Following on from the Nazi decision to implement the Final Solution the impact upon the
region of Northern Transylvania was to become very severe. But to put it in context we
want to step back and to consider the wider history and Northern Transylvania's part
Northern Transylvania was absorbed into Hungary as of September 1940, following the
Second Vienna Award. A Jew in Northern Transylvania could see immediately the difference
between the new Hungarian approach and the previous Romanian regime.
Ladislaus Lob was a small boy in Margitta (Marghita), Bihor County, when the Hungarian
troops arrived. Margitta was a small town with a population of some 8,600 of which
2,600 were Jewish. He recalls that:
“the Hungarian troops arrived in Margitta on 6 September 1940. They were greeted
in Main Square by veterans of the First World War. These included about a
hundred Jews, who were wearing their medals and welcomed the Hungarians with
open arms. The leader of the Hungarian troops, a Colonel Szonyi, ordered the
Jewish veterans to leave before he allowed the celebrations to continue. One of
our neighbours was overheard saying to the Hungarian soldiers: 'Thank God you’re
here. We didn’t know what to do with these Jews any more.' On the next day the
arrests of so-called communists or collaborators with the Romanians began. Most
of those arrested were Jews, and most of the charges were false. Such
harassments were to continue until there were no Jews left in Margitta.”
Ladislaus Lob is now an Emeritus Professor of German at the University of Sussex in
England. He has kindly allowed us to reproduce this extract from his latest book on
Rezso Kasztner. We were also struck by what seemed to us as a particularly apt
summary of the situation in early 1944.
“What made the Holocaust in Hungary different was the accidental but decisive fact of its timing: the murderers came late and they were in a hurry”.
Actions against the Jewish population, of what is now Romania, must be separated
into at least two segments: actions taken in Northern Transylvania by the
German/Hungarian axis; and those taken in the rest of Romania by the Romanian
Government of the war years.
All these events were covered in the very thorough Final Report undertaken in 2004
by the International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania. It was at the invitation
of the President of Romania that Elie Wiesel, the holder of the Nobel Peace Prize and
Holocaust survivor, accepted the Chairmanship of the Commission.
The Report can be read in full by clicking on the image below.
Research into the actions of the Romanian Government during the war years forms
part of the remit of Elie Wiesel National Institute for the study of the Holocaust in
Romania and those wanting to study this aspect of Romanian history are recommended
to study their website.
For our part, we are particularly concerned with what happened in Northern Transylvania
and rather than rewrite history we have reproduced extracts from the Report which cover
the main events leading up to the deportations of Jews.
In their drive for supremacy in
Post World War I
Their first target was the Little Entente, whose members—
A week before the German annexation of
The Arbitration Award of August 30, 1940
The Hungarian-Romanian negotiations that began on August 16, 1940 in Turnu Severin,
The territorial concessions also enabled
The Jews of
The Jews of Transylvania were victims of the historical milieu in which they lived. Romanians resented them because of their proclivity to Hungarian culture and by implication Hungarian revisionism and irredentism. Hungarians, especially Right radicals, accused them of being “renegades” in the service of the Left. The socioeconomic structure of Transylvanian Jewry was similar to that of the Jews in the neighboring provinces. Many were engaged in business or trade, and their percentage in the professions and white-collar fields outside of government was relatively high. There were, however, only a handful of Jews associated with mining and heavy industry. While no data on income distribution are available, the many studies on
Disillusion in Northern Transylvania
The original reaction of many of the North Transylvanian Jews to the historical changes in the region was to a large extent determined by their experiences during the previous three years, when the various Romanian governments instituted a series of antisemitic measures, and the memories they still nurtured about their lives in the AustroHungarian Empire. The illusions cherished by many among these Jews that the Hungarian annexation of the area would denote a return to the “Golden Era” soon gave way to disbelief and despair. The newly established Hungarian authorities lost no time in implementing the anti-Jewish laws and policies that had already been in effect in
The heavy hand of the Hungarian military authorities was felt particularly in the four counties of the Szekely area, which the Hungarians considered “sacred.” The Jews of the area were subjected to a review of their citizenship status; as a result many of them found themselves in custody because of their “doubtful” citizenship. Particularly hard hit was the Jewish community of Miercurea-Ciuc, where dozens of families were rounded up and expelled.
But harsh as these many anti-Jewish measures were they were overshadowed by the forced labour service system
The Jewish community of
Despite the many casualties and discriminatory measures, however, the bulk of the Jews of Northern Transylvania, like those of
German and Hungarian co-operation over The Final Solution
The occupation of
Because of the worsening military situation the Red Army was already approaching the borders of Romania the Nazis and their Hungarian accomplices decided to implement the solution of the Jewish question in Hungary at lightning speed. On the German side, the SS commando that was entrusted with this mission was under the leadership of SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann.
