Translated by Martin Goodman We present this humble pamphlet, which includes memoirs and records of the experiences of the holy community of Győr, for the adult reader from this community, and likewise for their children who were born in [the Land of] Israel, in order that the memory of their forefathers who perished in the Holocaust should be preserved.
This pamphlet was not written by professional writers, nor does it presume to encompass all of the facets of the life of this community. It is a true expression of the pain and the great sadness that the remnants of this community have carried in its heart for the last 25 years2, until the pain and sadness burst forth and materialized3 in this article.
It is possible that what is hidden between the lines is greater than what is revealed in the print itself.
We hope that the young reader of our generation will learn from this pamphlet about the life of a community that was like many others; how the Jewish communities endured through many generations in exile and preserved their Jewish character in comfortable times, and how they heroically stood together physically and spiritually in difficult times when they were compelled to struggle against a cruel enemy and to fight for their lives.
We shall learn about life in the community, about its synagogues, about its youth movements and organizations, about [its] public institutions, culture, religious instruction, [all which] were destroyed as part of an evil conspiracy to destroy the People of Israel.
We the students of the school vow,
To remember everything,
To remember, and to not forget!.
Translated by Martin Goodman The City of Győr, whose previous name was Arrabona, was founded by the Celts. Since its inhabitants were merchants, Roman traders were also drawn there, appearing in the city by the first century B.C.E. The Roman army conquered the northern portion of the Danube which was then called Pannonia, and it constructed fortresses and roads therein; then the army moved [over the roads] on to additional conquests. This road passed through the City of Arrabona. The city received its name Győr from the [ancient] army commander Árpád6. After the Turks abandoned the region, German mercenaries arrived. Since the city was crossed by the Rába River, the Germans changed the city's name to Raab. The official language, German, remained [in use] until the middle of the 19th century. The city was also referred to as the City of Four Rivers because the Danube, Rábca, Rába, and Marcal Rivers bounded it.
At the time that the state was conquered, a small number of Jews already lived in the city. In the days of King Mátyás7, more Jews came [to Győr] to live. However, after his death, the Jews were expelled and they went to live in Sopron. At the end of the 18th century, 30 Jewish families settled in GyőrSziget8. They also received permission for construction of a synagogue, for which they paid a tax to the property owner. Jews did not settle in the city of Győr until the beginning of the 19th century.
In 1791, the first Jewish community was founded in Győr-Sziget. In 1795, they built the first synagogue, but the first Rabbi served only from 1803 to 1818. Slowly, other institutions were founded9, and in 1840, the Rabbis were given the right to perform betrothals and marriages. In that year at the Pozsony Congress, the Jews were also permitted to live in cities, and they of course took advantage of the opportunity because city life was easier for them.
After a number of years, they wanted to establish another community in the city of Győr, but the government did not permit this. Only in 1851, did they succeed in founding the unified community in Győr and in Győr-Sziget. This community is in existence up to the present day. The Jews received a number of civil rights and began to participate in public life; development of commerce, especially grain. The grain commerce received national recognition. From there [Győr], they sent the produce eastward and westward on the Danube, and thereby they also founded a shipping corporation. Afterwards, they also developed industry, and thereby Győr became the second ranked industrial city in the land.
According Ferenc Deák's proposal in Parliament in the year 1867, the Jewish religion was officially recognized. Also, a Jewish delegate by the name of Károly Kõnig was elected to serve in the Parliament. In point of fact, this was the first time that Jews participated in elections. Likewise, Jews were permitted to establish a number of additional communities, a Chevra Kadisha society10, national schools, and yeshivot11 . Judaism [in Győr] was divided into two factions, the Orthodox and the status quo, but there was cooperation between them12.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the synagogue in Sziget was enlarged. The Rabbi delivered sermons in German. The first sermon in Hungarian was made by Rabbi Leib Lipót, who was the Rabbi of Pápa.
[The Jewish Community] also wanted to build a new synagogue in [in the main city of] Győr. They even received a plot of land from the authorities for this purpose. The Jews requested the [following] rights from the authorities: that the synagogue would forever remain under supervision of the Rabbis and Cantors, and that they [the Jews] should be able to keep the Mitzvot [commandments of the Torah]. Regretfully, the concern of our forefathers was in vain, because their descendants were not able to withstand the [future Nazi] barbarism.
