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East European Perspectives: October 1, 2004

1 October 2004, Volume 6, Number 18


By Zoltan Tibori Szabo*

Forced Labor, Deportations, And Their Victims

According to Hungarian census figures, 183,000 Jewish inhabitants lived on the territory of present-day Transylvania in 1910 and, according to a Romanian census, there were 192,000 Jews living in the same area in 1930. By "Transylvania," we understand the historical Transylvania, plus the regions of the Banat, the Cris (Korosvidek), and some parts of the Partium and of the Maramures (Marmaros) that are present-day Romanian territory.

According to Transylvanian Hungarian historians Nandor Bardi and Peter Veres, the overall number of Jews in Transylvania in 1910 was 182,495, and in 1930 there were 192,833 Jews (Bardi and Veres, 1996, p. 133). However, according to Hungarian statistician Tamas Stark (Stark, 1995, p. 65 and 2000, p. 97.), who cites the Romanian census of 1930, 190,945 Jews were living in Transylvania. These discrepancies might be due to the 17 settlements that are not part of present-day Transylvania and the five settlements that were divided in two as a result of the demarcation of the Romanian-Hungarian border in 1940.

As a result of the Second Vienna Award of 30 August 1940, the northwestern part of Transylvania -- an area of 43,000 square kilometers with 2.5 million inhabitants -- was re-annexed by Hungary. The 1941 census organized by the Hungarian regime in the recently re-annexed area counted more than 151,000 Jewish inhabitants. In the same year, 41,000 Jews lived in the southern part of Transylvania and in the Banat, which remained in Romania. According to Stark (1995, p. 65), 151,125 Jews were living in Northern Transylvania and 40,937 in Southern Transylvania. Romanian statistician Traian Rotariu (2002, p. 333) indicates that, in line with the figures of the 1941 Hungarian census, 153,462 Jews were living in Northern Transylvania while, according to the Romanian Division of the World Jewish Congress, there were 39,628 individuals "of Jewish-blood" in Southern Transylvania in 1942 (World Jewish Congress, 1945, pp. 41-42).

In both Northern and Southern Transylvania, persecutions were extended during the war to Christians of Jewish origin as well. According to Rotariu (2002, p. 333), on 31 January 1941, there were 1,710 inhabitants in Northern Transylvania who were legally defined as Jews under the so-called second Jewish law of 1939, although they were not of the Jewish religion. If they are counted, a total of 155,162 people in Transylvania were affected by the Hungarian anti-Jewish laws. According to Randolph L. Braham, who is arguably the world's most prominent historian of the Holocaust in Hungary, at the time of the Second Vienna Award, Northern Transylvanian Jewry totaled 164,000 people (including Christians of Jewish descent) and that of Southern Transylvania 42,000 (Braham, 1997, p. 74).

Consequently, on the whole (northern and southern) territory of Transylvania, in the period before the Holocaust there were at least 192,000 and perhaps as many as 206,000 inhabitants who were considered Jews under the racist legislation of the period.

As early as the fall of 1940 and continuing the following year, the Jewish community of Northern Transylvania lost several thousand people as a result of deportations. The forced labor military units set up in 1942 and the 1944 deportations to German death camps dramatically reduced the Jewish community in Transylvania.

In September 1945, the number of Jews on the territory of Northern Transylvania was between 23,000 and 30,000 (Stark, 1995, p. 69). This includes those Jews who actually returned home and those who movedto the area from Southern Transylvania and from other parts of Romania, as well as those who fled from Bukovina and Bessarabia. Not included in these figures are the approximately 8,000-10,000 people who had survived the death camps and gone directly to Western countries.

On 6 May 1946, the Nationality Department of the Police Directorate of the Romanian Interior Ministry prepared a report regarding the balance between the number of deported and returned Jews (Calafeteanu, 1993, pp. 244-245). According to this report, a total of 127,377 people were deported, only 19,764 of whom had returned by May 1946. Hence, the number of those who did not return was 107,613. The reliability of this data is questionable, however, due to a discrepancy regarding the number of Jews deported from Marmaros County: According to the report, 8,500 Marmaros Jews were deported, while according to data from the Kassa (Kosice) railway station, where all trains with deported Jews were registered (and to which Marmaros County belonged during the war) nearly 33,600 Jews were transported to Auschwitz from Marmaros County.

