Munkács (Ukrainian: Mukacheve, Hungarian: Munkács)
A city now belonging to Ukraine and situated on the banks of the Latorica river in the west of the country, close to the border with Slovakia. The area where it is located was also called by various names over the years: The Carpathians, Carpathian Russia, Carpatho-Ukraine, Zakarpatya and others. The population of the city is 77,300 (2004), composed of Ukrainians, Russians and Hungarians. There is also a small Jewish community in the city.
• 9th-11th centuries – part of the Kievan Rus
• 1018 – conquered by the Hungarians
• 16th century – belongs to the duchy of Transylvania, part of the Ottoman Empire
• 1683 – the Turks are expelled by the Habsburgs
• 18th century – transferred to the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary until 1918
• 1919 – annexed to Czechoslovakia until 1938
• 1939-1944 – according to the Munich Agreement, returned under Hungarian rule
• October 1944 – liberated by the Russians, the city was transferred to Czechoslovak rule
• 1945 – Stalin forces Benes, the Czech president, to give up and transfer the city to the Soviet Union
• Since 1991 – part of independent Ukraine.
The general history of Munkács focuses largely on the religious conflicts between the various Christian denominations in the Carpathians, and these were generally also related to the various national tendencies among the Ruthenians. Large and comprehensive studies have already been written about this matter, and here we only bring some key milestones. An Orthodox monastery was erected in Munkács probably in the mid-14th century (or, as some sources claim, a century later) – the first Ruthenian religious institution in Carpatho-Rus. Beginning in the late 16th century, many residents of the Ung county became Greek Catholics due to Roman influence, when in the Bereg and Maromoros counties, the influence of protestant Transylvania was more significant until the beginning of the 18th century.
In 1771 Munkács was officially recognized by Pope Clement XIV as the seat of a Greek-Catholic bishop. At the beginning of the 20th century, an Orthodox trend began to spread again in the Carpathians, first in Maromoros and later in Bereg and the rest of the region. This was largely due to the exploitation of the local peasants by the Greek Catholic Church, and indeed many of them became Orthodox at the time. All this, of course, was accompanied by hard struggles against the Hungarians. In 1931, due to the influence of the Czechoslovak government that supported the Orthodox, an Orthodox episcopate was also erected in the city.
Only after the 1848 revolution, and following a great influence of the intelligentsia, the three distinct national identities have begun to develop among the Ruthenians: Russian, Ukrainian, and Ruthenian. In general, the national struggles in the Carpathians between the various identities of the Ruthenians focused, on the one hand, on incessant internal wars, and on the other, a stubborn struggle against the Hungarians’ efforts to force the Ruthenians, like other minorities in Hungary, to adopt an aggressive policy of “Magyarisation.” These struggles focused much on spoken and written language. Thus, for example, Victor Gabay, who served as the Greek Catholic Archbishop of Munkács at the end of the 19th century, fought both against the Russian tendency among the Ruthenians and against the Hungarians in the struggle for the preservation of the local Ruthenian (rather than Russian) language in Greek Catholic Church schools on the one hand, and for the preservation of the Slovenian (and not Latin) language of the Church on the other.
The annexation of Carpatho-Rus to Soviet Ukraine after World War II only formally succeeded in ending the struggles between the Ruthenian national identities. Indeed, after the collapse of the Communist bloc, there are still clear signs of these struggles. Carpatho-Rus is therefore an instructive example not only of the power of a thin layer of intellectuals to “invent” one nationality or another, but also the power of that invention to take root as if it had always existed.
The Latorica River
Although it was not a large city (at the outbreak of World War II, some 40,000 people lived there, about half of them Jewish), it has a place of honor in Jewish history, both because of famous rabbis who served there and because of the Zionist activity that took place there. The first recorded Jew in Munkacs was named Ephraim, and he lived in the city in 1649. A document from 1686 mentions two Jews: Ephraim and Marco, who supplied goods to the army (and the supply document was the one where their names were found). In 1760, Jews were already paying municipal taxes, and therefore, they must have had at least one synagogue.
Later, a teacher named Rabbi Baruch arrived in the city. He was the father of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the “Tanya”.
