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Officials in a Slovak town have apologized to local Jews for a pogrom that took place shortly after the end of World War II.
"We express deep regret of the tragic event, which has no equivalent in our modern history in terms of its evil and inhuman character," said the statement by Topolcany municipal officials presented to representatives of the Federation of Jewish Communities at a meeting Sunday attended by more than 50 of the town's Jewish former residents.
Topolcany today has a population of approximately 15,000. Some 3,000 Jews lived there before the war. About 10 percent survived the Holocaust and returned from concentration camps, only to face the anti-Semitic wrath of their neighbors, witnesses recalled.
One of them was Ruzena Hornova, 90, who survived the pogrom after some "good-hearted people" from town warned her about it and she managed to hide.
Jan Emila, Topolcany's deputy mayor, said it was hard to find proper words for the apology. Some councilors said they should wait for a comment from the Institute of National Memory.
Frantisek Alexander, chairman of the Slovak Federation of Jewish Communities, told JTA that the apology "was a very good thing, in spite of being quite late. I do not think people have changed that much in the town from the time of the pogrom, but it was very important for them to hear the words of town officials on the subject."
Alexander noted that the apology had been in the works for some time thanks to pressure from the federation.
Israeli historian Robert Buchler said the riot against Topolcany Jews on September 24, 1945 was provoked by a rumor that a Jewish doctor was injecting children with a poisonous serum. During the pogrom, 48 people were seriously injured, according to the federation.
During World War II, Slovakia was a puppet fascist state that cooperated with Nazi Germany. The regime paid Germany 500 German marks for each Jew deprived of Slovak citizenship and deported to concentration camps. Some 70,000 Slovak Jews were sent to extermination camps, where most of them perished.
Another survivor of the pogrom, Dr. Jaroslav Gerhart, blamed it on the statements and positions of Slovak politicians, including Jozef Tiso, a priest and president of the wartime government.
The issue remains controversial, even today. Less than a year ago, the Slovak public TV company broadcast a documentary about the pogrom, but the film, which documented the hatred against Topolcany's Jewish population, caused unintended controversy.
The station director halted the screening shortly before the scheduled broadcast because of extreme anti-Semitic statements made by one resident in the film. The station director said airing the program could violate laws against racial and national defamation.
Critics, including Jewish groups, argued that the program needed to be seen so that an open debate about current anti-Semitism could be held in Slovakia. Following protests, the film was broadcast.