As indicated in an account prepared by the World Jewish Congress in January 1947 that was based mostly on estimates, 44,706 Jews lived in Northern Transylvania at that time, while the religious communities of Southern Transylvania and Banat reported a total of 45,738 Jews (World Jewish Congress, 1947, pp. 31-32).

It follows that a precise estimate of the number of victims is still unavailable. Among the factors making such an assessment difficult are the lack of reliable registries, the still unmapped postwar movement of the population within Transylvania, incomplete information concerning foreign refugees who fled to Palestine through Romania, and the fact that there is no accurate data regarding the Transylvanian Jews who emigrated from Romania.

Nevertheless, we know that in 1942-44 as many as 15,000 Northern Transylvanian Jewish men were taken to forced labor camps. We also know that, according to the Kassa (Kosice) railway commandant's annotations, in May and June 1944, a total of 133,913 individuals (Braham, 1997, pp. 1357-1359) were deported to Auschwitz from Northern Transylvania.

Jews were deported from Southern Transylvania as well. They were taken to Transnistria by the Romanian authorities in 1942. Very few of them made it back to their homeland. According to some records provided by press reports of the time ("Szabad Szo," 16 November 1944 and "Szabadsag," 19 October 1945), the number of victims was 1,000 at most. After the Romanian authorities ended their "Final Solution" (which entailed more than 270,000 victims) and made Palestinian emigration possible, approximately 7,000 Jewish refugees from Northern Transylvania, Hungary and other countries fled to Romania between 1943 and 1944. Most headed to Bucharest, and then on to the Black Sea port of Constanta, en route to their final destination of Palestine. A few hundreds of them, however, found temporary refuge in Southern Transylvania (Tibori Szabo, 2001, p. 148). As a result, in Southern Transylvania approximately 40,000 Jews survived the deportations.

It follows that approximately 85,000-90,000 Transylvanian Jews survived the Holocaust, if one includes those who fled from the death camps to Western countries. Thus the overall number of Transylvanian victims is close to 120,000. Three-quarters of Northern Transylvanian Jewry and two-thirds of the entire Jewish Transylvanian population were exterminated. According to Romanian sources, the percentage of the Northern Transylvanian survivors was less than 20 (see for instance Alexandru, 1991, p. 264).

Homecoming And The Reorganization Of Community Life
Some of the Jewish men who survived Hungarian forced labor camps returned in Northern Transylvania with the Soviet army. The survivors of the Nazi death camps, however, were obliged to wait longer for their return -- they were released only in the summer of 1945 or later. After coming home, many found it difficult to find a place to live, their placement represented a problem (see "Igazsag," 3 and 10 June 1945), and the majority came back exhausted and suffering from various illnesses ("Vilagossag," 5 April 1945). The persecution, torture, and familial destruction endured by these people had ultimately weakened their psychological and physical conditions. As a result, the first community institutions created were hospitals and canteens.

The Transylvanian media began dealing with the tragedy of Transylvanian Jewry as early as the fall of 1944 (see "Vilagossag," 5, 10, and 15 November 1945). It can be seen from these early reports that the authors were unaware that the Jewish population was deported not to regular concentration camps but to death camps. Nor did the leaders of the Democratic Jewish People's Community (Demokratikus Zsido Nepkozosseg, formed in October 1944; hereafter called the CPED) know of the scale of the deaths. Although those who returned from the death camps in February 1945 related the circumstances, neither the media nor CPED leaders gave any further attention to their accounts ("Vilagossag," 21 February 1945).

On 19 November 1944, the Romanian division of the Jewish World Congress made its recommendations and was especially concerned with assessing the number of survivors. The results were published in two separate volumes in 1945 and in 1947. In November 1944, "the Joint" (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), the Jewish Agency, and the Bucharest branch office of the International Red Cross delegated a commission headed by the former editor in chief of the Cluj-based daily "Uj Kelet" (New East) to visit Northern Transylvania. The purpose of this visit was twofold: to evaluate the number of survivors and to ascertain what measures needed to be taken. According to the report issued by the commission, the delegation found 7,200 Jews in Northern Transylvania (cited in Stark, 1995, pp. 67-68).

