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The Jewish Community of Sighetu Marmatiei

Sighetu Marmatiei

Known as Sighet until 1964 (in spite of the name change, the city will be referred to as “Sighet” throughout this article, since it is the name that is more familiar to Jews)

Hungarian: Máramarossziget; Yiddish: סיגעט‎, Siget

A city in Romania

Before World War I (1914-1918), and between 1940 and 1944, Sighet was part of Hungary.

 

21ST CENTURY

In 2002 Elie Wiesel made an official visit to Sighet, where he opened a Jewish museum. Wiesel spoke about the Jewish community that once existed in the city, as well as the need for the Romanians to acknowledge their own complicity in the murder of the country’s Jews during the Holocaust.

A commemoration was held in May 2014 to mark the 70th anniversary since the deportation of the Jews of Sighet. Events included Shabbat services in the synagogue; a memorial service at the local Holocaust monument, marking the location where the deportations took place; as well as a klezmer concert. Tours of the Jewish cemetery were also offered.

Wiesel’s childhood home was vandalized and defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti in August of 2018.

 

HISTORY

Jews had settled in Sighet by the 17th century. They began to be taxed in 1728. In 1746 there were ten Jewish families (39 people) living in Sighet.

Most of Sighet’s Jews were traditional, and many were heavily influenced by the Chassidic movement. There were also those who became adherents of the Frankists, followers of the false messiah Jacob Frank.  

An organized community existed during the second half of the 18th century. During this period, Tzvi b. Moses Abraham (d. 1771) from Galicia, served as the community’s rabbi, and proved to be a determined opponent of the Frankist movement. Other rabbis to serve Sighet’s Jewish community included Judah HaKohen Heller, who served until his death in 1819; and the Chassidic rabbi Chananiah Yom Tov Lipa Teitelbaum (1883-1904).

In 1746 Sighet was home to 39 Jews (10 families). By the late 1780s that number had grown to 142. In 1831 the local Jewish population numbered 431. The Jewish population increased rapidly during the second half of the 19th century, and by 1891 the Jewish population reached 4,960 (about 30% of the total population).

The Sighet community joined the organization of Hungarian Orthodox communities in 1883, but this led to considerable dispute within the community, and the more liberal Jews founded a Sephardic community. Beginning in 1906 Dr. Samuel Danzig (b. 1878) served as that new community’s rabbi; he ultimately perished in the Holocaust. The Orthodox community’s last rabbi was Jekuthiel Judah Teitelbaum, who also died in the Holocaust.

Community institutions included yeshivas, Jewish schools, Zionist organizations, and Hebrew printing presses and libraries, including the Israel Weiss library. There were a number of newspapers that were published in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Hungarian. The majority of Jews in the district were quite impoverished.

In 1910 Sighet’s Jewish population was 7,981 (34% of the total population). By 1930 it had grown to 10,609 (about 38% of the total population). The Jewish population was 10,144 in 1941 (39% of the total population), the highest proportion of Jews in any Hungarian town.

Notable members of Sighet’s Jewish community included the Yiddish author Herzl Apsan (1886-1944); the humorist, editor, and author, Hirsch Leib Gottleib (1829-1930); the rabbi and historian Judah Jekuthiel Gruenwald (1889-1955); the important Yiddish writer Joseph Holder (1893-1944); the violinist Joseph Szigeti (1892-1973); the Yiddish author J. Ring; and the pianist Geza Frid. However, perhaps the best-known native of Sighet is the author and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), who wrote about Jewish life in Sighet, as well as his experiences during the Holocaust, in his famous book, Night.

 

THE HOLOCAUST

After the annexation of northern Transylvania by Hungary in 1940, the authorities began to curtail the economic activity of the Jews in Sighet.

Men of military age were conscripted for forced labor in 1942. Later, in the summer of 1944, a ghetto was set up by the Hungarian and Nazi authorities. From there, about 12,000 Jews were deported to concentration and extermination camps.

 

POSTWAR

In 1947 a Jewish community of about 2,300 was formed by returning survivors and Jews from other areas who came to Sighet. However, the vast majority eventually immigrated, and by 1970 there were only about 250 Jews remaining in the city.

In 1959 the organization of Sighet Jews living in Israel began publication of Maramarossziget, a periodical in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Hungarian about the history of the Jews in Sighet and the district of Maramures.

