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Sephardic Jews
In the Development of Transylvania

By M. Carmilly-Weinberger


Sephardic Jews appeared in Hungary in recognizable numbers in the year 1526, about thirty years after their expulsion from Spain. They settled in Buda which was then the Capital of Hungary[1] and similarly in the Banat region: Temesvar (Timisoara), Lugos (Lugoj), Pancsova (Pancevo) and Zimony (Zemun).[2] In Transylvania they settled primarily in the city of Gyulafehervar (Alba Iulia).

When the Turks conquered Hungary in 1526, Transylvania became autonomous, situated at the crossroads between Turkey and the Hapsburg Dynasty in Vienna. In spite of its strategic geographical position, it did not develop because of the prevailing warfare. Prince Gabriel (Gabor) Bethlen, who ruled Transylvania at the beginning of the seventeenth century made an attempt to restore

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and develop the economy of the region by inviting Greek and Jewish merchants from Turkey. The Greeks played an important role in the Turkish economy, as did the Sephardic Jews who, after finding refuge there, began to rebuild their lives and make their contribution to Turkish economic life. Prince Bethlen's intent in inviting these immigrants was not aimed at strengthening Transylvania alone, but simultaneously was seen as a way to weaken Turkey. The Prince sought merchants who would be willing to leave Turkey, and also bring merchandise that they could freely sell in Transylvania thereafter.[3] Prince Bethlen's representatives in turkey gave him periodic reports on conditions in Turkey.

In 1618 he heard about the Jewish physician, Abraham Sasa, from his representative, Tamas Borsos. The Prince was interested in attracting the famous physician to Transylvania and he wrote in 1623 to his representative, Nicholas (Miklos) Toldalaghy, to obtain “new medications” with the aid of Abraham Sasa and that he should offer him one hundred ducats to cover the fare in the event he decided to leave Turkey and settle in Transylvania.[4] Abraham Sasa responded favorably to Gabriel Bethlen's proposal and he came leading a group of Sephardic Jews who subsequently settled in the city of Gyulafehervar.

Prince Bethlen publicized a Charter of Rights (hereafter known as “Charter”) specifically addressed to the Jews. The Charter, dated July 18th, 1623, was presented in the city of Kolozsvar then the Capitol of Transylvania and was confirmed in July 4-30, 1627 at a session of Transylvania's representatives in Gyulafehevar.[5] Charters of this kind were given to all minorities (Rumanian, Greek, Armenian) which offered to promote Transylvania's interest. These min-

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orities organized themselves into separate groups and enjoyed the privileges offered them by the Prince through these Charters. The Jews received their Charter upon the recommendation of Abraham Sara, and this was clearly indicated in the introduction of the Charter.[6] The novelty of the event was not in the issuance of the charter per se, but in the nature of its content, since the other minorities also received Charters. In the introduction of the Charter, Gabriel Bethlen emphasized his plans to rebuild his country which had been laid desolate by the wars. He wanted to restore Dacia (the country's ancient name) to its former glory with the aid of the minorities who had settled in this land. To achieve this end, he was read, according to Abraham Sasa's recommendation,[7] to guarantee special privileges for the “Jewish Nation” that wished to settle in Transylvania and it was incumbent upon every resident of the country to honor these privileges.

The following was the salient points of the Charter:[8]

Special living quarters and a place to conduct business was assured the Jews, both being under the Prince's protection; Jews were permitted to conduct their business affairs freely; they were allowed to import merchandise from Turkey, to move from town to town and leave the country if they wished. The importance of this fact is that in general, foreign merchants were not allowed to sell their wares freely. They were required to display their wares at predetermined sites.
There, the commercial representatives of the government bought up their wares which they later sold in various cities. The sale of “foreign goods” in Transylvania was generally restricted even to commercial representatives and in light of this, one can appreciate the freedom of trade bestowed by this Charter upon the Jews.

The Jews were required to appoint a reliable person, one who was well versed in law, to adjudicate legal matters when necessary, and to be certain that nothing was done, overtly or covertly, against the country and government.

Internal rule was promised the Jews and to other minorities fulfilling the important functions of promoting trade and commerce.

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Hence, we have, for example, merchants from Moravia organized separately, with a special judge at the head of the group.[9]

Gabriel Bethlen promised the Jews not to impose heavy taxes but would be satisfied with receiving the sum they normally paid in their countries of origin. On the other hand, he expected them to behave properly and to obey the laws of the land.

In paragraph five of the Charter, freedom of worship was assured the Jews. They were permitted to live according to their own religion provided they did not disturb others. Jews fleeing Christian lands, from Spain and other places, were assured freedom of religion and equal rights with other religious groups.

Jews were excused from wearing “Special apparel” and the “badge of shame.” They were permitted to wear Christian clothing to avoid attack.[10]

Jews were allowed to withdraw funds from Transylvania, if due consideration was given to the country's interests. Various types of coinage were in circulation at that time in Transylvania, including silver and gold. As early as 1585 Italian and Greek merchants trading in Transylvania were compelled to purchase new merchandise with the money they earned because they were forbidden to remove gold and silver coins from the country. Merchants bringing in valuable coins were allowed a fifty percent discount on the import tax.[11]

In the event internal conditions worsened, and residents would be forced to leave the country, Jews could sell their property or move it to safer quarters, within a period of one year. In this, Gabriel Bethlen wanted to assure the Sephardim that they would not experience a repetition of the Spanish expulsion where they were compelled to wind up their affairs in a few days and leave the country without any valuables.[12]

In Chapter ten of the Charter, the Prince established the prin-

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ciple of “each man is punishable for his own crime” according to the law, and the Jewish community was not to be annoyed, interrogated or punished collectively.

Freedom of movement was promised to the Jewish physician. He could go at will to any part of the country without being disturbed. (Perhaps it was the Prince's intent to satisfy Abraham Sasa's desire for unlimited movement so he could minister to the Jews who have recently arrived.)