Gradually the Jewish communities of Northern Transylvania came back to life. The Jewish hospitals were re-inaugurated and returning refugees were placed in housing centers run by various organizations ("Erdelyi Szikra," 22 March 1945). On 26 November 1944, the Central Orthodox Office of the Transylvanian and Banat Jewish Communities (Erdelyi es Bansagi Kozponti Ortodox Iroda) was formed. The Neolog (Reformed) communities later established the Association of Jewish Communities of the Western (Neolog) Rite (Nyugati Szertartasu [Neolog] Izraelita Hitkozsegek Szovetsege). Through these organizations, Transylvanian Jewry was supposed to join the Federation of Associations of Jewish Communities in Romania (Federatia Uniunilor de Comunitati Evreiesti din Romania).

The Northern Transylvanian Jewish communities encountered difficulties resulting from the lack of rabbis, cantors, and circumcisers. According to some reports, more than 70 rabbis were exterminated during the Holocaust (Federatia, 1985, pp. 69-70). The new regime was eager both to draw the communities under the influence and control of the Communist Party (Rotman, 1994, p. 306) and to diminish their spiritual essence and functions. The relative popularity of communist ideology among Jews at the time, and the lack of charismatic, highly regarded religious leaders, made this a relatively easy task.

Between 14 November 1944 and 9 March 1945, Northern Transylvania enjoyed administrative independence. Since the future affiliation of Transylvania was still uncertain, temporary leaders -- both Romanians and Hungarians -- tried to tilt the balance to their own interest by convincing the Jewish survivors to support them. Romanians were hoping that as a result of the atrocities suffered during the Holocaust, Transylvanian Jewry -- Hungarian by mother tongue and culture -- would be totally and forever disillusioned with Hungary. Also, since a number of Jews had already sympathized with left-wing principles between the two World Wars, the Romanian communist leaders believed that they could attract them to their side as well. Jewish survivors faced great difficulties in getting back their dwellings and only in special cases they got back some of their movable goods (mostly furniture). In the spring of 1945, the trade unions and the Association for the Protection of People (Nepvedelmi Egyesulet) proposed that help for the survivors should be provided from the assets of leaders and followers of the former Hungarian fascist regime ("Erdelyi Szikra," 5 April 1945). The restitution of real estate and other immovable goods was also hindered by the fact that many houses were destroyed during the 1944 wartime events and their inhabitants moved by the authorities into Jewish dwellings. Of the movable goods, items of great value were appropriated by Hungarian and German military officers, civil servants, and clerks; the remaining goods were taken by the local population. Jewish furniture was pilfered by the Soviets as well (Arhivele, 1945a, p. 20). The left-wing forces that came to power urged the Jews to be patient. For fear of a renewal of anti-Semitism, requests for restitution were discouraged by Jewish leaders as well.

The temporary administrative authorities in postwar Transylvania had a few Jews as members; hence the representation of their interests became easier. For instance, the city council of Cluj (Kolozsvar) formed on 13 October 1944 had 17 Romanian, 11 Hungarian, and one Jewish member ("Vilagossag," 9 November 1944). On 21 October, also in Cluj, the Democratic Council of Northern Transylvania (Eszak-Erdelyi Demokratikus Bizottsag) was set up with the express purpose of promoting the peaceful cohabitation of Romanians, Hungarians, and Jews. The council included the Northern Transylvanian Communist Party (Kommunistak Eszak-Erdelyi Partja), the Social Democrats of Cluj, the Alliance of Hungarian Workers (Magyar Dolgozok Szovetsege, or MADOSZ), the Plower's Front (Ekesfront-Frontul Plugarilor), the CPED, and United Trade Unions representatives (Vincze, 2004).

In the larger cities of Transylvania, CPED branches were formed immediately after the entry of the Soviet army. The CPED's declared aim was to participate in establishing the new order alongside Romanian and Hungarian democratic forces. Its leaders believed that the Jewish population had experienced the greatest sufferings of the war, but the CPED emphasized that "individual revenge is not the purpose of the Jews." At the same time, the CPED leaders argued that "the heads of the anti-Jewish actions must be punished", ownership rights and the rule of law has to be reinforced, Jewry has to be compensated, and its reintegration in the country's industry and commerce has to be accomplished within the framework of the national economic program. Moreover, the CPED said immediate action must be undertaken for the return of the deported. It requested that the Allied governments exercise their influence on the Romanian government to insist that deportees be sent back from Germany, and -- should the request be rejected -- to order the arrest and internment of Romanians of Saxon and Schwab nationality for as long as the Nazi authorities were refusing to repatriate the camp prisoners (Vilagossag," 5 November 1944).

