slovkia, Krav Maga visit

Krav Maga Training in Slovakia

Poster in the Slovak language advertising the seminar.

Poster advertising the Krav Maga seminar in Hungarian.

My first trip to Slovakia. I was invited by Tibor Sklut who has already visited Israel several times including participating in the June IKI Krav Maga Tour and Train program. I was convinced of his dedication to IKI Krav Maga but I had no idea how much work and effort he put into this trip. It would truly be an amazing experience.

I was greeted at the airport by Attila Alfoldy and Zoltán Toth as well as Thomas, our driver. Attila I had met before in Israel and he would prove over this next week to be an outstanding and gifted Krav Maga practitioner. Zoltán, a sweet young man is not only a talented Krav Maga student but would also serve as my translator. His language skills would prove themselves over the next week as he had to translate from English to Hungarian, from Hungarian to English, from English to Slovak and from Slovak to English.

We all owe Zoltán a big thank you, or köszönöm szépen.

I picked up my standard latte at the Vienna airport and we were on our way.

As it was night it was difficult to see much but I felt excited to be crossing the Danube River for the first time and hearing some of the history of this fascinating place.

We reached our little town, known in Slovak as Dunajská Streda and in Hungarian as Dunaszerdahely. The town has a long history and is first mentioned in writing in 1250. It means "Wednesday Market day by the Danube."

The word szerda itself has Slavic roots and means Wednesday, or middle day. The Duna part was added in the 19th century according to the policy of Austria-Hungary that each town must have a unique name, as many towns had the name "Market Day".

This town was part of the Hungarian state since the late 10th century. In recent times it has been part of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and now Slovakia.

The population is basically Hungarian. All signs are in both languages; Slovak and Hungarian. Over 90% of the population speak Hungarian as their mother tongue.

We met Tibor and his family for dinner. Tibor, a big man with a big heart and a huge smile, greeted me with a warm hug. Throughout the trip his kindness and generosity would show themselves again and again. The man is a source of optimism and happiness. He is a mover and a doer.

The next morning began early. We met the police for outdoor training; defense in and around a car. It was rather cold which made the training even more realistic. I was amazed by the number of journalists present. By the end of the trip I would be on 6 national TV stations and several local papers and news stations. Reporters had come in from the capital. During the following week I would be on national news and a TV show viewed by 3 million people.

Training police officers of Dunajská Streda.

One police officer took off his personal police patch and gave it to me. The chief of police gave me an official patch and badge. They said they found the techniques very easy to learn and useful for their work. Some of the officers came back for many hours of training with me. Even with heavy gear and in cold weather they felt the techniques were easy to use and apply.

With two of the police officers that I trained. On the right is Gustov, an outstanding martial artist.

Awards from the Dunajská Streda Police force.  909 is Gustav's personal patch.

Press conference for IKI Krav Maga Slovakia. Journalists came from six TV stations and several newspapers.

From Sunday through Wednesday we had daily training at Fight Club, operated by Attila. A dedicated group of students, including police officers, came in daily for 6 hours of training.

Livia Sklut doing an escape against Lorant. Livia is an experienced fitness instructor.

One of our training groups; Tibor, Livia, Moshe, Lori, Miklos, Attila, Michael, Csaba, Zoltan and RPG along with some kids who joined us for one session.

Dunajská Streda

The building in which I stayed for one week. Walking distance from the gym, the synagogue and just about everything else. Every morning I stopped off to have coffee with Livia and Livia, wife and daughter of Tibor. Big thanks for the wonderful coffee, hospitality and friendship.

Typical style home.

Gypsy Village

Gypsy children playing outside. From the high heels to the earrings and scarfs they fit every image I had of Gypsy people.

Gypsies have a long history in this area as well. Unlike the Jews, they are not really the "people of the book", so I do not know their history.

Jewish Life and History in Dunaszerdahely

While walking around the town known both as Dunaszerdahely and Dunajská a man approached me and said, "Are you Jewish?"

I said I was. "Yes, I was sure of it, I could tell, you have a 'Jewish face.' You know this town was once fifty percent Jewish". 

