By 14 B.C., western Hungary was part of the Roman Empire's provinces of Pannonia and Dacia. Located on the Rába river, at that time Sárvár was called Savaria and was a transfer point and a waystation on the colonial road to the capital, Rome.
Later during the first centuries of the Magyar kingdom, a castle (Hungarian: vár) was built of mud (Hungarian: sár) and wood and the town was named Sárvár. By the turn of the 15th century, the current new castle was a well known defensive and administrative center with towers and a surrounding moat. Initially, Sárvár was ruled by the people of Kanizsa (nowNovi Kneevac, Serbia), but later, through marriage, it became the property of the Navasdy family.
According to János Szeibert, the author of a monograph about Sárvár, there is some proof of Jewish presence as early as the 15th century. Prior to their expulsion from Sopron in 1526, close to 400 Jews lived in that town. There are also traces of Jewish life in the nearby town of Csepreg as early as 1327 (Tuckhaus). In 1549, 49 Jewish families lived in nearby Szökeföld (the precursor of today's Szombathely). In his classic work on the history of Jews of Sopron, Dr. Miksa Pollák writes that Sárvár's patron, Count Draskovich sent a letter dated April 2, 1686 to the Board of Sopron requesting a Salvus Conductus (safe conduct) for his Jewish delegates Geezli Niko and his partner.
According to the monograph previously mentioned there was an established Jewish community at the beginning of the 18th century. This is confirmed by the fact that the new Jewish cemetery has been in use for about 120 years; prior to that, in the so-called Vármellék around the castle, an old cemetery was known to have existed. Today very little remains, but 50 to 60 years ago quite a few tombstones were intact. Jews developed a permanent presence under the doubtful protection of the landowners.
Until 1900 Vármellék was a separate political entity but at that time it became part of Sárvár. There were 30 Jews in Vármellék in 1758, 77 in 1781, and 81 in 1802. The census of 1822 indicates 14 families. The founders were Simon and Jósua Singer, Sámuel Schnabel, Szimcha Boskovits, and a person named Zweitter. Later, the District Jewish community includes the neighboring villages. According to the 1859 tax book, of the 48 participating communities only 56 families were paying taxes to the rabbinate. According to the 1948 [this should probably read 1848] census, it appears that Jews were better able to make their livelihood in the villages rather than in the larger towns. For the larger Sárvár region, there were 18 Jews in Bejczen, 35 in Gérce, 32 in Uraiujfalu 32 (among them Dr. Guttmann Dávid, physician). In 18 towns there were 272 Jews but in Sárvár, the district center (Vármellék) there were only 63 Jews. This changed substantially after the 1867 compromise when the Jews started the great movement toward the cities.
Many of Sárvár's rabbis are known: the 1795 census indicates Isaac Hinauer, Rabbi of Sárvár. Following is Rabbi Fischel whose name occurs in a Chatam Szofer response. He is followed by Rabbi Mózes Engel who led the Chewra book where the first entry was in 1805, the last entry in 1844. His successors were Bendet Breiner, Vilmos Reich for a short while (later he worked in Baden b. Wienben), B. Ehrenfeld (later the rabbi of Mattersdorf), Efraim Fisl Szofer, who died in 1894. Then Táblás Fischer worked initially as assistant rabbi, and became the permanent Rabbi two years later.
Rabbis Breuer and Szofer worked in the Malom Street Temple. It is during the period of Rabbi Szofer that the famous Congress occurred where the small Jewish community of Sárvár split into two branches. In the distribution of property the Temple went to the Reform branch. The school, the cemetery and an old house with its debts went to the Orthodox branch. In 1882 the construction of a new monumental synagogue began, giving the community a potential for development.
A lively Jewish community developed in both branches. The previously mentioned Tóbias Fischer, chief Rabbi, was the rabbi of the Orthodox community, its spiritual leader for about a quarter century, the beloved Reb Tajvijeh. His son, the martyred rabbi Menachem was his successor. During this period this branch had about 80 families, about 450 people. A significant role in the founding of this community was played by the Schnabel family, the deeply religious Adolf Schwartz and his family, the respected Izrael Löwin and his son, and Szimche Reichnitzer the chairman of the Chewra, Antal Berger the community president and many others. Throughout many decades religious thought was taught by Jakab Maislis, Lipót Neu, Mrs. Zsigmond Steiner, Simon Wassermann, and Izsák Kupfer. Jenö Schück worked as chief rabbi.
The Reform community had a significantly smaller membership although later on most of the sugar factory employees became members. This community excelled in granting loans and Jewish welfare activities. There were no humanitarian or Jewish goals which did not involve Dr. Emil Eibenschütz, Sándor Krausz or Dr. Imre Feldmesser. The true leader of this community was the director of the sugar factory, József Goldschmidt, during whose tenure the timely restoration of the synagogue was undertaken.
Until the beginning of the World War I, both branches of the Jewish community of Sárvár evolved and flourished. The war with its many hardships was a heavy burden on the Jewish community since many of its members were poor manual laborers. As soldiers, many spent years away from their families. In the last year of the war anti-Semitism reared its ugly head.
