“Şomcuta Mare”
Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Romania, Volume 2
(Romania)

47°31' / 23°28'

Translation of “Şomcuta Mare” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1980


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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania, Volume II,
pages 269-270, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1980


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[Pages 269-270]

Şomcuta Mare
(Hungarian: Nagysomkut)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Aaron Slotnik

It is a town in the Satu Mare district, approximately 50 kilometers south east of the district city, across from the district capital of Kövár. Most of its residents were Romanian.

Jewish Population

Year Population % of Jews in
the General
Population
1900 528  
1920 858 28.4
1930 799 27.0
1941 897 27.9
1944 (September) 87  
1947 200  

 

Until the End of the First World War

We have no information about when the first Jews arrived in Şomcuta Mare. Not one Jew in the district, or the District of Kövár was listed in the population census of 1725. It seems that they arrived at the beginning of the 19th century, mainly from Galicia. They were under the protection of the landowner Sandór Teleki, who employed them as supervisors of the lessees of his large estate, grain merchants, wine and liquor producers, etc. From the 1880s and onward, the Jews of Şomcuta Mare broke into new economic pursuits. They built vinegar and oil factories. Several large flourmills were under Jewish ownership. The Jews of Şomcuta Mare also worked in the export of grain and fruit, in wholesale and retail commerce in most areas of business, in trades, and in services.

The community was founded in the 1820s. The first synagogue was built in 1862. The Chevra Kadisha had already been founded by 1852. That year, the first cheder was opened in the community. The building of the synagogue took approximately three years, and caused a strong dispute among those who vied for places, for after it was built, several places remained with unclear ownership. Several of the great rabbis issued decisions in this dispute, such as the Gaon Mahara'm Schik[1], Rabbi Menachem Mendel Paneth of Dej, and Rabbi Moshe Weiss of Târgu LăpuŞului.

All the Jews in the 34 villages of the district were affiliated with the community of Şomcuta Mare. These included communities which had their own institutions, such as synagogue, mikvas [ritual baths], cemeteries, and even shochtim [ritual slaughterers]. Regular prayer quorums existed in the village of Berchez, Buciumi, Hideaga, MireŞul Mare, Remetea, Chioarului, SăcălăŞeni. Between 30 and 70 people lived in each of these villages, and their communities were dependent on Şomcuta Mare. The rabbi of the community supervised the shochtim, the mikvas and religious life. He would spend at least one Sabbath a year in [each of] these villages, and would deliver a sermon and encourage the villagers to fulfil the religious commandments.

Rabbis. The first rabbi was Rabbi Ezriel Izik Keller (1823–1903), who began to serve a short time after the founding of the community. He was one of the important rabbis of Transylvania, and maintained a correspondence with questions and answers with the greatest rabbis of the generation. He died on the 24th of Tishrei 5664 (1903). Rabbi Aharon Tzvi Keller (1860–1928) served after him. He died on the 2nd of Iyar 5688 (1928).

It is appropriate to also note the etrog merchant Reb Avigdor Weinberger, who lived in Şomcuta Mare at the beginning of the 20th century, and wrote a morality book called “Smichat Noflim” (first edition, Sighet 5662 (1902). Seven editions of this book were distributed within five years, and approximately 25,000 copies were sold. The three Yiddish editions (5662 – 1902, 5665–1905, and 5671 – 1911) also enjoyed wide distribution.

During the First World War, approximately 100 Jews of Şomcuta Mare and the region were drafted, twelve of whom fell in battle.

 

Between the Two World Wars

In the wake of the First World War, the number of Jews of Şomcuta Mare declined by about 100 families. Many left the community and moved to larger cities, especially to Satu Mare, for the change of regime brought in its wake a serious economic crisis for a significant portion of the livelihood earners of Şomcuta Mare. The community again showed signs of growth from the late 1920s until the mid–1930s. Tens of the Jews of the nearby villages moved to the town. By the end of the 1930s, the Jewish population of Şomcuta Mare had reached, and even surpassed, its pre–war numbers.

As has been stated, economic life declined after the war. Numerous estate owners who owned vast estates were affected as a result of the agrarian reform. Grain and fruit merchants lost their markets in Hungary and Austria. The livelihood of many Jews was also affected. Per the registry of 1924, the composition of the livelihood earners of Şomcuta Mare and the nearby area was as follows: 3 wholesalers, 15 estate owners, 40 merchants, 50 tradesmen, 20 non–professional workers, 7 lawyers, 3 physicians, 20 officials and service workers.

The community developed and its institutions broadened. Two other Beis Midrashes existed next to the synagogue: one in the Talmud Torah building and one built especially for the needs of the Hassidim, whose numbers were growing. Almost all the children of the town studied in the Talmud Torah during the 1930s, in which

[Page 270]

five teachers taught Torah. The community did not have its own elementary school, so the children studied in the public school of the town. During the 1920s, the community set up an eruv[2], but this was nullified by a command of the authorities in the mid–1930s. From among the communal institutions, it is fitting to point out the women's organization, whose main role was to provide warm clothing to the poor children of the Talmud Torah, and to give assistance and support in to the needy members of the community in general. The old synagogue, which was about to collapse, was renovated in 1936.

