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[Pages 23-24]

The First Jewish Cemetery of Oradea

Translated by: Susan Geroe

The first reference to the Oradea Jewish cemetery is found in the petition submitted to the Oradea City Council, dated March 21, 1766, documented in the anniversary album of the Chevra Kadisha. “From the records, we can not determine exactly where this first cemetery lay, however a few points in the petition suggest that it was the same as the graveyard evacuated in 1860 from Hattyu Street and resettled in the Velence cemetery,” continues the chronicle.

To understand the situation, one must be familiar with the expansion of the city at the time. In those days, Oradea included roughly the built in residential area known until the Holocaust as the zone between Kossuth, Kapucinus, Magyar, and Teleki Streets. They called this sector “Vorstadt” and Ujvaros, and later, the districts of Olaszi, Varalja, and Katonavaros were linked to it. In the first decades of the 1700s, Jews lived in Ujvaros and some in Olaszi. The Varalja district was established only in 1784. Given that Ujvaros formed the core of the city, naturally, the cemetery had to be situated on the outskirts of the city. This area seems to have been in the neighborhood of Hattyu Street. Another fact that validates this point is the expansion of the city ever more in the direction of Hattyu Street, which had been built in with homes. As this took place, it became necessary to move the cemetery to another area outside city boundaries – Velence in this case.

In 5575/1815, the community wanted to surround the Hattyu Street cemetery with a stone fence, and collected for this purpose the sum of 6000 Forints. However, the Church as patron would permit only a wooden fence, which cost twice as much as the collected sum, and the contributors asked back for their donations. Reb Joszef Rosenfeld, Rabbi of Oradea addressed the question to the Chatam Szofer, which responded in the same year that the purpose for which the funds were to be used could not be changed, it should strictly be used to build a fence around the cemetery. All the more, it was not excluded that after all, a permit to build a stone fence would be issued. Since all monetary contribution had to be used towards holy purpose, the decision of the Pozsony Rabbi admonished to hire from the interest income a Talmud specialist who could study the Holy Books for the spiritual salvation of the deceased.

The Oradea Jews lay to rest in the Hattyu Street cemetery Reb Naftali Cvi Lipchowitz, known to us as Oradea's second rabbi. According to the data on the memorial marker, which is separately inscribed with a background history, he died in 6633/1773.

In those days, the part of the city where the Hattyu Street cemetery was located was a flood plain, exposed to the constant whims of the River Cris. Already in 1766, Jews complained to the City that “due to the shallow and wet grounds” pigs could nuzzle up the graves, and present danger to the urban population by spreading the plague. Thus, they demanded the employment of a Gentile guard and a permit to construct a small home for him on the premises. In the years that followed, the 6000 Forint stone fence would have served the same purpose: build a dam against the waves of the overflowing River Cris. Oradea Jews used the Hattyu Street cemetery for burial for nearly a hundred years, yet the problem was never solved. Time and again, the flooding waters overturned the gravestones and the grazing pigs nuzzled up the graves. That was the situation until 1860, when the cemetery was evacuated.

During one of the floods, Rabbi Lipchowitz's grave also fell over. When they evacuated the cemetery, there was no one to complain against it. At the beginning of the 20th century, they discovered by chance in the courtyard of a house on Uri Street that they used the back of this gravestone for a bench. The Chevra Kadisha handled the case and they transported the monument to the mortuary in the Velence Cemetery, where it is guarded to this day.

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