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[Page 337]

The Jews of Magyarlápos and surroundings,
their life and their destruction

[Tîrgu Lăpuş, Romania]

47°27' 23°52'

 

Preface

by Karl Lázár

Translated by Susan Geroe

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The township of Magyarlapos is a district seat. A typical little Transylvanian country town, it is located between the Cibles and Sator Mountains, on the banks of the River Lapos, in a valley surrounded by woods.

Three nationalities - Jewish, Hungarian, and Romanian lived there peacefully.

The Jewry of the community lived the rugged, but relatively quiet Transylvanian Jewish life of the post Emancipation peaceful era. Retailers, craftsmen, fair merchants, day by day traveling salesmen, grains and livestock tradesmen, Jewish community workers, teachers and Yeshiva students, they all painted a colorful picture of original characters worthy of Shalom Alechem's writings.

The Magyarlapos Jewish life embraces the past of the small town's Jewry, as indicate the dates found on the cemetery grave markers, from its beginning to the era of destruction, through the sad history of today's handful of survivors. It follows the history of the 1200 souls all the way from their small number at the beginning of last century, through the emancipation period, to the advanced days of this century. It describes the excruciatingly difficult lives of poverty stricken people, struggling with daily worries about subsistence, the development of small industry and economic life according to needs, until the emergence of Jewish doctors, lawyers, and notaries.

The lives of these Jews ran according to the philosophical beliefs of the Teitelbaum rabbinical dynasty, following a conservative, Chassidic lifestyle. The rabbi ruled, and his word was the law. Yet, despite the rigid, anti-Zionist concept, the progressive ideas of the times permeated the thoughts of the youth and a lively Zionist life developed after First World War, as this book describes it in details.

It builds a wonderful monument to both, the development and demise of this two hundred-year-old Community. It immortalizes the names of those people who offered an opportunity to others in need to make a living, or who were benefactors and supported the Jewish spirit of this small town.

Singer Zoltan, editor of this book, undertook a praiseworthy job when he decided to honor the Jewish history of Szolnok-Doboka County all the way through its tragic demise, in the form of a memorial book.

Nemes Geza, a son of Magyarlapos, deserves gratitude and appreciation. He spared no time or trouble and helped the editor by collecting and processing data, and also wrote the history of the Jews of Magyarlapos and the surrounding towns that belonged to the county.

We believe that indeed, this book will find its way everywhere and will attain its true and noble goal to serve as a memorial for posterity.

 


[Page 339]

First Jewish Settlers in the community

Translated by Susan Geroe

 

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A view of Magyarlapos

 

Magyarlapos was one of the district seats of the former Szolnok-Doboka County. Until 1918, it belonged to Hungary, and from then on, with smaller interruptions, to Romania's Ardeal (Transylvania). A mountainous area in its northern parts, this region was neighboring the northeastern most county of the former Great Hungary, Maramures.

Magyarlapos is situated near the River Lapos, north of the Ilosva and close to the Cibles Mountains, near beech and oak wood forests. People in the region were primarily involved in agriculture, livestock, and forestry. In that old Hungary, excepting Hunyad County, Szolnok-Doboka County accounted for the highest number of people who were unable to read or write.

In Antiquity, following the demise of the Roman Empire, Goths also inhabited this area. During the migration period, the indigenous population most probably decreased in number. Later, the Slavs substituted the Goths and they were mostly involved with salt exploration in the region. (In old Hungarian language, the word “Szolnok” refers to someone involved in salt exploration.) Hungarians, and subsequently Hungarianized Szeklars replaced later these inhabitants.

At the turn of the century, Magyarlapos had a population of hardly more than 2000 people, but due to the earlier mentioned location and market days, its importance far exceeded the rank of its population.

As we know, a few Jews came to Transylvania during the sixteenth century, most probably as participants in the big market days of Gyulafehervar or other towns. They most certainly settled in this area only temporarily, certainly not for good. Officially, Jewish people from the South set up homes here with permission only in the seventeenth century. They were descendants of Jews who settled in Istanbul, Turkey, following the Spanish Expulsion. After the Fall of the Turkish Empire, these Jews, listening to their common sense, migrated back to Turkish territories.

We have no proof whatsoever that Jews reached Szolnok-Doboka before the eighteenth century and it is not even probable, according to the documents of the Hungarian Archives.

During the eighteenth century, we find within Hungarian Jewish circles that Jews of Moravian and German provenience outweighed others both in number and otherwise. This fact indicates that their majority probably came from western parts, including those Jews who at the beginning of the eighteenth century appeared as first Jewish representatives in Magyarlapos.

The mountainous region at the northern part of the county, and more so the effective patrolling of the border coupled with the harshest punishments for illegal border crossings, slowed down considerably in the beginning the Russian-Polish Jewish migration through the Carpathian Mountains. Yet, the Jewish pogrom of 1648 in Chmelnitzky set forth the beginnings of the migration within this Jewish branch as well.

All the data in our possession indicate that the Jews of Magyalapos came to Hungary and its surroundings from the earlier mentioned northern parts. The western sounding of their names presents further evidence to this, as does the overwhelming western influence shown by the rituals of their religious lives.

