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The Tragedy of Transylvanian Jewry

By M. Carmilly-Weinberger


Transylvania has known many vicissitudes in the course of its history but the events which took place during the years 1918 and 1940 were to prove fateful for the Jews living in that region.

The year 1918, in which the First World War came to an end, marks the beginning of a new period in the annals of the Jews of Transylvania, who first settled in this region in the sixteenth century.[1] In that year Transylvanian Jews declared their Jewish nationality, organized themselves as “a Jewish national minority” and as such endeavored to develop their existence under the new Rumanian regime. The Rumanian authorities, because of their hostility towards the Hungarians, whose strength they wished to undermine, welcomed the national organization of the Jews.


The Vienna Decision: August 30, 1940

The territorial demands made by the Soviet Union upon Rumania (June 26, 1940) constituted the prelude to developments in this part of the world. Russia insisted that Rumania cede to her Bessarabia and Northern Bukowina. Carol II, King of Rumania, accepted Stalin's ultimatum and ceded these territories. But both the Bulgarians and the Hungarians also had territorial pretensions affecting Rumania, as a result of the peace treaties signed at the end of the First World War. The Hungarians were particularly insistent because of their losses as a result of the disintegration of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1918. These included Transylvania, which for many generations had been a bone of contention between Hungary and Rumania. Under the Vienna Award of August 30, 1940 Transylvania was partitioned, and the northern districts, with a population of 2.5 million, were restored to Hungary.

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In Hungarian territory, close to the new frontier, were the towns of Nagyvarad, Kolozsvar and Maros-Vasarhely. The Vienna Award led to the abdication of Carol II and the rise of Antonescu to power. Another result was the transfer of one hundred fifty thousand Jews to Hungarian rule.


Under Hungarian Rule (1940-44)

From the very outset Hungarians made it abundantly clear to the Jews that for them the “liberation” of North Transylvania implied complete subjugation. To bring this home to the Jews in the most concrete fashion, they publicly hanged a Jew and a Rumanian in the town of Kolozsvar on charges of espionage for the Rumanians.[2] Towards the end of 1940 the citizenship of the Jews was questioned and they were required to prove that they had acquired it prior to 1921 or that their parents had lived in Hungary before 1851. One night in July 1941 hundreds of Jewish families were expelled from their homes and deported as “aliens” from North Transylvania to Kamenetz Podolsk, where they were murdered.

The anti-Jewish legislation which was already in force in Hungary was immediately applied to North Transylvania, with the result that either Jewish-owned enterprises were nationalized or the owners were required to employ a “trustee” who soon took over the business entirely.[3] Thousands of families lost their property and even their source of livelihood as a result. Jews in government and public employ were dismissed from their posts.

The Hungarians occupied Transylvania in September, the beginning of the school year throughout the country. Jewish pupils, however, were not accepted for the high schools, and as a result the Jewish high schools were re-opened for both girls and boys in the town of Kolozsvar. New schools were established in other towns (Szatmarnemeti).[4] The Jews of Transylvania, who on the day the

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Hungarians entered Kolozsvar proclaimed in the columns of their Hungarian-language newspaper Uj Kelet, “We are and will remain Jews,” soon began to feel the heavy hand of the Hungarians in every sphere.[5] All Jewish shopkeepers were required to open their shops on the Sabbaths and Jewish holydays and it was only after much effort that this decree was voided.[6] The authorities interfered in the cultural activities of the Jewish community and finally prohibited them entirely.

Under the Forced Labour Law, twenty thousand Jews from eighteen to forty-eight years of age were conscripted and transported to the Russian-German front. Only a small proportion of them remained on Hungarian territory, where they were employed in the construction of fortifications and airfields.[7]


Jewish Communities

The Transylvanian Jewish communities were organized in two territorial federations,[8] one Orthodox and the other a “Western” or “German Neologist” pattern, with offices in the town of Kolozsvar (Az erdely-banati nyugati szert. Izr. Hitkozsegek Szovetsege; Az Orth izr. Hitkozsegek Szovetsege). Frequently those two organizations united in their relations with the authorities, and to defend their congregations and institutions in Transylvania.

To give the reader some idea of the communal life of the Jews of North Transylvania, we will enumerate the institutions and organizations operating in the town of Kolozsvar.

Synagogues: In addition to the two large communities with their central synagogues, there were twenty small synagogues and houses of prayer.[9] Both of the larger communities had their Chevrot

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Kadisha,[10] which, in addition to their traditional function of burying the dead, engaged in social welfare activities. The Jewish Women's Organization maintained a home for needy children as well as an Aged Women's Home. An Aged Man's Home was attached to the Poalei Zedek Synagogue. The Marpeh Lanefesh made itself responsible for the supply of kasher food to non-Jewish hospitals from the year 1921.

Torah and Educational Institutions: Each of the larger congregations maintained a Jewish school,[11] and joined hands in the maintenance of high schools for boys and girls.[12] The Talmud Torah of the Orthodox Congregation had hundreds of pupils also. The Machzikei Torah and Sinai Societies engaged in the diffusion of religious study among young and old. In 1934 a yeshiva named in honor of the Chatam Sofer was established.