 

Place Type:
City
ID Number:
168109
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
Nearby places:

Related items:
Greenwald, Jekuthiel Judah (Leopold) (1889-1955), rabbi and historian (known as Leopold Greenwald in the USA), born in Marmarossziget, Hungary (then part of Austria-Hungary, now Sighet, in Romania). Educated at the yeshiva of Pozsony (Bratislava, now in Slovakia), and at the rabbinical seminary of Frankfurt on the Main, Germany, under Nehemiah Nobel. In 1913 he was appointed assistant professor there. Greenwald also studied at Oxford, Paris, Amsterdam and London. For a short time in 1913 he served as rabbi at Nagyszeben, Hungary.

During the World War I he served as non-commissioned officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, and was decorated for bravery in action.

In 1924 he immigrated to the United States and was appointed rabbi to the Beth Jacob Orthodox Congregation, Columbus, Ohio. He later became chairman of the Ohio board of rabbis, an executive member of the Mizrachi Organization, and then a board member of the Union of American Orthodox Rabbis.

Greenwald's major works in Hungarian, Hebrew and Yiddish include a biography of Jonathan Eybeschutz, chief rabbi of Altona (1908), "Toledot Mishpahat Rosenthal" (1920); "History of the High Priests" (1933); "Treatise on the Babylonian and Palestinian Talmud" (1936); "Toyznt Yor Idish Lebn in Ungarn" (1945). His work "Le-Toledot ha-Reformazyion ha-Datit be-Germanyah u-ve-Ungaryah" (1948) is a history of the Reform movement in Germany and Hungary and also contains a bibliography of Greenwald's work up to 1948. He also wrote works on the history of the Sanhedrin and biographies of leading rabbis, including Joseph Caro and Moses Sofer. Greenwald also compiled an important manual of traditional laws and rites of mourning, "Kol-Bo Avelut" (3 vol., 1947-1952).
Stern, Menahem (?- 1834), rabbi, born in a small village near Sziget, Hungary (then part of the Austrian Empire, now Sighet, Romania). Among his teachers were Moses Leib of Sasov, the maggid of Kuzhnitz (Kozienice), and Menahem Mendel of Kosov. He was ordained rabbi by Meshullam Igra of Tismanitz.

Stern served as rabbi of Kalush (Kalusz), Galicia (then part of the Austrian Empire, now in Ukraine), and then, from 1802, as rabbi and rosh bet din of Sighet. On the death of Judah ha-Kohen Heler, author of the "Kunteres ha-Sefekot", he was appointed av bet din of Sighet in 1819, a post in which he served until his death.

He was most concerned at the lack of religious knowledge and observance in the Maramaros (Maramures) region and he traveled throughout the outlying villages and saw simple Jews, farm workers who had forgotten the Torah and were becoming indistinguishable from their Romanian and Ruthenian neighbors. He visited many such villages once or twice a month, gathering the inhabitants together and giving them instruction. He established synagogues and ritual baths and arranged eruvin in every village of Maramures. He used to say: "Maramures is my garden; I planted it".

Stern was the author of "Derekh Emunah" (1856-1860), on the Torah and the festivals. He also wrote a book on the four parts of the "Shulhan Arukh", as well as one on the Psalms, but these were apparently lost in the Holocaust.
Jewish Couple.
Sighet, Romania, c. 1920,
Photo: Stern (Sobel)
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot,
Sighet Collection)
TWO YOUNG WOMEN AND A YOUNG MAN.
SIGHET, RUMANIA, 1920'S.
PHOTO: STERN (SOBEL).
(BETH HATEFUTSOTH PHOTO ARCHIVE,
SIGHET COLLECTION)
Grandmother and her grandson (?).
Sighet, Romania, c. 1920
Photo: Stern (Sobel)
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, Sighet Collection)
Jewish Girl in Purim costume holding a staff
with a Star of David, Sighet, Rumania, c. 1920
Photo: Stern (Sobel)
(The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, Sighet collection)

Szigeti, Joseph (József) (1892-1973), violinist, born in Budapest, Hungary (then part of Austria-Hungary). He spent his childhood in Maramarossziget, Transylvania (now Sighet, Romania). After a period of study with Jeno Hubay in Budapest, he was discovered by Joseph Joachim, who gave him advice and encouragement. He performed as a child prodigy in Hungary, Germany and England, and was well received. For six years he performed mainly in England, achieving a great reputation. Then, touring Europe, he established himself as a major virtuoso of the violin.

After numerous tours, he accepted the professorship of violin at the Geneva Conservatory, succeeding Henri Mareau in his post. He held the position from 1917 to 1924. Leopold Stokowski invited him to come to the United States, and in 1925 he made his American debut.