Yes, I knew that. Gradually I began to learn the history of this little town on the Danube. Once part of Hungary, now Slovakia, it was home to a glorious thriving Jewish community. There were two great synagogues, and two Yeshivas, Rabbinical academies. They were know far and wide. Students  flocked here to study at the feet of the renowned rabbis. Great scholars expounded the Torah and the Talmud here. As I discovered much later many volumes of Talmudic interpretation were written here. Only a few survived the War against the Jews and God, (the Holocaust) and these books are still in use to day.

Generations maintained a sacred Jewish life based on piety, community and mutual support. But that all went up on violent smoke.

That all came to an end, quickly and suddenly, in 1944, when the world went mad and killing Jews was legal. The German Nazis and the local anti Semites destroyed this community, over 3,500 Jews were deported to death camps, only 600 came back. 

Naturally most of those who returned did not want to stay. Seeing the community, once to proud, but now totally devastated, was too much to handle. Some did try to rebuild, as Jews always have, but under the new Communist Russian rule it was clear that maintaining their traditional religious life would be impossible. The majority migrated to the United States or to Israel. A few remained...

The years took their toll, Communism and Reform (neolog "Judaism") led to assimilation and the community weakened. Today it is said there are 150 official Jews and 2,000 "non official" Jews i.e. people with Jewish blood, Jewish roots. I met many many people who had a Jewish grandparent, but they themselves were in no way connected to the Jewish faith or expressed any interest in returning to their Jewish roots. 

Friday afternoon, and my wonderful host Tibor, himself descended from a Jewish grandfather, picks me up to go to Shul, to the synagogue, the house of prayers. I did know what to expect. 

We approached the synagogue, but I see a very large Chinese restaurant. The synagogue is in a Chinese restaurant. How strange indeed. Later on the full story will become perfectly clear. 

The Synagogue is housed in this building, a Chinese restaurant.

Enter the Synagogue 

We enter the synagogue and Tibor shows me an original pillar that was taken from the old synagogue, the one no longer standing. Ahh, so I realize the current synagogue is not the one originally used. There was once another synagogue, a much larger one. The picture is beginning to emerge.

I meet some of the members, wonderful men, all of them older gentlemen. There are no children, there are no young people. I am the youngest one there. 

But there is something odd about this room, in the back of a Chinese restaurant. It is not new, it looks very old. I know the signs of an old shul/house of prayer, worn wooden seats, many signs that generations have prayed here. Soon the story becomes clear.   I am trying to communicate with the members but I do not speak Hungarian, or Slovak. But I do know some German, a little Yiddish and some Russian. 

Finally one of the members tells me that this place, dieser Platz, this entire building was once a Talmud Torah, a yeshiva, a place where young Jews studied the Torah. Zwei hundert fünfzig bochurim....I understand, I get it, 250 Jewish boys studied here. 

Like a light went on, I get it, this Chinese restaurant is not what it appears to be. The words of our forefather Jacob as he awoke from his dream appear to me,  "This is none other than the house of God and this is the gateway to heaven!"

Jacob spoke his words in the land of Israel but now I am far from Israel, far from home, in the lands of our exile, but here, far from our ancestral home, these holy brothers of mine created a "little Israel", and a house of prayer. 

This place was once vibrating with the sounds of Torah and prayer. This place was once filled with young Jewish boys studying the holy scriptures with all their might. This was once... but it is no more.

I imagine it...later on I would see the photos of the boys who studied here, but after the war...none were left. 

The chazzan, the cantor/prayer leader, gets up to lead the prayers service, he wraps on his talith, prayer, his voice is strong and melodic, his pronunciation is the old Eastern European Hasidic pronunciation. 

Elokaini ve Elokei Avosaini...My God and God of our Fathers...he uses tunes I have never heard before. I think of my late grandfather, Rabbi Isaac Klein of blessed memory, who was born and raised in Hungary. He must have heard these tunes and he would be able to communicate with these wonderful people in Yiddish or Hungarian. I can see my grandfather smiling. I can see that twinkle in his eye, the joy of meeting Landsmanfellow countrymen, and how they would have loved him. 

This building was once a great Talmud Torah, with 250 students. The shul (synagogue) is in the back. (entrance visible, note: no Chinese writing on that part of the building)

Some of the yeshiva students of Dunaszerdahely. Some were locals and some came from towns near and far. 

Moshe standing next to the pillar that remains of the great synagogue, just before Mincha on Friday afternoon.