In February 1945, the CPED held a meeting in Cluj at which it demanded material and moral support for the return to Romania of prisoners from liberated concentration camps. At the gathering, CPED leaders called on the Soviets to take "serious and effective measures" to bring home the deported "from the already liberated territories." Left-wing parties, which had set up the National Democratic Front (Frontul National Democrat, or FND, in Romanian; Orszagos Demokrata Arcvonal, or ODA, in Hungarian), wanted to give credit for the return of the survivors to the Romanian Communist Party (PCR). According to Miklos (Nicolae) Goldberger, a Northern Transylvanian activist of the Central Committee of the PCR, the return of the deported figured on the FND agenda; in return, Goldberger claimed, Transylvanian Jewry had an obligation to support the FND ("Vilagossag," 20 February 1945).

On 6 March 1945, the FND came to power due to Soviet pressure. A communist-dominated government was formed by Petru Groza. The Northern Transylvanian conference of the CPED was held in Cluj the same week. It made a decision to organize aid expeditions in order to locate individuals who were trying to get home from territories liberated from the Nazis in order to provide them with on-the-spot first-aid and transport them home. For this purpose, the CPED requested "more effective support" from the Romanian, Soviet, and Polish governments, none of which had been very helpful or generous thus far. In the beginning, the aid-dispatch plans envisaged truck caravans "for the immediate aid of the elderly, the sick, and children"; it was apparent that the reality of the death camps was still a hazy concept. Later, the CPED asked for special trains for the transportation of survivors. The conference adopted decisions about conserving and maintaining the goods of the deported, making arrangements for the reception of the returned, setting up housing centers and canteens, and decided that the Northern Transylvanian CPED Central Office would be placed in Cluj (for more details see "Vilagossag," 11 March 1945 and "Igazsag," 10 June and 14 December 1945).

In March 1945, the Romanian government made available trains for the transportation of the survivors. As of 25 March and up to the end of June 1945, such trains circulated between Oradea (Nagyvarad) and Krakow and between Cluj and Prague (Braham, 1997, p. 1251; see also Lowy, 1998, pp. 209-210, and Schon, 1981, p. 183). The majority of the deported who survived came back either during this period or in a second, larger, wave in the summer and fall of 1945. In the summer of 1945, the Satu-Mare- (Szatmarnemeti-)based "Deportalt Hirado" (Deported News) newspaper was set up to brief this group.

New Waves Of Anti-Semitism
The demands for the restitution of survivors' possessions generated conflicts between Transylvanian Hungarians and local Jews. The immigration to Transylvania of Jews from Bukovina, Bessarabia, and Moldavia also caused much tension. Some Jews were subjected to aggressions, and casualties were registered among them (Arhivele, 1946a, pp. 1-2, 16, 139).

At the beginning of October 1945, Vasile Luca, a PCR Central Committee member, noted that "in Moldavia there is a growing anti-Semitic current" that "is of no lesser magnitude in Transylvania." He believed the phenomenon was caused by the fact that "the masses of people are poisoned with anti-Semitism." Luca,an ethnic Hungarian belonging to the Szekler group within that minority, came up with a "solution" for solving this problem: the shirker, "reactionary" Jews should be organized into labor brigades and be marched under escort to the coal mines of the Jiu Valley (Arhivele, 1945b, p. 21).

At the end of October, Luca and PCR Central Committee member Iosif Chisinevschi (an ethnic Jew from Bessarabia), presented the party's views on the "Jewish question" at a meeting held in Bucharest. Luca said the PCR "is not against emigration." In his speech, Chisinevschi attacked the "Jewish reactionaries" and their purported exponent, Association of Jewish Communities Chairman Wilhelm Filderman. He stigmatized those Jews who, he said, "have not learned anything from the Jewish tragedy" and announced that "Jewish chauvinism is as dangerous as the Romanian, Hungarian, or any other kind of chauvinism" ("Igazsag," 23 October 1945).

