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The Story of the Community of Satmar
from its Founding Until the Holocaust

And a short section about the post-Holocaust Community.

All that is written henceforth, I researched and collected from sources such as The Jewish Hungarian Lexicon by Peter Oevary, Budapest; The Way of the Jews of Satmar, edited by Dr. Moshe Aryeh Stern z”l in Satmar; sections from The Lexicon of the Jewish Communities in Yad Vashem, Jerusalem; research conducted by the editor of this book, and memories and personal knowledge. The Editor takes no responsibility for inaccuracies.


Names of the City

In Rumanian Satu Mare; Hungarian Satamar-Nemethy; in popular parlance among the Jews, Satmar or Sakmer. For hundreds of years the capital of the District of Satmar was the city of Kraly. At the start of the 20th century, Satmar became the capital. The city of Satmar is spread along the banks of the River Samosh. The city was established in the beginning of the 12th century. After 500 years, the city incorporated the town of Nemethy. Residents of Nemethy were ethnic Hungarians, although Schwabians founded the town.

From my research I discovered that Jews lived in Satmar for over 300 years, and the Jewish population increased each year. In 1940, when the city went from Rumanian to Hungarian rule, one quarter of the residents were Jews.


The First Jews of Satmar

At the end of the 16th century two Jewish families lived in the city: the Yudkovitzes and the Abramovitzes. By the start of the 17th century, the Jewish population had increased but there weren't enough Jews for a minyan. In those days in Satmar, the jealous anti-Semitic non-Jews only allowed Jews into the city for brief periods of time.

The Jews worked as candlestick makers, button manufacturers, jewelers, watchmakers, hatmakers, brewers, tanners, and manufacturers of cleaning materials. The residents of the city feared competition from the Jews and tried to prevent them from plying their trades. Jews could only enter the city during the daylight hours and leave before nightfall. The small number of Jews who were Masters of their crafts could remain for lengthy periods. Craftsmen came from Kraly, which was the district capital but they also came from other locations.

By the first quarter of the 19th century there was a minyan of Jews in Satmar. Slowly the community developed until the mayor appointed Yosef Lichtman z”l to be their Leader. The Jews got kosher meat from the city of Kraly where there was a large Jewish Community under the patronage of the Graf Kraly, and from neighboring settlements.

After the end of the War of Independence in the 50th year, the Jews were given the right to establish themselves as an organized legal community and keep their own records and protocols, but their existence was barely tolerated. In those days Yosef Lichtman z”l left his position as the judge of the Jews, and Abraham Steinberger z”l was appointed to take his place. By this time the community had an established Chevra Kadisha. However, as the Jews did not have official permission to open a cemetery, they buried their dead in Krali, in Batiz, and in other places.


The First Synagogue in Satmar

As the Jewish population grew, the Jews wanted to organize a synagogue. They prayed temporarily in a building they rented from a non-Jew. According to R. Yitchak Schwartz, who lives in Jerusalem, his grandfather R. Zusha Schwartz z”l opened the first Bais Medrash in the city on Eshkol Street. By 1863 the city already had a kosher mikvah. Within a short time the Jews embarked on plans to build a large and elegant synagogue on a lot that was purchased from the Baron Vetshi z”l on Vardomb Street.

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Residence of the Rabbis of Satmar, Vardromb Street


Satmar Mikvah, Vardomb Street


The Synagogue was modeled after the large Orthodox Synagogue in Grosswardein. The Synagogue is still in use today on Shabbos and holidays. On weekdays there are prayers in the Shaare Torah Bais Medrash nearby. The Large Synagogue has 503 seats for men and 498 seats for women.

In the early 1880s, the Synagogue operated in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Central Orthodox Office in Budapest and the Hungarian Ministry of Religion. One of the main tenets was that the Synagogue should follow Ashkenazi prayer customs. Those who desired to pray Nusach Sefard were free to establish a Hassidic Bais Medrash at their own cost without funding from the community coffers, but members of that congregation would still be required to pay dues to the community. The number of Hassidic Synagogues in the city increased in those years.

The Satmar Community grew to the point where it was now one of the largest Communities in Hungary. Its institutions expanded, including the Chevra Kadisha, the Talmud Torah, and kindergartens with hundreds of students. The number of synagogues increased, including the elegant Bais Medrash of Hevra Machzekei HaTorah on Bam Street and the Chevra Mishnayos Synagogue on Tompa Street. During this period a Hassidic congregation was established on Bathory Karoly Street and along with 27 other smaller shuls.