Cultural and Sporting Organizations: In Kolozsvar there was the Goldmark Philharmonic Orchestra; the foundations were laid for the construction of a large Cultural House, while the Haggibbor Sporting Organization made provision for the physical education of Jewish youth.

Philanthropic Institutions: In 1940, prior to the cession of the town to Hungary the two congregations established a Social Bureau (“Szocialis Ugyosztaly”) the function of which was to solve the social problems of the Jewish inhabitants. In 1927 a Jewish Hospital

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was established, while Jewish doctors organized themselves in the Paul Ehrlich Society.

The Jewish Bank (“Kishitel – bank”) operated with the aid of the American Joint Distribution Committee.

Excellent work was done by the “Arvagondozo (Orphanage Institution) in providing vocational training and in preparing youth for life in Palestine.

Zionist Institutions and Other Organizations: The National Zionist Organization began its activities on November 20, 1918. It sponsored the establishment of high schools and the issue of Uj Kelet, edited by the late Dr. E. Marton. The Zionist parties and youth organizations were active.[13] The Keren Kayemet, Keren Hayesod and WIZO opened their national offices in Kolozsvar. A lodge of the Order of the Bnei-Brit (“Shalom”) was established and issued a monthly organ called Bnei Brith.[14] Jewish students of the local university organized the Committee for Aid to University Students (“Erdelyi Zsido Diaksegelyzo”), which extended financial assistance to Jewish students throughout Transylvania.[15]

A local Hebrew printing press contributed towards the diffusion of Torah, Hebrew language, and culture, not only among the local inhabitants of the city, but also in other parts of the country.[16] A congregational bulletin was edited by the present writer and was published monthly.[17]

This entire structure collapsed on September 14, 1940, when

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Miklos Horthy, the Hungarian Regent, entered Kolozsvar, the capital of Transylvania, under the Vienna Award.

The congregations attempted to solve the grave problems that arose as a result of the anti-Jewish legislation of the Hungarian authorities. In every town hundreds of Jewish families had lost their sources of livelihood. The dependents of those who had been dispatched to the “labor camps” were left without support. Refugees continued to arrive from the countries occupied by the Nazis and also from various districts of Transylvania. The Social Welfare Bureau, which had been established towards the end of 1939 by the two large congregations in Kolozsvar, extended the scope of its activities, which now covered thousands of needy Jewish families.[18] The directors of the Social Welfare Bureaus of North Transylvania met in June 1940 in the town of Des to coordinate their activities and fit their work into the general framework of the Magyar Izraelitak Partfogo Irodaja, Orszagos Magyar Zsido Segito Akcio (OMZSA), the centre of which was in Budapest. This organization devoted immense effort in allaying the distress of Jews in various parts of Hungary, and particularly in Budapest.[19]


Aid to the Refugees

Among the troubles and concerns of Transylvanian Jewry both before and after the Vienna Award was how to aid the succeeded in fleeing the Nazis and had reached the various towns of Transylvania – especially Kolozsvar, which was a central junction in this part of Europe – after passing through many hostile countries. The first refugees had begun to appear in 1936 and their number increased as the area occupied by Hitler expanded. But up to the time of the cession of North Transylvania to Hungary in 1940 the problem was relatively simple, for the Rumanian authorities adopted a flexible attitude towards the refugees, in keeping with their international policy. Even after the Award emigration to Israel via the Rumanian ports continued, notwithstanding the protests lodged by the German representatives in Bucharest.[20]

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Up to 1939 aid was extended to the refugees in a clandestine fashion. In that year, upon the initiative of the present writer, a Committee for Aid to Refugees in Transylvania and Banat, under the aegis of the two national federations of congregations, was established. The function of this committee was to find a solution to the financial and practical problems which arose as a result of the increase in the number of refugees, most of whom was passing through the town of Kolozsvar.

The Committee published an appeal in Uj Kelet (September 1939) calling upon the Jewish communities not only to contribute funds for the maintenance of the refugees and to finance their journey to Palestine, but also to give heed to the perils threatening Transylvanian Jewry. The Committee stressed that the aid extended to the refugees would give the Jews of Transylvania a moral right to ask for aid when they themselves might need it. This appeal, printed in both Hungarian and Rumanian over the signatures of the leaders of the national organizations in Transylvania and Banat, sounded the alarm for the Jews in this part of Europe. Jews in the remotest districts, in the most isolated villages, sent money and clothes to the Committee.

The gravest and most dangerous problem in all of this work for the refugees was that of securing some safe place where they could live until they continued their journey to Bucharest. Most of them came from the direction of Kassa and were tired and dispirited. Some of them were sick and there were among them children suffering from infectious diseases, who had to be sent to the local hospital. We equipped them with counterfeit birth certificates to facilitate acceptance in the hospital. In isolated cases we were even successful in finding employment for refugees with Jews who thereby placed themselves in great jeopardy. A small committee undertook this task which it carried out with the utmost devotion.

Generally speaking, the Rumanian officials helped. T hey enabled us to visit the refugees who had been unfortunate enough to be arrested and imprisoned in the town's prisons.[21] The local committee supplied them with kasher food, medicines, clothing, and other requisites. Subsequently, they were taken, accompanied by Rumanian police, in organized groups to the Rumanian ports.

