The History of the Jewish Community of Csenger
הַרְנִינוּ גוֹיִם עַמּוֹ כִּי דַם עֲבָדָיו יִקּוֹם וְנָקָם יָשִׁיב לְצָרָיו וְכִפֶּר אַדְמָתוֹ עַמּוֹ
And He (meaning Hashem) Shall take revenge from his Enemies, and He shall avenge the blood of His servants
Our small town stands before my eyes as I remember it, as a town which was bustling with a vibrant Jewish life. Even though the Jews were a minority of the town's population, their influence with the government was great, due to their affluence. They owned large houses, and a variety of large stores. These were mostly located in the main or central part of the city, which was known as Piatz Teer. The Jews owned land, orchards, and fruit gardens, and farms. These were given over from fathers to sons, and from sons to grandsons, and their descendants. Most of the Jews were well established financially, and some were considered rich and prosperous.
Csenger is one of the numerous towns in the country of Hungary; one of which is in the district of Satmar. The district of Satmar was divided, between Romania and Hungary as a result of the agreement which was reached in the year l9l8, at the end of the First World War. The town of Csenger was situated on the border, and only a few kilometers separated between her and the Romanian border. This fact contributed to the cessation of its thriving commerce after it was divided Prior to its being divided, Csenger and its train station were the crossing point to the part of Hungary which is called Transylvania. In the period between the two World Wars its economic growth was stunted. However, the city became the center of marketing for the fruits of the gardens which extended along the great river Smoosh that surrounded the city from both of its sides, the north and the south.
The focus of the town's Jews was centered mainly around its religious institutions, which fully enriched their lives.
This community with its shadows and lights, together with its pain and longing, and its sadness and hopes, invested its energies completely in the ongoing struggle of the character of our nation, and mainly concentrated on its fortress- on the Jewish religion. Therefore its institutions, and its Rov, its clergy, and the shul, and the school of the town were the main point of interest for all its Jewish inhabitants.
The Jews of the city did not differ in their manner of dress from the other people of the city or the country. Their outward appearance did not testify to the fact that they were Jewish, except for the way they dressed on Shabbos and Yom Tov. In those days they went to shul in clothing which was exclusively theirs. The men wore black hats, while holding a tallis and siddur under their arms. The appearance of their faces radiated holiness, as if the Holy Shechina (Divine Presence) rested on their faces. Then, upon seeing them in the streets of the city, you would know that these were Jews who had just left their homes. In these homes the women had just lit the Shabbos candles, after preparing themselves for the holy day. You would know that these Jews have just purified themselves in the mikva (ritual bath) which cleansed them of any impurity acquired during the previous days of the week. For it were these Jews who a short time earlier were busy with their regular every day occupations, and were working hard to support their families, who just sanctified themselves in order that they should be able to serve their Creator, and go to shul to greet the holy Shabbos queen.
The Gentiles in the street knew that the Jew whom they just previously were able to converse with about day to day matters, and about the topics of commerce and marketing agricultural produce, was now completely transformed to a different type of person immersed in the service of his Creator. Who could compare to him? That Gentile from the street strove in his subconscious mind to be like him, and envied him because of the elevated spirit which engulfs the Jews on Shabbos and Yom Tov.
The Jews of Csenger considered the Jewish heritage to be holy, even during the golden period of history, which was during the rule of the Emperor Franz Joseph (a very righteous and kind king). Even during the time that their freedom (from persecution and discrimination) was guaranteed by the law, and they knew that they were protected from being harassed in any way, they knew that the obligation of each and every one of them to bequeath to their children their Jewish heritage, based on the Torah, which they acquired from their forefathers, rested upon them. This eternal obligation that we were commanded to carry out, is expressed by the fact that we say three times a day And to Jerusalem, Your city, You should return with pity, and You should dwell in her as You have promised. Every Jew knows that that day will come, and if this prayer is not answered during his time, it will be answered during his descendants' time.
Besides being occupied with religious life, the Jews of Csenger's main employment was concentrated on the business they did. A large percentage of the Jews of Csenger had their own stores, that were located mainly near the main square of the town. In the center of the city there were three main streets that were joined by the roads which branched out from the nucleus, and these streets were the location of the main thoroughfare which came and went there. From the year l940 on, when a large part of Transylvania was annexed to Hungary, Csenger again served as the transit center from Hungary to Transylvania and from there to the large city that was twenty kilometers away, which was the capital of the district, named Satmar Nemeti.
At the end of the above-mentioned crossroads there was a large square, which was the main square of the town. Once a month, on the last Friday of every month was a big marketing day. Every Friday, the business was conducted in the smaller market. On the big marketing day all the farmers would gather in the square in order to sell and buy the drinks that they produced. They would come with their horses and other animals among the noisy crowd, and the neighing of the horses, dressed in their village clothing. All this was part of a colorful, noisy and lively trading center, besides being a time of socializing. This was the day of the week that the farmer came out of his four cubits to meet with other people, and to spend time drinking beer together with his friends.