The first rabbi was probably R. Yehudah Leib (1783-1888). In 1790, Rabbi Avraham Gottesman was appointed the second rabbi of the city (died in 1813). After his retirement (and some claim that because of his wife’s conversion to Christianity), in 1805, Rabbi Zvi-Avigdor Ashkenazi was named the chief rabbi (died 1824), and in 1825, after the construction of a new synagogue, Rabbi Zvi Elimelech Shapira was appointed to the position. The Community Register says: “… Today is Sunday, Parashat Re’eh of the year 5588 (1825) – we have crowned the great Rabbi, Av Beit Din of Ravitsch, Rabbi Zvi Elimelech, to be a rabbi and a teacher of justice to the entire congregation of the Israelites who are dwelling here, within the holy community of Munkács and the Bereg, and we are obligated to give him his salary…” In his essay “Takanot Temchin deOrayta”, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech has prohibited force-feeding of geese, to prevent their suffering. The people of Munkács, some of whom were involved in raising and trading geese, did not agree to this ruling, and therefore after four years Rabbi Zvi Elimelech was forced to leave the city (he died in 1861). The next rabbis were Rabbi Azriel Green, 1833 (died 1841), followed by Rabbi Efraim Fishel Horowitz (died 1861), followed by Rabbi Chaim Sofer who was deposed. In 1882, the people of Munkács called Rabbi Shlomo Shapira (who was then in Strzyzow, Galicia), the grandson of Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Shapira, to come and serve as Rabbi. He died 11 years later (1892), and was replaced by his son, Zvi Hirsch Shapira (author of Beer-Lehi-Ru’i, Darkei Teshuva and Tzvi Tiferet), 1892. Zvi Hirsh was dismissed by the Hungarian authorities for not knowing the Hungarian language but continued to serve as a rabbi without appointment until he was appointed again. Throughout his life, he fought against the Zionists and Zionist ideas.
In 1913, after his death (1913), he was replaced by his son, Chaim Elazar Shapira, the author of Minchat Elazar, a well-known Chassidic rabbi and Torah scholar, yet a zealot and a tough opponent. Rabbi Shapira did not suffer opposition to his views and fought against anyone who, in his opinion, could endanger his hegemony as the only rabbi in the city of Munkács and its surroundings. He was famous for the quarrels between him and his followers and other rabbis who were temporarily forced to live in Munkács. He wouldn’t rest until the opponent’s expulsion.
His opposition to other rabbis came to a climax when a separate community of Belz Chassidim was founded in Munkács in the early 1920s. It was when the Rebbe of Belz, Yissachar Dov Rokach, was forced to temporarily live in Munkács for fear of the pogroms in Galicia. The Belz Chassidim in Munkács, most of whom belonged to the middle class and above, applied to the authorities for a license to establish a Chasidic community called the Orthodox Community of Makhzikei Hadat, to establish a synagogue for themselves and choose a rabbi, shochet and cantor. The authorities refused to confirm the name, since according to Czech law one should not give identical names to separate institutions. They therefore had to change the name of the community to the “Neologic Community of Makhzikei Hadat of the Belz Chassidim” and the permit was given. Rabbi Shapira launched a holy war against the “Neologic community” and declared a total boycott. Belz Chassidim were not to be married with, and their food was considered non-Kosher.
Rabbi Shapira did not limit himself to this and sent letters to all the rabbis in the Bereg region, who were under his authority, asking them to publish letters and religious decrees of boycott. The boycott was not lifted until 1934, although the Belzer Rebbe returned to Belz in 1923 and died in Belz in 1926. Rabbi Shapira was, of course, the most vehement opponent of any Zionist, religious and secular movement, and even fought against Agudath Israel. He initiated the establishment of the “Batei Munkács ” neighborhood and the Meir Baal Haness charity in Mea She’arim in Jerusalem.
After his death in 1937, he was succeeded by his son-in-law Baruch Yehoshua Yerachmiel Rabinowitz, who served until the beginning of the Holocaust, was deported to Kamenets-Podlask, managed to return, fled to Budapest and immigrated to Palestine. And when he did not succeed in obtaining a rabbinic position in Israel, he left the country to serve as chief rabbi of San Paolo, Brazil, and then returned to Israel and was appointed Chief Rabbi of Holon. After his term was not extended, he moved to Petah Tiqwa until his death in 1999. His son, Moshe Yehuda Leyb Rabinowitz is currently the Rabbi of Munkács, with a Chassidic court in Brooklyn, New York.
There was extensive Zionist activity in Munkács. In 1921, a Hebrew elementary school was founded, and in the early 1930s, a Hebrew Gymnasium was also established, which was considered the most important Hebrew Gymnasium in Eastern Europe except that of Warsaw. The first director of the Gymnasium was Dr. Chaim Kugel, who left Munkács with the Hungarian occupation in 1939. He immigrated to Israel, founded the city of Holon and became its first mayor.
1939-1944 (including the Holocaust)
The Jews of the region suffered persecution and many anti-Semitic laws, mainly by revoking work permits, the elimination of the possibility of higher education for Jews and their recruitment to “military labor camps”. Many were sent to the Russian front with the Hungarian army and many were killed and even murdered by the Hungarian and German armies, but there were neither ghettos nor extermination (except for Jews without Hungarian citizenship) similar to the lands occupied by the Reich. In 1941, 15,000 Jews without Hungarian citizenship, especially Jews of Galician origin, were sent to the Kamenec-Podolsk region. Most were murdered in cold blood and thrown into a river, and only a few, including the son-in-law of Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapira, Rabbi Baruch Rabinowitz, managed to return. In March 1944, with the German occupation of Hungary, rapid ghettoization began in all the towns and villages of Hungary, including Carpatho-Rus. The Jews of Munkács were concentrated in two ghettos. One ghetto was designated for the remaining city Jews, while the second one housed 15,000 Jews from the area. At the end of April, a typhus epidemic broke out, and in May the Jews were sent to extermination, most of them to Auschwitz-Birkenau and some to Plaszow. Those who were fit for work were dispersed in the various camps. Most of them died of exhaustion, illness, hunger and forced labor, or were murdered.
