The Community, its Institutions and its Organizations
The Organization of the Community
We do not have any verifiable information about when the community was founded in Sziget. It seems that a regular minyan already existed in the community by the year 5500 (1740), and the first synagogue was built in the year 5567 (1807). The Great Synagogue that existed until the Holocaust period was built in the year 5596 (1836). One of the first organizations was the Chevra Kadisha [Burial Society] that was officially founded in the year 5558 (1798) when its charter was formulated, but there is no doubt that it functioned prior to that time. In the year 5595 (1835), its charter was reformulated in the spirit of the time and the place, and new members were added. The Chevra Kadisha was autonomous and not under the supervision of the community. At a time of financial stress, the Chevra Kadisha supported the community with significant funds, both with loans and grants. In general, the heads of the community also served as heads of the Chevra Kadisha.
One of the ledgers of the Chevra Kadisha, from the years 56555685 (18951925), with 290 minutes (protocols) listed, remains. Immediately after the death of one of the residents of the city, the leadership of the society, its heads, gabbaim [trustees], and other selected people gathered together and decided on the price to be charged to the heirs of the departed in exchange for the plot and the funeral costs. At that meeting, the place of burial was decided in accordance with the honor, communal stature, scholarship, conduct toward Gd, and interpersonal relations of the deceased. As is noted in the ledger, the following people were the heads of the society during those 30 years: Reb Naftali Heilprin (also noted as Halpert) from the years 56555657 (18951897), died on 5 Tevet 5661 (1900); Reb Moshe Aryeh Friend from the years 56585662 (18981902), died on 17 Adar 5662 (1902); Reb Anshel Weider from 56625679 (19021919), died on 21 Adar 5779 (1919). From the year 5679 (1919) and onward, Reb Michael Kahana and Reb Yisrael Weiss served in that capacity. Close to 400 Jews of Sziget who were laid to their eternal rest in the cemetery during the 30 years covered by that ledger are registered therein. It is an important source for the history of the Jews of Sziget, in their varying statuses and strata.
As the community became firmly rooted and its population grew, especially during the 50 years between 18301880 when the community grew with dizzying speed as the population grew eightfold or more, institutions were opened one after the other. Alongside the traditional institutions for the public teaching of Torah that began to function and expand along with the growth of the community, such as the Chevra Shas [Talmud Study Society], Chevra Mishnayos [Mishna Study Society], and other societies of that nature that functioned in virtually every synagogue and house of worship numerous organizations whose purpose was of a social and societal nature were founded. In 1883, the society for mutual support of the handworkers (Handverker Unterstitzungs Farein) was founded. It also set up its own synagogue called Poale Zedek. The women's charitable and benevolent society was especially active. Apparently, it was also founded at the end of the 1880s or the beginning of the 1890s. The Malbish Arumim [Clothing the Unclothed] Society was founded around those years. Its primary function was to provide for clothing for the children of the Talmud Torah and other schools. The Chevra Sandakaut concerned itself with poor women giving birth. In 1894, a public kitchen was set up, which served meals at a token cost. Starting from 1901, the public kitchen received regular support from the members of the community, the town council, and the area leadership.
In the newspapers published in Sziget, we have found several announcements of social organizations in the city and their activities, until the time of the First World War:
In the month of Elul 5638 (1878) the activities of two honorable and effective societies were renewed: a) the Chevra Sandakaut, whose purpose was to support poor women giving birth with the sum of 8 guilder to sustain them for the first eight days; b) Chevrat Hachnasat Kalah to provide for poor brides. The newspaper writes the following about that organization: Its fruits still have not ripened… and one cannot know what the times will demand of the founders of the organization (Hashamash, 26 Tishrei, 5639 (1879).
The society for the support of Jewish tradesmen who were ill in Sziget celebrates its first decade of existence on February 4, 1894. The celebration will take place in the auditorium of the town hall. (Szigeter Zeitung, February 1, 1894).
An organization for girls was founded, the purpose of which was to support poor children (ibid.); A kitchen for the poor was created, headed by the head of the community Adolf Davidovitch. 150 members have joined by this point. The kitchen will begin to operate next week (ibid.)
The Matan Baseter [Discreet gifts to the poor] invites its members to a general meeting that will take place on Sunday of the Torah portion of Chayei Sarah 5655 (November 18, 1894) in the offices of the organization. The following people signed the invitation: Avraham Ganz the secretary, Baruch Tzvi Kahana the president of the organization (ibid. November 15, 1894).
The Malbish Arumim [Clothing the Unclothed] organization invites it members to a general meeting that will take place on Sunday of the Torah portion of Yitro, 5655 (February 10, 1895). The president of the organization Avraham Kaufman, the vice president Yosef Izik Polak (ibid. January 24, 1895). The following is an accounting of the meeting. It was decided to build a special Beis Midrash for the organization. Reb Yaakov Greenwald delivered a fine sermon. The organization decided to appoint a scholar who will give classes every Sabbath. (ibid. February 14, 1895).
The Chevra Beit Moshav Zekeinim [Organization for the Seniors' Home] was founded for the purpose of helping the needy elderly who are age 60 and above. The head of the organization is Dr. Alexander Sternberg. The organization has its own house, and it requests the support of the community. (Jewish Folks Zeitung, August 15, 1913).
Within the community, they also concerned themselves with persecuted Jews outside the country. In 1891, an assistance committee was set up for the persecuted Jews of Russia under the auspices of the Sephardic community (see further). In 1900, the two communities jointly set up a similar committee for the refugees of Romania, some of whom passed through Sziget on their way to overseas countries (United States and the Land of Israel).
During the Hungarian War of Independence of 18481849, the Jews of Sziget remained very passive. According to the article, only four Jews participated in the uprising. This can be explained with the background of the origins of the Jews of Sziget, virtually all of whom stemmed from Galicia.
In 1889, the community of Sziget made a request to set up an eruv [] in the city. The city council pushed off the request every year. Only after a six year battle, and after the city made a condition that permission be given for the eruv posts to be used for electric wiring, was the eruv set up in 1895.
During the interwar period, the communal institutions were already solidified, and almost no new institutions were added. The longstanding institutions became firmly based and they expanded. At the end of the 1920s, the communal budget was four million Lei, approximately 3 million of which went toward social needs, and charitable and assistance aims. 1,295 of the approximately 2,300 heads of families paid the communal taxes.
The community center was housed in a large, brick courtyard that encompassed the Great Synagogue (as has been noted, built in 1836), the large Beis Midrash of the Kahana family, the home of the rabbi and his Beis Midrash and yeshiva next to it, residential homes for several communal officials and the shamash, the offices of the community with a large meeting hall in the center, and a large, modern bathhouse.
Tens of synagogues, Beis Midrashes, kloizes, and Hassidic prayer halls existed in Sziget, six of which were large and splendorous. According to the article in front of us, the Jews of Sziget worshipped as follows in the houses of worship:
The Great Synagogue (of the city): The rabbi worshipped there several times a year, such as on every Shabbat Mevorchim []. On Shabbat Hagadol and Shabbat Shuva [], the rabbi delivered his official sermon there. The wellknown cantor Mendel Herer conducted services in that synagogue. During the time of the Second World War, the cantor Fishel Rosenberg (the grandson of Reb Alter Rosenberg) conducted services. The gabbaiim [trustees] during the interwar period were generally Isidor Weiss, Moshe Yisrael Klein, Efraim Jakubovitch, Reb Moshe Perl, Dr. Kraus, and Yosef Katz as the chief gabbai, and others.
The Synagogue of the Kahana family (Kahanishe Beis Midrash) was next to the Great Synagogue. The gabaiim were Reb Yehuda Meirovitch and Hirsh Leib Laks. Reb Yeshaya Weiss and Reb Moshe Hirsch Kahana delivered the class in Gemara and Tosafot. The congregants were Reb Chaim Prager, Moshe Jakubovich, David Gedalia Einhorn, Reb Yaakov Hecht, Moshe Chaim Jakubovich, Elimelech Weider, and others.
The rabbi, students of the yeshiva, and several householders who were close to the Hassidic court worshipped in the large Beis Midrash of the rabbi and the court of the Admor of Sziget. Hundreds of Hassidim of the Rabbi of Sziget who came from all areas of the country worshipped there on festivals and special Sabbaths.
Reb Yaakov Greenwald and later his son Reb Avigdor Greenwald gave classes in the Beis Midrash of the Talmud Torah. The prayer leader was Reb Pinchas Weiss. The regular Torah reader was the printer Reb Moshe Rosenthal.
The prayer leader in the Beis Midrash Machzikei Torah was Reb Moshe Rotner, the son of Reb Binyamin Alter Rotner from MarosVásárhely and the soninlaw of the shochet [ritual slaughterer] Reb Moshe Yaakov Kahana. It was founded by Reb Leib Yosovitch, who was the head of the community of Sziget for many years. The shamash was Reb Michel Neuman.
Photo page 20: Reb Leib Yosovitch.
The gabaaim of the Beis Midrash Eitz Chaim were Reb Mordechai Perlstein and Zalman Leib Shanbrun.
The prayer leaders of the Beis Midrash Malbish Arumim were Reb Chaim Liberman and Reb Moshe Izrael. Reb Lipa Kahana (the son of the shochet) and Reb Moshe Hirsch Kahana were delivered the classes.
Reb Zindel Klein delivered the class at the Beis Midrash Poale Zedek for many years. He originated from Libau, Kurland [Latvia]. He escaped to Hungary to avoid serving in the Russian Army. He was one of the prominent Hassidim of Reb Shalom of Belz. He later settled in Sziget and was appointed as a teacher. He died at the ripe old age of 93 in 5677 (1977). One
of his grandsons was Reb Shlomo Yaakov Gross [], a leader of Agudat Yisrael, and a member of Knesset [Israeli Parliament] from that party.
Many people of the Kahana family worshipped in the Beis Midrash of Reb Kalman Kahana, the brotherinlaw of the Gaon Rabbi Yehuda Modron.
Reb Hirsch Shimshovitch and his son Reb Velvel were the prayer leaders at the Vatania (Old) Visznitz Kloiz. Reb Velvel Shimshovitch was a wonderful Hassidic musician who would frequently sing at the table of the Admorim of Visznitz. When he sang, for example, Ana Avda DeKudsha Brich Hu [I am a Servant of the Holy One Blessed Be He], a holy trembling fell upon the congregation of Hassidim. Reb Fishel Stern, Reb Yissachar Feldman (the chairman of Agudat Yisrael), Reb Chaim Stein, Reb Chaim Rasler, Reb Betzalel Stern, Reb Berl Ashkenazi, Reb Shmuel Kahana, Reb Avigdor Yosef Perl and others were among the worshippers of that kloiz.
Photo page21 top right: Reb Matityahu Appel.
Photo page 21 top center: Reb Avigdor Yosef Perl.
Photo page 21 top left: Reb Yudel Saraf
Photo page 21 bottom right: Rabbi Dr. Shmuel Binyamin Danzig, the rabbi of the Sephardic Community of Sziget.
Freida, the wife of Reb Yudel Saraf
The young scholar Reb Moshe Yosef Saraf, who died in his prime, was among the founders of the New Visznitz Kloiz. Reb Mendel Hershkovitch was the prayer leader. The worshippers included Reb Alter Rosenberg and his son Reb Yechiel, Reb Avraham Weider, Reb Yaakov Leib Appel Reb Yaakov Leib Appel of Ieud and his son Reb Matityahu, Reb Yehuda Saraf (a wholesaler wellknown for his uprightness and proper business conduct), Reb Moshe Fuchs and his son Reb Shmuel (a great scholar, who moved to Grosswardein, and was among those who frequented and was a trustworthy follower of the author of the Ahavat Yisrael), his son Reb Itzikel Fuchs (a talented activist and communal worker) and his son Reb Eliezer Shochet, the watchmaker and optician Reb Chaim Menachem Gotovitch, and Reb Mordechai Kahana (Peltz) who was one of the prominent Visznitz Hassidim, a scholar, fearer of Heaven and server of Gd, with poor people frequenting his home; Reb Avraham Eliezer Farkas, the owner of the bakery.
There was the Beis Midrash of Reb Yechezkel Shiff.
