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Transylvania

TRANSYLVANIA

TRANSYLVANIA (Rom. Transilvania or Ardeal ; Ger. Siebenbuergen ; Hung. Erdély ), historic province now forming western *Romania. Each territorial component of this region has its own history, which has influenced the history of the Jews living among the Hungarians, Romanians, Germans, and other peoples inhabiting it. In 1940, as a result of the second arbitration decision of Vienna, the territory was divided between Hungary and Romania – northern Transylvania going to Hungary and southern Transylvania to Romania – where the Jews suffered different fates. In 1945 the whole of Transylvania reverted to Romania.

Transylvania has always been a center of routes connecting the Orient with the West, and southern Europe with northern Europe. Its location influenced the general development of the region, and in particular Jewish settlement from its beginnings. The first Jews arrived from the south – the Balkans and Turkey – by the trade routes to the north of Transylvania. It has, however, been surmised that a small Jewish settlement existed there, as one had also in neighboring Pannonia, during the first and second centuries c.e. when the territory was under Roman rule and constituted Roman Dacia, though there is no definite evidence for this assumption. Between 1571 and 1687, historic Transylvania and a number of the bordering territories formed an independent principality ruled by the Hungarian-Transylvanian princes. It was in this principality, which was adjacent to the Ottoman Empire and maintained close relations with it, that the first recorded Jewish settlement developed. The overwhelming majority of its members were Turkish Sephardi Jews. Their first organized Jewish community was in *Alba Iulia, the seat of the prince. A letter of protection of 1623 guaranteed the Jews extensive rights, but restricted their residence to this town only. However, despite the restrictions, Jews began to settle in other localities close to the mother community. The relations of the local Jews with the Jews in the north and the west attracted a small number of Ashkenazi settlers from distant places.

This first settlement also affected the development of the Transylvanian Christian sect of *Somrei Sabat, whose customs and prayer books were influenced by the Sephardi ritual. Although the princes, particularly Gabriel Bethlen, had promised the Jews certain rights, there were also schemings against them, and at the general assemblies of the classes it was suggested that the number of Jews be restricted. The first decision to this effect was passed as early as 1578.

With the close of the period of the independent principality and the beginning of Austrian rule, Jews also began to settle on the estates of noblemen who were not bound by the residence prohibitions already issued against Jews. (The aristocrats needed the Jews for the economic exploitation of their land, but provoked antisemitic feelings among their dependents in order to make the Jews afraid of them.) Most of the towns nevertheless remained closed to Jewish settlement. The revolutionary year of 1848 theoretically marked the end of the residence restrictions. There were then about 15,000 Jews in historic Transylvania. The number of Sephardim was declining and Ashkenazi settlers from the north – i.e., Poland – began to play an important role in community life. The number of Jews in historic Transylvania has been estimated at 2,000 in 1766; 5,175 in 1825; and 15,600 in 1850. Organizationally, between 1754 and 1879, the Jews were under the jurisdiction of a chief rabbi whose seat was in Alba Iulia. In 1866, when Transylvania was still ruled by the central government in Vienna, representatives of the Jewish communities gathered for the first time in *Cluj for a national conference to create a unified communal organization with regular organizational patterns.

The objectives of this congress did not materialize because in 1867 the whole of Transylvania was incorporated within Hungary, and Jewish communal organization followed that of Hungarian Jewry until the end of World War i. The religious schism which occurred within Hungarian Jewry after 1868–69 (see *Hungary) also left its imprint on Transylvania and, after struggles within the communities, separate Orthodox, *Neologist, and *Status Quo Ante communities were formed. The influence of *Ḥasidism, which penetrated Transylvania from the north, was powerful. During the period of the struggles and separations, the Jews of historic Transylvania numbered 25,142. By 1880, upon the completion of the new organization, they numbered 30,000. The majority of the communities, especially those with large memberships, joined the Orthodox trend. There were sharp controversies between the Ḥasidim and the rabbinist-Ashkenazi Jews, who in spiritual-religious matters turned to Pressburg (*Bratislava) as a center of authority. The Neologist communities, in which the Magyar assimilationist trend became strong, regarded Budapest as their center.

The densest Jewish population developed in northeastern Transylvania, whose territories bordered upon Poland and Moldavia, the urban centers of this region being *Sighet and *Satu Mare. Until its liquidation, the majority of Jews there remained loyal to traditional Jewish culture, and the predominant language was Yiddish. During the 19th century, Yiddish newspapers were published there, and several poets and authors published works in this language. In the western part of Transylvania, where the large urban centers were *Oradea and *Arad, the predominant language was Hungarian, while in the southwestern part of the region, whose center was *Timisoara, it was Hungarian and German. In the southeastern part, whose center was *Brasov, the Jews lived among a German population which influenced them culturally, but their social ties with it were not extensive. Although there was a large Romanian population in the whole of Transylvania, the Jews were not influenced culturally by the Romanian element until the end of World War i. On the contrary, in most places Jews were pioneers in spreading among the Romanian population the Magyar national trend of the central government in Budapest. The natural center of Transylvania, the town of Cluj – which also occasionally served as its official capital – was also a Jewish center during most of the 19th and 20th centuries. Cluj University, where Jews were also appointed professors, was an important intellectual center for Jews in historic Transylvania, while those in the western districts attended the University of Budapest.