In the year 1868, on the 9th of November, the cornerstone of the new synagogue was placed. The building was designed to be a three-storey [structure] with 789 seats. Construction progressed quickly, and after about one year, the synagogue was opened [for use]. All of the Jewish institutions contributed to the cost. Dedication of the synagogue occurred on 15 September 1870 (19th of Elul, 5630). Government officials and public figures participated in the dedications. The celebration began with the reading in Hebrew of the scroll of the history of the community, which was [subsequently] interred beneath a large stone.
[Part of the community wanted to bring an organ into the synagogue, which was considered to be revolutionary at that time. However, there were many opponents among the Orthodox Jews, and [the introduction of the organ] was deferred for some time.
In 1870 [as a result of the introduction of the organ into the synagogue], a number of [members of the community] with their leader Adolph König founded the Orthodox community. This announcement caused no small excitement amongst the Jews of the city. In 1871, this community obtained the right of conducting marriages. They built themselves another synagogue with a cheder13. The chief Rabbi was the son of Rabbi Ya'akov Snyders, who was originally from Holland.
In the year 1925, the Jewish community numbered 5000 persons. Consequently, they felt it proper to expand the Main Synagogue with another building. Within the community framework, there were also social institutions, a Chevra Kadisha society, [and an organization for] comforting mourners14. Women and girls participated a great deal in social work. With the help of city leaders, headed by Ignatz Schreiber, they also built an old age home and next to it a small hospital operated.
The central [Jewish] community also included Jews from the surrounding area who numbered about 6000 individuals15.
Starting at the founding of the [Jewish] community [in Győr], the Rabbis16 were as follows:
|Abraham Schick||1803 - 1830|
|Salamon Jakab Freyer||1839 - 1860|
|Dr. Salamon Ranschburg||1855 - 1887|
|Dr. Gyula Fischer||1887 - 1898|
|Dr. Mór Schwarz||1898 - 1934|
|Dr. Emil Roth||1935 - 1944|
The Jews of Győr lived quiet comfortable lives until the onset of the Holocaust. The Holocaust started in Hungary in 1939 when the Prime Minister at that time announced in Győr that Jewish Statutes were about to be introduced which would cancel their civil rights and [later] place them in a ghetto. [From time to time new articles were added to the Jewish Statutes and] it was forbidden to engage in commerce and industry. Statute after statute was enacted against the Jews until 19 March 1944. When the Germans conquered/occupied Hungary and all authority passed into their hands, the Jews were compelled to wear yellow patches [on their clothing]. A number of Jews were appointed to the Jewish Council and they were responsible [to make sure] that the Jews did not violate the [Jewish] Statutes. [Jewish] hostages were taken and imprisoned.
After they [the Hungarian authorities] moved the Jews into the Ghetto, they confiscated their homes, their stores, and all of their property.
The Ghetto was [located] in Győr-Sziget in the same location that Jewish life started several hundred years previously.
From there [the Ghetto], they [the Germans] took them to the gas chambers at Auschwitz and so ended Jewish life in Győr-Sziget after 230 years.
Translated by Martin Goodman Thus far, I have only spoken about the Orthodox Jews who were a minority among the Jews of Győr, and there was [only a little or] no social connection between them and the Neolog17 Jews. The Neolog Jews, or as they called themselves, Progressive Jews had their own synagogue, their stores were open on Sabbath, and most of them lived either in the city center or in the area of the new city. In contrast, the Orthodox lived in their own quarter in Sziget. The Orthodox trained their children to recite the verse, Thou shalt utterly abominate them 18 when they passed by a church. How could it be otherwise when in this [Neolog] synagogue, Sabbath eve prayers were accompanied with organ melodies and with the poetry of Mrs. Schmiedel. (In fact, no Orthodox man ever crossed the threshold of the [Neolog] synagogue.)19 - I only mentioned the synagogue; now I shall speak about the autonomous Jewish primary school of the Orthodox community in which I studied and completed four years [of studies].
I must point out, that in the Jewish Hungarian lexicon around Győr, the leaders and institutions of Orthodoxy are hardly mentioned, even though from the viewpoint of the intensity of religious life, Orthodox Jewish life exceeded that of the far more numerous Neolog community.
In short, in the year 1908 I was enrolled in school in Grade No. 1. My first teacher was Rózsa néni20, who taught us reading and writing. Her [teaching] method was to teach each letter accompanied by a small pleasant story. In the fourth grade, a teacher by the name of Oszkár Zalcer taught us. My family regarded him to be a role model for me. He himself was a native of Győr from an Orthodox family and he acquired for himself a secular education [and legal] authorization to teach; and [in spite] of all this, he remained an observant Jew. In those days there was no one else like him in Győr.
