Translated by András Hirschler
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
Caption 1: Miskolc memorial column
Caption 2: Memorial plaque at Mount Zion, Jerusalem
Caption 3: Translation of the Hungarian inscription on the memorial column: My eyes run down with streams of water because of the destruction of my people. (Jeremiah, 8, 23)
Caption 4: Translation of the Hungarian inscription on the memorial column: This column is to commemorate the fourteen thousand martyrs, our Jewish brothers and sisters deported from Miskolc, killed by brutal anti-Semitism, with gas, fire, bullets, starvation in Auschwitz and in the other death camps, or that perished while performing forced labour or being marched along the roads of Europe.
It is widely believed that the formula of any single drop of seawater is identical to that of all the other seas of the world. This statement seems to apply generally to the history of each Hungarian Jewish community.
In Hungary, or, as it later became known, in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Jews were not allowed to settle in towns for prolonged periods. There were only a few exceptions, such as Buda, Székesfehérvár, Pozsony, and Kismarton. Miskolc, as a town of the Crown, was also among the municipalities that forbade Jews from taking up residence in the town. In fact, Jews could settle only in those villages where local landlords gave them permission to do so. According to historical records, the following locations were accessible for Jews around Miskolc from the late 18th century:
|Abaúj-Torna county:||Szikszó Perényi and Csáky estates
Méra Fáy and Vitéz estates
Gönc Csáky estate
Szántó Bettenheim estate
|Borsod county:||Csaba Episcopate estate
Szentpéter Szirmay estate
Kazinc Radványi estate
Emőd Erdődy estate
|Zemplén county||Szerencs, Zombor, Monok Andrássy estate
Tállya, Sárospatak Bettenheim estate
Mád, Bodrogkeresztúr Erdődy estates
Tolcsva Szirmay estate
Most of the Jews who settled in these villages were tradesmen selling their own products and goods made by others at houses and markets.
Miskolc, situated at the border of the Great Plain of Hungary, is a major agricultural production area, and the mountains in Northern Hungary, a mining and industrial centre, was a market town from the earliest times. This bustling trading environment was doubtless an important attraction for Jews considering settling around Miskolc.
The Jews who lived in these villages did not form independent religious communities. Their various legal and administrative matters were handled by the offices of communitas judaeorum (originally the Latin name of a Jewish community occupying a separate street, later the collective designation of the rights and obligations the local landlord agreed with Jews living on his estates). In many cases even religious and cultural matters were discussed and settled at these forums. Their main task, however, was to handle issues related to the tolerance tax and residence permits. With social modernisation and the general development of state administration, communitas judaeorum offices became obsolete and were gradually replaced by Jewish Faith Communities. Such communities were formed in Csaba (a village belonging to the Munkács Episcopate) and Diósgyőr. Aristocrats from nearby settlements may have given permission to their Jewish business partners and acquaintances to live in their properties in Miskolc. In the house of Pál Szepessy a small pub serving pálinka (strong fruit brandy) opened as early as 1717. From this time on, Jews attending the weekly market in Miskolc could spend the nights before and after market day not only in guesthouses in Csaba or Diósgyőr, but also in this building. Their situation, however, did not improve at all, as is clearly shown in a petition made by the Minorite provost to the municipality in 1725. In this, the Minorites demand that the space in front of the Convent's building (the area in which the weekly markets were held later the venue of the Catholic grammar school) should be banned for Jews because it is intolerable that this area is desecrated by Jews. There were several other attempts to expel Jews from Miskolc, these, however, failed as the stewardship of the Royal estate in Diósgyőr had successfully applied for protection at the Hofkammer, the organ of Hapsburg financial administration.
In 1735, Jewish lessees of taverns and shops formed a corporation, a guild-like body, to represent their common interest. In 1759, a Jewish cemetery, and in 1765 a pray-house opened. Soon a local rabbi was appointed who served simultaneously the entire community of the county. In those times the president and the vice-president were appointed by the council presiding at the assembly. The corporation, enjoying the protection of the Hofkammer, was entitled to exercise certain rights: it could impose taxes and fines, and even use corporal punishment. Jews wishing to settle down in Miskolc also needed the consent of the corporation.
