We don't have reliable data about the organization of this kehilla (Jewish community), one of the largest besides that of Szombathely, in Vas County. References concerning the Jews of Körmend appear sporadically in some documents of the recently made public county archives. However, the Jewry's own documents and valuables became victims of the general destruction. Thus, every item from the many documents, records, etc., which in an exceptional manner survived, becomes ever more significant. In the first place, we note the Silver Book of the local Chevra.
Until the publication of our Memorial Book, we were unable to evaluate this work of historical value due to physical distance. However, we have dependable testimony supporting that this book dates back nearly three hundred years. The Kauders family is mentioned as the oldest family who lived there continuously until the Holocaust. The first entry in the above mentioned county archives dates from August 29, 1692* regarding a complaint filed about the local Jewish customs rental fee. Nonetheless, another document, dated January 8, 1701, mentions the Jew Abraham of Körmend, an ancestor of the local Kauders family. The wife of Abraham's son, Jakab, was née Mattersdorfer.
In volume 10, page 354 of the Hungarian Jewish Archives, we find two Jewish men named Fülöp Sollán from Körmend. The second one, der Therische is not referred to in the kindest way.
Aside from these public records, we used as resource the comprehensive historical works of Dr. Béla Bernstein.
These cumulative data prove our assumption that Jews lived continuously in this locality from the end of the XVII-th century. The community was part of the Batthyányi estate, a family who welcomed and offered protection to its Jewish residents. First, the community probably belonged to the main congregation of Rohoncz, but there is evidence that in 1705, the membership already established the Chevra Kadisha. In the old Jewish cemetery, the oldest gravestone dated back to 1717. This cemetery became a park during the communist regime; the tombs were exhumed and reburied in a common grave within the new cemetery.
The county census of 1770 recorded 17 Jewish families with 83 members in Körmend. Ten years later, in 1789, a rabbi already functioned here. Rabbi Jósua Falk was known to have been involved in an unpleasant conflict with the Rabbi of Rohoncz and Rabbi of Pozsony. It happened because the Rabbi of Körmend issued divorce papers (Get), an act to which he had not been locally entitled, and the document was also flawed. In those days, such mistakes were treated at the level of great sensation. Rabbi Ezekiel Landau, national and Chief Rabbi of Prague also intervened in this matter, reprimanding the Rabbi of Körmend, and instructing him to apologize to the Rabbi of Rohoncz, whom he offended. Information about later developments in this matter or further functioning of Rabbi Falk is not known.
According to the county census of 1795, Rabbi Wallerstein functioned as rabbi in Körmend. At this time, the census found 63 Jewish families in Körmend and the district. Further demographic data for the city of Körmend, and excluding the district, showed considerable fluctuation, registering the following course: 49 families in 1809; 53 in 1813; 61 in 1817; only 54 in 1818; 77 in 1822; and 74 in 1831.
By 1820, the old Prayer House became fairly dilapidated, and they had to build a new one. Their renowned Rabbi Götz Bodánszky addressed the Chatam Szofer of Pozsony: was it allowed to demolish the old temple and build a new one in its place? The answer was affirmative. (This reminds one of the analogy dating back to Herod's time.) The new construction started only two years later, when Prince Fülöp Batthyányi donated land and bricks at the request of the congregation. The community had to pay for this a symbolic rent of two gold coins until 1891. At that time, it was redeemed, together with the cemetery, for the sum of 1,500 forints.
Rabbi Bodánszky hailed from Sopronkeresztur. He was born in 1781 and died on Kol-Nidre night, in 1845. Elected in 1806, he functioned in Körmend for 39 years. The story of his entire life had been inscribed on his gravestone. One wonders if this memorial endured in the orphaned graveyard?
His son, Jiczhak, followed him in the rabbinical chair. Even though he was not popular with one segment of the community, a substantial objection could not be raised against him. He functioned in office for twenty years, as worthy son of his renowned father. Due to family reasons, he moved to Pápa in 1866, where he served as dayan until his death. He became the distinguished ancestor of the Bodánszky family from Pápa as even his later descendents gained recognition and honor to their names. Of note, here is Smuel Bodánszky, every bit a quintessential Jewish man of noble thoughts, who suffered a martyr's death. The earlier mentioned Rabbi Jiczhak did not have a peaceful life in Körmend. Too modest, he did not inherit his late father's specific talent in public speaking, although this has been already a requirement of the community for the rabbi. The employment contract of the congregation specified that for weddings, the rabbi had to address the bride and groom in a language understood by all.
In 1866, Miksa Ehrlich, brother of Mór Ehrlich of Rohoncz, was next to occupying the rabbinical chair. First a teacher, but aspiring for more, he went to Prague to attend the Talmud discussions of the renowned Rabbi Rappaport, as well as some courses at the university. Then, he came to Körmend. The Hungarian Jewish Congress took place during his tenure and the congregation joined the Neolog directive.
Chief Rabbi Dr. Ignac Krausz, the last rabbi of the community functioned in office from 1916 to 1944. Son of the Dayan of Komárom, he was a youth educator and an ardent Zionist. He adhered to his convictions and was not concerned about the silent objections from a section of the community. The rabbi became a martyr during the Holocaust, but his son lives in Israel.
The community was always concerned with having a competent school. In 1852, it purchased a house from the Prince for 3,500 forints for the purpose of establishing its school. First, they employed three teachers and an embroidery instructor. Later, with the decreasing number of school-age children, they employed only two teachers.
