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 onethird 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 childrenheirs selected. Bigger solidlybased plants and houses were built, which was raised the city's appearance. The 23 story houses were called palaces. Their names: Méhes, Kont, and Bernerpalaces, 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, made 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). Dozens of Jewish shops were there in all commercial sectors, only here and there a nonJewish 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. AntiSemitism 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 Jewishled 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 crossborder 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 JakubovicsJak'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 wellbeing 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 greatgrandfather and greatgreatgrandfather 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 singlestory Jewish houses were found, sometimes, 2030 meters long, welltended 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 paradiselike 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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