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Part I

Introductory Chapters


Chapter 1

The Historical, Geographic,
and Demographic Background of the Maramures District

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Roslyn Eldar

The Region of Maramures is situated in the northeast of historical Hungary, that is Hungary within its boundaries until the First World War, along the border with Galicia and Bukovina. It was one of the largest regions of Hungary, with an area of 9,716 km². There are only two larger regions, the Region of Pest (12,101 km²), and the Region of Bihor (10,609 km²). It is almost all a mountainous area, with the exception of the western area, which has a narrow plain with a width of 4–5 km in the valley of the Tisza River, near the town of Tetsh [Tyachiv]. This is the most fruitful area of the entire region.

A chain of mountains crosses most of the area of the region. The highest peaks in Maramures are Prislop (1,159 meters), Pietros (2,305 meters), Chaziblosh (1,842 meters), and the Ciblasz (1,842 meters). The mountains of Maramures are a part of the Carpathians that surround the country in a semicircle. The District is very well endowed with water. Rivers with strong currents gush down from the high mountains into the Tisza valley. This large river has its source in this district, at the confluence of the White Tisza and the Black Tisza. The river turns westward and traverses the district. Along the way, it is joined by may tributaries, such as the Vişeu and the Iza from the south and the Taras [Teresva], Tereblia, Nagy–ág, and others from the north.

There are several mineral wells of various types among the Maramures mountains. They serve as known convalescent areas, with many vacationers coming during the summer months. There are many quarries among the natural treasures, and especially three large salt mines next to Ocna Şugatag, Ronasek, and Slatpina. As the generations went on, there were several attempts to mine small quantities of gold, silver, lead, bronze, and copper, but the mines were not viable from an economic and business perspective. On the other hand, the lime and marble quarries had important economic significance. At the beginning of the [20th] century, oil wells were found in Maramures, next to the towns of Josan and the village of Dragomireşti, but these disappointed and did not develop.

Since most of the region of Maramures is mountainous, there is very little land available for agriculture (about 10%). More than half the district is covered by endless forests. The agricultural output barely covers the needs of the region. The primary agricultural products are oats, corn, and potatoes. The land is considered inferior, and can only produce small quantities of wheat, barley, and rye. The rest of the agricultural output of the soil of Maramures produced canvas, a bit of flax, sugar beets, beets for animal feed, and legumes. There are many farms for raising cattle and sheep in the large pasture areas. Milk production is well developed. In contrast to the paucity of grain, there are many fruit trees of different types. There are well–developed orchards with fruit trees of various types (apples, plums, nuts, etc.) Fine species adorn the spectacular landscape of Maramures. This branch [of agriculture] is especially developed in the Tisza Valley.


The primary and characteristic economic sector in Maramures is the manufacture of all types and varieties of lumber, originating in the endless forests that cover the high mountains. This is the product that is most imported and marketed throughout the country and even outside of it. The endless forests cover an area of about a half a million hectares. Half are oak, beech and other deciduous trees, whereas the other half is composed of various coniferous trees. Many of the trees were processed in sawmills and were fitting for building and the like. However, most of the trees were transported along the Tisza River immediately after being cut down and shipped to the more inward and developed areas of the country.

The name Maramures appears for the first time in a document from 1199, that is the final year of the 12th century. It was known simply as “Tera“ – that is “area“ – for an extended period. The descendants of the Arpad dynasty, the first Hungarian kings, often went on hunting expeditions to Maramures, for the area was very rich in wild animals. As is testified by coins from the Roman and Byzantine eras found in archeological excavations, Maramures was settled even before the Madyar[1] tribes arrived. The development of the district began in the 13th century. The kings of Hungary would grant large estates in Maramures to Hungarian noblemen and German (Saxon) hired warriors as payment for their good service to the kingdom. King Laslau IV of Hungary settled Romanians in Maramures and granted them lands and rights as compensation for their help in repelling the Tatars.

Maramures was granted the status of a region of Hungary starting from the 14th century. The region was considered to be an exclusive royal estate. The district cities of Khust, Tetsh, Vyshka, and Hosomeza were granted privileged of self–government in 1329. Sziget earned such rights from 1352. Cultural life, to the degree that it existed, was centered in those cities. The large fortress in the bounds of the city of Khust served as the strategic military center of the entire area. The fortress, along with the salt mines that were already developed in the 14th century, were the property of the king. For example, King Béla IV granted the mines as a permanent possession to his daughter Kunigunda and her descendants. About 300 years later, King Louis II granted the mines along with the fortress to his wife Maria. In 1541, King Ferdinand I subjugated the income generating properties in exchange for a large loan. In 1556, these properties transferred to the hands of the rulers of Transylvania. In 1570, the entire region of Maramures, along with additional regions called “Pratiaum,“ was transferred to the district of Transylvania