When the Hungarians entered North Transylvania in September 1940 the Committee was compelled to adopt other methods of operation. However, it continued with its work. The Hungarians,

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unlike the Rumanians, were not tolerant. At first the Social Bureau, then the Rescue committee undertook the task of caring for the refugees, since the influx did not cease for a single moment. Even from bombed-out Warsaw[22] Jewish young men and women reached Kolozsvar. From Kolozsvar the road to Rumanian territory passed through Ajton, the approach to which was through the Feleki Teto hills. This was a mountainous area close to the barracks of the Hungarian Frontier Guard. Only young people were capable of undertaking the ardors of such a journey, with the aid of non-Jewish guides, who, of course, were paid for their services.

Another route passed Belenyes and Arad. The local Jewish population welcomed the refugees who succeeded in crossing the frontier and extended devoted aid in speeding them on their way.

Hundreds of Jews passed through Ajton from September 1940 to May 1944, thanks to the operations of the Refugee Aid Committee and later of the Rescue Committee.[23] Most of them were survivors of the catastrophe which had engulfed the Jews of Poland and Czechoslovakia. Few of the Transylvanian Jews followed the same route when the Nazis entered Hungary.

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The Nazis Enter North Transylvania, March 27, 1944

Operation Margarete I was the code name Hitler gave to the occupation of Hungary. On March 19, 1944 the Nazis entered Hungary. A new government headed by Sztojai Dome, former Hungarian Ambassador to Germany, was formed on March 23. This Government of the Extreme Right included Jaross Andor and Endre Laszlo (the “Hungarian Eichmann”). In the first few days following the entry of the Nazis, reports of their activities, in which they were assisted by their Hungarian henchmen, were received. Democratic politicians and wealthy Jews were arrested, Jews were seized in the railway stations and imprisoned in the Kistarcsa camp, near Budapest.

Kolozsvar, however, was optimistic. “The Nazis will not enter Transylvania. They will advance only to the Tisza River, as the bridge over the river, near the town of Szolnok, has been blown up.” Another rumor went thusly: “The Nazis had threatened the Hungarians that if they do not collaborate North Transylvania will be restored to Rumania.” In Kolozsvar some people already knew of large Rumanian Army-concentrations along the border.

But all this was the product of an imagination that refused to accept that the Jews of Transylvania, too, would have to drink the bitter cup to the dregs. The answer came on March 27, 1944. On that day the Gestapo put in its appearance in North Transylvania and began its all too familiar activities, for which it had gained such notoriety in other Nazi-occupied territories. In Kolozsvar, their headquarters were first set up in the New York Hotel and then in the villa of a local Jewish family.

On the night of March 28 members of the presidium of the Jewish congregations were arrested, in addition to about one hundred and fifty families, most of them wealthy. The local Germans, headed by one Kuk, served as guides to the invaders and directed them to the homes of the Jews, which were plundered by the Nazis, who were accompanied by Hungarian police.

Colonel Szentivanyi, head of Hungarian counter-Espionage, invited me to call upon him, and demanded an exact inventory f Jewish property plundered by the Nazis, saying, “This is Hungarian national property” which the Germans had no right to take. According to the colonel, only the Hungarians had the right to rob the

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Jews of their possessions.[24] Similar rivalry between the murderers existed in other parts of Hungary too.[25]

On the following day, upon the initiative of the present writer, a group of Jews met in the Jewish hospital[26] to discuss the urgent steps that needed to be taken. It was resolved inter alia: a. to raise funds (one million pengo) before the Nazis succeeded in plundering all Jewish assets; b. to obtain permission from the Hungarian commissar of the Kolozsvar district (Inczedy Jocksman Odon foispan), releasing the Jews who had been arrested by the Gestapo.

In the office of the Hungarian Commissar, which I visited daily, I met Hungarian political leaders,[27] who had no answer to the questions I put to them. They confined themselves to trying to secure the release of Jews with whom they had contacts. I visited the Swiss Consul who received me in the University laboratory, and asked for his aid.

Following the entry of the Gestapo into North Transylvania, telephone communication between the provincial towns and Budapest were severed and we had no information as to what was happening in the towns and villages close to us. For this reason, Mrs. Gross, who had become converted to Judaism a few years previously, went to Budapest, with her Christian documents, in order to receive instructions and information. Unfortunately she returned empty-handed. If my memory does not deceive me she went to Budapest twice.


The Judenrat in Kolozsvar

After a few days Dr. Joseph Fischer, who had been among the first to be arrested, was released and instructed by the Gestapo to form a Judenrat. The following were the initial members of this body: The late Rabbi Akiva Glasner, Dr. Joseph Fenichel, Engineer Gyula Klein, Dr. E. Marton, and Zsigmond Leb, President of the

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Orthodox Congregation and the present writer. Dr. Fischer was chairman.

Dr. Fischer, together with other chairmen of the Judenrats in Hungary, was called to Budapest to take part in a meeting convened at the behest of Eichmann. Upon his return, Dr. Fischer declared that we must carry on as usual. But the Nazis added something very unusual. They insisted that we supply hundreds of Jews daily for work. They had converted the Great Synagogue in Paris Street into a garage. We were to supply them with goods, especially leather goods and textiles, which had been nationalized by the Hungarians long before, and which were difficult to obtain. The chairman of the Judenrat was required to present himself daily to the Gestapo Commander (at first Dr. Strohschneider and then Dr. Roeder) to receive instructions. Dr. Fischer was forbidden to have any contacts with the Hungarians.

