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[Pages 93-112]

Chapter 7

The Holocaust of Jewish Marmaros

Translated by Moshe A. Davis

 

Beginnings

[Recall that with the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following its defeat in WW1, the Hungarian State of Marmaros was split. The northern and central areas (everything north of the Tisa River) was given to the newly formed state of Czechoslovakia, whereas the southeastern area (south of the Tisa) was given to Romania.]

The beginning of the Holocaust in the Czechoslovakian area of Marmaros was different than in the Romanian area.

 

[The Beginnings of the Holocaust in Czechoslovakian Marmaros]

In the early part of October 1938, the Sudetenland was seized from the Czechoslovakian Republic and annexed to Nazi Germany.

This act presaged the end of Czechoslovakia. Events proceeded with breathtaking speed - after only one month, the “Vienna Arbitration” of November 2, 1938, awarded Hungary southern Slovakia and in it, the city of Kashoi (Kosice). It also assigned the western part of Carpatho-Russia, namely the districts of Berg and Ung and in these, the cities of Munkacs and Ungvar, to Hungary. The district of Marmaros, which lies in eastern Carpatho-Russia, was not included in the “arbitration”. This region was destined to have another fate.

Hitler divided crumbling Czechoslovakia into three parts: (1) Bohemia and Moravia, whose population was Czech, he made a “protectorate” ruled directly by the German Nazis; (2) Slovakia was transformed into an “independent” state which the Germans ruled by means of a puppet government appointed by the German Nazis; (3) Marmaros, populated by Ruthenians-Ukrainians, was supposed to receive broad autonomy under Nazi patronage. The city of Chust was to be the capital of this autonomous Ukrainian state.

This Ukrainian autonomy lasted from November 22, 1938 until March 15, 1939, a period of only three and one-half months. In mid-March 1939, Axis Hungary overran Czech Marmaros by force, and in a brief struggle routed the Ruthenian-Ukrainian forces which attempted to stand in their way and to oppose them. Germany only recognized the Hungarian conquest de facto, and the Hungarian authorities themselves did not annex Czech Marmaros to Hungary in an absolute, formal manner. The region had the status of “occupied territory” and was legally under military rule; this as a Hungarian gesture towards their Nazi ally. Practically, however, there was no difference - administratively, or from any other point of view - belween the Marmaros district and the districts of Berg and Ung, which Hungary had acquired “legally”, through the “Vienna Arbitration”.

The Hungarians justified their conquest of Marmaros by claiming that it was necessary in order to protect the local Hungarian population, whose safety was endangered by the Ukrainian-Ruthenian rule. The historical truth, however, is that the few Hungarian nationals in Czech Marmaros were not in any danger at all - not economically, not spiritually, not culturally and certainly not physically. But the tens of thousands of Jews under the militant-dilletant rule of the Ruthenians, were in fact in serious danger. The leadership of these new Ukrainian-Ruthenians consisted of nationalistic Ukrainians (known as “Sitches”), most of them refugees who had fled Soviet rule during the early years of the U.S.S.R. and who were under strong nationalist Nazi influence. Openly and without any effort to cover-up, the Sitches were preparing black-lists of wealthy Jews, who were to be executed. Rumors were purposefully circulated that the Jews were about to be slaughtered, at any moment.

It appears that in the entire brief period of their rule, the Sitches did not carry out the execution of even one Jew. The terror that they spread among the Jews had more of a practical purpose - to extort money from the Jews, in exchange for allowing the Jews to live. In retrospect, it is very possible that their entire aim was only financial, and that they never really intended to murder and slaughter Jews. But the Jews of Marmaros were not aware - nor could they have been aware, under the circumstances in which they found themselves - of the intentions of the new rulers, who could be described as “slaves swaggering as kings”. The Jews of Czech Carpatho-Russia, who for close to twenty years had become accustomed to living in a democratic country - the only one in that part of the world, despite all its shortcomings - and especially the Jews in Marmaros - now found themselves to have suddenly fallen “from the heights to the depths”.

From this, it can be appreciated that the Jews of Marmaros received the Hungarian invaders with feelings of relief. For indeed - so the Jews said - any rule would be better than the prevailing anarchy. Not only was there the nightmare of the “black-lists” and the open threats of slaughter; economic and political disorder was rampant in Marmaros in the wake of this regime, which did not breed confidence insofar as its administrative and political capabilities were concerned.

In a very short time, the Jews of Marmaros realized that the tradition against praying for a new regime proved itself valid in this instance, as well. The Hungarian regime emerged, quickly enough, in all its ugly wickedness and abominable cruelty. We have elaborated upon many of the details in many of the individual articles in the book, such as the articles on Hust, Tecs, Rachov, and Iasin, as well as in many of the shorter entries. We feel that there is no need for extensive repetition here.

 

[The Beginnings of the Holocaust in Romanian Marmaros]

The Romanian area of Marmaros (south of the Tisa River, which had been separated from the rest of Marmaros in the dismemberment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire following Austro-Hungary's defeat in World War 1), had a different history than that of northern Marmaros, which had been given to the newly formed country Czechoslovakia. Between the two world wars, Romania generally had anti-semitic governments in one form or another. Attacks on Jews, in various parts of the country, were its trademark.

In Romanian Marmaros, the holocaust period began differently than in the Czech area. One can possibly point to the beginning of this period in terms of the 40 days that the anti-semitic government of the Romanian-Transylvanian poet, Octavian Goga, was in power. All of the ministers of his government were known anti-semites, disciples of the old Romanian Jew-baiter, Alexander C. Cuza. In the short period of Goga-Cuza rule (December 1937-January 1938), several discriminatory decrees were issued against the Jews of Romania: The credentials of Jewish doctors and pharmacists were reexamined and 200 Jewish doctors were dismissed by the Central Office of Social Insurance; a ban was declared preventing Jews from selling items that were under governmental monopoly regulations (tobacco, cigarettes, matches, alchohol, salt, etc.); in an edict issued on January 22 1938, the validity of the citizenship of the Jews was to be investigated (resulting in the loss of civil rights on the part of fully one-third of Romanian Jewry).

Even after the fall of this terrible government, a portion of its anti-semitic laws and decrees remained in force. The government which followed - the Royal Dictatorship (February 1938-September 1940) - even augmented them: Jews were banned from employment in government posts (even without remuneration); Jews were prohibited from acquiring agricultural land; diplomas issued by Jewish schools were invalidated; on the list of officially certified architects, the name of not a single Jew appeared; all Jewish attorneys were dismissed from the government law-offices. Many other discriminatory regulations were issued that the Jews of Romania had to cope with.

At the “Second Vienna Arbitration” of August 30, 1940, the northern part of Transylvania was severed from Romania and handed over to Hungary, including the Romanian district of Marmaros, which is the northernmost region of Transylvania. Thus, after about 20 years, Marmaros was once again united, entirely within the domain of Axis Hungary. Elderly Jews, who nostalgically remembered “the good old days” of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, looked forward hopefully, and with great anticipation, to the arrival of Hungarian rule. However, for the Romanian sector of Marmaros, as was for the Czechoslovakian area, disappointment was not long in coming. Discrimination against Jews already began in the first months after the arrival of the Hungarians. At first, all Jewish public-servants and office-holders were dismissed; then came the systematic eviction of all Jews from all areas of economic and vocational endeavor. Then came arbitrary arrests of Jews on trumped-up charges, based on the accusations of anti-semitic, non-Jewish informers who had financial and economic axes to grind. The Jews, after all, were professional and business competitors. Many such accused Jews were exiled to special prison-camps that were opened throughout the country for economic crimes such as black-marketeering, overpricing, failing to hand over merchandise to the authorities, hiding commodities and then selling them at inflated prices, etc.