During a period of one hundred and fifty years, the Jews participated in the economic life of Transylvania and at the same time founded Sephardic congregations headed by Rabbis of Sephardic lineage. Religious questions were directed to scholars in Constantinople, Belgrade and Salonika.[13]

The Minute Book (“Hapinkas”) of the Sephardic congregation of Gyulafehervar, which is now in the possession of the Jewish Community in Bucharest, sheds light on life in that community. It was written at first in Hebrew and Ladino and later Yiddish.[14]

The Minute Book, consisting of 273 pages, contained entries beginning in the year 1736 to the years 1835. Notations were begun by Haham Abraham Russo who died in 1728. The Parnas of the congregation at that time was David ben Benjamin, a native of Gyulafehevar and of Polish extraction who dealt with imports from Turkey and Vienna. He headed the community from 1735 to 1742. After him came Yitshak Leib Kepes, also of Ashkenazic extraction. By the middle of the Eighteenth Century the Ashkenazim constituted the majority in the city and the competition for communal leadership began. The community consisted of two groups, Sephardic and Ashkenazic, with each having a separate synagogue, but functioned, however, under one administration.[15]

In 1759, the two groups agreed to administer the community seriatically; one month the leadership would be under a Sephardi

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and the next under an Ashkenazi. In 1793, R' Moshe ben R'Lemel wanted to insure the continuity of the Sephardic community and thereby decreed excommunication upon those Sephardim worshipping in the Ashkenazic synagogue and also imposed a ban upon honoring them with an aliyah to the Torah. The ban was further enforced by threatening the Ashkenazi gabbai with excommunication if he gave any honors to a Sephardi.

The Sephardic community, which began in 1626, disintegrated by the end of the nineteenth century. The number of Sephardim diminished following a plague that struck Gyulafehervar at the end of the eighteenth century.[16]

It was difficult to form a Minyan (quorum) in the Sephardic Synagogue. The Ashkenazim refused to worship according to the Sephardic rite. Difficulties arose regarding the children of Sephardic parents because they were forced to study with teachers and tutors who taught in the Ashkenazic dialect. For this reason, the Sephardic leaders turned to R' Shmuel Segal Landau the Rabbi of Prague, the son of “Hanoda' B'Yehuda.” Similarly, they sought out R' Moshe Sofer ('Hatam Sofer') in Pressburg. The questions posed to both were: Under these conditions, were they permitted to change the Sephardic Nusah for the Ashkenazic Minhag? And were Sephardic children permitted to worship in the Ashkenazic synagogue?

The reply was in the affirmative. The Rabbis allowed for the change until such time that the number of Sephardim would increase to a point when they could continue according to the Sephardic Minhag. However, the Sephardic community did not increase, for by the nineteenth century the Jewish settlers were exclusively Ashkenazim. Thus, the Sephardic community ceased to exist after a period of 150-200 years.

The Sephardic and Ashkenazic Synagogues were built opposite one another. If they still stand there perhaps they ask each other: What happened and where are the Jews w ho used to pray here? What happened to the two communities which extended a helping hand to rebuild and strengthen the country of Transylvania?


  1. With the fall of the City of Buda, the Turks took all of its Jewish residents and resettled them in Sofia, Kavalla, Vidin and possibly Plevna. In the Responsa of Rabi Moshe Isserles (ReMah) and Rabbi Joseph ben Lev, these Jews are mentioned. (See: Rosanes, Salomon A. The History of the Jews in Turkey. Sofia 1938, Vol. V, p. 415). The Jews that came with the Turkish army to settle in Buda left with the Turkish army in 1686. (See: Ibid., Vol. IV, p. 98.) Return
  2. On the history of the Sephardic Jews of Banat see the articles by Rabbi Dr. Jacob Singer:
    1. Adatok a banati zsidok tortenetehez a XVIII. Szazadban, Budapest, 1905. (Sources to the History of the Jews in Banat in the XVIII Century).
    2. Temesvari Rabbik a XVIII es XIX-ik szazadban, Seini-Szinervaralja, 1928; (Rabbis in Temesvar in the XVIII-XIX centuries).
    3. Diego d'Aguilar (Egy marranus tortenete (Kozlemenyek. I. Kiadja az Erdely-Banati Rabbiegyesulet. Timisoara, 1934, p. 67-81). (Diego D'Aguilar. A History of a Marrano).
    4. A Farchi csalad. (Zsido Naptar III. Oradea, 1937-1938. P. 889-91). (The Farhi family)
    5. Bethlen, Gabor 1623 julius 18-iki Kivaltsaglevele a zsidok szamara, (Ibid., p. 130-131) (The charter of Gabriel Bethlen granted to the Jews on July 18, 1623.)
    6. Szefard zsido szokasok es hagyomanyok (Kozlemenyek II. Emlekkonyv Szerkesztette: Dr. Weinberger Mozes, Cluj, 1939, p. 14-18). (Sephardic Jewish Customs and Traditions.) Return
  3. Biro Vencel, Erdely ZXVI-XZVII., szazad Kereskedelmerol. (Emlekkonyv Kelemen L:ajos Szuletesenek nyolcvanadik Evfordulojara. A Bolyai Tudomany Egyetem Kiadvanyai. I. Kolozsvar, 1957, p.71 (The Trade of Transylvania in the XVI-XVII Centuries). Return
  4. Buchler Sandor, Zsido letelepedesck Magyarorszagon a mohacsi vesz utan. Magyar Zsido Szemle X, (1893) p. 371. (Jewish Settlements in Hungary After the Mohacs Disaster.) Return
  5. Szilagyi Sandor, Erdelyi Orszaggyulesi emlekek, Budapest, 1876-1898 VIII, p. 143-145. Zsido Naptar III. (1937-38), p. 130-131. Magyar Zsido Okleveltar X. Kotet (1150-1766). Budapest, 1967, p. 153, No. 133: “1623 Julius 2, Kolozsvar. Egy meg nem nevezett zsido doktor a fejedelem szekerezese terhere elszamolando fuvarral Kolozsvaron keresztul a Szamosujvaron tartozkodo Bethlen Gaborhoz meg yen.” Return
  6. Ibid. Return
  7. (See S. Buchler, p. 371.) The name may also be Salsa, Sacza. Erdelyi Zsido Evkonyv, 1940-41, p. 125. Return
  8. Ibid. Return
  9. Kelemen Lajos Emlekkonyv p. 71. Return
  10. Magyar Zsido Szemle, X p. 373: In 1741 the city of Gyulafehervar complained that the Jews became rich, bought houses, were selling non-Turkish merchandise (excepting swine meat), selling wine and injuring Gentile interests; the Jewish women were wearing silk dresses, and the non-Jews not only couldn't afford such luxuries but even lacked bread money. Therefore, they demanded that Jews be required to wear “national Jewish apparel” and to impose heavy taxes upon them. Gabriel Bethlen did not change his stand regarding the Jews. Return
  11. Kelemen Lajos Emlekkonyv, p. 76. Return
  12. See: Simon Dubnov, Weltgeschichte des judischen Volkes. Berlin, 1927 Vol. V p. 402-404. Return
  13. S. A. Rosanes, The History of the Jews in Turkey Vol. IV. P. 98. Return
  14. See: Dr. Matyas Eisler, Erdelyi Orszagos Forabbik. (Chief Rabbis of Transylvania) (Izraelita Magyar Irodalmi Tarsulat Evkonyve. Budapest, 1901, p. 222-223). Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, The Life of Spanish Jews in the Balkans in the Light of Documents, American-Sephardi, Vol. 3 (Sept. 1969). No. 1-2, p. 113-115. Return
  15. In the city of Temesvar there was also a common administration for Ashkenazim and Sephardim. See: Dr. Jakab S. Singer, A temesvari Zsidok ax 1848-49.—iki szabadsagharcban, Temesvar, 1914, p. 22 No. 2 (The Jews of Temesvar in the War of Liberation, 1848-1849.) Return
  16. See article of Dr. M. Krausz, Gyulafehervar zsinagogai. (Erdelyi Zsido Evkonyv, Kolozsvar, 5701 (1940-1941). (p. 78-83.) (The Synagogues of Gyulafehervar.) Return

