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The Beis Midrash of the Hassidim

It was on the main street in a courtyard next to the government elementary school, and was under the active leadership of Reb Yehoshua Zeev Greenfeld and Reb Baruch Hendler. The second Beis Midrash, which was built during a later era as a result of the dispute that broke out between the Greenfeld and Gottlieb families, was built some distance away and was under the successful leadership of the founder and dedicated gabbai Reb Asher Zindel Solomon. Orthodox, wholesome Jews, who were Hassidim and people of good deeds worshipped in both Beis Midrashes. The services were conducted in accordance with the Sephardic rite[1]. Both Beis Midrashes were considered to be large centers of Torah and religious life.

In the Beis Midrash of the Hassidim, you would find Jews with bent statures, bowed heads, broken bodies, and whole souls. Those Jews recited Psalms with seriousness, with good deeds and heartfelt simplicity, with their warm Jewish hearts, and with mutual concern and responsibility for orphans, sick people, poor brides, and any person downtrodden and in need. These were Jews with a joy of life, filled with happiness and lacking worry, Jews with good hearts who were prepared to sacrifice themselves for their fellowman.

If a Jew such as this utters a sigh from the depths of his heart, he could open the gates of prayer. Thus did Hassidism bring a living spirit to dry bones.

People sat in the rooms of the Beis Midrash bent over their lecterns, immersed in the quiet, mystical melody of the Gemara, and melodies of longing and dreams for the redemption and the return to Zion, toiling and bearing the burden of the yoke of the difficult exile of thousands of years duration, as they prayed for the redemption of the body and soul.

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The Minyan of Reb Eliezer and Duda Yartza

It was located at the eastern edge of the town, where the Talmud Torah also operated, and served the Jews of that neighborhood. The minyan was run by Duda Yartza who took great interest in the protocols and never refrained from praising successful prayer leaders.

 

The Kehilat Yaakov Beis Midrash and Talmud Torah

It was situated on the street of the cemetery, under the effective leadership of Reb Chaim the teacher and the former shochet [ritual slaughterer] of Kökényesd who was also known as a talented prayer leader, as well as under the leadership of Reb Gavriel Traub of blessed memory. It was donated by the Zivniker Rebbe. Several dozen honorable people who lived in that neighborhood worshipped there. It also housed classrooms of the Talmud Torah.

 

The Beis Midrash of Rabbi Shmeke Liper of holy blessed memory

Hassidim and people of good deeds who appreciated and loved the fine prayers full of enthusiasm and holy feelings worshipped there.

 

Images of the Community

From the vantage point of our generation, it is good to look back a few generations to understand the people of that era, their peaceful way of life, and their dedication to live in accordance with the Code of Jewish Law [Shulchan Aruch] during that time, even though they lived in dire straits.

To the Germans, the Jews were a symbol of the spiritual values and holiness that they hated, so they demonstrated the lowliness of the Jews by cutting of beards, torturing rabbis, smashing synagogues, and burning Torah scrolls and holy books. Despite this, those who preserved the embers of the Torah continued to live a traditional life even under such inhuman conditions.

Even more wondrous were the demonstrations of observance of the commandments and preservation of the traditions of the fathers by the Jews in the death camps. Even there, they found opportunities to worship communally and privately, to put on tefillin [phylacteries], light Sabbath and Chanukah candles, to blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and to conduct the Seder on Passover.

It is known that in the camp for women, a group of girls of Halmeu

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collected carrots and potatoes for more than a month before Passover in order to avoid eating chametz[2]. With mortal danger, they would bring bullet capsules and jugs of oil from the ammunition factory in order to light Sabbath candles, which they hid and lit in the ovens. They even succeeded in arranging with the S.S. supervisor to serve them their lunch portion in the evening after Yom Kippur, so that it would not appear as sabotage if they did not eat their lunch that day. Without doubt, there were men who conducted themselves in this manner, as well.

With their meager power and with mortal danger, they dedicated themselves to keeping the commandments. They organized prayer quorums for communal prayer, saved and hid holy objects, and wrote down the prayers and the annual calendar with their own hands.

The actualization of the desire to observe the commandments of the Torah was one of the most difficult matters, and was fraught with mortal danger, for the evil ones were diligent about cutting down the observant Jews first and foremost, as they regarded them as pillars of support for the people.

When members of our generation think about these spiritual giants, they seem superhuman to our eyes, and we feel as if we are immersing ourselves in a clear stream and removing the dust of our era. This raises the urgent question for us - why were those wonderful personalities stolen from us, why did they not merit to live with us here in the same land that they pined for all their days, as they awaited for the Messiah to come and take them up to Zion?

We knew the latter generation, and it is only now, after the destruction of the community, that it becomes clear how they sanctified the Divine Name with the power of self-sacrifice, and faith, and walked to the gas chambers singing “Ani Maamin.” Each of them is worthy of a complete book. The story of their lives can serve as material for school textbooks.

 

Personalities and Images in the Community

Before I begin, with holy trepidation, to present some descriptions of the personalities of the town, I wish to cite the words of the Gemara in Tractate Gittin page 67: When Isi the son of Yehuda would praise the sages, he would say that Rabbi Meir was a wise man and an enumerator, that is, meaning that he counted the letters of the Torah. He would say that Rabbi Yehuda was wise when he wished to be. The teaching of Rabbi Eliezer the son of Azarya was clear and clean, that is concise and precise. Rabbi Yossi has logic with him, and Rabbi Shimon grinds a great deal but gives forth little, implying that he sifts it, separating what does not make sense.

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In a similar fashion, I have evaluated and described the sages of the town. Even the simple people and the common folk cleaved to them and warmed themselves with the light of those wholesome, pious people; for in that holy community there were not only scholars who spent their time with Talmudic discussions, but also many who befriended and respected them, although they themselves were not involved with Torah on a fulltime basis.

Communities of scholars with their students and students of students were surrounded by communities of people who were not engaged in Torah on a fulltime basis, but rather set times for Torah, and whose prowess was not in studying but rather in deeds. They were not teachers of laws for they were involved and occupied with the ways and realities of the world.

The love of Torah affected those who taught laws as well as those who fulfilled them, those who expounded upon the writ and those who swallowed the statements with thirst.

Reb Meir Jeremias

He was the head of an exemplary local family, with a splendid countenance and fear of Heaven. He was a scholar who owned estates and vineyards. His descendents were among the founders and leaders of local Hassidism. His sons-in-law were -[3]

Reb Baruch Hendler

He was a sage in town. He was a constant participant in the didactic discussions of the lessons delivered by the rabbi of the town on Shabbat Hagadol[4].

He was strong in his opinions, and was known as being G-d fearing. He was revered by his many friends, especially the Hassidim, and many of them would visit his house to ask for his guidance and advice for all maters. He had a high forehead and his fiery eyes expressed an internal discomfort. He loved debates. He would storm at his disputant with energy and temperament in order to convince him, and a victorious smile fluttered on his face even at the outset of the debate. His heart was warm and alert to his fellow, and he protected all matters of tradition at all times with the fire of his soul. He retained the ember of his youthfulness despite his physical weakness and his frequent illnesses. “Reb Baruch minimized his efforts toward his livelihood and spent most of his time on Torah, but he did not did not want to earn his livelihood from Torah. To make this possible, his wife and family members sat in his grocery store all day so that he would be free for Torah and Divine service without interruption. Reb Baruch had four sons: Yechezkel who excelled in his great Torah expertise, Tzvi Hershel who oversaw his father's wine cellar; Reb Yaakov Nechemia, and Yehuda Aryeh, who both perished in sanctification of the Divine Name.

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Reb Yehoshua Zeev (Wolf) Greenfeld

He owned a grocery store. He was an enthusiastic Hassid, and expert student of the Kedushat Yomtov of Sighet[5]. His son Sheika was talented, and was known as a successful arbiter of Torah laws in court for any difficult and complex issue. He was one of the chief spokesmen of the local Hassidim. His son Shlomo-Aryeh was very talented, and is responsible for the pathology division of the government hospital n Beer Yitzchak. Reb Yehoshua Wolf's youngest son Reb Moshe Avraham is a remnant of the elders and important men of the town. He has worked in a responsible position for the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society) of Haifa since he made aliya to the Land.

Reb Moshe Weider

He was a scholar and a G-d fearing man. He was the son of the rabbi of Nyiregyháza. He served for many years as the gabbai (trustee) of the Talmud Torah. He owned a store for hides and shoes. His children live in Israel.

Reb Meir Jeremias had four talented sons.

Reb Moshe

He served for many years as the head of the Ashkenazic Orthodox community. He conducted communal affairs with a high hand. He almost caused a schism on account of his strictness in religious affairs. He had a large business for boards and lumber materials.

Reb Shmelke

He was a scholar and a G-d fearing man. He owned a grocery and metal implements shop.

Avraham Yekutiel

He owed several estates, and was a member of the upper class.

and Yechezkel

He was intelligent and conducted successful business through his good contacts with the authorities.

Reb Yehoshua Moshkovitz

He was the son-in-law of the rabbinical judge Rabbi Mordechai Rothstein of blessed memory. He was one of the town notables,

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who not only excelled as a great person in Torah, Hassidisim and fear of heaven, but also as a good writer. His son, the Gaon and Hassid Rabbi Tzvi Pinchas Moshkovitz, the former Rosh Yeshiva with Rabbi Yaakov Shalom of holy blessed memory, wrote a novel commentary on Psalms and published a book called “Shaarei Parnasa Tova” (The Gates of Good Livelihood) that was written by his grandfather the rabbinical judge Rabbi Mordechai Rothstein of blessed memory. After his death, his wife Aunt Bracha continued to run the Jewish birth registry of the town. Their oldest daughter married Reb Yirmia Tessler, an expert at liquor production, the owner of a wine cellar, and one of the heads of the Sephardic (Hassidic) [1] community of Klausenberg [Cluj]. He published a book on the history of the Holocaust in Klausenberg, in which he described how Reb Yoelish, the Satmar Rebbe, was saved from the Nazi talons. Reb Moshe Mordechai ran the administrative division of the factory of Reb Yirmiahu in Klausenberg. Today, Reb Yirmia continues to produce wines in Jerusalem. He produces “Chirion,” which is sent to Reb Yoelish and his Hassidim in America under the rabbinical supervision of Rabbi Tzvi Pinchas Moshkovitz under the auspices of the Orthodox rabbinical court of Jerusalem.

Reb Eliezer

He was one of the hidden Gaonim and Tzadikim in the town. His son was:

Rabbi Chaim Yosef

He served as a Rosh Yeshiva with the “Yeitiv Leiv” in Sighet[6]. His sons-in-law were:

Reb Shmuel Mordechai Schwartz

He was a writer, the son of the author of “Nefesh Tovah” of Chust. He was also a Torah scribe. He died at the age of 32 and left behind three sons and three daughters, including Reb Pinchas, who is a cantor and a scholar with pleasant qualities, and also a partner in the large “Matzevot” (Monuments) enterprise of Jerusalem. His handiwork includes the marble tablets perpetuating the communities of Halmeu Turcz and the region in the Holocaust Cellar on Mount Zion[7] in Jerusalem, and also in the cheder that was dedicated to perpetuate the aforementioned communities in Zichron Meir in Bnei Brak (the photographs of the tablets are found in the book)[8].

