Jews in Maribor

The medieval Jewish community of Maribor can certainly be considered to be amongst the bigger communities within today’s Slovenian territory, and Maribor itself from amongst the cultural and economic Jewry centres within the then Inner Austrian lands.

The first Jews can be testified as being in Maribor between 1274 and 1296. However, it is supposed that they started immigrating to the city earlier, from the beginning or middle of the 13th century, when Maribor acquired the city rights (1254). Jews mainly settled down in the south-eastern part of the city – in the Jewish quarter, which reached its maximum height at the beginning of the 15th century, when the Maribor Jewish community enjoyed their greatest prosperity, with about 300 Jews living within the city and its surroundings. The centre of the Jewish community was in today’s Židovska ulica (Jewish Street) where a synagogue was erected adjacent to a small square. Eastern from the synagogue there was a garden which presumably was the first Jewish cemetery. Behind this garden, in the south-eastern corner of the city walls, there was a watchtower, the today’s Jewish Tower. Underneath the synagogue there was a ritual bath (mikveh), and it is supposed to have been accessible through the so-called Jewish door. In 1477 the construction of the Jewish school (Beth Midrash) was mentioned.

Reputation

The Maribor Jews were renowned as successful merchants at home and abroad. Their trade and financial links stretched westwards as far as Venice, throughout northern Italy down to Ancona and eastwards to Dubrovnik, Prague, Hungary, and Bosnia. The Jews also conducted loan transactions. Sovereigns, nobility, clergy, monasteries, and citizens alike borrowed money from them. After repossessions caused by overdue payments, they quickly became owners of many houses in the city, and farms and vineyards within the surroundings. They usually sold them relatively soon.

Medieval expulsion from Slovenia

The general economic crisis of the 15th century, accompanied by spiritual and social crises, made its influence felt as far as today’s Slovenian territory. Competition between the Jewish and Christian merchants gradually became more and more intensive, and the situation in Styria became even more acute with the increasing frequency of Hungarian and Turkish incursions during the second half of the 15th century. During the reign of Emperor Maximilian I the Styrian and Carinthian Estates of the realm clamoured for the expulsion of the Jews. In 1496 the Emperor was persuaded to issue a decree on expelling the Jews from the two countries. The deadline for the departure was January 6th 1497 when the Jews from Maribor also had to leave the city. After the expulsion they moved to Vienna and Lower Austria, to the so-called Sopron County in Hungary, to Moravia and Poland, Trieste, Gorizia, Gradisca, Venice, Padua, Split, and to many other places from where they emigrated around the world.

At their new locations many of them named themselves Marpurgo or Morpurgo, i.e. after the medieval city of Maribor, which they had had to leave after living there for more than two hundred years. The surname Morpurgo is still very common, especially in Italy, and can also be found in the United States and Israel.

Return to Maribor

Jews began to return to Maribor during the 19th and 20th centuries. Many of them were very active within the economic arena, especially in the textile industry, as factory owners or in prominent positions, but most of them now belonged to the bourgeois middle class. It is believed that about a hundred Jews were living in pre-war Maribor, who constituted less than half of one percent of the urban population. According to previous studies, the Jews at that time did not form themselves into a Jewish community and thus they did not have a synagogue. Due to the increasing radical anti-Semitic measures affecting the Jews within the then Kingdom of Yugoslavia, some Jews had already emigrated from Maribor before World War II started. Those who stayed were persecuted by the Nazis immediately after the German occupation in April 1941.

Today only a few Jews live in Maribor.


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