There was the Beis Midrash of Rabbi Avigdor Polak, the stepson and soninlaw of the author of the Imrei Yosef of Spinka. He was known as a holy man at a high level. He did not sleep in a bed for 40 years. He died in Sziget on the 13th of Shvat, 5696 (1936), and a canopy was placed over his grave. His son Rabbi Yosef Meir Polak was an Admor in Bergsas, where he directed a yeshiva. He was murdered in sanctification of the Divine Name in KamenetzPodolsk on 4 Elul. 5701 (1941). His widow married the Admor of Belz. His son Rabbi Avraham Alter Polak serves as an Admor in Petach Tikva. Reb Yaakov Tzvi (the son of Reb Itzik) Hershkovitch was one of the prominent worshippers and the living spirit in this Beis Midrash. He was a relative of the Kedushat Yom Tov and the Atzei Chaim, a student of the Arugat Habosem and Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Ginz the head of the rabbinical court of Bisermin. (The son of Rabbi Avraham Chaim Hershkovitch is chairman of Agudat Yisrael in Bnei Brak).
The gabbai Reb Shmuel was the prayer leader, and a wonderful singer at the Beis Midrash of the Admor of Borsa, Rabbi Pinchas Hager.
There was the Beis Midrash of the Admor Rabbi Moshe Taub of Kalob.
There was the Beis Midrash of the wealthy Reb Eliahyu Stern who pursued charity and benevolence. He excelled at giving charity discreetly. He was the grandson of Rabbi Stern of Polian.
There was the Beis Midrash of Reb Yisrael Weiss, the wellknown collector of antique Hebrew books. His library was a gathering place for the scholars of the city. Reb Chaim Hilman was among the worshippers of his Beis Midrash.
Photo page 22 right: Reb Shmuel Kahana.
Photo page 22 right center: Reb Yisrael Zis.
The Beis Midrash of Globerman.
The Beis Midrash of the Admor of Kretchenof, Reb Eliezer Zev Rosenbaum.
The Beis Midrash of his brother the Admor of Slotpina.
The Beis Midrash of Rabbi Yosef Lichtenstein.
The Beis Midrash of Reb Yosef Domber.
The head gabbai of the Kloiz of the Hassidim of Kosov was Reb Asher Brecher. His son Reb Yosef delivered the class in Gemara and Tosafot. The Rosenthal brothers, who were printers worshipped there. The Admor of Kosov, the author of Leket Ani, would come to Sziget on frequent occasions. He was on friendly terms with the Atzei Chaim.
There was the Beis Midrash of Rabbi Chaim Leib Kahan (the author of Divrei Gaonim). His soninlaw was the wealthy man Reb Sender Krantz, a scholar who was known as a pursuer of charity and good deeds.
The Beis Midrash of the Sephardic community.
The shochtim [ritual slaughterers] who served in Sziget and we know about include Reb Yehuda Kahana the grandson of the author of Kuntrus Hasfeikot. He was involved in holy service for about 40 years, and died at the age of 80; also Reb Shlomo Kahana, Reb Moshe Yaakov Kahana, Reb Menachem Rubin, and Reb Yaakov Kaufman. There were three mikvaot [ritual baths] in the city.
Photo page 22 left center: Reb Fishel Stern.
Photo page 22 left: Reb Betzalel Stern.
The Hassidic court of Sziget made sure that that heads of the community would be individuals who had a closeness and friendliness toward it. Reb Moshe Aryeh Freund the son of Reb Yehoshua Kroler served as the head of the community for many years. He was known as a scholar, a Hassid, a wealthy man, and a great intercessor. He was actually a Hassid of Belz, but he was also close to the author of the Yeitiv Leiv and the Kedushat Yom Tov. He had six sons and four daughters. Two of his sons were famous throughout the country: Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Freund was the rabbi and Admor of InterdamNausaud, a holy man who waged the battle of Torah throughout the entire country. Reb Ephraim Freidman of Vasarhelyi wrote the history of his wife in a book called Hadrat Kodesh (Grosswardein, 5702 / 1942, a second, expanded edition was published by Reb Tzvi Moshkovitch, Jerusalem, 5720 / 1960). His second was Reb Chaim Freund of Satmar, a very wealthy merchant and manufacturer, who served as one of the heads of the community for many years. He was a Hassid and a charitable man who distributes a great deal of charity. He was the head of the effort to bring Rabbi Yoel Teitelbum from Krula [Carei / Nagykároly) to Satmar. In his latter year, he made aliya and settled in Jerusalem. All of the great people of Jerusalem, would hasten to his door to visit him. Reb Chaim sat in his house and did not return visits,
except for Rabbi Eliezer Hager of Visznitz, the author of Damesek Eliezer. With him, he went into seclusion and talked for approximately four hours. He distributed a great deal of money in Jerusalem as well. The other sons of Reb Moshe Aryeh were Reb Shalom Freund, Reb Yitzchak Freund, and Reb Yosef Shmuel Freund. The first soninlaw of Reb Moshe Aryeh Freund was Reb Yitzchak Bretler of Kolomyya, one of the greats of the Hassidim of Visznitz, a scholar and wealthy man Torah and grandeur in one place.
Other Sziget notables who are known to us also include Reb Chaim Prager the grandson of Mahara'm Shik, Reb Shmuel Eliezer Feldman, and Reb Pinchas (Pinia) Feldman of Bicskof who made aliya a long time before the First World War and was appointed as head of the Visznitz Kolel. He was very dedicated to the affairs of the Kolel and was beloved and accepted by the people of the Kolel. His son Reb Gedalia Feldman was one of the known Hassidim of Borsha. Later he settled in the village of Ratosnya in the area of Mures, where he occupied himself with major commercial ventures. At times, he would invite the Admor of Borsha to his settlement. Reb Gedalia would wear a streimel throughout the entire visit of the Admor.
Reb Leib Yosovitch served as the head of the community for a long time. At times, people who were not members of the court or close to the Admor were elected as the head of the community. Such people included Reb Fishel Stern, Reb Moshe Chaim Jakubovitch, Shaul Farkas, and Michael Semok, who was a member of the Romanian parliament for a brief period.
The following people served in holy roles in the Sziget Hassidic court: Reb Asher Schwartz the soninlaw of Reb Zindel Klein the Magid [preacher] of the aforementioned Poale Zedek Synagogue. Reb Asher was a great scholar and faithful advisor. He served in a holy role for four Admorim of Sziget. People would say that a kvitel [petitionary note] written by Reb Asher would already achieve half of the salvation. There was also the second gabbai Reb Nachum Hirsch Cohen, and Reb Moshe Cohen of Nanos.
From among those close to the Hassidic court we will mention Reb Yehuda Steinbach, Reb Chaim Shnitzler, Reb Kopel Matias the owner of the baker, BenZion Tzeler, Shmuel Petriver, Eliezer Simcha Reich, Moshe Weider who was the trustworthy chief kashruth overseer of the butcher shops, Yisrael Shanblum, Reb Chaim Leib Weider of Borsa and his son Elimelech, Reb Avraham Chaim Motzen, the mohel [ritual circumcisor] Reb Chaim Eliezer Reichard, Reb BenZion Rubin, Reb Yaakov Tzvi Hershkovitch, David Perl, Reb Zev Neilender, Reb Akiva Fried, Reb Chaim Hilman, and others.
Photo page 23 top right: Reb Asher Brecher.
Photo page 23 bottom right: Reb Yudel Steinbach.
Photo page 23 bottom center right: Reb BenZion Tzeler.
Photo page 23 left: Reb Yaakov Tzvi Hershkovitch.
During the time of the Kedushat Yom Tov, Anshel Weider, a Torah observant man who also knew how to learn operated as a lawyer in Sziget. However, the Kedushat Yom Tov opposed him, for an orthodox lawyer causes a mishap to the younger generation who are liable to learn from his deeds, go out into bad areas and foreign streams, and involve themselves in Haskalah.
The secretary of the community was Reb Moshe Frankel. He originated from Lithuania. He was a scholar and a maskil. After him, Reb Moshe
Kofler served in this role. He was a linguist, who had fine traits. He would frequent the Sziget Hassidic court, while he was simultaneously a lover of Zion and a leader of Mizrahi.
The sofer [scribe] Reb Manish was a scholar, fearer of Heaven, and a Hassid of Visznitz. The Hassidim would strive to obtain scrolls [] that he wrote. Reb Michel, a Hassid of Sziget, was another sofer.
The women's organization for charitable and benevolent deeds within the two communities conducted great activity. Their prominent activities included frequent collections for the sick, for poor brides, aid to women in childbirth, and all matters of charity for those in need as were required by the times. A second women's organization worked primarily in raising money for firewood and clothing for poor families. The Malbish Arumim Society concerned itself with winter clothing such as parkas and boots for poor children. They supported about 150 children at the end of the 1920s.
The heads of Chevra Kadisha were Juda Perl and Izik Leib Feuerwerger.
The JOINT [] functioned outside the rubric of the community, but with firm and appropriate cooperation. The Sziget chapter was opened immediately after the conclusion of the First World War, when many of the Jews of Sziget suffered from severe want in the wake of the war that caused a diminishment of employment in the city (see further on). The headquarters of the Transylvanian JOINT was in Kalush, but the chapter in Sziget was one of the most active in the entire country. The leaders of both communities stood at the helm of the chapter, as well as the rabbi of the Sephardic community. The JOINT oversaw the establishment of a Jewish orphanage at the beginning of the 1920s. Workshops for knitting, weaving, and carpet making were set up alongside of it. It also set up a cooperative bank in Sziget. The JOINT purchased sewing machines for war widows, and also supported them with cash.
From among the institutions of Torah study founded in Sziget during the latter period, it is worthwhile to note the Chevra Mishnayos [Mishna study group] in the Beis Midrash of the Kahana family. It was founded in the year 5684 (1924), and its charter was published in Sziget in the year 5688 (1928).
Photo page 24 right: Reb Yechezkel Schwartz.
Photo page 24 left: Reb Moshe Koffler, the communal secretary.
There was a suburb known as Csarda (KabalaCsárda) within the bounds of the city of Sziget. It had its own communal organization and synagogue. Csarda also had its own shochet who was able to issue decisions on matters related to what was forbidden and permitted. This was so despite the obvious fact that Csarda belonged to the Sziget region. The shochtim who are known to us include Reb Shmuel Mordechai Benet and his son Reb Meir Benet, who collaborated to publish a book on laws and customs. There was also Reb Yechezkel Schwartz.
Reb Meir Benet had already published the small booklet by the year 5665 (1905):
An anthology of customs… from Tzadikim who are the great ones of the world and men of good deeds… Added on to this are honorable, precious prayers from the books of the holy Tzadikim, and some necessary laws from the Code of Jewish Law and latter rabbis that one must know at all times. Sziget, 5665. 10 pages.
In the year 5674 (1914), Reb Meir Benet expanded the scope and published three works together. One of them was written by his father, Reb Shmuel Mordechai Benet:
Three books are included: Likutei Minhagim [Anthology of Customs], Likutei Sha'm, Likutei Meir. a) Likutei Minhagim [as noted above]… b) Likutei Sha'm includes good laws and custom that are necessary, relevant, and required at all times. Collected from the Shulchan Aruch [Code of Jewish Law] Orach Chayim and Yoreh Deah and their commentators, and from the great latter sages after the Code of Jewish Law… collected and collated by the honorable rabbi and Hassid Shmuel Mordechai Benet the Shochet, may he live long. c) Likutei Meir also includes necessary laws and good and upright customs… In addition to the first anthology… and I have also added good portents… I anthologized and arranged it… Meir Benet, Shochet in KabalaCsárda. Sziget 1914 [], 82, 17 pages.
Reb Meir Benet died on the 7th of Nisan, 5691 (1931). The head of the community of Csarda between the two world wars was Reb Aharon Weisel, a Hassid of Sziget.
Dispute and Division
Large disputes often broke out in Sziget based on differences between the Hassidim of the Admorim whose influence was significant in the city. We will note the three largest ones. The first large dispute broke out in the year 5694 (1834) when Rabbi Eliazar Nisan Teitelbaum was accepted as rabbi of the community. This took place despite the desires of the Hassidim of Kosov, who stood at the helm of the communal leadership. Most of the Hassidim of the city followed after them. This dispute reached its pinnacle when the rabbi forbade the meat of the shochet of the village of Kretshinov, who was also a Hassid of Kosov. Rabbi Elazar Nisan left Sziget and moved to Galicia in the wake of this dispute.