According to historical tradition, the fortress of Khust was built by King Laslau the Holy as a defense against the Tatar invasion. Documents from the era of Louis the Great and King Zigmund note that there were attacks and incursions from the northeastern area, through the mountain passes of Maramures. In one of the Tatar incursions, the priest Sándor Farkas of Borşa is mentioned as standing at the head of a brigade of volunteers who fought mightily against the Tatars, delivering them a decisive defeat. The brigades of the priest from Borşa saved about 10,000 prisoners from the Tatars, and took a great deal of booty. Even the armies of the princes of Transylvania often went through Maramures as they were repelling the Tatars, as well as during wars against Polish invaders.

Maramures is a region with a relatively small population. According to the data of 1910 (the final census before the region stopped being part of the country of Hungary) shows a population density of 37 people per km² (the average for the country was 64.6). It was in eighth place from this perspective. The ethnic breakdown of the population was as follows: 159,489 Ruthenians (a Ukrainian tribe), 84,510 Romanians, 59,552 Germans, and 52,964 Hungarians.


At that time, Jews did not exist in Hungary as a nationality or an ethnic group. They had no choice but to be included among the Germans and Hungarians. The authorities forced Yiddish speaking Jews to be considered as part of the German nationality, whereas those who listed Hungarian as their mother tongue were considered to be Hungarian. In 1910, the number of Jews in Maramures, as determine by the census of the population by religion, was 65,694.

According to that census, there were about 133,000 income earners in the district, employed as follows (by percentage): agriculture and the raising of cattle and sheep – 69%, mines – 1.3%, manufacturing 9.5%, commerce and financial – 4.6%, communication and transportation – 3.0%, public service and free professions – 2.8%, day laborers – 5.9%, service in private business and various – 2.7%. The role of Jews in agriculture was significant, and was decisive in commerce, finance, and manufacturing – manufacturing of wood, chemicals, flourmills, salt mines, and various other types of small–scale and home–based production.

Transportation was not well developed in Maramures. During the 1880s, the laying of a railway line began in the region. At first, they laid the tracks from Khust to Sziget, which concluded in 1889. From there it went north to Jasin. The continuation to the border of Galicia was finished in 1895. At approximately that time, the track from Sziget eastward and southward to Vişeu and Borşa was laid. At the beginning of the [20th] century, short secondary lines were laid from Teresif northward to “Dibever Rika“ and a bit beyond. There were also short lines from Sziget to the salt mines of Ocna Şugatag and Ronasek. Prior to the First World War, the length of the railway lines in the entire area was 225 kilometers. The paved roads and public paths that traversed the length and width of Maramures were not among the best in the country. There were roads paved with stone under the responsibility of the state (“the King's Highway“) covering 441 kilometers; second class roads, paved and strengthened by regional authorities covering 415 kilometers; third and fourth–class unpaved roads under the supervision of the local authorities and small settlements covering 389 kilometers. The most important artery for the transport of lumber was the Tisza River and its many tributaries, through which lumber was transported in the form of barges.

The internal administrative division of the Maramures district changed form with the passage of generations. We will not outline here all the forms. We will suffice ourselves with four examples: in the middle of the 18th century, Maramures was divided into four districts: the upper district with the settlements of Vişeu, Borşa, Massif, etc.; the Kaszói Járás district with the settlements of Berbeşti, Sanapatak, etc.; the district of Sziget that included tens of small settlements to the north and south of the city of Sziget; and the lower district that include the rest of the settlements of Maramures, including the north, not far from the border with Galicia. “The Crown District“ was a district of its own in Khust and Vishek. During the first third of the 19th century, another district, the district of Verchovina, was included in Maramures. It included the settlements in the north such as Volova, Majdan, Torun, etc. The rest of the districts kept their former names, but the “Crown cities“ of Khust and Vishek were included this time in the lower district.

At the end of the 19th century, great changes in the administrative division of the district had already taken place, and the number of districts doubled. For example, we include the following table in accordance with the census of 1910. This table can also demonstrate the population composition throughout the entire district, and the relations between the various nationalities in Maramures. (As has been noted, one should include the 65,694 Jews in the German and Hungarian nationalities.)


