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Jewish Families and Holocaust of Maramaros

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The Beginnings

In the early part of October 1938, the Sudetenland was seized from the Czechoslovakian Republic and annexed to Nazi Germany. This act presaged the end of Czechoslovakia. Hitler divided crumbling Czechoslovakia into three parts:

1) Bohemia and Moravia, whose population was Czech, he made a “protectorate” ruled directly by the German Nazis; 2) Slovakia was transformed into an “independent” state which the Germans ruled by means of a puppet government appointed by the German Nazis; 3) Maramaros, populated by Ruthenians-Ukrainians, was supposed to receive broad autonomy under Nazi patronage.

In mid-March 1939, Axis Hungary overran Czech Marmaros by force, and the Hungarians justified their conquest of Marmaros. The historical truth, however, is that the few Hungarian nationals in Czech Marmaros were not in any danger at all - not economically, not spiritually, not culturally and certainly not physically. But the tens of thousands of Jews under the militant-dilletant rule of the Ruthenians, were in fact in serious danger.

The leadership of these new Ukrainian-Ruthenians consisted of nationalistic Ukrainians. Rumors were purposefully circulated that the Jews were about to be slaughtered, at any moment. The terror that they spread among the Jews had more of a practical purpose - to extort money from the Jews, in exchange for allowing the Jews to live. In retrospect, it is very possible that their entire aim was only financial, and that they never really intended to murder and slaughter Jews.

Romanian Marmaros

The Romanian area of Marmaros (south of the Tisa River) had a different history from northern Marmaros, which had been given to the newly formed country Czechoslovakia. Between the two world wars, Romania generally had anti-semitic governments in one form or another. Attacks on Jews, in various parts of the country, were its trademark.

In Romanian Marmaros, the holocaust period began differently.

  • The credentials of Jewish doctors and pharmacists were reexamined and 200 Jewish doctors were dismissed by the Central Office of Social Insurance;
  • A ban was declared preventing Jews from selling items that were under governmental monopoly regulations (tobacco, cigarettes, matches, alchohol, salt, etc.);
  • In an edict issued on January 22 1938, the validity of the citizenship of the Jews was to be investigated (resulting in the loss of civil rights on the part of fully one-third of Romanian Jewry).

Jews were banned from employment in government posts (even without remuneration); Jews were prohibited from acquiring agricultural land; diplomas issued by Jewish schools were invalidated; on the list of officially certified architects, the name of not a single Jew appeared; all Jewish attorneys were dismissed from the government law-offices. Many other discriminatory regulations were issued that the Jews of Romania had to cope with.

In August 30, 1940, the northern part of Transylvania was severed from Romania and handed over to Hungary. This included the Romanian district of Marmaros. Thus, after about 20 years, Marmaros was once again united, entirely within the domain of Axis Hungary.

However, for the Romanian sector of Marmaros, as was for the Czechoslovakian area, disappointment was not long in coming. Discrimination against Jews already began in the first months after the arrival of the Hungarians.

  • At first, all Jewish public-servants and office-holders were dismissed; then came the systematic eviction of all Jews from all areas of economic and vocational endeavor. Then came arbitrary arrests of Jews on trumped-up charges, based on the accusations of anti-semitic, non-Jewish informers who had financial and economic axes to grind. The Jews, after all, were professional and business competitors.
  • Jews were also sent to prison-camps for “ideological crimes” such as spying, belonging to the illegal Communist party, and so forth. Almost all of those accusations were trumped-up charges made by malicious murderers, who found an opportunity to square accounts with Jews against whom they felt that they had “scores” to settle.

The Expulsions and Murders of Summer 1941

All of these travails were minor compared to the anguish endured by the Jews of Marmaros in the summer of 1941 in the wake of Hungary's joining the war against the U.S.S.R. On the 27th of June 1941, a review of the citizenship of the Hungarian Jews was enacted, whereby the Jews had to prove their uninterrupted residence in Hungary for the previous 90 years (that is, from the year 1851) and to provide their ancestors' Hungarian citizenship.

It seems that possibly even the majority of the Jews of Marmaros did not react to the citizenship decree as a real and present danger. They did not imagine the satanic scheme which was being woven around this decree and therefore, did not make the effort to procure the necessary documents for citizenship. The struggle for a loaf of bread, literally speaking, prevented them from thinking along those lines. Many simply did not have the necessary sums of money needed to arrange for the documents.

At that time, in the district of Marmaros, where the anti-Jewish laws, among other things, had yet to be enforced, the review of residence-permits reveals that 45,000 Jews still lived who either they themselves or their parents, smuggled into the district from Galicia, Bukovina and Poland.

The deceit behind the plan

The Hungarian relocation plan, even at this early stage of the holocaust, created a great void in Marmaros Jewry. Entire communities in Marmaros were torn from their very roots, and thousands of Jews were murdered and slaughtered at the hands of the Hungarians. The atrocities perpetrated upon tens of thousands of Marmaros Jews in the summer and fall of 1941!was a harbinger not only of the holocaust of Hungarian Jewry, but was also the beginning of the destruction of the Polish Jewry as well.

  • All of the Jews who were to be exiled to Galicia and Poland were brought to an assembly-point in the town of Iasin. From there, they were transported across the border, at the rate of about 1,000 people per day.
  • By the 10th of August 1941, between 18,000 to 20,000 Jews were handed over to the authority of the Hungarian Army. To this day, no one really knows the number of Jews exiled during the summer of 1941. The sources disagree on this point:

During the trial of the Hungarian officer Bardushi, the head of the Court mentioned a figure of 30,000 Jews; in an indictment against another officer in the deportations and murders, 18,500 Jews were referred to. The murderers kept no records, because they were too busy to find the time for them. The vicious and secret plan was carried out in great haste, the perpetrators doing all in their power to insure that there would be a maximum number of people murdered in as short a time as possible.

