BALASSAGYARMAT , city in Nógrád county, northern Hungary. Jews first settled in the town toward the end of the 17th century. The poll of 1725 mentions only one Jewish family; in 1746 there were 19 families, and by 1778, 47 families. The number of Jews ranged from 529 in 1784 to 2,013 (17.4% of the total) in 1930, reaching a peak in 1920 with 2,401 (21.1%). According to the census of 1941, the town had 1,712 Jews, representing 13.9% of the total of 12,347. The Jewish community was organized in 1730, and its Chevra Kadisha in 1742. The community's first synagogue was destroyed in a fire in 1776; on its site a new synagogue was built in 1868. Among the rabbis who served the community were Judah Leb Engel (from 1730); Benjamin Ze'ev Wolf *Boskowitz; Mordecai and Ezekiel *Banet; and successive members of the Deutsch family (Aaron David, Joseph Israel, and David) from 1851 to 1944. The Jewish community, which was organized as Orthodox in 1868, was joined in 1885 by the smaller communities in the neighboring villages, including those of Dejtár, Érsekvadkert, Örhalom, Patak, and Szügy. During the interwar period, the community supported a number of social and welfare institutions, and together with the Jewish community of nearby Salgótarján published a Hungarian-language paper called Szombati Értesitö ("Sabbath News"). Located near the border with Slovakia, Balassagyarmat was a magnet for many Polish and Slovakian Jewish refugees who escaped persecution in their own countries.
After Hungary entered the war in June 1941, the Jews were subjected to ever harsher measures. Jewish males of military age were conscripted for labor service. The situation of the Jews took a turn for the worse after the German occupation of Hungary on March 19, 1944. According to a census conducted after the occupation, the Orthodox congregation had 1,516 members, led by President Mihály Lázár and Rabbi David Deutsch. The Jews were rounded up early in May 1944 under the direction of Mayor Béla Vannay. Balassagyarmat served as a major concentration and entrainment center for 5,820 Jews rounded up in Nógrád county. These Jews were concentrated in two ghettos: the approximately 2,000 local Jews were concentrated in the socalled "large ghetto," in and around Kossuth Lajos, Thököly, and Hunyadi Streets; the Jews brought in from the neighboring towns and villages in Nógrád county were concentrated in the socalled "little ghetto," located in Óváros Square. Among these were the Jews of Alsópetény, Apátújfalu, Becske, Bercel, Cserháthaláp, Diósjenö, Érsekvadkert, Galgaguta, Hugyag, Losonc, Noográdmarcal, Örhalom, Szécsény, Szügy, and several other locations. The Jewish Council was composed of Mihály Lázár (chairman), Dezsö Sándor, Pál Sándor, Ferenc Hajdú, Imre Léván, and János Weltner. Internally, the ghettos were guarded by a Jewish police force headed by Pál Sándor and András Fleischer. Externally, they were guarded by units of the police headed by László Eördögh and a gendarmerie unit from Miskolc. Just before their deportation, the Jews were relocated to the tobacco barns at Nyírjespuszta about 3 miles (5 km.) from the town. The Jews were deported to Auschwitz in two transports that left Nyírjespuszta on June 12 and June 14. The Germans used the synagogue as a munitions depot, and destroyed it prior to their departure.
Among the first survivors to return to the town were labor servicemen. They, together with the concentration camp survivors who returned in 1945–46, reorganized the community under the leadership of Rabbi Pinkász Kálmán. The Jews began to leave the town after 1948 and especially after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. By 1970 only a handful of Jews were still in Balassagyarmat.
M. Stein, Magyar Rabbik, 2 (1906), 7–8; 4 (1908), 3–4; 5 (1909), 5–6; M. Ladányi, Nógrád és Hont vármegye (1934), 139; mhj, 5, pt. 1 (1959), 510. add. bibliography: Braham, Politics; pk Hungaria, 173–75.
[Laszlo Harsanyi /
Randolph Braham (2nd ed.)]