The second dispute that left waves throughout the country and whose echoes even reached Galicia, broke out in the year 5643 (1993) with the death of the Yeitiv Leiv. A schism of the community took place in its wake. This time, the background of the dispute was the joining of the Sziget community to the national organization of Orthodox communities in Budapest. In the year 1869, when the Jews of Hungary split up, Sziget did not join the Orthodox union for a variety of ultraOrthodox reasons. The opinion of the community headed by the rabbi was that the Hassidic, Orthodox [] community of Sziget was to not accept guidelines and directives of the Orthodox union that was formed for communities that were in need of religious support. The author of the Yeitiv Leiv concluded one of his discussions on this matter as follows: Sziget is not to accept decisions and guidelines on matters of religion from the cleanshaven ones of Budapest.
Following increasing pressure from many of the Hungarian rabbis as well as from experts of religion who came to the fore in the city of Sziget, the community chose an eleven member delegation, headed by the wealthy Reb Kalman Kahana, to formulate a new charter for the community. One of the sections stipulated the conductions under which the community of Sziget would be prepared to join the Orthodox union.
The stipulations were not accepted by the leaders of the Orthodox Union. Nevertheless, the rabbi, along with a significant portion of the communal members, decided to join the organization.
Opinions were also divided with respect to the influence within the community internally. The Kanaha family, descendants of the author of Kuntrus Hasfeikot, had been a decisive influence on communal matters for decades, and most matters were decided by their opinion. The family numbered more than 200 individuals, some of them possessing great wealth and others vast scholarship. They were headed by Reb Kalman Kahana, whose fortune was in the millions. He owned 142 hours and thousands of hectares of lands and forests. When the ascendancy of the Teitelbaum family to the rabbinate of Sziget, scholars, Hassidim, and simple folk rallied around that family, and the stature of the Kahana family declined in a significant fashion. The traditional support came to the family via the Gaon Rabbi Yehuda Modron, the brotherinlaw of Reb Kalman Kahana.
The quarrel continued for several years, Many of the rabbis of Hungary, the majority of whom supported the author of Kedushat Yom Tov, as well as the rabbis of Galicia, some of whom sided with the Kanana family, were involved in the quarrel. At the end, the community split in the year 5647 (1887). The authorities recognized the new community, to which several hundred Jews of Sziget belonged, and called in the Sephardic Community. Each side issued books and pamphlets to support its claims. The enlightened institutions of the community joined the Sephardic community. After some time, the community took on a progressive nature, and a significant portion of its founded returned to the old community, including almost all descendants of the Kahana family.
The third dispute, which was also broadranging, broke out in the year 5668 (1908). This time it was with respect to the presidency of Kolel Máramaros, which had been in the hands of the KosovVisznitz dynasty since its founding. The vast majority of the Jews of the area affiliated with that Hassidic court. The great paradox was that the two personalities who headed either side, Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Teitelbaum the rabbi of Sziget on the one side, and the Admor Rabbi Yisrael Hager of Visznitz on the other side, were known as lovers of peace and pursuers of peace. They became intertwined in this dispute that was not to their benefit. They were dragged in by their Hassidim who sought their best interests. The Hassidim of the rabbi of Sziget, who had the constant numerical superiority, demanded the presidency of the Kolel, which distributed the money in the name of Rabbi Meir Baal Haness , claiming that most of the donations to the Land of Israel come from Sziget. The dispute concluded with a compromise after a rabbinical adjudication, in which several of the Torah greats of Hungary took part. The rabbinical adjudication took place in Khust under the presidency of Rabbi Moshe Greenwald, the author of Arugat Habosem. In a will that was left by Rabbi Moshe in the book Hachana DeRaba, there are hints that he was sorry that he placed his head between the two mountains.
Until the end of the First World War, the vast majority of the Jewish children in Sziget received traditional education only. It is a tradition among the natives of Sziget that already during the early period of the community, in the year 5530 (1770), the soninlaw of the rabbi, the merchant and head of the community Reb Moshe Gitzes, opened up cheders for the teaching of Torah. From that time, the study of Torah never stopped in the city, whether in an organized fashion in the Talmud Torah, private teachers in their homes, or in the synagogues and Beis Midrashes. Between the two world wars, more and more students studied in the cheders of the Talmud Torah that were under the supervision of the community. During the 1930s, the number of students in the Talmud Torah reached about 500, which was less than half of the students who studied with melamdim [teachers] in private cheders that were not under communal supervision. There were several concentrated areas scattered throughout the city in which the children of Sziget studied Torah in an organized fashion, such as in the building that the philanthropist left in his will on 40 Rakoczi Street; in the building left in the will of Reb Alter Markovitch on Danko Pishta Street; in the large Beis Midrash of the Talmud Torah on Varga Street; and in the building left in the will of Reb Chaim Stein, a wealthy merchant of forestry products and a Hassid of Visznitz and Otnya.
The Yesodei Hatorah organization was founded in the summer of 1912. Its goals included: setting up appropriate and comfortable classrooms that would fulfill the demands of the law and of health; selecting scholarly, Gd fearing teachers with appropriate talents and ensuring a proper salary for them so that they would be able to carry out their task without concerns of livelihood; and selecting a council of scholars headed by the rabbi who was the head of the rabbinical court to oversee the teaching methodology of the teachers. 150 householders signed up immediately at the time of its founding. The first general meeting took place on the first day of Selichot 5672 (1912) in the Kahana Beis Midrash. The agenda included: ratification of the charter, paying the directors, and acceptance of new members (notice of this is in Yiddishes Blatt, Sziget, year 3, 5672 / 1912, numbers 32, 33, 39).
In the realm of Jewish education of Sziget, it is appropriate to especially note the yeshiva that was founded by the Yeitiv Leiv, which was the first Hassidic yeshiva in all of Hungary. Numerous rabbis and Torah giants emanated from the walls of that yeshiva. The yeshiva transferred to all of the rabbis of Sziget. After the author of the Atzei Chaim died in 5686 (1926), the yeshiva went through a transient crisis, and recuperated when Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Gross, the rabbi of Barbesti was placed at the helm. He reorganized it anew in 1928 and introduced an innovation that never existed in any yeshiva of the country previously: courses for weaving alongside the yeshiva. A large portion of the yeshiva budget was covered by the Chabkin Fund for yeshivas under the auspices of the JOINT, whose leadership was excited by the constructive plan of Torah alongside the ways of the world. In the middle of the 1930s, when the number of students reached 150, Rabbi Gross created a plan to broaden the scope of the professional side of the yeshiva by opening courses for agricultural work, raising of fowl, and production of milk and honey. This curriculum was designated for students who planned to make aliya to the Land. The plan was presented to the Chabkin Fund in 1938. By the time it was checked out and approved, the Second World War had broken out and the sources of funding from the United States were closed off.
General schools were slow to come to Sziget. Indeed in 1779, a delegate of the Austrian Kaiser Josef II approached the civic education committee of Sziget with a demand to order the Jewish children to attend school every day. He even recommended the opening of a special school for Jewish children, and asked the members of the education committee to enter negotiations with the communal leadership regarding this. The delegate expressed his willingness to send a special teacher to the city for the secular education of the Jewish children. We do not have any knowledge whether any general school was opened for the Jews of Sziget during that period. It would seem that it did not happen, for in the list of schools founded by Josef II in the AustriaHungary Empire, no mention is made of Sziget. In any case, in the year 5618
(1858), the year that the Yeitiv Leiv arrived in Sziget, no secular school for Jewish children existed.
At the end of the 1880s, only five Jewish students studied in the city gymnasium. In 1895, an announcement appeared in the central publication of the Neolog communities, Egyenlöség, complaining that there is not one Jewish school in the entire region of Máramaros, in which 45,073 Jews live. The few students who attended school (1,980 students out of 7,627 who were required to be educated) attended nonJewish public schools, and even schools of various Christian sects. The first Jewish school in Sziget was opened only a short time before the First World War, through the efforts of the rabbi of the Sephardic community. However, its number of students was small.
Between the two world wars, some educational institutions developed in Sziget. Aside from the public school founded by Rabbi Dr. Danzig, a Hebrew school headed by Tzvi Turman was opened a short time after the war, but it too was only attended by a small number of students. Only in the middle of the 1920s, when the Orthodox community founded a public school with seven grades under the leadership of Samu Havas, did hundreds of students of the city, primarily girls, attend. However, even then, there were a large number of Jews whose children did not attend any secular school at all, despite threats and fines from the authorities. On the other hand, hundreds of students, primarily from the intelligentsia class, attended the public schools of the city. Jewish secondary schools never existed in Sziget. Those who required secondary education were educated outside of the city or in the city gymnasiums.
Vibrant Jewish cultural activity developed in Sziget during the final quarter of the 19th century.
a) Sophisticated Hebrew printing was founded there. In the year 5634 (1874) this development attained great momentum. Apparently, there were two factors to this: the many scholars and authors in Sziget led to the establishment of a Hebrew printing press in the city, and the setting up of the printing press gave a powerful, practical push to the authors to publish their works. The Hebrew printing continued until the Holocaust, and more than 200 Hebrew books were published during its 70 years of its existence (18741944). Most of them were Torah books, a significant portion of which were written by the rabbis and scholars of Sziget. This also served as a source of livelihood, especially during the time of the printer Avraham Kaufman and his son (19001944), who also published many books in the vernacular languages of Hungarian, German and Romanian. Among everything else, all of the official announcements of the Hungarian gendarmerie until the end of the First World War were printed there. Avraham Kaufman also served as one of the heads of the community for many years.
The era of Hebrew printing in Sziget was already noted for its expertise, professionalism, and unusual diligence by Naftali BenMenachem. Here we will only add a few lines to note the place of Sziget on the map of Hebrew publishing in Transylvania.
The first table surveys the output of books in the five other publishing areas of Transylvania.
|#||Place of the Printing,
and year of publication of first book
|# of books,
|# of books,
|# of large scope books
(more than 100 pages)
|1||Sziget 5634 (1874)||about 220||205||72|
|2||Satmar 5663 (1903)||about 200||177||39|
|3||Seini 5665 (1904)||about 145||130||35|
|4||Klausenberg [Cluj] 5642 (1882)||about 100||92||17|
|5||Grosswardein 5687 (1927)||about 80||73||16|
|6||Margareten [Margita] 5673 (1913)||about 40||37||4|
|#||Place of Printing||18731880
b) Jewish newspapers and Yiddish literature. The first Hebrew weekly Hator appeared already in the year of the founding of Hebrew printing in Sziget. It was edited by Avraham Gintzler, who published more than 30 issues during the years 18741876. The newspaper moved to Krakow in 1880, where its publication was renewed. The poet, jester [], and Zionist activist Hirsch Leib Gotlieb worked a great deal in the realm of Jewish journalism in Sziget. His first attempt was the editing of the Hebrew weekly Hashamash, of which he succeeded in publishing 12 issues in 1878. Due to the opposition of the rabbi to this activity, which was permeated with the odor of haskalah, Gotlieb was forced to transfer his newspaper to Kolomyya. From then on, he made several attempts to publish newspapers in Yiddish: in 1893, he edited the Yiddishe Folkszeitung, which lasted until 1895; in 1896 he edited the monthly Di Vahrheit, but it folded after the second edition; in 1889 Gotlieb succeeded in publishing 12 issues of the Yidishes Folksblatt and in 1900 he published the Zionist weekly Tzion that appeared until 1906 however only isolated editions were published; in 1898 Gotlieb worked at editing the bilingual Zionist weekly Ahavat Tzion, of which four issues appeared (the Hungarian section was issued by Dr. Eliahu Blank see further on). He made his final attempt close to the First World War, along with Tzvi Yehuda Leopold, editing the Yiddishes Blatt weekly (19101912), of which he succeeded in publishing 40 issues. The Yiddish poet Yosef Holder took his first steps in Yiddish literature in that newspaper.
Hirsh Leib Gotleib publicized the persecution suffered by Zionism. Among other things, he writes: I come to express my pain in public, for because I attempted greatly to disseminate the Zionist idea, I brought upon myself the anger of the local rabbi and head of the rabbinical court, who is also a great rabbi for the Hassidim… With his great power, he banned the owners of the printing houses from publishing the Tzion newspapers, and also persecuted me greatly in my second source of livelihood [apparently referring to his profession of jesting]. I wish to found my own printing house here… but I still lack the needed means. I hope that the lovers of Zion would hasten to support me in to this end. (Hamagid, 5660 1900, issue 40, pages 355/6).
