Translated by Dorothy Gross Nadosy
A substantial part of the album refers to a time which still remains in our memory: the years between the two world wars, recalling the days of the Masaryk democracy in Czechoslovakia and the pre-Holocaust years.
Excellent images of public figures cannot be obtained of those who played a central role in community life: presidents of the Jewish community, social, economic, religious and other major public institutions. The reason: we do not have access to the archives to foreign and especially the Beregszász community archives (if they exist). Therefore for not only the pictures in this chapter, but also for the rest of the pictures, all in those images experienced catastrophe in the strictest sense of the word. Most still exist in the free world; others add to the last memories of our families and our city.
Respectfully, we open this album depicting the now nonexistent Jewish community by beginning the first chapter with selected pictures of the city's main synagogue and rabbis.
In the Diaspora Jewish community life, the most important, prominent and the central institution was the synagogue. The Jewish community's first prominent and respectable personalities: the rabbis. We were proud of all of them!
Foremost is the grand Beregszász synagogue's impressive ornamental building, built in the heart of the city in the past century. Clearly, this was a thorn in the side of anti-Semites, but the Jewish synagogue stood untouched even when those praying left for the heavens. And the Russian liberators (who were in no hurry to destroy rail lines leading to Auschwitz and bomb the gas chambers) made sure that this historically significant place, with excellent engineering components - was eliminated from the Beregovo map! That a theater or dance hall was erected in their place did not change their essence. If we do not not have left physically a quarter of the synagogues - of which even the irreligious were proud - we have preserved the image of symbolic reliefs on the temple and of tombs in the cemetery. The synagogue itself, as the community around it, is unforgettable and will remain an indelible part of the future generations.
There were still more Beregszasz synagogues, but no pictures of them remain. Some of them were extremely religious, leading their lives as a closed group. There are no statistics and no details about them, but as their fate was the same as the rest of our fellow believers, their memories have been merged into the memory of our faith.
We have seen books that capture communities similar to ours. For the most part, they deal with detailing their cities' rabbinic dynasties. Although the elected presidents of the Jewish community and caretakers stood as the head of Jewish public life, the religious and moral authority was the rabbi. In this period covered by this album, Beregszasz Jews were headed by a total of two prominent rabbis. Shlomo Sofer Schreiber (Chatam Sofer's grandson born in 1844), looked patriarchal, dignified, and respectable. After his death (1930), Avraham Shlomo Hirsch wore the head rabbi's robe; he was more modern, conjuring up the memory of Herzl.
There were, of course, religious institutions where hundreds of children studied: Talmud Torah, Yesodot HaTorah, and in various yeshiva rabbis' courts. The largest among them was the Bnei Asher yeshiva, peaking under Hungarian rule, whose hundreds of students brought honor to the Beregszász Jews
In a democratic institution, such as the Jewish communities' cooperative, the chairmen and management alternated. Unfortunately, we can mention just a few names among the outstanding personalities who served the city's Jewish population in the years between the two world wars; we did not know all the names, much less obtain the images; Sandor Vári, Lajos Herskovits, Fisl Hartmann, Dr. Bela Szekely, Jakab Mermelstein (Kozarek), Albert Fodor, Hermann-Zvi Schonfeld, and Salamon Schwartz (who was the president of the Chevra Kadisha). Here we mention the great synagogue cantor Liebermann, who also worked with the choir under his son Jerucham's leadership.
In the community building's courtyard, a wide and changing variety of activities took place: Hebrew elementary, communal kitchen, kosher butcher shops, poultry cutting, Passover baking, etc. We understand that (so far) the Jewish cemetery is intact, but unfortunately, there is no reason to doubt that the album's two small pictures will be the last memories of the place where they love, they cry, those who have given the last respect for the Jewish religion.
When we talk about outstanding personalities, it is no boast that the Beregszász Jews provided extraordinary representatives to the science, literature, art or sports world. But we can be proud that the average human material level was definitely higher than normal. In society usually those citizens who bear the public burden are those who simply understand and work with the problems in their environment. We have selected a few old friends who represent different walks of life (medicine, art, literature, military) and have published their pictures. Presumably, after the album's release, good friends will discover the city of long ago that - unfortunately - we cannot find at this time.
