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 within it.
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 was, until recently, an Emeritus Professor of German at 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 invitationof 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 Europe, the Nazis first aimed to gain a dominant role in East Central Europe. Within a few years they gradually tied the socioeconomic, political, and military interests of the countries of the region to those of the Third Reich. They largely achieved this objective by financially and politically supporting these countries’ antisemitic press organs and right radical parties and movements.
Post World War I Hungary was a natural ally for the Third Reich. Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, the Hungarian Kingdom became one of the major losers of the war. After first relying unsuccessfully on the Western democracies and the League of Nations to rectify what it termed the injustices of Trianon, in the mid-1930s Hungary decided to pursue its revisionist objectives in tandem with the Third Reich.
Their first target was the Little Entente, whose members—Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia—had been the major beneficiaries of the disintegration of Greater Hungary.
A week before the German annexation of Austria on March 12, 1938, the Hungarian government launched a rearmament program that was intertwined with the adoption of the first major anti-Jewish law. The twin issues of revisionism and the Jewish question came to dominate Hungary’s domestic and foreign policies. The alignment of Hungary with the Reich paid its first dividend shortly after the Western democracies surrendered in Munich (September 29, 1938) to the Nazis’ demands for solving the crisis over the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia. Under the terms of the so-called First Vienna Award of November 2, 1938, brokered by Joachim von Ribbentrop and Galeazzo Ciano, the foreign ministers of Germany and Italy, Hungary acquired from Czechoslovakia the Upper Province (Felvidék)—a strip of land in Southern Slovakia and western Carpatho-Ruthenia. Following the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Hungary also acquired Carpatho-Ruthenia (Kárpátalja).
Hungary’s revisionist ambitions were indirectly enhanced by the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of September 1939, under whose terms the USSR was given a free hand in several parts of Eastern Europe, including Romania. The USSR refrained from acting against Romania as long as France, the country’s foremost supporter, was still considered Europe’s most formidable military power. But on June 26, 1940, three days after a defeated France was compelled to sign an armistice agreement, the Soviet government issued an ultimatum: it demanded that Romania give up Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina within a few days. The annexation of these territories had been preceded by an orchestrated Soviet press campaign against Romania. The campaign caught the attention of Hungarian governmental officials, who began working out plans for the possible recovery of Transylvania in synchronization with the expected Soviet occupation of the eastern provinces of Romania. The Hungarian state and governmental leaders contacted Hitler early in July 1940 to press their case concerning Transylvania. Since the Führer needed both Hungary and Romania as allies in the planned invasion of the Soviet Union, the leaders of the two countries were advised to settle their differences by negotiation.
The Arbitration Award of August 30, 1940
The Hungarian-Romanian negotiations that began on August 16, 1940 in Turnu Severin, Romania, yielded no results and, after ten days of futile wrangling, both parties appealed to the Germans for help.The deadlock was broken shortly after István Csáky and Mihail Manoilescu, the foreign ministers of Hungary and Romania respectively, were invited to Vienna “for some friendly advice” by their Italian and German counterparts. The arbitration award worked out by Ciano and Ribbentrop and their staffs was signed on August 30. Under the terms of this agreement—usually referred to as the Second Vienna Award— Hungary received an area of 43,591 square kilometers with a population of approximately 2.5 million. The area included the northern half of Transylvania, encompassing Sălaj, Bistriţa Năsăud, Ciuc, and Someş counties, most of Bihor, most of Trei Scaune and Mureş-Turda counties, and parts of Cluj County.
The territorial concessions also enabled Hungary to reestablish Maramureş, Satu Mare, and Ugocsa counties within their pre-World War I boundaries. The annexation of Northern Transylvania was completed by September 13, and the territory was formally incorporated into Hungary under a law passed by the Hungarian Parliament on October 2, 1940.
