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18.03.2015

Transcarpathian Jews in the photos of Roman Vishnyak

A series of archive photographs illustrate the life of Jews in the region from 1935-38

After the pogroms in Russia and Ukraine, Jews who fled to the West found a favorable environment in the Carpathian Mountains to preserve and develop Judaism. If the population of Transcarpathia, which was part of Horthy’s Hungary, was around 700,000 people before the Second World War, the Jewish community of the region numbered around 100,000 people.

In 1849, 6,717 Jews lived in Uzhgorod and nearby villages (the total population of the region was 108,286 people). This information is taken from a sociological report on Uzhgorod and the region published in 1940 in an article by Mor Gorovits written in Hungarian.

In the 19th century, the Jewish community swiftly grew, thanks to the influx of the Jewish population from other regions of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, primarily from Galicia. This migration was not only caused by economic reasons. After the Austro-Hungarian agreement of 1867 and the so-called “dualism” that was established, more favorable conditions for Jews were created in the Hungarian part of the empire. There was a mass migration of Jews from Galicia into the Hungarian part of the monarchy during the First World War.

Fleeing from bloody pogroms, people travelled through the Carpathian pass. A considerable number of refugees settled in Transcarpathia. According to the census of 1921 (taken in the newly created Republic of Czechoslovakia), in Subcarpathian Rus (as the region was called in Czechoslovakia), 93,023 Jews lived (around 15% of the population). The town of Khust had 169 Jews per 1000 inhabitants, Uzhgorod had 305.5 and Mukachevo 478, almost half the residents of the town. According to data from the 1930 census, 102,542 Jews lived in the area.

The next census was held in 1941, when Transcarpathia was part of Hungary. The data was taken according to the new administrative division (by counties, the territory of which did not coincide with the current region), so it is difficult to establish precise figures.

If we take into account that in 10 years the number of Jews in the region increased by almost 10,000 people, we may assume that growth in the previous period exceeded 10,000, and in the region as a whole came to 115,000 people. For example, in 1930 in Uzhgorod alone there were 6,280 Jews, and in 1938 there were 8,384.

The influx of the Jewish population to Transcarpathia led to the mixture of two cultural movements: “Ashkenazim” and “Sefardim”, among whom a prominent place was held by representatives of Hasidism.

Occupying an important place in public, economic and cultural life, they assisted the development of trade, commercial activity, the wood-working and construction industries.

They worked as lawyers, doctors and teachers, owned their own mills, farms and stock companies, and kept inns and taverns (gechenkors in Romanian). But most of the Jewish population had small incomes, and worked in handicraft trades, and some of them were very poor indeed.

In the towns and populated localities there were over 30 synagogues, and houses of prayer in all the large villages where there were over 10 adult males. Communities kept cheders, community houses and schools where children from poor families studied.

Every town had canteens and hospitals for the poor, and Uzhgorod and Mukachevo had old people’s homes. Communities looked after cemeteries, and paid close attention to traditions, with mikvahs provided in towns.

After the end of the warm, before the borders were closed, returning Jews were helped by Joint, which gave them clothes, financial assistance and food. Many Jews who returned did not find their relatives and emigrated to the USA, Austria and Israel.

Source: International Center of Photography

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