We know for example that there was Hugó Vincze, the first government commissioner attached to the the city of Beregovo in Czechoslovakia.; that Dr. Sándor Krohn was the Transcarpathian Regional Assembly representative; that Ignác Rottman filled the city office of deputy mayor. But we have not received further information or images about them or others. But we do not intend to just decorate ourselves with big names, but also to reflect on the miraculous image of Judaism, which was so rich in life and morals, and those individuals in public life and in their minds who voluntarily and honestly worked for his fellow man, each one into his own work in his field.
To conclude this chapter, we will quote from our city's writer, Sándor Jakubovics-Jak's short story (Prophet Elijah and Uncle Nathan):
... This small chapel adorned the Mermelstein courtyard. This word I write only out of respect for the synagogue, because the chapel was certainly a battered building but belonged to the heart. Even today, after such a long time, it comes to life in front of him, as if he had stepped into the shabby brown door. . . .I can hear the old Weiszhausz grunting, I see Grünfeld with easily-teased restless eyes, pay attention to Uncle Goldberger seated in the second row praying, the mobile Slomovits, who was walking up and down praying. Nearly again in the left corner, I feel the fireplace stove's heat after the evening prayer, not just foolish conversation.
These institutions and personalities are rightly proud to make Beregszász unforgettable, dear Jews.
Thus were our town's Jewish citizens.
Translated by Dorothy Gross Nadosy
Berehove Judaism was a Zionist Judaism. In this chapter, we tried to get more pictures and documents made public in the city and from all the Zionist organizations but deeply regret that despite numerous requests, we did not get suitable material, or even a portion -- not at all.
We know that Zionist organizations in the thirties had among them the sharpest disputes and rivalries; brotherly wars of words broke out in every major Jewish Diaspora center and mainly in Eretz Yisroel. In our town that we did not feel this particularly, due to the two largest movements (Hashomer Kadima and Betar) working together and understanding each other. The Bnei Akiba and Hechalutz functioned more inwardly; few elements were presented to the public. If there was a ferment, it was more from the outside; the influential Communist Party was strong, essentially opposed to Zionism, but all of the the Zionist forces were united against them. So in Beregovo, Zionist organizations did not conflict among themselves.
We emphasize two of the largest, oldest and best-organized youth organizations in our city (Kadima Hashomer and Betar), because these two dominated the Jewish youth of the streets. Hashomer Kadima was founded in the early 20s and dealt more with Zionist education and Scouting, not with politics. Actually, from the ranks of a national press convention came Betar which had hundreds of members in that era. Later, the older members of Hashomer Kadima functioned as a separate organization, Hanoar Hatzioni. The Hashomer Hatzair was founded only in 1933, but we failed to get pictures from them, so we must be content with the image of 1-2 groups in which members are displayed. We can not forget the WIZO woman's society, its activities mainly in the social and charitable field; also the Jewish Women's Society under the leadership of Mrs. Ignác Weisz and the wife of Dr. Mór Kertesz. The first President of the Girls Society was Dr. Amalia Braun, succeeded by Mrs. Aranka Mandel-Klein.
It is worth mentioning the cultural conventions of the two major organizations. It was a tradition for many years that the Hashomer Kadima organized large-scale Hanukkah amateur performances while the Betar distinguished itself with Purim evenings. These two yearly events of the Jewish centers developed into the Jewish year's main experience, with high standards and hundreds of spectators who filled the largest hall in the city. In the late thirties, the two organizations co-organized an unforgettable evening in the spirit of Zionism.
We are not detailing the everyday work of youth organizations. It is natural that Zionism dealt with every aspect of life: Keren Kayemet LeYisroel, Eretz Yisroel goods distribution, education for Aliya, Hebrew classes, Hachsara, etc. It was common knowledge that the summer camps, which were the year's work highlights and which jointly organized the whole range of local groups in Beregszász, were their chief spokesmen, delivering most of the camp participants to leaders and trainers. Yet these organizations did not receive central subsidies or concessions. All were built on volunteering, taking care of their needs themselves.