Reb Fishel Triser

He owned a store for fancy goods. His son Yehuda Leib excelled as a genius. He graduated from the rabbinical seminary of Vienna and was also a university lecturer in Kolomyja.

And Reb Eliahu Shapira

He was Hassid with poor luck, and a pauper.

With respect to the aforementioned, please see the specific article on Reb Pinchas Schwartz in this book.

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Rabbi Shalom Klein>

He was a great scholar and fearer of Heaven, and the student of Reb Shemlke Slisher. He attained a great level of uprightness. His two daughters honored him and guarded him as the apple of their eyes. They sustained him honorably by manufacturing wigs. They excelled in that trade. There were probably no more than two women in town who did not wear wigs.

When Reb Shalom slept, he kept next to his bed, aside from the basin and cup for ritual hand washing, his staff and suitcase, so that he would not need to search for them when the Messiah comes.

On one occasion, on the birthday celebration of a girl in a neighboring house, a group of musicians was playing gypsy music until midnight. Reb Shalom woke up, ran to the next room, and innocently shouted to the family members, “Wake up, do you not hear the sound of the Messiah? Get dressed quickly in festive garb, and let us go to greet King Messiah.”

He would customarily recite the Tikkun Chatzot service[9] and weep over the destruction of the Temple and the land. He would study Zohar and Kabbalah, and also go to immerse in a mikva [ritual bath]. One winter night, the rabbi met a sergeant of the gendarmes as he was on his way to the mikva. Since he was unable to identify himself, he was kept in jail until morning. Then, the head of the community Reb Moshe Jeremias freed him by testifying that he was the most veteran citizen of the city.

He was bound to Torah and the commandments with his entire heart and soul. He never went four ells[10] without observing the Torah. The rabbi of the city, who was his student, would come to visit him often and ask his advice. He had a pleasant presence, elderly and sated with days, resembling an angel of the L-rd of Hosts.

His son Reb Shalom was a shochet [ritual slaughterer] in Mihályfalva, who only made aliya a few years ago. He lives with his son in Bnei Brak. His granddaughter is married to Reb Mendel Ganz, the owner of a fine goods store in Hadera, a man of many deeds, a scholar and fearer of Heaven.

Reb Shneur Zalman Daskel

Reb Shneur Zalman was a weak man with a strong spirit - a sort of contradiction to the adage “A healthy spirit in a healthy body.” He was small, short, great in Torah, active and intelligent, while simultaneously upright, deliberate and calm in spirit. His name went

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before him as one of the gaonim [Torah geniuses] in the region. He would frequently be invited to complex adjudications. He was a great scholar, expert in the Talmud and halachic decisors, with a sharp, incisive mind. He had rabbinical ordination.

It would happen on occasion that the rabbi of the city, when faced with a complex question, would come to his home to ask his advice. He had a well-developed and refined sense of humor, and would impart calm to his fellow conversant, weigh his words, and remove doubts.

His son Reb Shimon Daskel owns a fine goods store. He is one of the notables of Bnei Brak, and is known as a scholar and a charitable man.

Reb David Levi

Reb David Levi was great in Torah and fear of Heaven. He had his rabbinical ordination. He was a scholar and expert in Talmud, halachic decisors, and books of morality. He was known as a man of fine character traits, and had a warm, sensitive heart. His holy manner was to don his tallis and tefillin even before dawn, and to study Zohar and moral works. This would be after he recited Tikkun Chatzot while sitting on the ground, weeping over the destruction of the Temple. Out of a fear of eating chometz, he would not eat matzos on Passover with the exception of the two Seder nights, and even then he would only eat an olive's bulk[11]. Reb David was one of the finer teachers of children.

Reb Yaakov Mitelman

He became known as an expert scholar, sharp and incisive. Even though he had ordination, he did not want to earn his livelihood from Torah. He devoted little time to his business, and spent most of his time with Torah. His refined and pious wife did her best to free him from the fine goods store from which they earned their livelihood, and enabled him to devote himself to the study of Torah day and night, as his soul desired. He delved deeply into the explanations of the Talmud to the point that he cut himself off from this world and took no interest in what was going on around him. He debated with himself openly and publically about the realities of Abaye and Rabba[12]. We would see him and Mandel Street, where he lived, as he was walking back and forth, discussing difficult Talmudic sections as those around him listened with awe to everything that came forth of his mouth.

With his enthusiasm and great diligence, he would run to the mikva at set times in order to purify himself from the day-to-day filth and secularity, so that he would be able to study and ponder the books of Zohar and Kabbalah with holiness and purity.

His daughter Rachel lives in Bnei Brak. His son Shlomo lives in Brazil, and his son Nachman lives in the United States.

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Reb Menachem Gottlieb

He was the son of the rabbinical judge. He was wealthy and pious. He owned a large enterprise for boards and wood products, as well as a grocery store. His house was open wide to the poor and needy. His wife Rivka was a woman of valor, known to give charity and discrete gifts. In his old age, his son Reb Yitzchak continued to run his business, whereas his other son Reb Yaakov owned a metal products and dye store. His son-in-law was:

Reb Meir Teitelbaum

He was the son of holy pious people, may their merit protect us. His was the grandson of the Yeitiv Leiv of Sighet, and the son of Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum of Ujhelyi. He conducted himself with asceticism, and did hold his head up high when he walked. He was honored in the eyes of the entire town, who respected him and valued him as a hidden Tzadik. He fulfilled the commandment of “you shall involve yourself in it [i.e. Torah] day and night.” He had a fine goods store.

Reb Efraim Stern

He mouth never desisted from Torah, and he was among those who sat in the Beis Midrash. He earned his livelihood from selling cloth remnants. His son Menachem Zeev served as the rabbi of the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem. His daughter Reizel lives in Bnei Brak.

Reb Shmuel (Tarner) Katz

He was a fearer of Heaven and an expert scholar. He was bedridden for many years as a result of a serious illness. The rabbi of the town would visit him, and they would often float off afar and swim in the sea of the Talmud. He was transferred to the Balunka Ghetto. His daughter Miriam is the wife of Reb Dov Ginz, a shochet in Kiryat Gat.

Reb Yosef Zerach Friedman

He was a modest Jew who feared Heaven. He was diligent, spending day and night studying Torah. His sons Reb Avraham and Reb Tzvi Hershel live in Haifa, and are known in Vishnitz Hassidic circles as observant, wholesome men of good deeds. Reb Hershel is a warehouse director of the electric company of Haifa and the region. His son Reb Shalom also lives there.

Reb Simcha Rappaport

He was short. His round beard, and long, peaked nose added

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a serious look to his face. Even when he had a smile on his face, his words were measured and decisive. He was not fluent in Hungarian even though he had lived in Halmeu since the time he left Poland at the end of the First World War. He was considered to be a revolutionary in the Orthodox circles, with the old and new blended together. He mocked those who did not know grammar, and whose knowledge of Bible, and[13] the Hungarian Language was substandard. He also loved literature and Hebrew poetry. With the enthusiasm of a Maskil who peered and was afflicted[14], he loved to know and understand everything, as well as get involved in matters that were not his.

In actuality, he peered and was not afflicted. In his lessons as a private teacher in all subject areas, and especially in the German language, he displayed his unshaken faith, and left no doubt that he was a Fearer of Heaven. His involvement in affairs that were not his stemmed from his strong desire to assist his fellow with his troubles and to find a solution to every problem, whether with regards to obtaining a get by virtue of a hundred rabbis[15], to free a woman from an aguna status[16], or to formulate a request to the authorities. Reb Simcha accepted upon himself to fix the most difficult matters for modest amounts of money -- with his unusual talents, diligence, and good international contacts; with his nature and sense of duty to take interest in all matters; since this was his means of livelihood; and since a significant portion of Halmeu residents had never attended a gentile school. They would also come to him for private lessons in order to acquire the necessary knowledge for learning German Language and arithmetic. In his lessons, he merged the sublime world of the spirit with physicality.

He would often cast half his wrath against the “loafers” who “due to poor luck” were unable to dress properly, even though he himself belonged to that category.

Reb Alter Landau

He owned a restaurant and tavern. He was one of the finest communal activists. He excelled in his righteousness and fine traits. He conducted himself beyond the letter of the law and was extremely strict in the observance of commandments. He educated his sons Shlomo and Yehuda in the spirit of faithful Judaism.

Zusman, Reb Yosef Robenstein, Reb Ben-Zion Gross and the Heimfeld brothers (Shmuel and Moshe David and others also belonged to the community of Hassidim and men of good deeds. They were all upright and pure, among the sublime of the nation. With their personalities, they served as examples of Torah observance and great dedication to the values of the nation.

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The following people are numbered among the gallery of avowed Orthodox Ashkenazim[17] who worshiped in the Great Synagogue and were observant of Torah and the commandments, fulfilling the simple commandments in the same fashion as the difficult ones:

Reb Betzalel Friedman

He had a splendid countenance, exuding honor. He was an excellent scholar, and a unique householder in the town and in the region. His son Elisha was a G-d fearing man who sets times for the study of Torah. He lives in Bnei Brak and is a senior official in the Tel Aviv post office.

Reb Aharon Kahana

He was from a wealthy, well-pedigreed family of Chust. He had pleasant mannerisms. He was a scholar, firmly rooted in Jewish culture. In a letter to her daughter Vera in the Land of Israel 34 years ago, his wife expresses her concern that her husband Reb Aharon is toiling beyond his capacity, studying day and night, being overly dedicated to the Talmud Torah which he directed, as he instituted a new method of tracking the progress of the more than 75 students and six teachers of the school. The teachers were responsible for bringing every issue to him and giving him a report on the weekly plans and material that was registered in a special ledger. He also maintained a page about the progress of each and every student. He owned a wholesale grocery store. Mordechai of blessed memory worked as an accountant in the Hadera city hall. Chaim is a postal official in Tel Aviv. Yehuda and his sister Lulu live in Jerusalem. Tzvi lives in Bnei Brak. The eldest daughter Vera who made aliya many years ago lives in Netanya.

Reb Peyish Weiss (Franz)

He was an eminent man who was honored by both Jews and gentiles. He owned a fine goods store. He was a scholar and fearer of Heaven. He was sharp and intelligent, with a sense of humor. He would compose verses in jest regarding the community, pointing out the weaknesses of those people who were the topic.

Reb Mordechai Reichman

He was one of the first hard workers of the Chevra Kadisha [burial society], and one of the veteran builders of the town from the planning stages, and a builder of its religious and communal institutions. He owned houses in the center of town and lived on the rent proceeds and on his involvement in the banking business.