During the reign of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor and the ruler of Hapsburg lands from 1780 to 1790 who introduced a liberal attitude towards the Jews, the Jewish community increased considerably in numbers. Unfortunately, this liberal-minded and generous ruler could not resist the intrigues of his court cliques and, thus, most of his religious reforms were abrogated before his death in 1790. Anti-Jewish sentiments were wide-spread over the whole country. As a consequence, most of the Jews of Miskolc also had to leave the town. Temporarily, they found refuge in the neighbouring villages of Zsolca, Csaba and Diósgyőr. In a couple of years, however, restrictive rules became less stringent and Miskolc's Jewish population started to grow again.
Many Greek people, emigrating from Macedonia (then under Turkish rule) in the 17th century, settled down in Miskolc and its neighbourhood. These people were very clever traders and craftsmen and their community was strongly represented in the town council. For financial reasons they were fiercely against the Jews being allowed to settle down and gaining ground in Miskolc. A part of the Greek community returned to Macedonia, but many remained in the region, giving up trading, planting vine, building cellars and going into the business of professional wine making. Their wealth is clearly demonstrated by the rich interior ornamentation of the Greek Orthodox Church in Miskolc. Greek traders and craftsmen were replaced by Jews who soon developed Miskolc into North Hungary's industrial and commercial centre.
The number of Jews further increased. For tax assessment the Municipality ordered a conscription of all Jews living in the area in 1814. In 1835, 215 Jewish persons were counted, who were obliged to pay 700 forint each as tolerance tax. Twelve years later, in 1847, there were already 361 persons conscripted each paying 1900 forint.
In 1848 and the following years of retribution as in several other times during our history Jews were made the scapegoats for all the troubles. The situation of Jews again became very difficult throughout the country and Miskolc was no exception. The Council of Israelites was ordered to stop immediately the corrupt practice of hiding Jews arriving from alien places with local Jews. A precise Yiddish translation of the order can be found in the Minutes of the Council. Once the order had been given, the number of Jews visiting Miskolc decreased drastically. It is most likely that Jews attending the weekly markets and fairs in Miskolc stayed the night in Zsolca or Csaba, so that they did not fall under the duty of registration with the local authority.
As mentioned earlier, Jews in Miskolc were engaged not only in trade, but increasingly in industry. Guilds, however, did not accept manufacturers professing the Jewish faith as members. Therefore, Jewish manufacturers established their own trade association in 1833. As the guilds were strongly against the association, a Jewish guild of manufacturers was established three years later. However, all efforts failed to have its statutes approved. In 1848, Hungarian Jews supported the Revolution enthusiastically. In Miskolc, many Jews enlisted voluntarily to the National Guard, and several companies supplied the guard with uniforms, shoes, caps, etc. Perhaps as a reward, the statute of the manufacturers' guild was approved at last. Manufacturers were incorporated in the following subsections: cap makers, furriers, tanners, haberdashers, tinsmiths, tailors, boot makers and upholsterers. When the guild system was abolished, the Jewish guild was transformed into a Jewish Industrial Society. As a result, industrialists and industrial associations played an increasingly important role in the social life of the Miskolc Jewry. On the occasion of the society's 75th anniversary (by which time a bakeries section had also been formed), an alms-house was opened in the society building (Urak utcája 25). In 1936, a richly illustrated volume decorated with copies of original documents, was published to commemorate the Society's centennial anniversary. Unfortunately, a copy of this valuable book, like many other books owned by the author of this article, was lost during the Shoa.
The City of Miskolc, which had been so hostile to infidel Jews at the beginning of the 19th century, and had refused to accept Jewish presence in Miskolc, held a ceremonial assembly in 1861. The resolution issued after the assembly warmly welcomed the Jewish Council and concluded: the Committee of Miskolc Council Deputies is pleased to take this opportunity to express its sympathy for the Jewish people who shared all the joy and sorrow of our Homeland and our Town. The Honourable Jewish Council must be informed about this resolution which is mentioned in the Minutes.
The Minutes of the Jewish community, recorded with due regularity since 1832, as well as the Registers of Birth, Death and Marriages, were taken to the Municipal Archives, which returned these in full to the Community after the Second World War. The minutes, containing plenty of instructive and valuable data, would prove a mine of information for historians. Unfortunately, your author did not have time to study these in detail.