During the course of more than two centuries, the Jews of Magyarlapos adjusted to the Hungarian and Romanian population of the area. Children went to school together, cultural programs were organized jointly, and even more than that, some Jews associated with the most diversified strata of the population.

The changes of the 1918s interrupted for the first time these fully cordial seeming relations, and were followed by the consolidation, which brought about Hitlerism. Finally, the Vienna Awards completely and catastrophically put an end to the peaceful coexistence.

In the story below, we describe the Jews of Magyarlapos, who seemed to be an integral part of the colorful local environment, who later disappeared forever, and who will no longer have continuity in Magyarlapos.

Twenty-five years have passed since deportation, since the destruction of the greater part of the Jews of Hungary. We had no data from the Hungarian Archives at our disposal when we researched the past of Magyarlapos. We found a few sentences relating to the matter on page 552 of Zsido Lexikon (Jewish Encyclopedia). There are possible doubts even as to the accuracy of these entries. However, the century long entries in the Journal of the Chevra Kadisha surfaced, which we find fully reliable. The tombstones also bear credible witness to this devoted Jewish Community that was far away from the railroad tracks.

On one of the gravestones in the cemetery of Magyarlapos we find the following inscription: “Here lies Gele bath Mordechaj, deceased 5559, in the year 1799 by the Christian calendar”.

Given that the deceased lived for sure in Magyarlapos and obviously, as a woman was not its first resident, we can assume with certainty that at the beginning of the eighteenth century, possibly somewhat earlier, Jews already lived in the district.


[Page 341]

The Rabbis of Magyarlápos -
The Jewish Community from its Creation Until Deportation

Translated by Susan Geroe

Magyarlapos elected its first rabbi, Cvi Hirsch Weiss, the son-in-law of Rabbi Meir Asch, around 1865. He functioned in Lapos for fifteen years and published within that time several Halachic type scientific works, among them, “Zichron Jehuda”, “Minhagot Rabenu Meir Asch”, “Amude and l'bet Jozsef”. He passed away in Poland, in 1897.

Zsido Lexikon mentions the name of Rav Mose Weisz also among the rabbis of Magyarlapos. We couldn't find data about his works.

In 1882, a new chief rabbi came to Magyarlapos - Mose David Teitelbaum. Rabbi Mose Teitelbaum was the son of the Gorlice Rabbi, and grandson of the once famous Chief Rabbi of Satoraljaujhely, Mose Teitelbaum (Jiszmah Mose).

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Rabbi Teitelbaum M. David z.c.l
Chief Rabbi of Magyarlapos

 

His election proved to be a blessing for both, the Jews of Magyarlapos and the Jewry of the region in that it reenergized entirely the community life.

During the time he served there, it became necessary to set up a bet-hamidrash in addition to the new synagogue, built in 1885 for the yeshiva he founded. The yeshiva started out with an enrollment of 90 students, and functioned according to the rules introduced by the chief rabbi. The school provided high-level instruction in Talmudic sciences. Enrollment varied according to the changing economic circumstances.

In later years, the former students of the yeshiva created the Chassidic congregant circle of the Teitelbaum Court in Magyarlapos. They came to see the Rabbi from all parts of the Empire.

As a Talmud scholar and as an individual, he was on the heels of his cousins from Sziget, Nagykaroly, and Szatmar, even in the fervent way in which he practiced his religion. He was more modest, perhaps. He published all the works of his grandfather, “Jiszmach Mose”, and also wrote his biography.

Due to his interest in Talmudic literature, the results he achieved in the leadership of the orthodoxy in Transylvania, as well as his recognition as a great Talmudic scholar, many came to him with significant din-Torah or Halachic questions seeking his counsel. His decisions were always recognized to be valid. All his work was lost during deportation.

He received undivided appreciation with his life style and appearance, even though he held to his ideas in the extreme, under any circumstances. His religious beliefs that were nearly extreme were matched by his love of Zion. In 1910, he visited the Land of Israel, yet as his cousins, he didn't believe in political Zionism. Shortly before his death though, he agreed to the organization of Poale Agudat Israel and the establishment of hachsara camps in Magyarlapos.

After the revolution that followed the end of First World War, once again, he reorganized the war ravaged yeshiva, but left its leadership in the hands of his son's son-in-law, Rav Aharon Gross, who also held the position of Dayan beside him. At this time, enrollment in the yeshiva grew from 180 to 200 students, and different from the earlier practice of humble partaking of food, it now provided full board, according of course, to the sufficiency of the donations. Rutner Zriel was in charge of the dining room.

Rabbi M. D. Teitelbaum had three sons. The oldest, Rabbi A. Ch. Teitelbaum was chief rabbi of the Polish resort, Krenitza. The second son, S.L. Teitelbaum established already before First World War a printing shop in Magyarlapos, then became a wholesale merchant in Budapest. Later, he immigrated to the United States, where to this day functions as the “Lapos rabbi”. The third son, J.S. Teitelbaum, was a merchant in Magyarlapos and Honorary Rabbi of Domokos. He was deported with his wife and two sons to Auschwitz.

Rabbi Abraham Chaim's eldest daughter, Beilcsu, wife of earlier mentioned Gross Aharon, remained in Magyarlapos.

