The history of Jews in Slovenia pre-dates the 6th century, with the first Jews arriving in present-day Slovenia in Roman times. A lasting Slovenian Jewish community did not take root until the 12th century, when Jews fleeing the violence of the crusades in central Europe and economic depression in western Europe immigrated to the area. Relations between the Slovenian Jewish community and local Christians were good, and Jews in Slovenia lived in relative peace for a couple of centuries.
In the 15th century, tensions between the Jewish community in Slovenia and the region’s aristocracy, evoked by a resentfulness of Jewish wealth, with the nobility generally refusing to pay back Jewish moneylenders and gradually expelling Jews from individual territories until the last Jews were expelled in 1718. The region was devoid of a Jewish presence until the Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI allowed Jews to return to the region in 1809. However, his successor, Francis I almost immediately countered this decree in 1817.
It was not until the Austrian Constitution of 1867 that Jews were granted full civil and political rights, and even with this development, the Jewish population in Slovenia was practically desolate at the turn of the 20thcentury. Widespread and rampant antisemitism was a contributing factor to this demographic trend, and even with the formation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1918 and the absorption of Slovenia’s Jewish community into the Zagreb Jewish community, the Slovenian Jewish community was tiny.
The 1930’s saw an increase in the Slovenian Jewish population, as an influx of Jewish immigrants fleeing Austria and Nazi Germany for the more tolerant Kingdom of Yugoslavia settled in Slovenia.
World War II and the Holocaust devastated Slovenia’s Jewish population, with only about 200 Slovenian Jews surviving. Many of them subsequently emigrated, and there was a large period of inactivity in the Slovenian Jewish community in the years following the war.
The eruption of tensions in Yugoslavia in 1991 saw many Jews caught in the crossfires of a civil war that gripped all five major republics. Widespread and rampant violence forced many Yugoslav Jews to leave their homes and saw the destruction of many Jewish landmarks.
The international recognition of Slovenia as an independent state in 1992 saw the resumption of normal life for Slovenian Jews. They immediately set about rebuilding a Jewish community center and reorganizing the community to be better connected throughout the country. Such efforts have continued into the present, as Slovenian Jewry finds itself well organized with a strong presence in the country’s affairs. Lev Kreft served as the Vice President of Parliament in 1992 and Katja Boh, who was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War II, served as the first Slovenian Ambassador from 1991 to 1997.