We want to emphasize again that it was only due to the faithful Zionist education, the city's Jewish youth's extraordinary human material, and free democratic atmosphere after the Hungarians' arrival, that Zionist youth in large groups left the city in the direction of the education's purpose: towards Eretz Yisroel! Many roads led to this goal, and many people took part in Israel's war of independence and the building of a new nation. Another portion of the young men scattered around the world and shared the same fate as others in the Diaspora.
About an extraordinary Zionist family, Imre Klein writes:
There cannot be a Zionist Life more illustrated than a genealogical table of one of the most active Zionist families in our city. Fisl Harman was among the first who understood, preached and practiced the Zionist ideals. He took part in all the rallies and was among the few 'Hungarians' in the Basel Congress. The Zionist dream was realized because he made aliyah with his wife Roza, and both are buried in the coveted Holy Land.
Zionism was a love of his daughter, Malvina, who lost her husband, Isidor Grosz, early. In her father's footsteps, she also made aliyah. The apple did not fall far from the tree; she became a torchbearer for the Zionist idea, and she tried to educate her children well in this spirit. Her son, Béla Grosz was in Hashomer Kadima, and was a founding member of the Hanoar Hatzioni and following the example of his grandfather, took part in one of the Basel Congresses. But he only saw the Holy Land in passsing. His life was lost during the Holocaust.
His brother Andi spent years in the country. His youngest brother, Yossi, also lived here and lost his life in tragic circumstances on home soil.
The other brother, Anci, lived for decades in the country, and then passed the torch to daughter, Nurit who lives in Israel and patriotically is raising her two children - Roy and Kim Gordon.
Few 'Hungarian-origin' Jews can be found in this century like the Hartmann-Grosz-Gordon families representing five continuous generations of both the Zionist idea and its implementation, the will of the emigrants from little Beregszasz to live and to find innovative ways of realizing Judaism's dream.
With love and respect, we mention here the founders and leaders of the Zionist organizations: the Zionist Hashomer Kadima and general fighters for Zionism: Béla Grosz, Fisl Hartmann, Lipót Roóz, Bernát Halász. Betar was founded by Sanyi Winkler, followed by leaders Shmuel Teichmann and Elisha (Lishu) Katz. The Revisionist Party was headed by Ignác Feldmann, Dudi Haussmann, and Dávid Schächter. At the head of the Mizrachi were Sándor Fischer, Izidor Simon, Dávid Schächter and Yechiel Rosenbaum (founders). (Of the other organizations, we did not get names.)
We cannot forget the educated student body, some of whom following the fashion of the time, became supporters of the Communist Party; others active in Socialist salons. Though later, bitter disappointment would reach them, fatefully yet more favorable for us in the Czechoslovakian years, these young people became detached from the Jewish community. Many Jewish young people looked for people's problems' remedies in alien and hostile fields. Most of them returned to the nation's lap, after they saw with their own eyes, and their skin felt, their world saviors' ruthless hypocrisy.
In the days of the republic, almost exclusively the Zionist youth showed up in the city streets. Every week, the youth movement units marched, to the city's Jewish citizens pride, to the non-Jews' astonishment (or surge of envy). In the wake of historical changes to the country's map, active Zionist youth hurried to organize themselves to abandon the new states, but not many people took that liberty, and not many succeeded. The remaining youth were forced into labor camps and when the hard times occurred, fateful days of our people, no young people were left in the city who were willing and able to protect their families.
The Zionist work was not suspended under Hungarian rule either although most of the leadership left the city. More or less, it continued illegally because the Hungarian rule turned a blind eye to the organizing of the Jewish youth, who were working suitably in the labor camps. Various devices to strengthen the Zionist spirit -- educational trips, temple prayer, and hachsarot -- continued as long as it possible.