The great synagogue of Dunaszerdahely was destroyed but one pillar was preserved and added on in the Talmud Torah building. This pillar is now just outside the room that serves as the current synagogue, a reminder of the glory that once was. The original synagogue was damaged during the war, and later destroyed by the Communists.

The Parocheth, the cloth covering that covers the ark where the Torah scrolls are kept. On top are the 2 tablets with the ten commandants. On the bottom of the parocheth, as you can see in the second photo, is the dedication; "In memory of the holy martyrs of the community, who were killed during the Holocaust, giving their lives to sanctify the name of God, may God avenge their blood. Dedicated for this holy purpose by the Association of expatriates of  Dunaszerdahely in Israel."

Prayer book, with Hebrew and Hungarian side by side. Published in recent years in Budapest, in an attempt to revive Hungarian Jewry.

After the services everyone gathers around me; a special guest, from the Land of Israel. Everyone has questions, or wants to tell me that they have a son in Israel or a daughter in Brooklyn. (USA) I have never met these people before, we can barely understand each other, but we already family, without understanding each other's languages we can speak, without knowing each other we can feel, we are already family, a special bond is formed. 

I ask them what time prayer services are held in the morning (Shacharithbut they say they no longer have enough people to form a morning prayer group. As one man says "Our Minyan (required quorum of 10 adult men) is with the  Chevra Kaddisha (the mortuary group, burial society).

In addition, Mr. Feldman explains to Tibor, "There is a problem", "We no longer have anyone who can read the Torah.

Tibor proudly tells them that he has solved that problem, "Moshe can read the Torah". We arrange that tomorrow at 5 p.m. we shall all gather for Mincha and Ma'ariv, the afternoon and evening prayers. Twelve men commit to attend. This is an unusual event. I can sense the excitement in the room. I can feel a spark.

Following the prayer service, one of the men, wordlessly motions for me to follow him. He unlocks a door and leads me into a small room. It is a little museum, a tribute to what once was.

With noticeable pride he shows me a model of the old Great Synagogue. Once they did not pray in the back of a Chinese restaurant but in a glorious building. Once they were not a handful of old men but a living dynamic community.

There are photographs on the wall, great rabbis with long beards, scholars, leaders. These are proof that this was once a respected and admired community.

There are many religious articles, damaged during the war. There is a wedding canopy, a Hupa, where Jewish weddings were held. There is a photograph of a young couple under this very hupa. One of the old men says, "That is me and my wife!"

There are stacks of old Talmuds, books of Jewish law, no longer in use but indicative that once, many years ago, these books were studied diligently. the pages are deeply worn by the fingers of the men who studied these books night and day. "And you shall study it day and night". Men held these books and cherished them. These books were once alive with study, but today..they are part of a museum, of what once was...

And then there are the photos of the end; the deportations, the trains, the trains that left full and came back empty. A stunned people taken to their deaths while their neighbors watched...

Model of the great synagogue that served this congregation before the war.

One of the leading rabbis before the war, Rabbi Shmuel Levi Weinberger of blessed memory, Chief Rabbi from 1906 until his passing in 1925. He was succeeded by his son Rabbi Hillel Weinberger (of blessed memory, may God avenge his death), who was murdered by the Nazis in 1944, along with most of the holy community.

Rabbi Asher Anshel Katz, of blessed memory, may God avenge his death. He was the last rabbi to serve as "Father of the Court" in Dunaszerdahely before the Nazi era. He and his son, Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Katz, of blessed memory, may God avenge his death, were killed by the Nazis in 1944. All three rabbis, along with many others, were killed on the same day.

Only one member of the Katz family survived, he moved to Brooklyn after the war and served as rabbi for the remnants of his community there.

Rabbi Hillel Weinberger, son of Rabbi Shmuel Levi Weinberger of blessed memory, with his son Rabbi Yehiel Weinberger. Rabbi Hillel Weinberger, of blessed memory, may God avenge his death,  served as last chief rabbi of Dunaszerdahely before the Nazi era. He was killed on the same day as Rabbi Asher Katz and Rabbi Moshe Katz. Of his many children only Yehiel Weinberger survived the war. At first he served as rabbi of the greatly reduced community but when all hope was lost he moved to Israel where he continued his holy work.