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The Chief Rabbis, Communal Leaders, Assistants and Gabays

The Chief Rabbis of the Community were:

The first Chief Rabbi Binyamin Zeev Mandelbaum z”l 1842-1897

The second Rabbi of the Community was Rabbi Yehuda Greenwald z”l (1898-1920)

The third rabbi was Rabbi Eliezer Dovid Greenwald z”l 1921-1928

The fourth rabbi was Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum z”l 1934-1944

From 1870-1890 the Heads of the Community were:

Avraham Steinberger z”l (elected seven times)

Adolph Spiegel z”l (elected three times)

From the late 19th century until the First World War, Yehezkel Freund z”l (elected four times) and Yehiel Frankel z”l (elected three times) served as Heads of the Community.

What follows is a list of the Heads of the Community until the destruction:

Yosef Lichtman z”l, Avraham Steinberger z”l, Eliyahu Markovitz z”l, Shmuel Blum z”l, Herman Teitelbaum z”l, Leopold Benedikt z”l, Moshe Krantztor z”l, Avraham Freund z”l, Avrahman Spiegel z”l, Yehezkel Tzvi Freund z”l, Yehiel Frankel z”l, Shmuel Shpatali z”l, Meir Markovitz z”l, Menahem Yonap z”l, Mosher Meir Reiter z”l, Yeshayahu Meir Czengeri z”l, Haim Freund z”l, Shevach Gutah z”l, David Yehoshua Gross z”l, Shmuel Rosenberg z”l, Alexander Freund z”l.

Deputy Heads of the Community were: Herman Rosenfeld z”l, Dr.Yosef Meir z”l, Albert Schwartz z”l, Shmuel Meir Czengeri z”l, Simcha Reiter z”l, Menachem Yonap z”l, Haim Freund z”l, Dovid Yehoshua Gross z”l, Shmuel Rosenberger z”l, Alexander Freund.

Those listed below served as head Gabbai in the community until the destruction:

Krantztor, z”l, Moshe Hartman, z”l, Yaakov Kolav, z”l, Yaakov Schwartz, z”l, Zusia Markovitz, z”l, Eliyahu Spiegel, z”l Avraham Davidowitz, z”l Ignatz Hirsch, z”l Adolph Freund, z”l Yehezkel Roth, z”l, Solomon Shimon Baer, z”l Reiter, z”l Simcha Frankel, z”l, Yehiel Markovitz, z”l Yehiel Fried, z”l Yosef Markovitz, z”l Shlomo,

z”l Roth, Yitzchak Mandelbaum, z”l Eliyahu Haim, z”l, Zvi Sheinberger, z”l Meir Yosef Chaim.


The Children's Education

A majority of children in the community received a traditional Jewish education. Until the community established a Talmud Torah, boys attended private cheders operated by their teachers. Some of the private cheders continued to operate until the Shoah.

The educator Yitzhak Danziger z”l, was the prime mover behind the general Jewish school. This school was in operation until the community established its own general school in the 1870s. The community appealed to the government for financial support but the authorities refused. The community had to fund its own school from its treasury.

The community needed to add more classes as the student body increased. The community struggled to fund the school and at that point they received some government aid.

Until the late 1880s, boys and girls attended the Jewish school together. Then the community established a girls school with six grades. By this time government support had dried up and the school was in a financial crisis.

Because there was no Jewish high school in the city, many residents sent their children to non-Jewish high schools run by Catholics or Protestants, and to the girls' school operated by the Order of the Sisters of Mercy. The majority of the community loyal to the word of G-d, sent their children to the Jewish schools.


Financial Life in Satmar

Jewish brains and initiative helped to develop Satmar's industry and commerce. The city's first

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settlers were small scale merchants and tradesmen. At the time the Hungarian government wanted to encourage industrial growth, Jews went in that direction taking advantage of government aid. The Jews of Satmar were part of this trend. The city's first banks were founded by Jews and Jews established large factories to manufacture textiles, machinery, enamel, spirit, furniture, food and more. Jews sold their products overseas.

Here is a list of Jewish industrialists, businessmen, and realtors:

Simcha Reiter z”l, established a candy and chocolate factory.

Moshe A. Reiter z”l (Simcha's son) and Jeno Sabo z”l, established a factory to manufacture train cars called Anyu, and a bank, called Casa Nostra.