His art has been honored. He was awarded the Legion of Honor in France, then promoted to officer. In Belgium he was made Commander of the Order of Leopold, and in Hungary he received the Officers' Cross Ordre pour le merite. Japan gave him the Jiji Shimpo Gold Medal.

Szigeti regarded himself as music's servant. More then any single violin virtuoso of modern times he identified himself with the new, untried and progressive, and gave unstintingly of himself so that a significant new voice in music might be heard. The list of his advocacies is long. It includes such works as Prokofieff's First Violin Concerto, Bloch's Violin Concerto and First Sonata, Bartok's Contrasts, Vsaye's First Sonata, and countless other compositions. Whenever a new concerto by a challenging composer was projected, one could assume that Szigeti would be sought as the first interpreter.
Add an impeccable technique, a universal encyclopedic knowledge of the standard literature (and not only the standard literature for violin), a wise and lofty concept of the function of music and the artist, which combine to create the special atmosphere that clings about the name of Joseph Szigeti among those who have had the privilege of becoming acquainted with his work. Like his countryman, Franz Liszt, Szigeti seemed destined to go down in history as a great virtuoso to whom virtuosity is a creative act and art.

Guenzler, Abraham (1840-1910), rabbinical publicist, journalist, born in Satoraljaujhely, Hungary (then part of the Austrian Empire). He had a special gift for writing which he used to defend traditional Judaism. In 1868, he published a pamphlet, "Tokhahat Megullah", in which he attacked Isaac Friedlieber's work "Divrei Shalom" and defended traditional orthodox Judaism and opposed the Reform movement, which was becoming more popular in Hungary.

Guenzler moved to Sziget (now Sighet, in Romania), a community of Hasidim and maskilim, where he began to publish a Hebrew weekly, "Ha-Tor". It was the first Hebrew journal published in Hungary and exerted considerable influence. The revival of the Hebrew language was his main ambition, and in 1876 he published in Sziget a booklet, "Das Meter Moss", most of which was in Hebrew because "there are people who understand Hebrew better than Yiddish." The journal was published for three years (1874-1876), but it seems that it was not profitable since he moved with it to Kolomyya in Galicia (then part of Austria-Hungary, now in Ukraine) and from there to Krakow (now in Poland).

In 1881 he reported in his journal the pogroms taking place against the Russian Jews with such effect that the Russian government banned it from Russia. Since most of the journal's subscribers lived there (he had nearly 300 subscribers in Russia, and about 250 in Austria-Hungary), "Ha-Tor" ceased publication. Guenzler did not, however, refrain from commenting on contemporary and local issues. He published articles in "Kol Mahazike Hadas", published fortnightly in Lemberg (now Lvov, in Ukraine). Meanwhile R. Simeon Sofer of Krakow founded the weekly "Mahazike Hadas" and Guenzler was appointed editor. The publishers of "Kol Mahazike Hadas" sued Guenzler; eventually it was agreed that "Mahazike Hadas" would cease publication and Guenzler would edit "Kol Mahazike Hadas", but he was later obliged to resign.
Stern, Joseph (1803-1858), rabbi, the son-in-law of Menahem Stern. He studied with Hayyim of Kosov in the home of his father Menahem Mendel of Kosov. Stern claimed that he studied the Shulhan Arukh, Yoreh De'ah, 140 times and the other sections of the Shulhan Arukh 111 times. He was ordained rabbi by the scholars Abraham David Wahrmann, rabbi of Buchach, and Nathan, Nata Mueler, rabbi of Podgaytsy, and was first appointed head of the bet din and then av bet din of Sighet, Hungary (then part of the Austrian Empire, now in Romania).

A bitter quarrel broke out in Sighet, as some of the community wanted to appoint in his stead Rabbi Eleazar Nissin Teitelbaum, son of Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum. Stern, who hated contention and strife, wanted to share the rabbinic post with Teitelbaum as rabbi and himself as head of the bet din. Nevertheless, this did not stop the dispute. Stern was accused of attacking the government in his sermons, and he was imprisoned. Nearly all the inhabitants of the town condemned this step, and the government authorities were also convinced of his complete innocence. On the third day of his imprisonment the district officer, together with high government officials, entered the prison and asked the forgiveness of the rabbi for the unpleasantness caused him and assured him that the transgressors would be severely punished.

After six years of dissension and quarreling Teitelbaum left the town. The only one that supported Stern during difficult times was Jekuthiel Asher Zalman Ansel Zusmir, rabbi of Styria. Of Stern's writings only his introduction to his father-in-law's "Derekh Emunah" (vol. 1, 1856) and one responsum (no. 50) in the "She'elot u-Teshuvot" (1882, 48a-49a) of Zusmir are known.