Rabbi M.D. Teitelbaum died suddenly, while participating at the convention of the Central Orthodox Association, in Des, in 1935.

On the very day of the funeral, with the support of Rabbi Jajlis Teitelbaum of Szatmar, they convinced his son, J.S. Teitelbaum to withdraw his nomination. Thus, they elected unanimously Gross Aharon as chief rabbi of Magyarlapos.

Gross Aharon was a great Talmudic scholar, but a weak speaker. He was missing his great predecessor's individual power of attraction, and in consequence, the life of the congregation began to unwind.

The new rabbi took care of local problems mostly, thus giving place to constant disagreements. The fights within the Community became a daily issue.

His wife, the earlier mentioned Teitelbaum Beilcsu, was a talented, agile woman. She stood at the head of every women's organization and charity action. She saved many poor men from dying of cold and hunger.

Rabbi Gross Aharon, together with his noble hearted wife, children, and rabbi son-in-law, was deported with all the other Jews of Magyarlapos. There was no survivor whatsoever from his family.

Besides the well-known rabbis, knowledgeable shohets trained as rabbis functioned in Magyarlapos, as well.

At the beginning of the century, Rabbi Feisch Weiss came to Lapos. By professional calling, he was not pleased to be a shohet, and held daily Talmudic presentations for adults. In 1909, he published the Halachic works of his late grandfather, the world-renowned Rabbi Slomo Ganzfried, entitled “Lechem Voszimla”. He went to Kolozsvar from Magyarlapos.

Rav Jidl Werzberger followed him in Magyarlapos, until he left for Nagyvarad, in 1937.

The next shohet who served was Rav Arje Katz, grandson of Rav Slajme Sajchet from Sziget. He was a popular sermon leader as well. In 1942, he was rounded up into labor unit 110/34 and taken to the Ukraine. He died during the great retreat, while his wife and children perished during deportation.

For a while, Smuel Jozsef Bittmann functioned as associate shohet in Magyarlapos.

Here, we have a story linked to Magyarlapos. There once lived in the Zsil River valley a very observant rabbi during the nineteenth century, Jozsef Steiner, who on a Thursday, while Jewish families were preparing for Shabbat, found a spot in one of the lungs of a slaughtered cow. After long hesitation, ranking most important the public need to provide meat for the Jewish families during the Shabbat, he declared the cow fit for consumption from religious point of view. However, his conscience bothered him. He constantly researched Halachic works and finally, arrived to the conclusion that his decision was improper. Then, in the tradition of the elder tzadiks, he brought judgment against himself, in that he left his job, and picked up a walking stick. He walked and wandered from village to village to do penance, until he crossed from the southern parts to the northern ones and reached Magyarlapos.

He came face to face in Magyarlapos with Rabbi Mose Teitelbaum, who received the broken traveler with these words: “Reb Jozsef, it was enough already!” From then on, he functioned as the gabai of the rabbi, later as melamed, but never accepted another rabbinic position.

Rav Israel Berger, whose works can also be found in the Library of the University of Jerusalem, belongs in this chapter, too. He was born in Magyarlapos, and later became rabbi in Buzau and Bucharest. He became famous with his work written on Chassidism and about the lives of the great rabbis.

As a young man, his father, r. Izsak S. Berger, one of the founders of the Jewish Community of Magyarlapos, sent his brother, Rabbi Maier Berger, to the Holy Land. He functioned as rabbi in Sefad and published in 1912 a book about medications and “szgelesz”, entitled “Imre Israel”.


[Page 344]

The Jewish Community of
Magyarlápos and its Associations

Translated by Susan Geroe

The ten-member Jewish Community was established in 1820. Ignac Hirsch, a wealthy landowner, considered a prominent personality in the entire surrounding area, was the first president of the community. Simon Leopold and Berger Izsak were also landowners. Members of the community leadership beside Mr. Hirsch, were Fuchs Eisik and Matyas Mose. Salamon Zalmen, Stossel Abraham, and Leb Natan were founding members.

 

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The Synagogue of Magyarlapos (built in 1885)

 

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The Ark of the Magyarlapos Synagogue

 

First, they were holding services in a temporary prayer house. In 1885, when the membership of the community grew to 80 families, 400-500 people respectively, they tore down the temporary prayer house and from the Hirsch Ignac Foundation, they built in its place the large imposing synagogue, which stands to this day.

Friedlander David was the president of the community during those days. His accomplishments, as customary in those days, were listed in the Memorial Album published in 1896 in Budapest, on the occasion of Hungary's Millennial Jubilee. On the next page, we publish the extract of Friedlander David's short biography and picture from this memorial album.

The majority of the members made a living from handicrafts, but generally, everybody was also involved in agriculture.

A few Jewish families lived in each one of the surrounding villages listed below, which belonged organizationally to the Magyarlapos Orthodox Community:

 

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By way of development, the three larger villages - Olahlapos, Domokos, and Felsoszocs - built their own temples, had their own ritual baths and each employed its own shochet. They shared though the rabbi and the vital statistics recordings.

