Early History: The well-preserved, historic town of Bardejov, formerly Bártfa (Bartfeld in German and Yiddish) was settled in the early Middle Ages along an ancient trade route between the Baltic and the Black Seas. Throughout the 13th and 14th centuries, Bardejov was one of the leading towns in Hungary. By the 15th century, it was at the height of its economic development, due primarily to the manufacturing and trade of linen. With a population of approximately 3,000, it registered more than 50 guilds. By the 16th century, architectural developments had further enhanced the town, including the completion of a parish church and a town hall in the center of the main square. During this period, Bardejov made significant advances in culture and education, including the construction of a Latin public school, a public library, and printing houses. In the mid-1700s, the mineral springs in the area—known for their healing properties since the 13th century—were developed into the Bardejov Spa. Over the centuries, the spa was expanded and modernized and by the end of the 19th century it had become one of the most renowned in Europe.
The presence of Jews in Bardejov dates from the early Middle Ages. Expelled from Bardejov in 1631, Jews from Galicia resettled there in the mid-18th century. These descendants of the Galician Hasidic dynasty founded by Rabbi Chaim Halberstam lived northeast of the marketplace and worked initially as farmers in nearby villages. By 1806, they began to establish community buildings. Eventually they built a thriving, self-contained complex north of the town center, which is known today as the Jewish Suburbia. It was outside the city walls, where Jews were allowed to live.
In 1869, after some restrictions against the Jews were lifted, the Jewish population grew to 1,011 (out of a total population of 5,307). At that time, Jews were not restricted to live only in the Suburbia area. Most were store owners, businessmen, and artisans. The Jewish community contributed to the overall economy of the town—including the development of Bardejov as a health resort—and to its distinguished printing history.
By 1900, Bardejov’s Jews had established a Hebrew printing press, becoming one of the last centers of Hebrew printing to be established in Europe before the Holocaust. From 1900 to 1938, two Hebrew presses printed over 100 volumes. Nearly all were rabbinic or Hasidic texts, reflecting the town’s cultural and religious distinction as the seat of one branch of the Halberstam Hasidic dynasty.
By 1919, Bardejov’s Jewish population had reached 2,119, with 40 settlements surrounding the Jewish quarter and united under the local rabbinate. Although by the 1940s Jewish children attended public schools and there were a large number of Jewish municipal council members, most of Bardejov’s Jews maintained an Orthodox way of life, praying in numerous synagogues established in the town.
In 1940, laws against Jews were enforced. Many of the town’s Jews had been pushed out of their businesses by the Slovakian state; Jews from the surrounding areas were brought to Bardejov. The 1942 mandatory census of the Jews, “Supis Zidov,” lists 3,589 Jews in the Bardejov region, of which 2,498 lived in the City of Bardejov. Their deportation began in March 25. On May 15, 1942, about 2,500 Jews were deported from Bardejov’s train station to concentration camps. A few Jews with “valuable professions” stayed, but by September 1944 they, too, were either deported or fled.
After liberation by the Soviet army in January 1945, seven Jews emerged from their hiding place in a wine cellar of a store in the main square. Some Jews returned from the Polish forests. The town became a center for refugees and for immigration to Palestine. In 1947, there were about 380 Jews in Bardejov, including 80 children; almost all of them left by 1959. In 2005, the last Jew living in Bardejov, Meir Spira A”H, died.
After more than 260 years of continuous Jewish presence, no Jews live in Bardejov today.