Eliyahu Markovitz z”l established a spirit factory.

Haim Freund z”l and his sons Joseph z”l, Alexander z”l, and Tuvia z”l established the largest textile mill in the country.

Jeno Libai z”l owned a coffin factory.

David Spiegel z”l and Eli Weiss z”l owned a factory that manufactured eye covers used by gentiles, for their dead.

David Yehoshua Gross z”l owned a factory that manufactured straw hats.

The Gut brothers z”l owned a cork factory.

The Czengeri Meir family, the Schwartz family and the Moses family owned agricultural lands and employed hundreds of workers.

The 1919 change in government caused an economic decline among some of Satmar's Jews, including those who had moved to the city during the First World War. Many of them lacked professions and trades and the city's Jews struggled to help them.

According to a survey conducted by R. Aaron Davidowitz z”l in 1930 a breakdown of Satmar's Jews by profession included: Wholesalers 100; Retailers 400; Industrialists 40; Blue collar laborers 250; Craftsmen 400; Landowners 50; Contractors 40; Clerks 64; Journalists and Artists 9; Lawyers 10; Physicians 10; Engineers 4; Unemployed or unclassified 270.


The Role of Jews in the First World War

Between 400-500 Satmar Jews were drafted and fought in World War I. It is worthwhile to examine the Golden Album of WWI Veterans, under Hungarian rule, to see how Hungarian Jewry, including the Jews of Satmar, contributed to the Hungarian victory, including high and low-ranking officers and high-ranking physicians, among whom several were killed.


Jews in Communal Service

Satmar's Jews were involved in general society. During a census taken at the end of the 19th century a majority stated that Hungarian was their mother-tongue, even though most of these Jews were Orthodox.

It's important to note that several Satmar Jews achieved the status of nobility during the reign of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor, Franz Josef I. Among them were the landholder Shlomo Meir Czengeri z”l, the district physician Dr. Samuel Fekete z”l. Meir Meir Cznegeri z”l received a judicial appointment while he was still a young man. The landlord Jacob Schwartz z”l also received noble status, and the famed lawyer, Shamu Kalman z”l served in the Hungarian parliament.


The Status Quo Community

A serious dispute broke out in the Satmar community resulting from the election of Herman Teitelbaum z”l to the position of community leader. The new community head was known as an irreligious Jew. Two hundred Haredi community members appeared at the Central Orthodox Office to set aside the election result.

After their appeal was accepted, the local maskilim were upset but their respect for the 93 year-old Rabbi Mandelbaum, the much loved Rabbi of the city, restrained them from fighting back.

When Rabbi Mandelbaum z”l passed away, immediately after Rosh Hashanah, taf reish nun het 5658 (1898), 200 community members left the Orthodox community and established their own community which they called, Status Quo.

They took this step because they objected to Rabbi Mandelbaum's successor, Rabbi Yehuda Greenwald z”l. Most of them were wealthy intellectuals who didn't object

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to the Rabbi's Orthodoxy. What they wanted was a Rabbi who also had a broad general education. Rabbi Greenwald was too Haredi and Hassidic for their taste.

Their first step in organizing their own community was to appoint Rabbi Yitzhak Klein z”l as a Dayan. Rabbi Klein was a well known scholar with an excellent ability to teach. Before this, Rabbi Klein taught in the Bais Medrash Machzikei Hadas. The new community claimed to base itself on the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) and its ritual slaughterers, shochatim, were required to present a recommendation from a well known Orthodox Rabbi. Rabbi Yitzhak Klein z”l established a yeshiva funded by the new community.


The building of the Status Quo Synagogue

The elegant Status Quo synagogue, among the most attractive in all of Hungary, was built in 1902 on the corner of Kossuth and Otvosh Streets. It was demolished in 1965, and a large police station stands in its place.


Selection of the Chief Rabbi and establishment of Institutions

The first Chief Rabbi of the Status Quo community was selected in 1903. Rabbi Dr. Samuel Zanvil Jordan z”l, was a well-known scholar with wide general knowledge and secular education. Rabbi Dr. Jordan had previously served as the rabbi of the city and district of Pogrash.

The new community established its own Chevra Kadisha, cemetery, school, and slaughterhouse. Rabbi Jordan influenced the community with his Zionist leanings. He established a Hebrew-speaking kindergarten, the first in all of Hungary, and a society called, Living Language.