The congregation of Olahlapos included only one family and all members, from first to last, were related. The temple and ritual bath were located in the residence of Reb Gedalje. The shochet, Reb Jicchak Kaufmann was his son-in-law. Therefore, following morning prayers, both on weekdays and on Saturdays, it was natural that everyone ate breakfast in the room next to Reb Gedalje's prayer house, as his guest. This guest inn was open for room and board without charge to all Jewish travelers, rich and poor. Dub Jantel, his son-in-law, continued this noble tradition, and later, his son, Samu, carried this on.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, when the total population of Magyarlapos counted hardly more than 2000 residents, the Community and its institutions were maintained in part by the solid support of the well-to-do members and economically established Jews from the countryside, who were mostly involved in agriculture. If we question how was it possible that such a great Community was able to maintain itself solvent within such a relatively small place, it is difficult to answer to this day, even if we understand that the post office, postal savings bank, tax office, District Court, or the insignificant market days were always busy. Obviously, though, it all contributed to the growth of the community. A great number of the Magyalapos community members were Talmudic scholars who exercised a strong influence over the life of the community.

 

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David Friedlander in Magyarlapos

 

He was born in 1833 in Kis-Varda, where his father functioned as chief rabbi. Following his father's wishes, he also took up Talmudic studies first, but later became a merchant, and took over a tobacco store in Magyarlapos. Due to his wholesome character, his exceptional talents, soon, they elected him president of the community, a position where he worked with great fervor for the establishment of cultural institutions and the Hungarianization of the Jewish Community. Friedlander never got rich financially, however enjoyed the affection of his fellow citizens, who honored in him the good patriot, unselfish citizen, and the person ready for any sacrifice.


[Page 348]

The Chevra Kadisha

Translated by Susan Geroe

Rabbi David Jehuda Pollak, son of the chief rabbi of Bonyhad, one of the most famous students of the Chatam Szofer, came to the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains from the far away Transdanubia region. He organized the Chevra Kadisha that he led until the day he died. The book he kept for the Chevra still exists today, in Israel. Among his notes, this is what he wrote about himself: “I who record these data, David Leb Pollak, am a servant of the Chevra for more than thirty years, L'orech jamim… - until God allows me to live.” Thus, the Chevra Kadisha already functioned in 1848, before the freedom fight, and was one of the most important influences in the lives of the Jews in Magyarlapos. It took care not only of funerals, but cared for the sick, supported financially the needy Jews and obtained medical care and medications for the sick.

Rabbi D.J. Pollak makes notes in his Chevra book of those who don't live up to their responsibilities in connection with the vigil of the deceased, visiting the sick, or other matters. Throughout long decades until his death, he served the Chevra with devotion, and on Moshe Rabenu's death anniversary, he conscientiously gave his traditional financial report. The previous page shows the financial report from 1877, which preserved the traditions of the Pozsony, Dunaszerdahely and other Ashkenazi type Communities, and tried to make them compatible with the Chassidic teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.

After his death that occurred in 1910, Berkovits Mendel led the Chevra until 1930. Matyas Matesz followed him until about 1937. Pollak Vilmos, grandson of the founder succeeded the latter and functioned in his grandfather's spirit until deportation.

Second guardian of the Chevra was Idel Adolf for a while, followed by Grunstein Jakab.

We recall here the Edrich (Katene) family, who filled the position of Shames of the Chevra Kadisha for three generations.


[Page 350]

The Ritual Bath

Translated by Susan Geroe

We are sure that the community (leaders) thought about a temporary ritual bath at the time when they founded the Community. However, in 1905, during the presidency of Fuchs Janos and guardianship of Loger Jozsef, they built the most luxurious ritual bath known to the furthest away region.

This bath, equipped with steam and tub, tiled walls, and white enameled sunken bathtubs, served the Jewish and indeed the entire community magnificently until the change of regime, in 1918. As its furnishings were pillaged during the revolution, the second rebuilding was not as lavish due to lack of funds, but this bath, which the Community operated always in the red, remains the only common bath in Magyarlapos, used and enjoyed by the residents, to this day.

In those days, the steam whistle signaled the time to close business, as well as that of candle lighting for the faithful on Shabbat and Holidays.


[Page 350]

The Talmud-Torah

Translated by Susan Geroe

Even though the Talmud-Torah had a five-room building at its disposal, the building was not used as a school. It was the residence of shochets until the end of First World War. Still, they didn't neglect the children's Jewish education, and under the supervision of the chief rabbi and local officers of the community knowledgeable in the Talmud, private cheders functioned. Melameds instructed and educated the children throughout the entire school system, in the traditional Jewish religious spirit, providing excellent students for the earlier mentioned yeshiva. In that period, the Talmud-Torah paid the tuition of only the financially needy students.

Following First World War, the Talmud-Torah based on a curriculum, functioned already systematically in accordance with the initiative and leadership of Markovits Laszlo and Deutsch Pal. First, they brought melameds from other cities, then Loger Chajim and Weisz Jozsef, both highly prepared scholars, took over the instruction.

The most prosperous era in the life of the Community dated to the beginning of the twentieth century.