The first and biggest mass-murder was carried out on 27-28 August, 1941 near the city of Kamenetz-Podolsk. In those two days, 23,600 Jews were killed, most of them Hungarian Jews (14,000-16,000) and the rest local Polish Jews. As the researchers of the Holocaust point out, the Kamenetz-Podolsk massacre was the first mass action in the “final Solution” of the Nazis, and the number of its victims reached 5 figures. Eye-witnesses reported that the perpetrators made no effort to hide their deeds from the local population.

Not all the deported Hungarian Jews - and the Jews of Marmaros among them - reached Kamenetz-Podolsk. The great majority of them were, however, brought to this city's ghetto, which was being erected in the summer of 1941. When the ghetto was established, tens of thousands of Jews from the city and the entire area were concentrated there. The Hungarian Jews were also placed in the ghetto.

The overwhelming majority of the Jews of the ghetto were murdered at the end of August, 1941. They were commanded to undress and group by group were placed into the cross-fire of machine-guns. Many were buried alive.

This shocking crime was thus the result of “fruitful” cooperation on the part of 3 nationalities of “enlightened” Europe - Hungarians, Germans and Ukrainians. The Hungarian People were the “pioneer” and initiator of these acts of genocide, this “opening act” of the murder of the Jewish People of Europe. After 4 years of carnage, the casualty figures reached the staggering number of over 5 million souls.

Breathing Spell

(The Kalai Government: March 10, 1942 - March 19, 1944)

During the holocaust years, starting in 1941, hundreds of Jews from greater Hungary were stationed in Marmaros in work-units of the Hungarian army. Near the towns of Bistina and Slatfina, many hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Jews conscripted into work-units took part in building military air-fields.

Through these work units, the conscripted Jews of greater Hungary came into close contact with the local Jews of Marmaros. Many of the Hungarian Jews were quite assimilated, were ignorant of their Judaism, and had no knowledge of Yiddish.

During this entire period, Germany never ceased demanding the deportation of the Jews of Hungary to carry out the “final solution”. Beginning in the fall of 1942, Kalai was faced with mounting German pressure. He refused to yield to their firm, endless demands, with the excuse that this step would undermine the country's wartime economy. As the war progressed and Germany's losses mounted, the Kalai government took steps towards having secret negotiations with the Allies. German Intelligence soon discovered those steps. On March 19 1944 Germany invaded Hungary, and Kalai was arrested and deported to a concentration camp.


The Ghettos and the Destruction

With the penetration of the German tanks into Hungary on Sunday, March 19, 1944 a sharp turning point arrived regarding in the fate of Hungarian Jewry. Decrees against the Jews followed one after the other with murderous speed.

  • Within 6 weeks, the Jews of Hungary were concentrated in ghettos in preparation for deportation to Auschwitz and total destruction.
  • The 60,000 Jews of Marmaros who had survived the deportations and slaughters of the summer of 1941 were concentrated into 12 ghettos, 3 of them outside Marmaros.

In Romanian Marmaros there were 4 ghettos: Sziget, Berbest, Ober-Wisho and Dragomirest:

(1) Ghetto Sziget was established between 18-20 April, 1944. At the end of April, a delegation planning the destruction of Hungarian Jewry visited the ghetto, headed by Adolf Eichman on the German side and Laszlo Endre on the Hungarian side, and accompanied by employees of the Ministry of the Interior and by doctors.

(2) Ghetto Berbestwas a branch of Ghetto Sziget. It contained about 3,000 souls. The deportations from Sziget-Berbest were carried out in 4 stages and were among the first deportations from any ghetto in Hungary.

(3) Ghetto Upper Wisho was established from the 16-23rd of May, 1944. The crowding here was insufferable. 20-30 people were quartered in one room. An attendance roll-call lineup was held every day, sometimes lasting several hours. In the line-up there were also beatings. The Jews of this ghetto were deported to Auschwitz in 3 transports between the 17th-23rd of May, 1944.

(4) Ghetto Dragomirest was established in the center of the village as of April. The 25 kilometers to the train station of Wisho, from which they were deported to Auschwitz, was a trip strewn with anguish. The men were forced the entire way up the steep mountaintop on foot. The gendarmes pushed the marchers onward with blows from their rifle-butts. Many victims fell along the way. Ghetto Dragomirest was liquidated on May, 15, 1944, the victims being loaded onto the trains to Auschwitz.

(5) Ghetto Mateszalka - town

This was the largest single concentration of Marmaros Jews, although Mateszalka itself is located outside of Marmaros. The conditions of this ghetto were shocking, and among the worst - perhaps the "worst" - of all the ghettos in Hungary.

After the Holocaust

The few Marmaros Jews who survived the Holocaust (perhaps 10-15%) were dazed, shocked, frustrated and confused. Dazed by the force of their terrifying experiences in the concentration-camps and forced-labor units, where every day and every hour death stood at their doorstep. Entire families were destroyed without a remnant, and if survivors remained, they were “one from an entire city and two from a many-branched family”. Of the entire Jewry of Marmaros, children of 15 or younger and the elderly (50 years of age or older), could not be found.

Religious and communal life in the various parts of Marmaros also began to take on the age-old traditional forms, though this was only a faint shadow of the rich Jewish life of the prewar Marmaros communities. In Romanian Marmaros, where the Communist regime was established later, the attempts to rehabilitate the communities lasted for 2-3 years and even achieved a measure of success. Some of the larger communities, such as Sziget and Upper-Wisho even had Rabbis.