All Jews of Transylvania over the age of six were ordered to wear a yellow Magen David ten centimeters wide on their breasts. In the streets Hungarian detectives stopped us to see if the patches were securely sewn on to our garments. The penalty, if they were not, was one thousand pengos. Commodities could be purchased for only one hour each day, in the afternoon, when the non-Jews had already succeeded in emptying the market.

Bills posted on the walls and signed by L. Hollosy-Kuthy, Commander of the Hungarian Police, required the Jews to submit detailed reports of their property (money, jewelry, carpets, etc.). It was forbidden to keep more than 1,500 pengo per person in any family. Jews were forbidden to have in their possession any gold or silver Jewelry, with the exception of marriage rings. The Hungarians, wiser from experience, now made preparations to ensure that “the national property” fell into their hands and not into those of the Germans. We had already previously been required to hand over our radio sets, to prevent us from obtaining information on what was happening in the outside world. The Hungarian press continued its uninterrupted outpourings of anti-Semitic poison, in the style of the notorious Der Stuermer.

Contacts between the Judenrat and the Jewish community were maintained through the “District Representatives,” the town having

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been divided up into forty districts. Each district had a Jew who transmitted instructions from the Judenrat to the Jews.[28]

The mood of the public changed from day to day. One day a spirit of optimism would be extant and the next day one of the blackest pessimism. One day we were full of hope that soon the war would come to an end, as Italy had already been liberated and in Maramaros-Sziget the sound of Russian artillery could clearly be heard. But then on the following day the Jews were in despair; but even in the darkest moments none of the Jews conceived of the possibility of mass expulsion.


Rescue Plans

At the time an idea was discussed by the Judenrat – to send three Jews with contacts among Rumanians and Jews across the border to seek to increase the number of “transit points.”

The three were selected in April 1944. They were Dr. Ernst Marton, a former Deputy in the Rumanian Parliament and editor of Uj Kelet; Jeno Laszlo, a Kolozsvar industrialist, and the present writer, who had been a candidate for the position of Chief Rabbi of Rumania in 1940. These delegates were required, in addition to increasing the number of transit points, to find secure shelter for the refugees and to enable them to continue their journey via Aliyah Beth.[*]

After ten days of preparation he plan was called off, as it was said that it would endanger lives of the members of the Judenrat and other Jews if the departure of the delegates was revealed.[29]


The Establishment of the Ghetto

In the meantime the rumors of the establishment of a ghetto were verified. The source of these rumors had been the Hungarian press. The Judenrat resolved to combat the proposal, but at the same time to do everything to ensure minimum conditions in the ghetto if it should be set up. Memoranda were submitted to the mayor, asking him not to consent to the establishment of a Ghetto, not only

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for the humanitarian reasons but for sanitary reasons too. The concentration of thousands of people under unhygienic conditions would endanger the health and lives of all the inhabitants of the city.

I was entrusted with the task of contacting spiritual leaders of the churches in the city and of securing their aid. I was to persuade them to call jointly upon the mayor and the town council to postpone discussion of the establishment of the ghetto which had been placed on the agenda of the forthcoming council meeting.[30]

But Laszlo Endre, the “Hungarian Eichmann”, personally directed the concentration of Jews in ghettoes in all parts of Hungary and issued instructions for the establishment of the Kolozsvar Ghetto not far from the railway station. Units of gendarmerie trained in various methods of torture were brought to assist in the implementation of the plan.

D. Wisliczeny also visited the town. The membership of the Kolozsvar Judenrat was changed. Dr. Fischer handed Wisliczeny a list of 250 names, for which he wished to receive the approval of the Gestapo. Wisliczeny was not prepared to confirm such a long list, but signed another in which the following names appeared: Dr. Joseph Fischer, Chairman of the Judenrat, Ernst Marton, Zsigmond Leb, Erno Kastner, Pal Klein and Jeno Weiss as Chief Secretary to the Chairman. The names of the two rabbis, Rabbi Akiva Glasner and Dr. Mozes Weinberger, were dropped from the list, the reason being given that the German did not like to deal with rabbis.

Through the district Representatives the Judenrat informed the Jews of the imminent danger of the establishment of a ghetto, advising them to equip themselves with whatever they found necessary.

The Jews, however, did not regard the reports very seriously.[31] The Hungarian anti-Semitic press had already reported with great glee a few days previously the establishment of ghettoes in Carpatho-

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Russia, Marmaros and the surrounding districts. But the Jews of Kolozsvar ref used to accept the truth of the tragic situation. Only the young refugees who continued to arrive from Poland left Hungary hurriedly with the aid of the Rescue Committee in Kolozsvar.

