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A Brief History of the Jewish Community
of Beregszász-Berehovo

(Excerpt from the Yizkor Book of Beregszász and its surroundings)

Translated by Dorothy Gross Nadosy

The city of Beregszász belonged to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy until the outbreak of World War I. In 1919, the city, as a part of Transcarpathia, was annexed to the Czechoslovakian Republic with the division of the monarchy. In 1938, together with the rest of Transcarpathia, it came under Soviet Russian rule.

The beginning of the local Jewish settlement dates back to the 17th century. According to documents dating from 1735, the Jewish population of the city did not exceed 100 at that time. Organized community life began only in the second half of the 18th century. Reb Yitzchak Rochlitz is mentioned in the chronicle as the congregation's first rabbi. Then in 1861, Avraham Yehuda Leib Schwartz, a disciple of the Chatam Sofer, occupied the position of the Rabbi of Beregszas.

In 1883, Shlomo Schreiber (Sofer), the grandson of the Chatam Sofer, was elected his successor as the rabbi of the Beregszász community. His period was the golden age of the Jews of Beregszás or Berehovo.

In 1867, the legislature of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy passed a law on the equal rights of members of the Jewish faith, which abolished all laws restricting the economic, social and personal rights of Jewish citizens. As a result, in a relatively short period of time, the Jews became an important economic and cultural factor.

In Beregszász, Jews also played a leading role in the economic and political life of the city and the province. The vast majority of merchants and freelancers were Jewish; they established several factories, bought land and grapes. Particularly during the Czechoslovak Republic, Jews took a leading role in the social and political life of the city. In spite of the fact that material prosperity and social upheaval had triggered a process of assimilation among the population, to a large extent, Berehovo Jewry did not, in general, depart from tradition.

Following the death of Chief Rabbi Shlomo Schreiber, some members of the community chose the deceased Chief Rabbi's son-in-law, Rabbi Shlomo Hirsch, as chief rabbi, which the Hasidic religious group strongly opposed. The remaining minority Hasids separated from the community, but state laws did not allow two similarly oriented communities to operate, so the more religious Hassid group was forced to form a Neolog community.

Zionism had begun to spread in the intellectual circles of the population at the beginning of the century, but became a mass movement only in the thirties, especially among the youth circles. In the twenties, the Hashomer-Kadima Scout group was the only representative of the Zionist youth movement. Betar was formed in 1929, followed by the Hapoel Hamizrachi, Bnei Akiva, and Hashomer Hatzair associations.

In the autumn of 1938, Czechoslovakia mobilized its army in fear of Hitler's occupation. Men of the Jewish minority who were in military service also marched; they were the only minorities to be armed and ready to defend the republic. The others cheered on the "Vienna Convention", which brought the Sudetenland into the hands of the Germans and brought back South Slovakia and part of Transcarpathia, including Beregszász, to Hungary.

During the time of the Czechoslovak Republic, Hitler's access to power did not disturb the Beregszász Jewry. However, the fact that Czechoslovakia's dismemberment and its annexation to Hungary had been the result of German political pressure, and in return Hungary had become a German ally, cast a shadow of danger on them. Then came the "Jewish Laws", whose spirit and purpose was to humiliate Jewish citizens and drive them out of economic life. Instead of military service, they were forced to work. Initially, successive rigorous provisions did not deter Jews, and they tried to fight against them with solidarity and a commitment to their future.

In 1941, the sad chapter of the destruction of Judaism began. First, those who were unable to prove their Hungarian nationality were arrested. Of these, some 250 were transported to Poland during the German occupation and handed over to the Germans. In 1942, most of the men were mobilized under the pretext of labor service and pressed into forced labor in the Ukraine. They had to work under the control of cruel Hungarian squads that, among other things, used Jews to clear minefields and forced them to blow up mines with their bodies. In the winter of 1942-43, hundreds of Beregszász men died as a result of malnutrition, hard labor, mine blasts, and frostbite.

In January 1943, due to the Red Army counterattack, the Hungarians took 2,000 Jewish forced laborers with them on foot 1,000 kilometers to Dorosic. Most of the Jews who were weakened by starvation died in a typhus epidemic. Around Easter 1943, they were transported to the “hospital” (some stables) in Dorosic; patrolmen ignited the straw-covered stables for the sick and shot down those fleeing the fire! Thousands were destroyed by such methods, and a few hundred Beregszász people were killed. Those who retreated from the Don with the Hungarian army and were taken into Russian captivity died by the hundreds in Russian prison camps. Barely a few hundred marched to General Svoboda's Czechoslovak army and participated in the liberation of all parts of Czechoslovakia.

At the beginning of 1944, apart from women and children, there were hardly any members of the Jewish communities in Beregszász. The Germans already were retreating in every theater of the war, and the Jews were hoping to be freed as soon as possible from the reign of terror. Unfortunately, the disappointment was quick and bitter.