There is hardly any doubt that the most interesting personality of our community's history was Binjamin Wolf Bródy (1770-1841), for forty years our community's President. Binjamin, born in Miskolc, was the grandfather of Ernő Bródy, a Member of Parliament. This great philanthropist wrote in his final will (written in Hebrew letters, but Yiddish language, signed and sealed by the former sub-prefect and chief administrative officer of Miskolc): hereby, I bequeath 5000 forints to His Royal Highness, my Sovereign and King, as a humble token of my allegiance He left various sums and valuable objects to members of his family, and bequeathed also 5000 forints to the Talmud-Torah school so that its interest should be used to cover the salaries of teachers. His houses in Csizmadia and Candia streets were also bequeathed to the school. The yellow houses on this property were the first home of Miskolc's Talmud-Torah. Later, the huge Elisabeth school was built on the same site, which later became a public girl's school and the imposing building of the teacher training college. As requested in the Will, a Bródy memorial ceremony was held, together with examinations of the bible classes of the Talmud-Torah boy's school, each year on the 12th day of Shevat.
For present-day readers it may seem quite unusual how often and at what length the Minutes dealt with matters of leaseholders and leases. The reason is that the Jewish community organised public auctions to lease most of its income-generating licenses. Thus, there were lessees for the butcher's shop, for poultry-slaughtering, the matzos bakery, even the use of prayer houses during the most important Jewish holidays. All this yielded endless debates, complaints and bickering.
But even leaving this out of consideration, harmony was far from perfect within the community. Older, more conservative individuals were in constant discord with younger, more reform-oriented members. In 1861, when construction of the new temple in Kazinczy utca began, a schism developed in the community. The original design of the temple required the organ to be placed above the Ark, and the almemor to be positioned level with the Ark. Because of these reform ideas, the conservatives left the community. Thirty orthodox rabbis, assembled in Sátoraljaújhely, declared a cherem against the Miskolc community. The conflict further escalated when, in 1870, the Miskolc community organised itself into a Reform Judaist congregation.
Five years later, the conflicting parties reached an agreement. In the temple a pew was placed between the Ark and the almemor. Peace did not last long, however. Soon, another dispute emerged, this time about marriage ceremonies. As a consequence of the bitter disagreement, a separate Sephardic faction was established under the leadership of a Mr. Strauss, a cloth-dyer, which demanded a separate rabbinate, a separate butcher, a separate school and separate registers of birth, death and marriage. They wanted full autonomy. This, however, was not in line with the intentions of the Central Office of Orthodox Judaism. The school was not established and a new regulation introducing obligatory registration of birth, death and marriages at state registers made the demand for independent registration obsolete, while a separate rabbinate and slaughterhouse had already been realised.
As mentioned earlier, the Jewish community was established in 1765. Wolf (Farkas) Bródy remained president for more than 30 years. The Minutes prove that the Community had a proper constitutional and democratic leadership.
1878 was one of the most distressing years in the history of Miskolc Jewry. As a result of incessant rains, the dikes along the Szinva stream gave way at Hámor. Simultaneously, the small and until then totally peaceful Pece stream also became uncontrollable. The deluge reached the houses on the embankment during the night of August 31st. People were sleeping and utterly unprepared. In the darkness, there was no escape and simple rescue operations also failed. Most of the people that drowned were washed away by the gushing water. Some of the bodies were found later, collected by the Chevra Kadisha and buried in a common grave, later surrounded by an iron fence.
A very nice tradition of the Miskolc Chevra Kadisha (founded in 1767) was the annual cemetery walk, held each year on the day before Erev Yom Kippur. The proceedings began with a commemorative oration held in the cemetery's ritual building. In my time, these speeches always very heart-gripping and impressive were held by Chief Rabbi Austerlitz (let his memory be blessed!).
