BAJA , the seat of Bács (earlier Bács-Bodrog) county situated on the Danube in southern Hungary. Jews settled there in 1725. In 1753 there were ten and in 1773 16 families, mainly merchants in wool, leather, and tobacco. In 1773 the Jews, mostly immigrants from Moravia, received permission to build a synagogue and appoint a rabbi. In March 1840 the communal buildings, including the synagogue, were devastated in a fire that swept through the town. A new synagogue was built in 1842. The community opened a secondary school in 1878, complementing the primary school that had been in existence since 1771. In addition to several communal and charity organizations, the community also built a hospital in 1882. In 1885, the smaller Jewish communities of the neighboring villages, including those of Baracska, Bátamonostor, Borsód, Csátalja, Csávoly, Dantova, Felsöszentiván, Gara, and Vaskut, affiliated themselves to Baja organizationally. Baja's Jewish population ranged from 516 in 1840 (3.7% of the total) to 1,648 (5.9%) in 1930, with a maximum of 2,542 (13.2%) in 1880. Among the rabbis who served the Jewish community of Baja were József Márkus, who built the first synagogue in 1768; Rabbi Meir *Ash (Eisenstadt), a student of Ḥatam Sofer, who served from 1805 to 1815; and Rabbi Eliakim Schwerin Goetz Kohn, who served from 1815 to 1845. The latter also founded and headed a yeshivah. In 1941, Baja had a Jewish population of 1,378, representing 4.3% of the total of 32,369. In addition it had 149 (0.5%) converts who were identified as Jews under the racial laws then in effect. During the period of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, two Jews – Mór Hauser and Gyula Erdélyi – had served as the city's mayor. Hauser was also elected to the lower house of the Hungarian parliament.
After the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944, the largely Neolog community numbered approximately 1,200 members. They were led by Zsigmond Weidinger and Rabbi József Klein. On April 14, the authorities arrested 150 prominent Jews, who were first taken to the Topolya internment camp and then deported to Grossrosen – a month before the start of the mass deportations from Hungary. Among the victims were Rabbi Klein, Lipót Kertész, the communal notary, and cantor Mór Rubovics. From Grossrosen, Rabbi Klein was eventually taken to Stettin (Szczecin), where he was beaten to death by German guards.
Baja served as a major concentration point for Jews rounded up in several neighboring districts, including those of Apatin, Baja, Hódság, Palánka, and Zombor. The roundup of the Jews was directed by Police Chief Béla Jeles. The Jews, including those brought in from the neighboring ghettos, were concentrated in three different locations, where they lived under miserable conditions until their deportation. Two of these ghettos were set up for the Jews of Újvidék (Novi Sad). The ghetto of Baja was led by a seven-member Jewish Council that included Ferencz Stein and László Biró. The approximately 8,200 Jews concentrated in Baja were deported to Auschwitz in two transports that left the town on May 28 and June 18, respectively. Prior to their deportation the Jews were subjected to still another round of expropriations under brutal conditions.
During the immediate post-liberation period, Baja had approximately 400 Jewish inhabitants, including those who moved in from the neighboring villages. The survivors reestablished the Neolog community in 1947 under the leadership of President Sándor Rostás, Rabbi József Rosenfeld, and Rabbi Tibor Klein. After 1948, the membership gradually declined. By 1953 only 180 identified themselves as Jews. This number had shrunk to 70 by 1964. By the turn of the century only a handful were still left in the city. In 1985 the synagogue was transformed into a public library.
G. Dudás, Bács-Bodrog vármegye monographiája, 2 (1896), 254–15, 309–10; M. Pollák, A bajai zsidó hitközség iskoláinak története, (1896); S. Kohn, Kohn Schwerin Götz (Hung. 1899). add. bibliography: Braham, Politics; pk Hungaria, 168–70.
[Laszlo Harsanyi /
Randolph Braham (2nd ed.)]