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Jewish Education in Transylvania
in the Days of the Holocaust

By M. Carmilly-Weinberger

Organized Jewish education exited in Transylvania already in the middle of the 19th century, when the Jews received permission to settle also in the larger cities. Before that, apart from the city Alba Iulia (Gyulafehervar in Hungarian) where there was already a Jewish community (of Sephardic origin) going back to the 17th century,[1] Jews had been able to live only in the country towns and villages.

Community organization proceeded very slowly, and it was only in the early years of the 19th century that the Transylvanian Jews in the cities began to organize their lives within a community framework. Their first concern then was to build a synagogue with Talmud Torah (religious school) attached. Later, elementary and secondary schools were added. We hear, for example, of Jewish teachers being invited from Russia and Poland in the middle of the 19th century for Bible and the Hebrew language.[2]

Three periods may be defined in the history of Jewish education in Transylvania: (a) up to 1919; (b) from 1919 to 1940; (c) from 1940 to 1944, the year of the expulsion.[3]

(a) Up to 1919

Jewish private elementary schools were opened round about the year 1840. (Before then there were only Talmud Torah schools.) Their numbers grew year by year.[4] Among other reasons for their establishment was the fact that Jewish pupils in the public schools

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had to write on the Sabbath. Children of limited means were exempted from paying fees.

A Jewish secondary school (“Polgari”) was established in Oradea Mare in the year 1888-89. Mostly, however, the pupils continued their studies (when they did continue them) in the public secondary schools or in private establishments (which in the main belonged to the Christian denominations). The Jewish elementary and Talmud Torah schools were maintained from the proceeds of taxes levied by the communities, Shehita (ritual slaughter) fees and, as from the end of the 19th century, an Education Fund set up by the Union of the Jewish Communities in Hungary.[5] This period ended in 1918. By the Treaties of Versailles and Trianon, Transylvania was made part of Rumania, which brought about a fundamental change in all aspects of Jewish life in the area.

(b) 1919-1940

A turn in the direction of education was taken with the rise of the Zionist movement in Transylvania.[6] It was decided to establish Jewish schools in the spirit of Zionism. The Rumanian authorities, on their part, who looked favorably on the separate political organization of the Jews, made no objection to Jewish educational institutions, their motive being to disassociate the Jewish population from the Hungarians. The Rumanians wished to weaken the influence of Hungarian culture, which was carried largely by the Jews, who in the earlier period had absorbed the Hungarian language

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and its culture. For the same reason eh Rumanian Government did not object to Hebrew as the language of instruction in Jewish schools. Controversy arose within some communities on this question of language of instruction, a section of the people finding itself unable to being cut away from the Hungarian culture in which it had for generations been raised. The new Jewish institutions of learning that used Hungarian as their language met with opposition from the Rumanians, who tried to silence them. It may be said that this period was characterized by the struggle over the question of the language on instruction in the Jewish schools and over the question of the granting or withholding of “official recognition” in connection with the private schools.

Five new secondary schools were added to the already exiting Jewish educational network: In Timisoara (Temesvar) a Lyceum was established (a secondary school of eight classes for boys and eight classes for girls, and a commercial high school of four classes, each of these with dormitories). In Oradea Mare (Nagyvarad) there was already a high school of four classes that had been set up in 1888-89 under the auspices of the Orthodox Jewish community. With the change of regime in 1918, the Progressive community in that city (Congresszusi Izraelita Hitkozseg), under the spiritual leadership of Rabbi Dr. Lipot Kecskemeti,[7] decided to establish a secondary school in which the language of instruction would be Hungarian, for which reason it incurred the disfavor of the Rumanian authorities during the whole time of its existence. The Jewish communities of Cluj (Kolozsvar) opened secondary schools in 1920, and these also were subjected to interference on the part of the authorities since, although their principal languages were Hebrew and Rumanian, Hungarian was kept up as an additional language. There were instances of teachers being disqualified for “inadequate training” or for weakness in the Rumanian language. People of foreign nationality were not granted licenses to teach. Such difficulties were put in the way not only of Jewish schools but also of educational institutions maintained by the various Churches.

At the time of the Rumanian annexation of Transylvania there were about 4,000 Hungarian schools (elementary and secondary) in the area, of which 363 secondary schools were shut down between

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1920 and 1939.[8] The two Jewish high schools in Cluj were closed in 1927. The teachers were dispersed and the pupils forced to continue their studies in Rumanian public schools. They were not accepted in the schools maintained by the Churches. A Catholic school, for instance, was not permitted to take in a pupil of the Reformed or Unitarian denomination, not to mention one who was Jewish, who even without explicit prohibition would not have been accepted. The most serious problem for the Jewish elementary schools was to find new teachers. The Public Teachers Institutions did not take in Jewish students. (These might perhaps have been able to complete their Hebrew subjects through private studies and so be trained and qualified for Jewish schools.) The Government also rejected the proposal of the Union of the Jewish communities in Transylvania that the Teachers Institutions in Cluj (Kolozsvar) provide a special course in Jewish subjects for a certain number of Jewish students. There were about twenty Jewish elementary schools in existence in Transylvania during this period of time and they suffered severely from a lack of suitable teachers.