Jews were also sent to prison-camps for “ideological crimes” such as spying, belonging to the illegal Communist party, and so forth. Concerning the “economic” crimes there was, in many cases, a factual basis in the accusations against individual Jews, since the Jews had to provide a livelihood for their families, and most other economic avenues had been closed to them. As far as the “ideological crimes” were concerned, however, in the overwhelming majority of the imprisonments, there was not a single iota of truth in the accusations. Almost all of those accusations were trumped-up charges made by malicious murderers, who found an opportunity to square accounts with Jews against whom they felt that they had “scores” to settle.

 

The Expulsions and Murders of Summer 1941

All of these travails were minor compared to the anguish endured by the Jews of Marmaros in the summer of 1941 in the wake of Hungary's joining the war against the U.S.S.R. On the 27th of June 1941, a review of the citizenship of the Hungarian Jews was enacted, whereby the Jews had to prove their uninterrupted residence in Hungary for the previous 90 years (that is, from the year 1851) and to prove that their ancestors were listed among the Hungarian taxpayers. This was a very harsh and cruel decree.

Some of the Jews of Marmaros – in general, the wealthier and better established financially - ran around from government office to government office, in order to obtain official documentation proving their citizenship and taxpayer status. In the Budapest offices of the “Bureau for the Protection of the Rights of the Jews of Hungary” (the “Magyar Izraelitak Partfogo Irodaja”, which served all of the social groupings of Hungarian Jewry, Orthodox as well as “Neolog”) there were every day long lines of Jews waiting to get the necessary documents. Included in the crowd were a substantial number of Jews from Marmaros. Many of the applicants camped at the entrance to these offices during the night, in order to insure their turn when the office opened in the morning. And indeed, most of those who put in the efforts were lucky enough to receive the desired citizenship papers.

But very many of the Jews of Marmaros - and it seems that possibly even the majority - did not react to the citizenship decree as to a real and present danger. They did not imagine the satanic scheme which was being woven around this decree. They knew, and “the whole world knew”, that not only they but also their parents and ancestors were born and had died on this land (and of course were in every generation heavily taxed). Many Jews, therefore, did not make the effort to procure the necessary documents for citizenship. The struggle for a loaf of bread, literally speaking, prevented them from thinking along those lines. Many simply did not have the necessary sums of money needed to arrange for the documents.

Employees of the “Central Bureau for the Supervision of Aliens” (“Kulfoldieket Ellenorzo Orszagos Kozponti Hatosag”, or KEOKH) and in particular two especially infamous individuals, Odon Martinides (Martinides Odon) and Dr. Arpad Kisch (both well-known anti-semites) presented a plan for the expulsion of the “Polish and Russian Jews” with the claim that these Jews, whose source of livelihood was taken away by the anti-Jewish legislation in Hungary, would be able to start a new life in Galicia.

The plan was presented in an “innocent” and “humanitarian” manner, which was entirely “for the welfare of the Jews”. In a decree issued by the Lieutenant Governor of the District of Marmaros, Dr. Gabor Itai, on the 8th of July, 1941, it was stated:

“Law No. 12, of the year 1939, concerning the limitation of the role of Jews in communal and economic life, the steps taken to enforce this law and the third antisemitic law, now in preparation, compel and will continue to compel the Jewish residents of the country to relinquish their communal and economic status, in favor of the Hungarians, just as they did in regard to their positions in government service. In the district of Marmaros, where the anti-Jewish laws, among other things, have yet to be enforced, the review of residence-permits reveals that 45,000 Jews still live, who, either they themselves or their parents, smuggled into the district from Galicia, Bukovina and Poland. In the city of Marmaros-Sziget itself, there are more than 10,000 Jews. Strictest enforcement of the anti-Jewish laws, which will commence shortly, will endanger the economic basis of the local Jews. Due to the fact that a large part of Galicia is occupied by the Hungarian army, I urge the Jewish residents of the district, especially those who would like to relocate to Galicia, to fill out the proper forms with the authorities appointed for this purpose: The Mayor of Marmaros-Sziget, or those designated by him and the local rural authorities. I want to point out to all those interested in this idea, that the relocation will be centrally organized and carried out, this being made possible by virtue of the fact that most of the population of the captured territories have either retreated with the Russians, or were exiled by them. Therefore no great difficulties are to be anticipated in relocating the Jews to a new life. The welfare of the Jews themselves dictates their putting an end to their unhinged status in the district, by giving it up and opening a new life on Galician territory, with the aid of the authorities.”

This matter was presented both to the Jews and to the general public as something beneficial both to the Jews and to Hungary. However, the head of KEOKH, Shandor Shimnpalvi, attached secret additional instructions to the decree.

Throughout this book Sefer Maramaros, in many different sections, is described in detail only a very partial “tip of the iceberg” of the outcome of this “humane” Hungarian project. As a result of the carrying out of the Hungarian relocation plan, even at this early stage of the holocaust, a great void was already created in Marmaros Jewry. Entire communities in Marmaros were torn from their very roots, and thousands of Jews were murdered and slaughtered at the hands of the Hungarians. We will not here duplicate and repeat the description of the atrocities perpetrated upon tens of thousands of Marmaros Jews, in the summer and fall of 1941 (5701-5702). (See, among others, the individual articles for the cities and towns of Chust, Iasin, Drahiv, Teresif, Lipsa, Polien-Kabileczky, Igla, Unter-Apsha, Ober-Apsha, Bogdan, Bistina, Brister, Ganice, Dibeve, Volove, Vilhovitz, Vermezif, Zlatarif, Torn, Tecs, Maiden, Nankof, Niagova, Seniver, Kalin, Terneve, and Horints). In a few brief sentences, we will merely summarize some of the outward aspects of this terrible tragedy, which was a harbinger not only of the holocaust of Hungarian Jewry, but was also the beginning of the destruction of Polish Jewry as well.

All of the Jews who were to be exiled to Galicia and Poland were brought to an assembly-point in the town of Iasin. From there, they were transported across the border, at the rate of about 1,000 people per day. By the 10th of August 1941, between 18,000 to 20,000 Jews were handed over to the authority of the Hungarian Army.

To this day, no one really knows the number of Jews exiled during the summer of 1941. The sources disagree on this point: During the trial of the Hungarian officer Bardushi, the head of the Court mentioned a figure of 30,000 Jews; in an indictment against another officer in the deportations and murders, 18,500 Jews were referred to; a German document presented at the Nurenberg trials, (PS 1197) states the number as 11,000; in the “Pinkasei HaKehillot”, volume Hungary (page 107) is stated that “about 20,000 Jews were deported during this period”. Apparently, the author of “Pinkasei HaKehillot” chose a middle-figure, from among the various sources. It seems, that only He who knows all mysteries really knows the true figure, which will never become known to us. The murderers kept no records, because they were too busy to find the time for them.

The vicious and secret plan was carried out in great haste, the perpetrators doing all in their power to insure that there would be a maximum number of people murdered in as short a time as possible. This was strictly a “Hungarian job”, without any co-ordination with the Germans in the occupied Polish territory. Professor Randolph L. Braham, researcher of the Holocaust of Hungarian Jewry, wrote a special monograph on this slaughter, (Collected Researches of Yad Vashem, 9, 1973, pages 111-118). Itai's decree, quoted above, is also published there. Braham states that “the Germans were not ready for the mass expulsion from Hungary. At first, they asked that it be stopped, because they could not handle all those Jews, and they felt that their movement presented a danger to the German transportation lines. But, at a joint German-Hungarian meeting convened on the 25th of August in the city of Vinitza in the Ukraine, with the participation of both military chiefs of staff, there was agreed upon a division of duties, and by the beginning of September, all the deportees from Hungary were to have been wiped out.”