The Jews of Transylvania
Before the partition, the total Jewish population of Transylvania was about 200,000. Of these, 164,052 lived in the territories ceded to Hungary. The historical and cultural heritage that tied Transylvanian Jews to Hungary and the socioeconomic and political realities that bound them to Romania were the source of many conflicts during the interwar period. It is one of the ironies and tragedies of history that after the division of Transylvania in 1940 the Jews fared far worse in the part allotted to Hungary—the country with which they maintained so many cultural and emotional ties— than in the one left with Romania—the state identified with many antisemitic excesses in the course of its history.
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 Transylvania reveal that there was a considerable proportion of Jews who could barely make a living; many depended for their survival on the generosity of the community. Most of these impoverished Jews lived in the densely populated Jewish centers of the northwest.
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 Hungary proper. The Jewish newspapers were suppressed, as were all nondenominational clubs and associations. The general democratic and moderate press in the region fared no better: most of the local press organs and periodicals were transformed into mouthpieces of the chauvinistic Right. The discriminatory measures affected the Jews particularly harshly in their economic and educational pursuits. While those in business and the professions managed to make ends meet by circumventing the laws or taking advantage of loopholes, civil servants, with a few exceptions, were dismissed, and students in secondary and higher education found themselves almost totally excluded from the state educational system.
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 Hungary introduced in 1939. During the first two years of its operation, the Jewish recruits of military age, though subjected to many discriminatory measures, fared relatively well. After Hungary’s involvement in the war against Yugoslavia in April 1941, however, the system acquired a punitive character. The Jewish labour servicemen were compelled to serve in their own civilian clothes: they were supplied with an insignia-free military cap and instead of arms they were equipped with shovels and pickaxes. For identification the Jews were required to wear a yellow armband; the converts and the Christians identified as Jews under the racial laws had to wear a white one. Shortly after Hungary joined the Third Reich in the war against the Soviet Union (June 27, 1941), the labour service system was also used as a means to “solve” the Jewish question. Many of the Jews recruited for service were called up on an individual basis rather than by age group. By this practice the military-governmental authorities paid special attention to calling up the rich, the prominent professionals, the leading industrialists and businessmen, the well-known Zionist and community leaders, and above all those who had been denounced by the local Christians as “objectionable” elements. Many among these Jewish recruits were totally unfit.
The Jewish community of Northern Transylvania also suffered in the wake of the campaign the Hungarian authorities conducted against “alien” Jews in the summer of 1941. Especially hard hit were many of the communities in Maramureş and Satu Mare counties, where an indeterminate number of Jews were rounded up as “aliens.” They were among the 16,000 to 18,000 Jews who were deported from all over Hungary to near Kamenets-Podolsk, where most of them were murdered in late August 1941.
Despite the many casualties and discriminatory measures, however, the bulk of the Jews of Northern Transylvania, like those of Hungary as a whole, lived in relative physical safety, convinced that they would continue to enjoy the protection of the conservative aristocratic government. This conviction was shattered almost immediately after the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944.
German and Hungarian co-operation over The Final Solution
The occupation of Hungary was to a large extent based on German military considerations. Hitler was resolved to prevent Hungary from extricating itself from the Axis Alliance—a goal the Hungarians pursued after the crushing defeat of the Hungarian Second Army at Voronezh in January 1943 and especially after Italy’s successful extrication from the alliance in the summer of that year. The occupation itself was preceded by a meeting between Hitler and Horthy at Schloss Klesheim on March 18 during which the Hungarian head of state, confronted with a fait accompli, not only yielded to the Führer’s ultimatum but also consented to the delivery of a few hundred thousand “Jewish workers for employment in German industrial and agricultural enterprises.” It was largely this agreement that the German and Hungarian officials exploited as a “legal framework” for the implementation of the Final Solution in Hungary.
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 Transylvania encompassed Gendarmerie Districts IX and X, and constituted Operational
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 Hungary.