Regrettably, we have no data concerning the number of children in these schools.[9]

A main problem in the Jewish elementary schools establish in Transylvania during this period was the lack of suitable textbooks too.

The Jewish elementary schools in general had a uniform curriculum.[10] This was not so with the secondary schools, which each had its own curriculum in accordance with the political coloring of the particular community, this determining the lines of instruction

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in religious and Hebrew subjects. Jewish pupils in the public schools (elementary and secondary) were not obliged to take the “religious instruction” that was provided by the Jewish communities.

Great effort was made by rabbis and teachers to persuade these children in particular to join in the religious lessons, this being the only way they could obtain any sort of Jewish education.[11]

Such was the state of education for Jewish students during a period of twenty years in that part of the world.

(c) 1940-1944

By the Vienna agreement (in 1940) between the Italian and German Foreign Ministers, Ciano and Ribbentrop, Transylvania was divided into two. The southern part remained in the hands of the Rumanians. With the entry of the Hungarians in 1940 into the northern part a tragic turn was taken in the history of Transylvanian Jewry. The first to feel the anti-semitic policy of Hungary were the schoolchildren. (The Jewish schools in the southern towns, Timisoara and Arad, which remained in Rumanian possession, continued in being until closed by a new regime in Rumania.)

The annexation came into effect in September 1940, when the schools in the entire country were opened. Among the first notices to appear in Northern Transylvania was the decree that only three percent of the Jewish children would be accepted in the public schools above elementary level. (No limits were placed on the elementary schools.) Nevertheless, the number of Jewish pupils increased considerably, since in Hungary schooling was compulsory beginning with the six-year olds while in Rumania it started only from the age of seven. At that time secondary schools were to be found only in Oradea Mare (Nagyvarad), the one named for Dr. L. Kecskemeti, and a junior high school belonging to the Orthodox community. In that city, therefore, no great disruption followed on the edict. It was different in the other towns, which had no institutions of higher learning. Thousands of children were suddenly left without access to secondary education, among them hundreds who were to have completed their studies that year.

On the initiative of the writer of this article, all forces in Kolozsvar were mobilized to find a solution to the grave educational prob-

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lem through the setting up of secondary schools for boys and girls. The architect of the Hungarian anti-Semitic policy in education was the Minister of Education, Balint Homan, who more than once declared that the Jews constituted a stumbling-block in the path of improvement in the life of the Hungarian farmer and that it was therefore necessary to hinder the Jews' cultural development.[12] In his opinion it was necessary to extend the numerous clausus law, enacted in 1920 (at the universities) to secondary schools too, so as to limit the number of Jewish students in them to three percent of the non-Jewish numbers.

Balint Homan visited Kolozsvar on October 8, 1940, and received a delegation from the two local Jewish communities, headed by the writer of this article.[13] I described to him the serious situation created by application of the law of “numerous clausus” and reminded him that the Transylvanian Jews had for generations carried the flag of Hungarian culture. And now, their recompense: their children were to be expelled from the Hungarian public schools. My request was that we should be given permission to establish two secondary schools where Jewish children (boys and girls) could be taught by Jewish teachers. He countered this by proposing that “parallel classes,” a sort of “ghetto classes” should be opened in the public schools, with separate entrances to the buildings. The delegation rejected this proposal.[14] In the end, permission was given for the opening of government-recognized Jewish high schools.

After preparations that took less than four weeks, on November 3, 1940, two secondary schools were opened in Kolozsvar, one for boys and one for girls, directed respectively by Antal Mark and Janka Winkler, who had previously headed the Jewish high schools in Cluj that had been closed by the Rumanian authorities in 1927. Over two

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hundred Jewish teachers applied for positions in the new schools, which evidences the serious position of Jewish teachers in Hungary, deprived of opportunity to work by the hostile policy of the authorities.[15] The two new schools provided places not only for children from Kolozsvar but also from other areas of Transylvania.

The following figures show how the schools developed:


Of the above numbers 15 percent came from outside Kolozsvar. Among main subjects in the curriculum were literature (Hungarian), general history, Jewish history, geography, Hebrew, Latin, French, German, sociology, philosophy, chemistry, physics, mathematics, biology. Attached to the schools were the Haim Nachman Bialik Club and the Hebrew club, in which the students extended their knowledge of the history of our people Hebrew literature and language.

All the students took part in religious services every Sabbath, the students themselves conducting the services. A “Student Calendar” was published, edited by two of the teachers, containing literary material, which was distributed to Jewish school children all over Hungary.[16]

Examination results at the schools were satisfactory. In the year 1942-43, for example, 149 students out of a total of 874 were marked excellent in all subjects, and 356 were marked good. The schools gained high reputation also in the non-Jewish population. Official inspection (which was strict and meticulous) could find no fault in the work of these two Jewish high schools. In spite of all this they met with constant difficulties in connection with the buildings and equipment.

Further troubles resulted from the mobilization of teachers for forced labor, from which a number of them never returned.[17] The director, Antal Mark, one of the best pedagogues in Hungary, died in 1942. He was succeeded by Dr. Endre Bach.[18] The assistant director was Dr. G. Goitein, who died a martyr's death in Auschwitz.

In addition to these two secondary schools in Kolozsvar, one

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was set up in Szatmar and one in Marosvasarhely, each with four classes.

The Jewish communities were not deflected by any effort to ensure suitable education for the thousands of children, despite all the difficulties in the life of Transylvanian Jewry under the anti-Semitic Hungarian rule.

Everything ended with the tragic liquidation of Hungarian Jewry. All that they had created over the years – educational and social institution, schools and Yeshivot, hospitals and financial institutions – all was destroyed within one month.

During the month of April 1944 the pupils of the secondary schools (class 8) were going through their final examinations. Children and teachers wore on their breast the yellow Magen David badge. They wore it in pride and in the hope of putting their graduation certificates to good use. But certificates and hopes were lost together with children and teachers in the death camps of Europe. Only a very few remained alive, most of them now living in Israel and in the United States.