Two of my uncles lived abroad in order to pursue a higher education, one studied philosophy in the university in Bern [Switzerland] and the second [studied] in a teachers school in Cologne, and in spite of this, both of them adhered to [religious] tradition, our home was the educational ideal: Torah with manners. As the German Jews say, Live according to the Torah, acquire a complete education, and in accordance with this, choose a profession. Regarding this, my late mother used to say, My son, do not become a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer, because then you will not remain a Jew. Rather be a grade school teacher like Oszkár Zalcer. Then you will make me happy and proud.21
Of course, the religious philosophy of the Rabbi, and also of Oszkár Zalcer, was absolutely Ashkenazi and anti-Hassidic. Swaying of the body or any other movement during prayer was unknown to them, Jahrzeit22 did not exist, but during the three weeks between the fasts of the 17th of Tammuz and the 9th of Av23, they gathered daily for the [traditional] midnight prayer to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem24.
After I completed four years of elementary school since I wasn't able to continue my studies according to the ideal of my family I had no choice but to enroll at the Orthodox school, as my friends had done. In Eastern Europe, this institution was called cheder [or Talmud Torah]. We sat on benches around a long table in the morning and in the afternoon and we learned Gemara25 with Rabbi Efroyim26, whose beard hung down in its own special fashion and only his coat and cane were longer than it [i.e., his beard]. Studies were [conducted] only in German, but at breaks we students spoke among ourselves only in Hungarian27, including the most distinguished student, the son of Rabbi Yankel Snyders who later was the Rabbi in Kiskőös, and who currently is serving as a Rabbi in Bazel [Switzerland].
There was no pleasure learning in this Orthodox school. On the one hand, this was caused by lack of teaching sense on the part of its Rebbe (there were almost no encouragement or reward, but there were punishments and whippings in abundance) and on the other hand, [this was caused by] the low [educational] level of the students. We tried (Eli Grunzweig, most of all) to make the teacher as crazy as much as possible. One time, we went out at recess to a cornfield, we dried the silk fibres28 of the [ears of] corn, rolled them in a piece of paper into cigarettes, and began to smoke in class. I am personally grateful for this incident, because since then no cigarette has ever entered my mouth. (I was then 10 or 11 years old.) There was no bell; only a scream of Enter announced the end of recess.
My mother and mostly my brother Hanoch (we will speak about him in relation to establishment of the Zionist movement in Győr) who was 8 years older than me, and who when he reached 18 years of age became the head of the family and its breadwinner (my father passed away in 1910), were convinced that there was no possibility in Győr of educating me in a manner that was acceptable to them: The Orthodox cheder was not appropriate, the Reál school29 governmental [high] school was unthinkable because children of Neolog Jews attended there [in the governmental schools], and it is not necessary to mention that the Benedictine Gimnázium30 was unacceptable because there were almost no Jews there31. (By the way, in the year 1922 in spite of all this, I took the graduation examinations at this school [the Benedictine Gimnázium].
Accordingly, they sent me to my aunt in Bratislava (Pressburg) and I was enrolled in a public Orthodox school. However, I always spent my vacations at my home in Győr.
With the October Revolution32, the borders were opened. Many Jews from Eastern Europe passed through our city on their way to Palestine. Among them was a young man whom we succeeded in convincing to remain in Győr and we took care of his livelihood in exchange for Hebrew lessons. In order to assure his needs, we organized different families that were willing to have their children taught Hebrew. After he left the city, another teacher arrived, who had completed the Herziliya high school in Palestine. From him were heard, perhaps for the first time, about the existence of modern33 Hebrew poetry and about Hebrew literature. The first to be grabbed by the new vision were students in the upper grades of the Reál School. The crux of the dispute was the question of whether Judaism is about religion or about ethnicity34. What decided the difference of opinion was the anthology of Hebrew poets (in Hungarian), which was translated by József Patai35.