Many members of our Congregation played an outstanding role in Miskolc's economic, social and cultural life, and some held prominent offices at the City Hall. These included Dr. Bertalan Silberger, attorney general, Dr. Ármin Szabó, chief medical officer, Géza Kardos, head of the Remuneration Office, Aladár Bársony, veterinary surgeon, slaughterhouse director, Béla Hegedûs, president of the Orphan's Court, Márk Tyrnauer, judge of the County Court, Árpád Schwartz, district commissioner, Dr. Jakab Venetiáner, director/principal doctor of the district worker's insurance company, Dr. Jakab Kürz, president of the Chamber of Lawyers, Károly Ferenczi, president of the Miskolc Chamber of Commerce, Dezső Fodor, president of the Miskolc Trading Association, and so forth. Several Jews held offices at banks in Miskolc, including Aladár Székely, government counsellor and director of the Hungarian-Italian Bank, Samu Munk, director of the Borsod County Savings Bank, and Adolf Neumann of Héthárs, director of the Trading and Economic Bank. Some actively helped Miskolc's industrial development. These major industrialists included Jenő Herczin machine building, Jenő Guttmann in textile manufacturing, Endre Neményi in silk weaving, the Fried brothers in machine building, the Kun brothers in ironmongery, Albert Schweitzer in wood processing, Andor Nagy in bakery, government commissioner Ödön Győri in distilling, etc. Ödön Győri also served the Community as president for several terms and donated marble sheets used when the Heroes of the First World War Memorial was erected in the courtyard of the Kazinczy street Temple.
The first Rabbi of the congregation, Izrael Mandel, who served also as the Rabbi of the county, was followed by Aser Ansel Wiener. After his death in 1800, his son, Avraham Wiener Posselburg, was elected Chief Rabbi. When he died in 1832, the county rabbinate ceased to exist, and from the 1850s, the communities around Miskolc elected their own rabbis independently. In 1836, the Miskolc congregation elected Mózes Fischmann chief rabbi. He filled this post until his death in 1875. During Fischmann's term, Mór Klein also served the Miskolc Community as Rabbi. He had studied in the Pressburg (Pozsony) and Prague Yeshivas and was widely acclaimed for his outstanding orations and scholastic works. Mór Klein (father of Dr. Arnold Kis, principal Chief Rabbi of Buda) was later elected Chief Rabbi of Pápa and Nagybecskerek, while Miskolc's community elected the former Rabbi of Nádudvar, Mayer Rosenfeld Chief Rabbi in 1879. During his thirty-year presidency (1879 1904) many of my contemporaries, members of the presidium and the council who were educated by him, all spoke with the highest esteem and deep emotion about their unforgettable Chief Rabbi. His sons József, later the Rabbi of Csernovitz, and Miksa (who changed his surname to Révai), became a religious teacher in Budapest. His sons-in-law were Lipót Marmorstein, Rabbi at Szenice, SándorJordán, Rabbi at Szatmár, and Artúr Marmorstein, religious teacher in London.
After Rosenfeld's death, Sámuel Spitzer, Rabbi of Kiskunhalas, was invited by the Community. Dr. Spitzer, a man of humble origin, was a most talented and knowledgeable person. He obtained his secular education from private tutors and took a doctorate. The new, secular-educated Chief Rabbi, however, was not popular among the Community's traditionalist members. He consented to weddings to be held within the Temple only after an opening roof apparatus was installed to allow weddings to be held under the open sky.
Rabbi Spitzer was an austere and profoundly religious person whose vast Halachic knowledge earned high respect among members. In 1908, the third year of his service, he was invited to take the post of Chief Rabbi in Hamburg, which he readily accepted. During his activity in Germany, he was recognised as the second most influential German Orthodox rabbi behind Dr. Breuer, the Rabbi of Frankfurt. He published several important religious studies during these years. His demise in 1936 was mourned widely and in Miskolc, Chief Rabbi Austerlitz rendered homage to Dr. Spitzer's memory in his sermon on the 7th of Adar.
In 1898, Dr. Salomon Spira was elected Chief Rabbi. Dr.Spira was born in 1865 in Homonna and attended the Berlin Orthodox Seminars, later serving the Kula and Losonc communities as Chief Rabbi. In keeping with a new government regulation passed in 1896, his trial sermon was held in the Hungarian language. His excellent rhetorical talent and rich voice soon earned him great popularity. In 1923, on the 25th anniversary of his activity in Miskolc, Dr.Spira was widely celebrated not only by the Jewish Community, but also by the entire Miskolc society. He was already dying and unconscious, when, with other patients of the Ghetto hospital, he was added to an Auschwitz transport in 1944. From this transport, nobody has ever returned so we cannot know what fate held for him.