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Reb Shlomo Steinberg

He was an honored scholar and G-d fearing man, respected by all the townsfolk. His son Reb Menachem married Freda, the daughter of Reb Aharon Kahana. Their son Yona excelled in his unique talents. He returned to his communal involvement after he returned from the Holocaust, and publically accused the town leadership of collaboration in the murder of the Jews. Therefore, he had to leave. Today he lives in the United States and runs a travel agency. His son Reb Moshe plays an active role in the memorial services of our townsfolk by delivering words of Torah and eulogies.

Reb Mordechai Simcha Blau

He was an honorable Jew, with a splendid appearance. He was active in communal life. He owned the sole fancy hall, called “Rakozi” in the center of town. All the cultural activities of the town were centered there, from the movie theater to lectures and dance presentations, as well as all public and political events. Reb Mordechai Simcha was also involved in the sale of liquor, as well as wholesaling. His children assisted him in all branches of his business.

Reb Yisrael Isadore Mermelstein

He was active in the communal leadership. He served as head of the community and excelled in his honesty. He owned a fancy goods store. His sons Alexander and Yosef live today in Ashkelon and Beer Sheva in Israel. His daughter Bazi, the wife of Reb Mordechai Gross of Kökényesd lives in Ashkelon.

Reb Eliahu Elemer Schwartz

He owned a textile and cloth store. He was an important, well-respected Jew with good ties to the government and city leadership. He married off his daughter Anush-Chana to a scholarly, intelligent Jew, Reb Eliezer Ladislau Taub, who served as the secretary of the city council. They live in Ramat Aviv near Tel Aviv. Mr. Eliahu (Elemer) Schwartz was an enthusiastic Zionist, and conducted activities on behalf of the Keren Kayemet and Keren HaYesod[18]. In Halmeu, he worked for the expansion of the income of the national funds of the Land of Israel, including promoting the sale of the shekel[19], and remained in constant touch with the Israeli office.

Reb David Zicherman

He owned a large shoe store with a significant number of employees. The people of the city

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honored and appreciated him. He was a member of the leadership committee of the religious council and was active in all areas of communal life. He loved to give charity discretely and to help anyone in need. As a gabbai [trustee] of the Chevra Kadisha, he solved the problems that took place in that organization. With his goodwill and dedication, he fulfilled the commandment of true loving kindness[20], including tending to the dead bodies, whereas others avoided this. He served as a member of the communal leadership and charitable and benevolent institutions for many years. His sons continue in the path of their father. Reb Mordechai and Reb Yisrael Aryeh Gross in Bnei Brak,; Reb Eliezer who serves as the vice directory of the Poel Hamizrachi Ban in Holon; and Yaakov and Eliahu who live in Ashdod.

Reb Yechiel Fisher

He was one of the wealthy and honorable tradesmen of the town. He was a faithful participant in conducting communal affairs. His son Yitzchak was a G-d fearing man who was great in Torah. He had a workshop for ready-made men's clothing, and brought his products to the fairs. One of his sons who survived the Holocaust lives in Ashkelon.

Reb Baruch Eisenrich

He was one of the town notables who were active in religious life. He owned a workshop for ready made men's clothing. His eldest son Simcha -- Shamu, who assisted his father, lives in the United States and is preparing to make aliya along with his younger brother Reb Avraham, who is a scholar and fearer of Heaven. Avraham was very active in communal life as the chairman of the Jewish community of Halmeu after the Holocaust. He took care of the Holocaust refugees who returned to the town with great care and concerned himself with their initial arrangements, including the return of property to heirs. His faithful partner in this difficult task, particularly in the administrative division, was Reb Aharon Rosenthal, who made aliya to Israel only recently, and now lives in the area of Petach Tikva.

Reb Shmuel Shmelka Mandel

He was an intelligent Jew with many talents. He did not restrict himself to his shop and his trade of watch making. He also opened up a factory for boxes for glasses. His son Yehoshua studied in the Yeshiva of Pressburg, and his other son Tzvi - Herman was living spirit and chief organizer of Young Mizrachi. He owned several houses near his own home which he rented out. The street on which he lived was named for him.

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Reb Matityahu Gross

He was one of the chief activists in the communal and religious arena, and owned a grocery store. His son David lives in Ashkelon. He has a daughter in Israel and another in Canada.

Reb Gavriel Traub

He owned a carpentry workshop. He loved his fellowman, and was a dedicated, G-d fearing man, faithful to religion. He was diligent in educating his children to love the values of Judaism and Zion. Tzvi works as a Hebrew teacher in Canada, and his daughter Chana is the wife of the well-known Cantor Fuchs of America. His son Menachem is the chairman of the organization of Halmeu natives and works as an architect with an office for interior design planning in Tel Aviv.

Reb Yitzchak Donenberg

He was honorable, and tall. He was the regular preacher in the synagogue during the Shalosh Seudot [third Sabbath meal] at the synagogue. He owned a soda water factory and a leather goods store. His granddaughter lives in Hadera, and his grandson Reb Moshe is the principal of the Chinuch Atzmai[21] school in Rechovot. His brother-in-law was:

Reb Baruch Katina

He supplied laundry detergent and tea grass. He opened separate factories near his house. His products were known throughout the country. His daughter lives in Ramat Gan, and his son in Stockholm is known as a very successful merchant.

Reb Yisrael Moshe Engel

There were shops in his house in the central square, and there were rental dwellings in his long, large yard. He owned a store for wholesale sale of plaster and coal. He was a vibrant man, active in communal affairs. His daughter Sara conducted the business after the death of her father. She married Solomon of Ardo (Ardo Fekete). One of the daughters of Miriam - Marishka who returned from the Holocaust opened up a restaurant in Halmeu after the Holocaust[22].

Reb Avraham Savoy

He was an upright, straightforward Jew who owned a store for the sale of plaster. He educated his children in the path of Torah and fear of Heaven. His daughter Liba lives in Israel and Sara lives in the United States.

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Brener

He was the son-in-law of the Zivniker Rebbe. He came from a wealthy family in Poland. He owned land. His oldest son Leibush studied medicine and the younger son Yaakov helped his father run the estate. He married Golda, the daughter of Hermina Roth. He saved many people and risked his life in Auschwitz in his efforts to provide bread and margarine to the Jewish prisoners. He was expelled from his home by the Communist authorities after he returned from the Holocaust, since he was a wealthy Jew. He made aliya and died in Haifa as a result of a malignant illness[23].

Reb Moshe Sholomon

He owned a grocery store. He was an honorable, eminent Jew. His eldest son was:

Reb Asher Zindel Solomon

He was a dedicated activist with many talents. He served as the gabbai [trustee] of the new Beis Midrash of the Hassidim, and he was one of its dedicated activists. He owned a grocery store. He was known as a scholar with fine character traits. His son Reb Chaim Tzvi (the son of Asher) works in the post office of Tel Aviv and is active in communal affairs, especially in the leadership of the Organization of Halmeu Natives. His younger son Reb Avraham Aharon was a great scholar, one of the most learned people in the city. He was a Torah researcher and expert in all aspects of Torah. He owned a grocery store, and was a grain merchant.

Reb Shimshon Solomon

He owned a soda water factory. He was a vibrant, active Jew in religious communal affairs.

Reb Shlomo Zalman Burger

He was the only local bookbinder, and he earned his livelihood from this trade with great difficulty. He was a quiet, modest Jew who observed the Torah and commandments.

The Weil Brothers

Yehoshua the shoemaker and Yaakov Yana the tailor were pure, observant men. They toiled hard to sustain their families.

Reb Yisrael Menachem Appel

He was an upright, G-d fearing Jew. He was a peddler who brought his merchandise from house to house among the residents of the villages of the area. He did not see a blessing from his great toil, since the border guards suspected him of smuggling merchandise across the border. They expropriated

[Page 50]

his merchandise and also plucked off his beard to the point where not a trace was left. The “shkotzim[24] of the villages would torment him. He was forced to stop peddling and open a store in a hut opposite the entrance to the Synagogue Alleyway. His wife Rachel Henia was graced with every talent and fine trait. It was as if every verse of “Eishet Chayil[25] was written about her. They educated their two sons Reb Michael Tzvi Hersch of blessed memory and Reb David Meir in the closest Yeshivas. Reb David Meir lives in Kiryat Yoel (Satmar) in Bnei Brak, and is a scholar and G-d fearing man. He works as a secretary in the Chinuch Atzmai school in Tel Aviv.

Reb Shimon Moshkovitz

He was a wine connoisseur, who managed the wine cellars of Dr. Bleier and the banker Nadosh, and also worked in their vineyards during the harvest. This seasonal work saved many Jews from Halmeu who were in a tight situation. Reb Shimon was the first to arrive for the recital of Psalms in the Great Synagogue. His sons were Asher, Zindel and Moshe and his daughters Tovi and Yona. Only his daughter Sara survived. She married Tzvi Avraham, a native of Klausenberg [Cluj], and they live in Haifa.

Reb Zeev Wolf Schwartz

He was a tailor by trade. He educated his only son Yehuda in the spirit of Torah and religion.

Reb Avraham Yekutiel Farkash

He was a precious Jew who was active in everything relating to the communal and religious institutions. He invested great energy to the Chevra Mishnayos [Mishna study group], and served as their gabbai. He was called in a derogatory fashion “The small communal head,” but this testified to his important status in the community. He was one of the contractors who organized the baking of matzos for Passover. His two daughters Pnina and Rivka live in Netanya.

Reb Sender Stark

He was a man of good temperament, G-d fearing, honorable and respectable. He educated his children in the spirit of Torah and religion. He was responsible for the technical aspects of the baking of matzos for Passover. His daughter Esther was the first person to make aliya from Halmeu. Her sister Sara married Reb Yechezkel Neeman (Neiman) of Klausenberg [Cluj], who was from a respectable family and one of the activists and leaders of religious Zionism there. They live in Haifa.

Reb Moshe Falik Weiss

He was a modest, G-d fearing Jew, who earned his livelihood from porting loads to and from to the railway station in a wagon.

[Page 51]

Reb Moshe's son, Reb Elimelech, had a unique talent for Jewish arts, and he is fully dedicated to that endeavor. His house in Shikun He [Neighborhood Five] of Bnei Brak, looks like a museum, as he constantly displays items from his large collection that he has amassed through the years. Aside from models of the Mishkan [Tabernacle] and Beit HaMikdash [Holy Temple] that were prepared in accordance with the minute details written in the works of our sages, his works of art also include a model of Rachel's Tomb, Mearat Hamachpela [The Cave of Machpela], and his own paintings that evoke the phases of redemption. One of his two sisters, Chaya Blachman, lives in Ramat Gan, where her husband is a local building contractor.

Reb Pinchas Glick (Guchir)

He was a popular, sharp, intelligent Jew - one of the characters similar to Shalom Aleichem's Tevye the Milkman. He was always in a good spirit and full of jokes even when he sat on the bench of the wagon, for he too earned his livelihood from transporting people to and from the railway station. He had popular, pithy jokes and quips that at time bordered on coarseness, and for which he had to pay a penalty. “No big deal!”, he claimed, “The main thing is that that I succeeded in vexing the wealthy people on the eastern wall[26].

