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The Jewish Community of Oradea

Oradea

Formerly known as Oradea Mare. Hungarian: Nagyvarad, Varad. German, Yiddish, and Hebrew: Grosswardein

A city in northern Transylvania, Western Romania, the capital city of Bihor County and Crisana Region. Part of Hungary until 1918 and between 1940-1944, now part of Romania.

There are several popular legends that refer to a Jewish presence in the city during the 10th century. Historically, although there are documents dating from 1407 and 1489 that mention several Jews in connection with the town, the only reliable evidence of Jews living there dates from the early 18th century. In 1722 four Jews are listed as being residents of the city. Ten Jewish families were registered in 1736, including one chazzan. As the Jewish population grew, the Jewish residents of Oradea tended to be immigrants from Moravia, Bohemia, and Poland.

A Chevra Kadisha was established in the 1730s. In 1787 the Jews were permitted to build a synagogue; a second synagogue was built in 1812. There was also a Jewish hospital.

The entire town, including the Jewish population, began expanding rapidly at the end of the 18th century. The number of Jews increased from 104 taxpayers in 1830 to 1,600 people in 1840, 10,115 (26.2% of the total population) in 1891, 12,294 (24%) in 1900, 15,115 (23.6%) in 1930, and 21,337 (22.9%) in 1941.

The Jews of Oradea adopted the Hungarian language and Hungarian culture earlier than any other Jewish community in Hungary, and the local Hungarian population saw their Jewish neighbors as potential allies in their struggle against Romanian nationalism. Many Jews from Oradea actively participated in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-1849.

A short-lived Reform congregation was established in Oradea in 1847, and was disbanded in 1848. Conflicts between the Orthodox and Reform within the Oradea community characterized the latter half of the 19th century. In 18790, after the schism following the Hungarian Jewish Congress of 1868, the Oradea community divided into Orthodox and Neolog congregations, each of which developed their own, separate, institutions. A Neolog Temple was built in 1878, and an Orthodox synagogue was built in 1891. Both congregations were led by well-known rabbis. Leaders of the Orthodox community included Rabbi Aaron Isaac Landsberg, and Rabbi Moses Tzvi Fuchs and his son Benjamin. The Neolog congregation was led by rabbis including Alexander Kohut, Lipot Kecskemeti, and the community's last Neolog rabbi, Istvan Vajda; Rabbi Vajda perished in Auschwitz along with the rest of his community. During World War I several Chasidic rabbis of the Vizhnitsa and Zhidachov dynasties from Bukovina and Galicia found refuge in Oradea. They, in turn, attracted chasidim from the district to the city.

Culturally and economically, the Jews of Oradea were the most active of all of the communities in Hungary or Romania. There were Jewish merchants, physicians, farmers, lawyers, and merchants. In 1902 the chief of police was Jewish, and Jews were represented on the municipal council. They also established a number of communal institutions. Early in the 19th century a number of Jewish public schools were opened. An Orthodox high school was founded in 1888; it had four classes, and remained open until the Holocaust. There was also a Neolog high school which opened in 1920 and ran until the Holocaust. There were Hebrew printing houses operating in the city. The leading Jewish newspaper was the religious Zionist weekly "Nepunk" ("Our People"). Zionist movements were active in Oradea between the World Wars. The National Jewish Party had supporters in Oradea, although some Jews supported the party of the Hungarian nationalists. Some Jews joined the communist party and were even elected as city councilors.

Life was difficult for the Jews of Oradea under Romanian rule, and then under the regime of Nicholas Horthy. In 1927 Romanian nationalist student leaders organized anti-Jewish riots, in which synagogues were looted and several Jews were killed, and there were a number of other outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence before World War II.

Hungarian authorities forced the Jewish residents of the city into the Oradea ghetto in 1944; they were subsequently deported to Auschwitz. A total of 25,000 Jews were deported from Oradea and its district.

After the end of the war, in 1947, the Jewish population numbered approximately 8,000, including survivors from the camps and Jews who had arrived from other areas. In 1946 these survivors dedicated a monument to those who had been lost during the war. Nonetheless, the communist regime imposed new hardships on the Jewish community. Zionist organizations were suppressed, and their leaders were often arrested. Many Jews lost their jobs, or were imprisoned.

During the 1950s, Romania began "selling" its Jewish citizens to Israel; in exchange for money or services, the Romanian government would grant Jews travel permits to immigrate to Israel. Many of the Jews remaining in Oradea emigrated to Israel, North America, Australia, and Western Europe and the population fell to 2,000 in 1971. The only Jewish institutions still functioning then were the three synagogues, which held services on Shabbat and the holidays. There was also a kosher restaurant in the town.