Minutes of a meeting regarding the deportation of the Jews
In May 1944, a meeting was held at the police headquarters in Munkács under the chairmanship of Lt. Col. Gendarme Laszlo Ferenczi, with the participation of the captain of the gendarmerie Dr. Laszlo and Gestapo Captain Dr. Marton Zoldi on the German side. The meeting discussed the deportation of the Jews, which will begin on May 14, excluding Jews who are foreign nationals – that is, citizens of Britain, the United States, Poland, Russia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, Portugal and Turkey – who were to be removed in advance and put in detention, so that there would be no witnesses to the removal of the others. The Jews will be transported by 11 trains to the Kasha station, where the transports will be handed over to the German police. The marking (on the carriages) will be Umsiedler D-A (resettlement of German workers).
Each train will carry 3,000 people. It will consist of 45 carriages, each holding 70 people with baggage, and two carriages at the beginning and end of the train will serve the guards. The commander of the loading station would be a Hungarian or German gendarmerie officer; This arrangement will require the station manager to provide us with wagons and loading docks at a distance from the station, five hours in advance. The Jews could only take a limited amount of luggage, but no beds or mattresses.
Lists of names will be prepared in two copies. One copy will remain with the transport and the other will be sent to the police headquarters in Munkács for the commander of the loading dock. If the train leaves at night, the Jews must be brought up on the day. The gendarmerie would supervise the transfer from the camp to the station and the police would monitor the streets. The area would be closed in advance by the gendarmerie and the streets would be blocked by the police; this procedure will also be maintained at the loading site. The camp, the ghetto, and the road would be meticulously guarded; the road would be closed to traffic when the Jews were transported. They will be marched in groups of 500 people: four in a row.
Grave patients and their relatives will be brought to the site as part of the last group. There will be a hospital train, in which there will be a doctor and a nurse, together with members of the Jewish Council and people whose citizenship is unclear. Protected workers and members of the labor service, doctors and pharmacists will also be included. For the personnel of the labor service, the Department of Defense shall take a separate action.
The number of passengers in a full carriage will be marked with a chalk on the outside wall of the car. In each carriage, one person will be elected as a council member and will be responsible for obtaining water, etc. The responsibility of the mayors: for the deported, bread must be supplied for two days. The serving per person for two days is 400 grams. It is forbidden to take any additional food. On the day of the loading, camp coffee will be distributed in the camp kitchens – if this is not possible, they will be supplied with water. The bread will be delivered and distributed by the mayor. The mayor will also make sure that each carriage contains a covered bucket (for toilet purposes) and a pot for drinking water. The mayor is also responsible for providing 98 locks with keys for each shipment, possibly with the help of the council. Remember that the shipment (i.e., the train) will also include German train cars that cannot be locked unless you first use a 38-cm chain that can be locked.
The mayor will also provide chalk for marking the cars. It is also his responsibility to supply keychains and labels to register the numbers of the carriages and identify carriage numbers. The transfer and receipt of the transports will take place in Kasha, and no headcount will be performed.
The mayor’s duties: after the removal of the detainees, the administrative authorities will disinfect the camp sites (military doctor). During the transfer, additions and individual actions should be avoided. Captain Dyer Orayi: If necessary, we can fit even a hundred people in a single carriage. They can be packed like sardines, because Germans need strong people. Those who would not survive will die. Germany does not need elegant ladies.
The schedule: May 30, 8 pm to 2 am; June 11, 2 pm to 2 am.
Pal Sahur, Mayor of Nirgehaza: There will not be a single Jew left, let everyone go.
Lt. Col. Ferenczi: Only indispensable doctors and their families will remain in the country. These will be recognized by the German advisers; They are experts in that, and the responsibility for sorting is theirs. Christians who would return anything they received from the Jews within 48 hours upon request, would be exempted from detention, etc.
Most surviving remnants of the Carpathian Jews did not return to the area after the liberation and were dispersed in numerous countries, mostly in Israel or the United States. Today, the Jewish community in Munkács has only about 300 people, some of whom were born there before World War II, but most of them were born after the Holocaust or moved from the countryside. The old hotel, called Csillag “The Star,” was reopened after being purchased by an American Jew of Munkács origin. There is a rabbi in the city, a prayer minyan three times a day, a kosher kitchen and a ritual bath.
Written by Tuvia Klein, the son of the Belz Chassidim Yehoshua and Pearl Klein who were murdered in the Holocaust, may God avenge their blood.