In 1914, the year when the First World War began, the Miskolc community elected Samuel Austerlitz as Chief Rabbi. Born in Vienna, Austerlitz became a scholar of unchallengeable authority. He learnt in the Yeshiva of Zussman Sofer in Pacs, and as a young student interpreted the lectures of his master. He obtained his diploma in Pozsony (now Bratislava) and served as Chief Rabbi in Pápa and Somorja. In those times, your author was a student in Pozsony. I can testify that not only we, his students, but many ordinary inhabitants of Pozsony travelled to Somorja to listen to his brilliant orations. His Yeshiva in Miskolc earned nationwide acclaim. Austerlitz, the grand master of Temple orations, died of heart failure in 1939. His eulogy was published on his first Jahrzeit by Gyula Groszman, teacher of our public school, under the title Zichron Shmuel [The Memory of Shmuel].
I have compiled a list of Miskolc dayans using sources like the Shem Hagdolim [The name of the greatest], Responsa and haskamas. The names, which follow below, are in chronological order.
First, I have to mention Rabbi Yosef Finkelstein, author of Tzafenat Pa'aneach [after Genesis 41:45], the son-in-law of Meir Avraham of Hejőcsaba, himself the author of Pri Tzadik [The Fruits of the Righteous]. His most active years were in the 1920s.
During the era of Wiener, Chief Rabbis in Miskolc were the noted Rabbi Yechezkel Moshe Lifschitz, who wrote a Foreword to Pri Tzadik in 1830. The next Dayan was David Wiener, the son of Rabbi Abraham Wiener Posselburg. He took his position in 1876.
In 1872, the Community elected the son of Rabbi Schück as Dayan, who later became the Rabbi of Nádudvar. Rabbi Schück was the head of a large dynasty of rabbis. One of his sons, Menachem Schück served in Szikszó, another, Meir Schück, served in Onód, while his son-in-law Prajer served in Poprád, Weisz served in Nagyfalu and Jungreisz in Fehérgyarmat. His successor was Avraham David Hoffmann, later invited to Yugoslavia as Chief Rabbi. After his departure, Yitzhak Aizik Stern, the grandson of the author of Sha'arei Tora, from Abaújszántó, and the brother-in-law of Gerson Rosenbaum, the Rabbi of Tállya, was elected Dayan of Miskolc. His son-in-law, Salamon Weiszmann, the Community's registrar, was a most popular individual in Miskolc.
After the departure of Rabbi Hoffmann, the next Dayan was David Eliyahu Herschkowitz, who later became the Rabbi of the Chevra SHAS [Society devoted to the learning of the Talmud].
From the early 1900s until his death in 1922 Yechiel Fürth, the eldest member of the popular Fürth family, served as Dayan. After his death, Moshe Nathan Blum, the son-in-law of Rosenbaum, the Rabbi of Kisvárda, was elected, but soon he was invited to serve as Rabbi in Nagyvárad. After he left, Shimon Neufeld and the son-in-law Tannenbaum, the Rabbi of Torna, the popular Rabbi of Diósgyőr, was elected Dayan of Miskolc. At that time, the Community established two dayan positions and elected Avraham Ahrenfeld, a most pleasant man, and the son-in-law of Renitz, a former Sephardic Rabbi, to the newly-established position.
The martyrs of Miskolc were escorted to their last journey by these two rabbis.
The first Rabbi of the Sephardic congregation was Mózes Vitriol. He was followed by József Reinitz of Mád. After Reinitz's death the great scholar, Chaim Yakov Gottlieb, the Rabbi of Borsa and Felsővisó and the author of Yagel Jákov was elected Chief Rabbi in 1926. This exceptional man died after ten years of arduous service at the age of 60. As no successor was elected after his death, his rabbinic duties were performed by his son, Gottlieb Juda.
And this is the point where I should like to commemorate the Shochets [ritual slaughterers] of Miskolc: Stein, Davidovics, Klein and Tetelbaum from the Community, and Berkovits and Birnbaum from the Sephardic congregation, none of whom returned from deportation.