From the beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish population in historic Transylvania only increased from 53,065 (2.2 percent of the total population) in 1900 to 64,674 (2.4 percent) in 1910. In the whole area currently known as Transylvania the Jews numbered 181,340 (3.57 percent) at the beginning of Romanian rule in 1920. The growth of the Jewish population and its dispersion throughout the region was linked to economic development, the establishment of industry, and the construction of the railway system. Jews played an important role in this development, at first in small trade and later in large-scale industrialization; they were also prominent in railroad construction. In general cultural life Jewish participation was considerable, and from 1860 Jews took an active part in political life. Jewish journalists were prominent and in particular assisted in raising the standard of the theater. Jewish producers active in Cluj before World War i were pioneers in the film industry in Hungary, among them Alexander *Korda. In the field of Jewish culture before the end of World War i there were Hebrew printing presses, and attempts were made to publish newspapers and weeklies in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Hungarian. Most communities had elementary schools.

In 1918–19 historic Transylvania and the other territories which constitute present-day Transylvania were transferred from Hungary to Romania. Links were established with Romanian Jewry and its center in Bucharest, but they remained very weak, with neither of the two sides willing to compromise; very few of the Hungarian-speaking Transylvanian Jews were prepared to change their cultural affiliations. Even after World War ii and the Holocaust, many Transylvanian Jews continued to see themselves as "Hungarians of the Mosaic faith." Important secondary schools were established in Cluj (where the language of instruction was also Hebrew), Timisoara, and Oradea. A Hungarian-Jewish daily, *Uj Kelet (first appearing as a weekly), was published in Cluj from 1918 until 1940; its publication was resumed in Israel in 1948. Jewish works were published under its aegis, and its supporters and members of the editorial board were active in Jewish cultural life and even in the general political sphere, among them the editor-in-chief, E. *Marton. In the interwar period there were 110 organized Jewish communities in Transylvania, of which 23 belonged to the Neologist organization, 80 were Orthodox, and the remainder belonged to the Status Quo Ante organization. The headquarters of the Neologist communities were in Cluj, while those of the Orthodox communities were at first in *Bistrita and later in *Turda.

Zionist activity, which had already commenced at the time of the first Zionist congress, developed to large proportions. Every trend of the Zionist movement reached the major towns and even the smallest localities of the region. Until 1927, the Zionist national headquarters were situated in Cluj, after which its organizational section was transferred to Timisoara. In association with the Zionist movement, a national Jewish party, active mainly after 1930, campaigned on a large scale in parliamentary and municipal elections. The party delegates in the Romanian Parliament fought against anti-Jewish discrimination by the government, and for promulgation of the *minority rights expressly granted the Jews by the Trianon peace treaty. A number of Jews, especially in the western districts, who had remained politically attached to the Hungarians, organized a separate political party in Transylvania. Jews rose to the leadership and were elected to municipal councils and as delegates to the Parliament in Bucharest. A limited number of Jews were also active in the national Romanian parties, and slightly more in the Social Democratic Party. Jews also belonged to the underground Communist movement, some serving among its leaders between the two world wars.

Romanian antisemitism, strong throughout this period, also made its appearance in Transylvania. In 1927 pogroms were organized by Romanian students who had convened in Oradea for their national conference. These disorders spread to the areas in the vicinity of Oradea, to localities situated near the Oradea-Cluj railway line, and to Cluj itself. In 1936–37, when the Romanian Fascist movement, the Iron Guard, formed branches throughout Romania, centers were also established in most Transylvanian towns, particularly in Arad. After 1933, the overwhelming majority of the German population – the Swabians in Banat and the Saxons in southern Transylvania – proclaimed themselves supporters of the Third Reich. Most of the German population was associated with the Transylvanian Fascist organizations. These, however, did not take active measures against the Jews and contented themselves with an economic *boycott and social ostracism. Between the end of 1937 and the beginning of 1938, when the outspokenly antisemitic O. Goga-A.C. Cuza government came to power, Jews, under the direction of the Zionists, formed clandestine *self-defense organizations which succeeded in preventing acts of brutality. A Jewish economic organization was established to assist Jews threatened with dismissal from employment. The succeeding Romanian governments continued to discriminate against Jews; severe economic problems arose, and there was growing poverty. The Jewish organizations combined in efforts to provide relief and assistance. Aliyah to Palestine increased, though few immigration certificates were allocated to Transylvanian Jews. The number of Jews in this period remained approximately 200,000, forming 1.8 percent of the general population of historic Transylvania, 20.9 percent of that of Maramures, 5 percent of that of Crisana, and 1.2 percent of that of Banat.

