Chaim Kugel


Dr. Chaim Kugel was born in 5657 – 1897 in Minsk, Belarussia, to religious parents who were active in the Hovevei Zion movement. Chaim received a general, religious and Zionist education. His Zionist education can be learned from the fact that when he reached the age of 13, he asked the father to and send him to the “Herzliya” gymnasium in Jaffa as a gift. The father agreed, and in 1912 the boy was accepted as a full-time student at the Herzliya high school.

Two years later, he went to visit his parents in Minsk. World War I broke out, and as Russia is at war with Ottoman Turkey, the way back to Jaffa and the Gymnasium was blocked. He continues his studies at the Kazan and Yekaterinoslav Universities in Russia. From there, at the end of World War I, he travels to Prague to complete his studies, where he is also qualified as a doctor of economics and philosophy.

In 1919, following the Treaty of Trianon, Munkács was annexed to the newly established state of Czechoslovakia. He arrived there as an emissary of the Union of Jewish-Zionist Students in Prague to lecture the Zionist youth movements in Munkács. There he met his future wife, Sarah Grunwald, and in 1926 they married.

The Hebrew elementary school opened its doors in 1923. In 1924, when the cornerstone for the permanent building of the Gymnasium was erected, the followers of the Munkács Rabbi, the author of Minchat Eliezer, Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira, gathered in the synagogue. They blew the shofar, black candles were lit, and the Rebbe declared a boycott of the “house of prayer” and of the parents of the children who gave a helping hand to the Zionists, the converts and the Epicureans. The Rabbi kept chasing Dr. Chaim Kugel, the founder and first director of the Gymnasium, together with the teachers and parents whose children attended the Gymnasium, and there was no Sabbath or holiday when the Rabbi did not give a speech full of insults and curses. In a special brochure issued in 1932, with the graduation of the first class of the Gymnasium, Dr. Chaim Kugel writes in Hebrew as follows:

“From the darkness of the mountains, shine rays of light, illuminating a path for a new generation, a generation that has resurrected! The Hebrew language penetrates every place where a Jewish soul still pulsates… A Hebrew Gymnasium – an Institute for Judaism. Those who sow with tears, will reap with joy! Let us reap with joy and happiness what we sowed with great effort! And you, the graduates, should always remember our scattered and disintegrated people! Believe in it and its strength, and may your hands be strong in your work for its welfare…!”

In 1935, when Dr. Kugel was elected as a delegate to the Czech Parliament in Prague, as a representative of the “Jewish Party”, he excelled as a proud Jewish and Zionist combatant for the rights of the Jews. The Rabbi of Munkacs was struggling against his election, again. In a pamphlet he published we find, among other things: “That is why I found myself obliged to speak in the highest level of my voice, for the Law of the Holy Torah forbids to assist in any way whatsoever to the Zionists and the converts and the Epicureans, who have appointed as a candidate a disobedient son and an infidel, converting the children of Israel in the Hebraische Gymnasium, from which conversion and epicureanism stem, against God and His messiah and our holy Torah and the faith that is inherited from our ancestors and rabbis. Against that we must stand with true devotion. ” The signing of the Munich agreement in 1938, and the return of the Carpathians to Hungarian rule, put an end to the development of the Zionist movement and Hebrew teaching in the Gymnasium was forbidden. Dr. Kugel, a foreign-born, felt that he had to leave with his family as soon as possible, and he made it to Prague and from there immigrated to Palestine.

His wife Sarah Kugel tells about their journey: “In the Czech parliament, all the national minorities in that country were represented. The Russian delegate in the parliament was a personal friend of Chaim, and one day he told Kugel: [I ask you to take your family and leave Czech soil before March 15, 1939]. Chaim asked him in wonder what would happen on March 15. The Russian replied: {I can’t tell you, but you are my friend – leave Czechoslovakia as soon as possible.]”On March 15, 1939, Hitler invaded the Czech Republic.

In Israel, he founded the thriving city of Holon, but as Holocaust survivors we will forever remember the help Dr. Kugel gave to the immigrants from the Carpathians who immigrated to Israel after the Holocaust. Kugel was the father and teacher of many who needed help in their early years in Israel. Dr. Chaim Kugel passed away suddenly on 18 February 1953, at the age of 56. We will not forget the warm treatment we received from Mrs. Kugel – she was “Aunt Sarah” for us all. She knew many of our parents who perished in the Holocaust and did everything possible to help us in connections, advice and resources.

Our thanks to the Kugel family and the Organization of Holocaust Survivors from Carpatho-Rus in Israel

Tuvia Klein