With some of the guys, the minyan, after services. Mr. B Stern, Mr. J Stern, Mr. Feldman, Mr. Kornfeld..and Tibor Sklut.

Jews of Dunaszerdahely being deported to the death camps. June 15, 1944

Stacks of the Talmud, these books were once studied daily by the students and rabbis of the this once great community. Now they stand as a silent testimony to those that are no longer.

This sign survives from the original pre-war synagogue. It says "Talmud Torah" which means "The Study of the Torah, the Bible" and it indicates that this is where one would leave a donation intended for the upkeep of Torah studies.

This sign says, "Tomchei Aniim", "Supporters of the poor", and was for donations intended for the poor. All reminders of a traditional Jewish community that once thrived here. The Jewish community was always self supporting and took care of it's own.

Sign reads "Sedaka Gedola" - Great Charity. Here one would drop a few coins for supporting the poor of the community.

At 5 pm the next day we gathered again for Mincha, the afternoon service. In a way it felt like a regular Saturday, Shabbat, back home in Israel. Walking to synagogue, afternoon service, but in a way it was like nothing I had ever experienced before.

I cannot describe how I felt, the emotions, the joy mixed with the sadness.

I lead the services, my pronunciation is different than theirs, but no matter, they understand. Each time I heard our small but wonderful congregation respond with "Amen" or with "Yehey Shmey Rabah Mevorach" (May His Great name be blessed) I felt a unity, a harmony, a connection with the past, a revival of sorts.

I say the blessings and they respond with a resounding "Amen". Each time I hear their Amen I feel a surge of energy, of spirit, like something from the past. My prayer created this opportunity for them to say Amen, and each Amen is unique. I have never heard such a Amen before, I have never felt how each Amen was never heard before and will never be heard again; each one is a unique prayer. Each Amen represents generations of prayers, with these prayers they are connecting to their ancestors and relatives who prayed here. And I am a part of this today. How have I merited such a great opportunity to stand here at this place and lead these men in prayer?  I try to imagine those who stood at this very spot in years past and led the prayers...I hear their voices in the distance as they become one with mine. The same words...we are in harmony, in unison.  They were taken away but the prayers remain, something remains here and I am part of it today. The congregations of the past are here. I feel as if their energy is lifting me up, the spirit is one.

And then they take out their Torah from the ark. Such pride, such joy. We rolled it to the correct portion, clearly it had not been used in along time. "WaYakhel"....'and Moshe gathered the people of Israel'. And today, here we are, all descendents of those whom Moshe gathered, and we are gathering again and reading the words he spoke to us, so long ago and so far away.

The leader takes out an old worn out list, names of members of the congregation. The list was much longer than the number of people who were currently here. His finger goes carefully down the list, he stops at a name and calls out..."Ya'amod.." "Rise up and come to make a blessing from the Torah, so and so the son of so and so." And a member of the congregation rises-up and proudly comes forward to recite the ancient blessings.

And then I read the Torah for them, and for a moment, the past is alive, for a moment there is glory. The men are smiling and my heart is full of joy. For this moment alone it was worth coming all the way from Israel, for this moment alone.

As the Sabbath ends the men take out the wine and candle and spices for the Havdalah ceremony; the ceremony that separates the weekday from the Sabbath, the holy from the ordinary. I recite the prayers and we all sniff the spices and drink the wine.

We did not want to say good bye. I said I will try to come back again. and they said you must come back again.

With my friend Gyuri, a prominent member of the synagogue. Wagner's coffee house, Dunajská Stredá. He told me some of the history of this great community, how before the war it was known as Kleine Jerusalem, "Little Jerusalem".

 Jewish Cemetery

The cemetery has served this community for centuries. Many of the tombstones are so old that the writing on them is difficult to read, but I am told they date back to the 1750's. The most recent graves are from our current time. Tibor stopped by one of the graves and said, "This is my friend, he had a wonderful sense of humor."

What awe is in this place and this is the gateway to heaven.

The city and the members of the community of Dunaszerdahely. 

The merit of those who dwell in this "house of the eternal"(cemetery) and the merit of all our holy martyrs of our community and the members of the nearby communities in their thousands who were  taken in the Holocaust in Auschwitz and the other hell holes, will stand for us and our seed for ever. Amen. 

