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[Pages 177-178]

Birsanif

(Bîrsana, Romania)

47°49' 24°04'

Romanian: Bîrsana,
Hungarian: Barcánfalva

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It is a village about 20 kilometers southeast of the district city of Sziget. All of its residents were Romanian.

Jewish Population

Year Population Percentage
of Jews in the
General
Population
1830 112 9.8
1920 485 14.6
1930 423 11.8
1941 393 9.7

 

The Beginning of the Jewish Settlement

The first Jews arrived in the village at the beginning of the 18th century. A Jew Shimon (surname is not mentioned) is listed in the Jewish census of 1728, along with a wife and three children. The listing notes that he has no cattle, and he earns his livelihood from some sort of commerce and through the toil of his hands.

Two other Jews are mentioned in the census of 1735: Yaakov Matityahu (Mathae in the census listing), having a wife and no children, employing two servants and one maid, and owning two horses, a cow and a calf. He was under the protection of the local nobleman Mihae Rednik. The second Jew was Moshe Markes, also married without children, who employed one servant and did not possess any cattle. His protector was Pop Ivan. It seems that the main occupation of these Jews was large-scale liquor distilling, with the help of servant and work animals to transport the products to the markets and to sell the products throughout the district. Only one Jew is mentioned in Birsanif in the census of 1746[1]. He had a wife and one child. From the brief and careless listing that did not mention the names of the Jews, we do not know if this listing was the same person as one of the two Jews mentioned in the 1735 census.

About 20 years later, six families lived in Birsanif. Almost all of them had children, and there were 37 individuals in total. The following Jews are listed in the census of 1763: 1) Lazar Hershkovics (10 individuals), a liquor distiller. He paid 30 florin annually as a leasing fee; 2) Moshka Ohajmovics (7 individuals). He paid 10 florin a year; 3) Leib Asremovics (9 individuals). He paid 10 florin a year; 4) David Hershkovics (4 individuals). He paid 8.34 florin a year; 5) Hersch Izakovics (alone). He did not pay any leasing fee (apparently he worked as an employee for one of the Jews and was not independent); 6) Morshol [apparently the name was corrupted in the listing] Salomon (6 individuals). He paid 4.27 florin a year as a leasing fee.

In the 1830 census, the following heads of families are mentioned in Birsanif (number of individuals in parentheses):

Tanasia Indig (6), Leib Indig (4), Zelig Indig (2), Avraham Ganz (6), Kalman Polak (5), Kalman Ganz (5), Lazer Ganz (5), Avraham Polak (3), Lazer Shtul (4), Shimon Tesler (4), Yisrael Shtul (5), Yaakov Gailer (6), Moshe Ganz (4), Itzik Yager (2), Zelig polka (2), Yanju Roth (4), Shimon Shtul (4), Ezra Caiafa (4), Hersh Roth (4), Leib Afshan (4), Yanku Roth (4), Hersh Roth (4), Hersh Shechter (2), Shalom Groner.

As opposed to the Jews who appeared in the early censuses, it seems that the six families who appear in the census of 1768 struck roots in Birsanif and integrated into the city from an economic perspective. It is almost certain that these Jews formed the kernel of the future Jewish community. We can surmise that there was already a regular minyan in Birsanif in 1768 even though there was still no synagogue and other communal institutions. If this was this case, this would have been one of the first minyanim in any Máramaros village south of the Tisa River.

All of the Jews of Birsanif originated from Galicia.

The community was organized at the beginning of the 19th century, when the first synagogue was built, the mikva [ritual bath] was set up, and the Chevra Kadisha [burial society] was established. Two additional Beis Midrashes were built as time went on. The first Jews were Hasidim of Kosov-Visznitz. At the end of the 19th century, the majority were Hasidim of Sziget, and there were also Hasidim of Kretchinef.

The Jews of Birsanif earned their livelihoods primarily from agriculture, which was very well developed. A few Jews became wealthy. A significant proportion of the Jews of the village earned their livelihood from sheep raising (planines) and milk production. Other Jews were occupied in commerce. As the natives of the community recollect, the Jews of Birsanif owned six shops, two taverns, and three butcher shops.