The first and biggest mass-murder was carried out on 27-28 August, 1941 (4-5 Elul 5701), near the city of Kamenetz-Podolsk. In those two days, 23,600 Jews were killed, most of them Hungarian Jews (14,000-16,000) and the rest local Polish Jews. As the researchers of the Holocaust point out, the Kamenetz-Podolsk massacre was the first mass action in the “final Solution” of the Nazis, and the number of its victims reached 5 figures. Eye-witnesses reported that the perpetrators made no effort to hide their deeds from the local population. The Rabbi of Munkacs, Rabbi Baruch Rabinowitz, who was among the deportees (and only by powerful intercession was returned to Hungary), described his path of suffering to a Yad Vashem interviewer; This interview was recorded and transcribed and is found in the Yad Vashem Archives (03/3822).

Rabbi Rabinowitz suggested the possibility that the Nazis purposely did not hide their actions, in order to test the reaction of the Allies. And when this reaction failed to come - as is known to all of us - those in charge of the killings concluded (and to our sorrow, rightly so) that Jewish blood is free for the shedding, there being no one to protect or to avenge its spilling. Those responsible for the annihilation of the Jewish People continued to carry out the slaughter with even greater vigor and according to the detailed plan of the “final solution”.

Not all the deported Hungarian Jews - and the Jews of Marmaros among them - reached Kamenetz-Podolsk. The great majority of them were, however, brought to this city's ghetto, which was being erected in the summer of 1941. Before gathering the Jews into the ghetto, the Jews of Hungary were spread out among the Jews of Kamanetz-Podolsk and the nearby towns. As the survivors relate, the Hungarian Jews were received with open arms and the local Jews shared their meager bread-crusts and their living-quarters with them. The public buildings as well, synagogues and schools were made available to the deportees by the local Polish Jews.

When the ghetto was established, tens of thousands of Jews from the city and the entire area were concentrated there. The Hungarian Jews were also placed in the ghetto. As was already stated, the overwhelming majority of the Jews of the ghetto were murdered at the end of August, 1941. This was done slyly. They were told that it was decided to remove the Jews from Kamenetz-Podolsk and that they have to be taken elsewhere. Surrounded by Hungarian soldiers from the pioneer unit, German S.S. men, and Ukrainian troops, they were led 15 kilometers on foot over an area strewn with bomb-craters. They were commanded to undress and group by group were placed into the cross-fire of machine-guns. Many were buried alive.

The Jews of Marmaros who reached other parts of Galicia, their path of suffering bathed in blood, reached several of the concentration centers and ghettos of the Jews of Poland. The largest group, it seems, reached the Stanislav ghetto. The first slaughter there was carried out on the night of Hoshana Raba 5702 (October 11, 1941). Here also, many thousands were murdered and among them about 2,000 Hungarian Jews. Smaller groups were brought to the ghettos of Kolomea, Horodenka, Tarnopol, and others. Their fate was the same as the fate of the Jews of Galicia.

This shocking crime was thus the result of “fruitful” cooperation on the part of 3 nationalities of “enlightened” Europe - Hungarians, Germans and Ukrainians - but the prize in this case goes to the Hungarian People. They were the “pioneer” and initiator of these acts of genocide, this “opening act” of the murder of the Jewish People of Europe. After 4 years of carnage, the casualty figures reached the staggering number of over 5 million souls. To this Hungarian Nation, descendants of the “glorious” blood-thirsty Huns, it would be proper to award the “honor” given by the Torah to the nation of Amalek, which was also “the first one to start up” with the People of Israel - “Write this down in the record, as a testament”…

How did the deportees arrive at the destinations established by the murderers for their destruction? It seems that the number of routes were as many as the number of trainloads of deportees. Each shipment seems to have had its own fate, and within the groups each individual had his own fate. In the descriptions of the horror which are written in the book Sefer Maramaros itself, (such as under the entries for Iasin, Polien-Kablitzky, etc.) we describe how individuals who were at the brink of the abyss, and even somewhat beyond the brink - Divine Providence intervened and commanded that they live. There were trainloads of deportees which were taken directly by truck from Iasin to the Dniester River and even beyond, a distance of hundreds of kilometers. There were other shipments which were driven only to the area of Diatin, the first town across the border and from there did a long forced march on foot.

In the testimonies of survivors which we have read, a number of routes appear in this trail of suffering. We will mention three:

  1. The route whose final destination was Kamenetz-Podolsk, in the tale of Moshe Deutsch from Teresif, which was: They were driven by trucks until Diatin (east of Iasin) and from there on, they were marced on foot – first east in the direction of Kolomea, then northeast to the sity of Horodenka and to the Dniester River at the city of Burschov near Uziran and the city of Chertkov and from there east, to the city of Kamenetz-Podolsk.

  2. The route of Zvi Herman Smilovitch from Kalin and his group, whose destination was the city of Stanislav, who were also driven only to Diatin and from there were force-marched eastward to Horodenka, but from here were turned west to Kolomea, from there again a change of direction and this time northward to the city of Kalish and from there a sharp turn south-east in the direction of Stanislav near which most of this group was murdered. There were many zig-zags on this route and it was characterized by non-purposeful marching with no goal except to torture the marchers, to tire them, break them and cause them untold agony and pain.

  3. The route of the group in the tale of Ilona Gertler-Deutsch, also very similar to the previous one, was also punctuated by many about-faces in different and opposing directions and it can clearly be seen that its only purpose was to torture the Jews and to cause them much suffering.

We have not yet mentioned how the marchers were treated as they trudged along this path of suffering, engulfed by death and murder at every step. A small fraction of this is written about and described in the book Sefer Maramaros under some of the entries already mentioned.

Reports and rumors about the murders in Poland began to sift back into Hungary by various means. Hungarian soldiers returned to their homes and spread the information. Here is the place to note that some of the Hungarian soldiers refused to take part in the killing. It is stated in one of the sources quoted by Braham (p. 117), “They were upset by the murder of men, women and children by machinegun fire and expressed their feelings in letters home or in reports given during furloughs”.

Neither did the few Jews who succeeded in escaping from Galicia and returning to Hungary rest or remain quiet upon their return. Headed by the Rabbi of Munkacs (one of the leading Chassidic Rabbis of Hungary and the Rabbi of one of the largest and most important communities of that generation), the returnees gave first-hand reports to individuals in the Jewish leadership of Budapest on the events which had occurred during the “relocation” to Galicia.

One of these escapees, a Jew named Stern, was made a member of a delegation from the “Bureau for the Protection of the Rights of the Jews” that visited the Hungarian Minister of the Interior, Franz Krestuh-Fisher, who was responsible for the Office of the Supervision of Aliens (KEOKH).

One of the great paradoxes in this tragedy was the fact that the Minister of the Interior of the government of Hungary, who bore the ministerial responsibility for the crimes of the Hungarians in Poland, was himself a decent man and one of the great liberals in the government of Hungarian regent Miklosh Horthy. (Krestch-Fisher was arrested in March, 1944 with the German occupation and was sent to the concentration-camp Mathausen. He died in Austria in 1948.) The Minister was greatly moved by what he heard. He didn't even let Stern finish his story. “I've heard enough!”, he said. Immediately he issued a strict order to the head of KEOKH to stop the deportations. And in fact because of his orders, 7 trains that had made their way to the border were forced to return, two of them already having reached Iasin. But even after the order of the Minister of the Interior, Hungarian Jews were still killed, because his order was only valid within the borders of Hungary. What happened beyond the border was under the jurisdiction of the military authorities and sometimes not even they had control of the situation, as the commander of each military unit did as he pleased within the occupied area under his command.