By the 21st century, there were only a few hundred Jews still living in Oradea. Since 2001 the community has been supported by the Lempert Family Foundation, a North American organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Jewish community of Oradea.
Place Type:
City
ID Number:
177534
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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The Jewish Community of Oradea
Oradea

Formerly known as Oradea Mare. Hungarian: Nagyvarad, Varad. German, Yiddish, and Hebrew: Grosswardein

A city in northern Transylvania, Western Romania, the capital city of Bihor County and Crisana Region. Part of Hungary until 1918 and between 1940-1944, now part of Romania.

There are several popular legends that refer to a Jewish presence in the city during the 10th century. Historically, although there are documents dating from 1407 and 1489 that mention several Jews in connection with the town, the only reliable evidence of Jews living there dates from the early 18th century. In 1722 four Jews are listed as being residents of the city. Ten Jewish families were registered in 1736, including one chazzan. As the Jewish population grew, the Jewish residents of Oradea tended to be immigrants from Moravia, Bohemia, and Poland.

A Chevra Kadisha was established in the 1730s. In 1787 the Jews were permitted to build a synagogue; a second synagogue was built in 1812. There was also a Jewish hospital.

The entire town, including the Jewish population, began expanding rapidly at the end of the 18th century. The number of Jews increased from 104 taxpayers in 1830 to 1,600 people in 1840, 10,115 (26.2% of the total population) in 1891, 12,294 (24%) in 1900, 15,115 (23.6%) in 1930, and 21,337 (22.9%) in 1941.

The Jews of Oradea adopted the Hungarian language and Hungarian culture earlier than any other Jewish community in Hungary, and the local Hungarian population saw their Jewish neighbors as potential allies in their struggle against Romanian nationalism. Many Jews from Oradea actively participated in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-1849.

A short-lived Reform congregation was established in Oradea in 1847, and was disbanded in 1848. Conflicts between the Orthodox and Reform within the Oradea community characterized the latter half of the 19th century. In 18790, after the schism following the Hungarian Jewish Congress of 1868, the Oradea community divided into Orthodox and Neolog congregations, each of which developed their own, separate, institutions. A Neolog Temple was built in 1878, and an Orthodox synagogue was built in 1891. Both congregations were led by well-known rabbis. Leaders of the Orthodox community included Rabbi Aaron Isaac Landsberg, and Rabbi Moses Tzvi Fuchs and his son Benjamin. The Neolog congregation was led by rabbis including Alexander Kohut, Lipot Kecskemeti, and the community's last Neolog rabbi, Istvan Vajda; Rabbi Vajda perished in Auschwitz along with the rest of his community. During World War I several Chasidic rabbis of the Vizhnitsa and Zhidachov dynasties from Bukovina and Galicia found refuge in Oradea. They, in turn, attracted chasidim from the district to the city.

Culturally and economically, the Jews of Oradea were the most active of all of the communities in Hungary or Romania. There were Jewish merchants, physicians, farmers, lawyers, and merchants. In 1902 the chief of police was Jewish, and Jews were represented on the municipal council. They also established a number of communal institutions. Early in the 19th century a number of Jewish public schools were opened. An Orthodox high school was founded in 1888; it had four classes, and remained open until the Holocaust. There was also a Neolog high school which opened in 1920 and ran until the Holocaust. There were Hebrew printing houses operating in the city. The leading Jewish newspaper was the religious Zionist weekly "Nepunk" ("Our People"). Zionist movements were active in Oradea between the World Wars. The National Jewish Party had supporters in Oradea, although some Jews supported the party of the Hungarian nationalists. Some Jews joined the communist party and were even elected as city councilors.

Life was difficult for the Jews of Oradea under Romanian rule, and then under the regime of Nicholas Horthy. In 1927 Romanian nationalist student leaders organized anti-Jewish riots, in which synagogues were looted and several Jews were killed, and there were a number of other outbreaks of anti-Semitic violence before World War II.

Hungarian authorities forced the Jewish residents of the city into the Oradea ghetto in 1944; they were subsequently deported to Auschwitz. A total of 25,000 Jews were deported from Oradea and its district.

After the end of the war, in 1947, the Jewish population numbered approximately 8,000, including survivors from the camps and Jews who had arrived from other areas. In 1946 these survivors dedicated a monument to those who had been lost during the war. Nonetheless, the communist regime imposed new hardships on the Jewish community. Zionist organizations were suppressed, and their leaders were often arrested. Many Jews lost their jobs, or were imprisoned.

During the 1950s, Romania began "selling" its Jewish citizens to Israel; in exchange for money or services, the Romanian government would grant Jews travel permits to immigrate to Israel. Many of the Jews remaining in Oradea emigrated to Israel, North America, Australia, and Western Europe and the population fell to 2,000 in 1971. The only Jewish institutions still functioning then were the three synagogues, which held services on Shabbat and the holidays. There was also a kosher restaurant in the town.

By the 21st century, there were only a few hundred Jews still living in Oradea. Since 2001 the community has been supported by the Lempert Family Foundation, a North American organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Jewish community of Oradea.
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People