To be sure, not only communist leaders were looking at postwar developments through anti-Semitic spectacles. Hatred against Jews was deeply rooted in both the Romanian and Hungarian populations. This was evident from many of the era's police, gendarmerie, and security reports, although the interethnic tensions were often camouflaged by the authorities as "class struggle" (Neumann, 1996, p. 250).

The general economic difficulties, the lack of food, and the drought of 1946 also fostered the upsurge of anti-Semitism. In the same year, alarmist rumors started to surface according to which Jews who had lost their children in the death camps were kidnapping and murdering Hungarian children. The left-wing Jewish press categorically rejected the resurgence of this medieval blood libel in a new form and said the "fascist provocation" must be eliminated through the endorsement of the "cohabiting people's democracy" ("Egyseg," 23 May 1946).

Between 1945 and 1948, "the Joint" allocated tens of millions of U.S. dollars for the support of the impoverished Romanians. In order to avoid accusations by anti-Semites, non-Jews received assistance as well. Even so, on 18 February 1949, the PCR closed down the offices and forbade the activities of "the Joint" in Romania. Following that decision, many Jews left the country to emigrate to Palestine (Kuller, 2002, p. 61).

Immigration, Emigration, And Internal Population Movements
In the second half of 1945 and especially in 1946, many refugees fled the Soviet-regime, coming to Transylvania from Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia. The Jews among those refugees believed it would be easier to emigrate to Palestine or to Western Europe through Hungary. Thus most of them rushed to the vicinity of the rapidly tightening border, which was already almost closed. A smaller number settled down in various other regions of Transylvania.

In 1946 and 1947, reports of the Romanian police forces began to draw attention to the presence in the country of refugees from Bukovina and Bessarabia (Arhivele, 1946b, p. 171; Arhivele 1946c, p. 131; and Arhivele, 1946d, p. 34). In 1947, the majority of Jews who wanted to escape to Hungary came from Moldavia, the eastern part of Romania. In April 1947, according to a report by the Oradea police, the number of Jews from "Old Romania" (the territory of the Romanian Kingdom before 1918) -- mainly from Moldavia and Bucharest -- who tried day after day to cross the border was estimated at between 1,000 and 2,000 (Arhivele, 1947a, p. 9). Several reports of the Romanian secret police in August 1947 make it clear that Jews from Roman, Galati, Tecuci, and other towns, after selling all their possessions in exchange for gold and foreign currencies, headed for Carei (Nagykaroly) and other Partium cities near the border (Arhivele, 1947b, p. 73; Arhivele, 1947c, pp. 100 and 121, respectively).

The eagerness to emigrate surely inspired Transylvanian Jews as well. In 1946 and 1947, the Transylvanian Jews, especially the younger ones, were trying to reach the British-American area of liberated Europe. The creation of the state of Israel in 1948 considerably increased the number of those who wished to emigrate.

The Jews who fled from Bukovina and Bessarabia informed Transylvanian Jews about Soviet reality, thus intensifying misgivings about communism. Security intelligence recorded that Jews showed an "almost sickening tendency to emigrate," not as much to Palestine but to South America "from where they hope to enter the United States." According to some reports, even the leaders of the communist-formed and communist-dominated Democratic Jewish Committee (CDE) were planning to leave the country (Arhiva SRI, 1946, pp. 179-180).

The leading personalities of the Jewish communities were also making a case for emigration. One of the main reasons for that was the central authorities' decision of 1 June 1949, according to which all Orthodox, Neolog, Status Quo Ante, and Sephardic communities were merged under a single "Mosaic faith" community, controlled by the PCR. In the two years following the creation of the unified community, 80 percent of Romanian rabbis and circumcisers chose to make aliyah (emigration to Israel) (Kuller, 2002, p. 386).

In light of various sources on the movement of population during the period under review, several main population movements can be outlined:

1. Those that moved from Southern Transylvania and other parts of Old Romania to Northern Transylvanian cities. There is no information on the scale of this migration. However, according to circumstantial evidence and survivors' testimonies, the number of these migrants was no more than several thousands.