As a counterweight to the newspapers of Hirsh Leib Gotlieb, which covered the intelligentsia and Zionist trends, there was an Orthodox newspaper
called the Szigeter Zeitung, edited by Reb Tzvi Hirsh KahanaHeller and overseen by the author of the Kedushat Yom Tov. Apparently, about 20 issues were published between 1893 and 1895. The final issues were edited by his son Reb Mordechai KahanaHeller after the death of the editor. Some of the articles, especially those on Torah topics, were written in Hebrew.
Before the First World War, two bilingual weeklies were published in Sziget: the Máramaroser Yiddish Zeitung that reached its 27th issue in 1911; and the business weekly Yiddishe FolksZeitung of which several tens of issues were published between 1910 and 1914, and which stopped publication at the outbreak of the war. The aim of the bilingual (YiddishHungarian) newspapers was to interest the Jewish maskil in Jewish and Zionist topics. (There was still no organized Zionist organization in Sziget at that time.)
Several attempts were also made to publish Torah publications in Sziget: Shaarei Zion (5655 1895); Meged Yerachim (two issues in 5668); Vaad Chachamim (one issue in 5661 1911). None of these attempts worked out well, since they were in competition with other Torah publications that enjoyed wide distribution and had been published for a long time in the country, such as Tel Talpiot, Vayelaket Yosef, Netaei Bachurim, Ohel Yitzchak, and others.
Between the two world wars, especially during the 1930s, Sziget became a very important locale for Yiddish literature and journalism, which aroused the attention in the three cultural centers in the country: Kishinev, Chernovitz, and Bucharest. Aside from the aforementioned publications with a Zionist leaning, the following periodicals were published in Sziget: the Yiddishe Folkszeitung Orthodox weekly edited by Yonatan Binyamin Bilitzer and Moshe Tzvi Kahana (1928). Apparently, it did not last long. In 1932, Berl Schnobel attempted to publish a literary, ideological publication called Der Stern, but only three or four issues were published. Later, its editor moved to Bucharest, where he published two poetry books: Milner Gasse (1936) and Yeshiva Leider (1942).
Similarly, the fine literary monthly Oyfgang edited by Yisrael David Izrael and A. M. Hirsch was published. 28 editions appeared between 1933 and 1938. At the threshold of the Holocaust, in 1942, the young writer Yechezkel Ring published the Ying Máramaros literary anthology.
Yechezkel Ring was also active in Yiddish literature. He published his book Ferblondjeter Nigun [Lost Melody] in 1937, and Oyfn Himel a Yarid [A Fair in Heaven] in 1940. He translated the Hungarian Book of Rudolf Altai, Ungarishe Geshprachen, in 1941.
Several years before this, the book of the aforementioned jester Hirsch Leib Gotlieb, Leider Fun Mein Lebn [Songs from my life] songs, humoresques, and stories beginning with his autobiography was published (Seini, 1933). The book was published from his estate approximately three years after his death at the ripe old age of 102. In 1935, one of the religious Zionist leaders of the city, Moshe Kopler, published his thoughts in his book Torah and Judaism essays and pieces of literature. The book of Hershel Epstan was special volume, recognizing the life of the Jews of Máramaros in the background of the Admorim of Visznitz, to whom thousands streamed. He was nicknamed the Sholom Aleichem of Máramaros. The book was called Beis Yisroel Dem Visznitzer Rebbe's Hoif [Beis Yisroel the Court of the Visznitz Rebbe] (Sziget 1939). Many sections from it were translated into Hebrew by Naftali BenMenachem and published as a serial in the Hatzofeh newspaper in 5700 (1940). Hertzel Epstan perished in the Holocaust.
One can see a typical component of the cultural, Torah oriented atmosphere of Sziget by the founding of the Hebrew book club and collections of old, rare Hebrew stories, such as: the library of Reb Eliahu Horowitz (5593 5687 18331927). He was a scholar and enthusiastic collector. His library was composed mainly of old, rare rabbinic books; Rabbi Menachem Mendel Eckstein was also a scholar, a researcher, and an author, who was mentioned above. He immigrated to the United States in 1922 and served as a rabbi in Cleveland and New York. According to the testimony of a book collector from Tel Aviv, a native of Sziget who visited the United States, the books of Rabbi Eckstein could be found in most of the large libraries there, both Jewish and nonJewish; Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Davidovitch, who died in 1930. A catalogue of his books was published posthumously with the name Otzar Yehuda (Sziget 5691); the collection of Reb Yisrael Weiss was greater in quantity. The library was open to anyone who need it, and it was always bustling with visitors and readers from all strata of the Jewish community of Sziget. Reb Yisrael Weiss, who was one of the heads of the community and the Chevra Kadisha, perished in the Holocaust.
The Jews of Sziget during the Years of the First World War
The Jews of Sziget suffered a double dose of suffering during the time of the First World War: as residents of a city near the front, and as Jews. Russian brigades approached Sziget already during the first days of the war, and placed it under siege. The city was conquered by them within a brief period. According to a novella written by the JewishHungarian writer Béla Jávor, seemingly based on a true incident, a Jew named Lezar Feuerwerger volunteered to endanger himself and go out to the commander of the camp that was besieging the city, in order to convince him that there were no soldiers in the city and its area, and therefore, there is no reason for a bombardment. He recommended the surrender of the city in the name of the civilian authorities. Apparently, his intention was to Reb Izik Leib Feuerwerger, who had served for many years as a communal leader and a gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha. (His name is mentioned many times in a ledger that has been preserved). In any case, the approach of the army of the Czar caused a tumult in the city, and many fled. From the memoirs published by the Jewish physician Dr. Yisrael Klein about his experiences during the First World War (Muszkajárás Máramaroshban), he confirms that he was the only physician in the city when the front was broken by the Russians. Incidentally, Dr. Klein was also known as a research into the Spanish flu. He invented a medication that prevented complications. He perished in the Holocaust.
On Yom Kippur 5679 (1918), near the end of the war, antiSemitic, low ranking captains surrounded the synagogues of the city where all the Jews were gathered, and ordered their soldiers to search for renegades. The soldiers arrived at the Sephardic synagogue and two other synagogues at the time of the Neila service and began to remove the worshippers to the yard of the synagogue in order to check their identities under degrading circumstances. Rabbi Danzig, the rabbi of the community acted with bravery. Risking his own life, he passed through a chain of soldiers armed with bayonets. He was accompanied by two communal notables. He stood before the district governor. The latter contacted the military commander of the city, General Schling,
and verified that he had no idea about the antiSemitic events. The siege was lifted immediately, and the guilty people were tried before a military court. There was a great echo of this event in the newspapers.
A significant portion of the masses of people in Sziget were not sufficiently fluent in Hungarian, and did not understand the commands, ordinances and other proclamations during emergencies that affected the lives of the residents. In order to make things easier for them, Reb Moshe Wiliger published a Yiddish periodical called Ratengeber during the war, which translated this type of material, and even offered practical and legal advice to the Jewish community.
The Jews of Sziget played their part in the First World War. According to a partial list, 87 Jews of Sziget participated in the war. Of them, 7 had the rank of captain, 20 sergeants and first class sergeants, and 7 physicians (one was a pharmacist). Seven Jews fell in the war.
Economic and Social Life
With the breakup of the AustroHungarian Empire after the First World War, the region of Máramaros was cut off from Hungary. More than half of it, the portion north of the Tisa River, was transferred to the new Czechoslovakian Republic, and the southern portion was annexed to Romania. This caused many economic difficulties for the Jews of Sziget. Those whose livelihoods were in the villages and communities north of the central city were especially affected. Suddenly, Sziget became a border city, with all that such entails from an economic and business perspective. This fact was one of the decisive factors in the restriction on the economic development of the city. The Jewish population did not increase from the time Sziget transferred to Romanian rule. On the contrary, a constant decline ensued with respect to the percentage of Jews in the population: from 46% in 1920 to 39% in 1941. Even the railway link between Sziget and the other cities of Transylvania passed through Czechoslovak territory, in accordance with a special agreement that was renewed periodically.
At the beginning of 1919, before the Romanian government succeeded in entrenching itself in the city, the Jews of Sziget and the district were in constant fear of attacks, pillage, plunder, and even murder perpetrated by ruffians and bitter, frustrated liberated soldiers. The civilian government was in the hands of the Jews of the city for a few weeks. They chose a national Jewish council headed by the Zionist leader Dr. Eliahu Blank. The council organized a civilian defense, composed for the most part of young Jews with a national consciousness and battle experience, to protect the Jews and their property, both in the city itself and in the villages of the area. The council received a defacto certification from the Hungarian government (who considered themselves in charge even though they actually retreated from all of Transylvania), as well as from the Romanians, who had not yet managed to set up their rule in Sziget.
The economic and social composition of the Jews of Sziget is not mentioned in any of the sources we have. It is known that most of the Jews lived at a low standard of living, and the number of poor and those who required support was high. The Jews of Sziget earned their livelihoods in many fields: wholesale and smallscale commerce, trades, services, and other areas that is, in the traditional Jewish sources of livelihood in the country. However, the level of income was lower than what it was in other cities of Transylvania. In general, a significant proportion of the Jewish families with children earned meager livelihoods. The tendency toward manual labor, agricultural work, and being satisfied with little was typical among the Jews of Sziget, as it was among the Jews of Transylvania in general. From among the areas in which the Jews of Sziget worked, we should note the lumber trade in particular. Many Jews earned their livelihoods as workers and day laborers in the sawmills in the city and the district, as well as in cutting down trees in the endless forests in the mountains of Máramaros and floating them on barges on the Tisa and Iza rivers. A minority of the Jews of Sziget became wealthy from this area of business, as owners of sawmills and forests. The fruit export business, particularly in apples, was also developed in Sziget and was almost all in Jewish hands. No significant manufacturing took place in Sziget. One of the significant enterprises was the factory for chairs of furniture of Baron Gerdel, as well as the alcohol factory of the brothersinlaw Efrain Fishel and Eliahu Stern, which employed tens of Jews. It is worthwhile to also note the brush factory of Shaul Farkas, and the sawmill of the Jakubovitch brothers. Apparently, there was a chasm between the small wealthy class and the large masses of workers, tradesmen, shopkeepers, and smallscale farmers, businessmen and middlemen. This chasm was more prominent than in other parts of Transylvania. The middle class was small.
The Jews of Sziget participated the local societal life, even though they did not stand out in that regard. Almost all of the Jews of the city registered as Yiddish speakers in the 1930 census (10,450 out of 11,075). It is worthwhile to note that most of the physicians of the city were Jews, and they were quite involved in the society of the city. They were admired by the community, and some were active Zionists. Many of them perished in the Holocaust.
It is appropriate to note an unusual event that was in no way typical of the realities of the Jews of Sziget. During the years prior to the First World War, an assimilated Jew from Hungary served as the district physician. His social life revolved solely around gentile circles, with the Hungarian leadership and intelligentsia whose culture he absorbed throughout his life. When his time came and his children realized that he was about to die, they summoned the Catholic Priest to convert him to Christianity, so that he would be able to have a Christian funeral with the participation of the civic and district government, for the role of regional physician was very honorable in Hungary at that time. They intended to prevent a Jewish funeral under the auspices of the Chevra Kadisha, which did not deviate in any matters from the holy customs. When his daughter whispered to her dying father that the Catholic Priest had arrived, the physician rose up with his last strength and reprimanded her. With his last strength, he announced that he wished to die as a Jew. He gave up his soul with those words of repentance.
Jewish Youth Movements
a) Tzeirei Agudat Yisrael [Young Agudat Yisrael]. In the year 5688 (1928), about 40 working Orthodox youth set up Machzikei Hadas, whose aim was to teach Torah classes after working hours to youth who had graduated from yeshivas. In 1931, this organization joined
Tzeirei Agudat Yisrael. This was vexing to some of the Hassidim of Sziget, to whom the name Agudat Yisrael was fraught was suspicions of support of Zionist organizations. Indeed, some of these youths did eventually make aliya to the Land of Israel.
The organization took its first steps after the Atzei Chaim Yeshiva ceased its existence (and before it was reconstituted by Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Gross), and it students dispersed to various yeshivas throughout the country. A group of youths gathered in Salosz of the Admor of Borsa in order to organize the lads who had entered the circle of work and livelihood, so that they could study Daf Yomi [] together, to worship together and to engage in social activities. One of the Beis Midrashes on Sandor Astalosz Street was selected for this purpose. The vice secretary of the community Tzvi Stein, Zev Steinmetz, David Moshe Perl, Avraham Ring, Dov Festinger, and David Lazar headed this group.