This progress, which started at the beginning of the twentieth century, had general causes, as it was regarded to an extent as part of the national boom. Yet, it was also attributable to individual success. In this regard, we mention Loger Jozsef, who was several times President of the Community due to his organizational abilities and good rapport with the chief rabbi. When replaced, after a short time, by reason of his abilities, he returned to occupy again the president's seat.

Joel Israel, Markovits Mihaly, Rosenfeld Armin, Grunstein Sulem, Karl Lazar, Biener Baruch, Dr. Salamon Miksa, and Matyas Berti followed him in this position. The latter, even though not elected officially, represented the Community in every matter. As a childless man, he devoted all his time to community business.

For a short time, Pollak Vilmos was the notary and auditor of the community, followed by Sauber Hermann. He filled this position with great skill and devotion until deportation.

According to the Golden Album (Aranyalbum), published by Hegedus Martin, during First World War, the community had 120 enlisted members. Ten of them died on the frontline. Despite some inaccuracies, we published the section of the Aranyalbum, which related to Magyarlapos.

After the end of First World War, as it happened nationwide, the revolution in Magyarlapos consisted mainly in that the population of the neighboring villages robbed the unprotected Jews.

Before the revolution, the peace and work loving Jewish population participated in agriculture, industry, and commerce, and also helped in their development and their prosperity. That aside, they represented the image of the faithful citizen who spread the language and culture of the state outside its borders.

The expulsion of the Jews from the surrounding villages as well as their robbing had started during the first days after the change of regime in 1918. Grunstein Jeno, owner of a threshing machine in Alszocs, was cruelly murdered as he fell victim to this type of behavior.

Thereby, the Community had to take up brand new responsibilities. Jews chased out and robbed of all their possessions from the surrounding villages drifted to Magyarlapos. They arrived not only robbed of everything material they had from their ancestors or acquired through their own incredible efforts, but also without a livelihood. They were able to bring along only their great misery and they needed charitable relief from the Magyarlapos community. The community refocused its priorities by placing social welfare in the forefront.


[Page 355]

Community Associations and Institutions
in Magyarlápos

Translated by Susan Geroe

Social organizations, registered as legal entities did not exist in Magyarlapos. However, a locality with such a high number of people to receive social support as they did here, did not exist perhaps anywhere else in the entire country. More than two thirds of the one thousand-member Community, qualified for help. They all lived from funds received from various institutions created by private initiative and led by the founders.

 

Gemilat Cheszed

Gemilat Cheszed, a private association founded and led by David Mihaly (Chajim Mose Jankels) was an example of such a society. It had no by rules, it functioned as a private association, and exceeded all expectations. It was all due to Chajim M. Jankels that small merchants could pay for their merchandise with cash upon delivery, that there was no holding period placed on their checks, or that they were able to survive in the midst of the economic crisis without cash capital on hand.

He operated by visiting daily each merchant and artisan and if he found they had cash that they were not using that particular day, he borrowed it and passed it on to those people who had an immediate need for the money. If a well-to-do visitor arrived in town for a few days, Chajim went promptly to see him, to secure the money the visitor had on him.

This cash capital swap system, based purely and solely on trust, love, and appreciation exceeded all expectations. Everyone complied always with exactitude to terms of the repayment schedule, without any external force - out of honesty.

 

Poale Cedek

The main objective of the Poale Cedek in Magyarlapos was to help artisans and those in need with interest free loans.

The leaders of Poale Cedek craftsmen's association were Zweig Abraham and Henzel Mihaly. The association was able to function besides the small dues collected, from monetary offerings made during services. They tried to help in such a manner that the person who received would not feel humiliated.


[Page 357]

Women's Charitable Association

Translated by Susan Geroe

The most active social organization was the Women's Association. Mrs. Gross Aharon, née Teitelbaum Beilcsu, wife of the chief rabbi was its permanent president.

Every week, two women went to each member of the community to collect cash and other donations. Not only did the congregants not refuse a donation, but rather everybody participated above their means.

Markovits Lajos undertook similar activities to those of the Women's Association, in that he did everything that no poor would want, nobody would be left without meat on Shabbat, or without wood in the winter. In addition, there were always occasional collectors like Pollak Vilmos, Matyas Berti, or David Mihaly.

All these official or unofficial associations were trying to help in the first place those people in Magyarlapos who needed help. There were times, such as immediately after the change of regime, two thirds of the community members were social welfare cases. Still, the Community did not think of turning to outside sources for help because it felt it was its own responsibility.

In 1927, following the Jewish persecutions, once again, difficult days hit the community economically too. Even though the pogroms didn't yet reach Magyarlapos in 1930, their economic impact was strongly felt. The majority of small households remained without an income and the earlier mentioned jobs became indispensable.

Besides every community's own work, they never forgot about their other Jewish brothers. The dreary economic situation, the general Jewish misery, did not miss Magyarlapos either. Moreover, it hit equally the Jews of Maramaros, the neighboring county. This economic situation affected even worse those poorest Jews of Maramaros, who always accepted with gratitude the most difficult of physical labor. Family men with several children were unable to provide cornbread to feed the family and were forced to migrate from place to place. Over mountains, valleys, and across woods, with meager haversacks, they arrived to Magyarlapos as beggars. The Magyarlapos community fulfilled the ancient Jewish tradition when they received them with open arms.