  1. See my paper in the American Sephardi. New York, June 1961, Vol. I, No. 2, pp. 39-44 (“Sephardic Jews in the Development of Transylvania); Ibid., Sept. 1969, Vol. 3, No. 1-2, p. 113-115 (The Life of Spanish Jews in the Balkans in the Light of Documents); and here on page 263. Return
  2. See: “Hebrew Poets in Transylvania” (in Hebrew), Sinai, Jerusalem, Vol. 57 (Sivan 5725), pp. 140-159; “Hebrew Poetry in Hungary,” Hungarian Jewish studies, edited by R. L. Braham, New York (1966), pp. 305-309. Return
  3. Yad Vashem Bulletin No. 15 (August 1964), p. 12. Return
  4. Jewish elementary schools existed in the following places: Arad, Oradea Mare (Nagy Varad), Alba Iulia (Gyulafehervar), Aiud (Nagy-Enyed), Beclean (Betlehen), Brasov (Brasso), Turda (Torda), Timisoara (Temesvar), Targu Mures (Maros vasarhely), Medias (Medgyes), Satu Mare (Szatmar), Salonta (Nagy Szalonta), Cluj (Kolozsvar). In the city of Fagaras (Fogaras), “Conzessionierte Freischule” was established in 1840. A Talmud Torah was to be found in the following places: Arad, Beclean, Deva, Huedin (Banfi Hunyad), valea Iui Mihai (Ermihalyfalva), Turda, Timisoara, Targu Mures, Satu Mare, Cluj. There were Yeshivot in: Oradea Mare, targu Mures, Sacueni (Szekelyhid), Satu Mare, Margitta, Cluj, Simleul Silvaniei (Szilagysomlyo), Carei-Mare (Nagy-Karoly), Halmeu, (Halmi), Huedin (B. Hunyad), Sighetul-Marmatiei (M. Sziget), Baia Mare (Nagybanya). Return
  5. “Orszagos Iskola-alap.” Return
  6. The first in Transylvania Jewry to support Zionism in the Herzl period was the lawyer, Dr. Janos Ronai, who lived in Blaj (Balazsfalva) and already in 1875 had published the pamphlet Kozmopolitizmus es nacionalizmus a zsidosag jelenlegi allasara (Cosmopolitism and Nationalism in the Present Position of the Jews) and also Zion und Ungarn (Zion and Hungary) Balazsfalva, 1897. He corresponded with Th. Herzl, M. Nordau and Martin Buber. Return
  7. He served as Chief Rabbi of Oradea Mare for 40 years (1896-1936 ). He published books in the field of Bible research. Return
  8. Dr. Andreas Ronai, Herrschaftswechsel in Siegenburgen (Magyar Tortenelmi Tarsulat), Budapest, 1940, p. 237. Return
  9. We have data concerning the Jewish elementary schools in Kolozsvar: that of the Orthodox community was founded in 1875 with 40 pupils and two teachers; in 1881 it had three teachers; in 1925 pupils (boys only) numbered about 500, in eight classes; in the year 1908-9 an elementary school for girls was established; the director of both these schools was Benjamin Buchsbaum, succeeded by Arpad Bihari. The other community in Kolozsvar maintained a school for boys and girls from 1903 until the expulsion in 1944. It began with 32 pupils and in 1944 had 250 in four classes. Attached to it was a kindergarten of two classes. Its director was Beno Zador, followed by Lajos Freu, who died a martyr's death. Return
  10. The only difference was in the number of hours devoted to the Hebrew language. Some of the schools had classes in which Hebrew was the only language of instruction. Return
  11. These lessons were given in Rumanian, as required by the authorities. Return
  12. See Istvan Kiraly, A Magyar reakcio isko.apolitikaja, "Tarsadalmi Szemle," Budapest, Apr. 1946, pp. 280-286; Randolph L. Braham, The Hungarian Jewish Catastrophe, New York, 1962, p. 49, No. 582. Return
  13. Members of the delegation were: Chief Rabbi Dr. Moshe Weinberger (Carmilly); Dr. Joseph fisher, president of the Jewish community; Antal Mark, former director of the "Tarbut" school; and the chairmen of the education committees of the two Jewish communities, Gyula Klein (martyred) and Jacob Solomon. Return
  14. On the history of the Jewish secondary high schools in Kolozsvar see: Mozes Weinberger, Antal Mark, Emlekkonyv. Kolozsvar 1943, p. 32; A kolozsvari Zsido gimnaziumok Evkonyve az 1940-41, isko, lai evrol Kolozsvar, p. 9; A kolozsvari izraelita koeduacios Gimnazium Evkonyve az 1941-42, 1942-43. tan evrol, Kolozsvar, 1942-43. Return
  15. Szombatfalvi Gyorgy, "Judengesetz und Schulwesen in Ungar n," Journal de la Societe Homgroise de Statisque, Budapest, Vol. 17, No. 4, p. 387. Return
  16. The editors were rabbi Dr. David (Dezso) Fried (martyred) and Bela Gabor (now in Budapest). Return
  17. The following are the teachers who worked devotedly and with enthusiasm for the education of the young generation in the two schools: Dr. Endre Bach, later the director; (now in Israel) Janka Winkler-Rosenfeld, martyred; Dr. Gyorgy Goitein, assistant director, martyred; Sara Blum-Lieberman; Shmuel (Samu) Braver; Dr. Magda Banki-Farkas; Magda Brecher-Ferdinand; Anna Steiner-Fischhoff; Rabbi Dr. David (Dezso) Fried, martyred; Bela Gabor, now in Hungary; Dr. Magda (Magdolna) Gonczi, martyred; Dr. Andras Graf, martyred; Andor Grosz; Janos Gyemant; Andras Hirsch; Rabbi Hermann Hirsch, now in Israel; Rabbi Eliahu Klein, now in Israel; Anna Sohr-Klein, martyred; Dr. Laszlo Knopfler (now in Hungary); Jeno Landau, died in Israel; Jozsef Lobl; Dezso Lazar, martyred; Salvator A. Lax, now in Israel; Dr. Gizella Deutsch-Marton, now in Israel; Sandor Ornstein; Magda Hellmann-Ohlmacher; Katalin Gergely-Semlyen, martyred; Endre Robert; Dr. Lenke Steiner, martyred; Vilma Markovics-Szabo; Bella Wald, martyred; Rabbi Dr. Moshe (Mozes) Weinberger-Carmilly, now Professor at the Yeshiva University in New York; Lenke Weiss, martyred; Matild Wiesel (now in Cluj); Kornella Weisz-Zuckermann (now in Cluj); Vilmos Fischer (now in Cluj); Dr. Bella Krausz-Brodi; Dr. Agnes Auslander-Hirsch (now in Cluj); Dr. Arthur Reiter, martyred; Dr. Eugen (Jeno) Weisz and Dr. Lajos Marton. The last two were secretaries of the schools and are both now in Israel. Return
  18. During the interim period the author of this article directed the schools. Return


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The Zionist Movement in Transylvania

By Livia Bitton

Herbert Lebman College, New York


World War I marked the end of an era and the birth of a new order. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy stirred to life the aspirations of national minorities and resulted in the recognition of their claim to self-determination. Out of the ashes of pre-war Europe's Jewish assimilation the spark of Jewish nationalism was ignited: a process of Jewish national re-identification and cultural re-orientation began – a new interest in the Zionist idea was kindled.

