The 1940 Second Vienna Accord returned to Hungary approximately 43,000 sq. km of the northern part of Transylvania along with its population of 2.4 million people. The 1941 census conducted by the Hungarian authorities recorded 151,000 Jews living in this territory.
April 4, 1944 remains a watershed date in the history of the Jews of greater Hungary. As of that date all Jews were required to wear the ubiquitous Yellow Star on the left side of their chest.
Only those, who had an absolute need to, left their homes. The authorities, especially policemen, took every opportunity to harass the Jews, whether they were wearing the Yellow Star or not.
On May the 3d, 1944, the authorities issued ruling
ordering the removal of all Jews from the general population and their forced relocation to a segregated area, a ghetto. Since the general area of Szatmar contained a relatively large Jewish population, two areas were designated to be the Ghetto. One was created in Nagybanya and the other in Szatmar proper. Nagykaroly became a focal gathering point from where the Jews were herded into the ghettos.
In Szatmar the ghetto was constituted in the traditional Jewish areas (See the ghetto map
) and was by far the largest of the three. At the height of the campaign against the Jews, 18,863 people were incarcerated there
. It was here also that the authorities herded the Jews from the neighboring communities of Apa, Aranyosmegyes, Avasfelsofalu, Avaslekenco, Avasujvaros, Batiz, Beltek, Bikszad, Erdod, Szelestyhutar, Kacs, Kiralydaroc, Nagykaroly, Sarkad, Szamoskrasso, Szatmarhegy, Szinervaralja, Terep and Vamfalu.
The Jews from the outlying areas, now within the Szatmar region, communities that then belonged to the Ugocsa region which included Halmi, Batacs, Kiralyhaza, Turc, Nagytarna, Turterebes and Tiszaujlak were herded into the ghetto in Nagyszollos.
The Jews of Szatmar itself, numbering some 13,250 souls, represented 2/3ds of the population herded into the ghetto in Szatmar proper.
The Szatmar ghetto was comprised of the following streets:
- Petofi street, odd numbered houses from Karoly Square to the Army training area and from Tal Street to the Army barracks.
- Bathory Street both sides of the street from Karoly Square to Emperor Franz Joseph street.
- Tompa street, odd numbered houses from Farkas Antal street to Emperor Franz Joseph street.
- Zrinyi street, both sides of the street from Karoly Square to Emperor Franz Joseph street.
- Toltes street in its entirety.
- Kert street, even numbered houses from Zsak Street to Emperor Franz Joseph street.
- Karoly Square even numbered side.
- Emperor Franz Joseph street, the odd numbered side from Tompa street to Kert street.
- Koto street and Ben street in their entirety.
Compared to other ghettos, the Szatmar ghetto, while terribly overcrowded, was relatively bearable. At least the occupants had a roof over their heads.
The forced movement of the Jews into the ghetto began on May the 3d and was completed by May the 6th.
Jewish doctors organized and controlled the health services within the walls of the ghetto. Dr. Samuel Fekete, an ophthalmologist, set up a hospital in the ghetto in the David Grosz hat factory on Petofi street.
Specialists were providing care within their specialty: Kovari Tibor, Sarkany Laszlo and Fenyves Armin.
The Jewish Council functioned with President, Schwartz Zoltan, members Rosenberg Samuel, head of the Jewish Religious Community, Vinkler Lajos and Borgida Joseph.
On Tompa street there was a communal kitchen but it worked sporadically and only when threy could smugle in food, otherwise the people went hungry.
The mayor of Szatmar was Csoka Laszlo. The commandant of the ghetto was a policeman, Sarkozi Bela. 50 police officers secured the traffic in one direction only, into the ghetto. There were several who tried to hide out, but were caught as their non-Jewish neighbors were eager to denounce them to the police. There were a few that received exemptions from the mayor, but even they were eventually interned along with those Jews who had converted to Christianity.
After everything of material value was confiscated, many were subjected to severe torture and sadistic abuse in the local mint factory called the "penzverdeben". Jews were "pressed" to cough up any remaining items of value in their possession. Several were unable to withstand the tortures and committed suicide, like Gero Sandor. The "penzverde" was in the Swede house on Zrinyi street. It was "managed" by the likes of Sarkozi Bela, Czegenyi Karoly and Demeny N.
In the center of Bathory street, where today stands an open market, there was a gathering place where the transports to the extermination camps were organized. From here the wretched victims, several thousands at a time, were herded on their final trip out of Szatmarnemeti along Emperor Franz Joseph street, to the bridge over the Szamos river, then onto to the road towards Banya to the waiting cattle cars.
The transports were invariably in cattle cars, with sometimes 100 people to a car in unimaginable conditions. Little food or drink and unbearable heat, was the rule rather than the exception. The dead were dumped at Kassa.
I found different dates with reference to the 6 transports out of the ghetto to the concentration camps. From the notes of the stationmaster in Kassa it was possible to reconstruct the times of these transports and their composition.
Departure dates from Szatmar were calculated by matching the data found in Kassa with the recorded times of arrival in Auschwitz as in Kassa, the Nazis took control of these trains from the Hungarian police.