The Death of Rabbi Jordan z”l, Communal Leadership and Selection of a New Rabbi

Rabbi Dr. Samuel Zanvil Jordan z”l died at age 72 in 1932 after serving for 30 years as the Chief Status Quo Rabbi. He was buried in Satmar's Status Quo cemetery. His widow perished in Auschwitz.

Herman Teitelbaum z”l, whose selection as community head led to the split, never served as community head and died in Satmar.

The head of the first Status Quo community who served in that post for 18 years was the wealthy landowner, Karoly Meir Czengeri z”l. After that, Shamu Barany z”l served as community head. Both men died in Satmar. For 15 years Armin Prinz z”l, the owner of a machine factory, served as community head. He died in London. The last community head before the Holocaust was the well-known attorney Arpad Friedman z”l who was martyred in Auschwitz.

After his death, Rabbi Jordan z”l was replaced by Rabbi Dr. Yosef Yekutiel Ish Shalom Friedman z”l who served until 1940 when the Hungarians took over. He was relieved of his post and exiled to Kish Terza and then put into the ghetto and taken along with his family to Auschwitz.


The Lives of the Jews during the Interwar period

As a result of the changeover from a Hungarian to a Rumanian government in 1919, the financial crisis spread to Satmar. Many of the city's ethnically Hungarian residents lost their jobs and sources of income. Most of these people who had been employed by the government or the military in a clerical capacity, left the city and emigrated to Hungary. At the same time, the city's Jewish population grew as Jews who came from other places where life was difficult flocked to Satmar.

As a result, the community needed to reorganize. With the increase in the number of residents the community had to expand its institutions.

During this period, Moshe Reiter z”l served as the head of the Kehilla (1922-26). He was a very energetic person and a good organizer and he succeeded in bringing the community up to a high level. During the period of his leadership an elementary school was built in the courtyard of the Big Synagogue. This property was sold to the community by Baron Vetshay.

The school building also housed the community offices. It was a big building with a large auditorium on the second floor, where large meetings, convocations, and parties were held. During this period, an elegant Bais Medrash belonging to Chevra Shaare Torah was built, along with a Talmud Torah with four rooms.

The Joint Distribution Committee expanded its activities during this time. With funding from the Joint, a vocational school for boys was established. It was called The Jewish Orphan's Home for Boys, and it stood on Hunyad Street next to the army camp.

A matzo bakery was established in the basement of the school building to supply the Jews of Satmar and other communities, both near and far, with matzos. The ritual bath on Vardomb Street was expanded and modernized. A public bathhouse with modern steam heating used by many of the city's non-Jewish residents was also built.


The Jewish Hospital

During the early 1930s there was discussion in the community about establishing an up-to-date and well-equipped Jewish hospital. The prime mover behind the initiative was the great philanthropist Yeshaya Meir Czengeri z”l (Shandor) who inherited his nobility from his father, R. Shlomo Meir Czengeri z”l. Shandor Czengeri was the chairman of the committee to establish the hospital.

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For a brief period, Meir Czengeri was the head of the Kehilla but he left to devote himself to the hospital. There was wide support for the hospital and most of the donors were wealthy Jews.

The hospital was run by a committee which included representatives from both burial societies, two-thirds Orthodox were and one-third Status Quo. However, the head of the hospital board of directors had to be selected from among the Orthodox burial society members.

The Hebrew Hospital, its official name, was very up-to-date with a staff of excellent physicians and para-professionals led by Dr. Samuel Fekete z”l (see the list of ghetto suicides). The hospital opened its doors in a grand ceremony in 1927. The hospital was almost totally destroyed by the Nazis in 1944 and renovated by the Joint with the assistance of local donors in 1946. The hospital continued to operate until it was shut down by the Rumanian government in 1948. From 1946-1948 Dr. Joseph Burgida z”l headed the hospital until he emigrated to Canada.

Torah Publications

Satmar was blessed with a large community of well-known Torah scholars who answered halachic questions that came to them from all corners of the globe. Among them were Rabbi Yitzchak Klein z”l who authored, The Bircas Avraham, Ugat Shabat (a cake for Shabbos), Ohel Yitzchak, and Zichron Yisrael.

Rabbi Dr. S.Z. Jordan z”l wrote a book about Rabbi Yohanan bar Nafta of Jerusalem. Rabbi Ephraim Wald z”l published a monthly called, Shevet Ephraim.