He was a proper citizen, with his own independent viewpoints, and also connected to the community and its leaders. Once, he aroused the anger of the community by his behavior, for he had broken the bounds. He was punished with the most severe sanctions known by the community - he was forbidden to get an aliya to the Torah and serve as a prayer leader for five years.

The situation was as follows. In the absence of the rabbi of the city, he aided the marriage of a divorcee from outside of the city in a secular court. He and his accomplices earned a significant amount of money from this.

 

Prayer Leaders

When the Jewish festivals, especially the Days of Awe, drew near, voices and sounds of the lovely festival melodies burst through the Jewish homes as they prayer leaders of the town rehearsed. This imparted a festive atmosphere on the Jewish streets even before the start of the holiday.

Reb Chaim Klein (the shochet from Kökényesd)

He lead the Shacharit service on a regular basis on the High Holidays at the Great Synagogue. His sons assisted him, and their prayers were enjoyable and proper even from a musical perspective.

[Page 52]

Reb Meir Braun

He was one of the leaders of the community and a town notable, pleasant in his mannerisms and modest. He served as the gabbai in the Great Synagogue for many years. His sons Chaim and Moshe were also known as singers who knew the melodies. The latter served as the regular prayer leader and Torah reader at Young Mizrachi. His son Yosef was one of the early pioneers and one of the first to make aliya from Halmeu. Today, he lives in Petach Tikva, whereas Avraham (Bumche) lives in Ramat Gan.

Reb Yitzchak Meir Sholomon

He owned a restaurant and a hotel, was an excellent prayer leader and a charitable man. He had a fine appearance. His house was a meeting place for scholars, and he meticulously preserved the pure table. His sons Daniel Leibi and Eliahu as well as his daughters perished in the Holocaust.

Reb Moshe Altman

His sons Yidel, Yisrael Isser and Shimon sang with him in the choir and gave great enjoyment to the congregation of worshippers with their fine singing. Reb Yidel also excelled in his sharpness in his studies and delighted his audience with his sermons on the weekly Torah portion. Today, he works as an official in the city hall of Bnei Brak.

Reb Aharon Levendel

He was short, but blessed with a strong, powerful voice that filled the space of the Great Synagogue.

Reb Yitzchak Yaakov Kraus

He was a watchmaker by profession, and an excellent prayer leader with a fine lyric voice. He would travel regularly to serve as the cantor in the synagogue of Kleinwardein [Kisvárda] for the High Holidays. He was an eminent scholar with a fine appearance and full beard.

Reb Yehuda Hirsch

He was a veteran communal activist. He owned a threshing machine from which he earned his livelihood. He was a good prayer leader and Torah reader. His daughter Blanca lives in Israel.

[unnumbered page after 52]

Students of the government school in the Nagy educational center

Eliezer Zicherman, Meir Steinberger, Menachem Traub (Carmy), Bumi (Avraham) Jeremias, his cousin Pessy, Mondy Holder, Shalom Markovich, Baj Mandel, Yehuda Kahana, Goldy Gross, Lili Landau, Sara Moshkovitz, Puri Farkash, Meir Weiss, Lili Savoy, Zahava Izrael, Gross, Ilana Klein, Yita Chaya Stern, Lili Steinberger, Yaakov Jeremias, Poli, Ilona Lebovich, Ilona Glick

 

Translator's Footnotes

  1. This is not the true Sephardic service form that is used by the communities that stem from North Africa and the Middle East, but rather the form called ‘Nusach Sephard’, which has some elements of the true Sephardic rite, and is commonly used by Hassidic communities. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nusach_Sefard Return
  2. Leavened products, forbidden on Passover. Return
  3. The next four listed people, until the text begins to list Reb Meir Jeremias' sons, seem to be his sons-in-law. Return
  4. The Sabbath prior to Passover, upon which a detailed sermon on the laws of Passover is customarily delivered. Return
  5. Rabbi Yomtov Lipa Teitelbaum Return
  6. Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda of Sighet Return
  7. See http://www.holocaustchamber.org Return
  8. See page 24. Return
  9. An optional private set of prayers commemorating the destruction of the Temple, generally recited by particularly pious people in the middle of the night. Return
  10. “Four cubits” - a common expression in rabbinic literature. Return
  11. The nuances here are complex. It is a commandment to eat matzos on the two Seder nights of Passover. The required amount is known as a “kezayit”, an olive's bulk. There is a fear that if matzos are not baked properly, they may become chometz [leavened], and one would therefore be guilty of a major transgression by eating them. Thus, the custom arose in some circles to minimize the eating of matzos on Passover, aside from the required amounts on the first two nights. With modern baking ovens, the fear of non-fully baked matzos has pretty much disappeared, but with more primitive ovens, the fear could have been real. Others would not minimize the eating of matzos on Passover, because it is possible to say that there is a fulfillment of the commandment of eating matzos on all the days of Passover, even though only strictly obligatory on the first two nights. Furthermore, the festive meals on the Sabbath and festival days of Passover would require the eating of matzos. Return
  12. Two Talmudic sages. Return
  13. The Hebrew text includes the phrase “to differentiate” between these two thoughts. This is a commonly used phrase when separating between a holy and secular concept. Note, in many Orthodox circles, Talmudic study eclipsed Bible study, and many people were not that familiar with the Bible, other than the Pentateuch. Return
  14. Meaning that he looked at forbidden material, and was affected (afflicted) by it. A Maskil means an “enlightened person” -- i.e. someone who has become involved in secular, worldly studies. Return
  15. A get is a Jewish bill of divorce. In cases where a get cannot be given, there exists a rarely used possibility of retroactive annulment of the marriage through the agreement of one hundred rabbis. Return
  16. An aguna is a woman who is ‘bound’ in a marriage and is not allowed to remarry, because her husband disappeared without trace (a not uncommon situation in wartime), or refuses to grant a get. Return
  17. The meaning here is non-Hassidic (Misnagdic) individuals. Return
  18. Keren Kayemet is the Jewish National Fund. Keren HaYesod is literally the ‘Foundation Fund’, which morphed into the United Israel Appeal. These were, and to a large degree still are, the main fundraising arms for Israel within the Diaspora. Return
  19. The shekel was the token of membership in the Zionist organization. Return
  20. True loving-kindness [chesed shel emet] is the term used for preparing bodies for burial, since this act is done without any expectation of a reward from the recipient of the good deed. Return
  21. Literally “independent education,” a private school system in Israel serving the more religiously zealous elements of society. Return
  22. There is some unclarity in the text in these latter two sentences. Return
  23. Likely referring to cancer. In traditional Hebrew writing, there is a reluctance to refer to cancer directly. Return
  24. A derogatory term for gentiles. Return
  25. Proverbs 31: 10-31, recited on Sabbath eves before the meal. Return
  26. The eastern wall of the synagogue would be where the notables and wealthy people would have their seats. Return


[Page 53]

Aspects of Jewish Life

 

Baking of Matzo for Passover

The season for the baking of matzo began immediately after Purim and continued until before Passover. There were many preparations - koshering the oven, and smoothing the boards and wooden rollers. The bakers, Reb Binyamin Kish and Sholomon Makoknisht, demonstrated great expertise in placing twelve matzos into the oven at one time. The women and girls competed amongst themselves in preparing the fine matzo. The men and family members hasted and ran home with the matzos wrapped in a white sheet.

Reb Avraham Yekutiel Farkash, Reb Sender Shtark and Reb Yekutiel Jeremias were the contractors who organized everything connected with the baking of the matzos for Passover, including the contracting of workers as well as the technical work.

 

The Jesters at Weddings

The jesters Zoldi, Neiman, and Yaakov Alek created a unique spirit and special atmosphere of joy at the weddings - which generally took place at the home of the parents of the bride. They aroused the groom and bride to repentance with fine verses before they set out to the wedding canopy, and they also invited the honorable Jews to the “mitzvah dance” with the bride, using a handkerchief[1]. With their fine ballads, they succeeded in bringing joy to the bride and groom, exciting the wedding participants, and lightening the pain and agony of the yoke of exile. These ballads and jokes later entered into the folklore of the entire area, and became their legacy to the Jews.

 

People Engaged in Holy Work

Reb Shlomo Glik

He had a sense of humor, was a good, popular friend, and was a central figure in preserving communal life. No wedding took place without the participation of Reb Shlomo. He participated actively in arranging the wedding ceremony. He seated the bride on his armchair, took care of filling in the ketuba [wedding contract]. He covered the bride with a veil, and walked the new couple to the wedding canopy. He supervised the circling of the groom and the breaking of the glass, and declared “Mazel Tov”!.

[Page 54]

The congregation listened attentively to his declarations on Sabbaths and weekdays[2]. Similarly, he would play an active role in funerals, Heaven forbid, and everything connected with such. On Rosh Chodesh Elul[3], he would be at the cemetery from morning to night, showing the visitors the graves of their parents and family members. He would conclude with the recitation of Kel Malei Rachamim[4]. He was as familiar with the cemetery as with his private home. He even recalled the places of the graves by heart. He would wake people up for the Selichot service[5] with a special melody.

Reb Shlomo was especially busy as Passover approached, when throngs of people would come to kasher their vessels in the boiling cauldron that stood next to the bathhouse. There, he also burned the chometz of the entire community after going from house to house to collect it[6].

He had two talented sons, Yitzchak and David, who excelled in their roles in the Purim plays and in reciting the “petition.” They are both expert scholars. David is a shochet [ritual slaughterer] in the United States, and the younger brother, Reb Zeev, lives in Bnei Brak.

Reb David Berko Berkovitz

He was a short man with quick motions, intelligent, and well-accepted by the Hassidic community in which he served as a shamash [beadle]. He was completely dedicated to his roles. He knew the entire Jewish population of the town, from the wealthy to the poor. He knew the life story of each individual, including the number of their children. He even remembered the names and occupations of their old fathers. He knew very well the economic situation of each of the Jews of the town. His facial appearance never betrayed his age. His son Yeshayahu Barkai served as the principal of the national religious school in Ashkelon, and is currently a rabbi in the United States. His other son Shmuel Chaim and daughter Sarah, who is in a good social position, are also in America. His daughter Gizi is married to Reb Zindel Izikovitz and lives in Petach Tikva. Gizi's son fell in the War of Independence.

 

The Personality of my Mother of blessed memory, my Aunt, my Grandmother, or the Personality of any other Woman

Her image stands before my eyes, as I saw her in the latter days, with glasses, reading “Tzena Urena - Batechina[7]. Between her reading sessions, she would busy her hands with knitting wool sheets and socks. She was modest in her mannerisms. Her unshakeable faith helped her overcome all the tribulations of her life. She was refined and noble by nature, keeping far from gossip. She fought like a lion for the livelihood and education of her children. She made her nights like days, so that the children should feel no want. She would wake up at midnight on Thursday night, bake the bread and challos, and then clean the

[Page 55]

house and do the laundry. When we got up for cheder, she still had a long list of work, and the time was tight.

