The Holocaust Memorial in Bratislava
The memorial was built in 1996 to commemorate the 105,000 Jews from Slovakia who perished in the Holocaust. It is located in the center of Bratislava on the site of the former Neolog Synagogue, which was demolished in 1969.
Slovakia commemorates the victims of the Holocaust and racial violence on 9 September, a day that was established by the Slovak Parliament in 2001.
After Slovakia entered the puppet state of Nazi Germany, Jews suffered humiliations, restrictions and deportations. The fascist government of the time, through its representatives in civil and military services, played a significant part in these events, including those that led to the Holocaust, which resulted in the deaths of about 70,000 Slovakian Jews.
The opening of a museum at the site of the former work and concentration camp in Sered was an important step towards creating historical awareness and establishing a policy on Holocaust remembrance in Slovakia. Until then, this part of the country’s history was not present in public discourse and education.
The museum presents the chronology of events leading to the Holocaust in Slovakia through an exhibition that also contains archival documents, photographs and documentary films. It also includes a restored railway car that once transported Jews from Michalovce to Sered and then on to Auschwitz in occupied Poland. The Milan Simecka Foundation has published a series of edited documents on this topic and the Holocaust Documentation Centre organizes seminars, lectures and international academic conferences.
In Slovakia, Holocaust education is taught at the elementary and secondary school levels as an integral part of history classes. Moreover, the Holocaust is taught in civic and ethics classes as well. Furthermore, the education is advanced by trainings of teachers in the field.
The exhibition at the memorial presents precious artefacts connected with Slovak Jews during the Holocaust. The main theme is the fates of Jewish people in wartime Slovak State and Czechoslovak Republic. It also illustrates the intolerance which preceded and led to deportations, as well as the rebirth of Bratislava Jewish community after the end of communism.
The central place of the exhibition is occupied by a large concrete monument commemorating 105,000 Holocaust victims from Slovakia. It is located in the center of the Old Town on the site of the former Neolog Synagogue, which was demolished in 1969. The inscription reads: “To the honorable and courageous citizens of Bratislava, who during the Nazi occupation in 1944 and 1945 were persecuted for their faith, nationality, and race.”
The memorial uses the technique of Stolpersteine – brass plaques engraved with names that commemorate individuals at their last place of residence or, in some cases, their work, before they fell victim to Nazi terror, eugenics, euthanasia, or deportation to concentration and extermination camps. The plaques are called pamatne kamene, and they are placed at 16 locations in Bratislava.
The exhibition also commemorates rescuers, who were honored as Righteous Among the Nations for their help in saving Jews during the Holocaust. The section honoring them, however, fails to put their work within the context of the history of the wartime Slovak state and current remembrance policy regarding the Holocaust.
To either side of the central display are two “learning rooms” defined by low-lying perimeter shrubs. Rising out of the crushed gravel surface in these areas are 234 smaller granite markers shaped like tombstones, intended to represent shattered lives. Each marker is different in shape and size, as a way of commemorating the diversity of those persecuted by the Nazis.
The opening of the Holocaust Museum in Sered, along with the fact that study of the Holocaust is now mandatory in Slovakian schools, marks a significant turning point. The Holocaust had entered Slovakian public discourse and national memory only relatively recently, after the fall of Communism in 1989. At that time, a variety of ways to view the country’s recent history emerged, each bound to a different ideological premise.
The new memorial commemorates the victims of the Holocaust, whose deportations to Nazi death camps took place during World War II. It also serves to mark the actions of Slovakia’s totalitarian wartime state, which negotiated with Germany for their deportation. It is intended to remind Slovakians of the tragic events of that period, and of the millions of Jews who lost their lives because of these actions.