The entrance to the Jewish cemetery of Dunaszerdahely. The sign in Hebrew tells the story how over 250 years ago the members of this holy community came together, under the guidance of the rabbis, and agreed to build this wall around the cemetery.

Basin for washing hands after leaving the cemetery. This is a Jewish tradition.

Memorial to the thousands of victims of the Nazis and their Hungarian accomplices, members of this once great community, who were taken away to death camps, murdered, and never received a proper Jewish burial. Here they are remembered and honored.

Close up view, in part..."This rock shell cry out, we have been robbed by demons in broad day light. Trampled by Fascists in double measure. The blood of the nation of Children of Israel was spilt like a river of water. The old were humiliated and the young were not shown mercy. Master of the world avenge the vengeance of your innocent ones. Remember the hundreds who sanctified He who sits in heaven."  

The grave of a community member, Eliezer Yom Tov Grunwald. He survived the camps and lived to a ripe old age, but other family members did not.  On his tombstone are remembered those family members who were murdered and never buried, including two daughters, Golda and Mara, a son Mordechai, mother in law Esther and her daughter Zartel, of blessed memory.

"In memory of our family that were killed by the Fascists in 1944.

For eternal memory - Here are buried the remains of holy books and ashes from the Children of Israel that were murdered by the Fascists.

The grave of legendary rabbi Rabbi Yehuda Asad, also writen Yehudah Aszód, or Jehuda Aszád (Hungarian) or Jehudu Aszáda (Slovak)

Aszód, Yehudah

(1796–1866), rabbi and halakhic scholar. A leading figure in the Hungarian Orthodox rabbinate during the mid-nineteenth century, Yehudah Aszód achieved renown both as an expert halakhic adjudicator and as an outspoken opponent of educational and religious reform. Unlike some of his younger Hungarian contemporaries, however, Aszód did not promote a uniformly strict and antimodernist approach. Instead, he exemplified a more pragmatic and less doctrinaire Hungarian Orthodoxy than that which later became the norm. Toward the end of his life, he also gained a reputation as one who possessed great mystical abilities.

Aszód’s educational background also attests to certain differences between him and his colleagues. While most of the latter were students of Moshe Sofer (Ḥatam Sofer) at the Pressburg yeshiva, Aszód was trained in Nikolsburg and became a leading pupil of Mordekhai Banet, the chief rabbi of Moravia. Although the lack of a Pressburg “pedigree” initially hindered his career, Aszód gained the respect and friendship of Sofer and his son and successor, Avraham Shemu'el Binyamin Sofer (Ketav Sofer).

By 1828, Aszód had secured a position as religious court judge in the prominent western Hungarian community of Dunaszerdahely (Ger., Niedermarkt; now Dunajská Streda, Slovakia).

Aszód’s halakhic writings also attest to his less vociferously ideological bent. One example is his well-known responsum permitting the use of the wine of public Sabbath desecraters, a position that was almost unilaterally rejected by his younger Hungarian colleagues. This opinion is among nearly 1,000 writings published posthumously in his two-part collection of responsa (Teshuvot Mahariyah), also known as Teshuvot Yehudah Ya‘aleh (1873; 1880).

Yehudah Aszód, honored with a square near where the Great synagogue once stood.

Tombstones indicating that righteous people lived here.

Here we see the hands indicating the priestly (Aharonic) blessings, the blessing the Cohen recites in the synagogue. A Cohen is not allowed into a cemetery so the graves of the Cohen clan are always in the front row, thus their Cohen relatives can visit them. Here too the entire first row is "inhabited" by Cohanim. (Plural of Cohen)

The Memorial

Just up the road from the synagogue, housed in the Talmud Torah/Chinese restaurant building, was the site of the Great Synagogue. Today there is a memorial there, next to a new building. The new building has none of the grandeur of the synagogue that once stood here.

The memorial shows the two tablets of the ten commandments that Moshe/Moses brought down from Mount Sinai. But it is torn, with a huge hole running through it, symbolizing that the heart of the Jewish people was torn out and very little remains. Next to it are original stones, laying there as they did when it was destroyed, like the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, a sign of the destruction. Destruction that is permanent, a house destroyed that will not be rebuilt.