In the decade preceding the Shoa, the Presidium of the Community consisted of the following members: Mór Feldmann engineer, President; Mór Mandula educational principal, Vice-President ; Dr. Márton Rosenberger, President of the school committee; Aladár Székely financial principal; temple caretakers: Jakab Edelstein, Salamon Spíró, Ferenc Dávidovics; steward: Miksa Róth, controller: Márton Klein. In addition to the members of the Presidium, the Community's Council also had 15 members elected by the body of representatives. The various affairs of the Community were handled by 13 functional committees (education, religion, etc.). The executive office of the Community was headed by director Jeromos Löw, accountant Jenő Neuländer, and purser Samu Morgenstern. The staff also included three clerks, two temple helpers, the money collectors of the prayer houses and some mashgiachs [supervisors].
Since its establishment in 1767, the Chevra Kadisha played a most important role in the Community's religious life. It was not simply a funeral society but a real Gemilas Chesed institution. In our time, Adolf Neumann of Héthárs was its president, followed by Klein from Csobád, with Ignác Strausz, an intelligent all-rounder serving as its agile clerk. Of the many different charity organisations, the first to begin operations was the Bikur Cholim Society established in 1817, which maintained a hospital together with the Chevra Kadisha. The Israelite Women's Society was organised by the most arduous Mrs. J. Grosz, who also served as chairwoman of the Society for many years. After her death, her position was taken over first by Mrs. Á. Szabó and then by Mrs. P. Munk. This large women's society, incorporating more than 1,200 members, maintained a soup kitchen and offered free clothing to poor school children. The more conservative-minded Deborah Women's Society organised by Mrs. J. Princz was established in 1912. The Society under the leadership of a committee made up of Mrs. D. Reich, Mrs. L. Bónish and Mrs. H. Blitz, set up a home for the aged and offered fuel to the needy.
In Hungary, official Jewish organisations were strongly opposed to the Zionist movement. The fundamentalists were worried that their children, to whom they tried to give strict religious education, will be negatively affected by the liberal-minded Zionist youth groups. On the other hand, the reformed communities, in their nationalistic fervour, considered themselves as the bastion of patriotism. In their eyes Zionism was worse than the original sin.
The middle-of-the-road Miskolc community was one of the two Hungarian communities to support Zionism. The Chief Rabbi Austerlitz himself (blessed be his memory) was a follower of Mizrachi and the Council gave both moral and financial backing to the movement.
A separate Chapter in this book Zionism in Miskolc covers this subject in more details.
It is almost unbearably painful to accept that not a single member of the Presidium, the Council and other office bearers has returned from the hell of Nazi death camps. Moreover: none of the prominent people deported, listed above, who had all played such an important role in Miskolc's Jewish community, have survived. Their advice and guidance was ultimately missed when we tried to reorganise our town's religious life after the Shoa.
One of the few to re-emerge after the Holocaust was the late Alfréd Sussman zl, who embarked on re-organising the Community with unremitting enthusiasm. He spared no effort to re-establish the soup-kitchen and the Community's administrative staff. He made arrangements about the exterior and interior restoration of the Great Temple in Kazinczyutca (with the almemor placed to the centre), the re-start of the elementary school, the building of a large community hall and the renovation of the Matzos factory. Rabbi Austerlitz organised the collection of religious books scattered around Miskolc and the burial of Torah remains found in various places. Finally, it was also Rabbi Austerlitz who arranged the installation of an imposing Holocaust Memorial, designed by engineers Feldmann and Fischer, in the Avas Hill Cemetary.
Unfortunately, his enormous work proved fruitless in many aspects. In burial-grounds nothing but burials can be arranged
All credit should be given to our brothers and sisters who have remained in Miskolc and whose life we are watching with all our hearts. It is most pleasing to hear that these people are carrying on the torch of Miskolc Jewry with great enthusiasm - the torch that has always served as a guiding light for the Jews in Hungary.
Picture on page 24.
Jewish temples in Miskolc
- The Temple in Palóczy street
- The Temple in Kazinczy street
- The Ark in the Kazinczy Temple
- Chief Rabbi Samuel Austerlitz
- Roof frescos in the Kazinczy Temple
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