In relation to this, I am reminded of an interesting episode that is worth repeating: The stubbornest arguer decided that since there is no Jewish people, therefore there is also no Hebrew poetry. How did I respond? I read to him some of Tschernichovsky's poems [contained] in the Patai's translation [entitled] Fantasia:
On this night, dark night,He was very impressed and his first response was I do not believe that this is originally a Hebrew poem, and if it is, then I will learn the Hebrew language. Right away, I gave him a study book for beginners. After two days, he returned to me in a state of excitement: He already knew the [Hebrew] alphabet (the letters). He opened a prayer book that was lying on the table and began to read, Blessed art thou, o God (literally as written) etc.. I admonished him that it was forbidden to pronounce God's name [as written], rather [it was to be pronounced] ADONAY. How do I know that?, he asked. The name of the boy was Miklós Erdélyi. After a small number of years, he left for Italy where he authored the first Hebrew-Italian dictionary as well as the first Italian-Hebrew dictionary. He also wrote a Hebrew book for Italians and an Italian book for [individuals that speak] Hebrew called Erdely by Nicola Erdelgo. Currently, he is a member of Kibbutz Naan and one of his pursuits is teaching Hebrew to adults. Thus, one of the [important] disseminators of the Hebrew language in Europe [originally] came from Győr.
night of the dark abyss,
Spread upon it a crescent moon and heavenly lights .
Here and there, Zionist youth began to organize. Interest groups were established and grew.
Boys joined the Herzl36 group and girls [joined] the Yehuda HaLevi37 group. They all tried to obtain every publication and book in Hungarian on the Zionist idea. The material was a source of study and inspiration for them. Besides Patai's anthology that is mentioned previously, the artistic translations of Macoy38 [and] The Belt by Manoello39 enjoyed great success. They [the youths in the Zionist groups] acquired the six volumes of Graetz's History [of the Jewish People]; passages from Armin Piros, Lajos Frigyes: The Nature of the Jews; Lajos Simon: Where does the Jewish Road Lead?; Grotius:40 The Jewish Renaissance. Writings of the time like Múlt és Jövõ [Past and Future]41 and HaTikvah42 , these books, and similar [books] served as an activity source for the regular weekly meetings in which one of the members would lecture on a previously prepared subject.
An incident concerning one of the most talented members of the group, Laci Juhász, who was imprisoned during the rule of Horthy43, because at the time of the unsuccessful44 Communist revolution45, he dared while in the 11th grade to call one of the teachers a dirty reactionary. After years of university in lockup, this youth earned a Doctor's degree and certification to teach in high school; however in order to receive a [teaching] post, he converted to Christianity. His end [came] in the forced [labor] camp together with a white band on his sleeve, a sign of [Jewish] converts to Christianity; a yellow band was instituted for the Jews .
During this period, the members who were older than me increased the intensive organizing, which kept diversifying. A significant portion of the Orthodox youth joined them. First of all, I must mention the Mendelssohn family: two daughters and three sons (Feri and Berta were the most active). For some time, they met in the house of Aranka Révész. Her father, while he was employed by the Hungarian Railroad, had already visited Palestine and was accepted as a Sympathizer of the Land [of Israel]. (I must also mention that the Krausz family was among the first immigrants [to the British Mandate of Palestine]: two daughters and two sons). Of course, organizing for the Zionist cause encountered much opposition. The sharpest opponent of the progressive-Zionist youth and students was the honorable Rabbi, Dr. Mór Schwarz. All of the students of the high school had to come to him for religion lessons. Since I was the only Jewish student in the Benedictine school, I participated in these lessons and thereby, I had the opportunity to conduct a secret Zionist campaign. However, this did not remain secret from the Rabbi. In order to balance my damaging influence, he employed the weapon of ridicule: Grosz, he said, You will be an ambassador in Palestine some day. And in fact, this inexpensive weapon as it were, easily accomplished its aim and all of the class burst into laughter at the successful joke. However, the honorable Rabbi [also] knew how to express his worldview in a serious fashion. Afterwards when a youth [group] delegation appeared at his home to request his permission to use the public auditorium for a Purim celebration, he rejected the request with open anger. He explained his refusal with these words Anyone familiar with Jewish history knows that every day is Purim for us because that miracle46 constantly occurs before our eyes. Why therefore should we celebrate specifically on the 14th of Adar47?
The [youth movement called] HaNa'ar HaLomed48, drew very important encouragement from the visit of Bartalan Tomasov49 in the Spring of 1919. [Bartalan Tomasov] came to Győr from Siebenburgen on his way to Pressburg. At a well-attended meeting of the students of the Reál School, this man inflamed his young listeners. His words included many practical work tasks that the youth took upon themselves as the way of doing things.
During the first years of the Horty period, as anti-Semitism increased and edicts such as Numerus Clausus50, etc. were imposed, the Zionist movement likewise received an equally great impetus. We initiated Operation SHEKEL51, and we endeavored to introduce the Blue Box [of Keren Kayemet, the Jewish National Fund] into more and more homes and we also were careful to regularly empty [the contents of the Blue Box].
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