The Rabbi of Munkacs also told his interviewer: “In Hungary they did a lot for me, until I received permission to return. But the permission was given by the Ministry of the Interior and the army did not recognize it, so I had to smuggle myself across the border”. Nevertheless, the Hungarian Minister of the Interior's order saved thousands of Jews in Hungary and in Marmaros from deportation, from horrible suffering and from terrible deaths - until their fate was sealed in the spring of 1944.

The various figures concerning the deportations during the summer of 1941 from Hungary as a whole were quoted above. What was the number of the Jews of Marmaros that were caught up in these deportations? This also, no one knows – it seems that no one has tried to investigate the number of deportees from Marmaros in particular. It seems that this figure, as well, will remain hidden from us. Only He who knows all mysteries knows this.

Nevertheless, we have tried to arrive at an estimate as close to the truth as possible, given the facts and records at our disposal. If we had reliable statistics of the deportations from each town in Marmaros, we would then have been able to add them all together and reach a final sum. But unfortunately, this is not the case. Only concerning a few small towns do we have an accurate figure as to the number of deportees, such as: Unter-Apsha (271), Bilvaritz (120), Brister (134), Harisof (15), Trebusan (103), Nankif (55), Niagova (68), Negreviz (65), Sadeh-Lavan (107) and several other small towns. In most of the towns, either estimated numbers were given by survivors, or simply “tens”, “hundreds”, etc. For many towns, we only know that in fact deportations were made from the particular town, but we do not even have a raw estimate at to how many individuals were deported.

Professor Braham estimates that approximately 2,000 Jews escaped and slipped back into Hungary in various ways. If this number is correct, it seems that the Marmaros Jews who did this numbered about 1,000 souls.

As a result of the deportation decree, a number of the Jewish communities in several towns of Marmaros were completely uprooted. In a substantial number of places, the Hungarian gendarmes who carried out the deportation paid no attention to the documents proving Hungarian citizenship. Without any distinction, they placed any Jews they could find on the trucks. It seems that this generally happened in tiny villages where there was no government representative, not even a notary, nor any local government office. These tiny settlements, “beyond the dark mountains”, were exposed to the cruel whims and wild attacks of the infamous Hungarian gendarmerie. In bigger towns, where there were local and district government offices, the deportations were carried out according to previously prepared lists which did not include the names of Jews who had properly arranged their documents. But even in those larger towns there were cases where the local government initiated the deportation of certain Jews whom that local government was interested in deporting for reasons of their own. There were many such instances, probably several hundreds. From a geographical point of view, the deportations were especially cruel in the settlements in the areas near the villages Volovo, Maidan, Torn, and in the towns of “Dibever Rika”.

In the Romanian sector of Marmaros, the deportation affected Kretsnif, where about half of the Jews were deported, while in other places only a few individuals were deported. Probably this southern section of Marmaros was left for stage “B”, after the operation had been completed in the Czech sector. But, as previously mentioned, in the middle of August 1941 the decree was rescinded and the deportations were stopped, although only afterwards did the systematic murders begin across the border. Within two months almost all the deportees had been murdered.

 

A Breathing Spell (The Kalai Government: March 10, 1942 - March 19, 1944)

During the holocaust years, starting in 1941, hundreds of Jews from greater Hungary were stationed in Marmaros in work-units of the Hungarian army. Near the towns of Bistina and Slatfina, many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Jews conscripted into work-units took part in building military air-fields. Near the village of Bogdan, the countryside is breathtaking in its beauty. However, in terms of the back-breaking labor – building fortifications – that was assigned to hundreds of Hungarian Jews in the area, it proved to be a very difficult terrain.

Through these work units, the conscripted Jews of greater Hungary came into close contact with the local Jews of Marmaros. Many of the Hungarian Jews were quite assimilated, were ignorant of their Judaism, and had no knowledge of Yiddish.

The contact between the Jews of Hungary and the Jews of Marmaros proved interesting and mutually valuable. There was a reciprocal influence that took place, between two seemingly diametrically opposed cultures. On the surface, the two groups did not seem to have much in common. To many Hungarian Jews the traditional Chassidic culture of the Jews of Marmaros was quite foreign, especially to those Jews who came from Budapest and the surrounding area. The degree of awareness of such assimilated Hungarian Jews of concepts of Jewish life and their awareness of traditional Judaism was quite meager, unclear and certainly different than those of the Jews of Marmaros. Despite this, these Jewish conscripts received warm and hearty Jewish hospitality from the local Jewish inhabitants of Marmaros. Every Jewish home was open to them, at all times. They found warm food, a clean, comfortable bed - and above all, a warm Jewish heart. Despite the polarity in views and in their different lifestyles, the Jews of Marmaros received these Hungarian Jews with open arms and with great measures of brotherly love, doing all in their power to ease the burdens of the back-breaking labor and the feelings of loneliness that threatened to overwhelm them. These Hungarian Jews found in Marmaros a style of living, a vibrant Judaism, which they had never imagined had even existed. They discovered generous Jews who welcomed them at all times with a pleasant smile, and whom shared provisions with them, even beyond their meager means.

The women and young girls of Marmaros cooked and baked for the Jews of the work units. Each week, several wives of the members of the work-units arrived in Bistina, Slatfina or Bogdan, to visit their husbands on their day off. The Marmaros Jews made their nicest rooms available to them. All of this was with a pleasant demeanor and a willing spirit. For the fate of the Jew was the same, whether they were Chassidic or not. Even the most extreme assimilationist could not flee his fate. Although this meeting of cultures was under sad circumstances, moments of joy and spiritual elevation were not lacking. The fate of the Jews is what bridged the distances and brought closer those who under ordinary circumstances would have lived worlds apart. Many of the local Jews, especially the young girls, learned Hungarian from the draftees, while the latter began to become familiar with the wonderful, rich Yiddish of the Jews of Marmaros, as well as with their folk-songs. The distant became close.

In the two years that Miklosh Kalai ruled as Prime Minister of the Hungarian government (10 March 1942 - 19 March 1944), the Jews of the land - including the Jews of Marmaros - breathed more easily. These were years of a relative lull, though even during this so-called relaxed period troubles were not lacking. Tens of thousands of young men, among them thousands of Marmaros Jews, were still being drafted into work units, and very many of these suffered and died on the eastern front, in the Ukrainian Steppes. The conscription of new age-groups to these work units did not cease during this period. In March 1943, 22 more units were sent to the eastern front (to the Ukraine). For most of those involved, this amounted to a death sentence through back-breaking labor and terrible suffering including starvation, extreme cold, beatings, mistreatment, mine-clearing and direct executions.

During the Kalai regime, a law was enacted whereby land owned by Jews was confiscated. Despite this, researchers of the holocaust generally feel that this was merely a tactical concession to the Germans, in order to achieve a more basic goal - preserving the lives of the close to one million Hungarian Jews.

Hungary, during this period, could be compared to a solitary island surrounded by a roaring, turbulent sea. Thousands of refugees from Poland and Slovakia arrived and were being absorbed by the local Jewish populace. During this entire period, Germany never ceased demanding the deportation of the Jews of Hungary to carry out the “final solution”. Beginning in the fall of 1942, Kalai was faced with mounting German pressure. He refused to yield to their firm, endless demands, with the excuse that this step would undermine the country's wartime economy. As the war progressed and Germany's losses mounted, the Kalai government took steps towards having secret negotiations with the Allies. German Intelligence soon discovered those steps. On March 19 1944 Germany invaded Hungary, and Kalai was arrested and deported to a concentration camp.