The electorate of Sárvár being predominantly Catholic, there was always some underlying religious hatred, but until the war -- more specifically until the revolution -- this did not express itself. Until then there was a strong centralized government that restrained all excesses.
Everything changed with the revolution when the street took over the leadership. In principle, communism does not recognize racial hatred. Unfortunately in Sárvár the principles were rewritten; on March 23, 1919 when the first commune was organized, Sárvár was the place where Jewish shops and some private dwellings were looted. This went against the mindset in the rest of Hungary.
In August of the same year, the counterrevolutionary Horthy officers and Feldbach lads took over the rule. This began the systematic persecution of Communists, primarily Jews. Although this time there were no bloody atrocities in Sárvár such as those in nearby Jánosháza or Tapolca, there were many weeks during which the Jews of Sárvár were forced to flee.
After a few years of this rule the Bethlen compromise brought about 15 years of relative calm. Numerus clausus, some Jew-beating here and there, but on the surface there was calm. However chauvinistic fascism constantly revived the fire. After the 1935 elections the Arrow Cross gradually gained strength. Using government financed newspapers the Hungarian public was deliberately poisoned with slogans of hatred. Since the Chech and Yugoslav populations were far away and were also somewhat armed, the Jews became a convenient target. Since Jews were readily available and could not fight back, they became the subject of an institutionalized Divide et impera [divide and conquer] policy.
On October 6, 1938, at the evening meeting of a national day of mourning, the speeches were openly anti-Semitic. Following this a few dozen hooligans and bullies terrorized the Jews of the town.
At the outbreak of World War II (1939) a Polish internment camp was established in Sárvár. At first there was no differentiation made among the Polish soldiers. Later on Polish soldiers of Jewish faith were placed in a separate restricted camp. Such special treatment affected the local Jewish community as well. After the invasion of Transylvania (1940), Hungarian soldiers of other religions were demobilized while Jewish soldiers were sent to forced labor camps. Thus began the torture, suffering, and martyrdom of the Jewish population.
The food situation became increasingly difficult. The searches and raids of Jewish homes began. A ring of Hungarian gendarmes (csendór) surrounded the town. The objective was to find guilty Jews who were hiding 3-4 pieces of soap or a quarter kilo of coffee.
1944 March 19. A sunny, beautiful Sunday morning. Nevertheless the dark fate of mourning befell the Hungarian Jews. A few days later a small SS squad nestled itself in the home of a fleeing Jewish family. They drank and partied. In the evenings and at night they diligently visited the Jews to shop -- without money of course -- as they passionately collected watches, radios and anything else that they found interesting.
March 31 -- all Jewish stores were closed. Regulations were published requiring Jews to wear the yellow star and to notify the authorities of their properties. The confiscation of Jewish properties began.
May 7 -- a Wednesday. At six o'clock in the morning the Hungarian gendarmes went from Jewish home to Jewish home and gave everyone half-an-hour to pack and prepare for a move to the ghetto. They were to carry as little as possible.
Ghetto. Pouring rain and mass confusion. 150 Jewish families were crowded into the ghetto, with 2 to 3 families in a single room. There were many rumors, which later became reality. They dragged away the engineer of the sugar factory; his great sin was having been born in Galicia 50 years earlier.
Additional torture awaited the Jews of Sárvár; it became the site of a Jewish internment camp, officially known as number two Royal Hungarian police auxiliary prison. This is where the serious criminals were placed, those who on March 19, 1919 used the train, or stood in line for a liter of milk, or their home became desirable. The situation in the internment camp was horrific. A daily ration of 200 grams bread with minimal additional food, and collective punishment for the smallest infractions. When the internment camp's population reached over 1000 people -- this happened only twice -- transports were organized and 19 cattle cars rattled out to an uncertain location. Unfortunately, today, we know their fate.
The Jews of Sárvár and neighboring communities who were crowded into the sugar factory underwent the usual tortures. Interrogation by the gendarmerie, beatings to find hidden properties, eventually the transfer to the ghetto in the silk factory. From there, together with the Jews from the ghetto of Jánosháza and other locations, the final deportation's began at the end of June. Direction: Auschwitz!
The extent of the mortality is shown in the numbers below:
|2.||The District Jewish community of 21 villages||150 people|
|3.||Those who perished from the District||611 people|
|4.||Survivors (?)||125 people|
|5.||The number of murdered children (up to age 16)||154 people|
Prior to internment in the ghetto, Sárvár had two synagogues; one became rubble and of the other only the walls remained -- all the furnishings were carried away.
In the last year of the Jewish school there were 103 students. None of them returned.
The later events as well as the lack of sincere remorse influenced very negatively the few survivors. They tried to set up a kind of Jewish community and come to terms with the situation as it was. However, the new political situation was not conducive to forgetting the past. Little by little the few who returned scattered, and many made their way to Eretz Yisrael. Jewish community life came to an end, its treasures stolen. The synagogue was given to a shoe manufacturing cooperative for their workshop.
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