District Total
Ruthenians Romanians Germans Hungarians Number of villages
in the district
Dolha 19,589 16,168 84 2,285 610 9
Khust 45,550 32,630 28 5,480 8,480 17
Iza 27,580 22 22,109 4,980 413 13
Volova 31,704 26,054 6 4,947 673 26
Şugatag 28,218 27 22,875 3,175 2,054 20
Sziget 43,067 9,540 17,242 7,928 8,309 16
Teresif 33,762 24,814 40 7,545 1,358 21
Tetsh 24,616 15,073 156 3,670 5,544 13
Tisza valley 36,943 25,481 113 5,009 6,166 11
Vişeu 44,206 9,148 19,863 13,276 1,815 10
Sziget (city) 21,370 532 2,001 1,257 17,542 1
Total 357,705 159,489 84,510 59,552 52,964 157


With the decline of the Austro–Hungarian empire after its defeat in the First World War, Maramures was also removed from it and transferred to the two victorious nations. The smaller part (3,381 km²) south of the Tisza River, was annexed to the Kingdom of Romania, and the section to the north of the Tisza (6,335 km²) was given to the newly founded Republic of Czechoslovakia. In this partition, attention was paid to the nationality of the residents. Indeed, with the exception of two or three settlements in which Romanians resided, all of the settlements given to Czechoslovakia were populated by Ruthenians. On the contrary, there were very few settlements with Ruthenian population in the section given to Romania.

When the Romanians received their section of Maramures, they struggled as to how to divide the region administratively. In the division of 1921, Maramures was divided into the following districts: Sziget, Iza, Şugatag, and Vişeu. The district of Şugatag was eliminated at the end of the 1920s, leaving only three districts. However, they maintained the external appearance of the district and kept its name very well. That is to say, the Romanian authorities did not contemplate adding other areas and settlements from other regions to Maramures, or transferring some of its areas to bordering regions. Furthermore, the region of Maramures had two other crowns. Aside from being one of the 72 regions that comprised Romania, Maramures was also a national area (Tinus) – that is one of the ten largest districts. (It should be noted that after the Second World War, the Communist government disrupted the historical bounds of the region of Maramures. Today, areas that were in the districts of adjacent Szatmar are included in the district. Even Sziget, the historical capital of the area, has reduced importance, and is merely a somnolent, remote border town. The capital of Maramures is Baia Mare, which is developing in a large–scale fashion, but was never within the bounds of Maramures.)

The Czechoslovak Republic never felt the obligation to use the name Maramures in its areas. A short time after it took control over regions that were different from each other from many perspectives, it organized them into the framework of a new democratic republic, and did not take the name Maramures into account in the area which fell into its portion. The entire area (more precisely, half or two thirds of the area) that was known as Maramures


was included a region that the new government called Podkarpatska–Rus. Aside from the region of Maramures, it included the regions of Berg, Ung, and North Ugocsa[2] (southern Ugocsa fell into the portion of Romania). This area was divided into many districts, but the name Maramures is not mentioned. At times, the Czechs also changed the borders of the districts and their names. In the population census of 1921, the Czech area of Maramures included the following districts: Khust, Volova, Teresif, Bitshkof, and Rachov. There was a sixth district called Dolha. Even though the town for whose name the district was called belonged to the original Maramures, most of the settlements that were annexed to this district had never been part of Maramures. In the census of 1930, we find the following administrative division: Khust, Volova, Tetsh, and Rachov – districts of which all towns included had always belonged to Maramures. However, this time as well, the authorities moved beyond the bounds of the historic region, and transferred to these districts seven settlements that were outside the bounds of Maramures. For example, the aforementioned town of Dolha found itself in the district of Irshava outside the bounds, along with four other villages. It was the same situation with the known village of Kerecki (Keretsky), which had always been a Maramures town without any dispute, but was now annexed for some reason to the district of Svalyava. The Czech authorities did not relate at all to the concept of “Maramures,“ either from a historical or a practical perspective.

We will conclude this chapter with data from the general censuses that were conducted in the two sections of Maramures that year (1930).


Romanian Maramures

District General
Sziget 43,706 6,401
Iza 36,921 5,144
Vişeu 53,678 11,935
Sziget (the city) 29,406 11,075
Total 163,711 34,555


Czech Maramures

District General
Khust 71,311 11,276
Volova 35,226 4,966
Tetsh 79,419 12,651
Rachov 60,862 9,455
Seven settlements distributed to districts outside of Maramures 18,150 1,804
Total 264, 968 40,162
Total in all of Maramures 428,679 74,717


The Romanian region of Maramures did not undergo any changes to its country affiliation after the Second World War. It is a part of Romania today, as it was between the two world wars. That is not the case with the northern region. After the Second World War, it was removed from the Republic of Czechoslovakia and annexed to the Soviet Union as an inseparable part of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic.

Translator's Footnotes:

  1. An alternative, less common form of Magyar Return
  2. Berg is probably Berehove. Ung is an older name of Ungvar (Uzhorod), For Ugosca, see Return


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