 

The Ghettos and the Destruction

With the penetration of the German tanks into Hungary on Sunday, March 19, 1944 (23 Adar 5704) a sharp turning point arrived regarding in the fate of Hungarian Jewry. Decrees against the Jews followed one after the other with murderous speed. Within 6 weeks, the Jews of Hungary were concentrated in ghettos in preparation for deportation to Auschwitz and total destruction. The 60,000 Jews of Marmaros who had survived the deportations and slaughters of the summer of 1941 were concentrated into 12 ghettos, 3 of them outside Marmaros.

In Romanian Marmaros there were 4 ghettos: Sziget, Berbest, Ober-Wisho and Dragomirest:

(1) Ghetto Sziget was established between 18-20 April, 1944. Actually, there were 2 ghettos in Sziget: the large ghetto within the city consisted of 4 streets where the Jews lived, and the small ghetto established in the slum-suburb “Ober-Yarash”, containing several tiny alleys where the rural Jews, who had previously been held in ghetto Berbest were placed (see below). In the large ghetto 11,000 Jews from the city itself and from 2 or 3 nearby villages like Wiresmort etc., were concentrated. Living conditions in the ghetto were appalling. In middle-sized rooms, 8-10 people were crowded and into larger rooms, up to twenty. From 5:00 p.m. until the following morning, it was prohibited to be found outside of one's room. At the end of April, a delegation planning the destruction of Hungarian Jewry visited the ghetto, headed by Adolf Eichman on the German side and Laszlo Endre on the Hungarian side, and accompanied by employees of the Ministry of the Interior and by doctors. The purpose of the visit was to “study” the Jewish problem at one of the first ghettos in the country, to observe the conduct of the Jews and their state of mind, how cognizant they were of the fate awaiting them, the influence it would have on the non-Jewish population, the degree of cooperation that the government could anticipate from them.

(2) Ghetto Berbest was a branch of Ghetto Sziget. It contained about 3,000 souls. Before being deported to Auschwitz, the residents of the Sziget ghetto were transferred here to “Ober-Yarash”, the Sziget suburb where Ghetto Berbest was located. From there, the Jews were taken to Auschwitz. In Ghetto Berbest Jews from the following villages were also concentrated : Uncsest, Budest, Birsanif, Wad, Valeny, Selist, Nanest, Serb, Kalinest, Akna-Sugatag, Sugatag (village), Remit, Ferest, Desest, Sanapotek, Horints, Huten, and Kracest.

The deportations from Sziget-Berbest were carried out in 4 stages. The first took place on 17 May 1944, from ghetto Berbest (“Ober-Yarash”). There followed deportations from the larger Sziget ghetto on 18 May 1944, 19 May 1944, and again on 21 May 1944. These were among the first deportations from any ghetto in Hungary.

(3) Ghetto Upper Wisho was established from the 16-23rd of May, 1944, in the center of the city on the “Jewish Street” and on three other small streets leading from it. The crowding here was insufferable. 20-30 people were quartered in one room. An attendance roll-call lineup was held every day, sometimes lasting several hours. In the line-up there were also beatings. The food rations that were provided were very meager. Some of the men were taken for various labor-projects, especially wood-cutting. They were over-worked, while weak and starving. The German- Hungarian delegation mentioned in Ghetto Sziget visited this ghetto as well.

It is worthwhile to note that one of the members of the delegation, Laszlo Frantzi, who was the liaison officer between the “Einzatzgruppen” of Eichman and the command of the Hungarian gendarmerie, was a native of Upper-Wisho. He was one of the most active murderers of Hungarian Jewry. He travelled from ghetto to ghetto during the deportations and it was he who supervised the atrocities. He was executed in 1946 in Budapest.

This ghetto contained about 13,000 souls. In addition to the 4,000 local Jews, also concentrated in Ghetto Upper-Wisho were also Jews from the following places: Lower-Wisho, Middle-Wisho, Borsha, Bistra, Viso-Volgy, Lerdine, Masif, Polien Riskeve, Petreve, Krive, Riskeve. The Jews of this ghetto were deported to Auschwitz in 3 transports between the 17th-23rd of May, 1944.

(4) Ghetto Dragomirest was established in the center of the village as of April 15th. In addition to the 700 local Jews, others from the following villages were concentrated there: Butiza, Glod, Yoid, Strimtere, Slatina, Selist, Polien-Glod, Kechnie, Rezavlia, Sif.

This was one of the smaller ghettos in the entire country and 4,000 people were held here (not as we wrote in the article about Dragomirest). Ghetto Dragomirest was relatively more comfortable than the other ghettos. The lack of food was hardly felt there. The surrounding farmers and especially the farmers' wives brought packages of flour, oil, milk, butter and vegetables to the ghetto. From time to time, the Jews who had lived in neighboring villages were permitted to return home and bring food supplies which had been left in their abandoned houses.

In contrast to this, the deportation was a trail of suffering. The 25 kilometers to the train station of Wisho, from which they were deported to Auschwitz, was a trip strewn with anguish. The men were forced the entire way up the steep mountaintop on foot. The gendarmes pushed the marchers onward with blows from their rifle-butts. Many victims fell along the way. Ghetto Dragomirest was liquidated on May, 15, 1944, the victims being loaded onto the trains to Auschwitz.

(5) Ghetto Mateszalka. This town is in the Satmar District (in the Hungarian sector, west of the boundary that crosses the Satmar District). In this town, there were 1,555 Jews in 1941 among a total population of 10,036. Here was one of the large concentrations of Jews before their deportation for annihilation at Auschwitz. In the ghetto 17,000 Jews were gathered. A small fraction of this population came from the town itself and several small communities in the area, but the great and overwhelming majority – approximately 15,000 – were brought from over 30 places in Marmaros. This was the largest single concentration of Marmaros Jews, although Mateszalka itself is located outside of Marmaros. The conditions of this ghetto were shocking, and among the worst - perhaps the worst - of all the ghettos in Hungary.

At first, the Jews were concentrated outdoors. After some time, they were tranferred to small shanties, most of them temporary. The Marmaros Jews suffered doubly here. For in addition to the usual suffering of all the inmates of the ghetto, the Jews of Marmaros also suffered because they were torn from their natural environment and were brought to foreign surroundings. Among the settlements whose Jews were brought to ghetto Mateszalka were:

Larger towns having more than 1,000 Jews: Ober-Apsa, Bicskof, Bistina, Iasin and Rahov.

Places with a population of 500 and over: Iglya, Ganice (in part, the other part was sent to ghetto Tecs), Teresif, Terneve, Neresnitza.

Smaller settlements, numbering less than 500 Jews were: Apsicsa, Bogdan, Bedevle, Bilvaritz, Bilin, Brister, Harisof, Vilhovitz, Tiska, Trebusan, Leh, Niagova, Polien-Kosoviczki, Kalin, Kereczky, Kolodna , Krasnisora, and Krive (Czech).

(6-10) [Five ghettos were established within a relatively small area of southwestern Czech Marmaros. They were located in the towns Chust, Tecs, Slatfina, Iza, and Sikernica.]

According to one testimony, the situation [in the Sikernica ghetto] was made bearable due to systematic food supplies. In the ghetto 4,000 Jews were crowded together. In addition to the Jews of Sikernica, Jews from the following surrounding villages were brought there: Danilev, Drahiv, Mikif, and Sandrif. Jews were also brought there from more distant places, such as: Volovo, Negreviz, and Kalicsava (which in fact were connected to Sikernica by the main road). The ghetto was liquidated on the holiday of Shavuos 5704 (28th and 29th of May, 1944).