For many years, Reb Shmuel Tzvi Weiss, a wealthy merchant and great scholar, stood at the helm of the community. He maintained halachic correspondence with many of the rabbis of the area, and with the Admor of Spinka, Rabbi Yitzchak Izik Weiss, of whom he was numbered as one of his Hasidim. Some of these responsa dealt with life in the community of Şomcuta Mare. Reb Shmuel Tzvi Weiss even edited a Yiddish newspaper called “Transylvania Zeitung” (1930–1935), published in Şomcuta Mare. During the 1930s, the physicians Dr. Sándor Goel and Dr. Armin Goldstein stood at the head of the community. The final rabbi of Şomcuta Mare was Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Halpert, the son–in–law of the previous rabbi. He perished in the Holocaust.

From a social perspective, the Jews of Şomcuta Mare did not join the local society, except for several members of the free professions. In the 1930 census, 753 Jews out of 799 listed Yiddish as their mother tongue.

Organized Zionist activities began in 1926, with the founding of a chapter of the Aviva youth movement. However, it did not establish itself on a firm foundation, and its activities were suppressed within a short time. Zionist activity was only renewed at the beginning of the 1930s, this time on a firmer basis. The three main focal points of Zionism were: the Mizrachi youth, the women's WIZO organization, and the Barsia youth movement. Unlike the situation in most of the cities of Transylvania, Zionist activity in Şomcuta Mare did not encounter the opposition of the Orthodox and the Hasidim. The latter were even present at one of the cultural events organized by the Mizrachi youth in 1935. The following data outline the level of Zionist life in Şomcuta Mare: in 1933, 7 shekels [tokens of membership in the Zionist movement] were sold; in 1934 – 36; in 1935 – 84; in 1936 – 42; in 1938 – 38; in 1939 – 67 (Barsia – 42 and Mizrachi 25).

 

The Holocaust

We have no details on the events of the era prior to the deportation. At the end of May 1944, all the Jews of Şomcuta Mare and its affiliated villages were transferred to the ghetto of Baia Mare (see entry), from where they were deported to the Auschwitz Death Camp.

After the war, approximately 200 Holocaust survivors gathered in Şomcuta Mare. Some came from the villages of the district and other places in Romania, including some Jews of Northern Bukovina. They attempted to revive some sort of communal life. A public kitchen was set up, and a rabbi was even selected – Rabbi Yechezkel Rotner, the son–in–law of the last rabbi, who served as deputy rabbi before the war. However, most of the Jews left within a brief period. Most made aliya to Israel, including Rabbi Rotner, who today serves in the Achuza neighborhood of Haifa.

Today, only a few isolated Jews remain in Şomcuta Mare.

Bibliography

Tzvi Yaakov Abraham: History of the Jews in Transylvania, section A. New York, 5711 (1951), pp. 34, 92.
Y. Yosef Cohen: Responsa of the Rabbis of Transylvania during the 19th century, Areshet, Volume 5, 5762 – 1972, pp. 282, 290.
Avraham Shmuel Binyamin Sofer, Responsa of the Ktav Sofer, Section Yoreh Deah, Pressburg, 5639 – 1879, section 118.
Moshe Schik, Responsa of Maharam Schik, Choshen Mishpat section, Lemberg 5644 – 1884, section 27.
Yekutiel Yehuda Teitelbaum, Responsa Avnei Tzedek, Yoreh Deah Section, Lemberg 5645 – 1885, section 51.
Menachem Mendel Paneth, Responsa Shaarei Zedek, Orach Chaim section, Munkatch 5644 – 1884, section 15; Yoreh Deah section, ibid. 5643 – 1883., section 59, 127, 170p; ibid. Responsa Avnei Zedek on Even Haezer, Munkatch, 5646 – 1886, sections 90, 170.
Yosef Lichtig, Amudei Eish on the Beit Yosef, Munkatch 5699, 1939, section 10.
Yitzchak Izik Weiss, Responsa Chakal Yitzchak, New York, 5726 – 1966, sections 16, 43, 63, 67.
Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum, Responsa Atzei Chaim, Sziget, 5699 – 1939, section 14.
Eliezer David Greenwald, Responsa Keren Ledavid, Satu Mare, 5689 – 1929, sections 65, 105, 106, 127, 145.
Mordechai Brisk, Responsa Maharm Brisk, section 1–3, New York 5726 – 1926, Part II, section 72; Part III, sections 18, 19.
Magyar–Zsidó Oklevéltár, vol. VII, Budapest 1963, p. 109;
Magyar–Zsidó Leksikon, Budapest, 1929. P. 795.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moshe_Schick Return
  2. A boundary that would permit carrying of objects on the Sabbath. Return

 


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