The Jews of Kolozsvar and other towns in Transylvania refused to move. Even those who had already experiences forced labor, who had witnessed the suffering and torment of the Jews in Eastern Europe, and who had survived and returned to Hungary thanks to the instructions of the Hungarian Minister of Defense, nagybaczoni Nagy Vilmos, were not prepared, for a variety of reasons, to cross the nearby border. Jews who had relatives in the neighboring Rumanian town of Torda refused to listen to the exhortations to pack up and go. Of the young people whom we had advised in 1942 to leave Hungary and emigrate to Israel, only a few followed our instructions, as parents were unwilling to be separated from their children. [32] The situation might change, they said. They hoped for a miracle. This mood was the reason for the calamity which overwhelmed the Jews of Transylvania.

In April 1944 final examinations were still held in the Jewish high schools, under the supervision of the authorities. Transylvanian Jewry prepared to celebrate the Passover as it was wont to do. The murderers, however, had other plans. Documents reveal that at this time the necessary preparations were being made in the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps for the complete annihilation of Hungarian Jewry with a dispatch unparalleled during the European catastrophe. Officials of Eichmann's office met with Hungarian representatives in Vienna to determine the timetables of the railways, etc. On May 1, Wisliczeny paid another visit to Kolozsvar to make sure that everything was ready for the concentration of the Jews in ghettoes. This was the first phase in the process of expulsion and destruction.

The beginning of the ghettoization was set for May 2. In bills posted on the walls the Hungarians announced that Jews were forbidden to be outside their homes after six o'clock. Policemen were placed on guard in front of the community offices, to keep the members of the Judenrat under surveillance.

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The Race with Death (May 2, 1944)

On May 2, at four o'clock in the afternoon, two hours before the daily curfew came into force, Dr. Joseph Fischer, President of our community and Chairman of the Judenrat, asked me to try and cross the border, i.e., to carry out the mission we had spoken about at the beginning of April. I felt that this was our last chance and without hesitation I agreed to undertake the dangerous task. Within the two hours still at my disposal I met with the members of the Judenrat and revealed where we had hidden the Sifrei Torah and the communal registers. I took my leave of my parents[33] and that same night, together with my wife and in the company of nine young men and women, all from Poland, and one of my pupils, we set out for the frontier.

The crossing of the frontier and our journey to Torda constitutes a chapter in itself, which I describe in a Hebrew and Hungarian article printed in this volume. I have to mention the exemplary work done by the chalutzim in Kolozsvar and in Torda, who equipped us with false documents to enable us to cross the frontier. After twenty-four hours in Torda we left for Bucharest.[34]


My Mission in Rumania (May 7-July 7)

On the evening of the day I arrived in Bucharest I immediately contacted dr. Alexander Safran, Chief Rabbi of Rumania, to whom I reported on what was happening in Transylvania, and asked him to act without delay – to transmit information to Sweden, Switzerland and to do everything possible to help the Jews of Hungary. On the following day Dr. Safran called upon the Papal Nuncio, Monsignor Cassulo,[35] with whom he had contacts and who on more than one occasion had acted in behalf of the Jews. A report on the concentration of the Jews of Transylvania in ghettoes was transmitted to Pope Pius XII in Rome via Bucharest. Among the appeals for aid which reached him from various sources was also that of Transylvanian Jewry.

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Appeal to the Western Powers

On the day we reached Rumanian soil, Antonescu published his order No. 2, M/205396 threatening with death all those crossing the Rumanian border. He added a personal note: “Jews who have smuggled themselves into the country, together with those who have hidden them and have not given them up, will be shot. . . This order is to be carried out within twenty-four hours. . . I have asked Herr von Killinger[36] to station German inspectors, who, together with our own inspectors, will supervise all those crossing the border. . . All frontiers must be kept under careful observation. . . Searches must be carried out from time to time within the country.”[37] Dr. Filderman, the well-known leader of Rumanian Jewry, transmitted a letter to Prince Barbu Stirbey, then in Cairo on a secret mission. (He was trying to determine, with the representatives of the Allies, the conditions under which Rumania would leave the Hitler-Mussolini Axis and join the West.) Filderman asked the Prince to intervene on behalf of the Jews. It was not a coincidence that on May 10, two day after I called on Dr. Filderman, to whom I rendered a full report on the position of Transylvanian Jewry, he appealed to the Ambassadors of the United States, Soviet Russia and England in Constantinople, calling their attention to developments in Hungary and pleading for their aid for the Jews. He asked, inter alia, that “the protection of a foreign power be extended immediately to the Jewish refugees from Hungary and Poland who have crossed the border illegally and who are threatened with death if they remain in Rumania or return to Hungary.[38]

As t. Lavie-Lowenstein correctly states in his article[39] “Documents on the Struggle of the Jews of Rumania for Their Rights during the Second World War”: “This was the first occasion upon which such an appeal had been addressed directly to the Great Powers. . .” Dr. Filderman embarked upon activities on behalf of the refugees after my first meeting with him.

Dr. Filderman asked the Rumanian Government to grant tem-

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porary asylum to the refugees who could not leave the country in the ships of Aliyah Bet.[40]

Dr. Filderman called on Mihai Antonescu on behalf of the refugees from Hungary who had succeeded in reaching Rumanian territory, obtaining assurances they would not be extradited. He also obtained a promise that in all vessels leaving Rumanian ports for Eretz Israel ten per cent of the accommodation would be reserved for the refugees.


Talks with Iuliu Maniu

Iuliu Maniu, leader of the National Peasants Party and a former Prime Minister of Rumania, was one of those who assisted us in our rescue work.