Holocaust and Contemporary Periods

In August 1940, in the second arbitration decision of Vienna, it was decided by Germany and Italy – upon the basis of political considerations of the German Nazis – to incorporate one part of Transylvania into Hungary, while the other remained within Romania, the parts being known respectively as northern Transylvania and southern Transylvania.

southern transylvania

The minority of about 40,000 Jews remained in the southern, Romanian sector, where the government began severe persecution of the Jewish population. The land owned by the community bodies was confiscated, Jews were deprived of factories and shops, and many Jews of military age were forced into labor battalions. Whole Jewish populations of villages and provincial towns were expelled and concentrated in the district capitals. The communities were nevertheless able to continue their religious activities and provided assistance for the needy. The Zionist movement continued activities, and its leaders and members of the youth movement organized rescue and defense from their center in Timisoara.

northern transylvania

The fate of the Jews in northern Transylvania, who numbered approximately 150,000, was very different. The Fascist Hungarian government which occupied this territory during the first half of September 1940 immediately introduced economic, social, and cultural restrictions against the Jews. The newspaper Uj Kelet was compelled to cease publication on the first day of Hungarian rule in Cluj. Zionist activity was prohibited in most places. Jews were immediately dismissed from law offices and public positions, and the number of Jewish pupils in the general secondary schools was restricted to 4 percent of the student rolls. The Jewish organizations took steps to relieve this situation. In the fall of 1940 a Jewish secondary school was established in Cluj with eight classes for boys and eight for girls, and later absorbed pupils who had been dismissed from the general secondary schools, as well as from outlying districts. Central relief organizations were set up in which both the Orthodox and the Neologist communities cooperated. In 1942, the Hungarian military command began to conscript Jews of military age into forced labor battalions, most of which were sent to the eastern front and reached the advance lines of the German-Hungarian invasion of the Soviet Union. Most of the conscripts perished under the harsh conditions. The Jews in northern Transylvania began to resume participation in the organizational life of Hungarian Jewry, whose center was in Budapest. The Transylvanian Zionist movement functioned clandestinely, and even succeeded in sending youths and adults to Palestine through Romania and the Black Sea.

A further turning point occurred on March 19, 1944, when the Germans occupied Hungary. After a few weeks, preparations were made to establish ghettos and for deportations to the death camp at *Auschwitz. The area was declared to be a danger zone from the security aspect, and both the Hungarian and German authorities sped up the deportations to the death camps. From the end of the summer of 1944 nearly all the Jews in northern Transylvania were deported; few succeeded in hiding themselves. The Jewish institutions were liquidated and a number of synagogues were destroyed.

After the capitulation of Romania on Aug. 23, 1944, northern Transylvania became a battle zone: the Soviet and Romanian armies entered the region and defeated the German and Hungarian forces. Toward the end of this period, a few Jews left southern Transylvania for northern Transylvania. In 1945 survivors began to return to the region.

By 1947 a Jewish population had been formed from survivors of the camps, the arrivals from southern Transylvania, and others who had come to the region from Romania and northern Bukovina, occupied by the Soviet Union. According to an estimate for that year, they numbered about 44,000 in northern Transylvania, 13,000 in Crisana, and 15,000 in Banat. The traditional community institutions were revived, and Zionist organizations were also active until 1949 in finding opportunities for aliyah. In addition, a new Jewish Democratic Committee (Comitetul Democratic Evreesc – cde) was established by Jewish activists of the Communist Party. However, as soon became evident, the committee was an instrument of the new Communist regime, with the principal objective of disbanding the Zionist movement so that organized Jewish activities could be placed under close government and party supervision. After the war, and especially after the establishment of the State of Israel, many thousands of Jews made their way to Israel. The Jewish population in the region in 1971 was estimated at between 6,000 and 7,000. In towns with traditional communities – Cluj, Oradea, Arad, and Timisoara – and in several other smaller towns, the community organizations continued to be active, and prayers were held in the synagogues at least on Friday evenings and festivals. The communities were affiliated to the central organization of Romanian Jews with headquarters in Bucharest. The dwindling of the Transylvanian Jewish communities continued into the 21st century, with most of the remaining Jews now being entirely assimilated.

bibliography:

M. Carmilly-Weinberger (ed.), Memorial Volume for the Jews of Cluj-Kolozsvar (Eng., Heb., and Hung., 1970); N. Sylvain, in: P. Meyer et al., The Jews in the Soviet Satellites (1953); B. Vágó, in: R.L. Braham (ed.), Hungarian Jewish Studies, 1 (1966); idem, in: pk Romanyah, 1 (1970), 261–71 (incl. bibl.); Z.Y. Avraham, Le-Korotha-Yehudim bi-Transilvanyah (1951); I.J. Cohen, in: ks, 33 (1957/58), 386–403; 34 (1958–59), 499–512; 35 (1959–60), 98–108; 37 (1961–62), 249–66; S. Yitzḥaki, Battei-Sefer Yehudiyyim bi-Transilvanyah Bein Shetei Milḥamot ha-Olam (1970); M. Eisler, Az erdélyi zsidók multjából (1901); D. Schoen, Istenkeresők a Kárpátok alatt (1964).

[Yehouda Marton /

Paul Schveiger (2nd ed.)]

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