At this point, the editor asks for individual and theoretical permission to express an opinion:
I assume that in 1944 the Jewish youth in Beregszasz (or any other city the Zakarpattia Oblast) had stayed in the same number as in 1937. At least 1,000-1,500 of the military-age youth being trained were used to free thinking and living. In my heart, there is no doubt that in this case, rebellion, or at least stubborn resistance, had broken out against the persecution. If hundreds of young people who had a sense of national pride Zionist organizations and military spirit had begun to realize they were in a stronger physical position, they and hundreds of thousands of young Jews would not have been deported as a flock of sheep to the slaughter! (Unfortunately, this is a dream born 50 years later. )
Translated by Dorothy Gross Nadosy
Back then for the Jewish youth, the favorite occupation was to wander the city streets. When the sidewalks wore our soles, we somehow felt that Jewish houses and shops, all blessed and considered a comforting sort of atmosphere, gave us a sense of security and confidence as if forming a solid foundation which could never be stolen from the city's Jews.
Beregszász was a small town; the Jews were barely one-third of the population. Thus almost all of them knew each other. Families sometimes made closer links with each other. The store, or factory, that had been started by a Jewish father, had children-heirs selected. Bigger solidly-based plants and houses were built, which was raised the city's appearance. The 2-3 story houses were called palaces. Their names: Méhes-, Kont, and Berner-palaces, owned by Jews, naturally.
For the Jews, initiatives were their strength, and they built. Therefore commerce, as in rest of Transcarpathia, was in the hands of the Jews. The best professionals and the most reliable tradesmen were also Jews. We mentioned the factories, done with Jews' investment. The three brick factories -- Sándor Vári, Manó Kont, and József Winkler -- employed 500 permanent workers, major breadwinners of the city's workforce. The sawmill was in the possession of Herman Pritch and Sándor Mermelstein. The Jewish bank managers were not followers in the profession; they simply were more talented and better educated than others. (Among the bank directors were Ferenc Weiss, Samu Zelmanovits, Berner, and Dr. Simon Reismann.) Even the farmers insurance company (Kroó Zoltan) was under Jewish leadership. Success usually gives birth to envy and not far from that, hatred.
Let's look at two bazaars (small market and big market on both sides). Dozen of Jewish shops were there in all commercial sectors, only here and there a non-Jewish store. It is in vain to explain this potential competition; a level playing field, indeed opportunities, existed for everyone: the Christians everywhere were definitely advantaged. But the Jews had other qualifications: courage, talent, wild initiative. And in a civilized, democratic country, as was Masaryk's Czechoslovakia, there was no reason for the more diligent, the more successful, the smarter to be sidelined just because they were Jews. Anti-Semitism did not start here but continued deep in the Christian soul, watching without any understanding or goodwill the Jewish advantages.
Roaming the streets, we see the results of the Jewish-led small and large industry: two barrel factories of the Reismann and Neufeld families. The Fehér brothers' limestone mine; the Sterns kaolin mine. The three mills (belonging to Mano Kroh, Ignatius and Erno Newelt, and Sandor Newelt and sons) and several larger and smaller companies have not only benefited the city and the state, but provided bread for more than a thousand working families as well.
It is to wholesalers' credit that the wine industry and colonial goods from Beregszasz penetrated the outside world. The spice wholesalers (Hausmann, Cain and Schwartz) dominated the market. The Hausmann company made cross-border deliveries with its own ship.
In 1927, under the leadership of Dr. László Andor, the impressive Merchants Headquarters was built, becoming a cultural and social center of the city, with a cinema on the ground floor and a room for theater performances on the second.
Unfortunately, the good neighbors just saw the rich traders and deliberately forgot the simple Jews, the majority of the working men of the community: shoemakers, tinsmiths, carpenters, plumber, carters, technicians who stood out with diligence and with their expertise. These did not run to the bars with their pay because they had moral, intellectual, and competitiveness advantages, for which they had to pay with their lives! Our traders and industrialists were frugal so that their children would have a better future, a better profession, and less trouble. For our middle class, this was the dream.
There was still in their eyes a dream: a vineyard. Jews always yearned for their own house, their own land. The good Jewish citizens also wanted to enjoy their handiwork in the fruit trees under the vine: to walk with the family in the vineyard, to enjoy the fruit trees, to exult in the ripe grapes. Jews wanted to be happy in the general celebration day, the harvest.