While he was under house arrest under the Antonescu regime, I succeeded in visiting him with the aid of Raoul Sorban, former secretary to the Commissar Tataru Coriolan of Cluj-Kolozsvar. (Raoul Sorban, it must be noted here, was one of the few non-Jews who extended a helping hand to the Jews notwithstanding the dangers involved.) Maniu wished to prove to the world that the Rumanians were a more humanitarian people than the Hungarians.

Once Filderman had obtained a promise that the refugees would not be returned to Hungary and had appealed to the Western Powers to extend international protection to them, we embarked upon increasing the number of transit points on the Hungarian-Rumanian border. To our deep sorrow, these measures were no longer necessary, as from the beginning of June 1944 there were no longer any Jews in Kolozsvar. This information was transmitted to us by R. Sorban who had visited the town.


The Deportation

Notwithstanding the proximity of the Russian front to the Hungarian-Rumanian border and the hopeless war situation, the German and Hungarians made a supreme effort to destroy the Jews of Hungary.

The Hungarians complained to the Germans that the Rumanians were giving Jews asylum and enabling them to continue their journey

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to Palestine.[41] This is confirmed by Killinger's report to the German Foreign Office, dated July 26, 1944: “With the agreement of the Marchal various ships have recently left Rumania for Turkey, carrying Jews in return for very high payment.”[42]

In keeping with decisions taken on May 4, 1944 in Vienna, Laszlo Endre carried out the expulsion and slaughter of the Jews of North Transylvania and Carpatho-Russia. Within a month about four hundred thousand Jews of Hungary were deported, besides the hundred fifty thousand Transylvanian Jews.

Jews were concentrated in the following areas of North Transylvania: Maramaros-Sziget, Felso-Viso, Nagybanya, Beszterce, Szatmarnemeti, Nagykaroly, Nagyvarad, Kolozsvar, Marosvasarhely, Des, Szilagysomlyo, Szaszregen, Sepsiszentgyorgy, Ermihalyfalva and Halmi.

On May Veesenmayer cabled Berlin that up to that date 150,000 Jews had been deported from Carpatho-Russia and North Transylvania and that the entire operation would be concluded by June 7.

In his report—dated June 1 – Laszlo Endre stated that the number of deportees from the eighth district (Kassa) and the ninth (Kolozsvar) totaled 275,415.

All the effort put forth between May 2 and June 2, all that had been achieved with the aid of leading dignitaries in Rumania (the Chief Rabbi, Dr. Alexander Safran, Dr. W. Filderman, L. Zissu, Iuliu Maniu and others) had been in vain.

Hungarian Jewry, last in the extermination plans of the Nazis, had been liquidated. Our own efforts had literally been a race with death, a race which we had lost.

The Hungarians also succeeded in murdering Jews in South Transylvania, in that territory which had remained under Rumanian control under the Vienna Decision. In September 1944 the Hungarians fought the Rumanians in the district between the towns of Nagyvarad and Kolozsvar, and aided by the Germans, succeeded in penetrating South Transylvania, where they did not forget the Jews. For example, they massacred the Jewish inhabitants of the town of Sarmas, to the last man, woman and child.[43]

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In Eretz Israel

We knew nothing of the fate of the Jews of Transylvania. I knew only that the trains had left in the direction of the town of Csap. Thus I saw no reason for remaining in Rumania and continued my journey to Turkey, then the center of Rescue Committee.

On July 7 I succeeded in boarding the Kasbek, an illegal immigration vessel upon which were 712 Jews,[44] including a hundred orphans from Transnystria. The vessel flew the flag of the International Red Cross. Two day later we reached Constantinople.

The Nazis, who, of course, were strongly opposed to the departure of vessels carrying Jews to Palestine, and had protested to Antonescu against this, some time afterwards sank the Mefkure and Bulbul, on board which there were hundreds of refugees.

The Turks refused to allow the Jews to land at Constantinople, and I reported to Mr. Barlas, Director of the Rescue Committee, in the presence of Turkish officers, on a motor boat at sea. On July 12 I reached Haifa via Syria and Lebanon as an illegal immigrant and was detained in the Atlit Camp. There I met Mr. Yitzchak Gruenbaum, then head of the Rescue Committee in Israel, to whom I reported on the catastrophe that had overtaken the Jews of Hungary.

After my release from Atlit, on about July 20, I travelled to Jerusalem, where I submitted a report to the Executive of the Rescue Committee, in the presence of the Presidium of the Hungarian Immigrants Association. I addressed myself to Chief Rabbi I.L. Herzog, whose views are reflected in a letter he handed me (and which is printed here on pp. 234-5). On July 29 I informed the Jews of Eretz Israel about what had befallen Hungarian Jewry, at a meeting of the “Vocal Newspaper” in the Ohel Hall.

Within a matter of two months I had succeeded in reaching Jerusalem, in time of war, after carrying out the mission with which I had been entrusted at the very last moment.

Hundreds of articles and books dealing with the European Catastrophe have been published. Very little had been told of the despairing measures, the goal of which was delaying the process of annihilation and destruction and bringing help. Therefore it is necessary to perpetuate the memory of t his attempt, which was made in the months May-July 1944.