Photo page 30: People of Tzeirei Agudat Yisrael, Sziget, in the year 5692 / 1932. Standing left to right: Dov Festinger, David Lazar, Nachum Gertner, Menachem Adler. Sitting left to right: Shlomo Leib Tabak, David Moshe Perl, Menachem Heller, Avraham Chaim Hershkovitch, Avraham Ring.
However, one of the conditions in the founding charter of Agudat Yisrael was that the agreement of the rabbi of the city was needed in order to join the organization. The sense of reservation of the rabbis of Sziget toward Agudat Yisrael is well known. It was therefore decided to send a delegation of three members of the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court, Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Teitelbaum, in order to obtain his agreement. The delegation explained to the rabbi that one of the honorable goals was to prevent the youth from Orthodox homes from joining Zionism, and from following the streams of the times, and the ill winds that were blowing over the Jewish youth of Sziget. The rabbi recognized the members of the delegation from their activities under the auspices of Machzikei Hadas, which was close to his heart. The rabbi leaned toward agreement, but present in his room at the time of the meeting was the gabbai Reb Moshe GenscherKahn, who knew that the agreement of the rabbi would cause ferment among the Hassidim. From the next room, the gabbai brought a letter of the author of the Atzei Chaim that expressed his opposition to Agudat Yisrael. The reaction of the 19 year old rabbi was: I know. He then took the letter and thrust it under the tablecloth. He said to the delegation: I am aware of the winds blowing over the youth, and if you are of the opinion that you can save the youth for Torah and Orthodox Judaism, I support you. Some time later, the members of the delegation were invited to the house of the rabbi. He told them that the pressure upon him was very great and the veteran Hassidim are not letting up from him. He is not retreating from his agreement, but he requested that they do not publish his agreement or distribute it in public.
When the youths of Agudat Yisrael organized, another committee was selected with the following members: Menachem Heller the son of the rabbi and head of the rabbinical court Rabbi Shlomo Heller as chairman; David Moshe Perl and Avraham Chaim Hershkovitch as vice chairman; David Lazar and David Festinger as gabbaim. Members of the leadership committee were Avraham Ring, Shlomo Leib Tabak, Menachem Adler, Nachum Gertner, and David Gedalia Hecht.
Tzeirei Agudat Yisrael of Sziget organized the Orthodox yeshiva youth in the settlements and towns of the region as well. Through personal acquaintance with many youths throughout Máramaros, with whom they had studied together in yeshivas, many chapters were founded in the towns of the region. The first activity in every location was to set up the Daf Yomi study. Widespread organizational work was done in Sziget itself. The organization moved to a new headquarters, which included a large room for a Beis Midrash, a lecture hall, and an office for receiving people. The organization forged contact with two centers in the country Chernovitz and Oradea as well as in national centers in other countries, such as in Warsaw and Frankfurt. They also received books and newspapers from them.
One of the successful activities of Tzeirei Agudat Yisrael was the founding of the Beis Yaakov School for girls. A committee of householders affiliated with Agudat Yisrael who understood the situation and who possessed the means was set up through the initiative of Tzeirei Agudat Yisrael to carry out what was needed. Reb Yissachar Feldman, Reb Leibush Weiss, Reb Yaakov Rizel, Reb Yaakov Fuchs, Reb Leibush Rov, Reb Ozer Yunger, David Gedalia Hecht and others participated in the Agudat Yisrael committee.
The teacher Chaya Hass was brought in from Chernovitz, where there was a Beis Yaakov teacher's seminary. She was the daughter of a wellknown Hassidic family of Bukovina, with an educational personality of stature. An elementary girls' school was opened. Beis Yaakov was recognized as an official school by the authorities. Girls above the age of compulsory education organized into Bnos Agudat Yisrael. Sara Rotenberg, the daughter of Reb Yosef Rotenberg, the Mizrachi leader of Sziget, joined the girls' organization. The daughter of the Mizrachi leader had influence also on girls from nonHassidic and nonchareidi homes, who also joined Bnos Agudat Yisrael.
Photo page 31 right: Reb Yissachar Feldman on the right with his nephew Mordechai Feldman.
A regional convention took place in Sziget in 5634 (1934), with the primary goal of strengthening the connections with the chapters that had recently been formed in the towns and settlements. At this convention, several of the village youths impressed the convention attendees with their fiery speeches, logical reasoning, talent of expression, and selfassurance. The opening speech was delivered by the rabbi and head of the large yeshiva of Oberwischau [ViEeu de Sus], Rabbi Menachem Mendel Hager. The speakers included Rabbi Leibush Ber Halpern (later rabbi in Vaslui), Rabbi Menachem Heller, and Rabbi Shlomo Yaakov Gross (today a member of Knesset from the Agudat Yisrael Party).
Another Aguda gathering took place on the occasion of the marriage of Rabbi Meir Hager, the final Admor of Visheve [Viseu]. The elder Admor of Visznitz, the author of Ahavat Yisrael, who was the grandfather of the groom, participated in the wedding. On one of the days of Sheva Brachot [] a grand gathering was organized in one of the large halls of the city All four sons of the Admor of Visznitz spoke at this gathering: Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Visheve, Rabbi Chaim Meir of Vilchovitz, Rabbi Eliezer of Visznitz, and Rabbi Baruch of Seret.
During the years 56945698 (19341938), several hachshara farms were set up in Sziget, where Aguda youths prepared for productive lives in the Land of Israel. Reb Shlomo Solomon, who owned apple trees, placed his garden at the disposal of the youths so that they could learn practically how to care for fruit trees. Another group of youths prepared themselves for aliya with the Bulgarian farmers in the vegetable gardens within the city boundary. Other youths studied a trade at the weaving school affiliated with the yeshiva, and still others studied carpentry.
b) Zionist Activities. The Zionist idea struck roots in Sziget. The first example of interest in the settlement of the Land of Israel was apparently in 1867. In the letter of Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Kalisher to Eliezer Raab, one of the founders of Petach Tikva (5628 1867), Rabbi Kalisher took interest in the personality of the great scholar of Sziget named Reb David Asch, who approached him regarding the matters of the Organization of the Settlement of the Land of Israel (see above about Reb David Asch, the son of Reb Menachem Asch of Ungvar [Uzhorod]). The opposition of most of the chareidim to the Zionist Movement restricted the development of the movement. Nevertheless, a strong movement, one of the most vibrant and strongest in Transylvania, sprouted in Sziget.
Photo page 31 left: Reb Leibish Weiss on the left.
The first Zionist organization was established in Sziget in 1906 by Dr. Eliahu Blank (1887 1955), however, it only encompassed a few people until after the First World War. Dr. Blank was a dynamic personality, both from a communal and a cultural perspective. During the period of regime change following the war, it was he who organized the independent selfdefense, as is noted above. He headed the Zionist Movement of the district of Máramaros until his aliya in 1926. In 1919, he published a pamphlet in Hungarian called Mir akar a Cioniszmus? (What is the aim of Zionism?), and he translated Herzl's The Jewish State into Hungarian. He was one of the founders of the first Hebrew School in Sziget. He edited several newspapers, as mentioned above. He founded a Hebrew and Yiddish library in Sziget. He continued his literary and communal work after he made aliya. He founded a nonpartisan weekly called Yerushalayim (19291930). During the disturbances of 5689 / 1929, when the license of Itamar BenAvi was revoked from his newspaper Doar Hayom, Dr. Blank transferred his license and the name of his newspaper to Itamar BenAvi. He composed a series of books: Jewish History (first edition: Jerusalem 5695 / 1935), General History in two volumes (first edition: Jerusalem 56975698 19371938); The Land of Israel a Geographical Book (first edition: Tel Aviv, 5703 / 1943); Excerpts from the Bible and Its Choicest Pearls (first edition: Tel Aviv 5703 / 1943). All of these books were published in repeated editions, and enjoyed widespread distribution.
Zionists organizations were founded one after the other in the city. The Shimshon Zionist Sport Organization was established in 1919, with basketball, boxing, and gymnastics groups under its auspices. In 1923, the
Hashomer Gdud Hatohar troupe was founded, some of whose members made aliya in 1925. In 1931, when the Hechalutz Movement became established in Transylvania, some of the members of the group troupe joined the pioneering youth movement the majority to Hanoar Hatzioni and the minority to Beitar, Shomer Hatzair, and others. With the help of the Hanoar Hatzioni center in Klausenberg, courses were set up in Sziget for the study of Hebrew, Israeli history, knowledge of the Land, etc. During that era, the nonfactional Barisia youth movement was organized, and in the late 1920s it was divided into three groups by age, the Gadol [Big] Group, the Katan [Small] Group, and Young Barisia. Hillel Danzig, the son of the Sephardic rabbi, was the head of Barisia, and later the head
Photo page 32 top: The Hachshara Camp for boys members of the leadership committee seated from left to right: from the third from the left Mordechai A. Abrahamovitch, Zeev Abramovitch, David Lazar, Yaakov David Viznitzer, Yitzchak Fuchs, Aharon Rosenthal, Moshe Lerman, Moshe Liberman, and others.
Photo page 32 bottom: First national convention of Agudat Yisrael and Poale Agudat Yisrael after the war. Sitting from right to left: Rabbi Yitzchak Yaakov Weiss (today the head of the rabbinical court of the Eida Hachareidis of Jerusalem), Rabbi Moshe David Oestreicher (the rabbi of Câmpa), Rabbi Leibush Ber Halpert (head of the rabbinical court of Vaslui), the Admor of EtefăneEti, Rabbi Mordechai Aryeh Horowitz (head of the rabbinical court of Banilov), Rabbi David Sperber head of the rabbinical court of BraEov chairman of the chairman of the Council of Torah Sages in Romania (the speaker), Rabbi Zusia Portugal (the Admor of Skulen), Rabbi Avraham Shlomo Katz (head of the rabbinical court of Risçova), Rabbi Yosef Stern of Seret, Rabbi Dov Rabinovitch (head of the rabbinical court of Piatra NiamE#), Rabbi Eliahu Sulzinger of Chernovitz, Rabbi Mordechai Hager (today the Admor of VisznitzMonsey), Rabbi Avraham Chaim Hershkovitch.}
of the national council of the movement. He made aliya in 1945. He was a member of the editorial board of Davar, and he published booklets on Zionist questions that were translated into Yiddish, English, and French.
One of the leaders of the Zionist movement in Sziget was Dr. Naftali Sternberg (18881966). He was one of the heads of the Zionist organization of Máramaros after Dr. Blank. Along with Dr. Yaakov Dermer, he edited the literaryZionist monthly Máramaros Bletter (19311932), of which 10 issues were published. He was a wellknown and wellaccepted eye doctor as well as an artist. He passed through the inferno of Auschwitz, and the survivors tell stories of his exemplary conduct. He made aliya in 1950 and served as a physician in Kupat Cholim of Haifa until a ripe old age. An exhibition of his art was set up in the Katz Gallery of Tel Aviv.
It was natural that in a city such as Sziget, where the decisive majority of the masses were Torah observant Jews, the strongest Zionist organization would be Mizrachi, along with Mizrachi youth. The central headquarters of Mizrachi in Transylvania was in Sziget for many years. The first hachshara farm of the Religious Zionists was also established in Sziget, on the banks of the Iza River. The first national conference of the Religious Zionists in Transylvania took place in Sziget. It opened on 19 Av 5689 (1929), with the participation of the president of the movement Rabbi Meir Berlin (BarIlan). Rabbi Dr. Danzig also served in the presidency of the organization. Incidentally, the sad news of the outbreak of the bloody disturbances of 5689 and the slaughter of the students of the Chevron Yeshiva was received during this convention.
The Mizrachi, particularly Young Mizrachi, developed strong Zionist publicity in the city and the region, while enduring a bitter fight with the chareidi circles in the city. In 1931, the members were enlisted into a vibrant publicity journey through the settlements of Máramaros. Within three days, 16 new chapters were founded in the region. The movement received encouragement and moral support from personalities of the movement in the Land. For example, in 1932, the leader of the movement, Rabbi Yehuda Leib HaKohen Fishman (Maimon) [], later the first Minister of Religion of the State of Israel, visited Sziget during his trip to Romania.
The aforementioned Rabbi Yosef Lichtenstein was one of the colorful personalities of Religious Zionism in Sziget, from whom the movement drew great moral support. The Religious Zionists regarded him as their rabbi and guide. Reb Yosef Rotenberg was another Zionist personality of stature. He was a scholar, vice head of the community for many years, vice chairman of the JOINT in the city, a member of the city council, and a delegate to Zionist Congresses. He made aliya in 1934. He was the chairman of the Mizrachi Chapter in Tel Aviv, and a member of national institutions. He died in the year 5625 / 1965.