(11-12) Ghettos Munkacs and Bergsas. Jews from the towns and villages along the western border of Marmaros were taken to these two ghettos. Jews from the following places were put into the Munkacs ghetto: Bereznik, Sico-Branko, Zadna, Lisitse, Kereczky, Rustuka. The Jews of Vilchovitz in the “Dibever Rika” were also brought to ghetto Munkacs, for a special reason: Since a typhus epidemic “broke out”, they said, among the Jews of Vilchovitz and they required quarantine, they were brought to Munkacs where special provisions were made for their quarantine. A total of about 2,000 Jews from Marmaros were in ghetto Munkacs. Less than 1,000 Marmaros Jews were sent to ghetto Bergsas, and only from 2 or 3 places: Dolha, Kushnitza and perhaps also from Upper Studena.

Thus, we see that the Jews who lived on the Czech side of Marmaros were concentrated into 8 ghettos, 3 of which, as was said, were not within Marmaros itself. We were not able to fathom the thinking of the authorities who organized the ghettos of Czech Marmaros the way they did. We were not able to discover the “logic” which guided those who chose the concentration sites. It seems that the entire eastern region, along the length of both tributaries of the Tisa (the Black and the White), as well as the settlements in the south along the length of the river (after both tributaries join) were brought to the ghetto of Mateszalka. But if that was the case, then why were some of the settlements of the “Dibever Rika” sent to ghetto Mateszalka and others to ghetto Tecs? And then also why in a relatively small area in the southwest were 5 ghettos established - Chust, Tecs, Slatfina, Iza, Sikernica - while in the entire region in the east and north not a single ghetto was set up, despite the fact that there were several settlements there with a significant Jewish population, including Iasin, Rahov, Viso-Volgy, Maidan, etc.? And again, why were the Jews of Bistina, which lies on the railroad-line and on the main road connecting Tecs-Bistina-Sikernica-Chust brought to ghetto Mateszalka, despite the fact that there were 2 ghettos located relatively nearby in the northeast (Sikernica and Chust) and one in the southeast (Tecs)? Such questions arise in other places as well like the Apshas - while the Jews of Middle-Apsha and Lower-Apsha were brought to ghetto Slatfina, why were the Jews of Upper-Apsha brought to ghetto Mateszalka? There is no justification for this in terms of communication lines. It seems clear, then, that minimal advance planning was done in organizing the deportation of the Marmaros Jews to their destruction. Rather it was all done hastily, with minimal planning.

For 19 settlements in Marmaros, we could not trace the ghettos from which they were deported to Auschwitz:

From the area of Volovo, the following nine: Bikivics, Huliatin, Vicski, Lahoviz, Lizansk, Navaselicza (near Volovo), Prislop, Ricske, Ripina;

From the Tecs area, the following eight : Dibeve, Csmolif, German Mokra, Russian Mokra, Novoseliza (in Dibever Rika), Padaflesa, Kenigsfeld, Kricsif;

The village Saldobus in the Chust area;

The village Polien-Kabileczky in the Rachov area.

No Jews were deported from 4 places in 1944, simply because there was no one left to deport. They had already been deported and most of them murdered in the deportation decrees of the summer of 1941. Those who escaped - as few as there were - did not return to their villages but sought out new places to settle. Some also reached Budapest where it was easier to slip away. Those four villages which were already “Yudenrein” in 1941 are : Vermezif, Torn, Terebla and Terisel. It is almost definite that there were some more such villages, but they are not known to us.

 

Efforts to Escape

We have reached the end of the road for the Jews of Marmaros and the conclusion of their lives on earth. Their souls are bound up in the bond of eternal life, and are found in the uppermost canopy, in the shrine of those who have sanctified the Holy Name, the heroes and the martyrs of all times and of all eras whose holiness is so great that even the heavenly angels are unable to stand in their presence. However, we cannot end this chapter without trying to reply to the self-evident question, asked by so many even if they do not explicitly express it - how could it happen that an entire Jewish community that lived in a mountainous and forested area; which lived a natural life, with many living off the earth and its products - trees, grain, and fruit; that knew every valley and crevice, every hill and bend, to whom all of the mountain paths and forest mysteries were clear to them; How is it that this community, so involved in nature, did not take advantage of this familiarity to find hiding-places, until the terror would end? Additionally, the deportations all took place during the spring and summer, when flowering and blossoming abundance is everywhere, and living off the land would apparently not be difficult? How could this entire community let themselves be led “like sheep to the slaughter”?

The answer is no less painful than the question. The physical surroundings might have been the natural ally of the victims, but the neighboring people, which lived side by side with the Jews, were an active partner with the enemy, victimizing their Jewish neighbors. This is a great source of pain. This nation - the Ruthenian-Ukrainian people of Marmaros, who were raised alongside and together with the Jews for at least the prior 7 or 8 generations, betrayed its neighbor in times of trouble in a low, cruel, and ugly manner. The Ruthenians, whose children played with Jewish children in the village, in the grove, in the field and wood; they who sold their produce and bought their household and farm needs from their Jewish neighbors for the past 250 years; they who included their Jewish neighbors in all their worries and joys, whose sick were healed by Jewish doctors; over whose wounds were uttered prayers by Jewish women; whose babies were brought into the world by Jewish midwives; whose litigations were ruled upon by Rabbis, Halachic Judges and ritual slaughterers, simply because the non-Jews preferred the Jewish wisdom and sense of decency over their own judicial system or priest; this nation which drowned its sorrow and lessened its travail in Jewish taverns and at Jewish weddings and happy occasions - How did they so miserably fail the test on the day of trial? How did they hunt down and hand over Jews, entire families with their wives and children, to the Hungarian foe, which was a mutual enemy of the Ruthenian people, in exchange for a quart of liquor? Oh, Ruthenian nation, how low you stooped, down to the very depths. You betrayed your neighbor for a pittance! ! !

To the misfortune of the Jewish people, the cooperation of the overwhelming majority of Ruthenians – and a nation can be judged by its majority – with the Hungarion enemy and German Nazi was enthusiastic, vigorous and complete. This is given expression in many individual sections of this book. And what is told here is only a drop in the bucket of what has not been told and has already been forgotten. But even what is known and documented points to low, despicable deeds, the sheer numbers of which prove the rule. Already in 1941, in the catastrophic deportation of part of Marmaros Jewry to Poland and their murder there, a young boy of 11 (Zvi Kornhaus from Iasin) innocently relates that after he miraculously escaped from the valley of death and somehow returned to Iasin and hid there for 9 months in an attic, he was forced to leave his town because he was discovered by a Ruthenian woman and “the situation was very bad”, in the naive words of the little boy. Imagine, a boy of 11, who remained orphaned from both parents who were murdered before his very eyes, fears being exposed by a Ruthenian woman who might hand him over to his parents' murderers. This boy survived only because he was experienced as a Jew fleeing betrayal by Ruthenians. And if any shadow of a doubt might still remain, the shocking events of the summer of 1944 come to place things in their proper light. Let us recount several incidents, in order:

The head of the Jewish community of Middle-Apsha, Reb Dovid Ber Davidowitz, hid in his orchard. Ruthenians discovered his hiding place. “Without hesitation they handed him over to the gendarmes who tied him to one of the trees and beat him until he went out of his mind. Then he was put into the ghetto and deported to Auschwitz.