But how long can you be happy? They did not think of this then. Before the vineyards were confiscated from the Jews, according to 1940 Hungarian records, 12 Jewish landowners owned 2,000 hectares of land. After the Hungarian occupation, many people tried to sell their grapes, yet more than half of the vineyards remained in Jewish hands for a year and a half.
Let's talk about freelancing. We have no right to priority in occupational branches that require skills, knowledge or literacy. Every profession is open to all people. So why are the Jews in he majority among the lawyers, doctors, engineers? The answer: Because they not only learned more, worked harder, went hungry, and went without, but they also persisted. The others did not behave this way, so they remained a minority in the intelligentsia. After the fall of the Republic, the Hungarians rushed to exclude Jews from every position in public life, schools, and hospitals. In 1940, there were no Jewish teachers, the number of lawyers was depleted; judges, of course, had been fired a long time ago; only doctors and pharmacists continued to work in their professions as individuals. In the 1940 list of private doctors, there are 25 names - all Jews.
We return to Sándor Alexander Jakubovics-Jak's writing: a narrative of a penniless young Jew who with not only ambition, but also talent and an iron will pushed forward and later became a physician in our city. This is just one example of thousands of people. Sanyi Jak writes of Dr. Herman Slomovits: He knew he was the son of a poor widow, he was obliged to stuff his head full of knowledge, and he must be better than the others, than the rich who already were ensured well-being by their parents' assets. His father died of tuberculosis when the child was four years old. His mother did not remarry, so the son did not have a stepfather. She cooked for petty officers and unmarried young men who lived there. They paid little and ate a lot. The boarders ate meat; the mother and her children, bread and chicory coffee. For breakfast, stale bread. The boy was always hungry, but he never complained. . . . Many Jewish students remember similar or worse conditions of life: Dr. Slomovits was not the only excellent doctor who had such early childhood and student years.
We had wanted to immortalize hundreds of Jewish homes and shops, because there is no doubt that most had been photographed. The pictures more visibly describe for future generations how their great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather built, lived, and functioned when they left them to be in silence. But do not get the impression that the Jews were all home owners. Not at all! Half of the Jewish population - at least -- lived in rented homes. They did not always have money for the rent, but fortunately, most of the home owners also were Jewish.
With what were Beregszász's Jews occupied? The wine wholesalers (Kesztenbaum, Wachtenheim, Czuker, Korn, etc). developed this thriving branch of international wholesale trade. The hospitality industry also was in Jewish hands. Mor Sándor, Ignác Rothmann, Imre Weiss, and Pista Székely Pista controlled four pharmacies; the transport industry, however, was weak; there was no bus service to Munkács (of course in Jewish hands). Of the high government officials, none were Czech at the time. Worthy of mention: two judges (Elovics and Foldes), city engineers (Brummer and Méhes), the Post Office secretary (Armin Klein), and the Tax Department counselor (Weiss).
The majority lived in the city center. In the city limits, mostly single-story Jewish houses were found, sometimes, 20-30 meters long, well-tended with fruit trees and flower beds surrounding them. Opposite the house was a large orchard. In the courtyards of the houses were additional low buildings, some with tenants. The youths' favorite place of course was the orchard, where the trees drooped from the good harvest. They were not so much planted for revenue but rather for the beauty of the gardens, a quiet ambience, for the satisfaction! In these orchards, we felt freer and happier, as if we were cut off from the outside world, united in the sense of a Jewish love of fellowship that has not broken even today, after so many decades and events among the good friends.
The craving for the vineyard, the fruit, the green soil was perhaps the Diaspora Jews' and Zionists' wistful dream for Eretz Yisroel, where they wanted to see these images if they made Aliyah and settled. Meanwhile, most of them supported Zionism, but few executed it. The paradise-like orchard and vineyard of their dreams disappeared. Houses, shops, factories, vans, and orchards, without any remuneration and without any thanks, went to owners who wanted the blood of the old landlords.
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