The most impressive achievement of the Zionist activity in Sziget and in the district of Máramaros was the large aliya organized in 1935 (known as aliyat Sitkov, for the activist Yisachar Sitkov or Rehovot who organized it). 70 farmers (about 400 individuals) from the city and the region made aliya to the Land at one time, and most of them settled in Rehovot. When they left Sziget on special train cars decorated with flags and flowers, thousands of Jews of the city and the entire region were at the train station to see them off.
The Zionist groups in Sziget also gave literary expression to their ideas, aspirations, and hopes in periodicals that were edited and published in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Hungarian. In the years 1921 1922, Dr. Eliahu Blank and the poet Yosef Holder published the Yudishe Zeitung periodical, of which 12 issues appeared. It had a literary and general Zionist leaning. Religious Zionism expressed its outlook in two publications: the Yiddishe Presse weekly (19291931) published by the talented orator and writer Yisrael David Izrael. They succeeded in publishing about 100 issues a great achievement under the conditions of the place. The bilingual (HebrewHungarian) monthly Darcheinu (Utunk) , the publication of the Torah Vaavodah Movement of Transylvania, was edited by Moshe Kopler, Moshe Weiss, and Avraham Izrael between 1931 and 1934. This newspaper only put out 20 issues. Aside from the informative material in this newspaper, it served as a means of learning the Hebrew Language. From among its regular contributors, we should note David Klein (Giladi, today a member of the editorial board of Maariv []. The following two newspapers were published in Hungarian: Barisszia, of which five issues were published in 1930, and As Ut (the Way), which also published only sporadic issues between 1935 and 1936.
Even though the masses of the Jews of Sziget, even the largescale, wealthy businessmen, were almost completely cut off from the culture and society of the Hungarian surroundings, there was a thin strata of Jewish intelligentsia with a strong connection to Hungarian culture that was prevalent in the economic, cultural, and social life of the gentile population especially from the end of the 19th century and later. Some of these Jews stood out and were appointed to high positions in the political life of the country. The Jewish physician Dr. Yaakov Heller was elected to the Hungarian House of Representatives in 1898, defeating his gentile opponent with a decisive majority. That year, Lipot Vadász, a Jewish lawyer from Sziget, was also elected to the House of Representatives. The lawyer Ferencz Dezső was appointed as deputy judicial advisor to the Hungarian Treasury. The family of wholesale merchants from Sziget, Armin, Bernat and Albert Groedel, were granted the title of Baron in 1905 by Kaiser Franz Josef.
Photo page 33 left: Reb Menachem Glick.
Photo page 33 right: Reb Mendel Berkovitch.
Several natives of Sziget are known in the Jewish world, such as the historian Reb Yekutiel Yehuda Greenwald, who is discussed above. Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Freund (56105692
18501932) was also born in Sziget. His father was Reb Moshe Aryeh Freund, one of the wealthy people of the city who served as head of the community and head of the Chevra Kadisha for many years. Rabbi A. Y. Freund served as rabbi of the city of Năsăud in Transylvania, and also served as the Admor to those who revered him, as was stated above.
Rabbi Shalom Weider was another rabbi who was born in Sziget. He served as the rabbi of the Orthodox community of Nyíregyháza, Hungary close to 50 years (56545704 / 18941944). He perished in the Holocaust. A large book of his legacy was printed after the war: Responsa Mashmia Shalom (Brooklyn 5731 / 1971).
Photo page 34 right: Rabbi Yeshaya Weiss.
Photo page 34 right center: Rabi Yechezkel Halpert.
The aforementioned Reb Mordechai the son of Reb Moshe Wiliger was another author was born in Sziget. He was the author of the book Pardes Morcechai (Munkacz 5688 / 1928), Otzar Nechmad Kobetz Shitot (ibid, 1931). He immigrated to the United States in the 1930s and served as a rabbi in New York. From the year 5717 / 1957 and onward, his large book Kobetz Tosafot began to appear. It was an encyclopedic work on the opinions of the Tosafists. From the area of Jewish academia, we should note Professor David HalivniWeiss [], a great Talmudic researcher and lecturer in the Shechter Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, as well as at Columbia University. He is the grandson of Rabbi Yeshaya Weiss, who delivered classes and served as a rabbi in the Kahana family Beis Midrash. Professor Halivni is the soninlaw of Rabbi Baruch Hager of Visheve. His book Mekorot Umesorot [Sources and Traditions] (Tel Aviv, Dvir, 1961) summarizing his Talmud research, is one of the prominent works on Judaic academics in the latter period. Prior to that, he disclosed the works of Rabbi Elyakim Shapira on Tractate Taanit, and embellished it with academic commentary (Jerusalem 5719 / 1959). Dr. Naftali Weider was a wellknown researcher. He was a known expert on ancient Hebrew liturgical poetry, and a researcher of hidden scrolls. In his English book The Judean Scrolls and Karaism (London 1962) he displays a fundamental connection to this topic. His Hebrew book Hashpaot Islamit Al Hapulchan Hayehudi [Islamic Influence on Jewish Worship] (Oxford 1947) aroused great attention in the academic world.
In other areas: Reb Shmuel Zanwil FrankelKahana (18881970), the soninlaw of Reb Avraham MSh Frankel, served as the head of the Orthodox office in Budapest. When his fatherinlaw died in 1936, he took his place as the president of the office and as representative to the Hungarian House of Representatives, as well as the president of Kolel Ungarn. He escaped to the United States during the war, where he died. Michael Samok was a representative in the Romanian parliament from the Liberal Party between the two world wars, and also was active in Jewish communal affairs in Sziget. Joseph Szigeti [] was one of the finest violinists in the world. He moved to New York during the mid 1920s, and later moved to Switzerland. Dr. Tibor Franz (19031970) was a wellknown jurist. After the Second World War, he made great efforts to expose and bring to justice Nazi war criminals and Hungarian collaborators. After the closing of the public courts in Hungary, he was accepted to a judicial position within the Hungarian government, as the deputy chief prosecutor. He made aliya in 1956. Lajos Fejér (18771944) was a wellknown building engineer. He established one of the largest companies for city building in Budapest. Mr. David Shen was an editor of the Oj Kelet Hungarian newspaper that was published in Klausenberg. He published a book in Hungarian on Máramaros Jewry called Shocharei Hashem Bein Harei Carpatim [Those who get up early for Gd in the Carpathian Mountains]. This book had a wide distribution among Hungarian readers.
Photo page 34 left: Reb Izik Izakovitch
The writer Eliezer Wiesel [] is a Holocaust author (born in 1926). His father Reb Shlomo Wiesel was one of the prominent Hassidim of the Admor of Borsa. In his books, Wiesel perpetuates Sziget with its Jewish and Hassidic atmosphere and spirit. Chapter I of his first book, written in Yiddish, Un Di Velt Hot Geshvigen [And the World Was Silent] (Buenos Aires 1956) is considered to be a historical document on the history of the Holocaust in Sziget. His books on the Holocaust made a deep impression throughout the world. He was invited to the White House in Washington and delivered a speech on the Holocaust in the presence of President Carter.
From the time of the entrance of the Hungarians (September 1940) until the German occupation (March 19, 1944).
With the partition of Transylvania and the entry of the Hungarians to Sziget on September 5, 1940, a significant deterioration in the life conditions of
the Jews of the city was noted. One of the first activities of the new Hungarian government was an inspection in permits for business and trade. Even though this was a decree applying to the entire country, Sziget Jewry felt the decree in a stringent manner, for the Jews of Sziget had unbalanced livelihoods and were therefore more affected than the Jews of the rest of the communities of Transylvania. The sources of livelihood of tens of livelihood earners, already weak before all this, were ruined already during the first months of Hungarian rule. Many families depended on the public. The decree was fatal to a number of Jews: the merchant Moshe Moskovitch fell victim in a hunt for black market merchants. He was imprisoned and died in jail after suffering torture. They also beat and tortured the wealthy merchants Anshel Mendelovitch and Nandor Stern in prison. These were the first victims of the Hungarian authorities during the rule of Nazi Germany.
The gloomiest period of the Jews of Sziget prior to the deportation and annihilation of the summer of 1944, was the summer of 1941. In July of that year, thousands of Jews who did not have Hungarian citizenship from the year 1919 were deported from Hungary. (Until this day, we do not know the number of deportees. Most sources mention 2021 thousand, but some estimate the number of deportees in 1941 at 35,000.) The districts of Máramaros, Berg, and Ung were the most affected in the country. Families that had lived in the country for generations but neglected to get their certificates in order while there was still time due to lack of information were also deported from these districts. In many cases, Jews who had all the required documents were also deported. There were villages in Máramaros, particularly in the portion that formerly belonged to Czechoslovakia, where the population was deported within a night without inquiries or investigations. The vast majority were deported to KamenetzPodolsk where they were murdered by the Hungarian Army in cooperation with the German Gestapo. A small number of them were transferred to ghettos in Galicia, especially to the Kolomyya Ghetto, from where they were deported to Auschwitz. The vast majority perished in the Holocaust.
We do not have exact information of the number of Jews of Sziget who were murdered in this manner. Natives of Sziget, including the writer Eliezer Wiesel, speak of several hundred. The authorities attempted to carry out the deportations in Máramaros through undercover and devious means. On July 8, 1941, the deputy governor of the district (Alispán) Dr. Gábor Ajtay commanded all the Jews of the District of Máramaros who did not have Hungarian citizenship to register in the offices of the city council or village councils. The decree explicitly stated that the intention was to resettle these Jews in Galicia and Ukraine, and pointed out that this was for the benefit of the Jews. It stated that since these countries had been emptied of their residents due to the retreat of the Red Army, there would be no difficulty in obtaining comfortable living conditions as well as good sources of livelihood, and that the resettlement would not be fraught with suffering. The Hungarian authorities would place appropriate means of transportation at the disposal of the deportees. The vast majority of the Jews, even though they did not suspect mass murder, were not caught by the deceitful words of the authorities, and evaded the registration. Despite this, the authorities carried out the deportation without excessive investigations, through the means of the Hungarian gendarmes who were known for their harshness and cruelty. Only one of the Jewish deportees of Sziget returned, Moshe the shamash, who was saved miraculously from the slaughter while lying wounded under the mountain of bodies and volley of shots. When he returned to Sziget and told of the atrocities that he had witnessed, nobody believed his words. People reacted to him as if he had taken leave of his senses.
The year of 1942 was also a difficult year from a different perspective. In that year, the drafting to forced labor under the auspices of the Hungarian work service began. A large portion of these draftees were sent to Ukraine with the explicit aim of murdering them by starvation, torture, backbreaking work, and extreme cold. That year, hundreds of Jews of Sziget were drafted, and the vast majority of whom were sent to Ukraine. We will mention in particular the 1942/58 work group, which was sent to Ukraine in its entirety, and only a few isolated individuals survived after a year. It was captured by the Red Army on January 28, 1944. A few hours after the survivors were captured, sudden fire was directed at them. Nine Jews were murdered and five injured. To this day, we do not know who opened fire: whether it was soldiers of the Red Army or Germany soldiers who hid during the local battles. Among those murdered was Dr. Tibor Danzig, the physician of the unit and the son of Rabbi Dr. Danzig. (He was very active in the Barisia Zionist Youth Movement, and was a member of its national leadership.)
Youths below the age of 21, who were exempt from the duty of the general draft to work service, were also drafted in 194243 through the initiative of the local authorities. Throughout four weeks, the youths were distributed to work groups in the city and outside of it, such as forestry work, digging of trenches, and agricultural work. Most of the youths suffered from oppression and torture.
Photo page 35: Dr. Avraham Fried.
Other tribulations overtook the Jews of Sziget in 1942 this time upon the communal heads and notables. In July of that year, ten Jews of Sziget, almost all from the communal leadership, were suddenly arrested. These included Dr. Avraham Fried, the chairman of the district chapter of the National Alliance in Transylvania; two merchants of forestry products, Moshe and Chaim Jakubovitch, who were heads of the community at that time; Yosef Kaufman, the owner of the largest bakery in the city; Hugo Shangut, the owner of a large fruit business; Jeno Moldovan, and others. They were accused of being Jewish Communists who are traitors and collaborators with the enemy. They were placed in barracks and employed in clothing and food warehouses. A few days later, a large fire broke out in the warehouses, and the Jews were accused of willful incitement. They were taken to the antispy division, where they endured cruel trials. Within a brief period, the deceit was exposed: the arrests were carried out to cover over the premeditated incitement
by the captains of the barracks and the warehouse supervisors who pilfered the stock in order to sell it on the black market. The fire was meant to cover the traces of the pilfering.