A similar incident in Upper-Apsha: Moshe Weisel's two daughters hid in a bunker which they had prepared for themselves in advance. Ruthenians were sniffing around for hiding Jews because they were promised a reward for the capture of every Jew. They discover the girls and handed them over to the gendarmes. In this case the evil designs of the Ruthenians did not come to pass. By a stroke of good fortune these girls remained alive; so did the Jews of Apsicsa, which was a tiny place near Upper-Apsha, with few Jews since most of them were already murdered in 1941. Having had that bitter experience behind them, they went into hiding in 1944 and did not enter the ghetto. Despite the searches of the Ruthenians who served as the hunting dogs of the Hungarian gendarmes, they succeded to remain in hiding for two whole months. Given the existing conditions, this was a very long time - until the detective instinct of the excellent Ruthenian police-dogs hit upon their tracks. Of course the Hungarian gendarmes were called immediately. These Jews also hit upon good fortune. Since all the ghettos in the country had already been liquidated, they were sent to Budapest, confined to a concentration-camp and managed to remain alive. The case of Ilovitch the lumber-merchant from the village of Bicskof was far more tragic: the Ruthenian who took a fabulous sum of money from him, on the promise that he would provide food for him and his family in their shelter in the forest, after receiving the money handed him over and he was placed in the ghetto.

The testimony of a Jew from the village of Ganice is quite instructive: “The Ruthenians displayed jubilation and teased the Jews, upon seeing the Jews' bitter fate. Among these, non-Jews with whom one lived and did business with, in friendship, trust and good-neighborly relationships for decades.” This man's testimony continues, “And this is one of the reasons that the Jews were deterred from escaping to the nearby forests.” In some cases the Ruthenian peasants with their own hands killed Jews who tried to hide. There were times when the Jews preferred to give themselves up to the Hungarian gendarmes rather than falling into the hands of the Ruthenians, who would torture the Jews before murdering them; and the tales of the Jews of Dibeve which assert that there were several cases of attempted escape, but not one of them was successful, for the Ruthenians took part in the chase and search for the Jews hiding in the forests and betrayed them to the gendarmes.

Typical of the sad plight of these Jews is the story of David Miller, a hired-hand from Dibeve, who by bitter experience knew the purpose of the deportation and its final destination, since his mother and 3 brothers were already exterminated at Kamenetz-Podolsk in 1941. Miller therefore escaped to the nearby forest with his wife, baby and another brother. After 2 weeks, their hiding-place was discovered by a Ruthenian peasant, who immediately turned them in. In the ensuing chase, Miller and his brother succeeded in getting away but his wife and baby were caught. To their misfortune and thanks to the meanness of the Ruthenians, Miller and his brother were also caught, after several additional weeks. A similar testimony also came from Vilhovitz, where some tens of Jews tried to hide in the woods, but returned to the village out of fear of the Ruthenians who traced and searched for them. The testimony from Tecs is also shocking, because from the local ghetto there were also some attempts to escape. The escape was not too complicated a matter - the survivors testify - the trouble was, there was nowhere to escape to. The Ruthenians were after them, etc… the refrain is always the same. But in Tecs it had local color, for Matiash Vyeditch the Ruthenian, was resourceful. In addition to the beatings he meted out to those he captured, he also put his personal stamp on them in the form of a crucifix which he shaped with their hair (including girls). Narratives about Ruthenians who turned Jew-hunting into a “business side-line” can be found under the entries: Leh-Lunka, Kasely, Krive (Czech) and others, so we won't exhaust the reader with repetition of those stories here. As was stated, the known, documented incidents are only a mere fragment of the innumerable incidents which were not preserved in writing and documentation, for the simple reason that the victims did not survive to tell the tales - but they are indellibly inscribed forever in a supreme quarter which no human hand can reach - and the High above most high will bring every hidden matter to justice.

It is not our intention to imply that the Ruthenian people, down to the last last individual, were all evil; even though certainly the vast majority acted so. There were some brief flashes of light in those dark days. We know of isolated cases where individual Ruthenians saved lives: Like the case where 4 youngsters from one family (3 daughters and one son), from the village of Kasely were saved by a Ruthenian who provided them with food even after a forest-guard discovered them and reported it to the gendarmes, who immediately began to search for them. To the credit of the Ruthenian who provided them with food, he did not give them away despite the horrible tortures inflicted on him. (By the way, the Ruthenian population of Kasely was more humane and more pleasant to the Jews. They brought food to the Jewish villagers in the ghetto (Iza) and also helped the Jews to slip away from the ghetto, in order to bring back stored food from the abandoned Jewish homes in the village.) There was also the Ruthenian, Kurateh Morsnitza who saved an entire family by hiding them in the village and elsewhere. Several days before the liberation, when nothing more could be done and he could no longer hide them, he gave the charitable act of saving them over to his friend, also a Ruthenian, who was a railroad employee. This friend fell upon an ingenious plan to save the Jews – They were placed in a sealed railroad-car which traveled from place to place and from train-station to train-station on the Neresnitza-Teresif line, until the liberation by the Red army a few days later. We also know the case of 20 year old Zalman Zalmanowitz from Bicskof, who was hidden by the Ruthenian forest guard Yuraschok. The gendarmes hunted him but came up with nothing, since Yuraschok was unwilling to betray him, despite the reward of 10 kilos of gold which they had promised for his capture.

So much for Czech Marmaros. What about Romanian Marmaros? On the Romanian side the situation was somewhat different both for the better and for the worse. In what way for the worse? Apparently, on the Romanian side, less efforts were made to slip away and escape. If this was so, the reason is clear. The Jews of Romanian Marmaros were not as experienced or as informed of the viciousness of the non-Jews and their evil intentions as their brothers were on the other side of the Tisa River. As we have already seen, the deportation decrees of 1941 did not affect the bulk of Romanian Marmaros Jewry. Only several small communities near the Tisa were involved. The overwhelming majority were not cognizant at all of the possibility of physical destruction and mass murder. No one had told them about it. Even in a city like Sziget with its 10,000 Jews, the author Eli Wiesel attests that: “The Jews of Sziget didn't know what awaited them, until the last minute… no one found it necessary to inform us of this… a year after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, we still did not know a thing concerning the Nazi plan to exterminate European Jewry”. And even if it registered on their consciousness in a vague way, it was quickly erased by virtue of the well-known “Jewish optimism”. Therefore the Jews preferred going together with their families and with “the community of Israel”, and “What will happen to the people of Israel will also happen to the individual named Israel”, as is so well-known and familiar, and as many of us experienced ourselves, on our own “skin”.

But in Romanian Marmaros, things were also different for the better. This at least is our impression based on the data available to us and with which this book was written. Our impression is that the Romanians were more willing to help the few escapees and to stand by them in their time of distress. According to the information we have, in the two or three villages on the Romanian side of the Tisa where Ruthenians lived, the Ruthenians acted in the same shameful manner as their brothers did on the Czech side. For example, in Ober-Rina Avraham Leib Yager, who went into hiding in the neighbouring woods, was beaten to death by the Ruthenian Rumaniuk and his friends; or the example of the village Bistra, also settled by Ruthenians, where Shlomo Yoel Yunger was beaten to death by a Ruthenian peasant with a wooden beam when he was caught hiding. But to be fair we have to emphasize the noble actions of the Ruthenian Geargia Godinka who saved 8 Jews from Bistra and provided them with food. Godinka was invited to Israel by the survivors and he visited here in the winter of 1969, when he was 80 years of age.