The end of the war, the revolutionary birth-pangs of the new order, the news of the Balfour Declaration, a new upsurge of anti-Semitism – all these were contributing factors, negative and positive, to the awakening of Jewish nationalism and the birth of an organized Zionist movement in the midst of Central European Jewry. Especially were these factors keenly felt, and therefore clearly determining, in the Succession States of the Monarchy – in Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Transylvania, where the particular national minorities had rapidly organized themselves into national bodies and had formed National Councils yet prior to the termination of the war and the establishment of the Succession States. The Jews of these territories, previously listed as of Magyar nationality, faced the task of national re-identification. At this critical moment, a wave of anti-Jewish sentiment followed by attacks on Jewish life and property forced the renunciation of the assimilationist dream on one hand, and on the other, the news of the Balfour Declaration together with a Zionist revival among the home-coming Jewish prisoners of war precipitated a positive response to the Jewish national idea. Thus, instead of politically aligning themselves with the dominant majority in the occupied territories, the Jews formed their own nationality-minority associations with Jewish national aspirations, with a Jewish national program and rights of self-determination.

Nowhere was this Jewish national awakening more vigorous and more rapidly channeled into a formal political organization, than in Transylvania where there was the highest concentration of Jews,

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outside of Budapest, in all of Greater Hungary, and where the post-war political and social conditions made such an organization highly expedient.

The 300,000 Jews of Transylvania were legally and physically vulnerable in the face of revolutionary disorders during the aftermath of the war. Disillusioned peasants unemployed factory workers, starving, demoralized soldiers returning in defeat from the battlefields – all joined in rioting directed in most places against the Jews of the provincial towns. Hungarian police power or political authority was virtually non-existent. The army was demobilized and the government in chaos after the forced abdication of the king. Into this power-vacuum marched the Rumanian army in the fall of 1918 and further contributed to the general panic and anti-Jewish resentment which culminated in the pogrom of Farkas-Asszo in which twenty-six Jews were killed. The various National Councils in operation – Rumanian, Hungarian, Saxon – were pre-occupied with their own affairs and would furthermore not endanger their own position – losing the confidence of their constituents – by rising to the defense of the Jews. No voice was raised against the atrocities.

At the initiation of Zionist-minded Jewish youth, Jewish national guard units were formed, consisting, in most part, of armed Jewish veterans for the protection of the remaining Jewish communities. Until March of 1919, the “Zionist Guards,” as they were popularly named, were the only organized police force bringing back law and order to the countryside.

The political organization of the Jews of Transylvania took place simultaneously. On November 20, 1918, a Jewish mass meeting was held at Kolozsvar (Cluj), a Jewish nationalist demonstration. The outcome of this meeting was the formation of the Jewish National Association of Transylvania with Dr. Theodor Fischer as its president and Dr. Chaim Weissburg as its secretary. The Association set up an inner Actions Committee to draw up a program of objectives for the organization and a wider Actions Committee to shoulder the task of consolidating all Transylvanian Jewish groups into a unified active national body.

Transylvanian Jewry had been divided into three different religious congregations: Orthodox, Neolog and Status Quo. With the establishment of National Councils, and especially after the attachment of Transylvania to Old Rumania, when these assumed an im-

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portant representative role in the Rumanian Parliament, the triple organization of Jewry became obsolete: no one of them could represent all of Transylvania's Jewry. This necessitated their representation under the au spices of the Transylvanian Jewish National Association.

This move marked a historically and ideologically significant turning point in the life of Transylvanian Jewry in particular and in the history of Zionist strivings in that area in general, sine it indirectly reduced the traditional opposition to Zionism from the two extreme Jewish camps. The ultra-Orthodox Hassidim had violently opposed political Zionism as a heretic denial of Messianic hope in the ingathering of exiles and a return to Zion at a divinely appointed hour, while the Neolog “liberal” assimilationist element had fought Zionism as the enemy of their Hungary-based nationalist sentiments and aspirations. Now they were, for the first time, at least politically, united under the banner of a Jewish national organization. The leaders of this organization were primarily Zionists and immediately after its establishment undertook the task of steering the Association toward a Zionist goal. To accomplish this, a Jewish cultural re-education of a Hungarian-culture-oriented Jewish population had to be achieved. Thus, besides serving as a representative political organization, the Transylvanian Jewish National Association accomplished a far more vital mission – by effecting their cultural re-education it brought about the cultural renaissance of Transylvanian Jews.

The two most important instruments of this cultural renaissance were the Tarbut Educational Association and the Zionist press. The Tarbut Educational Association, founded in September, 1920, set up adult education classes in Hebrew language instruction, Hebrew kindergartens and Jewish elementary schools with a standard curriculum in 32 Transylvanian towns. In order to comply with a ruling of the Rumanian Ministry of Education according to which instruction in Jewish schools had to be either in Rumanian or in Hebrew, a uniform curriculum was set up to allow for a gradual introduction of Hebrew during a period of five years entirely replacing the native Hungarian tongue of pupils. In two Jewish lyceums, one at Oradea Mare (Nagyvarad) and one at Timisoara (Temesvar) (with 960 students) Hebrew language and literature was compulsory subjects. A Hebrew secondary school at Cluj soon developed into the best and largest secondary school in all Transyl-

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vania. Within two years of its establishment, the “Tarbut-gymnasium,” as it was called, combined the two original branches – a boys and a girls' institution of four classes each – into one school of eight classes containing the two lower classes of a teachers training college. It became the Transylvanian center of Hebraization with an enrollment of 720 students who studied Talmud, Hebrew literature, Bible, Jewish history as well as the usual secular subjects – all in Hebrew. At its inception, the instruction was mainly in Hungarian, but at this school too, during a five-year transition period, Hebrew gradually replaced Hungarian. The director of the institution was Antal Mark, an outstanding educator.

