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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 which Hitler then divided into three parts:

1) Bohemia and Moravia, ruled directly by the German Nazis, Czech population
2) Slovakia was transformed into an “independent” state, the puppet government was appointed by the German Nazis;
3) Maramaros, populated by Ruthenians-Ukrainians

In mid-March 1939, Axis Hungary overran Czech Marmaros by force. Although Hungarian nationals were not in danger the tens of thousands of Jews were in fact in serious danger.

Rumors abounded that the Jews were about to be slaughtered, creating fear and terror to extort money from the Jews. 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 had a different history from northern Marmaros, which was noob Czechoslovakian.
Thus, because of anti Semitic background of Romania the holocaust period began somewhat differently.

  • 200 Jewish doctors were dismissed by the Central Office of Social Insurance;
  • Jews were prevented from selling items that were under governmental monopoly regulations (tobacco, cigarettes, matches, alchohol, salt, etc.);
  • The validity of Jewish citizenships hung in the balance (loss of civil rights on the part of fully one-third of Romanian Jewry).

Jews were banned from a number of avenues - employment in government posts; acquiring agricultural land; diplomas issued by Jewish schools were invalidated; not a single Jew appearedon the list of certified architects. Jewish attorneys were dismissed from the government law-offices.

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 which after 20 years was once again united within the domain of Axis Hungary. Discrimination against Jews had already began in the first months after the arrival of the Hungarians.

  • After dismissal of Jews from various positions came eviction, arbitrary arrests on trumped-up charges. The Jews, after all, were professional and business competitors of the anti Semitic non Jews.
  • Jews were also sent to prison-camps for “ideological crimes” almost all of which 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 this was minor compared to 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 and made no effort to obtain 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 and were smuggled into the district from Galicia, Bukovina and Poland.

The deceit behind the plan

The Hungarian relocation plan created a great void in Marmaros Jewry. Entire communities in Marmaros disappeared, and thousands of Jews were murdered and slaughtered at the hands of the Hungarians. 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. 1,000 per day were transported across the border.
  • By the 10th of August 1941, between 18,000 to 20,000 Jews were handed over to the authority of the Hungarian Army. Sources disagree on how many Jews were exiled during the summer of 1941.

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 to achieve the greatest number of those murdered.

In 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. When the ghetto was established, tens of thousands of Jews from the city and the entire area were concentrated there, including the Hungarian Jews.

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.

Break in the murders

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

During the holocaust years, 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 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.