“Cehul Silvaniei”
Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Romania, Volume 2
(Romania)

47°25' / 23°11'

Translation of “Cehul Silvaniei” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Romania

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem, 1980


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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot: Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Romania, Volume II,
pages 227-230, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1980


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[Pages 227-230]

Cehul Silvaniei
(Hungarian: Szilágycseh)

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Aaron Slotnik

A town in the Sălaj district in the Someş River valley. Most of its residents are Hungarian.

Jewish Population

Year Population % of Jews in
the General
Population
1920 599 16.3
1930 553 16.1
1941 531 15.2
1945 (September) 101  
1947 200  

 

Until the End of the First World War

The first Jews apparently arrived in Cehul Silvaniei at the end of the 18th century. Not one Jew was registered in the entire District of Sălaj in any of the censuses of the 1720s, 1730s, and 1740s. Until the Holocaust period, the community was in possession of census lists starting from 1800. However, Jews were known to live in several villages of the region beginning from the first third of the 17th century. For example, in the village of Ulmeni (Sülelmed in Hungarian) about 18 kilometers from Cehul Silvaniei, gravestones exist from the year 1620 and onward. The first Jews arrived from Galicia and Moravia, and worked in the leasing of estates and tax rights. The well–known Torah genius Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke Klein (1805–1874), author of “Tzror Hachayim” was born in the small village of Asuajul de Sus, 25 kilometers from the town. He was also known as Rabbi Shmelke Meiseles, whose children and grandchildren served in the rabbinate of Cehul Silvaniei (see later)

 

rom2_00227.jpg
The synagogue

 

The community was organized during the 1830s, after Jews gathered in the city from the villages of the area. Around that time, a Chevra Kadisha was set up, a place was designated for a cemetery, and a mikva [ritual bath] was built. At the outset, a minyan [prayer quorum] took place in a private house. A small synagogue was built later. A new, splendid synagogue was dedicated in 1901 in an impressive ceremony, with the participation of the rabbis of the area. The patron of the town, Baron Bornemissza, the representative of the district in the Hungarian government, donated the plot of land for the synagogue as a token of thanks for the Jewish support of his candidacy. The community built several buildings near the synagogue: a mikva that also served as a bathhouse, a slaughterhouse for fowl, a matzo bakery, etc. The community charter was revised and amended on occasion in accordance with the needs of the times. Aside from the rabbi, the community also maintained two shochtim [slaughters] and other officials.

All the settlements of the district as well as the settlements of the districts of Jibou and Zalău – numbering several dozen settlements including the villages of Jibou and Zalău themselves (see entries) were affiliated with the community of Cehul Silvaniei. Some of the villages had significant Jewish populations, including: Ariniş, Băseşti, Hodod, Ulmeni, Băbeni, Surduc, Bucium and others. Each of these communities had its own communal institutions, synagogues, cemeteries, mikvas, etc. Some even maintained rabbis and shochtim. With the passage of time, some of these settlements separated from the community of Cehul Silvaniei and became autonomous communities in their own right.

Rabbis: At first, the community of Cehul Silvaniei belonged to the rabbinic district of Tăşnad (see entry), in which Rabbi Chaim Betzalel Paneth served. He was the son of the chief rabbi of the Jews of Transylvania, the author of “Mareh Yechezkel.” Rabbi Betzalel Polak, was accepted as the first rabbi of the community in 1867. He died after three months. Rabbi Moshe Klein the son of the aforementioned Rabbi Shmelke Meisels was chosen in 1868, but he did not arrive in the town until 1870, after the community decided to affiliate with the organization of Orthodox communities. A small Yeshiva was set up in Cehul Silvaniei, whose students came from the District of Sălaj itself as well as from nearby districts. Rabbi Moshe Klein reorganized the community anew, compiled a new charter for the community and the Chevra Kadisha, and set up educational institutions and charitable organizations. He died at the age of 37 on 16 Adar, 5640 (1880). His son, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Klein, served after him, and continued in his position for 60 years (1882–1941). He continued to lead the Yeshiva. He died at an old age on 9 Marcheshvan 5702 (1941). He left behind several works, of which only two were published: “Ateret Shlomo – the rectification of Agunot” published by his son Rabbi Yekutiel Klein (Budapest 5706); “Rabbi Shmelke – the Annals of a Rabbi and Gaon”, edited by his other son David Giladi (Tel Aviv 5717 – 1957). His second work was considered to be of

[Page 228]

historical significance for its portrayal of the lives of the Jews of the District of Sălaj and its region during the 19th century.