One of the wealthy Jews in Birsanif as well as in all of the district of Máramaros was Reb Yosef Yechezkel Kahana. He was the son of Reb Yehuda Kahana (the son-in-law of the author of Mareh Yechezkel), the son of Reb Shmuel Zanwil Kahana, who was the son-in-law of the author of Kuntrus Hasfeikot. His mother was the daughter of Reb Yosef Aryeh Kahana of Sziget. He owned large tracts of land. He was a candidate to receive a title of nobility from Kaiser Franz-Josef, but he forewent the title since the ceremony involved wearing a cross. Nevertheless, he was called Reb Yezhezkel Baron by everyone.

The community of Birsanif never had a rabbi. It belonged to the rabbinical district of Sziget, and later to the district of Berbesti. The community maintained a shochet, who also issued decisions on issues of what was permitted and what was forbidden[2]. The shochtim that we know of include Reb Menachem Mendel Kahana (approximately 5520 – 1860), and Reb Yisrael Stern (during the 1880s). The final shochet was Reb Moshe Deutsch (whose son serves today as a shochet in the city of Ramle). There was a significant number of Torah scholars among the Jews of the village

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who gave their children a Torah and yeshiva education. We know of two youths of the city who later served in the rabbinate: Rabbi Yosef Baruch Ganz occupied the rabbinical seat of Rotterdam, Holland, and perished in the Holocaust; Rabbi Chaim Wolf serves in the rabbinate in Rechovot.

The following people were the town notables and parnassim [administrators] until the First World War: Reb Mordechai Weider, Reb Getzil Ganz, Reb Chaim Meir Segal, Reb Menachem Yisrael Ganz, Reb Yitzchak Ganz and his son, Reb Meshil Ganz, Reb Gerson Ganz, Reb Yehuda Aryeh Polak, Reb Pinchas Stahl, Reb Moshe Indik, the wealthy Reb Yosef Stern and his son Reb Tzvi Stern, his son-in-law Zelig Stern, the aforementioned Reb Yechezkel Kahana and his sons-in-law Reb Yitzchak Horowitz and Reb Aryeh Kratz, Reb Meir Tzvi Ganz, Reb Shimshon Shtisel, Reb Wolf Malek, Reb Chaim Fogel, and others.

Despite the first steps of the Jews of Birsanif who were self-assured and preceded most of the settlements of Máramaros, the Jewish population of Birsanif only progressed slowly. The Jewish population of Birsanif reached its pinnacle prior to the First World War. From then on, the population consistently dropped. The village lost about 100 Jews (more than 20% of its Jewish population) during the 20 years between the two world wars, as they went to search for their fortune in other cities of the country. Some of them immigrated to overseas countries, especially the United States.

 

During the Holocaust

The fate of the Jews of Birsanif was the same as the fate of all the Jews of the country. In 1941, about four or five families were deported across the border under the pretext that they were not citizens of Hungary. However, they returned after intercession. In 1942, several of the men of the village were drafted to backbreaking work. Many of them were transferred to Ukraine, where most of them perished.

In the latter half of the month of April, the Jews of Birsanif were transferred to the Berbesti Ghetto, from where they were deported to Auschwitz to be murdered. Two Jews of Birsanif, the brothers Shmuel and Pesach Indik, did not present themselves at the gathering place of the Jews of the village. They hid in the forest, and a Romanian farmer promised to protect and feed them. However, after a few days, he was overtaken by a fear of the authorities, who threatened the death penalty to anyone who hid Jews. The farmer took counsel with the village judge who turned the Jews over to the gendarmes. They Indik brothers were immediately captured and murdered on the spot. They were buried in the communal grave in the Jewish cemetery.

After the war, about 60 Holocaust survivors returned to Birsanif. Attempts were made to rehabilitate the community, but the people quickly left the village. The vast majority made aliya to Israel.

Today, only one Jew, Reb Yerachmiel Drimer (Farkas), lives in Birsanif. He serves as the only shochet in the entire district of Máramaros.

 

Bibliography

Magyar-Zsido Okleveltar, Budapest, vol. VII, 1963, pp. 137, 306, 747; vol. XVI, 1976, p. 101.
Maygar-Zsido Lexikon, Budapest 1929, p. 1005.
Yad Vashem Archives: 03/3385;
Translator's Footnotes:
  1. The date in the text is 1846, however from the context, as well as from the table above, it seems that this is an error, and 1746 was intended. Return
  2. Generally referring to questions of kashruth. Return

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