After the Sabbath evening meal on Friday night, she would fall into bed until the Sabbath morning. She would get up early on the Sabbath and review the weekly Torah portion in “Tzena Urena”. She would look upon us from the women's gallery of the synagogue. When one of us was given the honor of Maftir and recited the verses of the Haftarah, or debated with the rabbi about a Torah matter, her face would light up, as she would say to herself, “Behold, there is reward for my toil, and this gives me encouragement.”

She bid farewell to the Sabbath in the silence of the night with a quiet melody and with the yearning prayer, “G-d of Abraham, guard the people of Israel from any tribulation and mishap, and bring the coming week upon us with blessing, success, health, peace, and send us our righteous redeemer, the Messiah the son of David.”

She visited every sick person, expressed her concern, and helped those in need. She was graced with feminine charm and possessed business talents. It was as if every verse of “Eshet Chayil[8] was written about her. With her diligence and initiative, she brought strength and comfort to our home. Her home was open to every person in need, and people would eat at her table on weekdays and Sabbaths. She was the glory and splendor of the entire family.

The pure, fine Jewish mothers put their children to sleep with songs of Torah and greatness, raisins and almonds[9], about the day that everyone is waiting when the Jew will shake off the dust of the exile and the yoke of the nations.

She was a classic “Yiddishe Mama” (Jewish mother), and I bow my head in her memory.

 

Schools

The law of free compulsory education was already in force, and despite the fact that there were three elementary schools in Halmeu - one government school and two Christian communal (Catholic and Reform) schools - the Jewish children attempted to avoid them to the extent possible, so that they would not forsake the study of Torah, and not sit bare-headed amongst students who were not of the Mosaic and Israelite faith. Instead, arithmetic and other such subjects would be taught in the cheder.

[Page 56]

The talented, accredited Jewish teacher Elemer Shugar excelled in the teaching staff of the government school. He was blessed with unique pedagogical abilities. He excelled in his positive relations with the students, and made great achievements in raising the level of the studies in his class. His good name went before him, and he was accepted as the principal of the elementary school of the Jewish community of Satmar, where he continued to perform magnificently, as he conducted his school in the spirit of Torah and tradition, to the satisfaction of the members of the community as well as the educational authorities.

 

Talmud Torah

In addition to the individual teachers who maintained private cheders, there was a Talmud Torah in which students from all backgrounds would study. The teachers were excellent, dedicated, and well-known.

One of those who stood at the head of this important institution was Reb Aharon Kahana of blessed memory, who spent his nights as days in his great dedication to his task. He instituted a new protocol with respect to assessing the progress of the students. He demanded that the teachers present him weekly with a record of the achievements and plan for the upcoming work of each student, both orally and in writing.

Six teachers taught the 75 students of the Talmud Torah. The chairman Reb Aharon was assisted by the trustees Reb Tzvi Hendler; Reb Moshe Weider who was an expert, sharp genius, and a well-known scholar; and others who worked under the supervision and guidance of the rabbi of the city, Rabbi Yaakov Shalom Klein of holy blessed memory.

Reb David Levi

He was one of the best teachers of the region. In his merit, we should note that his refined soul refused to make use of a whip or a strap. Despite this, he knew how to overcome the practical problems with his staff of charm, thanks to his dedication and his high level of professionalism, even though he had never studied pedagogical theory. His students who continued to study in Yeshivas exhibited their superiority over their peers who had studied with other teachers. They stated, with an inkling of pride, that they had studied Torah from Reb David Levi and had received a strong base from him. Reb David Levi would teach the higher grades in the style of an elementary Yeshiva, facilitating the transition from the Talmud Torah to the Yeshiva. He was an expert scholar and fearer of Heaven, with a unique power of explanation. His students

[Page 57]

loved him and would follow after him. If one entered the room of Reb David in the morning, one would see him adorned in his tallis and tefillin, pouring over Zohar texts; and one would think that he was one of the 36 hidden tzadikim[10]. Who knows if we were wrong about this.

Reb Chaim (the Shochet of Kökényesd) Klein

He was one of the best teachers in town. He was a great scholar with a unique power of explanation. His cheder was near the cemetery.

Reb Zanwil and Reb Meir Hirsch

They were teachers of the same rank. They were known as expert scholars, as well as for their great dedication. They were graced with unique pedagogic talents. Their students loved them, for they performed their holy tasks for the sake of Heaven and with dedication. Reb Meir Hirsch later moved to Kökényesd where he served as a Shochet. His daughter Magda lives in Israel.

The aforementioned teachers Reb Chaim Klein, Reb Meir Hirsch and Reb Zanwil were all known for their fine pedagogic talents.

Reb Yosef Katz, Reb Yitzchak Klein,Weiss<

They excelled as good, dedicated teachers at the lowest grades. Reb Yosef Katz' daughter Gizi, his son Yisrael Aryeh, and his oldest son Pinchas all live in Israel.

Reb Yisrael Farkash, Reb Yitzchak Klein, Reb Asherl Leib, Reb Zeev Fefer, Reb Leib of Turcz, Reb Tzvi Friedman, Reb Tzvi Leibowitz and Reb Shalom Eliezer were all teachers who excelled with their dedication.

Despite the fact that he was very busy, the rabbi of the city would oversee the academic achievements. He would often come to examine the progress of the students, accompanied by the trustees of the Talmud Torah and other scholars.

The procession with lanterns for illumination during the early hours of the morning in the winter, as well as during the snowy winter evenings, was a sight to behold. The students of the older grades began their studies at 5:00 - 6:00 a.m. and finished at 7:00 p.m. They marched with their lanterns in order to light up the way on the roads of

[Page 58]

Halmeu that were not yet illuminated with electric lights. The snowflakes glowing in the light of the flickering flames of the lanterns created a mischievous atmosphere.

 

Religious, Economic and Social Life

The town of Halmeu is situated approximately 35 kilometers from Satmar, near the border with Carpatho-Rus (formerly the border with Czechoslovakia). The Jews constituted approximately a half of the population. Most of them lived in the center of town. The Jewish population consisted of 400 families, or 2,500 individuals.

Commerce, which was in Jewish hands for the most part, apparently stood on a well-established basis. Grocery store owners included Greenfeld, Jeremias, Kahana, the Jakobovich brothers, Solomon, Israel, and Markovich. They earned their livelihood comfortably, as did the owners of the fancy good stores: Franz Weiss, Elemer Schwartz, Mermelstein, and Mittleman. However, the status of the Jewish tradesmen was a level lower. Only a few of them were exceptions, such as Reb Betzalel Friedman - a scholarly Jew who hired assistants in his printing shop, which was the only one in town and in the area.

The tailors Fisher and Eizenreich, as well as Reb David Zicherman, diligently attempted to bring their handiwork - clothing and ready made shoes - to the annual fairs in the region, and succeeded in earning their livelihood. On the other hand, the small-scale tradesmen such as Steinberger, Schwartz, Weil, Markovich, and others earned their livelihood with difficulty. Some of them only managed to maintain themselves minimally with assistance from abroad. All of the banks were under sole Jewish ownership.

Ladislaw Nadosh

He was a learned, generous man. Aside from his fields, vineyards, and wine cellar, he was also the owner of the bank. He ran his businesses with great understanding and with a powerful hand. Farkash, the cashier of the bank, had a soft spot for reading the weekly haftarah [prophetic portion] at the synagogue on Sabbaths.

Reb Shmuel Moshe Heimfeld

He was a Hassid, and a righteous, upright man who was noted for his generous character traits. Everyone who approached him for charitable matters received a positive response. The bank that he owned was frequented

[Page 59]

primarily by the circle of religious Hassidim. His son Yaakov lives in Kfar Ata in Israel.

Reb Daniel Rothstein

He was the son of the judge. He was an educated man, modern, and Torah observant. He, too, earned his livelihood from banking.

 

The following people also belonged to the upper economic class and the circle of intellectuals.

Reb Shmuel Kelner

He was very wealthy, owning many fields. He was a learned man and a maskil, who generously helped the poor. Both the Jewish and gentile poor of the town received all their requirements of potatoes and other vegetables on the eves of festivals. His son Tibor married Olga Zusman the daughter of the Torah scribe of the town. They then made aliya to Israel. They still have not overcome the initial difficulties of acclimatization. They live in Ashkelon. After he returned from the Holocaust, he was expelled and deported from his home as a kulak[11].

Reb Yosef Rozeth

He served as the head of the community for some time. He owned properties and vineyards. He was an intelligent, upright man who lived a life of wealth and happiness in his splendid mansion.

Chananya Yomtov Lipa Dietler (Leopold)

He was the chief judge in the district court of Halmeu. He was often involved in conflict with the rabbi, due to his refusal to accept the rabbi's authority in matters of religion.

Pari Lazer was a talented, renowned lawyer. He lived in the center of town in a very lovely home.

Reb Mordechai Richman

He was the chairman of the Chevra Kadisha [burial society], and the director of the bank that was opened in the central square.

Giza Sani

He was the director of the office for the collection of land tax.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitzvah_tantz for a description of the “mitzvah dance” at a Hassidic wedding. The handkerchief is to prevent direct physical contact between the male dancer and the bride, which would be prohibited by Jewish law. Return
  2. I suspect that this refers to various announcements of synagogue proceedings. Return
  3. It is customary to visit the graves of relatives during the month before Rosh Hashanah (the month of Elul). Rosh Chodesh (the New Moon) is the beginning of the month. Return
  4. The prayer for the elevation of the soul of the deceased. Return
  5. Selichot is the special service conducted on weekdays prior to the morning service from a week before Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. In previous times, someone would go around to the houses, waking the people up for Selichot. Return
  6. Vessels that are used year-round must be rendered kosher (kashered) for Passover. There are different methods do to such, depending on the general use of the vessel and the material out of which it is made. Immersion in boiling water is a common form of koshering of metal vessels, other than those used for baking of chometz products. The latter must be kashered by heating in an oven until glowing. On the even of Passover in the late morning, all remaining chometz that has not been included in the sale of chometz must be burned. Return
  7. Tzena Urena is a Yiddish Torah commentary intended especially for women. Return
  8. Proverbs 31, 11-31, in praise of women, recited on Sabbath eves. Return
  9. Seemingly a reference to the Yiddish folksong “Rozhinkes mit Mandlen.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raisins_and_Almonds Return
  10. In Jewish lore, each generation has 36 hidden tzadikkim (especially righteous people, who remain hidden from the public eye). Return
  11. A higher income farmer in Marxist-Leninist terminology, considered to be an enemy of the poorer farmers. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kulak Return


[Page 60]

The Physicians

Dr. Bleier

He was a general practitioner, expert in all areas of medicine. His patients appreciated him and revered him. On the day of his death, they opened the border and allowed those who held him in esteem to participate in his funeral from the other side of the border. He owned vineyards, estates, and a large wine cellar holding all types of wine.

Dr. Izak

He also excelled in his great expertise and his accuracy in diagnosis. He was generous, helping indigent sick people also with the purchase of medicine. He related with great respect to the values of Judaism, and was a believing Jew. They offered him the opportunity to remain in the area, but he chose to join his family and members of his community. He died a martyr's death.