Most of the residents of Csenger, especially its Jewish residents were busy on this day in their stores. But this day was also the one that brought them the largest amount of money from all the other days of the week.
However, the owners of the farms and the fruit orchards among the Jews of Csenger, whose properties extended all along the shores of the river Smoosh at the western part of the city, and also the Jews who lived in the nearby villages, reaped the blessed rewards of their labor during the months of August to October which was the time of the harvest, and also during the time that the apples were picked, and the crops were harvested. The fruits that were sold to the merchants of the big cities in the center of the country were delivered to the capital city of Budapest by train. This was their main destination. From there they were exported out of the country. The owners of the farms would sell their produce, which was mainly wheat and barley to the merchants who were mostly Jews from Csenger.
Thus, most of Csenger's Jews were able to provide a good financial basis for themselves among the Gentiles of the city. This naturally caused them to become attached to the land since it provided them an income, even though it was really not theirs from a nationalistic aspect.
The first Jews settled in Csenger at the beginning of the eighteenth century,
and in the other half of the present century, about 250 years ago, they founded
the Jewish community. It started off with one hundred and fifty people.
The Surrounding Area of Csenger
The surrounding area of Csenger was very large, and it was composed of villages that were in a radius of fifty kilometers, and these were known as the Unterland.
The Jews in these villages tried to adapt their lifestyles to that of the Jews of Csenger. They tried to marry off their children to the families of the Jews of Csenger, since they provided an example for them which they wished to emulate.
|View of the main synagogue of Csenger built in 1794|
Csenger served not only as a central district, but also as a community which was the center of all the religious needs of the adjacent cities. The Rov of the city of Csenger served as the Rov of all the neighboring cities. If anyone of the nearby cities didn't have a permanent shochet (ritual slaughterer), then the city of Csenger would provide them with meat which was slaughtered according to Jewish law.
The merchants who did business on a large scale supplied their wares to the smaller stores. These were tools made of iron which were used in the fields and in the orchards, and building supplies, and materials. These wholesale merchants would supply the retailers in the villages that surrounded the city of Csenger.
The horse drawn carriages were the main type of transportation used in the city of Csenger.
In the villages adjacent to Csenger, just like in Csenger itself, the lives of the Jews were centered around the shul which was the main focus of their lives, to which they were drawn. Their lives were conducted according to the Jewish heritage.
The village of Portzelama had independent Jewish institutions. They had their own shochet, shul, and their own mikvah. However, they did not have a Rov. In the other villages no shul or mikva were located, and one of the rich Jews in each village would arrange to have a shul in their homes, where they would daven on Shabbos and Yom Tov. One shochet would perform the shechita for three or four villages. Any questions that pertained to Jewish law were brought before the Rov of the district, who likewise would officiate during the marriages, and arrange the divorces. All matters which relate to observance of Jewish law were under his supervision.
These are the names of the villages near Csenger in which the Jews lived:
Pottzelama, Herman Saag, Shima, Okoreeto, Petyud, Csegöld, Nag'gatz,
Gatz'shai, Tashgolad, Kitz Gash, Smoshe Batz, Oar, Rozai, Oyfalu, Zayta,
Tyukud, Strapalva, Rapold, Smush Dara, Smush Shali, and Tóthfalu.
Tyukud is a small village among the other villages that surrounded Csenger like a chain. Its Jewish residents excelled in their honesty and their devotion to their families. After the swamps in the area were drained, the village was founded.
These swamps were called lap. Little by little people settled there and gradually established themselves. Among these settlers were a small amount of Jews who together with their families lived there till l944, when they were taken to the ghetto of Mattesalka. These were nineteen families which were made up of seventy seven people in all.
Their livelihood was obtained mainly by doing business. However, over the years they also bought land which they cultivated on their own, or with the help of hired workers. These parcels of land were bequeathed from father to son, and onward to their descendants in the following generations. They were not rich and also not poor. Thus they lived their lives with complete faith that the day will come when they will not return to their homes because of fear of what the next day will bring. They believed that they will settle in the land of their fathers, in the holy land. In all the hundreds of years which they resided there, they did not build a shul. They built a small house with two rooms and tiled roofs in which a small corridor divided between the two rooms. In one room lived the shochet with his family, and in the other room the Jews of the village gathered to pray, for this house served as a shul for them.
Most of the residents of the village were the descendants of the original settlers, except for two or three families. In the cemetery at the corner of the village there are monuments as old as two hundred fifty to 300 years.
After the Holocaust only twelve people returned to the village, and among them was one young girl. However, they couldn't find any peace after the horrors that they and those dear to them went through, and in the year l949 there was only one Jew left in the village. Some of the refugees established their families in Israel, and others in the Diaspora. The young girl that survived married one of farmers in the northern district, and became a mother to children who grew up in the land they were born in and are proud of it.
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