Although it was rather small—the commando consisted of only around 100 SS-men—it was successful in carrying out its mission primarily because it had received the wholehearted support of the newly established Hungarian government. The government of Döme Sztójay, which Horthy constitutionally appointed on March 22, 1944, placed the instruments of state power—the gendarmerie, police, and civil service— at the disposal of the Nazis. In addition, it issued a series of anti-Jewish decrees, which were calculated to bring about the isolation, marking, expropriation, and ghettoization of the Jews prior to their mass deportation. For logistical reasons, the drive against the Jews was based on a territorial basis determined by the ten gendarmerie districts into which the country was divided. These districts, in turn, were divided into six anti-Jewish operational zones. Northern
The details of the anti-Jewish drive as well as some aspects of the deportation process were worked out on April 4 at a joint German-Hungarian meeting held in the Ministry of the Interior under the chairmanship of László Baky, an undersecretary of state in the Ministry of the Interior. Among the participants was Lt. Col. László Ferenczy, the gendarmerie officer in charge of the ghettoization and deportation of the Jews.
The Decree of April 1944
The draft document relating to the roundup, ghettoization, concentration, and deportation of the Jews--the basis of the April 4 discussion--was prepared by László Endre, another undersecretary of state in the Ministry of the Interior. It was issued secretly as Decree no. 6163/1944.res. on April 7 over the signature of Baky. This document, addressed to the representatives of the local organs of state power, spelled out the procedures to be followed in the campaign to bring about the Final Solution of the Jewish question in
Supplementary specific details about the measures to be taken against the Jews were spelled out in several highly confidential directives, emphasizing that the Jews destined for deportation were to be rounded up without regard to sex, age or illness.
The Minister of the Interior issued directives for the implementation of the decree three days before the top-secret decree was actually sent out. In a secret order, the Minister instructed all the subordinate mayoral, police, and gendarmerie organs to bring about the registration of the Jews by the appropriate local Jewish institutions. These lists, containing all family members, exact addresses, and the mother’s name of all those listed, were to be prepared in four copies, with one copy to be handed over to the local police authorities, one to the appropriate gendarmerie command, and a third to be forwarded to the Ministry of the Interior.To make sure that no Jews would escape the net, the Minister of Supply also issued a registration order, allegedly to regulate the allocation of food for the Jews. Unaware of the sinister implications of these lists as well as of the wearing of the Yellow Star of David—the two interrelated measures designed to facilitate their isolation and ghettoization—the Jewish masses of
In the smaller Jewish communities, especially in the villages, it was usually the community secretary or registrar who prepared the lists; in larger towns, the preparation of the lists was entrusted to young men not yet mobilized in the military labor service system. They usually acted in pairs, conscientiously canvassing the entire community, eager not to leave out a single street or building so as not to “deprive people of their share of provisions.” The Nazis and their Hungarian accomplices set up their headquarters for the antiJewish drive in Munkács (now
The Military Operational Zones
Since the anti-Jewish measures could not be camouflaged and the mass evacuation of the Jews was bound to create dislocations in the economic life of the affected communities, the Nazis and their Hungarian accomplices felt compelled to provide a military rationale for the operations. They assumed, it turned out correctly, that the local population, including some of the Jews, would understand the necessity for the removal of the Jews from the approaching frontlines “in order to protect Axis interests from the machinations of Judeo-Bolsheviks.” On April 12, the Council of Ministers, ex post facto, declared CarpathoRuthenia and
The Ghettoization and Concentration Master Plan
The master plan worked out by the German and Hungarian anti-Jewish experts called for the ghettoization and concentration of the Jews to be effected in a number of distinct phases:
-Jews in the rural communities and the smaller towns were to be rounded up and temporarily transferred to synagogues and/or community buildings.
-Following the first round of investigation in pursuit of valuables at these “local ghettos,” the Jews rounded up in the rural communities and smaller towns were to be transferred to the ghettos of the larger cities in their vicinity, usually the county seat.
-In the larger towns and cities Jews were to be rounded up and transferred to a specially designated area that would serve as a ghetto—totally isolated from the other parts of the city. In some cities, the ghetto was to be established in the Jewish quarter; in others, in abandoned or non-functional factories, warehouses, brickyards, or under the open sky.
-Jews were to be concentrated in centres with adequate rail facilities to make possible swift entrainment and deportation.During each phase, the Jews were to be subjected to special searches by teams composed of gendarmerie and police officials, assisted by local Nyilas and other accomplices, to compel them to surrender their valuables. The plans for the implementation of the ghettoization and deportation operations called for the launching of six territorially defined “mopping-up operations.” For this purpose, the country was divided into six operational zones, with each zone encompassing one or two gendarmerie districts.