The bottom part of the memorial contains words from the Torah, "From the depths I cry out to you", and there are footsteps, many footsteps but they go in one direction only, symbolizing the thousands of Jews who were taken from here. They went in one direction and never came back.

The Tablets of the Law of Moses, with a huge tear in the heart.

Footsteps leaving but not coming back.

I stood at this memorial, nearly every morning I came here. I imagined the thousands of Jews who came here to pray for so many years. I imagined them coming in the morning with their Talith and Teffilin, preparing for prayer. And on the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe, with a great cantor leading the Yom Kippur or Rosh HaShana service, and the room packed with hundreds of people praying...prayers going up to heaven as they have for centuries..

I imagined all this but heard nothing. People walked by causally, just another day of work in Dunajská Streda, I stood alone but not alone, I stood with the ghosts of the Jews who prayed here. And the question...why, why?

Mothers, young children, young men...all taken away to be killed. From the depths I call out to you....

Sadness and pain, deep pain that cannot be described, pain for a world gone mad and a Jewish world destroyed. And the faces, the faces of the men of the minyan, of the little shul, they are what is left, and they remember. They remember the glory of the past and some have children who are part of the great future, in Israel where Am Yisrael Chai, the people of Israel lives.

One morning I had coffee with my dear friend Gyuri Stern. I told him that in our little town of Maaleh Adumim we have 38 synagogues, and if you arrive late for services you will not find a seat, you will have to stand. He smiled. The synagogues are full to capacity and new ones are being built all the time. There is new Jewish life, but not here, not in Exile lands, not in Dunaszerdahely. Here my friend Gyuri tells me Wir sind de leteze generation, we are the last generation... the saddest words one can hear...

"From the Depths I cry out to you.." (Psalms 118)

Footsteps...Leaving the comfort of the House of Prayer..walking to an unknown destination...

"Anochi" "I am...the Lord your God.." The opening words of the ten commandments.

Stones that remain from the Great synagogue.

Descendants of this Great Community

Since this blog was first published I have been astonished by the outpouring of letters from around the world. I had no idea what impact my little story would have.

Dear Moshe,

My name is Ezra Weinberger I am the great great grandson of the "Szerdahely Rav" Rav Hillel Weinberger.

As I sit here typing away at 4:30 in the morning, I cant help but feel a sense of awe and excitement to know a little bit more of family history. I am currently sitting in my college dorm room trying not to wake up my roommate, as I can hardly can contain my excitement.

A little bit about my self: I am 20 years old and studying at Yeshiva University in NYC. I have grown up in a "Modern Orthodox" household.

Ever since a young age I have looked towards genealogy to provide insight not only into my past but have viewed it as an anchor of spiritual inspiration/direction. Anyhow, I stumbled upon your page (as like most college students I suffer from insomnia),sometime around 2:00 AM.

At first I was a bit hesitant to contact you, as I am not accustomed to talking to strangers, however I had a burning urge to reach out and share a story about my Grandfather Akiva Yosef Weinberger (Rav Hillel Son).

Below you will find a speech that I recited in Auschwitz on a Yeshiva Trip to Poland: Der Pintele Yid Thursday, 26 December 2013 16:26 By Ezra Weinberger

Ezra Weinberger is a June 2013 graduate of The Frisch School who is learning at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah this year. Ezra made this speech to his fellow students as they were about to enter Auschwitz Concentration Camp on their Heritage trip to Poland:

On the first Shabbat of yeshiva, I was introduced to the idea that within every neshama (soul) resides one fundamental aspect that forges and fuels the inextinguishable spiritual drive of the Jew. This unwavering quality of faith is known as the “Pintele Yid”—the eternal spark of the Jew.

Through the tides of time, the survival of the Jews as both a nation and as a people has been tested in ways beyond human comprehension. This reality could not be any more self-evident than the dark days of the Holocaust.

The only time my grandfather ever spoke about his experience during the Holocaust, was during the Passover Seder. We were up to “We were slaves…”, when my grandfather said in Hungarian, “At times, it appears that even miracles can occur in hell.”

The table fell silent, as we gained a small glimpse into the true power of the Pintele Yid through the following story.