On March 19, 1944, the Germans invaded Hungary. Just ten days later, the Gestapo moved to Beregszász. After the usual monetary extortion, on the Saturday before the Passover, the Jewish Council was appointed, and onerous personal-liberty restraints came into effect. They imposed a curfew, forbade them to leave the city, turned off Jewish telephone handsets, and confiscated vehicles and radios. They ordered a census of the Jewish population and ordered them to wear the disgraceful yellow star.

On the last day of Passover, on Saturday, about 12,000 Jews from the city and its region were diverted, to the delight of the Christian population, to one of the city's brick factories, in the most crowded conditions, lacking water and minimal hygiene requirements, under the Gestapo's brutal command. Here, too, with various rumors, the Germans succeeded in diverting attention from their evil plans, and the Jews who had been herded together did not believe they were on the verge of destruction.

On May 14, the elderly, mothers, and children were separated from the youth who could work and the next day were packed in freight cars and transported to Auschwitz. On May 17th and 19th, after two more transports were launched, the city's Jewishness was over. This is how our once-flourishing community was destroyed.

After the war, some members of the community wanted to start a new life in their "hometown" and even revive the community. But it soon became clear that there was no prospect of this. Whoever could leave left the city. The estimated number of those who made Aliyah to Israel is up to 400. Others went mainly to overseas countries. Although most of the remaining Beregszász Jewry have taken root in their new homelands, have recovered their social and material levels, established a family, and have given birth to a new generation, and Holocaust refugees can live in safety and peace around the world, the immense pain of the Jewish tragedy, the sad shadow of the fate of our dear martyrs, will accompany them forever.

Beregszász - Berehovo - Beregovo was a central Jewish city. Geographically, the city belonged to Transcarpathia, a high-profile area for Eastern European Jewry, but in reality, the Jews in our city were more modern and Zionist than our compatriots in other cities in the province. (Typically, most of the Jews in Beregszas did not speak Galician Yiddish but rather the language of the local population, but most of them faithfully followed their paternal traditions.) The cultural standard of the members of the community also was above average at that time.

This album is limited to pre-Holocaust years and generally only to the twentieth century. If we had written a book about the history of our city's Jewry, it would be based on historical accuracy and authentic documents. These were not in our possession. The terrible Holocaust is stamped upon our being, our thoughts, our considerations. It's hard to call our "hometown" a place that regurgitated and contributed not a little to the destruction of our precious families! That era is unforgettable for the survivors, and we want to capture it in pictures without spreading it out over time, just anchored in the lives of one or two generations.

Compared to the magnitude of the task, we have little material available! If the majority of Beregszaszians lived here in Israel, we would have even thought of a "tour" of them. But since each step was the result of a handful of volunteer efforts, we could contact them only by letter. And if you, our dear comrades and compatriots, didn't think it was important to send in the pictures and papers in time, the place to complain is: you. You dear friends who are scattered all over the world, it was your duty to look for and find us!

On the other hand, we do not forget that almost all of us, largely under the pressure of 1944 — hurried, scared, fleeing, with our hangman's assistants after us — left our homes in a hell-dark state of mind. Neither the "illegal" immigrants nor the forced laborers, much less those transported from the ghetto to the death train cars, had the opportunity, thought, and ability to save pictures and documents. What they took with them, along with our evaporated families, descended on our people in the thick choking-black smoke - forever. And when the precious few escapees came back to our "judenrein" city, the "good" neighbors, the "heirs" of the Jewish apartments, had made sure that the debris from the stolen property was not saved as souvenirs.

Our sentimentality is for the past, not for that city. Even when we have dreams or nightmares roaming the streets of the city, between the well-known houses and shops where our parents and we were born, we only can meet the local people again and again, reminding us that these citizens did not want to or were unable to help the victims, they did not identify with us, and in fact they delighted in the deportation and stole the property. All of this is in our memory, and we cannot clean their conscience. But in this album, we were trying to record the situation before our whole world collapsed. That is why we have retrieved the remaining images of economic, sporting, cultural and Zionist life, and of the houses; this album is one last exclamation: REMEMBER THEM! Zion was the closest to the hearts and minds of Beregszász's Jewry, who also dreamed of the realization of Zionism and educated us on the salvation of a new generation. Zion was the closest to the hearts and minds of Beregszász's Jewry, who also dreamed of the realization of Zionism and educated us on the salvation of a new generation. Zion was the closest to the hearts and minds of Beregszász's Jewry, who also dreamed of the realization of Zionism and taught us so much, which the new generation thanks for its salvation.

According to our estimate, of the approximately 8,000 Jews of Beregszász and the surrounding area who lived there at the end of 1938, 1,000 people live scattered around the world, half in Israel. This number is decreasing year by year, month by month; the natural human process does not pardon us either. As a major human and Jewish duty, we sought to focus on the names of the Holocaust victims in the “Yizkor Book.” Unfortunately, this sacred task never can be completed. All martyrs no longer can be recorded. From many families, no messenger remains — not a relative, not a neighbor, not a friend. Maybe, maybe, a small fraction of the missing names might show up here and there in one of the pictures on the album.