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 Northern Transylvania, like their co-religionists elsewhere in the country, complied with the measures taken by their local Jewish communal leaders. In contrast to the national leaders of Hungarian Jewry, who were fully informed, the local community leaders were as much in the dark about the scope of these measures as the masses they led.
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 Mukacevo, Ukraine). At a gathering of the top officials in charge of the Final Solution on April 7, Endre spelled out the instructions for the implementation of the anti-Jewish drive in accordance with the provisions of Decree 6163/1944. He stipulated, among other things, that the Jews were to be concentrated in empty warehouses, abandoned or non-operational factories, brickyards, Jewish community establishments, Jewish schools and offices, and synagogues.
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 Northern Transylvania—the first two areas slated for dejewification—to have become military operational zones as of April 1.The government appointed Béla Ricsóy-Uhlarik to serve as Government Commissioner for the military operational zone in Northern Transylvania.
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.
Northern Transylvania was identified as Zone II, encompassing Gendarmerie District IX, headquartered in Cluj, and Gendarmerie District X, headquartered in Tîrgu-Mureş. The order of priority for the deportation of the Jews was established with an eye on a series of military, political, and psychological factors. Time was of the essence because of the fast approach of the Red Army. Politically it was more expedient to start in the eastern and northeastern parts of Hungary because the central and local Hungarian authorities and the local population had less regard for the “Galician,” Eastern,” “alien,” and Yiddish-oriented masses than for the assimilated Jews. Their round-up for “labour” in Germany was accepted in many Hungarian rightist circles as doubly welcome: Hungary would get rid of its “alien” elements and would at the same time make a contribution to the joint war effort, thereby hastening the termination of the German occupation and the reestablishment of full sovereignty.
The Ghettoization Decree
Like the decision identifying Carpatho-Ruthenia and Northern Transylvania as military operational zones, the decree stipulating the establishment of ghettos was adopted on an ex post facto basis. The government decree, issued on April 26, went into effect on April 28. Andor Jaross, the minister of the interior, outlined the rationale for, and the alleged objectives of, the decree at the Council of Ministers meeting of April 26. He claimed that in view of their better economic status the Jews living in the cities had proportionally much better housing than non-Jews and therefore it was possible to “create a healthier situation” by rearranging the whole housing situation. Jews were to be restricted to smaller apartments and several families could be ordered to move in together. National security, he further argued, required that Jews be removed from the villages and the smaller towns into larger cities, where the chief local officials—the mayors or the police chiefs—would set aside a special section or district for them.
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 Northern Transylvania were discussed and finalized at two conferences chaired by Endre. These were attended by the top Hungarian officials in charge of the final solution and representatives of the various counties and municipalities, including the county prefects and/or deputy prefects, mayors, and the police and gendarmerie commanders of the affected counties. The first conference was held in Satu Mare on April 6, 1944, and was devoted to the dejewification operations in the counties of Gendarmerie District IX, namely Bistriţa-Năsăud, Bihor, Cluj, Satu Mare, Sălaj, and Someş. The second was held two days later in Târgu-Mureş, and was devoted to the concentration of the Jews in the so-called Szekely Land, the counties of Gendarmerie District X: Ciuc, Trei Scaune, Mureş-Turda, and Odorheiu.
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, Oradea, Satu Mare, and Şimleu Silvaniei as the planned major concentration centers in Gendarmerie District IX. In the course of the anti-Jewish operations, Bistriţa was added as an additional center, while Gherla was used only as a temporary assembly point, with those assembled there being transferred to the ghetto of Cluj. In Gendarmerie District X, the cities of Reghin, Sfântu Gheorghe, and Târgu Mureş were selected as the major concentration centers. The last major item on the conferees’ agenda for this district meeting was the composition of the various ghettoization commissions, i.e., of the officers and officials in charge of the anti-Jewish operations, and the specification of the geographic areas from which the Jews would be transferred to the major ghetto centers. Since most of these ghettos were in the county seats, they were designated as the assembly and entrainment centers for the Jews in the various counties.