By this time, the Chevra Kadisha, an earlier established institution of the community, bought its third cemetery. The previous cemetery was filled by 1851, and the Prince donated 1,806 units of land to the community in a document prepared in Vienna, dated December 30, 1851.
The congregation, framed by a great variety of activities, always ready for sacrifice, was filled with the warmth of Jewish life, both in Körmend, and in the surrounding communities. We will return to this provincial life style in another section of our memorial book.
The members of the community were diligent working people, who brought industry, trade, enterprising and commerce into the life of this provincial town, thus boosting its economy. Additionally, they enriched the life of the community by creating noble institutions and humanitarian endowments. Role models of work protocols created by a few of their distinguished pioneers found followers here, in Israel, as well. Notable in this area was Dr. Zoltán Wurmfeld, a physician, who was one of the founders of Makkabea and who later died as a hero in World War I. In time, the community also established industrial and agricultural hachsara (study programs) for the youth.
Among the important institutions the congregation ran were Bikur Cholim Maszkil el Dal, The Helping Society for the Aged, The Philanthropic Society, The Jewish Women's Association, and charity drives. The membership took care of its poor, in as much as Jews from Körmend did not go for help elsewhere. However, when the Numerus Clausus law had been introduced and the Jewish youth excluded from universities, action had been taken to aid them to study abroad. The community had significant endowments that included the Salamon Mattersdorfer Aid Foundation and the Hermina Kauders Foundation. The Frimm, Kauders, Wiener, Grünbaum, Neu (Neményi), Hillmayer, Pollák, Marton, Hamburger, Scheiber, Glück, and other families also played their parts in the life of the community. Notable sons of the community included Jakab Körmendi-Frimm, father of Ervin and Jenö, who established in Hungary the first institute for the mentally retarded. Ervin Körmendi-Frimm, an artist, and Jenö, a sculptor, became nationally renowned. Jakab's brother, Antal, established the first institute for deaf-mutes in Hungary. The family used the name Körmendi by royal distinction.
Ede Géber also hailed from Körmend. Born in a very poor family, he worked his way up to a full public professorship at the University of Kolozsvár.
Many other Jews established large enterprises such as sawmills, lumbering, etc., thus providing jobs for workers. Yet, in time, the situation of the Jewish youth became problematic. Due to political anti-Semitism, they were excluded from several professional careers, finding a job became difficult, and as a direct result, this youth prepared for work in Israel.
Members of the community participated in great number in World War I. A total of 46 men were in arms; 13 of them, representing 28.2% died as heroes! Those who stayed at home knew a great deal of hardship. Throughout the county, Jews were persecuted during the revolutionary period. Still, it is to be noted as commendable conduct that in Körmend, no such manifestations took place. At the time, Catholic Parish Priest Perényi forbade from the pulpit any ill treatment of the Jewish population.
It is also to be remembered that the Körmend congregation helped significantly with the refugees. During World War I, the community helped provide food and clothes to the many refugees who arrived there. During the days of Hitler, a good many people escaped from Austria and Germany through Körmend and again, the community helped them to cross to Yugoslavia, in the direction of Muraszombat.
The economic situation of the Jews started to worsen progressively during the period between the two world wars. First, it was impacted by the nationally imposed limitations. The newly instituted token land reform affected basically only lands held by Jews. Soon, Jews felt the effects of the famous Program of Györ, of March 1938, which imposed limitations on issuing business permits, as well as that of high taxation of assets, followed by the anti-Jewish laws. Sheriff István Krenner-Kevey, head of the Körmend Township at the time, who did not want to execute the ghettoization orders, retired. His replacement, a man named Dávid, was the son of the innkeeper from Viszák. Times of distress and evictions had started. For instance, if the sister of the custom's clerk took refuge in a Jewish home the Jew had to leave his house. Farmer Weltinger from Egyházasradóc had to leave his home because Captain Vitézi Szék claimed it.
March 19, 1944, the day when Hitler's hordes flooded the country, affected the Jews of Körmend like a stroke of lightening from the clear sky. The blows came in torrential manner: wearing of the Yellow Star of David, segregation, closing of business, and confiscation of assets. In Körmend, the ghetto was concentrated within the streets surrrounding the Jewish temple; it was fenced by wooden planks, all at the expense of the Jews. Humiliating scenes during concentration and later, during entrainment, were the norm. The train station chief's son was defiantly arrogant with Mr. Frimm, an engineer and his former boss, suggesting that he preferably use a rope. Dr. Havas, a physician from Nagycsákány, was the benefactor of the township. Still, while being taken into the ghetto, they stoned him.
Jews, ridden by fear and at the mercy of their enemies, were crowded first in the ghetto of Szombathely, then taken to the Motor Factory, and finally, thrown into jam-packed cattle cars and deported in the direction of Auschwitz!
The last rabbi of the community, Dr. Jakab Krausz, whose noble activities we already mentioned, became a martyr of the Holocaust together with his congregants. The great majority of the community children, mothers, young people, and the elderly were all together in the hour of doom. In all, of the 389 people deported, about 20 survived. Today, only three or four Jewish families live in Körmend.
The consecrated memory of our martyrs cries out from the past, compelling us to enshrine their remembrance and the renowned past of the Körmend kehilla forever, until the JEWISH HEART stops beating!
* In the Hungarian text, the date appears as August 29, 1962, however according to context and the judgment of this translator, it should read 1692. Return
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