Sixty of the town's Jews were drafted into the Hungarian Army during the First World War. Of those, five fell in battle on the fronts. After the war, but before the Romanian regime consolidated, the Jewish population, especially those in the villages, suffered from murders perpetrated by the conquering Romanian army. Twenty–one Jews from the villages of Asuajul de Sus, Asuajul de Jos, Bărsău, and Fărcasa were murdered two days before Passover, 1919. The Romanian Army accused them of connections with the retreating Hungarian Army. Two Jews from the village of Hodod were arrested on the accusation of collaboration with the Hungarian enemy.

Taking advantage of the disarray that pervaded in the area at the end of the First World War, the Hungarian Sándor Székely organized a band of thieves who pillaged anyone that crossed their path, especially Jews. As a reaction, a self–defense group was organized headed by a Hungarian with the same name, Sándor Székely. His deputy was the son of the rabbi, Raphael Klein (who is now 78 years old and lives in Tel Aviv), who served together with him as a captain in the Hungarian Army in a unit comprised primarily of Jews. They took control of the gang, removed their weapons, and killed its leaders.

 

Between the Two World Wars

The change of government caused a severe economic crisis among the Jews of Cehul Silvaniei. Many of them lost their livelihoods. The Jewish population progressively declined from the end of the Frist World War. Some settled in large cities of the country, and others sought their luck oversees.

Economic and social life. The following data demonstrates the professions and trades of the Jews of Cehul Silvaniei between the two world wars.

 

Business   Tradesmen and Workers  
Textiles and haberdashery shops 8 Tailors 9
Grocery and household utensil shops 10 Shoemakers 3
Taverns 6 Glassmakers 2
    Watchmakers 3
Grain, fruit and eggs for export 7 Tinsmiths 2
Hides 2 Locksmiths 2
Trees 2 Porters 2
Inns 1 Tanners 4
Oil and fuel 1 Carpenters 1
Books and writing implements 1 Bakers and confectioners 3
Banks 2 Sewers 2
Total 40 Total 33

 

Manufactures and Industrialists   Free Professions  
Soda water for drinking 2 Physicians 3
Flour mills and edible oils 2 Lawyers 5
Printing presses 1 Government officials 2
Total 5 Total 10

 

Agriculture   Communal Servants  
Estate owners 2 Rabbi 1
Vineyard owners 7 Judge (rabbinical) 1
Small–scale agriculture 1 Shochtim 2
    Teachers (melamdim) and shamashim (beadles) 3
Total 10 Total 7

 

There were a total of 105 livelihood earners, most of whom earned a respectable livelihood. A few of them attained relative wealth.

Several of the Jews of Cehul Silvaniei were involved in the communal and social life of the town, such as the physicians, lawyers, and government officials. Dr. Nagy served as the notary public. Ellemér Roth served as the vice secretary of the council. Dr. Naményi served as one of the representatives of Cehul Silvaniei to the Hungarian parliament (he later converted away from Judaism). He was one of the Jewish barons of the sugar manufacturers, Hatvany–Deutsch. Naményi did a great deal for local progress. A six–grade high school was built through his initiative, as was a splendid building for the courts. Sidewalks were paved with concrete, and other advancements took place.

The communal organization continued in its roles as previously, and even founded new institutions, such as the women's organization for charitable deeds, and others. The Talmud Torah was housed in a new building that was originally designated as a modern bathhouse, but was not able to be used as such due to the difficulties in the wake of the world war. The large hall of that building turned into the Beis Midrash during the cold winter months. Three houses, for living quarters for the rabbi, the shochtim, and the communal shamash were erected next to the synagogue.

Rabbis. The final rabbi of Cehul Silvaniei was Rabbi Yosef Shmuel Lichtenstein, the son–in–law of Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Klein, and the child of a well–known rabbinical family throughout Hungary and Transylvania. He served as the rabbi for about ten years before the Holocaust, for his father–in–law split off and settled in the city of Zăvoi. Rabbi Lichtenstein perished in the Holocaust along with his entire family.

