Jews in Slovenia

Jews in Slovenia

Jews, even though they were relatively small in number, played an important role in forming the economic and cultural images of today’s Slovenia.

here are very few visual remains witnessing the Jewish presence in Slovenia in the early centuries, so it is not exactly clear when the Jews settled within the Slovenian region. During the later antiquity groups of Jews settled down on the border of the then Slovenian ethnic area within the developed Aquileia and Grado. It is presumed that two Jewish communities of reasonable size were organized, although those Jews within the Slovenian ethnic territory were mentioned in written sources only after the 9th and 10th centuries, respectively, when traffic and trade were developing over longer distances.

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During the 10th and 11th centuries Jewish villages sprang up and so-called Jewish trading places were set up within the eastern Alpine region (Judendorf, Judenburg, Judenberg, Judengraben, Ždovlje, Ždovše ali Ždinja ves/vas). Most of them were trading posts which were either abandoned by the end of the 12th century or they gained official market rights. From that time onwards Jews started to settle down within bigger market towns and emerging cities, first in Carinthia and then in Styria. As these Jews’ names were of German origin it is supposed that they came from the Rhineland.

Within the Slovenian territory Jews engaged particularly in trading and money lending. They were a highly mobile social class. Often they moved between cities where they had established branched-out business contacts and kinship ties; as here in medieval Maribor, for example, Jews migrated from/to Ljubljana, Celje, Ptuj, Radkersburg, Graz, etc. At the end of the Middle Ages a decree by the Austrian Emperor Maximilian I banished Jews from Carinthia and Styria (1496/97), and in 1515 they were also banished from Carniola.

Medieval expulsion

During the centuries that followed the medieval expulsion, the Jews actually maintained economic relationships with those countries from which they had been expelled, but due to the banishment no longer inhabited Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola. Only in the 18th century did they begin to migrate back to today’s Slovenian lands, mostly to Prekmurje, which then belonged to the Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy.

Return to the tragic ending

The Jewish community within the Mura region reached its peak in the late 19th century. During the early decades of the 20th century it was the most active and influential community within the whole Slovenian territory. Unfortunately the Holocaust annihilated this community during World War II, when even Slovenian Jews suffered great persecution and destruction as a result of the notorious extermination within concentration camps. Only a few survived this slaughter. Initially they returned to Slovenia after the war, but then emigrated or publicly denounced themselves as being Jewish. The unfriendly measures by the post-war Yugoslav government pushed them towards the edges of public life and historical memory.

According to the Statistical Office of Slovenia 28 Jews and 99 members of the Jewish religion lived in Slovenia in 2002. On the other hand, some unofficial estimates claimed that about 300 to 500 people of Jewish origin were still living in our country. The umbrella organisation of Jews in Slovenia is the Jewish Community of Slovenia, with its headquarters in Ljubljana.

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