During the War, my grandfather carried with him a family picture along with his bar mitzvah tefillin at all times in his shoe. While on a death march, the Nazis ordered my grandfather to take off his shoes and discovered his tefillin. After beating my grandfather, Satan’s henchmen proceeded to throw his tefillin into a pit of fire filled with human corpses. Without thinking twice, my grandfather flung himself into the pit in order to save his only and most precious possessions.

There he lay amongst the burning flesh which was being consumed by the flames of hatred. After what seemed like an eternity, my grandfather emerged from the pit of death with his tefillin and picture both unscathed.

He went on to explain that the picture served as a reminder of the past, while his tefillin served as the manifestation of the future.

Following his liberation in 1945, my grandfather had his tefillin checked by a Sofer (Jewish scribe) and they were found to be kosher.

My grandfather wore them every day until he passed away in 1999.

The winters of Poland are brutal and unforgiving. I am currently wearing three layers of shirts, long johns, sweatpants, three pairs of thermal socks, winter boots, a pair of gloves, a cashmere scarf, a down ski jacket, and a rabbit fur hat to boot. Yet, I feel the constant chills run throughout my body. I have spent almost five days in the country, and have yet to see a single hint of a smile on anyone’s face.

The natives’ caricatures appear as grey and lifeless as the cobble stone floor on which I stand. The people of this land are free to live where they please without the fear of losing their lives.

As I stand here about to enter Auschwitz, I can’t even begin to imagine what horrors my brothers and sisters endured. While the Nazis may have stripped away our homes, torn apart our family’s, desecrated our places of worship, and blackened countless souls, they could never take away the eternal power of the Pintele Yid.

We stand here today not only as free Jews in the year 5774, but as the living testament to the 6 million Pintele Yids who perished Al Kiddush Hashem (honoring the name of God).

After 2,000 years of exile, we are studying Torah in the Jewish homeland, for we are the offspring of the Jews like my grandfather who never forgot who they were or what they stood for in longing for a better future. Even as we stand in the shadow of the valley of the death, I could not feel any more alive, because what was once the spark of the Pintele Yid is now a raging fire.

משה שלום,

שמי קטי סולומון,כרגע גרה בטורונטו עקב שליחות בעלי לקנדה במסגרת עבודתו.

עד העליה לארץ,חינו בדוניסקה סטרדה.

רציתי להודות לך על המצגת המאלפת אותה הכנתה בעקיבות ביקורך בעיר,וקיבלתי אותה מידידי היקר,יוראי שטרן.

התרגשתי עד דמעות בקריאת תיאוריך נוגעי לב על הקהילה הקטנה ש״חיבקה״אותך באהבה,על קשי אירגון מניין,על בית הקברות,בו טמונים יקירנו,ועל מצבת הזיכרון לקרובינו שנספו בשואה.

היטבתה לבטא ברגישות רבה את עברה המפואר של קהילה

אוכל במעט להוסיף,שאחרי המלחמה, נותרו בעיר כ 60 משפחות,ואנו הינו

דור שני לשואה,ללא משפחות מורחבות.הילדים היהודים היו בני הדודים

שלנו.את רוב ימי הילדות העברנו באושר רב בחצר בית הכנסת,בחצר ובנין,

שלתדהמתי הרבה,חלק ממנו היא מסעדה סינית.זה לצערי הרב גורלם המר

של אתרים יהודיים בגולה.בבית כנסת זה למדנו בחדר את האותיות הראשונות

של אלף בית,שם נחספנו לראשונה לספר תורה,שם חגגנו,לעיתים במחתרת

את חגי ישראל (בתקופה הקומוניסטית),שם,אנו הילדים הבנו,שאנו יהודים,

וביחד שי לנו כוח.שם ובבית שמענו סיפורים על הסבים וסבתות שלנו הקדושים,

שניספ בשואה.סבא רבא שלי היה רב ידוע בעיר לא רחוקה מעירנו,וסבא שלי,

אברהם שטרן היה קבלן נדיב,וגם תלמיד חכם,שתרם רבות לקהילה.

מר כץ היקר,שוב אני מודה לך על תרומתך לקהילה חשובה שהיתה ואיננה עוד.

את המצגת שלך,ברשותך,אני אמסור לילדי,נכדי ולכל חברי יוצאי דוניסקה סטרדה,

שחיים בארץ.