  1. See my article in Jewish Studies in Memory of Professor Yechiel Mikhal Hacohen Gutman, Budapest 1946, pp. 283-296. Return
  2. The name of the Jew was Wurczel. Sometime later another three Jews, Rosenfeld, aged 30, of Kolozsvar; Fisch, aged twenty-six, of Tecso; and a third, whose name is not known to me, were executed on the charge of escaping from a labor camp. Return
  3. Szombatfalvy, George, Le bilan social de la loi sure les Juifs, Tarsadalomtu-domany, Budapest, vol. xx, 1940 No.1 Az 1938. Evi tc. Az 1939. Evi tc. Return
  4. Homan Balint, the Hungarian Minister of Education, received a Jewish delegation in Kolozsvar on October 8, 1940; the latter obtained from him permission to open local Jewish high schools which provided for seven hundred children. Matriculation examinations were held in April 1944, a few days before the Expulsion. Return
  5. Uj Kelet, September 14, 1940. Return
  6. The officer commanding the town, General Novakovich, at the request of the writer of this article rescinded the decree. Return
  7. Karsal Elek, fegyvertelen alltak az aknamezokon. Dokumentumok a munkaszolgalat tortenetehez Magyar orszagon. Budapest, 1962, Vol. I-II (II, pp. 268-269). Nagy Vilmos volt bonvedelmi miniszter visszaemlekezesei. Piliscsaba, 1957 (Karsai, op. cit.m Vol. I, XVIII). Return
  8. The population of North Transylvania was 146,693 in 1930 and 149,751 in 1941. Return
  9. Synagogues: Beth Avraham (Monostor Street); Beth Yaacov (Kiss Street); Beth Aharon (Heltai Street); Ezrat Israel (Ferdinand Street); Ohel Moshe, of the Maramaros-Sziget Chasidim; Ohel Yehuda, founded at the end of the First World War; Chevat Shass, founded in 1898; Avodat Kahuna, founded in 1918; Beth Midrash Chekhov; Beth Hillel (named after Rabbi Hillel of Kolomea); Beth Meir (Traian street); Poalei Zedek (Baritziu Street), of the Jewish labourers, to which was connected an Aged People's Home and Loan Fund; The Great Synagogue of the Sepharadi congregation (it should be mentioned here that the name of the synagogue does not indicate that the congregants were of Sepharadic origin, but only the use of this name enabled the establishment of another synagogue by congregants who had left the Great Orthodox Congregation). The Rabbi of this Congregation was Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Halberstamm, later founder of Kiryat Sanz, in Natanya); prayer houses included the following: Yitzchak, Beth Levi, Knesset Yeheskel, Oleh Lamalech, and the Religious Workers Synagogue. Return
  10. Mozes Elek es Szabo Imre: Szaz ev a kegyelet es jotekonysag szolgalata ban Cluj, 1936. Dr. Eisler Matyas: Kepek a kolozsvari zsidok multjabol. Kolozsvar, 1924. Return
  11. The Nussach Maarav "Western Pattern" Congregation maintained a Hebrew Kindergarten. Return
  12. The school opened its doors on September 6, 1920 and was shut down by the Rumanian authorities in 1927. It was re-opened in 1940 and was maintained until the Expulsion in 1944. Return
  13. The Zionist parties and organizations were as follows: the General Zionists, Ichud, Herut, Hamizrachi, Hapoel Hadati, chalutz Baal Melacha. The youth organizations were: Hanoar Hazioni, Zeirei Hamizrachi, Bnei Yisrael, Brit Kibbuzit, Hashomer Hazair, Dor Chadash, Bnei Avoda, Barissis and Haboneh. Return
  14. There were lodges of the Bnei-Brith in the following towns: Szatmar-rnemeti, Nagyvarad, Arad Temesvar, Brasso Marosvasarhely, Nagyszalonta, -- all founded after the First World War, ad shut down by the Hungarians in 1940. Return
  15. Kelet es Nyugat Kozott (Az Erdelyi Zsido Diaksegelyzo Kiadvanya, Cluj) (1 936?), containing articles, essays and drawings, was the work of Jewish students of the city. Return
  16. See the articles: I. Joseph Cohen, "Seventy Years of Religious Periodicals in Transylvania" (Hebrew) Areshet, Vol. I., pp. 299-326; Nathaniel Katzburg: "Hebrew Periodicals in Hungary" (Hebrew) Areshet, Vol. I., pp. 279-298; I. Joseph Cohen: "Hebrew Printing in Transylvania" (Hebrew) Kiryat Sefer (Sivan 5718), Vol. 33, No. 111, pp 386-403; Vol. 34, pp. 399-512; Vol. 35, pp. 98-108. Return
  17. This bulletin appeared under various names: "Hitkozsegi Ertesito," May 1935-February, 1937); "A Clujii Izr. Hitk. Havi Jeletese" (February 1937-January 1938); Raport Lunar (January 1938-December 1939); Jelentes (December 1939-April 1942). Return
  18. A Kolozsvari Izraelita Hitkozseg "Peszachi Jelentese." Kolozsvar, 1942, pp. 22-23. Return
  19. A Kolozsvari Kongresszusi Izraelita Hitkozseg jelentese az 1941. Majus-junius honapokrol Kolozsvar, 1941, p.17. Return