A three-bedroom place, “slajfstibl” with bed linens, all equipped, was waiting for them and they also received board. Even the poorest resident of Magyarlapos took part in this charity.

Transit travelers never left the community hungry or thirsty. They received room and board, and on Saturdays were treated in a special way. For the road, they received a little cash, and then, they usually went on, to beg.


[Page 358]

The Economic and Political Situation
of Magyarlápos

Translated by Susan Geroe

As shown, during certain historical periods, the greater majority of Jews lived under very difficult financial circumstances. Notwithstanding the difficulties, they contributed to the industrial, agricultural, and cultural development of the area, and some of them achieved outstanding economic and social positions.

Until the turn of the century, Armenians handled an insignificant part of the economy. Industry was practically inexistent, or it existed only within its beginning stages. The Jews of Magyarlapos participated honorably in these early stages of the national boom that characterized the period.

First, the commerce developed, then the industry.

Pollak Karoly set up a glass and leather goods business. Additionally, the Pollaks opened a modern beer-filling warehouse.

Paneth Lipot owned an ironmongery business, Joel Izrael opened an alcohol producing commercial outfit, while Grunstein Jakab, a straw-hat store. Karl, Noe, and Berkovits, (three brothers-in-law) founded a grocery store and ironmongery, which later, became the largest outfit in the region under the name Karl Mihaly's Sons, directed by Karl Lazar.

Fuchs Jakab started a modern textile store, as did Roth Ignacz Fuchs Hermann.

S.L.Teitelbaum created a modern printing press, which was taken over later by Rosenfeld Armin.

Berkovits Mendel and the two men named Markovits Izrael established a large warehouse for unprocessed animal skins, where they collected unprocessed and wild animal pelts from four neighboring counties. Following the war, Markovits Ivan took over the leadership of this enterprise and in partnership with Bernad Dezso of Des, transformed it into one of Transylvania's largest rawhide enterprise.

Industrial development was following in step the development of commerce. Smaller industries began to boom mostly through the power of the Jewish initiative. Jewish stores owned by tanners, fur makers, tinsmiths, watchmakers, and silver and goldsmiths were founded. Tailoring and shoemaking, trades allowed Jews to practice during the Middle Ages were certainly not abandoned, but rather continued to be practiced. Along the years, they created shops for horseshoe makers, masons, and wheels and carriage builders. With all these trades, Jews contributed in a decisive measure to the development of the district.

Jews have established three financial institutions in those days in Magyarlapos.

Dr. Erdelyi David and Markovits Hermann were managing the Credit Bank, while Karl Mihaly, Bura Salamon, and Deutsch Pal led the Bank of Commerce. Both banks closed at the end of First World War. The third bank, The Self Help Association of Magyarlapos, under the direction of Fuchs Jakab and Berkovits Mendel functioned until the end of the 1930s.

All three banks helped out many ordinary people, Christian and Jewish, alike. They extended commercial, industrial, and agricultural loans.

After First World War, despite continuously reoccurring crisis, there were a few important Jewish entrepreneurs: Markovits Mihaly bought and rebuilt the steam-operated mill of Count Eszterhazy. Wiener Leopold and his sons purchased an alcohol wholesale business. Rosenberg Armin acquired a grocery and ironmongery wholesale dealership, while Grunstein Sulem opened a shoe store named "Dermata".

Jews were represented in the political life as well. Before 1918, during the Hungarian era, Fuchs Jakab and Berkovits Mendel were members of the District Council, keeping an eye on matters of interest to both, Christians and Jewish residents.

During the new Romanian era, Markovits Mihaly, Dr. Biro Samu, Karl Lazar, and Idel Adolf, all sat subsequently on the City Council, and also served the common interest of the city.

During both, the Hungarian and Romanian regimes, until the formation of the Jewish Party that attracted the Jewish voters, the Jewry voted overwhelmingly with the party that represented the government.

*

At the time, Magyarlapos was a multi national region of Greater Hungary. The authorities considered that Jews improved the Hungarian ratio, which represented its interest vis-à-vis the other nationalities. That is the explanation why throughout Magyarlapos District, under the Hungarian regime until the end of First World War, the public notary positions within the county government were entrusted without exception to mostly observing Jews.

By name, they were Mark Jozsef in Olahlapos, Schwartz Aron in Felsosocs, Nussbacher Jeno in Domokos, Mark Moric in Rohi, Grossmann Jakab in Macskamezo, Weinberger Abraham in Kisdebrek, Idel Viktor in Kupsafalva, and Landau Mor in Korulyfalva. Weinstock Ignac was assistant town clerk and recorder of vital statistics in Magyarlapos.

If Szabo Gusztav, chief magistrate of the gentry saw the need to convoke a meeting for all notaries, he had to organize the usual feast in the kosher restaurant of Auntie Leni because all notaries were observant Jews and ate only kosher food.

Reich Jozsef was the mayor of Magyarlapos for twenty-five years and Herskovits Andor, the bailiff.

Blau Jozsef, a JewishTalmud scholar was also the standing assistant notary public. Furthermore, he functioned as religion teacher in the state public school. Later, he immigrated to the United States, where he served as rabbi until his death.

