ivan Breskvar, Franjo Punčuh, Ljubica and Ivan Župančič, while Olga Neuman (Rajšek) and Martina Marković Levec are listed among Croatian respectively Serbian Righteous. In compliance with recent findings, however, it is currently believed that there are a few more Slovenians who are going to be given this deserving recognition shortly.
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