The Ghettoization Decree
Like the decision identifying Carpatho-Ruthenia and
The crucial provisions of the decree relating to the concentration of the Jews were included in Articles 8 and 9. The former provided that Jews could no longer live in communities with a population of under 10,000, while the latter stipulated that the mayors of the larger towns and cities could determine the sections, streets,and buildings in which Jews were to be permitted to live.
The objective of the decree, which was issued ten days after the Jews of Carpatho-Ruthenia were being rounded up, was camouflaged under the title “Concerning the Regulation of Certain Questions Relating to the Jews’ Apartments and Living Places.” This legal euphemism in fact empowered the local authorities to establish ghettos. The location of, and the conditions within the ghettos consequently depended on the attitudes of the mayors and their aides.
The Ghettoization Conferences
The details relating to the ghettoization of the Jews in
Endre reviewed the procedures to be followed in the concentration of the Jews as detailed in Decree no. 6163/1944, and Lajos Meggyesi, one of Endre’s closest associates, provided additional refinements relating to the confiscation of their wealth. The latter was particularly anxious to secure the Jews’ money, gold, silver, jewelry, typewriters, cameras, watches, rugs, furs, paintings, and other valuables. Lt. Col. László Ferenczy revealed the preliminary steps already taken toward the ghettoization of the Jews, identifying the cities of Dej, Cluj, Baia Mare, Gherla,
In accordance with the decree and the oral instructions communicated at the two conferences, the chief executive for all the measures relating to the ghettoization of the Jews was the principal administrator of the locality or area. Under Hungarian law then in effect, this meant the mayor for cities, towns, and municipalities, and the deputy prefect of the county for rural areas. The organs of the police and gendarmerie as well as the auxiliary civil service organs of the cities, including the public notary and health units, were to be directly involved in the roundup and transfer of the Jews into ghettos.
The mayors, acting in cooperation with the subordinated agency heads, were empowered not only to direct and supervise the ghettoization operations but also to determine the location of the ghettos and to screen the Jews applying for exemption. They were also responsible for seeing to the maintenance of essential services in the ghettos.
A few days before the scheduled May 3 start of the ghettoization drive in Northern
Rounding up of the Jews
The ghettoization of the close to 160,000 Jews of Northern Transylvania began on May 3 at 5:00 a.m. The roundup of the Jews was carried out under the provisions of Decree no. 6163/1944 as amplified by the oral instructions given by Endre and his associates at the two conferences on ghettoization plans in the region. The Jews were rounded up by squads that were usually set up by the local mayor’s office. These were usually composed of civil servants, usually including local primary and high school teachers, gendarmes, and policemen, as well as Nyilas volunteers. The units were organized by the mayoral commissions and operated under their jurisdiction.
The ghettoization drive was directed by a field dejewification unit headquartered in Cluj. This unit was headed by Ferenczy and operated under the guidance of several representatives of the Eichmann-Sonderkommando. Contact between the dejewification field offices in Northern Transylvania and the central command in
The Jews of the rural communities were first assembled in the local synagogues and/or Jewish community buildings. In some cities, the Jews were concentrated at smaller collection points prior to their transfer to the main ghetto. At each stage they were subjected to an expropriation process that assumed an increasingly barbaric character.
The ghettoization of the Jews of Northern Transylvania, as in the other parts of
The smoothness with which the anti-Jewish campaign was carried out in
The procedures for rounding up, interrogating, and expropriating property of the Jews, as well as the organization and administration of the ghetto, were basically the same in every county in
Conditions in the Ghettos
The conditions under which the Jews of Northern Transylvania lived in the ghettos prior to their deportation were fairly typical of conditions in all the ghettos of
The water supply for the many thousands of ghetto inhabitants usually consisted of a limited number of faucets, several of which were often out of order for days on end. Ditches dug by the Jews themselves were used as latrines. Minor illnesses and ordinary colds, of course, were practically ubiquitous. Many people also succumbed to serious diseases including dysentery, typhoid, and pneumonia. The poor health situation was compounded by the generally barbaric behavior of the gendarmes and police officers guarding the ghettos. In each ghetto the authorities set aside a separate building to serve as a “mint”—the place where sadistic gendarmes and detectives would torture Jews into confessing where they hid their valuables. Their technique was basically the same everywhere. Husbands were often tortured in full view of their wives and children; often wives were beaten in front of their husbands or children tortured in front of their parents. The devices used were cruel and unusually barbaric. The victims were beaten on the soles of their feet with canes or rubber truncheons; they were slapped in the face, and kicked until they lost consciousness. Males were often beaten on the testicles; females, sometimes even young girls, were searched vaginally by collaborating female volunteers and midwives who cared little about cleanliness, often in full view of the male interrogators. Some particularly sadistic investigators used electrical devices to compel the victims into confession. They would put one end of such a device in the mouth and the other in the vagina or attached to the testicles of the victims. These brutal tortures drove many of the victims to insanity or suicide.