From among the District notaries, Mark Moric, Grossmann Jakab, and Weinberger Abraham kept their positions until their retirement, even during the Romanian regime.

Four Jewish attorneys practiced in town. Among them we find Biro Samu, a highly decorated First World War veteran, Dr. Erdelyi David, who published a weekly entitled Ciblesalja, and Dr. Harnik Lipot, who moved to Magyarlapos during the interwar period. The latter was deported from Magyarlapos with his wife. His son and daughter are both pharmacists. Ivan resides in Belgium, while Lili lives in Romania.

Jews were also well represented in the health domain. People adored Dr. Salamon Miksa, who had a private practice in town, but earned the public's esteem equally, as a person and a doctor. He was president of the Jewish Community several times.

Dr. Steinfeld Dezso was a general practitioner in Olahlapos. His wife and children perished during deportation. Retired, he lives in Des.

In 1923, when the effects of the disaster caused by First World War were diminishing, the community numbered 170 families, which corresponded to approximately 900 people. Of the 170 families, 150 were paying dues.

The distribution of professions among families corresponded to that of the national average.


[Page 361]

Activities of the Magyarlápos Zionist Organization

Translated by Susan Geroe

In 1918, successor states received territories that were formerly part of Greater Hungary. This way, Romania, the Republic of Serbia-Croatia-Slovenia of those days, Austria and theoretically also Italy, and Czechoslovakia came by some land. The more Jews declared themselves Hungarians, the happier Hungary of former days was, due to the high ratio of nationalities that now lived on its territory. They desired to improve this ratio by not recognizing Jews as Jewish nationals, but rather exerting pressure upon Jews to proclaim themselves being Jewish (Israelite) by religion, and Hungarian by nationality, given that their native tongue was Hungarian. This was not difficult to achieve, since Jews, in Magyarlapos the same way as in Zsolna or Szabadka, integrated themselves rapidly in the areas of Hungarian language, education, and culture.

Without discussing this question any further, we can determine that all successor states agreed that it was impossible to suddenly declare fully Romanian, Serbian, or Slovakian nationals those Jews who grew up in the Hungarian culture milieu. However, the states did not wish either that the Jews increased with their numbers the Hungarian statistics. They were seeking a middle solution. The Balfour Declaration, which first recognized officially the Jewish national aspirations, contributed to slowing down the assimilation process. For this reason, all the successor nations supported the idea of Zionism and did their utmost to publicize it. Through this scheme, they successfully decreased the ratio of Jews that would have been counted as Hungarians. This matter was of great significance in Magyarlapos as well.

In 1918, the Transylvanian National Jewish Association was created under the leadership and according to the ideas of the honorable Weissburg Chajim. Despite Rabbi Teitelbaum's strong objections, the Magyarlapos delegation took part in the inaugural meeting held in Kolozsvar, in 1920. Karl Mihaly and Mark Moric formed the delegation.

They created a local branch in Magyarlapos. Youth leaders Matyas Berti, Pollak Miksa and Matyas Sosana exerted great cultural activities in Zionist spirit, in blunt opposition with the chief rabbi.

The older group involved itself in the political arena. When it came to Community elections, they voted out those members who opposed the Zionist idea. They elected a Zionist leadership. Joel Izrael became president and Karl Mihaly trustee. The fight continued to the point where Zionist parents removed their children from the newly formed Talmud-Torah and placed them in a Zionist Cheder created in one of the separate wings of the Sajovits House. As teacher, they hired the young Jeremias Jozsef.

On Saturdays, the disputes continued in the synagogue. The chief rabbi forbade the chazzan to accept donations for the Jewish national causes from congregants called to the Torah for the usual blessings. At that time, Karl Mihaly, also member of the board, personally recited the ancient blessing in the role of “gabai”, and announced the donations made for the National Fund. Unfortunately, all this accounted for not more than episodes during the two decades when the Jews of Transylvania marked their names with gold letters in the history of Zionism.

Finally, the rabbi won. The elders got tired in the fight and slowly gave up opposition. As a consequence, no other Zionist party was ever created in the district.

The youth, however, held on to the ideas. They organized the Aviva and put together successful amateur shows. Matyas Sosana, who in the meantime became the first Hebrew kindergarten teacher, initially in Des, then in Nagyvarad, was of great help in this endeavor from time to time, when she returned home on vacation.

Due to changing times and ageing, the Zionist activity declined more and more, yet the children of a few Zionist families (Joel, Fuchs, Nemes, Loger families and others) continued canvassing for the Keren Kajjemet Lejiszrael collection box. They sent the contents of the emptied boxes to the Temesvar headquarters. Of course, it was not a matter of large sums because of the grim economic situation.

Given that the youth of Magyarlapos received a sound religious education, its natural path led to the Agudat Jiszrael. In 1934, a group made up of young yeshiva students led by Markovits Suli, founded the Ceire Poale Agudat Jiszrael. The organization put forth serious efforts. For a time, they even had a “hachsara” camp. Aside from maintaining a garden patch, they accepted every other type of physical work, which they performed collectively.