In 194344, there was a significant movement in Sziget of refugees from the ghettoes and death camps in Poland, who had succeeded in coming to the city via the Carpathian Mountains. After they had rested a bit and supplied themselves with financial means, they moved from there to Budapest, where a large Jewish community existed. The Jewish and Zionist organizations in the capital city were experienced with the absorption of refugees and blending them into the population. The refugees received their first information in Sziget, where they also received first aid. Rabb Dr. Shmuel Danzig was particularly active in this area. He utilized his good contacts with gentile, antiNazi circles, including some with status in the local government. Many refugees found temporary asylum in the home of Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Teitelbaum until the way was cleared to transfer them out of the city. He placed the yeshiva building at their disposal. At times, 30 refugees hid in the rabbi's house at one time.
Photo page 36: Reb Nachum Hirsch Kahana.
The hiding of refugees from Poland in the house of Rabbi Yekutiel Yehuda Teitelbaum brought great problems upon him. Investigators came to the rabbi and began to question him about two refugees from Poland who were housed in his home. The rabbi and his shamash Reb Nachum Hirsch Kahana, who was a confidante of the author of the Atzei Chaim and the rabbi's guide during his youth, tried to evade the accusation. The investigators did not let up, and told them that they must come to the police station for an investigation. The rabbi and his shamash entered another room in order to get their tallis, tefillin and other belongings, but they snuck out to the street through a back door and escaped to nearby Slotpina, where they hid in the house of the rabbi, who was the brotherinlaw of the rabbi of Sziget, for several days. They moved to Selish from Slotpina. In the meantime, attempts were made to free them for a large sum of money. The investigators apparently agreed, but they demanded to speak with the rabbi. When the investigators reached Selish, the chained the rabbi and his shamash, and arrested them. After suffering torture, they were freed in exchange for a large sum of money. When they reached the intersection leading to Sziget, many Hassidim waited for them and drank a toast. The investigators, who followed after the rabbi, rearrested them and held them in the prison camp near Kaschau (Kosice). They were freed and returned to Sziget a few months before the establishment of the Sziget Ghetto.
There was another concentration of refugees in the court of the Admor of Karachinov, which had always been open not only to his Hasidim, but also to any poor people or wayfarers. The refugees did not arouse special attention in those two courtyards, for they were used to incessant movement.
The Ghetto and the Deportation
When the Germans took over Hungary on March 19, 1944, a drastic and particular dismal change in the status of the Jews of the country in general and Sziget in particular began. The decrees were issued one after the other: confiscation of radios, confiscation of property and money in banks, a ban on traveling by train and public vehicles, the wearing of the yellow patch, and more. The last decree had a tragic result in Sziget: Berish Katz, a messenger boy for businesses and the sole livelihood earner of a large family (his father died in one of the work units in Ukraine), was shot on a city street by a Hungarian barbershop owner. The yellow Star of David on the youth's chest served as a target for the shot. The barbershop owner intended to entertain the S.S. captain, whose gun he was using.
Despite the worrying signs, the masses of Jews of Sziget did not imagine what was awaiting them. Eliezer Wiesel writes, The Jews of Sziget did not know what was awaiting them until the last minute… Heavens and earth shook in Poland and other places, and we did not know about it. Nobody felt it necessary to inform us about it, to warn us… One year after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, we did not know anything about the Nazi plan to annihilate European Jewry. The entire world knew about the Final Solution, but the Jews of Sziget did not know… All of them were convinced that a Jew can wait quietly for the arrow of disaster… Today this seems unbelievable!
Preparations for the establishment of the Sziget Ghetto began in the middle of April. Soldiers, gendarmes, and Hungarian policemen went from house to house between April 18 and 20 to register the Jews. They distributed notices about the order of entry to the ghetto. In the process, they pillaged valuables and movables from the houses. At that time, about 6,000 Jews from 26 villages in the Sziget District were moved into the city. The movement was carried out with great brutality and cruelty, to the point where the supreme Jewish council in Budapest was forced to contact the Hungarian Ministry of the Interior about this. The transfer to the ghetto began on April 20. Actually, two ghettos were set up. The large ghetto was set up in the city, and included four streets in which most of the Jewish population was concentrated. The small ghetto, into which most of the village Jews were brought, was set up in the poor suburb of Uber Jarash (Felsö Járás), which was composed of several small alleyways. Approximately 15,000 Jews in total were concentrated into ghettos.
As the Jews of Sziget were moved to the ghetto, a group of 140 Jews from the intelligentsia circles and communal leadership was isolated and locked up in one of the synagogues, where they were held without food or water. Apparently, this was to prevent the possibility of an organized revolt and ferment among the shocked masses.
Living conditions in the ghetto were very difficult. Eight to ten people were crowded into medium sized rooms, and up to 20 people were crowded into large rooms. During
the day, permission was given to move freely through the courtyards, but the Jews had to be in their rooms from 5:00 p.m. until the next day. Anyone caught outside the room would be brought to the gendarme command and beaten to unconsciousness. As in all ghettos throughout Hungary, many Jews of Sziget were beaten, especially the wealthy or those suspected of being wealthy, in order to extort money and hidden valuables from them. The Sziget Ghetto was unique in the large number of people beaten and tortured, and the cruelty of the torturers. One of the survivors whose testimony was given a short time after his liberation from the Auschwitz Camp testified that we suffered more in the Sziget Ghetto than in the camps of Germany. The residents of the ghetto were drafted to hard, degrading labor under cruel conditions. The work quotas were high, and people were not freed from work until the quota was filled, without any consideration for age and state of health.
A delegation of those preparing the annihilation of Hungarian Jewry visited the ghetto at the end of April 1944. Adolf Eichmann and Wisliceny [] participated from the German side, and László Endre [] and senior officials from the Interior Ministry participated from the Hungarian side. They were accompanied by physicians. The delegation issued and enthusiastic report about the protocols in the ghetto, the humane treatment of the Jews, etc. Apparently, the visit had two principal goals: a) The German delegates and the Hungarian Nazi László Endre came to learn about the Jewish problem and to understand the situation in one of the first ghettos in the country the influence of it upon the gentile population and their reaction, the behavior and spirit of the Jews themselves, the level of awareness of the fate awaiting them, etc.; b) The officials of the Ministry of the Interior and the physicians were sent to appease the feelings of the humane antiSemites, chief of which was the Hungarian regent Horthy, who were disgusted by brutal methods and preferred to carry out the antiJewish laws in an honorable fashion.
During the brief time that the Jews were in the Sziget ghettos, an attempt was made to organize some form of communal life. Several institutions were set up to ease the difficult living conditions to the extent possible. Aside from the Jewish Council [Judenrat] that was imposed on the Jews from the outside, the residents of the Sziget Ghetto set up an office for social assistance, the main task of which was to oversee the allocation of the small amount of food that entered the ghetto; a work office to oversee the lines and the order in the drafting for labor, and to attempt to free elderly and sick people; a division for hygiene and health, which enlisted the physicians and health workers for medication assistance, and to oversee the cleanliness under the terribly crowded situation. The Jewish police guarded the internal order in the ghetto. The vast majority of the Jews believed that they were to live under these circumstances until the end of the war. They also attempted to set u spiritual life. During the brief period, Torah classes for children and adults and even lectures took place.
The deportation of the Jews of Sziget and the villages in its district was carried out in four stages. The first stage began on May 16, and started with the ghetto of the Uber Jarash suburb. The following shipment took place at intervals of one or two days, on the 18th, 19th, and 21st of May. This was one of the first deportations from a ghetto of Hungary. Each shipment endured harsh torture prior to the deportation. On the way to the deportation train, everyone was crowded in to the Great Synagogue for a thorough body search accompanied by degradations, blows, and torture. This was particularly the case with the women and girls, who had been separated from the men and were being searched by women whose sadism exceeded that of the male searchers. Aside from the body searches, the rest of the belongings were pillaged. Some of the deportees were permitted to take a package of 20 kilograms per person, and others were only allowed to take one suitcase per person.
The Jews were marched from the synagogue to the train that was waiting on a side track, a distance from the station. Here too there were many tragedies, for after the women were separated for the searches, they never again found their family members. The Hungarian gendarmes did not care about this, and forced them onto the trains with anything that came to hand, beating them with the butts of their guns. The train cars were very cramped. Under the best circumstances there were 70 people in a car, but most of the cars carried up to 90 people. The trip to Auschwitz took four days, without a drop of water. When the train stopped in Kosice (Kaschau), some Jews decided to approach the tap of water, and they were shot on the spot. The bodies were returned to the trains. In most of the train cars, several individuals, especially babies, died of thirst. The average was three dead per car.
We know about several attempts of hiding and escape from the ghetto. Some were exposed and the people returned to the ghetto. After the liquidation of the ghetto, a group of Jews were found hiding in the Afsha Forest. The group was brought to Sziget and all those who had hid were shot in the market square. Individual Jews hid and were provided with food in the houses of the residents, including even police captains and members of the secret police. We do not know how many Jews were saved in this manner.
The following incident with three young girls, Rachel Zifter and the sisters Elvira and Magda Deutsch, is worthy of special note. Unlike most of the Jews of Sziget, these girls were alert to the danger in time. They got in touch with their classmates from school, the Nicolae brothers and Petru Jonescu, children of a wealthy Romanian landowner who owned a large forest in the vicinity of Sziget. The Romanian lads agreed to prepare a sophisticated bunker in the forest, three square meters in size. The girls covered the entire cost. It was designated for seven people: the three girls and their four parents. At the last minute, the parents recoiled from parting with the masses of Jews and entered the ghetto, but the girls hid in the forest. Everything went in a straightforward manner until the end of July 1944. At set times, once every two weeks, the Jonescu brothers brought food, newspapers, etc. However, the time of their enlistment approached, and they were forced to leave the place. They gave over the task to a Romanian acquaintance named MăruE. At first, he fulfilled his task faithfully, but when the scent of money began to reach his nose, he began to extort the girls, with the pretext that the provisions are getting more expensive. Having no option, the girls gave him 1,000 pengo. One week later, he arrived drunk and began to torture the girls. He demanded additional money, and took hold of one of them demanding that she go for a stroll with him in the forest. The girls resisted, and the extortionist issued threats and hinted that he was on good terms with the Germans with whom he works. One of the girls scratched among the rocks as if she was searching for money. Instead of money, she grabbed the gun that they had and killed the extortionist. They buried his body in the forest that same night and camouflaged the place. From that time on, they rationed the portions of food in the bunker, and hungered for bread.
In the final weeks, when their food supplies ran out, they sustained themselves with grass and mushrooms that they collected in the forest. They succeeded in making it to the liberation day, October 15, 1944, when the Red Army captured Sziget. However, the girls did not know about this until a week later, after a night trip that one of the girls made to the city to obtain food.
After the Jews were deported from Sziget, economic life virtually ground to a halt. The local population suffered even in other areas, such as public services. The district physician approached the Ministry of the Interior with a demand to provide at least 11 physicians to the district, for virtually no physicians remained in the district after the deportation of the Jews. Nevertheless, the official district newspaper, Máramaros, hailed the purification of the city from Jews and dedicated a front page article to this, with the headline No Jews [] (issue 16, July 1944).