Dr. Steier

He was a dedicated, beloved physician. His son George continued after him as a physician, and even surpassed him in knowledge and expertise. He survived, and continued as a physician after the war.


Grain Merchants

From Among the Largest and Most Well Established Grain Merchants we should note:

Reb Aryeh (Wolf-Leib) Farkas

He died in the Land after a malignant illness. He was buried in Haifa. His son Tzvi died a few months before his father.

Reb Lemel Steinberger

He was an honorable, scholarly Jew. During his old age, his grown sons gave him the necessary assistance in commercial matters.

And the Brothers Reb Avraham Aharon, and Reb Asher Zindel Solomon, and finally Reb David Braun of Kökényesd.

The border with Czechoslovakia was next to the railway station, and the kosher restaurants

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at the station and in town served the resulting tourists and passers-by.

The restaurants in the town included those of Reb Yitzchak Meir Solomon, Landau, Rivka (Tefloish), and Rivka Schwartz (Superke). Simcha Blau owned the “Rakozi,” which was the most enlightened cultural hall in town and served as the venue for plays, dances, etc. His son owned a nice restaurant next to the train station. Reb Mordechai Solomon, Reb Michel Weiss and Meir Roth also owned restaurants.

The second hall on the Korona Hill, owned by Greenstein, was used for weddings, lectures, celebrations and dances.

Greenstein's oldest son Reb Yudel was a great scholar.

We already noted above that the border increased the movement from the train to the town, which was some distance away. Many people earned their livelihood from the transportation of travelers in wagons, including: Glik Gochir, Moshe Feuerstein, Moshe Falik, Mozes, Isidor Steinberger, Gobash-Izler, Moshe Branchi, Tzvi Klein, Hershel and Leibish Bumi. Eliahu Roth and Shmuel Chaim Berkovich were wagon drivers who transported cargo.

The small-scale commerce, centered for the most part on the agricultural customer, suffered difficulties during the harvest season when the farmers were too busy to come to the market. At those times, the shopkeepers waited impatiently for customers, and looked into the holy books or weekly Torah portion, or recited Psalms, as they sat in their shops. The situation was not much better in other branches of commerce, when business weakened during the periods of anti-Semitic publicity and increasing pressure upon the Christians not to buy from Jews and not to give them work.

In the societal life of the Jewish community, the efforts toward communal cohesion and helping those in need stood out. This was often connected with ties to tradition, since there were almost no people ignorant of matters of Judaism.

Even the workers in the workshops would fortify themselves with a verse learned as a child at a time of need, and the institutions that appointed them had a social conscience. They acted with full energy and filled important roles, starting from the Hachnasat Kalla [fund for poor brides] and Kimcha DePischa [fund for Passover provisions], and ending with large sums donated in the case of urgent need, such as for a wagon driver whose horse stumbled and fell, etc. In such cases, none of the residents of the community rested until the sum required to rehabilitate the person in need was collected.

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The unity and cohesion of the town especially increased after the two large Hendler and Jeremias families were joined in marriage. To a significant degree, those families set the tone of cultural and religious life and the fine image of the town, that on occasion caused barbs to be uttered from the “common folk” to those who “sat by the eastern wall.”

All the citizens of the town, from the tailors to the merchants, gathered in the synagogue every morning and evening for communal prayer, the recitation of Psalms, and the study of Torah. On Sabbath afternoons before Mincha, they would listen to words of Torah and Aggada [lore] on the weekly Torah portion from Reb Fishel Halpert, the son-in-law of Rabbi Shmelke Liper, who was well received by everyone. These simple Jews, occupied for most of the hours of the day, entered the House of G-d also on weekday evenings in order to raise their spirits and to listen to a class on Kitzur Shulchan Aruch[1], Ein Yaakov - a compendium of Talmudic lore, or to listen to a preacher who came to visit the town, who, with a unique melody, knew how to play to the hearts of the pure, upright Jews.

The town was bustling with life. It had Jews who worked in various trades, such as shoemakers and tailors; as well as merchants and peddlers who all toiled throughout the week. This was a community bustling with life, a typical Jewish town where the people conducted their lives in accordance with the religious tradition that they had learned in the Beis Midrashes and Yeshivas regarding how to be Jews faithful to their people.

This was a splendid community that was called the “Little Land of Israel.” It was a praiseworthy community that was cloaked in splendor with the grace of ancient legends.


Translator's Footnote

  1. The Abridged Code of Jewish Law by Shlomo Ganzfried. Return


Charitable and Benevolent Institutions

 

Chevra Kadisha [Burial Society]

It was not only concerned with the burial of the dead, but also served as a social institution for the Jews of the town by offering medical assistance and medicinal drugs for indigent sick people, as well as support for the poor. Reb Mordechai Richman served as chairman of the society. He knew everything and remembered everything. The map of the Chevra Kadisha was rolled up and organized in his head. The leadership committee included Reb Meir Braun and Reb David Zicherman.

Its active members also included Reb Yosef Hendler, Reb Yisrael Mirovich, Reb Yechiel Tzvi Fisher, Reb Mordechai Simcha Blau, Reb Matityahu Gross, Reb Shmelke Jeremias and Reb Efraim Kramer.

 

Chevra Sandek Avot

Its role was to concern itself with the expenses related to childbirth for poor people, as well as expenditures for the feast and circumcision ceremony. It also contributed to general charitable funds, etc.

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Chevra “Malbish Arumim” [clothing the naked]

Its purpose was to assist poor families with many children by providing clothing and shoes for the winter season, so that the children could continue to study without any interruption.

Chevra Mishnayos

This society consisted primarily of tradesmen and simple folk, who were busy during most of the hours of the day and studied a few Mishnayot [Mishna verses] in the synagogue between Mincha and Maariv. Reb Avraham Yekutiel Farkas of blessed memory was the active trustee [gabbai] of this society.


Youth Organizations

 

Young Mizrachi

The religious youth, especially the tradesmen, were organized into Young Mizrachi [Tzeirei Mizrachi]. Aside from their activity on behalf of the national funds and the youth synagogue, they also organized cultural activities, lectures, celebrations, Sabbath celebrations [Oneg Shabbat]. The chapter sent pioneers [chalutzim] to Hachshara[1] in Sighet. This instilled a sense of responsibility on the members of the chapter, and imbued a spirit of new life.

Active members included Tzvi Mandel, Yitzchak Diamand, the Braun brothers, Fisher, Eisenreich, Berger, and others. Their spiritual leader was Weiss.

In the eyes of the youth, he was a symbol of awakening to redemption, of the renewal of the Hebrew language and the national idea. He was a talented speaker. At communal meetings, he would enthuse his listeners to the idea of the redemption of the Land. He was a blend of the previous, passing generation and the new generation. He was a scholar as well as an ardent Zionist, and was very popular. He had a difficult battle on his hands with the various opponents of Zionism, and reacted with his barbed tongue, with his expertise and sharpness.

With the various changes of regime, he moved to Romania, and was thereby saved from the inferno of the Holocaust. He made aliya and became the administrative director of the city hall of Beit Shean.

 

Young Mizrachi Girls

From “Darcheinu” (“Utunk”, the official weekly of the “Brit Hanoar Hamizrachi” in Sighet, edited by Yitzchak Cohen and David Giladi Klein, I discovered that at a general meeting

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that took place on October 8, 1933, a girls section of Young Mizrachi was organized under the leadership of Vera Kahana, Shoshana Dratler, and Lili Klein.

The following members also signed the protocol: Ida Lebovich, Franci Weinbach, Elizabeth Start, Irina Weiss, Zahava Brant, Fani Meir, Shoshana Markovich, Jolan Zicherman, Lili Rosenthal, Tovu Katz, Shoshana Traub, Chana Fisher, Yehudit Solomon, and Lili Rosenthal.

In that same newspaper, there was also an announcement of a farewell to the first chalutzim, Yosef Braun and Vera Kahana, before their aliya on November 12, 1933, with the participation of the chairman of the headquarters of Sighet, Yisrael Albert, and Sasi Friedman and Moshe Riderman of the directorship of the Satmar chapter.

Shoshana Dratler and Avraham Berger delivered words of farewell. The cantor from Satmar, Reb Yosefl Wald, as well as Moshe and Chaim, the brothers of the chalutz Braun, sang. Over 200 people participated in the party.

 

Agudas Yisroel Youth

Yeshiva lads and Yeshiva graduates were organized into Agudas Yisroel Youth. Regular classes in Talmud were given by the Dayan Rabbi Dov Ber. There were also discussions of the weekly Torah Portion. Large scale activities took place especially for the summer holiday after the year of study. The activists included:

Avraham Eisenbrich, Gedalyahu Hiter, Yankel Daskel, Moshe Schwartz, David Glik and others.

 

Tiferet Bachurim

Was an organization for the Aguda Youth. Aside from prayer in their minyan, they would hold a regular class of Daf Hayomi [the daily page of Talmud]. Members and directors of the Agudas Yisroel movement were leaders and activists in this organization.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Literally ‘preparation’. Hachshara is a term for formal, practical preparations and training for making aliya. Return


Portrait of the Town

Halmeu was surrounded by villages, the residents of which were mainly Hungarian. Halmeu was a central city containing the large district court, where people would come for court cases from Túrterebes, Turcz, Gercz, Bábony, Dabolcz, Kökényesd, and Batarcs . The farmers would come to Halmeu from these villages to sell their produce.

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The weekly market day took place on Tuesdays. Then, the villagers also made their purchases from the stores that were mainly Jewish owned. Upon the main street, which ran through the entire length of the town, one could feel the heartbeat of economic life. Wagons laden with cargo and the busses going to and from Satmar passed through that street. There, there were the government offices where there were veteran Jewish officials. The secretary of the town council was the educated Jew, Ladislau Taub. The Jew Dietler served as a main judge in the district court, and Sani served in the land tax collection office.

The restaurants and taverns of Landau and Reb Yitzchak Meir Solomon were located on that street. The wagon drivers came to them from the villages for a hearty meal. There was also the wood storehouse of the communal head Reb Moshe Jeremias and the grocery stores of Greenfeld, Solomon, Izrael, Gross, Jakobovich, Markokvich, Kahana and Hendler; as well as the fine goods stores of Elemer Schwartz, Francz Weiss, Mermelstein and Mitelman. The flourmill of the Hiter brothers was located on an alleyway.

The workshops of the tailors Fisher, Eisenreich, and Steinberger, and the shoemakers Reb David Zicherman, Reb Shlomo Markovich, and others, the print shop of Reb Betzalel Friedman, the shop of the watchmakers Mendel and Reb Yitzchak Yaakov Kraus, and the banks of Hinfeld and Nadosh were also all located on the main street.