A scholar with the same name as the rabbi, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Klein (the son of Elazar) lived in Cehul Silvaniei between the two world wars. He founded a Hassidic Beis Midrash. People with a Hassidic orientation gathered around him. He also perished in the Holocaust. After the war, his son, Rabbi Elazar Klein, rabbi of the Orthodox (chareidi) community of Beer Sheva, published his book “Zichron Shlomo” on the Torah (Jerusalem, 5615 – 1955).

Zionist activity. Cehul Silvaniei had one of the most vibrant and active Zionist groups. The first organized Zionist activity apparently was the founding of a chapter of the Aviva girls' youth movement. Even before that, in Chanukah 1919, the first Zionist celebration in Cehul Silvaniei was organized in the family prayer hall of the Hershkovitz family, led by the rabbi, Rabbi Yekutiel Klein.

The chapter of Aviva, nicknamed Ahuva, was organized in 1924, with 11 members. The activities of the chapter declined in 1926, and only three girls remained as members. At that time, a chapter of the Bnei Akiva boys' and girls' youth group was set up, encompassing most of the

[Page 229]

youth of the town. In 1934, systematic study of the Hebrew language took place in evenings under the leadership of Yoel Klein. Oneg Shabbat celebrations took place on Sabbaths, attracting the youth to the religious Zionist ideals. Fourteen people from Cehul Silvaniei made aliya by April 1935. The number of olim from 1933–1939 reached 23. In the winter of 1933, the Mizrachi movement of Transylvania convened its national leadership convention in Cehul Silvaniei. The Zionist newspapers of Transylvania often reported on the Zionist activities with great appreciation, and presented Cehul Silvaniei as an example for other chapters.

The Jewish population spoke Yiddish, except for a small number of Jewish intellectuals whose cultural language was Hungarian. In the census of 1930, 448 residents of the town listed Yiddish as their mother tongue.

The unusual fact that the rabbi and his children were themselves active in religious Zionism contributed to the Zionist atmosphere of Cehul Silvaniei. His children included David Klein (today Giladi, a member of the editorial staff of Maariv) who was active in the Mizrachi institutions on a national level. Miklos Frankel was active in the local leadership. Moshe Zilberger, the head of the community during the 1930s, was also an enthusiastic Zionist, and he instituted donations to the national funds at the time of aliyas to the Torah.

Almost all the adults in the town donated their shekel [token of membership to the Zionist Movement], as can be determined from the following facts, which demonstrate the ups and downs of the Zionist activity. In 1931, there were 100 shekel payers in Cehul Silvaniei, in 1933 – 91, in 1934 – 70, in 1935 – 153, in 1936 – 87, in 1938 – 90, in 1939 – 130 (Mizrachi – 91, Barisia – 17, General Zionists – 15, and Working Land of Israel –7). We should recall. that the Revisionist movement confiscated the national funds and the shekels during the 1930s[1].

From among the personalities that were born in Cehul Silvaniei, we must mention the communist despot Béla Kun, who ruled Hungary for a brief period following the First World War, and was killed in the Soviet “purges” at the end of the 1930s[2].

 

The Holocaust

The fact that the majority of the local population was Hungarian undermined the Jews of Cehul Silvaniei, after the change of government in September 1940 and the entry of the Hungarians to northern Transylvania. Within a brief period, the Hungarians, who had ascended to power once again, oppressed the Jews in various ways. First and foremost, they placed their eyes toward Jewish property, and the branches of business and trade that were to a very large degree in Jewish hands. Many Jews of the town were pushed out of their businesses and sources of livelihood in the wake of the slander and acts of revenge by the locals. Their rights to obtain many types of merchandise that were rationed and under government supervision were removed. The permits for tradesmen to acquire raw materials were revoked, etc. Many of the livelihood earners of Cehul Silvaniei were forced to take on Hungarian partners in their businesses to be able to continue on.

We have no information as to whether some Jews of the area were deported to Kamenets Podolsk in the summer of 1941, where approximately 20,000 Jews of Hungary met their cruel deaths because they were lacking Hungarian citizenship. During the years 1942–1944, tens of the Jews of the town were drafted to forced labor. Some were deported to Ukraine, where they perished from cold, Hunger, traps, or were murdered by their supervisors from the Hungarian Army. Nevertheless, communal and social life continued in relative calm until March 1944.