Here are my findings:
|Szatmar Ghetto|| Kassa|| Auschwitz|
|May 18|| May 19 - 3006 individuals || May 21. Sunday|
|May 21 || May 22 - 3300 individuals || May 24. Wednesday|
|May 25|| May 26 - 3336 individuals || May 27. Sunday|
|May 28 || May 29 - 3309 individuals || May 31. Wednesday|
|May 29 || May 30 - 3300 individuals || June 1. Thursday|
|May 31 || June 1 - 2615 individuals || June 3. Saturday |
We have the witness account of Weisz Paula in the archives in Yad Vashem
regarding the 1st and 3d transports . Grosz Elijahu Betzalel is the witness to the 5th transport
In the last transport were the leadership of the ghetto, the Jewish Council and the staff of the hospital. The founder of the hospital, Dr. Fekete Samu was no longer with them as he was the first to take his own life. An additional eight individuals ended their own life rather than face the unbearable horrors yet in store for them.
In less than a month the Szatmar region was emptied of the Jewish population. Their homes and businesses remained abandoned. Open looting took place in town. Precious few Christian neighbors were willing to actively save the belongings of their Jewish compatriots.
The accompanying police on the trains to Kassa beat and tortured anyone they suspected of still harboring anything of value. The Hungarian police were not any different from their SS cohorts in sadism and bestiality.
The last stop for the transports was the rail siding of Auschwitz - Birkenau
. The rest is well known, Mengele, the gas chambers, the crematoria.
On May 6, 1946 the population census central office in the police directorate of the Romanian Interior Ministry’s presented its findings to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the number of survivors of the north Transylvanian deportations. According to this report, 127,377 people were deported and as of May 1946, 19,764 returned. Accordingly, 107,613 perished. There was a question mark on the accuracy of this data as those from the Maramaros region show the number 8,500. According to records kept in Kassa, they only transported 33,600 Jews to Auschwitz
We know, however, that between 1942 and 1944 some 15,000 north Transylvanian Jewish males were sent to forced labor camps and the Kassa railroad command recorded that during May and June 1944 they transported some 134,000 people to Auschwitz
The exact number of victims to this day has been impossible to determine. This because of shoddy recordkeeping, frequent population movements in the inter-war years as well as to the population movements in the post-war years, such as the numbers of survivors who moved to Palestine and those who chose to remain in the West rather than return to their pre-war homes.
In the event, some 35 to 40, 000 survivors managed to find their way back to their looted and devastated homes, mostly sick and exhausted only to find themselves in conditions only marginally better than that they had just escaped. Even the most elementary health and welfare conditions were virtually non-existent.
The survivors returned after suffering unspeakable horrors, lost their entire families, were broken both physically and psychologically. Not surprisingly the first communal efforts were to reconstitute the healthcare system, to create a hospital, and to attend to their alimentary needs.
1946 saw two court trials in Kolozsvar that were connected with the tragedy that had befallen the Hungarian Jewry. The extermination of the northern Transylvanian Jewish population was the subject of the trials where 185 individuals stood accused, among them those responsible for the Szatmar ghetto. The court handed down severe sentences. Numerous accused, however, were tried in absentia. Not one of those sentenced to death, were ever executed. Csoka Laszlo, the mayor, was present and was sentenced to spend the rest of his miserable life in jail. The People’s Court handed down these sentences: Deputy mayor Rogozi Papp Zoltan was sentenced in absentia to life at hard labor, Czegeny Karoly, the Szatmar Region Police Chief, sentenced to life at hard labor in absentia, Endrodi Barnabas, in absentia, to life at hard labor, Boer Endre, in absentia, to life at hard labor, Fekete Erzsebet, a police informant, to 12 years in jail. Vancsa Janos, police detective, to 20 years at hard labor, Kereny Isvan, clerk in the Szatmar mayor’s office and police informant, 12 years in jail. The Court also sentenced Pirkler Erno and Demeny.
The condemned did not suffer very long, especially those who had drawn harsh sentences.
The Romanian authorities decided that these people earned forgiveness and reduced their sentences effectively to time served, as they became useful members due to their reeducation and realization of the benefits of the socialist system coming into fore.
Several faced the courts in Hungary. For example, Sarkozi Bela
was sentenced to life at hard labor in absentia by the court in Koloszvar. Sarkozi went into hiding in Debrecen in Hungary until 1958 when the Hungarian Ministry of Interior arrested him. For his trial, several witnesses traveled to Budapest from Szatmar, among them, Sarkany Lajcsi, Wilkovits Albert and Merksammer Ilona.
The return of the surviving Jews filled the Hungarian population of Szatmar with dread. They were worried of the legitimate desire for vengeance by the survivors. However, their fears were misplaced, as the returning Jews were not a vengeful lot. There was one exception, however, in the case of Vancsa Janos who lived the high life on the loot he stole or ransomed from his helpless victims. In the ghetto he was one of the most sadistic members of the police gangs. Csernin Jakab, the butcher, killed him with his bare hands. He repaid with interest the murder of his children.
Not many returned from Hell.
To their memory I am dedicating this list of names, which had been sadly lacking until now.
Tel Aviv 2006-06-18
Csirák, Csaba: Szatmári zsidó emlékek
Randolph L. Braham: A népirtás politikája
Stern, Naftali: Emlékezz Szatmárra
Files of daily paper "Szamos" published in 1944.
Yad Vashem - Pages of Testimony