The Ghettoization Drive
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 Transylvania, the special commissions for the various cities and towns held meetings to determine the location of the ghettos and settle the logistics relating to the roundup of the Jews. The commissions were normally composed of the mayors, deputy prefects, and heads of the local gendarmerie and police units. While nearly the same procedure was followed almost everywhere, the severity with which the ghettoization was carried out and the location of and the conditions within the ghetto depended upon the attitude of the particular mayors and their subordinates. Thus in cities such as Oradea and Satu Mare, the ghettos were set up in the poorer, mostly Jewish-inhabited sections; in others, such as Bistriţa, Cluj, Reghin, Şimleu Silvaniei, and Târgu Mureş, the ghettos were set up in brickyards. The ghetto of Dej was situated in the Bungur, a forest, where some of the Jews were put up in makeshift barracks and the others under the open sky. Late on May 2, on the eve of the ghettoization, the mayors issued special instructions to the Jews and had them posted in all areas under their jurisdiction. The text followed the directives of Decree no. 6163/1944, though it varied in nuances from city to city.
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 Budapest was provided by two special gendarmerie courier cars that traveled daily in opposite directions, meeting in Oradea—the midpoint between the capital and Cluj. Immediate operational command over the ghettoization process in Northern Transylvania was exercised by Gendarmerie Col. Tibor Paksy-Kiss, who delegated special powers in Oradea to Lt. Col. Jenõ Péterffy, his personal friend and ideological colleague.
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 Hungary, was carried out smoothly, without known incidents of resistance on the part of either Jews or Christians. The Jewish masses, unaware of the realities of the Final Solution program, went to the ghettos resigned to a disagreeable but presumably non-lethal fate. Some of them rationalized their “isolation” as a logical step before their territory became a battle zone. Others believed the rumors spread by gendarmerie and police officials as well as some Jewish leaders that they were merely being resettled at Kenyérmezõ in Transdanubia, where they would be doing agricultural work until the end of the war. Still others sustained the hope that the Red Army was not very far and that their concentration would be relatively short-lived. The Christians, even those friendly to the Jews, were mostly passive. Many cooperated with the authorities on ideological grounds or in the expectation of quick material rewards in the form of properties confiscated from the Jews.
The smoothness with which the anti-Jewish campaign was carried out in Northern Transylvania, as elsewhere, also can be attributed in part to the absence of a meaningful resistance movement, let alone general opposition to the persecution of the Jews. Neutrality and passivity were the characteristic attitudes of the heads of the Christian churches in Northern Transylvania, as reflected in the behavior of János Vásárhelyi, the Calvinist bishop, and Miklós Józan, the Unitarian bishop. The exemplary exception was Aron Márton, the Catholic bishop of Transylvania, whose official residence was in Alba-Iulia, in the Romanian part of Transylvania.
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 Northern Transylvania. The Jews were rounded up at great speed, given only a few minutes to pack, and driven into the ghettos on foot. The internal administration of each ghetto was entrusted to a Jewish Council, usually consisting of the traditional leaders of the local Jewish community.
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 Hungary. In the assembly centers—the county ghettos—the feeding of all Jews, including those transferred from neighboring communities, became the responsibility of the local Jewish Councils. The main and frequently only meal consisted primarily of a little potato soup. Even with these meager rations, though, the feeding problem became acute after the first few days, when the supplies the rural Jews had brought along were used up. The living conditions in the ghettos were extremely harsh, and often brutally inhumane. The terrible overcrowding in the apartments within the ghettos, with totally inadequate cooking, bathing, and sanitary facilities, created intolerable hardships as well as tension among the inhabitants. But deplorable as conditions were in the city ghettos, they could not compare to the cruel conditions that prevailed in the brickyards and the woods, where many of the Jews were kept for several weeks under the open skies. Inadequate nutrition, lack of sanitary facilities,absence of bathing opportunities, as well as inclement weather, led to serious health problems in many places.
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.