Orthodox synagogue of Košice, Copyright Liadmalone

Košice is the hometown of my character Artur Sklar, though he’s Czech and not Slovakian. It’s the next-largest city in Slovakia, and the largest city in eastern Slovakia. In 2013, it was named (along with Marseille) the European Capital of Culture. Košice sits on the Hornád River, and is bordered on the west by the Slovak Ore Mountains. Today, its population is about 240,000.

The city was first recorded as Villa Cassa in 1230. Other historic names include Kassa (Hungarian), Kaschau (German), Cassovia (Latin), Caşovia (Romanian), Koszyce (Polish), and Kaşa (Turkish). People have been living here at least as far back as the end of the Paleolithic Era.


Interior of Neolog synagogue on Zvonárska Ulica, Copyright A.fiedler

Košice has a very well-preserved Old Town, the largest in Slovakia. Many of its buildings are protected as cultural heritage landmarks, among them the Dóm Svätej Alžbety (St. Elisabeth Cathedral), Slovakia’s largest church. The Old Town’s long main street is lined with churches, historic houses, palaces, cafés, restaurants, boutiques, and shops.

Košice was Europe’s first settlement to receive a coat of arms, in 1369.


Copyright Erika Mlejová (sk:Redaktor:Erika Mlejová)

Due to its position near the Slovakian border, it’s been in and out of foreign hands many times over the centuries. Most recently, it was part of the former Czechoslovakia from 1945–93, and part of Hungary from 1938–45. Under the First Vienna Award of 1938 and the Second Vienna Award of 1940, Hungary annexed parts of Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine, Croatia, Serbia, and Slovenia.

This was a quasi-blessing in disguise, as their Jewish communities were largely left alone until the German occupation of 19 March 1944.  This slightly prolonged rendezvous with cruel destiny gave some young people more of a chance to survive, because they were old enough to qualify as workers by the time they were deported.

About 23,600 people (300 from Košice) unable to prove Hungarian citizenship were deported and murdered in the Kamyanets–Podilskyy massacre of August 1941.

During the 1944 deportations, Košice was the spot where the Hungarian gendarmes accompanying the death trains handed over control to the Germans.


Ethnic Hungarians celebrating Košice’s return to Hungary, Copyright Gyöngyi, FOTO:Fortepan — ID 6168, Source http://www.fortepan.hu/_photo/download/fortepan_11510.jpg

Many refugees found shelter in Hungary, one of the only places in Europe left to run to. Local organisations and individuals helped most of them to reach Budapest. In 1941, the Jewish Women’s Association created a home for 60 children and young women who’d fled Slovakia.

Košice Jewry were forced into a ghetto beginning 28 April 1944. About 1,000 exemptions (mostly doctors, medal-holders from WWI, politicians, and professionals) lived in another ghetto. On 13 May, the main ghetto was liquidated and its residents moved to the master ghetto for Abauj–Torna County.

Altogether, about 14,000 people were deported to Auschwitz on 13, 19, and 25 May, and 2 June. About 100 people had gone into hiding, and several dozen more escaped the ghettoes for Slovakia or Budapest.

Like most places in Europe, the returning survivors tried to rebuild their community, but there weren’t enough of them left. They left for the bigger cities or other countries. Today, almost no one uses the synagogue.


Luxemburg Tower fragment of Medieval wall system


Electric tram on Hlavná Ulica (Main Street)

There’s a lot of culture in Košice, such as the Košice State Theatre (drama, opera, ballet); the Old Town Theatre; the Marionette Theatre; State Philharmonic Košice; the Slovak Technical Museum (which has a planetarium); the East Slovak Museum (established 1872 as the Upper Hungarian Museum); and the East Slovak Gallery.

Other landmarks include the Greek Catholic Church of Virgin Mary’s Birth, the Executioner’s Bastion, a zoo, the 14th century St. Michael Chapel, the St. Urban Tower, and the Archbishop’s Palace.


Košice Theatre, 1900


Pre-1900 postcard with theatre at centre

Košice boasts a number of schools, among them the Technical University of Košice, Pavol Jozef Šafárik University, Security Management College, and the University of Veterinary Medicine. Several other schools also have branches in Košice. There are 47 elementary schools, 13 vocational schools, 20 gymnasia, and 24 specialised high schools.


St. Elisabeth Cathedral and St. Michael Chapel, Copyright Maros Mraz (Maros)


Archbishop’s Palace, Copyright Rl91

It’s been a long, hard, painful road to independence, but today Slovakia is finally free.


Copyright Bubamara

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