Rav Yosef Chaim HaKohen z”l put out a monthly publication called, Meged Yerechaim. The Rebbe Rav Aharon Rota z”l wrote and published volumes on kashrus, on fear of G-d and on Chassidus. Other authors included Rabbi Samuel HaKohen Schwartz z”l, Rabbi Haim Yosef Malik z”l, Reb Meilech Wolf Stern z”l, R. Haim Yaakov Lichtenstein z”l, R. Boruch Reiss z”l, all of blessed memory.


Yeshivot in Satmar

The yeshivot in Satmar were among the most highly regarded in the world. It was regarded as a special privilege to be accepted into one of the city's yeshivot. The rabbis who organized and ran them were of the highest caliber and many of its graduates served as Rabbis and Dayanim in other countries until today. (See Rabbis of Satmar.)

During the late 19th century, Rabbi Yehuda Greenwald z”l established his yeshiva which attracted students from distant lands.

Rabbi Eliezer Dovid Greenwald z”l, who administered yeshivos in all of the communities in which he served as a Rabbi, also established a yeshiva in Satmar, which had 450 students. After he died, the Rosh Yeshiva became Rabbi Yosef Greenwald, the Rabbi of Pupa, who lives in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He was the adopted son and great-nephew of the Arugas HaBosem. His yeshiva was known as Yeshiva Keren LeDovid.

Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum's z”l yeshiva had 400 students. There were other yeshivos in Satmar as well. Rabbi Aharon Rota z”l had a yeshiva until he left Satmar to emigrate to the Land of Israel. His yeshiva continued to operate after his departure under Rabbi Haim Yitzhak Malk z”l. Dozens of students attended the yeshivos of the Rebbe of Biksad z”l and Rabbi Meir Rosenbaum z”l.


The Jewish High School of Satmar

According to a Hungarian law promulgated in 1940, Jews were no longer accepted into the local high school. Upon the initiative of the Status Quo Kehilla, a Jewish high school for boys was established in the building of the Mizrahi on 20 Otbosh Street. Several hundred students from the Orthodox and Status Quo Kehillot attended this school. The teaching staff was of the highest quality and the Principal, Shamu Rona z”l, was an experienced and talented educator. The new school fulfilled all the legal requirements.

Students were required to participate in public worship on the Sabbath. The religion instructor, Rabbi Yosef Herzog z”l, taught the boys how to read from the Torah and prepared them for their bar mitzvahs. The cantor, Reb Joseph Wald z”l, taught them the cantillation. He led the Sabbath prayers and conducted the choir. After R. Joseph Wald z”l was drafted (he died in Ukraine) this writer took his place until the destruction.

Girls continued their studies in the Protestant and Catholic high schools because these schools were exempted from the Numerus Clausus, the anti-Jewish quota law.

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The Status of the Jews during the 22 year long Rumanian rule

The 1919 change of government from Hungarian to Rumanian created a new reality in Transylvania. The Jews struggled to adjust to the change. The Rumanian authorities made friendly overtures to the Jews, employing many of them in well-paying government and military positions.

The Rumanian government was unstable. With every change came new laws and orders. The Liberals and the National Farmer's Party were the two major political parties. There were several smaller parties that sometimes took power for short periods. These small parties were generally anti-Semitic.

In those days bribery was rife. All decrees were worded so that bribery could solve all problems, and the Jews knew how to utilize this. The ancient Talmudic adage, “Gold and silver can purify bastards,” applies. In Interwar Rumania, all problems could be solved with a well-placed bribe.

This isn't to diminish the fact that these were tough times. Anti-Semitic riots broke out frequently, including student uprisings in Klausenburg, Grosswardein, and Banfy-Hunyad, that resulted in the destruction of synagogues and the burning of Torah scrolls. The students were charged by the police, but then the anti-Semitic Professor Jurga, may his memory be blotted out, declared that the rioting students were our, dear children, and should be exonerated.

From the hooligans to Professor Koza, may his name be blotted out, the Jewish people of Rumania suffered greatly and sometimes Jews lost their lives at the hands of the anti-Semites. Thank G-d Satmar was spared from this, but the residents of Satmar felt the pain of the rest of Rumanian Jewry.

We still have vivid memories of the brief anti-Semitic regime of Octavian Goga in 1938. The Satmar Rebbe z”l decreed a day of fasting on the 7th of Adar. In the afternoon everyone gathered in the synagogue to recite Psalms together. The Rebbe publicly recited the Avinu Malkeinu prayer.