  20. While Hitler was demanding that Antonescu expel the Jews of Arad, Timisoara, Turda, and the surrounding districts (September 10, 1942), Killinger, Germany's Ambassador to Bucharest (1941-1944) learnt that the Rumanian dictator had permitted 75,000-80,000 Jews to leave for Palestine. Martin Luther, Head of the Deutschland department in the German Foreign Ministry instructed Killinger to block the project, which was contrary to the German agreement with the Jerusalem Grant Mufti and with Gailani, Prime Minister of Iraq. During his visit to Klessheim in 1943 Antonescu asked for Ribbentrop's consent to the emigration to Palestine of 7,000 children of under eight years of age. Eichmann expressed his opposition to the plan. Later Killinger reported that Antonescu had permitted the Red Cross to enable t he emigration of Jews from Transnistria on condition that the Red cross provide the ships. (Nuremberg documents; NG. 2354; NG. 2200; C-144, NG. 1780; NG. 5049; NG. 3987).. Return
  21. In connection with this work on behalf of the refugees I was arrested by the Siguranta (the Rumanian secret police). It was only after persistent interventions by my community in Kolozsvar that I was released. Return
  22. Among the refugees from Warsaw mention must be made of Mrs. Hava Junger, who succeeded in following her husband, Siegfried Junger, an electrician who had been taken prisoner while serving in the Polish Army. Junger reached Kolozsvar via Kassa, and we smuggled him, and later his wife, across the border into Rumania. Return
  23. The members were: Dr. Ernst Marton, Chairman of the Zionist Organization in Transylvania, Hilel Danzig, Janos Guttfried and Erno Hatszegi. Return
  24. I replied that I did not have such a list at my disposal, but the Hungarian police who accompanied the Nazis to the apartments of the Jews could testify to the plunder which they themselves had witnessed. Return
  25. Levai Jeno: Zsido Sors Magyarorszdgon, Budapest, 1948, p. 248. Return
  26. The following were present at the meeting: Rabbi Akiba Glasner, Dr. Joseph Fenichel, Chief Physician of the Jewish Hospital, Engineer Gyula Klein, Chairman of the Education Committee of the Community and the writer of the present article. Return
  27. Such as the founder of the Literary circle, "Erdelyi Helikon" Baro Kemeny Janos and Grof Banffy Miklos, a politician and writer named Kisban Miklos. Return
  28. High school pupils undertook this function on their bicycles. Return
  29. Dr. Marton endeavored to secure the aid of Chineziu, the local Rumanian consul, while Jeno Laszlo conducted negotiations with German officers billeted in his apartment, with a view to obtaining a car. Return
  30. The following were the church leaders: Sandor Imre, the deputy of the Roman Catholic Bishop, (the seat of the Bishop himself, Marton Aron, was in the town of Alba Julia in Rumania; upon one occasion, during a visit to Kolozsvar, he spoke out in favor of the Jews); Jozan Miklos, the Unitarian Bishop a Member of the Hungarian Parliament; and Vasarhelyi Janos, Bishop of the Reform Church (who was willing to receive me only in the darkness of night). Return
  31. The words of one of the leaders of Beth Yaacov synagogue in Kolozsvar, still ring in my ears. He came into the offices of the Judenrat and remonstrated with the members there, saying in Yiddish, Ibr macht meshuge di ganze Welt. Es wet gobrnisbt zein. (You are driving everybody insane. No evil will befall.). Return
  32. In April 1942 I addressed the Jewish students of Budapest University and called upon the youth to leave the country as soon as possible and emigrate to Israel. I mention only this one address of the many I delivered, in all of which I urged the Jews of Hungary and Transylvania to leave Europe for Eretz Israel. An account of this address was printed (Kepes Csaladi Lapok, Budapest, 1942). Return
  33. My father: Rabbi Salamon Weinberger, a pupil of the Sheiwet Sofer in Pressburg and of Rabbi Shmuel Glasner of Kolozsvar. My mother Reizel, daughter of Rabbi Shmuel Leib Spiczer (Szilagykraszna). Both suffered a martyr's death in the deportation of the Jews of Kolozsvar. Return
  34. The names of the chalutzim: Chana Ganz, Teszler of Kolozsvar and Aryeh Hirsch of Torda. Return
  35. Theodor Lavie, "Activities of the Vatican on Behalf of the Jews of Rumania during the Second World War," Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. V, pp. 341-351. Return
  36. German Ambassador in Bucharest. Return
  37. Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. IV, pp. 29 6-297. A copy of the order is preserved in the Yad Vashem Archives 2-12, 3 52. Return
  38. See article by T. Lavie, Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. IV. Return
  39. Ibid. Return
  40. Ibid. Return
  41. Nuremberg Document NG 5586. Return
  42. NG 5630. Return
  43. "Report of the Kolozsvar Orth. Community on the Activities of Its Executive, in the Year 5705/6," p. 11. Return
  44. Information given in Haim Lazar-Litai's book (Af-al-pi p. 494) in regard to the Kasbek, is erroneous. The vessel carried 712 immigrants and not 400 and left on July 7.. Return

Translator's Footnote

    * Illegal emigration of Jews to Palestine. Return


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