מאחלת לך כל טוב,חג פסח כשר,

             קטי סולומון

some general history

The population of the town has been predominantly Hungarian at least since the late Middle Ages.

Hungary had the misfortune of siding with the losers in World War One. As a result it was stripped of many of its territories after the war.

As such Dunajská Streda was taken away from Hungarian sovereignty.

In 1919 Dunajská Streda became part of Czechoslovakia . It was ceded to Hungary once again by the First Vienna Award in 1938, but was returned to Czechoslovakia in 1945 after World War ll (when once again Hungary sided with the losers and the bad guys).

In 1993  with the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, Dunajská Streda became part of Slovakia.


First time in Bratislava. It would be a very exciting day.

Israeli Embassy

Tibor somehow managed to arrange a private meeting with the Israeli ambassador, Alexander Ben Zvi. Of course no cameras were allowed past security and we could not get a photo.

I found the ambassador, and his top security guard, very kind, friendly and hospitable.

The flag of Israel outside the embassy.

The "Man's" room at a very fine coffee house in Bratislava. Not many English speakers here.

The Purim Ball

Tibor told me we are going to a Purim party, actually one week after Purim, and that the Israeli ambassador would be there. I imagined they would serve some humus and falafel, buffet style, and I would meet the ambassador as we were stuffing our pitas with some salad.

I could not have been more off. This was the fanciest party I had ever been to. The outfits, the service, the program. I felt like I was in a movie, only I did not fit in, that is until I saw the IKI logo on the program and realized that we were actually one of the sponsers.

IKI on the Purim Ball card. Who would have thought!

Violinist performs 

The Pressburger Klezemer band.

Purim dancing

My host, Tibor Sklut, enjoying the Purim ball.

Jewish Federation

I was honored to be invited to the Jewish Federation of Slovakia and be hosted by Mr. Martin Kornfeld, son of Mr. Kornfeld of the Synagogue in Dunaska Streda. He honored me with a special gift, kosher wine produced in Hungary. I will use it for Passover, my grandfather from Munkatch would be proud.

Bratislava boasted a prewar Jewish population of more than 15,000. Today there are about 500 Jews left, 80% of them Holocaust survivors. The Federation provides them with daily kosher meals.

The Danube

Slovak Dunaj, Hungarian Duna. It flows for some 1,770 miles (2,850 km) to its mouth on the Black Sea. Along its course, it passes through nine countries: Germany, Austaia, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine.

The Chatam Sofer

The Chatam Sofer is a household name among Orthodox Jews, For a little background here are some words from Wikipeida.

 Moses Schreiber (1762–1839), known to his own community and Jewish posterity as Moshe Sofer, also known by his main work Chasam Sofer, (Seal of the Scribe and acronym for Chidushei Toras Moshe Sofer), was one of the leading Orthodox rabbis of European Jewry in the first half of the nineteenth century. He was a teacher to thousands and a powerful opponent to the Reform movement in Judaism, which was attracting many people from the Jewish communities in Austrai-Hungary and beyond. As Rav of the city of  Pozsony, (now Bratislava, capital of Slovkia) he maintained a strong Orthodox Jewish perspective through communal life, first-class education, and uncompromising opposition to Reform and radical change.

The Chasam Sofer established a yeshiva in Pozsony, which became the most influential yeshiva in Central Europe, producing hundreds of future leaders of Hungarian Jewry. This yeshiva continued to function until World War II; afterward, it was relocated to Jerusalem under the leadership of the Chasam Sofer's great-grandson, Rabbi Akiva Sofer (the Daas Sofer).

Entering the Grave site of the Chatam Sofer, the black structure is a "safe zone" for Cohanim, who are not allowed to be in an enclosed cemetary.

Sign outside, in the Slovak language, Chatam Sofera is the Chatam Sofer.

Sign at the entrance to the tombs of the 23 rabbis. I think the message is clear.

Sign indicating that this is as far as a cohen (one descended from Aaron the brother of Moses) can go. So this is where I stop.  It reads; "WARNING  Kohanim not to enter past the glass door leading to the grave site"

The tombstone of the Chatam Sofer, Rabbi Moshe Sofer. 23 leading rabbis are buried here.

Tibor paying his respects at the tomb. He also made a generous contribution for the upkeep of the tomb as we were told the expenses are great and in two years they may run out of financing.