We noticed something interesting at that time. In his recitation, the Rebbe skipped the verse, “remember us for good economic sustenance.” Some of the worshipers pointed out the omission, but the Rebbe didn't correct himself and continued on. Only later, did his intention become clear. When one's life lay in the balance, requests for a good living were inappropriate.

The prayer was accepted. Hashem listened, and just two days later, Radio Bucharest declared that King Karol fired Prime Minister Goga, and instead appointed the philosemitic Armand Calinescu (Klinsko).

And so it went in waves. Waves of anti-Semitism rising and then receding, the Jews always the scapegoats. When the Russians demanded that Serbia be returned and then quickly conquered, the Jews were blamed.

In 1939, when Hitler stepped up his activities in Europe and declared war on Poland, the influence of the anti-Semitic Iron Section, led by Zelea Codreanu, increased in Rumania and the Jews were blamed for anti-political or military defeat. Jewish businesses began to collapse. The situation was unbearable, especially following the rise of Gigratu to power. And so on Friday, August 30, 1940, it was decided in the Belvedere Castle, to establish a regional alliance between Germany and Italy with Rumania committing itself to return half of Transylvania to Hungary.

For many years the Hungarians had demanded a complete return of Transylvania and the Rumanians refused. So we returned to our “motherland,” Hungary. Radio Budapest declared that Satmar Nemethy, Nadjvarod, NagyBanya, Koloshvar were ours.

I don't have to tell you what a happy Shabbos we experienced. In private, we hugged and kissed each other with great joy, but the joy was short-lived.

The daily Hungarian newspaper, Samosh, appeared that Shabbos morning with a nationalistic Hungarian headline, Red White Green. The lead story wasn't written by the Jewish editor-in-chief Shandor Donash, but by the poisonous snake who was forced to shut his lips for 22 years, Albert Figosh. All of a sudden, he opened them and the poison was released. “Jews stay at home! Jews must not participate in the welcoming celebrations for the Hungarians.”

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“Jews, you have no part in our joy. This celebration is only for the Magyars, not even for Shandor Donash, not for the Jews who were loyal supporters of the Hungarian party over the past 22 years.”

In Hungarian circles the intention was clear but not yet revealed. Wrinkled Hungarian flags were taken out of storage. Some people quickly hung them in their windows. It was too soon, because the Rumanian nationalists were still afoot and they reacted by smashing those windows.

In secret we prepared the decoration known as a Kokarda. Girls ironed their Hungarian dresses in anticipation of Thursday, Sept 5. On that day the soldiers of Miklosh Horthy would arrive. According to the agreement, Satmar would be the first place to be conquered by the Hungarian army.

Satmar's Jews also prepared for a festive welcome. Everyone wanted to express their joy without taking into account the poison pen article written by Albert Figosh. The great day arrived and we joined the crowds opposite the city hall, not far from the stage. With shouts of jubilation, the first soldiers on horses arrived. After them marched Hungarian soldiers in formation, singing as they marched. All of a sudden we heard a strange song with the words, “Jew Jew what are you looking for here. Go to your mother.”

With these words the Hungarians “thanked” the Jews for their enthusiastic welcome. They followed with more artful songs, words penned by the lyricist in a wondrous fashion in rhymes, Rifka, dirty with feathers, Zali with the lice, and Dirty garlicky Shlomo.

Some of the gentile Hungarians who lived in Satmar and had depended upon favors from the Jews for the past 22 years; our neighbors whom we helped with their problems and always stood by them, enthusiastically applauded these songs.

Haman forgot the kindness of King Saul to Amalek. These Magyars completely forgot the favors and help they received from the Jews over a 22-year period. They sang these primitive songs, penned by a drunk composer. “He whose girlfriend is a Jew, we will tie a rope around his neck.”

Hungarian officers in glittering uniforms were greeted to thunderous applause. It wasn't long after this “liberation” that announcements began to appear. All residents of the liberated territories were required to fill out forms distributed by the authorities. Most of the questions related to military service. We didn't realize that we were stumbling into a trap. When we tried to answer the questions, they grew more and more complex, written as a form of deception.

In the meantime, new orders were promulgated with the intention of making our lives difficult, including checks of the citizenship of the Jews of Transylvania. This order was so complicated. Transylvanian Jews had to bring proof of citizenship known as a Certificate of Residence, dating back to 1850.