Photo page 38: The procession of burial of soap from Auschwitz Rif
When the Jews of Sziget arrived at the Auschwitz Death Camp, the vast majority ascended heavenward in the flames of the ovens. The minority were sent to backbreaking work in the numerous camps that were scattered throughout conquered Europe. We are unable to trace the fate of the Jews of Sziget after their deportation to Auschwitz. Nevertheless, we must mention the physician Dr. Gizela (Gizi) Perl of Sziget and note her activities as the Angel in White as everyone nicknamed her. She was separated from her husband, also a physician, and her 17 year old son immediately after arriving in Auschwitz. Since Dr. Gizi Perl was a gynecologist, Dr. Mengele ordered her to search for all pregnant women so that he can carry out his scientific experiments. Dr. Perl did indeed try to find these women, but not for the purposes of Dr. Mengele and his fellow murderers, but rather in order to save them. She succeeded in saving a large number of Jewish women from hellish tortures that would have resulted in their deaths. Everything was done with a smile on her lips, loving words, and a caress, while she herself was suffering along with the masses cold, hunger, lice, cruel beatings, all with the constant danger that her deeds would be discovered. After the liberation, when she learned that her husband and son were among the dead, she weakened physically and spiritually. She rested for a brief time in Paris, regained her strength, and then arrived in the United States. Her English book about her frightful experiences in Auschwitz appeared in 1946. This was one of the first English Language books on the Holocaust. The widow of the President of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, offered her protection to the physician of Auschwitz. The United Jewish Appeal asked her to give some lectures, which resulted in a lecture circuit that lasted about two years. After that, she joined the medical circles of the United States, both in public hospitals and in private practice. Dr. Gizi Perl visited Israel frequently and volunteered in medical institutions at aliya centers (Rosh Haayin), as well as the wellestablished Shaarei Zedek Hospital of Jerusalem. Dr. Gizela Perl recently immigrated to Israel, and was received by the media pleasantly and with great acclaim for her personality and activities. (For example, see Davar from 22 Tevet 5740 (January 11, 1980); Maariv from the eve of Passover 5740 (March 31, 1980), and others).
After the Holocaust
The survivors of the community began to return after the capture of the Máramaros District by the Red Army. Survivors of the camps in Germany began to return in the summer of 1945. There were already more than 2,000 Jews in Sziget in 1947. Most of them were not natives of Sziget, but rather of the villages of Máramaros and other places, especially from Bukovina. The survivors took some steps to rehabilitate the community. The Great Synagogue, which had been bombed by the Hungarians as they retreated from the Red Army, was not able to be rebuilt upon its ruins. On the other hand, the beautiful Sephardic Synagogue functions to this day on festivals and special Sabbaths. A modern, sophisticated bathhouse was set up with the assistance of the JOINT, and alongside it, a mikva [ritual bath] (today under the ownership of the city council).
The head of the community Dr. Aharon Gutman, the general secretary Eliezer Hilman, Zecharia Mendel Lichtenstein (the son of the aforementioned Rabbi Yosef Lichtenstein), Shlomo Friedman, Dr. A. Marcus, Yosef Rosenkrantz, and others were active in the rehabilitation of the community and the functioning of its institutions.
Reb Hillel Roth, Reb Yaakov David Vizhnitzer, and Reb David Gedalia Hecht did a great deal for the girl Holocaust survivors under the auspices of Agudat Yisrael. They set up special schools in the Orthodox spirit of Agudat Yisrael. These schools had dormitories with many conveniences in which these orphaned girls could find a warm home. Many of them established fine Jewish families already in Sziget, whereas others made aliya and established observant Jewish families here in Israel. After his aliya, Reb Hillel Roth joined Poale Agudat Yisrael, and was among the founders of Kibbutz Yesodot. After his passing, the district council building of Nachal Soreq was changed to Beit Hillel in his honor (see about him also in the entry on Ieud).
Reb Yaakov David Vizhnitzer settled in Sziget after the Holocaust. He was the son of Reb Mendel Vizhnitzer, the son of the shochet of Visznitz and a student of the author of Damesek Eliezer and Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin. He married the daughter of Reb Yitzchak Gadlovitch of Buhoce and was the chief executive of the children's institutions set up by Agudat Yisrael throughout Transylvania. Later he moved to Bucharest until he made aliya to Israel. In Bucharest he collaborated with the Admor of Skulen, Rabbi Zusia Portugal, in ensuring that Holocaust orphans were saved for Torah and fear of Heaven. After he made aliya, he was invited by the Admor of Visznitz to direct the Visznitz institutions of Bnei Brak. He was the prime force in establishing a set of institutions under the leadership of the Admor, including a seniors' home, children's institutions, the Visznitz Hotel, a youth hostel, and others. He died in his prime on the 16th of Sivan 5637 / 1977.
Two rabbis functioned in Sziget for a brief period. The first was Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum the son of the author of Atzei Chaim. After the death of his uncle the Satmar Rebbe, he was chosen to fill his place. The second was his brotherinlaw Rabbi Yehuda Isaacson. Cultural and communal life also received new vitality, albeit for a brief period. Three Yiddish newspapers were published in Sziget in 1946 and 1947: Tzeirei and Poale Agudat Yisrael published a newspaper called Shabbaton (issue 3 appeared on May 31, 1946); The Democratic Jewish Committee of Sziget and Máramaros published Undzer Lebn edited by Y. L. Bruckstein (the first issue appeared in April 1947); Mizrachi and HaPoel Hamizrachi published their newspaper Hed Hagalil (issue 6 appeared on 26 Iyar, 5707 / 1947). A quick end came to all these activities when the Communist regime became firmly rooted in the country, with its inimical relations toward any expression of the Jewish national movement. Masses of Jews left the city during the early 1950s. Most of the Jews of Sziget made aliya to Israel as maapilim [] before the establishment of the State, and some participated in the War of Independence. According to a list made by Sziget natives in Israel, nine Sziget natives fell in the 1948 War, and apparently the number was even higher. A second wave of aliya from Sziget took place in 1958, when the pressure of the Romanian authorities upon the Jews lessened, and aliya to Israel was permitted.
Today, only several tens of Jews live in Sziget. They are organized into a community with limited activity. One of the cultural leaders of Sziget Jewry was the aforementioned writer and actor Y. L. Bruckstein until he made aliya to Israel in the fall of 1972. He published several articles about the history of Sziget Jewry in the trilingual (Romanian, Yiddish, Hebrew) publication of the Federation of Communities of Romania. He wrote several plays, mostly on the topic of the Holocaust, which were performed on the stage of the Yiddish Theater of Bucharest. Some of them were translated into other languages. Two were even translated into Estonian, and were performed in the Estonian capital of Tallinn.
The Organization of Sziget Natives in Israel and the United States conducts largescale activity in various areas.
Máramorossziget (periodical in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Hungarian), edited by Yehoshua and Helen Reich, issue 561. Tel Aviv 19591972.
Pinkas Chevra Kadisha of Sziget from the years 56565685 (18951924). In the periodical of the National and University Schools of Jerusalem (4 1419).
Sziget. The Orthodox Community. An open letter to the Jewish leaders. Sziget 5646 / 1886.
Ibid. An open letter with the book Milchemet Mitzva. [Obligatory War]. Sziget 5659 / 1889.
Sziget. The Sephardic Community. Kuntrus Ohev Mishpat. Lemberg 1887.
Ibid. Ohev Shalom. Sziget 5650 / 1890.
Orenstein, Reb Yaakov Meshulam: Responsa Yeshuat Yaakov. Piotrków, 5666 / 1906. Even Haezer section 12.
Ash (Eisenstat), Rabbi Meir of Ungvar; Responsa Imrei Aish, Yoreh Deah, Lemberg 5612 / 1852. Section 2, 28; Even Haezer, Ungvar, 5624 / 1864, section 52.
Toibish, Rabbi Aharon Moshe: Responsa Toafot Reem, Zalkowa, 1855. Yoreh Deah, section 11; Even Haezer, section 4.
Sofer, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyamin: Responsa Ktav Sofer, Yoreh Deah, Pressburg, 5639 / 1879, section 37.
Nathanson, Rabbi Yosef Shaul: Responsa Shoel Umeishiv (first edition). Lemberg, 5625 / 1865, part I, section 142.
Drimer, Rabbi Shlomo, Responsa Beit Shlomo, Yoreh Deah, Lemberg 1878, section 1; Choshen Mishpat, Lemberg 1891, section 87.
BenMenachem, Naftali: Hebrew Publishing in Sziget. From his book: About Jewish Literature in Hungary, Jerusalem 5718 / 1958, pp. 100277.
Ibid.: The First Rabbinical Dynasty Rabbis of Sziget. Ibid. pp. 8699.
Ibid.: Dispute of VisznitzSziget Regarding the presidency of Kolel Máramaros. Ibid. pp. 278287.
Ibid.: Splendid Ones of Sziget. In Mishor, Year 5 (5704 / 1944), issue 198 200), pp. 3435.
Ibid.: Chapters on the Gaon Rabbi Yehoda Modron and his Stories. Sinai. Vol. 62 (5728 / 1968), pp. 172176.
Ibid.: A Bundle of Inscriptions on the Gravestones of Sziget. Sinai. Vol. 69 (5731 / 1971), pp. 272287.
Greenwald, Yekutiel Yehuda: A Memory of the First Ones, Including the History and Annals of the Gaonim… of the City of Sziget. Satmar 5670 0 1910.
Ibid.: Holy Monument. Section I. Sziget and the District of Máramaros. New York, 5712 / 1952.
Ibid.: A Thousand Years of Jewish Life in Hungary. New York, 1945. pp. 125, 234, 240248.
Abraham, Tzvi Yaakov: Annals of Jewry in Transylvania. Section I, New York, 5711 / 1951. pp. 29, 35, 36, 8688, 95, 133, 202.
Cohen, Yitzchak Yosef: Seventy Years of Torah Manuscripts in Transylvania. Areshet, Vol. I (5719 / 1959). pp. 299326 (numbers 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 15).
Ibid.: Responsa of the Rabbis of Transylvania in the 19th Century. Areshet, Vol. V (5732 / 1972). pp. 266325.
Ibid. Jewish Printing in Transylvania. YIVO Pages, Vol. 42 (1962). pp. 265277.
Encyclopedia of Religious Zionism, edited by Yitzchak Rafael, Vol. I, Jerusalem 5718 / 1958, pp. 443446; Vol. III (5725 / 1965), pp. 262263.
Braver, Avraham Yaakov: A New Hebrew Source for the History of Frank and his Associates. Hashelach, Vol. 33, page 441 (note 1); Vol. 38, page 453 (note 2).
Sheiber, Alexander, Jewish Hungarian Language Periodicals in Hungary, Kiryat Sefer, Vol. 32 (5717), pp 481494 (numbers 2, 14, 35, 132, 169, 256).
From the Prison of Hungarian Jewry (from a survivor who reached Israel). Hatzofeh, issue 1961 (June 15, 1944), page 2.
The Jews of Máramaros. Hatzofeh, issue 2082 (November 19, 1944), page 2.
BenDavid, Meir: Máramaros Jewry. Hapoel Hatzair, year 40 (5706 / 1946), Vol. 18, number 10, page 10.
Trashi, Chaim: Máramaros and Sziget. Haboker, issue 2725, November 22, 1944, page 2.
Bikel, Shlomo: Romania History, Literary Critique, Memories, Buenos Aires, 1961, pp. 305318.
Wiesel, Eliezer: And the World War Silent, Buenos Aires, 1956, Chapter I.
Lexicon of New Jewish Literature: Vol. II, New York, 1958, pp 1516.
MagyarZaido, Okleveltar, Budapest, vol. III. (1937) nr. 404, 495; vol. V (19591960, nr. 309, 816, 1127, 1135, 1154; vol. VII (1963), pp. 134, 747748; vol. VIII (1965), nr. 489, 491, 492.
Marton Lajos: Sighet. Encyclopaedia Judaica, Jerusalem 1971, vol. 14, p. 1523.
Buchler, Sandler: A zaidok tortente Budapesten, Budapest 1901, p 284.
Levai, Jeno: Fekete konyv [Black Book], Budapest 1946, pp. 132, 142, 146, 279280.
Munkacsi Erno: Hogyan tortent? [How did it Happen?], Budapest, 1947, pp. 65, 6768, 125.
MagyarZaido Lexikon, Budapest 1929, pp. 162, 163, 187, 265, 419, 446, 573574, 844, 712, 849, 887.
Benoschofsky, Ilona Karsai, Elek: Vadirat a nacizmus ellen [Wild Records Against Nazism], vol. II, Budapest 1960, p. 266.
Karsai, Elek: Fegyvertelen alltak az aknamezokon [Unarmed in the Minefields], vol. II, Budapest, 1962, pp. 521522.
Schon, Dezso: Istenkeresok a karpatok alatt, Cluj, 19135.
Die osterreichungarische Monarchie in Wort un Bild [The AustroHungarian Empire in Words and Pictures], Ungarn, vol. V(2), p 448.
Testimonies of Sziget Natives in the Yad Vashem Archives: 015/695; 015/394; 03/985; 015/2813; 015/1696; 015/1961; 015/1248; 015/834; 03/136; 03/1021.
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