In time, the Tarbut Educational Association extended its field of influence also to include the youth in trade schools. It provided for them classes in Jewish culture and Hebrew language eleven hours weekly. In addition, a business school, lower- and higher girl's schools with Jewish cultural curricula were founded at Timisoara.

In order to staff the wide-ranging educational institutions rapidly springing up in the climate of Jewish national renaissance, in 1921 a Hebrew Teachers Institute was opened at Cluj. The Institute offered subjects to correspond to the various levels of instruction: besides classes in general teaching methods there was a study of Talmud, Bible, Hebrew and Arabic languages, modern- and medieval Hebrew literature. The language of instruction, with the exception of classes in natural sciences, was Hebrew.

The Zionist and pro-Zionist press was the second significant avenue in the re-education of Transylvanian Jewry to a new awareness of Jewish values. The major Zionist organ was Uj Kelet (New East), a Hungarian language weekly published at Cluj under the editorship of Erno Marton. In August 1920 it was transformed into a daily and in January 1925 began issuing an illustrated literary supplement devoted exclusively to the publication of propaganda material on behalf of Palestine funds. Uj Kor-Neue Zeit (New Age), a bi-lingual, Hungarian-German weekly appeared at Timisoara; Uj Elet (New Life) at Des; Mizrachi and later Nepunk (Our Nation), published by Mizrachi at Oradea Mare; Ifju Kelet (Young East), a youth periodical edited by Oszkar Fuerst, at Timisoara. The Revisionist movement published: Zsido Allam (Jewish State), Aviva-Barissia –Noar (Youth); the Shomrim – Haderech (The Way); Tzeire Hamirachi – Darkenu (Our Way). The “Kadima,” “Pharos,” “Fraternitas,” “Noar,” (Kolozsvar), “Renaissance”

[English Page 281]

(Nagyvarad), “Kiryat Sepher” (Lugos), “The Zionist Library” (Temesvar), publishing companies were founded to publish Zionist books and pamphlets.

These publications reflected the mood of Transylvanian Jewry during the post World War I period. The outpouring of periodical literature corresponded to the upsurge of nationalistic sentiment likewise evident in the establishment of an ever-growing number of Zionist parties and local Zionist groups. At the time of the formation of the Transylvanian Jewish National Association, a Central Office in Cluj and ten provincial offices were opened, as well as a Palestine Office and a local Office for the Jewish National Fund was established. Later fund raising for Keren Hayesod began. In 1920, the first Jewish sport association, “Hagibor,” was founded in Cluj-Kolozsvar, followed by the “Hakinor” music club, “Hazamir” Hebrew song club (Timisoara), “Goldmark” (Cluj), “Kadima” boys scout divisions and “Ivria,” an association for the advancement of Hebrew language and literature, at Oradea Mare and Bistrita (Beszterce).

Among the youth organizations, one of the oldest was “Ezra”; “Little Ezra” for the younger and “Big Ezra” for the older high school students, while “Barissia” served youth about high school age and “Aviva” was the association for young girls. Later, the younger students were organized in the “Habonim” movement. The Mizrachi movement had great importance in Transylvania because of the high concentration of religious Jews in the region. The youth branch of the Mizrachi was the “Tzeire Mizrachi,” later organized in the Brit Hanor Hamizrachi. Under the auspices of Mizrachi operated the Mizrachi workers' party “Poel Hadati.” Besides the General Zionists organization, there were several Zionist workers' parties, most notable among them was the “Brit Kibbutzit” with its subdivisions of “Dor Chadash,” “B'nei Avoda” and “Hashomer Hatzair.” The “Chalutz Baal Melacha” was the association of craftsmen belonging to the General Zionists movement. The Revisionist movement was quite small in Transylvania; its “Brit Trumpeldor,” together with “Hanoar Hatzioni,” “Young WIZO,” “Gordonia,” “Tora Umelacha” and the “B'nei Israel” Students Union were youth associations that sprung out of the soil of intensive chalutz training and preparation for aliyah during the late 1930's prior to the outbreak of World War II. All other youth organizations maintained training centers of chalutzim under the control of the Palestine Office of Transylvania. In

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1937 the different youth organizations set up the “Union of Jewish Youth of Transylvania,” a central organization, the chief institution of which was the “Yom Hanoar” (Youth Day), convened once a year. The “Schomer” movement established a branch in Transylvania in the early 1920's which developed into the “Schomrim” and “Schomrot” during its later cycle of development. WIZO had a formidable organization established in 1927 which grew to fifty-seven branches in 1938 and a membership of 5,000. It provided a considerable quota for the maintenance of the WIZO institution in Palestine.

All these different organizations were united under the central confederation of the Transylvanian Jewish National Association. In August 29, 1921 the Rumanian government granted the charter of the Association. On the basis of the charter, the Association's official functions extended, among others, to “participation in work directed to the construction of the Palestinian Jewish State and in every work connected with this general act.” In addition, it strove “for the establishment of a religious modern school system in the Jewish national spirit which will enable the Jewish residents of Transylvania and Banat, to acquire the Hebrew language as their language of communication.” The charter recognized the Transylvanian Jewish National Association as the political representative of the Jewish minority; its functions, however, did not extend to Rumania proper and to Bessarabia. (In Bukovina the Jews were recognized as a national minority, besides the Germans and Rumanians, already before World War I).

On the tenth annual national conference it was decided to transfer the headquarters of the Association from Cluj to Timisoara. In 1933, at the annual conference, the Youth Department was formed under the direction of the Executive and of the “Tarbut” School Association. At this conference, a branch of the “Brit Ivrit Olamit” of Transylvania was also formed.

A Center for Culture attached to the Association began activity in 1938, publishing, in Hungarian, Dr. Alex Bein's book, Zionism and its Work; pamphlets by N. Bistritzky on the Youth Movement and by Dr. S. Goldenmann on Jewish Economy.

In 1924, a number of Transylvanian Zionists, under the leadership of Dr. Chaim Weissburg, set up a Transylvanian colony in the Emek, called Kfar Gideon, which was based on a individualist system; in 1925, the first Hungarian Jewish kibbutz, Kvutzat Tal,

[English Page 283]

was established at Dr. Weissburg's initiative. During the same year, plans for the building of a garden city, called “Tzur Shalom,” in the proximity of Haifa bay were drawn up and 6,000 dunam of building land was purchased for the purpose by a group of Transylvanian Zionists from the American Zion Commonwealth settlement company.