I remember a particular incident. Moritz Reiter z”l, the manager of the Casa Nostra Bank, seated his 94-year-old father in a wagon and brought him to city hall where he told the mayor, “here is my certificate of residence. My father was born in 1850. Do I have to provide additional documentation?” The answer was, no.

To acquire a Certificate of Citizenship one had to present a series of documents. For those who were unable to locate the correct documents, and there were many Jews who could not, there was no mercy. The gendarmes left them at the Polish border. Most of them were murdered.

The Hungarian government had several goals:

  1. To embitter the lives of the Jewish population, make them wait in long lines.

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  1. The Hungarian railroad company earned large sums from frequent journeys by Jews to their hometowns to retrieve documents. Similarly, the postal authority profited from the Jewish purchase of stamps for these requests.

  2. The government higher ups tried not to pay attention to the bribes Jews offered to clerks. They did not want to stop the expensive “gifts” sent by Jews to the authorities.

  3. To slowly transfer Jewish wealth to the Hungarian authorities, and the pockets of corrupt government officials.

Life became a nightmare for those who were expelled because they lacked the correct documents, and the authorities didn't look kindly on Communist youth.

After this came the next crisis, the orders to report to work camps. At first Jews were drafted for regular military service. But even then, they were treated differently than non-Jewish Hungarian draftees. At the end of the summer, 1942, older men were called up, first men aged 30 to 40 and then even older.

Satmar draftees were sent to the 10th Battalion in NagyBanya. There they met Jews from all over Hungary. Instead of uniforms, they wore the civilian clothes they brought from home. Instead of weapons, they were armed with pickaxes.

One thing was clear. The labor performed by Jews was not worth a single cent, not to the state and not to the army. It was Sisyphean labor, lacking meaning and value. It was a charade enacted for the single purpose of weakening the Jews, so there would not be anyone left to fight back against the decree of extermination.

Eventually the Jewish labor battalions were transported outside of Hungary. In almost every household, someone had been sent to forced labor. The new situation created hardship for families who lost their breadwinner. When the draftees were in Hungary, their families could visit and send them food, which was vital for those who kept kosher.

Once they were shipped out of Hungary, the Jewish forced laborers lost contact with their families. Young women were left alone to cope with supporting their families both financially and emotionally. Thousands of draftees were sent to Ukraine. Most never saw their loved ones again. These beloved fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons lie in mass graves in Ukraine. Wives waited for husbands, children for their fathers, parents for their “kadishels.” The very few who managed to return were not reunited with their loved ones who had been deported to the concentration camps.


Destruction of Jewish Economic Life

I still remember the section of the Jewish Law stating that Jews were not allowed to own or manage a business, factory, bank or store. Anyone in this position, had to take on a Hungarian Christian partner. The law stipulated that the partner had to be an expert in the relevant profession. It was easy to fulfill the law's technical demands because most of these enterprises had non-Jewish employees who were now elevated to the role of partner.

This resulted in a tragi-comic situation in which the former clerk was now the boss, equal in position to the long-time owner. The law required the Jewish owners to transfer their ownership to their non-Jewish “partners” who were not required to make any investment in the enterprise.

On the sign outside the bank, store or factory only the name of the non-Jewish partner would appear, and he had the exclusive right to sign checks, contracts, other documents, and to make decisions. The Jewish owner watched, powerless over this. On payday, the new “owner” paid himself, and afterwards paid the workers. Only at the end, did he pay the Jewish owner.

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Sometimes, the new owner respected the Jewish former owner, even seeking his counsel, but this was not the norm. In most cases, the new owner showed disrespect to the Jew, even mocking him to his face, as the original Jewish owner was pushed out of a business he had given his life's blood to build.

After that came the next decree that Jews could not have any part of any business or enterprise. Once again this led to tragi-comic results as when the name of the non-Jewish partner, now owner, appeared on the door of the kosher butcher shop. In many instances the new Hungarian Christian owners chased the Jews away by threatening them physically, and the Jews could not issue a complaint at the police station.

Members of the Jewish community lost their sources of income. Who would pay the community taxes? Not the factory or business owners who had lost their businesses. People no longer paid for shechita because no one had the money to buy chicken or meat.


The Badge of Shame

April 4, 1944 was an unforgettable day for Hungarian Jewry. In accordance with the new law, anyone who was classified as a Jew was required to sew a yellow patch on the left side of their garments above the heart. The patch had to be shaped into a Star of David, made from orange-yellow cloth and ten centimeters in diameter. The star had to be sewn strongly onto one's shirt or coat. A Jew did not dare to go outside without wearing a star. Jews only went out to the street when they absolutely had to and generally preferred to remain at home. Policemen with flashlights searched for Jews who violated the yellow star law. I was once caught by the police and asked to show my yellow star. I lifted the black sheet used to cover the dead that I carried on my shoulders and I showed them and they raised their noses and stared.