In contrast to the behavior of the Ruthenians, the documents in our possession testify to the fact that the Romanians shared the plight of the Jews and tried to help them. Like the residents of Lower-Wisho, who brought food to the ghetto, their own and what was taken from the Jews, this despite the beatings they received at the hands of the gendarmes for doing so; and as the Jews of Budest tell us, the Romanian farmers did not cooperate with the Hungarians in searching for Jews in hiding. The fact is that 16 Jews from Budest managed to survive the months of mass-executions, until the liberation, and that the Romanian peasants not only did not betray them, but provided them with food and misled the gendarmes searching for them; similarly, the Romanians of Lower-Rina made things easier for the Jews in ghetto Slatfina, by bringing them a great deal of food. The survivors especially praise the actions of the Romanian peasant Vasile Nan, from Lower-Rina who allowed himself to be beaten and gave his life for this. About the head of the village they tell, that he suggested a plan to save all the young Jewish girls by scattering them among the neighboring villagers as peasant-girls. The Jews did not accept his offer.

In light of the above, there is no substance at all to the question: “Like sheep to the slaughter?”

The question is not why they didn't run away and escape, but on the contrary - we stand in wonder and amazement at the cases, which in the long run were not so few, where Jews decided despite the hostility of the local population and the tremendous danger on all sides - to run away from the ghetto, to be cut off from one's family and from the illusion of “being part of the group”. In most cases the attempts to run did not succeed and the escapees were tracked down and caught. We stand in awe before the heroic act of that man from the village of Brister (Zvi Farkash, who climbed out of the mass-grave, overpowers a Hungarian soldier, dons his uniform, takes his weapons, reaches Budapest and there joins the Jewish underground resistance forces; or that almost unbelievable story of those three courageous girls from Sziget (Rochel Tsifser and the Deutsch sisters, Elvira and Magda), who kill by gun-fire the non-Jew who turns from their supplier of food into an extortionist and rapist - an unprecedented incident. And from the individual to the group - that desperate attempt by four Marmaros communities, Dolha, Dibeve, Vilhovitz and Tecs, to delay their entrance into the ghetto by declaring the area as contaminated by a typhus epidemic; and back to the individual: that young girl from Veliatin, who hid away with her mother on a Romanian farm, near Satmar. And when a gigantic Hungarian gendarme caught her and beat her mercilessly for 7 consecutive hours to try and extract from her the location of her mother's hiding-place and the name of the farmer who helped them, she refused to utter a word. All of these examples of heroism and so many others like these which we never found out about, weave themselves into an epic of individual deeds of superhuman heroism. And confronted by this we ask – with admiration, as well as with agitation – How did these heroes and martyrs, who found within themselves the spiritual strength and saintly power to stand up to these killers and their cohorts – How in the end did they fall?

Oh, good earth, do not allow their blood to be covered over!

 

After the Holocaust

The few Marmaros Jews who survived the Holocaust (perhaps 10-15%) were dazed, shocked, frustrated and confused. Dazed by the force of their terrifying experiences in the concentration-camps and forced-labor units, where every day and every hour death stood at their doorstep. Many had descended to the valley of death and rose from it; shocked by the dimensions of the destruction they found: Entire families were destroyed without a remnant, and if survivors remained, they were “one from an entire city and two from a many-branched family”. Of the entire Jewry of Marmaros, children of 15 or younger and the elderly (50 years of age or older), could not be found. From a demographic point of view it was a fragmentary, unbalanced generation, homogeneous from the point of view of age-group (18-45) and about their spiritual and mental state of mind - the less said the better; frustrated by the conduct of the local population which did little to hide its chagrin (a few expressly and most of them only by implication) “that so many Jews had remained alive”, especially when some of the Jews attempted to reclaim their rightful property, real estate and other belongings, land and chattels; confused by the new regime which arose from the ruins of the Nazi regime; a regime which displayed insensitivity and harshness towards the tortured survivors, which was in no hurry to bring the petty Nazis, who helped the murderers with all their hearts and souls, to justice; a regime eager to accept “penitents” who displayed remarkable flexibility in making the sharp transition from National-Socialism to Communist-Marxist-Socialism, among them individuals who even in this new regime “are still riding their high-horse” and again are giving instruction, using different terms and methods of leadership and modes of action in the new hubbub of life's activities.

If these Jews, despite their dazed, shocked, frustrated and confused condition, were still able to begin the rehabilitation of their private and public communal lives - it was only with the grace of G-d which never ended and never left them. All the Jews of the surviving remnant - both those who before had families, wives, husbands and children, as well as the never-before married - found and married local ghetto survivors, built homes and established new families. Within a very short time, the laughter and tears of small children were again heard in Jewish homes in Marmaros. Religious and communal life in the various parts of Marmaros also began to take on the age-old traditional forms, though this was only a faint shadow of the rich Jewish life of the prewar Marmaros communities. This quasi-communal life was also brought to an abrupt end, within a short time. In Czech Marmaros it ended almost immediately after it began, with the annexation, along with the entire Carpatho-Russia, to the U.S.S.R. in 1945, when it became part of the Soviet Ukrainian Republic. In Romanian Marmaros, where the Communist regime was established later, the attempts to rehabilitate the communities lasted for 2-3 years and even achieved a measure of success. Some of the larger communities, such as Sziget and Upper-Wisho even had post-war Rabbis.

Worthy of special mention is the saintly Rabbi of Skulane, Rabbi Zusia Portugal who, after the holocaust, traveled around the various villages of Marmaros and spent the Sabbath with the holocaust survivors, in order to encourage them and raise their spirits. Wherever be came, he did indeed breathe a fresh breath of life into these lonely people and he guided them in their return to Torah observance and traditional living.

Under the entries concerning the larger communities in this Yizkor book (Sziget, Upper Wisho on the Romanian side, Chust and Tecs on the Czech), one can find instructive information about the lives of Marmaros Jews after the holocaust. What both parts of Marmaros have in common, is that most of their surviving Jews ended up making Aliya to Israel, became rooted in it, were integrated into the new country's life. Many of these survivors succeeded and continue to succeed in all areas of endeavor. A small proportion of the Jewish survivors of Marmaros joined relatives across the sea - in America and in Australia - and also there, for the most part, are loyal to what Jews worldwide regard as holy and from their new homes take an active interest in events in Israel, visit it often and support its institutions.

The post-holocaust activities of Marmaros Jews - in Israel and wherever Jews live - are a glorious chapter, presently being unfolded, before our very eyes. This too will be told, in a proper manner in the next generation and in generations to come.


Translated and edited by Moshe A Davis. This translation is dedicated to the memory of my grandfather Benish Davidovits (in America, Bennie Davis), and to the members of his family (family surnames mainly Davidovits, Markovits, and Katz) from the village of Leh (Szeleslonka, Shirukiy Lug), and to the memory of my grandmother Chaya Chaimovits (in America, Helen Hayfer), who was born in the village of Drahiv (Kovesliget, Drahova), and to the members of her family (family surnames Chaimovits and Zelminovics) who were murdered by the accursed Nazis and their accomplices. Hashem Yenakam Damam!

In this translation, I have endeavored to maximize ease of readability and the grammatical flow of the material, while keeping true to the spirit and the content of the information contained therein. To this end, in many places I have taken the liberty of rearranging the sentence and/or paragraph structure from that of the original Hebrew in order to improve the clarity and natural flow of ideas in English. Also, in many places I have slightly expanded the material, in order to clarify ideas or to define concepts which may not be familiar to readers who lack background in traditional Jewish customs and who are unfamiliar with Jewish Law. My own additions I have set apart by enclosing them in square brackets [ ].

Please note that many of the original sources used by the authors of Sefer Marmaros were written in languages other than Hebrew, which is the language of the text of Sefer Marmaros itself. Those original sources were not available to the translator, and thus most of the surnames and/or place names as transliterated here may in fact have been spelled somewhat differently in the original source.

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