2. Those that fled Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia from the end of 1945 onward, following the reincorporation of those territories into the Soviet Union at the end of the war. They went to almost every large city in Transylvania. Their overall number was no more than 10,000 and the majority emigrated legally or illegally in 1946 and 1947.

3. Those that came from Hungary and other eastern European countries in the autumn of 1944 and in 1945. The majority of them were headed to Bucharest, in order to emigrate to Palestine, but some of them lived temporarily in Transylvania. Their number in February 1946 was approximately 20,000, of whom about 13,000 were from Hungary, 6,500 from Poland, and 1,000 from Austria, Germany, and Czechoslovakia (Kuller, 2002, p. 62).

4. Jews from Old Romania (especially from Moldavia and Bucharest) who had illegally escaped to Hungary through Northern Transylvania in the summer of 1946. From Hungary they fled to the British-American controlled area in Austria, Germany, and Italy. There is no available data on the actual number of these migrants; however, it can be estimated that they were no less than 10,000 and no more than 15,000. Some Zionist movement estimates claim that in 1944-1948, some 25,000-30,000 Jews left Romania illegally (Kuller, 2002, p. 59).

5. Jews (approximately 10,000) who had illegally emigrated from Transylvania to Hungary, and then to western Europe, the United States and Palestine between 1946 and 1948. This route was discontinued in 1948.

6. The returned survivors of the German death camps. According to community registries, their number was estimated at 15,000-20,000. Among them were Jews from Hungary, from Slovakia as well as West European (Dutch, French) Jews who could not return to their home countries because of the continuing war. The West European Jews were headed to Bucharest but spent some time in the Northern Transylvanian housing centers, where they could rest and heal (Somos, 1945; see also Igazsag," 1 July and 9-15 August 1945).

7. Some Transylvanian Jews moved to Bucharest (to enhance emigration prospects to Palestine or for other reasons) in 1944-46. They accounted for no more than 2,000-3,000 people.

In the summer of 1947, strict measures were adopted at the Romanian-Hungarian border. The frontier police were empowered to shoot without notice anyone who tried to cross the border illegally. The purpose of this measure was to put an end to the large-scale illegal trafficking of persons and goods across the border.

At the end of 1947, a few weeks before the forced abdication and expulsion of the Romanian King Michael I, the authorities allowed the departure to Palestine of 15,000 Jews, most of whom were foreign refugees. At the end of 1948, another 4,000 Jews were helped to leave the country by various Zionist organizations (Kuller, p. 69). The following year, however, the Zionist organizations were outlawed, their goods confiscated, and their leaders imprisoned.

A survey carried out by the Jewish communities in 1948 found that at that point in time there were 36,613 Jews in historic Transylvania, 12,453 in the Banat, and 27,709 in Partium and Maramures, which renders a total of 76,815. For a more accurate estimation, one should add to this number the 4,000-5,000 who, having voluntarily ceased any contact with the religious Jewish community because they opted for communist atheism, were not counted in the survey. Hence approximately 80,000 Jews were living in Transylvania at that time. Assuming that the number of Jews who came from Old Romania and the Soviet territories was 10,000, and the number of Holocaust victims was 120,000, it follows that between 1945 and 1948 approximately 10,000 Hungarian Jews emigrated from Transylvania.

Around the time of the forced abdication of King Michael I on 30 December 1947, two of the prominent leaders of the Old Romanian Jewry fled the country: in December 1947, Chief Rabbi Alexandru Safran, and in spring 1948 Wilhelm Filderman, the de facto layman leader of Romania's Jews who was known for his democratic beliefs and his war-time Jewish-rescue actions. These events had a considerable impact on Transylvanian Jews. The new chief rabbi, Moses Rosen, appointed in 1948, was believed by many to be a PCR sympathizer, which was indeed so in many ways. Nonetheless, evidence that emerged later would demonstrate that his political views did not stop Rabbi Rosen from advocating and promoting, whenever circumstances allowed it, emigration to Israel and the revival of religious Jewish communitarian institutions in Romania itself.

*The author is a Cluj-based correspondent for the Hungarian daily "Nepszabadsag" (Budapest) and a columnist for the Hungarian-language daily "Szabadsag" (Cluj).


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