When we leaf through this album, we feel only how many pictures are missing. We could not wait and expand on further paths; we had to hurry to gather the existing ones - as time permitted.

We had wanted to capture at least the images of community presidents. Not only did we not get pictures, even names are missing! On the other hand, there are hundreds and hundreds of images of vibrant Zionist youth organizations, but only a limited amount can be reported to somehow maintain proportionality. Without exaggeration, we can state that the local groups of Betar and Hashomer Kadima were the best organized and most active of the Czechoslovakian locations. Hashomer Kadima succeeded in having its commander delegated to the Zionist Congress (a great honor at the time). Two Natziv (national commanders) came out of the ranks of Betar and two people from Beregszász became members of the Betar world headquarters (one in the Etzel headquarters). It is thanks to this national-Zionist upbringing that many members of these organizations made Aliyah in time, most of them “illegally."

And now, dear brothers of the banks of the Verke, friends, we respectfully present to you what remains of the Beregszász community. The Beregszász community was a blooming fruit tree in the garden of our people, giving sweet fruit to Judaism and Zionism. But wild winds and storms tried to uproot it and destroy its roots. As long as we live, the tree is still standing, but the roots have been burned and the yellowed leaves are falling, falling. The tree will never sprout again, but at the same time, the fruit that it gave will never be forgotten!

With devotion and love, we pass on the images of the past to future generations. They reflect the everyday reality of that age; the last testimonies of that great and terrible era; the generations of the simple and brilliant brothers; about small families in which a great soul lived, in which love always overcame disagreements, and who no longer lived so that a generation of their descendants and survivors would realize the dream of a hundred generations: the establishment of the state of Israel! The generation that believed in a better life and future in the Diaspora has disappeared forever. The pictures are our only memories of our childhood, our school years, our families, our public activities. Each picture is a memento of the tragic turn of life. These images changed our positive attitude towards our city into the atmosphere of a mass grave, a historic hurricane that swept away emotions of human solidarity and friendship between two peoples, and inserted a rift that could never be welded shut again!

We do not apologize for any errors in this amateur work. For example, we weren't able to list the names of a large number of people in the pictures. We didn't know everyone. Therefore, we preferred not to offer lists and numbering; we have not detailed the names of the gentiles either, since we have not written about them and do not want to preserve their names. So don't look for names everywhere. In each chapter, we tried to mention as many names as possible and thereby immortalize them as well.

Today the “Yizkor Book” of our community is in the hands of a professional who is finishing typing the names received in recent years. We decided to print out a list of Jewish victims in Beregszász and the surrounding area at the end of this album. It is not double work but rather an expression of our love and respect for our loved ones. Along with the album, this will be a smaller “Yizkor Book" in your hands; many people, especially most of our friends from abroad, will not be able to flip through the single memorial book here and find the names of their relatives.

So explain to your children and the children of your children, our dear friends from Beregszász and its surroundings:

They were born there, raised there, slaved there; your dear parents and grandparents lived there, but they were not buried there. Many felt connected to their houses, their shops, their land, their vineyards, their factories that were created and built from scratch. Most of them did not inherit their property but rather built it with their hands, sweat, and blood, thinking about the future of their descendants. Here are the pictures of Grandma, Grandpa, uncles and aunts you did not know. It was a world that was engulfed by the whirlwinds of the Holocaust. And this, our dear children, is also a part of your world.

Therefore, you, the daughters and sons of the new generation, the generation of resurrection — keep in your heart of hearts the love and respect for your roots, where this handful of humble images will lead you. You also, our daughters and sons, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren and those whose family has no memory left, don't just see a single picture - see these dear people, old and young, in the pictures, who look at you so simply and confidentially, with a smiling or serious face — your ancestors too! This album is obliged spiritually and emotionally to bring together all the Jews of the Beregszász area into a large and noble common family. To a family whose lion's share no longer is with us, but their common memory remains as a national treasure in our hearts!

In conclusion, it is appropriate to thank the few who contributed to our work: names, pictures, documents sent, or at least a letter of encouragement. Thanks to the members of the Editorial and Publishing Committee. We especially highlight the gift from our honorable friend, the painter Juci Kaszab, who gave her touching painting for our cover page; for Imre's lines about the Zionist family. Thanks also to those who bombarded us with images that were not suitable for us, to our foreign friends who encouraged us to take action. Special thanks to our friend Yisrael Jarkoni (Fucki) who prepared the index of Holocaust victims. Thank you for your trust, patience, help, goodwill, and moral support for the successful completion of the task at hand.

Receive our humble album kindly and lovingly, the meritorious, formerly glorious, dear Beregszász Jewry's last remnant.

 

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