Even the organizational skills of Markovits Suli, including his great physical and financial sacrifice could not make a success of this movement, because the Vienna Awards of 1940 whirled away everything.


[Page 364]

Ghettoization and Deportation

Translated by Susan Geroe

The crushing and ruining of Jewish livelihoods started even before the Vienna Award (1940), which re-annexed Northern Transylvania to Hungary. At this point, the process of crumbling to pieces, the destruction of all Jewish livelihoods was underway in Hungary. Jewish merchants involved in the business of alcoholic beverages were compelled to transfer their business licenses to Christians. An anti-Jewish mood not yet experienced in recent generations filled the air, and it ever increased with the subsequent strengthening of German power.

The Hungarians marched in on September 5, 1940, and slapped on the Jewish laws. They started a review of the industry. The handful of Jews who were allowed to keep their business licenses could no longer use them. Articles of vital importance could be purchased only from designated merchants. Christians alone could be such designated merchants. Jewish stores were allowed to sell only substitutions. Artisans, if they were Jewish, did not receive their necessary raw material allocations to manufacture merchandise, thus lost their livelihood one after the other.

Simultaneously, with the disengagement of Jews, the functioning of the Jewish institutions was brought to a halt as well, one after the other. The Yeshiva and the Talmud-Torah ceased to function, the Jewish Community closed the kosher butcher shop. Only the Chevra Kadisha was allowed to operate until the last day because to bury a Jew was permitted.

The majority of young men were called into labor battalions on June 20, 1942. They were taken to the Ukraine with the forced labor unit number 110/34. In a separate chapter, Singer Zoltan described the sad history of this labor unit.

After that date, slowly, every able man was called up into labor units, leaving at home only women, children, and elderly men. This is how March 19, 1944 of grim memory found Magyarlapos.

From that day forward, the relentless persecution and the all-out hate in every aspect of life against Jews got the upper hand. It didn't allow for the least bit of justice to prevail where Jews were concerned, and it ultimately resulted in their total physical extermination.

Starting April 5, Jews had to wear on their clothes, above their bust, the yellow star. Following this, events really happened with dramatic speed. They closed every Jewish store and shop. Fear, despair, and misery grew within the Jewry day by day.

May 4 marked the beginning of the catastrophic chapter in the Jewish history of Magyarlapos. By evening, one could see the horse drawn carts carrying Jews with their meager bundles from the surrounding villages. The carts stopped in the courtyard of the great synagogue, the same one that on every High Holiday for two centuries was filled with such carts. Then, they came to celebrate a holiday. Now, this courtyard was the first stop to their final destination.

Just as the cock-feathered gendarmes brought Jews to Magyarlapos from the surrounding villages, in the same way, early next morning, they started to round up the Jews of Magyarlapos. By evening, everyone was crowded inside the synagogue. That was how they slept, or rather stayed up. The following morning, every horse-drawn-cart in the district stood ready. Jews stepped onto the carts by families and the long, sad caravan set out on the road from which, more than 90 percent did not return.

They arrived to Des towards the evening of the same day, to the ghetto set up in the Bungur woods, where their sad fate became part of the rest of Szolnok-Doboka County, respectively the entire Hungarian Jewish destiny.

We must mention that on that day (May 4, 1944), when Jews from the surrounding villages were brought to the synagogue, Dub Samu and his daughter, Marmor Hanni and her three children from Olahlapos, were missing. They escaped to the woods beneath the Cibles Mountains and stayed hidden there, with the help of Ranger Ichim Nicolai. Two weeks later, Taub Jakab, Abraham Nuszi and Izsak Simi escaped from the Des ghetto and joined them. The gendarmes continuously searched for them, unsuccessfully. Finally, a few months later, they caught Mrs. Marmor and her three children. As no Jews were left by that time in Transylvania, they were taken to Budapest, where deportations have already ceased. This is how they survived. Today, she lives with her husband and children in Israel.

*

The story of Dr. Biro Samu, several times decorated reserve officer of First World War, whom we mentioned earlier, belongs in this chapter dedicated to deportation. He was also the recipient of many local merit awards. When he alluded to these awards during his stay in the Des ghetto, the Hungarian gendarmes beat him to death in no time, with the stock of their rifles. Dr. Biro Samu was buried in the ghetto.

Dr. Salamon Miksa, a well liked physician in Magyarlapos to whom we referred earlier, was highly esteemed by Christian residents also. In 1944, his Hungarian friends placed him in a forced labor unit as district physician for his comrades who were Magyarlapos residents. All this was of no help to him, as a few weeks after the rounding up of the Jews for Des, he too was taken to the Des ghetto, and murdered in Auschwitz along his wife and son.

*

We wrote the Yizkor Chapter with broken hearts, without finding consolation. We'd like to hold back our tears… It is impossible…

“Look around and reckon, is there such great pain as mine?”

“These are the ones I mourn, my eyes, my eyes no longer shed tears, they pour forth like spring water, because the one who offers salvation and could calm my soul is far-far away from me”.

In reciting Yizkor, the best we were now able to do, we tried to make a list of names of those who perished during deportation. Thus, if we failed to mention a saintly name, it happened due to unintentional causes - certainly, we did not mean to be impious.

 

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