This street was also the center of religious life in the town. The house of the rabbi was located there along with the room of the court from which emanated rabbinical judgments. Questions were brought to that room, and the communal administrators [parnassim] took counsel regarding various questions of religious and community. The Yeshiva building stood in the courtyard of the rabbi's house. The two Hassidic Beis Midrashes were located next to the government elementary school. Nearby, next to the Minzah - the restaurant for Yeshiva students owned by the widow Schwartz-was the minyan of Yartza Nani, as well as the cheders that were affiliated with the Talmud Torah. She would also pass judgment on the prayer leaders by saying, “It is permitted for you to sing on the platform also in the Holy Temple.” She was angered at gossip, and when she was told about a Jew who had committed a transgression, she would respond, “So what, do you think that it is only permitted for you, as if you hired all the sins for yourself.”

In the center of town next to the large square between the two synagogues and the butcher shops of the butchers Aldberger and Gewirtz and the house of the shochet Reb Elia and the mikva [ritual bath], the Great Synagogue stood in the alleyway. This was the primary locale of religious life in the community. On the other side of the square, next to the synagogue of the Rakozi cultural hall, under the ownership of Blau, stood the house of the communal activist Mordechai Richman and the large courtyard with 15 Jewish residents. Already before the High Holidays, one could hear from afar the exciting and rousing singing of Reb Yitzchak Yaakov, who served as the regular prayer leader in Klein Wardein [Kisvárda]; and the lovely melodies of Reb Moshe Altman, a well-known cantor, accompanied by the choir of his sons.

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The courtyard of the Zavniker Rebbe was similar, and only had Jewish residents. The hall of the Mizrachi Youth was located there. The successful activities of Mandel, Zicherman, Diamand, the Braun brothers, Berger and Eisenreich ensured that only a religious movement had the right to exist there. The headquarters of the Aguda Youth was in the courtyard of Mr. Kahana, where Torah classes were given by the rabbinical judge Reb Dov Ber of blessed memory. Within these two separate youth movements, the Yeshiva students were concentrated in the Aguda and the tradesmen in Poel Hamizrachi.

Katina's soap and cleaning materials factory was located next to Donenberg's soda factory. Its products were well-accepted throughout the country. Where did all the dear Jews disappear, where are the physicians that excelled in their work such as Dr. Bleier, and Dr. Izak who worked with dedication to such a great extent at all times for the benefit of the all the residents of the town, particularly the Jewish residents, even gratis? Before our eyes, we see the Jews of the town on their way to the synagogue to worship. We hear the voice of Reb Shlomo the Shamash [Beadle] on his way to wake people up for Selichot[1] with the usual refrain: “Wake up, arise to the service of the Creator!” In our memories, we recall the awe-inspiring chords of “Or Zarua Latzadik[2] on Kol Nidrei night from the voice of the elderly rabbi, shaking up the souls. We long for the simple, pure Jews who were happy when they earned a coin, for the workers in the wine cellar; Reb Shimon Moskovich who would get up early to complete the recitation of Psalms, and the other worker, David Halanger, who would gather the children around himself on Purim day and march them through the town, uttering “What - holy sheep” to the wagon drivers Moshe Flik and Hagotshair who waited impatiently to travel from the train station to town, and descended from their seats when they heard “Kedusha[3]. We recall the porters, the small-scale merchants Reb Yisrael Mendel Appel who preserved the form of his beard even after it was cruelly ripped out by the gendarmes and the extremist residents of the villages. We recall the tailors Reb Zev Schwartz who sufficed himself with a piece of bread so long as he would see his son grow into a Torah scholar; the Caftan Schneider[4] who was a very G-d fearing man, and very talented in making coats for men of good deeds. The best for the last, we recall the great scholar and Fearer of Heaven Gavriel Traub who directed a large carpentry shop. We pine for the shoemakers, the smiths, and other tradesmen who worked so hard to earn their bread, but remained strong in their faith in G-d, rejoiced on Simchat Torah and Purim, and danced enthusiastically with a smile on their faces and a humorous joke on their lips. Where did all the Hassidim, men of good deeds, yeshiva students, students of the cheder and their teachers, worshippers and cantors, rabbis and rebbes, rabbinical judges and assistants, disappear? No trace remains of them, or of the synagogues and Beis Midrashes, other than the monuments in the cemetery.

How many times did they utter the prayer “Next year in Jerusalem,” and how many of them actually were fortunate to come to the Land? We will recall them and their pure souls. Remember what happened to us, and woe over our loss…


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Special services conducted early in the morning from a week prior to Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. Return
  2. “Light is shone for the righteous” - a verse recited prior to the Kol Nidre prayer on Yom Kippur eve. Return
  3. Kedusha is a part of the regular prayer service. This is a play on words of “Tzon Kedoshim” (Holy sheep, referring to the children), and the work Kedusha. The perpetrator was apparently playing a trick on the wagon drivers, leading them to think Kedusha was being recited. Return
  4. Schneider means ‘tailor’ so this may be a nickname. Return


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Jews of the Surrounding Villages

We mentioned above that Halmeu was surrounded by villages. The Jewish residents of the villages were the type of people that added a unique value and grace to the area.

 

Turcz

From amongst all the villages, the Jews of this village had the most honorable status, since they had their own rabbi and shochet, as well as independent, organized religious and communal life. The rabbi lives in Bnei Brak, excels as a scholarly, G-d fearing Jew, and is active in all of the charitable and benevolent institutions of the city. He has noticeable influence upon the few survivors of the valley of death, such as Mr. Shlomo Staub, an archetype of Turcz. He was also one of the organizers of the memorial events that we customarily arrange.

 

Gércze

The two brothers Menachem and Yitzchak Roth from this small settlement studied in the Yeshiva and left their mark on all of the students with their great diligence and wonderful achievements in fulfilling the adage “You shall toil in it[1] day and night.” They also succeeded in receiving teaching certificates. In the memorial ceremony that took place four years ago, the elder brother Menachem, who had succeeded in making aliya, appeared and delivered words of eulogy that left a deep impression on the participants.

 

Komlós

The Weiss brothers moved to Halmeu. One of them held an honorable office since he was an educated man of culture. He was also considered to be the spiritual leader of the local Mizrachi pioneering youth movement. After he made aliya to the Land, he served as the administrative director of the Beit Shean city hall. His brother was a successful teacher in Halmeu.

 

Bábony

Two Jews with the family name Friedman lived there. In order to tell them apart, the villagers nicknamed one of them “the good Jew,” and the other “the bad Jew.” Indeed, they were both good Jews, as well as G-d fearing, wholesome, upright and straightforward people who educated their children in Torah and commandments.

 

Terebes

In this village as well, there were good, dear Jews, including the Weiss and Berger families. Their son is a sergeant in the Afula police force. Levi

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Worozner owned a large store. His daughter was interrogated in the Halmeu synagogue before they were transferred to the ghetto, and tortured in a most cruel and harsh fashion.

 

Batarcs

The well-known, wealthy Zoldan (Fishel) family lived there, as well as Libi and Landau.

 

Dabolcz

The Friedman family lived there.

 

Tarna

A noticeable number of Jews lived there as well. However, their numbers were smaller than in the villages of Tomas Warolia and Saros Potok on the west side of Halmeu.

 

Kökényesd

The Gross family lived there. He was the capable director of a farm for the baroness who was the landowner. His son Mordechai lives in Jerusalem. The Shaya family moved from there to Halmeu and played an honorable role there. Their son Meir lives in Tel Aviv.

 

Csedreg

The family of Shlomo Leib Weiss lived there. He educated his children in the path of Torah and fear of Heaven. Their son Danny moved to Halmeu after his marriage. Their son Meir lives in Israel. The sons of the second family of Hershel Weiss have already been in the Land for a long time. One of them Yoel, lives in Tel Aviv, and the second one, Menachem, lives in Netanya.

These lines come to bring to the fore the memory of this ancient holy community located in Transylvania, and its fine personalities of believers, Torah oriented people, the regular masses, workers, and people who aspire to justice.

Through the publication of this memorial book, the few survivors, plucked from the flames, wish to light an Eternal Flame for the future generations. Some of the survivors are active in the Organization of Halmeu Natives, especially in arranging the annual memorial day. These include:

Reb Menachem Traub, Chaim Tzvi Solomon (the son of Asher), Reb Moshe Braun who bursts out weeping during the Kel Maleh Rachamim prayer, the Zicherman brothers, the Zindel family, and finally, Steinberger and Yehuda Schwartz, who is the editor of this book.

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The tears of our eyes that wet the pages of this book come to memorialize, to make demands, and to draw together in their agony the survivors of our community of Halmeu, Turcz, and the area.


Translator's Footnote

  1. ‘It’ refers to the Torah. This is a verse from the first chapter of the Book of Joshua. Return


Halmin - Halmi - Halmeu

The Romanians conquered Halmeu in 1919. According to the Trianon Peace Treaty[1], the town was legally considered part of Romania, and it was called Halmeu rather than Halmi from that time on. In 1940, in accordance with a decision made in the Blodra Palace in Vienna regarding the second Vienna arbitration, the town returned to the Hungarian state. Hitler's troops invaded on March 18, 1944, and Halmeu came under German occupation.

At the end of the Second World War, the town was once again annexed to Romania. We should all realize that the town is called Halmin in Hebrew and Yiddish documents and writings, the Hungarians call it Halmi and the Romanians call it Halmeu.


Translator's Footnote

  1. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Trianon Return


“The National Hebrew Covenant and the Jewish Party”

The removal of Transylvania from the body of Hungary at the end of the First World War and its transfer to Romanian rule created a historical conundrum that cannot be avoided. Its Jews could no longer be Hungarians, for this would be treason against the Romanian regime, but it was impossible to turn into Romanians overnight. Their pride was also affected, for they turned into a Jewish national minority. They formed their own national body within the Zionist federation called “The Hebrew National Covenant of the Jews of Transylvania” that was founded in 1918 and became affiliated with the Zionist federation in 1920.

“The Hebrew National Covenant” was primarily active in the large cities, and also had chapters in the smaller settlements. The “Young Mizrachi” youth movement in Halmeu was also affiliated with it, even though the majority of is residents were opponents of Zionism.

With the spreading of the Zionist idea, they refused to follow the enticement of the blasphemy that drew its ranks from the simple folk, and from the children of religious homes that fell into the net of Communism and dedicated themselves to its dangerous activities with their full heart, without concerning themselves with the persecution of the authorities.

At first, the Jews did not join any political party, with the exception of the

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Socialist Party. After the “Hungarian Party” was founded, a significant number of Jews joined it and voted for their representatives during the elections. During the 1927 elections, there were groups that made a treaty with the “Liberals” and others with the “Farmers Party,” and even served as candidates for them. Some were elected to parliament, and others participated in the city councils. During the election, representatives of the aforementioned parties also came to Halmeu and organized rallies in Rakozi [Simcha Blau's cultural hall] with the participation of local Jews.

With the national convergence of the Jews, a “Jewish Party” was formed. The following candidates were elected to the Romanian parliament - Dr. Yosef Fisher, Dr. Teodor Fisher, Dr. Ernest Martin, and Dr. Meir Abner. They protected the interests of the Jewish minority with strength and energy and attained significant achievements after struggles. Dr. Michael Landau of Kishinev, who today serves as the chief director of the national lottery in Israel, also served as a Jewish representative in the Romanian parliament, as did the lawyer Max Diamant.