The list of names of delegates representing this region at the various Zionist Congresses, serves as additional evidence of the vigor and extent of Zionist activity in Transylvania. At some congresses no less than fourteen delegates represented the 300,000 Jews of Transylvania. The number of shekalim sold in Transylvania bears out this observation. While in the Hebrew calendar year of 5688 (1928) there were 5,719 shekalim sold in Transylvania, in Hungary (Jewish population: 500,000), in the same year there were only 3,.000 shekalim sold; in the year 5697 (1937) in Transylvania 11,105 shekalim sold, while in Hungary 6,044 and in Old Rumania 5,000 shekalim; in the year 5698 (1938) in Transylvania 10,199 shekalim sold; in Hungary – 4,650 shekalim; in Old Rumania – 6,500 shekalim.

The growth of Zionism in Transylvania between the two world wars was, as evidenced by the foregoing, quite phenomenal in its intensity and scope, especially in the light of Zionist activities in the region prior to World War I which consisted of not more than two youth associations – “Ezra” and “Kadima” – with a membership of less than 120 shekel-payers. Yet, the Zionist idea was not entirely un-championed in Transylvania during the years which preceded its political organization in the form of the Transylvanian Jewish National Association in 1918. One is only to recall that the delegate from Hungary to the first Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897 was Dr. Janos Ronay, a Transylvanian lawyer from Balazsfalva, who later became the first president of the Hungarian Zionist Association in Budapest. Already in 1875, in his doctoral dissertation, Dr. Ronay dealt with the problem of Cosmopolitism and Nationalism with Special Regard to the Present Conditions of Jewry, and after the appearance of Theodor Herzl's Judenstaat in 1894, Ronay began a correspondence with the great Zionist leader which culminated in Ronay's role as one of the founders of Hungarian Zionism.

One of the outstanding champions of the Zionist cause among the leaders of Orthodox Jewry was a Transylvanian religious leader, Rabbi Moshe Glasner of Kolozsvar. From the inception of the Zionist

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movement, Rabbi Glasner's eloquent voice was unique among the Orthodox in ringing out for the promotion of the idea. There were other Orthodox rabbis who supported the movement by written or spoken word, but theirs was a road of caution and often of retreat when faced with opposition from their Orthodox colleagues or constituents – a not infrequent occurrence. Rabbi Glasner, however, stood firm by his ideal. In 1920, he published his views on Zionism and its reconciliation with religion in a pamphlet entitled, Der Zionismus und seine Nebenerscheinungen im Lichte der Religion. His outstanding personality and scholarship gained such prestige for Zionism among the Orthodox Jews of Transylvania that even his “dangerous” stand as proponent of Zionism did not diminish his stature as a religious leader, and, when the Transylvanian Jewish National Association was formed, the majority of the Orthodox Jewish congregations of Transylvania joined it under the impact of Rabbi Glasner's powerful persuasion. Since the Orthodox congregations had a dominant position in the life of Transylvanian Jewry, -- cities like Kolozsvar, Temesvar, Nagyvarad, Szatmar, were important religious educational centers – this was a most significant move in enhancing the political and internal power of the Association and in assuring the success of the Zionist movement. Rabbi Glasner became one of the leaders of the Mizrachi movement, traveling extensively to gain support for it. In 1921, he was the Mizrachi delegate to the XXIIth Zionist congress in Carlsbad. In 1923 he left Transylvania for Jerusalem where he continued his work for the Mizrachi till his death in 1925.

Dr. Nissan Kahan, the dominant figure of Hungarian Zionism, also hailed from Transylvania. Already as a secondary school student in Beszterce he founded “Ivria” student association, which had the first Zionist institution in all of Hungary. In 1904, at his initiative the Makkabea student association was founded in Budapest – the father institution of Hungarian Zionism. Similarly, the young Transylvanian Zionists – Dr. Theodor Fischer from Gyulafehevar, Dr. Chaim Weissburg, Dr. Joseph Fischer from Kolozsvar, Dr. Illes Blank from Maramarossziget, Erno Vermes from Temesvar, and many others, -- who, besides their valuable work for the Transylvanian Zionist movement, were the leaders of early Hungarian Zionism.

During the early years of the Third Aliyah, when the foundations of the Jewish State were laid in Palestine, a number of young engineers from Transylvania immigrated to Palestine to participate

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In the momentous task of nation-building. The first among these was Aaron Winkler, who started out on foot from Budapest immediately after the war and reached Jaffa in February 1919. There he became the manager of numerous construction projects, among them the rebuilding of the Jericho-Jerusalem road damaged by the earthquake of 1927. He was followed by the Szatmari brothers (later called Sodmoria) from the small Transylvanian town of Entradam in the early 1920's together with Bela Szivos (later Etan) and Istvan Torok; in the early 1930's they were joined by Moshe Noszin. These Transylvanian engineers began their pioneering work in Palestine as laborers in the field of terrace-construction and road-building, but in time succeeded in applying their engineering skill in every phase of land construction as planners and supervisors contributing a vitally needed commodity during that period.

These were the beginnings of the Transylvanian aliyah which gained momentum during the 1930's and reached its peak before the outbreak of World War II. With the re-annexation of Transylvania to Hungary, the Transylvanian Jewish National Association ceased to exist. Zionist activities were curtailed; much of the organizational activity was carried on underground. The Second World War terminated the movement engendered by the first.

While World War II, the Nazi holocaust, swept away the last vestiges of an active, vital organization, Transylvanian Zionism did not pass from the pages of Jewish history without having left an indelible positive mark. It was due to that vibrant movement that Transylvanian Jewry was reclaimed from the morass of assimilation; that via the road of a Jewish cultural renaissance effected by Zionism thousands of Transylvanian Jewish youths found the path to the Jewish Homeland foiling to some extent the Hitlerian “final solution.” During the two decades of its existence, Zionism in Transylvania penetrated every facet of Jewish life reshaping, reorienting the entire structure of that Jewish community. At the conclusion of the war, the survivors from Transylvania made up a substantial part of the chalutzim who reached the shores of the new Jewish State and greatly contributed to its defense and to the establishment of its national institutions.


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