There were Jews who walked proudly on the streets wearing their yellow stars. The most unfortunate Jews were the members of the Hungarian Party who could not adjust to this disgrace. There were Jews who committed suicide at this time.


The Ghetto

The ghetto was organized in May 1944. We were familiar with the word ghetto only from books and from what we had heard about Hitler's Germany, but our first real encounter with the meaning of ghetto life took place on May 6, 1944.

To live within the ghetto closed off, sealed off with nails, plywood planks and barbed wire was terrible. Our children and grandchildren, the new generation have difficulty believing us when we speak of it.

I visited Satmar in 1982, accompanied by my oldest son, Chaim. We walked through the streets of the ghetto. My son wanted to take photographs, but I told him not to, because the redesign of the city and the new buildings changed the look of the place.

The ghetto occupied the following streets. Petofi Street, a row of odd numbered buildings from Karoly to Haherzog Yosef Street. Tompa Street, a row of odd numbered houses from Farkas Antal Street until Haherzog Yosef Street. Zarinyi Street, two rows of houses from Karoly Street to the army camp. Bathory Street two rows of houses from Karoly until Haherzog Yosef. Toltish Street, two rows of houses from the dead end until Haherzog Yosef. Karet Street, row of even numbered houses until Bathory Street. Bam Street two rows of houses from Petofi Street until Bathory Street. Koto Street, two rows of houses from Bathory to Karet Street. Haherzog Yosef Street, a row of odd-numbered houses from Tompa Street until Karet Street.

Compared to ghettos in other towns such as Grosswardein and NagyBanya, the situation was relatively tolerable. Though there was overcrowding, we lived in solid buildings with spacious rooms and we were protected from the rain, wind and sun.

The Jewish community office and the police were in the kindergarten building on Bathory Street. The Machzikei HaDas Bais Medrash on Bam Street served as the central synagogue for the ghetto. The Chevra Kadisha offices were located in the home of Layos Biro on Petofi Street. The community soup kitchen was located in the home of Reb Tovia Freund z”l on Zarinyi Street.

The ghetto existed for 26 days.

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The Beginning of the Bitter End

The expulsion began. The first transport left Satmar on the 25th of Iyar and arrived at Auschwitz on the 28th. The second transport left on the 28th of Iyar and arrived in Auschwitz on the 2nd of Sivan. The third transport left on the 2nd and 3rd of Sivan and arrived in Auschwitz on the 6th of Sivan, the first day of Shavuot. The fourth transport left on the 6th of Sivan and arrived on the 9th. The sixth transport left on the 9th of Sivan and arrived on the 12th.

The residents of Petofi Street were on the first transport. There was considerable chaos as the Jews on Petofi and Bathory ran back and forth, everyone seeking to remain with his family. After that, the transport focused on Bathory Street. From there they left for the army camp and continued onto Haherzog Yosef Street to the bridge over the Samosh River. From there the Jews marched via Banini Street until the Status Quo Cemetery and then turned left to the ramp between the Rumanian Synagogue and the train station, where a large train with many compartments waited for them. In every car there were 80 to 100 passengers, each of them carrying a bit of food and water. The crowding and heat were unbearable. The journey took two days and three nights. Some people died in the cattle cars and the deceased were removed at Kashau. The final stop was Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The rest of the story is well known. This writer saw it all.

There were funerals on the first day of Shavuot. Next to the Samosh bridge we beat the transport. On the streets we saw large packages containing the possessions of unfortunate Jews who no longer had the strength to carry them. All of a sudden I heard a woman calling my name. It was Frieda Reiss, who was recently widowed, walking with her six small children, two still in baby carriages, two holding her hands and her dress, and she lost her strength. “Stern,” she called out. “Take my children and bury them so that Hitler wont bury them.” I was part of the sixth and final transport, along with my wife and four of my children of blessed memory. When we got off the train at Birkenau, we were separated and I never saw them again.

The end is known. Mengele, the conductor, right and left. I was in the camp for a year and we were liberated by the Soviets. It took me 17 days to travel home. And I found in Satmar what everyone else found - nothing.


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