According to the law, the Jews were granted equal rights, similar to other citizens of the state. However, this was not implemented in actuality due to the frequent change of regime. The government demonstrated weakness against the venomous anti-Semitic publicity and the hatred that burned amongst the academic youth and the intellectual circles. Aside from petty offices that had minimal importance, there were barely any paid Jewish officials in the civic government.

The wantonness of the students was even more serious. With their open hatred, they attacked Jews in large cities, plucked their beards, conducted demonstrations, broke the display windows in Jewish stores, pillaged, murdered, broke into synagogues, desecrated and burned Torah scrolls, etc. The government was unsuccessful in calming the spirit of anti-Semitism aroused by the propaganda emanating from Professor Cuza at the University of Iasi. A fast day was declared throughout the country, the fast of the 13th of Kislev, due to the acts of hatred of the hooligans in desecrating the holy objects.

I recall that during the era of the student uprising, Reb Moshe Richman, an elderly Jew with a splendid countenance, travelled to Grosswardein (Oradea), and returned with a head injury, for he was beaten by the Cuzists[1] until he bled.

Since Halmeu was a border town far from the large cities, the student riots against the Jews did not reach there, with the exception of one incident. Three students came out of a car, and, when they reached Terebes Street, they attacked Reb Itzik, plucked his beard, beat him mercilessly, and disappeared.

When the Jewish youth found out about this, they organized and armed themselves with sticks, clubs, and stones and waited until midnight for their return trip. However, the Cuzists succeeded in disappearing without engaging with the Jewish youth of Halmeu.


Translator's Footnote

  1. The followers of Professor Cuza. Return


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On the Way to the Holocaust

When Halmeu was returned to Hungary from Romania in 1940, some of its Jews breathed calmly, but they did not know that the change that they had awaited was laying the net of their destruction. We know about the torments of the Jews of Halmeu only from the few survivors who miraculously survived the vale of murder.

The new masters of the Jews of Halmeu first enacted laws and restrictions in order to push the Jews out of economic life and restrict their activities in the free trades - the areas in which the Jews of the town were most prominent, due to the paucity of the middle class in Halmeu. That class, who saw the Jews as fierce competitors, received with blessings and satisfaction the decrees that enabled them to become wealthy with ease. Within a short period, Jewish commercial businesses and enterprises were liquidated and transferred to Aryans. The Aryanization Law, which served as the foundation for systematic expropriation, began to foment extreme political action against the Jews. Propaganda announcements took place through the showing of films filled with hatred against the Jews. The process of marginalization became more serious especially after the registration of lands owned by Jews took place. Hungarian supervisors were appointed over large enterprises, and some enterprises were even transferred to Hungarian ownership. The Jews were removed from government offices and the army.

The year 1940 continued to bring decrees regarding Jewish property, enterprises, and workers. This process of Aryanization gave those faithful to the government, as well as their relatives and friends, the possibility to take control over the Jewish businesses and become rich.

At the end of July 1941, the council of Hungarian ministers decided that Jews who formerly held Russian or Polish citizenship and were living in Hungary were to be exiled and settled in the conquered areas in Transcarpathia. The official reason was that due to the preparations for war that were taking place in Hungary, foreign elements presented a danger to the Hungarian nation. Preparations for this action began based on the decision of the council of ministers. An internal directive stated that a large number of people, particularly Russian and Polish Jews who had made their way into Hungary during the recent past, were to be deported from the country as quickly as possible. This directive was carried out throughout the entire country with an unparalleled degree of cruel coarseness. In accordance with the lists that had already been prepared, the police raided unsuspecting Jewish families, removed them from their homes, and brought them to pre-assigned concentration depots. There, they were informed that they were allowed to keep a sum of at most 30 pengo, food for three days, and necessary personal objects; and they were to be leaving this area of the country within a few hours. The unfortunate people were transported from there

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by trucks to the railway station, where special railcars were waiting to take them to the Polish-Hungarian border point of Kórösmezó (Jasina, a town in Carpatho Ukraine). The deportees reached the border within a few hours. They were quickly transferred to the other side of the Soviet border, which had been under German occupation since earlier in the Second World War. For the most part, they were murdered in the area of the Soviet city of Kamenetz Podolsk.

After forced labor was imposed upon them, men between the ages of 16 and 60 who were engaged in questionable trades or who had no permanent job, were gathered at the beginning of 1942 and were deported to penal camps in Ukraine. Later, those who were suspected of nationalist Zionist activity were also taken.

Later, the basic rights of the Jews were taken from them, and the freedom of movement was severely restricted. They were forbidden from gathering in public places, and from meeting and forging social connections with non-Jews. One after another, the Jews were forced to give over their valuables, jewelry and furs. The new decrees obligated the Jews to wear yellow patches.

At the end of March, 1944, the Nazis marched into Halmeu and the radio began to curse the Jews and rain decrees on them. After several days, they began to confiscate Jewish property, expropriate the stores, and forbid mixing with the Jews. From the beginning of April, Jews were forbidden from employing gentile maids and from going into the streets outside the one hour from 9:00 - 10:00. Their sewing machines, radios, telephones, vacuum cleaners, cameras, silver implements, rugs, and pictures were confiscated. The Aryans were forbidden from visiting Jews.

After the men (except the elderly) were concentrated in the work camps inside the country or outside of it, all contact between them and their families was severed. A decree was issued to completely cut off the Jewish residents from the Christians and to concentrate them in the synagogue in order to transport them to the Selish (Szöllös) Ghetto, and from there directly to the death camps.

Movik, a carpenter by trade, was in charge of supply. If they turned to him with regard to leather materials, shoes, or even foodstuffs, which were then distributed by ration coupons, his motto was, “The Jews have none!”…

When he arrived at the Selish Ghetto with the supplies for the Jews of Halmeu, and distributed two potatoes per person, the well-known wealthy man Kelner said to him, “Please open up my pits in which I have stored potatoes for planting and transfer them to the ghetto in order to prevent the terrible hunger.” He responded, “They are no longer yours, and the people need them!”

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Immediately after the Holocaust, with the agreement of the gendarmes, the youth who returned attacked his house in the middle of the night as revenge, shouting curses and throwing stones. They shouted, “Movik, do the Jews yet have shoes and bread?” He succeeded in saving himself from them by jumping out the window and leaving the city permanently. His wife later died of a heart attack.

We cannot describe the tortures that the Jews endured until they arrived at the place of extermination, for the expulsions and the guarding was carried out by the gendarmes whom everyone feared and who were known for their extreme brutality in enforcing their commands. No letters of mercy or pleas from rabbis and the Jewish council to church heads or the government were effective. A command would be carried out fully with its great cruelty, without any concern for the sick or elderly.

Nobody was permitted to leave or enter the ghetto. Everything was forbidden, even to move within the bounds of the camp. Any transgression was liable to be punished with death. The number of suicides continued to grow. At times, a head of a family or another family member would be tortured in order to force him to give over the place where their jewelry or property was hidden.

Thus was sealed the fate of the Jews of Halmeu, Turcz and the area. Eighty people would be crowded into one death wagon, closed in and sealed, with one bucket of water, to be transported to the Auschwitz Death Camp. There, they were murdered in the gas chamber in sanctification of the Divine Name, or they died from torture, hunger, or disease.


After the Destruction

When the awaited day arrived, and we were freed, with the help of G-d, by the Red Army, we Jews faced the problem, “Where to go?” Some people returned to their hometowns with the intention of waiting for other family members, or with the anticipation of legal revenge against the Nazis.

When I returned to Halmeu, I wandered its streets like a somber shadow. In its center, were the population had been primarily Jewish, I saw mounds of debris from the destroyed houses. I walked alone, with a broken, wounded heart, among the ruins of my Jewish brethren who perished in an untimely fashion, and I lamented their destruction. Before me, I saw only the skeletons of burnt houses staring at me through their holes, wondering if I was a bewildered Jew amongst my own ruins. Quiet. I command myself to eulogize and lament our martyrs. I want to shout, to raise my voice loudly, and to thunder with a loud voice that will break through the Heavens with my outcry, that everyone should arise resurrected,

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and that the ground should open its mouth to swallow the murderers. However, my voice is choked in my throat. I disappeared, and was unable to open my mouth.

I continued to walk from house to house, from ruin to ruin. I went up to the attics. I saw pages of books scattered as “Sheimos[1], shriveled up, awaiting burial. They also suffered destruction, and were annihilated along with the “People of the Book.”

I entered the yard of my parents' house. I was surrounded by ruin and desolation. I sat on a stone, and my heart shrunk with agony. Memories of previous times passed before me. I recalled when I would return home, and they would come out to greet me. They would call out to me with joy and caresses, and now, where are my dear ones? I remained alone and in solitude.

The four walls of the house were resting under a shaky roof. The roof and its wooden innards were burnt completely. I went down to the cellar. The darkness enveloped me. Perhaps I would hear some sort of a Divine voice weeping over the destruction of the community. I dug through the grottoes, and among the household utensils. Perhaps I would find something marked with the final stamp of Mother? Perhaps I would find some photo of the family? I did not find any trace. I did not hear a Divine voice emanating from the mute stones of the cellar, aside from the silence that perplexed me and drew me into the secret of destruction.

 

In the Synagogue Courtyard

I continued along my way to the Great synagogue. This sanctuary was now standing empty and desolate. A deathly silence now envelops it. There is no living soul. The strong, thick door of the synagogue was locked. I went up the stairs to the women's section that was open, and looked downward. A shudder went through my bones and I was afflicted with trembling at what I saw before my eyes. The chandeliers had disappeared. The doors of the Holy Ark had been uprooted. The Holy Ark was empty. Inside, Sabbath candelabra of the Jewish homes had been collected and piled up.

As I looked downward, in the eyes of my spirit I saw my parents, brothers and sisters before their final journey. This was the place that the Jews of the town were concentrated, along with their beloved Rabbi Yaakov Shalom, before being transported to the Selish Ghetto. It seemed to me that the souls of the Jews who had been murdered in sanctification of the Divine Name were fluttering about the space of the synagogue. I covered my face with both my hands, recited the Yizkor prayer and wept bitter tears over the destruction of my nation, its synagogues and houses of study.

From there, I went to the Beis Midrash of the Yeshiva, which was the only Beis Midrash still standing. The Jews who had survived and returned after the war gathered there to worship in a minyan. When I entered - the years of my childhood stood before me. I recall the Yeshiva lads who devoted

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all their efforts into the study of Gemara. As we sat around the tables and the rabbi recited the lesson and the Gemara discussion to us from the podium, answering questions and explaining the issues until we understood it clearly.

I part from you, my Beis Midrash and synagogue. I will never forget you. I will carry you in my memory wherever I go. You will forever remain as a dear and precious memorial monument in my memory.


Translator's Footnote

  1. Literally “Names”, referring to pages of holy books that are no longer usable, and, due to their sanctity, are to be buried. Return

 

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