After the German conquest on March 19, 1944, the trials and tribulations increased in waves: the yellow patch, the ban on going out onto the street except for two hours a day, the confiscation of property and rescinding of official positions, etc. The concentration of the Jews of the town in order to transfer them to the ghetto began on May 3, 1944. The Jews were gathered street by street by the gendarmes according to a list prepared by the representative of the local council, Gyula Reininger. The method was to gather about ten families at a time. They were permitted to take a few belongings with them, which were placed on a cart as they followed on foot. The Levente paramilitary youth organization assisted and supervised the movement of the Jews. All valuables, including wedding rings, were taken from the deportees, despite the command to leave them in their hands.

The Jews were brought to the train station and placed into cattle cars, about 70 per car. Each car received six loaves of bread. Jews from nearby villages were also concentrated in the town. The train left the Cehul Silvaniei railway station at 11:00 p.m. and stopped along the way to collect Jews from other settlements, such as Ulmeni and Zsibo. The train stopped for almost one day there, due to bombardment from the air. 550 people were transported from the station of Cehul Silvaniei. The Levente and the gendarmes accompanied the train until the central ghetto that was set up in the brick kiln in the settlement of Ceheiu next to Şimleul Silvaniei (see entry). The 40–kilometer journey took four days. The living conditions in the Ceheiu ghetto were frightful. Several Jews of Cehul Silvaniei were tortured to the point of death, including the merchant Salamon, in order to get them to disclose the hiding places of their property and valuables.

The apostate Jew Sándor Gazda, a lawyer, deserves special mention. He had a decoration of excellence from the First World War, and was the only one not deported. His brother–in–law Dr. László Sándor also had this special distinction, however he refused to benefit from it. He went on a hunger strike from the day of the deportation and died from lack of energy. His wife went mad in the deportation train.

After the war, approximately 30 of the 550 deportees returned. Several tens of survivors from the nearby villages and other places joined them. They attempted to reconstitute the community. The synagogue had served as a warehouse, and later was given over as a gift to the Communist Party. It was destroyed, and a party house was built in its stead. The other communal buildings, such as the large bathhouse and the three residences suffered the same fate. The survivors who returned erected a memorial monument in the gate of the cemetery for those who perished. The Jews quickly left the town. Most of them made aliya to Israel.

[Page 230]

Two Jews lived in Cehul Silvaniei in 1974. Both were married to Christian women.

Bibliography

Shlomo Zalman Klein: Rabbi Shmelke – The story of the annals of the rabbi and Gaon (edited and notes – D. Giladi), Tel Aviv, 5617 (1957).
Tzvi Yaakov Abraman: History of the Jews in Transylvania, section A. New York, 5711 (1951), pp. 21, 27, 25.
Chaim Betzalel Paneth: Responsa Derech Yivchar, Munkatch 1849, section 54.
Moshe Hersh Fuchs, Responsa Yad Ramah, Grosswardein, 5700 (1940), Part II. Sections 23, 47, 51, 66.
Yehuda Greenwald, Responsa Zichron Yehuda, Part I, Budapest, 5683 (1923), sections 48, 49; Section II, Ujhel 5688 (1928), section 13.
Eliezer David Greenwald: Responsa Keren LeDavid, Satmar 5689 (1929), section 15, 16, 102.
Mordechai Leib Winkler: Responsa Levushei Mordechai, first edition, Yoreh Deah, Tolcsva, 5672, 1912, section 183; second edition, Yoreh Deah, Budapest, 5684 / 1924, section 23.
Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky: Responsa Mahari”tz, Part I, Jerusalem, 5617 (1957), section 145.
Mordechai Brisk, Responsa Mahara'm Brisk, Part 1–3, New York, 5723 (1963) (photocopy publication); Part II, section 33.
Shimon Lichtenstein, Responsa Shemen Hamaor, New York, 5720 (1960, sections 59, 76, 77.
Magyar–Zsidó Lexikon, Budapest 1929, pp. 516–17.


Translator's Footnotes:

  1. Seemingly referring to the secession of the Revisionist Zionists from the main Zionist Movement in 1935. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revisionist_Zionism Return
  2. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%A9la_Kun Return

 


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