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Jews in the Schools

Translated by Dorothy Gross Nadosy

A person's memories of childhood begin with school. There are rarely permanent memories from a younger age. Over the years, children's experiences also grow, culminating – usually with happy years full of excitement and difficulties – in high school.

In our city there were elementary schools, junior high schools, commercial schools, and the “highest” local school, the real gymnasium [academic high school]. Most of the photos in this album are from the liberal Czechoslovakian era. Among the high school students, we find many Jews, sometimes most of the class or of the passing students. And we do not exaggerate if we say that in almost all classes, the best, the distinguished students were Jews.

In Jewish families where the parents did not have a high level of qualification (because they worked and suffered all their lives), a general “trend” came to be; at least one of the children (if the economic situation allowed, more) “would achieve something.” And what was that “something” in the eyes of the Yiddishe Mama? Lawyer, doctor, engineer – or in a Beregszász paraphrase, “To study or to work, this is the question!” We estimate that during the 20 years of the republic, more than 300 Jewish students graduated. Not all of them but most went on to a university. This is how a fresh, young intelligence emerged in the city, which, unfortunately, no longer could have had any influence on the workings of Jewish life and community.

However, there were not many Jewish teachers in the elementary school or in the high school. The community also founded a Jewish elementary school, whose two known teachers were Kálmán Opmann and Méir Berkovits. And above all: the Hebrew elementary school (lower grades), also supported by the community, which still existed in 1943.

That the Magyar teachers did not appear to love Jews was clear. but at the peak of the republican rule, most teachers were objective or rather indifferent to us. Positive exceptions were the left–wing teachers (2–3), perhaps due to the large number of students who also were on the left.

In the parallel grades of the Ukrainian gymnasium system, there were few Jewish students, mostly from the more distant neighborhoods. As a sign of the times, there was a elementary school in the Czech language, all of whose students were Jewish.

From this “and–the–lamb–lived–with–the–wolf” atmosphere – close friendship from cooperation between Magyar and Jewish students – we suddenly fell from high circles to the depths of Magyar domination. Separation by kind became “natural”, their boys and girls studied in separate classes, but students also began to be separated in their benches between the two “religions.” In the girls' class graduation tableau (1940), on the one page, pictures of the Jewish girls, and on the other, the Aryan fairies.

This social–national disorder may perhaps be worthy of deeper research, but this is not our album's job. We only look at the pictures, recall memories, try to understand the conflict. The friendship between Jews and Magyars had “flourished”: reciprocal visits to the homes of the parents; common excursions, and “free evenings”; mixed teams for exam preparation; sports arrangements and tournaments hand–in–hand; school celebrations with mixed committees. But as the calendar moved from 1930 to 1940, the treatment of gentiles against their friends changed so much. First, they moved away from us unobtrusively, the cordiality lost in hypocrisy, and then at a rapid pace, the break–up took place: the ignoring by classmates – under the new Hungarian rule.

It was a bitter lesson for those who had been under illusions so far: they sat together in benches for 8 to 10 years; comrades played in the same sports club for pleasure and fun; in the morning, they went to the school together; walking close to each other in the corridor; not separated from each other in excursions and tea parties. And in just one stroke, all of this was fake, forced, unnatural! Yesterday they believed in the common destiny of the two peoples; today the brain and emotions have been turned against it. What is true: the rational Jews came to their senses pretty soon.

Though we have close ties with our brethren who emigrated from Beregszasz, we have not heard a single testimony so far that one of our classmates helped or endangered themselves in any way for a classmate during the dark months of 1944. During the ghetto and the deportation, the “friends” disappeared from view (or perhaps appeared on the killers' side?). But this “interracial” atmosphere already was palpable. There was envy in the Magyar hearts that caused the disintegration of solidarity in the school class and, at best, indifference between the two “religions”.

Each year, the yearbook of the Gymnasium was distributed, with the names of teachers and students by classes, showing the honors awarded. If one were to find these books in the Petöfi Street School's attic from the beautiful 1919–1938 years, her or she might have nostalgic emotions. But further years reveal that in 1944 some Jews still studied at this “royal” secondary school, but their suffering and the relationship of teachers to them was more than degrading.

If we were disappointed in the gentiles, at least we enjoyed Jewish solidarity. There was a relief fund in the city for Jewish students studying at universities: “the Jewish College Self–Help Association.” The fund, which was led by Imre Klein in the last few years, provided loans to Jewish college students, up to 1,200 Czech Korunas per year; an amount that covered the needs of a poor student for three months. After finishing their studies, and after the new graduates were established, they began to pay for their loans, so there was a steady flow of money in the cashier's office. No–one ever was denied help.

We would have given you 20 graduation photos if a picture of each grade or representation of the class had remained. The level and results of the Jewish students in Beregszász did not embarrass the “People of the Book.” In 1948, I heard at a Jewish conference in Budapest, regarding the death of the Jewish world–champion swordsman, Kabos, “The people of the sword without a sword let die the world champion of the sword.” We only could add: The People of the Book have proven in their book sanctuaries that their sons are book scholars and, if necessary in their homeland, have become “wise men and warriors.”

 

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The oldest class 1925 (out of 36 graduates, 20 Jews)

 

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1936 “A mere” 15 Jewish graduates in a class of 33

 

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1937 Lucky class. Most of the 18 Jews survived

 

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The same class. Swan song to fraternity

 

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1939 Girls class under Hungarian rule; Jews separated on the right

 

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In the Ruthenian-language high school only one Jewish student

 

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1940 Boys class, only 3-4 Jews

 

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Grade VII.B., girls (teachers all sitting, Jewish religion teacher standing)

 

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1941 The last “majority.” 11 Jewish students separated in a class of 20

 

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1942 The 9 Jewish girls of the tenth (“sixth”) grade never would reach graduation

 

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1937 A single Jew among the graduating Ruthenians

 

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Jewish majority among course of commerce graduates in 1930

 

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School of commerce in 1929

 

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First grade students of civic school -- 1936

 

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Czech language civic school -- 1934

 

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1932 This civic-school class has 15 Jews

 

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1932 Class of girls starting civic school

 

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1931 Can anybody recognize himself?

 

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1932 The teacher: Mrs. Fried

 

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1932 In another school

 

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1939 It is difficult to recognize the bald heads

 

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Two classes together, but which school is it?

 

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1935 Mother's Day in a kindergarten

 

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1930 Class excursion to the dam in Borzsova

 

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Excursion of the “rich” to the Tatra mountains

 

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Outing of several classes in the Stern vineyard

 

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The civic school dressed in uniform under Hungarian rule

 

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Hebrew language primary school in 1936

 

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Jewish primary school

 

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Oddity: fifth and sixth grade of the Hebrew primary school
still operating under Hungarian rule

 

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Eight Jews of the eighth grade -- 1933

 

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The same eight in a corner named “the ghetto”

 

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The last joint “graduation"” (traditional march of students 1939)

 

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1928 Class reunion 5 years after graduation from “civic school” (junior high)

 

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